Irish Burgers: Galway’s Top Two
The Smokester at Handsome Burger in Galway features their juicy “hand-rolled” burger patty, a big strip of streaky bacon, smoked cheddar, pickles, crispy onion, and smokey chipotle sauce. (Chipotles are smoked jalapeños.) It’s a stunning bacon cheeseburger and my pick for best burger in Galway. Handsome’s Smokester comes with handcut fries and costs €15.00.
Son Joe was quite hungry on our second visit to Handsome, what with the hurling training and all, so he ordered a double Smokester (€18.50). I finished my regular size burger and watched enviously as Joe devoured the humongous double patty version. Maybe I’ll order a double next time.
Two Galway lads with a passion for burgers started Handsome as a pop-up stall at markets and festivals. They were turning out hamburgers for the multitudes long before the current brick and mortar location in Galway’s Westend opened.
Handsome Burger won Kepak’s nationwide “Best Burger” competition as part of the 2019 National Burger Day celebrations. This may be a chain in the making with a second location in Athlone and plans for Limerick and Mayo.
It took some trial and error to find the best of Handsome Burger. Our first visit was a disappointment. I ordered the top item on the burger menu, the Handsome Burger (€13.50) which was described as a beef patty, with sticky onions, pickles, rocket, and Handsome sauce on a potato roll. It would have been great except for the sticky onions, the sweetness ruined the whole thing for me.
Hamburger guru George Motz has one rule regarding burger condiments: NO KETCHUP! Commercial tomato ketchup contains a large ratio of sugar and, according to Motz, the sweetness overwhelms the other condiments and masks the flavor of the beef. And beef is what a burger should taste like, after all.
I always avoid burgers with ketchup, but I was fooled by the sticky onions. Caramelized onions are, after all, a famous addition to some classic American burgers. But while caramelized onions have a tiny bit of sweetness, Handsome’s sticky onions are cooked in sugar so they resemble a onion jam. And the large dose of sugar detracts from the beef flavor just as surely as ketchup would.
There are lots of other burger joints in Ireland that put onion jam on burgers. No doubt the sugary onions have many fans. Some people like ketchup on their steaks too. But I’m with George Motz–I’ll save the sweets for dessert.
We didn’t try the item on the Handsome menu called the B.O.B. which features double cheddar and no bacon—it sounded like an awful lot of cheese. There is also a “Student Smash Burger” on the menu. I guess the student name refers to the price–it’s only eight euros. The Student Smash Burger looked a lot like a one patty Dashburger and had a pleasant crunchiness around the edges. We ordered ours without the ketchup.
A few doors down Dominick Street from Handsome Burger you’ll find BoTown, (bo means beef in Irish) another Westend burger joint opened by two enterprising Galway guys. They told an interviewer they got the idea for the place during a backyard barbecue.
“Craft Burgers & Beers” is the company’s slogan and like Handsome Burger, the restaurant relies on fresh local meat and produce to keep their burger tasting fresh.
It was a nice day, so I got a table in the rooftop seating area—a waiter ran my lunch up to me when it was ready.
I was quite impressed by the signature BoTown burger. It’s a solid, straight-ahead burger with a perfectly cooked beef patty, cheese, tomato, pickles and a housemade burger sauce with handcut fries.
Tripadvisor recently named BoTown the “Best Irish Burger” with Handsome Burger as a runner-up. The quality of the burgers at these two gourmet burger joints is very close. I wonder if BoTown’s slightly more welcoming décor and sunny roof garden influenced TripAdvisor’s reviewers. Or maybe it prevailed because the prices are slightly lower than Handsome’s.
The BoTown burger is €12.95, and a bacon cheeseburger is €14.50. The Big Cheese with double meat and three cheeses is €15.50 (compared to €18.50 for a double Smokester at Handsome).
There are a few oddball burgers like the Guac-A Mhac with lettuce, bacon and guacamole and The Blue Steel with blue cheese and (ack) bacon jam.
The menu also features interesting sides like fried Halloumi cheese sticks, Mac n Cheese and House Slaw. And there’s a large selection of interesting craft beers. I wish I could have sampled a few, but I was driving.
As luck would have it, the two best burger joints in Galway sit side by side down on Dominick Street and if you’re hungry (and you avoid the sweet stuff) you can’t go wrong.
Why a Burger?
Culinary tourists are apt to overlook the hamburgers when seeking out the best in authentic Irish cuisine. But in truth, the lowly burger may be one of the best ways to sample the famous Irish beef.
Cattle raising is one of Ireland’s oldest agricultural traditions and the country is justly proud of its beef. Irish beef is one of the country’s biggest exports and it is well-loved across Europe.
But the Irish tend to like their steaks very lean, with no aging, cooked extra well done. There are a few exceptional steakhouses (like F.X. Buckley) that are worth seeking out. But at the average Irish restaurant, a medium-rare steak isn’t very tender.
On the other hand, minced beef (as ground beef is known in Ireland) is always tender and often extremely flavorful. And the new generation of upscale burger joints that are spreading across Ireland have raised the bar on burgers in general.
The prices have gone up accordingly—Expect to pay 15 to 20 Euros for a hefty burger and chips in a pub or hotel restaurant.