Another city, another amazing burger, but is it really Washington D.C.'s best?
Update 3/18/2018: According to reports Ray's to the Third has closed its doors but delicious Ray's burgers can still be found at Ray's Hell Burger located at 449 K St NW in Washington, D.C. Word on the street is that the burgers are still just as good.
The hidden agenda for my travels doesn't involve just beer. It has always been to find a good hamburger. The best hamburger. We had already found it in Mississippi and until now, no where else in our travels has the throne of “best burger” has been so hotly contested.
Luckily when we landed in D.C. we knew exactly where we were going.
Ray’s to the Third, located in Arlington, is a former sit-down steak restaurant-turned-burger place after owner Michael Landrum was forced to close shop on both Ray’s Hell Burger and Hell Burger Too locations after a landlord dispute. Landrum changed the menu, plastered it on the wall and now offers counter service. Despite the change, locals still flock to this D.C. stalwart and there is an uproar every time Ray’s retreats into the fiery depths of hell. Ray’s is back though, and we tried as many devilish treats we could.
The menu was splayed out before us. Ordering should be simple with just burgers, a few sandwiches, and some sides. Simple. But it wasn’t with two burger sizes to chose from, a mile-long list of toppings that including things like caramelized onions, charred vegetables and hot bone marrow. There were crazy exotic grilled cheese combinations with toppings like almonds or apples or brie. And there were shakes. One vanilla shake please.
Not to shy away from pain and torture, I ordered the Big Punisher from the choices of specialties rather than trying to create my own. It teased me with heat. It tempted me with taste.
We took our seats and a bag of their free fresh popped popcorn and waited. It didn't take long. The burgers were set before us, mountains of meat, cheese and perfectly crisp toppings. A knife was jabbed through the center just to keep it from toppling over.
It was one hell of a burger. The Diablo sauce was oozing over the edges, the onions snaking their way from beneath the bun like Medusa's head, and the charred jalapenos were screaming angrily to be devoured. I obeyed.
My Big Punisher was medium rare. Perfectly. The flavors were powerful but didn't cross the line. It was bliss. The sides, fries and tots, were nothing to waste words on but the shakes, oh the shakes.
We ordered a vanilla shake but after seeing the burgers we failed to notice it didn't show up. Eventually we did get our shake and as an apology Landrum who was helping run food snuck us a little something extra. Noticing our beers were low he came bearing a Ricky Bobby “Shake and Bake” shake. It was a devilish combination of bourbon topped with crispy bacon bits, chocolate, caramel and whipped cream all mixed with vanilla ice cream.
It packed a punch with enough bourbon in it to know it shouldn't really be taken to go. We gulped them down fighting off the brain freeze and let out a satisfied sigh. It was a good choice.
There might be a thousand restaurants in the D.C. metro area and Virginia. The original Five Guys is right down the road and nearly every other restaurant offers a burger of some sorts. There's just too many great restaurants here. Ray's called to us though, tempting us to try their sinful creations. For now, for us, the Ray's Hell Burger is the number one beef patty in the Capital.