Catherine Cleary's top ten burger and barbecue joints in Ireland
‘Irish Times’ restaurant critic Catherine Cleary picks her top spots for summer food – and we want to hear about your favourites too
A delicious nugget in Bill Bryson’s One Summer: America 1927 centres on Harry Stevens, the Englishman who made more money from baseball than any player. Stevens wanted something that could be eaten out of the hand and would stay warm. German dachshund sausages wrapped in long buns worked best. Stevens called them “red hots”. An American cartoonist who couldn’t spell dachshund (or may have been insulting the kind of meat they might contain) dubbed them “hotdogs”. The snack made Stevens an extremely rich man.
Burgers come from the same school of practical ideas embraced by convenience-loving Americans. The meat is kept warm in a doughy coat of bun which also mops up any juices and the whole lot can be eaten one-handed.
We associate burgers with the barbecue. Our idea of barbecues (donning a man apron after a trip to the shop for charcoal) is nothing like American barbecue culture where whole pigs are slow-roasted in the wood smoke from smouldering fire pits. But the smell of meat fat dropping on white hot coals still says summer just as surely as mown grass and suncream.
If you don’t feel like getting a wire brush out and cleaning off last year’s charred meat remains, much less digging a fire pit in the back garden, here are my top ten favourite burger and barbecue joints where someone else has done all the scrubbing and smoking.
BOBO'S, CO DUBLIN
The painted cows are gone from the outside wall of BoBo’s on Wexford Street but inside there are still plenty of bovine pin-ups over the kitchen where the cooks prepare these tasty burgers. My favourite is the Cashel burger, a meaty number topped with a slice of Cashel Blue, one of Ireland’s best cheeses, rocket, tomato and bacon. It doesn’t come with chips, but it doesn’t need to. You can order a good juice or smoothie to go with it. The kids’ burgers at €6.75 are more than generously portioned.
BoBos, 22 Wexford Street, Dublin 2. Now also open at 50-51 Dame Street, Dublin 2
BUNSEN BURGER, CO DUBLIN
Two years ago Tom Gleeson took burgers up a notch in Dublin with his small simple idea called Bunsen Burger on Wexford Street. The idea was to treat burgers with a bit more respect, using better meat and cooking them with succulence in mind. Fried on a hotplate, the burgers are flipped, topped with cheese and a bun and finish their cooking under a steel dome so steam and smoke infuse the sandwich.
Bunsen Burger, 36 Wexford Street, Dublin 2
PITT BROS, CO DUBLIN
Low and slow is the promise in Pitt Bros, a friendly hip place where they take the idea of slow-smoked barbecue very seriously. Custom-made smokers get the hum of wood smoke into slow-cooked brisket and pulled pork. Burgers are cooked over flames. Hours of cooking go into lunch and dinner. They make their own meat rubs and the chips here are terrific.
Pitt Bros Smoked BBQ, Unit 1 Wicklow House, South Great George’s Street Dublin 2
777, CO DUBLIN
In John Farrell’s 777 the “elotes” are a side dish but I would happily eat a plate of them. They’re street food at its finest: wood-grilled sweetcorn finished with crumbles of fresh queso cheese, chilli, salt and lime juice. The Mexican restaurant also turns out fish, meat and pig’s head carnitas (chunks of meat) from a wood-fired grill.
777, 7 Castle House, South Great George’s Street, Dublin 2
SEAPOINT, CO DUBLIN
Is it a restaurant? Is it a “Fish and Grill”? Who cares? Seapoint in Monkstown does casual dining very well. Along with an 8oz burger it has a yellow fin tuna burger with avocado, horseradish and red pepper salsa and a vegan burger with red onion and avocado salsa.
Seapoint, 4 The Crescent, Monkstown, Co Dublin
ELEPHANT & CASTLE, CO DUBLIN
The chicken wings in Temple Bar’s Elephant & Castle are one of my dirty food secrets dating back to the days before the restaurant was hemmed in by hens and stags. The restaurant also has a menu of burger options with toppings ranging from the usual cheddar and bacon to the relationship-challenging roasted garlic burger (featuring garlic cloves, garlic butter and garlic mayo) to the “Elephant Burger” which is topped with curried sour cream and streaky bacon.
Elephant & Castle, 18 Temple Bar, Dublin 2
ELBOW LANE, CO CORK
In Cork, Market Lane’s new sister restaurant Elbow Lane has a wood-fired oven on which they can smoke and cook their lively menu. I loved the mackerel: two head-and-tail whole fish with the skin blackened crisp and served with a good house salsa of herbs, onions, tomatoes and coriander. It also does a wood-smoked T-bone and a low-smoked brisket roll.
Elbow Lane, 4 Oliver Plunkett St, Cork
OARSMAN BAR & CAFE, CO LEITRIM
They put “secret sauce” and smoked bacon on their 7oz burger in the Oarsman Bar and Cafe as well as making their own baps. These are all signs of a hardworking great gastropub in Co Leitrim.
The Oarsman Bar and Restaurant, Bridge St, Carrick-on-Shannon, Co Leitrim
WILD HONEY INN, CO CLARE
The lunch menu at Aidan McGrath’s lovely Wild Honey Inn in Lisdoonvarna, Co Clare includes an Angus burger which is “house made” with red onion, lettuce, mayo and chips. It sounds like a heavenly sight for a hungry Burren walker.
Wild Honey Inn, Kincora Road, Lisdoonvarna, Co Clare
HARRY'S, CO DONEGAL
I haven’t tried the Angus burger in Harry’s, the popular Bridgend restaurant on the Inishowen Peninsula. It comes with the staples you might get elsewhere: butterhead lettuce, tomato relish and cheese. However, if they’re as careful with their burger ingredients as they are with the fish and vegetables they serve here, then it’s worth a burger pitstop on the Wild Atlantic Way.
Harry’s, Bridgend, Inishowen, Donegal
HAVE YOUR SAY: Did Catherine get it right? Which restaurant do you think makes the best burger in Ireland?
What – and who – makes the perfect burger? Extra cheese? Strips of bacon? Or the controversial slice of pineapple? If you believe you know where to get the best burger in Ireland, we’d love to hear about it.
Email email@example.com telling us where to find it and what makes it so special, and we’ll share your tips with our readers