The Rhino

The RhinoLocation: 1249 Queen Street West, Toronto
Website: http://www.therhino.ca/

My visit to The Rhino was completely unplanned — I was in the area, I wanted to check out a burger, and hey, that place looks like it serves a hamburger.  No recommendations, no research, just a random pop-in.

My dream in situations like this is that the burger will turn out to be amazing, and that I can announce a hidden gem to the world.  I mean, anyone can go and review a place that everyone’s talking about.  Who cares?  Finding a restaurant that people wouldn’t have heard of otherwise — that’s a service to the world.

The Rhino

That absolutely, positively isn’t what happened here, but hey, I can keep dreaming.  One day.

The Rhino burger: “hand-pressed ground beef patty, lettuce, tomato, red onion, pickle, brioche bun. Served with fries or house salad.”

The Rhino

It’s not good.  And it’s not good in such a boring way that I don’t even particularly feel like talking about it.  It’s the usual bad burger trifecta: the beef is too finely ground, it’s packed too tightly, and it’s too lean.  It’s crazy dry.  I normally eat a burger as it comes, but in this case I just couldn’t stomach it.  I had to put on copious amounts of mustard (which I typically find to be way too assertive as a burger topping) just to give it some moisture, and to give the bland, personality-free beef some flavour.

The Rhino

I will say that the medium well patty is perfectly grilled, which gives it a great amount of smoky flavour.  Not enough to save it, of course — but it that element was nice nonetheless.

And the fresh brioche bun was quite good (not that it particularly matters).

The Rhino

As for the fries, they were delicious, with a delicate exterior crispiness and a perfect amount of fluffiness.  They were seasoned with big, flaky grains of salt that added more texture and nice pops of flavour.  They were top notch.

1.5 out of 4

St. James’s Gate

St. James's GateLocation: 5140 Dundas Street West, Etobicoke
Website: https://sjgtoronto.ca/

I’ve been at this for almost a decade now, so for the most part, these reviews basically write themselves (what’s that?  The reviews all feel like I’m writing them on autopilot? Yeah, that’s fair).  But burgers like the one they serve at St. James’s Gate — good, but not noteworthy in any way — are probably the toughest to review.

It’s a solid burger.  It exists.  There’s nothing majorly wrong with it.  I don’t know.

St. James's Gate

The Royale with Cheese, according to the menu: “Twin four ounce brisket burgers stacked with melted American cheese, Havarti, secret sauce and bread and butter pickles.”

Is it the best burger I’ve ever had?  No, absolutely not.  Did it offend me in any way?  Also no.  It’s good.

St. James's Gate

I will say that the two types of cheese are a nice touch; I’ve never seen the Havarti/American combo on a cheeseburger, and I was skeptical.  I thought it might be too much.  But they’re both nice and gooey without being overly assertive.  It works.

Another bonus: I’m pretty sure that the patties were grilled, which is a nice change of pace from the griddle-smashed patties that you’d expect to find in a burger like this.

St. James's Gate

Otherwise, the patties are fine.  They’re slightly too dense and tough, but they’re nice and juicy, which helps to balance things out.  And while there’s nothing particularly noteworthy about the flavour of the beef, it’s fine.  It’s inoffensive, and there’s so much other stuff going on here that it doesn’t really stand out as a huge issue.

The other toppings, including the tangy secret sauce, are all about what you’d expect, and the bun — though slightly too toasty and crispy — suits the burger well.

St. James's Gate

As for the fries, they’re quite good.  Unlike the burger, they’re actually quite a bit better than okay.

3 out of 4

The Commoner

The CommonerLocation: 2067 Dundas Street West, Toronto
Website: https://www.thecommonerrestaurant.ca/

Here’s a classic good news / bad news type of situation.  The good news: The Commoner seems like it’s a quality restaurant.  It’s quite popular, and most of the food they served when I visited was very good.

The bad news: the hamburger.  It’s not great.

The Commoner

The Commoner cheeseburger, as per the menu: “Brioche. Lettuce. Tomato. Pickles. Onion. Provolone. Dijon Mayo.”

Nothing about the burger is awful, but nothing is particularly good, either.

The patty is grilled (I think? It’s got that char flavour that you typically only get from the grill, but it’s possible that it was just enthusiastically griddled), and while it’s cooked all the way to well done, it’s fairly juicy.  But the texture is off — I think the grind is too fine — and it’s a little bit tough.

The Commoner

The flavour of the beef is another issue.  It’s generally inoffensive, but it also has a mild gaminess.  It’s not in your face, but it’s there, and it’s unpleasant.

I can maybe forgive the shoddy flavour of the meat; it’s possible that they got an iffy batch from an otherwise quality supplier.  What I can’t forgive, however?  The cardinal sin of  cheeseburger cookery: the cheese isn’t fully melted.  In my world, that would be a crime punishable by serious jail time.  Get out of here with that.

The Commoner

Then there’s the brioche bun.  I knew it was trouble as soon as I cut into it; it’s dry and dense.  Again, I’ve certainly had worse, but it’s not great.

Everything else was fine, though the Dijon mayo was somewhat overpowering.

The Commoner

It’s not a great burger, sadly.  On the other hand: my dining companion had the huevos rancheros and said it was the best he’s ever had, and the fries that came with the burger were spectacularly delicious.  French fry perfection.  So there’s that, at least.

2 out of 4

Maison Selby

Maison SelbyLocation: 592 Sherbourne Street, Toronto
Website: https://www.maisonselby.com/

As far as I’m concerned, a great burger doesn’t need much when it comes to toppings.  Is the the patty made from good quality beef?  Is it juicy?  If the answer to both of those questions is yes (and the answer to both of those questions should always be yes), then please just step out of the way and let the burger do its thing.

Sure, throw a couple of toppings on there that enhance or compliment the beef — but that’s it.  A lot of chefs tend to overthink it or want to put their own stamp on a tried-and-true dish.  Don’t do that.  The beef is the star.  It’s been the star for over a hundred years.  You’re not better than that kind of history.  If the toppings are getting in the way of what makes a burger great, you’re doing it wrong.

Maison Selby

Of course, I probably should have known that something called a “French Onion Beef Chuck Burger” would be over-condimented.   But how could I resist?  French onion soup is delicious.  Hamburgers are delicious.  Surely combining the two should be delicious?

And yeah, it kinda is.  That’s the thing.  This was a Tasty Burger.  But it was all about the toppings.

Maison Selby

In my defense, caramelized onions and gooey cheese are both a hamburger’s best friend, so I had high hopes for this.  But the sharp Gruyère was way too assertive, as was the voluminous pile of rich, flavourful onions (not to mention the dijonnaise, which adds another strong flavour into the mix).

It’s too bad, because the patty was decent.  The waiter asked if medium was okay, but it actually came out closer to medium rare — a delightful surprise.  And it was quite juicy.  But even aside from the fact that it was way over-condimented, the quality of the beef itself was only so-so.

Maison Selby

That’s pretty much moot, however — the only way I was able to tell what the patty tasted like was by specifically pulling out a piece so I could try it on its own.  Underneath all of those assertive toppings, the patty is more about its texture than anything else.  And the texture is great.

I don’t know.  I’m probably just being a curmudgeon and/or a burger snob.  I enjoyed eating the burger at Maison Selby.  It tastes good.  But for all the creativity on display, is it better than a plain burger that’s well prepared and made with great quality beef?  No.  No it is not.

As for the fries, they could have been fresher, but were otherwise quite tasty.  In particular, the herby aioli that comes on the side is fantastic.

3 out of 4

Avenue Open Kitchen

Avenue Open KitchenLocation: 7 Camden Street, Toronto
Website: https://aveopenkitchen.ca/

I probably shouldn’t like the burger at Avenue Open Kitchen quite as much as I did — mostly because it’s a meatloaf burger, which isn’t my favourite style of hamburger, putting it mildly.

Actually, no, that description doesn’t quite cut it; it’s not just a meatloaf burger.  It is the meatloafiest of meatloaf burgers.  The patty absolutely slaps you in the face with its oddly sweet, heavily-seasoned flavour.  The taste of the beef?  Completely gone.

So, I hated it, right?  Well, about that…

Avenue Open Kitchen

It’s otherwise so well prepared, I couldn’t help but enjoy it.

I had heard that that the banquet burger is the thing to order here, so that’s what I got.  And yeah, that’s what you should be getting; the bacon is nice and crispy and the gooey American cheese is perfectly melted.  Bonus: their saltiness helps to balance the sweetness of the patty.

Avenue Open Kitchen

That patty is quite sweet, though.  It’s so weird.  I’m guessing they’ve mixed in some kind of sweet sauce into the beef?  It’s not bad, per se, but it’s strange.

Avenue Open Kitchen

Still, everything else about the patty is so right that it almost makes up for the wrongness of the flavour — its got a great crispy crust from the griddle, it’s very juicy, and the texture is on point (it’s slightly too soft, but that’s par for the course for a meatloaf burger).

The toppings are the usual suspects, and the soft, fluffy bun suits the burger perfectly.

Avenue Open Kitchen

As for the fries, they’re nothing to write home about, but they’re solid.

3 out of 4

Ronto’s Burger

Ronto's BurgerLocation: 772 College Street, Toronto
Website: https://www.rontos.ca/

Generally speaking, if a burger joint exists in the GTA, I want to review it.  It makes no difference to me whether I’ve heard good things / bad things / nothing about it.  My impossible goal is to review every burger place in Toronto, though obviously that’s an epic task that I’ll never complete.

So the fact that I hadn’t heard a single thing about Ronto’s Burger certainly didn’t deter me from checking it out, though it did make me skeptical that it was going to be particularly great.

Ronto's Burger

As it turns out, I shouldn’t have been skeptical; Ronto’s Burger is surprisingly fantastic.

I ordered the namesake Ronto’s Burger: “One beef patty, Ronto’s sauce, lettuce, cheddar cheese, tomato, onions.”

It’s a griddled six ounce patty; it’s slightly more substantial than the typical smashed burger that’s so common in the city, and the added substance is quite nice.

Ronto's Burger

The patty is really good; it’s got a pronounced crust from the griddle and it’s abundantly juicy despite being cooked to well done.  The texture is right where it should be, with coarsely ground beef that hasn’t been overhandled.  It’s great.

It’s not the beefiest tasting patty I’ve ever had, but the beefy flavour is definitely there, and it’s quite satisfying.  I wish it hadn’t been cooked all the way to well done — it’s ever-so-slightly tough — but considering how good it is otherwise, that’s a minor complaint.

Ronto's Burger

Though the menu calls the cheese cheddar, it’s clearly American, which definitely isn’t a bad thing.  It’s gooey, salty, and perfect for this type of burger.

The Ronto’s sauce wasn’t my favourite, however.  It’s fine — it’s actually quite tasty.  It’s the usual zesty, Mac-Sauce-esque concoction, but it’s a bit too zesty for its own good.  It overpowers the beef, which is a shame when the patty is this delicious.

Ronto's Burger

The nicely toasted, soft and fluffy bun is mostly perfect, aside from being slightly too wide for the patty.

As for the fries, they’re generic battered, frozen fries, but they’re well prepared and tasty enough for what they are.  They come with a little container of Ronto’s sauce for dipping; that stuff works much, much better with fries than on the burger.

3.5 out of 4

Station Bar & Kitchen

Station Bar & KitchenLocation: 866 Bloor Street West, Toronto
Website: http://www.stationcafe.ca/

The burger at Station Bar & Kitchen is solid.  I’ve had better and I’ve definitely had worse.  Nothing about it particularly stands out, but if you’re looking for a hamburger, it’s there.  It exists, and it won’t make you sad.

I know that’s faint praise, but what are you going to do?  Not every burger can be a home run.

Station Bar & Kitchen

The “Station Cheese Burger,” per their menu: “7 ounce beef brisket patty ground in-house with our secret spice mix, on a toasted brioche burger bun with house made burger sauce and a slice of melted cheddar.  Topped with lettuce, tomato and onions.”

The reference to a spice mix had me worried; this has been discussed ad nauseam on this blog, but once you mix spices directly into a hamburger patty, it starts losing its essential burgeriness.  It becomes meatloaf.

Station Bar & Kitchen

Thankfully, that wasn’t the case here.  Though I think they had mixed spices into the patty, it was done subtly enough that it wasn’t particularly an issue.

The griddled, medium-well patty was pretty decent — most notably, it was juicy, and the texture of the grind was pretty much exactly where it should be.  It also had some crust from the griddle.  It’s a solid patty.

Station Bar & Kitchen

I wish the beef itself had more flavour, however.  The flavour certainly isn’t bad, but there’s such a distinct lack of beefiness that I briefly wondered if pork was involved.

Everything else was pretty good, from the nicely toasted bun to the zesty mayo-based burger sauce and the mild, melty cheddar.

As for the fries, they’re quite tasty, and come with a little container of gravy that makes for a delightful dipping sauce.

3 out of 4