My Favorite Burger in Paris
Before y’all start blasting me with comments like, “How could you…?!” please, just stay with me for a minute.
I know, I know. It seems blasphemous. Crazy, at best. For those of you that don’t live in France, Hippopotamus is pretty much what this open photograph looks like — it’s a chain, it’s tacky (note the warm red tone of the interior, in the shots below, cast by the glow of neon), and by French standards, at just $13.90 euros for a burger, it’s cheap. So why Hippopotamus? Why now?
It was a Sunday. I was hungry. And our little bistro in the 17th, where X and I usually go for steak frites, was closed for les vacances.
Enter the Hippo.
I’ve been avoiding this place for years. Years. Snickering at its overt tackiness, wondering how on earth it managed to survive here, in Paris of all places, the capital of all things culinary, but on this particular Sunday, I was feeling, well, hungry, as I’ve already mentioned, and I just thought, “Oh, what the hell.”
Once inside, after we were seated by our 30-something well-tatooed waitress, I looked up, and suddenly felt right at home.
“They grill the meat here?!” I said to X, barely able to contain my excitement. GET OUT!
I immediately time traveled back to my early days at the Charcoal Broiler, Denton’s grilled meat place. It’s where you went in the 70’s for grilled steak, chopped steak, and burgers. Simple decor, in shades of brown, like cow. Meat, thrown on the grill. Baked potato on the side. Sometimes the line was so long that it snaked out the door. It was where the Denton High school football team would often go after games, so in Denton-world, the Charcoal Broiler was as cool as it could get, after Sonic.
Turns out Hippopotamus isn’t that different (and if a French rugby team walks in the door, please rouse me from my hamburger high). Even X’s family sometimes goes to the Hippo for steaks, his mother confessed to me last week. Well, now I see why. The meat here is from one of the oldest French beef cattle breeds, the all-white Charolais, so-called because the breed was developed around Charolles in the Burgundy region.
Is it the best burger I’ve ever had? No, but of the burgers that I’ve eaten while living in Paris, it’s my current favorite — it’s grilled, not greasy; and it’s not trying to be an “American” burger, with a faux-bun, and a pretend American atmosphere. The fries are frozen, sure, but they’re cooked until crisp, which for some strange reason, is hard to find in Paris. It’s soggy fries city around here. The best fries I’ve found are at our next door neighbor country, Belgium.
But here’s the deal, y’all. This is Paris. It’s not Dallas, where you can find Angus beef burgers at Whataburger, for god’s sake. Or Fort Worth, home of Fred’s, the biggest burgers I’ve ever seen and served by the cutest waiters – ever. What I’m trying to say that finding a really authentic, Texas-style (enormous, with Pepper Jack, jalapenos, bacon, and avocado) burger here is as likely as seeing a taqueria on the corner, or finding a barbecue joint with a smoker shaped like a big black pig out front, like the one on the I-35 southbound access road near Lake Lewisville.
Ain’t gonna happen.
Why should we even want to? It would be like going to Texas and saying, “Man, I can’t find a decent duck confit anywhere! What is wrong with this place?”
What I’m saying, I guess, is I’ve adjusted. I’m no longer bitter about the burger blight here; in fact, it doesn’t bother me a bit.
But when I’m in the burger mood, and when a 10-hour plane ride’s too long to wait, you just might find me in the Hippo, where they serve Roquefort sauce (instead of ketchup) with the fries, eating my burger with a knife and fork.
PARIS BURGER 411:
Hippopotamus restaurants are all over town. Find one in your quartier here.
Ferdi serves burgers at lunch on a chic little cutting board, with tasty, crispy fries — but only at lunch, last time I was there. Fashionista crowd, so wear lots of black if you want to fit in. 32 Rue du Mont Thabor, 1e, 01 42 60 82 52
Coffee Parisien’s burgers are pretty good (I get the bacon cheeseburger), but the fries — oversize chunks of potatoes — are just sad. Order the “brick” (French for hashbrowns) instead. 7 rue Gustave Courbet, 16e, 01-45-53-17-17 and 4 rue Princesse, 6e, 01 43 54 18 18
I’ve not tried the burgers at Scoop, but they’re supposed to be quite good. On my list to try. 154 rue St. Honore, 1e, 01-42-60-31-84
Joe Allen’s has been serving burgers for years. I’ve been there once and wasn’t impressed. Some people really like it, though. 30 rue Pierre Lescot, 1e, 01-42-36-70-13
PDG, like Coffee Parisien, another “American” restaurant, is known for its burgers – by the French press. I’ve not been, but could easily be talked into a visit. 5 rue Dragon, 6e, 01-45-48-94-40 and 20 rue de Ponthieu, 8e, 01-45-48-94-40
Ralph’s is Ralph Lauren’s new restaurant and I’ve seen lots of folks blog about his 27 euro Angus burger. Seriously? 173 blvd St. Germain, 6e, 01-44-77-76-00