Having eaten several burgers in the service of Word readers, I feel somewhat qualified to declare a ‘short-list’ of sorts. It’s not necessary, because there’s no official competition going on, but when it comes to food wars, let's face it, the battle of the burger is never over.
These days you can eat a ‘damn good burger’ in a lot of places and be satisfied, but then promptly never return. With Soul Burger, I don’t think that’s going to happen — the difference being experience. That is to say, eating here weighs more than just 200 grams of choice American beef, more than just the handmade pretzel buns, hand-cut fries and chilli-slaw, and more than just the carefully paired premium ales, draughts and lagers.
To this reporter’s eye, Soul Burger is a melted slice of real American dining, tucked away down a real Saigon alley, atop a crazy little nail bar, opposite the eclectic views of the Ben Thanh market. It has a cool, cosy dining room where you can immerse yourself in legendary American soul music, and a breezy little balcony where you watch the sun set on the city. “It’s chill,” said Rachel from California when I interrupted her meal.
The other important thing you need to know about the eatery is that you should arrive hungry. Restaurateur Gabe stresses this, because his burgers don’t mess around. The one that carries his place’s name for example, The Soul Burger (VND345,000) is a 400g double-stacked number one hit with a bullet. Though whether it’s this or the Little Richard, (VND195,000), a burger he describes as ‘entry level’, The Diana Ross (VND230,000) or The Blues Brother (VND210,000), you can be assured that you’re visiting flavour country.
On our visit, The Al Green (VND200,000) and The James Brown (VND235,000) took lead vocals, with the former especially appealing to my softer side. It included a great combination of textures including a salsa verde, sliced avocado and crispy tortilla strips. I would have eaten the whole thing, but there was a James Brown waiting for me, and you don’t wanna make him wait. The JB was meaty decadence on a plate, featuring a brown sugar BBQ-glazed 200g patty, smoked pulled-pork, cheddar cheese and crispy beer-battered onion rings. Even the homey-ness of the hand-cut fries (VND30,000) transported me to a better place, while The Soulful Salad (VND165,000) that had come before cleansed my palette for everything else to come. It all left me feeling full, satisfied and with a bounce in my step I hadn’t noticed before. — Jon Aspin
Soul Burger is upstairs at 4 Phan Boi Chau, Q1, HCMC