- Middle East/North Africa
If you love burgers but have tired of the stale fast food variety, Zamalek has a few spruced up surprises for your palette.
With restaurants switching in and out of their locations all around the island, one is never really sure what cuisine will be offered. Zamalek was hit with a cupcake craze last year, with Crumbs, Nola, Devour and Sugar & Spice.
This January, it’s hamburgers — new hamburger spots are popping up all over the place, and as usual, the concentration is Zamalek.
Four takeout burger joints have made their names: Gourmet Burger, Mince, the Burger Factory and Lido. Each were rumored fabulous, dreamt of and ranted about. So the two of us packed up and set out for an afternoon of burgers.
The goal? Four burgers between us. The adventure began with the Burger Factory.
Located next door to Shorouk Bookstore on Hassan Sabry Street near 26th of July Street, the Burger Factory offered our favorite burger. We chose the Cowboy Burger, with onion rings and beef bacon, and licked our fingers when it was done.
The industrial, factory-like interior of the establishment is a bit cold, but welcoming nonetheless; reproductions of well-known art pieces adorn the walls, but with a burger twist. Burger Factory offers its guests a big and satisfying menu; more than 10 types of burgers, in addition to a decent section for sides and sauces.
The Cowboy Burger is simply heavenly — the combination of juicy and flavorsome meat and crunchy onion rings with the zing of the barbeque sauce is simply perfect. The beef bacon adds a twist to the stellar sandwich. The fries are tasty and crunchy, but not homemade.
Burger Factory opens at noon and closes at 2 am. It offers the option of doubling the portion of cheese or burger, but that would be unnecessary for most, as the portion is generous and super tasty. The average price for a burger is about LE30–35, excluding taxes and service.
The shi-shi burger
Gourmet Burger was our second stop, tucked just left off Hassan Sabry Street, on Brazil Street. Gourmet Burger is an unorthodox school of burger where burgers can be made of lamb or even shrimp, in addition to beef.
Our taster’s choice was the Thai Burger — a delicious shrimp cake burger with luscious sauce and a quality bun, with what looked like sundried tomato.
As the name suggests, food is far from “fast.” Although the service is pretty speedy, most menu items are a gourmet dinner in a bun. The burgers are divided by area: Canadian, Hawaiian, Belgian, Japanese, Indian or even Thai.
Our Thai burger lay on a bed of Arugula and tartar sauce. The burger was served with herb fries, which were very average, with nothing much herbed about them.
Although not the top burger place in Zamalek, Gourmet Burger is the best option for fish-eating vegetarians and creative burger eaters. The average price for a burger is LE35.
Nothing to get burger-ed up about
Mince was a bit of a disappointment. Despite nice shiny tables, clean wood and glass cookie jars, we were not so distracted as to notice our Mince Burger (LE36) was a little bland. Where was the saucy flavor? The marinated patty?
The bun was attractively dusted with flour but within the bun, there was not much more than some meat, raw onion, cheese and mushroom. When all the ingredients lined up perfectly, a good bite could be produced, but it was not comparable to the burgers that preceded it.
We could not bear the thought of another generic paper bowl of fries — we spied from another table that the fries at Mince were just like those at Burger Factory and Gourmet Burger, minus the useless flakes of herb, and we opted for the hand-cut fries at Mince. Those were nicely spiced and crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside.
We wished they had some good dipping sauce, but then we were disappointed by the burger and easily distracted by the sides.
At Mince, you can watch the cooks assemble your burger in a large, open kitchen-type panel, but you cannot hear them or receive your burger, because they are behind a thick pane of glass. While it’s a nice touch to be able to see them, it’s a little like inspecting fish in an aquarium, and things become even more surreal when you have to exit the restaurant to get your burger and come back inside to eat it. The cook who prepared our Mince Burger communicated through hand signals and lip reading behind the glass, offering to bring the burger around to us.
Mince opens at noon and stays open till 1 am.
The Clubhouse Burger (in a polo shirt and loafers)
Lido’s calling is the “club burger,” a burger that is remembered by the 20-something crowd who spent their childhoods at the Gezira Sporting Club, where they ate burgers and fries and licked up soft vanilla ice cream.
Lido has recreated the club burger in their Original Burger, which sits hand-in-hand with a hot dog as the only two main courses offered. On the side? Fries and ice cream.
Despite their miniature menu, Lido arguably offers one of the best burgers in town. The small takeout outlet mimics the burger with tahina the club was always famous for.
Among all the sandwiches reviewed, Lido’s burger is the most typical, in which you taste the meat and not the various mixture of sauces. The plain sandwich is relatively small, though, so make sure to order two.
The meat is juicy, and the mixture of tastes and aromas coming from the grill is unmatched elsewhere. The service at Lido is speedy and the waiters are friendly.
There is nowhere to sit, except some bar stools up to the back and the interiors of the kitchen, visible from the cash register, is all in red brick, and the traditional looking ice-cream machine, the grill and the silver chimney are all specific to the Lido area inside the Gezira Sporting Club.
The original burger costs LE10. Lido opens at noon and closse at 2 am, except on weekends, when it stays open another hour.
Parking is a pain for all these takeout places, but the wait and hassle is definitely worth it. The average waiting time is about 10 to 15 minutes.
The task complete, burgers eaten, fries assessed and desserts reluctantly devoured — all that was left for the two reviewers was to swear off eating for a day or two (yeah, right) and head home for a nap.
This piece was originally published in Egypt Independent's weekly print edition.