Killer Burger Strikes

As a general rule, one should try to avoid ingesting deadly foods. Blowfish, death cap mushrooms, bitter almonds, and botulism pie are not generally found on most must-eat lists. So it’s understandable that a savvy diner might blanch when confronted by this newish Northeast Sandy burger joint’s signage for the first time. It’s pretty blatant. They’re out to get you, and your little arteries too.

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And if you had doubts, just check out their menu mascot–a sinister-looking speeding hamburger with a lit fuse poking out the top. I rest my case.

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Burgers, burgers, and more burgers. I tend to power down into Sleep mode when someone tells me about their latest greatest burger find. Sure, I can feel as passionately about a great burger as the next red-blooded American, but the market’s a bit saturated here in Portland and I can only eat so much ground beef in a day. (Current record: 1.6 pounds…hey, I’m no Nick Zukin, okay?!) So when a trusted food-loving friend encouraged me to try Killer Burger, I was only partially enthusiastic. Not to mention, I was still in mourning for Nasca, the delicious little family-owned Peruvian restaurant that used to occupy this compact corner space at NE Sandy and NE 47th. Nobody I knew ever ate there, but I loved it. It was hard to see it concede defeat and be replaced by a burger joint.

But sometimes you want a burger, crave a burger, absolutely MUST HAVE A BURGER, and the burger seed had been planted, so, following the smell of griddled ground beef ‘n bacon, we headed into Killer Burger. It was early, so it was mostly empty, except for a lone patron reading a book, resolutely ignoring the football game on the flat screen television anchored to the wall above the back kitchen door. The scent of sizzling beef and fries was intoxicating, and behind the counter, what looked like an acre of bacon was frying in neatly crimped rows. I was sold.

Their one-page paper menu isn’t fussy, but it’s got some sass. Burgers are 1/3 pounders, include fries, and bacon is standard. Since I think bacon should be standard issue on pretty much everything, including cars, which should have a bacon broiler/dispenser in the console, I applauded this sentiment. Buns are soft and fresh, the bacon is meaty, and the pickles are thick and crisp. If you’re a stickler for sourcing, I haven’t been able to find much info on the origins of the beef, bread, etc. I did see that when questioned about the beef via Facebook, the restaurant said info on their meat was “proprietary” and then didn’t comment further. Take that how you will.

The first burger on the menu is perhaps the most interesting–the Peanut Butter-Pickle-Bacon burger, a juicy hunk of hot beef slathered with a housemade concoction akin to the peanut sauce you dip spring rolls in at your favorite Thai place. The combination of sauce, bacon, bacon grease, pickle, and burger is sweet, meaty, salty, creamy and nutty–not what you’d expect from a homicidal burger, but roll with it. It’s delicious.

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You are actually required to sign a waiver before you attempt The Marine, which is accessorized with ghost peppers and housemade “Lava” hot sauce. Ghost peppers, aka Bhut Jolokia, were just recently unseated as the hottest peppers in the known universe, and are 401.5 times hotter than Tabasco. Best of luck with that one. My ulcer wouldn’t sign the waiver so I demurred. On one visit, we saw a table full of strapping young men attempt The Marine en masse, with only one emerging victorious. If you’re able to eat the entire burger, and all the Lava-sauce dribbled fries, you get your picture taken for the “Few and Proud” wall, and a popsicle. You’ll have to pay for your own stomach pumping though.

Most of the burgers are familiar combinations–the Fun Guy is piled with mushrooms and Swiss, and the Teemah with blue cheese, while the Barnyard sees the Classic (bacon, cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle) and raises it a slab of ham and a fried egg. Vegetarians can Go Metro by subbing a garden burger patty on any burger, but are still asked, “Do you still want the bacon?” You know, just in case.

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The slider trios are a treat–I opted for the Variety, because isn’t that what threesomes are all about? I got three juicy burglets, one with peanut butter sauce, one with American cheese, and one with Swiss, all balanced atop a mound of thick golden house fries generously sprinkled with salt.

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You’ll need something to wash down your Make It a Fatty (double patty) burger and small haystack of fries–PBR is $2 and microbrews are $4 (there are four or so local beers on tap), while fountain sodas are $2, and kids’ sodas are a dollar.

Speaking of kids, the diverse neighborhood crowd that pours into the narrow, corrugated steel-lined dining room come suppertime often skews towards people with children, both their own and any they might have picked up along the way, making this an excellent spot to bring the whole family/slumber party/soccer team. A play group joyously invaded the dining room during one of our visits, and one spritely fellow with light-up shoes did energetic laps up and down the high-backed wooden half-booth lining the left side of the restaurant while he waited for his Kids Killer Basket (slider + fries, $3.95). From the safety of the cushioned window seat, a young couple with a well-swaddled, mostly immobile newborn watched him despairingly, while a still-child free young couple clinked their pint glasses of Ninkasi IPA and audibly debated Depo-Provera verses the ‘ol snip n’ clip.

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Yes, sometimes you’ve just got to have a burger, and Killer Burger will quench your craving with gusto, albeit quite possibly at the risk of cardiac malfunction. But I’ve been there quite a few times now, and I’m still alive, so perhaps tonight you should forgo your regularly scheduled dinner program of blowfish tartare, elderberry twigs and apricot pits, and up the ante to The Marine. You know, for a little variety.

Killer Burger * 4644 NE Sandy Blvd. * 971.544.7521 (you can call ahead for to-go orders) * Mon-Thu 11am-9pm, Fri-Sat 11am-11pm