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Which is why I raced across the river to Ray’s To The Third. Rebel restaurateur Michael Landrum has been reshuffling his various properties after losing the spaces that once housed Ray’s Hell-Burger and Hell-Burger Two, but he has since swept his entire burger catalog beneath the Ray’s To The Third umbrella.
When it first opened, Ray’s To The Third carved out a special place on the menu for Landrum’s latest creation, his self-styled “gushers.” Following the consolidation, those have fallen off the main carte — but a server assured me the cheese-filled favorites are always available to those who ask.
His first question: “How would you like that cooked?”
When I asked for medium rare, he counseled, “With medium-rare I can’t guarantee the cheese will be melted all the way through.” We settled on medium.
Much like the 5-8 Club, Ray’s allows for customization, baiting clients with a choice of premium cheeses ($1-$1.50 for everything from plain American to imported double cream Brie). And the base burger is a 10-ounce behemoth fashioned from select steak house cuts.
The beautiful monstrosity that arrived tableside nearly brought tears to my eyes.
The oversized patty dwarfed the plain white bun. The cheese (I ordered Vermont white cheddar for a true side-by-side comparison), as I was warned, remained mostly in its sliced state, but was also firmly embedded within the meat.
Because the cheese had not fully melted, I was spared from any embarrassing spray (though I still had to wipe the grease from my hands after every bite). But the interior was deliciously bloody, the outside attractively seared, and the whole thing smacked of smoke and creaminess.
I won’t bore you with the details of a follow up exploration featuring a Ray’s burger that spewed forth a sensory-overloading geyser of piquant blue cheese, but I will say this: Get one. You may never go back to plain cheeseburgers again.
Back at The Arsenal, Bailey insists his Juicy Lucy is king of the heap.
“It outsells everything 2 to 1,” he asserted.
That blows our mind. Particularly since his Merguez burger, a mash-up of ground lamb and pork layered with Manchego cheese and a bold harissa aioli, is much juicier and flavorful than the flagship dish.
CQ Roll Call dining guru Warren Rojas will stop at nothing to track down your regional specialty/state dish/hometown favorite. Put him on the case by nominating your most sorely missed meals to email@example.com.
Bluejacket/The Arsenal: 300 Tingey St. SE; 202-524-4862; bluejacketdc.com. Average entree: $13 to $20 ($$). Open for lunch Monday through Friday, dinner daily, brunch Sunday.
Ray’s To The Third: 1650 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, Va.; 703-974-7171; raystothethird.com. Average entree: $13 to $20 ($$). Open for lunch and dinner daily.