Burger Project Summary

I had a great time this past year investigating hamburger joints with my good friends Jay, John, Norm, and Ray. It all started in November 2011 when I read an article in the Oregonian on The Top 10 Classic Burgers in the Portland Area.  My immediate thought was; “what a great job to have: eating burgers and writing about it. I like to eat and I like to write about stuff.” My second thought was “hey I could go eat burgers and compare my experience”. That was quickly followed by “I bet I’ve got some buds who would could occasionally escape the food police (aka spousal units) and do this with me.”
I have a great affinity for spreadsheets (just ask my co-workers) and I wanted to get an experience working with Google Docs. With just a few minutes thinking I had many itches I could scratch with just one effort
  • Hang out with friends semi-regularly
  • Eat great hamburgers (come to find they wouldn’t all be great)
  • Learn how to use Google Docs and use a shared form to populate a spreadsheet
  • Blog about the adventure.
At first it was Jay, John and myself. After a couple of trips we recruited Norm and Ray. We took turns picking and made our way to some interesting places and some not so much. We used a 5 point scale  to rate 6 categories:
Rating system
  1. Horrible
  2. Not the worst ever
  3. Average
  4. Pretty darn good
  5. Epic
Rating categories
  • Hamburger
  • Side
  • Drink
  • Atmosphere and ambience
  • Service
  • Overall
I learned subsequently through a project at work that an odd number rating system isn’t preferred in this type of work because it’s too easy to choose “average” thus avoiding a real decision. But it worked pretty well for us. I think we could identify the difference between a 2, 3, and a 4.  We were pretty tough judges. We didn’t hand out 5’s right and left; neither did we hand out many 1’s.  I think the only item that averaged below a 2 are the fries at Stanich’s. They were truly awful (gray, limp, greasy, AND cool) in most everyone’s opinion. Three of us gave them a 1; 1 person a 2; but Jay gave them a 4. We looked at him like he was crazy, but didn’t pressure him to change his score.
Here is our week-by-week tally.
Week-by-week comparison

A burger joint has got to have a great burger; here is the ranking of the burgers in order of preference.

Hamburger Ratings

The overall rating ranking shown here is the based on the average “overall” rating by each member. The “overall” is not an average of the other categories but rather the raters overall rating of the place. As such it is subjective and will weight the different categories in different ways week-to-week. Confusing? Don’t over-think it.


Overall ratings in best-to-worst order
My biggest reaction to our ranking is that Dea’s In n Out is rated way, way to low in my opinion. When people heard I was doing this project they’s ask “where should I go?” Dea’s was always very high on my list.
I think the (well at least “a”) reason for this is that it was our first visit and we were cognizant of the fact we were setting a standard. It’s like judging figure skating or gymnastics. If you give a top score to the first contestant, you’ve cut off your ceiling for the rest. Also, since it is way over in Gresham (about an hour away from our homes in Beaverton) we had to make a pit stop in their bathroom before we left. Not pleasant. That dinged their atmosphere and overall points I’m sure.  We didn’t include bathroom status in the other places so that could be a bit unfair. On the other hand, maybe it is just average.
I think we may have to go back and see how it fares now that we have a body of work to base it on.
The initial goal was to visit the same ten places the Oregonian wrote about; we then were having so much fun we added others. It looked like it could be the never-ending project so I corralled us a bit at the end to finish off the original comparison.


Head-to-head comparison with The Oregonian

We were in agreement about Helvetia Tavern being a great burger place and that there are better places to spend your burger money than Humdinger. But that’s about all we could agree on. Their #2 was Skyline and we rated that dead last. Other big disparities were Dea’s and Stanich’s.

Let’s give my fellow team members space for their opinions.


The yearlong Burger Research Project was a blast.  It was fun to get together with friends and sample hamburgers, fries and milkshakes.  I think BBQ or Thai should be our next research project and should be limited to ten independent restaurants.

Basic research principles applied to this project.  If the subjects know you are evaluating them, they act differently.  For example, when we told the servers/owners what we were up to, they were on their best behavior – we got their best burgers and not their average burgers.  Sometimes we even got a free dessert.

The data, as presented in the summary tables, seems to support several conclusions.

Norm and Ray are easy graders and you don’t want to be evaluated by Howard.

The Oregonian told the businesses they were being evaluated.

The Oregonian’s burger wonks don’t have a clue as to what a good burger tastes like.

It pays to do your own homework.


The experience: Going in: I never thought there would be such differences between burger joints. Who knew? As it turns out, these differences can be vast and, with our criteria, varied.

We all had fun being almost serious ‘burger joint’ critics.
Where should I go to get a burger? An age-old question that has finally been answered. With the work recently been done in this field by our crack research team, we have now determined that the finest burger joint burger available in the Portland metro area is …
well, see for yourself in the attached results of our efforts.

My personal overall favorite burger place is Helvetia Tavern. They offer a consistently great burger, good fries and onion rings, and the drink choice for me is usually (always) a pint of IPA.
Service is generally friendly and efficient.
Their choices in decor pretty unique with just the right balance of post-tornado salvage and man cave chic. Always comfortable and funky. I love this place.


This project was a lot of fun. It was great to eat good food in good company. I particularly liked the structured method of evaluating experiences. Without a discrete scoring system it would have been hard to compare one place to another. It was also interesting to see how our ratings and rankings varied from those of the Oregonian. Maybe the burger quality varies from time to time or maybe our tastes and methods are different from their reviewers.

For me, the best burger I found was at Rock Creek Corner. Helvetia Tavern was a close second. When you include the other factors such as sides, service, atmosphere, drinks, etc. I think the Helvetia Tavern was the best.

Unfortunately, I did not participate in outings to some of the other top spots, such as Killer Burger and Red Coach. Based on my fellow researcher’s ratings, I will surely check them out on my own. Big thanks to Howard for organizing this caper and for doing such a great job with the web publishing.

Final Words

To read the results of all our places, simply click here to get a list of all the places on our Burger Project.  [Edit May 26, 2018 – Simplified the process to get the results]

Or click on one of the links here (sorted in our overall rank). A “*” indicates it was part of the Oregonians list.

and honorable mention for my burger trip in South Africa this summer:

I had a blast doing this. One of the best things is it’s a great conversation starter. a lot of people share their opinions on where to go to get a good burger. There are many, many options in Portland. Heck, I have scouts doing research for great places to go during our upcoming trip to Arizona and Idaho I have

There are lots of other cuisines to be explored. I love barbecue and there are some good joints in town so that may be it. I don’t know that I’ll set it up quite as formal. The ranking and rating was fun, but to be really dedicated to it would require setting up a database and a system that would allow publishing results a bit more easily. But, that doesn’t mean you won’t find write ups on good places to eat here on the blog from time to time.

2 thoughts on “Burger Project Summary

  1. Even though I got an incomplete on the final exam for failing to turn in my synopsis, it was great to participate in this project with a Wildlife Biologist, two Teachers turned Computer experts, and a guy who is a master of Buildings and construction. Jay you may be right about me being an easy grader, but I thought my writeups were pretty critical. Thanks to Howard for organizing the whole thing. Looking forward to our next adventure. — Norm

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