The history of the hamburger is shrouded in a special sauce.
No one knows precisely how the first serving of ground meat was invented, how it found its way between bread slices and what person or persons did it.
But somewhere between the 15th and 19th centuries, what’s now the national dish of the United States was created.
Billions and billions and billions of burgers later, Newsday food writers ate their way across Long Island in the last couple of months to find the best ones for $10 or less.
At first, chains were excluded from the competition. But three of them turned out to be among the top choices.
Here are the results of this investigation. Some come with side dishes, usually fries. Some arrive solo. But they’re all worth a bite.
Black Label Burgers
Black Label Burgers (683 Old Country Rd., Westbury): Black Label Burgers makes five fat, well-conceived, well-constructed burgers from the restaurant’s proprietary blend of prime beef, ranging from the Black Label (with American cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion and “label” sauce on a bun, $7.20) to the Yellow Label (with fried mac-and-cheese, $8.95) to the White Label (with caramelized onions, mushrooms, Swiss cheese, bacon and mayo on an English muffin, $9.05). But for $1.99, any burger can be upgraded from prime to dry-aged prime, which lends a rich, funky minerality that will remind you of a very fine steak. Order at the counter here, but the dining room is attractive and comfortable and there’s a good selection of beer and wines. More info: 516-333-6059, blacklabelburgersny.com
Del’s Bar & Grill
Del’s Bar & Grill (129 Pine Hollow Rd., Oyster Bay): Del’s Bar & Grill was a locally loved watering hole until it closed in 1998. But last year, Michael DelColle resurrected the spot that his father Frank ran for decades. There’s still plenty of beer and a lively bar, and the new menu includes a standout among its tavern staples: The $10 Snouder’s burger, named for the Oyster Bay drugstore, is comprised of two beef patties on a nondescript bun with molten American cheese, iceberg lettuce and tomato. Chef George Posporelis sprinkles salt, pepper and onion powder on the patties before griddling them ’til crusty, and then cooks them to order; while he calls the resulting burger “simple,” it’s also drippy, a bit messy and worth the drive from almost anywhere. More info: 516-922-4444
American Burgers (326A Sunrise Hwy., Rockville Centre): American Burgers celebrates its 20th anniversary, and since 1998 the burger menu has expanded from four to more than 50 — one for every state, and almost as many international burgers. The kitchen’s approach to geography ranges from literal (the New Mexico is topped with Cheddar and chili; the Virginia, with American cheese and Virginia ham) to cryptic: the New York burger features American cheese, fried onions and grilled tomatoes. All burgers contain a half pound of meat, none is more than $9.25 and you can get an Iowa for $7. It’s a great-looking place, decorated (or cluttered, depending on your point of view) with a jukebox, vintage posters and scads of old license plates. More info: 516-766-2227, oabrvc.com
The Rex Burger & Lobster
The Rex Burger & Lobster (524 Jericho Tpke., Mineola): The Rex Burger & Lobster is pretty sure you’re going to like its burger: the eatery only makes one, the eponymous Rex Burger. It’s a two-patty affair (totaling more than 6 ounces of certified Angus beef sourced from Niman Ranch) that makes it all the more receptive to the two slices of American cheese. Add a crisp lettuce leaf, a ripe tomato slice and your choice of raw or grilled onions. Everything fits neatly inside a bun with just the right amount of squish. It’s $8.95 and can be further gussied up with bacon ($2) or lobster ($10). Aside from the order-at-the-counter service, The Rex looks like a swanky bistro, with lots of subway and mosaic tiles, marble counters and dark wood. Beer and wine are served. More info: 516-739-2747, therexburgerandlobster.com
Inferno the Restaurant
Inferno the Restaurant (245 Echo Ave., Sound Beach): Inferno the Restaurant has charisma to spare, chiefly a dining room that feels like a friend’s kitchen, with pictures of Elvis and Merle Haggard on the wall, comfy wooden booths and shelves filled with bric-a-brac. Inferno also has a lengthy menu of burgers less than (sometimes way less than) $10, including the exemplary $8 Big Smack, two patties on a toasted potato bun with melted American, pickles and a mop of shredded romaine. The burger’s secret weapon: A mayo-based sauce laced with mustard, cayenne and a few other spices, for an extra layer of zest and creaminess. More info: 631-821-3202
The Burger Spot
The Burger Spot (150 Seventh St., Garden City): The Burger Spot packs a lot of flavor in its modest storefront. The burgers are divided between “classic” and “specialty.” The classic cheeseburger is a $6.75 bargain, with American cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and tangy special house sauce. Add $1 for bacon, mushrooms, avocado, caramelized onions, roasted peppers, coleslaw, guacamole or avocado. Pick feta, Gorgonzola, or house-made mozzarella for $2. But the basic cheeseburger needs no additions. More info: 516-746-6100, theburgerspotonline.com
The Nutty Irishman
The Nutty Irishman (323 Main St., Farmingdale): The Nutty Irishman offers a strong case for afternoon visits in the form of a $5 burger whose quarter pound of meat is ground and shaped at Main Street Meats across the street. The patties are then griddled and slid onto a toasted brioche bun with American cheese, iceberg lettuce and tomato, and some of the best fries on this list. It’s slightly smaller than the dinnertime version of the same burger, but for $5, it’s still a steal. More info: 516-293-9700, thenuttyirishman.com
BurgerFi (Multiple locations): BurgerFi is faithful to the cause with many options. The key patty is the BurgerFi cheeseburger, a double Angus beef affair with double American cheese, lettuce, tomato and house sauce. The cost is $8.98. It’s also available as a single burger for $6.48. Locally, there are branches of BurgerFi in Woodbury (8063 Jericho Tpke.), Commack (6234 Jericho Tpke.) and Oceanside (3115 Long Beach Rd.). More info: burgerfi.com
Shake Shack (Multiple locations): Shake Shack started as a cart in Madison Square Park in 2001. It now has branches around the world. The ShackBurger is available as a single or a double; $5.59 or $8.39. It’s a proprietary blend. The burger comes with lettuce, tomato and ShackSauce, which suggests a mix of mayonnaise, ketchup, mustard, cayenne and the tang of pickling brine. On Long Island, there are branches of Shake Shack in New Hyde Park (1570 Union Tpke.), Garden City (860 Old Country Rd.), Melville (849 Walt Whitman Rd.) and Lake Grove (2093 Smith Haven Plaza). More info: shakeshack.com
Bobby’s Burger Palace
Bobby’s Burger Palace (Multiple locations): Bobby’s Burger Palace offers a menu of excellent burgers. At the top of the list: The Crunchburger, best with beef, and defined by toppings of American cheese and potato chips. The $6.95 price allows you to stay under budget even with the $2 addition of bacon or fried egg. Any of the other burgers available can be “crunchified’ for free. On Long Island, there are locations in Lake Grove (355 Smith Haven Mall) and Garden City (630 Old Country Rd., Suite 1040A). More info: bobbysburgerpalace.com
Taby’s Burger House
Taby’s Burger House (28 Audrey Ave., Oyster Bay): Taby’s Burger House is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The modest eatery’s hits include an appetizing cheeseburger. But the one that will stay in your memory is the toasty, inviting patty melt, with caramelized onions and American cheese on grilled rye bread. Both the cheeseburger and the patty melt are $7.50. More info: 516-624-7781
Ceriello’s 54 Club
Ceriello’s 541 Club (541 Willis Ave., Williston Park): Ceriello’s 541 Club is an exercise in nose-to-tail eating. The busy butcher counter next door produces a great deal of prime beef trims and ends. The 541 club (named for the address) blends brisket, short rib, sirloin and chuck for the "butcher's burger." Done precisely to order, the plump 6-ounce burgers here are placed on the flat top, salted and covered with a lid; the steam speeds the cooking process, but it comes off to let the burgers develop a nice crusty char. The finished burger is served on a perfectly proportioned roll, a great value for $6. A dollar more buys you a generous topping of American, Cheddar, mozzarella, Swiss, Muenster or provolone cheese, and you can have your cheeseburger with fries for $10. More info: 516-747-0277, ceriellofinefoods.com