Rustico’s Not-So-Life-Changing Burger

When searching for future spots to include in our Burger Days hit list, one of the methods we use is scouring the web for D.C.-area burger praise. So, when we stumbled upon a blog calling an Arlington burger "life-changing," we knew we had to put it to the test. The subject of our latest quest was the Grilled Dry Aged Cheddar Burger from Rustico in Ballston. Rustico is a part of the Neighborhood Restaurant Group which includes some top-quality area eateries (Vermillion, Birch & Barley/ChurchKey, Evening Star, Tallula, Eat Bar and more), and, as we had previously experienced the excellent Brat Burger from ChuchKey, we were optimistic about the spot. The restaurant itself is nice and big, with a sizable bar and separate dining area. The bar has a good deal of seating, both at tables and at the bar itself, but it fills up quickly (It has been standing room only for a while by the time we left a little after 9 p.m. Saturday). Rustico's menu is pretty varied with an assortment of pizza, sandwiches, entrées and apps. And, probably the most important thing: they have a load of beer. How many? Who knows– 30? 40? 50 on tap? Whatever the amount, it's more than enough. And it's good stuff, too.

The boozer binder is your friend.

See that photo of the boozer and the binder? The binder is the beer list. Yeah. So, after grabbing a booth, we ordered up a couple of their $12 burgers, some Victory Hop Wallops and prepped for our life-changing experience. Too bad it never happened. The burgers came and they looked the part; the brioche bun was sittin' pretty, the patty was covered in melted, white cheddar cheese and the red-wine shallot aioli was generously spread on the burger, looking like it would add a nice flavored-kick to our meal. First, the positives. I had ordered a rare burger and I got a rare burger. It was cooked spot on. And the bun was great. It was toasted just right and had a nice little crisp crust that contrasted nicely with the burger. But, unfortunately, when the bun is the highlight of your burger, it's not a good thing. After the first few bites, I noticed that I wasn't tasting much of anything other than beef. The burger was nice and juicy, but there didn't seem to be any seasoning in the meat at all. If there was some, it was indiscernible. And why couldn't I taste the aioli?  Thinking maybe my pallet was out of whack or there was another explanation for the blandness, I asked my fellow Burger Day crewmember Jimmy if he could taste the fancy red-wine shallot spread and he immediately shot back "No, not at all."

Rustico's Dry Age Cheddar Burger. And Jimmy's dome.

"And I can't taste the cheese either." To say we were disappointed would be an understatement. It's a shame, too, because this burger had the pedigree and looks but just couldn't deliver when it counted. And, I gotta admit, I couldn't finish the thing--  it was just like eating a hunk of ground chuck. And no, nobody wanted the rest of my burger.

Cross section of Rustico's burger.

Though, not wanting to end on a sour note, the malted fries that came with the meal were quite good. They were crispy, perfectly salted with just a hint of malt flavor and their housemade smoked ketchup was awesome. (In retrospect, if they smothered the burger in that instead of that aioli, I woulda been able to finish mine). We also got an order of their appetizer fries tossed in ranch dressing (you can also get Caesar) and they were, again, excellent. Don't let the "malt" moniker scare you off if you don't like vinegar, you won't even notice it.

Charlie Sheen would approve of these winning fries.

So, while we can't recommend the burger at Rustico, we're still holding out hope for the rest of the menu. We hear the pizza is quite good, the aforementioned fries are a verified winner and we like the vibe of the joint. And the beer, don't forget the beer. Rustico Restaurant & Bar | 4075 Wilson Boulevard, Arlington, VA | 571-384-1820 |

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