L’Hippo Burger

hippo burger

I’ve been craving a big, fat, piled-high juicy hamburger for the last few weeks. I don’t know why. Romain told me, “C’est normal et culturel, Daveed.” I’m not entirely sure about that since I’ve never been a big beef eater. But lately, just the idea of lifting a hefty, rosy, big mess-of-a-patty of seared meat wedged between two fluffy, lightly-grilled cushions of bread with plenty of fixin’s, has been first and foremost in my little mind.

While l’hamburger is available at more and more cafés and restaurants in Paris nowadays, too often the dried-out burger is paltry, the bun is lame, and the much-anticipated le hamburger that arrives is wildly overpriced and nothing more than a glorified, microwaved sandwich.


(Although it’s always fun watching Parisians eating them with a knife and fork, politely resisting the temptation of picking up the darn thing and taking a big chomp out of it.)

Like most fast foods, the less you do to them, the better. And if you want to sample the best of any culture, usually you can’t go wrong by checking out their fast fare. From over-lit udon bars in Tokyo, bulging, beefy burritos in San Francisco, socca in Nice, hot pizza bianco pulled right from the forno in Rome, to gyros crammed-full of spit-roasted lamb in Greece, the big chains may have given ‘fast food’ a bad name. For my money, though, those meals are usually more satisfying than any multi-course Michelin repast.

burger bite

So how did I find myself in a branch of the French chain, Hippopotamus?

Simple. I really wanted a great burger.

And since I walk by a local branch practically every day, I started checking out the burgers on people’s plates. And admiring their heft and apparent authenticity, I thought them worthy of a visit.

A Parisian neighbor confirmed my suspicion when I asked his opinion; “L’Hippo? (pronounced LEEE-po…as in “lipo-suction”) C’est le top!”

Unfortunately the burger wasn’t all that. Part of it may be my bias that certain things really need to be enjoyed on their home turf. Croissants should be enjoyed in France (even though their origin in Austrian), “shave ice” is best spooned up in Honolulu, and it’d take a mighty-good baker to convince me that they could make better natas than the ones in Lisbon.

My friend and I rated the burger at l’Hippo a tepid 6 out of 10. Even though we ordered the same basic burger, her patty was a good bit…okay…a lot larger than my (as far as I know, gluttony is still a sin so I turned down her generous offer to switch—although I’m not sure if burger-envy is on that list of infractions, too), and the bun was stale, not fresh and toasty-brown. The cool red Chinon we ordered was just the ticket, though. A plus was that when requested, the plastic bottle of ketchup was extracted from the nearby wine refrigerator and presented with all the pomp of the finest vintage in the house.

Yet I’m not complaining all that much.

Because sometimes, a guy’s just gotta have a burger. And although I got what I came for, I’m still on the prowl, unfulfilled. But not so much I want to give it a shot elsewhere and am thinking that maybe I should just stick to the local fare because a truly great burger isn’t going to be found all that easily, I suspect.

Still, a guy’s also gotta have his dreams, doesn’t he?

And I’m still dreaming of that perfect, oversized patty on a crisped, cloud-like bun…with all the extras.

Hippopotamus
Place de la Bastille
Tél: 01 44 61 90 49

Related links:

In Paris, Burgers Turn Chic

Breakfast in America

Watt the F**k

Burger Cravings in Paris

64 comments

  • Great Post David. It’s so true that there seems to be a terroir even in fast food.

    I wonder, have you tried the burger at Breakfast in America? I went in there last time I was in Paris (I finally gave in and had to know) and had a veggie burger. I saw many locals chowing down on a burger, American Style. The veggie burger was fine, but I know is not a good bellweather for the real deal. Just wondering.

    Maureen in Oakland

  • Being another American living abroad (London), I crave real Mexican food. I went out on a limb and got some nachos at a pub in Northern England the other day and I was served a plate of Doritos covered in unmelted shredded white cheese!

  • I’ll chime in with a 2nd-hand recommendation: PDG in the 8th. But although it’s about 2 minutes from my office, the price tag (15EU or so) does give pause…

  • I almost posted the same thing a few months back. Their burgers are terrible. And expensive for what they are- considering you can have one of the best in Paris at the Coffee Parisian for less..

  • My French friends like a burger now and then, and so do I…Charlie Birdy in the Montparnasse area is pretty good for a burger, but you’ll pay for it (12.90 euros) and the fries aren’t great. I’m not a fan of l’Hippo. BIA is fun, but the quality is pretty low. The best I’ve had is at a little-known cafe called Le Murmure (108 rue Convention, 75015, Metro Boucicaut). The fries are also excellent, and the wait staff is friendly and often quite funny!

  • Your picture looks much more appetising than theirs:
    http://www.hippopotamus.fr/menu/pdf/grillades.pdf

  • I have to say.. I dont think that the Hippo is great. At all

    I mean .. I happen to go there with friends to eat but we never expect anything from the food served in what might be a dinner-factory :D

    There are fare better restaurants though it isnt very cheap. I’ve been working in the 8th for a two monthes and around there, I discovered some very recommendable places!

  • Try the burgers at Henry’s in the 16th. An American diner tucked away in a quiet corner of Paris.

    Think it is on rue de la Pompe.

    Be early as they are crowded at lunch time and on weekends for brunch. Very very popular.

  • This has nothing to do with burgers…I just wanted to say that I don’t know whether to hug you or strangle you, David. This summer has been The Summer of the Perfect Scoop!! As a chef who has off during the summer (sweet), I cook/bake a LOT for my poor family who get very little during the rest of the year. I’ve made ice cream (thanks to you) every week this summer–and twice a week sometimes!

    The strangling part is because my shorts are now pretty snug,

  • I’ve never tried Hippo, the leerily grinning hippopotamus mascot has always made me put my head down and keep walking… Coffee Parisien in the 6th and, of course, Joe Allen’s on rue Pierre Lescot in Les Halles, are my top picks in Paris for a good burger.
    When I was in Gascony last month, I noticed our local cafe down there is now serving a “Gers burger” in the summer season for tourists. I haven’t tried one yet, but I can only imagine it to be a burger version of a Tournedos Rossini: a beef patty with a slab of foie gras on top, now there’s terroir fast-food!
    Really enjoy your blog David

  • The grass is always greener! I’d kill for a great croissant right now.

  • The last time I had a burger in France it came with a perfectly fried egg sitting on *top* of the upper bun. I suppose it was meant to discourage any thoughts of eating the thing with one’s hands.

    The only real solution to a serious burger craving (and really this applies as much to living in the USA) is to buy some nice ground sirloin and break out the grill. In a pinch a hibachi or stove-top pan is serviceable.

  • David, I think you should just break down and make your own. Have a little hamburger party for your friends and show them what a real burger is supposed to taste like.

  • As long as you weren’t pregnant or singing Jimmy Buffet while eating, you’re OK.

    A craving is a craving!

  • Is that raw inside? Eek! I must be a wimp, I feel queeezzzy! :-) It’s Summer and a great burger and pile of fries, big slice of home grown tomato……….Yum! But make mine well done!! ;-)

  • inexplicable, raging craving for beef? there’s only one answer. you’re pregnant! congratulations.

  • So…they don’t sell ground beef in France or did you just forget how to form a patti?
    I know, it’s all about finding places..but a craving usually won’t to wait.

  • Did you not check out the NY Times review of Parisian burgers just last month?? Some look quite worthwhile:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/16/dining/16paris.html?_r=1&oref=slogin

  • I’d agree with anyone saying BIA isn’t worth it. Floors (in the 18th, Metro Chateau Rouge) was pretty good, though. Not the burger I dream of, but it quelled the craving, and I’d rate it higher than 6/10! :)

    I’ve also done them at home, but the lack of grills in tiny parisian apartments makes it difficult to make a truly excellent burger at home.

  • It’s been ages since I’ve lived in Paris but when the burger urge hit, I managed to sidestep the “burger” word and head for some steak tartare, which did the trick for me. Imagine my delight when a new (for then) restaurant opened in the 6th (r. Mazarine? r. Dauphine?) that not only did steak tartare a couteau (chopped by hand with a knife) but gave the steak the briefest of sears on a grill before chopping. Satisifed my jonesing for a burger! I should wander by to see if it’s still there the next time I visit Paris.

  • yeah I think that to be truly enjoyed a burger must be eaten in the states at a backyard barbeque with corn and watermelon. mmm now I’m craving a burger…

  • oh, or at a diner type restaurant though five guys is pretty amazing too. Have you been to a five guys? their fries are sooo good

  • Yesterday I came across an article by Eric Ripert about his quest to make a perfect burger. It sounds like that Frenchman has figured it out, but I’m sure living in the U.S. had something to do with it.

    http://www.gourmet.com/restaurants/2008/07/ripert_burger

    Of course, we’re approaching a huge backyard-burger holiday here in the states – Labor Day. I can hardly wait for the homemade juicy burger I’m going to have. Yum.

  • Homemade backyard burgers are the best! Didn’t you say you found access to a grill recently?
    Anne in London might want to try the Texas Embassy Cantina for mexican food. It did the trick when we were craving mexican on a six week trip in the UK.

  • What, no “royale with cheese”??? ;) I felt like I couldn’t walk 6 blocks in some parts of Paris without smashing into a McDs.

  • I know that burger craving and last time I was back in the states I had dinner out with a friend. The restaurant had burgers on the menu, which I ordered. My friend couldn’t believe I was getting a burger, she said “don’t you want a real meal”. Then I explained the burger situation here in Paris and she understood. And that burger was great!

    I usually solve my burger cravings as I do with other american food cravings. I cook them myself. I like them real thick and I add some minced onion to the chopped meat. I usually make up a batch of sweet potato fries on the side. David, you are welcome to come by for one if you like.

  • OMG Hippo is not “le top”. It is “dégueulasse”!!! The equivalent to the Sizzler but not even that good. Joe Allen’s used to have the best hamburgers in Paris, but now they’re sliding down the quality scale. Last time they cooked my burger well done and then forgot to give me the top bun. I had to wait 10 minutes to get the other half just so I could pick it up and take a bite. There is a little shop in St. Germain that makes nothing but hamburgers. In fact, I think it’s called Le Hamburger or something original like that. I’ve never had the opportunity to eat there because it’s always closed on Sundays / Mondays.

  • We’ve been going to Hippo on trips to Paris with the kids since they were 5 and 3, and they’re now 12 and 10 – it’s where they learned to eat their steak and burgers “saignant,” they love playing with and coloring the kids’ menu and we like the steak tartare aller-retour, with a nice chilled carafe of something red indeed. I agree that it’s a 6 sur 10 but we save the better dining for when it’s just the two of us.

  • All I can say is I’m happy I can head out to Barney’s Burgers for dinner ‘cuz you made me crave a moo-patty. Mmmm Barney’s.

  • David,

    I agree with other comments….if you’re craving a good burger, make your own. If you don’t have a grill, do as Julia Child suggests with a hot skillet. I use my trusty cast iron and even prefer it to the grill cuz you can get a nice crust on the outside, but still keep it medium rare in the middle. Mmmm, I’m starting to salivate!

  • JB, Jessica, Susan, and Audrey: I tried making my own burgers a few weeks ago (picture) but I’m wary of ground beef at the supermarket so I went to a great beef butcher I know.

    First, he couldn’t believe how much beef I wanted per burger. He was going to give me the amount equivalent to the side of a baby’s fist per patty. I told him, “They’re for les americains, dude. Keep grinding!” But the beef here, I’m told, is grass-fed and very, very lean. I cooked the patties for about 30 seconds, then cut into one and it was well-done in a flash. Next time, I need to grind up some fat to mix in there, I guess. Or maybe some foie gras, like the Frenchies do in New York City.

    MiFi: I did read that article. (I linked to it in the post.) And methinks I need to get over to Salle Playel and see if theirs is really “all that”…

    gonzague: Let me know and I’ll come join you. Even though you say they’re kind of expensive, I’m sure you have a few extra “tickets” for lunches handy : )

    josieinparis: Yes, the scary hippo kinda turned me off. But the burgers looked pretty decent that people were eating inside. I guess they use some sort of special glass in their windows that makes the burgers look bigger, crustier, and juicier than they really are!

  • Can’t you make one yourself???
    :-P
    Good luck!

  • I have the meat dept at Raley’s grind 2 lbs of beef brisket with 1 lb of boneless chuck steak or roast. The flavor is supreme and meat is very tender. The extra makes good meatloaf or meatballs too without the addition of ground pork. Something to think about, but I’m sure you don’t need my advice!

  • I have to say, Hippo is definitely not the best place to have a burger in Paris. You should go to that great place on Place du Marche Saint Honore. Of course, I can’t seem to remember the name right now, but you’ll recognize it since it tries to look like an american food place.

  • Once when I was in Paris I was craving a hamburger. I went to Cafe Marly and sat outside on the terrace overlooking the I.M. Pei pyramids and the Eiffel Tower…. absolutely glorious. A beautiful June evening. I had a Lillet cocktail, a big, juicy hamburger, and I was totally satisfied. What could be better? When I ran into a friend from the U.S. later that night I told her about my dinner (certain she would be envious) and she immediately told me I was a fool for eating beef in France, for I would eventually develop Mad Cow Disease and go crazy. So much for my absolutely glorious evening in Paris :(

  • I wasn’t impressed with L’hippo the time I went either. I’d much rather pay 4,5 euro for a delicious steak frites with mayo and ketchup from any random street vendor. YUM!

  • I can appreciate wanting to go out and have a burger… plus who wants to make fries at home in August!? If you do decide to perfect them at home may I suggest this bun recipe? http://www.kingarthurflour.com/shop/RecipeDisplay?RID=31 I’ve made it half a dozen times this summer, it’s burger bun perfection…. pillow soft and just a little sweety (as the french would say).

  • Eileen: Two visiting friends of mine went there and one ordered a burger. When he picked it up, he found the bottom of the roll covered with fuzzy green stuff. While mistakes can happen anywhere, if you do go back, I suggested “checking under the hood” before taking that first bite.

    And actually, I’m more skeptical of industrial beef in the US, due to the lack of testing (and other stuff…), which is why other countries ban beef from the US. I’m less-worried here than I am elsewhere.

    Martina: Thanks for the link & recipe. Last time I made burgers at home, I went to the rue de Rosiers to get Kaiser-style rolls…which were 2.75€ ($4) each. So I passed on bringing home 6 of them, understandably. I could’ve taken everyone out instead! (well, almost…)

    I thought it would be fun to try store-bought hamburger rolls. However, the idea was more delicious than the reality. Next time, I’m making my own. The potatoes however, will be oven-fries: I don’t deep-fry at home. No matter what the season.

  • Le Figaro did a feature on the best burgers in Paris last spring and they gave top marks to Le Scoop at 154, Rue St Honoré near the Palais Royal.

  • I’ve been desperately hunting down a good burger in Paris for several years… still haven’t found anything that really turned me on…
    (hmm… burger wise)

    If you guys have good recommendations, please share!
    Thx!

  • What about Breakfast in America (http://breakfast-in-america.com/main/)? They serve a pretty decent burger in an all-American diner ambiance or try Le Castiglione on 235, rue St. Honore in the 1st arrondissement – great burgers in a classic French cafe.

  • I also get those cravings sometimes. A place I like is the Cool’in Irish Pub at 15 rue Clément (marché St-Germain) where their bacon cheeseburger is just perfect with a good pint or two of Guinness (you just gotta time it right – kitchen opens at 7:30 and happy hour end at 8… or pay a little more).

  • Thanks for all your suggestions, folks.
    Keep ‘em coming!

    To those folks who suggested them, yes, I’ve been to Breakfast in America (which I linked to right after the post). The burgers and fries are okay, but nothing to write home…or a blog post, about.

    I’m heading back to NY and SF for a few weeks in October so I think I might have to wait until my burger-fix then!

    (And burrito, bagel, and black & white cookies fixes, too.)

  • I gotta say, I was looking for the same thing when I was in Paris earlier this month and got pulled in by this chain as well. I went to the one at Place d’Italie and have to say that the burger was bad and the service terrible. The best burgers really are home made over the bbq.

    Grayburn

  • I remain convinced that when I want American food, I should make it at home, because it will be really USian and not translated through the taste (no mustard available) the ethic (beef way too lean) or the carelessness (that stale bun!) of a different culture. I have given the Italians a real opportunity to do US, Mexican and Chinese properly and they don’t want to!

    Even McDonald’s hasn’t been the same. It was better, but still…

  • Next time I’ll just have the Lillet cocktail.

  • David,

    Frog and Rostbif has authentic American style burgers and, most importantly, ice cold beer to wash it down.

    If you are really hard up, head to the Hard Rock Cafe for a close second place.

    As an American couple living in Europe for a year, this was a once a month pilgrimage for us.

    R & X

  • On the subject of natas, they have them in Macau, which you probably know was a Portugese-Chinese colony, and they are great.

    Although we were wondering why suddenly all the dim sum custard tarts were browned while all those we saw in HK weren’t.

    A Californian friend in Paris went to a Japanese restaurant and they didn’t have wasabi. He tried to explain and they were very puzzled and tried to bring him chili peppers. As for the Mexican food, he never realized it had so much cream sauce.

  • I’ve been reading your blog for a while, and it’s not the first time it makes me craving for something… but hamburger! that’s a surprise!
    My suggestion would be L’envol pub, (from Quebec; rue Lacepède). I liked their “hambourgeois”. I’ve been there with an American guy who used to go there in case of hamburgers need. I haven’t been there for a while and I remember the owner was friendly…but be prepared for some teasing about american accent while ordering ;-)

  • For those of you in Europe (or have to means to hop over from the UK) who are craving Mexican and are in the mood for a bit of travel, I suggest Le Texan in Monaco. It’s run by a woman from Dallas and, being Texan myself, I can verify that she’s kept the TexMex dishes authentically delicious. It’s been a while since I was even in Europe, but I still think about what a wonderful dinner that was.

  • David> the standard here for one ground beef patty is 100grammes :) . I think that american standard weight for patty is something around 250grs ?

    anyway, i understand you perfectly : i’m craving a good steack tartare for years now. I’ve been served some soggy, oily ones, some with absolutely no taste, some with so much vinegar i could hear the enamel of my teeth tinkeling, some that has been hard beaten as what sarkozy deserves, leaving some kind of raw dinner for cats, some that were so hard I thought it was un chewing gum aux câpres… but a simply, well prepared tasty one, never.

    eileen> i prefer the slightest chances to get mad cow desease, IF i have some UK beef as part of my hamburger, than to see a third arm growing from my chest, or my skin changing colors because of hormones, antibiotics, steroïds, stimulating drugs, preservatives, bad pesticides, genetically modified plants contaminations, dioxines, and everything that randomly spices US meat actually… Controls here in france are really precise, and most of what is common in other countries, including US, is totally forbidden here.
    you’ll may get listeria with some raw milk cheese in france, but with the meat, the only thing you’ll get here is a rounder belly :D.

  • I was trying to remember the name of the place on Place du Marché Saint-Honoré that Alix mentioned but can’t seem to find it in the grab bag I call a memory. It’s something Polish-sounding, which I imagine they think sounds like the name of a deli. Anyway, decent hamburger there.

    I had the same craving here in the US the other day, although I’m not much of a burger eater, and cooked some up in the cast iron skillet. Minced up some pickled jalapenos and some onion to mix in with the meat. Yum.

  • Advertising must work. You don’t know why you’ve been craving a burger…any chance it’s the thousands of Hippo Burger ads throughout the metro over the last few weeks?

  • My guilty pleasure when I lived in Paris (ah the city of which i dream!), burger-wise, was Indiana burger on Blvd St. Germain right by Odeon…………horrific I know! but so tasty!

  • hi david! aw i was just drooling over how pink that patty was inside. too bad it wasn’t too good. if you get a chance try Korean shaved iced (bingsu). can’t say how it is compared to the Hawaiian version since I’ve never had it but a big bowl of fruit bingsoo in warm weather is the best!

  • Steve: Haven’t been on a métro in months so the ads didn’t work their magic on me. I was smitten by just walking by. So I can’t blame “truth in advertising”—I only have myself to blame.

  • David, I second the people who suggested Coffee Parisien – they really do have the best burgers in Paris in my opinion. There is one in the sixth (rue Princesse?) and another in the 16th just off place V. Hugo. The service is abominable, you are squashed into tiny tables, back in the day they were so hazy with smoke you couldn’t see the person sitting across from you, the prices are high…but the burgers and the eggs benedict are flawless. Or at least they have been ever time I’ve gone. Makes me hungry just thinking of them!

    I would get out our grill but a) it hasn’t stopped raining in three weeks for more than a few hours at a time and b) we need a gas canister for the grill, which means we need a car to pick it up. Oh yeah and I need a driving license…

  • Cher David,

    It is the first time I read your blog thanks to a post on Pascale Weeks’ one.
    It seems to be passionating and I can’t wait to read it but still I am the office!

    I was born and raised in Paris, hippotamus is indeed a terrible place (though it is always packed) and if you want a real good burger, believe me you have to go to that place: Tropical café 5, Place Parmentier, 92200 Neuilly-Sur-Seine Tel : 01 47 45 15 55. It is actually very near porte Maillot. On this website you can check the menu. http://www.chaud-devant.com/Francais/Paris/fiche.php?restau_id=47

    Another place for good but expensive burgers is PDG (one in the 8th and one in the 6th) but I warmly recommend Tropical café.

    Las thing: girls were talking about Razowki, place du Marché St Honoré. Never been there but I have been told the cheeseburger was worth it.

    à très bientôt!

  • I am glad to read that ADP also tried the burgers at Indiana on St. Germain. They did pour a healthy shot of Beefeaters gin on real ice, which made the “americain” food a little more authentic. It was the only place that I felt comfortable ordering hard liquor with a meal. The after taste of decent gin with dead cow is pretty damn amazing. Indiana is a strange shrine to Native Americans, and I expected a place dedicated to Hoosiers and the Fighting Irish of “that other Notre Dame”. It beat the hell out of eating at McD’s in the Quartier. We always seemed to stop at McD’s to use the pissoir, but never to try the “royale”. Indiana – stop for the liquor – stay for some grub! Les frites weren’t bad, either.
    craig

  • I like the newer hamburger picture myself. Luckily I don’t have to look far for a great burger in the states, but strangely I find myself craving McDonald’s from time to time. Is that like, culinary sin? Or chemical addiction….

    Anyway, I know what you mean about a real French croissant. I had a croissant at Au Bon Pain, that almost-like French chain, yesterday. Sometimes you gotta put up with paltriness when a craving hits. I hope you find your big, juicy burger with perfect fries.

  • It doesn’t seem after 60 comments that there is much left to say, except that I’ve been craving a good burger lately, too and haven’t had one yet either.

    I think I may have to get a piece of steak custom ground and go old school to satisfy my craving.

  • coffee parisien seriously has the best burgers in paris, hands down. they are, for lack of a better word, incroyable!

  • According to the IHT burgers have invaded the city ~ I thought this was rubbish but then suddenly, I started noticing them on café menus everywhere. Even Robuchon & Ducasse have a version. This article is hilarious – apparently the French find the experience of eating a hamburger “illicit and subversive”. http://www.iht.com/articles/2008/07/16/travel/16paris.php

  • I know this post was not about cheeseburgers, but to me, that is the true hunt in Paris because many places like L’Hippo use cheese sauce. I have found Joe Allen has the best burgers in Paris. The bun isn’t great, but the burger is fab and the cheese is melted and just right. Coffee Parisien, to me, is #2. …Also to the person who suggested making them yourself — you can’t! I’ve tried. The meat here is too lean, even if you ask the butcher for fatty. Even if you mix it with various kinds of meat. Even if you barbecue it on your balcony. Hard like a hockey puck. Even rare.