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Food for Thought: Best burger? Not so fast.

Nick's Cheeseburger with grilled onions at Portland's Stanich's.

Kevin Alexander's Thrillist article naming Portland's Stanich's the best burger in America seemed a blessing.   Then the food tourist mob decended.  Long lines.  Five hour waits. Until Steve Stanich, the second generation owner, shut the place down.

Alexander's  follow-up piece was titled "I Found the Best Burger Place in America. And Then I Killed It."

In this week's Food for Thought, Nancy Leson and I talk "bests" and the function of lists in traditional and online publishing.

Me, I'm not much on "best" lists.  When it comes to something as subjective as food or music or anything that can't be objectively quantified I don't even accept the concept of "best." There's only what you like.  When I questioned Nancy Leson on that she said "It's not the (air quotes) 'best' places in the city but that's how it's used... if you look at the local magazines they make their living putting Best Of  lists on their covers because that's what sells."

Nancy added "Somebody calls a food writer or friends in another city and gets their opinion.  This happened a lot to me years ago when I was freelancing for the larger magazines.  They'll call around to figure out where they should go, and then if you're lucky they'll parachute into a city and hit five places."

That was not the case with Alexander's article.  He spent a year traveling the country and ingested 330 burgers before naming Stanich's America's best. It was a classic case of unintended consequences.  In an Oregonian article, owner Steve Stanich called the award "The worst thing that ever happened to us."

So, as Nancy says, "Take these 'best' lists with a grain of salt. Maldon's sea salt – the best."

Update, 4 p.m.: This just in. Now, it looks like there's more to the Stanich story than we knew. According to a recent article in Willamette Week, other, more personal issues were also in play.

"Nobody goes there anymore.  It's too crowded."  – Yogi Berra

Dick Stein joined KNKX in January 1992. He retired in 2020 after three decades on air. During his storied radio career, he hosted the morning jazz show, co-hosted and produced "Food for Thought" with Nancy Leson and wrote and directed the Jimmy Jazzoid live radio musical comedies and 100 episodes of Jazz Kitchen.