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If you, like me, grew up or currently live in California, you’ll agree with what I’m about to say next. But if you can’t relate to either of the above items, then I can safely assume that you will roll your eyes at the following statement. (Shake Shack devotees, beware.)
No matter where I am in the world, every burger that I taste will be compared to the holy grail of all burgers: In-N-Out Burger.
Listen, I can’t help it: This knee-jerk reaction stems from my born-and-bred-in-Orange-County DNA. Every burger that I consume in my lifetime will be rated on a scale from zero to In-N-Out hamburger with grilled onions (or occasionally a double-double with grilled onions, depending on my appetite).
Before we left for a trip to New Zealand, my partner, Ben, and I were repeatedly given the same suggestion by numerous fellow burger enthusiasts: “Go to Fergburger.” Once we landed on New Zealand soil and began making our way from the country’s North Island to its South Island, more folks slid into my DMs, urging me to pay Fergburger a visit.
With a 4.5-star rating on TripAdvisor and some 13,400 reviews, along with rave compliments from my own personal network, the mysterious gourmet hamburger restaurant had whet my curiosity. What was its deal? Why did so many people like it? And where would it land on my tremendously qualified hamburger rating scale?
When the day in Queenstown came, we decided to beat Fergburger’s inevitable lunch rush by arriving at 11:30 a.m. The line was already out the door; still, we were lucky to wait only 15 minutes to order and another 15 minutes to receive our food. (During peak times, the wait can last up to an hour.)
Fergburger peddles all sorts of burger creations on its menu, from the Southern Swine (prime New Zealand beef with bacon, avocado, lettuce, tomato, red onion, aioli and tomato relish) to the Sweet Bambi (wild deer, brie cheese, boysenberry and caramelized onion chutney, lettuce, tomato, red onion and aioli). There is a version with a falafel patty for vegetarians, and the Morning Glory (consisting of bacon, an egg, hash browns and more) will satisfy early birds in the mood for breakfast. (Note: The restaurant is open from 8 a.m. to 5 a.m. every day.)
To reach an accurate evaluation, I knew I had to go with The Fergburger, the restaurant’s most definitive offering. Prime New Zealand beef, lettuce, tomato, red onion, aioli and tomato relish are all tucked between two soft, pillow-like buns that the restaurant bakes in-house. Gelato milkshakes are also on the menu at Fergburger, but I mournfully realized that it didn’t list a non-dairy version that would comply with my dietary restrictions. Before I lost hope, though, the good-hearted employee at the register beckoned over a co-worker, who empathetically put together an off-menu, dairy-free “milkshake” for me that consisted of coconut milk gelato, soy milk and chocolate.
Nearly trembling with anticipation, Ben and I took our orders to Queenstown’s charming waterfront, ready to take the first bite of our respective burgers in a beautiful setting. And then we did — each thoughtfully chewing and savoring every morsel of the internationally famous New Zealand burgers.
I can’t say that mine was better than an In-N-Out burger — that would be like comparing apples to oranges. For one, an In-N-Out burger is less than $3.50 for a double-double burger, whereas The Fergburger will set guests back about $8. But I would be remiss not to call out the high quality of New Zealand’s beef, which certainly makes the patty the ever-deserving star of the show.
And those buns alone are worth writing home about.