Burger Shack has been serving late-night old school burgers since the 80s, operated the entire time by the Batshon family, primarily father and son John and Simon.
They’re open until 3 a.m. on weekends slinging secret recipe diner faves and Greek classics, as is the typical fashion in Toronto, where baklava alongside burgers isn’t weird at all.
The strictly cash-only establishment feels as if it hasn't changed in all the decades it’s been open. Cracked brown vinyl seating huddles around delightfully tacky little tables, stained-glass light fixtures hanging from the ceiling and the iconic menu glowing behind the counter.
A six-ounce homemade cheeseburger ($5.80) is the go-to. Don’t be tempted by five-dollar burgers, they’re only three ounces and aren't homemade daily from fresh beef like the six-ouncers. These things are so huge you could probably share one, so you might end up saving money anyway.
The homemade burgers are distinguished by wide, thin-smashed charbroiled patties on dense white buns that also get kissed by the charbroiler.
Choose from the classic toppings or go all-dressed (like I did), with typical options like lettuce, tomato, onion, BBQ sauce, hot peppers, sauteed onions, mayo, pickles and relish.
The bottom bun is soon soaked with meat juices and various condiments, but holds up mightily, and though there’s a lot to overpower it the taste of the beef comes through as smoky and moist.
For cheese, your choice of cheddar or Swiss gets melted onto the patty which is then positioned upside down, just because that’s the way it’s always been done.
The banquet burger ($6.70) is the classic here, which comes with cheese, bacon and a secret secret sauce. Patty and bacon are both charbroiled on the grill, the latter taking an already solid burger over the top.
Onion rings ($4.50) are not to be missed here.
The fresh batter is another secret recipe, golden, fluffy, and crispy yet spongy, completely coating the huge rings with zero air between batter and onion.
Shakes ($3.99) round out a meal here, the extra calories totally unnecessary but undoubtedly worth it. Not only do they have the standard chocolate, vanilla and strawberry, but flavouring syrups like cherry too.
Banana chocolate is the mainstay, that and the strawberry are both packed with nostalgic artificial flavour. The only thing to do is finish one so fast your stomach hurts.
It still takes long enough to put out food here that once you order you hang out and wait for your name to be called.
If you’re more of an early bird than a night owl, head here for standard bacon-and-egg type breakfasts until 11 a.m.