Every once in a while, restaurateurs in New York become infatuated with the cuisine of some other place.

In the 1980s, La Louisiana, K-Paul’s and Acme fed us jambalaya, blackened redfish and other tastes of New Orleans and Cajun Country. Three decades later, Aska, Luksus and Acme (the same space, without the chile-pepper lights and hot sauce bottles) introduced us to frizzled lichen and other totems from Copenhagen.

In the past six months, New York has found a fresh source of inspiration. The menus at two of the most popular restaurants this year — spots that have been extensively and breathily praised on social media, spots where hopeful customers patiently line up on the sidewalk through snow, rain and solar eclipse — are tributes to the cuisine of El Reno, Okla.

Fewer than 20,000 people live in El Reno, but the city has what may be the world’s highest concentration of establishments serving fried-onion burgers. The dish, made by mashing a great handful of sliced onions into a wad of ground beef and then griddling the whole mess until it is drippy and brown, was invented there as a cheap meal for workers who went without pay during the Great Railroad Strike of 1922. Today El Reno is to fried-onion burgers what Isfahan is to carpets and Paris is to baguettes.

For a long time, word about fried-onion burgers did not travel much beyond Oklahoma City. Today, though, if you mention El Reno-style burgers to the kind of New Yorker who knows where the latest pop-up is and what time you need to arrive, you’re likely to get a knowing nod. The person may mention the Oklahoma burger served just off Tompkins Square Park, or the kosher version made in Forest Hills, Queens. Sooner or later, though, the conversation will come around to Gotham Burger Social Club and Hamburger America.

Both restaurants descend from long-running fried-onion-burger pop-ups. Gotham Burger Social Club is the project of Mike Puma, who spent much of the pandemic searing fried-onion burgers on a portable griddle in bars around town. Some barroom ambience carried over to his first stand-alone Gotham Burger Social Club, which he opened in January on a well-trafficked corner of Essex Street. Straw cowboy hats and mounted steer horns hang on the walls. Country music plays. When it gets busy, the place could pass for one of the nicer taverns in Abilene.

The menu includes a griddled hot dog and a Tex-Mex take on a chopped cheese, served on a flour tortilla, but almost everybody gets the Gotham Smash. The beef is seared and pressed until it is darkly crunchy and savory; the mop of browned onions embeds itself in the patty, seasoning it from all directions. In almost every way it is a classic Oklahoma-style fried-onion burger, although the jalapeños on top might startle the cooks at Johnnie’s Hamburgers & Coneys in El Reno, where the burgers are served undressed, with pickles on the side. Attractive and efficient, Gotham Burger Social Club is perfectly adapted to a night on the Lower East Side, a fortifying pit stop between rounds at Pianos or the Magician.

Hamburger America is something different. It’s part fast-food restaurant, part shrine to roadside America, part art installation, part nostalgia immersion. Its nostalgia is not the manufactured, soft-core exploitation of retro joints like Johnny Rockets. It may not even be nostalgia at all. The interior, done in vinyl floor tiles and dark wood-veneer wainscoting, emulates old burger counters, but not because they’re old; it emulates them because they make better burgers than most new places.

The restaurant is the idea of George Motz, a hamburgerologist who ran his pandemic pop-up out of his apartment in Brooklyn, sending thousands of fried-onion burgers sliding out the window to customers below by means of a six-foot wooden chute.

Before he opened Hamburger America in November on the northern edge of SoHo, Mr. Motz used the name for a 2004 hamburger documentary and a state-by-state, 416-page guide to burger joints. Framed photos of many of those locations hang on the wall by the entrance.

Following the model of White Manna in Hackensack, N.J., and other early archetypes, a counter with stainless-steel stools wraps around a central griddle. You can watch as balls of ground beef disappear under shaggy mops of sliced onions, and listen as heavy-gauge spatulas clack down on an inch-thick slab of steel. Behind the grill is a whirring cylindrical gadget that coats buns with melted butter and toasts them.

Hamburger America gives the mechanics of burger making a slightly exaggerated, heroic scale. Mr. Motz (pronounced motes) likes to call the griddle area “hamburger Benihana.” In the universe evoked by his restaurant, burgers, burger joints and burger flippers exist in a permanent state of pre-franchise innocence. They haven’t yet been touched by frozen patties and other assembly-line technology that helped turn burger flipping into one of the least respected, worst-paying jobs in the country.

There are two burgers on the regular menu. One is an Oklahoma onion burger. The other, even simpler, is a smash burger. Mr. Motz calls them both “primary-source burgers that go back to the dawn of the hamburger.”

Smash burgers are so popular these days that few people will be surprised by Hamburger America’s version. But they will probably notice that this smash burger has been made from flavorful, well-salted beef, and that it has been smashed harder and flatter and longer than chains like Smashburger and 7th Street Burger seem to manage. It can be happily eaten without mustard, ketchup or pickles, although somehow it does seem more complete with a slice of American cheese.

The undressed smash burger represents an almost geometric purity; the fried-onion burger, on the other hand, is deliriously impure. The onions cooked in beef juices combine with the beef cooked in onion juices, and together they tap into an America of cheap and slightly sleazy thrills. This burger tastes like late-night drives into empty downtowns, of cheap beer on boardwalks and wax paper at fly-by-night carnivals, of places where you talk to weird characters you wouldn’t meet in the daytime. The fast-food chains pushed all of this out of their franchises. Mr. Motz’s Oklahoma burger brings it back. It tastes like honest American grease.

Besides its two permanent burgers, Hamburger America is preparing one special burger each month, a cover version of one of Mr. Motz’s favorites from around the country. The first, a tribute to Solly’s Grille in Glendale, Wis., where each burger is cooked in a quantity of butter that would serve as a whole night’s supply at some restaurants, made its debut last week.

Not listed on the menu is an item called the Chester, essentially a grilled cheese with a griddled beef patty inside. I enjoyed it very much, but now that I’ve had Mr. Motz’s fried-onion burger I can’t help wondering how the Chester would taste with a bunch of onions pressed into the beef.

The shoestring fries, made from frozen potatoes, are ordinary. They are an exception. In general, Hamburger America pours attention on small details as generously as Solly’s pours melted butter on ground beef. Lemonade is made from scratch. Coffee milk, the state drink of Rhode Island, is as strong and rich as Vietnamese iced coffee. Key lime pie, imported from a bakery in Brooklyn, tastes of fresh limes. Egg salad and tuna salad, made without weird intrusions like capers, are exactly what you’d get at the sandwich counter of your dreams. (Hamburger America could be that sandwich counter, but it’s too busy being a hamburger counter.) And there are times when I am convinced that the sandwich of sweet, warm ham under melted Swiss is better than any burger could be.

Although a meal at one of the griddle-side stools is the most complete expression of the Hamburger America vision, there is also seating at several counters along the wall and at some booths in the back, upholstered in mustard-colored vinyl.

Wherever you sit, Hamburger America is quieter than Gotham Burger Social Club. Cocktail jazz might be playing, or vintage disco, but the only time I heard it get somewhat loud was a night when Mr. Motz wasn’t around. Apparently, when he is on duty he keeps the volume low so you can still commune with the classic burger-joint noises of clattering dishes and a hissing griddle.

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