Updated: Dec. 4, 2017 at 4:45 p.m.
The chef behind a new D.C. restaurant craved juicy burgers while traveling to “far-flung” destinations around the world – and when he returned, those travels influenced his menu.
Lucky Buns, a new restaurant that offers a menu of burgers decked out with unique toppings from around the world, opened at 2000 18th St. NW this month. The burger joint is also fit with a bar serving upscale cocktails from 5 p.m. to 3 a.m. daily, making it the perfect spot to stop for a drink and dinner or stumble into for drunk food and a nightcap after an evening out.
Alex McCoy, head chef at Lucky Buns who also heads Alfie’s, said he opted to top his patties with globally-inspired ingredients because he’s spent his life exploring cultures through food and tasting delicious burgers along the way.
“Food is culture,” McCoy said. “There’s no better way to introduce yourself to other cultures than by eating food or by breaking bread with other people.”
McCoy said in Australia, people add sweet toppings to their burgers, like grilled pineapple, which inspired Alfie’s Bun – a burger on his menu that features pineapple and pickled beetroot. Just north in Indonesia and parts of Thailand, most burgers are served with Nam Jim Gai, a special sweet and spicy chili sauce, that inspired some of his flavor combinations. Each sandwich is $10 for a single patty, and $13 for a filling double patty.
“We’re trying to reimagine the burger in a way that it’s both new and familiar,” he said.
Another example that doesn’t “reinvent the wheel” is the Bogun Bun burger, which is an updated bacon cheeseburger that swaps strips of bacon for bacon XO jam. XO is a spicy sauce native to Hong Kong that’s usually served atop seafood, but McCoy fused it with smoked bacon to create a spicy sauce used to top a burger.
For the less adventurous, Lucky Buns also serves a namesake burger and the OG Bun which are American-style topped with smoked cheddar, onions and varying sauces.
In addition to burgers, the restaurant also offers a variety of chicken sandwiches souped up with international toppings. One stand out from the chicken varieties is the Hot Tiger Bun, a fried chicken thigh with sichuan peppercorn spice paste and Chinese mustard.
Don’t think your burger will be served with traditional sides, they take creative liberties as well. The french fries are made in the thick-cut style of English chips with a traditional malt vinegar mayo sauce ($6) or you can try something new with a curry dipping sauce on the side. Totally switch things up with “chips” coated in a green chili spice with a side of cotija crema, cotija, mustard and chilis ($6).
Lucky Buns is a warm, welcoming place with a modern feel, upbeat music and friendly servers and bartenders sporting Hawaiian shirts. But McCoy said that wasn’t exactly what he had in mind when developing this new restaurant concept.
“I opened up a burger shack and bar because that’s the place I’d like to hang out in,” McCoy said.
The small bar is cozy, fitting about 12 people. The craft cocktails are made with top-notch ingredients making them well worth the $11 each. The most eye-grabbing drink on the menu is The Purple Magic Bus, a combination of vodka, rum, tequila, orange blossom, lemon and gardamon syrup served over ice.
McCoy added that his goal was to show customers how people are eating around the world. Whether you’re feasting on a burger with toppings you could find at a backyard barbecue or trying something with toppings completely out of your comfort zone, these dishes can take you around the globe.
“The best thing is that no matter where you are in the world there’s always someone making a burger,” McCoy said. “It’s this universally loved dish that been made local depending on where you are.”