When I first found out that JET placed me in Awaji-shi, I immediately began to research the island on the internet. Surprisingly, one of the first sites I came across was a travel blog claiming to have found the best burger joint in Japan. Despite being called Awaji-shima Burger, or 淡路島 バーガー, it was not even on my island. Instead, it was located about an hour from me, in a town called Nishinomiya, in between Kobe and Osaka. That it didn’t matter. I still made the trek to check it out. When you’re an American living in Japan and you are craving burgers, nothing will stop you.
It took me less than a month since arriving in Japan to taste these burgers for myself. After meeting up with a friend in Kobe, and spending $14 on a jar of Skippy’s peanut butter at a world food store (no regrets), we ventured a few JR train stops east of Sannomiya to get off at Nishinomiya. Using good old Google maps on an iPhone, we were able to find the general vicinity where the restaurant should be. From there we followed the mouthwatering aroma of fried onion rings and greasy burgers. Before I knew it, I was standing in front of a tiny hole-in-the-wall shack, with signs taped on the plywood walls, and weathered bamboo external blinds shading the windows. It didn’t look like much, but you should never judge a book by its cover.
After entering through clear PVC strip curtain hanging from the doorway, I was seated in the approximately 75 sq. foot dinning area. In here, there is only one way to dine; and it’s sitting in a low stool with the table top almost as high as your chest when sitting. The menu was all in katakana, but reading words like hamburger, ハンバーガー (Ha’n’ba-‘ga-) was no problem. Foreign words are spelled in katakana, and are pronounced just like they sound in English. There are two options on the menu: regular size for ￥500, or large for ￥650. And for an extra ￥100 you can add cheese, onion rings from Awaji (where I live!), home-made bacon, or a free range fried egg. However, you may not need too many extras, since the burger comes pre-loaded with organic lettuce, tomatoes, sauteed onions, and their own secret sauce (yes, it beats In-N-Out’s sauce).
But, the best part about the burger is the beef itself. After all, that’s what the focus should be on when you’re talking burgers! I did not clarify this with the owner, but I heard the beef is from Awaji Island. If that’s true, then the burger I ate came from cows that are regularly messaged and fed beer. That sounds crazy, but trust me its true. In fact, some of my students are from families that own these farms. Needless to say, the burger melted in my mouth.
I ordered a large with cheese and bacon, and it was everything I thought it would be, and more. More than satisfying, this burger may have ousted my favorite burger spot back home from the burger throne. I would need to eat them together to declare a winner. But as the grease dripped from my chin, while melted cheese slid out the back, I was convinced I found the best burger in Japan. The next time I’m in Kobe, I will make the extra twenty minute ride to Nishinomiya to feast on some Awaji-shima burgers and onion rings.