TEHRAN – At the Garage Grill in an upscale Tehran neighborhood, classic rock plays from the speakers, and photos of Paul Newman, James Dean and hot rods line the walls. It could be an old-time American diner, except that its hamburger prices reflect a wealthier target market here.
Right next door, Dukkan Burger serves its fare on butcher paper, with plenty of Heinz ketchup and French’s mustard supplied on request. The clientele includes young women clutching designer purses, arriving with their dates in European luxury cars.
Greasy burger joints have been part of Tehran’s fast-food landscape for decades, even in the years just after the 1979 Islamic revolution, when any symbol of U.S. culture was denounced as an example of Westoxification. Those eateries were mostly in downtown working-class neighborhoods, serving laborers in need of a blast of calories or students watching their budgets.
Now, though, high-end burger restaurants are suddenly popping up across the city, making the gut-busting American institution – and the quest for the best burger – the latest trend in Tehran dining.
Facebook pages dedicated to local hamburger outlets debate their relative merits, comparing them to McDonald’s, In-N-Out, Burger King and other U.S. chains. That fascination with brands has resulted in such blatant rip-offs as McAli’s, Superstar – conspicuously similar in appearance to Hardees – and even a place calling itself Five Guys.
After a string of restaurants catering to Tehran’s rich opened and closed in recent years, observers of the capital’s culinary scene say the rise of the quality burger is not surprising.
Burgers are very simple. It’s a promise that’s to easy deliver on, said Payam Kashani-Nejad, the founder of Gumboo Guide, a website devoted to reviews of Tehran restaurants. And it’s a big market.