Papi Smash Burger in downtown Orlando makes mince of its rivals

It's the near-perfect burger experience, not 'some fancy, deconstructed, avant bullshit'

There's no question that the smashburger positively flattens the competition when it comes to nostalgic food trends. Baked Alaska? Nice try. Beef Wellington? Come off it! And you better just zip it, espresso martini, before I swipe you with a Sidecar. No, it's the classic handheld that's all the rage, and folks are flipping over the patties sizzled at Papi Smash Burger in downtown Orlando.

The big "Papi" is Chris Hernandez, an experienced chef who's worked at Citricos and alongside Michelin-starred maestro Pascal Sanchez. He applies all that gleaned knowledge (and possibly the cheeseburger scene from The Menu) to his smashburgers and, to quote a line from the film, made me feel as if I were eating the first cheeseburger I ever ate — a cheap one my parents could barely afford.

click to enlarge Papi Smash Burger in downtown Orlando makes mince of its rivals
photo by Rob Bartlett

Not that they're cheap-cheap at Papi's, but the prices are certainly reasonable — $9.50 for a single, $12 for a double and $14 for a triple "Papi OG Burger." But it's the way he goes about making that burger that makes it well worth the price.

First, on the flattop: American wagyu beef tallow from Snake River Farms. Hernandez melts it before squeezing mustard into the liquefied fat. A ball of seasoned Florida beef (it's a proprietary blend that Hernandez wants to keep secret, and I don't blame him) topped with thinly shaved onions is then smashed into the mustard-fat before it's flipped. The mustard, in case you're wondering, is essential for that tangy, crispy edge on the patty. And the capper: slices of American cheese are added to the flip side, forming the building blocks of one of my favorite burgers in the city.

In the case of the "OG," the patty is placed in a Martin's potato bun smeared with "papi sauce" — a Duke's mayo–based condiment seasoned with a hush-hush mix of spices — and braced with "sweet heat" pickles. You can also get it with "boujee truffle sauce" spiked with Calabrian chili but, no matter the schmear, drop the extra 50 cents and get it with the pepper relish.

What really separates Papi's smashing burgers from others, however, are the Puerto Rican and Cuban influences Hernandez works into them — like mojo pulled pork, sweet plantains, guava reduction, mojo aioli, pickles and plantain chips in the over-the-top Noche en Miami ($14.50), for example. But I was far more content with less weighty options, like the double-pattied "Papi Chulo" ($13.50). Bananas and onions, both caramelized, along with bacon, chimichurri and white American cheese, make it the near-perfect burger experience.

Location Details

Papi Smash Burger

60 E. Pine St., Orlando Downtown


Almost as good is the "Uuuumami Papi" ($14), another double-pattied whopper with bacon, crispy onion, raspberry jam, pickles and a sauce fashioned from shiitake and baby bellas all squished inside a sesame seed bun. The "Cuban Frita" ($14) is right up there, too, thanks to the imported Spanish chorizo Hernandez blends into the beef. A Spanish romesco aioli, plantain crisps, American cheese and pickles made me want to take this one by the horns. BTW: On Fridays and Saturdays at 10 p.m., a riff on the messy, meaty revelation served at Junior's Colombian Burger is offered until 3 a.m., caramelized pineapple, potato chips and all. Cuban sandwiches too. And breakfast service is being planned for mid-June.

Oh, and Hernandez gets into the hot chicken game as well. "Papi's Side Chick" ($12), comprised of 24-hour spice-brined chicken and hot spice dust, may not be at the level of, say, Jam Hot Chicken, but it doesn't make it any less gratifying a sandwich. There are crinkle fries ($4) and yuca fries ($5) that can be enjoyed "chulo style" — that is, with crispy chorizo, caramelized onion, Manchego cheese and chorizo aioli — with any of the sandwiches. There are milkshakes ($6) as well, like the mango and cream, that can be made boozy with rum for $6 more.

But, really, it's all about the burger at Papi's. Not, as The Menu's Margot would say, "some fancy, deconstructed, avant bullshit," but "a real cheeseburger." And just like Margot, you can take yours to go.