Burgers are everywhere in Pittsburgh. You can get them at gas stations, bars, food trucks, and even fine-dining establishments. But when it comes to a certain fast-food style burger called a smashburger, the options start to become limited.
Luckily for those in Dormont and the South Hills, a new joint has opened up and has become an overnight sensation. Moonlit Burgers started as a pop-up restaurant and officially opened its brick-and-mortar location on Potomac Avenue last October.
It specializes in smashburgers, a style where the hamburger patty has been smashed onto the grill as it cooks, resulting in a thin patty with slightly irregular edges that crisp up nicely. The style originated in the Great Lakes region and became a staple of the West Coast burger scene, most notably at the In-N-Out Burger chain.
Moonlit’s location on Potomac is a fast-casual joint, complete with a bar that serves local craft beer and cocktails. The vibe is modern, yet a bit retro.
During my recent visit, I ordered the Classic Moonlit Burger, the Moon Bird Chicken Sandwich, shoestring fries, and a vanilla milkshake. The burger had the most important quality of a good smashburger: the edges were extremely charred, complete with smoky, chewy bits. Combine this with the melty and rich American cheese, and it's easy to be satisfied by that combination alone.
Moonlit ensures a great burger experience by adding caramelized onions, the sweetness of which offset the savoriness. Jalapeno-brined pickles offer crunch, sour, and spiciness.
Each bite of the pickles provides some heat, but it is subtle enough to not distract from the overall enjoyment. Also, if you like spicy foods, this is a burger for you. Not for people who want a burger experience with sweating and coughing on spiciness, but for someone who wants just a little kick.
All of these strong flavors are held together by the creamy Moon sauce and the soft potato roll. My one small critique is that the roll could have been just slightly toasted on the griddle, but that absence didn’t really change much.
The shoestring fries were exactly the kind of fries one would want with a smashburger. Thin, salty, a bit chewy, and not too crunchy. It's hard not to compare them to McDonald’s, which serves arguably the best fast food fries, and Moonlit matches those.
The chicken sandwich is definitely something that spicy food fans would enjoy. Two crispy and juicy chicken tenders come inside a long roll with jalapeno-cilantro slaw, Moon sauce, and jalapeno-brined pickles.
The whole thing had the marks of a good chicken sandwich — moist enough for satisfying bites, and enough sauce and accompaniments to add some crunch and cut through the richness. However, it was a bit unwieldy and fell apart about halfway through consumption. Again, toasting the bun here might have helped the structural integrity of the sandwich. But overall, it was satisfying.
Finally, I washed everything down with a vanilla milkshake. The flavor was spot on and helped cool some of the spiciness. Made with Millie's locally made soft serve, the vanilla was rich and smooth. The consistency was on the thinner side, which I tend to enjoy, especially with a meal.
Overall, Moonlit is a fine addition to Pittsburgh’s burger scene, and its focus on crafting a well-made smashburger is extremely welcome.
Moonlit Burgers. 1426 Potomac Ave., Dormont. moonlitburgers.com