Located behind the Darkhorse Tavern in the Virginia Highlands, Illegal Food began as a pop-up at Joystick Gamebar on Edgewood. Seeking a more permanent home for their famous burgers, founders Steven Lingenfelter and partner Laurie Dominguez took over the lease when Bar Meatball suddenly closed.
LC and I stopped in for a late dinner and took up residence at the bar where we started with two house cocktails. You Can Do Magic is a refreshing mix of gin, blackberry and apply honey wine, Dolin Blanc, lemon juice, and bubbles. LC couldn’t resist the quirky Pickle Backs with House Whiskey, basically a shot of pickle juice served with a shot of whiskey, neat.
According to the staff, Illegal Food is the only restaurant in town to receive half a cow each week from Brasstown Beef, our local source of grass-fed beef. It’s butchered in-house, dry-aged for 21 days, and used for nearly everything on the menu, from the sinfully sloppy burgers to their gigantic 70 ounce T-bone steaks…certainly not illegal, but almost. (photo of steak courtesy of Illegal Food).
There was no doubt I had to try The Hank, the burger that earned Illegal Food its cult following. But I was less certain about what to order on the side. Our neighbors at the bar recommended the fried Brussels sprouts which looked fantastic but nothing really compliments a burger like fries. Not only does Lingenfelter and his team redefine the all-American burger, they also take fries to a whole new level. Beer is also a burger’s best friend so we switched to pints from Starr Hill after our cocktails.
We decided to try the Okonomiyaki Style, an enormous bowl of skin-on fries topped with a long list of Japanese condiments including fermented chili sauce, bonito flakes, shredded nori, green onion, and sesame seeds. It’s a stand-alone dish that was delivered as an appetizer. Although we really enjoyed the creative, spicy fries, the classic variety would have been a better choice to enjoy with our burgers.
There are eight burgers on the menu including one made with pork and another made of ground chicken. LC chose the F & H, a towering take on Holeman & Finch’s famous cheeseburger, ironically served on their equally famous bun. Illegal Food’s version is a double topped with melted American cheese, grilled red onion, and housemade bread and butter pickles. He had to unhinge his jaw.
Thankfully, The Hank is a single thick patty cooked medium with melted American cheese, Vidalia onions, housemade dill pickles, special sauce, and crispy shredded iceberg lettuce, a nod to everyone’s fast food favorite at In-N-Out Burger. It’s sloppy and satisfying. I would suggest wearing a bib.
Our friends at the bar also let us try some of their housemade beef jerky, flavored with sweet sorghum and spicy seasonings. Quite a deal at only six bucks an order, we took a bag of it home.
1044 Greenwood Avenue 404-254-2141