The Big Apple's Elusive Burger
by Mary Scott Brisson
How I Met Your Mother (2008) follows the lives of a group of friends in their late twenties as they navigate life, love, friendship, and aging milestones. In Season 4 Episode 2, “The Best Burger in New York,” the gang embarks on a quest to find the best burger in New York City after one member of the friend group, Marshall, declares that he had the best burger of his entire life several years ago. He does not remember the location nor name of the restaurant, but he knows the legendary burger joint’s location was both small and obscure. Despite any lack of evidence of its existence, the group becomes determined to track down the infamous burger.
Throughout the episode, the cast follows clues from fragments of Marshall’s memory to track down the right spot. The episode delivers a message of the importance of friendship in conjunction with the pursuit of life’s simple pleasures, such as eating a great burger. A central theme of their quest is the universal desire for culinary excellence. Moreover, it illustrates the great lengths people are willing to go to for food. The nostalgia of food is also a prominent idea throughout the episode. Marshall’s memory of the burger serves as a powerful example of the connection between food and memory. He tries multiple burgers before finding the correct one. Each time, it appears he has found the burger from several years ago. After swallowing, however, he remarks that it is not the correct burger. Marshall’s relying on a taste experience from years ago emphasizes the indelible mark food has the ability to imprint on human memory.
Despite the crew’s convoluted journey to finding the ultimate burger, the process exemplifies food’s ability to bring people together. The burger quest ultimately bolsters all of the friends’ bonds and highlights the social aspect embedded in dining. The quest mirrors the real-life thrill of discovering hole-in-the-wall eateries with companionship. The setting of the restaurant further reminds viewers of the fact that food and atmosphere do not have to be extravagant nor expensive to be enjoyed and bring people together. Finally, the episode’s message of the power of simplicity reveals itself through the choice of food. There is nothing extravagant, gourmet, expensive, or fancy about their highly sought-after burger. Rather, they seek simple pleasure of a properly cooked, tasty, and inexpensive burger. The episode uses food as a vehicle to explore themes of nostalgia, friendship, and quest for perfection. It further demonstrates the role of food as more than sustenance; food serves as a source of connection, exploration, memory, and experience amongst friends.
Bays, Carter, and Craig Thomas. How I Met Your Mother, Season 4, episode 2, CBS, 29 Sept. 2008.