If your bog standard of a good hamburger involves McDonald's or Burger King, you don't know the first thing about a good burger. This dish is a national classic, and those who insist on getting fast food junk as their excuses of burgers are doing for the food the same kind of thing Kenny G does for jazz: Removing all the original elements from it and dumbing it down, thus robbing it of a lot of the things that make it stand out in the first place.
You actually need to be able to taste the meat in order for the hamburger to work. If you're ordering from a restaurant, the clue you're in a place that's serious about its burgers is if they ask you how you want it done: Rare, medium, or well. I usually go for medium myself.
The beauty of this old-timey dish is that it's perfectly set to be decorated in any way you please. When I was a kid, all my folks made was the burger itself - we would cut it up, pour ketchup on it, and eat it with a fork. These days, I can't imagine eating a proper hamburger without a bun and a slice of cheese or two. I can only barely imagine one without bacon on top. Those of us who try to live healthier lifestyles should try to eat beef that's 90 percent lean, or possibly even 95.
The typical decorations for a proper burger are usually ketchup, cheese, onions, lettuce, and tomatoes. I eat my homemade burgers with cheese, mayo, and ketchup, but if you decide to go all out in burger decoration, you can afford to really go all out in finding different things to top them off. Avacado is a personal favorite, but one prominent burger chain, Red Robin, is famous for the unique things they're willing to put on top of their burgers. They'll include things like eggs, pineapple, and onion strips. As for condiments, I use ketchup and mayo. Some other popular ones include relish, mustard, barbeque sauce, and guacamole.
A properly done burger should be something you're scared to death to put down because it will otherwise fall right apart. The meat better not taste like rubber, and the decorations shouldn't drown out the taste of the meat. Condiments are best off if they don't clash with each other, because they're inevitably going to mix with each other, and you don't want to end up with a condiment combo that tastes like turpentine.
Properly served, a burger should include a drink of either beer, pop, or a milkshake. Most people seem to think a proper burger should include french fries on the side; it's a fact of life in this country that every burger should have fries. This is aesthetically true, but I'm not exactly a traditionalist on this issue since I very rarely eat french fries and usually get a salad on the side.
Since we're bucking tradition here, I don't like the idea of burgers being seen as one of those typical "game foods;" foods you can enjoy while watching whatever big matchup happens to be playing. If the burger is properly done and you're afraid it will collapse once your hand leaves it, you can't use it as a game food because you need to stop eating occasionally to make wild gestures as you scream at your team of choice. I find that burgers are best as a light, casual dinner date food. They're something you can enjoy in a relaxed atmosphere as you get to know the people around you a little better. With a good burger in hand, a person will feel more relaxed and at home, and willing to be a bit louder and more open.
The burger is one of the real, true foods of EVERYONE.