I have a confession to make. My name is Eric Sandler, and I...*sniffle*...like...*sputter*...fancy...*cough*...burgers.
Whew. I feel so much relief at making it official. When I recently told a friend that I'm willing to pay $15 for a burger, he was surprised. He couldn't even recall paying $10 for a burger, which is a sum that, in my scouting to prepare this list, I exceeded any number of times.
I prowl the city looking for beefier, juicier, fancier burgers.
I still prize old school institutions like Christian's Tailgate and Lankford Grocery. Those were the first places I found burgers better than what my father made on his beloved Weber kettle. Turns out they're the gateway drug of burgers. I prowl the city looking for beefier, juicier, fancier burgers.
To those of you seeking to champion thin patty stalwarts like Cream Burger, you have my apologies. It just doesn't do it for me. But feel free to tell me how wrong I am in the comments. On to the list.
Chris Shepherd had to rename the UB "Double Double" to the "Cease and Desist Burger" after California chain In-N-Out complained. I've been to In-N-Out, and there's no confusing one for the other. The farm-to-table restaurant, considered one of the best in Houston, and the craft beer bar don't share a kitchen, but they do share a butcher shop. That means the parts of whole cows that aren't turned into steaks for Underbelly become burger meat. Delicious, fresh, burger meat that packs big, beefy flavor onto a locally made bun topped with fresh produce and quality, melty cheese.
Its recent addition to The Hay Merchant menu means that the "Cease and Desist" is available seven days a week until 1 a.m. That's practically a public service.
I've already written that I consider Hubcap to be one of Houston's best restaurants, so my including it here shouldn't be a surprise. For anyone who has yet to try it, ordering a single patty cheeseburger at Hubcap sort of misses the point. The thick buns, custom baked to owner Ricky Craig's specifications, are designed to withstand the creative toppings he piles on. Make mine the Texas BBQ burger: topped with cheddar, crispy onion strings, barbecue sauce and, oh yeah, smoked sausage, it's got a sweet, salty, smoky combination that I can't get enough of. Of course, patrons who prefer the peanut butter-topped sticky burger or the cheesesteak-topped Philly burger are entitled to their preferences. There's room for reasonable disagreement in the world of burger love.
Since it opened in 2010, burger fans have been drawn to this Westchase burger joint that features Akahushi patties, duck fat fries and real sugar fountain drinks. Owner Jake Mazzu and chef Brandon Fisch have assembled a team that cooks burgers to a proper medium rare, which allows the rich, beefy patties to shine. Combine it with creative toppings that riff on the city's dynamic food scene, as in the banh mi-inspired Saigon that features picked daikon and pate, for a place that's uniquely Houston. Make mine the Houston, which combines pickled jalapenos and Saint Arnold-spiked mustard. Chase it with either a 10 cup chocolate or cafe sua da milkshake. Leave full and happy.
Downtown's premier steakhouse only opens for lunch on Fridays, and that's when concept chef Carlos Rodriguez gets to play. In a dining room full of power players, Rodriguez unleashes Friday burger specials so tempting that even the staunchest vegetarian has to consider ordering one. One week it might be homemade scrapple made from assorted pig parts. Another it might be a lamb burger inspired by local blogger Nishta Mehra. Even when there isn't a one-off, the regular cheeseburger is pretty great, and there's always bacon available. Looking to splurge a little more? The signature crab cake makes a great, splittable starter. Can't get there on a Friday? The burger is available in the bar every day.
Chef Erin Smith may have departed Plonk, but the steal-worthy recipe for the guanciale burger remained. Guanciale, by the way, is cured pig's jowl. Since not everyone is familiar with it, I prefer to think of it as face bacon. Who doesn't want to eat a burger made with face bacon? No one I want to be friends with. The result is, more or less, the best bacon cheeseburger ever, with the guanciale infusing every bite with smoky, fatty deliciousness. Go try it and sing the praises of face bacon!
Despite what I wrote above, including Tornado Burger on this list is probably as much nostalgia as it is about the state of the current product. It's also the only thin patty on the list. But sometimes I just flat out crave the restaurant's spicy burger, and there's nothing else in town that satisfies in quite the same way. Mixing in garlic, jalapeno and other spices doesn't result in anything that will make someone's eyes water, but there is a pleasant tingle with every bite. Also, the seasoning mix improves the burger's texture and juiciness. Pair it with the skin on fries for an old school flavor that's probably the best version of an In-N-Out burger in town.
From his three buses that roam the city, Justin Turner serves some of Houston's best burgers. Not only does Bernie's grind its own beef, Turner is so obsessed with quality control that he makes his own ketchup, mustard and mayo. Rather than risk serving flavorless fresh tomatoes, they're roasted. Naturally, the patties are thick, with a delicious beefiness. The fries might be the best in the whole city, crispy on the outside, soft on the inside and just salty enough. One intriguing thought: Turner thinks the burgers are even tastier when he's able to serve them on a plate instead of wrapped in paper. That alone is reason to be excited about his upcoming brick and mortar location.
No list like this would be complete without one old-school spot, and Stanton's is my top pick. The no-frills, convenience store setting and copious craft beer selection both help, but it really is all about the burgers. The come hot off the griddle with a hard sear that provides a little crunch. Then there's the pillowy sesame seed bun and generous bacon piled on top. It's a smoky, salty, rich tasting combination that definitely exceeds the sum of its parts. Go early to avoid the crowds.
It turns out that Down House's rigorous commitment to sourcing top quality local ingredients results in a highly praiseworthy burger. Start with a thick, juicy patty that leaves a satisfying puddle of dripping on the plate. Add just salty enough Cabbot cheddar, house-made condiments and a Slow Dough bun. It may fall apart before the final bite, but that's a small price to pay for a burger that can be enjoyed from 9 a.m. to midnight seven days a week.
Why doesn't Pappas Burger get more respect? The restaurant grinds its own beef, that utilizes trimmings from the dry aging room at next door Pappas Bros. Steakhouse. So every burger has top grade USDA Prime in it. The restaurant also bakes its own buns, and the crispy onion strings are some of the best anywhere. Inexplicably, there are even solid non-burger options. For those who either haven't been in awhile or have never been, go now. A juicy, intensely beefy burger awaits.