Meet the Tastemakers
Houston's best burgers smash the game with exotic add-ons, beefed-up buns, and more
Before we dive into the nominees for Best Burger in the 2023 CultureMap Tastemaker Awards, let’s acknowledge one thing. No matter what our judges select as the winner, some people will be mad.
After all, arguing about whether to find the city’s best burgers is as much our civic birthright as complaining about construction on The Loop or thinking the Texans have finally turned the corner (we’re counting on you, DeMeco). We could double the number of nominees and still get angry comments about someneighborhoodfavoritethatgotleftout.
Still, we’ll put this group of nominees against any other 10 Houston burger purveyors anyone cares to name. It’s covers a range of styles, from the super hot smash burger trend to fancy restaurant burgers that are topped with exotic cheeses and use buns that are baked in-house. It also covers a range of prices, with the least expensive coming in at just $5.
So fire away in the comments if you must. We can take it.
Then go try these burgers for yourself. Because, frankly, they’re f*cking delicious.
Who will win? Find out April 13 at our Tastemaker Awards ceremony. Dine on bites from this year’s nominees, sip cocktails from our sponsors, and witness as our emcee (and Best Burger nominee) Bun B reveals the winners. Buy your tickets before they sell out.
Before launching Burger Bodega as a pop-up, owner Abbas Dhanani traveled to Los Angeles and New York to research smash burgers. Ultimately, he settled on a procedure that serves the thinnest, most crispy patties in Houston. They’re paired with American cheese, housemade pickles, and Bodega sauce on a potato bun. The result is a craveable sandwich that’s just the right portion when served as a double cheeseburger.
At this Galleria-area restaurant, diners really can have it their way. The ordering process allows customers to pick the size of their patties, the number of patties, the type of bun, cheese, extra proteins, sauces, and veggies. When the choices are this compelling — the options range far beyond the usual tomato/lettuce/onion to cover everything from sambal mayo and scallion aioli to kimchi relish and ghost pepper flakes — finding the exact perfect combo can tricky. The best plan is to go several times until you get it just right.
It’s not obvious that the cheeseburger would be among the most popular dishes at this agave-obsessed taqueria, but that’s part of its charm. The classic build — a quarter-pound patty, American cheese, housemade pickles, and a tangy sauce — helps explain the popularity, as does its very reasonable $7 price. Those who are feeling particularly ambitious could add the contents of any of the restaurant’s signature tacos to the burger for an even bigger burst of flavor.
Ford Fry’s seafood-oriented, comfort food restaurant in the Heights doesn’t try to hide the inspiration for its signature Pharmacy Burger. The yellow paper its wrapped in nods to Whataburger and the name references the Avalon Drug Store, which had a diner-style counter during the chef’s childhood (its legacy continues as Avalon Diner). The restaurant’s beefy double cheeseburger gets topped with mustard, mayo, chopped lettuce, onions, and pickles. Crunchy, gooey, fatty, and rich, it will satisfy the burger craving for any hardcore carnivore.
The Chango burger’s slim proportion — a 3-ounce patty — makes it snackable. Toppings like relish and Valentina mayo give it a compelling mix of sweet and spicy flavors that contrast with the crispy, smashed beef. At just $5 for a single or $9 for a double, it’s an irresistible deal and a necessary component of any visit to this popular bar in Lindale Park.
The cheeseburger at this popular bistro had a viral moment last year when then-Astros pitcher Justin Verlander gave it a shout out during an in-game interview. As it happens, the future Hall of Famer and his wife, supermodel Kate Upton, regularly dined at the EaDo bistro. Served on a housemade English muffin made with buttery brioche dough, the burger satisfies with its combination of good beef, American cheese, chopped onions, pickles and aioli.
On the menu since the restaurant opened in 2019, Squable’s French cheeseburger distinguishes itself with its “stout beef patty” — a custom blend of short rib, chuck, and a round — that's crowned with a thick layer of melty cheese that blends raclette and cheddar and a little maitre d' hotel butter. Chopped cornichons provide acidity, and the house made bun is sturdy enough to keep the whole thing together. At brunch, find an even more decadent version that comes topped with cheddar, lardons, dijonaise, and a fried egg.
The Burger Joint
Now with three locations, The Burger Joint has a flexible menu of burgers with creative toppings that satisfy a diverse set of cravings. Sure, it’s possible to get a regular cheeseburger with its familiar Angus beef, but why not opt for something a little more fun like the Mexi burger (grilled ham, avocado, queso fresco) or the Opa burger (lamb, pickled onions, peta). Spice hounds will seek out the Fire burger that’s topped with both jalapeños and serranos. Monthly specials and the recent addition of a halal patty help keep things fresh.
The Toasted Coconut
Weighing in at six ounces, the tiki-inspired bar’s “World Famous Cheeseburger” starts with two smashed patties that are topped with housemade pickles, chili aioli, and diced red onions. That’s served on a housemade Hawaiian bun that uses a little pineapple juice and brown sugar in the dough. “The result is a well-balanced smashed burger that benefits from the sweetness of the Hawaiian bun and the smoky kick of the aioli,” Ali Khan wrote for Texas Highways. We couldn’t have said it better.
Developed by California restaurateur and Houston hip-hop legend Bun B, the Trill Burgers burger is a classic smash burger that’s topped with cheese, pickles, onions, and Trill sauce, a tangy, Thousand Island-style dressing that ties it all together. The classic combination has been a hit, earning a prize on Good Morning America and playing to long lines throughout the entire run of this year’s Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo. Expect a similar frenzy when the concept’s brick and mortar restaurant opens in the former James Coney Island space on Shepherd Drive.