For generations, a burger was a burger was a burger: a crispy-edged brown beef patty perched on a squishy white store-bought bun snuggled up to some pink tomato slices, pale-green iceberg lettuce, dill pickles, raw onions, and a healthy swipe of yellow mustard (no ketchup, please—this is Texas). If you were lucky, the grease didn’t dissolve the tissue wrapper until you were halfway through.
Then, sometime around forty years ago, everything changed. For reasons that we will leave to the historians, burgers started to go crazy. As we opined in the introduction to our first fifty-best-burgers story, seven years ago, the thin-patty, no-nonsense burger of bygone days was upstaged by the buxom, tricked-out version of the twenty-first century.
But that was in 2009, a lifetime in burger years. We began to wonder, Just exactly what is the state of the burgerlution? In order to find out, we rallied a team of 24 fearless, bordering on fanatical, eaters and instructed them to canvass Texas from Tyler to Terlingua and from the High Plains to the Rio Grande Valley. When the mustard had settled, we had tasted 367 individual burgers. Conclusion: not only has the burger revolution continued, the creations are more varied, ambitious, and delicious than ever.
The list of burgers we serve up here is entirely new. We invite you to check it out, and please tell us if you know of something fantastic we overlooked—it’s never too soon to start gathering nominations for our next top fifty. Our fun may be over. Yours is just beginning.
by Patricia Sharpe, with Leslie Baldwin, Courtney Bond, Jessica Elizarraras, Michael Hall, Leanne Hedrick, Michael Hiller, Abby Johnston, Emily Kimbro, Paul Knight, June Naylor, Tony Privett, J.C. Reid, Kevin Tankersley, Daniel Vaughn, Christiane Wartell, and Texas Monthly restaurant reviewers.
With all the novel embellishments added to burgers these days, it can seem like a revelation for the meat itself to be the star. But that’s to be expected at Reata, where the owner’s CF Ranch is outside town. The medium-rare burger is thick and pink, distinguished by the flavor of grass-fed West Texas beef. Sharp aged cheddar adds richness, a kaiser roll lends heft. Although daily specials are offered, you’re better off sticking with the CF. The restaurant’s walls are hung with posters from Giant, which was filmed in and around the nearby town of Marfa more than sixty years ago but is never to be forgotten in these parts. 203 N. Fifth, 432-837-9232. Mon–Sat 11:30–2 & 5–10.
Blue Sky, $7
If you were to cut into the cheeseburger from Blue Sky—a small West Texas chain—the first layer you would encounter is a toasted bakery bun lightly spread with yellow mustard. Next would come your choice of gooey melted cheese atop a seasoned chuck patty. At this point, you might be tempted to lick the knife. But keep going through a generous slice of red tomato, tangy dill pickle chips, and crunchy lettuce and onion. Upon reaching the bottom bun, you would note that it too is toasted, which helps with juice control. You would then put down the knife and pick up the masterpiece. As for a side, you should order both the fried Anaheim chile sticks and the hand-cut fries, because it’s impossible to choose between them. 4201 Interstate 40W, 806-355-8100. Mon–Sat 11–10. Multiple locations.
Honorable mention: California burger at Coyote Bluff.
Central Standard Kitchen & Bar, $18 (includes fries)
With mid-century-modern details like Eames-style chairs, this tall, glass-walled restaurant-bar at a trendy hotel is a pretty fashionable place to wolf down a burger. But there are always families with kids around too, especially in the long, shady breezeway outside. The burger’s list of ingredients alone makes your mouth water: peppered bacon, Tillamook cheddar, mushroom butter. But aside from the loosely packed, inch-tall patty, one detail in particular elevates this creation: the hint of smoke from the slightly charred edges of the brioche bun. In Texas, everything’s better with smoke. South Congress Hotel, 1603 S. Congress Ave; 512-942-0823. Mon–Wed 5–10, Thur & Fri 5–11, Sat 11–11, Sun 11–10.
Chicon, $13 (includes fries)
If you’ve eaten the burger at Contigo, you’ve eaten the burger at Chicon, its new baby brother. The only difference is where you’re consuming it: at the former’s beer garden or in the latter’s dining room, with its Mexican leather chairs and comfy pillows. At both, the burger starts with the highest-quality ground beef, sourced from Windy Bar Ranch, outside Stonewall, and cooked medium. Alongside the toasted homemade challah bun are romaine lettuce, slices of ripe tomato and red onion, and dill pickles (house-cured, so they’re not too tart). Grafton cheddar cheese and Chicon’s own bacon are extra—but they’re worth it. 1914 E. Sixth, 512-354-1480. Mon–Wed 5–10, Thur–Sat 5–11, Sun 10–2 & 5–10.
Black Angus Hamburger
Clark’s Oyster Bar, $16 (includes fries)
A waiter, nattily attired in a blue Oxford cloth shirt and white pants, pours your Diet Coke at this teensy seafood restaurant and oyster bar. In a bit he’s back with a large plate bearing a stack of skinny fries and a pan-roasted burger, with a steak knife on the side. In lieu of the usual lettuce and tomato, the beautifully grill-marked bun is slathered with sauce Gribiche (like mayo with chopped cornichons). The cooked-to-order patty is an inch tall and running with juices. The revelation is a lava flow of Gruyère, which may just be the best burger cheese ever. 1200 W. Sixth, 512-297-2525. Sun–Wed 11–10:30, Thur–Sat 11–11.
The insanity that is the Hopdoddy line is actually justified by the quality of the burgers at this rapidly expanding Austin-born chain. The cheapest one is a steal at $7, and the specialties like the excellent Llano Poblano (Angus beef, seared chiles, bacon, Tillamook pepper jack, chipotle mayo) would cost considerably more anywhere else. So prepare yourself for something like the line at airport security, knowing that in about, oh, thirty minutes, you’ll have a burger cooked the way you ordered it and a happy, boisterous crowd of fellow customers to affirm that you’ve made a very smart choice. Ease the pain of the wait with beer, wine, or a prickly-pear tequila martini (known as the Lil’ Prick). 1400 S. Congress Ave, 512-243-7505. Sun–Thur 11–10, Fri & Sat 11–11. Multiple locations.
Second Bar + Kitchen, $14
You may need a wet wipe before it’s over, because this burger is monumentally juicy. The sumptuous blend of brisket and chuck comes nicely seasoned between a thatch of Gruyère and shallot confit. Making it extremely easy to customize are sides of leaf lettuce, tomatoes, and sweet pickles, not to mention two ramekins with sharp mustard and homemade ketchup. If you feel the need to branch out, add seared foie gras or pork belly (but, dear God, not both). Afterward, indulge in prime downtown people-watching from the terrace or the cacophonous dining room. 200 Congress Ave, 512-827-2750. Sun–Thur 11–11:30, Fri & Sat 11–1:30 a.m.
Texas French Bread, $15 (includes fries)
You wouldn’t expect this sunny 35-year-old neighborhood bakery and restaurant—site of morning pastries, lunchtime sandwiches, and well-crafted dinners—to have a burger at all. But it does, and it’s a fine one. A house-made brioche bun unites the meatiness of a tall Wagyu beef patty and the funkiness of taleggio cheese. Adding character are peppery arugula, deeply caramelized onions, and a layer of tomato jam—rich flavors that are a far cry from Texas’s traditional mustard burger. 2900 Rio Grande, 512-499-0544. Burger served 7 days 11–3.
Honorable mention: Big Tex Burger at Cover 3.
Hee Haw Burger
Willy Burger, $7.49
This burger is like an old-fashioned Southern supper tucked inside a toasty bun. A swipe of red-pepper jelly goes on first, followed by a juicy handmade beef patty and a dollop of pimento cheese (to keep the three slices of bacon in place). The crowning glory of this wild concoction is a flour-dusted fried green tomato. Taken together, those tasty sides your grandmama used to make unite to deliver a single, glorious bite. 5535 Calder Ave, 409-892-3400. Open 7 days 11–9.
Little Gretel, $10.99 lunch & $14.99 dinner (includes fries)
The haus specialties might be German and Czech comfort food, but Little Gretel cooks up a mighty good burger. The expertly spiced, hand-pressed half-pound patty, made from Certified Angus beef, is dressed with fresh veggies, homemade pickles, and a swath of mayo-based house dressing on a sourdough bun. Enjoy your juicy burger and crisp shoestring fries in the biergarten, which offers a perfect view of Cibolo Creek. Nobody would blame you for sticking around for another cold one afterward.
518 River Rd, 830-331-1368. Mon & Tue 11–2:30, Wed–Fri 11–2:30 & 5–9, Sat 11–9, Sun 11–3.
Perini Ranch Steakhouse, $13.50 (includes chips)
Served open-faced, the Ranch Burger is edible art. Two crimson slices of tomato sit atop a frilly green lettuce leaf along with a whole pickled jalapeño and high-quality dill pickles. To one side is the top bun, adorned with zigzags of mayo and mustard. Next to it is the bottom bun, stacked with an eight-ounce patty garnished with grilled red onions. A cap of golden cheddar (or provolone, if you prefer) and your choice of fixings complete the effect. If there’s a prettier burger in Texas, it would be hard to find. The meat, all chuck, is cooked to order; the vegetables are fresh. Final touch: you’re enjoying it in the rustic converted barn housing the best country steakhouse in Texas. 3002 FM 89, 325-572-3339. Tue–Thur 5–10, Fri–Sun 11–10.
Bill’s Burgers, Wings & Things, $5.49
Need a great recharging station on a road-trip stop in the Hill Country? Check out Bill’s. It’s just off the highway near a creek in the charming town of Burnet. If it’s not too hot, sit at a picnic table in the quaint backyard area. Skip the specialty burgers and go for the basic cheeseburger. It weighs in at nearly half a pound, its juicy patty covered in American cheese and resting on an equally giant toasted bun. Besides tomatoes, shredded lettuce, and sliced onion, there are exemplary pickles (much better than classic dills). Tip: skip the fries and order a side of fried pickles with house-made ranch dip. 306 E. Polk, 512-234-8216. Sun, Wed & Thur 11–9, Fri & Sat 11–10. Multiple locations.
Post at Lamar Park, $11
It’s not as explosive as the stuff Walter White cooked up in Breaking Bad, but the Post’s Heisenburger has addictive qualities all its own. The restaurant occupies the space of the old Lamar Park post office, with the oversized doors to the patio leading you down the same path the old rolling mail carts used to take. The burger is as classic as the location: a thick hand-formed patty griddled to a dark char and topped with sharp cheddar on a buttered and toasted bun. The pickles actually remind you of cucumbers. Add bacon and an egg, if you like. Just be careful you don’t become addicted. 411 Doddridge, 361-452-0907. Mon–Thur 3–midnight, Fri 3–2 a.m., Sat noon–2 a.m., Sun 10–midnight.
Blues Burgers, $12 (includes fries or tots)
The place itself is not much to look at: Formica tables, tile floor, bottles of whiskey parked near a margarita machine. Forget all that—you’re here for the HMF Burger, a bucket-list-worthy griddled masterpiece whose deeply seared nooks and crannies are adorned with melted ghost pepper cheese, blistered jalapeños, grilled onions, and a slice of applewood-smoked bacon. Save room for a flaky homemade fried pie. 1820 W. Mockingbird Ln, 214-750-9100. Mon–Sat 11–8.
Bacon and Egg Burger
Kenny’s Burger Joint, $8.99
For unbridled excess, the bacon and egg combo is the way to go. Chef Kenny Bowers’s relentlessly drippy two-hander begins with loosely packed, hickory-grilled beef and a buttered, toasted brioche bun. In between goes the magic: melted American cheese, thick-cut bacon, a sunny-side-up egg, and a ladle of sweet, buttery béarnaise sauce. Double up on your Lipitor; this one is worth it. 5809 Preston Rd, Plano; 972-378-0999. Sun–Thur 11–10, Fri & Sat 11–11. Multiple locations.
Pimento Cheese Burger
Knife, $14 (includes fries)
Chef John Tesar constructs this all-sirloin steakhouse burger with fanatical attention to detail. He sears a six-ounce patty of 44 Farms beef to a rosy medium-rare on a griddle, then pumps it up with a tangle of sautéed red onions and a huge scoop of house-made, Tabasco-spiked pimento cheese. He tucks the whole gooey mess into a lightly toasted bun lined with a single leaf of Bibb lettuce. “The lettuce is a bib,” says Tesar. “It keeps the juices and grilled onions and cheese from soaking through.” The result tastes like the Fourth of July, a family reunion, and a summer picnic all rolled into one. The Highland Dallas hotel, 5300 E. Mockingbird Ln; 214-443-9339. Mon–Thur 11:30–2 & 5–11, Fri & Sat 11:30–2 & 5–midnight, Sun 11:15–2 & 5–10.
Liberty Burger, $7
Everything about the Chillerno Burger telegraphs that this family-owned place takes burgers seriously. That’s no surprise, given that the patriarch, Gene Street, also created the Black-eyed Pea and Good Eats restaurants. For the Chillerno, steakhouse-quality chuck is blended with tenderloin and brisket, and the patty is blanketed with melted queso blanco and roasted poblano peppers. Chipotle barbecue sauce hits with a one-two punch of tang and spice. Everything works, from the ideal beef-to-bun ratio to the sturdy, custom-baked brioche. For the finale, order one of Liberty’s “personal” fruit pies, which are actually perfect for sharing with someone who didn’t have the Chillerno and might be a little glum. 5211 Forest Ln, 972-239-2100. Sun–Thur 11–9, Fri & Sat 11–10. Multiple locations.
Cheeseburger With Bacon and Grilled Jalapeños
Maple & Motor, $9.75
To Maple & Motor’s exemplary bun and meat, you should add bacon—thick enough to notice and crisp enough to bite through—and the glorious grilled jalapeños. These aren’t the pickled variety but fresh green chiles tamed by a quick sear. The cheese is your choice (American, cheddar, or pepper jack). As for the patty, it’s a mix of brisket and shoulder clod that’s rolled into a ball and smashed onto the griddle. When they ask how you’d like it done, answer “pink.” And if you want a side, your best choice is an order of the supercrisp tater tots. 4810 Maple Ave, 214-522-4400. Mon–Sat 10:45–9, Sun 11–4.
Mr. Mesero, $8.95
Rose’s Bluebonnet Sandwich Shop was a beloved burger dive on Greenville Avenue before the owner, Rose Stivers, passed away, in 2003. Mr. Mesero’s owner, Mico Rodriguez, put this burger on the menu as an homage, and a worthy one it is. Each of the two thin yet juicy patties is topped with a slice of melted American cheese. With multiple layers of iceberg, the Rose Burger is notably tall but easily compressed into a manageable size. The lettuce forms a thermal barrier, keeping the tomatoes and pickles cold above it while the hot juices soak into the bottom bun. If you worry you’re missing out by not ordering Mr. Mesero’s Mexican food, relax: you still get chips and salsa. 4444 McKinney Ave, 214-780-1991. Open 7 days 11–10.
Do It Murph-Style
Off-Site Kitchen, $5.99
Beef chuck and clod are ground on-site, making Off-Site Kitchen’s eminently juicy quarter-pound burger a real deal, given its quality. The American cheese–covered patty is embraced by a buttery griddled bun that holds up masterfully to the grilled onions and secret sauce. The brilliance of the jalapeño-and-bacon relish cannot be properly appreciated without comparing it with a burger that has the usual strips of bacon (might we suggest OSK’s Locals Only). Compelling as they are, the hefty slices of cured pork can’t compete with the condiment’s wizardry. 331 Singleton Blvd, 214-741-2226. Mon 11–7, Tue 11–9, Wed & Thur 11–10, Fri & Sat 11–11, Sun 11–9.
“House peppered bacon” is a descriptor that would lure any burger lover. Rapscallion’s crisp, smoky slices are fantastic, but the kitchen goes further by making its own pimento cheese (including Parmesan), which more than stands up to the emphatic wood-charred patty. Creole mustard brings an unexpected spiciness. You won’t be able to put this burger down, but why would you want to? 2023 Greenville Ave, 469-291-5660. Tue–Thur 4:30–10, Fri 4:30–11, Sat 11–3 & 4:30–11, Sun 11–3 & 4:30–10.
Honorable mention: Classic Cheeseburger at the Grape, which was number one on our 2009 list and is still a damn fine burger.
Rosco’s Burger Inn, $3.24
Simplicity prevails in this diner-style place. The options are limited—cheese or no cheese, single or double—but when the beef tastes this good, who needs fancy toppings? The meat is ground fresh daily and mixed with raw onions before being hand-formed into patties that are then cooked on a flat top right in front of you. The finishing touches are a buttery grilled bun, shredded iceberg lettuce, fresh tomatoes, chopped onions, and a smear of mustard. Just remember two rules when ordering: cash only and no substitutions. If you do that, you will fit in just fine at this neighborhood gem. 3829 Tompkins, 915-564-9028. Tue–Thur 10:30–5, Fri & Sat 10:30–8.
The Bearded Lady, $12
Where does lust begin? At the first glimpse of this lascivious creation, or upon sinking your teeth into it? Its half-pound hand-formed patty clocks in at 78-percent-lean Prime Angus chuck and comes studded with chopped roasted poblano and feta. Measuring three quarters of an inch thick, it’s topped with melted Gouda cheese, avocado, and caramelized onion tendrils. Extras come alongside: a fluffy green lettuce leaf; a sweet, firm tomato slice; and a spicy house-made sour pickle or two. L.U.S.T. is especially enjoyable if accompanied by a brew on tap—the twenties-era cottage and patio are home to the most popular craft beer bar in town. 1229 Seventh Ave, 817-349-9832. Tue–Sun 11–2 a.m.
The tangle of fried onion and jalapeño strings makes a mountain of irresistible madness atop the hefty chuck patty. Then you see the thick slices of bacon and the melted cheddar, all wedged between the griddle-toasted halves of a sweetish sourdough bun. You almost whimper with delight when you encounter the tangy barbecue sauce and chipotle mayo that tie the textures and flavors together. A perennially popular spot with local families as well as students on the TCU campus, the joint is also loved for its bacon blue cheese burger; huge, peppery onion rings; and cold beer. 3009 S. University Dr, 817-927-5522. Sun–Wed 11–9, Thur–Sat 11–10.
Fred’s Texas Cafe, $10.95 (includes fries)
The dive cafe’s Fredburger never fails, proving that unfussy excellence always prevails. The flavors of the handmade half-pound patty come to life on a time-seasoned flat griddle, and the just-melted slice of American cheese rounds the flavors out. Things get mighty messy in the eating, especially with juicy red tomato slices, pickles, and plenty of mustard enhancing the effect. Lots of folks add grilled jalapeños, though serious heat seekers go for the chipotle-fired Diablo Burger. Giant schooners of “cold-ass” beer always soothe a fevered palate. 915 Currie, 817-332-0083. Tue–Sat 10:30–midnight, Sun 10–9. Multiple locations.
Press Cafe, $14 (includes potato chips)
Maybe the most chef-driven burger in town, this addictive specimen from Felipe Armenta stars huntsman cheese, an English blend of sharp double Gloucester striped with Stilton, which makes a lovely foil for sweet caramelized onion. That combo, sitting atop a thick hand-formed patty of house-ground Angus, gets a tart twist from sliced deli pickles and a clean finish from fresh, crisp watercress. The crowning glory is the poppy seed bun, just toasty enough. Alongside, the romesco aioli, served with the handmade potato chips, should be slathered on a burger bite or two. For maximum pleasure, enjoy it all on the lively patio overlooking the Clear Fork of the Trinity River. 4801 Edwards Ranch Rd, 817-570-6002. Open 7 days 7–10.
Rodeo Goat, $9.50
A huge hit upon its gutsy opening one block from legendary Fred’s, in 2012, this bustling, open-air icehouse doubles down with one of the more diverse burger lineups in town. A perennial favorite is the Telluride, a hand-formed patty spread with creamy goat cheese swirled with roasted poblano and topped with both Hatch chiles (when available) and a tart-sweet green-chile chutney. For good measure, the kitchen piles on sliced purple onion, sweet red tomato, and a big frilly lettuce leaf. The must-have side? Hand-cut fries. 2836 Bledsoe, 817-877-4628. Sun–Thur 11–10, Fri & Sat 11–midnight. Multiple locations.
Honorable mention: Bar B-Q Burger at Charley’s Old Fashioned Hamburgers.
Bernie’s Burger Bus, $10.65
If the whole of most burgers is rarely more than the sum of their parts, the Homeroom is a mathematical wonder. At the brick-and-mortar version of chef Justin Turner’s celebrated food truck, the formula starts with a super-juicy patty, a pillowy toasted bun, then adds cheddar, chipotle aioli, bacon, caramelized onion, and a fried egg. Optional house-made ketchup and mustard multiply the effect by at least a factor of two. No froufrou raw vegetables muck up this masterpiece of umami. 5407 Bellaire Blvd, 713-349-9400. Sun–Thur 11–9, Fri & Sat 11–9:30. Multiple locations.
Burger Joint, $6.25
Gourmet burgers may be all the rage, but sometimes a basic cheeseburger is exactly what the burger connoisseur wants. Such is the Classic, with a half-inch-thick, minimally seasoned, acceptably charred patty surrounded with crisp whole-leaf lettuce, crunchy dill pickles, chopped onion, fresh tomato, and a light swipe of aioli. The welcoming patio sits at the epicenter of Montrose night life, and on a warm summer or cool fall evening, burger and beer in hand, you’ll find no better neighborhood vibe in Houston. 2703 Montrose Blvd, 281-974-2889. Sun–Thur 11–midnight, Fri & Sat 11–4 a.m.
Patties stuffed with odd ingredients—that’s usually a no-go for burger lovers. The sanctity and integrity of the beef are rarely improved by the introduction of spurious textures and flavors. That’s not the case at this raucous gastropub/craft beer mecca, where strings of poblano peppers are incorporated into the well-seasoned, medium-grind, all-Angus patty, adding both crunch and heat (don’t worry, there’s no squirrel meat). Fresh onions, shredded romaine lettuce, pepper jack cheese, bacon, and a fried egg sprinkled with chopped jalapeños make for one savory, spicy mash-up. 3422 N. Shepherd Dr, 713-802-0410. Mon–Thur 4–midnight, Fri & Sat 11–2 a.m., Sun 11–midnight.
Killen’s Burgers, $7.50
Barbecue-and-steakhouse baron Ronnie Killen knows his beef, and that’s the star of the show at his phenomenally popular new joint in Pearland. The prodigious patties (ten ounces!) of hand-ground, all-natural chuck and brisket arrive wonderfully charred and caramelized, equipped with American cheese, swaths of green leaf lettuce, and tomatoes. To finish, the Thousand Island–like Killen’s sauce is slathered on a lightly blistered Slow Dough bun that will remind you of Texas toast. 2804 S. Main, Pearland; 281-412-4922. Tue–Thur 11–8, Fri & Sat 11–9, Sun 11–6.
Moon Tower Inn, $9.69
The Chong is one half of the tag team of featured burgers (the other being the Cheech) at this industrial-chic icehouse in the ever-gentrifying East End neighborhood. This “cookshack and sudworks” is home to one of the city’s best selections of craft beers, any of which go beautifully with the Chong, a doozy of a burger featuring a medium-grind half-pound patty with a peppery crust and a solid char. Thick-cut bacon; cheddar cheese; a fragrant, dusky Creole-style mustard; and house-made bread-and-butter pickles round out the profile. The customary fried egg tops it off. 3004 Canal, 832-969-1934. Mon–Thur noon–2 a.m., Fri & Sat noon–3 a.m., Sun noon–midnight.
Philly Cheese Steak Burger
Original Hubcap Grill, $8.49
There’s a special place in the hearts of burger fans for a juicy, char-y slab of ground beef topped with even more beef. Such is the case here, with owner Ricky Craig’s redoubtable hand-formed all-chuck patties smothered in a promiscuous pile of thin-sliced ribeye soaked in a savory mayo sauce with Swiss cheese, grilled onions, and bell peppers. Despite the high level of ooziness, the house-made buns form a sturdy platform for easy eating. 1111 Prairie, 713-223-5885. Mon–Sat 11–3. Multiple locations.
Original Bacon Cheeseburger
Stanton’s City Bites, $7
When beloved burger-meister Arthur “Art” Fong died, in 2013, fans wondered what would happen to the convenience store turned burger joint that his father, Stanton, had opened in 1961. Fortunately, Art’s widow, Theresa, took over and—along with help from their children, Jonathan and Samantha—scuttled the convenience store in favor of a large, homey dining room. Today, beef bomb burgers rule. Weighing in at eight ounces, each patty makes the ideal base for crispy bacon and ooey-gooey American cheese. In one corner is a mural of Art himself, a halo around his head, with the words “Our Patron Saint of Burgers.” 1420 Edwards, 713-227-4893. Tue–Thur 11–8, Fri & Sat 11–9, Sun 11–4.
Butter Burger “Carpet Bagger Style”
State of Grace, $14 (includes fries)
It’s a rare burger that’s topped with a fried oyster, but there’s nothing conventional about this creation from executive chef Bobby Matos, starting with its name. “Carpet bagger” is a nod to an old-timey dish of beef and oysters, while “butter” refers to the butter mixed in with the ground chuck and brisket. The bun glistens with more butter, embracing two generous patties, cheese, grilled onions, house-made pickles, and a rémoulade-like “comeback sauce.” By all means spend an extra $2.50 for the salty, smoky bacon. And be aware: the burger is not offered at dinner. 3258 Westheimer Rd, 832-942-5080. Mon–Thur 11–3 & 5–10, Fri 11–3 & 5–11, Sat 5–11, Sun 10–3 & 5–10.
Honorable mention: The Duece at Grafittis at Union St.
Crafthouse Gastropub, $14 (includes fries)
It’s easy to be distracted by the creative menu of this midtown pub, but the loss is yours if you ignore the burger. The house-baked bun is a yeasty challah-and-ciabatta fusion with a sweet finish. The grass-fed beef, regionally sourced, is ground on-site and grilled over a gas flame. Both the Shiner Bock mustard and lemon-jazzed mayonnaise are made in-house, melding well with a slice of aged cheddar and caramelized onions, which are juicy but not so much so that they drip down your arm. 3131 Thirty-fourth, 806-687-1466. Tue–Sat 11–10, Sun 10–2.
McAllen Ranch Burger
House Wine & Bistro, $13 (includes fries)
This Rio Grande Valley dining destination treats its burger with finesse. A fresh ciabatta bun soaks up the excess juices from a patty of all-natural, grass-fed McAllen Ranch beef, which is lavished with sautéed mushrooms and onions and topped with pepper jack cheese. Alongside is an order of fries—but what fries! The thin-cut mix of both russet and sweet potatoes is seasoned with Parmesan and accompanied by a little container of roasted-garlic aioli for dipping. (You might just want to spread it on your burger too.) 1117 U.S. 83 Business, 956-994-8331. Mon–Thur 11–10, Fri 11–midnight, Sat noon–midnight.
Patio Cafe, $8.99
Love Creek Orchards is exactly the slice of Hill Country life that sends city dwellers on weekend journeys along winding back roads. Perhaps a cautionary note for those very travelers, a sign near the Orchards’ Patio Cafe order window advises: “If you want fast, go to Austin or Dallas. We are south of the tension line.” Grab a seat at the red picnic tables under a sloping live oak and wait for the grilled SPJ (spicy pepper jack) Burger, which comes loaded with thick-cut applewood-smoked bacon, tangy jalapeño mustard, the promised SPJ cheese, and sweet-hot pickles. Although the pepper theme may seem like overkill, its kick is countered by the surprising sweetness of the jalapeño bun. Finish the whole thing and you’ll be slowing down too. 14024 Texas Hwy 16N, 830-589-2202. Open 7 days 11–3.
Jacoby’s Cafe, $10 (includes a side)
The menu proclaims that all burgers are made with half a pound of Jacoby Brand Beef. Think about it. How many cafes serve grass-fed Angus beef from the owners’ ranch? That’s what goes into the unusual Keltz Burger, named for a longtime customer. It’s an inside-out sort of thing, with onions, jalapeños, and cheddar-jack cheese stuffed in the patty before it’s griddled. In all honesty, the toasted bun can get a little soggy, but it lasts if you eat fast. Linger in the rough wood–paneled dining room and catch up on the gossip in Melvin (population 200 on a good day). Added bonus: sibling Jacoby’s, in Austin, will be offering the Keltz this month. 101 N. Main, 325-286-4244. Mon–Wed 11–2, Thur–Sat 11–2 & 5–9.
Green Chili Burger
Basin Burger House, $12.50 (includes fries)
The unpretentious West Texas setting hardly prepares you for the scratch gourmet creations that emerge from Basin Burger House’s kitchen. Many customers are helpless before the power of the Green Chili Burger, unable to resist the allure of roasted-jalapeño aioli. The impossibly tall patty—brisket, short rib, and chuck—is stacked with avocado, Monterey jack cheese, charred poblano, and onions and crowned with a fried egg. Although fries are included, spring for the onion rings. 607 N. Colorado, 432-687-5696. Mon–Thur 11–9, Fri & Sat 11–10, Sun 9–2.
Honey Ham Burger
Steerburger’s Grill & Grub, $5.85
The Honey Ham Burger ought to be too sweet, what with all that grilled honey-baked ham and honey-mustard sauce. But somehow SteerBurger’s, a food trailer that has set up shop in front of Drifters Resort, keeps the sweetness in check. The beef is grilled over mesquite-flavored ceramic briquettes back on the screened porch, giving it a flame-cooked taste that a flat top just can’t match. Add lettuce, tomato, Swiss cheese, and a smear of mayonnaise and the result is one good and juicy mess. Make use of the paper towel dispenser at the pick-up window; all napkins should be in position before the first bite. 4401 Texas Hwy 35S, 361-450-6740. Tue–Sat 11–7.
Blue Ribbon Burger
Cured, $8 (includes fries)
At Cured, James Beard–nominated chef Steve McHugh keeps the only burger on the menu resolutely simple and priced under $10. The magic starts with the patty: part chuck, part beef short rib, part bacon, all flavor. Thick and juicy, said patties are available as singles, doubles, and triples, though it’s rare to see anyone attack a three-patty tower. A lusty cheddar-and-Gouda beer cheese is applied, along with a dollop of onion jam. Presented on a modest bun and served with delicate, crunchy fries, this burger earns its moniker again and again. 306 Pearl Pkwy, Ste. 101; 210-314-3929. Mon–Fri 11–3 & 5–11, Sat 10–3 & 5–11.
Brisket Burger With Pork Belly
Folc, $18 (includes potatoes)
It’s hard not to salivate when this burger lands at your table. Known for New American fare that combines elegant plates and complex techniques, Folc delivers a brisket-and-pork-belly burger that offers a near-salacious experience. Cast aside any notions of neatness, because your linen napkin will definitely earn its keep. The tender patty has an over-the-top 70-to-30 meat-to-fat ratio, but what sends it over the moon is a slice of seared pork belly. The duo pairs well with a sunny-side-up egg—sop up any runaway yolk with Folc’s excellent blanched-and-fried fingerling potatoes. 226 E. Olmos Dr, 210-822-0100. Tue–Sat 11–2:30 & 5:30–10, Sun 11–3.
Rebelle, $16 (includes home-style potatoes)
Improbably, the brunch menu at sexy, dimly lit Rebelle features one of the city’s best hangover cures. Chef Stefan Bowers and his crew start with a C’est La Vie Baking Co. sesame bun that’s almost as wide as a muffuletta loaf. The bread corrals two expertly seasoned and seared 44 Farms beef patties, melty slices of American cheese, crisp cherrywood-smoked bacon, and a spicy, tangy sauce made with mayo, vinegar, and ketchup. This beast is available only at brunch, with a less expensive version served at lunch. St. Anthony Hotel, 300 E. Travis; 210-352-3171. Mon–Thur 11–2 & 5–10, Fri 11–2 & 5–11, Sat 5–11, Sun 10:30–2:30 & 6–9.
Quarter Pounder With Cheese
T.J’s Hamburgers, $3.98
More than four decades after its opening, T.J’s Hamburgers is as beloved as ever, quite a feat when few restaurants these days last more than twenty years. Happy families, some spanning three generations, fill the booths and tables, but the chatter stops the minute a tray brimming with T.J’s home-style burgers arrives. The Quarter Pounder With Cheese is a favorite and for good reason. The never-frozen patty is judiciously seasoned and given a tasty char, while a single slice of American cheese oozes into every crevice. Fresh iceberg lettuce, chopped white onion, and crunchy dill pickles round out the classic flavor profile, which is completed by a light smear of mustard on a buttery toasted bun. Wash it down with a vanilla shake and pray to the burger gods that T.J’s endures another four decades. 2323 W. Southcross Blvd, 210-927-7331. Mon–Sat 10:30–9:30, Sun 11–9:30.
Zinc Bistro & Bar, $10 (includes fries)
People don’t call it a crack burger for nothing. A staple on the River Walk wine bar’s menu since its upscale relaunch, in 2010, this multilayered creation starts off with an 80-percent-lean Angus-beef patty seasoned with a bit of salt and pepper and stuffed with compound butter. Cooked medium-rare, the meat is then meticulously topped with a slice of smoked cheddar, soft Bibb lettuce leaves, thinly sliced red onions, and a pair of thick tomato slices. A layer of tomato aioli gives a touch of sweetness, but the pièce de résist–crunch is a crisp Parmesan tuile about five inches across, which adds a nice little hit of umami. 207 N. Presa, 210-224-2900. Mon–Fri 11–midnight, Sat & Sun 3–midnight.
Honorable mention: Norteño Burger at Pollos Asados Los Norteños.
Tookie’s Hamburgers & More, $6.49
It’s said that the eyes eat first, so pause to admire the artistry of a toasted sesame-seed bun, a well-seasoned fresh-ground-beef patty, and colorful garnishes of shredded iceberg lettuce, dill pickles, ripe tomatoes, and a slice of sweet onion. A melty piece of cheese (your choice) peeks out, teasing you to take that first bite. Hold that picture in your mind, because this tasty burger will be gone in no time. 1202 Bayport Blvd, 281-942-9334. Sun–Thur 11–10, Fri & Sat 11–11.
Starlight Theatre, $19.95 (includes fries)
Shock and awe is most people’s initial reaction to the Diego (named for chef Diego
Palacios). Weighing in at two full pounds, the behemoth arrives pinioned with not a toothpick but a steak knife, which will come in handy. Under the bun the one-pound hand-shaped patty shoulders four slices of bacon, three slabs of cheese, grilled onions, jalapeños, pickles, and two fried eggs. Other vegetable layers are on the side. Pausing periodically to enjoy live music and local arts may make it possible to actually finish a Diego. 631 Ivey Rd, in the Ghost Town; 432-371-3400. Sun–Fri 5–midnight, Sat 5–1 a.m.
Kobe Beef Burger
Coyote Sam’s Bar & Grille, $10 (includes a side)
Inside Coyote Sam’s, the Wild West rides again, conjured by rough-hewn cedar walls and an impressive array of antique firearms. The kitchen declares that it uses ultra-marbled Kobe beef in its burger, treating it to a quick sear on cast iron over an open flame. The patty is accessorized with locally sourced arugula, Jacksonville tomatoes, and slices of red onion. You can dither over which of six cheeses to select and whether to plunk down $2 for bacon. While you’re there, take time to stroll around the lovely creek-side grounds. 5424 Old Jacksonville Hwy, 903-509-4222. Mon–Fri 11–10, Sat & Sun 10:30–10.
Joe’s Place, $8.75 (includes a side)
A simple sign reading “Joe’s” east of Bryan marks the location of a fabled hole-in-the-wall in the 1.8-square-mile town of Wixon Valley. Since 1940, those in the know have parked their pickups in the dusty lot outside to enjoy the treasure within: a juicy hand-formed beef patty with all the fixings, tucked into a simple bun (go for the jalapeño). Served with a choice of sides that includes Joe’s fabulous onion rings, this unpretentious, old-fashioned burger will take you back to that elusive simpler time. Cherish it. 9376 Texas Hwy 21E, 979-589-2693. Mon–Sat 10–10:30.