Gloria Perez, who owns 102-year-old Rutledge Hamburgers, in Brownsville, serves the platonic ideal of the hamburguesa mexicana in the U.S. The beef patty (seared on a flattop here as opposed to grilled over the more traditional mesquite coals) is dressed with American cheese, a slice of salty ham, crisp lettuce, and sweet tomatoes and served on a buttery bun. It’s the addition of the processed pork product (and, usually, the mesquite grilling) that makes the result a Mexican burger.

It’s not clear when borderland chefs first put their spin on the hamburger, but a 1948 edition of the Brownsville Herald mentioned that Mexican burgers were being sold at a market in Matamoros. The following year a column in the Abilene Reporter-News noted them in a story about food served in a theater in Ensenada, in Baja California.Neither dispatch described the hamburguesa mexicana in detail, but, like the American version, it’s endlessly customizable.

In El Paso, Ever Garcia operates Hamburguesas Lola with his father, Armando, who opened the food truck in 2008. There, Ever serves hamburguesas estilo (“in the style of”) Juárez, which often include sliced hot dogs and avocado as toppings. Customers can also add tripe, fried turkey tails, or carne asada. As Ever tells it, Armando grew up eating the regional specialty at Hamburguesas Río Rosas, in his native Juárez, and it inspired him to start his own business. Ever believes the cooks at Río Rosas invented the hamburguesa estilo Juárez. “I’m thankful that someone came up with that burger, because it opened a lot of doors for us,” he says.

Other areas of Mexico have their own interpretations. Luis Robledo, the owner of Cuantos Tacos, in Austin, was amazed by the Mexican burgers he encountered while visiting his in-laws in the northern state of Coahuila in 2016. “[The stand was] on the curb, [with] one light bulb, and had a mesquite grill,” Robledo recalls. He returned multiple times, purchasing burgers and deconstructing them, and in 2023 he opened Cuantas Hamburguesas, in Austin, where he slings burgers loaded with chorizo, franks, pineapple, and white cheddar and American cheeses, just like at the roadside stand he fell in love with, he says. 

Luis Olvera, who owns Trompo, in Dallas, spent childhood summers helping out at his uncle’s hamburger stand in Monterrey. Now he serves his own version of the hamburguesa estilo Monterrey, piled high with pork al pastor.

While the building blocks of hamburguesas mexicanas remain the same, the personal touches of each cook keep me coming back for more.  

Food styling: Maite Aizpurua

This article originally appeared in the June 2024 issue of Texas Monthly with the headline “The Secret Sauce.” Subscribe today.