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Epic Burger Road Trips

Mapping the state’s meatiest routes.

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The cheeseburger at Joe's Place, in Wixon Valley.
Photograph by Jessica Attie

For the August 2016 cover story, “The Fifty Greatest Burgers in Texas,” our never-sated food reviewers hit the highways and byways in search of the tastiest burgers across the state. Since I’ve yet to find a distance I won’t drive for a good meat sandwich, I was soon daydreaming about embarking on an epic burger-eating quest of my own.

My first order of business was to create a map of all of the flame-kissed finalists, as well as all of the runners-up and Hall of Famers. (Each place marker includes the name and price of the burger you’ll be eating; you’ll find the full reviews, listed by city, here.) Naturally, many of the winners are concentrated in and around Texas’s most populous cities, so it’s easy enough to plot an ambitious burger crawl in Houston, Austin, San Antonio, or the DFW area. Instead, I’ve plotted a few potential routes that link some of the farther-flung spots.

Each of the following multi-day itineraries also includes notable non-burger diversions as well as where to stay along the way, and I’ve made note of driving times and restaurant hours (though you’ll always want to double-check those before you go). But, here’s a little secret: Even if a burger binge is not on your life’s to-do list, these trips are really just excuses to explore wider swaths of the state.

TRIP 1: HILL COUNTRY
Medina >> Boerne >> Melvin >> Burnet
2+ nights | 4 burgers

TRIP 2: SOUTH TEXAS
McAllen >> Corpus Christi >> Rockport
3+ nights | 3 burgers (+ some seafood too!)

TRIP 3: FAR WEST TEXAS
El Paso >> Alpine >> Terlingua
3+ nights | 3 burgers

TRIP 4: THE PANHANDLE
Amarillo >> Lubbock >> Midland >> Buffalo Gap
4+ nights | 5 burgers

TRIP 5: EAST TEXAS
Tyler >> Wixon Valley >> Beaumont
4+ nights | 4 burgers

I also thought it’d be wise to consult the experts for pro tips before embarking on such a meat-filled mission. Texas Monthly’s food editor, Patricia Sharpe, and Dallas food writer Mike Hiller were two of the “most gluttonous” taste-testers on this year’s team—she sampled 37 burgers and he tried 63—so I knew they’d have some advice on pacing, prime locations, and expectations, which they’ve been kind enough to share:

You each ate an insane number of burgers for this story. What was your record for most burgers eaten in a single day?

Patricia Sharpe: I think I might have done four one day. You just can’t do that many—they are strangely more fattening than even brisket. It defies logic.

Mike Hiller: I think it was seven.

When planning a burger road trip of one’s own, how many restaurants should one realistically aim to visit in a day (or over, say, three days)?

PS: Don’t ruin your health. Do a couple at lunch, maybe one for dinner. You don’t’ want to be comatose the next day. Don’t think you have to clean your plate. Stop if it’s not fantastic. Your mother will never know.

MH: If you are planning to eat the whole burger, then just two or three. If you are a two-bite person, you could try to squeeze in eight, but remember that your stomach will also be filling up with beer, iced tea, and a French fry or two. The two most difficult aspects about attacking multiple burger joints on the same day is that the restaurants are each spread out geographically, so you have to allow for travel and parking time, and burgers won’t magically appear at your table; you may have to wait for a table, for a waiter, and for your ticket to reach the front of the cooking queue in the kitchen.

Of the 50 burgers on TM’s list that you haven’t yet tried, which one(s) are you most eager to taste?

PS: I want to see the Diego at the Starlight in Terlingua—the one that weighs two pounds overall. I think I might be scared to try to eat it. It belongs in a carnival sideshow.

MH: The cheeseburger at Killen’s Burgers, in Pearland, and the top-rated burger in the state: the brisket burger with pork belly at Folc, in San Antonio.

Of all the places you visited for this story, which burger joint would you go back to just for the ambiance/experience alone? 

PS: I just loved the Patio Café at Love Creek Orchards in Medina. It’s a little slice of the Hill Country, totally Norman Rockwell. One caveat: when it’s hot and humid, there are a lot of flies because it’s open to the outdoors.

MH: Knife and Off-Site Kitchen, both in Dallas.

If you were planning a multi-day Texas burger road trip, which part of the state would you head to and why? 

PS: Central Texas, because there are lots of cute little towns to visit, even if they don’t have a famous burger. You need distraction.

MH: The DFW area because 13 burgers—nearly a third of the burgers listed in the top 50—are within the region, as are two honorable mention burgers (the Bar-B-Q burger at Charley’s and the TK) and the previously top-ranked burger in Texas (the cheeseburger at the Grape, which was number one on TM’s 2009 list).

Any other general planning/pacing tips for an epic food road trip?

PS: Pack a cooler of cold Topo Chico (Mexican fizzy water)!

MH: Double up on your Lipitor. And only eat the whole burger if you truly love it. You’ll know after a couple bites if you think our picks were completely right or horribly wrong. (We were right.)

 

 

TRIP 1: HILL COUNTRY
Medina >> Boerne >> Melvin >> Burnet
2+ nights | 4 burgers

DAY 1
1. Start in: MEDINA, for the SPJ Burger at the Patio Cafe at Love Creek Orchards (open 7 days 11–3). Pro tip: The apple ice cream is a must.

2. Head east to BOERNE (45 minutes).

3. Once in BOERNE…

4. For dinner, the Classic Burger at Little Gretel (Sun, Wed & Thur 11–9, Fri & Sat 11–10). Pro tip: You’ll probably be back in the morning for kolaches.

5. Check in at Ye Kendall Inn.

DAY 2
1. From BOERNE, head northwest to EDEN (about 2 hours) for a quick stop at Southwestern Wool and Mohair (1202 E. Broadway) to pick up a pair of super-soft Krazy Goat Socks, made from locally raised goats and sheep.

2. From EDEN, head east to MELVIN (17 minutes) for the Keltz Burger at Jacoby’s Cafe (Mon–Wed 11–2, Thur–Sat 11–2 & 5–9).

3. After lunch, head southeast to BURNET (about an hour and 40 minutes).

4. For dinner, the single cheeseburger at Bill’s Burgers, Wings & Things.

5. Check in at the Canyon of the Eagles on Buchanan Lake.

  • Or, drive 20 minutes southwest to the Antlers Hotel, in Kingsland, where you can spend the night in a hotel room, cabin, or caboose.

ALSO IN THE AREA…

 


TRIP 2: SOUTH TEXAS
McAllen >> Corpus Christi >> Rockport
3+ nights | 3 burgers (+ some seafood too!)

DAY 1
1. Start in: MCALLEN, for the McAllen Ranch Burger at House Wine & Bistro (Mon–Thur 11–10, Fri 11–midnight, Sat noon–midnight).

2. Before or after lunch, peruse the fine art and Old West collectibles at Nuevo Santander Gallery and the baubles and bags at Sylvia’s; bird lovers will want to tour Quinta Mazatlan, a fifteen-acre avian sanctuary.

3. Head east to either LOS FRESNOS (55 minutes) and/or SOUTH PADRE ISLAND (an hour and 23 minutes).

DAY 2
1. Head north to KINGSVILLE (about 2 hours and 15 minutes from SPI) to take a tour of the King Ranch and visit the Saddle Shop.

2. Then, head to CORPUS CHRISTI (45 minutes) for a late lunch (i.e., the Heisenburger) at the Post at Lamar Park (Mon–Thur 3–midnight, Fri 3–2 a.m., Sat noon–2 .m.).

3. Next stop: PORT ARANSAS (45 minutes), to check in at your seaside vacation rental (perhaps a pastel beach home at Cinnamon Shore or a cozy cottage found on Airbnb or HomeAway).

DAY 3
1. After breakfast (Frankie’s Kitchen or Eat’s), spend the morning at the I.B. Magee Beach Park (see #2), the Port Aransas Museum, or Farley Boat Works.

2. Take the ferry (check @PortA_Ferry for latest wait times) over to ROCKPORT, where you’ll be having the Honey Ham Burger at Steerburger’s Grill & Grub (Tue–Sat 11–7).

3. Spend the afternoon shopping and gallery hopping before ferrying back to Port A—or, if you want to stay in the Rockport-Fulton area, check in at the Lighthouse Inn and have dinner at Latitude 2802.

ALSO IN THE AREA…

TRIP GUIDES: Los Fresnos | South Padre Island | Port Aransas | Rockport

 

TRIP 3: FAR WEST TEXAS
El Paso >> Alpine >> Terlingua
3+ nights | 3 burgers

DAY 1
1. Start in: EL PASO, for the Basic Burger at Rosco’s Burger Inn (Tue–Thur 10:30–5, Fri & Sat 10:30–8).

2. In EL PASO…

DAY 2
1. After breakfast at Crave Kitchen & Bar, head southeast to MARFA (about 3 hours).

2. Continue east to ALPINE (about 30 minutes), where you can enjoy an icy raspa at Murphy Street Raspa Co., sit and read a spell at Front Street Books, go gallery hopping, or visit the Big Bend Brewing Co. taproom.

3. For dinner, the CF Burger at Reata (Mon–Sat 11:30–2 & 5–10).

4. Check in at the Holland Hotel.

DAY 3
1. Oh, the options: Take a drive over to Marathon (30 minutes) or down to Big Bend National Park (an hour and 10 minutes) before eventually making your way to TERLINGUA (1.5 hours south of Alpine), for the Diego Burger at the Starlight Theatre (Sun–Fri 5–midnight, Sat 5–1 a.m.).

2. Check in to La Posada Milagro.

DAY 4
1. Drive the River Road (FM 170) back up to MARFA (2.5 hours).

  • Stay and explore the artsy town and its new Hotel Saint George or head back to EL PASO (3 hours).

ALSO IN THE AREA…

TRIP GUIDES: El Paso | Marfa | Alpine | Lajitas + Terlingua | Big Bend

 

TRIP 4: THE PANHANDLE
Amarillo >> Lubbock >> Midland >> Buffalo Gap
4+ nights | 5 burgers

DAY 1
1. Start in: AMARILLO, for the cheeseburger at Blue Sky (Mon–Sat 11–10; multiple locations).

2. In AMARILLO…

3. For dinner, the California Burger at Coyote Bluff, which earned an honorable mention (Tue–Sat 11–2 & 5–10).

4. Check in to one of the four cabins at Starlight Canyon (about 20 minutes south of downtown).

 

DAY 2
1. Head south to CANYON (20 minutes), where you’ll be taking a burger breather for a day.

2. In town…

3. Head east to Palo Duro Canyon State Park (35 minutes), to lay eyes on the second largest canyon in the U.S.

 

DAY 3
1. From CANYON, head south to LUBBOCK (1.5 hours) for the Texas Burger at Crafthouse Gastropub (Tue–Sat 11–10, Sun 10–2).

2. In LUBBOCK…

3. Head south to MIDLAND (about 2 hours) for the Green Chili Burger at Basin Burger House (Mon–Thur 11–9, Fri & Sat 11–10, Sun 9­­–2).

4. Continue on northeast to BIG SPRING (45 minutes) to check in at Hotel Settles. Pro tip: Read “Up With the Old Hotel” for more on its history and renovation.

 

DAY 4
1. From BIG SPRING, drive east to BUFFALO GAP (an hour an 45 minutes) for the Ranch Burger at Perini Ranch Steakhouse (Tue–Thur 5–10, Fri–Sun 11–10).

2. After lunch (or before a weekday dinner), stroll the grounds of the Buffalo Gap Historic Village.

3. Next, it’s onto ABILENE (about 25 minutes north).

 

DAY 5
1. You can easily fill another day exploring ABILENE’s Grace Museum, the National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature, and Frontier Texas!

2. If you’re heading back to AMARILLO (about 4 hours and 15 minutes), consider taking US-83N and US-287N, which will take you through CHILDRESS (the 501 Winery), GOODNIGHT (the Charles Goodnight Historical Center), and CLAUDE (the Armstrong County Museum and Gem Theatre).

ALSO IN THE AREA…

TRIP GUIDES: Palo Duro Canyon | Abilene

 

TRIP 5: EAST TEXAS
Tyler >> Wixon Valley >> Beaumont
4+ nights | 4 burgers

DAY 1
1. Start in: TYLER, for the Kobe Beef Burger at Coyote Sam’s Bar & Grill (Mon–Fri 11–10, Sat & Sun 10:30–10).

2. In TYLER…

3. Head east to ARP/OVERTON (30 minutes) and check in to one of the bungalows at High Hill Farm. Pro tip: Be sure to arrange to have dinner at Côte, the on-site farm-to-table restaurant.

 

DAY 2
1. After breakfast at High Hill Farm, head southwest to WIXON VALLEY (2 hours and 45 minutes).

2. Once in WIXON VALLEY, order the Cheeseburger Basket at Joe’s Place for dinner (Mon–Sat 10–10:30).

3. Continue south to BRYAN (10 minutes) and check in at the LaSalle Hotel or Abigaile’s Treehouse. Pro tip: Check the calendar to see what events may be happening in historic downtown Bryan during your visit.

 

DAY 3
1. From BRYAN, head southeast, through the Sam Houston National Forest, to BEAUMONT (about 3 hours).

2. Once in BEAUMONT, order the Hee Haw Burger at Willy Burger (open daily 11–9).

3. Before or after lunch, immerse yourself in oil lore at the Texas Energy Museum and Spindletop Gladys City Boomtown, tour the Art Museum of Southeast Texas and the McFaddin-Ward House, and go in search of Big Beau, a 135-foot-long alligator, and his real-life counterparts at Gator Country Adventure Park.

4. Depending on how full your day has been, you can…

 

DAY 4
1. From JASPER, consider taking the long way back to TYLER, passing through and/or staying overnight in…

ALSO IN THE AREA…

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