Epic Burger Road Trips
Mapping the state’s meatiest routes.
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
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).
- Stop along the way: BANDERA, the self-proclaimed Cowboy Capital of the World, to shop at Gunslinger and Graceful and have a drink at Arkey Blue’s Silver Dollar saloon or the 11th Street Cowboy Bar.
3. Once in BOERNE…
- Shop your way along the historic hauptstrasse. Pro tip: At Carousel Antiques, buy one more jar of Fickle Pickles than you think you’ll need—once opened, they’ll go fast.
- Descend into the stunning Cave Without a Name.
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.
- Or, drive 17 minutes northwest to Camp Comfort, in COMFORT, which made our 2016 “Where To Stay Now” list.
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.
- Stops along the way: COMFORT, founded by freethinkers and abolitionists, for first-rate antiquing; and KERRVILLE, for even more shopping (the James Avery headquarters, Schreiner Goods) and a drink at Grape Juice.
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).
- Stops along the way: BRADY, for a tour of the Heart of Texas Country Music Museum (open Thur–Sat); LLANO, to paddle down the Llano River or hunt for llanite and other rocks. Pro tip: The nearby Castell General Store rents kayaks and tubes.
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…
- Lost Maples State Natural Area
- The Sisterdale General Store and Sisterdale Saloon
- Inks Lake State Park
- Fredericksburg (and its many wineries)
- Johnson City and the LBJ Ranch
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).
- In LOS FRESNOS, you can hike, kayak, or go on a photo safari at Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, one of the state’s last great unspoiled habitats; have an enchilada dinner at Julia’s before checking in at the Inn at Chachalaca Bend.
- In SOUTH PADRE, set up camp on what is one of the longest expanses of sandy beach in the world, visit Sea Turtle Inc., and eat your weight in fried seafood at Sea Ranch or Italian (yes, Italian) at Gabriella’s.
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.).
- A few notable sights in town: the Art Museum of South Texas, the Selena Museum, the Selena Memorial–Mirador De La Flor, and the Texas Surf Museum.
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…
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…
- Get fitted for a custom pair of Rocketbuster Boots, do a lap through the El Paso Museum of Art, tour the (most likely haunted) Concordia Cemetery, or ride the Wyler Aerial Tramway. Pro tip: If it’s baseball season, snag tickets to see the Triple-A El Paso Chihuahuas.
- Check in to the new Hotel Indigo.
- Go straight for the enchiladas at L&J Cafe or Los Bandidos de Carlos & Mickey’s.
1. After breakfast at Crave Kitchen & Bar, head southeast to MARFA (about 3 hours).
- Photo-ops along the way: the historic Hotel El Capitan, in VAN HORN; Prada Marfa, in VALENTINE.
- Stretch your legs and get lunch at Food Shark or the new Marpho.
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.
- For late-night entertainment, go dancing at Railroad Blues or head to a Star Party (Tues, Fri & Sat) at the McDonald Observatory, in Fort Davis (about 50 minutes north).
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.
- Or, head 16 minutes southwest to LAJITAS to stay at the Lajitas Golf Resort.
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…
- Balmorhea (see #1)
- Big Bend Ranch State Park – both the Barton Warnock Visitors Center (on the park’s eastern edge) and the Fort Leaton State Historic Site (on the west) are worth a stop
- Guadalupe Mountains National Park
- the famed Marfa Lights
1. Start in: AMARILLO, for the cheeseburger at Blue Sky (Mon–Sat 11–10; multiple locations).
2. In AMARILLO…
- “Eat, drink, and antique” your way along Route 66. Pro tip: The Nat, a twenty-thousand-square-foot antique mall (in what was once a natatorium) is a must-visit.
- Find a museum that suits your fancy, whether that’s the Amarillo Museum of Art, the American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame & Museum, the Amarillo Railroad Museum, or the Jack Sisemore Traveland RV Museum (among others).
- Leave your mark at Cadillac Ranch. Pro tip: If you’ve “been there, done that,” check out the VW Slug Bug Ranch, an homage a few miles east of town.
- Educate yourself about the flora and fauna of the Texas High Plains at the Wildcat Bluff Nature Center.
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).
- Or, drive a little farther south to either the Hudspeth House or the Doves Rest Cabins, both in CANYON.
1. Head south to CANYON (20 minutes), where you’ll be taking a burger breather for a day.
2. In town…
- Get lost at the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum, the largest history museum in the state.
- Spend some discretionary income at 79/Salt, Blush Boutique, Thompson’s Gift Shop, the Rustic Gypsy, Weathered Elements, and other local shops.
- Fuel up at Palace Coffee Company, satisfy your sweet tooth at the Rockin’ Zebra Soda Shoppe, and go ahead and order the chicken-fried steak at Feldman’s Wrong Way Diner.
3. Head east to Palo Duro Canyon State Park (35 minutes), to lay eyes on the second largest canyon in the U.S.
- Saddle up at the Old West Stables.
- Take to the trails [pdf] for scenic views (of hoodoos!) from the canyon floor to its rim.
- If you book far enough in advance, you can (and should) snag one of the three cabins perched on the canyon’s rim.
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…
- Learn more about Lubbock’s bespectacled singing sensation at the Buddy Holly Center. Pro tip: The crooner’s 80th birthday will be celebrated with several events in September 2016.
- Sample the region’s best vinos at the five wineries within the city limits.
- Learn more about everything from cotton ginning (Bayer Museum of Agriculture) and animal husbandry (National Ranching Heritage Center) to the U.S. Glider program (Silent Wings Museum) and wind (American Wind Power Center).
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).
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).
- If it’s early enough in the day, you’ll still have time to patronize local shops, like Betty & June and Texas Star Trading Co., and have dinner at Abi-Haus.
- Check in at the Sayles Landmark (one of 2016’s ten best new hotels) or at one of the nine Sayles Ranch Guesthouses around town.
- Have a nightcap at Public Haus or the Mill.
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…
- Horseback riding at Cowgirls and Cowboys of the West
- Slaton Bakery
- Monahans Sandhills State Park
- Sweetwater Rattlesnake Roundup (held the second weekend in March)
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…
- Stop and smell the flowers at the Rose Garden Center, an immaculately manicured fourteen-acre municipal park and the adjacent Tyler Rose Museum. Pro tip: Plan your trip to coincide with the Texas Rose Festival, held each October.
- Browse the racks of designer clothing at Harley’s (for him) and Bridgette’s, Mary V’s, and Spinout (for her). Or go treasure hunting through the expansive Ye Olde City Antique Mall.
- Let the kids run off steam at Brookshire’s World of Wildlife Museum and Country Store.
- Hike your way through thirteen-plus miles of trails at Tyler State Park, where you can also rent canoes, paddleboats, kayaks, bike boats, and johnboats to take out on the 64-acre spring-fed lake.
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.
1. After breakfast at High Hill Farm, head southwest to WIXON VALLEY (2 hours and 45 minutes).
- If you take US-79S, you’ll pass through PALESTINE (Old Magnolia Mercantile, O’ Sweet Pea, Oxbow Bakery & Antiques, Pint & Barrel Drafthouse, Texas Art Depot, and spring’s Dogwood Trails Celebration) and BUFFALO (The Horse’s Mouth Bookstore and Coffee Shop, Ernie’s Pharm).
- If you take TX-110S/TX-21W, you’ll pass through RUSK (the Texas State Railroad) and CROCKETT (the Moosehead Cafe); easy detours will take you to the Davy Crockett National Forest, Wildflours (in RATCLIFF), and Larry Bruce Gardens (in KENNARD).
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.
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…
- Stay in town. Pro tip: If you don’t want to stay in a chain hotel, your best bet is finding an Airbnb rental like this “charming cottage.”
- Or, head north to La Paz Bed and Breakfast, in JASPER (about an hour and a half).
1. From JASPER, consider taking the long way back to TYLER, passing through and/or staying overnight in…
- HEMPHILL: Lonesome Pine Mercantile, the Feed Store Cafe, the Patricia Huffman Smith NASA “Remembering Columbia” Museum, Harborlight Marina and Resort
- MILAM: the Sabine National Forest, Holly Park Marina, Martin’s Corner
- SAN AUGUSTINE: Imogene’s Cafe and Homemade Baked Goods, Mission Dolores Visitors Center
- and NACOGDOCHES: Auntie Pasta’s, Shelley’s Bakery Cafe, the Fredonia Hotel (note: currently set to reopen in spring 2017)
ALSO IN THE AREA…