A few years back I stumbled across Texas Monthly’s top 50 hamburger list for the state of Texas. I became obsessed with eating hamburgers off the list. It became a weird badge of honor for my family that we would drive two hours out of our way to eat off the list. I had got over half of the list marked off when Texas Monthly messed me over by creating a new list. Well, this time I have no desire to finish the list as I have eaten a large enough sample from their prior list to know that their list is baloney. Everybody has their own subjective list of requirements for a great hamburger and this personal list is written in stone until you eat that one burger that doesn’t hit all the checkmarks, but still rocks your world. Personally, I generally like flatter (not flat) hamburgers that go horizontal over the vertical high rises that these gourmet burger joints are spitting out these days. With that disclaimer firmly in place here is my top 5 hamburgers to date:
5. Bracken Store Cafe
There’s something special about being able to sit at your table, look over your shoulder and see your fresh hamburger patty sizzling on the flat top. At the old Bracken (I have not been to the reopened location at Retama) that was one of my favorite parts. That flat top was covered from corner to corner with patties slowly flattening out as they cooked before receiving their bun hat that meant the burger was just about done. The bun on top of the burger on top of the flat top has the extra benefit of giving that bun a nice sheen of grease sweat. Bracken is surprisingly consistent in the quality of their burger…I never get a burger that dips below their normal high quality. They have that staple of the San Antonio burger scene…the bean burger…, but I prefer a straight bacon cheeseburger with mayo/mustard dressing.
4. Maple and Motor
Maple and Motor is located in Dallas near the Hotel Anatole. It’s another location that would pass as a dive with limited seating. Each time I have went back, I am shocked at how good their hamburgers are. There’s nothing particularly unique about the burgers. They tend toward the horizontal approach with a low elevation burger. All the ingredients are quality, though none particularly stand out. They are very friendly to customizing your burger…I usually add bacon and a fried egg to mine. The only knock I have against them is that the restaurant has never felt welcoming to me. I don’t really understand it, but I feel like they want me to leave as soon as I walk in.
3. Black Sheep Lodge
Black Sheep Lodge is a personal favorite of mine. My family and I eat there a lot on Sundays after church when we feel like a trip to Austin. It’s slightly ironic as Black Sheep Lodge is more a bar than a restaurant. The waitresses have a strong “suicide girl” feel. Still service is stellar and the food kicks butt with just as much attitude as the rest of the restaurant. I go with the Buffalo Burger every time. It’s made with bleu cheese and buffalo wing sauce. It’s the most vertical of the burgers on this list, but it walks that razor’s edge with tantalizing success. The flavors blend perfectly and the burger mashes down well so I can get it all in my mouth at one time. Also, they do fried cheese curds, which is a bonus.
2. Pappas Burger
In a shocking upset to me, Pappas Burger is number 2 on my list, but number 1a in my heart. Pappas is part of the Pappas Brother chain with their ubiquitous locations dedicated to every type of food from barbecue and burgers to cajun and Mexican. I love this place…no place in the world makes me as immediately happy as this place does. Some people might choose to explore the menu, but I found my goose that lays the golden egg my first visit there and I have not strayed since. The Juicy Lucy is so amazing. Pimento cheese…check. Bacon jam…check. Runny egg…check. Challah bun…double check. Best bun in the business…dead serious. It is the perfect bun for this mess of a hamburger. The fries are strong and the waitstaff is one of the best “youngster” groups I’ve seen. They train them well.
This place is all about the burger. It’s a counter restaurant with no seating inside in a neighborhood that makes you question your life choices. Still you will never regret getting one of these perfect models of all American hamburger goodness. No matter how many times I go, it seems like the ordering process is awkward. I hate feeling awkward, but I love eating their hamburgers. Meat, cheese, bacon and bun….do it in whatever order you want, but they will do it better than anyplace you have ever been. The burger is so good it once gave me amnesia and ruined my shirt. These burgers are not to be trifled with. Make sure you order some onion rings too…the onion rings are almost as special as the burgers.