The Nickel Burger

How is a falling-apart Fifth Ward joint turning out the best burgers in town? Adrian's has history.

Today, the neighborhood where Barbara Jordan and Mickey Leland grew up is in much better shape. It's hardly a garden spot, but the Fifth Ward Community Redevelopment Corporation is doing what it can. The organization has helped low-income borrowers find loans, encouraged leading architects to provide innovative designs for affordable housing and brought new commercial building projects to the old neighborhood. And now, the lure of cheap real estate inside the Loop is causing young home buyers of all races to reconsider the Nickel.

Phillis Wheatley grads returning to the Fifth Ward for a visit used to drop by Vivian's Lounge to hook up with old friends. Today, they stop in for lunch at Adrian's Burger Bar. Run by Vivian's direct descendants, this is one of the last businesses that still remembers the neighborhood's better days. And it's the last hangout left for Wheatley High School students.

"Here, taste this," says Val Cooper, Adrian's mom and business partner, as she hands me a Styrofoam container full of chicken and dumplings. The big thick noodles are chewy but softened around the edges by the hot chicken gravy. A little salty, but all in all, a fine rendition of chicken and dumplings. "Adrian says it's burnt on the bottom and you ought to pick something else." I don't detect any burned taste, but I figure I might as well change my order so I can taste another entrée.

Cooper serves up the biggest burger in town -- and he'd be happy to make it a double.
Troy Fields
Cooper serves up the biggest burger in town -- and he'd be happy to make it a double.

Location Info


Adrian's Burger Bar

5309 Sonora St.
Houston, TX 77020-7223

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: East End


713-674-1488. Hours: Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Hamburger: $4.43
Cheeseburger: $4.70
Mushroom burger: $5.35
Adrian burger: $7.52
Meat and three sides: $8.98

5309 Sonora Street

"Okay, give me the meat loaf, then," I tell her. I get yams and spinach cooked with bacon on the side. The meat loaf has little in the way of filler, but it's studded with chunks of onions, green peppers and tomatoes and has a surprisingly spicy afterburn. I crumble my corn bread into the rich, unthickened gravy. The meat loaf is also a little too salty, but if you eat it with the sweet yams and soggy spinach, it all evens out.

I've tried the oxtails as well, which are cooked in a dark gravy until they're falling-apart tender and served over rice. The day I tried the oxtails, Adrian's had collard greens instead of spinach, and I much preferred the greens. I also tried the corn and okra casserole, which may be my favorite use of canned corn. The string beans weren't cooked to mush. And the homemade mashed potatoes with gravy were outstanding.

But the star of the steam table wasn't the spicy Creole meat loaf or the soft but chewy chicken and dumplings, it was a pepper-flecked, slow-cooked smothered steak served in gravy over mashed potatoes. You don't need a knife to cut it; it falls apart under the flimsy force of a plastic fork. Of course, these steam table rankings assume that you're not going to order the city's most extraordinary hamburger.

I'm willing to bet that if you try a couple of burgers, your impression of the place will change. The first time I went to Adrian's Burger Bar, I saw a potholed parking lot, a shabby dining room and a marginal business that appeared to be on its last legs. Now I see Adrian Cooper carrying on a third-generation restaurant tradition in a richly historic African-American neighborhood -- not at all what I expected.

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