By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
By Angelica Leicht
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By Sean Pendergast
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"Anybody who doesn't think that the best hamburger place in the world is in his home town is a sissy." -- Calvin Trillin
Where else but Space City could you find so many fancy new burgers, time-honored classics and dinosaurs on a bun? It's not a single burger but the staggering array of choices that makes our city a burger-eaters' paradise. I dare any other city in the world to submit a list of burgers that can top these.
Three Grocery Store Burgers
Some of the most famous burgers in Texas are served in old convenience stores and groceries. These are Houston's three best examples of the genre.
Stanton's Super Market
1420 Edwards Street, 713-227-4893
This shabby convenience store and grill has been in business since 1961. The plainest burger on the menu is a giant bacon cheeseburger with a half-pound hand-formed patty on an oversize well-toasted sesame seed bun topped with lettuce, tomato, pickles, mayo, mustard and red onions. "All the way" burgers come with two strips of bacon and an ample amount of American cheese, and upgrades include the "Rio jalapeño burger" (add pickled peppers), the "BBQ blues burger" (with barbecue sauce) and the "Tex-Mex burger" (with salsa). The patty melt is a plain cheeseburger served on Texas toast. Burgers are "to go" only, so have a plan for where to eat it.
Lankford Grocery & Market
88 Dennis Street, 713-522-9555
Juicy, loose-packed homemade hamburger patties on greasy toasted rolls have been the specialty here for half a century. Lankford's was a grocery when owner and head cook Eydie Prior was growing up there. Her parents opened the store in 1939, but it was the old-fashioned hamburgers that brought in the crowds. And so Lankford's became a restaurant. And it may be the homiest one in the city. Eydie's grandkids often sit at the bar and watch cartoons while her daughter waits tables.
Christian's Tailgate Grill & Bar
7340 Washington Avenue, 713-864-9744
Once there was a very old convenience store with the wonderfully cryptic name Christian's Totem. The place was famous for its awesome jalapeño cheeseburgers. Unfortunately, the owner, Steve Christian, didn't have the sense to preserve his family's heritage. He removed the convenience store shelves, expanded and renamed the place Christian's Tailgate Grill & Bar. (A religious sports bar?) Luckily, Christian hasn't screwed up the jalapeño cheeseburger. (Yet.) You get your choice of Swiss or standard American singles on a hand-formed patty of never-been-frozen freshly ground beef served with crunchy Cajun Chef pickled jalapeños. It's served on a perfectly toasted bun with just the right amount of lettuce and tomato, all wrapped in tissue paper and balanced on the edge of a red plastic basket full of fries.
Three Soul Food Burgers
Adventurous burger-lovers will want to hunt down these Fifth Ward soul food shacks. They serve three of the most incredible hamburgers in the city.
Lockwood Malt Shop
5410 Mulvey, 713-671-2706
Perfection on a buttered bun. They call it an old-fashioned burger. It's cooked on a hot griddle, so there are lots of dark, crinkly, crunchy edges and yet it's still fat and juicy in the middle. Half a pound? Five-eighths of a pound? Who knows. They just grab a big handful of ground meat and make a burger out of it. The meat comes from a nearby meat market, fresh-ground every morning. The tomatoes taste homegrown. "All the way" means tomatoes, lettuce, mustard, mayo, onion and pickles. When you get it to go, they wrap it up in wax paper. Now that's old-fashioned! The malt shop doesn't sell malts, but they go through gallons of Kool-Aid every day. There is no sign and no way to tell the address. Look for the seemingly abandoned red building on the southwest corner of Lockwood and Mulvey, and push hard on the screen door.
Adrian's Burger Bar
5311 Sonora Street, 713-674-1488
A hamburger at Adrian's is a mess waiting to happen. The honking one-pound hand-formed meat patty is cooked so that the meat remains extremely juicy and a little loose. It's topped with a sloppy mountain of lettuce, tomatoes, onion and pickles. The burgers are fried to order, so they're piping hot. Cutting the sandwich in half makes it less likely the whole mess will explode and run down the front of your shirt when you bite it. The food there is beautiful, but the dining room is ugly. Oh, and if a pound of ground meat isn't enough to satisfy your appetite, ask Adrian for a double. He sells lots of them.
3303 Lee Street, 713-222-7104
There's the regular hamburger on the menu at the J&J Lounge, and then there's the old-fashioned burger. The regular burger is made with a skinny frozen patty à la Mickey D's. The old-fashioned burger is a half-pound hand-formed patty served on two slices of toasted Wonder Bread with chopped lettuce, chopped onion, tomato, mustard and mayo. This is probably the closest thing to Fletcher Davis's original hamburger that you will find in the state of Texas. But be forewarned that this ramshackle pool room and beer joint in the Fifth Ward is not a place for small children, old ladies or the faint of heart.