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Gourmet Guys

The milkshakes may come with bacon and the burgers with foie gras, but there's no pretension here.

See how the shakes are spun and the burgers are born behind-the-scenes at The Burger Guys in our slideshow.

"Order up!"

It's a Saturday night at The Burger Guys in far west Houston — in that overlapping gray zone that's Memorial, Westchase and Alief all at once — and the place is alive. Orders ring out from the broad, busy kitchen that's open to the dining room of the small restaurant as people run up to the counter to grab their plates of food. The sizzle of burgers hitting the griddle and the metallic whirring of milkshakes being spun clatters together happily with the chirping of teenagers' cell phones and their chattering. All of the booths are filled with them, munching on fat burgers and baskets overflowing with french fries, while the bar that wraps all the way around the kitchen is a slightly more sedate zone, its patrons intently watching the chefs work the grill and sling finished platters of burgers across the counter.

Sheer bliss: The Houston Burger.
Troy Fields
Sheer bliss: The Houston Burger.

Location Info

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The Burger Guys

12225 Westheimer Road
Houston, TX 77077

Category: Restaurant > Burgers

Region: Memorial

Details

Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, 11 a.m. to midnight, Fridays through Saturdays.

Houston burger: $8

Phuket burger: $8

Sonoma burger: $8

Dublin burger: $8

Buffalo burger $8

Chicago dog: $8

Belgian frites: $3

Booberry shake: $3

Bacon apple pie shake: $3

Soda fountain: $2.50

The Burger Guys

12225 Westheimer, 281-497-4897.

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The Burger Guys is the 21st-century gourmet equivalent of a malt shop, in all its loud and heady glory. And although these milkshakes may contain bacon and these burgers may contain foie gras, there's not an ounce of pompousness here.

It would be easy to write off a place like The Burger Guys as being pretentious trend-chasers, especially with the nearly orgasmic frenzy that accompanied the place when it first opened, over its chicken-fried bacon and fried duck egg toppings. But out here in a plain Jane strip center, watching three guys busting their asses to craft some of the best burgers in the city, you'll find that it's difficult to be cynical in the face of such enthusiasm and good humor.

Those three guys are chefs and co-owners Jake Mazzu and Steve Marques and sous chef Brandon Fisch, all of whom have pedigrees in some of Houston's higher-end restaurants, such as Bootsie's Heritage Cafe and Yelapa Playa Mexicana. But fancy food wasn't doing it for this trio, who abandoned those kitchens for the call of the grill when they opened The Burger Guys in June of this year. They brought along with them chef-driven principles like using local products wherever possible, creating their own sauces and pickles, and striving for creativity and spontaneity on their menu.

And if all of this sounds counterintuitive to a good, old-fashioned burger joint, it isn't. But it is a little odd that three highly trained chefs are making gourmet burgers for teenagers and businessmen on lunch breaks (despite many visits, I've yet to see any scenester feeding frenzies taking place.)

Take the Houston burger, perhaps the most straightforward of the gourmet burger offerings. On top of a sweet bun goes a house-made onion-bacon jam, piquant mustard made with Saint Arnold Fancy Lawnmower Ale, house-pickled bread-and-butter jalapeños and smoked cheddar cheese with a juicy patty of Akaushi beef as the centerpiece, dripping like a sugar maple that's just been tapped.

This litany of foodie terms might be enough to turn a casual visitor off, but it's worth wading through the swamp of definitions to get to that burger: It's a touch spicy thanks to that grainy mustard and the tiny jalapeños, but also sweet from those same pickled vegetables and the onion-bacon jam, all jumbled together with hints of smoke and dark caramel. And when the fat from the cheddar and the beef starts to meld together, it's sheer burger bliss.

The night that I tried the Houston burger, I had ordered a Chicago dog — going against the grain a bit, but paying off in spades with the spicy sport peppers and wonderful house-made pickles — but found myself grabbing the burger back from my dining companion every 30 seconds or so. We traded off devouring it with indecently large bites. Before long, what was left of the bun was saturated by the juicy meat. In between bites, I grabbed frites by the pair from the metal basket they were served in, licking my fingers to get every trace of salt and duck fat off them before heading back to the burger.

It was an unseemly way to eat a meal, but I was too enamored of the burger and fries to care.
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The gamble of stacking a burger with all manner of over-the-top ingredients doesn't always pay off, however. On my first visit a few months ago, the only things I enjoyed at all were the bites of my dining companion's somewhat ho-hum Sonoma burger (translation from the menu: it's a bacon cheeseburger with avocado) and those indulgent Belgian frites, fried in, yes, duck fat. At $3, the price may seem high until you taste them, all perfectly cut and cooked, salt clinging to each golden-brown piece. (And keep in mind that duck fat isn't exactly cheap.)

But my Phuket burger was a disaster. Perhaps it's my own fault for venturing into fusion territory so early in the restaurant's life. But Thai flavors mixed with a solidly American dish sounded tempting, especially with the prospect of spicy tamarind-lime dressing and shredded green papaya on top. In my mind, it would taste like the lovechild of luscious, richly-flavored som tam and a hamburger. What could go wrong?

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