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Counter Culture

Belly up to the bar for a build-your-own-burger and a milkshake at this California import.

 See behind-the-scenes burger construction photos from The Counter's shiny kitchen in our slideshow.

Over a mound of chili cheese fries and two beers, my friend Steve is eyeing The Counter's casually crisp interior with a look of dawning comprehension.

"This looks a lot like a burger place I used to go to in Los Angeles," he murmured. The cheerful hostess who had sat us overheard him and jumped right in with an explanation.

Build your own or get the Counter Burger with onion strings, Provolone, sautéed mushrooms and sun-dried tomatoes.
Troy Fields
Build your own or get the Counter Burger with onion strings, Provolone, sautéed mushrooms and sun-dried tomatoes.

Location Info

Map

The Counter

4601 Washington Ave.
Houston, TX 77007

Category: Restaurant > Burgers

Region: Heights

Details

11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays.
• Dill pickle chips $4
• Chili cheese fries $5.50
• Sweet potato fries $4.50
• Old School burger $8
• Unique Veggie burger $8
• Counter burger $10
• Backyard Barbecue bowl $10.75
• Chocolate shake $4.95


READ MORE
BLOG POST: Burger Bewilderment (of the Best Kind) at The Counter
SLIDESHOW: Counter Culture: Build Your Own Burger at The Counter


The Counter
4601 Washington, 713-966-6123.

"We're based in California!" she said brightly, as if she'd been planted there by the California Board of Tourism itself. "And we have several locations in L.A."

Steve nodded, grinning: "Yep, that's it. I've been here before."

The Counter is a California import – there's almost no denying it despite the modern Texana-style photos decorating the celadon walls – but don't hold that against them. It's also serving up some of Houston's finest burgers with a very Texan attitude that calls to mind a favorite fast food slogan: "Just like you like it."

At The Counter, you're the architect of your burger fantasies. Inside its cool, high-ceilinged dining room – shades of light green and slate with stainless steel accents making it look like the modern California version of a malt shop – you're handed a clipboard with a staggering list of choices. You are the chef; you decide if pesto sauce pairs well with a turkey burger and dried cranberries.

You also decide what meat will be in your burger, how large you want your patty, what type of bun will sandwich it, how many or how few toppings and sauces you want, how extraordinary or mundane your creation will be. It's dizzying at first, but there's nothing quite like gleefully careening through the list of options with a pencil and a friend.

"I don't know what to choose!" I said. It was my fourth visit to The Counter and creating a burger hadn't become any easier with repetition. But I still found enjoyment in piecing a burger together in my head: Would a fried egg be too disgusting with Brie, bacon and apricot sauce? Or would it be magical?

Meanwhile, Steve was determined to figure out the answer to his turkey, pesto and cranberries question. He added feta cheese for good measure, and put the whole thing on a multigrain bun. He finished his sheet and put his pencil down with finality, like he'd finished a quiz before me. Flustered, I took a wild stab when our waiter came by and ordered the Backyard Barbecue, a "burger in a bowl" with onion rings, tomatoes, Cheddar, onions, ham and dual sides of Ranch dressing and barbecue sauce, all on a bed of lettuce.

As I mused over the potential calorie count of this thing, I was pleased to notice on The Counter's menu that none of its lettuce-bedded "burgers in bowls" are called salads. It was a refreshing bit of honesty in a time when nearly every restaurant wants to try and pretend that 1,000 calories piled on top of lettuce can be called "a salad."

When my non-salad arrived, I laughed to see that a "burger in a bowl" is, indeed, just that: my perfectly medium-rare patty sat on a bed of greens, topped with a thick cloak of melted Cheddar and a tall stack of onion rings. Dressings were on the side, and I wasted no time in cutting up my burger and mixing the entire bowl together. It was messy and silly and inarguably low-brow. And I loved every bite of it.

That's what's great about The Counter: It isn't reinventing the wheel. It's just doing a fabulous job of making those wheels and delivering them to you with a smile.
_____________________

There are plenty of build-your-own-burger places. But none of them touches this California import when it comes to the important issues such as quality and customer service, as well as those small touches that make me want to come back again and again.

The service is impeccable, highly personable and never impatient (and I've witnessed customers dawdling for ages over those clipboards). The atmosphere is clean and cool. There is an admirable selection of beers and wines to be had with your meal. The shakes are great. And the food, while not pushing any creative boundaries, is very good.

Take, for example, the dill pickle chips served at so many restaurants in town. The chips could be frozen and served with dull Ranch dressing. But here, they're clearly freshly cut and battered in thick, toothsome discs and served with the unlikeliest of all sauces: a tangy, sweet apricot sauce. The contrast between sour and sweet is subtly inspired.

I appreciate, too, that the menu isn't entirely static: Market selections change every 30 days or so, meaning that a cherry pie shake with gingery bits of graham cracker will be available amidst the rotation of basic flavors, or that a Greek lamb burger with feta will be the featured burger of the month. And for anyone who doesn't want to agonize over the list of toppings, there are standard burgers on the menu here, such as the Old School with Cheddar, onions, pickles, tomatoes and lettuce, or the fancier Counter Burger with onion strings, Provolone, sauteed mushrooms and sun-dried tomatoes. You can always go back to old favorites here, or you can branch out and try something new.

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45 comments
CJC3
CJC3

A group of co-workers and I have been here twice for lunch. The first time was a really pleasant experience. It is a bit overpriced for what it is, but I suppose you pay for the atmosphere.

The second time, however, was a totally different story. While our server was pleasant and provided great service (after a little confusion on our part), the manager was another story. It doesn't send a very welcoming message when you see him visit every table in the restaurant except ours going so far as to turn his head each time he passed by our table.

I suppose everyone isn' t welcome at The Counter. Maybe that's a California thing.

Twyla Davis
Twyla Davis

The counter - meh.

Sure it's a good gimmick and it's ok but for the money you lay down, you could eat a nice meail.

Cice
Cice

The only good thing at the counter is the beer. If you think these are good burgers, you've got a lot to learn about Texas burgers. Much better burgers at about 20 places within a 5 mile radius.

Erehwonmai
Erehwonmai

I've been these several times already. Good service, good burgers ... a touch pretentious & pricy, but all around & a good burger place.

Gary Packwood
Gary Packwood

Fun read.

The freshly cut dill pickle chips served battered in thick toothsome discs and served with a tangy, sweet apricot sauce...did the trick.

I wrote down the address.

Cayman
Cayman

Who is ordering well done burgers? People, leave some juice inside.

The Counter is a great place for a burger, they have a great selection of burger toppings and I've never paid $20 for a meal there. You are limited to 'free' toppings and then charged if you order more, so maybe that raises the cost for some.

I have 3 great meals at The Counter and hope to have more.

Rob Hays
Rob Hays

Agreed on the quality and the atmosphere, but the prices blew me away. In what's apparently Burger City U.S.A., a meal for two with beers and fries shouldn't be $40. I'll go down to Hubcap and get the same quality for 30% cheaper; peanut sauce and three kids of pesto aren't that crucial.

brandius
brandius

Love the parmesan fries, love the customization offers, love the quality of the meat, BUUUUT, the meat itself is just boring. I like my stuff to have some salt or pepper or garlic. SOMETHING!

And of course my dude told me to quit carrying Tony Chacheres around in my purse. Something about it being impolite to the chefs or some such. Whatever.

Kymberlie R. McGuire
Kymberlie R. McGuire

I went here with designeric right after they opened and both of us were seriously underwhelmed to the point that I recommend people try other burger places (two top current favorites are Smashburger and The Burger Palace). Maybe I'll pop back in, but it definitely was pricey for a not-good burger.

barleyvine
barleyvine

Interesting thoughts. I've only been a coupe of times, both I really enjoyed the extras, but was disapointed in the dry burger. Granted this was back when it opened so maybe I should give it another chance based on your review, however there are sooooo many great burger joints in this town its hard to go back to one that doesn't make an amazing one. They do get some bonus points for a halfway decent draft beer list.

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

To your point and to Ted's below (@barleyvine), I always ordered my burgers medium-rare at The Counter, so dryness was never an issue. Ditto with all of my dining companions. I do wonder, now, what a medium-well or well-done burger would have tasted like...

Kymberlie R. McGuire
Kymberlie R. McGuire

I order mine either medium or medium-rare. I can't recall if dryness was an issue (I don't think it was), but just more that the meat was lacking something to make it stand out. I don't put a lot on my burgers (generally just cheese and bacon), but I'm of the opinion that the meat ought to be good enough to stand on its own with minimal garnish.

Maybe we ought to go have a burger together one day and I'll see if I like it better. :-)

 
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