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The Burger Guys and the Zen of the Burger

Customized beefcakes from the complex to the purist's dream.

Compared to the harsh fluorescent lighting and low, acoustical-tiled ceilings of downtown Houston's underground restaurants, The Burger Guys' bright yellow awning stands as a beacon on Main Street, summoning the Mole People from their burrows into the light of day. Inside, the high-ceilinged space feels generous and cheerful, splashes of purple offsetting the canary-colored walls in slightly madcap fashion. It's an appropriate color scheme for a place that spins Girl Scout cookies into shakes and tops its burgers with everything from lengua and pickled onions to the entire contents of a bánh mì. Fear not, though; despite the riotous colors and fantastical toppings, these burgers are serious business.

Take, for example, the Sonoma. A purist's burger, it's the type of classic, straightforward offering that could be easily overlooked on a menu such as this; miss it at your peril. For all the exotic allure of the other offerings, it's very tough to trump the impeccable put-together-ness of this burger. Everything works exactly as it should, like some sort of golden ratio of burger perfection, hinting at greater truths about the nature of the universe. Or something.

I'm typically not a fan of bacon on burgers, but it plays its role here admirably, adding crunch as well as reinforcement, among all that greenery, that this is indeed a burger. That greenery, peppery arugula and a suave smear of avocado, both perks up and tames the burger; a gilding of sharp cheddar and a swipe of garlicky aioli round things out to a neat (though not so little) package, landing the Sonoma firmly in the center of the Burger/Hamburger Sandwich Venn diagram. That clever positioning astride the fence of burgerdom is part of The Burger Guys' appeal.

The Sonoma burger might be overlooked because of its simplicity in comparison to more complex offerings on the menu, but it's a purist's dream.
Troy Fields
The Sonoma burger might be overlooked because of its simplicity in comparison to more complex offerings on the menu, but it's a purist's dream.

Location Info

Map

The Burger Guys

706 Main St.
Houston, TX 77002

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Downtown/ Midtown

Details

The Burger Guys

Hours: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Duck Fat Fries: $3
Onion Straws: $3
Fried Green Tomatoes: $3
Sonoma Burger: $10
Buffalo Burger: $10
New York Burger: $10
Tejas Burger: $10
Houston Burger: $10
Saigon Burger: $10
El Barrio Burger: $14
Chicago Dog: $10
Cleveland Dog: $10
Caphe Sua Da Shake: $5
Salted Caramel Shake: $5
Ten Cup Chocolate Shake: $5
Thin Mint Shake: $6


View More:

Slideshow: Customized Beefcakes: Behind The Scenes With The Burger Guys
Blog: Zen and the Burger Venn (Diagram) at The Burger Guys Downtown


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It occurred to me while plowing through a takeout El Barrio: There are two basic types of burgers, with their attendant and deeply entrenched fan bases. The first camp loves the burger as burger. A gloriously indulgent homage to beef and bun, this type is unchanged by any amount of baroque accessory. You can top it with a Frito pie, but it remains a resolute burger. Occupying the other end of the Venn spectrum is the hamburger sandwich. A bit austere, this burger is more about the overall experience than the glory of beef. You can eat a hamburger sandwich without risk of besmirching your shirt with grease. Like any good sandwich, it lends itself to variation, though within a very considered framework. At their best, Burger Guys' burgers live in both worlds — the studiousness of sandwich construction, the atavistic thrill of a burger.

Unfortunately, El Barrio — topped with shredded lengua, pickled red onions, cilantro and a swipe of salsa verde aioli — is an example of how difficult it can be to walk that line. While the idea of shredded lengua on top of a burger might be great in theory, the reality was a bit of a letdown. The lengua didn't actually add much, with an almost mushy texture that made for little in the way of contrast, and the patty itself is beefy enough not to need flavor reinforcement. The burger was fine, but probably would have been just as good without the lengua. The pickled onions helped to perk things up, brightening the flavor and adding a bit of crunch. A note to those attempting takeout: Best to redistribute the onions before you dig in; the burger shifts in transit, much like luggage in overhead bins, sending the carefully considered construction a bit out of whack.

If you're dining in, the process is simple. Step up to the counter, tilt your head up to the wall-mounted blackboard and prepare for indecision. While you're figuring out which burger to get, you might as well go ahead and order some fries; you'll want those. They'll arrive before your burger anyway, appetizer as much as side order. Skin on, judiciously chubby and crisped to a just thick enough crunchy crust. They're pillowy and earthy-sweet within, agreeably salty and deeply savory without, and few fried potatoes are their equal. The extra sprinkle of flaky kosher salt, its crunch reiterating that of the fried spud itself, sparks up every other bite. If you're a dipper (I'm not), The Burger Guys' dip station should tickle your fancy. Load up on CJBC (Cilantro, Jalapeño, Blue Cheese) or Salted Caramel. The board says you get two with your order, but they don't really mean it. Go nuts.

Oh look, your burger's here. Maybe you went with the Buffalo, a frenetic mash-up of everything buffalo-wing-related except the chicken. Here, the blue cheese crumbles synergize with the patty; the tang of the cheese, its tell-tale funk and subtle milkiness add a high note that complements the beef admirably. Wispy, crispy onion strings add their crunch to the thick-crusted burger, its well-seasoned top layer belying the yielding juiciness of the meat underneath. A blessing and a curse, that juicy beef outmatches its soft, eggy bun by just a bit, rendering the last third almost inevitably soggy. A small sacrifice.

Cooked to an appropriately racy medium-rare, that deeply beefy, aggressively seared patty is the undeniable star of the show, yet so well matched by its accoutrements that any significant change would render this a lesser sandwich. As is, it's quite possibly the best blue-cheese burger I've ever had.

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4 comments
Keith Hanna
Keith Hanna

Gotta go see Jake and the boys again. It's been a while.

brian.zygo
brian.zygo

I've only had the Sonoma Burger when I've been to Burger Guys - I was sold the first time and every time I go meaning to try a different burger, it's the Sonoma that keeps calling my name.

FattyFatBastard
FattyFatBastard topcommenter

$10 for a Chicago Dog is excessive.  JCI used to have one for under $5.  (back when they were getting authentic Chicago 1/4 lb. dogs.)

nhallfreelance
nhallfreelance

@FattyFatBastard Sorry for the late reply, was having trouble logging in (forgotten password, day job corp network doesn't like the commenting system, etc.). 

I can understand the point re: $10.00 hot dog. I think, given the quality and amount of food (Pretty much positive the dog is significantly larger than qp), it's a reasonable price, IF you're really wanting a hot dog. I don't really see going there for anything but a burger, because c'mon, look at those burgers. If you do, though, the Chicago Dog is the way to go.

 
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