It broke my heart when I got back to Texas after being overseas for two years and discovering Johnny Rockets in The Woodlands had closed. Small chain, but great burgers.
By Molly Dunn
By Molly Dunn
By Kaitlin Steinberg
By Molly Dunn
By Kaitlin Steinberg
By Kaitlin Steinberg
By Kaitlin Steinberg
By Molly Dunn
Best of Houston
Our Best of Houston® 2013 issue is here, and in many cases picking the best item in many of the categories was no easy task. In order to show off all the culinary greatness Houston has to offer, we'll be rounding up the "rest of the best" in some of our favorite categories during the next several months. Bon appétit!
Speaking of no easy task, on to burgers.
When you search "burgers" on our blog, you get 2,615 entries. That's how much we love burgers. We write about them alllll the time. There are a lot of them in this town, too — far more than ten — but this list is composed of the ten very best burgers around, from the plain Jane to the totally out there.
I may have complained about gourmet burgers in the past, but that was before I encountered all that Houston has to offer burger-wise. This city is a veritable playground for the wondrous and the whimsical in burger-making.
So, without further ado, these are our top ten favorites from around Houston. We know you have your favorites, too. So come on, let us have it in the comments.
10. Little Bigs
Yes, the beefy treats here are sliders, not full-on burgers, but there's something to be said for a slider that gets it so right that even the most ardent burger fanatics will come around when they taste it. The hamburger slider (Little Bigs offers a number of other sliders as well, like pulled pork or black bean) is the picture of simple perfection. A three-ounce, fresh-ground beef patty (never frozen) that's owner Bryan Caswell's own recipe is perched on a light, yeasty roll, then topped with caramelized onions. If you want anything else on your slider, there's a condiment and topping bar with lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, mustard, sriracha and the like. But I doubt you'll even remember it's there once you bite into that juicy little slider.
9. Del Frisco's Grille
I know it's a chain, but hear me out. The Grille Prime Cheeseburger is far better than the average steakhouse chain offering. It's not what I'd call a gourmet burger, though, for the simple fact that there's nothing on it that you wouldn't find on a fast-food burger. It's two thin and crispy (but juicy in the middle) beef patties made with steak trimmings and ground prime brisket. Each USDA prime burger is topped with an oozy yellow cheese blend, lettuce, tomatoes and a homemade "sloppy sauce" reminiscent of Thousand Island dressing. I always thought that barbecue was the best thing one could do with brisket. Friends, I was so wrong. This is brisket at its best.
8. Down House
As a food writer, I sometimes have to eat multiple lunches or dinners in one day, and I've learned that such an endeavor is impossible unless I merely taste the food everywhere I go rather than cleaning my plate. Down House totally threw off my game when I ordered the Lone Star Burger on a recent visit. It's a big ol' hunk of grass-fed beef that's ground in-house and cooked over a fire for a texture that's seared and crispy on the outside and still gloriously juicy on the inside. A very generous helping of Vermont Cabot cheddar cheese is melted all over the patty to the point that it covers the entire thing. I was most pleasantly surprised by the house mustard and aioli that were hiding beneath other ingredients until I got into the middle of the burger and found the zesty, garlicky condiments. Oh yeah, and then I ate the whole thing when I knew full well I had more eating left to do that afternoon. Damn you, Down House. Damn you and your delicious burger!
Though some of the previous burgers on this list are large and in charge, the Cottonwood burgers are the first ones so far that I'd label "gourmet." I give the gourmet distinction to burgers that feature ingredients not readily available at the average burger joint, like blue cheese, bacon jam and peppery shoestring onion rings. Cottonwood makes two stellar burgers: the blue cheese-stuffed and the "Squirrel Master Burger" (the winner of the No. 7 spot on this list), which is stuffed with chopped poblano peppers, then covered in pepper jack cheese and a fried egg with bits of bright green jalapeño sprinkled on top. This burger doesn't need a single other ingredient. Forget the ketchup. Forget the mustard. Forget my beloved sriracha and Tabasco. The Squirrel Master is a complex work of art, and it is perfect just as it is.
6. Bernie's Burger Bus
Bernie's burgers are so good that I will literally drive around in circles looking for the distinctive yellow buses parked in apartment complexes, then climb over remote-controlled fences at said apartment complexes to reach them. This exact scenario has happened on more than one occasion. Chef and owner Justin Turner grinds the fatty Black Angus beef in-house (or rather, in-bus), and he even makes his own condiments. Admittedly, Bernie's burgers and fries never make it all the way home in my car because I've been known to pull over and devour them in some random parking lot in between the bus and my apartment. The best Bernie's burger, the Detention, features two applewood-smoked bacon grilled cheese sandwiches as buns. Need I say more?
5. Lankford Grocery
Lankford has been making magnificently messy burgers for three-quarters of a century now, and while some say the quality has suffered in recent years, I say that if the current burger incarnations are somehow lesser in quality than they used to be, I can't even imagine what they were like in Lankford's glory days. Offerings range from the Grim Burger topped with bacon, jalapeños, a fried egg, and macaroni and cheese, to my preferred burger, the pineapple wasabi burger, a newer addition to Lankford's menu. It features a hearty burger topped with Swiss cheese, red onions, wasabi mayo and a big slice of grilled pineapple. The sweet and tart pineapple adds another bright, fresh dimension to a meal that's usually very rich and savory. Keep up the good work, Lankford.
4. The Hay Merchant/Underbelly
Originally "UB Double Double," the double-patty, double-cheese burger's name had to be changed after chef Chris Shepherd received a cease and desist letter from In-N-Out Burger claiming that "Double Double" was trademarked. Shepherd complied, and the Cease and Desist Burger was born. It's the closest thing you'll get to an In-N-Out burger here in Houston, but it's also just about as far from fast food as you're going to get, because the top-notch beef is butchered in-house, the pickles are homemade and the heirloom tomatoes are locally sourced. And the tasty challah bun is from local baker Slow Dough. It's simple, and in spite of the double meat and cheese, not over the top. Everything a burger should be.
3. Hubcap Grill
It's difficult to go wrong with anything you order at Hubcap, but my personal favorites are the Greek burger and the muffuletta burger. I love the Greek burger because Greek salad items like feta cheese and bell peppers pair well with grilled beef and because I can fool myself into thinking it's healthy. My favorite is the muffuletta burger, though, because why did no one think of burgers and olives before?! The combination of the zesty, pickle-y olives with Swiss cheese and a freshly ground beef patty is so simple yet so genius. Other, more ballsy menu options include the Frito pie burger, which, yes, has an actual Frito pie on top of the patty, and the sticky burger, which boasts a generous helping of peanut butter and cheese. But I'm still all about the muffuletta, which is a brilliant feat of burgerdom.
When I first read that Plonk! Beer & Wine Bistro made a great burger, I was skeptical. It's a wine bar, you guys. Wine bars are supposed to have delicate finger food to munch on while sipping rosé, right? Well, not Plonk!. The cozy wine bar offers up a Guanciale burger, which is essentially a bacon cheeseburger featuring guanciale (unsmoked jowl or cheek meat, most often pork) instead of traditional bacon. Swiss cheese is melted straight onto the onion bun, which allows it to hold in the juices from the ground beef and ground pork patty. Together with caramelized onions, this creates a sweet, smoky, rich burger experience that will make you say, "Oh, did they have booze here? I forgot."
1. Brooklyn Athletic Club
The Clubhouse Burger at BAC sounds like something fancy one might nibble on while sipping a mimosa at Sunday brunch. But get ready. This is one heckuva burger. It comes with "LTO" (lettuce, tomatoes and onions) as well as green tomato and jalapeño jam, but you can add bacon and a fried egg for a little something extra, and I strongly recommend you do so. BAC invariably cooks the fried eggs just right so that the yolk oozes all over the slightly charred burger patty. The chefs will add some American cheese or Texas Veldhuizen Redneck Cheddar to the mix if you want, which takes this (now giant) burger to a whole other level. It's like a build-a-burger. But really, it's great even in its simplest form, thanks to the almost-too-sweet-but-just-right tomato and jalapeño jam and the grilled Hereford beef patty. Whatever else you want on this beaut is up to you.
On the Menu
Monica Pope Creates Dateworthy Hot Dog
The Chefs and Show Dogs series continues at James Coney Island.
It's Monica Pope's turn in the James Coney Island Houston Chefs and Show Dog series. The Sparrow Bar + Cookshop chef has created one heck of a gourmet hot dog that you will definitely want to make a date to try. Throughout the month of October, James Coney Island locations will serveher "Date with a Dog" creation.
If you've kept up with the other hot dogs created by Houston chefs, you know that there are no limits when it comes to crafting a gourmet version; take the July hot dog, from chef Hori of Kata Robata, the "Kata Ro-Dog-a," complete with a panko-crusted, deep-fried Hebrew National all-beef dog stuffed into a Slow Dough bun and topped with soft-scrambled eggs, Japanese curry sauce, pickled cucumber, picked red onions, Yuzo Kosho QP Mayo and micro greens.
Just like Hori and the other chefs in the series, Pope didn't hold back on creating her masterpiece.
For $10.99, this dog is not a cheap date, but it's definitely worth every cent.
She starts by stuffing the Texas T Kobe Beef dog with crumbled Frenchy's chorizo and shredded Veldhuizen Redneck Cheddar cheese, giving the beef a smoky, spicy and creamy filling that perfectly complements the juicy, tender dog. And if that's not enough meat, Pope also wraps the entire dog with Nueske's applewood-smoked bacon. While this may seem overindulgent, it's not; the sweetness from the bacon balances with the greasy chorizo, reminding you why everyone is trying to wrap everything in bacon.
The inside of the Slow Dough pretzel bun is then coated with a sweet and savory date-tomato jam and chermoula, a sauce used widely in Algerian, Moroccan and Tunisian cooking. One bite of this dog is truly an incredible flavor combination — sweet, salty, spicy, smoky and savory.
Props to the chef for taking two of the biggest (and most overdone) food trends — wrapping food in bacon and replacing regular buns with pretzel buns — and turning them into something magnificent.
Whether you enjoy a lot of meat, a lot of sauce or a sweet-savory combo for your dogs, the "Date with a Dog" is just what you need. It's got it all.
Pope's creation is available until the end of October; then it's chef Hugo Ortega's turn.
James Coney Island will donate $1,000 to the Recipe for Success Foundation, Pope's charity of choice.
Five Houston Desserts We're Falling for
Cold front or no cold front, you'll want to order these Fall desserts.
The recent cold front is making it feel as if fall has officially hit our glorious city. Whether it stays or not is yet to be determined, but we're gonna eat like the air is crisp anyway. And what better place to start than with the sweet stuff?
Here are Five Seasonal Desserts We're Totally Fallin' For:
5. Provisions' Carrot Cake Donut
We didn't think moist spiced carrot cake with a tangy cream-cheese frosting could get better. Then Provisions came along with this doughnut. The delicate hunk of fried dough looks unassuming at first, but crack it open and you'll see a thick, smooth carrot- and cinnamon-laced custard oozing out. It's served alongside caramelized cream-cheese frosting and brown-sugar crumbles, and the result is carrot cake on crack. And delicious.
4. Ooh La La Bakery's Salted Caramel Apple Cupcake
We can't get enough of Ooh La La's cupcakes, especially the ones that make us feel like we're fresh off the apple farm. This spiced apple cupcake is light, moist and smothered with a sweet caramel buttercream. And the sprinkling of sea salt on top only further accents the cake's bold autumn flavors.
3. House of Pies' Sweet Potato Pie
Made with moist, fleshy Louisiana yams, this bright-orange, nutmeg-spiked pie is fall on a plate. The best part is you can grab a slice of the slightly chunky pie morning, noon or night.
2. Petite Sweets' Pumpkin Whoopie Pies
If you've never had a whoopie pie, you're missing out. And if you've never had a pumpkin whoopie pie, even more so. A kind of cookie, cake and pie hybrid, these New England cookie sandwiches get a fall twist with fluffy, pumpkin-accented cake, sweet cream-cheese frosting, and black and orange sprinkles.
1. Triniti's Pumpkin Mocha
Triniti has some of the best fine-dining desserts around, so it's no surprise that their pumpkin-spiced cake, accented with dollops of fresh whipped cream; dots of caramel; sweet, juicy figs; and a creamy, chocolate-mocha gelato, takes the, well, the cake.
Openings and Closings
Food truck parks head outside the Loop, the reason behind Hungry's Expansion & more.
Since there aren't that many closings in comparison to most other weeks, let's get the sad news over with first.
Yummy Yummy for My Tummy opened at the beginning of June but has decided to close its doors. In an announcement on Facebook on October 9, the Latin American restaurant off Barker Cypress informed followers that the business is now closed but that the owner has plans to reopen; no date has been announced. They are still taking orders for pastries and cakes, though; simply send them a Facebook message for further information.
B4-U-Eat also reports that Lucky Village on Dairy Ashford closed. This is the second Lucky Village to close; their only Chinese buffet still open is at 10755 Westheimer.
It appears that the Swirll Frozen Yogurt location in the River Oaks Shopping Center on West Gray has been taken over by another frozen-yogurt franchise, Menchie's. The new sign is up on the storefront, but according to the Menchie's Web site, the location hasn't opened its doors yet.
Now on to the openings for the week:
Maggie Rita's has officially opened inside the tunnel at 1001 Fannin. B4-U-Eat says this location, and the one at 600 Travis, are both owned by Tony Shanar, who has the rights to open five more Maggie Rita's restaurants in Houston.
Hungry's Bistro in Rice Village released a post on Facebook detailing its expansion project. Anyone who has driven by the restaurant on Rice Boulevard has probably seen the construction of a second Hungry's next door; this new, 9,000-square-foot building will be the same restaurant but with an upstairs second bar, just like the NextDoor Bar & Lounge inside the Hungry's on Memorial.
"We thought it only fair for Hungry's on Rice to have its own space, this time called Upstairs, a second floor bar with an extensive wine menu, tastings and bites to enjoy during happy hour or later evening. Two private dining rooms upstairs and one downstairs will be available for your birthdays, special occasions or corporate functions."
The folks behind Little Dipper hosted a preview event on October 12 for customers to check out the new downtown bar before it officially opens. Eater notes that Dawn Callaway, Miriam Carrillo, Scott Repass and Scott Walcott, who all established bar and coffee spots including Poison Girl, Black Hole and Antidote, have designed Little Dipper to be similar to the casual, relaxed atmosphere of the previously mentioned locations — it will also have "serious booze and beer," according to Eater.
In food truck news, Houstonians can rejoice, because two more food truck parks are headed their way, and these two aren't going to be inside the Loop.
CultureMap Houston had reported that My Food Park HTX will open in the Energy Corridor on November 2; the Park's Facebook page had stated that the park's owner, Liz Hale, planned to open the park during lunch hours beginning on October 14. Eric Sandler spoke with Hale, who tells CultureMap that she thinks this one won't be hassled by city inspectors as much as other parks have been. Hale is also the owner of the dessert food truck Zeapod Cakery. Bernie's Burger Bus, Pho-jita Fusion and The Hungry Lumberjack are just a few of the trucks that will join Zeapod Cakery during the grand opening.
And if one food truck park outside the Loop isn't enough, The Leader reports that Mangum Food Park opens this week, more specifically on October 18. Brent Fisk and his girlfriend, Paige Hughes, decided to create the food truck park in this area to "cater to the area's businesses and residential communities," as reported by Charlotte Aguilar of The Leader. Bernie's Burger Bus, H-town StrEATS, Porch Swing Desserts, Speers Rolling Bistro, Cupcake and a Smile, POCKet to Me and Pho-jita Fusion are among the food trucks that have already committed to the park.
The Houston Chronicle reports that previous Food Network Star contestant Susie Jimenez will officially open her new restaurant, Trenza, on November 1. However, she will have a red-carpet opening on October 26, followed by a soft opening October 27-31. The Chronicle notes that Trenza means "braid," which encompasses the style of her restaurant's cuisine; Jimenez will "braid" flavors together in her dishes, such as Asian and Italian mixed with Mexican; how about fried Mexican masa cakes with lamb vindaloo and fennel slaw? Or shrimp dumplings served with a cilantro and lime sauce?
Swamplot reports that the former location of Discount Liquor off Almeda and Rosedale will become a take-out restaurant called Maxwell Street Grill — yeah, we know it's not on Maxwell Street. From the looks of Swamplot's photograph of the location, it appears that construction has yet to begin.
Fat Bao announced to Facebook followers with a photo of a "Now Hiring" sign that a second location will open in Sugar Land. CultureMap says the new venue will be twice the size of the Kirby location, allowing chef Pak Tsui to make broth for ramen every day, rather than on Mondays and Tuesdays only.