Once again, Kaitlin Steinberg is eating her way through Houston and counting down her 100 favorite dishes as we work our way toward our annual Menu of Menus® issue and culinary extravaganza. She'll compile a collection of the dishes she thinks are the most delicious, most creative and, of course, most indicative of our ever-changing food scene. It's a list of personal favorites, things she thinks any visitor or Houstonian ought to try at least once and dishes that are uniquely Houstonian.
I went years without eating hamburgers. Before I became I food writer, I was a little more picky than I am now. I had an issue with ground meat (you just don't know what's in it!), and as such I avoided things like burgers and hot dogs at all costs.
As you can see, I've since changed my tune, and I've changed it in a big way. For a time, as I dove back into burgers, I couldn't get enough of the bacon-topped, blue cheese-stuffed variety--the more upscale, the better. After all, I figured, if I'm gonna slum it with ground meat, it had better be the best.
Now, though, I'm back to where I started with hamburgers. No, I still won't eat at McDonald's, but I have a certain nostalgia for the old-fashioned, fast food style burgers. The kind that are a little burnt on the outside and are served with a simple slice of American cheese melting into the crumbly patty.
And at Sparkle's Hamburger Spot, that kind of nostalgia is exactly what you get.
Sparkle's recently added an outdoor seating area next to the tiny blue shack that serves as a kitchen, so you have even more reason to stick around a while and bask in the wonderful smells emanating from the unassuming structure. But in spite of its appearance, Sparkle's draws a crowd, and sometimes the wait for a burger seems interminable.
When you finally sit down with that burger, though--oooooh! Your burger will be served wrapped in paper and inside a styrofoam box, so getting to it is like unwrapping a present a layer at a time. The final revelation can be astonishing for a first-timer. Yes, you did just pay $5 for what is quite possibly the biggest cheeseburger you've ever seen. That's part of why the wait can be so long; These patties are enormous.
In spite of the fact that they're thick and juicy, the patties have a no-frills kind of feeling reminiscent of something you could have gotten from a small mom-and-pop fast food joint as a child. The outside is cooked so much it's almost crumbly, and the iceberg lettuce and melty cheese stick to the squirt of mustard on the toasted bun.
For an extra thrill, order the tater tots and a milkshake to wash it all down. But remember, this isn't the place to go when you're in a hurry. Just like back in the day, things move a little slower at Sparkle's. And the food and experience is all the better for it.
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