$7 at Southwell's Burger Grill

Where: Southwell's Burger Grill, 5860 San Felipe St Ste. F, 713-789-4972

What $7 gets you: A better-than-decent burger and fries, or a couple of chili dogs. No drink, though.

All I really wanted to do was sip some chicken broth, take some ibuprofen, and then crawl under my covers and quietly die. What started as a simple viral infection has evidently mutated into the goddamn Hanta virus. It laughs at antibiotics and feeds on human suffering.

Despite all this, I drove down the street where Southwell's Burger Grill sits. Upon walking in, I was struck by two things: the authentic old-school diner atmosphere, and a wall of stuffy humidity. Both stem from the same place: little Mom-and-Pop burger joints tend to shoot for a nostalgic feel by slapping up yellowed photographs of old people and places in simple frames. It's much cheaper than installing more modern scenery.

Little Mom-and-Pop burger joints also fall victim to what I call the Houston Hot 'n' Cold Switcheroo: if the weather is suitably chilly outside, they think it's okay to save some bucks and switch off the air conditioning. IT IS NEVER OKAY TO DO THIS. Between the entire front of the restaurant being glass, the huge griddles in the kitchen, and the electronics of whatever televisions and computers they use, a restaurant will generate more heat than it needs without even trying. It would have to be around 25 degrees Fahrenheit outside to offset this amount of heat, which of course in Houston it never is, so during the winter months these quaint little eateries wind up hovering around 80 degrees on the inside.

Maybe some of you like an uncomfortable level of warmth; I run hot normally, even when I'm not feverish, so there was no way I was sitting down to eat in this oppressive atmosphere. I put in my order to go.

Southwell's has a good selection, including a Chili Burger, an Avocado Burger, a chicken sandwich (which I've heard is spectacular but haven't tried yet), and something called a Bleu Burger. Regrettably, there is no burger-and-fries basket. You order every item separately, and it adds up quickly.

Case in point: $6.93 got me a Hickory burger and an order of waffle fries. I didn't have enough for a drink, so it was a good thing I hadn't planned on eating there. My order was put together quickly, however, so in very little time I was able to escape the heat and be back outside into the cool night air.

Back at my apartment, I unloaded the still-warm contents onto the most photogenic plate I had. The appearance and smell were appetizing, to the point where I didn't waste much time on the aesthetics before starting in on the meal.

The Hickory sauce on this particular burger is sweet and a little smoky, but weak; I couldn't really get into it. I do distinctly remember Southwell's bacon cheeseburger (which I have eaten on previous visits) being significantly more enjoyable.

The bun was nice and squishy, not a cheap, spongy grocery-store type. The patty was a good but not great size, and the lettuce and tomatoes were generously cut and fresh. The waffle fries were seasoned well and were definitely a highlight.

Overall, I would say Southwell's burger is very good, certainly tasty, but not the best. The sauce was average instead of unique, and the price was too high for what you get, undoubtedly a symptom of Southwell's proximity to the Galleria. However, the menu does present a bounty of options, so it's entirely possible to find a favorite on your second or third visit.

Southwell's burger manages to edge out just about any fast-food chain burger, so it's got that going for it. Even sick, I was able to finish the meal with no hesitation. However the somewhat steep price may send the poorer among us back to Jack-In-the-Box.

Recommended? Sure, especially if you like a good variety and don't mind sweating while you eat.

Lucky for you: It's not even closer to the Galleria and therefore stylishly costlier.

KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
John Seaborn Gray