In response to last week's laughable Zagat list of Houston's best burgers, we're launching a series at Eating...Our Words that will spotlight overlooked but no less notable burgers off the beaten path. After all, hidden treasures are the city's greatest commodity.
You may find yourself faced with many questions upon entering Chief's Cajun Snack Shack for the first time.
Why does that man outside have so many chihuahuas? Why are there no lights inside? Where have the ceiling tiles gone? Is that air conditioning unit duct taped to a hole in the wall? Why are there logo stickers for Visa and MasterCard if the joint only takes cash? What is "Hood Punch"? How does this place ever pass any health inspections?
The answer to that last question is that Chief's Cajun Snack Shack occasionally doesn't, and was in fact closed temporarily in January 2012 for admittedly amusing violations such as failing to tell people they can't smoke inside, as well as more obvious issues such as "Wall / Ceiling not maintained in good repair."
So the real question in all of this is this: Why should you eat at Chief's Cajun Snack Shack?
Here's the answer: Dat cheeseburger.
It's half a pound of chuck, aggressively seasoned with Cajun spices and hand-formed to order. If you're really hungry, you can order an even larger size: the Big Baby. "If you don't like it, we will buy it back," promises a sign outside the restaurant. "Just don't eat it all."
Although the restaurant's moniker may lead you to believe that this is a quick stopover for lunch, these aren't fast-food burgers. Grab a seat; the wait is worth it. Your cheeseburger will come out in due time, topped with crunchy sheets of whole-leaf lettuce, corrugated dill pickle coins, dark red tomato slices and thick rings of white onions fastened to the crumbling patty with a melting layer of American cheese.
There is absolutely nothing fancy about Chief's Cajun Snack Shack's burger or the Shack itself, save those intriguingly sweet spices in the burger: thyme and paprika mingling with garlic powder and cayenne. I swear, at one point I even saw fennel seeds in there.
The same meat is put to exceptional use on top of nachos, the second-best-selling item here. I recommend splitting a small side of nachos with a friend in lieu of the occasionally mealy fries that come with the burger. Sure, the nachos are essentially a cheeseburger on Tostitos, sans the pickles, but they're delicious.
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This beast of a burger is the answer to why you eat at Chief's Cajun Snack Shack, and why people have been driving out to the corner of Southmore and Live Oak for years. That, and the friendly grins from the three linebacker-sized men who take your order, man the massive grill and seem to know every guest by name.
One more answer, for good measure: Hood Punch is just Kool-Aid, although I personally recommend a cold can of Sunkist with your meal.