Mama’s Texas Bean Burger

“Mama’s Famous Beanburger” at Mama’s Café came with a choice of fries or onion rings for $7.29. (I got the onion rings with a cup of ranch dressing for dipping.) The burger was voluptuous.

The signature refried beans were spread thick on the bottom bun and studded with Fritos corn chips. Then came a thick slice of raw purple onion. The burger patty was cooked medium -- it appeared to be of the previously frozen variety -- and it was topped with a slice of American cheese. Guacamole and salsa came in little plastic cups on the side -- I spread both onto the top bun. It tasted like a burger with a bean and cheese taco inside.

In his book, Hamburgers and Fries, John T. Edge used the infinite variations on the hamburger to understand the “totems of local tastes.” And he spent an entire chapter on the Alamo City bean burger.

Invented near Fort Sam Houston in the 1950s at a joint called Sill’s Snack Shop, the original bean burger was a regular ground beef patty on a bun, topped with refried beans, Fritos corn chips and a dollop of Cheez Whiz. Lots of burger joints in San Antonio serve the original version, while upscale variations there include bean burgers made with trendy black beans and Chris Madrid’s tostada burger made with tortilla chips instead of Fritos.

The bean burger and its Tex-Mex embellishments “define the burger as Texan, while paying homage to the Mexican roots of the state’s people,” according to Edge. “Of course I could be overanalyzing this,” he continues. “But I am convinced that (the) bean burger evokes as strong a sense of place as cedar-planked salmon from Washington State’s Sammamish Watershed, or Basque barbecued lamb from Boise, Idaho.”

They sure do taste good. And I have to agree with Edge when he notes that the Fritos make a remarkable difference in the taste and texture. Even without the Cheez Whiz, I’d say Mama’s serves a pretty authentic bean burger. The place comes by it naturally. Mama’s Café is a mini-chain that started in San Antonio, with three locations there and the one in Houston at 6019 Westheimer. – Robb Walsh

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