Texas Burger Binge

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318 Gray, 713-523-6404

Order it medium-rare and your half-pound of char-grilled Black Angus comes to the table bright red, smothered with melting Gorgonzola and topped with a pile of wispy batter-fried onions, on a honey wheat hamburger bun bottom. Three black lines across the top bun attest to its recent toasting on the grill. The spring greens come on the side as well as your choice of spreads. Tomato by request.

Honorable mention: Bar at Cafe Annie, Blanco Cafe, Cahill's on Durham, Kenneally's, Market Square Bar & Grill

Three Offbeat Burgers

The burger is a blank canvas upon which Texans express their eccentricities. Don't be surprised if you fall in love with some of these barbecue burgers, bean burgers and bigger-than-a-pound monstrosities.

1202 Bayport Boulevard, Seabrook, 281-474-3444

Tookie's best burger is the "squealer." It's sort of like a bacon cheeseburger, but instead of frying the bacon separately so the grease can be drained off, they grind up the smoked pork with the beef. The genius of this concept is that the bacon fat bastes the patty while it cooks. The result is a salty, greasy burger that stays juicy even when well done. Tookie's also serves a salsa-accented "bean burger" that's better than most of the ones you get in San Antonio.

Mel's Country Cafe
24814 Stanolind, Tomball, 281-255-6357

There are normal burgers on the menu, and then there's the "Mel's burger," a pound of ground meat with bacon and three slices of American cheese. The pound comprises three individual patties, and they're available cooked medium well -- don't ask for medium, because they won't do it. If you're really hungry, try a "mega Mel." It's a pound and a half of meat, a pound of bacon and a quarter-pound of cheese. Eat it in under two hours and get your name on the Wall of Fame. Nine minutes is the current record.

Guy's Meat Market
3106 Old Spanish Trail, 713-747-6800

Barbecue burgers are available only Tuesdays through Fridays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., while they last, and they always sell out. A juicy half-pound ground beef patty is cooked and then finished in a hickory-stoked smoker. For best results, be sure to get it with barbecue sauce, onions and pickles, not lettuce, tomato, mustard and mayo.

Honorable mention: Original New Orleans Po' Boy (cheeseburger poor boy)

Three Chain Burgers

Oversize hamburgers made with freshly ground beef are all the rage at chain restaurants these days. Here are three Houston favorites worth checking out.

Becks Prime
2902 Kirby Drive, 713-524-7085; and seven other locations

Don't complain if the dining room is smoky -- it's a small price to pay for mesquite-grilled meat. USDA Choice chuck roasts are ground on the premises of each location every morning. The fresh ground meat is formed into half-pound patties by machine. You can get them medium-rare if you like. The original on Kirby has been open since 1985. A Bellaire bakery has been baking the buns for 20 years. This may be the best chain burger in America.

Prince's Hamburgers
3899 Southwest Freeway, 713-626-9950; and two other locations

When Houstonians went "cruising for burgers" back in the day, the most popular destination was Prince's Drive-In, which first opened in 1934. The new locations pay homage to the old drive-ins with historic photos and old menus. The Angus beef, which is ground fresh daily, is available medium-rare. The "king's favorite" is a half-pound patty with chili, cheese and grilled onion on top, and lettuce, tomato, pickles, mustard and mayo on the bottom. The "original" features Prince's sauce, which looks like a slurry of pureed fresh tomatoes.

3929 Southwest Freeway, 713-621-8222; and 17 other locations

Born in San Antonio, the Fuddrucker's chain is famous for grinding its own meat and baking its own buns. The machine-formed burger comes in third-pound, half-pound, two-thirds-pound and one-pound sizes. They'll griddle-cook it medium-rare if you want, though there is a warning on the menu about the health risks. You dress the burger yourself. This is the granddaddy of the new old-fashioned burger chains.robb

Honorable mention: Culver's ButterBurgers, Chili's, Outback Steakhouse, Ruby Tuesday

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Robb Walsh
Contact: Robb Walsh