For the next 20 weeks, we'll be rounding up the runners-up to our 2011 Best of Houston® winners. In many categories, picking each year's winner is no easy task. We'll be spotlighting 20 of those categories, in which the winner had hefty competition from other Houston bars and restaurants.
Houston has a lot of burgers. A lot. We could do a dozen different Top 10 posts on just the different styles: gourmet, steakhouse, fast-food, burger stand, veggie, old-fashioned -- you get the drift.
Instead of that, we've picked 10 of our favorites from around the city that all represent the many different styles you can find in Houston. If you like burgers, you're guaranteed to find at least one burger that's "your type" on the list.
If not, you know the drill: Yell at us in the comments section until you feel better.
10. Cream Burger
The burgers at this Third Ward drive-up can most accurately be described as the kind of stuff that Whataburger would make if it were still a one-restaurant operation in Corpus Christi. The buns and patties are thin and slightly crispy. The cheese is gooey and melty. And the burger is slathered with healthy amounts of onions, shredded lettuce and mustard. This is a true Texas burger. And in true Texas style, don't forget to order a Frito pie on the side.
Petrol's burger would be higher up on the list if it didn't take so damn long to get the bartenders' attention there to order it, and if it didn't take so damn long to come out. Burger and a pint night on Mondays are the most popular time to order Petrol's huge, craggy burger topped with salty Cheddar cheese -- which also means you'll be in for a hell of a wait. The craft beer bar gets bonus points for also offering one of the tastiest lamb burgers in town.
Unlike bean- or tofu-based patties, the Dirty Burque burger is mostly buckwheat, a pseudo-cereal that's high in protein and better known as kasha (as in kasha varnishkas), the base of Japanese soba noodles. The patty is made from scratch -- like everything else at Houston's only vegan food truck -- and is naturally gluten-free. The buckwheat patty is studded with colorful chunks of vegetables, from orange bell peppers to green flares of bright cilantro. On top you'll find buttery slices of avocado, peppery arugula, raw white onion, a tangy spread of egg-free mayonnaise and a New Mexican-style green chile sauce that's tart and slightly hot.
7. Down House
Down House doesn't do everything right, but it does make a mean burger. Its Longhorn burger is the stuff of sweaty-foreheaded, dilated-pupil, burger dreams. The patty tastes of nothing but sweet, buttery beef with a hint of salt, served on a fresh, yeasty bun. And instead of interfering with that driving, meaty flavor, the other ingredients simply complement it like a chorus of backup singers whose sole purpose is to make the star shine even brighter: Longhorn cheddar, peppery arugula, ripe tomatoes and house-made mustard thick with whole grains of mustard seeds that pop and sizzle against the beef.
El Real is one of those places that actually cooks your burger to order, thank God. And mine always comes out a perfect medium-rare, just as requested. The thick, sloppy patty is rich and meaty, its juices binding all of the other ingredients together: Fritos, roasted poblano peppers, a smear of lardy refried beans, red tomatoes, caramelized onions and a sprinkling of queso fresco. It's a blissful marriage between old-school Tex-Mex and new-school monster burgers, and even this thin-patty connoisseur thinks that it's a marriage made in heaven.
5. Hubcap Grill
Come lunchtime, Ricky Craig's teensy downtown eatery is packed with suits, families, athletes, hipsters, youngsters, old folks, Americans and multinationals, all eating contentedly in close comfort.
Among creative menu options like the Frito Pie Burger and the Peanut Butter Sticky Burger sits the Philly Cheese Steak Burger, our 2010 pick for best cheeseburger in Houston. This two-hander is a thing of beauty crowned with thin-sliced ribeye steak and melted Swiss cheese. The patty is juicy without sog, nicely enveloped in the warm queso, and the buns are lightly toasted to offer just the right crunch. It may not be a cheeseburger in the traditional sense, but it's one that will have you joining the crowd that worships at this house of ground beef.
Visit the new Heights location for a more spread-out Hubcap experience without sacrificing any of its signature flavor.
There's very little that chef David Grossman doesn't do well at his restaurant, especially when it comes to meat. At $13, his Texas Kobe beef burger is the most expensive on the list, but it's worth every cent of that price tag (Bon Appetit thinks so, too): Grossman grinds nine ounces of the Texas version of the thickly marbled Japanese beef, then tops it very simply with tomatoes, red onions, butter lettuce and his own pickles, all atop a fluffy bun that soaks up the steam of beef juices nicely. You'll still need plenty of napkins for this one, though.
There's no such thing as fast food at Little Bitty Burger Barn. The quirky little burger joint on Pinemont makes everything to order here; in fact, one of the only things that's made ahead of time each day is the chili. (And you'll want to order some of that on your burger like the one at left, if you're anything like me.)
All of the buns here are of the soft, buttery Slow Dough variety and every ingredient -- even the blue cheese crumbles -- is lovingly sourced from the best vendors that owner Ricardo Luna can find. And if you like your burgers on the miniature side, LBBB's sliders are as tasty -- if not more so -- as its regular-size burgers.
The closest you'll come to a regular burger at this west-side joint is the Houston burger, made with house-pickled bread-and-butter jalapenos and locally made cheese. But it's worth the trek out Westheimer and the sometimes mind-boggling menu (a Sydney burger with beets and a fried egg, a Saigon burger with pate and daikon radish) to experience these progressive and ambitious gourmet burgers. Don't forget to order a side of Belgian frites -- duck fat fries -- with your choice of house-made dipping sauces. Top it all off with a made-to-order milkshake. And if the drive out to the west side is too far, take heed: The Burger Guys are opening an outpost in downtown's Kitchen Incubator this February, serving their signature gourmet burgers during lunch from Wednesdays to Fridays.
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Although you wouldn't expect it from a wine bar, Plonk has one of the best bacon cheeseburgers we've ever tasted. And that's because Plonk is more than just a wine bar: It combines excellent, chef-driven food with expertly chosen wine and beer in a cozy, neighborhood setting under the capable stewardship of chef Erin Smith and owner Scott Miller. The guanciale burger is the best example of their food. Its buns are toasted in the pizza oven while Swiss cheese melts onto the top bun, and when combined, they sandwich a huge patty that's rampant with beef juices and covered with caramelized onions and "face bacon." The face bacon is that eponymous guanciale that is bacon's fancier and tastier cousin, trimmed from the pig's jowls and cured until delicious.