Sometimes, you don't want a burger covered with crushed Cheetos or peanut butter. Sometimes you don't want a burger served under flocked wallpaper that you had to wait 25 minutes to be seated for. Sometimes you don't want a burger that's served to you by a guy who's dressed better than you dress for Sunday morning church service.
Sometimes you just want a regular, no-frills, old-timey burger. Cheese optional, paper napkins mandatory. And at those times, you want to be able to head to a faithful burger stand or ramshackle joint under a bridge and get your meat on.
Below are our 10 favorite old-timey burgers in Houston. If we missed your favorite, let us know about it in the comments section below.
10. Sam's Deli Diner 11637 Katy Freeway
At one time, Sam's would have topped this list. As of late, however, the burgers at this west side haunt -- which has served the neighborhood around it for more than 30 years -- have slipped considerably in quality. Here's hoping it corrects the recent rash of bad burgers and becomes true to form once again. I'm keeping them on the list, although at the bottom, because I still have faith in Sam's. Their Blue Bell ice cream shakes are still tops, after all.
9. Champ Burger 304 Sampson
The burgers are great at this little stand in the East End, but -- randomly -- so is the chicken-fried steak. Braving Sampson -- which is absolutely the most horrible, pothole-ridden street in Houston -- only makes your burger that much better. Stand in the shade while you wait for your order and savor the slow pace of life along the street, reflecting on the busy shadows of downtown Houston to one side and the hyper-caffeinated Maxwell House plant to the other.
8. Christian's Tailgate 7340 Washington Avenue
Located on the north side of I-10 -- not the part of Washington Avenue you're thinking about -- the old Christian's "Totem" has spiffed itself up some, but lost a lot of charm in the process (adding a Midtown location didn't help their reputation). Nevertheless, the parking lot at lunch is busier than ever and the burgers haven't suffered. They're still drippy, juicy, wonderfully huge things that will satisfy even the largest appetite.
7. The French Press Cafe 1201 N. Post Oak
A newcomer to this pack, The French Press Cafe deserves some attention for its splendid signature burger: Shallots sauteed in bacon fat are mixed into the meat, which is marinated overnight in Shiner Black Lager and then cooked to perfection on the griddle. Don't forget to try the cafe's bread pudding, too, but leave your pretension at the door. This is a solidly homey, blue collar place that simply serves great food.
6. Bubba's Texas Burger Shack 5230 Westpark
Bubba's is where I believe many of our trolls congregate. Not because it serves fairy or unicorn burgers, but because it's located under a bridge. Squatting in the shadows of the Highway 59 overpass between Rice and Chimney Rock, Bubba's is actually a great joint -- no trolls, just good burgers. Unlike a lot of places that serve buffalo meat, Bubba's buffalo burgers are actually juicy and rich -- just like the rest of the burgers it serves. Even better? It also has a solid selection of beers.
5. Adrian's Local Cafe 1730 Jefferson
If big is your bag, then Adrian's is where you need to be. Adrian's -- which used to be called Adrian's Burger Bar until it moved in 2008 to its new location on Jefferson -- has one of the largest burgers in town, The Big Adrian, which features a solid pound of ground beef. This is a love-it-or-hate-it burger and certainly not for the weak of heart or stomach. I challenge you to finish this thing in one sitting.
4. Burger Park 6704 Martin Luther King Junior Boulevard
You might be afraid of going to South Park after all the years of bad press the neighborhood has gotten, but the area has changed a lot since the 1980s and '90s. Don't believe the hype. But do believe that Burger Park makes a mean cheeseburger that people line up for each day at lunch and dinner. Get there early, and prepare to sit outside to eat. The fries are subpar, but the slushes that come with the cheeseburger combo take you on a fast trip back to childhood and come in your choice of about a dozen flavors.
3. Sparkles Hamburger Spot 1515 Dowling
Two things should be kept in mind at Sparkles: You'll have to wait for your burger, and it will be huge. As in, you could eat on this thing for days. Those in the know call ahead before driving over to Sparkles. Giving the little blue burger stand about 15 to 20 minutes to make your burger is the norm, and especially good to keep in mind if you're grabbing lunch and heading back into downtown afterwards. Of course, on the weekends it's just as nice to relax outside with a coke and wait for the Sparkles crew to work their magic.
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2. Bellaire Broiler Burger 5216 Bellaire Boulevard
The burger joints in the No. 1 and No. 2 spots on this list are -- in my opinion -- interchangeable. It all depends on personal preference: Do you enjoy eating inside? Do you prefer your burgers cooked under a broiler? Bellaire Broiler Burger is the place to be, and it's been doing burgers right for longer than most of our readers have been alive. The burgers are thin but juicy (although some may argue they're "greasy," but that's not necessarily a bad thing), the toasted buns are perfectly buttery and the shredded cheese is superior to any other burger joint in town.
1. Cream Burger 3481 Elgin
Cream Burger goes at the top of the list because it's the epitome of an old-timey roadside burger stand: incredibly cheap prices, no indoor seating, slightly surly service and burgers that'll make you swoon. These are the standard skinny Texas burgers -- heavy on mustard, lettuce, pickles and onions -- but you can dress them up with gooey cheese or fantastically good chili. The coup de grace here comes in the form of the burgers' accoutrements: Frito pies and milkshakes that are every bit as tasty as the burgers themselves. Cream Burger is hamburger heaven.