What's the Big Deal About Whataburger?

I am not a native Houstonian, so perhaps that's why I'm boggled by the cult status Whataburger has built for itself.

What is so good about this burger? Why is it that people crave it?

I've had debates and chats with several local foodie friends, who insisted that Whataburger is an awesome burger. I tried my first Whataburger years ago at the location on Shepherd at Richmond and was so unimpressed, I never went back.

But with all the hullabaloo around the merits of Whataburger, I found myself caving in and giving the new location on Beltway 8 and Beechnut a try.

When I drove up to the drive-thru, the to-go board displayed some pretty mouthwatering pictures of burgers, and the one that caught my eye was the "Thick and Hearty" burger. Described as two patties with cheese, topped with grilled onions, bacon and A-1 sauce, it sounded like exactly what I was craving. It wasn't cheap, though, ringing in at $5.19 just for the burger.

I drove to the window, paid, and waited. And waited, and waited. There were no cars behind me, and at one point, I thought they'd forgotten the order completely. I waved so that someone would come to window. At least 15 minutes had already passed. "It's coming," the girl at the window told me.

"It better be darn good for me to wait this long," I muttered to myself, envisioning something akin to the last mouthwatering In 'N Out burger I'd had in California.

I finally got the burger after waiting for what seemed like a fast-food eternity. And when I opened the wrapper, the burger that stared back at me was not the mouthwatering vision I'd hoped for. It barely resembled the picture on the to-go board. I was disappointed. Majorly.

Keep in mind that I had unwrapped the burger within seconds of it being handed to me, deciding to pull over and eat it before I hit the road. I didn't wait to come home. It didn't have time to sit and cool. It had come straight from the kitchen into my hands, and there was nothing in the bag -- no fries, no other burger -- to weigh it down.

Out of the wrapper, the bun looked like it had been squashed beneath something heavy. It was pretty well smashed, the burger flat to the point that I could barely see the two burger patties in the middle (I had to pry open the bun to take the picture, above). Far from being "Thick and Hearty," like its name indicates, it was flat and thin. The two patties in the middle were some of the thinnest I'd seen, each maybe half a centimeter thick.

The thin patties were cooked to a thorough well-done, so that the meat was dry instead of juicy. The melted cheese, which coated the patties, didn't help the dryness at all, nor did the overly generous application of A1 sauce. The flavor of the burger was okay, and the bun tasted fresh and had this dense chewiness that I liked, but I thought that the overall burger, for $5.19, was way off the mark in terms of quality, especially when compared to other burgers in this price range.

For about the same price, Fuddrucker's is ten times tastier and better-looking. In 'N Out, ringing in at $3.45, is probably two or three times thicker, heartier, and juicier, and beats Whataburger hands down.

Whataburger? Seriously, what a disappointment. Tell me what I'm missing, folks.

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Mai Pham is a contributing freelance food writer and food critic for the Houston Press whose adventurous palate has taken her from Argentina to Thailand and everywhere in between -- Peru, Spain, Hong Kong and more -- in pursuit of the most memorable bite. Her work appears in numerous outlets at the local, state and national level, where she is also a luxury travel correspondent for Forbes Travel Guide.
Contact: Mai Pham