On the Side

As any red-blooded American diner can tell you, the classic side dishes for hamburgers are french-fried potatoes, onion rings, malts, and milkshakes. They've endured over the years, and even the fat police and the cholesterol rangers haven't been able to vanquish them completely. Some burger joints may have made concessions to the anti-fat craze by changing their fryer oil or making shakes with low-fat yogurt, but the real deals are still out there, if you're willing to look. As the Chronicle Food staff was enjoying their burger binges around the city, they were instructed to pay special attention to the quality of the sides and report back to me about the best examples of the classics to be had in River City.

Without a doubt, the best-known french fries in Austin have to be the hand-cut, batter-dipped fries for which Hyde Park Bar & Grill is justifiably famous. A few years back, the restaurant's kitchen was remodeled specifically to accommodate a new fryer station, and Hyde Park purchases more raw potatoes than any other eatery in the city. They're certainly worth a shot. The fries at Casino el Camino and Shady Grove got good remarks, and Claudia Alarcón is newly addicted to the black-pepper fries at Opal Divine's and assures me that they're marvelous.

It turns out that evaluating onion rings comes down to whether you like them big and thick or thin and crispy, and good examples of both varieties are out there waiting for you. For years, Chronicle readers have voted the gigantic onion rings at Hut's to be their favorites, so if you like 'em big, you can't go wrong there. If you fancy the thin and crispy variety, give Shady Grove's a try or pull into the drive-through for a bag of my personal favorites at Hilbert's.

Our less-than-scientific research revealed that many local burger joints make their malts and shakes with Blue Bell Ice Cream, a Texas brand that's near and dear to our hearts. Wherever you see it on the menu, it's bound to be good. We were particularly refreshed by the Espresso and Peppermint shakes from EZ's and found the chocolate malts at Hilbert's to be heavenly. MM Pack swears by the old-time soda-fountain milkshakes at Nau's Enfield Drug as well as the ones made with soft-serve custard at Sandy's on Barton Springs Road.

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  • As You Like It

    Welcome! The following is our comprehensive Austin guide to the American classic commonly known as the hamburger.
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