The Off Beat: What Is the Best Burger in Austin?

A Fourth of July salute to the city’s real grillmasters

Workhorse burgers hit all the right notes and come with fries! (photo by Carys Anderson)

It might not be as competitive as barbecue, but Austin is brimming with grillmasters who’d rather smoke a hamburger than a brisket. As a music critic first, burger aficionado second, I usually keep my cuisine musings confined to social media (follow @BurgerTourOfAustin for proof). Yet when the Austin American-Statesman crowned Bad Larry Burger Club – the Matthew Bolick-launched pop-up that recently announced plans for a brick-and-mortar – as the city’s No. 1 meat sandwich, I had to join the conversation. And right before the biggest grilling day of the year? I have thoughts.

Not moved by taste alone, my rating system also examines price, location, and serving size. (Why are fries extra now?) From old-town favorites to hip new additions, I’ve scoured many a chain, icehouse, and sandwich shack. Too many, in fact, to list here, so I kept my ramblings to three strong contenders.

The Statesman’s Choice

Okay, let’s clarify. Restaurant critic Matthew Odam actually calls Bad Larry the maker of Austin’s best smashburger, which is an important distinction to make. Though “smashburger” is officially the copyrighted name of the Denver-launched chain, its style of sandwich – meat squished down into thin, crispy patties, usually topped with no-frills ingredients like American cheese, onions, pickles, and a ketchup-mayo-relish blend – has blown up in recent years.

From old-town favorites to hip new additions, I’ve scoured many a chain, icehouse, and sandwich shack.

A delicious trend, indeed, but as with all fads, I’ve found many such burgers to be tiny, expensive, and unfulfilling. For instance, Not a Damn Chance Burger, the hip new collaboration between Michelin-starred chef Phillip Frankland Lee and skateboarder Neen Williams, charges $16 for their burgers, which come with two 3oz patties by standard (you can add a third for $8).*

Doubles are also the Bad Larry standard. With perfectly melted cheese and an undeniably smoky flavor, when I caught the pop-up at Sunbird Fest last month, I left impressed and satiated. Still, for $13 per burger, I’d be even more satisfied with some fries. Here’s hoping the forthcoming brick-and-mortar, which will expand the club’s menu with breakfast and more traditional dinner offerings, also includes sides.

The Obvious Choice

Ask a certain (older) demographic this question, and invariably they’ll point you to Casino El Camino. Understandable – the Dirty Sixth bar charbroils a hefty, undeniably fresh (employees ground the beef right at the ordering window) three-quarter-pound Angus beef patty to a juicy medium.

The lengthy menu offers more standard burgers, like the bacon-lettuce-tomato-cheddar combo on the Chicago, alongside fancier options, including the Amarillo (with roasted serrano chiles, jalapeño jack cheese, and cilantro mayo) and the Madison (which swaps beef for pork belly). This place must be the classiest dive on Sixth Street.

Strong flavor and ample options aside, Casino loses points for inaccessibility. I’m too old to go clubbing, and I’m not going to deal with Downtown parking for a quick, and considerably expensive, bite to eat. The bar’s cheapest burgers are $13.50 without fries. Add a $3.50 basket and a tip, and you’re down at least $20.

The Off Beat’s Choice

This is it. The second-best bar in North Loop (hello, Barfly’s) serves up the best burger in Austin. Workhorse charges $11.25 for its standard Bastrop Burger, which tops a “grass-fed beef patty from Central Texas ranchers” with lettuce, tomato, pickle, and onion (it is an extra dollar to add cheese). Like Casino, this dive bar doesn’t do smashburgers; these sandwiches are thick and usually dripping with juices, and both the patties and the buns have the grill marks to prove their chops.

What really puts Workhorse at first place, however, is that it serves an actual meal. For about $15 (including tip), the burger comes with a sizable side of heavily seasoned parmesan fries – which are also some of the best I’ve had. Nontraditionalists can swap the side for sweet potato fries, mac & cheese, jalapeño creamed corn, or a side salad for no additional charge. I typically pair it with an unbelievably strong $7 margarita and queue up a Talking Heads-Michael Jackson mix on the jukebox. Good times are guaranteed.

I admit that living within walking distance to Workhorse might influence my final pick. Neighborhood allegiance aside, I’m confident that even the southernmost Austinites would appreciate this flavorful, reasonably priced sandwich – especially since they deliver.

*Editor's Note: This article has been updated to reflect that Not a Damn Chance Burger sells double smashburgers by standard, not singles, as was previously reported. The Chronicle regrets the error.

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Best Burger in Austin, Bad Larry Burger Club, Casino El Camino, Workhorse

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