As You Like It
Our comprehensive Austin guide to the American classic commonly known as the hamburger
Fri., March 7, 2003
Hamburgers made a big splash in the national news recently when a widely reported wire-service story revealed that a restaurant in New York was serving a $40 version dressed with goose liver and exotic mushrooms. That little news tidbit reminded the Chronicle Food staff that it had been quite some time since we'd done a comprehensive job of reporting on the local state of the definitive all-American portable meal. Mick Vann, MM Pack, Wes Marshall, Claudia Alarcón, Barbara Chisholm, Rachel Feit, and I divided up the burger joints among us, and weeks of burger binges ensued.
We didn't find any $40 burgers here, although you can drop a serious wad of cash if you order one at the Driskill or the Four Seasons. What we can report, however, is that Austin is one of a very few cities in the country where you can attend a movie screening and enjoy a great hamburger at the same time. So if you're a guest in River City attending the SXSW Film Festival or a local with a serious movie jones and a film pass, make sure to belly up to a table at one of the Alamo Drafthouse locations and order their Bleu Burger ($7.25), a huge hand-formed patty, cooked to order, dressed with lettuce, tomatoes, red onions, bleu cheese, buffalo wing sauce, and a little chipotle mayo, with a big stack of crispy fries on the side. And whether you make it to the movies or not, be sure to keep this Chronicle guide to Austin independent burgerdom handy, and you can eat burgers at every meal for days without once passing under the golden arches. -- Virginia B. Wood
Casino el Camino
517 E. Sixth, 469-9330
These are, without a doubt, the best burgers in Austin: huge hand-shaped patties of pure Angus beef, grilled to a perfect medium. The Buffalo burger, with bleu cheese and Buffalo-wing sauce, takes the prize for best burger ever. The Amarillo burger with roasted serranos and cilantro mayo is a close second. The fries are excellent, as well. Your order will take about 30 minutes, so get a cold beer and enjoy some music from one of the best jukeboxes in town. -- Claudia Alarcón
108 E. Seventh, 479-6424
Monday-Friday, 11am-8pm; Saturday, 11am-5pm
Tucked into the second-floor corner of a Downtown parking garage, Mike's has been serving in-the-know business types since the early Sixties, and the aroma of all those years of good cooking is the first thing you notice when you walk in the door. A new generation of the original Mike's family is now on hand to serve up the ground-fresh-daily meat patties and the hand-cut, never frozen fries. Combos with fries and a soda range from $5.70 to a double-meat, double-cheese burger for $7.40, and the atmosphere is free. -- V.B.W.
Texas Chili Parlor
1409 Lavaca, 472-2828
Daily, 11am-11pm, bar sometimes stays open later
We're pleased to report that this legendary legislative watering hole has bounced back from the brink of oblivion under the new ownership of Scott Zublin and the general management of chef John Randall. With Randall directing the kitchen, the Parlor food is reliable once more; our favorite burger is the No. 6, a Chili Cheeseburger with some added bacon, a bag of Fritos, and some of Randall's multiple-award-winning Grand Prize salsa on the side. -- V.B.W.
Hyde Park Bar & Grill
4206 Duval, 458-3168
This 20-year-old neighborhood cafe is as comfortable as an old pair of shoes, offering pleasant atmosphere and very consistent food. We love to slip in here for a hearty ground-chuck burger on a fresh, locally baked bun, dressed with our choice of garden items, cheeses, and condiments, plus a heaping serving of what have to be the most famous french fries in town. -- V.B.W.
Mother Egan's Irish Pub
715 W. Sixth, 478-7747
This public house is a personal favorite among a slew of our local Irish establishments. The two-fisted burgers here are juicy, hand-formed patties dressed with your choice of condiments and garnishes, paired with fries, soup, or salad. They've got darts, trivia quizzes, Celtic music, Guinness and Murphy's on tap, and heart-stopping deep-fried Mars bars for dessert. What more could you ask for? -- V.B.W.
118 W. Fifth, 482-0621
You absolutely have to have a good burger delivered to your home, office, or hotel room anywhere in the center of Austin, and who you gonna call? The guys at Rocket's, of course. They'll dispatch a big hearty burger such as the Blaster (cheddar cheese, spicy mustard, lettuce, pickle, onions, and jalapeño) or a Mushroom Bacon Swiss Burger or even, gasp, a Garden Burger, on a fresh toasted bun with potato chips and sodas on the side. -- V.B.W.
618 W. Sixth, 472-2037
For more than 25 years, deli owner Marc Katz has provided Austinites a little taste of New York in his own little corner of Austin. Drop by here after an evening of club crawling, and feast on a "patty melt," a huge juicy patty encased in two slices of melting cheese and placed between buttery crisp slices of toasted rye. Top it off with a side of fries and plenty of the house puckery dill pickles. -- V.B.W.
409 W. 30th, 477-2935
8800 Burnet, 454-1474
4141 Capital of TX Hwy. S., 326-9899
Call ahead; hours of operation vary at each location
The most important thing to remember about eating burgers at Trudy's is not to fill up on chips and their multiple-award-winning hot sauce before your burger arrives. You'll get a platter full of a huge open-faced beauty served on your choice of a locally made white, wheat, or onion roll, buttered and grilled to a golden hue. The condiments such as chipotle mayo and stone-ground mustard are homemade, and they'll garnish the burger to your specifications. -- V.B.W.
Hickory Street Bar & Grill
800 Congress, 477-9868
Breakfast: Monday-Friday, 6:30-11am
Lunch and Dinner: Daily, 11am-10pm
Brunch Buffet: Saturday and Sunday, 11am-2:30pm
There's plenty of sustenance at Hickory Street, so you'll have to forgo the salad bar, the stove bar, and the spud bar in order to get to a burger, but they're worth it and all available for under $5. The open-faced TruckStop Chili Burger is a particular favorite and comes with a side of Maalox upon request. Hit the sundae bar for dessert, before hitting the road again. -- V.B.W.
700 W. Sixth, 477-3308.
One of my favorite hangouts, Opal's serves straightforward but good hamburgers, featuring build-your-own items like pico de gallo, mushrooms, jalapeños, grilled onions, barbecue sauce, bacon, and cheeses, for a little extra charge. The patty melt on rye is also a great option. They come with chips, but forget that, and go for their excellent cracked-black-pepper fries. -- C.A.
807 W. Sixth, 472-0693
Monday-Saturday, 11am-10pm; Sunday, 11:30am-10pm
Some of the best classic burgers in town. With about 20 different options on the menu, it is hard to make up your mind at Hut's. I like the Ritchie Valens: guacamole, grated cheese, chopped tomatoes, onions, jalapeños, mayo, and mustard. Their super-thick pepper onion rings are almost too big to eat. All burgers are available with buffalo meat, chicken breast, or veggie burger. -- C.A.
Burger Tex II
2912 Guadalupe, 477-8433
Monday-Saturday, 11am-9pm; closed Sunday
Located on the Drag, right next to Antone's Records, is the mecca of UT-area burgerdom, BT 2. What you find here is a quality and very flavorful ground-chuck patty (6oz, $3.29; 8oz, $3.99), served on a buttered, grilled bun. It just gets better, because you then proceed to the fixin's bar, stocked with impeccably fresh lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, onions, pickle relish, jalapeños, and pico de gallo. -- Mick Vann
EZ's Brick Oven & Grill
3918 N. Lamar, 302-1800
At EZ's there's usually a line, but it moves quickly, so not to worry. Our faves are the Poblano Burger (with chile strips, cheese, grilled onions, and chipotle mayo) and the Beanburger (with cheddar, black beans, Fritos, onions, and picante). We also love the Fish Sandwich, which has a fried trout patty with fixings and pepper jack. Eat in or on the patio, EZ's is a sure bet for a burger experience that's going to please. -- M.V.
The Cafe at the Four Seasons
98 San Jacinto, 478-4500
Sunday-Thursday, 6:30am-10pm; Friday-Saturday, 6:30am-11pm
There's something fun about ordering a burger in a fancy place like the Four Seasons. We expected superior service and one of the prettiest locations in town. On top of that, we got a wonderful Bacon Cheeseburger ($13) prepared with thick, handmade patties made from the best quality meat, delicious buns, and perfectly crisp and fresh french fries. A nice touch -- you get a choice of four cheeses! Plus, it's one of the few places where you can get both good wine and a good burger. -- Wes Marshall
Driskill Bar (in the Driskill Hotel)
604 Brazos at Sixth, 391-7162
Sunday-Wednesday, 11am-midnight; Thursday-Saturday, 11am-2am
I have some cohorts who feel that Downtown's best-kept lunchtime secret is the cheeseburger served with adult beverages in the comfy chairs and sofas of the dark, quiet Driskill Bar. The smokily redolent, aptly named Cattle Baron Burger (at the cattle-baron price of $12) is charcoal grilled to your specification and served on a grilled poppy seed bun with melted smoked cheddar, sliced red onion, tomato, and leaf lettuce. It's accompanied by a mound of nicely prepared steak fries or marvelously crunchy housemade potato chips. -- MM Pack
2002 Manor Rd., 479-5000
Weighing in at a half-pound, this hand-pattied burger is the size of a small dog. The meat is lean and grilled over an open flame. For fixin's, fresh, thick slices of red onions and tomatoes form the standard, but customers can request just about anything the kitchen has on hand to top it off. The freshly baked bun is a soft and flavorful (though we were a bit disappointed that it wasn't grilled). We ordered the burger medium-rare, and it came out medium-rare. If you like the big homemade variety of burger, it's hard to beat Hoover's. -- Rachel Feit
3223 E. Seventh, 385-8898
The cheeseburgers are something for which "Chew-Michael's" on the Eastside is justly well-known -- they're large, inexpensive ($2.75), juicy, and perfectly presented on a toasted bun with mustard, dill pickle, onion, chopped lettuce, and tomato. Eat it in or pick one up on the way to the airport. -- M.M.P.
3010 Guadalupe, 478-0000
(also 13376 Hwy. 183 #400, 219-9990)
Monday-Friday, 11:30am-2pm; Monday-Thursday, 5:30-10pm; Friday-Saturday, 5:30-11pm
Ray's provides a warm, elegant, clubby interior with a roaring fireplace and a completely stocked bar and excellent wine list. The lunch menu features the awesome Ray-Sized Double Double Cheese Burger, which is a mountain of grilled gooey beefy goodness (modeled after the famous Southern California In & Out Burger). At both lunch and dinner you can get Little Ray's Mini Cheeseburgers ($7.95) which are six luscious one-inch patties open-faced on toast points with cheese, pickle, and a dab of mustard and ketchup. -- M.V.
Nau's Enfield Drug
1115 West Lynn, 476-1221
Thanks be to the few remaining neighborhood drugstore soda fountains like Nau's on Enfield. There's just nothing quite like the pleasure of a succulent burger and a thick shake while sitting on a vinyl counter stool. Choose either a small ($2.75) or large ($3.50) cheeseburger; the patty is griddled to crispy-edged perfection, served on a warm poppy seed bun, and dressed with shredded lettuce, sliced tomato, onion, pickle, and lotsa mayo. -- M.M.P.
107 W. Fifth, 275-9988
Monday-Thursday, 11am-10pm; Friday, 11am-midnight; Saturday, noon-midnight; Sunday, noon-9pm
This isn't a burger joint, and this isn't your usual burger. Noodle-ism offers a compact, two-inch-thick, Kobe-beef-style hamburger on a toasted wheat bun, served on a beautiful pottery plate with mixed greens and slices of red onion, and accompanied by miso soup and a spicy side of sautéed potatoes and onions. It's pricey at $7.25 ($7.75 with cheese), but it makes for a very satisfying splurge. -- M.M.P.
2808 Guadalupe, 477-3173
The Land That Time Forgot has been supplying burgers to the UT crowd since 1926, and from the look of things, the joint got its last face-lift when your grandfather was a freshman. Not only will you get yourself one of the finest burgers ever to come off a well-greased grill, it's one of the few places left where you can get yourself a proper ice cream soda. Not a shake, a soda. It's lighter, you know, to cut the fat. -- Barbara Chisholm
Waterloo Ice House
Sixth and Lamar, 472-5400
8600 Burnet, 458-6544
Monday-Saturday, 7am-10pm; Sunday, 8am-9pm
1106 W. 38th, 451-5245
Monday-Friday, 7am-10pm; Saturday, 8am-10pm;
Some years back, a group of Tibetan monks came to Austin as part of their goodwill peace tour of the U.S. Along with the typical mandala-making and peace-prayer activities, the monks requested a lunch stop at Waterloo. Management was alerted of the monks' impending arrival and hurried out for additional lettuce, tomatoes, and such in order to prepare numerous salads. The monks were grateful for the effort, but confessed their true desire: burgers. And stopping at Waterloo for this quintessential American treat was a good move. -- B.C.
Airport Haven Hamburgers and Spicy Tandoor
6801 Airport Blvd., 459-6859
Sunday-Thursday, 11am-9pm; Friday-Saturday, 11am-10pm
The beauty of AH is that you can get an old-school burger as well as a SW Asian burger at the same place. Old school: a grilled bun cradling a moist, flavorful patty topped with chopped lettuce, onions, sliced pickles, and tomato for $2.19 (all of the extras, sans bacon, of course, cost a little more). New school: a large rare bit of highly spiced ground beef (Dam Ka Keema, $4.79) accompanied with a cucumber-yogurt sauce, chopped relish of onion, tomato, and cilantro, and a large sheet of flatbread. -- M.V.
3303 N. Lamar, 452-2317
(also 5340 Cameron Rd., 371-3717)
As if the fine, piping-hot-off-the-grill juicy burgers with toppings that really crunch under the toasted buns weren't enough, this favorite of townies in the know delivers their goods. Which means the handmade onion rings (or equally delicious, almost fluffy fries) and burgers could be at your doorstep toot sweet. -- B.C.
5819 Burnet, 459-6279
While chain diners are throwing up aluminum siding to conjure the comfort of the homegrown modest restaurants of old, they could all learn a lesson at this Night Hawk venue, where the laudable burgers that are nurtured from hoof to bun come nestled in paper bags with logos that seem to have retained their original 1934 design. -- B.C.
Poodie's Hilltop Bar and Grill
22308 Hwy. 71 W., 264-0318
Open seven days a week from 11am until they get tired or 2am, whichever comes first
Poodie's is one of our favorite spots. Cosmic cowboys with ponytails hanging out the back of their Stetsons sit around drinking beer, telling tall tales, and listening to great music. As great as the vibe is, the burgers are even better. For $7, you can get a delicious handmade cheeseburger with crispy fries and an ice-cold beer. Anti-smokers beware -- nearly everyone at Poodie's smokes. -- W.M.
Sandy's Hamburger Hut
113 RR 620 N., 266-1524
Open Monday-Friday,7am-7pm; Saturday, 7am-3pm; Sunday, 9am-3pm
Sandy's is very popular with the locals. It's comfortable and the staff goes way out of its way to make you happy. They serve burgers in every size from one-sixth pound all the way up to huge double-meat double-cheese three-napkin affairs. I tried the small bacon cheeseburger with fries ($5), which was reminiscent of the old-time drugstore-style burgers -- thin patties, lots of veggies, and buns cooked on the griddle. -- W.M.
5201 Airport Blvd., 452-3136
2425 Exposition, 478-2652
Remembering the good old days conjures the Armadillo World Headquarters to some, but for others the good old days means ordering a No. 2 and a No. 4 and two Dr Peppers on Saturday nights at the Holiday House on Barton Springs. That location is long gone, but the Airport and Exposition destinations for charcoal-grilled meat and crinkle cut fries is still going strong. -- B.C.
The Filling Station
801 Barton Springs Rd., 477-1022
Sunday-Thursday, 11am-10pm; Friday-Saturday, 11am-11pm
Everything on the menu here has an automotive theme, so we suggest that folks with a big burger craving wheel on in for an Ethyl Burger, three-quarters of a pound of cooked-to-order ground beef, customized to please with lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, chopped or grilled onions, bacon, chili, cheese, sautéed mushrooms, hickory sauce, or jalapeños. Lesser appetites can opt for a mere six-ounce Regular Burger, and there's a full bar with your choice of libations. -- V.B.W.
1624 Barton Springs Rd., 474-9991
Sunday-Thursday, 11am-10pm; Friday-Saturday, 11am-11pm
Love their famous Hatch green-chili cheeseburger, smothered with mild green chilies and Monterey Jack cheese. Their Airstream chili cheeseburger with onions and grated cheddar is also outstanding. If you can't make up your mind between their hand-cut fries and crispy onion rings, get a basket of frings, which is half fries, half rings. -- C.A.
301 W. Riverside, 472-9304
Monday-Thursday, 11am-10pm; Friday-Saturday, 11am-10:30pm; Sunday, 10am-9:30pm
Owner Eddie Wilson knows how to pack 'em in. Decent food at fair prices mixed with a little touch of old Austin. They make their burgers from scratch with top-notch ingredients. Threadgill's french fries taste like real (i.e. not formed and frozen) potatoes, though I like them crispier. Their Hickory Burger ($7.45) is strictly for folks who love sweet barbecue sauce on their burgers. The traditionalist will head for the Big Cheese Burger ($6.95), a significant slab of meat, cooked perfectly to order on a white bun with cheddar cheese. -- W.M.
Southside Smokehouse and Grill
7811 S. First, 448-2244
Southside is the home of the "Killer Burger," which is enough to clog even a healthy person's arteries, but damn it's good. You take two Black Angus beef patties, three slices of bacon, and three slices of American cheese, then you pile on grilled onions, lettuce, tomato, pickles, mayo, and mustard and encase it all in a grilled bun for $5.50. The Southside guys will be happy to call the ambulance when the heart seizes up. -- M.V.
Bakehouse Restaurant and Bar
5404 Manchaca, 443-5167
The burgers are saddled between a split scrumptious honey-wheat bun, using a ground-chuck patty that's flame broiled. We like the Bacon-Swiss Burger that features thick-cut bacon and Swiss cheese with all of the fixings. Our only caveat is to be sure you request your meat cooked medium, as they can char the hell out of it occasionally. Bakehouse is a South Austin institution -- open late, full bar. -- M.V.
603 Barton Springs Rd., 478-6322
Although the façade is updated since the Forties and there's a drive-through now instead of a drive-in, $2.29 buys you a big juicy cheeseburger on a toasted bun, loaded with sliced tomato, shredded lettuce, pickle, mustard, and a lot of soul. Burgers still come wrapped in paper, not Styrofoam. And where else can you get a soft-serve ice-cream cone for 80 cents? -- M.M.P.
4308 Manchaca, 443-6131; daily, 6am-11pm
844 Airport Blvd., 385-2262; daily, 5am-10pm
5602 N. Lamar, 459-3239; Sunday-Thursday, 6am-10pm; Friday-Saturday, 6am-11pm
6214 Cameron, 458-6007; daily, 6am-11pm
1822 S. Congress, 444-5738; Monday-Saturday, 7am-10pm; Sundays, 10am-10pm
A family split threatened to deprive Austin of some its most-beloved burgers, but Solomonlike, the baby was split, and we are the beneficiaries with both Dan's and Fran's for burgers. At either place you'll find sizzling hot burgers off well-seasoned grills, crispy fries, and almost-too-thick-for-straws shakes. All properly served in plain white paper. -- B.C.