Burgers. No country on the planet does them quite like America, and, even less surprisingly, no state does them quite like Texas. The number of legitimately classic, hole-in-the-wall joints dotting the state is mind-boggling, but then again, so is the number of newer spots turning out their own singular takes on burger perfection. Here, in no particular order, are the 19 finest examples you'll find in the Lone Star State. Did we miss your favorite? Extoll its virtues in the comments.
San Antonio What you’re getting: The Tostada Bean Burger Although San Antonio's patron burger saint passed away in 2012 at the tender age of 61, Chris Madrid's legacy still lives on through the long lines at his eponymous burger joint. On a Saturday at lunch you're looking at a 20-minute line, which seems a bit silly until you receive your monstrous "macho"-sized Tostada Bean Burger. A normal bun cannot contain the multitudes of this monster, which is loaded with a mountain of melted cheddar and a hidden layer of Mexican fillings that gives it an only-in-Texas style of savory flavor. Pro move: top it with pico and fold the patty in half to fit it into the bun.
Fort Worth What you’re getting: The Telluride Rodeo Goat may have just spawned a Dallas location, but make no mistake, this burger-slinging icehouse made its name in Fort Worth with a dizzying output of burgers that are every bit as delicious as they are inventive. The Telluride packs intense flavor with green chili chutney, roasted poblano goat cheese, and Hatch chiles (during the season) -- but this is the kind of place where you go with whatever speaks to you. Could be the Terlingua (havarti, brisket chili, corn chips, garlic-herb mayo). Could be the Sugar Burger, rocking jalapeño jam, grilled peaches, caramelized onions, and candied bacon. Better make a few trips just to be safe.
Austin What you’re getting: A double with cheese This Austin-based mini-chain of a burger stand is as refreshingly free of pretense as they are serious about the quality of their beef (all-natural hormone- and antibiotic-free Angus). Get yourself a double with cheese (or really, get it however you like it), bite into that Mrs. Baird’s bun (custom-made and delivered throughout the week), and know that you’ll be hard pressed to find a better burger-for-your-buck experience.
Dallas What you’re getting: Classic cheeseburger This much-celebrated burger creation continues to live up to its billing. All the components sing beautifully together (seriously, you might hear choir music), from the juicy, flavor-rich patty topped with Vermont white cheddar to the house-made pepper-bacon, to the Nathan’s half-sour pickles. A smear of Dijonnaise and a pain au lait bun brings everything together so perfectly that it continues to be sought out despite its limited availability (Sundays and Mondays only).
Seabrook What you’re getting: Bean Burger This long-running, green-and-gold trimmed institution had to shutter in 2008 after serious flood damage from Hurricane Ike, but reemerged stronger than ever, with more elbow room and a fancy new kitchen to keep up with the burger-craving hordes. Crowd favorites include the Bean Burger (refried beans, crushed Fritos, picante sauce, cheddar), and the Squealer (a beef-and-bacon blend), but no matter which way you go, make sure to throw an order of onion rings on the side.
Austin What you’re getting: The Bowling Alley Burger Truth be told, Swift’s burger creation is probably a cut above anything you’ve consumed while bowling, but it still retains the soul-satisfying heft of something straight from a greasy spoon, even with a relatively small stature. Melted Fontina and griddled onions top a patty of "Never Ever" Angus, perched on a homemade sesame seed bun, dressed with "fancy ass" special sauce. Rest assured, it’s a better experience than a certain higher-profile burger touting special sauce and a sesame seed bun.
Fort Worth What you’re getting: A half-pound cheeseburger Started back in the ‘40s as a grocer in a meat market that eventually made the (brilliant, it turns out), decision to start making burgers with that meat it was grinding up, Kincaid’s has grown into an institution on the strength of its classic, no-frills, impossibly beefy burgers. Get a half-pounder appointed simply with LTO, mustard, and pickles, and if you can hold off on ordering a second, you might have room for a little fried okra, some deviled eggs, or some of their crazy-good banana pudding.
Houston What you’re getting: The Grim Burger You could be forgiven for wanting to go old-school at Lankford, which started as a mom-and-pop grocer in the ‘30s before getting into the burger game in the ‘70s (it was a really liberated time, okay?). And truth be told, if you snagged just a simple half-pound burger on their toasted sesame bun and called it a day, you’d be pretty damn happy. But Lankford’s survived by evolving, and evolution means options like their Grim Burger, supplemented with creamy mac & cheese, a fried egg, jalapeño slices, and bacon. That roll of paper towels is going to be put to good use. Pro tip: bring cash.
Dallas What you’re getting: Definitely a burger, maybe with a fried egg Maple & Motor has made serious meat-waves in DFW since opening in 2009 in a long-vacant ‘50s-era service station. The setting’s appropriate, because there’s something decidedly timeless about the burger, and if you get it classically dressed with your choice of cheese (American, cheddar, pepper jack), you’re likely to be thoroughly satisfied when you bite into that grill-kissed bun. You're likely to be even MORE satisfied if you add on some bacon and a fried egg.
Fredericksburg What you’re getting: Cheeseburger with green chiles on a jalapeño-cheese bun Just about any configuration of this out-of-the-way roadhouse’s hand-formed patties is likely to bring you to your burger happy place, but you will find yourself in the happiest place if you go for a beyond-generous helping of green chiles and upgrade your bun to a jalapeño-cheese bun.
Houston What you’re getting: The Hubcap Decker When you’re faced with an incredibly juicy, hand-formed burger patty finished off with an addictively crisp sear, the only logical next step is to get two of them. Oh, and double the cheese, because, cheese! Holding this beast together will be a fresh, custom-baked bun specifically engineered to maintain its integrity despite all the goodness that’s about to start dripping into it. If you want to put the bun through an even tougher test, there’s a Frito Pie burger waiting for you.
Austin What you’re getting: The Counter Burger The Austin greasy spoon doesn’t do anything revolutionary with its celebrated burger, it just knocks every component out of the park -- particularly the just-right-sized grass-fed beef patty and the ridiculously fluffy Sweetish Hill Bakery bun with the perfect hint of sweetness. Add lettuce, tomato, and cheese, and you have happiness.
Kerrville What you’re getting: Bacon Cheeseburger The name "Classics" hits the mark, as the vibe and the flavor are befitting a much older joint (Classics debuted in 2002). They’ll cook your 6oz, fresh-ground patty to-order and slide it into a butter-toasted bun with a fairly standard toppings array (jalapeños and chili are about as crazy as it gets), but a couple of slices of perfectly crisped bacon round things out just fine.
Tomball What you’re getting: The Famous Mel Burger, or (maybe!), The Mega Mel Challenge Started in the '70s as a fried chicken joint, the Weirich family transitioned to a more burger-centric operation in the mid-'80s, and the decision proved apt -- their meat masterpieces with a penchant for excess remain objects of obsession today. The signature "Famous Mel Burger" is nothing to take lightly, with its pound of beef, half-pound of bacon, and three slices of American cheese. But if you have a big appetite/serious disregard for your health, upgrade to the "Mega Mel Challenge" (1.5lbs beef, a pound of bacon, and a quarter-pound of cheese), and earn name-on-the-wall recognition if you finish it without fainting/illness. The record is 20 minutes.
San Antonio What you’re getting: The Blue Ribbon Burger Cured is new-school San Antonio at its best, and you can't go wrong with its burger. The same care that goes into its house charcuterie is applied to the burger, which blends local chuck, short rib, and bacon into a tight little patty. The meat delivers great flavor, but the secret weapons are the onion jam and the "American cheese," which is a blend of aged cheddar and smokey Gouda mixed with PBR and melted together to emulate a Kraft Single. Don't be afraid to make it a double.
Amarillo What you’re getting: The Burger From Hell If heat’s not your thing, there are plenty of other juicy half-pound beef creations at this Amarillo institution. However, if you can handle a little spice (well, more than a little), their "Burger From Hell" brings a borderline insane amount of fresh jalapeños and a double dose of hot sauce (one Tabasco, one habanero). The generous helping of melted cheddar & mozz mitigates the heat slightly, and fortunately, the end product is as richly flavorful as it is tear-inducingly hot.
Houston What you’re getting: The Cease & Desist Burger The story goes like this: Houston temple-of-tastiness, Underbelly was serving up a burger dubbed the "UB Double Double," and ran afoul, legally speaking, of a certain Cali-based burger chain featured in The Big Lebowski, earning a cease and desist letter for their efforts. Thus a new name was born, since gone from the Underbelly menu, but still reliably available at sibling craft-beer-haven, The Hay Merchant. Their version destroys anything California could possibly produce anyway.
Austin What you’re getting: Royale with cheese The French-accented, Austin late-night go-to may take its burger-naming cues from Pulp Fiction, but this is anything but a reproduction of the quarter-pounder with cheese from a certain golden-arched burger purveyor, with a substantial ciabatta roll providing the base to hold together the hand-ground Angus, house-made mayonnaise, melty Gruyère, butter lettuce, and tomato.
Coppell What you’re getting: The 8oz handcrafted Angus burger Coppell isn't exactly a hotbed of culinary artistry, but this burger may just begin to change that. And even if it doesn't, there will still be the burgers. ZenZero got its start as a coffee shop and bakery, so it's no shock that the crazy-buttery, scratch-made bun stands out -- but not so much that it overwhelms the well-seasoned half-pound of Angus, or whatever toppings-schematic you want to throw at it (there are ample choices). A solid move: bacon, guac, jalapeños, cheddar, sautéed onions, and tomato.
Sign up here for our daily Dallas, Austin, and Houston emails and be the first to get all the food/drink/fun they have to offer.