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9. Christian's Tailgate's "small" cheeseburger with American and grilled onions
Christian's TailgateAddress and Info
Heights (and other locations)
The first thing you see on Christian’s Tailgate’s website is a stamp proclaiming them to have been voted Best Burgers in Houston. The main image on the site, in fact, is a giant burger image. And so I was excited to check out this mini-chain of local sports bars. Unfortunately, by the time I left, I was not that excited.
I ordered the small (⅓lb) cheeseburger with American, and asked for grilled onions. When it came out, the first thing I noticed was the bun barely had any toast to it, and that most of the American cheese had slid off the patty into the bottom bun. The grilled onions were cut too thickly, and hadn’t been given time to properly caramelize, and the iceberg lettuce leaves were not shredded, so they, too, slid off with certain bites. The patty itself was medium thickness, and slightly overcooked for medium, but perfectly fine. It is certainly possible that I just happened upon an off-night for the kitchen, but either way, it sits in the bottom spot.
8. Lowbrow's Old School
LowbrowAddress and Info
I like Lowbrow. When I went, it was later in the night, around 10pm, but it was warm and the patio was crowded with people using swear words to hilarious effect. As per my rules, I got the Old School, which comes with “TX ground beef, cheddar, butter lettuce, pickles, tomato, red onion, challah.” There was a lot to like about the Lowbrow burger -- the aioli tasted like a delicious spicy Thousand Island; good acidity from the pickles; the bun, which seemed almost more pretzel than challah, was high-quality, with a good toast that stood up to the beef -- but the main issue keeping it from jumping higher was the actual thick patty.
In my opinion, if you’re going to opt for a thicker burger style, you almost need to use an aged beef in order to give it the proper funk to keep it from just tasting like a lot of meat. The Lowbrow beef was salty and tasty, but didn't do anything to stand out beyond that. I do, however, highly recommend getting the queso and dipping your fries in it.
7. Main Kitchen's BLT Burger (lunch menu only)
Main KitchenAddress and Info
By now, I’m used to taking hotel restaurants seriously, as many are teaming up with top chefs, but I still felt a little bit strange rolling into the mostly empty restaurant in a JW Marriott at 3pm to silently eat a burger while the New England Revolution soccer team passed me in the lobby. On paper, Main Kitchen’s BLT burger is my purist’s anti-burger -- for one, it has an avocado aioli and smoked gouda; for two, it also muddies the waters with bacon; and three, it has pickled green tomatoes, and I’ve made it clear how I feel about any sort of tomatoes.
And yet, I begrudgingly carried on, and have to say that it was most unexpectedly tasty. There is a hint of apple when you bite in from the bacon. The buttered and grilled brioche bun, though puffy, squishes down in an agreeable way and doesn’t get soggy. The 80/20 patty is mid-sized, but has a good peppery flavor. And -- I’ll be damned -- the pickled green tomatoes add a really refreshing vinegar cut.
6. Weights + Measures' bar-service-only cheeseburger
Weights + MeasuresAddress and Info
The bartender at W + M was grand. When I ordered the delicious gin + house tonic, we started talking about gins, and five minutes later he was letting me taste a crazy delicious, expensive German one, and this should serve as a reminder why sitting at restaurant bars is the best. Said bartender (I really can’t remember his name. Rodney? Lester? CHAD?) mentioned that the same woman makes the patties for the burger here every day, and she knows what she’s doing, because -- despite the fact that the patty was thick -- the meat was incredible, buttery, peppery, and juicy.
There were some issues though -- the puffy seeded bun, though delicious, began flaking off all over the place, and the bottom got extremely soggy, and I couldn’t detect any aioli or other condiment to augment the flavors. Pro tip though: it comes with a mess of pickled veggies and peppercorns. Put them on your burger. Oh, and see if Chad (?!?) will give you some of that German gin.
5. Lankford's Old Fashion cheeseburger
Lankford’s Grocery and MarketAddress and Info
The place is tilted. As in, the floor has a somewhat dramatic slope, and you can see people sitting at tables on said slope actively tilting their bodies to compensate. It is also legendary, for good reason. The burgers are giants, and very good. The soft sesame bun somehow still manages to hold up to the thin, yet terrifyingly substantial, patty, thanks to some savvy griddling, and the mustard/mayo combo has enough acid and fat to balance out the veggies. I also watched a man eat the patty melt, and almost broke all of my own rules, gave up, and ordered one of those for myself, too.
4. The Hay Merchant's Cease and Desist Burger
The Hay MerchantAddress and Info
One of those places you just know you’ll kind of love, Hay Merchant is a place I've been excited to try ever since we named it to our 33 Best list a few years back (Editor’s Note: my co-writer, who is based in New Orleans, recommended the burger, as I’d never tried it). And while it does have so many things going for it -- great, melty, oozey American cheese; a perfect bun for the build that never got soggy; classic pickles; and two fantastic, juicy, beefy patties -- there were a few things I’d alter: for one, the patties are slightly too thick for a true thin, classic double burger, and while the beef and the cheese blend well, it could benefit from some grilled onions and aioli to bring out more of the complex beef flavors. Either way though, it’s a solid choice.
3. Stanton's City Bites' classic cheeseburger
Stanton's City BitesAddress and Info
Stanton’s is a Houston classic. Opened in the '60s originally as a grocery store, it still has that look and feel, especially when you go to the counter and see the boxes of M&Ms and Blow Pops. My dad says he came here in the '70s and '80s when we lived in Houston, and the entire thing had a bit of a White Hut feel, so I got pretty damn excited. And for good reason, as this is a delicious burger.
The loosely formed patty has that proper crusting I always look for in a griddle burger, and the sesame bun and onions were nicely griddled as well. Most of the accoutrement I could’ve honestly done without. The leaf lettuce got in the way of the overall flavor of some bites (and you ALREADY know how I feel about tomatoes), but the pickles and mayo/mustard combination did combine for a nice acidity with the beef and cheese, and the experience of eating at a burger shack my dad enjoyed when he rocked a legit 'fro made me feel like I was a good child.
2. Hubcap Grill's cheeseburger with grilled onions
Hubcap GrillAddress and Info
Heights (and other locations)
Hubcap Grill in Houston Heights was one of the last restaurants I visited. I was tired, and cranky, and slightly over my entire burger expedition. And then I ate their burger, and things were different. The bun, which looked to me like it was too thick and possibly stale, was actually perfectly sized, super-chewy, delicious, and had the best flavor of any bun on the trip. It almost tasted like Portuguese bread, with a hint of sweetness, and didn’t get soggy at all. The grilled onions were thickly cut, but caramelized nicely; the lettuce was shredded, and the ⅓lb patty was griddled with almost a soy, umami flavor. It was absolutely fantastic.
1. Tookie’s Cheese Burger with American and grilled onions
Tookie's Hamburgers & MoreAddress and Info
Yes, I know that Tookies is actually about 30 miles outside of Houston in Seabrook, sitting down on the Gulf. But trust me, city-folk, it’s worth the drive. I sat out at the picnic tables amongst biker enthusiasts, and guys in Tommy Bahama with serious, alarming tans, under a giant live oak, and ate by far my favorite burger of the trip.
Tookie's entry featured a perfectly thin peppery patty smashed with just the right amount of crust and char, sitting on a bed of grilled onions that were buttery without being overly greasy, plus hamburger pickles, shredded lettuce, and mayonnaise. The sesame bun was relatively nondescript, but it didn’t soak through on the bottom, and I sat eating as Bruce Springsteen played over the speakers and became truly happy. This is a burger worth traveling for, friends. Go there now.
1. Christian's Tailgate Bar & Grill2820 White Oak Dr, Houston
2. Lowbrow1601 W Main St, Houston
3. Main Kitchen806 Main St, Houston
4. Weights + Measures2808 Caroline St Ste 101, Houston
5. Lankford Grocery & Market88 Dennis St, Houston
6. The Hay Merchant / Underbelly1100 Westheimer Rd, Houston
7. Stanton's City Bites1420 Edwards St, Houston
8. Hubcap Grill1133 W 19th St, Houston
9. Tookie’s Hamburgers & More1202 Bayport Blvd, Seabrook
Christian’s Tailgate is a Midtown sports bar that serves great burgers and beer. The flavor-packed patties come in three sizes: small (1/3lb), large (1/2lb), and giant (1lb), and are stacked with your choice of toppings, like green chili, crispy bacon, onion rings, and jalapeños. The menu has a whole section dedicated to shots that range in price from the $3 vodka peach Silk Panties to a $9 Jameson and Guinness combo.
Lowbrow in Montrose is a low-key eatery with an awesome, spacious patio. They serve a range of American food, from shareable plates to hearty burgers. The brunch is not to be missed, especially on a warm, sunny day when you can enjoy their craft beers and house cocktails outside.
Chef Erin Smith's restaurant at the JW Marriot Downtown offers a small plate, family-style dining experience. Local purveyors provide fresh, seasonal ingredients for a frequently changing menu that always remains globally inspired. You can expect everything from elevated seafood entrees to quirky burgers. Save room for pastry chef Sharon Gofreed's deconstructed deserts, which are as much a visual masterpiece as they are a delicious one.
Weights + Measures in Montrose is a restaurant, bakery, and bar triple threat that delivers exceptional and inventive takes on meals and drinks. The 70s-esque decor contrasts with the industrial exterior, and the huge space can accommodate bar-goers and diners all in one open space. Stop by in the morning for daily-baked breads, pastries and coffee, or swing by at night for a more relaxed meal.
This Houston institution on Dennis St has been in business since 1939, selling groceries to locals alongside old-fashioned tuna melts and huge burgers. Everything is made to order, so the service takes time, and you simply pay at the counter when you're finished eating. The space itself is kitschy and quaint with shaded picnic tables outside for some greasy al fresco dining.
A joint venture, The Hay Merchant and Underbelly operate separately but are attached via a butchering room that’s fit to hold a whole hog, a cow, and other large, meat-bearing animals. Hay Merchant, a craft beer bar, boasts 75 draft beers that range in style from cask-conditioned American porters to sour and funky wild ales. Underbelly, the more upscale of the two, is a restaurant and wine bar serving up juicy burgers and meats, like roasted pig’s head and smoked brisket. No matter how adventurous your palate, consider pairing your dish with one of the aged barleywines on tap.
Serving Houstonians since 1961, Stanton's has an array of sandwiches, snacks, and sides that will, more often than not, stick to your sides. The former grocery store is especially known for its half-pound burgers topped with artery-clogging accouterments like deep-fried bacon, twice-fried onion rings, and house-fried pickles. The interior has a retro, almost cafeteria-like feel with plenty of tables and a counter for ordering.
Hubcap Grill, which has a couple of locations across Texas, is known for its burgers and sandwiches. When faced with one of its incredibly juicy, crispy seared patties, the logical next step is to get another. The counter-serve also pours craft beer, which you order at the window before taking your food out to the massive, colorful patio. The space features games like ping pong and horseshoes so you can burn off all that grease to the tune of the outdoor jukebox.
This green-and-gold institution had to shutter in 2008 after serious flood damage from Hurricane Ike, but it reemerged stronger than ever with more elbow room and a renovated kitchen to keep up with the burger-craving hordes in 2011. The vintage decor harks back to the restaurant's 1970s inception and fits with the menu of classic American food. The move here is to order the double cheeseburger, a side of Mama Ethel's oversize onion rings, and a Heath Bar milkshake.