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Mar 9, 2008 01:15 PM

Burgers, Burgers, Burgers, and a side of fries

I have food obsessions and although I may try to control these urges, the food usually wins. My first food addiction is Mexican food in its many forms. I could easily eat mexican food six out of seven days in a week. The day that I did not eat Mexican food, I would certainly crave a burger.

Of large chains, the only burger that qualifies is In-N-Out. Someone on this board recently equated P. Terry's as similar to In-N-Out. It is not even in the ballpark. Parts of the concept are similar, P. Terry's execution does not meet the reality of In-N-Out, but it made me think about what a burger should be.

Let me state my preferences. If the burger has a thin patty, then it doesn't bother me if they do not cook it Medium Rare (it is almost impossible anyway). If the patty is thick, it is almost a crime to not offer different temperatures. Larger patties past 8oz can be obscene. The bun must not disintergrate after two bites. Ideally an array of toppings is available (you never know what might interest you in any given day). If blue cheese crumbles, not dressing can be added that is always a bonus. Now on to the fries.....

The fries should be crisp or can be specially ordered crispy. The fries MUST be seasoned immediately after coming out of the fryer; by the time I get the fries, it is too late to add most seasonings (they simply fall off). An example of a fry that is crying out for seasoning specifically salt are the fries from Hyde Park Grill (which IMO are the most overrated in the city). I do have a certain bias for sweet potatoe fries, but will not hold it against a restaurant for not having them.

Here is the list of restaurants where I have eaten a burger.

DIRTY MARTINS a nice greasy diner burger with OK fries and you will not break the bank (a draw for college students certainly).

HUT'S would seem to be ideal, but lacks for sometimes unknown reasons. I have been twice and my burger has not been prepared temperature wise or ingredient wise. Fries were average at best both times. I HATE the onion rings, but that is not part of this post.

TOP NOTCH love the flavor of the charcoal. Fries (bleh). Best chocolate shake in the city so far.....

CASINO EL CASINO The buffalo burger was in the running, but fell short. The patty was not cooked even close to MR but was closer to well done. Patty may be too large. Seems to be running on reputation earned years ago, but I have only been here once and will return.

HILLBERTS decent in a pinch, but do not go out of your way for it. BTW their "Dallas Wings" are the smalles wings I have ever seen. These wings may be taken from cornish game hens, I mean tiny.

WATERLOO ICE HOUSE are you kidding me? not seasoned and the meat did not taste like beef should. Sides were fairly miserable. On a side note, their spicy BBQ wings for 25 cents each during happy hour might work for you if forced to go there.

BURGER HOUSE not really a chain just with 2 or 3 other locations in Dallas. Burgers are certainly acceptable, but would not drive that far for them. IMO the reason to go here are the fries sprinkled with the crack cocaine they call seasoning salt.

P TERRY'S I appreciate what he is trying to do with natural beef and fries that were potatoes earlier in the day, but just doesn't cut it. Patty was not seasoned. Turning potatoes into french fries is not easy and requires them to be fried twice-->something is wrong with the process. The only thing that is similar to In-N-Out is the nearly one inch of lettuce on the burger

BURGER TEX was OK, but the reasons I did not care for it that much are lost to me. Can't remember why. sorry

PLAYER'S I was visiting Austin in 1998 (?) with a UT grad and she insisted on going here. I can't remember the specifics, but I do remember that I found it to be disgusting. The urge to return has not happened.

and now for the truly great.

PHIL'S ICE HOUSE yes there will be dozens of children running and screaming, but great sweet potato fries. The violet crown was amazing with its blue cheese, sauteed onions, and jalapeno bun (it fits perfectly). I added bacon and the bacon was perfectly crispy. I have had this burger three times and will have it more in the future. My wife has had the mini burger trio each and every time she has gone there. I can deal with the kids if it means I have a burger this good and can have ice cream afterwards.

BILLY'S ON BURNET. Beyond the burger, I love the feel of this place. 60% bar, 40% restaurant. I had the Basic American Burger and was very pleased. Fries were cooked perfectly and seasoned appropriately. The only con was the burger was a little overcooked, but it was 3:30 on a Monday so I gave them a pass.

HILL'S CAFE on south Congress. Both times I have been here the burger has been cooked a PERFECT medium rare. I really do mean perfect. it is really a textbook photo of what medium rare should look like. They were very willing to add whatever toppings I wanted--blue cheese, fried onion. lettuce, jalapeno, and bacon that was perfectly crispy.
A must is the sweet potato fries which are delightfully crisp and hot, BUT they serve this really awful sweet dipping sauce with them. Order the garlic mayo to dip your sweet potato fires in and you will not be disappointed.

Well I know that there are other burger places to be tried (and gone to again), but I have spent almost 30 minutes typing this post and you can guess what I am now craving.

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  1. Your topic has me interested... I have strong opinions on this matter. I have lived in Austin for 10 years, so I have some experience.

    I'm not gonna go down your list and critique, but I have some thoughts.

    Phil's Ice House is fantastic - the 78704 burger may be the best thing this town has to offer. I wish the burger patty was a bit better, but everything around the meat is amazing.

    Hut's has a special place in my heart because they offer Buffalo Meat... very tasty, always med-rare, and better for you, taboot. Also, I always order my fries well-done there and they do it right when asked.

    Top Notch is a favorite, but not for the burgers. They simply have THE BEST fried chicken in this town. If you are eating burgers there, you are missing out.

    Casino is the best food on 6th st. They rank highly in my burger list, but not the best. But when you are out downtown, man that burger is so worth the wait!

    If you like a good thin-patty burger, you gotta try the Frisco Burger at the Frisco Shop on Burnett (just a block North of Phil's). Go soon, too. They are about to move to make way for a Walgreen's and there ain't no telling how well thing will survive the move.

    You like Tex-Mex so I am sure you know Maudie's. Not my favorite Tex-Mex, but they make a mean burger! It is big and cooked just right with a surprisingly good Kaiser Bun. Ask for grilled onions and a side of guac to make it really good. Also, they offer grilled papas (potatoes) in place of fries. Delicious for sopping up the cheesy-grilled-onion-guac that falls out of the burger while you eat. You will need extra napkins for this one.

    Nau's Enfield Drugstore - not the best burger in town and they do not offer fries (only chips) but the shakes and malts are great. The coke is old-school soda fountain coke. And the atmosphere cannot be beat.

    Hillbert's ranks right there with Dan's and Fran's burgers, in my book. I like them, but then I like Whataburger, too.

    One last thing... I can't leave out Ski Shores... the Border Burger out there is spectacular.

    Man, I am hungry!!! We're headed to Green Mesquite for BBQ in a few minutes. I may pass on the BBQ and get the chili-cheeseburger instead. It is quite good!

    8 Replies
    1. re: hiwaybill

      I do not like the buns at Phil's at all, they are way too sweet for my taste. Also, maybe I've been unlucky, but the burgers there never seem to have much flavor, even when topped.

      1. re: LeroyT

        I forgot to add, that the bun at Hill's was greasy. That doesn't bother me, but I know that for is a turn off

        1. re: LeroyT

          phil's is the worst burger in town. been there 4 times because it is close. each time hoping that i'll have an experience like some of this board who rave about it. It is truly aweful. if i wanted charcoal on a bun I could go anywhere. and sweet potatoe fries? give me a break. if it wasn't for amy's ice cream this abomination of a burger wouldn't exist. much better off going to top notch and getting a burger and a shake there. or get a burger at blue star. or houston's.

          1. re: ieathereforeiam

            I have to agree bout Phil's, it was one of the worst burgers I've ever had. Way overcooked, dry, tasteless, prepattied garbage and the fries were some of the worst I've ever had. Limp, soggy greasy. In fact, Phil's was the one of the meals where we left it barely eaten and went somewhere else and had a decent dinner. On top of that I found the service to be barely competent, they really could care less.

            1. re: whoalilponie

              I'm going to third that. Went once and got the assorted mini burgers and did not like them one bit.

              1. re: amysuehere

                I agree... I'm a sucker for miniburgers and I thought Phil's were bleh. I'm also a huge burger fan, but I haven't found one in this city yet I really love.
                I like thin burgers because I prefer balanced burgers. I often find burgers either are too thick (which can either make the bun mushy from the juice or its like eating a meatloaf with your hands) or loaded down with so much stuff it squirts out and you wind up having to eat most of the burger off the plate with a fork.

                I like the burger at Galaxy Cafe because it has a nice charcoal flavor and is a good thin burger.

                1. re: shan

                  I'm glad to hear that! they are opening a Galaxy Cafe nearby in the Triangle.

                  I sure hate to bash locally owned restaurants, but I felt pretty strongly about Phil's. It isn't THAT hard to make a burger at least unmemorable.

                  1. re: ieathereforeiam

                    Wow - I've been to Phil's several times, mainly because I live around the corner and sometimes the waftimes smoke from burger cooking entices me. While I would never tell anyone to go rushing own there to eat, I'd also never use the adjectives "worst, tasteless, garbage, glop." That sounds more like Hut's!

                    Anyhow, maybe I just went on the right days. I actually enjoyed their veggie patty, and I find myself picking through the fries for the sweet potato(e) ones. Their burgers are okay, they have a slight char to them, but are cooked to well done. I like the homemade buns. The condiments are also just okay, and they have consistently ignored my requests for exttra tomato - so much that I suspect that it is a policy decision.

                    Don't get the foot long hot dog, as it is loaded with preservatives and you can taste that in every bite. Too bad, I wanted to like it.

      2. This is the only reason i will visit a chain, for the burger. I heard Red Robin has a great burger, I never had the Cheddars burger but they looked great, when i was younger Fridays had a great burger haven't tried em in over twenty years.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Sofa King

          On Red Robin... I was recently duped into eating at this joint and did NOT have a good experience. For starters, all burgers start at $9, which to me, seems absolutely ridiculous. When I can get my favorite burger in town (Casino) for just over $6, paying $9 or $10 for one not even half as good just feels wrong. The burger itself was nothing special and completely forgettable. I much prefer a Chili's burger to be honest. However, the onion rings were quite good, but that's not near enough to get me coming back.

          1. re: dwohlfahrt

            Hi dwholfahrt (any relation to the business in Rothenburg ob der Tauber?) ,

            Agree that if you are near a Chili's no better non-chain alternatives, Chili's burger is likely your best option. The Austin Chili's has better burgers than the new Red Robin, than the new Willy O's, etc.

        2. Red Robin will only cook them to medium or more, so I got the 5 alarm to try an introduce some kind of flavor. DH and our friends like this place, but I can do without it, but I suffer through.

          I am not afraid to admit-I like Whataburger (I think it might be more nostalgic). I will also admit to liking Fuddrucker's, but the one by me always get the medium rare right. At that one, ordering medium rare means they make it fresh, because their default burgers under the lamp are medium-yuck (got one on accident once-sent it back). I used to eat at the original in SA in my college days, so again, nostalgia. I have eaten at some that were horrible (mostly out of the state).

          I like Top Notch (although, I get the Fried Chicken a lot of times). Huts is okay, but I wasn't that impressed. I have only been once, and it's not really worth the drive for me. Riata Bar and Grill has an okay burger, I do like the whole wheat bun. They are so close to my work that I keep them on my list. You can see that I don't get out much.

          My favorite fries are in Port Aransas at a place called Little Joe's. I haven't found fries that I like in Austin, but I haven't done that much investigating. Oh yeah-I do love the seasoning at Burger House. I actually bought a bottle of it to season my fries at home.

          1 Reply
          1. re: angthefoodie

            Hubbers and I go for the 2 for 1's at Boulevard Grill on a regular basis (but I get the chicken, so I can't vouch for the burger). However, I am completely addicted to the Pineapple version.

          2. I'm not sure that we share the same definition of "truly great" burgers, Chefdavis. For instance, I like the burgers at Burger Tex on Airport, while you do not. However, I really enjoy the Hatch-chile cheeseburger at Poodie's Hilltop Cafe. You can search this board for more details. The jalapeño cheeseburger at Artz can also be good—but they don't serve fries and all their sides are bad. Scrumptiouschef has suggested in the past that there's an amazing burger available only on Saturdays at the Four Seasons, but I have yet to enjoy this elusive delight myself.

            In addition, you might want to check out some of the suggestions in these two older threads:

            Great Burger

            Looking for good grilled burger in Austin

            4 Replies
            1. re: MPH

              Is the Hatch chile cheeseburger at Poodie's worth a drive all the way to Spicewood from North Austin?

              1. re: amysuehere

                It's quite a drive for me, too, but I really like their burger. Nothing else on the menu (that I tried) was very memorable, as I recall, though the fried appetizers and onion rings were well executed. Here's a link to my old report:


                1. re: MPH

                  The Poodie burger is one of my favorites and it's worth it to get that out of the city feeling.

                  1. re: crippstom

                    Statesman has a review of burgers in town. A few I'd not heard about.

            2. I do love Dirty's burgers. I will admit that I'm more of a thin-burger person - I get the O.T. special which is a bacon cheeseburger with lettuce/tomato/mayo - the bacon is always crispy and the burger is really well proportioned - I really hate burgers that have have a huge ball sized brick of meat and not much else. but that's just me.

              Would suggest the tater tots with melted american cheese.