A look at Houston’s most creative burgers.
By Joanna O’Leary
Though best known for Tex-Mex, barbeque, and (more recently) damn-good Vietnamese food, Houston could be a contender for Burger Capital of Texas for its overwhelming diversity.
We have everything from cheapie-but-goodie old-school burgers (that should be consumed belly-up to the bar with a beer, or even in your car) to expense-account-worthy patties laden with haute accoutrements—and plenty that falls somewhere in between. Here are our picks for unique burgers that stand out from other garden-variety options.
Frequently honored for serving Houston’s “best” burgers, Hubcap Grill makes a mean standard burger (lettuce, tomato, cheese) and is also home to a don’t-knock-it-until-you-try-it creation known as the “Stinky Monkey.” With grilled bananas, a thick schmear of crunchy peanut butter, crisp bacon, and American cheese layered atop a beef patty, the Stinky Monkey boasts a unique confluence of sweet and salty flavors, as well as smooth and crunchy textures.
So popular were the burgers at Bernie’s Burger Bus that its owners gave up the bus in favor of selling their wares (all with cute academic-themed monikers) in two brick-and-mortar locations. If you’re crazy for capsaicin relish, try the “Fire Drill” burger dressed with pepper-jack cheese, spicy guacamole, piquant salsa verde, chipotle aioli, tortilla chips, and slow-roasted garlic tomatoes. A dusting of shredded lettuce only slightly cuts the spice, so pair with a milkshake for some reprieve from the heat.
Though better known for their massive deli sandwiches, matzo-ball soup, and chopped liver, Kenny & Ziggy’s also lays claim to having spawned the “Zigalicious.” In this beautiful love-child of a New York deli and a burger joint, a fluffy challah bun just barely contains a massive mound of medium-rare beef paired with an equally large pile of pastrami, all of which is crowned with melted Swiss cheese, Russian dressing, and coleslaw. It goes without saying you will need two hands (and maybe even two stomachs) to successfully tackle the “Zigalicious.”
Should you find yourself, ahem, a bit worse for the wear after an evening of revelry, head to Down House for their eye-opening and tongue-tingling Kimchi burger stacked with cabot cheddar, a sunny-side-up egg, herbal mayonnaise, bulgogi sauce, and—natch—house-made kimchi. The Kimchi burger tastes even better, by the way, when you don’t have a hangover, so cheers to moderation—except when it comes to this burger, so go ahead and request that duck egg for an extra $2.
By vending a number of different “burger blends,” Killen’s Burgers in Pearland lets you have it your way (and right away) with regards to the patty proper. For a few extra dollars, indulge in the “Pork Belly Chuck” (an unctuous amalgam of pork belly, Nueske bacon, dry-aged brisket, and chuck) or the rich “Akaushi” with Texas-raised Wagyu beef.
At some point, Mary’s little lamb apparently followed her to Petrol Station and met its untimely end, for this Houston institution (well known for its brews and burgers) offers “Mary’s Lamb,” a delicious half-and-half blend of gamey ground lamb and angus beef bedecked with feta cheese, cucumber, lettuce, chopped red onion, and a tangy yogurt dressing.
Finally, if you really want to fly your freak flag when it comes to burgers, brave the Galleria traffic and go to the underappreciated Burger Palace. The strong tropical and botanical notes of their whimsical “Down Under” burger, with grilled pineapple, Swiss cheese, and roasted beets, contrast wonderfully with the buttery bovine flesh and fried-egg garnish, while the “Margherita” marries pizza and burger via a combination of Kobe beef with a backdrop of buffalo mozzarella, pesto, and marinara sauce.
This article appears in the July 2017 edition of OutSmart Magazine.