Combine a bun and patty and you have a burger, one of the most elegant creations in all of world cuisine. Almost every place offers one, and almost none of which can be described as "bad." But appreciative nods aren’t enough for these eight Austin spots, which take the simplest of foods from good to eyes-rolling amazing.
Each spot, which range from restaurant to food truck, takes a different approach. Some stick to the basics, while others believe that too much is never enough, but each has unwavering faith they are serving the best of the best. Who are we to argue?
Arlo’s — Bac’n Cheezeburger
Thanks to Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat, plant-based patties are currently the hottest thing on a bun. Lost in all the faux beef buzz is the fact that delicious veggie burgers can be created in the kitchen as readily as a lab. Although Arlo’s mix of lentils and millet approximates the juiciness and heft of its meaty cousins, it’s not trying to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes. Instead, it relishes in the essential nature of the ingredients: the earthiness of the legumes, the bite of mustard, and the bracing sourness of the dill pickles.
Casino el Camino — Buffalo Burger
One might disagree with Guy Fieri on his sartorial choices and his seemingly dependence on bleach, but the towheaded mayor of Flavortown was correct to call the Buffalo “the best burger in town.” There are no tricks; it’s just a monster patty slathered with house hot wing sauce and liquid blue cheese, but it’s unquestionably the real deal. Hey, a broken clock is right twice a day.
Counter Cafe — Counter Chicken Burger
While the Counter Burger with sharp cheddar probably has more fans, it’s not particularly challenging to make a great-tasting burger with quality grass-fed beef. What’s much more difficult is to make a chicken patty that doesn’t taste like a dusty puck. This beloved diner’s version skips the expected sprouts and instead seasons the meat with curry while mixing in caramelized roasted veggies for depth. It’s a near-impossible feat, but somehow Counter has made this very healthy dish — one served on a wheat bun, at that — taste like an indulgence.
Delray Cafe — Double Slider With Cheese
Let’s face it, this steamed bun slider could have been dreck, another example of cool kids co-opting blue collar culture for irony. What sets this food truck apart is sincerity. Delray’s sliders aren’t an attempt to elevate the form with artisan cheeses and fancy cuts of beef, they are made just the way a Detroit burger stand would do it — greasy, gooey, downright sloppy, and without a trace of irony. It goes down smoothest with an icey lager. Make it a Montucky Cold Snack if you must.
Hopfield’s — Pascal Burger
The French have made more than their fair share of contributions to the world, from fashion to cinema to kissing. All those things pale to their perfection of the burger arts. This campus gastropub extends that joie de vivre to Austin with the Pascal. A husky patty is loaded with enough camembert, caramelized onions, and cornichons to test the brioche buns' structural integrity, but nothing is there just for show. Least of all is the addition of the whole grain mustard, a bit of embroidery that begs to be matched with a funky saison.
Pool Burger — Blue Hawaiian
As America struggles with the deep divisions caused by the pineapple on pizza debate, this West Austin joint has had the temerity to put the much-maligned fruit on a burger. The key to its success is a system of checks and balances. Sharp blue cheese keeps Thousand Island from being too cloying, while crisp bacon gives the griddled pineapple much-needed crunch. Sure, that’s a lot of strong flavors to squeeze on a bun, but Pool Burger keeps the proceedings remarkably civil.
Salt & Time — Butcher’s Burger
Perhaps no Austin restaurant is under more pressure to build a great burger than this east side favorite, which has the benefit of having a butcher shop on the premises. Luxuriantly marbled steak trimmings give Salt & Time’s version uncommon oomph, so the kitchen keeps everything else simple. All it needs is a few scattered pickles, a slick of mayo, and maybe a double order of the beef fat french fries.
Second Bar + Kitchen — Congress Burger
If Parks & Recreation’s Tom Haverford were to create a burger, it might look something like this downtown eatery’s signature dish. A ground brisket and chuck patty is embellished with an embarrassment of riches, from Gruyere cheese to shallot confit. Unlike some spots, however, Congress uses the fancy flourishes in service of taste. It might seem absurd to add a slab of foie gras to a burger, but life gives scant few opportunities to really treat yo’ self.