Pool Burger/Instagram

Frankly, you don't need us to tell you what your favorite burger is. A favorite burger comes from within, but there's always room to broaden your horizons — at least as far as burgers are concerned. You could say that all great burgers have the same ingredients, or you could lean into the gluttonous layering of as many new ideas as possible between two buns. But when you ask the pros, where will they say your expansive journey should start?

Our judges — some editorial staff and some Tastemaker winners from last year — compiled a list of the eight best burgers in Austin in 2023. These chefs, especially, can appreciate the magic of an impeccably made burger. If you think about it, burgers are a public service.

Look for your favorite sandwich among the nominees for Best Burger below, try the ones that might unseat it in your rankings, and then join us on May 11 at Fair Market for our annual Tastemaker Awards tasting event and awards ceremony. Sample, savor, and chow down on a variety of sliders during the event before voting for your favorite during the Burger Throwdown, presented by Goodstock by Nolan Ryan. Early Bird tickets are on sale now.

Bad Larry Burger Club
If Bad Larry Burger Club sounds like a blustery group of all-in enthusiasts, then the name is doing its job. This burger is not a cute stack of carefully sliced toppings. It’s a pile of smashed beef layered with gooey cheese and threats to spill out on your shirt, which if you shop with Bad Larry, is possibly derogatory toward a Texas politician or controversial figure around town. It’s also not a restaurant, according to the bad man himself, who slings burgers as a pop-up.

Better Half Coffee & Cocktails
Better Half straddles one of those fine lines between good date night spot, group gathering place, and casual coffee shop for a solo outing. Balancing so many expectations at once, it’s no wonder the place is also a great burger joint with not one, but three different options. And there really is something for everyone, between the classic ground beef cheeseburger, veggie burger (with Beyond Meat patty), and juicy chicken burger. All three are $6 during happy hour, and don’t forget to pair with those cauliflower tots.

Casino El Camino
This bar and grill, the gate to Dirty 6th, is a divey staple for festival crowds and locals who miss Austin’s receding weirder side. It advertises its “world famous hamburgers” on its iconic sign, and the burgers do deliver. Served on a grilled bun, these thick three-quarter-pound patties come pink in the middle for maximum juiciness. The atmosphere, with a pool table, campy gothic decor, and great tunes, makes it fun to stay even if a burger isn’t in your cards that day.

Crown & Anchor Pub
There are staples and then there’s the Crown & Anchor Pub. The campus-area establishment is going on four decades as a favorite haunt for UT Austin students, returning alumni, and Hyde Park residents. While the pub leans into the dive bar aesthetic with dart boards, pool tables, and a dog-friendly patio, the menu is anything but limited. With six different offerings, plus a build-your-own option, you might be better off betting on enjoying your meal than your dart board skills.

Dai Due
Best to clear your afternoon before diving into the Dai Due burger, which is sure to induce a nice REM cycle with its double patty, ground with Dai Due bacon. Multiple James Beard Award winner chef Jesse Griffiths remains a pioneer in the farm-to-table movement, sourcing ingredients from Texas and primarily in the Austin region — and the burger is no exception. A sesame cemita bun sandwiches Stryk cheddar cheese, house-made dill pickles and onions, and the whole heavenly ensemble comes with a side of french fries and unbelievable beet ketchup.

JewBoy Burgers
One of Austin’s best-known Jewish destinations (ask your favorite gentile to name one), this burger bar on Airport Boulevard gets creative without over-dressing a damn good burger. Although the classic combo is perfectly seasoned, there are more ideas. “The Yenta” and “The Goyim” pair patties with a latke and all the ingredients of a perfect pastrami sandwich, respectively. There’s always a line out the door, and rightfully so — can we get a l’chaim to that?

LeRoy And Lewis Barbecue
The fact that anyone would choose a burger at a barbecue joint is testament enough to LeRoy and Lewis. These cult-favorite sandwiches are so famous that the team has shared its official technique in great detail. They shape freshly ground beef into half-pound patties, season with salt and pepper, smoke at around 250 degrees, and then sear on the live fire. Texas Monthly calls this burger, finished with cheese and onions fried on the burger remnants, “hard to top.”

Pool Burger
Half the fun of Pool Burger is, in fact, the pool — by which we mean the one and only Deep Eddy. Austinites love to debate the merits of Barton Springs vs. Deep Eddy, but Pool Burger’s proximity to the latter makes for a pretty strong case. There are few better respites from Austin heat than a post-swim recharge with one of their wagyu burgers from Peeler Farms. The classic Pool Burger is a staple for a reason, but don’t skip the Blue Hawaiian: That griddled pineapple, bacon, and crumbled blue cheese combo with thousand island dressing is something we think about year round.

Pool Burger burgers

Pool Burger is named for an unbeatable combo — how could it not make the list?

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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

8 immersive art exhibits to get lost in this October in Austin

state of the arts

From immersive worlds to thought-provoking themes, a series of captivating art shows invite you to embark on eye-opening journeys this October in Austin.

At Wonderspaces, step into fantastical worlds during a month-long showcase. Get immersed in stories like “Gloomy Eyes,” a poignant VR experience narrated by Academy Award winner Colin Farrell.

Meanwhile, renowned abstract artists Larry Akers and Janet Brooks draw inspiration from color theory legend Josef Albers in their joint exhibition “Chroma+Lux” at Link & Pin; At the Dougherty Arts Center, explore nostalgia, violence, and contemporary culture through Neil Flynn’s thought-provoking assemblages in his solo exhibition “Access"; and across town, Swiss artist Simon Berger makes his Texas debut at West Chelsea Contemporary.

Cloud Tree Studios

Valerie Fowler: “Offering: A Balm in a World of Wounds” — through October 14
Experience the contemplative reveries of Valerie Fowler's latest exhibition, "Offering: A Balm in a World of Wounds," at Austin's Cloud Tree Gallery. Fowler's 17 oil paintings, including four large diptychs, offer a poignant meditation on nature's imperfect symmetries, the human body's vulnerabilities, and our fragile bond with Earth. Enter worlds both familiar and reimagined as Fowler explores themes of broken patterns, generational pain, death, rebirth, and sacrifice. Feel the raw power and delicate beauty of the mostly female forms that inhabit these winding landscapes. Let Fowler be your guide through alarming yet captivating vistas that illuminate our imperative to cherish and protect our shared home in this era of climate catastrophe.

West Chelsea Contemporary

Simon Berger: “Beauty in Destruction” — through October 15
Berger, an acclaimed Swiss artist, transforms reinforced safety glass into stunning portraits with a hammer, challenging traditional norms about glass as an artistic medium. With more than 40 new works exclusively for West Chelsea Contemporary, this exhibition marks Berger’s Texas debut. Berger's work resonates globally, as the artist has exhibited worldwide and collaborated with prestigious institutions. Through his lens, he invites viewers to perceive the world differently and discover beauty in unexpected places.

Link & Pin

Larry Akers and Janet Brooks: “Chroma+Lux: Abstractions in Color and Light” — October 5-29
Renowned artists Larry Akers and Janet Brooks invite viewers to dive into a vibrant world of color and illumination through “Chroma+Lux.” Akers' mathematically intricate sculptural designs and Brooks' visually striking abstract paintings draw inspiration from color theory visionary Josef Albers. Experience geometric patterns transformed into thought-provoking abstract artworks that engage the senses. See how light interacts with color to produce visually enthralling sculptures and paintings. Ignite your curiosity and imagination at this can't-miss showcase melding science, math and art.

Wally Workman Gallery

Sarah Ferguson: “Continuum” — October 7-29
This Austin-based artist, known for her brilliant exploration of light, color, and perception, presents a vibrant and immersive experience that encourages viewers to contemplate life, death, and the mysteries beyond through meditation and self-discovery. Each painting in the exhibition acts as a beacon, enticing viewers into a hypnotic shift where chaos morphs into geometric harmony, guiding them towards a deeper, more insightful, and healed space. Drawing inspiration from the Light and Space art movement, minimalism, hard-edge painting, and geometric abstraction, Ferguson's work promises a thought-provoking exploration of the human condition.


Fernando Maldonado and Jorge Tereso: “Gloomy Eyes” — October 8, 15, 22, and 29
Step into a world of wonder this October at Wonderspaces Austin. Journey alongside Gloomy, a zombie boy, as Colin Farrell narrates his touching 50-minute VR voyage from despair to hope in the award-winning "Gloomy Eyes." This exclusive presentation immerses viewers in an imaginative new world. Beyond this exclusive presentation, Wonderspaces hosts 17 interactive installations year-round, including "Human Study #1," where guests become the subject of robot-made portraits, and "RULES," a collaborative evolving artwork.

"Eye Moon Cocoon " opening reception
Photo courtesy of Virginia L. Montgomery

Virginia L. Montgomery explores native Texas luna moths.

Dougherty Arts Center

Neil Flynn: “Access” — through November 25
Flynn's work, primarily featuring new assemblage, collage, and site-specific interventions, delves deeply into themes of nostalgia, loss, violence, ownership, and aspects of contemporary Western culture. His artistic process is characterized by collecting, journaling, photographing, researching, and reacting to the rapid societal changes we face. Like any artist, Flynn is influenced by his personal experiences; he interrogates them as a "young, white, cisgender male, gay artist, arts professional, and learner/educator." The materials and imagery he employs are reflective of a restless "Americentric culture," characterized by relentless progression and a tendency to forget the past.

Women and their Work

Virginia L. Montgomery: “Eye Moon Cocoon” — through November 30
Enter a dream world of symbols and sounds in Virginia L. Montgomery's "Eye Moon Cocoon" exhibit. This multimedia journey explores native Texas luna moths, the moon, and their intricate connections, creating a space for hope and healing. Drawing on science, mythology, and ecofeminist thought, it highlights the interconnectedness of all things and challenges oppressive hierarchies. Experience synesthesia as natural and manufactured textures coexist. Embark on a thought-provoking exploration of consciousness and our shared agency in an era of climate change. This is an artistic testament to collaboration and collective healing.

Mexic-Arte Museum

Mexic-Arte Museum: "40 Years of Día de los Muertos" — through January 7, 2024
Experience the poignant beauty of honoring those we've lost at Mexic-Arte Museum's 40th annual Día de los Muertos exhibition. This year's showcase, "40 Years of Día de los Muertos," reflects on four decades of celebrating the dearly departed. Contribute a photo of a cherished loved one or admired person who has passed for the communal ofrenda. Your contribution will transform the gallery into a shared space of collective remembrance, where each photograph becomes part of a communal tapestry of stories.

Austin 'Top Chef' winner emerges after controversy to open upscale Mexican restaurant, plus more top stories

hot headlines

Editor’s note: It’s that time again — time to check in with our top stories. From cross-country tours to best-in-state colleges and snacks, here are five articles that captured our collective attention over the past seven days.

1. Austin 'Top Chef' winner emerges after controversy to open upscale Mexican restaurant. Bacalar has opened after years of preparation and controversy surrounding the chef's departure from his last role.

2. Nebraska Furniture Mart to bring massive new store and 700 jobs to Austin suburb. NFM will anchor a development that will include a 250-room hotel and 30,000-square-foot convention center.

3. Hello Kitty Cafe Truck says hi to Austin on cross-country tour. Among the new items is a bright pink tote bag with rainbow straps and desserts decorating the front, and an assortment of Hello Kitty baked goods.

4. UT Austin rises to the top in new list of best Texas schools for 2024. UT Austin claimed No. 2 in Texas, and ranked No. 32 nationally. It fared similarly in Niche's list of top public universities.

5. How to get every possible discount at the 2023 State Fair of Texas. The fair starts its 24-day run at Fair Park in Dallas on September 29, bringing with it music, games, food, and more.

R&B singer Mélat epitomizes the independent Austin music experience in new album

local releases

Even though Mélat is always busy — appearing in seemingly every major community showcase — she hasn't released a new album in four years. That is, until today.

Canon Metis: Wiser Than Gods and Mortal Men — with an appropriately grandiose title for the R&B singer's prodigal return — is out on September 29, with 14 gooey tracks incorporating everything from trap beats to gospel harmonies. It follows up 2019's After All: Episode One, with similarly spacious orchestrations and a little more confidence this time around on the songwriter's part.

"I feel like [after] going through COVID and all the things that have happened in the past four years ... it's the dawning of a new era for me," says Mélat. "I feel like I've shed a significant amount of fear, and doubt, and all these things that as humans we have to work to get off of ourselves. It feels like a new beginning for me."

The title of this "foundational" album, in Mélat's words, reaches back to two EPs that the singer has since grown out of, but represented a similar feeling of self-definition as her first-ever releases. First was Canon Aphaea, then Canon Ourania; Both referenced Greek goddesses. This time, Metis — Zeus' first wife, a Titan goddess, and the embodiment of wisdom — was the inspiration.

M\u00e9lat Canon Metis: Wiser Than Gods and Mortal MenThe album cover ties in "Easter Eggs" from Black woman-owned brands: fashion by Savage X Fenty, Black Girl Magic wine by McBride Sisters Wine Company, and an Ethiopian necklace referencing the singer's heritage.Shot by Marshall Tidrick

The subtitle comes from humbler origins than it sounds; probably something she read on Wikipedia, Mélat says, but definitely borrowed nonetheless. The quote also gives a name to a track in which the singer speaks semi-candidly about false idols and the wisdom to duck away from the judgment of "mere mortals."

"I'm like a lot of people in that I can be my worst my own worst critic," she says. "I hate my speaking voice, but I put it on the album [because] my gut was telling me, no, this needs to be said. There are songs that were cut from the album [that were part of] the plan the whole time."

Much of Mélat's local pull comes from her transparency about being an independent artist, which she discusses often on social media and will surely expound upon more when the Austin chapter of Women in Music launches later this year, with her on the leadership team. Nothing about working without a label is foreign to Austin musicians (although the landscape is slowly growing), and the singer confirms that she doesn't "know any other way to do it," but hints of that freedom shine through some tracks.

"Canon Metis," the opening track, pieces together a sort of trailer for the rest of the album with atmospheric synths and spoken announcements by disembodied femme voices — a softly futuristic approach. But "Lambs to Lions" and "The Now" deliver nostalgia via backup vocals and instrumental stylings, while "I.D.M.T.L.Y. (Freestyle)" pares things down to a simple phone recording that the songwriter and her close collaborator, sound engineer, and manager, Pha The Phenom, chose not to develop any further.

No through-lines were questioned. Nothing needed to be justified, except to each other. Both have gotten into meditating, anyway, so it's all about feel.

"I feel like I've gathered all this wisdom," Mélat says. "You can't really trust the quote-unquote gods, which are the shiny things that will distract you ... and you can't really worry too much about the judgment of others, because everybody's just human. I need to do what feels right for me."

There is no tour planned to promote the album yet, but given the singer's track record, it won't be long until something is on the books. A music video for "So Help Me God," incorporates AI technology via Kaiber AI, will be released on October 4.

Listen to Canon Metis: Wiser Than Gods and Mortal Men on your favorite streaming platform.