May is National Burger Month (yes, that's a thing) and to celebrate, we're spending an entire week celebrating what may well be Dallas' officially unofficial dish: the burger. From April 30 to May 8, writer Nick Rallo will explore every corner of Dallas burgers, from the grass-fed to the uber-greasy and even lab-grown. Grab a stack of napkins and join us.
There isn’t any magic to it: Brian C. Luscher simply has ground beef bouncing around in his bloodstream. He grew up in front of the griddle. He’s the son of a Chicago meat cutter, and as a toddler, he’d get held up in front of the griddle, ground beef sparkling in the pan, to help flip the burgers. In the lean times, beef patties were warmed and fried up to order. There’s no magic, and it’s not a fairy tale for the chef, teacher and owner of The Grape.
“It’s not like anything magical or some romantic story, because everybody’s got some effing story that’s like a fairy tale,” he says. “The burger’s going to get as much as attention as the weekly fish special.”
In February, Luscher killed brunch service at The Grape after 11 years. In 2009, when their burger was crowned best in Texas by Texas Monthly, brunch had exploded like a ripe tomato; the burger was offered on Sunday and Monday only. Earlier this year, he cleaned himself off, wiped brunch off the menu and is rebooting things. The burger remains on Sunday and Monday night, and it’s as good as it’s ever been. It also hasn’t changed at all since he took the reins in 2007: Hard-seared beef, good bacon, Vermont cheddar and pickles made just for The Grape. It’s an act of love, and it tastes like one too. A martini at the bar, the tile as blue as the ocean, and a cheeseburger marked like an “x” with crispy bacon is one of the best burger experiences in the city.
Twelve years later, it’s a landmark in a burger scene changing quicker than even we can keep up. Despite a burger on just about every menu in Dallas, not many stand out. These are the best burgers in Dallas — the burgers so good and storied, that eating them is an experience, not just a meal.
The Chili Gibbons at Blues Burger1820 W. Mockingbird Lane (Medical District)
The beef has crust that you could crack like a spoon. It’s seared on a flat grill, seasoned with salt and pepper, and blanketed with melted cheese. A decent chili cheeseburger is difficult to find; an intensely saucy and salty chili can mute a good seared beef patty. Brett Baldwin and his brother, who co-run Blues Burgers, use crumbles of cumin-loaded chili. It’s like a Texas chorizo, cut with yellow mustard. A hard-fried egg, yolk as bright as a trumpet, runs down the halved burger. This a fast-casual place that knows the power of execution.
Pro-tip: The Santana Burger, a special up on the board these days, isn’t a joke: It’s a chile con carne-loaded cheese enchilada on a burger. Laugh all you want, but this thing turns heads. It’s pure comfort food.
The cheeseburger at Dairy-Ette9785 Ferguson Road (East Dallas)
It doesn’t matter what’s going on in the world beyond the drive-in, it’s always an easygoing day at Dairy-Ette. Fresh lemons are squashed, beef grease crackles on the flat top and a metallic whiz turns a cup for a milkshake. Get close to the root beer, fresh and in a mug glazed with ice, and you hear the light popping of the bubbles. A cheeseburger at Dairy-Ette bests any fast-food burger around. Yes, even Whataburger. It’s not sea-salted. There’s no organic offerings — this is an iodized salt masterpiece since 1956.
The cheeseburger at Sky Rocket Cheeseburger7877 Frankford Road (Far North Dallas)
It drops in front of you in a basket. The chuck and brisket blend patty glows with juicy fat. It’s been balled up and flattens into the hot griddle. This is owners' Scott and Tio Wagner's first rodeo — Scott used to sell cars before he transformed this little spot in a strip mall behind a gas station. Juices run across the patty and into the bun like a map of rivers. Chopped lettuce, tomato and the all-important pickle discs tear through the richness of beef and cheese. It’s a marvel.
The double cheeseburger at Zoli’s14910 Midway Road, Addison
It will disappear from the checkered paper like a magic trick. The black Angus patties, a chuck-brisket-shoulder grind, have beef flavor as big and wide-spanning as the Texas sky. Zoli’s is a New York-style pizza joint that doesn’t need a burger, but there it is anyway. Cheese cloaks the patty, cascading down in a lava flow. Chef Jeff Bekavac has been seasoning Zoli’s flat top by smashing as many burger patties as possible. The taste reflects the work.
The bacon cheeseburger at Lakewood Landing5818 Live Oak St. (Lakewood)
There are the good days, when you need a craft beer that’s strong and mahogany. Better days are the ones when you abandon any pretense and sit by the warm glow of a Miller High Life. Lakewood Landing is un-crafty; it’s pre-foodie and all jukebox and pool and bacon cheeseburgers. Order with a personal plate of nachos and the champagne of beers. Jaws might be on the little bar TV, and the Rangers game on the projector. This is the right way to bar, and food is served until late.
The peanut butter and bacon burger at Off-Site Kitchen331 Singleton Blvd. (West Dallas/Trinity Groves)
Jon Aisner ate his peanut butter burger once a week, at least, as a line cook at gone-too-soon Tried and True. Now, six years after Off-Site Kitchen became one of Dallas’ most astonishingly good — and inexpensive — burgers, he's the general manager. You’ll find the peanut butter burger at one of Dallas’ best, most chef-revered burger joints. It's a collision of salty and sweet, crunchy and creamy: It comes topped by peanut butter, bacon and American cheese under the hard-seared beef burger. Hot pepper jam is a bolt of lightning. Don’t wince until you’ve tried it.
The $10 dry-aged burger at Commissary1217 Main St. (downtown Dallas)
The burger patties are hand-formed in the chilly air beneath your feet. They’re ushered upstairs, where the racks of buns are glistening like balloons. The patties are seasoned with salt only, no pepper, and grilled until medium rare. Make sure you request pink; this is a burger that’s sourced locally with an aged 44 Farms grind. Deltas of juice run through the burger after one bite. A layer of jalapeno jam cuts the dry-aged intensity. It’s a fast and perfect lunch. It’s also one of the most affordable dry-aged burgers in Dallas.
The simple cheeseburger at Montlake Cut8220 Westchester Drive (Park Cities)
There’s a burger where it shouldn’t be: lodged in the middle of a beautiful seafood menu. Montlake Cut is a place where king crab legs show up like a bowl of weapons. Oysters are briny and loud. The dry-aged chuck patty, from Southeast Family Farms, relaxes under Tillamook cheddar. Juice runs into a wreath of shredded lettuce mixed with red onion, dressed and topped with a couple of big tomato slices. Eat it at the bar, elbows down, with both hands.