It’s standing room only at Burger House. Lunch is a blur of baskets: Burger drops to paper. Paper is smushed into a ball. Trash is crushed down. For the staff, bunching into the tiny, seven-decades-old kitchen is an Olympic performance. They’ve synchronized burger-flipping, steam-hopping and order-calling.
“It’s going to move fast,” one customer says to another, offering a PSA about the line, which wound quickly out the door only a few moments earlier. A group of kids yodel, literally, at their table as they devour cheeseburgers with soda. José Castaneda, who has been swarmed by Burger House orders for nearly 20 years, whisks a bag of trash out of the kitchen.
“No seats back there,” an older patron in red suspenders and a matching red hat says, taking his time to sit at the counter with his basket. He’s the only one taking a beat in the hustle of things. I’m certainly having trouble taking my time: A chili cheese dog has just been handed over, plastic fork and knife laid in the basket like mining tools.
This is the simple joy of Burger House. A hot dog, smothered in who-knows-where-it-came-from chili, is topped with cold shredded cheese, diced white onions and a foundation of yellow mustard. It’s been nearly 70 years. Dallas has historically been ambivalent about hot dogs, but we should all stand up for a century of chili dogs at Burger House.
There aren’t many hot dogs left. A few dog joints pop up, and more exit Dallas' restaurant scene, stage left. This one isn’t special, and that’s why it is special: There’s no source or reason for this under-$5 hot dog. It’s just a griddled meat, blister-charred from the hot grill, smothered in made-somewhere-else chili, on a bun hot dog.
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It’s special because it’s from a bygone era, a relic from the time when we didn’t know from where our food was born. Seventy years of chili dogs is no common thing in Dallas. It is best devoured in hulking bites, knifed into thirds, while standing up. Why? Because your head is at the same altitude as burger steam clouds when you stand and eat. You’re smelling the good stuff.
The cheese is unnaturally golden. The cold shred melts into the hot chili, just salty and cumin-y enough, and the onions are eye-wateringly raw. The bun is pillowy. Heat roils in from the open door, mixing with burger steam. Maybe the Dallas heat has one good effect: It helps the cheese-melting process. Yellow mustard is a tangy machete in a humid jungle. The hot dog’s fire-blistered crust cracks, juicy, as you bite into it.
The Hillcrest flagship spot has been open since 1951, changing owners in 1982. Flat, griddle-pressed burgers, heavily seasoned, are passable. The chili dogs are something else: They’re snack happiness, an inexpensive relief from the modern restaurant. Some foods are just salty and delicious.
The original Burger House is at 6913 Hillcrest Road, and there are locations in Lakewood, Addison and UT Southwestern.