When they’re made right, sliders are a flawless food. Contrary to the lackluster sliders you've been burned by before, they are not lazy, brunch versions of a cheeseburger. They shouldn't be throw-away sandwiches, carelessly fired on the grill until they taste like charred hockey pucks.
When they’re great, sliders are the tasting menu version of a cheeseburger, the stocking stuffers that hint at a sea of presents under the chef’s tree. They should leave you befuddled. You should marvel at how the chef crammed so much flavor into a palm-sized snack.
As we lead up to Between the Buns, a March 24 event devoted to the slider, we scoured the city for the best of the best. These tiny, flavorful feats of culinary skill give their full-sized counterparts a run for their money.
Beef belly on rolls at Small Brewpub
333 W. Jefferson Blvd. (Oak Cliff)
Small Brewpub has taken mindful steps into the realm of bar food. There is mighty work going into these seemingly straightforward sandwiches: Small Brewpub isn’t interested in vapid food bedazzling. A Bar N Ranch beef belly is cured for two days, dried one more and smoked for six hours. It's finished in the oven with diced carrots, onions, celery and stock. The beef’s braising liquid reduces, becoming a dark glaze, and it’s brushed over the now-tender beef before it gets a hard sear. Buns are made every day in house from scratch. They come out of the oven at 6 a.m. and get dusted with black and white sesame seeds, fennel and poppy. The grainy, seedy pop is like sparklers against the beef’s richness. The pickles and aioli are made in house, which makes this sandwich a complete, exclusive-to-Oak Cliff beef slider.
1520 Elm St. (downtown)
There are good things in this world, and then there is the everlasting greatness of ground chuck crackling on a cast-iron skillet. The pops and hisses of beef on a hot pan, like a remastered Rolling Stones album on vinyl, are comforting and magical. At The Woolworth, a disc of ground tenderloin and chuck — seasoned with sea salt and “special cracked pepper” — sears on the cast iron until it’s got a thick crust. Thick-cut bacon, smoked over pecan wood, hangs with a housemade berry compote. Punchy goat cheese cuts through beef with a razor tang, rounded out by a toasted challah roll. It’s bar food that our hunter-gatherer ancestors would appreciate.
409 N. Zang Blvd. (Oak Cliff)
Spam is an underappreciated food group in Texas. Hawaiians have understood the joy of grilling Spam — wrapping it in rice and seaweed — for years, but the salty cylinder hasn’t found much of a home in Dallas bars, except for Oak Cliff’s Local Oak. Some masterful genius concocted this sandwich of soft Hawaiian rolls, grilled Spam, crunchy red cabbage (which plays ingeniously against Spam’s weird texture) and pineapple that’s bright with jalapeños. Sriracha drizzle lasers the sandwich with acid heat. You need these sandwiches, especially with a cold beer.
Junction Craft Kitchen
2901 Elm St. (Deep Ellum)
From 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday nights in Deep Ellum, Junction Craft Kitchen focuses its cheeseburger into the perfect slider. Housemade American cheese drapes over the smashed Akaushi beef like Dracula’s cape. The night is your best friend when you’re eating this double-slider combo. Glazed Spam and an earthy, spicy kimchi sauce sharpen the edges. Get a dozen to go.
2912 N. Henderson Ave. (Knox-Henderson)
One of the most tried-and-true bar dishes in Dallas: the shredded brisket sandwich at one of Dallas’ heartiest, most reliable joints. The Porch was doing French dips and buttery foie gras-topped burgers long before it was cool. Its brisket sliders are a master class in long-standing bar comfort food: They are tangy, creamy, peppery and warming. Brisket is smoked in house. Tomatoes and onions get a long, tenderizing smoke before blending into the rich barbecue sauce. Celery seed spikes the cole slaw along with a pop of apple cider vinegar, and two slides of horseradish pickle hang over a roll that’s made at Commissary downtown.
“It’s funny because it’s such a decisive topic. People either do really good ones or really bad ones,” executive chef Adam West says of the sliders game. “It can be magical, or it can be heartbreaking.”
These sliders, which have been on The Porch's menu for nearly a decade, are magical.
2701 Main St. (Deep Ellum)
At Easy Slider, chef-owner Caroline Perini and crew make mini burgers (two for $9) look easy. The beef comes juicy with a centered horizon of pink (if you ask for it). The Roadside has cheddar, bacon, and a sweet and thick barbecue sauce that’s a Perini family recipe. Thin slices of grilled jalapeños and crispy onion strings add dimension. The little Rocky Balboa sandwich is speared down the center by a cornichon. They're nearly always cooked precisely medium rare, and they're always seasoned with just salt and pepper.