In Praise of the Perfectly Executed $6 (And Under) Burger

Dallas isn’t just a burger destination anymore; it’s a wildly thriving meat ecosystem. That's why it’s so damn hard to answer the question, “What’s a good burger I should eat right now?” There are enough burger sizes, classifications and hybrids in Dallas to live on their own, roaming the grassy plains without the help of people. Wading into the primordial field of Dallas burgers right now is an unpredictable, surprising and maybe even dangerous adventure: A weird torta hybrid, a Kobe blend topped with a Kraft Single and a prehistoric $22 Burgundy Pasture patty are all out there. There’s one mixed with bone marrow. Another has Eggo waffles as buns.

So, what do you do? How do you pick a burger that’s going to make you feel like Chris Pratt training the raptors? I love a perfectly executed $6 (and under) burger. I love the griddled crust of a simple, classic cheeseburger: shredded lettuce, mayo, tomato and sparks of pickle. When a kitchen ditches the aioli and loses the spreads, sprouts and infusions for a hammer-to-nail version of the classic roadside burger, I’m bouncing through the galaxy, thrilled as Starlord.

Trust me: I love a fully designed burger at whatever-the-hell cost. Some of Dallas’ best burgers soar past 14 bucks, and they’re better than anything you’d find in New York or L.A. Burgers at Knife, Braindead Brewery in Deep Ellum, Front Room and Remedy will all put you over 12 bucks, and they’re blackout good. Worth every penny — even without a side.

But it's something special when a chef nails the no-frills cheeseburger you dreamed of as a kid. Or one that tastes like the first burger to hiss on your grill at home. When juicy, smoking-hot cheeseburger meets mayo and tomato, magic is made. There’s a poetry to elemental, perfect food that makes the foodie Grinch heart grow three sizes. And some of my favorite burgers in Dallas do this.

Off-Site Kitchen’s stock cheese is an icon, and under $5. It has a heavy sear of the Angus chuck roll and shoulder patty, a little pile of micro-shredded lettuce and a slice of American cheese. It tastes like what it must feel to connect a wooden bat to a ball, and hit it out of Fenway. Keller’s oniony burger, with that nutty, seeded bun flavor, only costs a little bit more than a Starbucks coffee. Hopdoddy’s burgers (ask for it medium rare) taste too good to be $6. Order the whole menu, if you can.

Digg’s Taco has a hamburguesa, topped with a crispy onion ring, that you’ll lion-crave. You're better off eating 14 yogurts before this one, to mitigate ordering another one. It offers no farm-fresh ingredients or toppings, it’s $6.50, and it’s griddled-up to order. For a dollar more (and change), Cold Beer Co.’s burger has a numbingly rich beef flavor. 

For a few weeks, one of the best burgers in Dallas wasn’t available. The original Off-Site Kitchen, led by chef Nick Badovinus, hit the pause button in the Design District. While it was down, we sat like a dinghy without wind in its sails. Over in Trinity Groves, walls of soda were as bright as Christmas lights, a breeze kicked up in the military camouflage nets and the iconic ammo cans were filled with condiments. A couple of stock cheese burgers and a papery sack of hot, crispy fries, a iceberg-cold Topo Chico sets you back about $17 bucks. The burgers are spectacular. It was worth the wait. These kinds of burgers always are. 

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