In North Texas, there are burgers for every disposition: Fast-casual, fast-gourmet, fast-organic-cheap-casual, and slow gourmet that imitates fast. With the opening of Shake Shack in Uptown, Dallas has reached Roman bathhouse standards of fast-casual burger debauchery.
Call them guilty pleasures, but some of the most reliably delicious burgers in the city come from chains, which we're defining as a concept with at least three locations. There’s a poignant simplicity to these spots: Bun-to-beef attention that’s not recognized enough among the franchise noise. A lot of franchises rely on over-the-top burger creations rather than on simple, quality burgers, but some chains stand out from the pack. Dallas is a city of great independent burgers, to be sure, but these chain burgers can definitely hold their own:
The Liberty Burger
Locations in Lakewood, Preston Hollow, Plano and Carrollton
Why it’s good: Menus at chain restaurants that focus on burgers are usually brimming with unnecessary Frankensteinian creations with grilled cheese as buns. Liberty Burger keeps things fresh and simple with a curated number of focused chuck and brisket blend burgers. The Chillerno, voted by Texas Monthly as one of the best in the state, is a beef burger topped with fire-blistered poblanos and queso blanco, a creamy duvet of white cheese sauce that's certain to fire the synapses in the part of your brain that is turned on by food. Even still, we're a fan of the simple $6 namesake burger (with mustard only) and lettuce, tomato, onion and pickle.
Pro tip: Feel good about swapping beef for bison if you’re in the mood for a funkier, lean patty that doesn’t suck.
The Classic Burger
Locations in Preston Center, Uptown and Addison
Why it’s good: It seems too good to be true, but Hopdoddy's classic is carefully built. Scratch-made and baked fresh daily, their buns are an homage to challah bread. Good Angus beef, ground in-house, chars and sends delicious juices flowing into the white onion disk and beefsteak tomato and lettuce, which will always put a tearful lump in your throat. The flavor of this classic burger will make you wonder how this chain burger could cost $7.
Pro tip: If you’re on a meatless kick, Hopdoddy's veggie burger — La Bandita, a black bean and corn patty with cilantro pesto, chipotle mayo and arugula — will make you worried that you’re actually beginning to enjoy veggie burgers.
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The Link Burger
Locations in New York, Austin and now in Uptown (Plano location coming soon)
Why it’s good: The star of this $7.69 cheeseburger is the Pecan Lodge jalapeno sausage. Two pickle discs hang with that Shack sauce, a drug-like mayo mix, and melted American cheese hugs the fresh beef patty. This is better than fast food. Shake Shack burgers are curated down to bun, which is a soft Martin’s potato roll. Get some piping hot, salty crinkle-cut fries on the side and sit in the sunshine.
Pro tip: You can add chopped cherry peppers to the burgers, which kicks ass on most occasions.
The Jake’s Special
Locations in Uptown, off Northwest Highway and off Henderson Avenue
Why it’s good: An evenly poppy-seeded bun gives way to two thin patties, nestled close to cheese, tomato and a Thousand Island dressing that somehow sings better than most restaurant’s stock Thousand Island. Jake’s sizzles their quarter-pound patties on a hot flat top, which usually results in a crusty, nicely-seared beef patty that'll set you back $7.99.
Pro tip: Skip the Red Steer, a double burger with Jake’s barbecue sauce, if you’re looking to branch out. The burger topped with fried jalapeño coins will give you a much stronger punch.
The Hickory Bacon Burger
East Hampton Sandwich Co.
Locations in Snider Plaza, Turtle Creek, Shops at Legacy, Southlake and Fort Worth
Why it’s good: Don't be deterred by the explosive growth of this sandwich shop — this isn’t a vacant-hearted burger. There’s precision and care. Listen for the crunchy orchestra of fried razor onions, and be soothed by melted sharp cheddar and salty bacon. Roasted jalapeños provide zaps of acid. At $10.25, this isn’t a barbecue burger; it’s a burger that happens to have a barbecue sauce, and there’s a difference.
Pro tip: Add a fried egg if you’re looking to hibernate for the winter. The simple cheeseburger with Sriracha dijonnaise is also great.
Bonus: A Roundup of Chain-Ready Spots That Don't Suck
You can skip Twisted Root, unless you can’t live without a burger made of beaver meat. Five Guys, too — they admitted publicly that they don’t season their beef. Digg’s Tacos, with a location on Hillcrest Avenue near SMU and on Gaston Road just before White Rock, has a griddled burger topped with an onion ring that just plain works. Start, a “real fast food” spot on Greenville Avenue that recently expanded to Lemmon Avenue, has a veggie burger that nearly bests their grass-fed beef burger. It’s also hard to deny the power of Rodeo Goat, with two locations in Dallas and Fort Worth, which uses 44 Farms beef. Stick with the simple orders at Rodeo Goat for the best results – their menu is Willy Wonka-level insane.