It's been six short months since Ernesto and Alfredo Pena opened their family's burger hut.
In restaurant years, five months and change is primordial. It's still at the cellular level, a tender and fragile age when the slightest predator could gobble it up. The baby-blue joint is huddled against Gus Thomasson Road on the fringe of Mesquite.
Across the street, a Little Caesars sits with an empty parking lot. You'll find Porky's in the strip mall, with a welcoming, unstressed amount of parking, flanked by a commanding Auto Zone and Dollar General. Ignore the big brand chains — Porky's is a family joint.
Miros Pena is behind the register, next to a towering burger ornament, and she greets each customer who jangles through the door brightly. Behind the register, the griddle gets scraped clean of burned bits. It's a slower afternoon, so there's nothing else hissing on the flattop. One of life's treats as a consumer of burgers is this moment: At an empty restaurant after the lunch rush, you can hear the fresh beef crackle on the griddle.
Porky's knows exactly how to handle beef. The patty gets a deep sear — a thick cap of crust that eclipses the burger's horizon. It's salted and peppered generously. The crust is visible beneath a tangle of fresh, heavy-grilled vegetables: On the Full Moon, you'll find thin-sliced mushrooms, jalapeños, lettuce, tomato, pickle and diced onion. Molten American cheese, a lava flow of the white kind, binds the toppings together like a bubbling cauldron of queso fundido. The cheese magmas into the charred beef. They spread each half of the bun with mayo and yellow mustard.
Here's the point: Where is everybody? Let's meet at Porky's Burgers and Wings, a family joint on the cusp of East Dallas, and skip the fast-food line.
No Whataburger, none on the menu, can top the deep char of the beef at Porky's. A Big Mac's chemical addiction that fires into the lobes of your brain like shrapnel is empty, hollow food.
Porky's is rich, salty decadence. The burgers are immense half-pounders, piled just high enough with toppings, to awe-strike you for the price (less than eight bucks for each sandwich).
It's a giant meal, stupendous and mustardy and cheesy. In other words, it's a cheeseburger you're imagining when you think you want a cheeseburger.
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It's been less than a year, but Porky's knows exactly what they're doing.
Freshly cut potatoes are usually duds when they make it to french fries. There's another surprising factor about this East-East Dallas joint: Most inexpensive burger joints bungle the fresh-cut fries scene. Porky's pops and crackles with seasoning. The crusts of the potato skins are crunchy and salty.
So, listen: Let's all meet in Mesquite. It's just past the sprawl. There's plenty of parking.
Porky's Burgers and Wings, 4612 Gus Thomasson Road, Mesquite