When the first Liberty Burger opened in Dallas, there was an unexpected wave of chaos.
It was a few weeks before Thanksgiving in 2011. The line at the register sprawled through the restaurant and shot out the door. Wait times for a simple cheeseburger hit one hour.
“I had no idea what I was doing,” owner Mariel Street says. “We were selling out of burgers by 1:30 in the afternoon — like, really pissing people off. It was really pretty shocking.”
A buttoned-up burger joint wasn’t Street’s first idea. She’d wanted to tackle the food truck craze. Street wasn’t approaching the idea with a chef’s background, and she remembered some advice from her family: Cheeseburgers are recession-proof.
“Americans will eat burgers and pizza no matter what’s going on in the world,” she says, citing her father's advice.
Seven years later, Liberty Burger is about to open location No. 10. Its simple cheeseburger, the Liberty Burger — a cheddar, lettuce, tomato and onion — is one of the best under-$6 burgers in the city. It’s fresh, big on seasoning and bullshit-free.
If 2017 was the golden year for the cheeseburger in Dallas, then 2018 is the golden year for the fast food burger. Dozens of chefs and restaurants have emerged that serve heartfelt renditions of the American cheese-laden sandwiches we ate in our cars after a run through the drive-through. Some fast-casual chains emerged before the trend, some after. Many are good. Some are sauna-dry beef sandwiches with sad toppings.
In a city inundated by franchise burgers, here's a look at the Dallas burger chains that are — and aren't — worth their weight in french fry salt.
Lakewood, Preston Hollow, Plano, Carrollton
Why it works: “I literally haven’t changed anything,” Mariel Street says. It’s a thing to admire. Competing chains pack the menus with horrifying, Frankensteinian creations. It wouldn’t be surprising at this point to find a burger joint that allows you to deep-fry your hands and eat crispy batter off of your fingers as an appetizer. Liberty Burger keeps it simple.
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. That’s fine, but the $6 namesake burger (with mustard only) and lettuce, tomato, onion and pickle is one of the best in the city. Get skinny fries and the creamy house mustard.
Pro tip: Order “with pink” for the best beef juices. Burgers lapping with barbecue sauce can go south with alarming speed, but the Wild West — a beef patty curtained with cheddar cheese, tangy barbecue sauce and crispy bacon — is excellent.
Deep Ellum, University Park, Arlington, Carrolton, Lubbock, Coppell
What works — and what doesn’t: Jason Boso’s credit cards had hit their limits. It was 2006 in Deep Ellum, and his burger joint with now-infamous attitude was sweating as it ran up the hill. Then, Guy Fieri walked through the door.
“Be careful. This show’s a blessing and a curse,” Fieri told Boso. Getting featured on Diners Drive-ins and Dives guarantees an influx of customers, which can swipe at the knees of a restaurateur who isn’t ready to handle it.
“For Jason, it was on the good side of that coin,” Amanda Boso says.
Twisted Root is uneven. One recent visit resulted in underseasoned, overcooked beef. An order of the Western, a beef patty with melted pepper jack cheese, fried onion strings and jalapeño discs, was full of rich, juicy flavor. Still, the best orders at Twisted Root are beef-adjacent: The buffalo is with caramelized onions is a winner. A venison substitute on the verde burger, with hatch green chiles, an ice cream scoop of guacamole and pepper jack, will make you wish more burger joints had deer on the menu.
Pro tip: The pickles have a Texas story built in. A little family-owned pickle factory in Garland supplies the marinated cucumbers. Load up the spicy ones into a plastic cup and make it a meal.
Greenville, Addison, Preston Center, Highland Village
What works — and what doesn’t: Cheeseburgers struggle at Snuffer’s. Beef steams, often overgrilled, from lack of juices. The bun overwhelms, often muting any flavor the beef would normally impart.
Cheddar fries, however, are iconoclasts. There should be a statue of a french fry capped in ranch, like a snowy mountain, on Greenville Avenue. Stretchy cheddar finds the acid of jalapeños under bacon topsoil. It’s a fork-and-knife french fry experience, and you’d have to have a blank soul to ignore its beauty.
Pro tip: Visit the original location on 3526 Greenville Ave. and ask your server for a ghost story: There’s said to be enough paranormal activity in the dining room — and restroom, apparently — to toss glasses from their tables.
Skillman, Mockingbird, Plano, Richardson (Belt Line), Arlington
What works — and what doesn’t: Fries curl up into bunches at Burger Street. They show up flabby, most often, and the beef is sometimes blasted with enough heat to become chewy.
Keep expectations low in the drive-through. This is a cheeseburger whose sole purpose is to soak up the roiling hangover in your upper skull. Do you feel pressure on your brain? Burger Street is food. It's not great food, it's less-than-$5 food.
Pro tip: The BLT is saddled with many heart-rending strips of bacon. It outscores any sad feelings you might have about rubbery beef.
Park Cities, Lakewood, Plano
What works — and what doesn’t: Chip's began around 40 years ago in Dallas. Cheeseburgers, dolloped with mayonnaise and mustard on a seedy bun, haven’t changed much since. They are American Graffiti sandwiches. It’s hot and giant paper-bag food, the kind that turns everyday objects transparent with grease, and it’s satisfying. It’s a cheeseburger to order when you’re in the mood for something hot and quick. Don’t expect flavor, heavy seasoning or meat juices; beef is cooked to oblivion. Add a fried egg for some texture.
Pro tip: A sleeper hit at Chip’s are the fried green tomatoes. The breading is crisp enough to shatter with tender, meaty green tomatoes inside.
Uptown, Northwest Highway, Henderson Avenue
Why it works: An evenly poppy-seeded bun gives way to two thin patties. The patties nestle against cheese, tomato and a Thousand Island dressing that somehow sings louder than most mayonnaise-heavy versions found elsewhere. This is cheeseburger-eating stripped to the core. Jake’s sizzles its 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 — it’s heavily sauced, which drowns the burger experience. The burger topped with fried jalapeño coins provides a much stronger punch.
Preston Center, Uptown, Addison
Why it works: Hopdoddy's classic is carefully built. Scratch-made and baked fresh daily, the buns are an homage to challah bread. Good Angus beef, ground in house, chars and sends delicious juices flowing into the white onion disk. A beefsteak tomato, big and rich, will always put a tearful lump of thanks in your throat — there is a huge letdown built into papery tomato and browning lettuce. The flavor 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 — is a Picasso compared to the wet cardboard flavor of the Impossible Burger.
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East Hampton Sandwich Co.
Snider Plaza, Turtle Creek, Shops at Legacy, Southlake, Fort Worth
Why it works: Don't be deterred by the explosive growth of this sandwich shop — this is no soulless chain burger. You'll find precision in most dishes at East Hampton. Listen for the crunchy orchestra of fried razor onions, and be soothed by melted sharp cheddar and salty bacon. Roasted jalapeños provide electric zaps of acid. At $10.25, this isn’t a barbecue burger; it’s a burger that happens to have barbecue sauce.
Pro tip: The simple cheeseburger with a creamy Sriracha-spiked sauce is a reliable backup.