Citizens of this great city, the state of our beef union is strong, but it has been a madcap year for the cow. We’ve lost, and we’ve gained. We’ve torn down the new, and, in a breath, boarded up the old. Only the vegan may be blissfully unaware of this movement: 2017 was, and is, the golden age of the Dallas cheeseburger.
It was a year wherein the cheeseburger adapted to Dallas’ food evolution. The best ones harken back to the fast food we devoured in cars as kids. These new burgers are, at heart, straight-up dedications to good, old-fashioned cheeseburgers. They’ll remind you of the sandwiches you ate in smoky backyards, the drive-through or bars at 1 a.m.
These are the best new Dallas burgers of 2017.
The Patty Melt at Parlor on Commerce
2651 Commerce St.
Mopped with butter, two slices of sourdough slide onto the flat grill. The bread hisses as the face-up side gets a butter wash. Once there’s a bronze char, the bread’s flipped and layered with slices of American cheese. Then come the caramelized onions, previously simmered down for an hour with butter, salt and pepper; the smashing of the beef patty into the griddle; and simple salt and pepper. The Parlor’s sandwich is, simply, outrageously good food that you enjoy with cold beer. Forget artisan. This is the food you should find at your neighborhood bar, free of Yelp’s review shackles, a shelter for all who all who drink and eat without irony.
The Happy Hour Cheeseburger at Hide
2816 Elm St.
It’s happy hour in Deep Ellum, and the cheeseburger is both sinister and benevolent. American cheese sludges over each patty in a molten flow. It reaches the butcher paper in minutes; a burger eater lives for wrapper cheese. Hand-formed patties, 80 percent ground chuck (20 percent fat), are doubled up and spiked with Worcestershire sauce between the bun. Hide braises onions for four hours in Lone Star beer. Roasted garlic aioli, a chef’s sneaky way to add “damn good mayonnaise,” decks out a buttered bun. Bacon is so precisely crispy you’ll think it’s been 3-D printed. Hide smashes the ground chuck patties into the flat grill. The patties offer crust, and the onions provide texture. All of the above is $6 from 5-7 p.m. The difference between the dinner burger ($11) and the happy hour burger is a single slice of bacon. The burger comes with fries and a thick-cut pickle, a rare side in these days of burger gentrification.
The Dry-Aged Burger at Commissary
1217 Main St.
The burger patties are hand-formed in the cold air of the Commissary’s downstairs butcher shop. The cold air keeps the rich fat pockets in the aged chuck from breaking down. There’s a single seasoning. The dry-age, about 25 percent of the burger grind, causes deltas of buttery meat juices. In a city of $18 burgers, this one is priced just right at 10 bucks. Homemade everything — including the jalapeño relish, the fancy mayonnaise and the bun — isn’t just flash and bragging rights. Chef Zach Dunphy's burger is kept simple because it’s practical.
The Burger Bao at Sumo Shack
5629 SMU Blvd.
It’s possible that Dallas’ Sumo Shack has one of the only baos in America stuffed with a bacon cheeseburger. Chef Dien Nguyen takes the steamed bun and stuffs it with a brisket and Angus beef blend burger (80 percent beef, 20 percent fat), hitting it with seasoning before it’s formed, simply, with salt, pepper and a light dust of cayenne pepper. The flavor profile is late-night fast food. Shreds of crunchy lettuce and pickles — the same ones you can find at the grocery store — decorate the burger. And, heaven help us, there’s a chef’s homage to Baco’s. Remember Baco’s? Nguyen cures the pork belly at Sumo Shack and pulverizes it into a crunchy crumble. Sumo Shack is open until 4 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays, which means Whataburger has competition.
The Scratch Burger at Small Brewpub
333 W. Jefferson Blvd.
Small Brewpub dusts the patty with salt, pepper, onion and garlic powder. Beef crackles on a cast-iron pan. Onions soften in a pan until sticky, and then beer — Small's Cascara stout, made about five steps away — is added. Niman Ranch pork belly is cured and smoked. Sauce is made of shallots, anchovies and fresh garlic. Chef Alex Henderson took the reins at Small and rebuilt a comfort-food menu for months starting late in 2016, and the new burgers are the sandwich equivalent of a good Bond film. There’s action, sexiness and expert marksmanship.
The Standard Burger at Wheelhouse
1617 Hi Line Drive
The Standard burger is, without irony, two beef patties with special sauce, lettuce and pickle on a sesame seed bun. Melting American cheese and Wheelhouse's creamy dressing, blush red from a nudge of hot sauce, flows over the beef. Cooling, shredded iceberg lettuce, punctuated with sweet, house-made bread-and-butter pickles, sits above the patties. The bun is cloud-soft but structured, and each patty is juicy. The Standard burger at Wheelhouse feels, somehow, both new and nostalgic. It deserves four golden arches.
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The Hangover-Curer at Oddfellows
316 W. Seventh St.
Just over a year ago, Anastacia Quiñones took control of the kitchen at Oddfellows in Oak Cliff. Her updated cheeseburger is a master class in proper beef seasoning. Quiñones worked with a ground beef mixture for the patties and, after testing different blends, voted for a brisket and short rib grind from Crystal Creek Cattle Co. in Dallas. It’s an 8-ounce patty that chars on the flat grill after the jacket of seasoning. The smoky, crusty cap on the brisket and short rib patty, with its fearless seasoning, makes for one of the boldest, brightest beef flavors in a burger in city limits.
The Santana Burger at Blues Burgers
1820 W. Mockingbird Lane
You’ll have a few questions as the Santana, one of Blues Burgers’ new burgers, arrives on its metal tray. They likely include: “Why is my mouth hurty?” Why? Because you've ordered an Angus beef burger topped with a cheese-stuffed enchilada and smothered in chili con carne, pico de gallo and a handful of jalapeños. The spice and the questions gradually increase. Somehow, it’s delicious. Just to be clear: It’s a burger topped with an enchilada. The blistered jalapeños and bright salsa cut through the richness of the chili con carne (a blend of spices and sautéed ground beef). The heat ratchets up. The cheese inside the fried corn tortilla melts into a blanket, calming things down. You’ll want a cold beer. You’ll want to take a step back and remember the joys of treating yourself to a strangely exciting yet simple burger. Cheers to Dallas for allowing it.
Best new side: tater tots at Idle Rye
Best new ingredient: homemade American cheese on Junction Craft Kitchen’s cheeseburger
Best burger cited most often in 2017 as a favorite during interviews: stock cheeseburger at Off-Site Kitchen
Best new burger at a seafood restaurant: double cheeseburger at Hudson House
Best topping on a new burger: pork belly on the cheeseburger at Grayson Social