It started as nostalgia.
Last year's golden age of burgers was heralded by the breaking of an American cheese cauldron over the nose of a ship made with ground brisket, short rib and dry-aged beef. The wistful memories of the drive-thru, some amidst fine dining, are impossible to miss: A chef’s version of the Big Mac eclipsed the sky like the Death Star, which we were powerless to resist. Cheese that's cloaked over two all-beef patties underneath a sesame seed bun and a special sauce is some kind of hex that requires advanced magic to crack.
This year, the tone felt different. In complicated times, the simplest thing can be the most heartwarming. Every burger on this list but one is made with American cheese. This is how it is, friends: McDonald’s, like it or not, rooted itself in the marbled lobes of our brain. It found you as a kid, and it’s infiltrated our bars as adults.
The fast food-homage burger, as translated for 2018, is fewer ingredients. It's a sandwich executed with hands that know the glory of a seared, juicy cheeseburger. These are the best new Dallas cheeseburgers of 2018.
The Simple Cheeseburger at Sky Rocket Burger (pictured above)
7877 Frankford Road (Far North Dallas)
A year later, and the advice that was given to owners Scott and Tio Wagner stuck like Velveeta fuses to a bowl: “Just keep it simple.” Jammed into a mall off of the President George Bush Turnpike, Sky Rocket’s menu is as unembellished as it gets. There are single, double and triple burgers, french fries and, well, that's about it. They grind the Angus beef in-house, griddle it until it gleans with juices, and in a basket it goes. Some patrons have asked more of Sky Rocket — a veggie burger or a salad? The Wagners stick to their lane: excellent, fresh and hard-seared cheeseburgers in a plastic basket.
The True Wagyu Burger at Niwa Japanese BBQ
2939 Main St. (Deep Ellum)
It’s about smoke and charcoal. The grill on the center of Niwa’s tables howls with flames, and cold Japanese beer drops onto the table. “It’s kind of intimidating,” owner Jimmy Niwa says of asking Dallasites trying to tackle the grill-your-own-food experience during lunch. So, he’s doing a burger his way: The real stuff — true Wagyu (Japanese cattle that’ve been nursed into fat-marbled existence) — is ground in-house with short rib. They do a nearly flaky coarse grind, using a careful amount of Wagyu fat and beef, season the patty with salt and pepper and slide it onto the signature Binchotan charcoal grill. A thin layer of smoke, good smoke like a fire in the middle of nature, envelops the grind. The flavor wafts through until the end.
The Double Cheeseburger at Zoli’s
14910 Midway Road, Addison
“I know it sounds goofy,” chef Jeff Bekavac says, naming the inspiration for his burger. The Big Mac is his first major cheeseburger memory. He was sitting at his grandma’s dinner table, chomping huge bites into the all-beef patty, special sauce and seeded bun. It stuck with him through the years. His new double cheeseburger at the Addison pizza joint is a towering marvel, studded with whole mustard seeds and capes of American cheese, surprising in its brightness in a crowded city of sandwiches. It’s a burger you can see from the highway.
The Diner Burger at Mockingbird Diner
3130 W. Mockingbird Lane (Love Field)
Jack Perkins walks the line. He moves tickets, hollering dishes into kitchen. When the cheeseburger drops in front of him, he eyes it for perfection. It’s the kind of burger that sparkles with diner grease in all the ways that are good. Order it with tater tots, fried until they crackle-crunch with each bite, and sit back. This is a burger retreat. It’s best eaten alone, hunkered at the counter, watching the kitchen mow through chicken-fried steaks. You’ll want all the sights and smells as the senses hit: soft bun, creamy sauce — Duke’s mayonnaise, ketchup, chopped pickle relish and onion and a small blast of mustard — and cool-crunchy lettuce and onion.
“When I was kid, it was always two burgers,” he told us earlier this year, reminiscing about the double-double at Kip’s Big Boy (the Northwest Highway diner was demolished in 2005). The best burgers, the instant classics, are memory-invokers.
The Cheesebao-ger at R&B
1914 Commerce St. (Downtown)
Here's the rub: There are two bun alternatives that are worth a damn in the world of cheeseburgers (unless you’re a patty melt) — the English muffin, if toasted properly, and a soft, handmade bao bun. Puritans can scoff all they want: Chef Angela Hernandez knows the power of simplicity with strong ingredients. The oblong beef patty is seasoned simply with salt and pepper. Two fresh pickles, nearer to a tangy cucumber than a jarred variety, brightens things. American cheese melts into a smooth, blanket-thick topping. Seared on the griddle, the salty crackle-break of crust adorns the oblong patty. It’s a perfect, wish-it-were-larger cheeseburger set in a cloud. It’s the right kind of fusion in a crowded, complicated time.
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The Resurrected Patty Melt at BrainDead Brewing
2625 Main St. (Deep Ellum)
Chef Taylor McCreary never made it to Deep Ellum to devour one of the city’s best sandwiches. The patty melt at the Parlor on Commerce Street was a quiet powerhouse: sourdough mopped with butter and bronzed, several slices of American cheese, salt and pepper, seasoned beef — medium rare — and onions simmered in butter. It was the kind of sandwich that reached back in time before the term “food trends” existed. Then the Parlor on Commerce closed.
Now, BrainDead’s Parlor Patty Melt shows up, a heartfelt dedication on halved, toasted sourdough with molten American cheese. Butter-softened onions flow from the crust at the press of a palm. Coarse black pepper, the most complicated the spices get, dots the cheese and the meat.
In times of frustration, we need our neighborhood bars to have sandwiches that reach back before Instagram. We need the tried-and-true stuff to go with our beer and our deep sighs. BrainDead's is a Rembrandt homage to the original, as delicious as it ever was.