May is National Burger Month (yes, that's a thing) and to celebrate, we're spending an entire week celebrating what may well be Dallas' officially unofficial dish: the burger. From April 30 to May 8, writer Nick Rallo will explore every corner of Dallas burgers, from the grass-fed to the uber-greasy and even lab-grown. Grab a stack of napkins and join us.
It’s a pleasure to take a break at Jonathon’s.
There’s the fact that it’s both quiet and noisy: From a corner table, Cholula hot sauce in the center like a single flower growing toward the sun, you can hear the clatter of diner plates. The air smells like pancakes with maple syrup and bacon. Listen close, between the bustle of the packed tables, and you’ll hear the fizzle of your beef patty against the griddle. A little busy noise never hurt a good diner. Amidst this pleasant noise, a cheeseburger arrives, a big slice of melted American cheese draped over the patty.
A burger and fries is a no-bull, old-fashioned reward for 10 bucks at Jonathon’s. Rounds of purple onion, lettuce and fresh tomato act like a rain barrel, collecting all the griddled beef juices. There's a seared cap on the beef that could be cracked with the back of a spoon like the top of a creme brulee. The bun is soft, heavily buttered and grilled until crunch. You’ll taste the holy trinity of diner flavors with this sandwich: butter, salt and beef.
Modern diners with decent food are easy to find. Oak Cliff has a number of fast-casual cheeseburgers that will cling to your ribs in a wonderful way. Comforting diners with great food are a rarer diamond. Jonathon and Christine Erdeljac’s bungalow is an entry into the latter category. Since 2011, they’ve built sandwiches like storm bunkers. You can nearly walk into their massive fried chicken sandwich, switch off the lights and wait out the coming severe weather. The house burger is just as secure and reliable. On this visit, the front door seemed to open magically upon walking up the house's stairs, like I was Leo DiCaprio entering the afterlife in Titanic.
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A steak knife through the center reveals a dash of medium rare in the center of the beef. The beef crunches against the toast of the bun. Some toppings spill out of a burger that's nearly as large as the plate. Oak Cliff, like some of Dallas’ most important food neighborhoods, is changing with every visit. Construction cracks into Jefferson and Bishop Arts District, forever changing the neighborhood's energy.
We should be able to hold onto the wheel of our diners when the road is wet. Especially as we crest into the great Impossible age, it’s a real pleasure to drop a stake into the ground at Jonathon’s — but they offer a veggie burger if you’re looking to reduce your own beef footprint.
But if you're looking for beef done right, Jonathon's is the burger that’s there when you need it.
Jonathon's Oak Cliff, 1111 N. Beckley Ave. (Oak Cliff)