We began our epic quest to find the best hamburger in Austin 2 years ago today with a visit to West 6th Street.

“I eat way too many burgers. I like the thin, flat griddled patties at Sandy’s Custard. I like the charcoal burgers at Top Notch up on Burnet Road. I like the old timey burgers at Mike’s Pub in downtown. I used to love to ride my bike down to Del Rio and eat wood fired burgers at TB’s.”

more http://www.scrumptiouschef.com/food/2011/5/10/Austin-Daily-Photo-Austins-Best-Burger-Tuesday-May-10th-2011?adminview=true

That $5.61 I’ll never get back

Hill-Bert’s Burgers website trumpets accolades from Texas Monthly, Austin Chronicle and KXAN. “…Mmmmm, a few bites of burger heaven”….and “…a legend” so when business carried us to north Austin recently we decided to forego a visit to Top Notch and take the measure of “the legend.”

Legends fall. Things are not well in the kingdom that Hilbert Maldonado began building 40 years ago in 1973. Walking into the spotless, brightly lighted, re-purposed Taco Bell, the smell is divine. Hot grease, potatoes and beef are singing a clarion song.

The shaggy-headed order man is congenial, and at just north of five bucks the price is certainly right, but things career downhill once the food makes its way to table.

A requested side of mayo for proper french fry dipping is met by a couple packets of the cheapest mayo-type product on the market. It’s always a bad sign when a restaurant shaves pennies off food cost by going bargain basement on condiments. A good sauce can make or break the humble hamburger and Hill-Bert’s bottom-feeds with corn syrup based “mayo.”

How are the fries?

Freezer bag fries come in a variety of grades. There’s a well defined scoring system in place in the industry with Extra Long Fancy being the king of the freezer truck.

If the burger restaurant owner doesn’t have the wherewithal to house-cut his potatoes he can still source respectable french fries from giant, commercial concerns, and thusly do a good job feeding his patrons.

Hill-Bert’s Burgers is negligent in this all important category. The fries are skimpy, oddly shaped and clearly bottom of the barrel in quality. The kicker is that Extra Long and Fancy has greater case yield so your bottom line sees higher profits by spending a few extra bucks and getting in the good potatoes. Not to mention short commercial fries drink more of your fryer oil so you end up with higher food cost.

Short-sighted, Mr. Maldonado.

The burger.

Served at room temperature it misses the mark entirely. The beef has a decent, broiled flavor, and it only took 5 minutes to make the trip from the kitchen, but it’s neither hot nor warm; it’s as though it was sitting on a counter in the back somewhere and the cook said “oh fuck it, let’s just ship this ol thing out and get rid of it.”

Forty years is a long time in the restaurant industry. Hilbert Maldonado was steamrolled out of his original, 1973 location on Lamar Blvd when his lease came up in 2008. P. Terry’s, the deep-pocketed, local chain bulldozed the original Hill-Bert’s and built a retro burger house that echoed the very structure that came before it.

Hill-Bert’s responded by moving a few blocks west into yet another re-purposed Taco Bell. There are now 3 Maldonado owned locations of the tiny chain; all in former Taco Bells. There may be variance in food quality between the 3 locations and I certainly hope so as the food at the shop on North Burnet is a dismal take on the classic burger house format still ably vended at places like Jim’s and Fran’s.

previous entries in our Best Hamburger In Austin series http://www.scrumptiouschef.com/food/Best-Hamburger-In-Austin

Walking into the grand old dame of Austin hotels you can feel the history. More appropriately, it should be stated, you can smell the history. We quickly ask for patio seating as the mildew odor inside is reminiscent of old aunt Hazel whose basement was given to flooding.

Outside, hard-up against 6th street, the veranda is pleasant. RL Burnside is blasting out of the speakers from Wild About Music across the way, cougars and sabre-tooths are afoot-toddling down the sidewalk in strappy sandals, and a nice Autumn breeze is lilting its way down the canyons formed by the skyscrapers. Ice water and a basket of fresh bread is immediately brought to table. Say what you will about hotel dining but it has its charms. We’re trying to remember the last time unbidden bread was brought to us until we recall a recent meal at Four Seasons, putatively a rival to the Driskill.

Back in the 1884 when Tennessee native Jesse Driskill, rich off Texas beef cattle, commenced to building his eponymous hotel, Austin was in the cold grip of fear. The infamous “…Servant Girl Murders” had the city by the short hairs with the New York Times coming to town and reporting “murders were {committed} by some cunning madman, who is insane on the subject of killing women.”

Construction continued apace.

Up the road apiece, freshly minted University of Texas held its first commencement with scholars strolling through the warm June air to Scholz Garten which had already been in business for almost 2 decades.

Sitting on the Driskill’s patio you can feel feel the history.

But at twelve dollars, the 1886 Cafe is keeping with contemporary trends in burger pricing where humble, peasant food has undergone boutique treatment across the US and Austin in recent years.

I order the Black and Bleu, a ground sirloin patty topped with 2 fat slabs of good bacon, roasted mushrooms and bleu cheese. The hubcap sized hunk of meat is served on a wheat bun ripe with treacle.

It’s a new trend in Austin burger shops, call it the Sheila Partin effect. The Houston home baker cum businesswoman hit the big time a few years back by shoveling sugar into breads that historically had been savory. The toddler-palated cafe owners immediately began serving hamburgers on buns that could have doubled for donuts.

The 1886 Cafe does their own baking but they’ve taken a page out of the Sheila Partin playbook on their bun recipe. It would make a fine dessert but as a hamburger bun it’s an abject failure. I have a go at the patty with knife and fork. The beef, ordered medium rare, comes medium well and is dry. I slather it with mayonnaise and it comes to life a bit. There are few things in this world that a judicious application of mayonnaise can’t improve. This is one of them.

Service, as befits a restaurant of the Driskill’s stature, is notably good. Our waitress is whirling about the busy room, keeping her tables on lockdown. We don’t go wanting for anything. My companion reports from the other side of the table that she’s pleased with her salad, which is the size of a wheelbarrow.

Jesse Driskill died in 1890 having been forced into a sale of his landmark hotel to one S. E. McIlhenny. A late freeze had wiped out Driskill’s beef herd 2 years prior and he was unable to make the bank note on his palace at the corner of Brazos and Pecan streets.

previous Best Hamburger In Austin link

We love the Workhorse Bar, let’s get that out of the way right now. Just sitting in the space brings back many, many pleasant memories of being falling down drunk and watching Scott H. Biram tear down the joint at his Monday night residency a million or so years ago when the building housed The Parlor.

Workhorse must have some serious brain power backing up the concept too. They’ve shoehorned a maddening amount of beer taps on a wall the size of a typical kitchen cabinet. And they’re not your typical bullshit draws that pollute most tap walls in Austin either. They went heavy Texas on the selection with all the local brewers from Adelbert to Live Oak to Real Ale. Not a dud in the bunch. But the food could use some work. The bacon hamburger arrives and is an insult to the noble hog. Two little shriveled-up pieces of belly straddle the beef patty like tiny, dessicated pig commas. With the resurgence, and easy availability of plump, insanely delicious cured hog at markets all over Austin, it’s sad that the bar can’t be troubled with a more thoughtful use of local resources.

The burger, ordered medium rare, comes medium well and is dry as dust. The beef has come from a well-tended steer and is good quality, but the cook has wrung out every ounce of flavor from the sandwich. A side of fries are the same old freezer bag version that 99% of Austin burger joints favor in lieu of using real potatoes. They get a pass in this department as the kitchen is the size of a phone booth and we doubt they have room for even one box of genuine potatoes.

The beers {Adelbert’s Triple B, Live Oak Pilz and Real Ale Devil’s Backbone} are ice cold, dirt cheap and delicious. Just like we like ’em.

Service is always amiable. The bar is always busy but the barkeeps could not be nicer and vend their goods with a smile. A rare trait in Austin where a cold brew is often hurled at the drinker with a snarl.

We fantasized about the burger during the run-up to the meal. A fat patty dripping with juice and a couple slabs of salty hog meat crowning the affair. Sadly we were denied this pleasure and were left with naught but a belly of craft beer and thoughts of what might have been.

more from our series on where to eat burgers in Austin, Texas http://www.scrumptiouschef.com/food/Best-Hamburger-In-Austin

hours ll am to midnight

Sun-Sat

(512) 323-5700

The Dart Bowl Steakhouse is one of the great old timey diners in Austin, Texas. When our daily affairs carried us to the Brentwood neighborhood last week we dashed in and had a refresher course on why we love this old bowling alley/cafe.

There’s a good little crowd of day bowlers pounding beers and hollering as we make our way inside the room. Pre and post Vietnam war-era veterans are scattered about as is the custom of bowling alleys all over the USA.

The crowd is rough and tumble as befits the little time worn burger joint that squats down in one corner of the old room. I ask for a burger with an enchilada as a garnish and the counter lady looks at me like I’m crazy. Continue Reading

It’s rare that we visit a restaurant on the first day they’ve opened.

We much prefer to give the staff and management a few months to sort things out, shed the inevitable kinks and get the machine running smoothly.

But we have no way of knowing today is the first day of business for Gary Figueroa’s little food cart; G’s 183 Pit Stop on the side of US 183 just south of the Hwy 71 Interchange. We’re on our way back from a taco run to Pilot Knob to visit Taqueria El Chanclas and sup on their divine Mexican soul food when we spot a shiny new trailer all tricked out in the colors of the University of Texas Longhorns.

With no way of knowing what they’re serving we make our way off the highway and wheel into a parking spot.

The menu is tiny and runs towards tacos and menudo. We’re full up on both so we decide to give the burgers a go.

Good call.

Owner Gary Figueroa started cooking when he was 16 years old. Although he’s earned his living the last 20 years as a FedEx employee he always wanted to be a professional cook, hence his food cart operation.

Better late than never.

This hamburger is very good. A skilled hand has been responsible for its preparation. The meat is juicy, nobody rode the patty with a heavy spatula. It’s well seasoned and garnished appropriately with mayo, mustard, pickles and onions.

All four sides of the buns have been griddled.

At $4.50 usury is not G’s 183 Pit Stop’s business model.

Would that all restaurants operated in this manner.

I inquire as to what it takes to get a food cart up and running in Travis County Texas these days and Figueroa smiles.

A lot.

The old days of filling out a form or two and turning the key on your operation are long gone.

When I inquire as to how long it took him to make his dream a reality once he hunkered down he replied “one year”.

Even a small operation like G’s 183 Pit Stop is a serious commitment of time, energy and effort.

While the business finds its legs, Gary Figueroa plans on opening on weekends only. As the business evolves he’ll be looking to hire a man to run it through the week.

Let’s hope he hires someone that pays as close attention to the small details as he does cause this man can really cook.

512-567-2902

Hours of operation

7am til

Sat-Sun

Call ahead because these hours are certain to change

All Best Hamburger In Austin coverage here http://www.scrumptiouschef.com/food/Best-Hamburger-In-Austin

The workers at The Shack Corner Store are determined to keep the shop spic and span.

Very determined.

As I place my order for a burger, one gentleman begins knocking the tops of my boots with a broom.

I shift a foot or so to the side.

“Sorry man I gotta clean.”

Back in Alabama you don’t want to ever sweep around a Black man’s feet. According to lore that means you’re trying to get him sent to the pen. I only did it once and committed the fact to memory.

Another gentleman comes at me from the other side with a mop and swishes it around my feet.

I sort of hot foot it about for a few seconds hoping to get my order in and the cashier paid before they tackle me and start buffing and polishing me from head to toe.

Rodney the grill cook is having a good day. He immediately starts hollerin at me to make sure I’m going to get the burger the way I want it.

One of the few things on earth I can’t tolerate on a hamburger is ketchup so we get that clear and he begins hustling out my food.

A couple minutes pass and my carefully wrapped, $4.32 sandwich and I make our way out to the parking lot.

I stroll about under the brilliant Texas heat chewing contentedly as the neighborhood buzzes in and out of the store.

A young mom wearing fuzzy slippers shepherds her flock of kiddos in through the doors, an old timer with a head full of white wool shuffles in for a snow cone, a group of young bucks roll up in an Electra, rattling the quarterpanels with some G-Side.

The parking lot of The Shack is a good place to stand and eat a burger.

The sandwich is fine, the patty’s in the 6 ounce range, seasoned with a little salt and heaped up with onions, mayo, mustard, lettuce and tomato. It comes on a griddled bun.

As is the custom of a lot of restaurants when you order a hamburger you need to say “no cheese” or it’s ritually given. Two slices of American in this instance.

Prior to it’s reinvention as a quick mart, The Shack existed in Austin for years. It was an old school, Black folks night club that threw legendary parties that are still talked about years after its’ closure.

It’s new business model as a quick mart/lunch spot, appears to be serving the neighborhood well. Business is strong, prices are low and the people watching can’t be beat.

All “Best Hamburger In Austin” coverage here: http://www.scrumptiouschef.com/food/search.cfm?search=best+hamburger+in+Austin

1167 Eastfield Ave

Webberville Rd

Austin, Texas

78721

Hours of Operation [ food counter ]

6 am – 10 pm

Mon-Sun

Every cafe has an identity and while it’s certainly true that the standout comestibles at this tiny luncheonette are the tacos of Alma and Maria, the ladies also turn out an accomplished burger.

I go for the full hamburguesa style here with bacon, pico de gallo, queso blanco, avocado and salsa verde. The patty is the thin, flat top style so extreme garnish work is recommended. It arrives as a glorious mess straddling a piece of wax paper. The house made pico de gallo has genuine heat in the form of tiny discs of bright green serrano chiles. The scratch salsa verde is one of the better versions in town, the tomatillas providing a tart foil to the rich beef and queso.

I know I’m in the right spot when a contingent of tradesmen in hard hats show up and jostle about at the counter as they place their orders. The kitchen ladies give as good as they get and the camaraderie flows freely.

It’s a good scene.

Cafe Del Sol runs daily specials according to the whims of the two chefs. You might get enchiladas or menudo or Lord knows what. Just rest assured that it will be delicious, made from scratch and cheap, my burger was under $4.

6002 Jain Ln

Austin, Texas

78704

(512) 583-2501

Hours of operation

8am – 3pm

Mon-Fri

all best hamburger in Austin posts here

http://www.scrumptiouschef.com/food/search.cfm?search=best+hamburger

When New Orleans native Ryan Marks bought Quacks Maplewood a couple years ago he inherited a huge mess.

The cafe was broken.

I love ramshackle, old, beat up joints, but they have to have a certain charm, however rugged that may be.

Quacks was charm free.

The patio was gross with old, rickety chairs featuring nails poking out everywhere, a few tiny, resolutely uncomfortable pic nic tables and sightings of racoons that exhibited all signs of being rabid or perhaps suffering from distemper. I felt like I was taking my life in my hands trying to hang out there.

One afternoon a plus sized gal sat down at one of the pic nic table and a giant rending crash followed sending her plummeting to earth.

Thankfully she was good natured, hollering “look at what my fat ass has gone and done now!” We shared a laugh as I helped scrape her up off the gravel.

The turnaround has been remarkable.

I spot Kevin Jackson in the kitchen one day and things start to look up. A veteran of Shaggy’s Caribbean and The Woodland I know this man to have his bona fides in order in the kitchen.

The burger is a beauty here. A quarter pound or so of fresh ground, hand patted beef is served with whatever toppings you may desire, in this instance mayonnaise, mustard, pickles, onions and tomatoes. Everything has the glow of good quality. The patty has been cooked on an extremely hot flat top giving a good char to the exterior. The bun is of the sweet variety which is not my preference but it eats nicely. Fries are hand cut, double dipped and stand among the finest in town. Price is right at $ 6.50

Depending on who’s working you may get friendly engaging service or the kind that comes with a sneer. It’s a roll of the dice.

The crowd skews towards dogs, children and their enthusiasts.

Mr Marks has made great strides in the improvement of his cafe, the wheels are turning slowly but with a talented chef in the kitchen it will be interesting to chart his progress.

1400 E 38th 1/2 St

Austin, Texas

78722

(512) 538-1991

Hours of Operation

Mon – Fri

7am-Midnight

Sat – Sun

8am – Midnight

All best hamburger in Austin coverage here

http://www.scrumptiouschef.com/food/search.cfm?search=best+hamburger