100 Austin Burgers: Austin Diner

Austin Diner
5222 Burnet Road, Austin (map), 512-467-9552, www.theaustindiner.com
Hours: 6am-4pm daily
By Mike Sutter | © Fed Man Walking | 05.02.16
When the Austin Diner lost its standalone home on Burnet Road to Lucy’s Fried Chicken, it lost the charm a new strip center location can never replace. But it tries hard, with checkered floors, Ricky Nelson on the radio and mid-century appliances on display like a small-town Sears & Roebuck. It’s not kitschy enough to be cool like the new kids on the block. But unlike the new kids, the Austin Diner can still feed you for less than $10 with breakfast all day, chicken and dumplings on the blue plate and some of the best onion rings in town.
 Toastmaster Special: Named for the chrome toasters that share window space with Kitchen-Aid mixers and Space Age coffeepots, the Toastmaster is a throwback burger on a thick, doughy Kaiser roll painted with grill butter. A half-pound of beef hangs in ragged chunks that suggest hurry-up hand-forming, seared on the flat-top with some red left in the middle for the gambler in you. It’s finished with Romaine lettuce, a single tomato, mayo, purple onions and thick bread-and-butter pickles. Adhesive American cheese holds down paper-thin bacon with a crunch so brittle it might have been deep-fried. Like the diner itself, it’s a faded reproduction of a greasy, full-tilt dive burger. ($8.49 with fries)
 On the side: Clean fryer oil forgives even fries from a bag, and these hot, salty, pinkie-finger fries get the job done. But why just settle for a ribbon when you can win the whole trophy? And the trophy goes to onion rings standing an inch tall, armored to order in knobby breading that bristles with black pepper and something else: rye seeds. Just enough of them to add a savory deli dimension without swerving into novelty. (Substitute rings for fries with a burger for an extra 99 cents or $5.99 for a basket.)
 Shake it up: The vintage vibe isn’t all for show here. They whirl together shakes with milk and ice cream in a three-wand Multimixer manufactured before I was born. Vanilla, chocolate and strawberry, to be sure. But in the presence of fresh bananas, there’s no question what flavor to get, and because this is the new Burnet Road, let’s add coffee, too. You’ll wait awhile, but it shows up in a big glass goblet, crowned with whipped cream. And that’s where the illusion falls apart, because it’s really just a runny shake barely colder than a glass of chocolate milk. ($4.99)
100 Austin Burgers
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)