Austin's Top 10 burgers

By Mike Sutter | Fed Man Walking | 05.17.12
The best burger in Austin is actually a little south of Austin, across from the railroad tracks in Buda. For flavor, value and overall experience, it rose to the top of the 120-plus restaurants I visited. Find the Top 10 fries here and the Top 10 onion rings here
1. Buda Grocery & Grill. (UPDATED 04/01/13: Buda Grocery & Grill has closed. The new owner is planning to put both a Cajun restaurant and a surf-and-turf grill in the space.) Across the street from the railroad tracks at this Main Street market and lunch counter lives the tallest double-patty bacon cheeseburger I’ve ever seen. At less than $6, it’s a marvel of seared beef stacked in two patties welded together by cheese and striped with salty bacon. Close to 13 ounces of beef on a bakery wheat roll sprinkled with oatmeal that holds the burger together for the first few bites. Then it’s a job for knife and fork. 100 N. Main St., Buda. 512-295-2151, (above)
2. Hopdoddy. Some of the best beef I’ve ever had in a restaurant burger. Ask for it medium-rare, seared with the care you’d give a bone-in strip steak. I’ve eaten almost every burger on the Hopdoddy menu: turkey, tuna, chili-cheese, hemp. But the Llano Poblano is the king so far. Big strips of roasted poblano bring enough heat to wake up your senses even if it drowns out the bacon. But everything is at its height, dressed for prom. Good leaf lettuce, summer tomatoes, a brioche bun soft and toasted, good enough to buy on its own. 1400 S. Congress Ave., Suite 190A. 512-243-7505, more locations at (above left)
3. Casino El Camino. Should I worry that I feel so at home in a place designed to look like Hell? Even in the daylight, it feels like Dante’s lunch counter. The kitchen window in the back is the portal through which you’ll catch a glimpse of your three-quarter-pound burger on the grill, in no particular hurry to wrap things up. Casino treats the beef with respect, which is what makes the Amarillo Burger so good, with that pink-hearted beef rolling in chopped serranos and jalapeño Jack cheese on a dense brioche bun scored with the signs of the beast. 517 E. Sixth St. 512-469-9330, (above center)
4. Jo’s. The people who think sweet hamburger buns are the work of the devil? I’ll ask you to cover your ears for a minute. Because the ridiculously sweet kolache style bun that hovers around this burger like a doughnut halo makes this one of the best-tasting unions of beef and bread in town. It’s not toasted so much as caramelized, and if you ask for fried onions, the sweetness factor rises above novelty and into a real catalyst for the well-seared Angus and elastic cheddar. 242 W. Second St. 512-469-9003, (above right)
5. Turf N Surf Po’ Boy. Ralph Gilmore’s trailer looks like Baywatch and the Beverly Hillbillies collided at Congress and Second. Given the Gulf Coast aesthetic, even the burger gets a long, po’ boy-style roll, with the beef patty cut in half and laid end-to-end. The roll’s as stout as the burger itself, fortified with wheat, oatmeal, poppyseeds and sesame. Adding grilled mushrooms for 50 cents and cheese for a dollar makes good sense in this tangle of pimped-out po’ boy dress: cole slaw, tomato, red onion, mixed greens, thick sections of dill pickle. And the beef is as juicy and character-driven as any seafood po’ boy could be. Update: Turf N Surf has moved from its trailer on Congress to the Lavaca Street Bar at 407 Lavaca St. Open 11am-midnight Mon-Thu. 11am-3am Fri-Sat and noon-10pm Sun. 512-276-2763, Facebook page here. (above left)
6. Mighty Fine. A cheeseburger from this big picnic barn of a place is as good as any of the Austin icons that came before. It starts with a half-pound of chuck ground on-site, then builds to a two-handed crescendo with rabbit food that includes long, crinkle-cut pickles and a bun that holds it all together without getting in the way. The cheese is a grade above ordinary fast-food American, and the result is a burger that eats like dinner. Our kids never seem to get tired of saying, “Mighty Fine,” even if we can’t always afford the nearly $40 it takes to feed the four of us here. 10515 N. MoPac Blvd. (Loop 1), No. 205 in the Arbor Walk shopping center. 512-524-2400, more locations at (above center)
7. Contigo. Contigo’s ranch-style atmosphere extends especially to its burger, built from beef ground in long fibers with a good fat balance, making it as soft as the fresh challah bun that holds it. Without mustard or mayo or fussy sauces, it delivers flavors of campfire fat and aromatic spices from a spread of thin-cut but serious pickles. That bun comes across with egg and yeast and an amber shell. For a dollar each, add a thick layer of white cheese and a rasher of thick bacon cooked like a pork steak rather than a diner strip. 2027 Anchor Lane. 512-614-2260, (above right)
8. Foreign & Domestic. This big-mouth bistro in an old homebrew supply shop beats Austin at one of its own games with a 12-ounce burger on an English muffin loaded in turn with pork belly, buttery blue cheese and tomato jam ($19). Excess on a mission, served with tempura-style onion rings. Mission accomplished306 E. 53rd St. 512-459-1010, (above left)
9. Black Sheep Lodge. The Black Buffalo Burger put Black Sheep on the map as more than a just a South Lamar beer bar when it opened in 2009. A half-pound patty that comes pink in the center shows off what fresh beef can do for any burger. Then it gets interesting with Frank’s hot Buffalo sauce, a sinus-awakening blast that dances drunkenly with blue cheese that’s light on salt and heavy on the dry twang that makes us want to dance with blue cheese in the first place. Mixed greens are a nice alternative to iceberg, and the wheat bun has gotten even better since the Black Sheep opened, with a long-grain pull and the right toast to give it structure. 2108 S. Lamar Blvd. 512-707-2744, (above center)
10. Parkside. An  example of how a high-tone restaurant treats a blue-collar staple: with a bakery-caliber roll, top-shelf vegetables, salted white cheese and meat that would merit the same waiter’s adjectives as, say, that night’s grilled venison. It’s cooked on the red side of medium-rare, almost like a tartare. It’s a gateway drug to Shawn Cirkiel’s wider menu at Parkside, where the burger is part of the half-price happy hour that runs from 5 to 7 p.m. daily. For those two hours, there’s no better burger in Austin for the price. 301 E. Sixth St. 512-474-9898, (above right)
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)