An Ode to the Classic Texas-Style Roadside Burger

Categories: Burger Break

champburgerrr.JPG
Photo by Kaitlin Steinberg
Champ Burger: Unchanged since 1963.
"How's your dad?" asks a man stepping in front of the line to pick up a burger from the window. He called ahead; clearly he knows how this works. He's talking to the owner of Champ Burger, whose father used to be behind the window before he got too old and had to let his son take over.

When the man notices me looking at him, he addresses me: "I've been coming here for 25 years. These are great burgers, good people. You want a burger, you've come to the right place."

Of course, the 25 years that he's been visiting Champ Burger is only half of the hole-in-the-wall burger joint's life. It's been open since 1963, serving thin but sprawling, greasy patties on toasted buns with a sprinkle of shredded iceberg lettuce, chopped onions, pickles and a few slices of tomato. There's a smear of mayo on one bun and mustard on the other. If you want ketchup, cheese or anything else, you have to ask for it.

This is the Texas-style burger, the kind you used to get a drive-thrus and roadside stands before fast food empires took over the landscape, serving poor excuses for cheap burgers that eventually created backlash and led to the gourmet burger. In many cities, those are the only options available: Chain restaurant fast food burgers and gourmet monstrosities. Nostalgic burgers like the one at Champ Burger are hard to come by.

Not here in Houston, though, where we remain loyal to the modest burger joints that have been serving us for generations.

Mytiburger opened in 1967, just four years after Champ Burger and on the opposite side of town. Champ serves a motley crew of neighborhood folks, downtown business people and nostalgic foodies from its small building in East Downtown. Mytiburger serves a similar cross section of the population, only in Garden Oaks. The classic drive-thru has changed with the times, now offering turkey and veggie burgers, but it's the thin, greasy Mytiburger with cheese for only $3.90 that's best stood the test of time. Though the restaurant has changed hands from the original owners, it was purchased by a Mytiburger devotee, who's kept the old-school charm intact and even initiated classic car nights, where locals bring their vintage automobiles to the Mytiburger parking lot and admire the craftsmanship over a burger and chocolate malt.

One year later, Burger Park, originally Bonus Burger, opened in South Park, once a quiet suburban neighborhood that became crime-ridden and dangerous in the 1980s and '90s, before eventually turning into the veritable wasteland that it is today. Katharine Shilcutt profiled the rise and fall of this neighborhood--and how Burger Park has remained a constant through it all--in a cover story in 2011. It's now owned by a Korean family who hope to keep the place running in spite of the neighborhood's shortcomings. The Kim family introduced non-frozen patties and leaner beef, but other than that, the slightly scorched burgers topped with the usual lettuce, tomato, onion and pickle foursome haven't changed a bit.

Bellaire Broiler Burger joined the scene in 1972, serving a flattened, 1/3-pound patty that practically absorb the American cheese melted over it, obscuring the beef altogether until you take a massive bite. The official name is Pat and Joe's Bellaire Broiler Burger, indicating the spot was and is family-run. It's not fancy by any means--but then, that's part of the charm of a roadside burger joint, and this one looked dated even back when it opened more than 30 years ago. The french fries are crinkle cut, like the frozen logs that tumble out of an Ore-Ida bag, and the buns deflate quickly once the burger and veggie juice hit them. Still, the burgers themselves are classic: Moist, slightly charred on the outside, and totally weird-shaped, a sure sign they're hand-formed.

This story continues on the next page.

Location Info

Champ Burger

304 Sampson St., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Mytiburger

2211 W. 43rd St., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Burger Park

6704 Martin Luther King Jr Drive, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Bellaire Broiler Burger

5216 Bellaire Blvd., Bellaire, TX

Category: Restaurant

C & D Burger Shoppe

10606 Fuqua St., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Cream Burger

3481 Elgin St., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Shuttle Burgers & More

8405 Almeda Genoa Road, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant


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21 comments
markie19
markie19 topcommenter


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guurl
guurl

If you ever get to Clear Lake/Webster, go to Carlos Beer Garden for a burger...it is worthy of this list, just a good old-fashioned BURGER

rogerscorpion
rogerscorpion

What's the connection to the other MytiBurger, on Kempwood? Anyone know? Are they franchises?

CR250
CR250

Kaitlin, spot on.  I love Two M's Malt'n Burger in Rosenberg, a true roadside burger joint.  Yes,  Texas Burgers as we call them are awesome.  ( I am tired of gourmet hamburgers) Also throw in Someburger on 11th and Studewood and Roznovsky's on TC Jester and 34th.  And, I do miss me some Otto's Double Meat burgers. 

Mrs. Baird's bun, buttered and toasted on the grill, grilled thin patty, shredded iceberg lettuce, onion, tomato, pickle, mustard.   Simple, awesome. 

Anse
Anse

To the poster below who called McDonald's the "gold standard for cheap burgers"--pardon me while I retch. It's almost comparable to the hipster who drinks Lone Star, as if he is sincere in his love for beer that tastes like stale urine.


McDonald's is the gold standard for mass production. Their food is a marvel of technological advancement. Michael Pollan described their french fries as the "Platonic ideal". And therein lies the reality of McDonald's: their burgers aren't so much perfection, as they are the Xerox copy of perfection. It's like that movie Pleasantville, where the mayor bowls a 300 every time. At some point you get bored and you wonder if maybe you aren't being taken for a dope.


I will compare them to one of my favorite fast food burgers, made by the Someburger hamburger stand at 11th and Studewood in the Heights. There is something slightly slapdash about a Someburger, and yet at their best, they are careful constructions of toasted bun, crispy-on-the-edges thin patty, and an interplay of varying textures provided by the vegetables. I'm totally over-intellectualizing what is most emphatically not an intellectual experience. But that's one of the appeals.


Whatever people want to make of her brief history of the fast food burger, I do think it is worth making a distinction between the franchises and the neighborhood joints. Not every little independent shop is great, nor is every franchise terrible (I'm partial to Dairy Queen myself), but these aren't complex expressions of high cuisine. There's more going on here than just the burger. Given a choice between McDonald's or a local joint, I'll take the locals every time.



Konstantin Gelman
Konstantin Gelman

Bubbas Burger Shake under Westpark toll Rd and Rice. All day.

Philip Moore
Philip Moore

Johnna Rey you can't eat this in Hellifornia.

VenerableAsp
VenerableAsp

Bellaire Broiler Burger really dates back to the late 50s or early 60s -- It began as Brittain's Broiler Burger. Used to have a location at Westbury Square, too. Same basic concept, same basic menu.

Nate
Nate

"This is the Texas-style burger, the kind you used to get a drive-thrus and roadside stands before fast food empires took over the landscape, serving poor excuses for cheap burgers that eventually created backlash and led to the gourmet burger."


This is an interesting thesis, one seemingly unsupported by facts.  McDonald's was a huge presence by the 1960's and 1970's.  How many people reading this article have memories of getting burgers before fast food empires took over the land?  Certainly not the author.  And by "eventually", do you mean 40 plus years?  That is a long time for backlash to finally manifest.


I would also argue that McDonald's does not serve a poor excuse for a cheap burger.  They serve the gold standard for cheap burgers.  The McDouble is a good burger, especially for $1.19.


But foodies love to hate McDonald's (and chain restaurants).  McDonald's commerical success would indicate that McDonald's serves a good cheap burger, and that whatever backlash exists, is small and ineffective.

KaitlinS
KaitlinS topcommenter

@VenerableAsp Oh cool, thanks for the info! The earliest I could find was 1972, but that makes sense cause of the name change.

KaitlinS
KaitlinS topcommenter

@Nate I actually do remember driving through small towns in Texas that only had roadside burger stands. They've now mostly been bought out by fast food companies who can pay more for the land.

bettyvatel
bettyvatel

@Nate The author is forever trying to "elevate" her writing on this site, and whenever she does she sounds ridiculous. 

FattyFatBastard
FattyFatBastard topcommenter

@KaitlinS @Nate You cannot find a small town in Texas without a Sonic or a DQ.  I experimented with trying to find a town without these 20 years ago.  It couldn't be done.


nate
nate

@KaitlinS @Nate Oh, you can still drive through small towns today without McDonald's or Wendy's or Burger Kings.  But fast food empires "took over the landscape" by the 1970's.  And why throw out the "pay more for the land" assertion?  Is there a land shortage in small towns with only room for a McDonald's or road side stand, but not both?  Or is there another reason why chains are more commercially successful beside their ability to pay more for land?

KaitlinS
KaitlinS topcommenter

@FattyFatBastard @KaitlinS @Nate My parents live in Canyon Lake, and there's no DQ or Sonic there. A DQ shows up on the map, but anyone from Canyon Lake or nearby Sattler will tell you that's Startzville, not Canyon Lake, contrary to what Google Maps claims :)

KaitlinS
KaitlinS topcommenter

@nate @KaitlinS @Nate I won't argue that people love their fast food restaurants, and that's what makes them successful. They can pay more and they bring in more money. But I maintain even our beloved Whataburgers don't stack up against the food at Mytiburger or Champ Burger, quality-wise. They're more successful because they're cheaper, and you get the same food at each one of them no matter where you are. I personally don't think it's as good, but it's consistent, and that's admirable.

FattyFatBastard
FattyFatBastard topcommenter

@KaitlinS @FattyFatBastard @Nate Bet you there's one within 30 miles.  When you're in a small town, that kinda counts.  I always found that there was a large enough town every 30 miles that had the two.  But you're right, I should've stated that. 

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