"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.
Photo by Kaitlin Steinberg Champ Burger: Unchanged since 1963.
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.More »