Summer has just about run its course, so it’s time to let someone else do the grilling. That’s one reason I’m rolling out my list of the Top 15 burgers in Austin — plus a few more. That and, well, who doesn’t love hamburgers? They’re one of my favorite things to eat. You have meat, veggies, carbohydrates and dairy all in one self-contained beauty.
What makes a great burger? You need juicy fat, expressive seasoning, crunch, creaminess, tang and balance — and a bun that can stand up to all of it. This list focuses on restaurants that consistently feature a hamburger on the menu, whether that be at lunch or dinner or both.
1. Odd Duck
1201 S. Lamar Blvd. 512-433-6521, oddduckaustin.com
It’s no surprise Bryce Gilmore’s burger ($15) relies on exceptional ingredients and thoughtful craftsmanship, both hallmarks of Odd Duck and Barley Swine. The robust sesame-seed-dotted potato bun deflates with a gentle squeeze, wedding the creamy piquancy of housemade green chili mayonnaise and bacon-pimento cheese. I’ve been known to toss aside greens and tomatoes from a burger, but not when it’s the peppery bitter snap of fresh arugula and the bursting splash of heirloom tomato found on this burger. The earthy tingle of beet-soaked onions gives garden flare to the beefy crumble. The burger, served only at lunch, changes regularly, but it’s guaranteed to be good.
3110 Guadalupe St. 512-537-0467, hopfieldsaustin.com
I doubt the Pascal burger ($13) at this French-inspired bar-restaurant was named for the famous 17th century mathematician — but the juicy and perfectly seasoned burger served on a pillowy bun from Houston-based Slow Dough Bread Co. is the result of a balanced and eloquent equation of creamy (camembert cheese) plus crunchy (cornichon), sweet (caramelized onions), and tangy (whole grain mustard). Ask the bartender to pair the burger with one of the excellent beers from the tap wall’s rotating selection.
3. Second Bar + Kitchen
200 Congress Ave. 512-827-2750, congressaustin.com/second
This refined New American spot satisfies the appetites of downtown workers, tourists and foodies equally. You can’t call it a burger spot or pizza joint per se; but the kitchen, helmed by chef Jason Stude, does both as well as most specialists. Flank, brisket and chuck combine for a succulent coarse-ground patty that drips into a homemade brioche bun draped with nutty gruyere cheese and smeared with shallot confit ($14). The housemade horseradish pickles are some of the best to grace a burger in the city.
1204 W. Lynn St. 512-477-5584, jeffreysofaustin.com
Leave it to one of Austin’s ritziest restaurants to deliver the city’s Rolls Royce of burgers. For $24 — half-price at happy hour — you get a decadent grind of chuck enriched with dry-aged wagyu trimmings for a deep beef flavor. Horseradish and caper mayo express mild heat and vinegar pop over the gooey ooze of melted cambozola cheese and onion jam. Order the hamburger at the bar, which serves well-executed cocktails to the well-heeled set.
2115 Holly St. 512-382-1599, launderetteaustin.com
Chef Rene Ortiz’s East Austin restaurant feels like a friend’s house party — the kind of friend who is devious enough to include bacon in his burger’s crumbly grind. Cooked a la plancha, the burger bristles with a knobby char swathed in tangy special sauce. Your friend probably doesn’t serve his burger on a puffed housemade challah bun; but he probably does slap some good ol’ American cheese on it, like Ortiz does. At $9, the Launderette burger offers the best bang for the buck on this list.
1200 W. Sixth St. 512-297-2525, clarksoysterbar.com
It doesn’t seem fair to other restaurants around town that a seafood place can make one of the city’s best burgers. But the McGuire Moorman Hospitality restaurants all flex strong burger game. Clark’s puts its special stamp on the burger ($16, and half-price at happy hour) by searing the fatty ground chuck burger in a sauté pan and finishing it in a deck oven, which melts a blanket of gruyere around the fist-sized patty. The sauce gribiche (mayo blended with hardboiled egg, capers, pickles and herbs) make for a unique condiment and a fine dipping sauce for the crunchy haystack fries.
7. Luke’s Inside Out
1109 S. Lamar Blvd. 512-589-8883, lukesinsideout.com
Luke Bibby likes to joke that his merry band of pranksters makes love twice daily in the small trailer outside of the Gibson Bar. He’s probably cracked jokes like that for most of the 25 years he’s been cooking in Austin kitchens and backstage at concerts. But the ribald riff is harmless. He’s talking about Love Sauce, his tangy and smoky blend of mayonnaise, ketchup and barbecue sauce that slathers the cheddar-spackled, bacon-topped burger. The lettuce and bright tomato are pretty and all, but they’re really just window dressing for Bibby’s griddled take on a backyard burger. The burger ($9) comes with parmesan-dusted potato chips, making it the lowest-priced deal on this list.
8. Swift’s Attic
315 Congress Ave. 512-482-8842, swiftsattic.com
You have to get there early on a Monday night to get one of executive chef Zack Northcutt’s eccentric hamburger creations (foie and beef patty with truffled brie on a croissant bun); but the everyday Bowling Alley Burger ($11) at Swift’s Attic should not be considered settling. Press the toasted housemade bun, and the coarse-ground chuck almost melts inside its robe of salty fontina cheese. Homemade pickles spears snap in puckering complement. You can do your own Northcutt impression by adding Calabrian peppers, oxtail, pork belly and more to your burger.
9. Black Star Co-Op
7020 Easy Wind Drive. 512-452-2337, blackstar.coop
Spend the extra dollar on sharp cheddar for this burger ($10 without cheese) just to watch it glow. Crusty buns from Easy Tiger bookend the towering burger grounded by a massive patty made from Dallas-area 44 Farms’ brisket. You can get a taste for the co-op’s beer without a glass, as the crisp and honeyed notes of the High Esteem American pale ale enliven the grainy housemade mustard that spills across ripples of bibb lettuce and a blood-red slice of tomato.
2026 S. Lamar Blvd. 512-442-3373, henrischeese.com
You know when Henri’s has that flat-top in the back lined with burgers because the smoky aroma wafts into the dining room. If you had entered solely looking for some wine and cheese, you might think again. Golden two-year cheddar sticks to the side of the patty as thick as two stacked hockey pucks and seasoned generously with salt ($15). The bibb lettuce, finger-thick heirloom tomato slice and medallions of pickles stand like towering accordion ingredients between the crisp, toasty edges of an Easy Tiger bun. The mixed greens salad with pickled shallots is much more than an afterthought.
301 E. Sixth St. 512-474-9898, parkside-austin.com
An intense char elbows its way through the pale cape of melted white cheddar cheese on this rich and crumbly burger ($14, half-off at happy hour) inspired by executive chef Shawn Cirkiel’s hamburger steak. Slather the creamy wobble of aioli on the grill-marked bun for a garlic punch that will linger all evening. You can also use the aioli as a dipping sauce for the crunchy fries showered in a confetti of herb and garlic.
2027 Anchor Lane. 512-614-2260, contigotexas.com/austin
You know you can rely on a restaurant inspired by a Texas ranch to deliver a good burger ($12). Contigo contains its beefy brawn between a housemade challah bun shimmering and sweet like a doughnut. The bowler-hat-shaped top bun collapses around a skirt of shamrock-green bibb lettuce, fire-engine red tomatoes and sweet butter pickles. The white cheddar is worth the extra two bucks, and make sure you hang around long enough to savor a whiskey-based cocktail.
13. Jacoby’s Restaurant and Mercantile
3235 E. Cesar Chavez St. 512-366-5808, jacobysaustin.com
Jacoby’s has a distinct advantage when it comes to sourcing flavorful, quality beef. Restaurant owner Adam Jacoby’s family owns a cattle ranch located just a couple of hours away in Melvin. A combination of roast, brisket and chuck make for a juicy, charred burger ($16) served on a sweet brioche-style bun. The restaurant offers several variations on the burger — at lower prices — at lunch. Jacoby’s gets bonus points for having an expansive patio nestled above the Colorado River in East Austin.
14. Drink Well
207 E. 53rd St. 512-614-6683, drinkwellaustin.com
Few establishments in town can rival Drink Well’s one-two punch of cocktail and burger. The plump, ruby-hearted burger ($14) does the savory, smoky, sweet and acidic dance just right, with smoked onion marmalade, white cheddar, pickles and Roma tomatoes on a puffy potato roll. Add roasted mushrooms for some lingering loamy flavor. Wash it all down with a well-balanced Vieux Carre.
15. Salt & Time
1912 E. Seventh St. 512-524-1383, saltandtime.com
A beautiful and robust butcher shop up front means you never know what cuts might go into making the pumped-up burger ($12, $13 with Swiss cheese). You do know the meat will be high quality and that the kitchen will let the beef — served with aioli and pickles on a bun from Slow Dough Co. — do most of the talking. With massive beef-fat-fried potato sticks the size of two-by-fours, you probably won’t require a side, but you should check out the rotating pickle board, which features items like tart green strawberries, crimson beets and spicy pole beans.
Best veggie burger
Veggie Royale at Bouldin Creek Café
1900 S. First St. 512-416-1601, bouldincreek.com
People have different ideas in what they want from a veggie burger. Should it texturally recreate the beef experience? Should it taste like a hamburger?
I dig the Veggie Royale ($8.25) not for any resemblance to a beefy burger but for its own considerable merits. Stuffed with grains, bound by peanut butter and humming with warm red spices, the secret-recipe patty crackles between soft ciabatta bread. I sometimes add feta cheese for creamy, salty tang and choose the citrus and heat of housemade barbecue sauce, though the smoky chipotle-pecan pesto and bright basil aioli both make their own solid condiment cases.
Six classic burgers for about $6
America’s love affair with the hamburger is nothing new. What is relatively new is the ubiquity of double-digit price tags. There are many reasons for this: higher quality ingredients, more time spent making items from scratch, higher rent prices, and the fact that even some of the city’s best restaurants (with highest rents) feel compelled to feed their customers’ insatiable desire for burgers.
But not all great hamburgers rely on housemade pickles, buns perfected by pastry chefs and fancy French cheese. In honor of the old-school approach to burgers, I give you this collection of six great burgers that can all be purchased for about six bucks. Some even come with fries included.
Crown and Anchor
2911 San Jacinto Blvd. 512-322-9168, crownandanchorpub.com
Cheeseburger and fries ($5.75)
I wonder if this campus favorite still uses the same flat-top grill it had when the restaurant opened in 1987. I hope so.
Four locations in the greater Austin area. danshamburgers.com
Double meat and cheese ($5.74)
Rich burgers with few frills — unless you want to add hickory sauce. There’s a reason Dan’s has thrived since 1973.
Lebowski’s Grill at Highland Lanes
8909 Burnet Road. 512-419-7166, highlandlanes.com/lebowskis-grill
The Dude with fries ($6.99)
Nate makes juicy burgers sandwiched between sweet, rippled rolls from Lil’ Mama’s up in Pflugerville. And Julie inside the bar will let you play trivia for candy.
Nau’s Enfield Drug
1115 W. Lynn St. 512-476-3663, nausdrug.com
Large bacon cheeseburger ($5.85)
Find flat-top burgers with a side of nostalgia at this friendly Clarksville staple. And if you go on the right day, you might run into Feliz Hernandez, who has been working at Nau’s for more than 40 years.
Multiple locations. pterrys.com
Double with cheese ($3.95)
With humanely raised Angus beef, all-natural chicken and local organic eggs, P. Terry’s changed the way Austin thought about fast food 10 years ago.
7525 Burnet Road. 512-452-2181, topnotchaustin.com
Get the flavor of a charcoal-broiled backyard burger while you sit in your car at this stroll down memory lane — or eat inside the dining room that feels untouched by time.