Alison Cook’s list of the greatest cheeseburgers in Houston – Houston Chronicle

Pharmacy Burger at La Lucha

Photo: Marie D. De Jesús, Houston Chronicle / Staff photographer

I never have to think twice about adding cheese to my burgers.

Of course I want cheese! The cheeseburger is my default mode at the burger joints I prowl ceaselessly, over the length and breadth of our great metropolis, for my Burger Friday bulletins.

Maybe it’s because I grew up in a dairy state, but I am never happier than when a melty cheese layer clings to the top of my ground beef patty or cascades down its perimeter in a shiny, opulent ooze. Pasture-grazed on pasture-raised, the burger’s crown of glory.

It can be a sticky slice of nursery-food American, its square corners collapsing. Or the sharper tang of cheddar; the pungent thrills of veiny blue; the mild elasticity of Oaxacan; the laidback nuttiness of Swiss. A liquid sploosh of queso works, too, too, because this is Houston and that’s how we roll.

So here, in honor of National Cheeseburger Day, is a special Burger Friday guide to my favorite Houston cheeseburgers: the ones that I long for, the ones that I dream about, the ones that can lure me out to my car, keys in hand, to travel around the corner or way across town on my everlasting quest.

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Some are big. Some are small. Some are cheffy; some are devoid of airs. Some cost rather a lot and others don’t.

I omitted a few that are dear to my heart. Burger Chan, one of my best-loved budget burgers, has closed its Greenway Plaza food court kiosk due to the pandemic, but my fingers are crossed for its brick-and-mortar opening at 5353 West Alabama this spring.

Two splendid cheeseburgers I crave are offered only one day a week: on Thursdays at Henderson & Kane, where 44 Farms beef rules; and on Fridays at Rainbow Lodge, where chef Mark Schmit grinds a new patty each week from his game trimmings — sometimes (be still my heart) with spicy pimento cheese on top.

Go seek these cheeseburgers out. I hope you enjoy every last one.

Cantina Barba (Heights/Near Northside)

The cheeseburger at this late-night Heights taqueria is a paragon of no-fuss affordability. Six bucks (plus 50 cents for the grilled onions I like to add) buys a 4-ounce beef patty, a melty splash of American cheese, two hot-and-sweet house pickles slices and pinkish “burger sauce.” Wrapped in tissue, it’s my favorite everyday cheeseburger. Bonus: a great margarita.

Cheeseburger from Cantina Barba

Photo: Alison Cook / Staff

La Lucha (Heights)

The double-patty, double-cheese Pharmacy Burger at Ford Fry’s Heights restaurant is a crusty, well-proportioned marvel with a nostalgic Texas flavor profile. A bite of mustard, a nip of chopped onion and two gleamy flaps of American cheese back up thin  patties that splash forth gouts of beef juice. At 12.95, it’s gloriously messy.

Pharmacy Burger at La Lucha

Photo: Ralph Smith Photography / Ralph Smith Photography

Just GRK (Memorial)

Oh, how the primal meat juices flow from the Greek Burger at this accomplished grill. Chef Chris Nikolas gives a lively seasoning to his tall beef patty and tucks it into a shiny toasted bun with ripe tomato, salty Greek white cheese and a schmear of glossy, assertive garlic sauce. And the French fries, included in the $13.95 price, simply kill.

Greek Burger from Just GRK

Photo: Alison Cook / Staff

Tejas Burger Joint (Tomball)

The Smokehouse Burger at this venture from the Tejas BBQ geniuses is destination quality stuff. A carefully smoked Angus patty joins smoked cheddar cheese for an outdoorsy punch, and a crackly black-pepper-and-salt bbq-style rub adds textural pop. Criss-crossed bacon slices, green onion aioli and caramelized onion on a toasty potato bun add to the joy — as do the classic Blue Bell shakes.

Smokehouse Burger at Tejas Burger Joint in Tomball

Photo: J.C. Reid / Contributor

Becks Prime (various locations)

Make mine the Bill’s Burger, its combo of pickled jalapenos, cheddar, bacon and grilled onions a Texas-style taste of home at this Houston mini-chain. The Angus patties ground in-house and grilled over mesquite are key to the appeal here, so the whopping $12 Bill’s flaunts a smoky sear and meat juices for days. Don’t miss the shakes.

Bill’s Burger from Becks Prime

Photo: Alison Cook / Staff

BB Lemon (Old Sixth Ward)

A half pound of 80/20 lean-to-fat Wagyu blend makes this pared-to-the essence cheeseburger shine. It’s modeled on the 1970s tavern burgers at New York City’s JG Melon, its tall, juicy patty tucked inside an aggressively double-seared bun draped in melted cheddar. That’s it.  Add-your-own accompaniments come on the side. Yes, you want the skinny little onion strings.

BB Lemon Cheeseburger

Photo: Marie D. De Jesús/Staff photographer

Cherry Block at Bravery Chef Hall (downtown)

A double-double cheeseburger with a difference: chef Jess Timmons adds both American and her own mac-and-cheese sauce to alternate 3-ounce patties of hard-seared beef. And what beef: a daily grind of the restaurant’s own local 44 Farms ribeye and tenderloin steak trimmings plus a bit of chuck. A stealth splash of pork demi-glace outlines the soaring flavor . $14 with beef-tallow French fries thrown in.

Cheeseburger and fries at Cherry Block in Bravery Chef Hall

Photo: Alison Cook / Staff

FM Kitchen & Bar (Rice Military)

Another everyday fave at $6.30, this 4-ounce cheeseburger makes a photogenic (and great-tasting) stack with melty American, tomato, red onion and frills of leaf lettuce. It’s the perfect size if you don’t want a giant burger. And to mark National Cheeseburger Day, this easygoing 21st century icehouse will give you a buck off 3 different specimens now through Sunday —the Cooper with queso; the green chile with Oaxacan; and the baroque Texas Burger.

Classic burger, tots and beer at FM Kitchen & Bar, 1112 Shepherd.

Photo: Kirsten Gilliam

Flip n’ Patties (Energy Corridor & downtown)

The madcap burgers at these Filipino spots rock hard. Part of the magic is their towering Akaushi beef patties of American-raised Wagyu. Part’s their springy reverse-toasted buns, based on the steamed Filipino bread, siopao. But the big fun is their freestyling combos, like the $10.49 Jaboi cheeseburger in which house-roasted pickled jalapenos and onions swim in a melty provolone sea. Do add the $3.39 French fries with banana-ketchup aioli.

The Flip ‘n Patties Burger, topped with a cheese-stuffed portabella mushroom from Flip ‘n Patties downtown location

Photo: Alison Cook / Staff

Buffalo Bayou Brewing Company (Sawyer Yards)

Our great local 44 Farms Beef (thank you, ranch wrangler Felix Florez) strikes again in this snazzy brewery’s Black n’ Blue Burger. A pile of voluptuous Texas blue cheese, a profusion of onions caramelized in Buff Brews’ own 1836 Copper Ale, and Slow Dough Butterflake bun clock in at $13, which includes hand-cut fries. A dizzying tap wall aids and abets.

Black & Bleu burger with 1836 Copper Ale Boozy Onions at Buffalo Bayou Brewing Company

Photo: Alison Cook / Staff

Taqueria Guadalajara (East End)

Another great everyday cheeseburger, priced at $7.95 for a half-pounder with excellent hand-cut fries, served in a chipper tangerine-and-marigold diner. Everything from the griddle-toasted, sesame-seeded bun to the cheddar cheese to the juicy patty hits right, and the table salsa add ons do, too. The funky fries are great. And there’s a Mexican-style cheeseburger with ham, avocado and Monterey Jack if you’re in a local mood.

Cheeseburger at Taqueria Guadalajara

Photo: Alison Cook / Staff

Burns Burger Shack (Acres Homes)

The bucolic setting matches the sprawly, old-school charms of the cheeseburgers at this family-run walk-up burger stand, right next to their famed Burns BBQ. The burgers are hefty and well-done in the style of Houston’s historic Black neighborhoods, and the local 44 Farms beef patties, zestily seasoned, give them an edge. Kudos to the immaculate vanilla-bean shake, the fresh cut fries, and the dining deck with an easygoing neighborhood scene.

Burns Burger with American cheese at Burns Burger Shack

Photo: Alison Cook / Staff

Alfred’s Burger House (Eastwood/Near East End)

Alfredo Lopez’s modern malt shop does a stately blue-cheese-and-bacon burger — with hand-spun Blue Bell shakes and fine, bargain fresh-cut fries ($1.49!) to go along. Grilled on a flattop, the hand-formed 7-ounce patties mesh chuck, round and brisket for a clear, understated beef flavor. The aged blue cheese has a salty-tart, funky kick, and the $7.99 price is right.

Blue cheese and bacon burger at Alfred’s Burger House

Photo: Alison Cook / Staff

Bludorn (Fourth Ward/Buffalo Terrace)

There is a big-deal new cheeseburger in town at chef Aaron Bludorn’s ambitious restaurant. Yeah, the burger he refined at Cafe Boulud in New York City costs $19, and the fabulous poufy potato wedges with letter-perfect aioli run $6 extra. But the deep, rich tang of the dry-aged beef grind blew my mind; and details from the onion jam to the oomphy Dijon mustard to the gripping Grafton cheddar cheese make it worth a splurge.

Dry-aged cheeseburger at Bludorn

Photo: Jody Schmal/Staff

La Grande Rue/ Savoir  (Heights)

A tony wine bar was not where I expected to find a really good cheeseburger. But enter the cheddar or Brie variants at this Heights newcomer and its attached sibling restaurant. Toasted brioche buns, snappy Dijon, roasted cherry tomatoes, sliced cornichons and garlicky aioli all make this cheeseburger dance. The beautifully seared beef patty tastes lush and pure. Alas, the $12 bar price of yore is now $18 at Savoir, including curly fries.

Cheeseburger and fries at La Grande Rue

Photo: Alison Cook / Staff

Louie’s/Riel  (Montrose)

Oh, those little Butter Burgers that Riel used to serve only on Tuesdays! Now Louie’s, Riel’s online sandwich pop-up, offers them every day. This Wisconsinite, slider-sized burger wrinkle by Manitoban-born chef Ryan Lachaine wheedled its way into my heart with its pat of butter, onions caramelized in beef stock and sticky American cheese — all atop a little smashed beef patty seasoned with retrograde garlic and onion powders. Dizzying rich and suave.

Butter Burgers at Riel

Photo: Ryan Lachaine / Contributor

Pop Top Burgers (Webster)

There’s a homey quality to the loosely packed, irregular, never-frozen beef patty on this Bay Area burger joint’s Chopped Jalapeño Burger, a mighty specimen that clocks in at a reasonable $6.98. The mesh of shredded cheddar that makes it a cheeseburger folds in lots of chopped pickled jalapeno grilled on the flattop with onions, plus a few jots of picante sauce. It’s wild and juicy and slip-slidey stuff.

Jalapeño Burger from Pop Top Burgers in Webster

Photo: Alison Cook / Staff

Squable (Upper Shepherd)

The so-called French Cheeseburger at this chef-driven, Heights area restaurant, a project of Justin Yu and Mark Clayton, features cascades of nutty alpine raclette cheese and the chopped cornichon pickles that traditionally go with it. It’s magnetic — hell, majestic — and the $18-with-fries tab fall to half that after 9 p.m. at the bar, one of the city’s best deals.

Nutty Alpine raclette oozes on Squable’s French cheeseburger.

Photo: Nick de la Torre, Houston Chronicle / Contributor

  • Alison Cook
    Alison Cook

    Alison Cook – a two-time James Beard Award winner for restaurant criticism and an M.F.K. Fisher Distinguished Writing award recipient – has been reviewing restaurants and surveying the dining scene for the Houston Chronicle since 2002.

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Alison Cook’s list of the greatest cheeseburgers in Houston – Houston Chronicle

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