Friday, February 23, 2024 Feb 23, 2024
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Why Dallas Is the Burger Capital of the World

Our burger editor makes the irrefutable case.
By David Hale Smith |

It is my considered opinion that Dallas is the hamburger capital of the United States of America—and, thus, of the world. Who am I to make such a proclamation? I am D Magazine’s burger editor pro tem. Moreover, I grew up in Dallas and have spent nearly 50 years eating burgers in our town. I’ve sampled them in every suburb, including the big one to the west, Fort Worth. I’ve eaten burgers across Texas and all over the country. I’ve enjoyed Minetta Tavern’s famed Black Label Burger, in New York City; Roy Choi’s new burger at Commissary, in Los Angeles; the old-school burger at Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint, in Nashville; and the epic double cheeseburger at Au Cheval, in Chicago. I’ve chowed my way through dozens of burger bites at one-day bacchanalian events like the Burger Bash in New York and South Beach, Feast Portland, and Dallas’ own Burgers and Burgundy.

In my day job, I represent as a literary agent some of the foremost culinary writers in the country: Jordan Mackay, Robert Sietsema, Daniel Vaughn, Robert F. Moss, Jennifer V. Cole. I’ve eaten around the country with them, edited their food writing, and watched them work. I also represent chefs. One of them is our own John Tesar, of Knife. John is working on a book about meat. Until recently, he was co-writing it with the late Josh Ozersky, who died far too young, in May, while we were in Chicago together for the James Beard Foundation Awards. Josh was an Esquire editor-at-large and author of the seminal 2008 book The Hamburger: A History. That book changed my thinking about burgers. Debating hamburgers and steaks with Josh was what you did while eating hamburgers and steaks with Josh. It was a privilege to listen to conversations between him and John about their shared belief in the elements of a perfect burger.

A burger should taste mostly like the beef of which it’s made. A burger should be a sandwich you can pick up with one hand (two at the most). No knife and fork required. You should be able to take a bite without the burger exploding onto your shirtfront. Proportion is key. Everything in its place. The best are midcentury modern classics, maybe slightly updated or rethought, but not faux starter mansions with ill-considered references to four different architectural styles. Adding too many elements usually creates a mess (there are exceptions). Waffles for a bun? Please, God, no. 

Dallas has lost some exemplars. I miss the Prince of Hamburgers. Rose’s on Greenville reshaped my view of what a restaurant could be. Magical. It was the coolest burger joint we ever had. Most of all, I miss Club Schmitz. I went with a heavy heart on its final Friday last May, and nearly wept as I walked across that sun-baked caliche parking lot back to the car. The first time I ate a Club Schmitz double-double was a griddled revelation. Those thin patties, perfectly seared on the old flattop, squished together with slices of American cheese on a plain white bun. Heaven. 

But just as a tree falls and makes the forest floor more fertile and diverse, so the passing of these joints has only made Dallas a better burger town. The respected industry site BurgerBusiness recently published a list of 18 top new independent burger joints around the world. Three Texas restaurants made the cut. They are all in Dallas and Plano (Dugg Burger, Hickory, and K.T. Burger). Then there are the chains we’ve cultivated, both old and new, large and small: Chili’s, Burger Street, Mooyah, Twisted Root. And what’s the newest franchise concept to come out of Dallas from the guy who put a Which Wich on every corner in America? That’s right: Burguesa Burger.

It’s really pretty simple how we wound up on top. The burger itself was invented in the late 1890s by a fellow named Uncle Fletch, in Athens, Texas, a Dallas suburb just the other side of Gun Barrel City. Others have made conflicting claims, most notably a gentleman from Wisconsin, which, as everyone knows, is where cheese comes from. So you can disregard those claims. 

Where does beef come from? According to the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, Texas—of course—raises more stock than any other state. If Texas is the king of beef, it stands to reason that the epicenter of our state would be the country’s best burger spot. What has come out of Austin? Torchy’s Tacos. Fine, we will cede tacos to Austin. You want to consider Houston? Please. Houston was founded by two brothers from New York who thought it was closer to Galveston than it really is. If you want seafood, go to Houston. 

Luke Munro lives in Houston. I don’t know him, but he manages the frozen beef patties category for the giant Cargill Value Added Meats Foodservice. So I asked for his take on the Dallas burger scene. “Dallas, in my opinion, has some of the most unique and creative burger concepts in the United States,” he said. “I wish they had more exploratory options in Houston for some cutting-edge burger recipes.” 

Look, the proof is in the patty. Don’t take my word for it. You can even ignore more than 100 years of burger history if you want to. But spend some time driving around North Texas, eating hamburgers. Try the 21 best burgers, a list I arrived at after endless eating with Nancy Nichols and the rest of the D Magazine staff. Then try the other 57 recommended joints on our amazing burger map. If, at the end of that journey, you don’t agree that Dallas is Burgertown, USA—well, then you and your cholesterol number are both high. 


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