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The 2011 Battle of the Burgers: DFW edition

NEXT WEEK: The judges eat their way through the first round. See who makes it to the Sweet Sixteen.

Posted 8:23am on Wednesday, Jul. 06, 2011

VOTE in our READERS' CHOICE bracket, and be entered to win a grand prize!

For as long as there have been restaurants and diners to eat at them, there have been arguments: Who has the best sushi in town? Or Italian food? Or fried chicken?

In a meritocratic country obsessed with statistics and data -- Zagat ratings and critic's stars -- the arguments often turn into hierarchical comparisons.

And in an area like ours, which specializes in things like tacos, barbecue and especially hamburgers, the arguments are prone to turn, well, as bloody as a 1/2-pound burger pulled off the griddle before its time.

In 2009, DFW.com Ink set out to find the best hamburger in North Texas -- no easy feat, considering the number of restaurants that specialize in this seemingly commonplace culinary classic. But we also wanted to approach this familiar debate with fresh energy -- something more complex than a mere top 10 list.

That's when we settled upon the idea of an NCAA bracket-style tournament, featuring 32 of the Metroplex's best burger restaurants. A burger would be seeded, based on reputation and perceived strength, and then square off in direct competition against another burger. Our judges traveled to both places on the same day, determined to see which served up the best patty. The winner advanced to the next round, where it would square off against another formidable foe.

We knew this approach had potential pitfalls -- and that's precisely what we liked about it. Just as in sports, a brilliant burger restaurant might suffer from an off day and be eliminated by a scrappy underdog. But as we progressed, over the course of six weeks, we discovered that the bracket style had many other benefits: It demanded greatness and consistency. The winner would have to perform, week after week, and face down brutal competition.

We weren't necessarily surprised when Fred's Texas Cafe in Fort Worth proved the ultimate victor. But the fact that it had surpassed, in head-to-head showdowns, such fine burger establishments as Dutch's, Kincaid's, Pappas Burger and Jakes, only cemented Fred's greatness in our minds.

This summer, we're ready to start eating burgers all over again. Much has changed in the past two years on the DFW burger scene. A couple of new chains, like the Denver-based Smashburger, have opened their first locations in town. New locally owned establishments, like Chop House Burgers in Arlington and H2 Burger Co. in Fort Worth, have upped the gourmet ante. And let's not ignore that 800-pound gorilla in the room, In-N-Out Burger, the legendary California chain whose opening this spring in North Texas was so eagerly anticipated that patrons lined up for hours to get a bite.

We've mixed things up slightly this year -- instead of grouping the bracket by geographic area (Dallas, Fort Worth, Mid-Cities, etc.) we decided to up the competitiveness and randomly assign burgers to quadrants. We're calling them the Bacon, Pickle, Mustard and Ketchup regions, because condiments and add-ons are crucial to the overall flavor profile of the burger, too.

We also invited you to help us choose the No. 8 seeds in each quadrant -- the "play-in" burgers. Congratulations Mooyah, Nicky D's, Heart Attack Grill and Tom's -- we're thrilled to have you in the competition.

Beyond that, though, our goals remain very much the same. First, we want to celebrate the culinary ingenuity and passion of this area's many terrific burger makers. We want to discover new burgers and rediscover old favorites that we might have taken for granted.

So we want to determine -- once and for all -- which place produces the most exciting, flavorful and consistent burger in the area. Until the argument starts up all over again.

And now, it's on to the matchups.

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