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Burger vs. Burger: the Round 1 matchups

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

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How did that place make the cut? Why are they ranked so high? In a burger-glutted area like North Texas, it should be considered an honor to even make it into the tournament. So allow us to celebrate the 32 spots competing in the 2011 Battle of the Burgers -- and explain why we regard each of these patty specialists as highly as we do. Time to bring your A-game, burger makers!

Meanwhile, click here to see this head-to-head list in bracket form. Print out a copy so you can play along at home.

(1) Kincaid's Hamburgers vs. (8) Tom's Burgers and Grill

(1) Kincaid's Hamburgers: The historic original on Camp Bowie Boulevard inspires such loyalty that some of its customers won't eat anywhere else -- including the other Kincaid's locations that have popped up since 2005. It started in 1946 as Charles Kincaid's Grocery and Market, but it became a burger palace when meat-cutter O.R. Gentry started cooking burgers in 1964. Gentry eventually bought the place but kept the grocery-store ambience. In 2009, Kincaid's made it to the elite eight before being beat by eventual champion Fred's. This time, with Fred's on the opposite side of the bracket, might it go all the way? Multiple locations; judging is taking place at 4901 Camp Bowie Blvd., Fort Worth

(8) Tom's Burgers and Grill: The gleaming chrome diner just off Interstate 30 in Arlington, in a converted Denny's, is the dream of Tom Jones, a former engineer who has turned his talents toward building a great burger. He constructed a wood-fired grill that infuses his creations (1/3- and 1/2-pound patties) with an old-fashioned flavor that'll remind you of the best backyard barbecues of your childhood. Tom's nostalgic appeal has plenty of fans, too; more than 500 voted it into our play-in round, where it defeated another formidable burger, Magnolia Motor Lounge. Next up: a matchup with the granddaddy of Fort Worth burgers, Kincaid's. It'll be a classic burger showdown, and we might just smell an upset. 1530 N. Cooper St., Arlington

(5) Pop's Burger and Grill vs. (4) Red Robin Gourmet Burgers

(5) Pop's Burger and Grill: Tucked into a small strip mall in west Fort Worth, Pop's is the kind of tiny, out-of-the-way place you consider keeping to yourself. There are only 10 tables squeezed into a 500-square-foot dining room, after all. But its burgers command attention -- 1/2-pound patties, juicy and sprinkled with just the right amount of pepper -- and after a year in business, the secret of Pop's is out. It earned an impressively high fifth-seeding for a newbie, though its many rabid fans would probably argue it should have been seeded even higher. 4400 Benbrook Highway, Fort Worth

(4) Red Robin Gourmet Burgers: For our money, Red Robin might just be the most underrated restaurant chain on the planet -- serving up big, juicy burgers with precisely the sort of attention to detail and fresh ingredients that you'd expect from a locally owned establishment. In 2009, Red Robin lost to Pappas Burgers in the second round, in what might have the closest matchup of the entire tournament. This year, it drew an especially tough draw, facing off against Pop's in the first round, and either Kincaid's or Tom's in the second. Can this chain prove the haters wrong? Multiple locations; judging is taking place at 820 North East Mall Blvd., Hurst

(3) OC Burgers vs. (6) Steak 'n Shake

(3) OC Burgers: It's the lesser known California burger chain (two Tarrant county OC locations got here before In-N-Out), but don't be fooled by its teriyaki pineapple and guacamole shenanigans. OC's flavorful blue cheese burger sent one of our judges into a near-reverie in 2009. It went down swinging against Five Guys in the round of 16, but it remains one of our favorite hidden gems in the region. And this year it's quietly tucked into a corner of the bracket where it could easily emerge as a contender for the Final Four. Multiple locations; judging is taking place at 1201 Airport Freeway, No. 190, Euless

(6) Steak 'n Shake: Yes, it's a chain with a drive-through, but do not underestimate the power of the "steakburger." And there's a reason this place has hung around for 77 years. When founder Gus Belt wanted to show off the quality of beef he used, he'd wheel in a barrel of steaks and grind the meat into burgers in view of the customers, according to company history. For the value, this sandwich is a crispy-edged, lip-smacking guilty pleasure. In 2009, a delicious Red Robin clipped its wings in Round 1. We'll see if the Steak can shake it up in 2011. Multiple locations; judging is taking place at 6413 Precinct Line Road, North Richland Hills

(7) Maple and Motor vs. (2) Twisted Root Burger Co.

(7) Maple and Motor: On its Facebook page, Maple and Motor describes itself as "a grease-stained tribute to low-class cool," and judging from the crowded parking lot at this Dallas outpost, people love their grease-stained tributes. Our foodie friends have especially been trumpeting Maple and Motor's praises, proclaiming that -- since opening just last year -- it has instantly established itself as one of the very finest burgers around. As the random draw would have it, though, it comes up against Twisted Root, which was the place the Dallas foodies used to gush over before Maple and Motor pulled into town. This may be the most competitive first-round matchup of 2011. 4810 Maple Ave., Dallas

(2) Twisted Root Burger Co.: With its mouthwatering chuck-brisket blend, this Dallas-based, chef-driven burger joint seems to appeal equally to burger traditionalists and nouveau experimentalists. Sadly, up against Scotty P's in the second round in 2009, the Root underperformed not once, but twice -- tossing it out of the bracket in a cruel upset. Since then, our burger judges have developed a real affinity for Twisted Root (you'll find us there occasionally holding an "office meeting"), and a few of us are predicting that it might just win the entire tournament -- as long as it doesn't choke under pressure again. Multiple locations; judging taking place at 2615 Commerce St., Dallas

(2)Pappas Burger vs. (7) H2 Burger Co.

(2) Pappas Burger: It's part of the sprawling Pappas chain, which includes Pappadeaux and Pappas Bros. steakhouse, a gleaming, old-fashioned-style hamburger shop that begs you to swerve off the highway when you pass by on I-30. Some gripe that the oversized burgers are too expensive and too messy, but our judges had few complaints in 2009: Pappas Burger made it all the way to the Final Four before falling to eventual champion Fred's. Still, we've heard grumblings in recent months that it's not as good as it once was, and it faces off against a formidable newcomer in Round 1. 2700 West Freeway, Fort Worth

(7) H2 Burger Co.: One of the newest players on our rich burger landscape made a cruelly timed debut: during the ice-tastrophic weather of Super Bowl week. But word of mouth built -- and it had to: H2 is so hidden away in downtown Fort Worth (inside the Red Goose Saloon) that it's tough to find. But when you find it ... oh, what a burger. Unlike some chef-driven burgers that don't live up to the fanfare, H2 delivers a symphonic sammie: Angus beef half-pounders topped with gourmet twists like cremini mushrooms, tarragon mustard and balsamic caramelized onions. It's a killer burger, and we're thinking it has the potential to slay some mighty opponents. 306 Houston St., Fort Worth

(6)Wingfield's Breakfast & Burger vs. (3) Keller's Drive-In

(6) Wingfield's Breakfast & Burger: In 2009, our judge returned from the divey spot in south Dallas enraged and slightly sick to his stomach: How could anyone like the oversized, grease-soaked burger for which it is famous? (Our judge claimed the burger was as big as a newborn baby's head; needless to say, Scotty P's advanced in that round.) But the folks at D Magazine stand by their assertion that it's the best burger in Dallas, and we're ready for our taste buds to give it a second chance. Judges, start your Alka-Seltzer tablets. 2615 S. Beckley Ave., Dallas

(3) Keller's Drive-In: Here we have a midcentury Dallas landmark: no fuss, and only a little muss (thanks to a hail of poppy seeds from the bun). In '09, the solid Keller's flat-patty burger was felled in the Sweet 16 by its partner-in-poppies, Jakes -- essentially a pumped up, more new-school version of Keller's. Fun fact: There was originally a family connection between the two joints, although the current Jakes owners bought out Jake Keller several years back. This go-round, let's see if the old-timer can beat the stuffing out of a whippersnapper or two. Multiple locations; judging taking place at 6537 E. Northwest Highway, Dallas

(4) Johnny B's Burgers vs. (5) Jackson's Grill

(4) Johnny B's Burgers: Southlake has become a burger stronghold over the years, with the arrival of Kincaid's, Five Guys and Steak 'n Shake, but Johnny B's more than holds its own against the big names in burgering. Opened in 2004 by John Finlayson, a former VP at a Fortune 500 company, Johnny B's delivers fresh, compact and darn good flat-patty burgers. Order at least the double with oozing American cheese, or if you're feeling feisty, the Dragonburger -- a triple topped with jalapeños and homemade chili. Johnny B's flew under the radar in 2009, advancing to the Elite 8, and we suspect it'll cruise quietly through the early rounds again. 2704 E. Southlake Blvd., Southlake

(5) Jackson's Grill: The Scott family has a long burger legacy in North Texas -- it started grilling up gut-busting, greasy-in-a-good-way burgers in 1974 at Jackson's Grocery No. 1 in Arlington. That location was sold 15 years ago, but last summer, founder Larry Scott opened Jackson's Grill in Kennedale, near I-20 and U.S. 287, and hungry customers came flocking back. The burgers are Texas classics, which should make for a delicious first-round duel with Johnny B's. 1298 E. Kennedale Parkway, Suite 102, Kennedale

(8) Nicky D's vs. (1) Fred's Texas Cafe

(8) Nicky D's: Deep in the heart of Crowley, in a diner decorated with all sorts of oddball pop-culture memorabilia (Is that a Bryan Adams LP album cover we see on the wall?), Nicky D's serves up thick, sloppy, single-patty burgers that seem to fall apart at the first bite -- but have also earned this burger shack a loyal and fervent following. Nicky D's squeaked past Al's Hamburgers in a not-especially-memorable play-in round, and -- we gotta be honest here -- we don't see it hanging around much longer: Its first-round opponent is defending champion Fred's. Still, stranger upsets have happened (and who doesn't love a burger joint with Johnny Cash concert posters on the walls?). 1605 Farm Road 1187, Crowley

(1) Fred's Texas Cafe: Once a lone Currie Street outpost, Fred's has seen the bustling West 7th development spring up around it. But despite all those new, more highfalutin' restaurants, "Outlaw Chef" Terry Chandler's funky little joint still draws such a crowd that it can be hard to find a seat. The Diablo burger, a chipotle-drenched fire-eaters' delight, helped take it to the top in the 2009 Battle of the Burgers, though pretty much every burger on the menu is stupendous. A second location recently opened in north Fort Worth, but true Fred's lovers will drive farther, through hellish Interstate 35W traffic, to get to the original. Multiple locations; judging taking place at 915 Currie St., Fort Worth

(1) Jakes Burgers vs. (8) Mooyah Burgers & Fries

(1) Jakes Burgers: This Dallas-based mini-chain was happy being on the east side of DFW for nearly 25 years before it invaded Tarrant in 2009 -- just in time to be in our first Battle of the Burgers, where it survived some early-round stumbles to make it all the way to the runner-up position. Known for its poppy-seed buns, double patties and "bottle caps" -- i.e., fried jalapeños, which you can order separately or as a burger topping -- it delivers many variations on a big, messy, juicy burger. And some of its "Burger of the Month" options have made our arteries harden when we just looked at the poster. That said, its first-round competition -- local fast-food chain Mooyah -- is tougher than you might think. Multiple locations; judging taking place at 515 Main St., Fort Worth

(8) Mooyah Burgers & Fries: This Frisco-based chain, with its bright interiors and all-American design, has a dozen locations in North Texas, though we've always been on the fence about it. Mooyah quickly defeated Whataburger in the 2009 Battle of the Burgers, but then just as quickly fell to Fuddruckers. This year, just when we were ready to give up on it, Mooyah handily defeated Chapps in a play-in round with a tasty double-patty burger, topped by a splendid hunk of bacon. It will certainly have to be on its game to make it past first-round opponent Jakes, a finalist in 2009. Multiple locations; judging taking place at 2720 Texas 121, Suite 600, Euless

(5) Chop House Burgers vs. (4) Tommy's Hamburgers

(5) Chop House Burgers: Former Dallas steakhouse chef Kenny Mills serves up big flavor in his tiny Arlington burger stand on Park Row near Fielder. Opened earlier this year, Chop House has already become a destination for foodies hungry for Mill's gourmet blend of ground beef and shredded brisket mixed with house-made steak sauce. Mills' chefly toppings up the ante even more, with everything from applewood-smoked bacon to quinoa and cilantro. Even as a rookie, Chop House earned a five seed and definitely has the chops to go the distance. But will its distinctly uptown take on an American classic stand up to an old-school beauty like Tommy's in the first round? 1700 W. Park Row Drive, No. 116, Arlington

(4) Tommy's Hamburgers: In the hamburger heaven that is west Fort Worth, Tommy's too often gets lost in the shadow of Kincaid's and Fred's. That will only increase with the arrival of In-N-Out. But Tommy's has its die-hard fans, because it has been grilling up thick, bodacious burgers for more than 25 years. After an early exit in our first burger battle -- it lost an extremely close matchup with Love Shack -- keep an eye on Tommy's to go a little deeper this time around. Multiple locations; judging taking place at 5228 Camp Bowie Blvd., Fort Worth

(3) Love Shack vs. (6) Smashburger

(3) Love Shack: Tim Love is arguably Fort Worth's most famous chef, and the Dirty Love burger at his shack in the Stockyards is a true gourmet concoction, complete with bacon, special "Love sauce" and topped with a fried quail egg. Since 2009, when Love Shack lost to the legendary Kincaid's in Round 2 of the Burger Battle, Love has added two new locations, on West Seventh Street and in Denton. But it won't be an easy road for Love Shack this year, either: If the seeds hold, it will face another much-loved Fort Worth spot, Dutch's, in the second round. Multiple locations; judging taking place at 110 E. Exchange Ave., Fort Worth

(6) Smashburger: The Denver-based chain's 2010 arrival in DFW didn't stir up the same mania as In-N-Out's this year, but it did create a lot of anticipation among burger lovers. Like In-N-Out, it's a chain that strives to be better than other, bigger chains (the Smash in the name comes from the way the Angus beef is "smashed, seared and seasoned" on the grill), that emphasizes the "casual" in its fast-casual setting. In its first Burger Battle, it's up against local fave Love Shack. Can this rookie score an upset? Multiple locations; judging taking place at 1605 S. University Drive, Fort Worth

(7) Chubby's Burger Shack vs. (2) Dutch's

(7) Chubby's Burger Shack: Loosen your belt before you belly up to this far west Fort Worth roadhouse, which is the brainchild of two buddies who are, well, kinda chubby. (Would you trust your burgers to a skinny dude?) Chubby's salty and juicy 1/2-pound burgers are the size of small hubcaps and come topped with everything from bacon and blue cheese to guac and chili. We didn't discover Chubby's until after the 2009 Burger Battle had already begun, but since then it has gained a big following (call 'em Chubby chasers) and could give TCU titan Dutch's all it could handle in the first round. 7618 Camp Bowie West Blvd., Fort Worth

(2) Dutch's: Although it only opened in 2007, Dutch's has the feel of a true classic -- an inviting hangout in the thick of the TCU campus. (The place actually gets its name from famed TCU football coach Leo "Dutch" Meyer.) The burgers are all terrific, but we're especially obsessed with the sweet and starchy buns, which are unlike any other you'll find in the area. Dutch's fell in a tough, early matchup against eventual champion Fred's in 2009. But any doubts of this burger house's abilities should be quelled by another honor it received in 2009, when Texas Monthly named it one of the top 10 burgers in the entire state. 3009 S. University Drive, Fort Worth

(2) In-N-Out Burger vs. (7) Grumps

(2) In-N-Out Burger: There's no two ways about it: This California burger is legendary. When news broke that the cult-favorite chain would open several locations in North Texas this year, California transplants and Texas converts not only freaked out, they camped out. (The first DFW In-N-Outs opened simultaneously in Frisco and Allen this spring, followed by a Dallas location June 23; Fort Worth and Arlington stores are soon to follow.) The hype alone makes it a worthy contender; and for a thin-patty burger you can get through a window, it's a darn good sandwich. But how far will this Cali creation make it in the town of Cow? Multiple locations; judging is taking place at 7940 N. Central Expressway, Dallas

(7) Grumps: Grumps' story is the kind we find hard to resist: In 2001, Collier Albright, tired of the coat-and-tie corporate world, began to talk to his wife about going into business for himself. He wasn't good enough at golf or fishing to do those pursuits for a living, so they decided to open the kind of place where they like to eat -- one that treats customers well and takes care with its food -- and Grumps (an approximation of "Gramps") was born. Granbury and Stephenville locations led to a Burleson one, which is home base for Grumps' first Battle of the Burgers -- in which it goes up against fast-food monster In-N-Out. Multiple locations; judging taking place at 108 S. Main St., Burleson

(6) Whataburger vs. (3) Charley's Old-Fashioned Hamburgers

(6) Whataburger: The iconic Texas fast-food burger chain, known for its classic A-frame buildings; in small towns, a Whataburger can be as much a community center as it is a restaurant. The chain, which started as a burger shack selling two-fisted burgers in Corpus Christi, has more than 700 locations in 10 states and inspires intense nostalgia among expatriate Texans who are living in Whataburger-free states. Whataburger suffered a first-round upset to upstart Texas chain Mooyah in 2009, and it has even tougher competition -- southwest Fort Worth institution Charley's -- in this year's battle. Multiple locations; judging taking place at 2401 W. Berry St., Fort Worth

(3) Charley's Old-Fashioned Hamburgers

Located in an unassuming, old-school shack on a stretch of southwest Fort Worth road you only drive if a) you live out there or b) someone tells you about Charley's, this place is so old-school that it doesn't have a website, and its Facebook page pretty much just provides the address and phone number. So we'll tell you: If you love burgers, go there. If you love spicy burgers, have the Project X. In the 2009 Battle of the Burgers, Charley's faced Dutch's, one of the strongest contenders; this time around, it's up against Whataburger, a battle of two unpretentious institutions, one intensely local, one intensely Texan. 4616 Granbury Road, Fort Worth

(4) M&O Station Grill vs. (5) Fuddruckers

(4) M&O Station Grill: When this mom-and-pop burger joint pulled into Fort Worth in 2007 -- near the Montgomery Ward building -- the West 7th district wasn't the trendy-fied place it is now. And like its burger brother across the way, Fred's, M&O transcends hipsterism. The restaurant can brag on its 1/2-pound stuffed burgers and its wildly loyal fan base. To wit: In the Judges' Bracket in 2009, M&O was cut down in Round 1 by longtime Cowtown favorite Kincaid's. However, in the Readers' Bracket, thanks to an exhaustive handwritten paper ballot campaign waged by M&O's owners and fans, it proved an unstoppable force, winning the Readers' Choice in a multireamed landslide. Will the Little Burger Joint That Could make it farther up the hill in 2011? 200 Carroll St., Fort Worth

(5) Fuddruckers: Yes, it's a chain (founded in San Antonio, headquartered in Austin). So even we were surprised by Fudd's consistent performance in 2009: Each time, we got a salty-juicy, well-constructed burger cooked to our exact specifications, with fixin's from a vast toppings bar. It finally fell -- just short of the Final Four -- to a deity in the Fort Worth burger world: an utterly divine Pappas burger. But in the process it earned our respect, and our eagerness to see how it will fare this time around. Multiple locations; judging taking place at 5601 Southwest Loop 820, Fort Worth

(8) Heart Attack Grill vs. (1) Five Guys Burgers and Fries

(8) Heart Attack Grill: The Arizona chain arrived in Dallas's West End earlier this year and quickly sparked controversy with its unabashedly gluttonous concept: Naughty nurses greet you at the door and outfit you with a hospital gown and wristband. You order from a fat-filled menu that includes single, double, triple and quadruple bypass burgers -- juicy 1/2-pound patties, of course. The quadruple can be topped with up to 20 slices of bacon. (Hey, it's your funeral.) But in the play-in round, Heart Attack's single bypass burger didn't live up to the chain's bravado. We're guessing it'll flat-line against a Goliath like Five Guys. 1718 N. Market St., Dallas

(1) Five Guys Burgers and Fries: The Washington, D.C.-based chain, which counts President Barack Obama and the first lady among its high-profile fans, first planted its red and white flag in North Texas in summer 2008. With its uncommonly juicy single or double-patty burgers, which are customizable with a variety of fresh toppings, Five Guys swatted away some decidedly stiff competition, including OC Burgers and Johnny B's, before stumbling badly in its Final Four matchup against Jakes. Since then, though, it has continued its steady expansion, adding three locations in Tarrant County alone -- and we're thinking it has the potential to once again go all the way this year. Multiple locations; judging taking place at 1304 W. Pipeline Road, Hurst

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