Mustard Region contenders
(1) Freds Texas Cafe vs. (8) Burger Xtreme
(1) Freds Texas Cafe: Always a formidable contender it was the 2009 Burger Battle champ, and made the Final Four in 2011, before being defeated by eventual champion Pops Freds was part of the West 7th district before West 7th was cool (or even existed as a district). Outlaw Chef Terry Chandlers original joint is known for live music, cold beer, a funky vibe and the chipotle-festooned Diablo Burger, a fave among heat-seekers. But every burger is a strong player at this joint, which has been featured in an episode of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. Freds has expanded with a north Fort Worth location, a food truck and a Bait Shack at Clearfork Food Park. But its the Currie Street location that will always be dear to our hearts and stomachs. Judging at 915 Currie St., Fort Worth. www.fredstexascafe.com.
(8) Burger Xtreme: Watch out for this newcomer with real sleeper potential. Burger Xtreme, which already defeated the very worthy Bronson Rock Burgers & Beer in a close play-in battle, is about as low-frills as it gets weve seen more formal Whataburgers. But the big, sloppy burgers, served on 5-inch buns, speak for themselves, and they can be as xtreme as advertised, whether its the delectably junky Mega Xtreme cheeseburger or the off-the-wall pizza or Hawaiian burgers. The original Burger Xtreme is in Rowlett; about a year and a half ago the microchain added a southwest Fort Worth location and it recently opened an Arlington location, both of which quickly amassed loyal followings. Because when burgers are this good, who needs a fancy setting? Multiple locations; judging at 6401 McCart Ave., Fort Worth. burgerextremefortworth.com.
(2) Dutchs Legendary Hamburgers vs. (7) LA Burger
(2) Dutchs: Fort Worth chefs Lou Lambert and Grady Spears were at the forefront of the gourmet burger explosion when they opened this TCU-area joint in 2007, but with every new burger battle, Dutchs has faced tougher competition. Spears left about a year after it opened to concentrate on other projects, but Lambert still has a hand in the place. Dutchs maintains a loyal following with its half-pound all-beef burgers and its signature sweet-roll-style buns, and continues to fight off upstarts. But it made relatively early exits in 2009 (in a tough fight against eventual winner Freds) and 2011 (against another modern burger pioneer, Love Shack). Will this be the year this burger palace, named for the most successful football coach in TCU history, finally crosses the goal line? 3009 S. University Drive, Fort Worth. www.dutchshamburgers.com.
(7) LA Burger: Yes, were flinching a little at the thought of something called LA Burger being a contender in a DFW burger competition, but this newcomer, with locations in Irving and Carrollton, has earned raves for its unusual Korean-influenced burgers such as the K-Town, featuring Korean spicy cabbage atop an Angus patty dressed in teriyaki sauce. According to the website, brothers and Los Angeles natives Ben and Jon Lee decided on their Korean-American fusion concept after the Korean-Mexican food truck scene blew up in L.A. And the promise of bulgogi burgers and patties topped with kimchi has us very intrigued. Two locations; judging at 10045 N. MacArthur Blvd., Irving. www.la-burger.com.
(3) Twisted Root vs. (6) Smashburger
(3) Twisted Root Burger Co.: You could make a case that the original Deep Ellum Twisted Root, opened in 2006 by chefs Jason Boso and Quincy Hart, kicked off the modern chef-driven burger craze in DFW. Weve loved the place ever since but it hasnt fared well in previous Battles, making a second-round exit in 2009 and getting served quickly by Maple & Motor in 2011. That hasnt stopped the place from growing in stature and sheer number of locations. Twisted Root, another Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives stop , now has more than a half-dozen DFW locations, with spots in Shreveport, La., and Austin on the way. We hear theyre looking for a Fort Worth place, too. Each one has its own vibe and whimsy (burgers arent called out by number but by pop-culture names: Britney Spears, your order is ready!). But the Deep Ellum location is where it all began, and it retains its flavor in more ways than one. Multiple locations; judging at 2615 Commerce St., Dallas. twistedrootburgerco.com.
( 6) Smashburger: This Denver-based chain arrived in DFW in late 2009/early 2010, around the same time talk of In-N-Outs arrival began to bubble up. Smashburger may have attracted less hoopla than the California cult fave, but it also may have more staying power and a better burger. The smash in the name comes from the philosophy that smashing is better the Angus beef patties are smashed, seared and seasoned on the grill to seal in the flavor. In the 2011 Burger Battle, it came very close to knocking off Love Shack in one of the most memorable bracket matchups in BB history. As weve seen in the past, the beloved Twisted Root has been vulnerable; could this be another upset in the making? Multiple locations; judging at 1605 S. University Drive, Fort Worth. smashburger.com.
(4) Johnny Bs vs. (5) Pappas Burger
(4) Johnny Bs Burgers & Shakes: Its not as funky as Freds (which knocked out Johnny Bs in 2011), but this Southlake favorite does have one thing in common with the Fort Worth institution: As newer restaurants have invaded its territory, Johnny Bs has maintained a loyal following through a decade in business. Credit that to great burgers premium beef between sweet sourdough buns, beautifully presented and a hometown vibe. The jalapeño-and-chili-with-an-i-topped Dragonburger and the double-bacon cheeseburger both have giant-killer potential, and we wouldnt be surprised to see Johnny Bs go far in the 2013 bracket. 2704 E. Southlake Blvd., No. 104, Southlake. www.johnnybsburgers.com.
(5) Pappas Burger: Size matters in the Pappas empire, and thats especially true at Pappas Burger, where the towering half-pounders look even bigger when you order one of the specialty burgers, such as the peppercorn ranch or Frito pie burger. Pappas made it to the Final Four in our 2009 bracket, with its steak-quality beef and steaming-hot burgers. But it stumbled badly in 2011, the victim of an early upset by modest and unheralded downtown joint H2 Burger Co. Pappas could be looking to redeem itself and its reputation, but once again its squaring off against a smaller, more homey spot. Can Goliath turn the tables on David this time? 2700 West Freeway, Fort Worth. pappasburger.com.