Here's how Round 1 of the judges' bracket played out in the 2013 DFW Burger Battle: Pickle Region. (For the other region matchups, click here on Mustard, Baconand Ketchup. And click here to cast a vote in the Readers' Choice bracket!)
Toms has everything a great burger joint should have: a retro-diner look, a wide menu of broiler burger combinations and tots that might make you forget french fries ever existed. The only thing Toms didnt have on our visit was execution. The bacon-Swiss stuffed burger-of-the-month arrived with brown juice running onto the plate, and was doused in way too much onion-mayo. The few bacon crumbles were difficult to locate they were stuffed on the other half of the burger between the double patties and the meat was soft but had little taste. Still, the brioche bun, the rich red tomato and shredded lettuce all were among the absolute best.
But Toms was up against perennial finalist Charleys, on top of its game even on a slow Sunday. A comparable bacon-Swiss burger was loaded with flavor and appropriately restrained mayo. Both the lettuce and tomato seemed better than on past Charleys visits. And Charleys has something most burgers lack: pepper. Owner Charley Bell has never been shy with the pepper, and it only complemented a juicy, classic burger that could have come out of a how-to burger textbook. This might be the burger to beat.
Chubbys, the funky shack in west Fort Worth, proclaims that its burgers are Hard to Beat, and thats not just a burger boast. We ordered Tha Big Nasty because, well, it just made sense, and it did not disappoint. The half-pound, hand-formed patty was nicely salted and juicy, cooked just past medium. A blanket of spicy chili, pickled jalapeños, bacon and grilled onions covered the beef, overpowering it slightly. The promised Monterey Jack/cheddar cheese blend wasnt detectable, and the bacon was a bit firm, but those are quibbles with a strong first-round burger. (The bleu cheese bacon burger was also solid.)
But Chubbys ran headlong into Rodeo Goat, a brash new competitor in Fort Worths West 7th district. The Goats burgers, made from 100 percent natural beef ground in-house daily, are simply more refined and addictive. The Oh Whitney a beef patty topped with mushrooms, carmelized onions, cucumbers, Gruyere and Sriracha mayo performed a graceful balancing act between earthy and bright flavors that still allowed the well-seasoned, perfectly pink meat to shine through. The light bun held together, too, and the cucumber slices retained a nice crunch. The Caca Oaxaca, a beef and chorizo patty with avocado, pico de gallo, fried egg, queso fresco and Tabasco mayo, was also a mind-blowing success. The combination of savory and smooth tastes in this burger gave us a warm feeling in our gut. And it earned Rodeo Goat a decisive debut victory in the 2013 Burger Battle.
Winner: Rodeo Goat
A great burger is like an expertly performed symphony harmonious and immensely satisfying. For this matchup, a familiar maestro faced off against a newcomer. The buzzy Off-Site Kitchen is little more than a shack, perched on the corner of Irving Boulevard and Wycliff Avenue, west of the Design District outside downtown Dallas. But dont let its rough-and-tumble style throw you. This joint is turning out some serious burgers. The brainchild of Dallas restaurateur Nick Badovinus, Off-Site Kitchen wowed us with its Do It Murph-Style burger, a quarter-pound patty of Angus chuck roll and shoulder (ground on-site) served on a bun from Village Baking Co. and topped with flat-top onions, lettuce, tomato, pickle, mayo, a roasted jalapeño and smoked bacon relish, a slice of American cheese, and secret sauce. With every component nicely balanced and holding up throughout, it was delicious from first bite to last.
H2 Burger Co., inside the Red Goose Saloon in downtown Fort Worth, is likewise rough around the edges but has a good rep for its gourmet burgers. But where the Murph-Style burger was in perfect sync, the smokehouse bacon burger struck a discordant note with its sickly sweet onion jam drowning out almost everything else. The patty, which was a bit too peppery, fought to distinguish itself amid the bacon, cheese and gooey onion jam, but never came close to the symphonic splendor of Off-Site Kitchen.
Winner: Off-Site Kitchen
It seemed an unfair matchup: single-patty cheeseburger compared with a double-patty, double-cheese big gun. Wed try hard to keep the mind open, but
In-N-Outs cheeseburger yes, well have onions was served on a toasted bun that had a glisten of grease on the top edge. The patty was slightly askew and Thousand Island oozed onto the bottom bun. The dominant flavors were sauce, raw onion and the crispness of the lettuce. Yes, the burger patty was slim, but the bun was so fresh it was springy, and everything blended together beautifully.
Five Guys regular is a double-patty burger, choose your toppings. The most popular choices are the standards cheese, ketchup, mustard, lettuce, tomato, pickle, grilled onions. Each of the Five Guys patties was thicker than In-N-Outs single and the overall effect was beefy tasting. Tomato slices were firm, but the skinny lettuce leaves had no impact. Grilled onions could barely be detected, and were, possibly, the reason the bottom bun was disintegrating. It was a close call, but in a battle of beloved chain burgers, the victory goes to In-N-Out.
Winner: In-N-Out Burger