One bite from the 1-pounder and I knew I was encountering my own version of the Old ’96er in that famous scene from The Great Outdoors. In the ’80s comedy classic, John Candy takes on a 6-pound steak. While he walked out victorious, I walked away quite beaten and wary of any such food challenges.
Despite my early retirement from competitive eating, over-the-top burgers keep piquing my interest. Even though my years of culinary exploration have waned the notion that bigger means better, when others make that mistake I can’t look away. Eating can be a competitive sport after all, just ask Joey Chestnut. My preference, however, is to make it a spectator sport.
So, I decided to put together a list of burgers that will pop your eyes out and bust your gut. Not surprisingly, Texas has more than its fair share of them. Maybe the phrase “everything is bigger in Texas” should be changed to “everything is bigger and bolder and creamier and spicier … in Texas.”
Ice Cream Burger
1624 E. Commerce St., San Antonio.
A 5-ounce cheeseburger loaded with classic toppings and a scoop of deep-fried Blue Bell vanilla ice cream and served with a side of fries for $9.99—or $13.99 for a double patty.
The Ice Cream Burger from Mark’s Outing came about from a conversation at a local ice cream shop called Marble Slab Creamery. Owner Mark Outing was marveling that Marble Slab makes their own ice cream cones. “Out of nowhere I said, ‘If they can do that, I can make an ice cream burger,” Outing says. His ex-wife laughed at him. Then he took it as a challenge to make it work. There was some serious research and development before he landed on the perfect recipe. At some point, he realized that coating the vanilla ice cream with cornflakes was a good way to keep the ice cream together when it goes into the fryer. “My inspiration was breaded fish,” Outing says. Yeah, his mind works in mysterious ways. Wisely, he shapes the ice cream into a ball for visual appeal.
It’s not just an experience eating it. It’s also a sight to witness. “You see their eyes light up,” Outing says of first timers trying the Ice Cream Burger. “What gets me is when people get the burger, they remove the ice cream ball and think they’re supposed to eat it separately,” he adds. That’s when Outing will, as he says, “throw down the penalty flag” and instruct them to smash the ice cream ball down on the burger.
I do just that and take a brave, big bite, and my brain’s synapses fire off alarms of burger bliss. There was plenty of burger to sink into, most notably a well-seasoned patty with an extra oomph that goes beyond salt and pepper. There are a lot of textures, too, like crisp lettuce, juicy tomato, and that cool refreshing element brought on by ice cream.
But before I take my bite, I point-blank ask Outing, “Does this burger work?” He replies, “Do you understand a marriage?” Outing measures my satisfaction after that first bite and says, “Have you ever had a burger and a milkshake together?” Eureka! We have been mixing the flavors of burgers and ice cream for decades. Outing just figured out how to design the experience without a cup and straw. Suddenly, his burger and my 14 years of marriage make sense. What appears to be strikingly incompatible—an odd couple—just makes sense when you take a leap of faith.
Flamin’ Queso Burger
Toro Burger Bar
Multiple locations in El Paso, Horizon City, and Lubbock
An Angus beef patty topped with Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, chile toreado, and queso for $10.49.
My Reddit post for “over the top burgers?” revealed that El Paso likes its burgers unconventionally loaded. One place called Panda Burgers piles up a 7-ounce cheeseburger with al pastor, pineapple, cilantro, onion, and avocado salsa. Over at Toro Burger Bar, chef Richard Pollick explains the phenomenon: “A lot of our burgers are influenced by our surroundings. And that’s big around here—buy a package of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, put queso on it.” That’s how the Flamin’ Queso Burger was born. But Cheetos and queso aren’t everything. Pollick adds chile toreados, which are blistered jalapeño peppers, to make this burger seem like a proper food challenge. But general manager Robert Barragan shuts down that notion. “The queso brings down the heat of the toreado,” Barragan says. “It’s a well-balanced burger.” Not surprisingly the key demo for this burger is the 13- to 27-year-old crowd. They have time before the realities of indigestion hit.
The Black Gold
The Post Oak Hotel H Bar
1600 W. Loop South, Houston.
A 16-ounce sliced A5 wagyu steak topped with foie gras and black truffles and wrapped in a caviar- and gold-infused brioche bun with a side of golden fries and a bottle of Dom Perignon for $1,600.
The H Bar at the lux Post Oak Hotel serves the most expensive offering on this list: the Black Gold burger for $1,600, as in ONE THOUSAND SIX HUNDRED DOLLARS. What does one month’s rent get your hands on? First let’s start with 16 ounces of A5 grade Japanese wagyu beef, which is like USDA Prime but way more marbled. Then let’s top it with 8 ounces of seared foie gras, some shaved black truffles, and 24-karat edible gold leaf sprinkles. Finally, let’s finish it off with a house-made brioche bun infused with caviar and more edible gold leaf to give it a black and gold look. Of course, this burger comes with fries—hand cut and sprinkled with gold. Oh, and a bottle of champagne—a 2006 Dom Perignon. “We had a family travel from Florida who stayed at our hotel just so they could try the burger after seeing it in a magazine,” says chef Jean Luc Royere.
Maine Lobster Smash Burger
4526 Research Forest Dr., The Woodlands.
A 4-ounce custom beef blend topped with Maine lobster, American cheese, miso tomato aioli, shredded lettuce, and scallions with a side of fries for $25.
The words “surf and turf” evoke anniversary dinners at fancy steakhouses where filet mignons share the billing with lobster tails. Pulling that off in a burger, as is the case with The Kitchen’s Maine Lobster Smash Burger, is remarkable at the reasonable price tag of $25. “People ooh and awe when they see all the lobster meat,” says chef Austin Simmons. “Having 11 restaurant concepts allows me to use my buying power and pass the savings on to the customer.”
You might think the draw of this burger is the 3 ounces of lobster meat, essentially doubling the amount of protein on the sandwich. Rather it’s the miso tomato aioli that Austin makes in-house. A mix of white miso, pureed tomatoes, Tamari Japanese sauce, and Hellman’s mayo, which Austin prefers over scratch made, is applied on the burger and glazed over the lobster claw. “Your job is to create a sensation for your palate—to create that ‘f— me moment,’” Austin says.
For the 4-ounce patty that accompanies the lobster, Austin crosses feed-lot cattle with grazing cattle. This marries a well-marbled beef with the distinct flavor of beef fed on grass its whole life. Bottom line: This quarter-pound patty tastes more expensive than it costs. Maybe this burger is outrageous because it should cost more.
2021 Strand St. #3, Galveston.
A burger topped with two pork tamales, queso fresco, avocado, cilantro, pickled jalapeños, mole enchilada sauce, and hot sauce for $11.99.
At the Galveston location of this multicity franchise, owners Frank and Teffeny Caruso top their cheeseburger with two pork tamales from an area shop to create the Tamale Burger. “We believe in local, and there is a place called Pennie’s Tex Mex Takeout, and they have the best tamales,” Frank says. Queso fresco, cilantro, avocado, pickled jalapeños, hot sauce, and mole enchilada sauce further explain the burger’s popularity. It ranks third out of 20 offerings, which is why it went from a seasonal offering to a mainstay. “People coming off the cruise ships really dig it because they are usually from out of state,” Frank adds. Suddenly, I am salivating for my days in San Angelo.
Bismillah Restaurant & Cafe
5696 Hillcroft St., Houston.
A burger sandwiched between two Belgian pearl waffles and topped with Philly cheesesteak for $16.99—available on the “secret menu.”
For 20 years, owner Inam Moghul has mixed Pakistani and American fare, giving each food culture an adequate place to shine on his menu. While some might be more inclined to go for his Pakistani specialties like goat curry or grilled minced-meat kebabs, the man has a way with burgers. Consider the Waffle Burger: a patty wrapped in two Belgian pearl waffles and topped with Philly cheesesteak. Moghul’s inspiration came from chicken and waffles. “The waffles that we use are imported from Belgium,” Moghul says. “They almost form crystallized-like sugar patches in them once cooked. That sweetness and the savory notes from the beef make it irresistible.”
Big Happy Burger
2616 Olive St., Dallas.
A 5-pound burger with a side of fries for $145.
The Big Happy Burger at the Happiest Hour features a 5-pound patty of American wagyu, 1 pound of bacon, 1 pound of cheddar cheese, a whole head of green leaf lettuce, four large tomatoes, two cups of pickled jalapeños, 1 pound of grilled onions, and a serious amount of comeback sauce, which is a riff on the Big Mac’s mayo-mustard-relish combination. After forking over $145 for this gargantuan burger—it includes 5 pounds of fries—one wonders who orders this. “I’ve seen bachelorette parties order it, get the Instagram pic, and then that board comes back empty,” says executive chef Paul Latkowski. “We aren’t too far away from a little league stadium. A team came in and the coach ordered three. They ate every bit.”