BEEFMASTERS* 

Armadillo’s

1423 Mccullough
(210) 226-7556

The burger is undressed, and served on a good, crispy bun, with lettuce, tomato, onions, and pickles on the side. “Meat smells good,” said one critic, but everyone agreed it was “over-seasoned.” The bottled beer here is “freezing cold” and comes with a chilled pint glass. Typical roadhouse décor with old signs and license plates on the walls. The tater tots are outstanding, but looking at the next table, everyone has onion-ring envy.

Team One

 

Belle’s Burgers

517 Pleasanton
(210) 922-5097

This is a classic Texas burger, said the Team One member, the elements being a bigger-than-grocery-store bun, a thin patty, and basic toppings, including mustard, tomato, and onion. It’s like a classic New York slice: No one component outnumbers the others. “A basic burger, but fine,” she concluded. Unless, like the Team Two member you get a bacon burger with cheese and jalapeños, which makes an incredibly tasty package in which the patty is merely a foundation for the deliciously thick and salty bacon. Surprise special guest and Music/Screens Editor Jeremy Martin adds that the cheeseburger was “really good” with salt and ketchup. The tufted blue booths and formica tables are well-worn, and don’t even look at the ceiling, but the price, and the milkshakes, can’t be beat, and the lone, hardworking employee is a sweetheart.

Teams One & Two

Big’z Burger Joint

2303 N Loop 1604 W
(210) 408-2029

Big'z basic burger is somewhat Fuddruckerish in style, but slightly less expensive; the beef is of better quality and more generous (served medium, unless specified), but it's not hugely flavorful, either. Juicy, though. It's big and messy, a popular style, but a little overwhelming, and tiresome by the end. The standard tomato was unusually good, and the pickle was kosher dill rather than "hamburger slices." (Ed. note: Get it dirty for $1: a fried egg on top makes everything better.) You get two free sauces with the delicious Belgian-style frites, which are also good on the burger. We tried chipotle mayo and garlic-chile ketchup, neither very spicy, but adequate. Big'z is barnlike, very family friendly, with lots of outdoor seating, filled mostly with families with kids. It's clean, and staffed by surly teens. If you're not a suburban family with kiddos, it's not that much fun to sit inside; it's probably very nice to sit outside when it gets cooler, though.*

This story has been corrected. It originally said that Big'z burgers were slightly more expensive than Fuddruckers, and are served medium-rare unless specified.

Team One

Burger Boy

2323 N Saint Marys St
(210) 735-1955

A San Antonio institution on North St. Mary’s. The owner and his family were former proprietors of Whopper Burger in the old days, and they continue to please with a great thin-patty burger, served on a standard Butter Krust bun with mustard, lettuce, tomato, onion, and pickles. Only three minutes from order to service. Packaged crinkly fries are served with packets of Hunts Ketchup.They have an “Eating Out Is Fun” sticker on the window, which makes the group giggle. We need to use the facilities, but you have to get the key from the counter to access the outside bathroom, which reminds everyone of a rural gas station; the only minus in an institution that gets nothing else but plusses.

Team Three

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Cappy’s oak-grilled “Kobe” Beef burger, served with hand-cut lemon-pepper chips. Yum.
Chuck Kerr

Cappy’s

5011 Broadway St
(210) 828-9669

You’re paying some for environment — and sweet muffins to start — along with first-rate service. The Kobe beef is really American Wagyu, a variant. Thick, peppery bacon on the burger is the real thing but overpowers the beef (cooked perfectly to designated medium-rare.) House-made-looking bun is a little overly buttery and a tad sweet, yet a cut way above anything packaged. Very pretty package, for that matter (they split it for us), and the meat has a great texture (not handled too much). Thin-cut onion rings have just the right sheen of good grease. Fries have real potato taste due to being hand cut just before frying. A very pleasant experience, though of the big-bucks-burger sort.    Team Two

Casbeers at the Church

1150 S. Alamo
(210) 271-7791

A fine if not outstanding working-man’s patty, served medium even when specified medium-rare. The bun was way too greasy, making it impossible to keep our hands clean. Distracting, really. Excessive. The standard toppings/condiments include leaf lettuce, decent tomato and onion, and bottled ketchup. We ate it all, but weren’t blown away, but the unusual and tasty cornmeal-crusted onion rings were a hit. A popular music venue, Casbeers feels more like a bar than a restaurant, even though they serve food all night. The bottled beer was cold, and although service was a little slow, it was friendly.

Team One

Cheesy Jane’s

4200 Broadway
(210) 826-0800

Cheesy Jane’s serves large, family-friendly patties in the Chris Madrid’s tradition; the Cheesy Jane comes with cheese and the works, and with what looks like a hand-patted burger it’s a more than serviceable entry in this category, although it doesn’t attain the culinary heights of Big’z. The fries are decent, the shakes are delicious, and the miniature train with its boxcars bearing the names of such local businesses as Cheever Books and Fiesta, gives you and your 4-year-old an almost limitless topic for discussion.

Teams Two & Three

Chester’s Hamburger Co.

16609 San Pedro
(210) 494-3333
plus three other locations

Your Standard American Burger with chopped everything, floppy bun, unabashedly yellow mustard. The patty is at least fairly coarsely ground and cooked relentlessly to medium. Green chile add-on sauce provides the only element of burger boldness. Ye-olde-burger-joint décor is a throwback to the ’60s (’70s at best) with noisy TVs and neglected-looking plants. The onion rings are crunchy and heavily breaded — how do they get that way without mass-production methods? (They won’t split onion rings and fries or do half portions.) A great beer list adds needed appeal.

Team Two

Chris Madrid’s
Nachos & Burger
s

1900 Blanco Rd
(210) 735-3552

While this experience didn’t deliver the satisfaction of visits past — too much bean, too few tostados, thick mantle of magma-like yellow cheese, said the critic — one team member (Elaine worked here one summer way back in the day) still highly recommends the singular Tostada Burger. `See this page for a backgrounder.` The thin, assertively seasoned patty is intentional; order jalapeños to boost the always-available salsa and pico. Unselfconscious interior with semi-spent balloons in rafters speaks of family celebrations past. Underwhelming fries; stick with the nachos.

Team Two

Fatty’s Burgers

1624 E. Commerce
(210) 299-8110

The amazing, bright-yellow, slap-in-the-face color scheme is outdone by an amazingly voluptuous baroque Coach’s Chili Burger oozing chili and streaks of yellow mustard from a custom-looking bun. (Just a touch sweet.) The recommended Swiss cheese add-on melts right into the thick burger. It’s a total train-wreck after just a few bites, but Big Red-worthy all the way. Nothing special about the taste of the meat, though it does have a good, coarse grind and is generously thick. It’s worth investigating other models at this sports-themed neighborhood joint.

Team Two

Floyds Dairy Bar

1304 Goliad Rd
(210) 532-3871

Floyds is ready for its Walker Evans portrait, with slightly shabby walk-up windows and green picnic tables in full western sun. The brown bag with grease spots is a perfect touch. Great, crunchy-coarse tater tots are far better than world’s flattest burger with bun and patty that look run over by a steamroller. Not much taste, but undeniably a bargain — even at the new, 5/$2.75 rate. One team member doesn’t ever need to go back, but we’re glad to see such a place still exists. (Slumming for the swell set, a boon for the misbegotten — assuming we won’t ever be able to convince folks of any means that there are much healthier ways to eat for even less.)

Team Two

Gourmet Burger Grill

18414 US Highway 281 North
(210) 545-3800

The colorful, sporty interior doesn’t shout gourmet — maybe in deference to clientele that looks slightly upmarket but not formal in any way. This is not a kiddie burger hangout. The baby burger sampler ($10.95) is a good way to determine your favorite (though the fancy options, such as lean-and-mean buffalo, are not a part of the mix). The especially good, firm buns are baked to order at Reggiano’s. Forget the crab and chicken-breast versions — at least in small scale. Our favorites were the minty lamb, a well-flavored Angus beef and, surprisingly, a moist and tasty ground turkey. The grind is a little smooth and uniform, but add-on sauces are mostly worth exploring, especially the horseradish. Good, flavorful sweet-potato fries and crinkle-cut regular fries round out the meal.

Team Two

Jim’s Restaurants

Multiple locations

The meat patty tends towards the thin and, on this occasion, the frankly overcooked. Not a disaster, but no great shakes, although the otherwise unremarkable bun is toasted. The much-loved Frontier Burger is a two-patty afair with shredded lettuce, chopped onion, pickle, cheese, and special sauce (aka Thousand Island). We didn’t much care for the dressing, although we guess that’s a matter of personal taste, and they’re willing to bring whatever toppings you want, really. Their onion rings were thin and very crispy; better than we remembered! Fries are just OK. It’s Jim’s. If you grew up here and used to commandeer a table with four of your black-clad friends, grousing and drinking coffee, it’ll bring back fond memories. Great for watching the elderly!

Team One

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La Tuna tops their juicy patties with red onions and a sweet bun.
Kelton Morgan

La Tuna

100 Probandt
(210) 224-8862

Burgers are good in the land of cactus. About 12 minutes after we ordered, a waitress delivered a “delicious-looking plate” that didn’t disappoint. The bun is sweet (“probably honey,” said one) and a great complement to the medium-well but still very juicy meat. Produce looked and tasted like it was picked that morning. And red onions instead of white are a big hit with everyone at the table. Very good thick-cut seasoned fries that are crisp outside and light inside.

Team Three

Liberty Bar

328 E. Josephine, 78215
(210) 227-1187

The beef was juicy, tender, flavorful, and expertly cooked. The venison variation, though ordered medium, was also tender and juicy. Home run! The bun is grilled on both sides and baked in-house, and the standard toppings include red onion, leaf lettuce, ripe tomato, olives, and cornichons. The homemade mayo was delicious. Worcestershire and Tabasco are also readily available. We preferred the crispy fried taters to the larger, sliced and grilled ones. Who doesn’t love Chez Tilto? It’s a lovely, comfy place to while away a late Sunday afternoon and people-watch. Many delicious draft beers, but it’ll set you back slightly more than, say, Jim’s, especially with beers.

Team One

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Praise the Lord, and pass the ketchup: The namesake burger from the Lord’s Kitchen.
Chuck Kerr

The Lord’s Kitchen

118 Seguin St
(210) 354-3888

A hard-working-man’s burger with attitude, the one-pound house special is potentially too large to even handle (the largest burger, BTW, is called the Hurt-You Burger and is 2 pounds). We ordered the Lord’s Kitchen burger which is two patties, and it took us two meals to eat it. Tasty, too, with a good, fresh bun. Cheese, salsa, and jalapeños come on the Caliente burger, but it’s not all that caliente. The very good homemade fries add to an overall excellent package. The Lord’s Kitchen is busy at lunchtime and charmingly crowded with firemen, who ordered their burgers in to-go containers. When a call came in, they simply closed their containers and took off. Highly recommended for an economical and beyond-generous burger fix!

Team One

Luther’s Cafe

1425 N. Main
(210) 223-7727

Burgers at the remade Luther’s are more like a nostalgic, knee-jerk evocation of the good-’n’-greasy past. A chili cheeseburger tasted of chili powder, the pepperjack (there are other options) hadn’t melted, the bun, though sturdy enough (plus points), was ordinary (minus points). The meat itself was fine, but the burger experience just isn’t the same as it was when the griddle, seasoned with the fat from thousands of spatula-flattened patties, was the main focus of action. Very good, coarse-cut potato chips, however, are worth a trip on their own. The other food is now much better, though, so take your pick: nouveau or nostalgia. Hard to have it both ways.

Team Two

Morton’s the Steakhouse: San Antonio

300 E. Crokett
(210) 228-0700

The fresh, juicy, perfectly ground meat outshines the accompaniments at this upscale steakhouse chain, except for the tomato, which was the freshest we had anywhere; purple onion rather than standard white or yellow was also appreciated. The bun is perfectly serviceable, and it’s served with french fries, which are strictly OK. The setting, in addition to the outstanding meat patty, is the big draw: Sunday night, ice-cold dark room. Watch TV, drink a beer, eat a $20 hamburger. (And try the recipe at home the other six days of the week)

Team Three

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Roaring Fork’s Big Ass Burger scored roars of approval from Team Three.
Kelton Morgan

Roaring Fork

1806 N. Loop 1604 West
(210) 479-9700

We ordered the “Big Ass Burger,” which lived up to its name: high-quality meat with a good char and medium-rare in the center, topped with applewood smoked bacon, melted cheddar, and grilled onions. Lettuce, tomato, and pickles are served on the side, as well as chipotle mayo and ketchup. “Tastes like a backyard grill burger,” and “delicious” were comments from the team. Sides include thin-cut fries excellently seasoned with cumin and chili powder and smoked grits with bacon, cheddar, and serranos, which are delicious and restorative. A glass of sauvignon blanc was good, cold, and served in a mini carafe. A bottle of Bud Light was stale, though.
Team Three

Sam’s Burger Joint

330 E. Grayson
(210) 223-2830

They pound their burgers thin here, and, in fact, we can hear them pounding their meat from our table, even over the Flock of Seagulls song blaring from the jukebox. The only thing well-done about our burger is the way it’s overcooked; we all agree it’s more than a little chewy. The team is unimpressed by the bun, which has “SAM’S” branded on the top. Lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, and onion are served on the side, as well as mayonnaise in a plastic cup. The fries are the best thing on the plate, and they aren’t that good. The beer is not very cold. Go for the entertainment.

Team Three

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A peek inside a Timbo’s burger, packed with veggies.
Kelton Morgan

Timbo’s

1639 Broadway
(210) 223-1028

Like Armadillo’s, this place is a more-or-less direct descendant of the old Little Hippp’s. The patty is thin, well-done, a little dry, yet not flavorless, and served on an ordinary grocery-store style bun, albeit maybe bigger. Timbo’s is very, very generous with shredded lettuce, chopped onion, hamburger-slice type pickles, and pallid tomato. Plastic tubs of mayo and homemade ranch are available if requested, plus regular mustard and ketchup, as well as Worcestershire and several kinds of Tabasco (regular, chipotle, jalapeño). The fries and tater tots are no more special than, say, Sonic, but the shypoke eggs (a little Hipps hand-me down!) and their poppers and coins — which are sliced, fried jalapeños and cream-cheese stuffed jalapeños — are deliciously perfect as appetizers with cold beer. Definitely family-friendly. The staff is slow, but friendly and helpful. Individual jukeboxes at tables, a la Pig Stand, make for a fun evening “spinning” everything from Freddy Fender to Cheap Trick to Tom Jones for your friends. However, a larger, central jukebox seems to “trump” these, and some girl with horrible taste managed to take over with it.

Teams One & Three

*and veggie-burger-masters


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