Belle of the Burger

Certain streets — mature streets with an apparent patina of age — seem to say “San Antonio” in a way neutrally named lanes and highways never can. Honoring people, places, and physical features other than oaks, they resonate with homegrown history, reminding us of

Belle’s Burgers
517 Pleasanton Rd. 922-5097
Cash only
Price range: $.99-3.99 Bathroom (singular) not accessible

who we were and maybe even where we’re going.

Fredericksburg, Blanco, Zarzamora, Houston … to drive them is to reconnect with a city that still has a shot at staying unique. Pleasanton Road is another such thoroughfare, embracing botanicas as readily as burger joints. Belle’s Burgers, accordingly, fits right in, more so for sharing its building with La Superior Panaderia. It’s San Antonio in microcosm. Well, almost.

If there’s really a Belle, she doesn’t seem to spend much time in her namesake enterprise; the place is apparently run by kids with baseball caps and low-slung pants — and they do a bang-up job. Almost comically compact, Belle’s sports four booths (a fifth is occupied by a rabbit-eared TV set playing to no one in particular) and two tables. The menu is equally small, offering eight burgers (beef, chicken, and fish) ranging in price and pretension from $.99 to $2.99, as well as the expected accompaniments — fries both straight and seasoned, onion rings, chili, cheese, and ice cream. So of course you’ll have a burger; at $2.69, live it up and add bacon, too.

A bacon-burger combo with a drink and either fries or onion rings will set you back a princely $3.99. (Yes, a Big Red would have been the ticket, but Dr. Pepper was as close as I could get.) Belle and the boys turn out mean onion rings: almost puffy, practically shiny, not the least bit greasy and very hot. The burger comes in a big, basic bun, wrinkled, toasted, and stout enough to survive to the last bite. Lettuce, tomato, onion, mustard, and pickle are the default dressings. The patty itself is generous and cooked to the expected much more than medium. Gourmet it’s not, but nostalgically good it is in spades. The crisply fried bacon played right in to the snap of the iceberg and the crunch of the beef.

Small as it is, Belle’s wasn’t exactly bursting at the seams on another lunch expedition; most of the traffic seemed to be waiting for takeout. But you have to make up your mind quickly at the counter regardless, and in case the grilled chicken burger is of interest, you’re warned ahead of time that it’s not listed on the menu board. The boys have decided that the chicken, served on the same burly bun, is best accompanied by tomato, lettuce, and mayo — and they’re probably right. I admit to adding salt, but otherwise, the package didn’t smack of grill-marked, food-service chicken breast and there was even a little chewiness to add to the illusion of homemade fare. And the fries? Fantastico. Again piping hot, again free from grease, again worth the caloric cost.

Now, the milkshakes are another matter, not that they’re any the less exemplary. In fact, they may be almost too real, and so thick you just have to resign yourself to waiting for them to melt. I feared collapsing the straw (and looking like an utter fool) so I chilled out and spent time admiring the enameled-automobile-sign décor, classed up a tad by Jesse Treviño prints of Westside landmarks. That and fending off the guy with a “Jesus is the Answer” T-shirt and a box of M&Ms that apparently were the reward for the right answer.

Not that I needed pan dulce after the super-shake, but Sunday breakfast breads were the excuse for visiting La Superior, and yes, it’s accurate advertising. The apple-filled empanada concealed real apples, not the sweet sludge that is often the case; the sugar-coated cuernito was rolled with a contrasting yellow dough and was just dulce enough; a layered cake with cornmeal connotations and either a pumpkin or camote filling was reminiscent of ratcheted-up gingerbread; and a couple of cookie-shaped but bread-textured offerings — one with raisins, the other with anise seed — were delicate and delightful. Not that I have anything against lurid, mind you, but I did pass on the pieces with bright-coral frosting. Next time I’ll give in. So there you have it: Go for the burger and stay for the bread, or, well, you know, the reverse … And, as I was saying, San Antonio in microcosm.


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