I can't help but be skeptical when I enter a chain restaurant. The food is built with efficiency, not quality, in mind. The interior design is generic at best. The staff has a script when speaking with the customer. It's just hard to believe that something of high quality could result. Of course, there are exceptions. In-n-Out makes an exceptional burger and people rave about Five Guys. With this in mind, Adam and I decided to try Houston's, an upscale national restaurant chain.
To me, Houston's is like a fancy Bennigan's. Their menu isn't very adventurous, and you can just feel the chaininess of it all. Thankfully, the similarities end there. The inside of the restaurant we visited, in Midtown Manhattan, was tastefully decorated, and the quality of the food was far superior to anything served at Bennigan's or Applebee's or any of those chain-monsters. As a word of warning, with high quality comes high prices.
We sat down in a cushy booth and both ordered cheeseburgers. Houston's burgers are made with half a poud of ground chuck roast and served with lettuce, tomato, onion, and cheddar on a bun as cushy as our booth. The whole package was a bit larger than I like to push into my piehole, but you could squish it down enough to suffice. Upon first glance, the burger looked great but the patty was a little too circular. Yes, I'm being picky, but I like my burger to have some personality. The sandwich had the goods but was a little too perfect. I was growing concerned as even a chain that is up-upscale could overlook the importance of a hand-crafted burger.
I threw caution to the wind and took a bite. Our sources hadn't lied—this was definitely a good burger. The meat was tender and juicy, the condiments played off each other well. The experience was consistent, which is a good sign for me. Oftentimes I'll find myself two-thirds of the way through a burger and I'll just get bored. Either the meat is flavorless or it's too sloppy or any of a few dozen reasons, but it just doesn't work. When I made it to the last bite of the burger, I was still enjoying myself.
Houston's will win no points for originality, but they used top-shelf ingredients and cooked them as requested. It seems simple, but few are able to accomplish this task. This is why I am happy to recommend Houston's as a burger destination. Should you step away from the keyboard and flock to the nearest location? Nah. But it is most definitely a tasty burger.
Location: 153 East 53rd Street (at 3rd Ave.), Midtown, NYC (other NYC location)
Cost: $14 for cheesburger and fries