Dallas: Jake's Hamburgers Deserves its Stellar Reputation
5505 Belt Line Road, Dallas TX 75254 (map); 972-503-5253; 7 locations listed at jakesburgers.net
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: Unlike many older joints, Jake's hasn't been overtaken by the recent burger revolution—its greasy deliciousness is as appealing as ever
Want Fries with That? Get the crispier, battered Jumpin' Jake Fries over the regular ones
Price: Jake's Special burger, $5.99; battered fries, $1.99; jalapeño bottle cap burger, $6.79; tater tots, $1.79; root beer, $2.50
Notes: Full bar. Breakfast available.
By north Texas standards, Jake's Hamburgers is positively ancient at over 25 years old. This local favorite predates the recent drive towards gourmet burgers with artisan toppings—it's very much a product of the fast-food age, albeit with some Texas quirks, and the menu reflects this. However, Jake's can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the best burger places in town.
We visited one of its newer locations, just off the tollway in Addison, to find it relatively quiet for a Friday evening. That's as much to do with the restaurant's design as anything else—spacious and bright, there are two bars and three seating areas, all distinct from each other but interconnected. For a joint that has to serve local old-timers their weekend beer fix as well as young families and out-of-town businesspeople, it does a great job of making everyone feel welcome in their own space.
The same goes for the waitstaff, who were both friendly and informative. Not that I needed much information: I knew what I wanted, which was the Jake's Special. That's the fairly classic fast-food formula of two quarter-pound patties of beef that's ground fresh daily, Thousand Island, cheese, lettuce, and tomato. No onion, no pickle—unusual for Texas, but there you are.
The first thing you notice about a Jake's burger is the bun. The puffy crown is absolutely coated in poppy seeds. The fruits of the papaver somniferum have never been so plentifully found outside an Afghan opium field, but arrayed over the puffy crown of a substantial, eggy bun, they're not unwelcome.
But the real star of the show is inside the bread. There are much better patties in Dallas, but the alchemy of Jake's burger makes it a force to be reckoned with. Or maybe by "alchemy" I just mean "grease." Either way, the two salt-and-peppered patties are so loosely packed and juicy that two in essence become one, melded by a yellow river of cheese. The cool sauce and lettuce and the juicy tomato set things off nicely, and there's a hint of crust on the burger to give a salty-Maillard fix at the end of the bite. The beef flavor isn't dominant, but there's enough of it that you know you're eating a damn fine burger. As with the best of fast food burgers, the Jake's Special is far more than the sum of its parts, and I was extremely glad that I'd gone for their specialty rather than trying one of their custom burgers.
Still, the amount of grease should not be underestimated. Even my artery-hardening youth in Scotland hadn't quite steeled me for this. It was thus that the Jumpin' Jake Fries, or battered fries, seemed like a healthful side option by comparison. These fresh, hand-cut fries were deftly seasoned, uber-crispy, and served hot and plentiful.
From my wife's side of the table, the skin-on regular fries, despite also being fresh and hand-cut, were nothing to write home about, although her turkey burger was itself delicious and—notice the pattern—liberally fattened so as to avoid even the slightest suspicion of dryness or mealiness.
It's for my own safety that I live quite a ways down the road from Jake's; were I close enough, I'd no doubt partake of the ultra-fatty but superlative burger far more often than is advisable. Those who live nearby could be forgiven for eating at Jake's regularly. It's very reasonably priced, and with bar seating and friendly staff it's clear that a lot of the clientele were regulars from the neighborhood. Jake's has worked hard to make both the ambience and the product worthy of such loyalty.
About the author: Ewan Macdonald is a soccer writer who will probably die with a hamburger in his mouth. Born in Scotland, he was lured to the Dallas area by cheap beef and a love of 100 degree evenings with 60% relative humidity.