Maple & Motor
4810 Maple Ave, Dallas TX 75219 (map); 214-522-4400; facebook.com/mapleandmotor
Cooking Method: Griddled
Short Order: Flavor-packed thick patties with fine toppings make for a simple burger done right
Want Fries with That? Yes, you want fries with that. They're not fancy, but incredibly tasty
Prices: Bacon cheeseburger, $7; french fries, $1.95
Notes: Open all day but extremely busy during lunch rush. Limited parking. Full bar.
Don't set your GPS for the corner of Maple and Motor—you won't find it, because Motor Street's name changed to Medical District Drive. Instead, just follow the lunchtime crowds to the corner of Maple and King's. Then drive around for a few minutes more until you find a parking space in the same zip code. Then, and only then, have you earned the right to a Maple & Motor burger.
But wait! You're not done yet! Now you need to navigate the line while avoiding a breach of M&M etiquette. A contrived sense of attitude begins before you're even in the door. Helpfully taped to the windows are a litany of warnings about grabbing a table before you order—don't even think about it, as you will be removed—failing to stifle your obnoxiously loud kids, and so on.
Not that this puts anybody off. Maple & Motor is packed each day with workers and not-so-workers from miles around. Doctors jostle with mechanics for a spot in the lunch rush queue, the tiny dining room filled to the rafters as the even tinier kitchen turns out hundreds of hand-made burgers, fried bologna sandwiches, fries, and tots.
Is it worth the drive, the line, the rules? Yes, yes, and yes. Maple & Motor is worth everything. Here you'll find super-fine burgers, served fresh, fast, and at a decent price.
The lengthy queue gives you plenty of time to check out the menu board several times over. This is a burger place, and unapologetically offers the most focused of menus. Aside from beef you'll find chicken, fried bologna, and not much else, along with a small selection of custom toppings and cane sugar sodas. A half-pound bacon cheeseburger and fries to go will run you around ten bucks, but once you eventually get a hold of your big brown bag, the weight of it will cause your arm to drop involuntary. Suffice it to say, there's plenty of calories here for your cash.
I'd opted for takeout because I didn't feel like waiting for a seat and/or getting my camera covered with a stray spray of ketchup, and while no burger is improved by a 15-minute drive home, this one didn't really suffer for it, either. The photos don't quite do it justice: when 100 percent fresh, it's juicy in appearance, and plenty appetizing.
The first bite doesn't lie: this is a damn juicy burger, and utterly delicious. Burgers come pink by default, meaning a fine balance of a slight crust for savor and a grassy, meaty hit within from the custom grind of clod and brisket. The fat content is rumored to be 30 percent, and you can taste every last saturated triglyceride of it.
With that make-up, the patty can stand up to whatever reasonable topping you can throw at it. The defaults are—repeat the Texas mantra after me—lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle, and mustard, to which I added the optional cheese, bacon, and jalapeños. It made for the perfect match.
Arguably, the only downside to this burger was the bun: the custom-spec bread itself was perfectly normal and fine, but they spread it with clarified butter and toast it very heavily, meaning a bit of a burnt funk around the outer edges. Still, the crispiness keeps the whole package together, so it's a case of give-and-take.
At first glance the frozen fries looked like a bit of an afterthought, but the first taste changes all that. These are utterly superb french fries—they look anonymous and industrial but have a superb crunch, a fluffy inside, and above all a rampant potato flavor. You can get them dressed up with chili and cheese if you like, but for me these are worth eating gently salted and with no other elaboration.
So, the lunch rush isn't simply down to convenience and location: it's because the burger is brilliant and the fries are just as good. There's little wonder that Maple and Motor is found on so many Dallas top-ten and even top-five lists. It doesn't matter how long you have to wait or how hawkeyed you have to be to grab that open table after you order; as long as that little kitchen keeps on turning out food like this, you can bet the line will be out the door all year round.
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.