AHT: Dallas

Burger reviews in the Dallas area.

Dallas: For A Local Institution, Snuffer's Still Has Work To Do

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[Photographs: Ewan Macdonald]

Snuffer's Restaurant & Bar

3526 Greenville Ave., Dallas TX 75206 (map); 214-826-6850; snuffers.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: Famous for its cheese fries, this bar is legendary with local students, but the burger isn't up to much
Want Fries with That? Worth trying once, but nowhere near meeting the hype
Prices: 1/2-pound cheeseburger, $7.29; small cheddar fries, $5.79 (with bacon, chives, jalapeƱos, extra $1.99); mini cheeseburgers, $8.79
Notes: Seven locations in the Dallas area. This one is the original, dating from 1978. Compulsory valet parking for $5.

A fixture on the Lower Greenville nightlife strip since Jimmy Carter was president, Pat Snuffer and his team are well and truly part of the Dallas cultural landscape. It's considered a local ritual to conclude a night of barhopping with a vast mound of cheese fries, maybe a burger or two, and of course more beer, at the original Snuffer's location. Decades' worth of alumni from nearby SMU have spread the word far and wide, returning years later with their families and friends, and more than a few local residents will call this place essential for out-of-towners.

Hometown loyalty counts for a lot, but it's not the whole story. My experiences at Snuffer's suggest that the fine line between pride and bias has been crossed, and that despite its storied history and reputation, Snuffer's is simply decent, and no better than that.

At early evening on a Friday, Snuffer's hasn't yet undergone the transition from family restaurant to bar with food. You're more likely to find families than frat boys, all here for—what else?—burgers and fries. Yes, there are various poultry options, chicken fried steak, fries mushrooms, and more of that sort of thing, but that's not what they're famous for.

We may be on a hamburger blog, but any review—like any meal at Snuffer's—inevitably starts with the cheese fries ($5.79). Prior to my first visit I'd read about these online, and told my wife with an upraised palm and knowing tone that we'd better just order a single portion between us, since they're so generous and delicious. Naturally we got them fully loaded.

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15 minutes later, a tiny casserole dish appeared, with maybe 15 fries and an admittedly generous lake of congealing cheddar. The paid-for add-ons arrived shortly afterwards in a little basket of their own: a garden's worth of green onions and a generous shot of ranch, which seemed insulting for the tiny portion of fries. Don't get me wrong: I'm all for sensible portion sizes in restaurants (even if by ordering cheddar fries you've pretty much opted out of being sensible for the time being.) More places should think about quality over quantity. But at almost $8 for the set, this was ridiculous.

And they weren't even anything special. The fries were limp and overcooked—a rare and irritating combination, and the nature of the beast is that they get cold and thus greasier far too quickly. Only judicious use of jalapeƱos made them edible after a few minutes. I can't imagine what a larger portion would be like after some time on the table.

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But what about the cheeseburger ($7.29)? When it made its appearance at the table it looked superb, no doubt about it. The half-pound patty, a custom blend of chuck and brisket, manages the trifecta of thickness, crust, and medium rare juiciness, making for the most photogenic of burgers. It's on a poppy seed bun similar to that of Jake's, with mustard, an annoying surfeit of shredded lettuce, tomato and cheddar.

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Yet from the first bite onwards it's clear that looks are a little bit deceiving. The burger's darkened crust has a slight hint of the burnt about it, rather than the savory hit we all know and love. Furthermore, you'll find the dominant flavor is one of salt. And the fluffy, towering top half of the bun may stay standing, but the lower half falls victim to the grease and sweaty lettuce, falling apart sooner rather than later. Overall, the fat content, the cheese, and the fact that the meat's cooked to a low level of doneness means that it's far from a bad burger—but it's equally far from a good one, too.

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At the other side of the table we had mini cheeseburgers ($8.79)—round of applause to Snuffer's for not calling them sliders, as so many places do with things that are clearly not sliders—and these were perfectly fine. They're dressed with cheddar and bacon bits and served with veggies and fries on the side—at $8.79 I'd consider these again.

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Locals are probably right—you do need to go to Snuffer's at least once. The cheese fries are maybe worth trying once as foil for a night of drinking. But if you're in the market for a fine burger, you can do significantly better at this price point.

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.

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