A Hamburger Today
Austin: Excellent Smoky Burgers at Lamberts Downtown Barbecue
Lamberts Downtown Barbecue
401 West 2nd Street, Austin TX 78701 (map); 415-787-3354; lambertsaustin.com
Cooking Method: Grilled over wood fire
Short Order: A patty made of house ground steak trimmings smoked over oak makes this a smoky, juicy, and delicious burger
Want Fries with That? Comes with your choice of several sides or during happy hour waffle cut fries
Price: The Burger, $12; or half off during happy hour
Notes: Open Mon. to Fri., 11 a.m. - 2:30 p.m. for lunch; 5:30 p.m. - 10:30 p.m. for dinner; Sat. and Sun. brunch, 11 a.m. - 2 p.m.; bar menu, 11 a.m. - late, 7 days a week
During my frequent visits home to Austin, a predominantly Tex-Mex and barbecue town, I rarely desire ordering anything other than brisket or enchiladas with a side of queso. That said, I'm also a believer that there are few places where it's inappropriate to order burger, one of those places being a barbecue joint, especially if said barbecue joint is in Texas.
Let me assure you that if you visit Lamberts, right in the heart of downtown Austin, you shouldn't be afraid to order the burger. With all the other delicious options on their menu, it would be easy to write off their burger. But let it be known, this is one of the best burgers I've had in Austin and easily the best I've eaten at a barbecue joint.
The wood grilled cheeseburger ($12, or half off during happy hour) features a seven-ounce patty ground in-house from the restaurant's Niman Ranch filet mignon and ribeye trimmings. Because of this, the loosely packed blend varies in beef/fat ratio but is usually around 70/30, making for a super juicy burger. The burger comes with cheddar, butter lettuce, tomato, red onion, mayo, and Dijon mustard on a toasted sesame bun. Options for sides are abundant and include potato salad, baked mac and cheese, or smoked bacon collard greens. I opted for the herbed waffle fries.
While waiting for my burger, the smoky smells in the room were making me regret that I didn't order a plate of smoked meat or a three-way combo, but the regret didn't last long. The burger arrived with a beautiful dark crust from being cooked on an oak-burning grill, and it had a strong smoky flavor throughout while still retaining a pink center. The meat had a deep beefy flavor that comes from the ground up steak, and it would've been great even if it hadn't been wood grilled.
The fresh, well proportioned toppings accented the burger rather than overwhelmed. The crisp butter lettuce was mild while the red onion, Dijon, and cheddar combined excellently with the juicy, smoky patty. The bun, which I suspect they toasted on the same grill, was smoky and soft as well as perfectly sized for the patty.
The herbed waffle-cut fries were good but not great. They're the standard pre-frozen variety that, after being fried, are tossed in smoked paprika, tarragon, salt, pepper, parsley, and chives. The fries had a great crispy crust on the outside, tender center, and came well salted, but with only a few small green specks they could have used more herbs to live up to their name.
Next time I'll try the mac and cheese, or if I am really hungry, order some thing off of the bar menu such as the Boudin balls, housemade charcuterie, or Frito pie.
Though I think Lambert's is a little pricey and fancy for a barbecue place in Texas, the burger and Frito pie are amazing, and the fact that you can get both items half off during happy hour, seven days a week, makes this a not to be missed destination from 5 to 7 p.m.
About the author:Wes Rowe is a photographer and eater based in San Francisco who believes there is no such thing as too many burgers, and when given the opportunity, likes to spend the whole day smoking brisket. Follow him on Instagram @wesrowe.
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