Editor's note: When AHT reader Chris Loll sent us an enthusiastic email about "a small dilapidated convenience store just north of Houston's commercial Downtown district where you'll find the city's best burger," we had to hear more about it. Rather than keep this life-changing burger to himself, today he shares his review of Stanton's City Bites.
Stanton's City Bites
1420 Edwards Street, Houston, TX 77007 (map); 713-227-4893
Cooking Method: Griddled
Short Order: Lean, loosely-formed patties topped with slightly grilled onions on a toasted bun makes this market burger one of Houston’s best
Want Fries With That? Skip the sides and just order the burger since sides are extra. But if you must, choose the hand-dipped onion rings over the pre-fabricated fries
It only takes a few seconds inside Stanton's City Bites, just north of Houston's downtown district, to get excited about the place. You’ll find everyone from energy traders to blue-collar workers mulling around the store as they wait on their orders. It’s the kind of diversity that forces you to grin because you realize something good must be happening at this convenience market-turned-burger stop to bring such a diverse crowd together.
Stanton’s opened back in 1961, and judging by its appearance they haven't changed a thing since then. There's an old ice cream case filled with selections of Blue Bell ice cream, you have to adjust the rabbit ears on the TV if you change the channel, and walking through the aisles of groceries requires fighting your way through the decades of cluttered marketing collateral from beer vendors.
Order at the register (the top of the counter is constructed from an old door pulled off the hinges) and grab a drink from one of the five or six cold cases stacked with a solid variety of beverages. It's takeout only here (it's a convenience store, after all), so if you're like me you'll end up eating your food in the car because you can’t wait the entire five-minute drive home.
The bacon cheeseburger is based on a coarsely ground, hand formed eight-ounce patty. It’s wonderfully uneven, allowing some of the surface on both sides to be browned or even charred, while leaving other areas just cooked. A large single leaf of lettuce, pale tomatoes, and cool, crunchy pickles hug the bottom of the patty, with slightly griddled onions, American cheese, and bacon on the top. The sesame seed bun is also griddled, adding a bit of crunch and sweetness, as well as giving the burger a sound structural integrity. Every single bite of the bacon cheeseburger at Stanton's is an explosion of textures, temperature, and flavor, working together in ways I'd never imagined possible for a burger.
But what's complicated about Stanton's burgers is the leanness of the beef. The owner got somewhat suspicious when I started asking specifics, but mentioned they stopped using 80/20 Angus beef several years ago in favor of something much leaner because the end result, when cooked properly, was a "better texture." How they manage to griddle the patties without drying them out and producing a tough and tasteless burger is nothing short of a historic culinary achievement. The burger retains as much beefy grease flavor as you’d expect from fattier beef, so I suspect they griddle them with a little extra grease to produce the desired texture while still imparting the flavor of a fattier patty.
Unfortunately, the fries are previously frozen and offer no redeeming qualities. Your best bet are their homemade onion rings, which are just a bit too over-breaded for my tastes, but still the better of the sides. Luckily, you don’t need a side to feel good about these burgers, and there are alternatives, such as potato chips, if you’re into that kind of thing. But stick to the burger because it’s enough to keep you thinking about the culinary complexities of the burger while you eat. Even if you don’t like to wax philosophically about your food like me, you’ll still enjoy a damn fine burger.
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