Swift’s Attic. 315 Congress Ave. 512-482-8842, SwiftsAttic.com. This shabby-chic second-floor restaurant on Congress Avenue sometimes feels like a nightclub, with the expansive bar area up front playing host to loud groups of revelers. But no dance club can boast a burger like Swift’s Bowling Alley burger ($13). No bowling alley can, either. The coarse-ground patty blends the salty tang of melted fontina with the sweetness of caramelized onions for a decadent burger that can get amped up with Calabrian peppers, oxtail, pork belly and more.
Second Bar + Kitchen. 200 Congress Ave. 512-827-2750, CongressAustin.com/Second. The space at this Congress Avenue restaurant is bright, airy, modern and sleek, fit for an afternoon business meeting or a classy date night. But its popular burger is a roll-up-your-sleeves, tuck-the-napkin-into-your-collar affair. The house ground brisket and chuck mixture make for a sloppy proposition, the recklessness of the patty given a bit of refinement from shallot confit and a thick cut of gruyere. With fine dining Congress within elbow-swinging room, you can add seared foie gras ($14) or a crisp pork belly ($4) to your colossus, but you might need a nap by the time you eat your last bite.
Carrie Ryan/Sweet Louise Photography
Parkside. 301 E. Sixth St. 512-474-9898, Parkside-Austin.com. The hope among many was that chef Shawn Cirkiel’s New American oyster bar and grill would serve as a template for what “dirty Sixth” could be. Sadly, much of the street remains the same. Happily, Cirkiel’s burger ($11) remains as great as it’s been since the restaurant opened in 2008. It may not be too big around, but it can stand up to any in town. The fat content makes for a burst of juices absorbed by the buttery roll hash-marked by the grill. At the daily happy hour from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. the $5.50 burger is one of the best deals in town. And while you can’t go wrong with the crispy, thin fries, I like to sub a dollop of the boozy blond pate. It’ll leave you full and wobbly like a Sixth Street newbie.
Luke’s Inside Out. 1109 S. Lamar Blvd. 512-589-8883, LukesInsideOut.com. Trailer owner Luke Bibby sports a bandana, a devilish soul patch that looks like a billow of smoke and likes to keep it light with his troops at the trailer stationed outside the Gibson bar. It’s no surprise then to find out that the chef has a colorful cooking history that includes catering for musicians and big music festivals. Some improvised condiment crafting at the Austin City Limits Music Festival one year led Bibby to create his signature Love sauce. I won’t spill his secret here, but the sweet tang of barbecue sauce lingers after you bite into the ½-pound sirloin burger ($10) topped with crisp bacon. The juiciness comes from an 80-20 lean-fat split, a beautiful little sin that bleeds over the gooey yellow cheddar cheese and bright red tomato that resemble the Spanish flag. The flat-top burger comes with Parmesan chips, but I suggest paying the $1.50 extra for crinkle-cut potatoes. And if you really have no regard for your health, top those with bacon, queso and jalapeños — something one of the more inebriated or stoned bands Bibby has crossed paths with might appreciate.
Hopfields. 3110 Guadalupe St. 512-537-0467, HopfieldsAustin.com. Beer nerds and foodies have equal reason to love this campus-area spot that features an exceptional tap wall and culls recipes from the owner’s French grandmother. The delicate, flaky tartes and nicoise salad pay respect to France, and the classic American cheeseburger gets a French update, with creamy rind-on camembert cheese, sweet caramelized onions, bold brown mustard and spirited Napoleonic gerkins layering their flavors on the Pascal burger ($12) that comes with crisp, golden fries.
Crown and Anchor. 2911 San Jacinto Blvd. 512-322-9168, CrownAndAnchorPub.com. I can’t begin to imagine how many hours I would have spent at this campus-area pub had I attended the University of Texas. I probably would have just had my mail forwarded to the bar that offers billiards, darts, a great deck and more than 20 beers on tap. The Crown and Anchor opened in 1987, and the gristle-edged burgers have a flavor that makes me believe the same flat-top has been in service for all 26 of the years. There’s nothing fancy about this burger. It reminds me of the kind I used to crush at municipal golf courses as a kid. I always get a double ($8.25) with bacon and cheese (simple American slices), pickles, fierce white onions, mustard and mayonnaise, on which they do not skimp. Maybe it’s a good thing I didn’t go to UT.
Casino El Camino. 517 E. Sixth St. 512-469-9330, CasinoElCamino.net. Walking into the imposing and ominous Sixth Street bar and making your way to the kitchen window in back has served as a rite of passage for young meat-loving drinkers for almost 20 years. Maybe it’s the dim lighting, the bartenders who look like they could kick your butt (and those are just the ladies) or the vintage genre movie posters, but the road into the Casino just feels daunting, like entering that haunted house at the end of a dark street. Once you get your nerve, the place is home. And the ¾-pound burgers coming off the grill taste like something you’d get at a friend’s backyard party, if the devil was manning the grill, a cigarette dangling from his mouth. The toasted white bun has grill marks like Slayer’s logo and the cooks look like heavy metal roadies. The Amarillo burger ($8.50) burns like the red neon lights over the bar, the slippery roasted serrano chiles ablaze atop a thick charred patty full of fierce pepper. Cilantro mayonnaise squirts out of the sides, but don’t expect any floral cool in the concoction. That wouldn’t be very rock ’n’ roll.
Black Sheep Lodge. 2108 S. Lamar Blvd. 512-707-2744, BlackSheepLodge.com. I don’t need or expect a game to be on TV when I go to the Black Sheep Lodge for a burger and a beer. In my book, that makes BSL less a sports bar than just a good neighborhood hang with a bunch of TVs and better food than most bars that offer this many beers. Opened in 2009, the Sheep has since expanded to twice its original size, and the crowds come in part for the signature Black Buffalo Burger ($8.49), a half-pound of angus laced with the sting of Frank’s Red Hot Buffalo Wing Sauce and smothered in ample chunks of funky blue cheese.