Who gets the credit for the robust, diverse burger scene across the Greater Heights? It depends on who you ask.
Traditional mainstays like Miller’s Cafe, 3830 N. Shepherd Dr. in Gardens Oaks; MytiBurger, 2211 W. 43rd St. in Oak Forest; and Someburger, 745 E. 11th St. in the Heights, have been around long before newer spots began experimenting with fried eggs, avocados and brioche buns.
But the recent explosion in trendy, gourmet burgers can be traced back to The Creek Group at the current site of Better Luck Tomorrow at 544 Yale St., where Dry Creek had resided from 2004 until it closed in 2016.
“The new kids on the block have taken it to another level, and hats off to them,” said Gary Mosley, owner of The Creek Group. “But you had to have a starting point to get to that level.”
One of those new kids on the block is Matthew Pak, co-owner of The Burger Joint, 2002. N. Shepherd Dr., where they serve up burgers with Mexican or Korean ingredients, or even brisket.
“Inspiration for the Mexi (burger) came from my mother-in-law who makes us tortas with ham, queso fresco and jalapeños,” Pak said. “My grandmother’s little misshaped Korean barbecue burgers she used to serve us with rice and kimchi as kids was the inspiration for the Kimchi burger. Each burger has its own story.”
Mosley said the creativity in the kitchens of Dry Creek and Onion Creek Coffee House, Bar and Lounge, 3106 White Oak Dr., helped to propel the neighborhood forward and encourage new development and growth as people began to move to the area, encouraged by the availability of walkable restaurants.
“We were experimenting with a lot of burgers,” Mosley said. “Dry Creek was the inspiration for Onion Creek and a lot of other people with coffee houses and cafes, to take their burgers to the next level.”
Onion Creek and Cedar Creek Bar and Grill, 1034 W. 20th St., have not left any variables in their experiments to chance. They have baked challah and pretzel dough for buns, and even earned a trademark for the Triple Bypass (with bacon, fried egg, cheddar cheese, tomato, red onions, lettuce, Sriracha and mayonnaise on a challah bun). Condiments like house-made aolis and cheeses like smoked gouda give Onion Creek and Cedar Creek’s burgers an additional kick.
MytiBurger owner Shawn Salyers said he sometimes gets questions from patrons about potential changes to the restaurant’s flagship burger. But the majority of customers expect the same quality they have been getting since it opened in 1967.
“I have a lot of people tell me we should do a different type of bun or do this or that differently,” Salyers said. “If we change it, it wouldn’t be MytiBurger anymore. We might as well rename the place and start over.”
Others have ventured far outside the realm of conventional burger ingredients. Hubcap Grill, 1133 W. 19th St., offers a Hatch Green Chili burger and even a Sticky Monkey burger with peanut butter, bacon and bananas.
“MytiBurger is like a good reliable basic sedan,” Salyers said. “Other places sell a Cadillac or Lamborghini for a burger. It’s a lot more whistles and bells, and a lot crazier. You can appreciate both.”
That’s not to say that MytiBurger hasn’t changed at all in 54 years. They also sell buffalo, turkey and veggie burgers. Miller’s also has vegetarian options, including the soy-based Impossible Burger and a black bean burger.
At Onion Creek or Cedar Creek, you can find Beyond Meat, which is made of pea protein.
Pak said The Burger Joint added the Impossible Burger years ago alongside its house-made bean and mushroom patty, and that sales for those items have doubled in recent years.
Area residents provided a wide range of responses when asked what they liked best in a burger.
“Some may prefer the gourmet burger with foie gras and caviar or antelope meat,” Heights resident James Martin said. “But I’m old school and a juicy, moist, plump, well-seasoned all-beef patty (or two) with American cheese, lettuce, tomato, dill slices, ketchup, mustard and a buttery soft bun would be my go-to every time.”
Reina Torres said the thickness of the burger patty is a priority for her.
“If the patty is too thin and is made of cheap ground beef that is an instant (turn off) for me,” she said.
Another area resident, Amanda Wolfe, said she values “creativity without sacrificing quality.” She said she appreciates The Burger Joint’s rotating “burger of the month” that allows patrons to try something new.
“You can go there again and again and not always get the same thing,” Wolfe said.
So can places like MytiBurger and The Burger Joint coexist?
On this point, Pak, Mosley and Salyers all seem to agree.
“There will always be plenty of room for the classic,” Pak said. “We actually built our brand around ‘the classic’ burger because we felt that it will stand the test of time.”
Mosley said it is important for local burger purveyors to consider the customer’s evolving tastes while staying true to the principles that made them grow into neighborhood institutions.
“Everybody has their own taste for a burger, and everybody has their own liking for an atmosphere,” Mosley said. “Our population in the Heights has grown so much, there’s so much room for businesses to be successful if you do it right and respect your community.”