The Austin City Limits Music Festival, or just ACL, because that’s just a whole lot easier to say, is just about fav thing to do in Austin. Wandering around the gorgeous grounds of Zilker Park with Austin’s downtown skyline in the background, beers in hand and amazing music at every corner, makes me feel like its Christmas Morning – my wife calls ACL “Christmas for adults”. As if that wasn’t enough of a reason to go, there is also the draw of ACL Eats: a diverse lineup of Austin’s food scene that makes for just about the best food court you can go to unless you are somewhere in Asia.
Last year I posted a day by day play by play of my adventures eating at ACL. This year, thanks to Sandee Fenton from ACL’s media team, I received a media pass and went in deep on a mission to taste the competition by categories. If you haven’t figured it out by now, this post is all about finding the best burger at ACL Eats. Yeah, a full on burger battle royale and the winner is . . . well, you’re gonna have to get through this post to find out!
the spot: Wholly Cow Burgers 3010 S. Lamar Austin TX 78704 // at both ACL Eats Food Courts
the eats: Cheeseburger: grass fed beef patty, lettuce, King’s Hawaiian Bun
the bucks: $9
the full nelson: I forgot I ate this burger last year . . . and there’s good reason.
There are more than a few burgers on my Austin Burger Bucket list, I suppose a heavy taco and brisket scene tends to slow down one’s burger consumption. Still, one of my fav burgers is a grass fed beef one from Contigo, oh and P.S. – their fries rock. I say this so you know that I believe in grass fed beef making for great burgers. Wholly Cow just ain’t one of them. Now last year I did try Wholly Cow and while disappointed, I also told myself I would try their burger at the actual restaurant. This brings me to a very important point to keep in mind while reading through this post: all these burgers are served precooked and that limits how good a burger can be. Still Wholly Cow wasn’t just dry, it had the taste and mouth feel of a shipped frozen preformed beef patty. This burger tastes like drive thru fast food and even if it’s saving the Amazon, I would skip this burger for any other on this list.
the spot: Lonesome Dove Western Bistro 419 Colorado Street Austin TX 78701 // at main ACL Eats Food Court
the eats: Double Cheeseburger: two patties, caramelized onion, kohlrabi, American Cheese, House Pickles
the bucks: $12
the full nelson: most fancy pants celeb chef driver burger at ACL Eats
Chef Tim Love is of the celebrity chef kind. Years ago, when I worked as a producer in food tv, Chef Love was a contestant on a show we were working on called the Next Iron Chef. I watched him throw a skirt steak directly over coals. Needless to say I was hooked on what this guy was about. I have yet to try his restaurant here in Austin but one look at the lunch menu and I’m thinking that might have to change, especially when a 16 oz prime rib plate is on their menu for a ridiculously fair price of $16.
Ok, on to the burger. This Double Cheeseburger was as ooey gooey as it looks. If you are going to be serving burgers that are already cooked upon arrival, going heavy with the cheese is a good thing. I love caramelized onions on any burger, they make beef taste more beefy. I had no idea what Kohlrabi was(its a turnip) but that’s what a $12 burger should give you: an education. This burger was hefty as well, though $12 is on the high side at ACL Eats, it was a meal for sure. The burger patty itself, not surprisingly, was dry. Patty had a great char and the bun held up well. I would very much be up to try this burger at the brick and mortar restaurant for sure. After the Prime Rib of course. Better than Wholly Cow but not quite the best of the bunch.
the spot: Dean’s One Trick Pony 111 East Cesar Chavez Austin TX 78701 // at main ACL Eats Food Court
the eats: Dean’s Double – two Creekstone pattys, queso, charred onion mayo, fry sauce, tomato, pickle, Hawaiian Bun
the bucks: $13
the full nelson: a burger I have been pumped to try for a long time
Dean’s One Trick Pony has been on my burger radar for a hot minute and was easily the most anticipated bite at this year’s ACL Eats. In many ways the burger absolutely did not disappoint and I’ll say this right now: easily worth the $13.
The queso on this burger created a cheesesteak wit wiz effect and my God does it work wonders. When millennials are picking away bits of cheese off the burger wrapper, you know you are on to something. This burger was juicy as hell. No other burger came remotely close to what Dean’s One Trick Pony pulled off with a precooked burger that still delivered a burger drenched in flavor. Speaking of drenched, the bun was pretty drenched. You’re gonna have to eat this fast because the bottom bun had the consistency of soggy cornflakes. Love me some pickle and tomato as well – Dean’s had the best burger toppings out of the bunch. The patty itself was coarse ground which I like and was juicy. Not much of a char though. And there was an aftertaste that felt a touch off. They use Creekstone beef which is reputable and in fact Halal so it follows under the dietary laws of the Islamic faith. Maybe I’ve been eating too much bacon lately . . . pray for me.
Not a slam dunk, but I would easily order this again. I know there are gonna be some people out there who are not gonna be happy about a burger that falls apart as well . . . you have been warned. Needless to say I can’t wait to try this burger out at the Line Hotel where Dean’s is housed and I might even go one patty too . . . save me some bucks and maybe give that bottom half of the bun a shot to stay in the game.
the spot: Shake Shack locations nationwide // at main ACL Eats Food Court
the eats: Double Shack Burger: angus beef, lettuce, tomato on a Martin’s Potato Roll
the bucks: $11
the full nelson: sometimes you really need a premium fast food burger
I’m not one to jump at eating at Shake Shack unless it becomes conveniently involved with another activity like crush a quick meal at an airport or before a movie. That being said, the burgers are good, though kinda pricey for the burger experience Shake Shack is aiming for. On paper, I would tell anyone visiting Austin for ACL to hit up a burger from Dean’s One Trick Pony or even Lonesome Dove because you can get Shake Shack anywhere. Well, the saving grace for the corporate burger chain is that they know how to insure a consistent product in a variety of environments and ACL Eats is one of them. This burger, above all the others maintains an overall standard of quality while still being served precooked. Yeah the lettuce looks a little wimpy and the tomato had little flavor but the burger came out tasting far closer to how they taste at an actual Shake Shack restaurant. The patty had a great sear, great flavor and rocks that fine line of being cooked through but not dry. Sometimes the little guy doesn’t win. Or does he?
And the winner of the 2019 Burger Battle Royale is . . . .
Dean’s One Trick Pony
Shake Shack serves the best overall burger but my fav and the burger I’ll be eating next weekend will be Dean’s One Trick Pony. For round 2 I might go single patty and frankly I’m just curious if the aftertaste I got from round one was just a one off. If you can handle a burger that will fall apart unless you eat it fast, go to Dean’s. And if you want a burger that delivers the best overall quality despite being precooked en masse, Shake Shack takes the cake.