It's been a little over a year since Art Fong, the beloved owner of Stanton's City Bites, passed away. In that time, an icon-like painting of the friendly Fong has been placed in the ramshackle dining room—which once held shelves of groceries, rather than a motley assortment of tables—where he beams beatifically from under the slogan: "Our Patron Saint of Burgers." Otherwise, not much else here has changed since Fong's death.
Stanton's has been serving some of the city's best burgers from an old, converted convenience store in the First Ward since 1961, when it was opened by a butcher from San Francisco named Stanton Fong. Art Fong, his son, took over after Stanton retired and had been manning the front counter for 30 years before a stroke unexpectedly claimed his life last March. Customers—many of whom came as much for for Fong's cheerful greetings as the beautifully griddled burgers—felt that they'd lost a friend. Fong's family, however, was determined to keep Stanton's and Art's legacy alive.
Stopping in for a quick lunch yesterday, I was thrilled to see Stanton's as crowded as ever. A line six deep stretched backward from the counter which Fong had once occupied; in his place was a bubbly blonde in a camouflage t-shirt and sparkling smile. At tables both wood and plastic sat police offers, construction workers, downtown suits, teenagers on Spring Break, an extended Hispanic family, all of them knuckle-deep in Stanton's messy, hulking burgers. One table had taken advantage of Stanton's small craft beer selection, though most tables held glass bottles of Dr Pepper or Topo Chico.
For my part, I chose a Dr Pepper and one of Stanton's smaller creations: the $6.50 Truck-Stopper, which tops a standard Stanton's cheeseburger with a couple of thick onion rings (which magically manage to stay crunchy despite being covered in American cheese). Ordering onion rings on my burger instead of on the side did not preclude me, however, from also getting an order of hot, crispy fried pickles—served with a side of ranch dressing, because this is Texas after all.
The freshly-ground burgers—which are still fried up by Art's wife Theresa, as they've been for decades—and the close-knit, indoor picnic vibe of Stanton's remain blissfully unchanged. And I know the Patron Saint of Burgers would be pleased.