The Big Questions

Is Kuma Burgers the Best Burger Joint in Houston Right Now?

Related: Is there a better office building food court than the one at Greenway Plaza 3?

By Katharine Shilcutt June 17, 2016

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Spam, kimchi relish and cheddar cheese burger

I can't answer the question posed in the headline; I can't tell you definitively that Kuma Burger is the best burger joint in Houston right now. I'm sorry. But at a macro level, that's sort of an impossible distinction to draw in a city as filled with terrific burger spots as ours. At a micro level, I haven't even eaten at Killen's Burgers yet. Or Hopdoddy Burger Bar. Or State Fare, which boasts a burger topped with chili and queso.

But that's okay, because I can still definitively say that Kuma Burgers is serving my favorite burger in Houston at the moment. And that's because burgers are such an arbitrary thing, really. My own tastes run towards the classic Texas roadside burger with a thin patty and plenty of crunchy toppings: lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, onions—let me taste that cool, crisp produce against the salty char of the griddle-hot patty. I like the contrast and the balance, but I also understand and appreciate that others would rather work their way through a big, beefy burger that tastes of little more than meat and cheese.

Those folks should know that Kuma Burger leans towards the former style, with an admirably wide yet thin patty that's nicely frizzled and charred at the edges. The looser grind of the meat allows any cheese thrown on top to soak into the patty, rather than simply melt on top in a separate layer, while the bottom gains a sweet caramelization from the grill. And each patty bears the subtle flavor of meat that's well-seasoned rather than overpowering. It's a rare thing these days: finding that perfect patty, that firmest of foundations for the burger experience to come.

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Hamburgers and hot dogs are cooked to order as you watch at Kuma Burgers.

If you build your own burger, as I did, you'll find an array of interesting toppings to choose from (I went with Spam, a clever kimchi relish, and sharp Cheddar, regretting only that I forgot to add Sriracha aioli) and bar-none the best bun for any burger in Houston: locally-baked Sheila Partin's Sweet Sourdough rolls (though if you ask, they also have whole wheat and jalapeño-cheese buns in the back). If you just get a standard cheeseburger with fixings, however, you'll find a fantastically executed take on the Texas roadside diner burger. And if you're willing to up the ante, you can go bold with a Breakfast Burger (bacon and a fried egg) on an Eggo waffle.

But don't stop there: Get a cornbread waffle to go with your vegetarian chili; both are made in-house. Or look to the veggie burger, a panko-breaded, miso-marinated eggplant patty that's been deep-fried until it's as savory as any piece of meat. Consider a sweet corn milkshake, made with freshly shucked corn that Feng himself buys whole on the cob, or experiment with the Asian version of Ovaltine: the chocolate-malty Milo. Gluten-free? Get a "bun" made out of seasoned short-grain rice that's griddled until crispy.

If you're left feeling, as I was, that this is all quite a find for an office food court, Greenway Plaza 3 would seek to remind you that this is no ordinary food court. The birthplace of Greenway Coffee & Tea, the first coffee shop from David Buehrer (late of Blacksmith fame) and the first to bring so-called third wave coffee to the forefront in Houston, this busy food court is still shepherded by Buehrer and partner Ecky Prabanto, who've helped their friends in the food and beverage community find brick-and-mortar homes here.

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Also on the must-try list: loaded baked potato fries, with an admirably light touch on the toppings and lots of flavor.

The first to come in was a fixed location of The Rice Box, the food truck that garnered citywide acclaim for its back-to-basics approach to well-crafted American-Chinese classics like orange chicken. When another spot came available in the food court, Buehrer found out that the terms of its lease would only allow a burger joint to open there (you've gotta have that food court variety, after all). He approached Willet Feng, former cook at Oxheart and Austin sushi spot Uchiko, who'd been searching a restaurant space of his own, hoping Feng would be willing to consider a burger joint. Feng wasn't sure exactly what kind of restaurant he wanted to open, but burgers seemed as good a bet as any. Houston has been the beneficiary of that gamble ever since Feng flipped his first burger in February.

I can't say for sure that you'll find your new favorite burger here at Kuma, or even if you'll find the parking garage—but if you do, Kuma will validate your parking ticket, and possibly validate your decision to battle lunchtime traffic in the Greenway Plaza area to visit this tucked-away treasure. Need even more incentive to visit? You can avoid the long lines at the truck by grabbing an order of General Tso's from The Rice Box for dinner (unlike burgers, Chinese food makes great leftovers) and a Greenway latte for the road.

Will it be the best series of meals you've ever had from a food court? Probably. Is Kuma Burgers currently the best burger joint in Houston? Possibly. That's for you to find out.

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