'Best Whataburger I've ever eaten': Alison Cook on the double chili cheeseburger with Fritos – Houston Chronicle

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I made fun of Whataburger’s new chili cheeseburger with Fritos tucked in when it appeared in my Twitter feed Wednesday night. “Do. Not. Want,” was my immediate, visceral reaction. I went to bed grousing about gimmickry and stunt food and the whole trend of sticking snack food in burgers. 
But I awoke yesterday remembering the excitement and anticipation among Whataburger fans in my feed. A couple of them had already rushed out to try the new menu item. They liked it. 
I remembered that I had once consumed a wild Venezuelan-style burger garnished with tiny fried potato sticks — the kind that come from a can — and that I had enjoyed it, to my surprise. 
I remembered that Frito burgers had been a tradition in Houston — land of the Frito Pie — for more than a decade. “It’s a rip-off of Hubcap Grill,” carped one Twitter user, and Hubcap owner Ricky Craig himself popped in to note, “We have had this burger on our menu for 13 years now since day one. The Godfather of burgers has spoken.” 
“Get over yourself, Cook,” I told myself, and promptly set off for my neighborhood Whataburger drive-thru. I have never been a Whataburger partisan, but I would give it a go.
DINING SCENE: Houston Chronicle’s TOP 100 Restaurants
Here’s how it went.
PRICE: $8.69 for the double chili cheeseburger with Fritos; $3.69 for a medium White Chocolate Raspberry shake, for a total of $12.97.
ORDERING: Drive-thru or order at the counter and eat in.
ARCHITECTURE: On a wide, flattish, toasted bun went a quarter-inch beef patty, a square of American cheese, and another beef patty. Then came a splodge of ground-beefy chili, a healthy smattering of raw-onion squares, and the diagnostic layer of Fritos. A big swipe of yellow mustard decorated underside of the top bun.
QUALITY: To my surprise, this was the best Whataburger I’ve ever eaten. The patties had a good, crunchy sear on them, which added some character, and they were not cooked to utter distraction, which has been my usual experience. Their clear, unassuming beef flavor was amplified by the beefy chili — which to my mind was timid stuff, without the red-chile-pepper authority I had been hoping for. 
There wasn’t quite enough chili for me, either; and I longed for a second cheese slice to jack up the slidiness of the sandwich. Who makes a double cheeseburger without double cheese? I ask you.
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What I did enjoy was the way the raw-onion crunch and the snap of the Fritos added texture. I had forgotten that Fritos are not among the saltiest of snack foods, so the salt content of the burger stayed within my comfort zone. And while at least one person in my timeline did not appreciate the jolt of yellow mustard, I liked it. It compensated for the mildness of the chili and added a tart thrill. 
I would eat this particular burger again, which is something I have never said about a Whataburger. 
OOZE RATING: Squish but no ooze. The chili was too beefy and the patties too well-done for that. There was debris, however: falling Frito corn chips and squares of raw onion.
LETTER GRADE: Hovering in the nebulous zone between B minus and C plus. 
VALUE: A little pricey, considering there’s not quite enough chili and only one slice of cheese. 
BONUS POINTS: efficient, unusually cheerful service in the drive-thru lane. 
MINUS POINTS: The shake of the season is the curiously elegant-sounding “White Chocolate Raspberry,” so improbable that I had to have it. Alas, it underwhelmed. White chocolate is such a subtle, almost vanishing flavor, and the ever-so-faint tint of raspberry syrup practically DID vanish. 
LOCAL COLOR: I mean, who can feel gloomy next to those wide orange and white stripes on the high-peaked Whataburger roof? That roof is such classic Texana that I brightened the moment I cast eyes on it. A two-man landscaping crew wielding leaf-blowers added that Houston je ne sais quoi.
 
Alison Cook – a two-time James Beard Award winner for restaurant criticism and an M.F.K. Fisher Distinguished Writing award recipient – has been reviewing restaurants and surveying the dining scene for the Houston Chronicle since 2002.
By Alison Cook, Greg Morago, Bao Ong, Jody Schmal, J C Reid, Mai Pham

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