Cafe Reviewed: Wednesday, October 3, 2002
Al’s Hamburgers
Double cheeseburger $4.05
Turkey club sandwich $4.65
Catfish plate $6.65
Chicken-fried steak plate $6.65
Best Burger?

Al’s hamburgers are worth the drive to Arlington — if you can get there.


Al’s Hamburgers

1001 NE Green Oaks Blvd, Arlington. 817-275-8918. Mon-Sat 10:30am-10pm. AE, MC, V.

’ll admit to being a sucker for mom-and-pop burger joints — not only because I think chains are evil, their success due to good marketing rather than quality cuisine. Maybe it’s a nostalgia trip: I’m always trying to recreate the experience of the first diner burger I ever ate as a kid growing up in New York (you probably know the type of place — converted railroad car, picture of the boss with Telly Savalas behind the counter, jukebox in every stall, 18-page menu), or the first “with-all-the-trimmings” California burger I ate on a visit to my uncle back during the Johnson administration (“Mom, why do they put all this stuff on it?”). So when an Arlingtonian and former coworker mentioned Al’s Hamburgers, my interest was piqued.

Navigationally challenged as I am, I always have a helluva time trying to find my way around Arlington. Who knew, f’rinstance, that there are two places where Collins Street and Green Oaks Boulevard intersect? So, long story short, it took me three tries before I was actually able to locate this eatery, at the intersection of Green Oaks and North Collins (that’d be the one above I-30, not the one near I-20). Because of road construction, the parking lot is accessible from Collins only by turning east on Green Oaks, then making a u-turn and doubling back. Consider yourself schooled.

The journey was well worth it. There’s some stiff competition for the title of “best burger in North Texas”— funky Fred’s, once-funky-but-now-more-high-dollar Kincaid’s, even the mighty Texas Grill. But Al’s gives ’em all a good run for their money.

What makes Al’s burger boss? Well, with most of the aforementioned burgers, it’s the patty that’s the center of attention. This is Texas, after all; we’re beef people. With Al’s, though, it’s the confluence of flavors and textures — the gooey cheese, the tangy mustard, the crisp onions (sorry, no grilled onions here), as well as the meat — that makes the burger. It comes your way in a paper wrapper whether you’re eating in or taking out, a rather sensual experience. Ample but not excessive, it won’t fall apart in your hands as you attempt to eat it.

OK, so Al’s uses those thin commercial patties also favored by the chains. But the ones you’ll get at Al’s are always moist and flavorful, unlike some of the heat-lamp-dried bricks I’ve sampled elsewhere. The double cheeseburger, their top seller, is about the right size to satisfy a normal appetite, but single and triple variants, with or without cheese, are also available. The fries — brought in fresh daily, never frozen — are fast-food thin but aren’t cooked to the overly crisp texture the chains seem to prefer. In other words, they still possess some recognizable potato flavor, always a plus. The onion rings come encased in a heavy (and, we’re assured, non-alcoholic) beer batter that won’t disintegrate when you bite into it, and the onion inside is still sweet and crisp.

Burgers aren’t the only thing Al’s does well. Among the plates, the kingpin is a two-filet catfish that doesn’t have the gritty texture and fishy flavor of many such meals we’ve sampled. The fish, served with fries and toast, is actually flavorful enough to eat without the obligatory tartar sauce. The catfish and the workmanlike chicken-fried steak both come bound in a breading that stands up well to a fork. Also noteworthy were the chips and spicy queso dip, which our server assured us was “nothing special — just cheese sauce and salsa” but proved to be a quantum leap beyond other queso dips we’ve had in which the dominant flavor appeared to be Velveeta.

Not everything on the menu is equally wonderful. The turkey club sandwich came without bacon, unusual in this club-sandwich aficionado’s experience, but perhaps a sop to the heart-healthy. Al’s also uses a mixture of canola and corn oils to keep the saturated fat count down — not that that’s a concern for hardcore burger junkies, but Al’s can claim to have done so before Mickey D’s, without the impetus of a lawsuit. Of course, if fat’s a concern, you might wonder why the bread in the club sandwich came toasted on the grill rather than in a toaster. But that’s a trifle. In any event, you can have bacon added to any sandwich for about a buck. (Add-on jalapeños are just 20 cents.)

Founded by Al Mathews in 1957, Al’s had a long run at a location further south on Collins (now occupied by a Blockbuster Video) before losing its lease in February 1986. The grill itself is even older, dating back to 1947. They’ve been in business at the current location since 1989. You can sit at a table or belly up to the bar and check out the action in the open kitchen as cooks and servers hustle out the orders.

The décor is nothing special — just your typical strip mall, glass brick and wood paneling, with lots of homemade posters commemorating Al’s various birthdays and events like “the biggest ticket.” The vibe is that of a friendly neighborhood place with plenty of regular customers. Service is always prompt and attentive. You may not be “from around here,” but you’ll never feel like an intruder.

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