Battle of the Burgers: 2017

The fifth Battle of the Burgers has rookies, comeback kids, returning champs and lots of beef. Here's a look at the field for 2017, and the past winners.
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The fifth Battle of the Burgers has rookies, comeback kids, returning champs and lots of beef. Here's a look at the field for 2017, and the past winners.
By

Burgers

Brackets. Beefs. It must be Burger Battle time. Here are the contenders for ‘best’ honors

By Robert Philpot

rphilpot@star-telegram.com

September 07, 2017 12:45 PM

And so begins our fifth celebration of the burger.

In the summer of 2009, an office argument — er, debate — over who had the best burger in Fort Worth blossomed into a bigger, crazier idea: The Battle of the Burgers, an NCAA-bracket style bit of munch madness. We took 32 burger joints — we could easily have done 64, but there’s only so much a body can take — across North Texas, seeded them into “regions” and put them into head-to-head matchups.

And we mean head to head: Burger Battle judges, who make their visits to the places in the brackets as anonymously as possible, go to a joint and eat a burger. Then on the same day — preferably, as soon as possible — the judge or judges goes to the next joint in the matchup and repeats the process. Then we decide which place won the matchup, and it advances to fight another winner.

Readers can cast their votes, too. Cast your vote: The 2017 Battle of the Burgers readers’ poll

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As we go along, we try more burgers at each place, which means more judges, which often means more arguments. And bigger waistlines. We decided to do this every other year, partly to give new burger places a chance to open, partly to let our systems recover.

The burger scene in North Texas continues to evolve, and so does the Burger Battle: In our first few battles, fast-food joints were part of the bracket, but by 2015, there were so many good independents that we relegated the fast-foodies, even our beloved Whataburger, to a sidebar.

And what started as the DFW.com Burger Battle now has much more FW than D, which is only represented by a couple of chains (Dallas-based Twisted Root, New York-based Shake Shack — which just signed a lease for an upcoming DFW Airport location). No longer do we have to drive all the way to Dallas to test Hopdoddy, the Austin-based burger force that finally opened a Fort Worth location in August. Burger spots in surrounding cities, including a couple in Johnson and Parker counties, also made the bracket.

There is more to Burger Battle than the burger bracket — in an area so rich with burgers, from lone offerings on a restaurant menu to holes in the wall on country roads, not everything is going to fit into a 32-slot bracket. And during the next few weeks, we’ll be honoring things that missed the bracket or fell outside the format.

And we’ve never had a repeat winner: Fred’s Texas Cafe (2009) and Rodeo Goat (2013) fell in subsequent battles; Pop’s (2011) has since closed. Dutch’s Legendary Hamburgers, the 2015 champ, has a shot at starting a dynasty, but it will have to be as consistent as it was in 2015. And it faces competition from a lot of perennial contenders: Kincaid’s, Love Shack, Tommy’s and others in Fort Worth; Tom’s and Chop House Burgers in Arlington/Pantego; Johnny B’s in Southlake.

There are comeback kids (Salsa Fuego, Bronson Rock and Ted E’s Kitchen, all risen from places that were once closed, are in this battle), and returning underdogs (J.’s Casa Burger and Navajo Burger were almost giant-killers in 2015), as well as some impressive rookies (Good Food Co., Hookers Grill, Best Burger Barn, K-Pop Burger).

So, without further ado, the matchups. Round-one results will be published next week.

BACON REGION

1. Dutch’s Legendary Hamburgers vs. 8. Best Burger Barn

Dutch’s

The Vaquero Burger (bacon, cheddar, BBQ sauce, fried onion and jalapeño strings and more) helped Dutch’s Legendary Hamburgers in Fort Worth win the 2015 Burger Battle).
Paul Moseley Star-Telegram archives

Founded in 2007 by Fort Worth chefs/Reata grads Grady Spears and Lou Lambert, Dutch’s has been in every Burger Battle, finally walking away the winner in 2015 with consistently strong burgers — in a battle where many of Fort Worth’s best burger joints were radically inconsistent. The TCU-area joint is an homage not just to TCU’s sports past — it’s named for Leo “Dutch” Meyer, the legendary Horned Frog football/baseball coach — but to the area’s burger heritage (Jon’s Grille stood for 18 years where Dutch’s stands now, and when Lambert’s father, who played on one of Meyer’s teams, was a student, there was a nearby drugstore everybody went to for a burger). 3009 S. University Drive, Fort Worth, 817-927-5522, www.dutchshamburgers.com

Best Burger Barn

Bacon bleu burger at Best Burger Barn
Max Faulkner mfaulkner@star-telegram.com

For its first eight months of existence, this place didn’t have a barn — or for that matter, a roof. Byron Rose grilled burgers in his front yard in Egan, a tiny unincorporated Johnson County community south of Burleson and northeast of Cleburne. A small shack with a patio under some oak trees followed, with full-time hours for the next three years. Then he moved into a full-service, sit-down restaurant in Egan in February 2013. Enough people found it that Rose was able to add a second dining room in January 2015, and in March 2016, he opened a location in Burleson. This is an underdog story if we’ve ever heard one, and we expect Best Burger Barn’s matchup with the 2015 champ to be ... er, a barn burner, and we mean that in a good way for both. Judging will take place at the original location, 5108 Conveyor Drive, Egan, 817-233-2068, http://bestburgerbarn.com

2. Fuego Burger vs. 7. BurgerFi

 

Fuego Burger

The bacon bleu burger and fries at Fuego Burger in Rendon. The small burger-taco joint serves burgers that were previously served at the now-closed Salsa Fuego in Fort Worth
Bob Booth Star-Telegram archives

One of the comeback stories of this bracket, and a bit of a weird one: In 2015, what was then Salsa Fuego, a west Fort Worth Tex-Mex restaurant known for great burgers, made it to the Burger Battle final before bowing out to battle champ Dutch’s. During the battle, we kept hearing reports that Salsa Fuego had closed, but every time the judges visited for a round, it was open. About a month later, owner Carlos Rodriguez and his wife resurfaced in a tiny Rendon joint called 5ive Spice Kitchen — and it took a few months after that for a Facebook post to call it to our attention. They soon changed the name to Fuego Burger, named for their specialty, a green-chile cheeseburger with a fried cheese ring surrounding it like one of Saturn’s rings. So there it is, in the back of a Rendon convenience store, making these great burgers. Don’t underestimate it — in this smaller space, with a more focused menu, the burgers have arguably gotten better than they were in 2015. 5595 E. Farm Road 1187, Rendon, 817-879-9495, @OriginalFuegoBurger on Facebook.

BurgerFi

A double cheeseburger with onion rings and fries from BurgerFi, one of many fast-casual restaurants in Champions Park, walkable from AT&T Stadium.
Bud Kennedy bud@star-telegram.com

A rookie and an interloper, this Florida-based chain opened its first DFW location in early August in Arlington’s Champions Park, reminding us of New York-based Shake Shack, which was an inspiration for Fort Worth’s Love Shack. The menu leans toward quality over quantity, with five beef-based burgers plus the strange “Conflicted Burger” (a beef patty and a veggie patty) and the just-launched-nationally Beyond Burger, a plant-based burger that, like Hopdoddy’s Impossible Burger, is a meatless burger that eats and bleeds like a beef burger. But for Burger Battle, we’ll be eating the beef patties. 1807 N. Collins St. Suite 101, Arlington, 682-238-3737, https://burgerfi.com

3. Chop House Burgers vs. 6. Hookers Grill

Chop House Burgers

The 10-Pepper Burger at Chop House Burgers in Pantego, worth a ride from AT&T Stadium
Star-Telegram archives

A two-time Burger Battle runner-up, Chop House Burgers (not to be confused with the Chop House Burger chain) stumbled in 2015 in a Sweet 16 matchup against Salsa Fuego. According to Crave DFW, Kenny Mills, the mind behind Chop House, sold the Pantego spot this year and is getting ready to launch a location of Cooper’s Meat Market in west Dallas’ Sylvan Thirty development this fall. But judging from Mills’ Facebook page, he still cares about Chop House, which is one of those spots that made it onto “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.” The burger menu is ambitious, and the results, while usually good, can be erratic. 2230 W. Park Row Drive, Suite A, Pantego, 817-459-3700, http://www.chophouseburgers.com

Hookers Grill

A Hookers Grill burger with bacon. The Stockyards shack cooks onions — grilled or fried — into its patties.
Courtesy of Hookers Grill.

One of this year’s more intriguing entries is this Stockyards shack — walk-up window, outside seating — where onions, grilled or fried, are cooked into the patties. It’s a tribute to the burgers of El Reno, Oklahoma, where onion-studded patties have such a history that there’s an annual Fried Onion Burger Day. The place is friendly and unfussy, with a modest menu and an aroma that will remind you of burgers from your past. Note: Hooker is the name of the family that runs the place, but they’re not above using a double-entendre to get your attention. 213 W. Exchange St.. Fort Worth, 817-773-8373, Facebook: @hookersgrillFTW

4. Twisted Root Burger Co. vs. 5. Swiss Pastry Shop

Twisted Root

Western burger — pepperjack, bacon, fried onion strings and jalapeños — at Twisted Root
Star-Telegram archives

A key to the North Texas burger renaissance and another “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” alum, Twisted Root started as a Deep Ellum burger joint in 2006 and is now up to 19 locations, including ones in Louisiana and Alabama. While we have a lot of affection for the place, especially the original, it has been inconsistent in previous Burger Battles, getting knocked out before the Final Four. Never count this place out, though — it’s had championship potential from the beginning. It has a tough matchup in its first round, though. Multiple locations; judging will take place at Arlington location, 310 E. Abram St. No. 100, 817-201-9669, https://www.twistedrootburgerco.com

Swiss Pastry Shop

A green-chile bacon cheeseburger from Swiss Pastry Shop in Fort Worth
Joyce Marshall jmarshall@star-telegram.com

A controversial entry even among the judges, the more-than-40-year-old Swiss Pastry Shop is our lone non-burger-joint burger contender — partly because a few years ago, owner/scion Hans Peter Muller began adding burgers to the menu, and drawing a burger-loving crowd when he did it. Old-schoolers sometimes wish that he’d stick to the baked goods and diner foods, but then there are those of us who can’t get enough of the Akaushi beef patties and inventive concoctions. 3936 W. Vickery Blvd., Fort Worth, 817-732-5661, http://www.swisspastryonline.com

MUSTARD REGION

1. Rodeo Goat vs. 8. Shake Shack

Rodeo Goat

The "Blue Goat" at Rodeo Goat in Fort Worth: Bleu cheese slaw, caramelized onions, garlic-herb mayo.
Max Faulkner mfaulkner@star-telegram.com

The 2013 Burger Battle winner had a rough road in 2015, nearly getting upset in the first round by humble Navajo Burger, having a really close round against Cleburne’s modest Burger Bar and then performing unevenly — to say the least — in a Final Four matchup against eventual runner-up Salsa Fuego. In some rounds, one of the Goat’s most popular burgers, the Chaca Oaxaca, disappointed, but it’s been great in our return visits since the last battle. Despite stumbling with the judges in 2015, in won the readers’ bracket that year, and won best burger in the Star-Telegram’s recent inaugural Fort Worthy Awards. It has return-champ potential, but it will need to be more consistent this time around if it wants to repeat its 2013 success. 2836 Bledsoe St., Fort Worth, 817-877-4628, www.rodeogoat.com

Shake Shack

A ShackBurger from Shake Shack. The popular New York-based chain has opened locations in Dallas and Plano, and has signed a lease for a location at DFW Airport.
Courtesy of Shake Shack

One of the few Dallas places in this year’s battle is actually a New York place, a burger-and-shake mecca that’s known to draw big lines in the Big Apple and big crowds in Big D (although parking might be easier in New York than it is at the Uptown Dallas location). In an echo of the Great North Texas In-N-Out Mania of 2011, not all of us get what the big deal is (well, about the burgers — the shakes are pretty darned good.) But there’s Shake Shack inspiration behind Burger Battle contenders Love Shack and BurgerFi, and a lot of people dig this place, and we have a feeling that it’s only a matter of time before a location lands in Fort Worth. It’s already in Austin, Houston and Plano — call it the Hopdoddy Syndrome. Judging will take place at 2500 N. Pearl St., Dallas, 214-983-1023, www.shakeshack.com

2. Kincaid’s Hamburgers vs. 7. Clown Burger

Kincaid’s

Bacon-cheeseburger from Kincaid’s in Fort Worth
Star-Telegram archives

Burger joints have come and gone, but the original Kincaid’s still stands in a grocery-store-like location on Camp Bowie Boulevard — and you’ll find loyalists who not only won’t eat a burger anywhere but Kincaid’s, they won’t even eat a burger at another Kincaid’s, now that there are a half-dozen locations. The original had great opening rounds in 2015 before a bacon-jalapeño-pimento cheese burger — about as fancy as Kincaid’s gets — didn’t deliver enough heat or cheese, and the beloved burger joint fell to the more highfalutin Thurber Mingus. But Thurber Mingus, which made the 2015 Final Four, is now gone — and Kincaid’s is still standing. Multiple locations; judging will take place at 4901 Camp Bowie Blvd., Fort Worth, 817-732-2881, http://kincaidshamburgers.com

Clown Burger

The Big Double Meat Cheeseburger at Clown Burger in Haltom City
Khampha Bouaphanh Star-Telegram archives

Is Clown Burger to Haltom City what Kincaid’s is to Fort Worth? It has a long-running history — it opened in 1959 on East Belknap Street, then moved to its current location on Stanley Keller Road, not far from Loop 820. For 53 years, it had the same owner, Bill Louthan, till he retired in 2016. It’s now run by his daughter, Kari Louthan Negrete, who grew up around the old-fashioned, thin-patty burger joint. It still does a brisk brunch business and has a loyal following similar to the original Kincaid’s: “There are people who have been coming longer than I’ve been here,” Louthan told the Star-Telegram in 2015, “and I’ve been here since 1963.” 5020 Stanley Keller Road at Haltom Road, Haltom City, 817-831-8015, @ClownBurger on Facebook

3. Tom’s Burgers & Grill vs. 6. J’s Casa Burger

Tom’s Burgers & Grill

The Bacon Bleu Burger at Tom's Burgers & Grill in Arlington
RON T. ENNIS Star-Telegram archives

Located in an old Denny’s Diner in north Arlington, Tom’s won the readers’ bracket in 2013, but quickly lost to Hopdoddy in 2015 — in a tough matchup that came down to a bun misfire on an otherwise excellent bacon-blue cheese burger. Owner Tom Jones, a former engineer who now engineers great burgers, isn’t afraid of competition, though — he has even encouraged customers to try competing joints in the brackets, because he’s confident that his is better. Tom’s has come out on the wrong end of near-misses in previous battles. Maybe 2017 is the year of the Tom’s. 1530 N. Cooper St., Arlington, 817-459-9000, tomsburgergrill.com

J’s Casa Burger

The J's Casa burger (a double-meat bacon-cheeseburger) at J's Casa Burger in west Fort Worth/River Oaks
Joyce Marshall jlmarshall@star-telegram.com

In 2015, J’s Casa Burger competed as just Casa Burger, a joint inside a convenience store — and came within a thin patty of knocking off former Burger Battle champ Fred’s Texas Cafe. Now it’s in a former fried-chicken drive-thru in River Oaks where, according to a 2016 Star-Telegram review, it’s more of a burger stand, and you might have to use your car as your dining table. Owner Jesus Gerardo Garcia, who once ran former White Settlement Road burger/Tex-Mex joint Burgito’s, does good, old-fashioned burgers here, and J’s has a lot of sleeper potential in the 2017 battle. 5181 River Oaks Blvd., 817-404-3244, @jscasaburger on Facebook

4. Love Shack vs. 5. Ted E’s Kitchen

Love Shack

Love Shack’s Dirty Love Burger comes with a fried quail egg and “Love sauce.”
Max Faulkner mfaulkner@star-telegram.com

Tim Love’s burger joint has gone through multiple locations — for a while there, he had three Fort Worth Shacks and one in Denton, and now he has the original Stockyards location, one at DFW Airport and one in Knoxville, Tennessee, where he went to college (and also has a Lonesome Dove Western Bistro). It’s a little more under the radar than it was when it had locations near TCU and West Seventh, but every time we visit, we’re reminded of the strong flavors of the patties and our, um, love of the Dirty Love Burger, a bacon-cheeseburger with a fried quail egg and “Love sauce” on top. 110 E. Exchange Ave., Fort Worth, 817-740-8812, http://loveburgershackfortworth.com

Ted E’s Kitchen

Blue-cheese bacon burger from Ted E’s Kitchen, a former north Fort Worth joint that reopened this summer in Bedford
Star-Telegram

Another of this year’s comeback kids: Originally in north Fort Worth, Ted E’s shut down three years ago — and then came back this summer, in a larger location in Bedford. The burgers are big, although sometimes the sweet-sourdough buns threaten to overwhelm the 6-ounce patties. The menu is broad, with the down-to-earth original, more than a half-dozen specialty burgers (including the Ted E’s Ultimate Burger, which really does seem to have everything on it, for a mere $10) and a burger of the month. It even has an Egg Topper Burger — but can it stand up to the Dirty Love? 2208 Central Drive, Bedford, 855-635-8337, www.tedeskitchen.com

KETCHUP REGION

1. Charley’s Old Fashioned Hamburgers vs. 8. Jobo’s Hamburger Grill

Charley’s

An avocado burger from Charley’s Old Fashioned Hamburgers in Fort Worth
Star-Telegram archives

Granbury Road burger stand Charley’s tends to do well in the readers’ bracket — it won in 2011 — and has a lot of fans among the judges, especially the heat-seeking ones who love the Project X, a jalapeño cheeseburger with a Tabasco-infused patty. It got as far as the Final Four in 2011 (and lost to the eventual runner-up, Arlington’s Chop House Burgers, after a long, hot argument among the judges that took place outside in that summer’s record-breaking heat). Our affection for Charley’s comes with an extra helping of poignancy in this year’s battle: Founder Charley Bell, who opened Charley’s in 1992 to business so slow that he kept his job as a truck driver for several months until a Bud Kennedy’s Eats Beat column helped things take off, died in late 2016. But Charley’s lives on with his spirit behind it. 4616 Old Granbury Road, 817-924-8611, @CharleysOldFashionedHamburgers on Facebook

Jobo’s Hamburger Grill

Bacon-cheeseburger (with lots of grilled onions) at Jobo’s Hamburger Grill near Lake Worth
Star-Telegram

Readers called our attention to this Lake Worth joint and another one, Jimmy’s Big Burgers, that isn’t too far away. So we put them in a mini-bracket and found both to be good, but Jobo’s got the edge with its half-pound burgers (with lots of grilled onions) and its friendly/funky attitude. We’re expecting a good matchup here: Although Jobo’s is in a strip shopping center (and not easy to find unless someone tells you about it), it has the burger-shack feel that we’ve always liked at Charley’s, and the burgers to back it up. 6548 Lake Worth Blvd. Suite 200, 817-238-7888, Jobo’s Hamburger Grill on Facebook

2. Nicky D’s vs. 7. Good Food Co.

Nicky D’s

Nicky D’s in Crowley shows the other guys how to melt cheese
Star-Telegram archives

Any judge who has been through multiple burger battles will tell you about burgers to remember, but one of the best matchups in Burger Battle’s history came in the Elite Eight round in 2015, when three judges went to Nicky D’s and each one had a terrific burger — and then went to Salsa Fuego, which also served up three terrific burgers. It’s not often we’ll dock a burger for too much cheese, but it was so hard to find anything wrong with any of the burgers that it came down to being that picky just to break the tie. Salsa Fuego was the eventual runner-up, but it closed a few months later, and even during the battle it was looking shaky. So Nicky D’s has gotta be craving another shot at the title. And we still like any joint that, last time we checked, still had outside restrooms. Seriously, “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” have you found Nicky D’s yet? 1605 Farm Road 1187, Crowley, 817-297-0333, www.nickydscrowley.com

Good Food Co.

Bacon cheeseburger with fries at Good Food Co. in Fort Worth
Max Faulkner mfaulkner@star-telegram.com

This Burger Battle rookie is a (mostly) back-to-basics joint from Magnolia Avenue veterans Juan Solis (Tina’s Cocina, Upper 90) and Evan Williams (the now-gone Black Market Bakery & Cafe), who told the Star-Telegram in March that they “want to bring a Magnolia twist to this side of town.” But if you’re thinking “Magnolia twist” means “hipster,” think again: the burgers here were inspired by Kincaid’s and Fred’s, and a Star-Telegram review said it’s “a place that takes you back to when burgers weren’t $15 and topped with arugula and designer mustard.” A poblano/jack/mushroom/avocado burger is about as fancy as it gets, and purists will be glad to see that the menu leads off with “hamburger” — for a mere $4.50. And the thin patties are really good. 2919 Race St., Fort Worth, 817-759-9988, @GoodFoodCom on Facebook

3. Hopdoddy vs. 6. Shep’s Place

Hopdoddy

The “Magic Shroom” burger at the Hopdoddy Burger Bar in Dallas — which finally has a Fort Worth location.
Max Faulkner Star-Telegram archives

Austin-based Hopdoddy has been such a burger force that it’s easy to forget that the original location opened as recently as 2010. It opened its first Dallas location in 2012, and made it to the Final Four in the 2013 Burger Battle — falling to eventual champ Rodeo Goat, which has acknowledged Hopdoddy’s inventive, multi-burger menu as an inspiration. That matchup was really close, and it had the judges wishing and hoping for Hopdoddy to open a Fort Worth location, which it finally did this August. In past Burger Battles, we have done our best to do judging at a joint’s first North Texas location — but Hopdoddy Fort Worth is playing in an area that also includes Fred’s, Rodeo Goat, M&O Station Grill and other burger joints, and we’ll be doing our judging there. (Of course, it is starting against a Weatherford joint, so that judge is still going to have a drive in store.) Judging will take place at 2300 W. Seventh St. Suite 140, Fort Worth, 817-270-2337,www.hopdoddy.com; locations also in Dallas and Addison.

Shep’s Place

The Big Kahuna Burger at Shep’s Place in Weatherford is topped with two pieces of grilled pineapple — and grilled Spam.
Bob Booth Star-Telegram archives

Here’s a place with a tangled history: In 2015, our lone Weatherford joint was Big John’s Burgers and Beer. “Big John” is John Shepherd, who is 7 feet tall, but by 2015, he’d left Big John’s during a rancorous dispute with a business partner. While the 2015 Burger Battle was going on, Shepherd (whose restaurant background includes the acclaimed Wild Mushroom) opened Shep’s Place in a radically refurbished Dairy Queen. How radical? We’re pretty sure the Dairy Queen didn’t feature various references to “Star Wars,” of which Shepherd is such a big fan that he had a “Star Wars”-themed wedding. Burgers are sizable and range from the down-to-earth The Original With Cheese to the wacky (the Match Stick features a habanero/serrano/red bell pepper/jalapeño sauce, and the Big Kahuna comes with two slabs of grilled Spam and grilled pineapple atop the patty). Big John’s is now closed, but Big John is in the 2017 battle. Will he be the Wookiee of the Year? 816 S. Main St., Weatherford, 682-804-5002, Facebook: Shepsplacewford

4. M&O Station Grill vs. 5. Hollywood Burger

M&O Station Grill

The Supreme Tijuana Burger at M&O Station Grill in Fort Worth
Star-Telegram.com

Located near West Seventh Street, but several blocks north of West Seventh and away from the action, the semi-hidden M&O has managed to gain a loyal following with its onion-flecked patties and eclectic burger menu, winning our readers’ bracket in 2009 and earning honors from other local publications. Now that the artsy Foundry District is starting to pop up around it, M&O should gain even more fans. As far as the judges’ bracket goes, M&O has struggled, but you never know when a joint is going to have a strong, consistent Burger Battle. And it’s pretty confident: Just look at its URL at the end of this paragraph. 200 Carroll St., Fort Worth, 817-882-8020, www.bestburgerfortworth.com

Hollywood Burger

The Bulgogi burger with ribeye steak marinated Korean style, grilled onions, mushrooms and provolone cheese at Hollywood Burger’s Saginaw location
Ron T. Ennis Star-Telegram archives

Although you might see some movie-star photos at Hollywood Burger, it’s much more about the gritty side of Hollywood than the glitzy one: a no-nonsense atmosphere, a spot where you’re likely to see construction workers on their lunch breaks. And they’ll get full on those breaks, with half-pound Angus beef patties (or a 1-pound one, if you’re in the mood) layered with mounds of toppings and an increasing sense of adventure as you continue down the menu and find the Korean-inspired bulgogi and dejigogi burgers. Judging will take place at 1200 S. Blue Mound Road, Saginaw, 817-306-0777; locations also in north Fort Worth, Westlake and Richardson, http://hollywoodburgertexas.com

PICKLE REGION

1. Fred’s Texas Cafe vs. 8. K-Pop Burger

Fred’s Texas Cafe

The Diablo Burger at Fred’s Texas Cafe is one of the most sought-after burger in Fort Worth
Paul Moseley Star-Telegram archives

The first Burger Battle winner, way back in 2009, also performed well in 2011 and 2013, but this much-beloved joint was erratic in 2015 and barely dodged a first-round upset by Casa Burger (now J’s Casa Burger). But Fred’s is a survivor: Not only is its original Currie Street location still standing amid gobs of new places popping up in the West Seventh corridor, it’s actually bigger than it used to be, and Fred’s now also has locations near TCU and in north Fort Worth. But if you want to go to the home of the spicy Diablo Burger, you go to the original, another “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” alum that practically defines the phrase “funky burger joint.” Judging will take place at the original location, 915 Currie St., Fort Worth, 817-332-0083, fredstexascafe.com

K-Pop Burger

The Kimchi Burger at K-Pop Burger, a Korean-influenced burger joint in far north Fort Worth
Khampha Bouaphanh Star-Telegram archives

Nestled in a Fort Worth intersection so far north that most people call it Keller is an eclectic assortment of mom-and-pop restaurants, including this Korean-influenced joint whose windows are festooned with posters of its monster burgers (the “Big Bang” looks like it’s meant to be shared — among a group of friends). The Korean influence is most notable in the Kimchi Burger; what you’ll probably notice more is other over-the-top offerings such as the Beast Burger and the 2 AM Burger (a breakfast burger topped with fried eggs, a slab of hash browns — and shredded mozzarella). 12404 Timberland Blvd. Suite 208, Fort Worth, 817-337-0900, @kpopburgerforthworth — yes, “forth” — on Facebook.

2. Tommy’s Burgers + Brews vs. 7. Liberty Burger

Tommy’s Burgers + Brews

Bacon and Brie burger with onion rings at Tommy's Burgers + Brews near Ridgmar Mall in Fort Worth
Joyce Marshall jlmarshall@star-telegram

Fort Worth institution Tommy’s has almost come first circle with its most recently opened location, in the former Dagwoods Grinders & Growlers spot behind Ridgmar Mall. “It’s not far from where an earlier incarnation of the chain once stood,” our review said, “in a nearby gas station.” Kelly Smith, daughter of founders Tommy and Glenda Smith, now runs things, and she repurposed some of the design elements from the former gas-station location to the new one. Although Tommy’s is still mostly old-school, it has added such items as a bacon-brie burger, a green-chile goat-cheese burger and the “Blue Angel” burger, made with bacon and blue cheese. None of that is as nutty as some burger joints get, but for Tommy’s, it’s a sign that it’s ready to fight in this battle. 1736 Mall Circle, Fort Worth, 817-759-9088; locations also on Camp Bowie Boulevard and Forest Park Boulevard; https://www.tommyshamburgergrill.net

Liberty Burger

Small Dallas-based chain originally opened by Mariel Street, daughter of North Texas restaurant guru Gene Street (Black-Eyed Pea, Lucky's, Good Eats, Cool River). It has a half-dozen North Texas locations (and one in Jackson, Wyoming), and is about to open one at the Star in Frisco. But late last year, it made its way to far north Fort Worth, in the middle of Presidio Junction, a huge shopping center (with several fast-food burger joints and a Red Robin Gourmet Burgers) on the west side of I-35W. For a fast-casual spot, Liberty does relatively upscale burgers (with names like “Jackie O” and “Napa”), yet it’s an underdog on the big-chain-heavy far north Fort Worth dining scene. 8917 N. Fwy Service Road E., No. 119, Fort Worth, 817-847-7771, http://givemelibertyburger.com

3. Johnny B’s Burgers & Shakes vs. 6. Navajo Burger

Johnny B’s

Johnny B’s honors its Southlake locale with the Dragonburger, a jalapeño-chili triple cheeseburger
Star-Telegram archives

The family-run and -oriented Southlake joint made it to the Final Four in 2013 and was knocked out by eventual champ Dutch’s in 2015. In fact, it’s sort of like Dutch’s, but in a Carroll High School way instead of a TCU one: There’s even a Dragonburger, a triple-cheeseburger with jalapeños and chili. Check out the photo wall, in which Johnny B’s fans are shown displaying the restaurant’s logo — at such locales as the Eiffel Tower and the Great Wall of China. 2704 E. Southlake Blvd., 817-749-0000, www.johnnybsburgersshakes.com

Navajo Burger

A “junkyard” burger from Navajo Burger, inside a convenience store/gas station near Lake Worth
Steve Wilson Star-Telegram archives

Unless you live near Lake Worth, this is an out-of-the-way joint, and it’s almost hidden inside a gas station/convenience store. And in 2015, it very nearly knocked defending Burger Battle champ Rodeo Goat out in the first round. This time around, it’s up against another consistently strong Burger Battle performer, Johnny B’s, but the potential for an upset is still strong. There are reasons Navajo Burger has developed a cult following, and it’s doing it old school, without a website or an official Facebook page. 7028 Navajo Trail, Fort Worth, 817-237-9992

4. Bronson Rock vs. 5. Burger Bar

Bronson Rock

The Bronson Burger — two strips of bacon, two slices of cheddar — at Bronson Rock in Keller
Robert Philpot Star-Telegram

Yet another comeback story: In October 2016, popular Old Town Keller burger joint Bronson Rock closed after five years — and then re-opened in March 2017, under the guidance of Richard McConathy, an original owner who came back to right the ship (or in Bronson Rock terminology, fix the motorcycle). It’s been making a push to be a bigger concert venue — alt-rockers Puddle of Mudd, who had a big 2002 hit with “Blurry,” are scheduled to play there Saturday night — and the menus now come on cardboard replicas of old vinyl records, complete with the classic labels. With all that music emphasis, though, Bronson Rock hasn’t forgotten the burgers, and it stands to be a formidable foe in this battle. 250 S. Main St. (U.S. 377), Keller, 817-203-0222, http://bronsonrocktx.com

Burger Bar

Is Burger Bar getting by on charm? It’s a tiny spot — really, we can’t communicate “tiny” well in print, you have to walk in to find out just how tiny — in Cleburne, a town that could have its own burger battle (this is a place where the golf-course burger is so good that it has reached urban-legend status). It’s been around since 1949. And, to paraphrase Samuel L. Jackson in “Pulp Fiction,” personality goes a long way. But in 2015, Burger Bar’s first time in the Burger Battle, it was yet another underdog that put up a strong fight against a defending champ in a matchup that, to quote our 2015 entry, “was nearly too close to call.” There’s more to this place than just charm, so watch out for it. 100 N. Anglin St., Cleburne, 817-645-9031, @burgerbar49 on Facebook

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