- As an East Coaster, I'd never visited Whataburger — until a recent road trip.
- After eating at Whataburger, I understood why Texans are obsessed with the chain.
The legend of Whataburger has spread far beyond Texas.
Whataburger has a larger-than-life presence in the Lone Star State. It's a regional burger chain that shines bright as a point of pride in a region that's better known for its Tex-Mex cuisine. Even first lady Melania Trump had to stop by Whataburger when she visited Texas in December.
However, as a New York City dweller, I had never visited Whataburger. Sure, I've tried almost every burger chain in the business — Shake Shack, Five Guys, even In-N-Out — but Whataburger had remained a mystery.
So on a recent road trip that started in Dallas, I decided it was time to find out what I was missing.
Here's a coastal elite's take on a Texas chain that has the grit to take on any burger chain on either side of the Mississippi:
The first thing that catches my eye at Whataburger is the variety on the menu. What burger should I get? Do I need to try some chicken? Fries or onion rings? I'm overwhelmed — and according to my editor, I make a fatal mistake by failing to order taquitos, a rare find at a burger chain.
Fortunately, Whataburger's service has a soothing quality. The workers give me a number to take to my table and promise that food will follow.
An employee even brings over ketchup options for me! Honestly, I'm not sure if they're this nice to everyone or they can tell I'm flustered from driving through Dallas' maze of highways after five years of traveling exclusively via public transportation, but it's appreciated either way. The spicy ketchup is also very good — a classic with a kick.
In an effort to dip into the variety of Whataburger's menu, we ordered the onion rings and a patty melt to complement our more traditional burger order.
Let me start by saying not enough chains serve a patty melt, a humble but sometimes superior option to its burger brother. At Whataburger, the patty melt stands strong, snuggled on the menu among other "All-Time Favorites" like the Honey BBQ Chicken Strip Sandwich and the Green Chile Double Burger.
Whataburger's patty melt lives up to the hype, layering two patties with grilled onions, Monterey Jack cheese, and creamy pepper sauce. It's not aiming for innovation, but it is delicious.
The onion rings have a similar hearty charm. The breading is high quality and doesn't slip off the onion, making for a well-crafted and satisfying ring.
But what about the burger? According to company lore, its founder Harmon Dobson wanted to create a 5-inch burger that was so big that people couldn't help but exclaim "What a burger!" when they took a bite.
Whataburger certainly offers a big burger for your buck — large and somewhat flat, cut from the same cloth as those at fast-food peers such as McDonald's. This isn't the topping-laden burger of In-N-Out or the over-the-top game-changer of Shake Shack or even Five Guys.
Whataburger instead churns out classic fast-food burgers, and it does it well. I wasn't yelling "What a burger!" after taking a bite, but I did say, in a normal indoor voice, "This burger is pretty good!"
No single item on Whataburger's menu truly blew my mind, including the fries that I wolfed down without photographing. Maybe I simply needed to eat more — I was shamed by various Texans for failing to snag a Honey Butter Chicken Biscuit.
I left Whataburger full but craving something more. The quality of the food and the menu's untapped potential beckons, calling me back to Texas.
Whataburger may not be the one burger chain to rule them all that some Texans say it is. But it is a gem — a competent chain with a sprawling menu that will keep you coming back for more.