The parking lot at Tex’s Star Grill, the no-frills order-at-the-counter joint along Rufe Snow Drive in Watauga, looked more like a police substation than a hamburger haven when we pulled up on a recent Sunday afternoon.
That, combined with the unmistakable aroma of flame-grilled red meat, told us we were in the right place.
Open since 2004, the restaurant is equal parts sanctuary for homesick Chicagoans (Tex’s does a mean Italian beef sandwich) and refueling refuge for Northeast Tarrant County families, post-church — at least on the day we visited.
With a handful of burger options, fried sides, gyros, salads and a kids menu, virtually anyone can find comfort in these excess calories, which is actually Tex’s motto: “There’s something for everyone.”
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And if that’s not enough, for condiment-crazies like me, the place even makes its own “Home Sauce,” a watery Russian-dressing-like concoction that has all of the color and a quarter of the flavor of what usually comes on a Reuben. And, yes, this place has Reubens, too.
The burger: While you can get a traditional cheeseburger, a Western bacon cheeseburger or a pedestrian mushroom and Swiss burger (which employs canned mushrooms — no thanks), why bother? The Golden Burger ($6.69) sounded appropriately intimidating in its meatiness, and it was. It’s a 1/3 -pound patty topped with a large handful of sliced pastrami.
The patty: Skinny yet impressively cooked to medium-rare, it was juicy and offered a good meat-to-other-ingredients ratio. Because the lean ground beef patty wasn’t too thick, the burger’s other elements were held in check.
The bun: Can you say Texas (garlic) toast? I’m usually not a fan of anything but a bun, but these two slices did just fine, mopping up the burger’s juice, yet providing ample, um, breadth for conspicuous amounts of Home Sauce and ketchup.
Its thick crust and crumby texture made the whole thing an enterprise you’d likely want to avoid if you’re on a first date or in other mixed company.
The toppings: The usual burger trifecta — shredded lettuce, tomato and onion — were present, as was a slice of American cheese on the bottom and Swiss on top (between the pastrami and toast). It made for a disparately cheese-y sandwich. I would have preferred the cheese and meat to be together for maximum unctuousness.
However, the one-two punch of the pastrami and lean ground beef did add a good dose of richness.
The sides: All of your standards are here, from chili fries to fried mushrooms, mozzarella sticks to onion rings.
In addition to thick-cut fries, we tried the rings, and neither was impressive. Despite telltale black speckles (look, we seasoned!) of pepper, the salt seemed to be MIA. Had it been there, the fries would have likely been habit-forming, because the crispiness was there.
The rings needed a better batter (as well as salt). The exterior, uniform with an implacable and boring texture, was nothing to endorse.
The verdict: The burgers here are heralded for good reason, so concentrate your energy on this section of the menu.
If you desperately need to order a side, get a Greek salad ($8.49), which comes with pita, for the table. Your nutritionist will thank me.