What the What is Whataburger?

I love a good hamburger. I’ve actually gone out of my way (well, only a little out of my way) to try some of the best burgers around the world: White Hut in Western Massachusetts. Au Cheval in Chicago. Bleecker Street in London. Terry’s Turf Club in Cincinnati. Louie’s Lunch in Hartford (the first ever hamburger). Launderette here in Austin. All incredible experiences.

And I will tell you this, I have never seen the fanatical devastation to a burger chain as I have after moving to Texas and learning about Whataburger.

Find a Texan, any Texan you know, and ask them about Whataburger. Watch their eyes glaze over with nostalgia and their stomach begin to rumble. It’s crazy.

Earlier this year, I had a conversation with native-Texan Lindzi from XO Marshmallow when I was back in Chicago and watched her lose her mind over a pure mention of the Whataburger name.

“If they let me, I would open a franchise in Chicago,” she told me. “Today. I’d do it today. Right now.”

I’m not the only one to notice this fanatical Texan burger obsession. Bon Appétit literally just wrote about this phenomenon a few months ago, quoting:

“It’s been said that there are three food groups in Texas—barbecue, Tex-Mex, and chicken-fried steak. Some might argue, however, that there’s a fourth food group, and that would be Whataburger.

Now, to the uninitiated, lifting a fast-food burger chain to the rank of Texan culinary icon might seem a little strange. And yet, when Texans spot the restaurant’s familiar orange- and white-striped logo and architecture, hearts beat faster, mouths begin to water, and they start contemplating about what to order.”

Recently, it’s been a focus of the heated Texas Senate Campaign, people have celebrated their weddings at the spot, it’s part of the culture.

Beto O’Rourke skateboarding in a Whataburger parking lot. Because, why not?

So, it was time to figure out why…

THE WHAT OF WHATABURGER

You can’t miss Whataburger as you drive through Texas. Their iconic orange and white stripes draping over pointed roofs and right-angle A-Frame archways make it eye-catching in a truly beautiful throwback kind of way.

Whataburger has been serving burgers since it opened it’s first store on August 8, 1950, on Ayers Street in Corpus Christi, Texas. Here’s what they say about themselves:

The first Whataburger stand. Photo courtesy of Whataburger

“Over six decades ago, an adventurous and determined entrepreneur named Harmon Dobson had a bold idea: to serve a burger so big that it took two hands to hold, and so good that after a single bite customers couldn’t help but exclaim, ‘What a burger!’ He named his humble burger stand, located on Ayers Street in Corpus Christi, Texas, ‘Whataburger.;’

Today, our founder’s original vision still inspires everything we do. We’re still family owned and operated. Each and every Whataburger is still made to order—when it’s ordered. We still use 100% pure beef and serve it on a big, toasted five-inch bun. We still greet our customers with a smile 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And while we now serve hot, fresh food at more than 800 Whataburgers across the country, that burger stand in Corpus Christi is never far from our hearts.”

We stopped by the one closest to our home on N. Lamar Blvd. when we we’re particularly craving a burger and figured there was no better time but now.

Walking in, it’s a simple diner set-up. Tables to the front, ordering counter to the rear.

There are A LOT of options on that board. It’s not just enough to get a burger, but you have to figure out if you want the classic that they do so well or any of their next innovations they’re trying out: Avocado bacon burger on Texas toast? Chicken Fajita Taco? The Monterrey Melt? The Honey Butter Chicken Biscuit? Ugh, where to begin.

We went down a classic road: Burgers, fries, onion rings, shakes, and chicken strips to go a little crazy.

WHAT MAKES THIS PLACE SO SPECIAL?

The thing we noticed first was that the staff here were unbelievably nice. Like, weirdly, weirdly, wonderfully friendly. The kid working the counter walked us nicely through the menu and then when the food took a little longer than expected, apologized unnecessarily and profusely.

Apparently it’s not just this spot. Whataburger is known for being polite and helpful, although you could probably say the same thing about many people throughout Texas.

Once you order, you actually get a number and go and sit, and they bring the food to you.

Yes, this fast food spot still does table service, which is a little crazy and a lot of wonderful. They even bring you over a little tray filled with sauces and napkins. You don’t have to tell them you want ketchup, they’re going to bring it to your table.

HOW WAS THE FOOD?

Ah, a good question.

Now, again, I’ve have really, really good burger and this burger was… good. It was a fast food burger and a good one at that. No question, it’s a higher quality burger than other fast food eats around the country, and even ones in the area. But did it blow me away? Maybe not, but tt was tasty and quality through and through.

What did blow me away though we’re the chicken strips, which we’re perfectly friend, deliciously seasoned and really crispy. Damn those we’re solidly good! And I really enjoyed the very sweet and very thick milk shake.

As mentioned before, there is an epic menu attached to this spot, which means that I’m going to have to make a journey back for more and soon. I mean, it does breakfast, for gosh sake.

In the end, Shamaine and I had a good meal at this Texas institution. I walked out happy, which really, is what you should be asking of anywhere you go to eat. If you grew up with a place like this, I can see why Whataburger is as well loved as it is.

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