The scene: Hopdoddy Burger Bar occupies a fast-casual niche that’s clearly a step above regular fast food burger chains, but not quite your neighborhood pub, with waitstaff service and a full bar in a sleek space of glass, blonde wood, black leather, and the signature neon lime green trim used in the logo and on seat backs. Many locations feature outdoor seating and most have inviting, expansive glass front walls. Seats and high-top bar-style tables have metal tubular frames. There are also regular tables and cozy booths, high ceilings and a central bar with overhead racks, that give the entire place a distinctly three-dimensional vibe that seems lively and buzzy. Yet while it has many elements of a full-service eatery, Hopdoddy can’t quite shake the “fast” feel, and there’s an odd dichotomy between food delivered on metal trays, fries served in rolled paper, and rolls of paper towels on tables like a barbecue joint, and more sophisticated touches such as hefty steakhouse-style knives, and salt and pepper grinders at every table.
A blackboard wall displays instructions and craft beer selections, along with the basic messages that set Hopdoddy apart from most rivals — signs noting that the beef is ground fresh daily from humanely raised cattle that are never given antibiotics or growth hormones, that all fries are hand cut daily in house from Kennebec potatoes, and that all buns are also baked daily at each location. Because of the focus on fresh, quality ingredients, boxes of tomatoes and potatoes are used as decorations. Hopdoddy began with a single flagship store on South Congress Avenue, Austin, Texas’ hipster epicenter, and it is to other fast casual burger chains what Whole Foods — also born in Austin — is to regular supermarkets, a hipper and more quality-driven approach to the model.
Reason to visit: Burgers, fries with green chili queso, milkshakes
The food: Rachael Ray’s magazine, Rachael Ray Every Day, named Hopdoddy to its list of Best Burgers in America. So did readers of Food & Wine magazine. What’s the fuss?
Hopdoddy’s success starts with its ingredients and sourcing, way above par for this type of restaurant chain, and it goes far beyond the naturally raised, drug-free beef. “We have relationships with our ranchers, right here in Texas and Colorado,” says corporate executive chef Mark Adair, who is based in Austin, Texas. “And we grind all our proteins at each location daily: lamb, turkey and bison, as well as beef, and we make our patties rather than taking them out of a box, and that makes a huge difference.” The meat is better and so are the buns, a sometimes overlooked but indispensable part of the burger experience. Here they are brioche-style with an egg wash that gives them a shiny finish, baked daily, with multi-grain and gluten-free options available.