Search for the Best Burger Joint in Austin: Wholly Cow Burgers

Wholly Cow Burgers on South Lamar in Austin Texas

Wholly Cow Burgers is inside the Zen Food Mart on S. Lamar

If you’ve been looking for the best burgers in Austin, you’ve come to the right place. This post is part of a series on The Austinot.

All the posts in this series start with “Search for the Best Burger Joint in Austin” in the title. Remember, I’m looking at not only the burgers, but the experience as a whole.

You’ll always get an honest take on the burger joints that I’ve visited. I’m not on any burger joint’s payroll. Agree or disagree, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

First Impression of Wholly Cow Burgers in Austin

Nestled inside the Zen Food Mart on way South Lamar, you’ll find Wholly Cow Burgers. Yep, inside the store, just to the right as you walk in the door, is this Austin burger joint known for its local, hormone free, and grass fed beef. They have two locations: the one I’m reviewing at 3010 S. Lamar Blvd, and they have another one downtown on Congress near 7th.

Modest Mouse was playing over the speakers as we entered the Zen Food Mart, a neighborhood-style convenience store. The sign over the counter read “Burgers and Fries,” and that’s what we had come for. So we placed our order and the first thing we found out was that fries were $1.00 extra.

Some of the guys I was with decided to take advantage of the fact that Wholly Cow Burgers is located inside a convenience store, by grabbing a beer to wash down the burger with. There was a huge selection, so this looked promising.

The counter at Wholly Cow Burgers Austin

The front counter at Wholly Cow Burgers. The service was quick and friendly

The staff, though friendly, didn’t mention the fact that we couldn’t drink beer on site. This was made worse by the fact that when my friend ordered a burger at the register and was asked what he wanted to drink, he clearly said, “I’m going to grab a beer.” It wasn’t until after my friend purchased the beer and paid for his meal that he was told that he couldn’t drink the beer on the premises.

In all fairness to the crew at Wholly Cow Burgers, there is a sign by the door that says “Warning: It is a crime (misdemeanor) to consume liquor or beer on these premises.” But it’s just one of many signs as you walk in, and who pays attention to all of that when the mind is on burgers?

We looked for drink alternatives, but shakes weren’t available either.

So the basic gist was…order what you want for food, grab something to drink from the store, then come up and pay for it. But don’t grab a beer unless you plan to take it home. Oh yeah, and fries are extra. Not a good start for Wholly Cow Burgers as a burger joint. But things get better, read on.

Austinot Eric’s Burger Review Criteria

If you’ve read my other articles in this series, you’ll know that I rate burger joints using a 1-10 scale, with 5 being Average. (Don’t be a hater. If I rate you a 5, that means you were average.)

Roughly speaking, a score of 1 translates to “worst ever,” while 10 translates to “God handcrafted this himself.” Remember, you are free to disagree with me. This is just my honest take.

When reviewing a burger joint, these are my categories:

  1. Burger Patties
  2. Bun
  3. Cheese
  4. Messiness
  5. Garnish
  6. Burger Taste
  7. Fries
  8. Atmosphere
  9. Cleanliness
  10. Other Factors

Burger Joint Review: Wholly Cow Burgers Austin

Wholly Cow Burgers Bacon Cheeseburger

Wholly Cow Bacon Cheeseburger

  1. Burger Patties = 9. Local, hormone free, grass fed beef. This is Wholly Cow Burger’s claim to fame. The patties came hot off the grill, were well seasoned and were obviously fresh. It was also obvious that they were homemade, not frozen and pressed. The only drawback was that the patties could have had a little more girth.
  2. Bun = 5. The bun was average. It didn’t fall apart during the meal and there was nothing remarkable about it. It was toasted slightly on the inside.
  3. Cheese = 5. Real cheese. It may have been a little on the skimpy side for the size of the burger, but because the meat was hot off the grill, the cheese melted into the burger. This was nice, but didn’t make the cheese itself above average.
  4. Messiness = 8. The burger was dripping. It was fairly messy and several napkins perished in this endeavor. I like a messy burger, so this was a plus.
  5. Garnish = 7. Hunt’s Ketchup is an automatic fail. Everyone knows that Heinz makes the best burger ketchup. On a positive note, the bacon was crisp, nice thick pieces of lettuce, tasty pickles, and thickly cut (but soggy) tomatoes. This combination of factors leaves Wholly Cow Burgers with a 7 for Garnish.
  6. Taste = 7. The burger had a very fresh taste overall. Like I said, the patties were excellent. The bun and cheese were just average though, and the garnish slightly above average. And the choice in ketchup and along with soggy tomatoes didn’t contribute well to this mark. Regardless, of all the drawbacks, the taste of a Wholly Cow Burger is definitely above average and they get a 7 in taste.
  7. Fries = 7. This is where it gets tough to rate. Wholly Cow’s fries are off the chain good. Probably a 9 on their own. But then you have drawbacks again. You have to pay extra for fries. If you’ve followed my series, you’ve heard me say time and time again that all burgers should come with fries, standard. In addition, when you do pay for fries at Wholly Cow Burgers, they give you a tiny bit of fries. Talk about small – Lilliputians would have been complaining. Come on guys, we’re talking about potatoes here, not caviar. Either toss in a few extra fries for my dollar or throw them in as part of the meal if you are only going to give out a handful. Having said that, their fries were really rather excellent.
  8. Atmosphere = 7. Another it’s good/it’s bad sort of thing here. It’s good that Wholly Cow is in a convenience store with tons of choices. It’s bad that you can’t order a beer and have it with your meal. Like dangling a carrot in front of a horse. Oh, and if you’re not going to allow people to drink beer on the premises, then at least tell them before they pay for their beer. Don’t count on the fact that the customers are going to be reading signs as they walk in the door. We have other things on our mind, like burgers.
  9. Cleanliness = 5. The floor was messy and our table was sticky. Nothing too drastic, but nothing shouting that they actually paid specific attention to their eating area, which is located by the front windows of the Zen Food Mart.
  10. Other Factors = 7. Despite the good and the bad at Wholly Cow Burgers, there were some other things that deserve mentioning. The staff was really cool and laid back, and the service was friendly and quick. The music coming out of the speakers was a good mix of music worth listening to. I remember both Modest Mouse and the Shins throughout our meal. The place obviously is home for the local neighborhood carnivores and they were really welcoming to us.

Bottom Line on Wholly Cow Burgers in Austin: 6.7 out of 10

Overall Score = 6.7. The overall score is the average of the 10 categories.

Wholly Cow Burgers seating area on South Lamar

Seating area for the S. Lamar Location of Wholly Cow Burgers

Wholly Cow Burgers has a pretty amazing burger patty, and their fries are excellent too. The atmosphere is even cool at the Zen Food Mart.

But then you start looking at all the negatives. Buns and cheese are average, fries are extra, place wasn’t particularly clean, can’t drink a beer with your burger, no shakes and you can start to see why Wholly Cow dropped further and further down the ranking list. Oh, and they were a bit pricey too.

I wanted to like them more. I really did. But when you look at the experience as a whole, I just wasn’t as impressed. Though their fans swear by them, I just couldn’t bring myself to score them any higher.

If you live in the South Lamar neighborhood or happen to be walking near 7th and Congress downtown, give them a shot. I definitely think that Wholly Cow Burgers is worth trying out for yourself. But if you are looking for the best burger joint in Austin, stick to the top 3-4 on my list so far.

I know I’ll probably hear it from the Wholly Cow Burger faithful, but hey I’m willing to defend my position. Whether you agree with me or not, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Search for the Best Burger Joint in Austin Continues

So far, of burger joints in Austin reviewed on The Austinot, here is the scorecard:

#1 – score 8.1 – The Tavern

#2 – score 8.0 – Your Mom’s Burger Bar

#3 – score 7.6 – Phil’s Icehouse

#4 – score 7.2 – Casino El Camino

#5 – score 7.1 – Crown & Anchor Pub

#6 – score 7.0 – Billy’s on Burnet

#6 – score 7.0 – Moonie’s Burger House

#7 – score 6.9 – Mighty Fine Burgers

#8 – score 6.7 – Wholly Cow Burgers

#9 – score 6.4 – Nau’s Enfield Drug

Other places that have been suggested to review: Old School Bar and Grill, The Loop on Palmer, Cover 3, Burger Tex 2 on Guadalupe, Flat Top, Counter Cafe, Austin Java, Hopdoddy, 24 Diner, Fran’s/Dan’s, Dirty Martins, Hideout Pub, Dart Bowl, Hat Creek, Hill’s, Opel Divine’s, Collie’s, III Forks, Roaring Fork, Lambert’s, Black Sheep Lodge, Foreign and Domestic, Hoovers, and Spec’s on William Cannon.

 

@EricHighland asks:

I’d love to hear what you have to say. Do you agree or disagree with me on Wholly Cow Burgers?  Do you know of any places that I need to add to my list?

***

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  • http://austinstf.tumblr.com slavetofashion

    You can taste the difference between Hunt’s and Heinz – this makes you the burger tasting king! I really appreciate your honest reviews. A lot of times, people are more concerned with the “Austiny-ness” of a place instead of the actual food, so it’s good to hear a really unbiased food-based review. I’ll definitely be trying this place……. though I’m getting 2 orders of fries! I can’t wait to read your Hopdoddy review!!

    • http://www.facebook.com/eric.highland Eric Highland

      Thanks @slavetofashion:disqus for being the first to comment. Glad you’re deciding to give Wholly Cow a shot. Some people swear by this place. Anyhow for what it’s worth you may want to order 3 orders of $1.00 fries. Seriously the side of fries was so small that Thumbelina would have been like, “What the heck?”

  • MatthewParente

    Great job, Eric. BTW, just recently went out to All-Star Burgers at the Hill Country Galleria. Very Hopdoddy-like, but perhaps another one to add to your list :)

    • http://www.facebook.com/eric.highland Eric Highland

      @29d843b70b333fadc0f39c3f3fb6a459:disqus I’ll check it out. I’ve walked by the place but haven’t stopped in. Not sure if HIll Country Galleria qualifies as Austin though. Pretty sure it’s outside the city limits no? Either way, I love a good burger and appreciate the tip. Any others in Austin to add to my list?

  • Tyler

    I agree 100% with the score. The food was tasty, and they get a plus in my book for being different as far as their meat and their location go. But as somebody who feels as strongly about having a beer with my burger as you do about fries, the fact that I could only gaze longingly at my sixer of Shiner but couldn’t drink it was kind of a bummer.

    • http://www.facebook.com/eric.highland Eric Highland

      The way you were gazing at the six-pack I thought you were going to throw caution to the wind and take the shot on the misdemeanor. Glad you backed me up on the review. I’m still waiting for the Wholly Cow Burger faithful to chime in and blast me for ranking some other joint on my list higher than them. But like I said, I’m willing to defend my position.

  • Kristin

    I live right by this place, yet I’ve only been once. People rave about the candied jalapenos which I tried but found to be too sweet. I think the staff is nice and the beer selection in the store is great, provided you are taking it home, of course. I think you’ve inspired me to give them another try.

    • http://www.facebook.com/eric.highland Eric Highland

      You make an interesting point @abd79b8935a78adde1eb3d99edc24079:disqus that I forgot to mention in the review. There was a customer at Wholly Cow Burgers who was telling us about the candied jalapenos and telling us that we “had” to try them. I didn’t, but good to know that you thought they were a bit sweet. Glad you are going to give them another shot. Like I said, if lived in the area or was walking by 7th and Congress and hungry, I’d stop back in. Just not one of my top 5 choices so far for best burger joint in Austin.

  • http://twitter.com/wonderousATX WonderousATX

    An excellent review. I agree with the rating. Nice local place, but it is mainly in a convenience store with a side grill. Burger has ok flavor, decent fries, but certainly a order to go place. I still think there are some places you have not been to yet that can easily break into the top 3.

    • http://www.facebook.com/eric.highland Eric Highland

      @twitter-282188191:disqus list them so I can add them to the list. ~ E

      • http://twitter.com/wonderousATX WonderousATX

        Cow Bells Trailer, Luke’s Inside out trailer, Second Bar & Grill, HulaHut’s burger, Cain & Ables, Blue Star Cafeteria, Yume Burger, South Congress Cage, Jack Allen’s, Parkside, Foreign & Domestic 12oz Wagu, and of course Hopdoddy

  • http://CreativeJourneyman.com/ Nando

    New suggestion: Red’s Porch (SoLa). Yep, tasty stuff. Good beer and setting.

    • http://www.facebook.com/eric.highland Eric Highland

      Thanks for the comment Nando… looking forward to some burger adventures with you.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1158574418 Troy Herman

    Thanks Eric for another good review. Now I am hungry! WonderousATX knows his stuff as well.. so I am pleased to know he is following you. Did I get him here? Hmmm not sure since I post so much of your stuff, maybe he is another one that migrated to the AWESOME Austinot. lol.

    • http://www.facebook.com/eric.highland Eric Highland

      Yeah I always appreciate his input. Thanks for the comment Troy glad you enjoyed the review. Let me know if you head out there.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1158574418 Troy Herman

        Will do!

  • http://twitter.com/dfiske Darlene Fiske

    Always love a good burger and totally on same page with you about Hunt’s vs. Heinz. Hunt’s is so…”I’ve got a coupon, let me get Hunt’s”.

    • http://www.facebook.com/eric.highland Eric Highland

      @twitter-15440432:disqus haha extremely well put. Wish I had thought of that. Where is your favorite burger in Austin?

  • http://www.facebook.com/kerstin.m.shoberg Kerstin Marissa Shoberg

    I totally love Wholly Cow — it’s in my neck of the woods. But I have to PASSIONATELY agree with the BurgerTex2 recommendation. I have been working across the street for 15 years and just discovered it recently!! The SXSW burger is mind blowing… grilled fresh mushrooms, onion, and jalepeno. avocado slices, bacon, a bunch of other stuff I can’t remember, perfect fries and dipping sauce. You gotta try it!

    • Austinot

      @facebook-1003963769:disqus BurgerTex2 has been on my list for awhile. I know you know your stuff and I’m really glad you commented! I’ll have to bump them up on the list. Hope you are well my friend. We’ll have to do a review of Spider House soon. Maybe you’ll toss us an invite? ~ E

  • http://www.facebook.com/AndreMcKayATX Andre McKay

    Old School Bar and Grill has had a sign out in front of the place on 6th street since before I moved here last year and I always passed it saying “yah… RIGHT”. well, I gave them a try last week and I was shocked at the service, taste and process in which they make these unique amazing burgers. Highly recommend this place to anyone who really knows what a good burger should taste like

  • http://www.facebook.com/crismueller Cris Mueller

    Soooo yummy! When in need…the Driskill Hangover Burger is delish!http://www.yelp.com/menu/1886-cafe-and-bakery-austin/item/hangover-burger

    • Austinot

      @facebook-571353787:disqus that’s good to know. Been wanting to check it out. Thanks Cris!

  • http://www.facebook.com/hunter.stanford.3 Hunter Stanford

    i thought place was great, even though it was in somewhat of a dumpy convenience store. the fact that it only sits at #8 on your list makes me excited to be alive!

  • tiotaco

    All Star Burger in Hill Country Galleria is the answer.

  • http://www.facebook.com/SherryScott.ATX Sherry Scott

    Here are a couple of suggestions I don’t see already – Patsy’s Cowgirl Cafe (Ben White near Burleson), and Westgate Bowling Lanes (really they have excellent burgers). Enjoy your burgers and I like your ratings.

    • Austinot

      @facebook-652955414:disqus Hey thank you for the suggestions. I really appreciate it and will try and get these added to my list. Also, thank you for the kind words about our reviews. ~ Eric

  • tara

    i’ve heard this burger is great – at Counter Cafe off lamar http://www.countercafe.com/menu.htm

    • http://www.austinot.com/ Brittany Highland

      Definitely an Austin icon @3a360faabfb2abb11daee8330409c200:disqus! Can’t believe we haven’t made it out there yet.

  • http://www.facebook.com/judith.ruder Judith Ruder

    Not that I can speak for all Austinites, or even the paleo ones, for that matter, but I know what so strongly appeals to me and to lots of my clean-eating friends about Wholly Cow Burgers, and that’s the local, grass-fed beef, et al, and that any sandwich can be served sans bun, replaced by lettuce-wrapping or portabello mushroom caps.
    Next time, if there is a next time for you at Wholly Cow (and if so, perhaps try the newer location downtown just to switch it up), go for the burger on the cap buns. And instead of white potato fries, I recommend the sweet potato fries. Somehow they manage to make them just right, even without coating them in flour.
    And you’re right about the service; everytime we’ve gone we’ve found the folks behind the counter to be super friendly and accommodating!

    • Austinot

      @facebook-1297776536:disqus thanks for the comment. There will definitely be a next time. I actually received a very nice and conversational email from the owner of Wholly Cow after I wrote this article. I too appreciate the local emphasis that he puts on his burgers. One thing I didn’t know when I wrote this article was that the reason the tomatoes were soggy was that the owner opts to go local rather than out of state for his produce. Apparently many burger joints get their tomatoes from out of state while they are still not fully ripe and then serve up the firmer tomatoes. I can surely appreciate his efforts to “keep it local” as that is what we are all about here on the Austinot. I’m not a sweet potato fan personally but I’ve heard good things about those fries. All the best! ~ Eric

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-Hanna/1605243974 Michael Hanna

    If the patty is a 9 but the overall rating is still a 6.7, something is seriously wrong with your rating system. The patty should account for 80% of what makes for the “best burger.” Rating Billy’s, Moonie’s, and Mighty Fine above Wholly Cow is completely ridiculous. I say this having eaten at every place on your list and having eaten a burger at a different place almost every week for nine years.

    • Austinot

      Michael, I appreciate your comment. Thanks for checking them out. Remember I’m rating burger joints as a whole, not just the burger. Billy’s has a much better neighborhood feel than Moonie’s or Mighty Fine. Mighty Fine has that whole chain 5 guys thing going on. Wholly Cow had awesome patties but, you can see why I lowered their score. I’ve actually thought of giving a different mark for just the portion that makes up the burgers themselves and adding them to the series. But at the end of the day, I’m rating the joints themselves including the burgers. BTW what is your favorite burger joint, and who makes your favorite burger?