Texas Burger Tour: Fat Ho Burgers
Lakita “Kiki” Evans was working in the produce department of a Waco Super-Walmart while studying business and marketing at the local community college. Upon graduating into the present economy, she did something so few of us would have the nerve to do. As a tender child of twenty-three years, Ms. Evans placed literally every bit of her existing assets into a small business. She then christened that business with a fun, funky and provocative name no one could ever forget. I cannot imagine worldwide notoriety was part of her business plan, if any.
If you reside in the English-speaking world, you have at least heard of Fat Ho Burgers in Waco, Texas. Within days of opening during March 2011, thanks to the Fox affiliate in Dallas, this deliberately eccentric name made at least two laps of the internet. I am breaking my rule about not reviewing stand-alone restaurants, not only because this is the Texas Burger Tour, but because the word around the campfire says the next two Fat Ho Burgers are opening in Dallas, possibly Grand Prairie, and Houston before the end of the year. As I type this concern is not yet four months along. I very sincerely hope Ms. Evans is protective of her nascent empire, and chooses her investors and co-conspirators with great caution, or sells out for a six-figure sum with recurring payments.
By their own account at least a few visitors from, at least, Australia and Europe have sojourned from Dallas and Austin to visit Fat Ho Burger based upon this notoriety. Just look at this fan-made ad:
The Waco I thought I knew was all but racially firewalled. Not that I ever knew Waco very well. The crowd at Fat Ho that day is conspicuously not so. Maybe Waco isn’t like that anymore. Maybe Ms. Evans should at least be commended for something beyond her considerable marketing prowess.
I say I learn about myself within the Hamburger Diaries. This day, Wednesday 29 June, was such an occasion. Your humble narrator, by all available evidence, is a snob. Too much time in the new and improved mall where South Austin once stood. As the GPS leads you to S. 11th St. at Ross Ave. in Waco, and if you share certain cultural traits with the author, you will first notice a dramatically increased presence of police. The homes are smaller, less well kept and often share blocks with presumably retired industrial buildings. Then, yes, “the projects” loom before you. If you are, as I certainly am, a white asshole, you may begin to wonder whether you want anything to do with any of this.
Whitey took another lap around the block to hide his aftermarket GPS unit, and only on the urging of his inexplicably faithful partner, parked his classless car and approached the place which looks just like all the pictures. You will recognize it from several blocks away. The building is not a pristine, historic site, but has a certain je ne sais quoi. A gentleman tending to his toddler son approaches and opens the door, and we enter a whitewashed room just before Noon on a Wednesday.
This is the vision of one uncommonly ambitious person in its embryonic stage. The walls are littered with signatures and graffiti. The degree to which this is encouraged is not entirely clear, but it must be bring-your-own-marker affair. Every vertical surface within the establishment is covered with hand-written praise. I see dozens maybe hundreds of hands. Banners from several radio stations, some of which I recognize suspend from the ceiling. What appears to be an unattended station for the selling of t-shirts, some of which are present, and potentially other merchandise remains.
Everything within sight is decrepit, including the randomly selected tables, the mismatched chairs, the discount-store tablecloths, even the Coca Cola fountain. I wonder why Waco’s Coca-Cola bottler does not provide a replacement, especially in a place so famous. The floor is conspicuously uneven. A single customer awaits his to-go order at a table.
I fall in love immediately. This may color the remainder of my review. The green, hastily painted counter is in the extreme opposite end of the dining room from the entrance.
Without doubt, our counter girl has very little experience. Nonetheless, she is gracious in that Heart-of-Texas way. She informs us of a quasi table service if we’re eating in. We are and the menu is provided. The menu. It gets passed around. We find a table and are informed that none of the desserts or fries are available.
You probably know the gimmick. The sandwiches are named “Fly Ho”, “Supa Fly Ho” and the like, but not all of them. Even the smaller sandwiches for kids are “Baby Ho”. Desserts are available, although not today, including the “Cold Hearted Ho” dish of ice cream. The idea gets stretched thin, frankly. I found myself thinking the rest of the day how to clean this up by using that omnipresent syllable in other contexts. Such as calling the un-nicknamed beef-brisket sandwich “Ho-Down” or devising a potentially unique dessert with Swiss Cake Rolls to be called the “Ho-Ho Ho.” Now you may have some idea why I do not have the confidence to go into business for myself.
We order combos. I get the standard cheeseburger, the size is not noted anywhere, called the “Supa Fly Ho”. I suspect our server swallowed a chuckle when I said it. Mel orders the “Supa Dupa Fly Ho” which is a double with bacon. The combo comes with either tots or fries, usually, and a drink. Coke, Dr Pepper, Sprite, Barq’s and Sweet Tea are available. They are out of Diet Coke. I did not have a beverage with my meal. I would have chanced it* if I were close to home, but I had another eight hours or so of mostly windshield time ahead of me.
We are served in seven minutes. Two additional parties enter while we wait. Other reviews have commented their wait time was overly long. This was absolutely not my experience. I pick up our lunch from the curtained window to the kitchen. No trays. We are served on the flimsiest Styrofoam plates I’ve even handled. The plates hold tots and Burgers tightly and expertly wrapped in traditional wax paper.
Tots is tots. Where ever you go that serves tots, you get the same thing. I like tots. I think they are an interesting differentiation from fries. Alas, these are just tots. Neither positive or negative.
This is an interesting Burger. I wonder about the extent to which what I was served was planned and what about it is unplanned and just how much is mere expedience. All the veg is diced to the same size, onion, lettuce, tomato, &c in, well, dice-sized pieces. The unseeded bun is a fluffy five-incher. Technically too fluffy for a good Burger. It is toasted inside and out, inside about 30%. This negates some of the fluff, but also adds texture to the entire sandwich.
I recognize the beef. I had a little help from the “Hill Country Fare” labeling of all condiments available, and that I use this product myself from the same source. Fat Ho is getting the chubs of house-brand ground beef from H-E-B. Frankly, with a little salt and pepper it makes a pretty good well-done thin patty. I’ve certainly had worse, and from places that pretend to know what they’re doing. These patties are uniform in size, and larger than the standard 4-to1 patty. It may be as much as six ounces, but I do not know. My dining companion complained that her patties were burnt. She tells me that the outermost portion, maybe 2 mm or so, was quite hard. To be honest, my burger was similar even though I do not fault it for this.
The diced veg makes this Burger a challenge to eat neatly. Portions are ample and spilling out all over the place. I felt silly. It was a kind of fun working with it. Again, I don’t know how much of this is deliberate, but it works. The cheese was weird. Not quite flavorful enough but there was plenty of it. Melanee really did not enjoy the cheese or the challenge. Your mileage may vary.
And then it hit me.
This isn’t cheese. This is Cheez Whiz, or most likely some generic analog. Here’s the crazy part. It works. It works like it’s something your parents don’t want you to do. Every element of this sandwich is poorly implemented, silly and wrong. I referred to Five Guys as having an anti-aesthetic. This isn’t that. It is an aesthetic antithetical to what I’ve come to despise about nearby Austin. It is a product of not doing what one is “supposed to” do. I neither know nor care just how this combination of ingredients and practices came about, but it works brilliantly. Two combos are under thirteen bucks.
I must note, despite the blatantly poor condition of every object in the place, it was spotlessly clean. If you can get over yourself, Whitey, it is a very gracious, relaxed and welcoming place to be. Fat Ho does not serve the best Burger I’ve ever had, but it is a distinctive interpretation of Our traditional sandwich. Fat Ho Burgers is a must stop if you are so much as driving through Waco and can consume sugar.
The menu offers “Banana Pudding”, inexplicably not called “Nanner Puddin'”, about which I remain curious.
*Your author is sensitive to sugars, but especially high-fructose corn syrup. In lieu of proper digestion it causes unconsciousness. This is a consideration with every review.
Based upon this single visit, the now-closed Fat Ho Burgers is the 2011 Hamburger Diaries Restaurant of the Year. Your correspondent wishes to convey his best wishes to Ms. Evans in her future endeavors.