Rico’s Morning + Noon + Night’s New Burgers Are Terrific—And So Are The Fries
Last year, I set out to find the perfect casual cheeseburger for the Houston Press. While I found many stellar examples, the one at Rico’s Morning + Noon + Night (let’s just call it “Rico’s” for short) did not land a spot on the list. The overall visit just didn’t go well. Even if an extraordinarily smelly bum asking for my food hadn’t marred the open-air experience in Bagby Park (401 Gray), the ketchup-laden burger was simply dry and lackluster. (The pigeons asked for my food, too, but they were less smelly so I didn’t mind as much.)
In fact, it was at Rico’s that I made a firm decision that I don’t like ketchup on burgers, for reasons I explained in depth in the Houston Press article. In brief, ketchup is a strong flavor that buries nuances. Ketchup burgers are consistent, because they taste like—well, ketchup. At the time, that’s what dressed Rico’s basic cheeseburger.
When chef Jason Gould heard I had been by and asked what I thought, I was honest and frankly glad he asked so I could provide unfettered feedback. (Gould, whose long career in Houston includes work at Scott Tycer’s former restaurants Aries and Gravitas, is also the executive chef of Cyclone Anaya’s, the midtown location of which is directly across the street from Rico’s.)
A few weeks ago, a representative for Rico’s contacted me to say that the burgers had been overhauled and asked if I’d be willing to try them again. I was happy to visit and find out what the changes were.
The main one is that Rico’s has upgraded the patty to Akaushi beef from Heartbrand. (Akaushi is a Japanese cattle breed—one of the four known as Wagyu—raised domestically in the United States.) “We’re selling essentially a Kobe burger around a $7 price tag,” Gould explained. “It’s a restaurant-quality burger in a casual environment.”
The Rico’s Burger—the beef patty of which turned out to be juicy and very satisfying—is $7.50 and topped with American cheese (the other options are cheddar, monterey jack or pepper jack), crispy bacon, grilled onions and “Rico’s Sauce,” a blend of Duke’s Mayonnaise, housemade pickles and “secret seasoning.” A Slow Dough potato bun caps it off. “[The bun] has a bit of chew to it but doesn’t absorb too much of the moisture of the meat. So, you don’t get a soggy bun,” said Gould.
Another option, the H-Town Burger, priced at $7.25, managed to surmount my ketchup-on-burgers aversion thanks to the addition of onion jam. The two combined come across as a tangy-sweet barbecue sauce. There’s also mustard—which lends its own perkiness—as well as bacon and monterey jack. Rico’s offers five additional burger choices, including a chicken one.
When considering the high quality ingredients, $7.50 for the Rico’s Burger and $7.25 for the H-Town Burger is a very good deal. A quick check of comparable specialty burgers around town revealed that Rico’s is at least a buck cheaper. The outstanding fries are $2.50 for a sizable batch. Better still, go for the $10 package deal that includes a burger, fries and a drink. At happy hour, that drink can even be a beer, glass of one of the four wines on tap, frosé (frozen rosé) or a “sakerita” (frozen margarita but with sake instead of tequila).
That savings can happen because Rico’s is a stand in a park, not a full-fledged restaurant with a significant overhead. That said, it seems few Houstonians know about the high quality burgers being served.
“That’s part of what’s been frustrating,” said Gould. “We see a lot of companies that have come [into Houston] and opened burger shops. We use all-local ingredients. Everything is made fresh. We cook to-order—all the quintessential things that make a great burger, and because of where we are we don’t seem to get nearly as much recognition. For the price point and the ingredients, you won’t find a better quality burger in town.”
Houstonians, of course, are notoriously passionate about burgers, and will certainly judge that for themselves when they visit Rico’s over the summer.