Acclaimed Houston Burger Joint Finally Opens its Brick-and-Mortar Restaurant
It’s been two-and-a-half years in the making, but Willet and Diane Feng are finally opening their first street-level burger joint. burger-chan 2.0 debuted with a soft opening on Monday, January 3 at 5353 West Alabama (between South Rice and Yorktown). It replaces their former spot in the underground food court at Greenway Plaza. That location permanently closed at the end of August 2020 due to many employees at the multi-building office complex working remotely during the pandemic.
Before the Greenway Plaza site closed, though, it cemented the couple’s reputation for serving some of the best burgers in Houston. burger-chan 2.0 picks up where the original left off, but with more space.
The new location has a larger kitchen, which allowed them to add a grill to their arsenal (at Greenway they only had room for a flat top). There is also a sleek, modern dining area adorned with with a large black-and-white mural of mountains that features beautiful brush work. Plus, for those who want to dine outside, there’s also covered patio seating — but no heaters, at least for now. What hasn’t changed is the clipboard-mounted order forms that customers fill out and bring to the front counter.
Though, those ordering forms now have more options. With the bigger kitchen and new grill, the duo have expanded the menu. Fans of the Greenway location will still find the smash-style, two-ounce 44 Farms ground-chuck patty cooked on the flat top until a crunchy sear is achieved. This classic can be ordered with one, two or three patties and your choice of buns, such as sweet sourdough or Bread Man brioche bun, and an array of toppings from basics such as lettuce and tomato to premium additions like cheddar, sautéed mushrooms and notable sauces such as scallion aioli and sambal mayo.
New to the menu are thicker five-ounce patties, made with the same 44 Farms ground chuck, that are cooked on the grill, giving them a smokey char. These also come with the same customizable options as the two-ounce version. Both styles are cooked with Willet’s umami-rich glaze of butter, soy, mushroom and Worcestershire sauce. (Guest can request no glaze.)
In addition to the choose-your-topping burgers, burger-chan also offers a selection of specialty burgers such as BBQ with cheddar, bacon, onion strings and barbecue sauce; Mushroom Swiss; a patty melt on rye; Spicy with pepperjack cheese, pickled jalapeños, serrano peppers and sambal mayo (tempt the heat gods by adding smoked ghost chili pepper) and the Texan with pepperjack cheese, bacon and avocado.
Non-burger offerings include falafel (locally-made by Rani Francis, formerly of Oddball Eats) and a hot dog with a Nathan’s 100% beef frank. Sides include fries (French, curly or sweet potato); spring mix salad; loaded fries or tater tots with sour cream, shredded cheddar, green onions and chopped bacon or Spam-chi Fries or Tater Tots, which are topped with Spam, kimchi, scallion aioli and green onions. Diane says the latter goes particularly well with the sweet potato fries. There are also taro root chips dusted with shichimi tōgarashi—a Japanese seven-spice blend. (Note that some items may not be available during the soft opening.)
The new storefront also offers something else that wasn’t at the original: wine and beer. Another new feature will be Sunday-night specials that showcase Willet’s other culinary talents. “Multi-course, tasting menu-format dining will be offered by reservations only on select Sunday evenings in the future (once the burger part of burger-chan gets settled),” wrote Diane in an email. “The dinners will draw on Willet’s time in Japanese kitchens and Oxheart; they’ll also be influenced by the flavors and techniques he picked up in Shanghai, China.”
Customers should consider burger-chan 2.0’s debut a soft opening for at least a few weeks. The Fengs say they are still hiring staff and testing menu items. Early visitors should expect a limited menu and longer wait times than will be the case when burger-chan starts normal operations.
In addition, due to initially being understaffed, check operating hours for the day before heading out. The Fengs will update these daily on burger-chan’s Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook accounts, as well as restaurant information websites such as Yelp, Google and TripAdvisor. Diane did provide a tentative schedule for Monday, January 3 through Saturday, January 8 of 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., with the exception of Tuesday and Thursday when she hopes the restaurant can stay open until 8 p.m. “Unfortunately with staffing shortages and COVID affecting staff at a moment’s notice, all bets are off,” said Feng.
Those willing to try the restaurant while it is still getting its bearings will be rewarded with a 15% discount on food. The owners have not yet decided the end date for the discount.
Those who are concerned about omicron’s spread in Houston might be pleased to know that in addition to the patio mentioned above, the Fengs are committed to following current CDC and health department COVID protocols. Staff members are required to wear masks; frequently touched surfaces, such as door handles, are regularly sanitized and tables are spaced to allow for social distancing.
Phaedra Cook has written about Houston’s restaurant and bar scene since 2010. She was a regular contributor to My Table magazine (now closed) and was the lead restaurant critic for the Houston Press for two years, eventually being promoted to food editor. Cook founded Houston Food Finder in November 2016 and has been its editor and publisher ever since.