I was dead wrong.
Smashburger makes an excellent hamburger. It starts with a hand-formed patty (1/2 pound in this case) smashed fairly flat. It's topped with a slice of thickish American cheese, and remarkably fresh veggies -- we're talking truly crisp here. The assembled product is perched atop a fresh eggy bun, and the burger hangs over the bun about 3/4" on all sides.
Interestingly enough, this burger doesn't come across at all as an upscale burger. It's more of a traditional, down-home griddled burger, but prepared with remarkable balance and attention to detail.
How's it taste? Superb. The beef is griddled expertly, with plenty of ooze left. The cheese/beef combination approaches the Golden Mean; the combined flavor was about as dead-on as could be. The super fresh veggies added their flavors to the mix, but everything stayed distinct.
Christian's Totem, Beck's Prime, and the rest of the top notch burger joints in town now have a new, serious competitor. I'd have to give Beck's a slight edge for more flavorful meat (the mesquite taste is excellent) but Smashburger nails the beef/cheese ratio and the combined flavor is really excellent. I think this is the best chain burger in town. I still have to give the overall edge to Christian's Totem... but the mediocre experience that is Christian's Tailgate in Midtown demonstrates just how impressive Smashburger's consistent approach really is.
There may be better burgers in Houston, but I'd not fault anyone for naming Smashburger as his favorite.
(Update: A friend pointed out that I'd not mentioned the fries, and that is a mistake that should be corrected. The Smashfries are unique and delicious. It's cone of paper (artfully presented in an iron holder) filled with thinish, machine-cut fries, probably thawed and fried. The magic is in the execution: They're fried perfectly; crisp on the outside, soft on the inside, and then seasoned with rosemary, olive oil, and sea salt. Very unique, and a wonderful counterpoint to the great burger.)
The biggest fault? The location. They're at Kirby and S. Main. Although I do see property values rising in that neighborhood now.
When's that Woodlands location opening?