The Lankford Grocery cafe has the lumpiest upholstered booths in which we’ve ever tried to get comfortable. And it also has one of the most uneven wooden floors in any restaurant. Tables are blanketed with vintage rose-pattern oilcloth and the plastic that covers menus is peeling off the ancient paper documents like skin off salted peanuts. Condiments are set out in cardboard beer totes; in lieu of napkins you get a roll of paper towels. When the staff is busy, it would be appreciated if you got up and helped yourself to refills of coffee, which is served in a bunch of mismatched mugs that are souvenirs of the Austin Museum of Art, New York City, and K-Lite radio. We got ours in a mug that declared, “After 50 Gravity Takes Over.”
Is it apparent yet that we love this place? If not, let us describe the hamburger. It is Houston’s best – and that’s saying a lot in a city with high hamburger consciousness. Each patty is a gnarled, uneven circle with crunch to its crust and juices that ooze the moment that crust is severed. It is deliciously beefy – not an effete gourmet burger, but neither a skinny lunch-counter patty. It is improved by American cheese on top, and even better than that with a layer of thick, crunchy bacon strips; and for those of unlimited appetite, there are double meat patties and even triple meat patties. Just after having breakfast at the Lankford Cafe, we ordered a triple meat bacon cheeseburger, and our waiter broke out into a big grin. “It’s hard to keep a straight face when someone thinks they’re going to eat one of those,” he said.
Needless to say, there was no way we could eat it. Not only because our appetite had vanished from beautiful plates of chilaquiles (a Mexican casserole of cheese, hot salsa, and strips of tortilla topped with three fried eggs) and French toast with bacon, but because there is quite literally, no way to eat it. No human could put any significant section of it between his or her jaws. We consulted with the staff, as well as with several customers at nearby tables who were enjoying the presentation of the triple, and they all said that the only way to go at it was with fingers, knife, and fork, tearing off portions as you go.
By the way, there are a few other items on the menu – grilled cheese, ham sandwich, some Mexican specials – and breakfasts are excellent, especially on Saturday when fresh, hot biscuits are served with sausage gravy. But on the menu, under the heading “Appetizers” is this proclamation: “We ain’t got none.” It is hamburgers that has put this infinitely charming out-of-the-way former grocery store on Houston’s good-eats Roadfood map.