I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again (and again, and again), but selling hamburgers in Oklahoma is a tough business. Not for a lack of interest, of course, but for a surplus of options. And not just from other dedicated burger spots, but seemingly every restaurant has a burger on the menu.
Some burgers are cheap. Some burgers are fancy. But if you’re out at the OKC Outlet Mall or inside The Collective, then the option you need in your life is Evolve the Burger.
Owner David Jay began with a food truck and has now expanded into a pair of brick and mortar footprints, but he’s kept the menu purposely focused on making great burgers. And make no mistake, these are great.
Right off the bat, I’m going to mess around and tell you about the non-burger item you should get, and it’s one I never thought I’d be recommending, but:
Evolve’s boneless wings (6 for $9.99, 10 for $13.99, 16 for $18.99) are the best boneless wings I’ve ever had. Usually, “boneless wings” is code for “chicken nuggets,” but these are real pieces of unprocessed chicken, breaded, fried, and absolutely drenched in your choice of buffalo (yum!), BBQ, or garlic-parmesan sauce. Even when I was feeling beyond full, I kept reaching for another bite of chicken.
Evolve also serves chili cheese fries (regular for $4.49, large for $6.95) with crinkle-cut fries (obviously David is a man of culture) covered in cheese, cheese sauce, and his made-in-house chili, which has a sweet, almost Coney-style taste to it. Crinkle fries are great here because they catch so much of the cheese and chili, ensuring you get the full flavor in every bite.
I know some of you don’t like crinkle-cut fries and I’m sorry. I’ll donate to whatever charity is researching the causes of the crinkle-cut fry-hating mental illness you have.
The Evolve Burger ($7.95 regular, $9.95 double) is the standard burger here with all the usual fixings: a third-pound smash burger served with lettuce, tomato, pickle, red onion, and a slice of American, plus a smear of their proprietary Evolve sauce. (I mean, it’s a pink sauce. You can kind of guess.) This is just a really good solid cheeseburger with a real focus on the meat.
David is pretty proud that he’s using fresh beef and it shows in the care he takes with the patties. He gets a great griddle-char on the outside, lots of flavor there, but has nailed the timing so that the center is cooked through, but still juicy. That’s a tough needle to thread, but Evolve makes it look easy.
I thought for sure my favorite would be the Onion Burger ($7.95 regular, $9.95 double) and, while it wasn’t, it had less to do with the quality of this burger and more to do with the outstanding work on another style. This onion burger tastes, to me anyway, like a hybrid between a Tucker’s onion burger and a true El Reno-style burger. He uses a lot of grilled onions here, both smashed into the patty and gingerly placed on top, with the usual lettuce/tomato/pickle combo, Evolve sauce, and American, which does a great job of holding everything together.
Grilled onions are a burger’s best friend. They have such a perfect balance of sweet and savory, which opens up more depth in the flavor of the meat. Sour pickles add another element that never distracts, but helps clear the richness off the palate before the next bite. But bring a mint. Just...trust me.
For fans of heat, I think the El Diablo ($8.95 regular, $10.95 double) is an acceptable choice. It will not burn your tastebuds out, or at least it didn’t mine, but it still retains that lovely tingle of building heat that lets you know you’re eating something spicy. The heat comes from the triple threat of grilled jalapenos (brings out their sweetness), ghost pepper salsa (ask for it on the side to better control the burn), and pepper-jack cheese. There’s also grilled onions and Evolve sauce, which round it all out.
What I loved about the El Diablo was the balance. And that’s really what I loved about everything at Evolve. David and his staff have nailed their ratios to make burgers where the meat is the star and everything else is a vital supporting player. This is exactly what I crave at a burger restaurant: specialty burgers that are actually special. And these are so well-balanced, it makes it hard not to take another bite, and another, and another.
That was especially true of the Bacon Theta Burger ($8.95 regular, $10.95 double), which I thought would be my least favorite, but turned out to be my most favorite.
I generally avoid Theta burgers. And I generally don’t get bacon on my burgers. And, in both cases, it’s because of a very dominating flavor that overwhelms everything else. Theta sauce is good, but a burger needs to taste like more than just barbecue. Same for bacon. I love it. But on a burger, it often drowns out the other flavors I want.
Balance. That’s the only explanation why this Bacon Theta Burger was so perfect. The bacon was thin, crisp, and perfect. It had just enough smokiness to improve the flavor without overwhelming it. Same for the Theta sauce, which had more Hickory flavor than sweetness, and elevated everything around it. That’s the key to a great burger, at least for me. This one also has pickles, mayo, and sliced cheddar cheese. I couldn’t stop eating it, because it just hit perfectly. This is a Theta I’ll order again.
Evolve has an uphill climb in Oklahoma. It’s outlet mall location has to contend with a nearby Whataburger and The Garage. The Collective is just around the corner from Nick’s Lounge and another The Garage location. The competition is fierce, but I also think Evolve can carve out its own niche, because these are good burgers. They’re not ridiculous piles on top of piles that just happen to have a beef patty in there, these are extremely well-balanced flavors that show a love and maybe even a reverence for the burger.