Both Irma's Burger Shack are now closed.
I was outside Brown’s Bakery when I heard the sweetest sound in the whole world: two men trying to figure out where to get an excellent burger.
“That place across the street has buffalo burgers!” said one.
“I don’t know…” said the other.
“I know,” said me. Said I. I said it. “I know where to get a really good burger.”
They sized me up and I felt like a piece of meat. But, considering how much I love meat, it was kind of flattering. Their gazes finally came to rest on my abnormally large stomach and they understood that this was expertise born of many years and several holes on my belt.
Over the past decade, I have had the “What’s the best burger in Oklahoma City?” discussion more times than I can count and probably about as many times as I’ve actually had a burger.
The contenders include a host of familiar names: Nic’s Grill, Tucker’s Onion Burgers, S&B’s, Patty Wagon and The Miller Grill, among others. But the spot to which I referred these gentlemen is one that has long held a place in my cholesterol-laden heart — Irma’s Burger Shack.
What makes Irma’s so good? Like all great burgers, it starts with a big pile of beef that scientists call “cows.”
Several years ago, when you went to Irma’s you were given the choice of two kinds of burgers. The Irma burger and the NoName Ranch beef burger.
People who ordered the Irma burger likely wondered why they bothered giving this lady a shack to begin with. Those burgers were made with frozen beef patties that had a spongy texture and a so-so taste.
NoName Ranch burgers, on the other hand, come from NoName Ranch in Wynnewood, Oklahoma and are raised by Bruce Buechner.
Irma’s owner Linda Lee said they finally got rid of the old Irma burger meat because she just didn’t want anyone to associate the restaurant with a substandard product.
“NoName is more expensive, but it’s so much better,” she said. “It got rid of the confusion. Now it’s all NoName beef.”
It wasn’t popular with everyone. Lee said some customers never came back. They wanted the frozen patty.
Maybe it’s the price that scares some people off. A $7.50 burger is certainly more than you’ll spend at plenty of fast food restaurants, but I can promise you the extra money paid is well worth it in terms of taste and texture.
One of my favorite appetizers at Irma’s comes from one of my favorite stories. Lee told me about one night when she and the staff were craving Mexican food, but they were stuck at work.
But necessity is the mother of invention and the kitchen went to work whipping up a dish with the ingredients they had. Thus were born the White Trash Nachos ($10.25).
Rather than tortilla chips, White Trash Nachos make use of Irma’s delicious french fries and pile on grilled chicken, red beans, tomatoes, onions, jalapenos, two kinds of cheese and a fat dollop of sour cream. If there’s a game on, this is the dish I want in front of me. The balance of the fresh vegetables and the gooey cheese on top of those perfectly prepared fries is a dream come true, no matter how poorly my fantasy football team (Go Macho Business Donkey Wrestlers!) is performing.
Irma’s fries ($2.35) used to be hit or miss, but the last few years have seen a steady improvement. Spiced with Irma’s proprietary seasoning, they are the perfect savory accompaniment to a NoName burger.
Now let’s get down to business with this burger. Irma’s has a few specialty configurations to choose from, like the California Burger ($9.50) with avocado, bacon and swiss, or the Wynnewood Thunder ($11) which tops the burger with a hot link, chili, a fried egg and pepper jack cheese.
If you haven’t been to Irma’s before, though, you need to order the burger about as plain as it can come. See, that NoName beef is pricey for a reason — it tastes really, really good. The more stuff you pile on, the less you’re going to experience the beef.
My order would be a plain burger cooked medium or medium-rare with a slice of cheddar, some fresh lettuce and a little onion. Mustard is nice, but not necessary. You really want to taste the meat.
Irma’s, like a lot of the greats locally, knows not to overwork the meat. Those gently shaped patties have room for beef juice to bubble up, waiting to be released in a burst of flavor when you take a bite.
Lee said the beef is the star, but the preparation is just as key. The burgers start off cooking on a flattop griddle before the cooks move them onto a char-grill to imbue them with that great backyard barbecue taste.
The more you add, the more you’re going to be tasting other ingredients in balance with the beef, so be careful what you choose.
For those who need a little something extra, I’d go for the bacon cheeseburger ($9) with cheddar or pepper jack. Toss on the lettuce, tomato and onion — the fresh, juicy crunch of the salad works well in tandem with the slight chew of the bacon and the fall-apart tenderness of the beef.
I will rarely tell anyone to get something that isn’t a burger at Irma’s, but if you’re just burger-ed out, on Tuesdays the restaurant serves a darn fine Indian taco. You can get it with ground NoName beef or chicken and it bears a slight resemblance to the lineup of ingredients in the White Trash Nachos.
The fry bread base is chewy and a little sweet. It soaks up the beefy juices and holds together as you lift a loaded bite to your lips. Irma’s Indian taco puts the kind you’ll find at the Oklahoma State Fair to shame. Plus you don’t have to put up with people at the fair.
The restaurant is starting to bring in more local beers, which is a nod to both Oklahoma ever-expanding craft beer scene and the restaurant’s Made-in-Oklahoma concept.
Lee said Irma’s is also dipping its toes in the brunch world with that same ingenuity that made White Trash Nachos possible. Their version of huevos rancheros will include a base of fries, cheese, red beans, house-made ranchero sauce and a couple of perfectly fried eggs. Pop in early on the weekends to experience it for yourself.
I don’t know if those guys made it to Irma’s after I ambushed their conversation and started throwing around my opinions, but I certainly hope they did. Oklahoma is too rich in excellent burgers to waste time eating bad ones.