But we still have the old town’s single best burger joint; Top Notch is running strong as ever, and she’s nearly 50 years old.Horace Burkhart opened Burkhart’s Motor Dining in 1962 at 7525 Burnet Road in what was then far north Austin. Ray Stanish bought Burkhart out in 1971 and did not miss a beat other than renaming the old restaurant Top Notch. Ray and his wife Frances would serve thousands of diners fried chicken boxes, Kingsford grilled hamburgers and “Weight Watcher Specials” over the next four decades before Ray passed away in 2004 followed by the legendary Frances’ death in 2011.
The Stanish heirs sold Top Notch a few years back but thankfully the new owners did not see fit to overhaul the concept. In fact, other than a price hike across the menu the restaurant is virtually the same as it was when I first ate there in 1988.I always get the ‘Little Leaguer’ plus onions at Top Notch. It’s an exercise in simplicity: Kingsford charcoal grilled beef, a slather of mayo, a soft, white flour bun and a dash of chopped white onion.
Fries are the skinny sort, and invariably arrive too hot to eat. More mayonnaise for dipping is required to get the full experience.There are plenty new faces at Top Notch these days. I mainly miss Frances Stanish of the old clan as she was one of those classic Austin dames who gave as good as she got, and always had a sharp response to any query she felt was less than well thought out.
The new cashier is bashful, and young and not of Frances caliber.
But where the rubber meats the road is that old grill right behind the cash register and it’s still firing hot as the asphalt parking lot just outside the doors. The thin beef patties that Top Notch’s reputation rides on are rolling fast off the cast-iron beast on this day.
I’m double hungry so I get an extra Little Leaguer to see if I can sate my appetite. That plus I only get to hit Top Notch perhaps once a year so I have to make the most of my visit.
It feels good to sit back in the old wood-paneled dining room and dream of what a groover’s paradise Austin must have been back when the Stanishes were young and hopeful, and working long hours to carve out their little piece of the American dream.
7525 Burnet Rd,
telephone (512) 452-2181
Hours of operation
always call ahead