What’s the best Whataburger you ever had?

That’s a question a friend of mine likes to ask everybody. Seems a strange question, but in Texas it isn’t. When he first asked me I told him I could not tell him about the best Whataburger I ever had until I first told him about the time I most wanted one.

Many years ago I took a job in Africa for the period of a year. While there, I just couldn’t find much to eat that I liked. I lost about twenty pounds in six months. I was so thin the local Care guys joked that they might have to send me a package.

It was at this point of mild starvation that a friend back in Texas, Don Love, sent me a two-by-three foot poster of a Whataburger. Ten times life size. Hot cheese, mustard and onions cascading seductively down the sides. Food porn. That is exactly what it was.

I think it was the cruelest thing my former friend could have done. There I was in Whataburger-less Africa, staring at that poster every day. He had me Whataburger-dreaming for months.

After a year in the African hinterland, I flew back into DFW. Though it was midnight, I hailed a taxi and said, “Take me to the nearest Whataburger.” I got a double-meat double cheese, with chopped jalapenos. I whatasized the fries and the Coke and chased it all with a chocolate shake and an apple pie.

Now that was the best Whataburger – indeed, the best meal – I ever had.

I am not alone in having such priorities.

Soldiers on leave from posts around the world often go straight to Whataburger when they get home.

I tell you, If the Pentagon would make MRE Whataburgers, it would lift morale.

Some people who live in Whataburger-less states will drive a couple of days to get a Whataburger. They don’t even check into a hotel. They just eat one, take one to go and drive back home. So you see, there are only two kinds of states in America – those who have Whataburger and those who wish they did.

In the Whataburger states, there are connoisseurs who feel that there is a particular restaurant that makes the best Whataburger of all. They will drive 60-70 miles in this Holy Grail-type-quest to get what they feel is the Whataburger of Whataburgers.

Whataburger is a Texan chain, born as a food stand on Ayers Street in Corpus Christi, back in 1950. It was the brainchild of a burger visionary named Harmon Dobson. His goal was simple: in a time of small burgers, he wanted to make one so big it would take two hands to hold it, and so good that with one bite people would say, “What a burger!”

And it was so. When my mom used to take me and my two brothers to Whataburger when we were just little boys, she would first spread newspapers across our laps in the back seat of the cavernous old Buick sedan. Then she would cut the burgers in half and serve them to us that way, one half at a time, so we wouldn’t “make a mess” of her protective plastic seat covers.

Three things I loved about the early Whatsburgers: 1. The triangular buildings that looked like the orange table tents everybody takes as souvenirs today. 2. The smell of burgers and onions that permeated the air within half a block. 3. My mother saying, “If you finish all of that, you can have a shake.”

Today there are 810 Whataburgers across the Orange States of Whataburger Nation, from Arizona to Florida. Texas remains the capital, of course. All of these Whataburgers are open 24/7 – proving every day that everything is bigger and better in Texas.

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