Many eateries in Oklahoma City pretentiously claim they have the “best” burgers in town but, if you ask me, that really seems like an inordinate amount of pressure to put on yourself, right?
Driving down South Shields, however, I noticed a medium banner out front of (what I think is) Jim’s Convenience Store, 7917 S. Shields, that calmly lets semi-hungry drivers know they have—in small block letters—"one of” the best burgers in town.
The very definition of “ramshackle”, this convenience store, truth be told, seemed more like a shop that the owners abandoned a few years ago in the middle of the night, one that I was urban exploring illegally; the handmade signage gathered yellowing dust in the ensuing years, the shelves were definitely in need of a stocking and the floors obviously received only the most minimal of care.
A three-dimensional mural on the wall, now covered by cigarette ads and other paraphernalia, made me feel that this may have been a restaurant—possibly Chinese—in a former life. A shopping cart, empty boxes and other bits of large trash were strewn around the store, as a similar cadre of clients in need of convenience occasionally shuffling in and out, feeding their daily vices.
But my vice? Today, it’s one of these possibly-best burgers.
A middle-aged Asian man sat with the door cocked half-way open in the next room, possibly also keeping a watch on the next-door liquor store; he was watching television, possibly a sporting event of some sort. I managed to get his attention and asked if the burger stand was open, a large closed sign hanging on the plexiglass. Sighing heavily, he said it was and if I wanted a burger, it would be a few minutes.
Taking a depressingly grey patty out of a freezer, it looked like it came from one of those orange boxes of meat that you and your punk friends used to grill in the summertime, a box of 24 costing you only five or six bucks at Wal-Mart, a seemingly cost-effective deal even back then.
Thankfully, this burger (and a side of fries) was only losing me around five bucks as well, a small price to pay, I thought, for what just might be one of the best burgers in OKC.
Bargain-basement meat or not, the smell of that sizzling beef on the darkened grill, once it was firing on whatever cylinders it had left to fire on, was like a cut-rate Scentsy warmer, delivering a strong whiff of charred meat and cheap flesh all around me. With a quiet motion, the fries were added into a nearby fryer’s scalding oil, from a bag that was presumably just as generic as the burgers.
Walking around the fallen convenience store, there was failed signage from business attempts past leaning up against the walls; a boombox with a couple of cha-cha-themed compact discs lying next to it, possibly played recently. What type of Latin dance party goes on here when the doors are securely locked and, more importantly, how can I be invited?
Before I could ask those burnt questions, the middle-aged owner brought me a Styrofoam container, filled with my burger—one of the best in Oklahoma City, I still quietly hoped—and an appropriate number of crinkle-cut fries, as well as packets of various condiments, mostly of the no-name variety.
The sweaty American cheese partially melted down the still-steaming meat patty, a light brown pallor cast over its skin as a bit of sliced tomato and iceberg lettuce hiding underneath crept out. Served on a surprisingly toasted sesame-seen bun, as I effectively bit into the burger, it was laudably delicious, reminding me of those poverty-stricken days of my youth that were filled with the absolute cheapest of meats and most expensive of memories.
And while this burger is definitely not the best in town, I have to admit: it does a damn good job of being one of the best in town, true to the homemade advertising. Much like their fried rice or gyros—apparently also on the menu—they won’t win any awards, accolades or even a slight acknowledgement anytime soon, but, usually, the best things in life never really do.