It is true that every Texan is born into a blood oath with Whataburger, and will defend the state's burger institution to the death. It is basically a requirement to getting a Texas driver's license when you move from out of state (that is false, but feels like it's true). However, there's a reason why Whataburger inspires loyalty and despite what Food & Wine might say, it's not the "thin, depressingly pallid, and generally tasteless" burger patty or the Honey Butter Chicken Biscuit. You see, a Texan's love of Whataburger is hard to understand from the outside looking in.
No, it's not the secret menu or the witty Twitter feed, and it's not about how necessarily great it is all of the time. Whataburger has become linked with Texas identity not because the honey butter is amazing, though it is, but because Whataburger has shown up for Texans time and time again. Remember when Hurricane Harvey ripped through the state last fall? With destruction at every turn, the first photo after landfall that went viral was a Whataburger sign, battered but still standing.
Recently, David Landsel from Food & Wine expressed an eloquent opinion on Whataburger, though it seems it's meant for those outside of state lines than those inside. Declaring himself a fan of the chain, he then diagnoses the unconditional love of Whataburger.
Yes, the Whataburger burger, if we're honest, is a callback to a time when Whoppers and Big Macs were the law of the land elsewhere, except that so much of America has lost their emotional attachment to these Plan B (or C or D) burgers, and Texas is still hauling water for an artifact that was exciting in the 1980's, or maybe the early 1990's, and so much less so now. Statement of fact: In any Texas city, of any size, there are probably many other burgers you should be eating, long before you resort to the offerings at the nearest Whataburger.
Before we look further, it's also important to note that while Landsel is clearly not a fan of the burger, he still finds value in the chain. The Honey Butter Chicken Biscuit is his obvious pick, as is the rest of the breakfast menu, and as for his choice during non-breakfast hours?
"If you miss breakfast, that's completely cool, because all you need to do in order to approximate the experience is order some of the chicken strips, with a side of honey butter. Right there, that's just about the best reason to stop at a Whataburger--the chicken, preferably with the honey butter, but really, you can't go wrong--there's excellent gravy too, for dipping, there's that Jalapeño ranch, there's the spicy ketchup, and on and on it goes."
It is not in my interest to defend the Whataburger patty because, personally, I don't think it even needs defending. Sure, not every burger from the Lone Star State chain is the best burger I've ever had and I've said so before (you can find that here). Do I think it's the depressingly thin and pallid mess that it's called? Not even close, and Whataburger is always better road food than a McDonald's or Burger King stop.
Heck, you could even argue that the burgers at Whataburger are much better than In-N-Out Burger where the main event of beef is often overshadowed by the Animal Style order with its Thousand Island spread. And as much as Business Insider might think Texans prefer In-N-Out, it's simply not true.
What We Miss When We Talk About Whataburger
Before I begin, I want to say that of course you cannot judge a brand by its efforts in the world. Sure, you can praise Whataburger's community efforts and still consider their burger pallid and thin. But it's not about the food, really, that most Texans love. You see, Whataburger is an advocate for Texans everywhere, from all walks of life. Whether you're driving through a small town in North Texas or cruising through West Texas, chances are you'll find a Whataburger open along the way. And it's a meeting place for Texans.
Did you hear about the time Whataburger drove a pregnant woman and her dearest friends four hours to the closest location so she could satisfy her craving? The staff even threw her a Whataburger-themed baby shower there. Or how about the elderly man who was greeted by a surprise birthday party at his local Whataburger two years after his wife passed away? Or Whatawoman and her epic Halloween costume? Or Miguel's sweet first birthday shoot covered in Spicy Ketchup because that's his favorite food?
Whataburger also supports causes hand-picked by employees. Really, you can even submit your own application for a charitable organization seeking funding. Here are the causes Whataburger currently supports:
Child abuse prevention
Assisting the hungry
While Mr. Landsel's opinion is valid and informed, we can't just let Whataburger slide through the ringer without pointing out that it's more than a fast food chain here in Texas. As cliche as it sounds, it's a way of life because every town's Whataburger is a landmark for someone. It's where they first learned they got into college, where they come for breakfast every morning, and where they go to feel like a part of a community that accepts them with open arms.
So for all of the thin, depressingly pallid, and generally tasteless patties Whataburger might serve, every orange and white-striped bag comes with something more than the food and sauce inside. It comes with a memory, with a sense of belonging. There are few states that are lucky enough to have a company that's so invested in its communities. Texans are lucky to have Whataburger, and Whataburger is lucky to have Texans to defend its honor, even when it doesn't need defending.