Texas is the land of many superlatives—the biggest state in America (Alaska goes unacknowledged down here) and biggest steaks (72 oz!). I’ve also noticed that Texans speak in superlatives. Everything is best in Texas, and frankly, that’s not a bad attitude to have, as long as you’re Texan.
Still, I grew dubious and critical when I passed by the window of the burger joint adorned with hardware-store sticker letters claiming, “World’s Best Onion Rings.”
“Really?” I thought aloud, sarcastically, in my car. “You’ve done a comprehensive sampling of ALL the onion rings in the world after a rigorous quantitative process conducted by FDA-approved food scientists, your onion rings scored highest.”
But then I found myself turning back around and parking next to this dingy little burger place. It was lunchtime after all, and my curious little inner food monkey had waken from his nap and was throwing a big old tantrum, beating his clenched fists, snarling and squealing “WE WANT ONION RINGS NOW!”
The scent of fried batter that hit me in the parking lot disqualified me from ever having an unbiased opinion on said onions. It smelled like Thanksgiving pies baking in the oven—but with onions! Like a dog, I followed my nose to the door.
Hil’s Burgers (“We cook ‘em, You Build ‘em) in Canyon, Texas looks like the kind of place you’d feed a soccer team or church youth group. It was busy on a Saturday with burgers frying and every table packed with families.
I calmly took a vinyl seat at the very back of the restaurant and ordered, “the onion rings, please.”
As I waited for my onions, I pondered upon my personal portfolio of onion rings: carnivals, fast food, landlocked fish restaurants, and few failed attempts at home in which I ended up blackening the onions. No, I cannot consider myself a connoisseur of onion rings. Not one bit.
Then I go to thinking about onions, and how they just might be the most universal vegetable in the world. No matter where I’ve traveled, I’ve encountered some local variety: I’ve sipped French onion soup in Paris, downed onion-stuffed dumplings in China, eaten onion-heavy African stews and Indian curries, and spooned pickled onions over tacos in Mexico. Just when I decided that onions, in fact, make the food world go round, my biggest bestest superlative-sized Texas onion rings arrived on a Styrofoam plate.
Oh. They were wonderful—lightly colored, perfectly round, flawless, evenly-fried rings. I picked up a hot one and bit into it with a gentle crunch. The batter tasted like the flakiest piecrust with just a hint of cracked black pepper, and inside there was nothing but mushy, hot, caramelized sweet yellow onion. I savored each ring, crunching and chewing, even refusing ketchup. When I was finished, I noticed there was not a spot of grease on my fingers or my plate (how do they do that?) and my food monkey was passed out, snoring.
World’s Best? Sure—I’ll concur with their Texas-style claim: Hil’s Burgers in Canyon, Texas has the very best onion rings on planet Earth and their burgers ain’t bad, either.