I’m on a mission to cover all of the old, classic Austin restaurants. I’ve lived in the city for too long to not have been to them yet. Take Martin’s Kum-Bak Place, for instance: I drove past this old place at least a hundred times while I was in grad school at University of Texas, but I never stopped in for a burger. Until yesterday.
Here’s what you should know:
- It opened in 1926 as a drive-in and a tiny kitchen with 8 barstools. The space next door (which is now part of the restaurant) was acquired as part of Martin’s later.
- It had a dirt floor until 1951, hence the nickname “Dirty’s.” (Don’t worry….it’s not named that because it’s actually a dirty place.) The name stuck, so even though it’s technically named “Martin’s Kum-bak Place,” the website is www.dirtymartins.com. You can call it either one and people will know what you’re talking about.
- The burgers haven’t changed since 1926 (with the exception of one addition to the menu – the Guadalupe Red Hot Burger) and they’re made with 100% angus beef.
The picture above is of one of the first menus from Martin’s. Take a look at those prices! 25 cents for the basic hamburger…ha! I learned that the “sissy burger” was what anything was called when it had lettuce added to it. Daniel, the GM, proudly showed me around the restaurant pointing out the many pieces of memorabilia nailed to the walls of the winding restaurant.
This place has a funny layout because of the gradual additions that have happened through many generations. When you enter, you’ll be in the original counter area of Martin’s Kum-Bak Place from 1926. It’s teeny, and there are just a 8 bar stools and a few small tables.
From there, you’ll walk through a narrow hallway (barely big enough for two people side-by-side) that’s lined with photos of celebrities eating at Martin’s. It spits you out in the small sports bar, which boasts two tvs and a selection of liquor from a recently acquired liquor license. Martin’s is now serving cocktails to keep up with the times! From there, you’ll be fed into the main dining room with rows of picnic tables. This used to be the patio, but it was turned into indoor dining (with air condition, hallelujah) and now it’s also available to rent for events.
Here’s what I tried:
- The O.T. Special: Bacon | Cheese | Mayo | Lettuce | Tomato. The greasy diner burgers are hearty, made with 100% angus beef and seasoned well. This was a gooooood, messy burger. The bacon was a lot thicker than I’ve tried at other old-school Austin burger joints. YUM!
- Martin’s Black Bean Burger: Homemade Black Bean Patty | Chipotle Mayo | Tomato | Chopped Cilantro | Sliced Avocado | Swiss Cheese | Wheat Bun. As far as vegetarian options go, this one ranks pretty high in my book. It was packed with flavor (thanks to the well-seasoned bean patty, chipotle mayo, and swiss cheese), and the wheat bun was thick and fluffy.
- Fried pickle slices. Instantly addicting, served with a side of ranch for dipping. Because #Texas. These are a must-order item!
- Hand-cut onion rings and hand-cut french fries. No cutting corners here. The fries were whole, raw potatoes a few hours before I put them in my mouth, and I could taste the fresh flavor. The onion rings were awesome (although I’m typically more excited about ordering fries than rings) and breaded with a thick, crunchy coating.
- Chocolate malt with whipped cream and a cherry on top. I’m not sure why old restaurants are the only ones that serve malts, because they’re so tasty! I know they’re a dated dessert, but they’re pretty simple to make and just as good (better?) than milkshakes, IMO.
- Strawberry Fields Salad: I actually didn’t order this, but Daniel (the GM) brought it out for me to try. I’m glad he did, because it was a fun surprise at a burger joint! All the produce was fresh, and the vinaigrette dressing was light and sweet. As far as spinach/strawberry/pecan/feta salads go, there was nothing terribly unique about this, but it was a healthy, tasty option that’s nice to have as an option among all the other indulgences. (I actually ended up boxing this up and taking it home to eat for dinner since I was so full from the burgers and fried goodies at lunch.)
Order this: The “o.t. special” with 100% angus beef, cheese, bacon, lettuce, tomato, and mayo.
Vegetarian option: Martin’s Black Bean Burger: Homemade Black Bean Patty | Chipotle Mayo | Tomato | Chopped Cilantro | Sliced Avocado | Swiss Cheese | Wheat Bun
Something that struck me was how Martin’s Place has been able to retain its classic charm while still keeping up with the changing food culture (but only in the most essential ways.)
For instance, the burgers have been made the same way for 92 years and the menu has hardly changed. There are three cooks who have been there for 15 years (which is practically unheard of in the restaurant industry) and a whole lot of regulars who eat lunch there every week.
But the restaurant also been evolving where it matters, like acquiring a liquor license (important for sales during major sporting events so they can keep up with the cost of functioning in Austin) and turning the outdoor patio into an indoor dining space (since Guadalupe has become such a busy street, it’s wouldn’t be fun to eat outdoors so near the traffic.) They just got a shiny, new bar top and brand spankin’ new picnic tables made from east Texas maple; as charming as those old linoleum floors are, we all know how important aesthetics are in a trendy restaurant city like Austin.
“Dirty” Martin’s Kum-Bak Place
2808 Guadalupe St, Austin, TX 78705
Mon – Sun, 11 am – 11 pm