Editor’s note: Even the most devoted Thanksgiving turkey enthusiast eventually needs a change of protein. To that end, Rivard Report staff roamed the city to find hidden gems, longtime local favorites, and other independent eateries that serve slices of San Antonio’s manifold cultures. For more stories in our Escape the Turkey series, click here.
If you’ve been to The Lord’s Kitchen, chances are it wasn’t an accident.
Tucked between Union Pacific’s east rail yard and Interstate 35 at 118 Seguin St. in Government Hill, it’s tough to find without a tip from a friend or using GPS, but worth it if you’ve got a craving for a homemade, classic burger. Or maybe you just want to take the three-pound, “Now That’s A Burger” challenge.
Two large posters with hundreds of photos of smiling faces that have – or were about to – take that challenge overlook the small dining room, welcoming patrons to “Our Burger Family.”
Not all of those faces actually ate all three pounds, the restaurant’s owner Rey Perez said while cleaning a table. He’s not usually alone in the front of the house, but on a recent Thursday he was a one-man-show as one of his four employees called in sick.
“People are more sensitive these days,” he said, so he started welcoming anyone who orders the giant burger onto the wall and into the family. These are the fifth and sixth large posters they’ve filled with photos in the restaurant’s 25 years, he added.
The unassuming yellow and green building with hand-painted burgers and lunch special advertisements outside is a staple for the industrial neighborhood. Inside, glass cases display model cars, and vintage advertisements dot the wall across from a black and white portrait of James Dean and a cardboard cutout of the Three Stooges. The chairs are mismatched, and customers don’t seem to mind – they’re focused on their burgers. So is Perez, who checks on each table with a smile and a “God bless.”
Many regular patrons are members of the military and veterans, who receive discounts, or work at nearby Fort Sam Houston. Police officers also frequent the burger joint that offers handmade patties, slightly-thicker-than-shoestring fries, made-to-order onion rings, chili dogs, and more.
Darryl Moffett and Bill Armstrong, who work in maintenance and hospitality, respectively, at Fort Sam, last week left Lord’s Kitchen satisfied after a quick lunch with some of their coworkers.
Armstrong had already had lunch there earlier that week, but he wanted to take Moffett and the crew to show them the place.
“He’s got delicious burgers,” Armstrong said of Perez.
“I loved it. I haven’t had a burger like this in a long time,” Moffett said, adding that while it tastes homemade, he couldn’t make a burger like that himself. “You can’t beat this.”
The service is fast to accommodate workers on a schedule and can handle substantial lunch rushes, Perez said. “We can put a lot of food out of this little place.”
While the gourmet burger/cocktail bar concept is becoming trendy, Perez said he doesn’t plan on changing the funky dive decor and menu, or start serving alcohol.
“I can’t [serve booze] in The Lord’s Kitchen,” he said, smiling. When he and longtime friends in the Weaver family invested in the restaurant, which started out by serving prix-fixe meals, they wanted it to be a wholesome place. “We just made a covenant with God.”
All the full-time employees have worked there for more than 10 years, he said, and were all trained by the original team – so the recipe remains consistent save for some higher-quality ingredients.
Pauline Weaver, the mother of Perez’s business partner who helped out in the kitchen, passed away in July. She was 96.
While the Lord’s Kitchen will remain, Perez said he has other business ambitions, including catering and opening up a separate ice house on the adjacent covered patio next year.
These new business ventures are necessary because Perez would like to start spending more time with his family. The restaurant has also seen better days traffic-wise, he said, attributing much of that to the construction on the New Braunfels Avenue overpass at Interstate 35 that has been ongoing for more than a year. During peak hours, it’s difficult to access Rogers Avenue from the frontage road, which is one of only a few streets that lead to The Lord’s Kitchen.
“When life throws something at you, you gotta pray to Him and hopefully you listen,” Perez said. “He’ll show you different ways. … I attribute all that to God.”
During the summer, when car or bike shows take place on Seguin Street, he said, the place is packed.
“On MLK Day, we are so slammed we have to tell people that’s it, we’re out of meat,” Perez said.
He wants to call the new patio bar the “Train Wreck,” because every so often, you can hear the fast approaching rumble of train car connections. Beer, wine, and fermented margaritas will be on the menu, said Perez, who wants to make it a hangout for cycling clubs, the younger, hipper crowds moving to the near East Side, and others.
But everyone is welcome, he said, emphasizing there are no plans to change The Lord’s Kitchen – though he admits he will eventually replace the older chairs.
“We’ll probably throw some paint on the walls,” he said, when asking his clientele over the years if the burger joint needs an overhaul, he’s always gotten a clear answer.
“No. Don’t change it,” is the response, he said.
The restaurant is open 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday, and until 9 p.m. Friday. Saturday hours are 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Call 210-354-3888.
The Lord’s Kitchen, of course, is closed on Sundays.