Once called a Depression burger, the fried onion burger is a pungent bite of the history and cultural makeup that define Oklahoma and the West.
The air inside Sid’s Diner tingles sweet and pungent. The source? The restaurant’s famed fried onion burgers cooked on the salt pork-seasoned grill, an Oklahoma specialty whose epicenter is a network of two Sooner State towns: Ardmore (along Interstate 35) and El Reno (along Route 66). According to one legend, it was in 1926 at the latter burg’s now-shuttered Hamburger Inn that ribbons of caramelized onions were first smashed into a griddling beef patty.
At the time they were called Depression burgers, says Adam Hall, who along with his wife, mother, and father, Marty, works at and runs the family restaurant. Established in 1967 and named in honor of Marty Hall’s father, Sid, the restaurant has been in its current location for 30 years.
“During the Depression, hamburger meat was really expensive,” Hall says, “and they had to find a way to ration the meat.” The inclusion of onions stretched out the amount of protein available for serving in those lean years. “[The fried onion burger recipe] has since been passed down generation to generation, and we still have the burgers today.”
Of course there’s more than one creation story — such is the way of food. Another tale claims the onion burger was first served in the pre-boom postwar years. Whichever is true, one thing is certain: It’s not first-date material; the patty of beef and allium is an all-in order. The dish carries the weight of struggle and sacrifice of a people who came out of the 20th century triumphant and proud. The onion burger is a bite of the history and cultural makeup that define Oklahoma and the West.
Sid’s Diner, 300 S. Choctaw Ave., El Reno, Oklahoma, 405.262.7757, sidsdinerelreno.com.
From the October 2017 Taste of the West issue.