by Kara Kimbrough
Here’s a glimmer of hope as we emerge from the state's worst ice storm since 1994. Spring and summer travel to warmer climates is just a few weeks away. As you head south to the beach or just out for a drive, budget in a little extra time to head to Columbia to sample what was just named the best burger in Mississippi for the second year in a row.
First, let me mention one important fact. A stop at R House is not a quick one, or, at least, it shouldn't be. You’ll want to browse through the small country store filled with homemade jellies, honey, artisan meats and a selection of apparel and gift items. During the summer, fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables are ripe for the taking.
In short, a trip to the rustic R House, named for owner Keith Riley, is an experience, but juicy, grilled-to-perfection, topped-with-whatever-you-like burgers are the real reason you should make a detour to Columbia.
Just three years after opening R House a few miles east of downtown Columbia, Riley has created a popular spot that's earned a following. The restaurant attracts locals as well as visitors driving through or arriving specifically for a burger or a plate lunch of rotating southern comfort food delicacies. More often than not, though, most stop in to sample what Riley calls, “just good old-fashioned grilled burgers.”
When pressed for top secret details about the award-winning burgers, Riley says it’s simple. “We only use fresh, never frozen, ground beef. We make every patty by hand and grill each one of a flat metal grill. We make the kind of burgers we like to eat and that we want to serve our families.”
Whatever you call them – delicious, outstanding and reasonably-priced are a few adjectives that come to mind – Riley’s creations earned enough votes from fans and anonymous judges to take the Mississippi Beef Council’s “Best Burger in Mississippi” award.
According to the organization, the contest awards top prizes to Mississippi restaurants offering superior steaks and burgers using the beef products produced by the state’s cattlemen and women. Awards are given following a social media contest, which allows the public to vote for their top picks. A panel of judges then visits the five finalists in each category, with the winner of the state’s best steak and best burger announced at the Dixie National Rodeo. Cheryl’s Steak House in Ocean Springs was named the state’s best steakhouse this year, while R House took top honors in both 2020 and 2021.
I’m usually skeptical about awards labeling a food item the “best,” especially when so many restaurants in the state do an admirable job of creating outstanding burgers. But once you bite into one of R House’s burgers, you’ll understand why the awards keep coming. Word of caution: make sure a supply of napkins is nearby. The burger patties are thick and juicy in and of themselves. Once the toppings and sauce are added, it’s a challenge to keep everything together inside the over-sized bun.
Now that you know where to go for a great burger, here’s what to order.
One of the most popular, the house burger (priced at a more-than-reasonable $5.59) starts with a thick, juicy beef patty. I’m sure it would be delicious served solo on a plate. However, when tantalizing layers of lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles, mayo, mustard, ketchup and sauces of one’s choice are added, it’s one of the best burgers I’ve ever tasted.
Or, you may decide to try one of the other burgers on the menu. The cheeseburger ($6.79) is a slightly heartier version courtesy of extra topping, while the bacon ($7.09) and bacon cheese ($8.29) burgers are filled to overflowing with thick slices of bacon and cheese. Other options are the chicken sandwich ($5.95) and grilled cheese ($3.99) and BLT ($5.25),
Not that you’ll require anything extra after sampling one of these jumbo burgers, but if you do, try the fries ($2.99). Hand-cut, battered and fried to a golden crispness, they’re a side befitting an award-winning burger.
It’s hard to imagine anyone making this choice after taking in the smoky aroma of a burger sizzling on the grill, but if you decide against ordering one, R House has plenty of other options from which to choose.
Those looking for something different can enjoy a fried or grilled chicken strip plate ($7.99) accompanied with some of those famous fries and Texas toast and salads that include the hearty bacon cheeseburger ($10.75), regular ($5.95) and side ($3.25) options.
Blue plate specials are offered daily for $9.99 and rotate between old-fashioned hamburger steak with onions and gravy, fried of grilled pork chops and fried or grilled chicken tenders. Each selection includes two sides and choice of Texas toast or cornbread fritters. Choose from among mashed potatoes and gravy, macaroni and cheese, fried squash, fries, salad and others.
Just a word about those cornbread fritters. Don’t expect any hard, round, marble-looking bread. R House’s are fried flat to resemble mini pancakes and are crispy and delicious. Just one more reason besides award-winning burgers to visit R House.
R House offers to-go meals that can be called in as you’re traveling and picked up at the convenient location just off the highway. If you have a little time to spare, I recommend stopping in and enjoying a leisurely meal at the cozy, family-owned restaurant. As you sit and savor your meal, you’ll receive friendly service and be entertained by the mix of locals, tourists and assorted burger-lovers dining at red checkered cloth covered tables throughout the cheerful room. And, a little shopping before or after your meal makes the experience even more enjoyable.
If you go:
Where: 2421 Highway 98 East, Columbia
When: Open for lunch Monday through Saturday, 10 am to 2 pm; open for dinner Friday and Saturday, 4 to 9 pm.