Griff’s – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Griff's on Central Avenue, an Albuquerque institution!

Griff’s on Central Avenue, an Albuquerque institution!

Adults of my generation lament that what separates McDonald’s, Burger King and Wendy’s from the hamburger chains with which we grew up is certainly not a superior product. It doesn’t take much to figure out that the “big three” sit atop the lofty burger throne because of aggressive product innovation and clever marketing that captured the young demographic.  The big burger threesome (big five if you include Burger Chef and Tastee Freez) of my generation–A&W, Bob’s Big Boy and Griff’s Burger Bar–certainly serve (or served) a better burger by far.

In the Southwest, A&W appears to have been relegated to sharing space with Long John Silver’s. Bob’s Big Boy is but an enigmatic smile triggered when you drive by JB’s Family Restaurant and remember when that restaurant space was claimed by the Big Boy. Of the aforementioned triumvirate of my youth, only the anachronistic Griff’s remains, albeit no longer a gigantic franchise but still serving giant burgers.

The familiar Griff's architecture.

The familiar Griff’s architecture.

At one time, the Griff’s Burger Bar chain was mentioned in the same breath as McDonald’s. The interstate chain owned by the Griffiths family had outposts from Louisiana to Arizona and was entrenched in some Midwestern states.  While McDonald’s had the famous and familiar golden arches, Griff’s trademarks were a steep A-framed architecture with a yellow sign screaming the word “hamburgers” just above a smaller sign displaying a cursive-style “Griff’s” with a star dotting the “i.”

Alas, while McDonald’s innovated, Griff’s stayed pat (make that burger patty) and today, very few Griff’s restaurants dot the fruited plains. Albuquerque once had two Griff’s restaurants (that I know of) with one still going strong in a Central Avenue location on the eastern fringes of the International District that has been discovered by patrons of all generations.

Giant double green chile cheeseburger and onion rings.

Giant double green chile cheeseburger and onion rings.

Having been stationed at Kirtland Air Force base in the early 80s meant close proximity to Griff’s giant burgers then described as “the size of a table.” In the 80s, you could drive up and pay one buck for four nice-sized burgers that were bigger and better by far than anything offered at McDonald’s. Inflation has affected not only Griff’s, but my once svelte waistline. Today, a giant green chile cheeseburger will cost you about just shy of five dollars, but it’s still a bargain at that price.

Griff’s giant cheeseburgers are invariably well-seasoned and always prepared to order with a mayonnaise base, fresh tomatoes, lettuce and the perfect pickle relish complement to any other ingredients you may choose.  The most popular choice might be double-meal while the most stalwart Griff’s aficionados will opt for a third all-beef patty.

Pork Sandwich

Pork Sandwich

Green chile for your burgers is available in mild and a hot variety that might make you wish your tongue was coated with asbestos unless you’re used to the hot stuff….and it appears most patrons are. On occasion Griff’s has been known to run out of the hot chile. Offers to substitute with chopped jalapenos are usually rebuffed.  Helping quell the fiery qualities of the green chile are very good burger buns which are slightly toasted.  What hits home for me most about Griff’s is how it manages to capture elusive olfactory memories of the green chile cheeseburgers served at the parish fiestas throughout Northern New Mexico.  To really experience the most tasty trek along New Mexico’s Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail, you must have the green chile cheeseburger at a parish fiesta in Bernalillo, Taos or Peñasco.  Griff’s rendition of this iconic burger is reminiscent of the burgers at a fiesta. 

15 October 2015:  Griff’s isn’t solely a burger joint though every time I’ve ordered something other than a burger, a quick turn-around visit is in order and nothing but a burger will do.  Some of the sandwiches–steak sandwich, chicken sandwich, fish sandwich, hot meltdown, hot link and cheesy chicken BLT–are passable and will do in a pinch, but there’s nothing on the menu nearly as satisfying as a Griff’s burger.   The least satisfying (understatement) sandwich we’ve had is the pork sandwich, a breaded tenderloin between a bun slathered with mayo and served with lettuce.  On the sole occasion in which we’ve had it, the sandwich’s only moist quality was the mayo.  Texturally the breading was reminiscent of sawdust, imparting dryness to an already dry, overdone tenderloin.

Mike Moretti, a long-time friend whose legal name should be “Macho” used to chide his male friends for using straws. With Griff’s sizable (32 and 44 ounce) shakes, you might not have the lung power to suck up the thick, cold shakes through a straw. Griff’s shakes are exceedingly sweet, but served cold and will cool you off on a sweltering summer day.

There’s nothing remarkable about Griff’s French fries save for the fact that they’re very lightly salted, but the onion rings are terrific. They’re fried to a golden hue and when you bite into them, you’ll actually bite into sweet, tasty onion, not excess fried batter.

If budget matters and you want a great tasting burger, your money certainly goes a long way here and your taste buds will thank you.

8516 Central, S.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 256-6130
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 15 October 2015
BEST BET: Giant Green Chile Cheeseburger

Griff's Hamburgers on Urbanspoon

Bang Bite Filling Station – Santa Fe, New Mexico

Bang Bite Filling Station in Santa Fe

“When people pile seven things onto one burger, it drives me nuts!”
~Bobby Flay

Seven ingredients? That’s not a burger! It’s a hodgepodge, a medley, a potpourri! It’s everything including the kitchen sink. Perhaps other regions in America need the Iron Chef’s sage advice, but New Mexicans certainly don’t. For us, a burger with minimal ingredients is just common sense. That’s because we’ve got green chile and when you’ve got green chile, who needs anything else? In the Land of Enchantment, our green chile cheeseburger is sacrosanct, a celebrated cultural tradition and an iconic food. The very best green chile cheeseburgers are made with no more than three to five ingredients (including the green chile and cheese) and those ingredients are intended to complement the green chile, not mask it.

In the Land of Enchantment, it’s almost a foregone conclusion that almost every restaurant, drive-in, diner, dive, joint, cafe, roadside stand, eatery, greasy spoon, lunch counter and bowling alley slinging burgers is going to brag about its green chile cheeseburger being the best to be found anywhere. That is everyone but Santa Fe’s Bang Bite Filling Station which gregarious owner-chef Enrique Guerrero contends doesn’t even offer a green chile cheeseburger. Instead, he defers to the number two, the “Bite Burger,” a mix of jalapeno, poblano, green chile, Serrano and chipotle peppers blended right into the meat.

Bite Burger with French Fries

In a fit of delicious irony that can happen only in New Mexico (or an early episode of MASH), that “not a green chile cheeseburger” earned the distinction of being selected Santa Fe’s very best green chile cheeseburger during the third annual Green Chile Cheeseburger Smackdown in 2015. Aside from five different chiles, the number two that earned number one honors is constructed with bacon, avocado, pepper Jack and jalapeno aioli. Not including the chiles and the cheese, that’s three ingredients. Bobby Flay would be proud.

So is Chef Guerrero, perhaps Santa Fe’s most accomplished vagabond chef, an impresario with very impressive culinary pedigree that includes presiding over the kitchens of some of most highly acclaimed restaurants during their halcyon periods. That includes the now defunct La Mancha at Galisteo Inn when it garnered recognition from Bon Appetit as among “ten of our favorite dining spots in vacation destinations around the country.” Under his watch, La Mancha was also named by Conde Nast Traveler as one of the nation’s 26 “Hot Tables.” More recently, Chef Guerrero was the founding executive chef for the O Eating House in Pojoaque, Mangiamo Pronto in Santa Fe and Ancient Spirits in Bernalillo.

Oyster Po’ Boy with French Fries

A food truck isn’t a step down for the uber-talented chef. It’s a change in direction and in the fashion of his celebrated culinary career, that direction is up, up and up. In 2014, Bang Bite was selected by readers of Edible for a “Local Hero Award,” an honor which celebrates the region’s best loved food leaders, proving leadership isn’t always exercised in fine-dining kitchens. Santa Fe’s 10Best expert, the fabulous Billie Frank likened Chef Guerrero’s efforts to “right out of Jon Favreau’s hit film Chef,” citing him as “a man with an impressive culinary CV” who “traded his chef’s coat for a tee-shirt.” It’s the proverbial “toque to baseball cap” story and it’s playing out just as Chef Guerrero likes it.

Situated on an otherwise nearly vacant graveled lot off Old Santa Fe Trail (directly across the street from Kaune’s Market), the bright orange Bang Bite might be mistaken for one of the New Mexico Highway Department’s storage bins were it not for the pervasive bouquet emanating from its gleaming stainless interior. That bouquet wafts onto your motorized conveyance like a smoky, appetite-arousing siren beckoning you to stop and uncover its source. That source is an ambitious menu belying the relative Lilliputian size of the food truck. The menu lists ten burgers, eight “sammies,” six “things with cheese” and a number of sides.  Specials round out one of the most interesting menus in town (and that’s saying something). 

Despite all the possibilities, for aficionados of the fabled green chile cheeseburger, there’s only one choice.  That’s the Bite Burger, the number two that’s number one in the hearts of Smackdown judges.  At just south of eleven dollars, it’s a rather expensive burger you might expect would be gargantuan in size and flavor.  From a flavor standpoint, it hits the mark.  It’s a moist, juicy and delicious burger.  Alas, and I paraphrase fellow burgerphile Dr. Sheldon Cooper, its meat to bun to condiment ratio wasn’t satisfactory in that the meat did not extend across the circumference of the bun.  When you get your hands on a good burger, you don’t want to be shortchanged in any way. 

When we lived on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, we enjoyed oyster po’ boys by the boatful.  In fact, we may have had nearly as many oyster po’ boys in New Orleans as we’ve had green chile cheeseburgers in Santa Fe.  It seemed to make sense we should have an oyster po’ boy in Santa Fe.  With a sandwich architect such as Chef Guerrero, you’re ensured of a next best to just-off-the-boat oyster po’ boy.  Bang Bite’s version is served on a burger-type bun instead of on a standard po’ boy roll, but other than that it’s as good as many a po’ boy we had–even in New Orleans.  In addition to a healthy amount of crispy fried oysters, the sandwich is overfilled with crispy applewood bacon, trailer-made pickles, avocado and a smear of spicy bayou aioli.  The oyster po’ boy isn’t on the everyday menu, but it should well be. 

Both the Bite Burger and the Oyster Po’ Boy are served with trailer fries, maybe the best fries in Santa Fe.  They’re hand-cut and texturally perfect–light and crisp on the outside and soft and tender on the inside.  Fries this great deserve better than those annoying packets of ketchup which my ham-sized hands can’t seem to open. 

The Bang Bite Filling Station may not have a green chile cheeseburger on its menu, but it’s got just about everything else burger, sandwich and cheese lovers will love.  It’s also got the cachet of a legendary, down-to-earth chef plying his inimitable skills of his own volition in a food truck that’s elevating dining in the City Different.

Bang Bite Filling Station
502 Old Santa Fe Trail
Santa Fe, New Mexico
(505) 469-2345
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 10 October 2015
COST: $$
BEST BET: Oyster Po’ Boy, French Fries, Bite Burger

Bang Bite Food Trailer Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Burger Boy – Cedar Crest, New Mexico

Burger Boy for man-sized green chile cheeseburgers and so much more

The vividly hued threads that comprise a beautiful community tapestry are its diverse and unique characters. Some are quirky and eccentric, some are brash and loud, others are indistinct and don’t stand out, but all are essential in weaving that beautiful community tapestry, that compendium of personalities that make up a whole.  One of the most vivid threads in the rich and diverse tapestry that is the alpine community of Cedar Crest, New Mexico was prolific artist, carver and tinkerer Ross Ward.

Before settling in New Mexico, Ross was a show painter for carnivals, traversing the country for more than three decades.  It was in Cedar Crest that Ross built Tinkertown, a folk art environment replete with an impressive array of miniatures and memorabilia of all kinds.  Note:  The next best thing to visiting Tinkertown is learning all about it on New Mexico True Television (Season 3, Episode 3).   Tinkertown is his legacy, the manifestation of his belief in self-determination and freedom.  Now a roadside attraction, it welcomes thousands of guests each year.

Green Chile Bill

One of Ross Ward’s most well-known artistic endeavors hangs not on a wall of a prolific art collector’s mansion or within the well-trafficked confines of an art gallery, but on the humble wall of a simple dining room at Burger Boy, a popular little restaurant on North 14 in Cedar Crest.  Hanging on that wall is a painting of a grizzled and cherubic prospector seeking his fortune on the autumnal golden hued Turquoise Trail.  Scrawled on the prospector’s covered wagon are the words “Burger Boy” while the canteen on the provision-laden pack mule reads “Green Chili Bill – Best Burgers on the Turquoise Trail.” 

From the south parking lot, you’ll espy  another mural.  This one is painted on Burger Boy’s exterior brick wall and it depicts a small village in the style of old western towns.  One edifice is called “Green Chili Bill’s Chili Barn” and its next door neighbor is Burger Boy where an anthropomorphic burger peers out the door.  Green Chili Bill’s cherubic countenance appears on the bottom right corner of the mural.

Exterior mural depicting the legendary Green Chili Bill

Green Chili Bill would be Bill Cushing, who along with his wife Kathy purchased Burger Boy, a converted Tastee Freez franchise in 1983.  Like Ross Ward, Bill Cushing was one of the vibrant threads that have made Cedar Crest a colorful and  vivacious  tapestry of intricately woven characters and personalities.  In 2001, he joined his friend Ross in enriching a more celestial tapestry.

Bill Cushing was renown for his positive outlook and gift for quickly turning strangers into friends.  When I asked his lovely bride Kathy about the kindly looking gentleman on the painting, she told me that she and Bill opened the restaurant so they could spend more time together.  She had been working as a nurse and he as a contractor at the time.  They were very happy together and developed quite a loyal following for their restaurant venture.

The double meat green chile cheeseburger with Fries

Today Kathy operates the restaurant with her daughter Barbara Johnstadt (also a trained nurse), who tragically lost her husband a year after her mother was widowed.  Though slowed a bit by the ravages of time, Kathy remains the genial and energetic hostess she’s always been.  When she’s not on the register, she’s delivering radiant smiles and trays of deliciousness to her eager guests.  On Sundays you might also find Kathy’s sons helping out in the kitchen.  It’s obvious  from the friendly, familial banter between them that the family which cooks together stays together.

While some restaurants festoon their walls with framed photographs of all the celebrities who have dined there, two corner walls at Burger Boy are dedicated to family and to some of the clerics with whom the family has grown close, including retired Archbishop Michael Sheehan of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe.  Kathy calls this her “Wall of Faith.”

Pancakes with Chocolate Shake

To say Burger Boy is a small restaurant is an understatement.  At best, it may seat twenty patrons comfortably.  Where it lacks in size, it makes up in large flavors.  The menu includes sandwiches, burgers and New Mexican food, all very popular, but it also includes more healthful low-carb menu items and not just salads.  Other carb-smart offerings include burritos crafted with low-carb tortillas.  Because of its size, Burger Boy’s take-out business is quite robust.  Some locals take their Burger Boy bounty to nearby picnic areas where they dine among tall, cool pines.

Perhaps the most popular item on the menu are Burger Boy’s green chile cheeseburgers which savvy citizens drive for miles to eat.  These are some of the best in the Land of Enchantment, ergo the universe.  It’s so good it made the New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail  in 2009, one of 48 select burgers on that list.

Posole with a tortilla

6 September 2015: Unlike the uniform in size and sawdust in texture hockey pucks lamp-heated into desiccation by the fast-food franchises, Burger Boy’s burgers are absolutely fresh and delicious.  The patties are thick and juicy, grilled to just a whisper above medium.  The patties are hand-formed from beef ground daily.  Your best bet is a double-meal burger with all the fixings as all the flavors and condiments achieve such a happy harmony.  The Hatch green chile is of mild piquancy, but makes up for lack of bite with a nice roasted flavor.  Molten melted cheese drapes over the meat which extends beyond the boundaries of its sesame seed bun host.

Adventurous burgerphiles can also have ostrich burgers and buffalo burgers.  No matter what you order, make sure you wash it down with with a Burger Boy milk shake.  These are thick, rich and brain-freeze cold shakes, as good as any shakes in the Duke City area.  They’re the cure-all for hot summer days in the east side of the Sandias.

Other components of the Paul Bunyan breakfast include sausage, bacon, hashed browns and three eggs

3 October 2010: Citizens on the morning side of the mountain which is Cedar Crest like to start the morning off with breakfast at Burger Boy, a meal so filling you might not need another the rest of the day.  That’s especially true if you order the Paul Bunyan breakfast, a mammoth plate that can easily sate two hardy eaters.  The Paul Bunyan includes four fluffy pancakes, two slices of toast, two slices of bacon, a disk of pork sausage and three eggs prepared any way you want.

The pancakes are golden (ginger-blonde might be a more apt description) hued orbs nearly the circumference of the plate.  They’re thick, fluffy and absolutely delicious.  Ask the staff to heat the syrup to maximize their deliciousness.  They’re easily big enough to share (not that you’d want to) and so good you might want to order a short stack for later on.

Patty Melt with Potato Chips

6 September 2015:  New Mexican food favorites available for breakfast are huevos rancheros, a breakfast burrito and a breakfast quesadilla.  The lunch and dinner menu lists everything from taco plates and Frito pies to a combination plate.  Posole is an any time of year favorite that Burger Boy does exceptionally well.  A bowlful showcases perfectly puffed kernels of corn served in a red chile with pork blanketed by melted Cheddar cheese.  You’ll enjoy spooning it onto the tortilla with which the posole is served. 

6 September 2015: While a green chile cheeseburger is a no-brainer for me, my Kim prefers the patty melt which some liken to “not quite a burger” but “more than a sandwich.”   At its most elemental form, it’s simply a beef patty, Swiss cheese, and caramelized onions on griddle-toasted rye bread.  That’s it.  No mustard, pickles, lettuce, tomatoes.  The canvas for Burger Boy’s version is a marble rye with the same type of hand-formed beef patty used on burgers.  My Kim’s assessment is that it can use even more caramelized onions, but she still enjoyed it.

In the rich tapestry that is the community of humankind, some of its threads stand out for their character and vitality.  So too it is with green chile cheeseburgers and the restaurants which serve them.  One of those which truly stands out is the Burger Boy restaurant in Cedar Crest, New Mexico.

Burger Boy
12035 NM-14 N
Cedar Crest, New Mexico
(505) 281-3949
LATEST VISIT: 6 September 2015
BEST BET: Green Chile Cheeseburger, Breakfast Burrito, Chocolate Shake, Paul Bunyan Breakfast, Posole, Patty Melt,

Burger Boy on Urbanspoon

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