The Owl Cafe & Bar – San Antonio, New Mexico

The World Famous Owl Cafe in San Antonio, New Mexico

7 March 2017Over the past five years, the Owl Cafe in San Antonio, New Mexico has been the most frequently launched review on Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Blog.  From January 1st through April 7th, 2017, the review of the Owl has been launched more often than any other review on 37 occasions.  It’s been among the top five most frequently launched reviews 95 times (out of 98 days) since January 1st.  The Owl review is the third most frequently launched review (behind the Buckhorn Tavern and Mary & Tito’s of all time.  What accounts for the Owl’s popularity?  It truly is a timeless institution beloved for its consistently excellent burgers.
San Antonio may be but a blip on the map, but its storied and pioneering history make this sparsely populated agricultural community arguably one of New Mexico’s most important towns.

In 1629, San Antonio was the site on which Franciscan friars planted the first vineyard (for sacramental wine) in New Mexico (in defiance of Spanish law prohibiting the growing of grapes for wine in the new world.) San Antonio was the birthplace of Conrad Hilton, founder of the ubiquitous Hilton Hotels and more importantly, one of New Mexico’s original legislators after statehood was granted in 1912. San Antonio was also the gateway to the Trinity Site in which the first atomic bomb was detonated in 1945. While these events are historically significant, they are also inextricably bound by one common element–the uncommonly ordinary facade that houses the extraordinary, world-famous Owl Cafe.

owl05

The Owl Cafe and Bar

Conrad Hilton’s father once owned the saloon in which the bar (pictured below) in the Owl Cafe once held prominence and presumably sold the fruit of the vine whose progenitors may have been among New Mexico’s original grape stocks. According to local lore, the fathers of the nuclear age spent much of their free time cavorting at the Owl Cafe where original owner Jose Miera installed a grill and started crafting the green chile cheeseburgers that would ultimately achieve unprecedented acclaim.

Ostensibly, the restaurant was named the Owl because legal gambling was conducted at all hours of the night in the back of the restaurant, ergo by “night owls.” Today feathered fowl are still important to San Antonio’s local economy as thousands of bird watchers flock to the nearby Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge to crane their necks for a glimpse of geese, ducks and cranes. The Owl Cafe offers welcome respite from the pleasures of bird-watching.

The long bar from the original Hilton hotel

The long bar from the original Hilton hotel

Rowena Baca, a descendent of the Owl Cafe’s founder and current proprietor of the Owl Cafe, holds on to tradition, preparing the world-famous green chile cheeseburger in much the same way as her grandfather did. The meat is ground on the premises, patties are hand-formed and the ingredients (mayo, lettuce, tomato, pickles, onion cheese and green chile) are unfailingly fresh. On a double meat burger, the succulent meat and melted cheese bulge out beyond the buns. The meat positively breaks apart (the consequences of not using filler and an optimum fat to lean ratio) and its juices make consuming one a lip-smacking, multi-napkin affair.

The green chile is as near to green chile nirvana as you’ll find on any burger in New Mexico. Non-natives might find it a bit hot, but locals think it’s just right. Ironically, it’s not green chile grown within easy walking distance in San Antonio’s famous Sichler Farms, but a special blend of chile from the Albuquerque Tortilla Company. The reason given is that the Albuquerque Tortilla Company’s Chile is already roasted, peeled, chopped and sealed for freshness. Somehow it makes sense.

Double meat, double cheese green chile cheeseburger, one of the very best in New Mexico (ergo, the universe)

Another Owl tradition you can’t help but notice is all the dollar bills tacked on the restaurant’s walls. Patrons leave messages or write their names on dollar bills then tack them on any available free space. Once a year, the money is collected and given to charity with more than $20,000 donated thus far.

On an average summer day, the Owl Cafe will serve an average of six to seven hundred burgers. The population of San Antonio rivals that of a larger city during lunch and dinner hours when the Owl’s several parking lots are overflowing with hungry diners. The front dining room will accommodate only a few of them. Fortunately the restaurant has several dining rooms; you’ve got to go through one to get to another.

What the Owl Cafe does with all the dollar bills tacked to its walls

What the Owl Cafe does with all the dollar bills tacked to its walls

In 2003, Jane and Michael Stern, rated the Owl Cafe’s green chile cheeseburger on Epicurious.Com as one of the top ten burgers in America–lavish praise indeed for one of New Mexico’s historic gems. It has garnered similar acclaim by other notable critics, having transcended the generations by sticking to a time-tested formula of providing great food at reasonable prices. Disputably there may be better green chile cheeseburgers out there, but there are none more famous.

For more than a quarter century, award-winning journalist Charles Kuralt hit the road on a motor home, crisscrossing the fruited plains where waving fields of wheat passed in review and snow-capped mountains reached for cobalt colored skies. Kuralt loved the cuisine of the Land of Enchantment. In his book America, he declared the Own Cafe in San Antonio, New Mexico “one of the best food tips” he’d ever gotten.

The hamburger steak dinner

The hamburger steak dinner

In his celebration of America’s favorite dish, filmmaker George Motz traversed the fruited plain in search of some of the country’s most unique burgers for his 54-minute film Hamburger America which made it to the airwaves in 2004. In 2008, he followed up his award-winning documentary with a state-by-state tome listing what he considers the best burgers throughout the fruited plain. Motz loved The Owl calling it “a friendly place, a family saloon with an excellent burger on the menu.”

The menu isn’t limited to burgers. Savvy diners will order the hamburger steak dinner, a bounteous platter that will fill you up for just over ten dollars. This platter includes a juicy hamburger patty (no charring anywhere), a small mountain of hand-cut French fries, a salad with your choice of dressing (including a pretty good blue cheese dressing), Texas toast and bowls of green chile and beans. Make sure you get the grilled onions atop that hamburger steak. It’s an unbeatable combination.

A bowl of green chile and a bowl of beans--sheer pleasure!

A bowl of green chile and a bowl of beans–sheer pleasure!

The other “must have” in addition to an outstanding green chile cheeseburger is a bowl or side of beans with green chile. The aroma of steaming green chile wafts through the dining room as your waitress approaches and you’re the envy of any diner who may not have ordered this favorite of New Mexican comfort foods. The beans are frijoles, whole pinto beans, not refried or black beans you’ll find elsewhere. Ironically, as proud of New Mexicans are to claim green chile as our official state vegetable, we’re often hesitant to admit frijoles share official state honors with green chile. The frijoles at the Owl Cafe will remind you why real New Mexicans love and are proud of their precious pintos.

The Owl Cafe has several other menu items, but rarely do you see anyone foolhardy enough to order say, a hot dog or nachos. It is entirely forgivable, however, to order a patty melt (pictured below), one of the very best of its kind anywhere. One of the reasons this patty melt is oh, so good is obvious. The same wondrous beef patty used on the Owl’s world-famous green chile cheeseburgers is used to create this pulchritudinous patty melt. Two slices of American cheese drape over grilled sweet onions complete the masterpiece sandwiched between two slices of light rye. It’s a fantastic alternative to green chile cheeseburgers.

Patty melt at the Owl Cafe

7 March 2017:  The Owl’s French fries are terrific.  They’re not the homogeneous, flavorless out-of-a-bag travesty, but are hand-cut and fried to a golden-brownish hue.  Texturally, they’re about as perfect as fries can get.  They’re crispy and firm on the outside and light and fluffy on the inside.  Don’t ever make the mistake of ordering these fries with cheese.  Conceptually cheese fries might sound like a good idea, but when the cheese is the gloppy out-of-a-can variety (typically found in ballpark nachos), it’s just blanketing very good fries with cheese glop that’s not worthy to be on the same plate.

Skip the dessert at the Owl and head next door to the San Antonio General Store where Anne Lund serves some of the very best homemade fudge anywhere as well as ice cream (Dreyers), drinks, snacks and sandwiches. Lund actually bought the General Store from Rowena Baca’s daughter and spent about a year perfecting the wonderful fudge (which is made with real butter and cream). Perfect is the operative word for fudge in which you can taste the quality and a whole lot of love from a confectionery artist. 

Chile Cheese Fries

The Owl Cafe is open Monday through Saturday from 8AM to 9PM and is closed on Sundays.

The Owl Cafe & Bar
State Hwy. 1 and U.S. 380
San Antonio, New Mexico
(575) 835-9946
Facebook Page

LATEST VISIT: 7 March 2017
# OF VISITS: 7
RATING: 23
COST: $$
BEST BET: Green Chile Cheeseburger; French Fries, Beans and Green Chile, Hamburger Steak Dinner, Patty Melt

Owl Bar & Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Hurricane’s Cafe – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Hurricane’s Cafe on Lomas

“What is it with you New Mexicans and your fascination for natural disasters?” my Maryland transplanted friend Jessie Miller once asked me. When I inquired as to what he was talking about, he elaborated that two of his favorite Duke City restaurants are named for natural disasters. “Natural disasters,” I asked. “I don’t know of any restaurants named “Forest Fire” or “Drought,” the only New Mexico occurring natural disasters that came immediately to mind. He laughed, “what’s ironic about the restaurants I have in mind is that they’re named for hurricanes and twisters, two natural disasters that don’t occur in Albuquerque.” I reminded him that our ubiquitous spring dust devils are, by definition, twisters.

“”Yeah, but you sure don’t have hurricanes in New Mexico.” I argued that the Land of Enchantment has proudly boasted of hurricanes for decades, adding that New Mexico’s hurricanes even had masculine names long before hurricanes on the Gulf and East Coasts did. “What names?” he asked? In as straight-face as I could muster, I recounted the names Al and Al, Jr., as in New Mexico music legend Al Hurricane and his son Al, Jr. Okay, that’s just me being a smart alec, but Al and Al, Jr. are about the closest a hurricane will ever get to New Mexico though their associated rainfall and resultant flooding have wreaked some havoc on our enchanted state.

Cyclone Burger, Hurricane’s Version of a Green Chile Cheeseburger

Hurricane’s Cafe and Drive-In has nothing to do with the godfather of New Mexico music. Nor, I’ve been told, is the restaurant named for the tropical cyclones that can bring torrential downpours, fierce winds and damaging tornados. Hurricane’s Café and Drive-In was launched in 1987, the brainchild of Greg Desmarais and Gary Hines. When Hurricane’s expanded to eight restaurants, Desmarais and Hines parted ways. In 1997, Hines partnered with Ray Ubieta on a concept they named Twisters. While Twisters has expanded to some nineteen restaurants, including four in Colorado, only the original Hurricane’s remains. Still, in 2010, Desmarais was named the New Mexico Restaurant Association’s “Restaurateur of the Year” in recognition of his dedication to the community, for the hundreds of jobs he’s provided and for his active involvement in the restaurant industry.

Hurricane’s is situated on Lomas in a ‘50s style drive-in reminiscent of those depicted on American Graffiti and Happy Days. The restaurant got its start as Frank’s Drive-In, a popular cruising spot for high school students in the 60’s. Frank’s was renowned for its taco burgers, tater dogs, and fresh limeades, items which are now available on Hurricane’s expansive menu. Hurricane’s retained much of the motif which made Frank’s a Mother Road era classic. Covered parking stalls equipped with menu boards and intercoms are evocative of the car culture of the 50s and 60s though during every one of our visits, we didn’t espy a single person sitting in their cars awaiting their burger or burrito bounty. Perhaps the technology of yesteryear confuses diners or more likely, today’s social media connected restaurant-goers prefer to dine with others.

Patty Melt

As might be expected, Hurricane’s ambiance also brings to mind a bygone era replete with black and white checkerboard tile floors, old-fashioned louver blinds, red vinyl padded booths and a counter where you place your order. To protect the checkerboard tile floor, chair feet are padded with tennis balls. Tables and chairs fastened to the concrete are available beneath the covered patio for al fresco dining weather-permitting (though as previously mentioned, it’s amazing how many diners choose to eat indoors even in good weather and how many of them the smallish dining room will accommodate.

The two menu items for which the restaurant is best known are the “disaster burrito” and the Cyclone, Hurricane’s version of the green chile cheeseburger. Contrary to my friend Jessie’s assertion, the disaster burrito wasn’t named because of New Mexicans’ fascination for natural disasters. Many years ago, a food critic (not me) declared Hurricane’s foods a disaster. Desmarais’ good-natured response was “let’s show them a disaster.” The disaster burrito–a beef, egg and bean burrito smothered with pan-fried potatoes, red and green chile and topped with lettuce and tomatoes—is available in 1/8th, 1/4th, ½ and whole burrito sizes.

Onion Rings (Top) and Tater Gems

The disaster burrito made its national television debut in May, 2014 in a Travel Channel program called “Chow Masters.” In an episode entitled “Santa Fe Burritos,” three purveyors of bounteous burritos were pitted in a piquant melee: La Choza and Dr. Field Goods Kitchen in Santa Fe and Hurricane’s Cafe in Albuquerque (a suburb of Santa Fe?). Judging was based on creativity and flavor. The ten thousand dollar burrito winner was Dr. Field Goods who wowed the judges with a smoked goat chimichanga burrito in mole. Many locals would argue that the disaster burrito should at least have garnered a tie.

Not counting the taco burger, Hurricane’s menu offers five burgers.  The Cyclone, a New Mexico green chile cheeseburger (lettuce, tomato, pickles) is a very popular option.  Hungry diners will ask for their Cyclone “Earthquake burger” style meaning double meat and double cheese.  The cheese melts like a molten blanket over the beef patties.  If you like your green chile to bite you back, this isn’t the green chile cheeseburger for you.  The chile has about as much piquancy as a bell pepper though it does have a nice flavor.  Burgers and sandwiches are served with your choice of French fries, tater gems, coleslaw, cottage cheese or fruit cocktail.  For a pittance you can upgrade to onion rings, fried zucchini or a salad.

Fried Zucchini

If your preference is sandwiches (and burgers are NOT sandwiches), Hurricane’s offers ten choices.  My Kim’s favorite is the Patty Melt, a quarter-pound beef patty, cheese and grilled onions on light rye.  She prefers it over the green chile cheeseburger and hasn’t bought into my suggestion that a patty melt would be even better with green chile.  At any event, Hurricane’s version is quite good courtesy of a lightly toasted rye replete with plenty of rye grains.  The grilled onions aren’t quite caramelized to a brownish hue, but retain a slight crispness.  There’s plenty of melted cheese to bind all the sandwich elements into one cohesive whole.

Fried stuff–onion rings, tater gems and fried zucchini–are a cut above what you find at most burger emporiums.  The fried zucchini resembles the fried mozzarella you might find at an Italian restaurant, but bite into any of these golden hued little logs and the inimitable flavor of zucchini greets you.  The fried zucchini is served with a ranch dressing though it’s not absolutely necessary.  The biggest difference between tater tots and tater gems seems to be shape and size.  Tater gems are larger and more “roundish.” 

Serving Albuquerque for thirty years now, Hurricane’s Restaurant & Drive-In shows no surcease in popularity.  Visit almost any time of day on any day in which it’s open and you’ll be among like-minded devotees of this very popular drive-in.

Hurricane’s Restaurant & Drive-In
4330 Lomas Blvd., N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 255-4248
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 1 April 2017
# OF VISITS: 4
RATING: 18
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Cyclone Burger, Patty Melt, Tater Gems, Onion Rings, Fried Zucchini

Hurricane's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

The Grill – Albuquerque, New Mexico

The Grill at its new home (as of February 8, 2017) on San Mateo

I’m not telling you, ‘Never eat a hamburger.’ Just eat the good ones with real beef, you know,
like the ones from that mom-and-pop diner down the street, …
And it’s so good that when you take a bite out of that burger,
you just know somewhere in the world a vegan is crying
.”
Homer Simpson

America’s favorite everyman philosopher may have had The Grill in mind when uttering that pithy pearl.  What, after all, is a burger if not the celebration of meat, a pulchritudinous beef patty sandwiched between glorious golden orbs and festooned with ingredients intended to bring out flavor combinations that dance on your taste buds?  Made properly–personalized for taste to your exacting degree of doneness and with your  unique choice of ingredients–a burger can elicit tears of rapturous joy among burgerphiles.

Though the corporate  chains offer convenience and consistency (a boring sameness), few would argue that their copycat burgers could elicit raw delirium when bitten into.  Cynics, like me, would argue that chain burgers aren’t  even made with real meat, USDA definitions for meat be damned.  No, my friends, it’s solely the bounteous burgers at your local mom-and-pop diners down the street that elicit the carnal cravings and libidinous lust that make you want to rush over to visit your preferred provider of  meaty happiness with great regularity.

The Grill’s Capacious New Digs Are Easily Four Times Larger Than Its Previous Home on Menaul

For Duke City diners one of the best the mom-and-pop diners down the street has a burger which just might elicit swoons of joy as it quells the most rapacious of appetites.  It’s a burger that had Rudy Paul Vigil waxing poetic when he told me about it.  An advocate of homemade tastes, Rudy is the guy who introduced me to Lumpy’s Burgers shortly after it opened so he’s got plenty of down-the-street burger cred with me.  In describing The Grill, he expounded about a unique wood-firing contraption that imbues each burger with enchantment.

The Grill is the brainchild of veteran restaurateur Phillip “Phil” Chavez, a man who knows and likes burgers as much as he likes bussing, or at least that’s the impression you might get in reading the menu’s claim of “food so good, you’ll wanna kiss the cook!”  Before opening The Grill, Chavez operated grill-oriented family restaurants in Gallup as well as Shiprock and Farmington.

Phil Chavez (right) and assistant tend to The Grill’s unique mesquite-fired grill

The Grill launched initially on the far western fringes of the Duke City just east of 98th Street and was then called “Grandpa’s Grill.”  From the restaurants east-facing windows you were treated to some of the very best views of the Sandia Mountains and downtown Albuquerque.  At night, the panoramic view of the city lights were absolutely inspirational. 

In July, 2011, Grandpa’s Grill moved to Menaul (next door to Jennifer James 101) and rechristened itself “The Grill.”  The Grill remained on Menaul for nearly six years before relocating to much more capacious digs on San Mateo, a venue easily four times larger than its predecessor.  Interior walls are festooned with thematic pieces–everything from kitchen related bric-a-brac to sports memorabilia.  Much of it donated by patrons of the popular restaurant. Old-fashioned coffee makers, blenders and other appliances make for interesting reminiscences among us seasoned diners and for strange curiosities among the Y-generation crowd.

The Salsa and Toppings Cart

The most interesting period piece, however, is the restaurant’s signature grill. White hot and throbbing red embers of mesquite coals lay on a steel tray atop of which sits a metal grated grill which Chavez raises and lowers via a hand-crank. He’s mastered the art of temperature control to prepare your burgers or steaks to the level of doneness you specify.

An old-fashioned burger fixings bar, complete with sneeze guard, hosts sliced tomatoes, pickles, mustard, ketchup, lettuce and onions which means you truly can have your burger your way.  A deep metal serving tray holds salsa which you can ladle onto plastic ramekins.  Another holds crisp, homemade (but excessively salty) chips, both free with each order.

Complimentary Chips and Salsa

The salsa is exceptional–as in so good it should be bottled good. It’s so good that properly pureed, it would make an excellent bloody Mary mix. It’s so good, it would make the the key component of a great gazpacho. It’s so good, you’ll eschew ketchup and dunk your fries in it. It’s so good, you’ll finish two or three trays of chips before your order is up. Seriously, this is good salsa. Its components are rather typical–tomatoes, onions, jalapenos, garlic, salt–but Chavez mixes each batch up in perfect proportions. The salsa is pleasantly piquant, not so incendiary you won’t be able to taste anything else.

You’ll definitely want to taste the burgers!  Prolific eaters will opt for the Papa Burger, a whopping eight-ounces sure to sate hearty eaters.  A six-ounce Mama Burger and a four-ounce Little Rascal Burger are also available.  The beef patties are hand-formed and thick.  You can top them with green chile and your choice of Cheddar, American or Swiss cheese.  The buns are lightly toasted.  More than any other burger in the Duke City, this one reminds me of a burger perfectly prepared over a campfire.  That’s courtesy of Phil’s unique mesquite grill and the masterful manipulation of the mesquite coals.  All burgers are available in combination with a drink and Fries.

Eight-Ounce Papa Burger with Green Chile and Cheddar

18 March 2017: The Papa Burger with green chile is terrific, a true compliment to the grill master and his deft manipulation of temperature!  The beef patty is imbued with the kiss of mesquite heat, but not so much that the usually acerbic grilling wood imparts its characteristic bitter aftertaste.   The green chile is a bit on the mild side, but the other ingredients from the fixings bar are all fresh and delicious.  Fries aren’t much to write home about, but they’re much improved when you dip them into the salsa instead of ketchup.

The menu also includes an insanely low-priced sixteen-ounce Ribeye  served with your choice of fries or beans and tortilla. Also available are a chicken breast platter, a chicken sandwich, a Southwest chicken sandwich (with green chile and cheese wrapped in a tortilla) and chicken strips with fries. Hot dogs, in either jumbo or regular sizes, with or without chile and cheese, can also be ordered. Deep-fried sides include French fries, fried zucchini, fried mushrooms and onion rings.

Ribeye Steak with Fried Mushrooms (Baked Potato not Pictured)

18 March 2017:  The  Ribeye  prepared at medium is too good to pass up. Ribeye tends to be a well-marbled and tender cut of beef that is well-suited to dry-heat preparation style. That means The Grill’s unique mesquite grill brings out the optimal flavor profile in this steak. Not quite fork-tender, the Ribeye cuts easily, juices flowing not quite copiously but enough. The only seasoning discernible is salt and pepper, but sometimes that can be enough. It is in this case. Value-priced means sixteen-ounces of steak for just over a dollar an ounce, a good deal by any standard. My Kim believes this ribeye is one of the best steaks in the city and questions why anyone would pay exorbitant amounts for steak elsewhere.

The steak is accompanied by your choice of French fries or beans and a tortilla.  At first glance, the beans look inviting, a hearty portion topped with shredded cheese, but as they approached our table, the malodorous emanation of cumin wafted toward us.  As usual, I whined vociferously, urging our attentive waitress and Phil Chavez himself to take the beans and dispose of them at a nuclear waste dump site.  Phil indicated 99-percent of his customers appreciate the beans, some even asking for the recipe…but I’m not crazy; everyone else is.

Coconut Cake

On the counter gracing your visage is a domed cake platter holding the delicious cake of the day.  Fortune was with us during my second visit because the cake under glass on that day was a gorgeous red velvet cake. Red velvet cakes have been popular since the 1920s, experiencing a resurgence in the 1990s, but it’s never really gone out of style.  Essentially not much more than a chocolate cake with a dark red-brown color and layered with a creamy white icing, it is beautiful to look at and generally delicious to consume.  This decadent dessert isn’t prepared in-house, but you will want to take a piece home with you.  Even better is the coconut-vanilla cake pictured above.

The Grill is an anachronism–a throw-back to the 1960s with prompt, courteous, unobtrusive service and a genuine spirit of welcome from the owner.  Ask Phillip Chavez for a tour of the kitchen and he’ll gladly show off his unique grill, the contraption which makes some of the very tastiest burgers in Albuquerque.  Somewhere on old Route 66, a vegan is crying.  That’s how good these burgers are!

The Grill
3300 San Mateo, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 872-9772
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 18 March 2017
1st VISIT:  17 August 2010
# OF VISITS: 4
RATING: 20
COST: $$
BEST BET: Papa Burger with Fries, Salsa and Chips, Ribeye Steak, Onion Rings, Red Velvet Cake, Coconut Cake, Fried Mushrooms

The Grill on San Mateo Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Rockin BZ Burgers – Alamogordo, New Mexico

Rockin BZ Burgers in Alamogordo

Since its inception in 2009, a number of competitors across the length and breadth of the Land of Enchantment’s 121,593 square miles have competed in the New Mexico State Fair’s Green Chile Cheeseburger Challenge. The inaugural champion was Badlands Burgers (since defunct) from Grants.  Only one–a national chain at that–has repeated as champion. That would be Fuddrucker’s which reigned supreme in 2014 and 2015. In 2013, Sadie’s proved its culinary repertoire extends far beyond New Mexican food by winning the Challenge. After participating every year since the competition’s launch, Laguna Burger finally won it all in 2016. Two restaurants won the competition scant months after launching their restaurant operations–ABQ Brew Pub in 2010 and Rockin’ BZ Burgers in 2012.

Rockin’ BZ Burgers, the sole Challenge winner currently not to have a presence in Albuquerque, was in business for all of four months when it clinched the top honors at Green Chile Cheeseburger Challenge in 2012. Consider that for a moment. With fewer than 120 days in business, Rockin’ BZ bested a dozen seasoned competitors to earn the most coveted culinary title in New Mexico. That speaks volumes about its award-winning green chile cheeseburger. Never mind that the trophy was grievously misspelled (chili), a travesty which caused a bit of a stir among prideful New Mexicans. In 2013, the Alamogordo restaurant was awarded second place in the competition and in 2014, it finished fourth.

Winner of the 2012 Governor’s Green Chile Cheeseburger Challenge

Rockin’ BZ’s win at the Green Chile Cheeseburger Challenge isn’t the burger emporium’s sole brush with fame. In 2016, Spoon University, an online lifestyle presence, selected Rockin’ BZ as New Mexico’s representative in its compilation “Where to Get the Best Sandwich in Every State in America.” Spoon University noted “Rockin’ BZ Burgers have all your green chile needs covered with their New Mexico State Fair award-winning burger.” Also in 2016, my blogging buddy Melody K. described Rockin’ BZ’s burgers as “perfection” in her outstanding review. In USA Today’s “Top Ten” popular vote feature, readers selected Rockin’ BZ in 2016 as the tenth best green chile cheeseburger in the Land of Enchantment.

Owned by the father and son duo of Rusty and Cody Childress, Rockin’ BZ is named for Rusty’s father-in-law Buz Zink’s cattle brand. A true Southerner (Southern New Mexico, that is) Rusty uses only green chile from Young Guns in Hatch. Buns are freshly baked. Rockin’ BZ employs a true “have it your way” menu with dozens of free and “for a pittance” toppings available. Burgers are available in quarter-pound, half-pound and three-quarter pound options. An easy to complete order form is available on a round table just in front of the counter where you place your order. The form ensures your burger will be prepared to your exacting specifications. If the number of options are too much for you, Rockin’ BZ has a no-hassle option. Just order “The Champ,” the Green Chile Cheeseburger Challenge winner, which is constructed with a half-pound beef patty, grilled onions, American cheese, green chile, lettuce and tomato. A Half Champ is available for diners with smaller appetites.

Order Forms

That Rockin’ BZ Burger would be one of the stops we’d make during our stay in Alamogordo was a no-brainer. That decision was solidified in Cloudcroft when we ran into a young airman stationed at Holloman Air Force Base who told us about the fantastic burger he’d enjoyed an hour earlier at Rockin’ BZ’s. His ardent enthusiasm for the burger would have convinced a vegetarian to try one. When we arrived at the restaurant we found that almost all of the two dozen or so patrons enjoying a late lunch were also stationed at Holloman, some fifteen miles away. You can trust America’s best and brightest to know where to find the best burgers in town.

It didn’t inspire my Kim to have a green chile cheeseburger, however. My Chicago born-and-bred bride doesn’t share my enthusiasm for New Mexico’s fiery pepper blessed burger. That would be grounds for divorce were she not such a wonderful wife. Give her a Philly Cheesesteak any time. The Philly is one of a handful of non-burger options on the menu along with chicken strips, grilled chicken sandwich, hot dogs and corn dogs. Unlike many Philly’s which are served on hoagie buns, this one is served on burger buns. Those buns proved a perfect canvas for one of the most tasty Philly’s we’ve had outside of Philly’s N’ Fries in Albuquerque. This sandwich is brimming with perfectly grilled onions, red and yellow peppers, white cheese and plenty of the best seasoned steak anywhere.

Philly Cheese Sandwich

The mad scientist in me resisted creating my own burger (which would undoubtedly have been loaded with nearly every ingredient available). Thankfully The Champ made it easy for me…no hassle, just burger perfection. It takes two hands to handle this behemoth burger. The Angus beef is seasoned nicely, a perfect complement for the Young Guns chile which has some bite (out-of-staters would be reaching for water), but is more notable for its fruitiness and roasted flavor. There’s plenty of green chile on this burger and it’s blanketed by a molten white cheese. It’s easy to see how this fabulous burger earned its Green Chile Cheeseburger Challenge title. What left me scratching my head is how it hasn’t won that title more often. It’s one of the best green chile cheeseburgers I’ve ever had.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention just how nice and helpful the staff at Rockin’ BZ Burgers is. Their hospitality and professionalism adds to what is already an outstanding green chile cheeseburger experience. In our discussions with the heroes from Holloman, we were assured great service comes standard at this beloved local institution.  Some of them consider Rockin’ BZ Burgers a home away from home with cooking better than they get from mama.

Award-Winning Green Chile Cheeseburger with Fries

Rockin’ Z Burgers is indeed one rocking joint. With a green chile cheeseburger that’s among the very best in the Land of Enchantment, it’s the pride of Alamogordo and one of many reasons to visit this beautiful desert hamlet.

Rockin BZ Burgers
3005 White Sands Blvd.
Alamogordo, New Mexico
(575) 434-2375
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 11 March 2017
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Green Chile Cheeseburger, Philadelphia Cheesesteak

Rockin BZ Burgers Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Big D’s Downtown Dive – Roswell, New Mexico

Big D’s Downtown Dive in Roswell, New Mexico

During a March, 2012 trip to Roswell, New Mexico President Barack Obama made the following opening remarks to his speech. “We had landed in Roswell. I announced to people when I landed that I had come in peace. (Laughter) Let me tell you – there are more nine and ten year old boys around the country when I meet them – they ask me, “Have you been to Roswell and is it true what they say? And I tell them, ‘If I told you I would have to kill you.’ So their eyes get all big…so…we’re going to keep our secrets here.”  To many, his comment was just an innocent joke, but to passionate conspiracy theorists, Obama’s remarks were further proof of a government cover-up of the extraterrestrial crash landing which supposedly occurred outside Roswell in 1947.

Ufologists like to point out that in the seventy years since that extraterrestrial crash, there has been a quantum leap in technology, a leap unprecedented in all human history.  Believers will tell you humankind had help in making those advances and that the help came in the form of technology found in the downed alien spacecraft recovered in a pasture northwest of Roswell.  Among the advances borrowed or developed from recovered alien craft are night-vision goggles, lasers, fiber optics and chips.  Through reverse engineering, scientists also significant advances in weaponry and military aircraft.  Ufologists have even coined the term “Roswellian” to describe technology  so advanced that it must have been derived from the reverse engineering of crashed or captured alien spacecraft.

A very busy dining room at 2PM

One advancement for which the “Roswell incident” isn’t given sufficient credit is the improvement of burgers.  Locals will tell you the burgers in Roswell have made a quantum leap in deliciousness over the past few years.  They don’t necessarily credit little green men for imparting advanced burger grilling techniques, but with all the saucer-eyed  alien statues in front of several local restaurants, you have to wonder.  For skeptics who accept truth only if presented with quantitative data, consider that in both 2016 and 2017, Chef Toddzilla’s Mobile Cuisine, a purveyor of gourmet burgers nonpareil, was named Food Truck Burger of the Year.  That’s not just best food truck burger in Roswell.  That’s best food truck burger across the fruited plain.

Chef Toddzilla isn’t the sole Roswell burger emporium to achieve national acclaim.  In 2014, TripAdvisor, a travel review site scoured through millions of user reviews and comments to compile their list of the 10 best burger joints in the U.S.  Two bastions of behemoth burgers from the Land of Enchantment made the list.  Placing third was Sparky’s in Hatch which is fronted by iconic fiberglass and concrete statues, some of whom have an alien appearance.  The other New Mexico eatery on the hallowed list was Big D’s Downtown Dive in Roswell which placed eighth.  TripAdvisor noted: In the Land of Enchantment, owner and chef, Don Nason, uses garden fresh ingredients to grill up burgers that are out of this world.”

Thanksgiving Fries

National and state recognition are nothing new for Big D’s.  In 2013, the kitschy eatery was featured on Rand McNally’s 2013 “best of the road” which showcases America’s Most Beautiful, Most Fun, Friendliest, Most Patriotic and Best for Food small towns.  Rand McNally raved “The owner promises that “nothing we make comes from a tin can or sits months on end on a shelf somewhere,” the first indication that this casual, down-home burger joint is a good bet.”  Big D’s was one of twenty-six restaurants highlighted in the March-April, 2017 edition of New Mexico Journey, the magazine for AAA members.  In the cover story, “Cheap Eats,”  a guide, or “sampler platter” through some of the state’s “wallet-friendly eateries,” Big D’s cheesesteak sandwich and turkey cordon bleu burger were given high marks.

Located in the heart of downtown Roswell just a few blocks north of the International UFO Museum and Research Center, Big D’s is well worth a detour whether you measure distance in miles or parsecs.  You might visit Roswell to look for alien life, but you’ll come back for Big D’s menu.  Before you get to the menu, you’ll encounter one of the most fun and funky, cool and kitschy ambiances in the Land of Enchantment.   The ambiance is automotive garage meets diner.  The tailgate of a Chevrolet truck hangs on one wall, hub caps on another and the counter prefacing the kitchen is festooned in license plates.  Motorists will enjoy perusing the maps under glass on each table, but not as much as they’ll enjoy studying the menu.

The Big Kahuna

It’s a menu which makes it immediately obvious it was designed by an inventive chef.  Snacks, what other restaurants might call appetizers, aren’t de rigueur standards.  They include crab cakes, stuffed avocados, Southwest chicken wontons and more.  The Soup and Greens section of the menu lists several tempting items such as a Hard Apple salad (aged Cheddar cheese, honey-roasted peanuts, arugula, gala apples, craisins and a peanut cider dressing).  Specialties include the aforementioned turkey cordon bleu as well as a number of sandwiches.  It’s the “Burger Machine” page to which my eyes quickly gravitated.  There are eight burgers on the menu, including a breakfast burger (about as rare in these parts as a UFO crash landing).  “Happy Endings” is what Big D’s calls its desserts.

Though all seven “snacks” would tempt Job, we opted for the Thanksgiving Fries (sweet potato fries, sweet whiskey butter, cinnamon and pecan smoked bacon).  My Kim called them the best fries she’s ever had.  She got no argument from me.  The combination of savory and sweet elements in perfect proportion to each other is an absolute winner.  So is the pecan-smoked bacon which picks up just a bit of sweetness from the sweet whiskey butter and cinnamon while retaining smoky-salty properties.  Every single fry is drizzled with both as if someone in the kitchen had meticulously applied them.

Gyro

Two burgers are adorned with autumn roast green chile, usually a magnet for this green chile cheeseburger aficionado.  Not this time courtesy of the “Big Kahuna” (teriyaki-glazed grilled pineapple, Spam, white cheese and cilantro with a spicy jalapeño dressing).  Constructed from six-ounces of freshly ground chuck seasoned and served medium well, it’s a terrific burger with flavor components that seemingly come at your taste buds from all sides.  It’s a burger with complementary elements befitting its name.  Several weeks ago, the President of Iceland president of Iceland casually joked that pizza topped with pineapple should be outlawed, an absurdity which set off a debate of international (and viral) proportions.  The President of Iceland might be the only person who wouldn’t enjoy this burger. 

Rather than ordering one of the burgers, my Kim opted for a Gyro (marinated lamb, tomato, red onions, roasted garlic tzaziki on pita).  The marinated lamb isn’t shaved from a vertical broiler on a spit as some gyros tend to be.  Instead, the lamb more closely resembles finely cut shawarma meat.  It’s a very moist and very well seasoned lamb that’s enlivened by the roasted garlic tzaziki.  With enough garlic to ward off a family of vampires and the pleasant flavors of yogurt, dill and cucumber, the sauce is quite good. 

If another alien craft crash lands in the Roswell area, there’s a good chance its GPS (galactic positioning system) missed its target–Big D’s Downtown Dive.  It’ where all savvy diners from throughout the solar system and beyond should dine when in the Roswell area.

Big D’s Downtown Dive
505 North Main Street
Roswell, New Mexico
(575) 627-0776
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 10 March 2017
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Thanksgiving Fries, The Big Kahuna, Gyro

Big D's Downtown Dive Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Rex’s Hamburgers – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Rex’s Hamburgers, An Albuquerque Institution

From 1988 through 2005, Rex’s Hamburgers stood practically alone in offering Duke City consumers an alternative to the homogeneous gobble-and-go offerings of deep-pocketed fast-food chains like McDonald’s, Burger King and Wendy’s. Rex’s earned and retained the hearts of Albuquerque diners for nearly 20 years. During its halcyon days, it garnered the long defunct’s Abq magazine’s “Best of Albuquerque” honors for several consecutive years.

The reason Duke City patrons were so loyal to Rex’s was because Rex’s was at the diametric extreme opposite of the chain restaurants. Whether ensconced in a strip mall or housed in a single tenant edifice, Rex’s offered real sit-down service at a relaxed and reasonable pace. Moreover, it served hamburgers the way they are intended to be prepared.  That means they started with real meat, never frozen, formed into a ball and flattened on the griddle with a spatula then allowed to cook slowly to retain the beef’s natural juiciness. Unlike at the Golden Arches, you never had to wonder what filler was used in Rex’s all-beef patty. It was always 85 percent lean and 15 percent fat, the time-tested optimum balance for optimum flavor. It was always served hot and with only the freshest of ingredients.

A double-meat green chile cheeseburger, one of the best in town

When Rex’s closed the last of its restaurants in 2005, the Duke City should have flown the city flag at half mast. Rex’s was one of the last of the independents, a true locally owned and operated mom-and-pop restaurant. The brainchild of Rex Thompson and his family, Rex’s had carved a niche in the burger market and a spot in the heart of discerning Duke City diners. As of the summer of 2008, our period of mourning can now cease. Rex’s is back, initially with a new moniker–Bubsters The Original Rex Burger Grill–but later to embrace its roots as Rex’s Hamburgers.

Also back are some of the recognized Rex’s touches–the golden oldies piped through the restaurant’s sound system, the familiar turquoise and mauve paint, posters of 50s icons and walls dedicated to the University of New Mexico Lobos.  Rex’s is located at the former site of the 505 Southwestern which operated a chile factory and restaurant at the site for years. The space is cavernous with the front portion of the restaurant providing comfortable seating and the back part dedicated to video gaming.  Even the way you order is familiar. A large menu showcasing all that Rex’s has to offer backdrops the counter at which you place your order. Take your seat and within minutes, a tray of deliciousness is bound for your table.

Rex’s famous onion rings

The menu includes all the Rex’s favorites which means not only hamburgers, but sandwiches, hot dogs, tacos, burritos, green chile stew and for the Texans among us, even chili con carne. Sandwich and burger platters include an order of french fries, an onion ring and Rex’s familiar applesauce. You can substitute onion rings for the fries if you’re so inclined.  The burger platters are a bit steeper in price today than they were when Rex’s cornered the sit-down burger market, but then, so is everything else. Besides, what’s a few extra cents when you’re talking freshness and burgers done right–when we’re talking Rex’s reborn!

The burgers are still adulation worthy with perfectly seasoned beef served to your exacting specifications. At medium with just a hint of pink, they are absolutely delicious. The double-meat burgers are still two-fisted behemoths bursting with flavor and moistness. These are still three or four napkin burgers replete with the great ingredients for which Rex’s was always known. The green chile actually registers on the piquancy scale and it’s got a nice, fresh-roasted flavor.  With a more piquant chile, it might be one of the two or three best green chile cheeseburgers in the metropolitan area instead of being merely among the top five or six.

Two tacos

There is one item for which Rex’s is nonpareil and that’s chocolate milkshakes.  Made with Dreyer’s premium ice cream and served bone-chilling cold, the chocolate milk is very chocolatey.  It’s an adult chocolate not something which will decay your teeth on the spot.  Other shake flavors include vanilla, strawberry, Oreo, cherry and we’ve even had a Caramel shake there once.

10 October 2015: Should you ever succeed in prying yourself from ordering one of Rex’s addictive green chile cheeseburgers, a phalanx of alternatives are available.  The “Southwestern” menu, for example, includes such New Mexican favorites as tacos, burritos, chile cheese fries, Frito pie, green chile stew and red chile with beans.  Burritos are engorged with your choice of beans, beef or both and topped with your choice of red or green chile.  As is often the case, many diners opt for “Christmas” style with both red and green adorning the burrito.  A combination burrito platter includes French fries, lettuce and tomato.  The seasoned fries are crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside.  The shredded cheese blanketed burrito is quite good with both red and green shining.

Burrito Platter

On Sunday, February 6, 2017, The Travel Channel aired a program showcasing some of the best fair foods in the nation for its Food Paradise series. The Land of Enchantment has hosted a fair since 1881–32 years before becoming a state. A mainstay for nearly five decades has been Rex’s Hamburgers. Rex Thompson demonstrated for Food Paradise how to construct a bacon-wrapped deep-fried green chile cheeseburger (fresh, handmade burger, topped with green chile and American cheese, wrapped in bacon and deep-fried to a crispy, brown perfection). Rex explained that his burgers are prepared “low and slow” seasoned with only salt and pepper. Rex’s bacon-topped green chile nachos were also showcased. If you haven’t been to the New Mexico State Fair in a while, maybe it’s time to make your way back.

Whether it’s known as Rex’s or Bubsters, there’s no mistaking the quality and freshness of a great meal at an Albuquerque favorite. There’s just something better about the world with Rex’s back in town.

Rex’s Hamburgers
5555 Montgomery, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
505-837-2827
Facebook Page

LATEST VISIT: 6 February 2017
1st VISIT:  28 July 2008
# OF VISITS: 9
RATING: 21
COST: $$
BEST BET: Green Chile Cheeseburger, Double Hamburger, Onion Rings, Tacos, French Fries, Apple Sauce, Chocolate Milkshake, Burrito

Bubsters - Rex's Hamburgers Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Toro Burger – Rio Rancho, New Mexico

Toro Burger in Rio Rancho

While watching a “sanitized for television” version of the audacious satirical comedy Blazing Saddles, my precocious six-year-old niece asked several questions with deep sociological implications: “Why is everyone in the town of Rock Ridge named Johnson? Why were all the town’s citizens white?” From her silence, you’d think my Kim was a “perp lawyering up” at a police inquiry. Rather than responding herself, she enjoyed seeing my brother and I hem and haw in trying to give accurate and age-appropriate answers. Far easier to answer were Blazing Saddles questions which inspired nostalgic reflection: “Is there a Howard Johnson’s Ice Cream Parlor in Albuquerque? Does Howard Johnson’s really serve only one flavor?”

For those of us who grew up in the dark ages, Howard Johnson’s restaurants were almost as ubiquitous as McDonald’s are today. During its halcyon days (peaking in 1975), more than 1,000 “Ho Jo’s” restaurants and motor lodges dotted the American landscape, their distinctive orange roofs a familiar beacon for hungry sojourners. Among the restaurants’ culinary draws were its 28 flavors of butterfat-enhanced ice cream and fried clam strips, an exotic offering theretofore available only in New England. The Marriott Corporation’s 1982 acquisition of all Howard Johnson’s properties signaled the precipitous beginning of the end of the once popular and profitable restaurant. Today, a sole remaining Howard Johnson’s restaurant (in Lake George, New York) remains from among more than 1,000 original restaurants.

Toro’s Welcoming Dining Room

Having returned to the Land of Enchantment in 1979 after a two-year Air Force assignment to Massachusetts, this inveterate fried clam aficionado craved the plump, intensely-flavored paragons of deliciousness. Only Howard Johnson’s provided an approximation, albeit waifishly thin, desiccated strips (sorry Bob) vastly inferior to the tender, juicy whole bellied clams available seaside throughout New England. Despite having to settle for crummy clams, Howard Johnson’s became a frequent stop, a milieu of memories.  When the Albuquerque Howard Johnson’s restaurant on Eubank gave up the ghost in the early 1980s, I mourned.  Where now would fried clams be found?

When Mary Ann Schaefer, a long-time friend of this blog wrote to tell me about the Toro Burger Bar in Rio Rancho’s Howard Johnson hotel, it wasn’t the prospect of juicy, beefy burgers which came to mind, but my beloved fried clams.  Nonetheless, her enthusiasm for the burgers would be the impetus for a visit.  We hadn’t visited the hotel since it housed Wine and Roses, a rather good German restaurant.  That was more than a decade ago when the hotel was the Inn at Rio Rancho.  The Inn became a Howard Johnson’s property in 2014.

Chile Cheese Fries

Since Wine and Roses shuttered its doors so many years ago, a number of restaurant concepts gave it the old college try in the Inn’s restaurant space but none had the staying power engendered by customer loyalty.  The seemingly du jour concept during the conversion from Inn at Rio Rancho to Howard Johnson’s was the Toro Bar and Grill which offered dinner service seven days a week.  It garnered the same level of enthusiasm as another tumbleweed rolling onto the street.  We surmised the name change to Toro Burger was just a rebranding-repackaging effort offering the same uninspiring fare.  Boy were we wrong!

Toro Burger is a terrific restaurant, one every burger aficionado in the metropolitan area should visit.  Ryan, an inventive Indiana born-and-bred chef has suffused the menu with some of the most superb and innovative burgers in the Land of Enchantment.   Chef Ryan’s previous gig in New Mexico was at Annapurna.  Now he’s doing his own thing and creating culinary magic.   You’ll be hard-pressed to decide which burger or sandwich to order, so tempting are the choices.  Even better, the beef is ground daily on the premises from three different cuts of steak.  That means superior burgers!  All burgers come with your choice of patty–house ground beef, turkey, veggie, chorizo-beef blend or lamb–on a potato bun with lettuce, tomato, red onion, burger sauce (unless noted) and your choice of side.  You can also ask for your burger to be wrapped in a flour tortilla.

Fried Pickles

Before rushing out the door to get your burger fix, you should know that Toro is open only from 5PM through 10PM Tuesday through Saturday.  Much as you’d love to have one of Toro’s fabulous burgers for lunch, you’ll appreciate the reason for the restaurant’s limited hours.  Not only does Chef Ryan prepare everything to order, he spends a lot of time sourcing fresh ingredients, grinding the beef, creating sauces and even curing and smoking the restaurant’s bacon and pastrami.  That pastrami is cured for 18 days then smoked for another 12 to 16 hours.    The bacon undergoes a similar meticulous hands-on curing and smoking process.  These are the difference-makers, the reasons burgerphiles will return often.

The menu is another reason.  To get you started, you can select from one of six appetizers, three soft tacos (ground beef, adobado chicken, blackened tilapia) or four salads.  Be cautioned that the appetizers are generously portioned and you’ll want lots of room for those burgers.  There are twelve highly imaginative burgers on the menu as well as a build-your-own-burger option with seemingly unlimited options considering you can choose your meat, cheese (seven choices), veggies (eight choices) and sauces (eleven choices).  It’s a mad burger scientist’s dream!  There are three entrees on the menu: catfish dinner, New Mexico hot chicken and beef ribs.  There are also ten sandwich options, each intriguing.  All sandwiches include your choice of side.  If you’re not already planning a visit, I haven’t done my job well.  If the burgers are any indication, you should rush right over!

Jack and Dianne Burger with Onion Things

18 November 2016: When we ordered our appetizers we had no idea how generously portioned they’d be.  An order of chile cheese fries rewarded us with a mountain of house-cut fries and a generous sprinkling of New Mexico green chile with a cheese blend dousing and Ranch dressing on the side.  The green chile has a pleasant piquancy–enough heat for me to notice and for my Kim to call it “hot.”  Anytime you can find house-cut fries, you should jump on them.  Infinitely better than out-of-a-bag fries, these golden planks of salty deliciousness are terrific repositories for cheese and green chile.

18 November 2016: Our server, the ambassadorial and indefatigable James recommended the fried pickles, one of the more popular appetizers on the menu.  Served with a ramekin of Ranch dressing (ask for one with blue cheese, too) is a pile of thinly sliced, lightly breaded dill pickles which would really purse your lips were it not for the breading.  In our eight years down South (on the Mississippi Gulf Coast), we never received such a generous portion of fried pickles as we did during our inaugural visit to Toro Burger.  We wound up taking half of them home and found them as delightful the next day as we did when they first graced our table.

Mo’ Better Burger with Fries

18 November 2016: Until just before we placed our order, I fully intended to order what Mary Ann’s hubby had enjoyed so much–the Toro burger (Hatch green chile, house made bacon, cheese and chipotle aoli), but perusing a full-sized menu instead of one online gave us new perspective on just how inventive Toro’s burgers are.  If, like me, you enjoy flavor combinations that pair disparate (sweet and savory, tangy and piquant, etc.) taste profiles, you’ll love the Mo’ Better Burger (grilled pineapple jam, house-made bacon and Sriracha aioli) which teases and tantalizes every one of your ten-thousand taste buds.  While the combination of pineapples and bacon has long been exploited on pizza, we found it to be tailor-made for burgers, too.  The bacon has a wonderful smokiness paired with a sweet-peppery element that renders it positively addictive.  One taste of the pineapple jam and your imagination will conjure up all the different ways you can enjoy it.

18 November 2016: My Kim’s choice was a slightly modified Jack and Dianne (which she ordered not because she likes the John Mellencamp song by that name) which comes standard with sauteed garlic mushrooms and Jack cheese.  Kim asked that the Jack cheese be eighty-sixed and substituted grilled onions instead.  The last trade that good was when the 2016 World Series champion Chicago Cubs acquired Jake Arrieta for a song and dance.  There’s something almost magical about earthy garlic-infused mushrooms paired with sweet, almost caramelized onions.  Lest I forget, the beef is of superior caliber, a delicious, nicely seasoned patty of about six-ounces.  Burgers at Toro are so good you can dispense with mustard and ketchup.

Travis Pastrami

19 November 2016: So impressed were we after our inaugural visit that we couldn’t wait to return.  It took us only one day to make like McArthur.  To avoid marital strife, we flipped a coin to determine which of us would order the pastrami sandwich (Kim wins so many coin tosses she must have a two-headed coin).  Called the Travis Pastrami, the sandwich is constructed on grilled light rye bread smeared with hot mustard and piled generously with the housemade pastrami about which James, our affable guide had waxed poetic.  The sandwich comes standard with sauerkraut, but Kim opted to have it on the side.  As with all great pastrami, this one’s got plenty of marbling.  That’s where so much of the flavor comes from. Well, that a meticulous, painstakingly monitored brining, curing, smoking process.  It’s obvious Chef Ryan knows what he’s doing.  Only at Joe Rodriguez’s California Pastrami will you find pastrami this good. 

19 November 2016: Our inaugural visit taught us to be more judicious about ordering appetizers. Instead of, for example, ordering an overly generous platter of chile cheese fries and risk being near-full when entrees arrive, opt for the pulled pork sliders (three slow-cooked pulled pork sliders with a red chile BBQ sauce and house slaw).  Tender tendrils of pork nestled between pillowy soft bread rolls is just the beginning.  The red chile BBQ sauce is more tangy than it is piquant, but it infuses the pork with a delightful liveliness.  Ditto for the coleslaw which imparts tangy, creamy notes. There’s only one thing wrong with these sliders–you’ll want at least two (or eight) more.

Pulled Pork Sliders

19 November 2016: Having lost the coin flip and thus the opportunity to order the pastrami sandwich didn’t make me a Miss Congeniality.  There are just too many terrific options on the menu, each one a winner.  James recommended the catfish dinner (buttermilk soaked fried catfish fingers tossed in a spicy cornmeal dredge and served with house-cut fries, slaw and a roasted corn tartar sauce).  Who would have thought Rio Rancho would become my go-to destination for catfish–first at K’Lynn’s Cuisine and now at Toro Burger?  The two planks of catfish placed gently atop a haystack-sized pile of French fries are terrific–light, flaky and delicate with a bit of personality courtesy of a spice blend.  Dip the catfish into the roasted corn tartar and the flavor profile changes altogether.  This is the tartar sauce for those of us who don’t like tartar sauce courtesy of sweet corn niblets that serve as a nice foil to other savory elements.

Catfish Dinner

18 November 2016: Even among the most creative and experienced chefs, desserts are often a challenge, one usually left to an assistant or pastry chef.  Chef Ryan may be just as adept at desserts as he is with savory elements.  As with everything that comes out of his kitchen, there’s plenty of imagination in every dish.  There’s also quite a bit of magic.  Our introduction to his prowess with postprandial aspects of a meal was with a crustless cheesecake.  Well, there is a crust, but it’s not Graham crackers or anything of the like.  This “crust” is comprised of thinly sliced red apples atop of which rests a molded round cheesecake topped with a green chile compote punctuated by more thin apple slices.  The green chile compote has both piquant and sweet elements, a perfect foil for the tangy apples and even sweeter cheesecake.  We were surprised at how much we enjoyed this masterpiece.

Housemade Cheesecake with Green Chile Compote

19 November 2016: We weren’t surprised at how much we enjoyed Chef Ryan’s housemade ice cream sandwich.  Now, this one does have a Graham cracker crust which sandwiches a layer of chocolate ganache and a thick wedge of chocolate ice cream.  The ice cream sandwich arrives at your table in a frozen state.  You’ll be advised to let it sit for a few minutes for maximum enjoyment.  Would that we had such discipline.  No sooner had it arrived at our table than we began to gnaw on it.  Our sole complaint about this delightful ice cream treat is how small it is–maybe four inches.  It’s not the ice cream sandwich behemoth you’ll find at Rude Boy Cookies, but it’s just as good.

Housemade Ice Cream Sandwich

Ice Cream Sandwich

19 November 2016: My friend Larry McGoldrick, the esteemed professor with the perspicacious palate, will be happy to hear Toro Burger’s dessert menu includes a bread pudding, perhaps one worthy of inclusion on his Bread Pudding Hall of Fame.  This particular bread pudding, resplendent with the presence of sweet-tangy peaches and topped with a vanilla icing is reminiscent of peach cobbler, albeit just a bit sweeter.  Though some might consider them anachronistic, bread pudding and cobbler are two of my very favorite desserts and for some of the same reasons.  What we enjoyed most about Toro’s rendition is the interplay of different flavors to compose a cohesive, absolutely delicious whole.  Next time, however, we may ask for the green chile compote instead of the vanilla icing.

Peach Bread Pudding

Peach Bread Pudding

If you visited any one of Toro Burger’s predecessors at the Rio Rancho Howard Johnson’s, you likely weren’t very impressed.  Don’t let that dissuade you from trying Toro Burger.   It’s better…much better.  Chef Ryan’s burger creations are not to be missed and you’ll be well taken care of by James, the restaurant’s whirling dervish server whose recommendations you can take to the bank.

Toro Burger
1465 Rio Rancho Drive, S.E.
Rio Rancho, New Mexico
(505) 892-1700
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 19 November 2016
1st VISIT: 18 November 2016
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 23
COST: $$
BEST BET: Chile Cheese Fries, Fried Pickles, Jack and Dianne Burger, Mo’ Better Burger, Housemade Cheesecake with Green Chile Compote, Peach Bread Pudding, Housemade Ice Cream Sandwich, Pulled Pork Sliders, Catfish Dinner, Travis Pastrami, French Fries, Onion Things

Toro Burger Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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