Gil's Thrilling (And Filling) Blog

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Lucky Boy – Albuquerque, New Mexican

Sr. Plata stands in front of Albuquerque's Lucky Boy restaurant where East meets West and green chile cheeseburgers meet egg rolls.

Sr. Plata stands in front of Albuquerque’s Lucky Boy restaurant where East meets West and green chile cheeseburgers meet egg rolls.

During its seventh season, the X Files television series in which FBI agents investigated paranormal phenomena featured an episode in which a ravenous Lucky Boy employee in California struggled against his craving for human brain matter (almost anything goes in the Golden state). The most paranormal thing about the Duke City Lucky Boy is its “east meets west” dining concept. Nowhere else in town can you order Chinese and American food so inexpensively and from the very same menu.

If you think about it, ordering inexpensive Chinese and American food from within one menu shouldn’t be such an anomalous event–especially when you consider that many of Lucky Boy’s patrons are UNM students, many of whom know how to stretch a buck. It’s not just UNM students who patronize this hole-in-the-wall. You might just as soon find faculty and staff also indulging in inexpensive (but good) food.

Lucky Boy's genial proprietors hard at work.

Lucky Boy’s genial proprietors hard at work.

Lucky Boy is a quintessential American mom and pop  diner tended lovingly by Chinese proprietors named Suzy and Ron who know what many of their customers are going to order as soon as they walk in. You’ll do a second-take the first time you see a steaming wok preparing noodles next to the sizzling griddle on which burger patties are being cooked.  Lucky Boy has been around since 1968 and it shows.  The restaurant is somewhat bedraggled and is certainly dated with 1960s style paneling on the walls and well-trodden tile on the floor.

Lucky Boy’s green chile cheeseburger is six inches of well seasoned meat and standard (lettuce, pickles, tomato, onions) but high quality condiments, including a tangy Day-Glo colored mustard and ketchup sauce the proprietors refer to as Lucky Boy sauce. The green chile is flavorful and more piquant than at many New Mexican restaurants and proprietors of the green chile cheeseburger (Lotaburger comes to mind).  The buns are lightly toasted, but so thick they obfuscate the flavor of the burger. The beef patties have the telltale signs of having been frozen.  They’re also quite thin so you’ll want to order a double meat burger.  Lest I forget, expect your burger to be prepared at medium-well to well.  Despite these shortcomings, you might be surprised to find yourself craving one or three of them.

Double Meat Green Chile Cheeseburger with Onion Cakes

Lucky Boy was one of 48 restaurants, drive-ins, diners, dives, joints, cafes, roadside stands and bowling alleys selected for the New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail, a celebration of New Mexico’s iconic burger.  When I proposed its entry to the four person team which put the Trail together, there was more than a little sniggering, but since then, several team members have expressed their appreciation for what is actually a pretty good green chile cheeseburger.  Being on the New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail placed it in select…make that elite, company.  It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to call Lucky Boy’s green chile cheeseburger one of the city’s most popular, if not best of its genre.

The menu also includes an Egg Foo Young sandwich, a culinary curiosity served in St. Louis where it’s called a “St. Paul sandwich” and which you won’t find in Minnesota. At Lucky Boy, you can have the Egg Foo Yong sandwich alongside a hamburger beef patty and the condiments which normally accompany a burger (including the aforementioned Lucky Boy sauce, chile and green chile). It’s a great sandwich with or without the beef patty!  It’s become a favorite of my friend Sr. Plata.

Sr. Plata holds a Egg Foo Young sandwich with green chile, meat and cheese from Lucky Boy

Sr. Plata holds a Egg Foo Young sandwich with green chile, meat and cheese from Lucky Boy

Lucky Boy’s French fries are only so-so (fairly standard).  A better bet are onion cakes, which are rather dissimilar to the scallion pancakes served at many Chinese restaurants.  Their flavor profile is more akin to onion rings though much thicker and more heavily breaded.  Biting into the sweet onion is a treat, but you’ll have to get through the breading first.

While we’ve found the chocolate shakes to be rather gloppy and bland, Lucky Boy has managed to escape the slavitude of the Coke and Pepsi monopolies.  You can actually get an RC Cola (remember those?) or a Diet Rite soda in a can.  A can, by the way, is a much more sanitary way to indulge in soft drinks (another of my soapbox tirades saved for another day).

Egg Foo Young Sandwich with Green Chile, Meat and Cheese

Egg Foo Young Sandwich with Green Chile, Meat and Cheese

Chinese fare includes sweet and sour pork, Mandarin chicken and other American favorites. We’ve  observed that there’s almost a fifty/fifty split among patrons ordering burgers and Chinese food.  The sweet and sour chicken is pretty much what you’d expect for the pittance at which it’s offered.  It’s rather heavily breaded and topped with a lacquered-on orange sauce that emphasizes the sweet component of sweet and sour.  It’s not gourmet Chinese food, but it is what you expect and appreciate most when funds are low.

Lucky Boy is much more than an anomaly worth visiting only for the experiential aspect.  It serves a genuinely good green chile cheeseburger as well as other surprisingly good items.  You can’t beat the prices and the service is warm and genial.

Sweet and Sour Chicken

Lucky Boy
3521 Constitution, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 268-2785
LATEST VISIT: 11 March 2015
# OF VISITS: 9
RATING: 18
COST: $
BEST BET: Green Chile Cheeseburger, Egg Foo Yong Sandwich

Lucky Boy on Urbanspoon

Mac’s Steak in the Rough – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Mac’s Steak in the Rough on Menaul is an Albuquerque Institution

In Mark 6:4, Jesus instructs his disciples that “a prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” Theologists and Bible scholars have translated this to mean “A prophet is honored everywhere except in his own hometown and among his relatives and his own family.”  While certainly not as venerated as prophets, this verse could also apply to some of our local restaurants. If ever you’ve heard a disparaging word about one of our local restaurant institutions, you’ll know of what I speak.

Think of all the times you’ve heard such august Duke City institutions as Lotaburger and Mac’s Steak in the Rough disparaged by locals who didn’t grow up with these sacrosanct traditions.   For every one of us who revere and frequent these local treasures, there may be as many (if not more) nay-sayers with antipathy toward those lionized local treasures.  Some yearn instead for such big city sophisticates as In-N-Out-Burger and others of that ilk.

Mac’s Steak in the Rough on a busy Thursday afternoon

Forgive me if my retort and admonishment to locals who would deprecate our local treasures sounds too much like the jarring and insensitive statements used by some parents to get persnickety children to eat. The truth is, there are many people throughout the fruited plain who would love to have restaurants such as Lotaburger and Mac’s Steak in the Rough in their cities.  They don’t understand the uppity New Mexicans who bad-mouth the local gems many of us take for granted. 

Think I’m kidding? In 2006, Lotaburger was recognized by National Geographic for serving the “Best Green Chile Cheeseburger in the World.”   In June 2012, National Geographic also ranked  Lotaburger fourth on its “10 Best Hamburgers in America” list. In 2010, Gustavo Arellano, the brilliant and hilarious author of Ask a Mexican, a widely syndicated newspaper column published mostly in weekly alternative papers, asked the question “Forget Five Guys Burgers: Why Can’t We Get a Blake’s Lotaburger.” There are more such testimonies, but you get the picture.

Original Rough Combo

As for Mac’s Steak in the Rough, in 2013 Thrillist named it “one of the best drive-in restaurants in America.”  Mac’s largest advocate with a national profile, however, appears to be The Huffington Post, an online news aggregator and blog.  In naming Albuquerque one of “5 American Cities You Should Visit in 2015,” the Post advised “Go for the insanely good chicken-fried steak fingers at Mac’s Steak in the Rough.”  Two years previously, Post writer Rebecca Orchant wrote a feature entitled “Mac’s Steak In The Rough: An Albuquerque Original We Adore.”  Admittedly Orchant grew up in Albuquerque so she’s intimately familiar with Mac’s.  In fact, her experiences and sentiments pretty much mirror those of many locals who also love this Duke City institution.

In her article, Orchant describe Mac’s Steak in the Rough as “an old-school, drive-in, fry-shack of a restaurant, that has been slinging taquitos, onion rings and Steak in the Rough for over fifty years.”  She shares her experiences of visiting Mac’s with her dad and being introduced to “limeade so sour it will cross your eyes” and “dipping steak fingers in hot sauce sitting on the hood of a car.”  If you grew up in Albuquerque, you can certainly relate and even if you didn’t absolutely love Mac’s food, you undoubtedly enjoyed the experience…and that lip-pursing limeade.

The best limeade in New Mexico and beyond

In its halcyon days, Mac’s Steak in the Rough had about a dozen restaurants strewn throughout the Duke City. As much as the restaurant has long been associated with Albuquerque, Mac’s actually got its start in Artesia way back in 1949 when a restaurant impresario named Dave McCarty launched the first of what would become a beloved local empire.  McCarty also invented and trademarked the “taquita,” a rolled taco that’s remained one of several menu standards over the years.

Today only the Mac’s Steak in the Rough on Menaul just east of Washington remains.  At its heart and essence, it’s still a drive-in and it’s still a dive.  Traditionalists eschew the antiseptic modern indoor restaurant and opt instead to dine in the elements.  That means parking your motorized conveyance under a canopy of parking spots and placing your order on an intercom built into each menu board.  Remodeling and modernity included the replacement of a message board with an LED sign as well as replacement of the trademark sign pole.

Double Meat Green Chile Cheeseburger with Fries

Detractors will argue that each meal at Mac’s Steak in the Rough should come with its own angioplasty and maybe a beach towel for wiping your mouth.  To supporters, however, Mac’s high-calorie, high-cholesterol, high-fat fast food menu is just what the doctor prescribed.  You can get burgers, fries and shakes anywhere.  Only at Mac’s Steak in the Rough can you have the name on the marquee.  That would be the original steak in the rough, described as “tender slivers of ranch-cut beef cut fresh daily, dipped in our special batter and deep-fried.”

Similar to fried clams in New England, the original steak in the rough is served in a cardboard box, one accommodating not only the four crispy steak strips, but a mound of French fries, a hot roll, white gravy, coleslaw and a single fresh green scallion.  It’s a combination you can only get at Mac’s Steak in the Rough.  It’s ours and we’re proud of it.  The steak in the rough is nearly hot enough to singe your fingers as it arrives at your table.  So is the mildly peppery white gravy.  The coleslaw is virtually saturated in a creamy mayo and is very sweet.  The green scallion is one of those perplexing adds that seems out of place until you sample it with the steak fingers where its strong bite serves as a perfect foil for the battered steak.

Large order of onion rings

Burgers provide a nice alternative to the steak in the rough.  The four burgers on the menu are made with 100 percent USDA ground beef and are served with mustard, onion, lettuce and tomato unless you opt otherwise.  The beef patties are a bit on the thin side and unless you request otherwise are prepared at medium-well to well.  For the right-sized ratio of beef to bun, you’ll want to request double meat on your burger as well as green chile.  The chile isn’t especially piquant, but it’s got a good flavor.  As green chile cheeseburgers go, this one is much better than other notables. 

So are the onion rings.  They’re not the out-of-a-bag variety most restaurants serve (you know–the ones with the sandpaper-rough breading; the ones where you take a bite and the entire onion slides out, leaving you an intact shell of breading. Mac’s onion rings are reminiscent of those served along New Hampshire’s beaches. They’re lightly coated with a golden breading over sweet, juicy Spanish onions. These are onion rings the way onion rings are supposed to be: hot, delicious and addictive. As with any meal you have, they’re best washed down by Mac’s limeade, the very best in Albuquerque.

Mac’s Steak in the Rough has been going strong for more than sixty years with no surcease in sight. Even though its operations have been centralized to one single location, it stands at the ready to ensnare the hearts of even more generations of Duke City diners.

Mac’s Steak in the Rough
4515 Menaul Blvd, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 888-3611
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 2 March 2015
# OF VISITS: 14
COST: $ – $$
RATING: 18
BEST BET: Double Meat Green Chile Cheeseburger, French Fries, Onion Rings, Limeade,

Mac's Steak in the Rough on Urbanspoon

The Grill – Albuquerque, New Mexico

The Grill on Menaul serves one of the best burgers in Albuquerque

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, few would argue that their copycat burgers could elicit raw delirium when bitten into.  Some, like me, would argue that they’re not 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 profferer of  meaty happiness with great regularity.

The Grill on a busy Wednesday lunch hour

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 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 tends to his unique mesquite-fired grill (Photo courtesy of Bill “Roastmaster” Resnik)

The Grill launched initially on the 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.”  Interior walls are festooned with period pieces–mostly kitchen related bricabrac, 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.

Salsa and chips are on the house at The Grill (Photo courtesy of Bill “Roastmaster” Resnik)

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 descends 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.

An eight-ounce Papa Burger with green chile and Cheddar cheese

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.  It deserves better (less salty) chips.

You will want to taste the burgers!  Prolific eaters will opt for the Grandpa Burger, a whopping sixteen-ounces, but Rudy Vigil assured me the eight-ounce Papa Burger will be more than enough for most ordinary 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.  All burgers are available in combination with a drink and Fries.

The Papa Burger with Fries

The menu also includes two steaks–a sixteen-ounce Ribeye and a ten-ounce New York cut–both 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.

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.

Chile cheese dog with fries (Photo courtesy of Bill “Roastmaster” Resnik)

A value-priced 16-ounce Ribeye steak 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 under a dollar an ounce, a good deal by any standard.

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.

A sixteen-ounce Ribeye Steak with a side of beans

The chile cheese dog is only so-so. The wiener is just slightly thicker than a human thumb, not an oversized meat-tube that dominates the flavor profile. Alas, the chile had a canned taste which includes enough cumin to be noticeable, but not so much that it kills the taste. Hot dogs are also served with French fries.

On the counter gracing your visage as you walk in 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.

Red Velvet Cake

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
4615 Menaul Blvd, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 872-9772
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 25 February 2015
1st VISIT:  17 August 2010
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 20
COST: $$
BEST BET: Papa Burger with Fries, Chile Cheese Dog, Salsa and Chips, Ribeye Steak, Onion Rings, Red Velvet Cake

Grandpa's Grill on Route 66 on Urbanspoon