Laguna Burger – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Laguna Burger May Have An Albuquerque Address, But It’s Miles From the Duke City

19 June 2016: Fathers may get the short end of the stick when it comes to cards (card companies sell 133 million Mother’s Day cards annually, 40 million more than for Father’s Day), but when it comes to the annual Father’s Day dining ritual, dad’s make up for it.  That’s how it seemed when I walked into Laguna Burger and found the little restaurant overflowing with families feting their fathers.  What a great choice!  In each of the last two years Laguna Burger has been the most frequently visited post on Gil’s Thrilling…  If most of the visitors to the review actually also visit the restaurant, that’s tens of thousands of visitors to Laguna Burger.  On Father’s Day 2016, it seemed most of the fathers were there.

The history of New Mexico is fraught with tales of hardship and peril. Enchanting as it may be, New Mexico is a land which can be harsh and unforgiving as early settlers found out when, amidst the ravages of climatic extremes, they traversed austere terrain in search of wealth and a better life.  There were no interstate highways nor high-speed motorized conveyances to ferry them across the barren and cruel desert.  There were no hotels and motels in which they could rest their weary bones nor restaurants to quell the pangs of hunger and thirst which parched their throats.

Constructing a Laguna Burger is an art

The storied trails that brought settlers and traders to New Mexico, remnants of which have mostly disappeared over time, were scarcely more than ruts carved into the earth by wagons, horses and oxen.  History has glorified those trails–the Santa Fe, Butterfield and Camino Real among them–but the truth of their harshness is far from glamorous. One especially treacherous and dry section of El Camino Real was so brutal, it was designated by the Spanish conquistadores as the Jornada del Muerto, Spanish for “route of the dead man.”

The advent of the railroad system heralded the beginning of the end of the trail systems and made travel to and from New Mexico a more pleasant, far less hazardous adventure.  Today when people associate trails with New Mexico, it’s usually not with trepidation, but with respect and admiration.  Instead of such ominous names as Jornada Del Muerto, New Mexico’s trails are now bestowed such inviting sobriquets as The Turquoise Trail.  Instead of peril and woe, New Mexico’s trails are scenic and beautiful, providing a vast array of fun and recreational activities.

You’ll be asking yourself the same question: Is it the beef or is it the love?

In 2009, the word “trail” began to take on a new connotation.  Cheryl Jamison, the scintillating four-time James Beard award-winning author and the New Mexico Tourism Department’s culinary liaison, conceptualized a “culinary trail” concept designed to capitalized on the widespread interest–both by locals and tourists–on the Land of Enchantment’s incomparable cuisine.  The inaugural culinary trail was the Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail, a celebration of New Mexico’s iconic, some say unofficial and favorite, state food.

More than 8,000 people–residents, visitors, critics and restaurateurs–cast their ballots for their favorite green chile cheeseburgers.  When the ballots were tallied, the New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail listed four dozen purveyors of green chile cheeseburgers from among the 200 or so nominated.  The Trail included burger bastions from Abiquiu to Zuni and from all four corners of the state.  Those burgers are prepared in restaurants, drive-ins, diners, dives, joints, cafes, roadside stands and even bowling alleys.

Throngs of burger lovers line up for a world-famous Laguna Burger

One of green chile cheeseburger restaurants garnering the most votes was a superette (convenience store) with the intriguing name “Home of The Laguna Burger” (since shortened to “Laguna Burger.”)   Driving on I40 past the Pueblo of Laguna, I had seen signage for the burger, but dismissed it as just another promotion for the Pueblo’s popular casino. My mistake!

The Laguna Burger is simply one of the very best green chile cheeseburgers in New Mexico!  Cooked to order from 100 percent, never frozen ground beef (an 80/20 blend), it is a half-pound of pure deliciousness.  Today, there are three Homes of the Laguna Burger, the most recent addition strategically positioned directly across I40 from the Route 66 Casino.  Interestingly, it has an Albuquerque address (14311 Central Avenue).  As with its siblings, it is located within the confines of a superette.  Walk past the checkout counters and their temptations and you’ll find a diner-like space dedicated to the Laguna burger and several other menu items.

Every seat in the restaurant is occupied. Fortunately there’s an outdoor seating area.

Though the Laguna Burger is tiny (about eight bar stools and a small dining room for seating), the aromas of beef on a flattop grill waft throughout the large superette like an olfactory siren’s call.  After perusing the menu–which offers both lunch and dinner–and placing your order, find a seat.  The best seat in the house is probably on one of the bar stools where you can watch the green chile cheeseburger being lovingly prepared for you.

Yes, lovingly!  The shirts worn by the staff are emblazoned with the slogan, “Is it the beef or is it the love?”.  When Cheromiah Marshall (Google him) was manning the grill, you can be assured it was equal parts of both.  Cheromiah was as engaging and funny as any counter man in New Mexico.  He took great pride in the Laguna Burger, answering my questions with an impish grin–first giving me a comedic response then the actual answer.  Where does Laguna Burger get its beef?  From my uncle’s cows.  Where do you get your green chile?  From my uncle’s farm if the cows don’t eat it.  It is great fun.

The world-famous Laguna Burger with Fries

Cheromiah beamed with pride in telling me the Laguna Burger came in second at Governor Richardson’s inaugural green chile cheeseburger challenge and that it received more votes than any other purveyor of green chile cheeseburgers on the Trail.  When I informed him the restaurant which won the Governor’s challenge is now closed, he said, “now we’re the best.”  That claim is hard to dispute.  The Laguna Burger is outstanding!

As Cheromiah prepared my burger, another staffer shaped ground beef into rounded balls, weighing them to ensure each was exactly eight ounces (that’s half a pound, twice the beef of McDonald’s Quarter-Pounder).  Each burger is prepared to order; the Laguna Burger is not fast food.  At strategic intervals in the grilling process, the green chile (Bueno brand) is placed on the grill where it sizzles and spits as in protest.  The cheese is added later to ensure just the right level of meltedness.  The Laguna Burger is adorned with lettuce, tomatoes, pickles and mustard on a sesame seed bun.

Frito Pie

This is a perfectly seasoned burger.  The beef patty is juicy and delicious at about medium-well.  The vegetables are fresh–crisp lettuce, juicy tomatoes, lip pursing pickles, red onions.  The green chile, at least the batch I’ve had in three visits, was piquant enough to get my attention. It’s delicious through and through, so good you’ll want another, but so large you might not have the room.  That’s especially true if you also order the fresh-cut, never frozen French fries.  The fries, shades of gold and brown, are neither too flaccid nor too stiff.  They’re fries the way they should be made.

The Laguna Burger has a surprisingly large menu for operating in such a small space.  The menu includes foot long hot dogs and chili cheese dogs, corn dogs, grilled cheese sandwiches (on Texas toast), Frito pies, chicken tenders, onion rings, taquitos with salsa and more, but it would be very hard to pass up the Laguna Burger. 

Lest you think my opinion of the 66 Pit Stop: Home of the Laguna Burger is mine alone, read the glowing review from Hannah and Edward, Albuquerque’s podcasters nonpareil.  When Andrea Feucht was asked by The Guardian of London to list the top ten restaurants and cafes in Albuquerque, she listed the 66 Pit Stop, Home of the Laguna Burger as one of those ten.  By any standards, this diminutive purveyor of green chile cheeseburgers is a ten. 

Note: Even though the Home of the Laguna Burger at  the 66 Pit Stop has an Albuquerque address (14311 Central Avenue, N.W.), you won’t find it anywhere within the city’s urban sprawl.  To get there you’ll want to drive west on I-40 and take exit 114.  It’s directly across I-40 from the Route 66 Casino.

Laguna Burger
66 Pit Stop
14311 Central Avenue, NW
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Web Site
| Facebook Page
(505) 352-7848
LATEST VISIT: 19 June 2016
1st VISIT: 15 June 2010
# OF VISITS: 5
RATING: 21
COST: $$
BEST BET: Green Chile Cheeseburger, French Fries, Frito Pie

66 Pit Stop Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

The Owl Cafe – Albuquerque, New Mexico

The Owl Cafe on Eubank (northern view)

Shortly before 6AM. on July 16, 1945, some of the world’s most brilliant minds ushered in the nuclear age with the detonation of the first atomic bomb, an occasion which later prompted Los Alamos Laboratory head J. Robert Oppenheimer to declare “Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.”  The transformative event occurred in a dry, desolate locale approximately 35 miles from bucolic San Antonio, New Mexico, the gateway to the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge.  The scientists who developed the top-secret bomb had been staying nearby in cabins rented from J.E. Miera, proprietor of Miera’s Owl Bar and Cafe. 

Posing as “prospectors,” the scientists frequented Miera’s for enthusiastic card games, cold beer and grilled cheeseburgers. In time, Miera’s son Frank Chavez, began adorning the burgers with fiery-hot diced green chile, unwittingly inventing  what is now a sacrosanct New Mexico icon, the green chile cheeseburger.  Despite what other claimants may say, San Antonio’s Owl Cafe is the progenitor to what James Beard Award-winning writer (and former restaurant reviewer for The Alibi) Jason Sheehan described in 2011 as “America’s best cheeseburger.”  The green chile cheeseburger is all that and so much more.

Albuquerque’s most famous anthropomorphic restaurant (view from the south)

In the 1980s, Albuquerque entrepreneur Ski Martin purchased the franchise rights to the original Owl Cafe and in 1986 launched Albuquerque’s first Owl Cafe on Eubank just a couple blocks north of Interstate 40.  With an upscale urban 50s ambiance and an anthropomorphic architecture featuring garish neon pink and turquoise lights, this metropolitan version has a much more expansive menu than the original restaurant, featuring several other sandwiches, some comfort food entrees and several New Mexican entrees.  A complementary bowl of beans with San Antonio green chile (albeit spelled “chili”) after you’re seated is one of the highlights of dining at this Owl.  A dessert display case may just have you wanting to lick the glass.

The one thing that might detract from giving your burger the full attention and adulation it deserves is the boisterous and  crowded ambiance of the Eubank location.  Throngs of hungry diners queue up for one of the booths in the elongated diner-style restaurant; less fortunate patrons (and children who want to spin around in them) are seated on the disc-shaped bar stools at the restaurant’s center.  A 1950s style juke box (for Millennials, this is a coin-operated, partially automated music playing device that plays selected songs from a self-contained media) playing songs from bygone eras plays almost continuously.  Smaller tableside jukeboxes are also available if you want the music closer to you.

The diner-like ambiance of the Owl Cafe

Cheers went up when in 2004,  Martin partnered with Frank Marcello (partner in other Albuquerque restaurant ventures such as Copeland’s and Zea’s and founder of the eponymous Marcello’s Chophouse) to launch Albuquerque’s second Owl Cafe in the Shops at I-25.  In 2005, a third Owl Cafe opened on the West side (10131 Coors Blvd) where great burgers were (and still are) direly lacking. Alas, both satellites closed within two years.  Twenty years after its launch, Albuquerque’s sole remaining Owl Cafe is still going strong.  In April, 2016, it was featured on an episode of the Travel Channel’s Bizarre Foods: Delicious Destinations.

Despite the more extensive menu offerings at the Eubank based Owl Cafe, the green chile cheeseburger is still the biggest attraction–and for good reason.  The meat is ground on the premises, patties are hand-formed and the ingredients (mayo, lettuce, tomato, pickles, onion cheese and the world famous San Antonio green chile) are absolutely fresh.  Ski Martin and his team of cooks prepare each and every burger the same way he learned to prepare them at the San Antonio parent restaurant.

Beans with Green Chile

On a double meat burger, the succulent meat and melted cheese bulge out beyond the buns.  The meat positively breaks apart (a telltale sign that filler isn’t used) and its juices make consuming one a lip-smacking, multi-napkin affair.  On occasion, 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.  At other times, the green chile is barely noticeable and wouldn’t pose a bit of a threat to someone from, say, Mississippi.  Maybe that’s what happens when you commit the cardinal offense of spelling it “chili.”

In 2009, the Owl Cafe (irrespective of location) was selected for inclusion into the New Mexico Department of Tourism’s Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail, a listing of the Land of Enchantment’s most outstanding green chile cheeseburger restaurants, drive-ins, diners, dives, joints, cafes, roadside stands and bowling alleys.  Though the green chile cheeseburger is ubiquitous throughout New Mexico, only 48 green chile cheeseburgers made it to this list.  The Owl was a repeat listing on the 2011 version of the Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail.   My friend Larry McGoldrick, the professor with the perspicacious palate, rates the green chile cheeseburger at Albuquerque’s Owl as the fourth best in the Land of Enchantment.

Double Meat Green Chile Cheeseburger

While the dissolution of the marital institution seems to become more prevalent every year, there’s one marriage that has and probably will withstand the ravages of time–that’s the culinary union of the burger and French fries. The Owl Cafe serves fresh-cut French fries that are among the very best in the city.  Well salted and served with either red or green chile, these fries are fantastic.  Like many good fries, the potatoes aren’t peeled.  Perhaps even better are the sweet potato fries though you might just utter “fries be damned” if you opt for onion rings instead.  These thin-sliced, lightly coated rings are the antithesis of the overly breaded out-of-the-bag variety you’ll find at most restaurants.  The rings are served with a somewhat anemic horseradish sauce which could use more punch.

To make it a terrific triumvirate, order one of the Owl’s old-fashioned milk shakes or malts, both of which are thick, delicious and served cold.   Favorite flavors include chocolate, pineapple, strawberry, Oreo, vanilla and butterscotch. Malts and shakes are made with real hand-dipped ice cream and whole milk and are mixed in a tin, the way they were made in the 50s. They’re then served in a shake glass with the tin on the side, much like getting a shake and a half.  No 50s era diner would be complete without phosphates and egg creams and the Owl makes these well.

Onion Rings

The New Mexican food menu includes many popular favorites including enchiladas, a combination plate, quesadillas and carne adovada (unfortunately made with cumin).  Mom’s favorite quesadilla is one of the very best of its genre in town.  Sandwiched between two grilled tortillas sliced pizza style are refried beans, two types of melted Cheddar cheese, bacon and green chile.  The refried beans are terrific with a smoky aftertaste perhaps ameliorated by the crisp bacon.  The quesadilla is served with plastic tubs of guacamole, salsa and sour cream.

The dessert case usually includes several pies–apple, blueberry, peach and pecan, for example.  These pies taste better than they look.  One of the things which makes them special is a thin, crispy and buttery crust.  The other is the fruit fillings–real fruit, not the gelatinous, over-sweetened gunk.  The blueberry actually tastes like blueberry.  The pies are best served warm and topped with two scoops of vanilla ice cream.

Albuquerque Melt

22 May 2016: The sandwich menu includes all the “usual suspects” found at most self-respecting cafes and diners.  You’ll find grilled cheese done three different ways, club sandwiches, French dip, Reubens and even a cold meatloaf sandwich.  You’ll also find a classic patty melt and a chile-infused variation called the Albuquerque Melt (Swiss cheese, grilled onions and green chili on grilled rye).  New Mexicans know that green chile improves nearly every dish to which it is added, including several desserts.  You may not ever again want a patty melt sans green chile.  That’s how significant the improvement is.  It also helps that The Owl’s beef patties are perfectly seasoned, generously proportioned and prepared to a medium-well deliciousness.  The light rye bread lets bolder flavors shine–flavors such as the sweet, caramelized onions and the mild meltedness of the Swiss cheese.

22 May 2016: Hawaii’s contribution to America’s burgeoning hot dog culture is the Puka Dog (puka, in this case, having nothing to do with the hipster beads worn in the 70s).  Larry will be heartened to hear the puka dog does not include spam.   It does involve a hunk of sweet bread being impaled on a heated rod, effectively toasting it on the inside while leaving the outside soft.  The resultant hot dog shaped hole is filled with a grilled hot dog and a fruit relish (mango, pineapple, papaya, coconut and banana for example).   The Owl Cafe’s  Hawaiian Dog is loosely patterned on the puka dog.  Nestled into a more conventional toasted hot dog bun is a split hot dog topped with a mango-pineapple salsa.  It’s not always a given that “salsa” implies piquant.  This salsa is dessert sweet, contrasting the salty smokiness of the hot dog.  It’s a combination not everyone will appreciate, but one no diner should dismiss without trying.

Hawaiian Dog

The most adamant detractors (you know the type–averse to change of any kind even though their last visit to the San Antonio Owl was decades ago) contend this Northeast Heights restaurant probably shouldn’t even bear the name of the original classic.  Me, I think The Owl is very competitive in an increasingly better burger market.  When its chile is hot, the Owl rocks!

The Owl Cafe
800 Eubank, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505)291-4900
Web Site | Facebook Page

LATEST VISIT: 22 May 2016
# OF VISITS: 11
RATING: 18
COST: $$
BEST BET: Green Chili Cheeseburger; French Fries; Chocolate Shake; Beans; Blueberry Pie ala mode; Mom’s Favorite Quesadilla; Albuquerque Melt; Onion Rings; Sweet Potato Fries; Hawaiian Dog

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

Grassburger – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Grassburger for the very best in grass-fed burgers and so much more

For nearly a decade, television viewers have been subjected to a very successful advertising campaign depicting contented cows talking and singing about the pleasures of life in sunny and warm California. The slogan for the “happy cows” campaign’ is “Great cheese comes from happy cows. Happy cows come from California.” The campaign would have you believe the cows are happy because they feast and frolic on a diet of delicious grass from verdant hillsides and not on troughs full of grains which don’t taste quite as good. I don’t know about cows being happier because they graze on grass, but can certainly attest to being a happier diner when enjoying a diet of grass-fed beef.

Generations of New Mexicans, particularly from the more verdurous northern villages, find the notion of grain-fed cattle heretical. All our cows are grass-fed thanks to open-range grazing laws which allow carefree cows to traipse up and down the streets in search of unfenced (or poorly fenced) yards in which the grass does appear to be greener. In the late spring when mountain snows have started to melt, many ranchers herd their cattle into the mountains where meadowlands near the timberline are abundant. In fall when the cows are returned, they’re more corpulent, their fatted frames more ready for winter’s angry bite.

Diners line up to place their order

For the first nineteen years of my life, virtually all the beef my family consumed was grass-fed. I was well into my teenage years before the first burger from the legendary McDonald’s crossed my lips. Despite the enthusiastic build-up on commercials aired by the three stations (KOB, KGGM, KOAT) picked up by our rooftop antenna back in the dark ages, the burger—especially the beef—was a huge disappointment. It was obvious the “beef” on my inaugural Big Mac wasn’t raised on high mountain pastureland. It didn’t have the rich, earthy-grassy flavor of grass-fed beef to which we were accustomed and it wasn’t nearly as lean and juicy. The difference was more than just discernible, it was significant.

Alas, most of the beef we’ve had since leaving Penasco has been of the grain-fed supermarket variety. Though we’ve become accustomed to it, it’s always a treat to partake of grass-fed beef. When we heard a new Durango-based hamburger restaurant by the name “Grassburger” had launched in Albuquerque’s Far Northeast Heights, my Kim thought she’d read my snarky little mind. She bet me a burger my review would center on another meaning for the word “grass,” a meaning our neighbors in the great state of Colorado use synonymously with a very popular, recently-made-legal cash crop that’s not fed to cattle. She even suggested I incorporate one of Colorado’s nicknames on my review—the “highest state.”

Chocolate Shake and Blackberry Soda

Though my Kim lost our bet, we both won. Grassburger is the real deal, a proud purveyor of 100-percent grass-fed beef procured from Rain Crow Ranch in Missouri, a haven for happy, humanely-raised, healthy cows. Grass-fed beef has all the qualities health-conscious diners value and the flavor burger aficionados crave. Not only does grass-fed beef have a lower fat content than its more heavily marbled grain-fed bovine brethren, it’s got a greater nutritional value and is replete with healthy Omega-3s, antioxidants and vitamins. Unlike grain-fed cattle which are confined to pens and fed a diet rich in corn (much of which is genetically modified), grass-fed cattle spend their lives feasting on hay in winter and fresh grass in the summer before heading to market.

There are five burgers on the Grassburger menu including a black bean burger sure to please vegans and a green chile cheeseburger New Mexicans will love. At the risk of being accused of snarkiness, the green chile is certified New Mexican true and through. It’s not that stuff Coloradoans call green chile. All burgers are served with lettuce, tomato, pickles, raw onion and Grassburger’s signature chipotle mayo on a potato bun. There are several add-ons for diners who wish to build their own burgers. Burgers are available in single- or double-beef sizes and are formed into four-ounce patties with an 80/20 mix of meat and fat.

Double Green Chile Cheeseburger with Fries

Also on the menu is a farm-fresh farm salad constructed from seasonal greens and fresh vegetables and served with your choice of house-made, gluten-free dressings (lemon vinaigrette, tahini, buttermilk ranch). Three “like a grilled cheese, but way better” cheese melts offer a beef-free alternative to burgers. The menu also includes a BLT, a chicken hot dog and a house-made green chile stew made with 100% grass-fed beef and New Mexico green chile. Vanilla and chocolate ice cream shakes and floats are available as are Boylan’s fountain sodas in several handcrafted flavors (the black cherry and root beer are fantastic). Naturally you can’t have burgers without fries. Grassburger offers hand-cut sweet potato or russet potato fries made from potatoes grown in the region.

The green chile cheeseburger is…(drumroll please) outstanding! Order a double to maximize your enjoyment of the grass-fed beef which is griddled to about medium-well and has a discernible char. Though leaner and less marbled than grain-fed beef, the Grassburger is moist, rich and absolutely delicious. We went through so many napkins, it brought to mind Wendy’s “Hot and Juicy” commercials from the 1970s. Any piquancy (and there isn’t much of it) is as much courtesy of the chipotle mayo as it is the green chile. Other ingredients (tomato, lettuce, pickles, raw onion) are fresh and crisp. The potato bun is sweet and moist, a perfect canvas for a superb, high-quality burger. Though hand-cut, the potatoes didn’t do much for us.

Another view of the double green chile cheeseburger

Grassburger is the first expansion market for the Durango-based operation. It’s located at the Heights Village on Montgomery just east of Juan Tabo. It’s a destination all grass-fed beef aficionados and burger lovers should program onto their GPS navigation systems.  Now, if only they served grass-fed steak.

Grassburger
11225 Montgomery, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 200-0571
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 20 March 2016
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Green Chile Cheeseburger, Boylan’s Fountain Sodas, Chocolate Shake, French Fries

Grassburger Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Rustic On The Green – Albuquerque, New Mexico

First Came Rustic: A Divine Food Truck

Pop culture’s most famous exemplar of teenage angst may have been Napoleon Dynamite, a socially awkward daydreamer constantly tormented by bullies. Napoleon frequently lamented his ineptitude: “I don’t even have any good skills. You know, like nunchuck skills, bow hunting skills, computer hacking skills. Girls only want boyfriends who have great skills.” Napoleon’s best friend Pedro, on the other hand, possessed skills Napoleon coveted: “Well, you have a sweet ride. And you’re really good at hooking up with chicks. Plus you’re the only guy at school who has a mustache.”

In a previous review I bemoaned my lack of skills in the manly art of grilling (though not nearly as much as my dear Kim bemoaned my having ruined thousands of dollars of meat, fish, poultry and vegetables). Despite voracious absorption of the collected works of Bill and Cheryl Jamison, America’s foremost grilling and smoking gurus, my grilling skills are probably not even at the equivalent of Napoleon’s nunchuck skills. It got so bad, my saintly Kim confiscated my treasured “kiss the chef” apron (which admittedly I set afire numerous times).

Then Came Rustic on The Green

Unlike Napoleon who doggedly persisted in his indefatigable efforts to develop skills, I’ve finally come to the conclusion that you either have them or you don’t…and if you have skills, you can ply them virtually anywhere. How else can you explain all the virtuosos and prodigies who coax sheer, unbridled deliciousness in the motorized conveyances we not long ago chided as “roach coaches?” The food truck revolution has unleashed upon the fruited plain, a phalanx of peerless purveyors of the gourmet arts. These folks have mad skills.

Rather than envy them, it’s been my multi-year obsession to explore strange new dining opportunities, to seek out new eateries in all forms, to boldly dine where I haven’t dined before. Food trucks are indeed the final…or at least, the next frontier. Several of them undertake a weekly voyage to Talin, the largest international grocer in the Land of Enchantment. There they congregate in pods, converging in the sprawling parking lot every Wednesday at around high noon. Diners seem preternaturally drawn (in a sort of pied piper fashion) to Rustic: A Divine Food Truck. That is until December, 2015, when Rustic metamorphosed from the Alibi’s 2015 “Best of Burque” award-winning best food truck to a “steel and mortar” restaurant now dishing up its burgers at the Green Jeans Farmery.

The Rustic Menu

Now located on the community-oriented commercial plaza constructed entirely with repurposed shipping containers as modular, architectural building blocks, “Rustic: A Divine Food Truck” is now “Rustic On the Green.” The transformation means a larger space–albeit still under 500-square-feet–in which to prepare and serve burgers you’ll love. Rustic On The Green bears more than a passing resemblance to gymnasium concession stand. After placing your order at a counter, you’ll saunter over to your choice of several indoor and outdoor seating areas, none attached to a restaurant (although some seating areas are on the roof of the restaurants they serve). Your burger will be delivered in a few minutes.

1 April 2015: Perhaps it’s divine intervention or (more likely) the enticing aromas emanating from Rustic’s mobile kitchen, but I found myself queuing up with the teeming masses yearning to be fed.  You might think it wouldn’t take much deliberation or time to choose from among only four burgers on the current menu.  You’d be wrong.  Each of the four burgers is constructed from freshly ground chuck, local Fano brioche buns and a creative array of ingredients which ostensibly go very well together.  Burgers are always made to order. The alluring aromas come standard.

The Sacred, Rustic’s version of the green chile cheeseburger

Curse my advancing geriatric progression as I forgot which burger Thomas Molitor, a very discerning diner and good friend of this blog, recommended (it was the Divine Intervention: bleu cheese, caramelized onions, rosemary Balsamic reduction, Romaine lettuce and tomato).  Oh well, that just means I’ll have a Divine Intervention next time.  The Sacred (Wagner Farm’s green chile, American cheese, Romaine lettuce, tomato, onion, mustard), Rustic’s version of a green chile cheeseburger is hardly a consolation prize.  It’s a beefy behemoth with a lot of flavor.  Even though the beef patty is thick and nicely seasoned, it doesn’t obfuscate the piquancy and roasted goodness of the green chile. The Fano brioch bun is hard-pressed to hold in all the moistness without falling apart on your hands. The interplay between the sweet-tangy rosemary Balsamic reduction and the smoky, fiery chile is a mouth-pleasing experience you’ll want to repeat.

11 February 2016: As enjoyable as partaking of food truck fare can be, not every one of Albuquerque’s 310 days of sunshine per year are ideal for ordering and eating outdoors. That makes the experience at the Green Jeans Farmery much better. Indoor seating means you won’t be buffeted around by spring winds, or worse, have dust (a poor condiment) blow onto your burger. Burger deities intended for the Divine Intervention to be enjoyed in optimal conditions so that your focus can solely be on the harmonious mélange of ingredients that make this an award-winning burger. While the combination of bleu cheese and caramelized onions has been done ad-infinitum, Rustic’s Balsamic reduction converts the flavor profile of the caramelized onions from sweet to tangy-sweet, a nuance that works very well. The bleu cheese is sharp and pungent enough to wreck your breath for a while, but offending someone is a risk burgerphiles will take. The Divine Intervention is indeed divinely inspired.

The Divine Intervention (doesn’t apply to really bad photo) with French Fries

Whether mobile or stationary, the talented crew at Rustic On The Green prepares some of the very best burgers in the city. For a pittance more you can enjoy them with sweet potato fries or regular French fries, all of which you can wash down with Mexican Coke or bottled water.

Rustic On The Green
3600 Cutler Avenue, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 944-5849
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 11 April 2016
1st VISIT: 1 April 2015
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 19
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET:The Sacred, French Fries, The Divine Intervention

Rustic On The Green Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Little Red Hamburger Hut – Albuquerque, New Mexico

The Little Red Hamburger Hut on Mountain Road

The Little Red Hamburger Hut on Mountain Road

“I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.”
– J. Wellington Wimpy

Cultural shock!  It’s been oft repeated that the United States and England are two nations separated by a common language.  I had no idea how much the two nations are separated by more than language until 1979 when stationed at Royal Air Force Base Upper Heyford just outside of Oxford, England.  Cultural differences were especially evident in dining experiences.  Back then American fast food restaurants were as scarce in England as fish and chips restaurants were in the United States. McDonald’s, Burger King and Pizza Hut had just starting to make inroads in the megalopolis of London.  In smaller cities, if we wanted an American hamburger, the only option was a chain of England-based hamburger restaurants named Wimpy’s.  During my first visit to Wimpy’s there were many reminders we were not in America.

First, service was on New Mexico time (and I say that with the utmost affection); the concept of fast food was apparently lost on the wait staff.  Secondly, portions were parsimonious.  The burgers weren’t the size of a frisbee the way American servicemen liked them.  Soft drinks were merely eight-ounces, not the barrel-sized cups we were used to.  Worse, we were charged for refills.  Last, and most important, the burgers were–as most English food tended to be at the time–bland and mediocre (or worse).  Give us McDonald’s any day!

Little Red Hamburger Hut Dining Room

As those of you old enough to remember the characters might have surmised, Wimpy’s was named for Popeye’s friend J. Wellington Wimpy, an erudite and manipulative glutton.   Wimpy was, in just about every way,  Popeye’s “foil,” a living contrast to the “strong to the finich” sailor man.  Where Popeye was prone to wild antics and explosive blow-ups, Wimpy was the consummate “straight man.”  While Popeye had the stereotypical, albeit G-rated vocabulary of a sailor from the Bronx, Wimpy was highly intelligent and well educated.  Popeye loved to “eats me spinach” while Wimpy was never seen without a hamburger in hand.

Interestingly, Albuquerque’s Barelas neighborhood has a restaurant staking a claim to being the home of the “original” Wimpy Burger.  Founded in 1922, the Red Ball Cafe which closed in 2015 was a Route 66 mainstay for more than three-quarters of a century.  McDonald’s single-sized Wimpy burgers with cheese are still available on the menu for under a dollar.  The irascible Popeye and his supporting cast of characters festoon the restaurant’s walls while comic strips under glass decorate the table tops.

Satisfaction Guaranteed

In 2008, a restaurant by the name of Wimpy’s was launched just minutes north of Old Town.  Though not affiliated with the Red Ball Cafe, the name engendered obvious confusion among diners (and reportedly some contentiousness between both ownership parties).  Wimpy’s has since been renamed “The Little Red Hamburger Hut,” a name that just fits (though regulars still call it “Wimpy’s.”  It is situated on the intersection of Mountain Road and Sawmill, which back in 1900 was considered beyond the Albuquerque city limits.  In the early 1900s a giant sawmill operated in the area and many workers built adobe and/or frame homes in the area.  There were also a couple of grocery stores serving the little community as well.  I believe Wimpy’s is located in one of those.

The timeworn edifice has charm to spare.  The solidity of distressed oak plank flooring heavily trod upon by generations speaks to the quality of construction.  On the corner of the main dining room stands a hand-painted fireplace, the symbol of hospitality and warmth.  The ceiling is bamboo matting (which in New Mexico is a multi-purpose utility used as flooring, ceiling and even fencing).  The Little Red Hamburger Hut provides diners with a nostalgic trip back to a carefree, more innocent time before the infestation of chain restaurants.  Even if you’re not old enough to remember it, you’ll appreciate the sundry bric a brac from the Fabulous Fifties and Swinging Sixties.

A Large Little Red with French Fries

A Large Little Red with French Fries

Diners queue up before the restaurant opens so they’re first in line to place their order in a room adjacent to the main dining room. The menu enjoys you to “enjoy New Mexico’s famous burgers.”  Burgers are the primary draw here, but not just your standard, conventional burgers on a bun.  Burger options start with the “Little Red” which you can order in small, medium or large sizes.  The Little Red is available with either red or green chile (both complementary as well as is cheese).   A combo meal includes fries and a large (barrel-sized) beverage of your choice with free refills. You can also have your burger on a tortilla.  There’s even taco burgers and hot dog burgers which are just what their names indicate they are.

Unless you specify otherwise, the burgers are cooked well done, but as you’ll happily realize, that doesn’t mean charred to a desiccated mess.  Though the beef patties are fresh and delicious, they aren’t as juicy as burgers done to a lesser degree of “doneness.”  It’s a likelihood that their desiccation may also be the result of the heinous spatula press (for which cooks should be shot).  The burgers are hand-formed each morning from freshly ground beef.  They’re available in medium (quarter-pound) and large sizes.    It’s very evident that freshness is a hallmark of the burgers and that’s all ingredients, not just the beef.  All produce is purchased daily to ensure the optimal freshness and flavor.

The Little Red Tortilla Burger fully dressed

14 March 2010: The Little Red is constructed much like other burgers in town–lettuce, onion, tomato, cheese, green chile–but like any classic structure, it’s built very well and it’s built to order–to your exacting specifications with your satisfaction guaranteed.  The buns are lightly toasted, the beef is wonderfully seasoned and hand-pressed into a thick patty, the ingredients are fresh and the green chile (spelled “chili” throughout the menu) is about medium on the piquancy scale.  It takes just a bit longer (not quite English time) but it’s worth the wait.

3 September 2010: A New Mexico alternative to the Little Red may one-up its more popular brethren between buns. That alternative would be the tortilla burger, a large tortilla dressed any way you want it.  Impressively, the beef–a large patty cut in half — spans nearly the entire length and breadth of the tortilla.  It’s best fully dressed–green chile, tomatoes, onions, lettuce and cheese and is available in small, medium and large sizes.

Hot Dog Burger with Fries

3 February 2016: The Little Red Hamburger Hut solves the dilemma as to what you should have when both a hamburger and a hot dog sound good but you don’t have the funds for both.  By combining a hot dog within a burger, you have the best of both worlds.  The hot dog burger special (medium burger, 20-ounce beverage and fries) is proof that hot dogs and burgers can coexist in harmonious deliciousness under the same canvas.  That canvas is a bun that’s probably not much more than three-inches around.  When ingredients are piled on, the burger is nearly that tall, too.  The buns are hard-pressed to hold in all the ingredients and will probably fall apart after a few bites, so make sure to have plenty of napkins because you might be eating with your hands.

3 September 2010: New Mexico’s contribution to Health.com’s “50 Fattiest Foods,” a state-by-state hall of infamy, was our ubiquitous Frito pie.  The version low-lighted in the article contained a pants-popping 46 grams of fat and 14 grams of saturated fat.  Still, it’s hard to resist the Land of Enchantment’s most egregious fat-offender, especially since it looks like a healthy lettuce, tomato, cheese and onion salad when it’s delivered to other tables.  Underneath the salad ingredients, however, is a mound of ground beef covered in chile and cheese surrounded by Frito’s corn chips.  The Little Red Hamburger Hut crafts a classic New Mexican Frito pie.  The chile is likely Bueno brand red chile, a made in New Mexico chile which means it’s good and has a piquant bite without no canned or cumin aftertaste.  The chile is slathered on generously.

A large Frito pie

The fries are strictly out-of-the-bag and nothing special other than they’re served steamy and hot.  It takes a lot of ketchup and a lot of salt to make them palatable, but that’s the only downer to a meal that’s otherwise quite memorable.

The Little Red Hamburger Hut is the antithesis of the Wimpy’s chains in England. It’s an excellent purveyor of New Mexico’s green chile cheeseburger and one of the friendliest restaurants in the Duke City.

Little Red Hamburger Hut
1501 Mountain Road, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 304-1819
Web Site| Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 3 February 2016
1st VISIT: 14 March 2009
# of VISITS: 3
RATING: 19
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Large Little Red’s Combo, Large Tortilla Burger, Large Frito Pie, Hot Dog Burger

Little Red Hamburger Hut Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

A & B Drive In – Truth or Consequences, New Mexico

A&B Drive in in Truth or Consequences

Michael Newman, the charismatic and ebullient host of New Mexico True Television and Melinda Frame, the show’s brilliant producer-director have the very best jobs in the world.  Though not expressly stated, their true job titles should be “Ambassadors for the Great State of New Mexico” because that’s what they really are.  Every Sunday (8:30AM on KOB-TV Channel 4), they showcase the Land of Enchantment in all its magnificent splendor and incomparable beauty.  With the flair of gifted raconteurs, they know just when narration is necessary and when it’s best to let spectacular backdrops tell the story.  New Mexico True’s thematic episodes truly feed the soul and capture the imagination.

In Season 3 (Episode 4: El Camino Real Part I), the New Mexico True cast (really just Michael) and crew  spent time in Truth or Consequences, but saved any time they may have spent indulging in the city’s salubrious thermal waters (reputed to cure “anything that ails you”) for another episode.  Because New Mexico True also celebrates the Land of Enchantment’s bold flavors and culinary culture, the focus of the T or C segment was on one of the city’s most popular eateries.  Within easy walking district of the spas and bathhouses, the A & B Drive-In is not to be missed.

Place your Order at the Window

If you’re of the mind that drive-ins are anachronisms, chronological misplacements in a time to which they don’t belong, you haven’t been to the A & B at meal time.  That’s when you’ll find motorized conveyances of all types and sizes parked under metal canopies.  The experience is described by one Yelp reviewer as right out of American Graffiti, the coming-of-age movie in which teens spent much of their free time at a drive-in similar to A & B.  After you park your vehicle, you’ll walk up to a window at which you’ll place your order (the menu takes up an entire window panel) then you’ll wait for your name to be called.  You can either eat in your vehicle or on one of the picnic tables provided.

When Michael walked up to the window, he ordered a green chile cheeseburger and fries.  In his warm, casual style, he also did much of my research for me, discovering that the drive-in was named for Anthony (A) and Barbara (B), offspring of the drive-ins founders.  The drive-in was started because the siblings’ mother’s loves to cook.  Her dream was to feed her guests and have them enjoy their experience.  In that regard, the A & B is a dream-come-true.  The drive-in remains a family-owned, family-operated venture.

Green Apple Hawaiian Shaved Ice and Chocolate Shake

Though we didn’t get to meet Barbara as Michael did, the employee taking our order shared in our enthusiasm for New Mexico True having highlighted the drive-in.  She recommended the New Mexican food (burritos, tacos, tostadas, flautas, enchiladas, etc.), all of which are prepared with cumin.  The menu also includes several burgers, hot dogs, sandwiches and even gizzards.  Likely because of balmy summer temperatures, Hawaiian shaved ice is also featured fare.

The Hawaiian shaved ice (green apple) is a coarse, granular ice concoction texturally similar to a snow cone.  Similar to a snow cone, much of the “flavoring” tends to settle near the bottom which means chewing on rather flavorless ice for a while.  Much better is the chocolate shake which can be made to your exacting specifications for thickness.  It’s a chocolaty delight made with real (and really cold) ice cream.

Double Green Chile Cheeseburger with Fries

For the most part, I live vicariously through Michael whose daring exploits on New Mexico True show a much more fit, athletic and daring man than this geriatrically advanced blogger.  Though I can’t hope to duplicate his exploits in biking, running and square-dancing, I, as he did, ordered a double meat green chile cheeseburger at A & B.  You know it’s going to be a great burger when thick beef patties extend beyond the five-inch buns and when those buns practically collapse when you squash the burger down so you can get it in your mouth.  This is an excellent burger–moist, well-seasoned, dressed with fresh ingredients and skyscraper tall.  If we didn’t know better, we might have thought we were in Socorro county, New Mexico’s epicenter for behemoth burgers.

A & B’s version of a green chile Philly is a good one.  It could be a great one with a better sandwich roll.  The chopped steak, peppers and green chile work very well together, but they’re nestled in a bread home that just doesn’t cut it.  Dry and chewy, it detracts from ingredients that are otherwise moist and delicious.  My Kim took to extricating the ingredients from the bread with a fork and cutting up the bread for some birds nearby.

Green Chile Philly

The A & B Drive-In remains open longer during the day than other restaurants in Truth or Consequences, but that doesn’t account for its popularity.  It’s a solid dining option with genuinely good food and one of the best green chile cheeseburgers in southern New Mexico.

A & B Drive In
211 North Broadway Street
Truth or Consequences, New Mexico
(575) 894-9294
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 21 December 2015
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Double Meat Green Chile Cheeseburger, Green Chile Philly, Chocolate Shake

A & B Drive In Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Yo Mama’s Grill – Socorro, New Mexico

Yo Mama’s Grill in Socorro

Such was my bumpkinly naivete that my virgin ears weren’t subjected to a “yo mama” joke until shortly after my 19th birthday.  The site was the Non-Commissioned Officer’s club at Royal Air Force (RAF) Upper Heyford in England.  The event was an irreverent ninety-minute show featuring brazen comedian Redd Foxx whose explicit brand of humor both shocked and thrilled the American-culture-starved audience.   Foxx’s repertoire included lampooning nearly every ethnic group in the audience, invective-laden raunchiness that would make a stripper blush and a unique take on virtually every social taboo of the time.  It was truly the antithesis of political correctness.  Still, it was the “yo mama” jokes that shocked me most.  As an unabashed mama’s boy, it rankled me that anyone would mock the sacred institution of motherhood

Subsequent research revealed that “yo mama” jokes have been fashionable almost since time immemorial.   Several sources confirm that the oldest “yo mama” joke is approximately 3,500 years old.  The progenitor to Redd Foxx was a student in ancient Babylon who inscribed six riddles on a tablet.  Although the riddles lose much in translation, one of them certainly poked fun at the promiscuous proclivities of someone’s mother.  After Stephen Colbert failed to decipher it, I consulted my friend Schuyler, an amateur anthropologist,  for his interpretation.  His analysis: “in terms of syntax and clarity it resembles some of Bob of the Village People’s comments on this blog.  Isn’t Bob of Babble-on-and-on-ian descent?”

Harvester Burger with Fries

It wasn’t a “yo mama” joke my friend Carlos shared when recommending a relatively new restaurant in Socorro.  He swore Yo Mama was the real thing, as good a restaurant as you’ll find in Socorro county which has in recent years become the domicile of delicious burgers.  Yelp readers gave it mostly four and five (out of five) stars.  As for the name, owners Diedra and Jason Vinson believe “the name just feels good,” and that “you can’t stay angry when you say ‘Let’s go eat at Yo Mama’s.”  The Vinsons opened Yo Mama’s Grill in July, 2015, the culmination of nearly two decades working toward the goal of owning their own restaurant.

Situated on heavily-trafficked California Street, Yo Mama’s Grill is just a mile off Interstate 25 and operates out of the Economy Inn.  Open for lunch and dinner, it features a rather ambitious menu that belies any stereotype you might have about a restaurant named Yo Mama’s.  In addition to burgers and sandwiches, the menu offers several steaks, all hand-cut in-house from USDA choice aged beef.  A number of seafood and chicken dishes also festoon the menu along with soups, salads and a Mud Pie (Oreo cookie crust, coffee ice cream, and fudge topping topped with whipped cream and toasted almonds) reputed to be worth the drive from Albuquerque.

Patty Melt

All burgers are served with your choice of housemade potato chips or French fries, and are adorned with lettuce, tomato, pickle, and onion. For a pittance you can add cheese, bacon, green chile, avocado, onions or mushrooms.  Constructed with an eight-ounce beef patty, they’re the type of burgers that in a short time have made Yo Mama’s Grill a local favorite and in time, perhaps a dining destination.  The Harvester Burger (queso, grilled onions, mushrooms, and bacon) certainly warrants a visit or ten.  Though we’ve had mushroom as a topping on many burgers, none have been as suffused with umami, that savory taste sensation that ingratiates itself upon taste buds.  In combination with queso, grilled onions and bacon, this is one of the most memorable burgers we shared in 2015. 

My Kim will opt for a patty melt over a burger seven times out of ten, but that’s about the ratio of her disappointment with the patty melts she’s ordered.  Yo mama’s version stacks up with the best she’s had in New Mexico.  This patty melt (hamburger, sautéed onions, mushrooms, bacon, and Swiss cheese served on toasted rye bread) doesn’t just leave well enough alone.  With the addition of mushrooms and bacon, it takes a standard patty melt and elevates it to rarefied status.  The lightly toasted light rye bread is the perfect canvas for a genuinely terrific patty melt.  The housemade potato chips are a wonderful accompaniment, much better than the blase fries. 

Redd Foxx would probably not have found anything disparaging to say about Yo Mama’s Grill. He would have been too busy enjoying his meal.

Yo Mama’s Grill
400 California Street
Socorro, New Mexico
(575) 838-3962
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 20 December 2015
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Harvester Burger, Patty Melt, Potato Chips

Yo Mama's Grill Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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