Update: In a twist of cruel irony, the Travel Channel’s May 13th airing of the Burger Land program celebrating the Bobcat Bite debuted just a few days after the announcement that the world-famous Bobcat Bite as we all know and love it will be forever changed. An official statement from Bobcat Bite, issued on May 9th, announced the restaurant renowned for its outstanding green chile cheeseburger would shutter its doors in June, 2013. The press release read: After 12 years, Bonnie and John Eckre will serve their last famous Bobcat Bite burger at the Old Las Vegas Highway location on June 9. They will be vacating the premises June 14th at the demand of the building’s owners, the Panzer family.”
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 . An avowed burger lover, he wasn’t necessarily trying to find and rank America’s best burgers per se. Instead, he feted eight restaurants in continuous operation for 40-plus years whose menus featured burgers made from fresh meat, not frozen, for those 40 years. One of the eight restaurants featured was Santa Fe’s own Bobcat Bite.
In his GQ magazine article “The 20 Hamburgers You Must Eat Before You Die,” Alan Richman was more definitive in rating America’s best burgers. Taking the measure of 162 burgers across the country, Richman’s goal was to find “the best damned assemblage of ground beef and buns this country serves up.” He rated the Bobcat Bite the 12th best burger in America (but not the best burger in New Mexico; that honor went to the Buckhorn Tavern in San Antonio).
In 2007, the Food Network aired a program called “Top American Restaurants – Bon Appetit Picks the Best” in which the editors of Bon Apetit magazine selected the “top places in this country to enjoy the ultimate incarnations of iconic American cuisine.” Among the iconic American cuisine feted were hamburgers. This category was won by Santa Fe’s Bobcat Bite–to the surprise of absolutely no one who has ever dined at this Santa Fe area treasure.
That’s high praise indeed, but accolades are nothing new for this Lilliputian restaurant (seating for only 26 patrons) which was also featured in March, 2000 edition of New Mexico magazine and, as previously mentioned, is held in high esteem by Michael and Jane Stern of Gourmet magazine and Roadfood.com. In their terrific 2009 tome 500 Things To Eat Before It’s Too Late, the Sterns rated the Bobcat Bite number one on their list of “must-eat” green chile cheeseburgers. They wrote, “The meat in this extraordinary GCCB is extraordinarily tasty–high-quality beef, a full inch thick complemented but not overwhelmed by chile that is more tangy than hot.”
When it comes to burgers, it’s all about the beef and that’s where Bobcat Bite has the edge over the competition. The owners still grind their beef daily on the premises, using only hormone-free chuck shoulder and chuck tenders then forming the patties by hand, careful to control fat content. The 50-year old cast iron grill is wonderfully seasoned so that each burger is prepared with remarkable consistency.
Each burger is a thick and juicy 9.5 ounce slab of beautiful beef served with an American and Swiss cheese blend, green chile, lettuce and tomato. Mustard and ketchup are available on your table and you can ask for mayonnaise and sliced (or even better, grilled) onion if you’d like. If you do opt to use a condiment on your burger, use it sparingly because it’s the beef that may bring tears of joy to your eyes. The only steak in New Mexico even comparable to the utterly erotic deliciousness of the coarse ground beef patty at the Bobcat Bite is the peppery elk tenderloin at Geronimo.
It takes two hands to handle the gigantic green chile cheeseburger, but you could use a third hand to wipe your mouth. I can palm a basketball easily, but as the photo above attests, my right meathook is challenged to hold the green chile cheeseburger at the Bobcat Bite. At medium, this burger is pink through and through; it’s as juicy a burger as you’ll find anywhere (easily a five napkin burger) with beef being the prevalent flavor. It’s an absolutely delicious beef which you can eat by itself; even mustard and ketchup might be considered desecration.
The restaurant goes through 80 pounds of green chile per week and it’s not the canned green chile variety other dining establishments serve. That being said, the green chile doesn’t have much of, if any, bite. It could be because it’s buried under a blanket of cheese which tops the inch-thick hamburger patty. The lack of piquancy is the sole factor preventing an even higher rating for these treasures.
When I introduced my friend roastmaster nonpareil Bill Resnik to the Bobcat Bite, what he couldn’t get over is just how wonderful the restaurant smells. He told owner Bonnie Eckre (pictured) that she could make a million dollars if she could bottle the aroma of her sizzling burgers then suggested that aroma would make a great aftershave. It would leave men perpetually hungry.
While the Bobcat’s bounteous burgers are best known, the restaurant also serves excellent steak. About the prime ribeye steak, Michael Stern says, “there is none more delicious between Amarillo and L.A.” Even better than the ribeye is the 10-ounce New York strip steak which is perfectly seasoned with salt, pepper and garlic and prepared exactly to your specifications.
Burgers and steak aren’t the restaurant’s sole entrees. The menu also serves pork chops, a grilled chicken sandwich and a few other items, but most people order the burgers or steak.
There isn’t much on the menu (a tossed salad and coleslaw) for vegetarians, but the coleslaw is as good as it comes. Instead of the overly sweet salad dressing or mayo you’ll find on most coleslaw, the Bobcat Bite uses a tart, vinegary dressing. It’s not acidic enough to pucker your lips, but it is tangy and delicious with flecks of green pepper and very finely chopped slaw.
During winter months, the Bobcat rotates–between a New Mexico style green and a Texas style red–a bowl of chile (spelled New Mexico style). The Texas style red chile includes beans, ground beef and tomato and is almost soup-like. In fact, to thicken the sauce, you can add crackers and have a very good Texas chile soup (although Texans can’t spell and would call it “chili.”)
The Bobcat Bite sits on a 100 acre ranch which used to be a working quarter horse ranch. Bobcats used to sit and perch on the restaurant’s roof and would come down from the mountains to get fed scraps tossed out the back door. No doubt that even the scraps at this wonderful little restaurant taste pretty good.
420 Old Las Vegas Highway
Santa Fe, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 11 July 2012
# OF VISITS: 5
BEST BET: Green Chile Cheeseburger, Ribeye Steak, New York Steak, Potato Salad, Coleslaw