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

Burger Boy – Cedar Crest, New Mexico

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

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

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

Green Chile Bill

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

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

Exterior mural depicting the legendary Green Chili Bill

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

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

The double meat green chile cheeseburger with Fries

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

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

Pancakes with Chocolate Shake

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

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

Posole with a tortilla

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

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

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

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

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

Patty Melt with Potato Chips

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

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

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

Burger Boy
12035 NM-14 N
Cedar Crest, New Mexico
(505) 281-3949
LATEST VISIT: 6 September 2015
# OF VISITS: 6
RATING: 21
COST: $
BEST BET: Green Chile Cheeseburger, Breakfast Burrito, Chocolate Shake, Paul Bunyan Breakfast, Posole, Patty Melt,

Burger Boy on Urbanspoon

300 Club Bar & Grill – Albuquerque, New Mexico

The 300 Club at Skidmore's Holiday Bowl in Albuquerque

The 300 Club at Skidmore’s Holiday Bowl in Albuquerque

300!  In the parlance of the bowler, it signifies absolute perfection, twelve consecutive strikes.  According to some trusted foodies, the 300 Club Bar & Grill in Albuquerque’s Skidmore’s Holiday Bowl on Lomas just east of San Pedro serves a mean green chile cheeseburger, a 12-strike masterpiece, a perfect 300.  This is a burger so good, it was one of the twenty contestants for the inaugural Governor’s Green Chile Cheeseburger Challenge in 2009.

We all know the stereotypes about bowling alley food.  When it comes to food, most bowling alleys strike out.  Ardent keglers are subjected to such catastrophic “cuisine” as perpetually rotating hot dogs seared to a leathery sheen under a heat lamp inferno, soppy messes of nachos bathed in gloppy processed cheese topped with gelatinous jalapeños and greasy onion rings with the texture of fried rubber bands and as oily as well-slicked lanes.  Getting something edible at most bowling alleys is as tough as picking up a seven-ten split.

The 300 Club

The 300 Club, a stylish eatery in a bowling alley

The fact that the 300 Club Bar & Grill has a separate entrance from the rest of the bowling alley is a promising sign.  That promise is bolstered by its utterly charming sports bar ambiance which is wholly unlike the greasy, divey stereotype affixed in my mind about bowling alley dining (obviously when I’m not thinking about the now defunct Ezra’s Place).  A wall-mounted, flat screen high-definition television tuned to ESPN is a fixture on one wall while smaller televisions, also tuned to Sports programming are strategically placed for optimal viewing no matter where you’re seated.  Seating–whether along the bar or in the booths along the wall–is comfortable and spacious.

On November 20th, 2009, the 300 Club Bar & Grill celebrated the grand opening of the HB Extreme Vodka Venue.  As Albuquerque’s sole Vodka bar, the Venue promises over 50 premium Vodkas along with a full selection of liquors, liqueurs and draft and bottled beers.  If you don’t partake of adult beverages, you can still have a great dining experience either for a quick breakfast, relaxing lunch away from the office or a fun night out with friends and family.

Popcorn

The menu is surprisingly ambitious–as daring as that of many restaurants.  The breakfast menu includes many traditional New Mexico breakfast favorites, most laced with the chile some of us need to truly wake up everyday.  The lunch menu is also interwoven with New Mexican entrees such as burritos, tacos as well as sandwiches burgers and even pizza.  Burger selections include some non-conventional but utterly New Mexican choices as green chile cheeseburgers enveloped by a flour tortilla.   A weekly special which just be fried chicken with all the trimmings or pork chops is also available.

18 November 2009: Salsa and chips are always a great way to start any meal, especially when the chips are made to order.  Those chips arrive at your table still warm to the touch.  They cool off quickly as you scoop up the fresh tomato. onion and jalapeno based salsa of medium piquancy.  The salsa reminded me a bit of Pace Picante Sauce without the characteristic acerbic qualities of the Texas based bottled salsa.  It has good pronouncements of piquancy, freshness and flavor.  If you don’t order an appetizer such as the salsa and chips, you can also ask for a bowl of popcorn.

Chips & Salsa at the 300 Club

Chips & Salsa at the 300 Club

18 November 2009: The green chile cheeseburger is adorned with large leaf lettuce, red onion and a sole red tomato atop grilled buns.  The beef patty is uniform in size and texture, a usually obvious sign of pre-packaged, frozen beef.  Though I would have preferred fresh, hand-formed beef, there are many green chile cheeseburgers throughout the Land of Enchantment using frozen beef patties from Sam’s, the Price Club or others of that ilk.

The green chile is blanketed by smoldering, bright orange cheese so hot that the cheese-chile amalgam seems to be one entity.  The green chile is neither chopped nor diced, but pureed.  It drips and drizzles onto the plate like a vibrant, verdant-orange lava flow.  It’s hot on the tongue both in terms of heat and piquancy.  The chile is not only fulsome in flavor, but has the tongue-tingling qualities of very good chile.  This is the type of chile than can top everything, but can’t be topped.  I imagine the judges at the Governor’s Challenge enjoyed this burger and its chile very much.

Green Chile Cheeseburger at the 300 Club

Green Chile Cheeseburger at the 300 Club

The accompanying French fries are also quite good.  Unlike the flaccid and boring French fries normally served with our sacrosanct green chile cheeseburger, these are stiff as if twice-fried and well-seasoned.  Burgers and fries make for an excellent marriage, particularly when both are excellent in their own right as these are. 

27 August 2015: Among chefs, the practice of deconstructing dishes is a popular technique, especially in gourmet restaurants and cooking competitions.  The term “deconstructed dish” basically means taking foods normally combined, changing their form then plating them together in different ways.  It’s not just about taking a dish apart, but recombining its elements.  It might be a stretch to call the 300 Club Grill’s burrito in a bowl a deconstructed dish, but it is a different and delicious way to present and serve a New Mexico favorite. 

Burrito In A Bowl

As the name implies, this dish is essentially an unwrapped burrito or rather its contents (beef or chicken layered with beans, red or green chile topped with shredded cheese and garnish)  are served on a plate with a tortilla. It could be argued that all it would take to make this a Frito pie is a few Frito’s corn chips, but why argue when you could enjoy every morsel of a terrific dish. The green chile shines on this “deconstructed” bowl of deliciousness.

If you’ve needed an excuse to explore the Land of Enchantment, start with New Mexico’s Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail which promises an excellent meal along the highways and byways of the most beauteous of America’s fifty states.  For Duke City sojourners, the 300 Club Bar & Grill is a good place to start.

The 300 Club Bar & Grill
Skidmore’s Holiday Bowl
7515 Lomas, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 268-3308
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 27 August 2015
1st VISIT: 18 November 2009
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 18
COST: $
BEST BET: Green Chile Cheeseburger, French Fries, Chips & Salsa, Burrito In A Bowl, Popcorn

300 Club Grill Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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