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Magdalena Cafe – Magdalena, New Mexico

The Magdalena Cafe and Steakhouse

In 1863 during the height of the Civil War, soldiers on leave from Fort Craig staked claims to silver strikes in the Magdalena Mountains.  Within a few years, the boom towns of Kelly and Magdalena had sprung up, eventually achieving a population surpassing even Socorro, the county seat.  The first veins of metal ore given up by the rocky promontories were lead and zinc, but ultimately silver became the principal source of wealth. 

With the arrival of the railroad in 1884, Magdalena became a rowdy frontier mining town and one of the Southwest’s largest cattle shipping centers with its stockyards processing thousands of cattle and sheep.  Magdalena became known as the “Trails End” because the spur line which originated in Socorro had its terminus in the town named for the likeness of Mary Magdalene on a nearby slope.  The railroad transported cattle, sheep, wool, timber and wool.  It also transported carloads of ore to a smelter outside of Socorro.

Dining Room at the Magdalena Cafe and Steakhouse

No vestiges of the railroad remain, but it’s easy to imagine how spectacular the 20 meandering miles from Socorro to Magdalena must have been by train.  That’s because Highway 60 approximates the route of the railroad line nicknamed “the elevator” because it climbed two-thousand feet in roughly sixteen miles.  Highway 60 snakes its way past dramatic gorges, impressive boulders and large cattle ranches to emerge on the plains outside Magdalena.  It’s a magnificent drive. 

Today, instead of metalliferous lodes, Magdalena’s principal source of richness just may be its deep appreciation of its history and traditions.  Several historic buildings–including the railroad depot which has been repurposed as the town’s city hall and library–have survived, some serving as homes to active businesses or private homes.  Every year on the second weekend of July, Magdalena hosts its “Old Timers Reunion,” a three-day event celebrating the “good ole days” with such events as a rodeo, parade, street dance, arts and crafts and barbecue.

Green Chile Cheeseburger with Fries

Situated roughly at the geographical center of Socorro County, Magdalena can also boast of a presence on the prestigious New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail, a distinction the Magdalena Cafe shares with two other Socorro county purveyors of the Land of Enchantment’s sacrosanct sandwich.  Magdalena is little more than half an hour away from San Antonio, New Mexico, the home of the world-famous Owl Cafe and the nearly-as-famous Buckhorn Tavern. but its green chile cheeseburger has yet to achieve the fame of its burger brethren.  Attribute that to the perception that Magdalena an “out-of-the-way” and “off-the-beaten path” destination. 

Adventurous diners who do trek to Magdalena will be rewarded with a spectacular drive to a beautiful frontier town which embraces its history and embodies hospitality.  They’ll also discover a green chile cheeseburger which some say rivals its Socorro county counterparts for sheer deliciousness.  The Magdalena Cafe sits on Main Street, not quite a block south of Highway 60.  Though it didn’t launch until 1986, the building housing the Cafe dates from the turn of the twentieth century.

Ground Beef Tacos

While its full appellation is Magdalena Cafe & Steakhouse, the Cafe has somewhat abbreviated serving hours with very distinct breakfast, lunch and dinner menus.  Dinner is when steak makes it onto the menu, but dinner is served only on Thursday and Friday nights from 5PM to 7PM.  Breakfast and lunch are served Monday through Saturday from 7AM to 1:30PM.   The menus offer a hearty repast befitting all hungry and weary road-warriors. It includes burgers, hot sandwiches, milk shakes, steaks, homemade pies and so much more. 

The green chile cheeseburger is nearly the size of one of the Very Large Array’s (only 24 miles away) antennas and unlike some burgers, you won’t need a radio astronomy observatory to find the beef.  The hand-formed ground beef patty extends beyond the six-inch buns and probably weighs in at eight or nine ounces.  At medium-well, it’s still got plenty of juices and flavor.  The green chile is sourced from Sichler Farms during chile harvesting season. It’s a very nicely roasted chile with a discernible, but not overpowering, bite. Standard toppings include lettuce, tomatoes, pickles and onions.   This five-napkin burger takes a backseat to no other burger, not even its neighbors to the east.  It’s a top tier green chile cheeseburger in its own right…and as if a behemoth burger isn’t enough, an order of French fries is nearly the size of a cord of wood.

Banana Split Pie

After Bob of the Village People commented about a taco shell “with a 1/2 inch flat bottom so Mamacitas could easily sit it on the food prep board to easily fill it,” it dawned on me that I’d never had such a hard-shelled travesty (largely because my preference is for soft-shelled tacos and hard-shelled tacos were invented by Taco Bell).  By sheer coincidence, an a la carte order of two tacos at the Magdalena Cafe was constructed from the flat-bottom shells Bob mentioned.  The flat-bottom not only makes filling these tacos easier, it allows for more filling.  In this case, a generous amount of seasoned ground beef, lettuce, chopped tomatoes and shredded cheese.   As hard-shelled tacos go, these were quite good, especially when salsa is applied.

Not only is the Magdalena Cafe within easy driving distance of New Mexico’s green chile cheeseburger Mecca, it’s less than an hour from the Land of Enchantment’s fabled Pie Town.  If the New Mexico Tourism Department ever decides to create a “Pie Trail,” the Magdalena Cafe belongs among the pantheon of peerless pies.  An apple pie is featured fare daily, but the menu also includes a mouthwatering selection of fruit and non-fruit fresh-baked goodness.  My request for my server to “surprise me” actualized with a slice of banana split pie.  That’s banana split, not banana cream.  Whatever image you might be contriving as to what this pie  might be will fall shortAtop a perfectly crumbly crust is a layer of sliced bananas topped with a luscious chocolate filling and whipped cream. It’ll make a convert out of you.

The Magdalena Cafe is the quintessential small town cafe in a small town every New Mexican should visit at least once (though a return trip is ensured after one visit and one meal).

Magdalena Cafe
109 Main Street
Magdalena, New Mexico
(575) 854-2696
LATEST VISIT: 9 July 2014
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Green Chile Cheeseburger, French Fries, Ground Beef Tacos, Banana Split Pie, Lemonade

Magdalena Cafe on Urbanspoon

Bibo Bar & Grille – Bibo, New Mexico

Bibo Bar & Grille in Cibola County

There’s an old Lebanese proverb that says, “some men build a wine cellar after only finding one grape.” That proverb aptly describes the many rags to riches success stories among Lebanese immigrants to the Land of Enchantment, primarily to our state’s northern villages. Some of New Mexico’s most prominent names in business–Maloof, Bellamah, Hanosh, Ghattas, Sahd and others–embody the spirit of that proverb.

The progenitors of many of New Mexico’s Lebanese immigrants left Lebanon during the repressive Ottoman Empire, the main exodus occurring in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Escaping persecution and poverty, some arrived with nothing but aspirations, dreams and hopes. The frontier territory of New Mexico was replete with opportunity (and the prospect of freedom) for them.

The bar at Bibo Bar & Grille

Like their Phoenician forefathers had done, many of them began as door-to-door peddlers, many eventually launching trading posts or general stores in the small villages in which they settled. The “Arabes” as they are sometimes still called by Hispanics were hard workers, shrewd businessmen, community-minded and family-oriented. They fit right in with the tight-knit Hispanic communities which shared similar values–so much so that Los Arabes of New Mexico, a wonderful book written by Monika Ghattas  is subtitled Compadres From a Distant Land

In the vernacular and tradition of Hispanic Northern New Mexico, few–if any–titles were held in such esteem and reverence by elder generations as “compadre” (male) and “comadre” (female).  In his Dictionary of New Mexico & Southern Colorado Spanish, Ruben Cobos defines a compadre as a “ritual co-parent; a term by which godparents address the father of their godchild and by which the child’s parents address the godfather.”  That’s the esteem to which many of the Arabes were…and still are held today.

Bibo Bar & Grille Dining Room

On January 1st, 1913, a mature beyond his 22 years of age Arabe named Joseph Hanosh opened the Hanosh Brothers Trading Post in the small village of Bibo, New Mexico.  Most of his customers were either Native Americans from nearby pueblos and Spanish descendents.  Joseph befriended many of his neighbors, joining in holiday festivities and celebrations as well as day-to-day activities.  He ran the operation until 1946 when his daughter and son-in-law purchased the mercantile in which they operated a grocery store  on one side and a bar on the other.  As time went by, the bar became the focal point of the family business.

Today the Bibo Bar & Grille is owned and operated by Joseph’s grandson Eddie Michael who also serves as Cibola County Commission Chairman.  Surmounting a rough patch after the nearby uranium mine’s closure, the Bibo Bar has become a popular Cibola County destination frequented by motorcycle and car clubs from throughout the north.  At least some of that can be credited to the food prepared and served on the premises.  

Green Chile Cheeseburger and a mountain of French Fries

The green chile cheeseburger, in particular, warrants acclaim and was placed on the New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail in both 2009 and 2011.  My first visit was prompted by an email from Randall, one of the most passionate commentators on this blog.  Randall made the audacious claim that Bibo’s green chile cheeseburger is even better than the one served at the 66 Pit Stop, home of the Laguna Burger.   Randall might just be right!

The green chile cheeseburger is a beefy behemoth–half a pound of beef, lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle, cheese and green chile with mushrooms and bacon available for a bit more.  The beef patty is hand-formed and extends beyond the six-inch buns.  It’s a thick patty prepared at not quite medium-well with enough juiciness to warrant at least three napkins and so much deliciousness, it may make you swoon.  The sesame seed buns aren’t quite up to the task of holding in all the contents of this burger, but on the other hand, at least you’re not choking down more bread than beef.  The green chile (spelled “chili” on the menu) is pleasantly piquant.  It’s an outstanding green chile cheeseburger and it’s served with a mountain of French fries.

The  menu isn’t a one-trick-pony, featuring everything from grilled chicken sandwiches to Ribeye or New York Strip with your choice of corn-on-the-cob, fries or onion rings and Texas toast.  Small and large enchilada casseroles are available with a 24 hour advance notice.  You can belly up to the charming bar and get to know the friendly staff  or you can enjoy the black-and-white photographs festooning the dining room’s walls.  Beverages include a number of flavored teas as well as canned sodas, including root beer, cream soda and even RC cola.

It’s entirely possible many readers have never heard of Bibo, New Mexico. Bibo can be reached by taking exit 114 off I-40 then heading 11 miles north of Old Laguna on Highway 279. The scenery along the route is spectacular…and so is the green chile cheeseburger.

Bibo Bar & Grille
Mile Marker 11 Highway 279
Bibo, New Mexico
(505) 552-9428
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 11 June 2014
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Green Chile Cheeseburger, Fries, RC Cola

Bibo Bar & Grille on Urbanspoon

Five Star Burgers – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Five Star Burgers in Albuquerque

On Friday, March 19th, 2010 and to surprisingly little fanfare, a locally owned and operated burger restaurant by the name of Five Star Burgers launched in Albuquerque’s North Towne Plaza at Academy and Wyoming.  Its opening predated by about a week, the launch of a similarly named burger establishment, an east coast based interloper named Five Guys which has exploded across the country with nearly 600 locations in 39 states.  The latter opening was greeted with ruffles and flourishes, pomp and circumstance and throngs of curiosity-seekers and “chain gangs.”

Despite the relative lack of hype and brouhaha, Five Star Burgers won’t play second-fiddle to any burger restaurant.  The name on the marquee will tell you that.  That name is bold and maybe more than a bit audacious; some might say it borders on braggadocio.  Five-star, after all, is a term used to denote the highest quality, something that is incomparable and absolutely without peer.  In a rating system of one to five stars, it signifies the pinnacle, the top, the very best.  My friends in Taos tell me the name fits.

A crowded restaurant even at 2PM on a hot summer Saturday

Taos is where owner Bob Gontram founded his first of five planned Five Star Burgers restaurants. The historical “Soul of the Southwest” and Bohemian haven is a tough restaurant town. A burger restaurant would have to be pretty good to make it in Taos. With a pedigree that includes creating more than a hundred restaurants as both a franchisor and franchisee, Grantham has the experience and vision to succeed even in tough markets.

Discerning that trends are leaning ever more toward healthy dining, Gontram opted not to launch another copycat burger restaurant serving machine processed burgers from suspect feedlots.  Instead, his Five Star Burgers menu features all natural, antibiotic free 100 percent Angus beef from Harris Ranch, world-famous producer of superb quality beef and exemplar of “ranch to the table” beef production.  Five Star Burgers is trans-fat free and environmentally conscious; even its packaging is biodegradable, made from corn and recycled paper.

Chocolate-Chocolate Shake and Salted Caramel Shake

The name on the menu may say “burgers,” but burgers are not, as a hard and fast, intractable rule, synonymous with fast food.  If anything, Gontram has simultaneously slowed down and upscaled the concept of fast food.  He does more to defeat the stereotype of burgers being unhealthy and greasy than perhaps any other burger restaurant in Albuquerque.  If the menu alone doesn’t tell you this is no run-of-the-mill burger joint, it will be very obvious this is no “gobble and go” fast-food emporium when you don’t see a drive-up window anywhere in sight.  In fact, you’re more apt to saunter into the restaurant than to make a mad dash from your car.  That’s the pace at which the restaurant operates.

When you walk in, you’ll be amiably greeted and escorted to your table where you’ll be presented a well-organized menu.  Take in the swanky digs.  The ambiance is elegant in a neo-modern way with ebony ceilings and stark tri-colored walls.  Seating is utilitarian and comfortable and includes a bar complete with high-back stools from where you can order beer or wine   An attentive wait staff will check up on you frequently, but not to the point where it becomes a nuisance. Your first visit should be for a burger.

Fried green beans with green chile mayo

The beef is fresh ground daily and char-grilled to order with an intriguing selection of condiments to adorn each burger.  Burgers are served on a toasted brioche bun from Fano Bread Bakery, an Albuquerque institution.  Adkins devotees can opt instead for a 12-ounce Harris Ranch hamburger steak sans bun, char-grilled to order with Gorgonzola cream and caramelized onions.  A char-grilled Asian glazed salmon with grilled vegetables is also available and you can also substitute an all natural chicken breast for any burger.

Standard burger offerings include the 5 Star Burger (Gorgonzola cheese and applewood smoked bacon), Old Timer (tomato, lettuce, onion, pickle, condiments), Taos Burger (crispy green chile, BBQ sauce and Cheddar) and the New Mexico favorite, a rather unique Green Chile Cheeseburger (green chile, pepper Jack cheese, green chile mayo).

Mixed cart of fries

Mixed cart of fries

On October 1st, the national newspaper USA Today published a compilation of America’s “great burger joints,” one in each state.  The choice for New Mexico was the green chile cheeseburger from Five Star Burgers.  According to USA Today, “When you talk burgers in New Mexico, you’re talking green chile cheeseburgers.  What distinguishes 5 Star Burgers, with restaurants in Taos and Albuquerque, is quality.  Served on a brioce bun from local Fano bakery, their all-natural, hormone-and antibiotic-free Black Angus beef is ground fresh daily and cooked to order.  The 8-oz green chile cheeseburgers come in two varieties.  Both are delicious.”

When USA Today proclaimed Five Star’s green chile cheeseburger as New Mexico’s best green chile cheeseburger, it wasn’t some nameless, faceless writer in New York City making that audacious claim. The burger was recommended by Sally Moore, author of Culinary New Mexico, “the ultimate food lover’s guide” and one of my most trusted sources for information on New Mexico’s specialty food stores, cooking classes, wineries, bakeries, tortilla makers, food festivals and restaurants. It would have been easy for Sally to recommend one of the “usual suspects,” but in recommending a burger proffered by a relative newcomer, she was as bold as the burger she recommended.

Lamb burger with blue cheese, applewood smoked bacon and green chile

Lamb burger with blue cheese, applewood smoked bacon and green chile

The menu also offers a number of specialty burgers and sandwiches: the freshly ground 5 Star Turkey Burger (sage, red onion, peach or cranberry chutney), Green Chile Chicken Cheeseburger (all natural chicken breast, green chile pepper Jack cheese, green chile mayo), Lamb Burger (tomato, lettuce, mayo), Portobello Burger (crispy green chile, roasted red pepper, grilled onions, Gorgonzola cream), Reuben Sandwich (corned beef, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, Thousand Island dressing on marbled rye), Coho Salmon (tomato, red onion, mayo on brioche roll) and Grilled Cheese (Cheddar, Swiss, Pepper Jack, tomato marmalade, applewood smoked bacon on sourdough).

This formidable line-up can be ameliorated by a number of flavorful toppings: aged Cheddar, American cheese, pepper jack, Swiss, Gorgonzola, smoked Provolone, avocado, roasted sweet pepper, crispy green chile, caramelized onions, wild mushrooms and crispy applewood bacon, all available for a dollar a piece.  At Five Star Burgers, you truly can have your burger your way!

Five Star Burger with Gorgonzola Cheese, Applewood Smoked Bacon, Tomato Relish and Caramelized Onions

Five Star Burger with Gorgonzola Cheese, Applewood Smoked Bacon, Tomato Relish and Caramelized Onions

You can even eschew burgers and sandwiches altogether with Five Star Burger’s selection of salads: Shanghai Chicken Salad (Asian and field greens, almonds, green onions, water chestnuts, crispy rice noodles, sprouts, sesame seeds and a spicy peanut dressing), Caesar Salad (Romaine hearts, garlic croutons, shaved Parmesan cheese), BLT Salad (crisp lettuce and diced tomato, applewood smoked bacon, Provolone cheese and a spicy Rojo Ranch dressing) or you can have a side Caesar salad with your burger or sandwich if you desire.

Aside from the side Caesar salad, available extras include French fries, sweet potato fries, a mixed “cart” of fries, a half order of fries, coleslaw and green chile on any menu item.  To wash it all down, you can opt for Pepsi products or fresh-squeezed lemonade, black leaf iced tea, raspberry iced tea, organic free trade coffee or shakes (chocolate, vanilla or strawberry) made with all-natural Breyer’s ice cream.

A1 Burger (8-ounce beef patty served with A1 sauce brushed on both sides, Cheddar cheese topped with fried onion straws on a toasted bun)

7 June 2014: The shakes are thick and delicious, made with real ice cream cold enough to give you “brain freeze” (an ice cream headache), but so good you won’t want to stop.  Dreyer’s ice cream is renown for its slow-churned process which makes it more rich and creamy than other ice creams.  The chocolate is chocolatey and velvety smooth, like a premium semi-frozen chocolate milk.  Alas, the salted caramel is somewhat cloying with little of the salt influence discernible.

About a quarter century ago, my very favorite burger restaurant in Albuquerque was a tiny hovel on Cornell near the University of New Mexico.  It was called the Sheepherder’s Cafe and the specialty of the house was a lamb burger with green chile.  The closure of this unique student favorite was a heart-breaker.  While a few other restaurants have offered a facsimile of the lamb burgers I so enjoyed, none approached the quality of the Sheepherder’s Cafe.  That is, until Five Star Burgers.

Five Star’s award-winning green chile cheeseburger

21 March 2010: A mix-up in the kitchen resulted in a lamb burger with applewood smoked bacon, green chile, Gorgonzola and caramelized onions in addition to the standard tomato, lettuce and mayo.  It’s the way I’ll order all my lamb burgers in the future.  Five Star’s lamb is subtle and rich, not gamey in the least.  Prepared at medium, its inside glowed with pink pulchritude.  The applewood smoked bacon is chopped, not unlike bacon bits.  The caramelized onions are a sweet contrast to the plucky Gorgonzola.   This is a five-star burger in every regard.

21 March 2010: We adorned our Five Star burger, too, adding tomato relish and caramelized onions to the standard offerings of gorgonzola cheese and applewood smoked bacon.  The contrast of sweet and savory toppings makes for an interesting flavor combination, a coalescence of deliciousness.  The tomato relish is so good you might want to spoon it up.

Special of the Month for May, 2014: Pimento Cheese and Applewood Smoked Bacon Burger

2 October 2010: Five Star’s rendition of the green chile cheeseburger is made with Pepper Jack cheese, green chile mayo and green chile which is blanketed by the molten cheese.  Alternatively you can ask for crispy fried green chile strips which Andrea Lin indicates “rival bacon in sheer deliciousness as a burger topping.”  Either way, this is an excellent green chile cheeseburger.  Grilled at medium it’s a juicy five-napkin affair.  It’s not especially piquant even with the double-barrel approach of green chile and green chile mayo, but the green chile has a nice roasted flavor and it’s plentiful.

2 October 2010: October, 2010′s burger of the month, hopefully a burger which will make Five Star’s menu, is yet another celebration of excellent beef ameliorated by complementary ingredients. The A1 Burger showcases an eight-ounce beef patty with A1 sauce brushed on both sides then topped with Cheddar cheese and fried onion straws on a toasted brioche bun.  A national chain has a similar burger, but it’s not executed nearly as well.  As with other Five Star burgers, this is a juicy  and delicious burger, one for which a bib might be advisable.

Grilled Cheese with a Beef Patty

7 June 2014:  Five Star’s Burger of the Month for June, 2014 transported me back to South Carolina where my love of pimento cheese (a mix of grated cheddar, mayonnaise and diced pimiento peppers) was rekindled.  Five Star paired pimento cheese with applewood smoked bacon to create one of the most intriguing and delicious burgers in town.  Pimento cheese is a working person’s cheese, a cheese with personality courtesy of the beauteous pimento, a red cherry pepper with sweet flavor and very mild heat (100-500 Scoville units).  Then, of course, there’s applewood smoked bacon at its salty, crispy and smoky best.  Together they make an unbeatable combination.

7 June 2014:  Five Star has even managed to elevate the humble and oft boring grilled cheese sandwich into something spectacular.  A triumvirate of cheese–Cheddar, Swiss, Provolone–paired with bacon and tomato marmalade on sourdough on its own makes for a three- or four-star sandwich.  Add a Harris Beef Angus beef patty and you’ve got a somewhat subdued, but quite delicious version of a patty melt.  With rye bread this sandwich would have the more assertive personality which would make this a true, even more memorable patty melt.

Shanghai Chicken Salad

7 June 2014:  Every once in a while, everyone should eschew French fries, onion rings and that ilk and opt instead for a salad.  Salads go better with burgers than you might believe.  Order a salad for two and the Five Star crew will split it for you.  The Shanghai Chicken Salad (Asian and field greens, almonds, green onions, water chestnuts, crispy won ton noodles, sprouts, sesame seeds and a Thai peanut dressing is a very good bet, especially if you ask for extra Thai peanut dressing.  The ingredients are fresh and crispy and the flavor profile is varied–sweet, savory and tangy.

21 March 2010: You’ll want a mixed cart of fries with your burgers.  A mix of standard French fries and sweet potato fries served on a fine mesh colander basket with butcher paper atop, they go especially well with Five Star’s unique green chile mayo (all chile used by the restaurant is Hatch chile).

2 October 2010: Better yet, order the fried green bean appetizer served with green chile mayo.  I first experienced fried green beans at a Vietnamese restaurant in Chandler, Arizona several years ago and have craved them since.  Five Star has sated my cravings with some of the most tasty green beans in memory.  Sheathed in a light batter, the beans have a snappy crunch while retaining the freshness and moistness of the green beans.  Dip them into the accompanying green chile mayo for an even better adventure.

Five Star Burgers is open 11AM to 9PM Sunday through Thursday and 11AM to 10PM Friday and Saturday.  Try the other similarly named burger restaurant if you’re curious, but you’ll come back to Five Star Burgers.  It’s more than a cut above.  It’s the pinnacle, a true five-star burger restaurant.

Five Star Burgers
5901 Academy Road, N.E., Suite P3
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 821-1909
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 7 June 2014
1st VISIT:  20 March 2010
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 21
COST: $$ – $$$
BEST BET:  Chocolate Shake, Lamb Burger, Five Star Burger, Mixed Cart of Fries, Green Chile Cheeseburger, A1 Burger, Fried Green Beans, Shanghai Chicken Salad, Pimento Cheese & Bacon Burger, Grilled Cheese with Beef Patty

Five Star Burgers on Urbanspoon