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

Bobcat Bite – Santa Fe, New Mexico (CLOSED)

America's best burger is available only at the Bobcat Bite

America’s best burger is available only at the Bobcat Bite

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).

Bonnie Eckre, the heart and soul of the Bobcat Bite

Bonnie Eckre, the perpetually smiling heart and soul of the Bobcat Bite

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.”

Shelves show off just a few of the many awards and accolades Bobcat Bite has earned over the year. Diners can find a Bobcat Bite shirt just their size, too.

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.

A green chile cheeseburger in my meaty hands

A green chile cheeseburger in my meaty hands

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.

The world-famous Bobcat Bite green chile cheeseburger

The world-famous Bobcat Bite green chile cheeseburger

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.

A bacon green chile cheeseburger with homestyle potatoes

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's wonderful coleslaw

The Bobcat Bite’s wonderful coleslaw

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.

BOBCAT BITE
420 Old Las Vegas Highway
Santa Fe, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 11 July 2012
# OF VISITS: 5
RATING: 26
COST: $$
BEST BET: Green Chile Cheeseburger, Ribeye Steak, New York Steak, Potato Salad, Coleslaw

Bobcat Bite Restaurant on Urbanspoon

The Owl Cafe & Bar – San Antonio, New Mexico

The World Famous Owl Cafe in San Antonio, New Mexico

The World Famous Owl Cafe in San Antonio, New Mexico

San Antonio may be but a blip on the map, but its storied and pioneering history make this sparsely populated agricultural community arguably one of New Mexico’s most important towns.

In 1629, San Antonio was the site on which Franciscan friars planted the first vineyard (for sacramental wine) in New Mexico (in defiance of Spanish law prohibiting the growing of grapes for wine in the new world.) San Antonio was the birthplace of Conrad Hilton, founder of the ubiquitous Hilton Hotels and more importantly, one of New Mexico’s original legislators after statehood was granted in 1912. San Antonio was also the gateway to the Trinity Site in which the first atomic bomb was detonated in 1945. While these events are historically significant, they are also inextricably bound by one common element–the uncommonly ordinary facade that houses the extraordinary, world-famous Owl Cafe.

owl05

The Owl Cafe and Bar

Conrad Hilton’s father once owned the saloon in which the bar (pictured below) in the Owl Cafe once held prominence and presumably sold the fruit of the vine whose progenitors may have been among New Mexico’s original grape stocks. According to local lore, the fathers of the nuclear age spent much of their free time cavorting at the Owl Cafe where original owner Jose Miera installed a grill and started crafting the green chile cheeseburgers that would ultimately achieve unprecedented acclaim.

Ostensibly, the restaurant was named the Owl because legal gambling was conducted at all hours of the night in the back of the restaurant, ergo by “night owls.” Today feathered fowl are still important to San Antonio’s local economy as thousands of bird watchers flock to the nearby Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge to crane their necks for a glimpse of geese, ducks and cranes. The Owl Cafe offers welcome respite from the pleasures of bird-watching.

The long bar from the original Hilton hotel

The long bar from the original Hilton hotel

Rowena Baca, a descendent of the Owl Cafe’s founder and current proprietor of the Owl Cafe, holds on to tradition, preparing the world-famous green chile cheeseburger in much the same way as her grandfather did. The meat is ground on the premises, patties are hand-formed and the ingredients (mayo, lettuce, tomato, pickles, onion cheese and green chile) are unfailingly fresh. On a double meat burger, the succulent meat and melted cheese bulge out beyond the buns. The meat positively breaks apart (the consequences of not using filler and an optimum fat to lean ratio) and its juices make consuming one a lip-smacking, multi-napkin affair.

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. Ironically, it’s not green chile grown within easy walking distance in San Antonio’s famous Sichler Farms, but a special blend of chile from the Albuquerque Tortilla Company. The reason given is that the Albuquerque Tortilla Company’s Chile is already roasted, peeled, chopped and sealed for freshness. Somehow it makes sense.

Double meat, double cheese green chile cheeseburger, one of the very best in New Mexico (ergo, the universe)

Another Owl tradition you can’t help but notice is all the dollar bills tacked on the restaurant’s walls. Patrons leave messages or write their names on dollar bills then tack them on any available free space. Once a year, the money is collected and given to charity with more than $19,700 donated thus far.

On an average summer day, the Owl Cafe will serve an average of six to seven hundred burgers. The population of San Antonio rivals that of a larger city during lunch and dinner hours when the Owl’s several parking lots are overflowing with hungry diners. The front dining room will accommodate only a few of them. Fortunately the restaurant has several dining rooms; you’ve got to go through one to get to another.

What the Owl Cafe does with all the dollar bills tacked to its walls

What the Owl Cafe does with all the dollar bills tacked to its walls

In 2003, Jane and Michael Stern, rated the Owl Cafe’s green chile cheeseburger on Epicurious.Com as one of the top ten burgers in America–lavish praise indeed for one of New Mexico’s historic gems. It has garnered similar acclaim by other notable critics, having transcended the generations by sticking to a time-tested formula of providing great food at reasonable prices. Disputably there may be better green chile cheeseburgers out there, but there are none more famous.

For more than a quarter century, award-winning journalist Charles Kuralt hit the road on a motor home, crisscrossing the fruited plains where waving fields of wheat passed in review and snow-capped mountains reached for cobalt colored skies. Kuralt loved the cuisine of the Land of Enchantment. In his book America, he declared the Own Cafe in San Antonio, New Mexico “one of the best food tips” he’d ever gotten.

The hamburger steak dinner

The hamburger steak dinner

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 which made it to the airwaves in 2004. In 2008, he followed up his award-winning documentary with a state-by-state tome listing what he considers the best burgers throughout the fruited plain. Motz loved The Owl calling it “a friendly place, a family saloon with an excellent burger on the menu.”

The menu isn’t limited to burgers. Savvy diners will order the hamburger steak dinner, a bounteous platter that will fill you up for about ten dollars. This platter includes a juicy hamburger patty (no charring anywhere), a small mountain of hand-cut French fries, a salad with your choice of dressing (including a pretty good blue cheese dressing), Texas toast and bowls of green chile and beans. Make sure you get the grilled onions atop that hamburger steak. It’s an unbeatable combination.

A bowl of green chile and a bowl of beans--sheer pleasure!

A bowl of green chile and a bowl of beans–sheer pleasure!

The other “must have” in addition to an outstanding green chile cheeseburger is a bowl or side of beans with green chile. The aroma of steaming green chile wafts through the dining room as your waitress approaches and you’re the envy of any diner who may not have ordered this favorite of New Mexican comfort foods. The beans are frijoles, whole pinto beans, not refried or black beans you’ll find elsewhere. Ironically, as proud of New Mexicans are to claim green chile as our official state vegetable, we’re often hesitant to admit frijoles share official state honors with green chile. The frijoles at the Owl Cafe will remind you why real New Mexicans love and are proud of their precious pintos.

The Owl Cafe has several other menu items, but rarely do you see anyone foolhardy enough to order say, a hot dog or nachos. It is entirely forgivable, however, to order a patty melt (pictured below), one of the very best of its kind anywhere. One of the reasons this patty melt is oh, so good is obvious. The same wondrous beef patty used on the Owl’s world-famous green chile cheeseburgers is used to create this pulchritudinous patty melt. Two slices of American cheese drape over grilled sweet onions complete the masterpiece sandwiched between two slices of light rye. It’s a fantastic alternative to green chile cheeseburgers.

Patty melt at the Owl Cafe

Skip the dessert at the Owl and head next door to the San Antonio General Store where Anne Lund serves some of the very best homemade fudge anywhere as well as ice cream (Dreyers), drinks, snacks and sandwiches. Lund actually bought the General Store from Rowena Baca’s daughter and spent about a year perfecting the wonderful fudge (which is made with real butter and cream). Perfect is the operative word for fudge in which you can taste the quality and a whole lot of love from a confectionery artist.

The Owl Cafe is open Monday through Saturday from 8AM to 9PM and is closed on Sundays.

The Owl Cafe & Bar
State Hwy. 1 and U.S. 380
San Antonio, New Mexico
(575) 835-9946
Web Site

LATEST VISIT: 19 May 2012
# OF VISITS: 6
RATING: 23
COST: $$
BEST BET: Green Chile Cheeseburger; French Fries, Beans and Green Chile, Hamburger Steak Dinner, Patty Melt

Owl Bar & Cafe on Urbanspoon

Bode’s General Merchandise Deli & Bakery – Abiquiu, New Mexico

Bode's General Merchandise in Abiquiu, New Mexico

Bode’s General Merchandise in Abiquiu, New Mexico

Mention food and convenience store in the same sentence and the first thing likely to come to mind is one of those perpetually rotating, alutaceous hot dogs seared to a leathery sheen under a heat lamp inferno. Not even a large slushie spiked with your favorite adult beverage would make that hot dog palatable.

Mention food and gas station in the same sentence and all of a sudden that leathery hot dog at the convenience store sounds like a gourmet meal. Salty, cylindrically shaped dry meat snacks with the texture of sawdust and air-filled bags of Cool Ranch Doritos are typical gas station fare.

Now mention New Mexican food and gas station in the same sentence and the likely image conjured is scatological, having more to do with “gas” than food and we’re not talking petroleum here.

In 2007, Sarah Karnasiewicz, senior editor of Saveur, trekked back to New Mexico to discover some of  the Land of Enchantment’s best “filling stations,” service stations in which you can actually find food that is not only fit for human consumption, it’s quite good, too.  She observed that, “we know of no other state in the Union where you can so consistently find such tasty cooking along the asphalt byways, often steps from the gas pumps.”

The Deli at Bode's

The Deli at Bode’s

One of the filling stations with which she was most impressed was Bode’s off Highway 84 in Abiquiu.  Sarah cited as  “the highlight of the menu” a “half-pound green chile cheeseburger–a dish satisfying enough for the mightiest road warriors.”  In an accompanying photo essay, she made an even more audacious claim, “Bode’s may make the world’s best cheeseburger: a half pound of ground steak smothered in fresh New Mexico green chiles.”

In New Mexico, green chile cheeseburgers are practically a religion and any claims to being “the best” are quickly and vociferously disputed.  There is no consensus best green chile cheeseburger, and only a small number of serious contenders, but there are plenty of pretenders which don’t live up to the hype.  Count Bode’s among the former, a green chile cheeseburger for which a solid argument could be made that it is  among the very best in the state.

Before making that argument, let me state that Bode’s General Merchandise is worth a trip even if it didn’t offer a bodacious green chile cheeseburger.  Bode’s has been serving the community of Abiquiu since 1919.  Ninety years ago in remote New Mexican villages, mercantiles such as Bode’s were the heart of the community, often the only link to the outside world.  In the 1920s, Bode’s served as post office, gas station and even electrical power plant.

Bode's world-famous green chile cheeseburger

Bode’s world-famous green chile cheeseburger

Today Bode’s remains an essential part of the community as well as a surprisingly popular destination in its own right.  It is a true general store, serving the needs of hunters, fishermen, campers, visitors and locals.  Whether you’re taking it on the trail, to the breakfast nook, or to the dinner table, Bode’s old-fashioned country stock fills your needs.

Bode’s shelves are stocked with unique bric-a-brac, a miscellaneous collection of  eye-catching and decorative curios you might not see anywhere else.   Three racks of postcards showcase bawdy postcards which would hold your attention if there wasn’t so much else to browse.  That includes curious toys and vintage curios some might describe as seedy or even blasphemous.

The bakery provisions guests with fresh pastries, pies, muffins and cookies baked daily.   Sage Bakehouse bread is brought in from Santa Fe.  The deli, open from 11AM through 3PM, serves Boar’s Head meat and cheese products on its sandwich board.  The deli menu also includes Frito Pie, “slyders” with Fries, burritos and the Bode Burger, a half-pound ground sirloin burger to which you can add cheese, bacon and of course, green chile.  Portions are prodigious.

Bode's "Slyders"

Bode’s “Slyders”

The green chile cheeseburger is humongous, a two-fisted burger if there ever was one.  For hands like mine which can easily palm a basketball, it’s the perfect sized burger.  For appetites which travel miles to meet and eat the burger which won Saveur over, it’s delicious validation that the magazine which introduces us “a world of authentic cuisine” knows its stuff–even when it comes to green chile cheeseburgers.

When the sandwich board says “1/2 pound ground sirloin,” it’s not just local lore like the malefic tales of shape-shifting brujas which still frighten many.  It’s a delicious slab of ground sirloin grilled to about medium-well.  It’s a whopping canvas for large-leaf lettuce, fresh tomato, melted cheese, red onion and of course, lots of green chile.  The green chile is definitely of the mild variety with not much more piquancy than a bell pepper, but it’s got that incomparable green chile flavor aficionados love.  The bun is toasted just enough to give it a bit of firmness so it can hold in all those ingredients and all that flavor.

If you want to fill up in smaller doses, order Bode’s “slyders,” five smallish burgers topped with ingredients of your choosing.  These aren’t White Castle type sliders which, while quite good,  just don’t have much substance.  One of Bode’s slyders probably has as much beef as four White Castle sliders.   That beef is sandwiched in what could be a bolillo instead of a traditional burger bun.   Whether consuming five slyders is the equivalent of one green chile cheeseburger is subject to debate.

bode05

Bean and pork burrito with side of green chile

While the green chile cheeseburger may be the highlight of the menu, New Mexican food favorites at Bode’s will appease the most tired, poor and huddled masses of visitors.  The burritos are about half the size of a football and are engorged with fresh beans and mouth-watering shredded pork.  The beans are perfectly prepared with large, whole beans while the shredded pork is akin to carne adovada sans red chile.  We were amazed at just how much shredded pork the burrito contained.

After the Saveur article was published in 2008, many road warriors from New Mexico and beyond made their way to Bode’s, one of the Land of Enchantment’s finest filling stations.  Don’t let too much time pass before you follow suit.  Better yet, follow your nostrils to the source of those terrific green chile cheeseburgers.

Bode’s General Merchandise Bakery & Deli
P.O. Box 100
Abiquiu, New Mexico
685-4422
LATEST VISIT:  3 January 2009
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 21
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Green Chile Cheeseburger, Slyders, Burritos