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Little Red Hamburger Hut – Albuquerque, New Mexico

The Little Red Hamburger Hut on Mountain Road

The Little Red Hamburger Hut on Mountain Road

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

Cultural shock!  It’s been oft repeated that the United States and England are two nations separated by a common language.  I had no idea how much the two nations are separated by more than language until 1979 when stationed at Royal Air Force Base Upper Heyford just outside of Oxford, England.  Cultural differences were especially evident in dining experiences.

Back then American fast food restaurants were as scarce in England as fish and chips restaurants were in the United States. McDonald’s, Burger King and Pizza Hut had just starting to make inroads in the megalopolis of London.  In smaller cities, if we wanted an American hamburger, the only option was a chain of England-based hamburger restaurants named Wimpy’s.  During my first visit to Wimpy’s there were many reminders we were not in America.

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

A veritable shrine to Marilyn Monroe

A veritable shrine to Marilyn Monroe

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

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

In 2008, a restaurant by the name of Wimpy’s was launched just minutes north of Old Town.  Though not affiliated with the Red Ball Cafe, the name engendered obvious confusion among diners (and reportedly some contentiousness between both ownership parties).

Nostalgia everywhere you turn

Nostalgia everywhere you turn

Wimpy’s has since been renamed “The Little Red Hamburger Hut,” a name that just fits.  It is situated on the intersection of Mountain Road and Sawmill, which back in 1900 was considered beyond the Albuquerque city limits.  In the early 1900s a giant sawmill operated in the area and many workers built adobe and/or frame homes in the area.  There were also a couple of grocery stores serving the little community as well.  I believe Wimpy’s is located in one of those.

The timeworn edifice has charm to spare.  The solidity of distressed oak plank flooring heavily trod upon by generations speaks to the quality of construction.  On the corner of the main dining room stands a hand-painted fireplace, the symbol of hospitality and warmth.  The ceiling is bamboo matting (which in New Mexico is a multi-purpose utility used as flooring, ceiling and even fencing).

The Little Red Hamburger Hut provides diners with a nostalgic trip back to a carefree, more innocent time before the infestation of chain restaurants.  Even if you’re not old enough to remember it, you’ll appreciate the sundry bric a brac from the Fabulous Fifties and Swinging Sixties.  It’s on the walls, window sills, shelves and on the air waves.  Thematic music from the period plays be-bop and doo-wop, but absolutely no hip-hop.

The menu at the Little Red Hamburger Hut

The menu at the Little Red Hamburger Hut

During the 50s and 60s when AM was king, the source of that music might have been one of the vintage radios sitting on the fireplace mantle.   The fireplace is a veritable shrine to Norma Jean who exemplified innocence and sensuality like no woman before or since.  Framed and unframed photographs of the sultry starlet frame the windows as well.

The nostalgic theme continues on the walls where hang a number of sunburst pattern clocks (all analog), the ultimate expression of modernity in the 60s.  The walls also pay tribute to the aforementioned Wimpy and other cartoon characters of bygone days.  An anthropomorphic red chile holding a gigantic hamburger hangs on a wall by the gigantic menu like a Fathead wall graphic.  No matter where you turn there’s plenty to look at.

Diners queue up before the restaurant opens so they’re first in line to place their order in a room adjacent to the main dining room.  Sitting on the counter where you place your order is a framed and signed (courtesy of Photoshop) picture of a scantily clad Sarah Palin.

A Large Little Red with French Fries

A Large Little Red with French Fries

The menu enjoys you to “enjoy New Mexico’s famous burgers.”  There isn’t much else on the menu although a la carte enchiladas, a taco burger, Frito pie and chili fries have been recently added.  Burger options start with the “Little Red” which you can order in small, medium or large sizes.  The Little Red is available with either red or green chile (both complementary as well as is cheese).   A combo meal includes fries and a large (barrel-sized) beverage of your choice with free refills.

Unless you specify otherwise, the burgers are cooked well done, but as you’ll happily realize, that doesn’t mean charred to a desiccated mess.  Though the beef patties are fresh and delicious, they are rather dry, I suspect the result of the heinous spatula press (for which cooks should be shot).  The burgers are hand-formed each morning from freshly ground beef.  It’s very evident that freshness is a hallmark of the burgers and that’s all ingredients, not just the beef.  All produce is purchased daily to ensure the optimal freshness and flavor.

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

The Little Red Tortilla Burger fully dressed

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

New Mexico’s contribution to Health.com’s “50 Fattiest Foods,” a state-by-state hall of infamy, was our ubiquitous Frito pie.  The version low-lighted in the article contained a pants-popping 46 grams of fat and 14 grams of saturated fat.  Still, it’s hard to resist the Land of Enchantment’s most egregious fat-offender, especially since it looks like a healthy lettuce, tomato, cheese and onion salad when it’s delivered to other tables.

Underneath the salad ingredients, however, is a mound of ground beef covered in chile and cheese surrounded by Frito’s corn chips.  The Little Red Hamburger Hut crafts a classic New Mexican Frito pie.  The chile is likely Bueno brand red chile, a made in New Mexico chile which means it’s good and has a piquant bite without no canned or cumin aftertaste.  The chile is slathered on generously.

A large Frito pie

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

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

Little Red Hamburger Hut
1501 Mountain Road, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 304-1819
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 3 September 2010
1st VISIT: 14 March 2009
# of VISITS: 2
RATING: 19
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Large Little Red’s Combo, Large Tortilla Burger, Large Frito Pie

Little Red Hamburger Hut on Urbanspoon

Category: Albuquerque, Burgers
  • ABQattorney says:

    The single most frustrating restaurant in town. Their burgers are delicious, but their hours of business are erratic! I’ve wasted a good portion of numerous lunch hours by heading over to “Wimpys” (as they’re known locally) only to discover a hastily scrawled note attached to the front door: “We are closed today”. DARNIT.

    After experiencing this frustrating sign 3 or 4 times, I finally wised up: I CALLED in advance. Nobody answered the phone personally, but the message was kind enough to inform callers that Wimpy’s would be closed on Tuesday. As it was Wednesday, I figured I was in the clear and drove downtown for a burger. I’m confident that you can anticipate what happened next: I found a hastily scrawled note on the door saying “We will be closed Tuesday and Wednesday.”!!

    Please get it together folks! Your burgers are the best around but not worth the heartburn of your terrible management practices. Can’t you hire some help?

    September 11, 2009 at 12:55 PM
  • Jared says:

    I must disagree with the reviewer’s impression of the fries. The fries are as good as the burgers– worth the trip in their own right.

    Having been bitten by the hastily scrawled note scenario a few times myself, we no longer plan to eat there. We might call if the notion hits us on a moment’s notice, but don’t plan on a trip next week with friends– it’s too likely to end with a scrawled note and closed sign.

    I get the impression they would be BOOMING if they kept reliable hours.

    October 31, 2009 at 2:08 PM
  • j says:

    I experienced the same number wasted trips to this place. I have yet to find them open so I have yet to try the burger. I found this site and these above comments while trying to find their phone number or some sort of hours of operations. because I didnt want to waste another trip off the beaten path to find that same closed note!

    November 9, 2009 at 2:51 PM
  • Pete says:

    I too have been bitten by the note on the door but the burger is well worth the hassle. (if the Hut is closed I go to the Red Ball on 4th) My combo is a regular green chile cheese with the red as well. To die for. The fries could be better. Thinner crisper would be great. Love the Hut!

    December 23, 2009 at 10:54 AM
  • DaBronx says:

    Of late I’ve found that LRHH has been open when I go so I’m hoping they are finally on a regular schedule. Of course I did go one day and they were opening a couple of hours late. Grr My latest frustration is the last couple of times I’ve gone they have been out of beans and since I specifically go there for the frito pie . . . wasted trip. Again, every business is going to have days where they are out of things, etc. but I have to agree with ABQattorney, if they could get it together the business has potential to do really well.

    December 29, 2009 at 7:13 PM
  • S says:

    just a quick correction to the bueno red chile comment. This place makes their own red chile fresh everyday and takes pride in their secret recipe the best ive ever tasted it is an insult to call it bueno. However the food and service is always excellent “Satisfaction Garunteed” Definately worth the trip if your sketchy about the hours heres the # 304-1819 .

    September 7, 2010 at 10:50 PM
  • Foodie Star says:

    The red chile is very delicious and they can be proud of their recipe, but it tastes like it is based on Bueno frozen red to me too. That is not an insult! I like Bueno’s frozen red, and Little Red’s chile tastes similar.

    I like the taste of their grill, but the meat was very dry. I suspect Gil’s comment about “the heinous spatula press (for which cooks should be shot)” is a spot on description of one of their kitchen practices.

    I have seen so many flat-top chefs ruin a burger by mashing all the juice out of the burger with the back of a spatula. I’ve seen it done at Lota Burger, Papaburger, Route 66 Malt Shop and Rex’s just recently. Perhaps if we “out” the places that practice crushing the very life out of a burger, they might stop doing it.

    I hereby challenge the Hut, and all the other places guilty of this to eliminate the spatula mash and your customers will enjoy a juicier, more flavorful burger.

    My 2

    September 9, 2010 at 3:16 PM
  • Childreth says:

    Great food if they are open when they say they will be. I love the food but have been burned one too many times driving out of my way during normal business hours only to find ‘the note’ that they are closed for some some reason. They definitely run it land of the manana style. This place could be huge if they just wised up and kept the hours they claim on the front door. Won’t be going back.

    October 14, 2010 at 9:33 PM
  • Paul Griego says:

    I had the pleasure of having my first ever Red Chile (w/ an “e”) Cheeseburger today at the Little Red Hamburger Hut and it was even better than advertised! Juicy, tastey, absolutely delicious. I was a bit skeptical about Red Chile instead of Green so I ordered Green on the side to be safe, and while good together, the Red is the star of this burger definitely. Fries were hot & crispy. Add the quaint, cozy, welcoming atmosphere and great service to boot, I will definitely be back. Read a lot of complaints about service and hours, etc… from back in 2009 and 2010, but today in 2011, I experienced none of those issues/problems. Great local establishment! Do be sure to bring Cash, no credit or checks accepted.

    July 12, 2011 at 3:53 PM

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