One of the sure signs of spring and summer in New Mexico is the presence of dust devils, those haphazardly whirling, dirty, dusty dervishes which seem to whip up out of nowhere to vacuum up all surface detritus on their unpredictable paths. Tumbleweeds, trash and soil spin skyward to heights of up to 100 feet only to be deposited–torn, tattered and worse for wear– sometimes great distances from their points of origin.
Normally lasting no longer than a few seconds, dust devils are nature’s hot wind temper tantrum, capable of wreaking havoc quickly and with tremendous force. At their worse, they can rip siding off buildings, snap power lines, overturn lawn furniture, send trash cans careening down the street and propel sheet metal through windows. If a home isn’t well insulated, being on the path of a dust devil will mean a covering of fine sand throughout the home. A dust devil might not transport Dorothy and Toto to Oz, but it will certainly bug the heck out of them.
As prominent a presence as dust devils are throughout New Mexico, they aren’t exactly popular. You certainly won’t find any schools proudly proclaiming the Dust Devil as their mascot. Nor will our state legislature ever designate the dust devil as New Mexico’s official nuisance (an honor it would share with the tumbleweed). Businesses, especially restaurants, certainly won’t go out of their way to name themselves after the dust devil. Smart move! Not a lot of people would eat at a restaurant called “Dust Devil Burgers and Burritos.”
They do frequent in droves, a local restaurant chain called “Twisters Burgers and Burritos.” Why Twister? A twister is a slang term for a tornado, a violent windstorm characterized by a twisting, funnel-shaped cloud (hence the term “twister).” The word “tornado” finds its genesis in the Spanish word tornar which means “to turn.” Perhaps then it’s no coincidence that everywhere you turn there seems to be another Twisters Grill restaurant. As of this writing, this ubiquitous presence has eleven locations in Albuquerque, two in Rio Rancho, one in Bernalillo and three in Colorado (Aurora, Lakewood and Parker).
Founded in 1998, the premise behind Twisters is that customers want quality food at fast food prices and speed. Place your order at a counter and your meal is delivered to your table. Drive up and your meal is handed to you promptly. Twisters calls it a “fast casual dining experience.” The restaurant’s goal is to exceed customer expectations in value, quality and service. Its menu features red and green chile enhanced New Mexican dishes as well as American favorites.
I must admit that my inaugural visit in 2005 was very much a disappointment. Whether attributable to an off-day or a poor-performing location, it would be six years before my next visit. That return visit prompted a second visit only a week thereafter. The third visit validated the findings of my previous visit, confirming that this is a restaurant going places (and not just to Colorado).
Only five “traditional” burritos are available on the lunch menu. That is if you don’t count the Twister Burrito, an unconventional burrito anywhere but New Mexico. The Twister burrito is engorged with your choice of meat (beef, chicken or carne adovada) and beans then is topped with fries and smothered with red or green chile (or both), cheese, lettuce and tomato. It’s very similar to and undoubtedly inspired by the world-famous Travis at Grandma Warner’s K&I restaurant. The Twister burrito is available in one-eighth, one-quarter, one-half and full-sizes, any size of which would sate most famished diners.
The Twisters experience starts at breakfast, not a diverse starter to your day, but a satisfying one. Eleven breakfast burritos, many named for New Mexico cities or landmarks (such as Taos, Eubank, South Valley and others), include a “basic” option in which you start with eggs and potatoes then pick your own ingredients. Breakfast burritos are available as a hand-held option or smothered with chile and cheese on top. In September, 2011, Albuquerque The Magazine‘s staff undertook the enviable task of determining the Duke City’s very best breakfast burrito. Twister’s breakfast burrito was rated number six from among very keen competition.
New Mexico platters–enchiladas, chimichangas, burritos, combination–come with beans, rice, lettuce, tomato and cheese as well as your choice of chile and meat (seasoned ground beef, carne adovada, chicken and shredded beef). The menu also includes New Mexican specialties such as an Indian taco, taco salad, green chile stew, nacho supreme, chicken wrap and a “macho” burrito grande. Also available are seven burgers, each a third pound and dressed with lettuce, tomato, onion, mustard and ketchup. Grilled chicken sandwiches offer an alternative to the burgers.
The green chile cheeseburger is terrific! It starts with a unique sesame seed bun (baked on the premises) that’s substantial enough to hold in what is a very moist beef patty (without being greasy) yet not so large and “bready” that it dominates the flavor profile. The beef, all third-pound of it, is prepared to a medium degree of doneness and is seasoned nicely then blanketed with a molten slice of cheese. The green chile would rate mild on a piquancy scale, but it has a pleasant flavor. Burgers are served with curly fries, a nice change of pace.
The chicken wrap is also quite good, reminding me of an upscale, well-adorned tortilla roll-up. A fresh, albeit painfully thin, flour tortilla tightly envelops crispy chicken strips, Cheddar cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, guacamole and creamy ranch dressing. The combination of tomatoes, guacamole and ranch dressing make this a very moist and juicy sandwich. It is served with chips and salsa, the latter of which has a piquant bite.
Among the burritos are two stand-outs, the shredded beef burrito (potato, green chile and cheese) and the carne adovada burrito (potato, red chile and cheese). Consider it heretical if you will, but these burritos are as good or better than the extremely popular burritos at Golden Pride. The carne adovada burrito, in particular, showcases tender tendrils of perfectly moist, delicious and rich pork marinated in a flavorful red chile. The shredded beef is equally tender and though not marinated in chile, is quite good.
There are few New Mexican entrees as beloved as the enchilada, a dish so memorable when made well that author Lesley S. King listed Northern New Mexico enchiladas as among “the most unforgettable Northern New Mexico Experiences” in the 12th edition of Frommer’s Santa Fe, Taos and Albuquerque Travel Guide. Twisters’ sour cream enchiladas are rather forgettable. Instead of incorporating sour cream within the rolled corn tortillas, a single dollop of cold sour cream is provided atop the enchiladas. Worse, the green chile is thickened (probably with corn starch) so much that a friend of mine who wrote a New Mexican food cookbook called the chile “gelatinous.” In addition to being too thick, the chile lacks piquancy.
Aside from the sour cream faux pas, only the Indian taco has been somewhat of a disappointment thanks in large part to the soupiness of the beans and chile which render the sopaipilla a sopping mess and wilts the lettuce. As with other Indian tacos (sometimes called Navajo tacos or fry bread tacos), the Indian taco at Twisters is served open-faced and topped with beans, shredded cheese, lettuce and tomatoes. It’s the soupiness, though, which makes this one far from my favorite.
In the near decade and a half it’s been open, Twisters Burgers & Burritos has earned a loyal following among burger and burrito aficionados. The names on the marquee are only two of the reasons.
Twisters Burgers & Burritos
9358 Eagle Ranch Road, NW
LATEST VISIT: 25 August 2011
# OF VISITS: 4
BEST BET: Carne Adovada Burrito, Shredded Beef Burrito, Chicken Wrap, Green Chile Cheeseburger, Indian Taco, Tacos, Salsa