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) which is thankfully still available online even though the wonderful program no longer airs. 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.
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. You’ll undoubtedly note that “chile” is misspelled on the artwork, but not on the menu. It wasn’t that very long ago that New Mexicans declared there’s only one way to spell our state’s official state vegetable. That spelling is “chile.” (Sorry, Ruben)
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.
That following wasn’t just local. Burger Boy has a national profile. In October, 2022, Only In Your State declared that Burger Boy serves the best burgers in NM since 1982. The Daily Meal agreed with that assessment, going one further by naming Burger Boy’s burger one of the 101 best in America. So did Cheapism. In May, 2023, Albuquerque’s CBS affiliate KRQE Channel 13 compiled a list of some New Mexico spots that offer green chile cheeseburgers – all of which have at least 4.5 stars and 500 reviews on Google. With 1,458 reviews and a 4.6 stars average, Burger Boy was designated a KRQE fan favorite. It’s long been one of our favorites.
For years Kathy operated the restaurant with her daughter Barbara Johnstadt (also a trained nurse), who tragically lost her husband a year after her mother was widowed. The Johnstadt family still owns and operates the family restaurant. Emphasis on the word “Family.” You’re likely to be served by a family member while another might be bussing tables. It’s an efficient, well-run restaurant in which guests are treated like family. Staff are friendly and accommodating, frequently checking up on guests to ensure refills aren’t needed.
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.” Another wall within the dining room is dedicated to family members and staff who have served in the armed forces. The Johnstadts aren’t ashamed to display the flag.
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. Cognoscenti consider them some of the best in the Land of Enchantment, ergo the universe. They’re so good they made the New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail in 2009, one of 48 select burgers on that list. Inexplicably, Burger Boy’s sacrosanct green chile cheeseburger didn’t make the Trail in 2011, indicative that the Trail needs to be updated.
30 June 2023: The notorious “Murphy” for whom an infamous law has been posited joined us during a June, 2023 visit–eight years after our previous tarriance. We had been raving about Burger Boy to our friends John Martin and Lynn Gardner. Would you know it, for the very first time ever, we were’n’t overjoyed with our meal? Our double meat green chile cheeseburgers were far more dry than during any of our previous visits. Prepared to a medium-well to well degree of doneness, the third-pound beef patties lacked the juiciness of our favorite burgers. Either the beef didn’t have much fat (my preference is a 70-30 ratio beef to fat ratio) or they were just too thick to give any other component of the burger an opportunity to shine. Worse, the buns didn’t hold together. There are few sins as grievous as eating a burger with a fork. Well, maybe one sin. The green chile was rather tepid, about as mild as a bell pepper. John and Lynn didn’t experience Burger Boy at its best. At least the company (save for Murphy) was good.
Adventurous burgerphiles can also have buffalo burgers, mushroom burgers or even garden burgers. You can even request an additional beef patty if you’re a carnivore’s carnivore. John had his burger on a tortilla and seemed to like it well enough. 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.
3 October 2010: Citizens on the morning side of the mountain (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. It’s served until 11AM which makes it hard for those of us on “the other side of the mountain” to make it there for breakfast. Breakfast on the go options include biscuit sandwiches and traditional New Mexican favorites (such as huevos rancheros and breakfast quesadillas). Eggs and omelets are fine, but the best reason to visit early in the morning is the pancakes, available in “just a stack” or “stack and a half” sizes.
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. Order the stack and a half breakfast (three pancakes, two eggs any style, hash browns and your choice of ham, bacon or sausage) if your goal for the rest of the day is to take a nap.
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.
12023 NM-14 Scenic
Cedar Crest, New Mexico
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LATEST VISIT: 30 June 2023
# OF VISITS: 7
BEST BET: Green Chile Cheeseburger, Breakfast Burrito, Chocolate Shake, Paul Bunyan Breakfast, Posole, Patty Melt,