Griff’s – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

Griff's on Central Avenue, an Albuquerque institution!
Griff’s on Central Avenue, an Albuquerque institution!

NOTE: On Wednesday, July 5, Griff’s announced that it will be closing its Albuquerque location on July 6th. According to the post, there have been too many incidents at the location making it “unsafe and undesirable” to continue operating there. Griff’s has other locations in Texas and Louisiana. The company said it hopes to return to Albuquerque someday

Adults of my generation lament that what separates McDonald’s, Burger King and Wendy’s from the hamburger chains with which we grew up is certainly not a superior product. It doesn’t take much to figure out that the “big three” sit atop the lofty burger throne because of aggressive product innovation and clever marketing that captured the young demographic. The big burger threesome (big five if you include Burger Chef and Tastee Freez) of my generation–A&W, Bob’s Big Boy and Griff’s Burger Bar–certainly serve (or served) a better burger by far.

In the Southwest, A&W appears to have been relegated to sharing space with Long John Silver’s. Bob’s Big Boy is but an enigmatic smile triggered when you drive by JB’s Family Restaurant and remember when that restaurant space was claimed by the Big Boy. Of the aforementioned triumvirate of my youth, only the anachronistic Griff’s remains, albeit no longer a gigantic franchise but still serving giant burgers.

The familiar Griff's architecture.
The familiar Griff’s architecture.

At one time, the Griff’s Burger Bar chain was mentioned in the same breath as McDonald’s. The interstate chain owned by the Griffiths family had outposts from Louisiana to Arizona and was entrenched in some Midwestern states. While McDonald’s had the famous and familiar golden arches, Griff’s trademarks were a steep A-framed architecture with a yellow sign screaming the word “hamburgers” just above a smaller sign displaying a cursive-style “Griff’s” with a star dotting the “i.”

Alas, while McDonald’s innovated, Griff’s stayed pat (make that burger patty) and today, very few Griff’s restaurants dot the fruited plains. Albuquerque once had two Griff’s restaurants (that I know of) with one still going strong in a Central Avenue location on the eastern fringes of the International District that has been discovered by patrons of all generations.

Giant double green chile cheeseburger and onion rings.
Giant double green chile cheeseburger and onion rings.

Having been stationed at Kirtland Air Force base in the early 80s meant close proximity to Griff’s giant burgers then described as “the size of a table.” In the 80s, you could drive up and pay one buck for four nice-sized burgers that were bigger and better by far than anything offered at McDonald’s. Inflation has affected not only Griff’s, but my once svelte waistline. Today, a giant green chile cheeseburger will cost you about just shy of five dollars, but it’s still a bargain at that price.

Griff’s giant cheeseburgers are invariably well-seasoned and always prepared to order with a mayonnaise base, fresh tomatoes, lettuce and the perfect pickle relish complement to any other ingredients you may choose. The most popular choice might be double-meal while the most stalwart Griff’s aficionados will opt for a third all-beef patty.

Pork Sandwich
Pork Sandwich

Green chile for your burgers is available in mild and a hot variety that might make you wish your tongue was coated with asbestos unless you’re used to the hot stuff….and it appears most patrons are. On occasion Griff’s has been known to run out of the hot chile. Offers to substitute with chopped jalapenos are usually rebuffed. Helping quell the fiery qualities of the green chile are very good burger buns which are slightly toasted. What hits home for me most about Griff’s is how it manages to capture elusive olfactory memories of the green chile cheeseburgers served at the parish fiestas throughout Northern New Mexico. To really experience the most tasty trek along New Mexico’s Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail, you must have the green chile cheeseburger at a parish fiesta in Bernalillo, Taos or Peñasco. Griff’s rendition of this iconic burger is reminiscent of the burgers at a fiesta.

15 October 2015: Griff’s isn’t solely a burger joint though every time I’ve ordered something other than a burger, a quick turn-around visit is in order and nothing but a burger will do. Some of the sandwiches–steak sandwich, chicken sandwich, fish sandwich, hot meltdown, hot link and cheesy chicken BLT–are passable and will do in a pinch, but there’s nothing on the menu nearly as satisfying as a Griff’s burger. The least satisfying (understatement) sandwich we’ve had is the pork sandwich, a breaded tenderloin between a bun slathered with mayo and served with lettuce. On the sole occasion in which we’ve had it, the sandwich’s only moist quality was the mayo. Texturally the breading was reminiscent of sawdust, imparting dryness to an already dry, overdone tenderloin.

Mike Moretti, a long-time friend whose legal name should be “Macho” used to chide his male friends for using straws. With Griff’s sizable (32 and 44 ounce) shakes, you might not have the lung power to suck up the thick, cold shakes through a straw. Griff’s shakes are exceedingly sweet, but served cold and will cool you off on a sweltering summer day.

There’s nothing remarkable about Griff’s French fries save for the fact that they’re very lightly salted, but the onion rings are terrific. They’re fried to a golden hue and when you bite into them, you’ll actually bite into sweet, tasty onion, not excess fried batter.

If budget matters and you want a great tasting burger, your money certainly goes a long way here and your taste buds will thank you.

8516 Central, S.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 15 October 2015
BEST BET: Giant Green Chile Cheeseburger

15 thoughts on “Griff’s – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

    1. How very sad. Griff’s was a local institution. We didn’t visit more often because (as you eloquently stated) its sketchiness. We’ll miss Griff’s.

      1. It’s very heartening that their legacy lives on in other states! I’m really happy for them and hope they do well. Looking at the reviews elsewhere, they’ve taken off. Farewell, excellent burger joint. We will miss you, and Godspeed.

  1. Barbara Hoblit giggled, “I knew you would love it.” when we went there.

    Love it? It instantly rocketed its way to a coveted sixth place on my GCCB Hall of Fame List.

    1. Sparky’s (Hatch) ♥♥♥♥♥
    2. Owl Bar (San Antonio)
    3. Horseman’s Haven Cafe (Santa Fe)
    4. Owl Cafe (Albuquerque)
    5. Indigo Crow (Corrales)
    6. Griff’s Hamburgers (Albuquerque)

  2. Griff’s is a ways out of our neighborhood, so I wasn’t especially motivated to go there, but an old-timer in our swimming class always talks about how he gets a burger from Griff’s every Friday, and how the burgers are “like how Blake’s used to be.” He was so into these burgers that we finally broke down and went up there.

    I would say, yeah, it is a pretty awesome burger, in the category of burgers where you absolutely do not want to know what they’re made out of or what’s in them, you just wolf it down and later on make peace with your God and your guts.

    Agree also that the fries are OK but skippable — I don’t know what they used to use, but the ones I tried were unremarkable. Onion rings are better. They’re just frozen McCain onion rings, but they’re good.

    Also, gotta say, thank God for drive-thru, because that place is pretty sketchy! Not that it’s necessarily a bad thing, since the fear of getting shivved by the meth addicts in the next booth can often add some spice to one’s meal, but sometimes you just want your food without the prison cafeteria vibe, y’know? Also, the less you see of the people actually preparing your food, the better. Which doesn’t sound like an endorsement of Griff’s, but it really is, insofar as food usually tastes better when there’s an element of danger involved in procuring it.

  3. I was stationed at Sandia Base back in 1965-66….I ate at Griffs every time liver was served in the mess hall….it was to go only then (no drive thru or dining hall) and the parking lot was gravel…..the burgers and fries were great and affordable for a GI….went back to Albuquerque a couple of years ago…stopped for a burger at Griffs….not as good as back in the 60s but still better than Mc Donalds and way, way, way better than liver at Sandia Base mess hall….yuck….Joe Cooper, Pipe Creek, Tx

    1. I was also stationed at Sandia/Kirtland Base in 1972. It was wonderful back then, so good that I even walked to Griffs a few times in the middle of winter to get a burger and fries. I do hope they come back soon, but in a better part of town. Mayor Keller has really let the homeless take over Central Ave.

  4. Recently went to Griff’s and discovered they changed their fries!!!! 🙁 Severely disappointed in that move. The burgers are still good, but now I don’t know if the drive is worth it anymore, especially considering that PapaBurgers, and Itsa Italian Ice are closer to home than Griff’s…will probably still go once in a while, but will have to get the rings instead of the fries now…

  5. Gotta disagree with you here Gil. The fries at Griff’s are some of the best around…from the “chain” places at least. O-rings are awesome too. MMMM I think I’ll go grab lunch…Monster w/green chile and an order of fries AND O-rings.

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