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.
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.
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.
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
# OF VISITS: 31
BEST BET: Giant Green Chile Cheeseburger