“If you need good hot grillin’,
Try my burger stand.
If you need a slice of thrillin’,
I’m the baddest in the land.
Any way you want it baby,
I am your burger man.”
~Burger Man by ZZ Top
Those of us invited on occasion to judge competitive food events try to follow a few very sensical but ironclad rules to ensure our evaluations are fair, balanced and accurate—or at least as accurate as any largely subjective matter can be. Though we commit these rules to memory, it’s very easy to forget about them and give way to unbridled desire, especially when you’re judging what has been deemed the best of the best, the most delicious of its genre. Such was the case when I was invited to serve as a judge at the 2018 Green Chile Cheeseburger Smackdown on September 8th, 2018.
Before embarking on my delicious task, I went over my mental checklist of those rules. (1) Arrive hungry, but not too hungry. Check. My breakfast consisted solely of a banana and two cups of coffee. (2) Pace yourself and take small bites. With seven full-sized green chile cheeseburgers presented to us in ten-minute intervals, it’s important that judges be as excited about the seventh burger as we are for the first. (3) “Never, ever, ever finish a dish. No matter how great it is.” That’s advice from Andrew Knowlton, restaurant and drinks editor for Bon Appetit. He also advised, “don’t be ashamed to chew and then spit it in your napkin.” Okay, that last bit of advice is heresy to me, not something I’d ever do.
As soon as the very first burger was presented to the judges, those rules dissipated from memory. Instead of being “not too hungry,” I found myself ravenous. My lack of discipline was exacerbated by just how delicious the first burger (from the Street Food Institute)–and eventual People’s Choice award-winner–was. Rather than the two or three small bites I had planned to take, in short order almost half the burger was gone. Each subsequent burger validated its worthiness to compete in the premier green chile cheeseburger burger competition in the state. None of them received my planned two or three small bite evaluations. By the time we had finished with seventh and final burger, this gluttonous judge had probably devoured three and a half behemoth, skyscraper-tall, Mississippi-wide burgers in total.
You’d think after such a display of rampant overindulgence, it would be a long time before I would crave another green chile cheeseburger, that I’d still be stuffed–if not overstuffed–for days. You would be wrong. By Wednesday, I would have waded across a pond of piranha or subjected myself to a full minute of The View for a green chile cheeseburger. The big questions were, “did the exemplary green chile cheeseburgers at the Smackdown ruin me for all other green chile cheeseburgers” and “where in Albuquerque could I find a green chile cheeseburger that can be mentioned in the same sentenced as those I’d just judged.” The easy answer would have been visiting Mas Tapas Y Vino for another go at the Smackdown’s Reigning Chomp, Toltec Brewing Co. for its James Beard award-winning “Royale” or Slow Roasted Bocadillos for another strong Smackdown contender.
As serendipity would have it, eight days before my inaugural visit, a new burger emporium by the name The Burger Stand opened its doors on Central Avenue just east of University and next door to Wendy’s (definitely not a contender for my carnal (or is that carne) green chile cheeseburger appetite). It didn’t immediately dawn on me that it was a satellite of the beloved Burger Stand at the Ale House which has been winning over hearts and stomachs in Taos since 2009. Seven years later, the Burger Stand (4.5 stars on 150 Yelp reviews) launched in downtown Santa Fe on Burro Alley. An Albuquerque location just makes sense.
As with its predecessor siblings, Albuquerque’s Burger Stand’s menu pairs burgers and beers in a menu which will appeal to diners of all demographics. True to the name on the marquee, the menu showcases a number of inventive burgers, everything from New Mexico’s sacrosanct green chile cheeseburger to a fire-eater favorite crafted with incendiary with sweet and spicy habanero jam. Sandwich options include a catfish po’ boy and a chicken sandwich called the Barnyard Bash. Non-bread-based entrees include fish and chips, falafel and a flat iron steak. There are four hot dogs, two vegetarian dishes and three salads on the menu, but what grabbed me most were the seven types of fries. If adult beverages aren’t of your liking, a number of shakes and floats are also available.
12 September 2018: There are so many potentially delicious options on the menu that the proverbial best laid plans of mice and men can easily go awry. After jonesing for a green chile cheeseburger for three full days, the sheer variety of that menu nearly thwarted my plans to have one. Thankfully, reason (and hunger) prevailed. The Burger Stand’s green chile cheeseburger (fire-roasted Hatch chile verde, pepperjack cheese, local greens, tomato, onion) is terrific. Sometimes it’s the little things about a burger that stand out most. For me, it was the sliced onion, a nice change-up from the ubiquitous chopped or grilled onions. Sliced onions have more of that tear-inducing heat that pairs so well with a piquant green chile…and the Burger Stand’s green chile definitely bites back. Though my burger wasn’t prepared to my exacting degree of doneness (medium with a hint of pink in the middle), the beef patty is well seasoned and delicious. The burger isn’t a multi-napkin affair, but it’s quite good and will win over Duke City diners as it has burger aficionados in Taos and Santa Fe.
12 September 2018: It dawned on me as I contemplated the seven French fry options on the menu that seven is the luckiest number in the western hemisphere, if not the world. Consider yourself lucky if you order the duck fat fries (regular fries tossed in duck fat and sprinkled with orange zest and parsley). The fries look like your routine out-of-a-bag fries in that they’re fairly standard in size and thickness, but the duck fat elevates them just as it does duck confit. A little more orange zest would have made them even better.
14 September 2018: In 2018, the James Beard Foundation paired with The Blenditarian to sponsor the 2018 Blended Burger Project, a competition to recognize the best beef-mushroom blended burger in the fruited plain. The five winners included Albuquerque Chef David Ruiz of Toltec Brewing and the fabulous Royale. It’s well documented that the flavor of a traditional ground meat burger can be enhanced significantly when paired with mushrooms, essentially doubling the impact of umami, that deep, dark, meaty intensity that leaves you craving more. The Burger Stand’s Shroom & Swiss burger (Swiss cheese, Hatch green chile and mushroom topping) has a lot of umami. The mushrooms are definitely not the canned variety doused in preservatives which remove umami. Though a condiment caddy is available on every table with mustard, ketchup and hot sauce, this burger doesn’t need any ameliorants. What it could use, however, is a bit less time on the grill. Medium-rare should have some pink.
14 September 2018: Mexican restaurants, even the palaterias which specialize in frozen treats, have long used a red chile and lime pairing to enhance the flavor of many foods. If you’ve ever had an elote at El Cotorro or a Mexican popsicle, you know of what I speak. The pairing of red chile (a dusting of red chile from Chimayo) and lime (two wedges) with French fries was a new one for me. Considering my affection for chips (fries) with malt vinegar, it would make sense that the citrus tang of lime would appeal to me. It did! The more lime you squeeze onto the red chile dusted fries, the messier the mix…and the more delicious.
7 February 2020: It’s pretty easy to describe anything that’s grilled as “smoky,” but more often than not, only the low and slow process of barbecue truly delivers on the promises made by hazy plumes of smoke. It was with more than a bit of skepticism that I ordered the Smoke (applewood smoked bacon, Gouda cheese, Bloody Maria barbecue sauce). Expecting maybe some discernible liquid smoke flavor, I was more than pleasantly surprised to experience a seductive smokiness from applewood smoked bacon Jethro Tull might describe as “thick as a brick.” Indeed two thick planks of porcine perfection were not only fat and full-figured, they were smoked magnificently. Just as surprising is the Bloody Maria barbecue sauce which has a tangy piquancy with subtle sweet notes and a hint of smoke. This is a magnificent burger! A pile of golden onion rings is the perfect accompaniment.
Because an event such as the Green Chile Cheeseburger Smackdown comes around only once a year, it’s wonderful to know great green chile cheeseburgers are available year-round across the Land of Enchantment. Some of the very best come from The Burger Stand, now in Albuquerque.
The Burger Stand
1916E Central Avenue, S.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 07 February 2020
1st VISIT: 12 September 2018
# OF VISITS: 3
BEST BET: Green Chile Cheeseburger, Duck Fat Fries, Shroom & Swiss Burger, Red Chile Lime Fries, The Smoke, Onion Rings