Santa Fe Bite – ABQ – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

Santa Fe Bite – ABQ in Nob Hill

In 1940, Thomas Wolfe penned You Can’t Go Home Again, a novel whose deeply existential title prompted more than water cooler conversations.  It prompted profound philosophical discourse, internal reflection and pangs of nostalgia about better days remembered.  Readers pondered if it was true that “you can’t go back home to your family, back home to your childhood.”  Realists concluded the novel’s title meant you can’t return to a place of another time and expect that everything would be exactly the same.  Optimists  took it a bit further, positing that while some things may change, other things don’t change and some things might actually be better.

Wolfe’s novel came to mind when we first heard a legendary Santa Fe institution had licensed a franchise in Albuquerque.  That institution, the Santa Fe Bite had itself once provided evidence that you can go back home.  For six decades, that institution–then known as the Bobcat Bite–earned every accolade conceivable before relocating to the Santa Fe Plaza area in 2003.  There was a lot of charm in its Lilliputian digs where you sat elbow-to-elbow with other diners who, like you, had waited eagerly for one of the Bobcat Bite’s 26 seats to become available.   The intimate space provided the added benefit of being in close proximity to the kitchen where the incomparable aroma of arguably the world’s best green chile cheeseburger pervaded the tiny adobe roadhouse.  For many of us, the Bobcat Bite felt like home.

Santa Fe Bite Interior

When the Bobcat Bite moved and rechristened itself, we wondered if that sense of hominess that permeated its little lair would be lost.  Sure, in its capacious new dwelling, seating would be easier to come by.  And with more room in which to operate, the menu could be expanded greatly.  And you’d be closer to the Plaza.  You can see these as positives, but after our inaugural visit to Santa Fe Bite at the Garrett’s Desert Inn, we quickly discerned what had made the Bobcat Bite feel like home.  It was John and Bonnie Eckre. 

John, of course, was the indefatigable “burger meister” who hand-fashioned and seasoned all three of the restaurant’s cast-iron grills.  He was the “back-of-the-house” presence who painstakingly created a burger so good that when he shared its secrets with Eater, most of us just figured out it was too much work to try duplicating it. Bonnie was the perpetually smiling (with her eyes, too) front-of-the-house face of the restaurant.  She is a study in quiet grace and hospitality, the embodiment of kindness. 

Green Chile Stew

You can duplicate recipes, maybe even fashion and season cast iron grills, but you can’t duplicate John and Bonnie Eckre…and you can’t duplicate the sense of home and family that the Eckres created over the years.  That was the source of my trepidation when I set foot in the Albuquerque franchise in the heart of Nob Hill.  Fittingly because of its location, Santa Fe Bite – ABQ celebrates Route 66.  Walls are festooned with vintage New Mexico license plates, Coke and Pepsi bric-a-brac and images of muscle cars which once prowled the Mother Road.  I was seated near the very front of the restaurant, almost directly beneath a photograph of John and Bonnie Eckre.  For me, that was a place of honor.

Not much, if anything, has changed on the menu from what was served at the City Different’s Santa Fe Bite. That means the world-famous burgers, now available in three sizes and even with bacon. The menu also includes New Mexican staples such as tacos, enchiladas and green chile stew. Ribeye and New York strip steaks are also available. A “today only” special offering all burgers discounted at 25% off greeted me on my inaugural visit.  Icing on the cake was the option of substituting the side of chips that normally accompany burgers with potato salad, green chile stew, coleslaw or salad.  My timing was impeccable!

Green Chile Cheeseburger

23 July 2019: Actor John Barrymore once quipped, “I’d like to find a stew that will give me heartburn immediately instead of at three o’clock in the morning.”  Most New Mexicans believe green chile stew, the elixir of life in these parts, isn’t so  much “heart-burning” as it is “heart-warming.”  We enjoy it even as much on balmy summer days as we do when wintry air bites our cheeks and stings our fingers.  We enjoy it as an appetizer, as a side and as an entree.  I discovered it’s also a better pairing with a green chile cheeseburger than fries are.  Large chunks of ground pork and neon-green chile are the essence of this incomparable comfort food stew.  It’s got just a bit of piquancy, but lots of flavor…and the aroma is magical.

23 July 2019: Self-flagellation and public cries of “mea culpa, mea culpa, mea gran culpa” are in order because when my server asked at what degree of “doneness” I wanted my burger, I responded “whatever the chef thinks is best.”  At steak restaurants, the very same request almost invariably results in a medium-rare steak or chop–the way I love and expect them.  Alas, the burger served to me was medium-well without any of the characteristic pink inside that John Eckre had made an art form.  Again, entirely my fault!  Other elements of the burger–a potent green chile, a blend of Swiss and American cheese–brought back memories of the Bobcat Bite, but my next burger order will certainly be with more decisiveness. 

Green Chile Cheeseburger at Medium Rare – The Way It Should Always Be

19 November 2019: “Medium-rare ten-ounce green chile cheeseburger emphasis on the medium-rare” were my exact words in ordering my second green chile cheeseburger at Santa Fe Bite ABQ.  By definition that degree of doneness promises “light red —hot center.”  Unless the sight of a light red burger makes you queasy, take a gander at the burger delivered to my table.  It was precisely as ordered (my friend Sandy Driscoll will be proud).  That’s ten ounces–the equivalent weight of two and a half quarter-pounders–of steak quality beef nestled between homemade buns barely able of keeping in all that juiciness and flavor.  Larry McGoldrick, the professor with the perspicacious palate, would describe it as a “competition-style green chile cheeseburger.”  Order it completely unadorned and let the beef take you away.  This is a six napkin burger so good you’ll start planning your next one immediately after finishing it.

Country crooner John Denver once compared the feeling of being back home again to being with “a long lost friend.” I have a feeling that in time, Santa Fe Bite – ABQ will also feel like that for many of us.

Santa Fe Bite ABQ
3407 Central, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 19 November 2019
1st VISIT: 23 July 2019
COST: $$
BEST BET: Green Chile Cheeseburger, Green Chile Stew
REVIEW #1121

17 thoughts on “Santa Fe Bite – ABQ – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

  1. I tried the 5oz green chile cheeseburger here last week. Love the bread they use for the bun. Meat was good, chile was tasty and had some decent heat and the cheese was nicely melted. Would definitely come back again.

  2. When I say “medium-rare” I mean show me the pink. I’m not talking about the singer, Pink, I’m talking about the meat pink. If a restaurant errors in the order, I say, error in rare not medium. Rare is fixable (though I never send back rare), medium is not fixable.

    The above photo of a green chile cheeseburger is exactly what I mean by “medium-rare,” as Gil notes. Medium-rare is not open to judicial interpretation, such as Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, who in 1964, wrote “I can’t define pornography other than I know it when I see it.”

    Medium-rare is an objective observance. There is no wiggle-room for lawyers to get their clients off the hook. If I order “medium-rare” I want to see the pink. Case closed.

  3. Ryan, you are so right! We need a collage a pics Gil can choose from and merge with Biz fronts for those moments when we aren’t there…

  4. Gil, as always, I love reading your reviews. You have been and always will be my favorite food blogger.
    Something seems to be missing, however. There are no pictures of Sr. Potsticker or myself.
    I just can’t take any reviews seriously without at least one of us standing outside of the front door.

  5. Santa Fe bites website sucks not very informative. And they’re closed when their site says theyre supposed to be open. Overpriced

  6. PS Bob – Loving your old LA restaurant link and the others. I could spend a whole day on this – thanks!

  7. Blue Bloods is my fav.

    Dr. Laura – I used to listen to her – liked her honesty but not her politics. She became annoying.

    I was speaking with a friend yesterday who has family in Hatch, NM. She told me that much of what purports to be Hatch chilis is actually chilis from Mexico! It’s a big deal here where some places (including our local Gelson’s market) have a chili roasting weekend then sell them in bulk. She promised to give me some REAL ones from Hatch! 🙂

    1. Alas, “protecting” the farmers of NM’s Green Chile and Hatch is a problem. NM acreage/production has decreased over the years (see the very bottom chart ) related to farm owners kids wanting to leave the farm/fields to go into other more stable or interesting careers; often times whimsical weather growing conditions tax farm income; there is a shrinking labor force of regular Mexican pickers coming ‘up’ per growing older and their kids wanting less labor-intensive jobs, and farmers in other countries seeing the growing demand for chile flavored foods…popularity is killing e.g. Hatch.
      As such, one can only wonder what effect such legislative attempts as & will have, given Folks in Connecticut don’t know about the “law” or to look for stickers on what they buy, but especially not having experienced the nuances of taste, let alone heat….and possibly price.
      Indeed, a grocery chain “back East” (let alone across the country) has been doing the rotating of a roaster on a weekend at their neighboring stores where they are…understandably…getting twice the price, per e.g. per costs of shipping/promoting, of a sack or less. This is but one example
      As you may know, one “shame” is NMSU has labored over the years improving the seeds beyond the variables of e.g. soil and weather as may be experienced in Hatch v Chimayo. And then we add in this variable just the other day which means we might really wonder if this is the truth!!!?

    1. The restaurant was so busy, I didn’t have a chance to speak with the manager on duty to find that out. My server, gracious and attentive as she was, didn’t know.

  8. HI Gil!

    Loved your review (absolutely right on, especially with emphasis on Bonnie & John being the ‘secret sauce’ to the success of Bobcat Bite). Loved it, that is, until I got to your last sentence. You & I have had this discussion before. I like my burger Med-Rare (and if I’m being precise – MR on the Rare side) You like yours generally medium, I believe. That said, why would anyone as experienced an eater and reviewer as you say ‘whatever the chef thinks is best’? I know you said ‘mea culpa’ but every experienced diner should grow a pair, step up to the plate and state what they prefer.

    My dear departed Dad loved his steaks ‘well done’ – go figure. But that’s the way he liked them. When my parents first visited me in LA, we went to a famous steakhouse on the La Cienega strip called ‘Stears for Steaks’. He ordered a ‘well-done’ steak and they refused to cook it for him. They would do nothing beyond medium.

    So when you return to Alb’s SF Bite, I hope you order what YOU want, and I hope it’s the ethereal dining experience you deserve!
    Your friend, Sandy

    1. Hi Sandy

      You’re absolutely correct on all counts. I definitely should know better.

      During two of my burger excursions prior to Santa Fe Bite, I did express my medium-rare (you and Kim converted me) preference only to be told that the burgers were served “smashburger style” (three-ounce patty pressed onto a hot skillet and smashed with a spatula to give it a good sear; smashburger style always means medium-well to well). I knew darn well smashburger style wouldn’t work with Santa Fe Bite’s ten-ounce patty, but I still gave the chef free rein. Sadly, well done is still a very popular way to order burgers in New Mexico so he probably assumed I would enjoy it that way…and I’m sure proponents of well-done burgers would have liked this one. As for me, I’ll be ordering “medium-rare” at the top of my lungs next visit.

      The next time you visit the Land of Enchantment, Santa Fe Bite might have a presence in both Santa Fe and Albuquerque. John and Bonnie are opening Santa Fe Bite on St. Michael’s Drive in the former location of Tecolote Cafe. They expect to be open in September.

      I hope we see you and Laser soon.



      1. Dear Medium-Rare Gil! (Thanks to Kim for the conversion!) I never really got ‘smashburger’ style. They’re doing some of that here, too. However I always think that anyone who does that to a really good piece of meat is…well…. smashing it.

        My current burger annoyance is being served one that you can’t eat without removing 1.5 inches of accoutrements from it in order to fit it in my mouth. My routine with a burger is to first cut it in half (this insures that it’s the degree of doneness that I ordered and makes it easier to eat – at least, for me) then slowly enjoy it.

        I’m so glad to hear that Bonnie and John are still around! They are true treasures! I remember a long ago visit to Bobcat Bite where I arrived pretty late, and ended up been the last customer at the counter. They were cleaning up, and I could see the grill guy scraping the grill while listening to classical music – I think Beethoven. I was trying to hurry as I didn’t want to hold them up after a busy day. Bonnie told me I could take as long as I wanted. So I relaxed with my wonderful burger, listened to Beethoven, and took in that memorial ambiance.

        1. Alas, Mz Sandy…Must note my agreement with your disagreement with highly stacked (and to include stacked priced), jaw bustin sangwiches(sic). I can’t imagine the shock sitting across for a Gal on a first date watching her try to chomp on one of those behemoths in a lady like fashion. That would also include being with a Cougar experiencing the bond of her Fixodent letting go! Extrapolating, might imagine having a reaction like Seinfeld’s on this date:
          Lest you may have missed elsewhere: I think one intact 6 oz patty for a GCCB cooked no more than medium, would make for the most chance for a burger to contain elements of being burgery, i.e. having a certain texture and taste, which I aver cannot be found by slapping two burgers on the same bun.
          Elsewise, wishing you be Safe strolling downtown LA nowadays.
          PS & N.B.: Lest you missed it, we be early into
          AND GCCBs are Biting in Santa Fe

          1. Sorry BOTVOLR – I can’t access your links because I’m not a subscriber of that publication. However the Seinfeld clip is hysterical! (Somehow I lived thru that era and missed Seinfeld – guess I was too busy watching Hill Street Blues or whatever cop show was popular then!!) Aren’t you a fan of Santa Barbara’s Super Rica? And yes, I agree of course about the size of the burgers. However, you might want to back off a bit on your description of polident-using cougars, lest one of them bite you in the posterior (figuratively speaking, of course!)

            While we’re on the subject of annoyances at restaurants – my current (and forever) one is cacophonous restaurants! Seems every new hot spot in LA is so noisy they induce an immediate headache. Thank goodness many have lovely courtyards when one can dine and have a real convo in relative peace! And with that, I will say peace out! Pic of deep-fried pizza – yes, really – at Antica, my newest fav restaurant in Hollywood. This was on their lovely patio!

            1. Alas Sandy, sorry the ABQ Journal doesn’t give you Guesting privileges to read a) a place at Wyoming and Montgomery almost sold out of their first batch of 1K of Roasted Green Chile this past Thursday. [To me, it is a tad early]. b) Santa Fe Bite with the real Eckres has reopened at the former Tecolote in SF, i.e. beyond the franchised one here in Nob Hill.
              Whoa….Santa Barbara’s Super Rica…nope never heard of it. Besides my first formal dance as a college Frosh being held there with other brotherly frats on the strand, and knowing Al Gore bought a hacienda on a hillside as a precaution in Montecito, my only other familiarity with Santa B is controversial Dr. Laura.
              OMG! Hill Street Blues: Gr8 show! Hope you might enjoy Blue Bloods equally.
              Sorry, but per your Cougar and Stear’s Steaks references and lest I didn’t send before, perhaps you have stories your Folks told you about some of these
              And almost finally: experiencing the abominable avocado substitution/shortage yet?
              Again, as the Sarge said

      2. Wow…I somehow missed that. That’s a bummer. Though I’m not too surprised, the last time we went there, it was very empty, and I gotta say, I was fairly disappointed in our meal. Mostly because it used to be fantastic and delicious, and now was just so-so. Everything from the food to the ambience to the service was just “off” that night…

        Sad to lose another great restaurant in it’s day!

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