Honnell’s Late Nite Burger – Santa Fe, New Mexico (CLOSED)

Steaks and burgers under glass
Steaks and burgers under glass
Have it your way
Have it your way with a terrific condiment bar

“America’s celebrity psychologist” Dr. Phil McGraw posits that how you interact with your partner in the first four minutes can set the tone for the day.  Those first and most crucial 240 seconds of each and every day can, in essence, dictate your entire mood and, in the long run, either keep your relationship intact or destroy it.  I’d add that even the first four minutes of your workday can have a profound impact on the rest of your day. If the first person with whom you interact is what Dilbert creator Scott Adams would describe as an “office vampire” your entire day will be impacted.  Office vampires are those people from whom a cheery “good morning” greeting will elicit a “what’s good about it” retort. They embody the axiom that misery loves company and are generally avoided like the plague. 

Restaurants don’t have 240 seconds to set the tone for their patrons’ dining experiences. It’s been my experience that restaurants have about ten seconds to set the tone for your entire experience.  Restaurants have their own versions of the office vampire. These are generally the greeters whose chief (maybe sole) responsibility is to welcome diners and escort them to their tables. A grumpy greeter should lead you to question whether or not he or she reflects the professional attitude and customer orientation of the restaurant ownership and staff.

The Late Nite Burger restaurant
The Late Nite Burger restaurant

During the first ten seconds of our inaugural visit to Honnell’s Late Nite Burger on Santa Fe’s Cerrillos Road, we were greeted politely and treated like welcome guests.

This wasn’t the rehearsed “wait schtick” you might experience at a chain restaurant in which saccharine service is as genuine as a politician’s promise. Our server Jerry Griffin was genuinely friendly in an ambassadorial sense–friendly, but not overly familiar; attentive without hovering. It set the tone for a very nice meal. We had, in fact, intended to place a take-out order and leave, but decided to stick around and visit.

The Late Nite Burger restaurant launched just as 2007 was drawing to a close. It is within easy walking distance of Tecolote Cafe and in the same sprawling complex as Carmen’s Pizza. It occupies the former site of Rocky’s Bar & Grill.

Contrary to any images its name may conjure, the Late Nite Burger has the look and feel of an upscale gourmet burger restaurant without any of the condescending implications of that characterization.

White-washed vigas, tiled floors and multi-hued walls make this a very attractive milieu for dining and not necessarily only during late night hours. The restaurant is open from 11AM through 11PM Tuesday through Saturday.

Late Nite Burger with real blue cheese
Late Nite Burger with real blue cheese

Jerry Honnell, the restaurant’s proprietor, is absolutely fanatical about the quality of his product. All burgers are constructed from boneless USDA choice chuck roast which is ground on the premises daily. The burgers are thick and juicy and will take a few minutes to cook.

At the Late Nite Burger, you truly can “have it your way” both in terms of the “doneness” of your beef and in the way you dress your burgers. A toppings bar includes very fresh ingredients (think Fudruckers but better), including some that you don’t see every day. The toppings bar includes sweet relish pickles, red and white onions, pico de gallo and some of the best looking lettuce you’ll see anywhere.

Good looking also applies to the cuts of beef under glass beside the ordering counter. The Late Nite Burger offers T-Bone, Ribeye and New York Strip steaks as well as a grilled pork chop verde (the verde coming from green chile).

A thick, cold and delicious chocolate shake
A thick, cold and delicious chocolate shake

Burgers can be ordered with one beef patty or two. The menu also includes turkey, ground chicken, crab cake and Portobello burgers. The latter is a vegetarian offering topped with fresh calabasitas and Swiss cheese.

In addition to the toppings bar, you can order your burger with caramelized onions, smoked chipotle peppers, green chile strips, grilled pineapple and chili Toredo grilled jalapenos.

For a pittance more, you can even top your burgers with fresh calabasitas, thick sliced bacon, sautéed Portobello mushrooms, homemade guacamole, roasted red peppers and red or green chile. The possibilities are endless.

Fromage fanatics like me will appreciate that you can have a burger with Swiss cheese, Blue cheese, Cheddar cheese, Pepperjack cheese and American cheese. The buns are fresh and flecked with sesame seeds. They have a sweet-savory flavor that enhances the flavor of the beef.

I topped my very first Late Nite burger with blue cheese (the real stuff), red onions and sweet relish pickles. At medium well, this was a delicious burger with tons of flavor. The beef is nicely seasoned and the blue cheese has the pungency I like–strong but complementary to the other ingredients. It’s so good, it doesn’t even need green chile to make it an outstanding burger!

At so many restaurants, it’s apparent an extensive amount of filler is used on burgers, but not so at Late Nite. The beef is juicy and absolutely unadulterated with filler of any sort. Burger aficionados will love that! This is a burger restaurant to which future visits are guaranteed.

Steaks and burgers under glass
Two beef patties, two slices of cheese, boundless flavor

There are several choices with which to wash your burger down. Those of us who have lived through four decades or more will absolutely love the old-fashioned milk shakes at the Late Nite Burger. Only three flavors–chocolate, vanilla and strawberry-are available, but that suits us quadragenarians just fine. That’s what we grew up with.

These shakes are served cold and thick, but you’re given an extra wide straw with which to imbibe the deliciousness. The chocolate shakes include a generous squeeze of chocolate syrup, the rich kind that leaves a chocolate mustache. These are some of the best shakes we’ve had anywhere in the Land of Enchantment!

Honnell’s Late Nite Burger
1201 Cerrillos Road
Santa Fe, NM
LATEST VISIT: 6 September 2008
COST: $$
BEST BET: Late Nite Burger, Chocolate Shake, Draft Root Beer

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