Friday, September 21, 2012

There We Were…

in the customer lounge at the Albuqueque Camping World where we were having some minor—but certainly not inexpensive—repair work done on the exterior molding of our rig. Chuck is on the computer and I am lolling on the sofa channel surfing. Suddenly he calls out to me: “Guess who USA Today named as having the best hamburger in New Mexico?”

Over the past fifty-one months, we have sampled many a burger and have developed our own hierarchy. First on the list is Bobcat Bite in Santa Fe. And there is a four way tie for second between Hodad’s (Ocean Beach, CA), Squeeze Inn (Sacramento, CA), Port of Call (New Orleans, LA), and Burgers & Moore (Kerrville, TX). So Bobcate Bite had to be the best in New Mexico—right?


In an article titled “51 Great Burger Joints,” USA Today said: “When you talk burgers in New Mexico, you're talking green chile cheeseburgers. But what distinguishes 5 Star Burgers, with restaurants in Taos and Albuquerque, is quality.
"Served on a brioche bun from local Fano bakery, their hormone and antibiotic-free Black Angus beef is ground fresh daily and cooked to order. The 8-ounce green chile cheeseburgers come in two varieties with green chiles the star attraction.” Who da thunk it? And we’ll be the ultimate judge.

“Despite the relative lack of hype and brouhaha, 5 Star Burgers won’t play second-fiddle to any burger restaurant. The name on the marquee will tell you that. That name is bold and maybe more than a bit audacious; some might say it borders on braggadocio.
"Five-star, after all, is a term used to denote the highest quality, something that is incomparable and absolutely without peer. In a rating system of one to five stars, it signifies the pinnacle, the top, the very best. My friends in Taos tell me the name fits” (

You walk through the doors and immediately know that you are not in your average burger joint. “Starting with an elegant space, sparsely decorated and augmented by a bar along one wall, the restaurant is
both inviting and casual, usually full of couples and families around the dinner hour happily having that most American of meals.

"On my visits the service was generally quick and always friendly, even if the kitchen was busy with orders piling in from hungry diners” (Andrea Lin at

(Owner) “Gontram has simultaneously slowed down and upscaled the concept of fast food. He does more to defeat the stereotype of burgers being unhealthy and greasy than perhaps any other burger restaurant in Albuquerque. If the menu alone doesn’t tell you this is no run-of-the-mill burger joint, it will be very obvious this is no ‘gobble and go’ fast-food emporium when you don’t see a drive-up window anywhere in sight. In fact, you’re more apt to saunter into the restaurant than to make a mad dash from your car. That’s the pace at which the restaurant operates.

“When you walk in, you’ll be amiably greeted and escorted to your table where you’ll be presented a well-organized menu. Take in the swanky digs.

"The ambiance is elegant in a neo-modern way with ebony ceilings and stark tri-colored walls.

"Seating is utilitarian and comfortable and includes a bar complete with high-back stools from where you can order beer or wine. An attentive wait staff will check up on you frequently, but not to the point where it becomes a nuisance” (Gil Garduno

The menu goes beyond burgers and includes a number of salads and non-burger sandwich offerings. And there is a “Burger of the Month” with September’s being the Caesar Salad Burger with fried parmesan cheese, romaine lettuce, and Caesar dressing. But when in New Mexico, it has to be a green chile cheeseburger. And here Five Star also offers a twist with the Taos Burger with crispy green chile, bbq sauce, and cheddar cheese. But instead, we both ordered the signature Green Chile Cheeseburger—medium rare—with green chile, pepper jack cheese, and green chile mayo and accompanied by lettuce, tomato, and onion.

What can I say? This was a most exemplary hamburger. First, the toasted Faro Bakery brioche roll was light yet substantial enough to stand up to the juices that flowed from the burger.
(Brioche “is a highly enriched bread of French origin, whose high egg and butter content give it a rich and tender crumb. It is light and slightly puffy, more or less fine, according to the proportion of butter and eggs” []). Second, the beef is all natural hormone and antibiotic-free Black Angus and ground fresh every day. And the combination of green chile and pepper jack cheese—as Emeril Lagasse would say—“Kicked it up notches unknown to mankind.” While Five Star’s medium rare is not as red as Bobcat Bite’s, the slightly longer cooking time provided the tasty seared surface that we both so enjoy.

“Any sandwich you order needs to be accompanied by a Mixed Cart of Fries…a duo of regular and sweet potato fries with crispiness to rival the best fast-food fries you already know, but at Five Star you're spreading the local restaurant love, something I heartily endorse” (Andrea (I assume that Ms. Lin is referring here to the thin shoestring fries served at that omnipresent national franchise.) These were great fries and made even better by the cup of green chile ranch mayo that accompanied them. So good was this mayo that we bought a half-pint container to take home.

Both Ms. Lin and Gil Garduno made mention of Five Star’s service and we were fortunate to have drawn Andres (pronounced On-dres) as our server. He combined the utmost in professionalism with an open and friendly personality. He reminded us of our favorite server at Ancora in New Orleans—Bren—and both of these young men have a future in the hospitality business if such proves to be their long-term career choice.

So did we enjoy that lunch that we returned a few days later. It was the height of the noon rush but we were willing to wait in order to be seated at one of Andres’ tables. Fortunately, the wait was short.

On this occasion, Chuck’s selection was the Old Timer, a basic burger to which he added some pepper jack cheese. Did he miss the green chiles? No. He was in burger heaven. A little cheese, a little raw onion, and a superior hamburger patty—what more could he want?

I debated between special September burger and the Portobello Stack with crispy green chile, roasted red pepper, grilled onions, and gorgonzola cream. But then I did an abrupt about face and ordered the Coho Salmon sandwich on brioche. Delicious.
The very large salmon filet (we guessed that it weighed in heavier than his burger) was perfectly grilled—flakey and moist with mild salmon flavor.

And, of course, we again shared a mixed cart of fries, and I discovered that the green chile mayo was delicious on my salmon.

To finish the meal, we ordered a couple of ice cream shooters—mini ice cream cones that were just large enough to end the meal with a note of sweetness.

What a great place! What a great burger! 5.0 Addies all the way. So who’s burger—as they say on Iron Chef—reigns supreme? We have a new leader. Best Burger we have eaten—Five Star Burgers. In second place—Bobcat Bite. And we now have a four-way tie for third.

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