Monday, October 06, 2008

New Mexico: Bob's Burger

Ranchero Burger, Fries, Frito Pie and a Dr. Pepper.

Voted as the Best Frito Pie by Alibi readers, I knew that I had to make a visit to Bob's. And when I saw that they had a location close to the hotel, I knew it was meant to be.

The notion of Frito Pie just sounds magical to me. Since I was a child, I've always loved the greasy corniness of Fritos. Few snack foods are as satisfying as a bag of Frito's and a cold Coke, and the idea of smothering those Frito's with chili and cheese just makes it that much more appealing to a hedonist like me.

Bob's is an Albuquerque chain of fast food restaurants. It's plain, clean and utilitarian. Efficient. It's not even as nicely decorated as a McDonald's but as long as the food is good, what do I care? I'm not going to sit here for four hours eating a twenty course tasting menu, I'm here for Frito Pie - the ultimate in New Mexican working class fare.

But it's lunchtime and I'm also hungry and their Ranchero Burger sounds pretty good. All beef patty, cheese and green chiles with french fries and a large Dr. Pepper. That should fill the ticket. Just sidle up to the counter, place your order, pay and they'll call out your number when it's ready. It's the early part of lunchtime so the restaurant is fairly empty save for a few telephone repairmen and some others who are taking advantage of the lull before the rush.

Finally, my order is ready. It comes on a standard, red tray. One thing that seems popular here in Albuquerque is the use of paper to wrap burgers. It's a nice touch that reminds one of a simpler era rather than the large boxes burgers seem to come in on the East Coast. I feel decidedly American. Decidedly nineteen fifties - without all the ethnic segregation tendencies.

Let me tell you: the burger is absolutely stellar. It's as near perfection in a fast food burger as I've had anywhere. The patty is thin, the buns are thin, the patty is juicy, there's a slice of American cheese and a layer of green chiles. Quite simply, it's amazing.

Inside the Frito Pie.

Most people think that a good burger must be a "big" burger. Go to most fancy burger joints or restaurants and the patties are these thick monstrosities of beef. But a big patty a good burger doesn't make. Same goes for the bun. Many places have these huge buns on top of huge patties because we're obsessed with the More Is More concept of America. In the world of burgers, more is definitely not more, and Bob's seems to have captured that concept and wrapped it in paper topped with green chiles.

The ratio of beef to bread is nearly perfect. It's equal and the flavors are complimentary. The size of both allow one to easily take a bite of burger without having to overextend the jaw and look like some sort of giant ape eating Manhattan. But, more importantly, the size of the bun and patty means that eat bite will be a balance of flavors. Suddenly, you're not overwhelmed by beef or bread, but rather you can actually taste the creaminess of the American cheese and the searing bite of the green chiles. It's nothing short of sublime.

The patty is juicy, the bun is soft, the cheese is creamy and the chiles bring a fire that smolders in your mouth. That fire brings a slight pain, but the flavor is so compelling that you don't want to stop eating. The flavors bring pleasure to your mouth while the endorphins lull you into a state of culinary eroticism. This burger is true food porn at it's best and most obscene.

The french fries, to quote Michelle, are just "meh." Basic, frozen, industrial shoestring potatoes a la McDonald's but not as good. They're perfunctory and that's about it.

But what about the Frito Pie? Afterall, isn't that why I came to Bob's?

The Frito Pie. You know, I must be harboring some sort of prejudice about the Frito Pie because after having it no less than three times during this trip, I'm not finding it as appealing as I would have expected. Bob's Frito Pie was as good as the others I've tried. It's simple: take some Frito's, put them in a paper tray and smother with chili, cheese, lettuce and tomato. It's good. It's decent. But I think my problem with it all is that it's not what I was expecting.

Here's how I'm able to sample so much in one day: I don't finish it all.

I was expecting something more industrial. Something really bad for you. Something that would be a little more gross. And how much more gross can you get by pumping 7-Eleven hot dog chili and nacho cheese over a bag of Frito's? Come on, that's disgusting. But I can imagine it being so good.

So, instead of receiving a monument to obesity and poor health, I'm presented with something that seems relatively gourmet. Instead of the gruel that I expect out of a proper 7-Eleven chili, one can discern the beef from the sauce in the chili served here. Heck, you can see and taste the beans. That ain't no 7-Eleven chili. The cheese is actually shredded cheddar instead of some noxious yellow-orange liquid being pumped out of a can labeled "Nacho Cheese." And then there's the shredded lettuce and chopped tomato. This can't be the nightmare called "Frito Pie" that I dreamed about. This seems too gourmet. As though Thomas Keller waved his hand over the 7-Eleven version and gave us something more palatable.

Bob's Frito Pie is good. Darned good. Denizens of Albuquerque say it's The Best. It's just not what I was expecting. But really, Frito's layered with chili and cheese? No matter how much you dress it down or gourmet it up, it's just a winning combination.

I think I need a Coke...

Bob's Burger
5230 4th Street NW
Albuquerque, NM 87107

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