Category Archives: Pueblo

Best Burgers in the Mountain West

Big, beefy burger with an onion ring cap at Burger Dive in Billings, Montana

Big, beefy burger with an onion ring cap at Burger Dive in Billings, Montana

Americans are pinkos? When it comes to ordering burgers medium rare at a lot of places, yes. Heck, some burger joints recommend it.

Meanwhile, in Canada, many restaurants are so afraid of incurring the wrath of health inspectors, they cook their patties to a shoe-leather well done.

Thus, regardless of where you come down on the health issue, American places that offer a choice of how you want your six-ounce patty cooked have an automatic hind leg up in my list of top burgers in the mountain west. That’s because a medium-rare or medium burger, like a steak, simply has more flavour and juiciness than dead cow cooked brown all the way through.

Other criteria that move burgers up my list are:

  • Fresh-ground, locally sourced meat from the tastiest parts of the critter
  • Hand-formed patties. Uniform-shaped pucks are evidence, in my mind, of frozen, imported patties of unknown origin. Indeed, they may be an assemblage of many animal parts and fillers
  • Good, fresh buns. An overlooked detail in many places, a good bun shouldn’t disintegrate and should add some flavour and texture to the mix
  • Interesting toppings certainly help, but a really good burger shouldn’t need too much stuff disguising the main attraction: the meat.

Without further ado, here are my highly subjective picks of best red-meat burgers from my travels through the mountain west of the U.S. and Canada. As always, a * indicates a standout.

*Diablo Burger can be a bit hard to find: It’s down an alley or out the back of a mall in downtown Flagstaff, Arizona. Kind of like rounding up stray cows. Which is somewhat appropriate, given all its natural meat comes from local, open-range ranches. My search for this hole-in-the-wall, unadorned place is rewarded with arguably the finest burger I’ve had a recent road trip, and I’ve had some damn good ones. Because the beef is 95 per cent lean, Diablo’s recommends a medium-rare burger. And the six-ounce patty indeed comes out pink in the middle and incredibly moist and flavourful. I choose the Blake burger ($11.75), featuring Hatch chile mayo, roasted green chiles and sharp cheddar. It’s all squeezed inside an excellent, locally made English muffin with a nice touch: DB branded on top. The toppings are aptly subtle and the lettuce and slice of red tomato are on the side, for me to add if so desired. But when the meat is this good, I don’t want distractions, though I do scarf down the hand-cut Belgian fries lying beneath this burger king.

At Diablo Burger, it's not just the cattle that are branded

At Diablo Burger, it’s not just the cattle that are branded

Diablo Burger
120 North Leroux Street, Flagstaff, Arizona (also a Tucson location)
Monday-Wednesday 11 am-9 pm, Thursday-Saturday 11 am-10 pm. Closed Sunday
Diablo Burger on Urbanspoon

Note: Bobcat Bite is relocating to 311 Old Santa Fe Trail in late summer 2013, under the name Santa Fe Bite.

Nearly ducking my head to get through the door of *Bobcat Bite, in Santa Fe, New Mexico, I momentarily think I’ve entered a homesteader’s cabin (albeit with a pink adobe exterior and pictures of bobcats lining the walls). That’s because the low, dark wood beams are barely higher than the lanky cook’s head, and there’s scarcely room for half a dozen, tightly spaced tables and about the same number of counter seats; I’m asked to move over to make room for a couple of new arrivals. So the character of the place already has me excited. But really, I’m here for my baptismal GCCB (green chile cheeseburger for the non-cognoscenti), a legendary New Mexico concoction, and Bobcat’s version supposedly tops the list. You know it’s authentic when they ask how you want that 10-ounce, freshly ground chuck patty cooked. I go for the recommended medium rare, with no fries to sully the experience. And boy, does it deliver—two inches of one of the most succulent burgers I’ve ever tasted, with the melted chile-cheese topping adding some pleasant but not obtrusive heat. Bobcat’s GCCB is worth every bite for only $9; I don’t even touch the accompanying potato chips.

Good luck getting your mouth around this green chile cheeseburger at Bobcat Bite

Good luck getting your mouth around this 10-ounce green chile cheeseburger at Bobcat Bite

Bobcat Bite
420 Old Las Vegas Highway, Santa Fe, New Mexico
Wednesday to Saturday 11 am-8 pm, Sunday 11 am-5 pm. Closed Monday and Tuesday
Bobcat Bite Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Joe’s Farm Grill, a happening place in upscale Gilbert, outside of Phoenix, produces its own tomatoes and lettuce that go on its local, natural and fresh-ground chuck burgers. Despite the line, an efficient crew soon produces my Fontina burger ($9.50), loaded with roasted red peppers, mushrooms, pecan pesto and melted cheese. It takes a minute to get through the greenery and into the moist, perfectly cooked patty. The burger is wonderfully complemented with an order of rosemary-dill, panko-crumb onion rings, the crispness of the fried batter nicely offsetting the soft, slippery onion inside. What puts things over the top is sitting on the patio on a spring evening—alongside mostly young families at picnic tables—looking out at the farm and a magnificent tamarisk, its giant branches paralleling the ground before reaching skyward.

Joe’s Farm Grill
3000 East Ray Road, Gilbert, Arizona
Daily breakfast 8 am-11 am, lunch and dinner 11 am-9 pm
Joe's Farm Grill on Urbanspoon

At Joe's Farm Grill, most of the fixings are right off the farm.

At Joe’s Farm Grill, most of the fixings are right off the farm.

I’ve covered this in a previous post, but *Bingo Burger, in Pueblo, Colorado certainly produced the best lamb burger I’ve ever tasted. All burgers and fries are cooked to order, and from a counter seat I can watch my thick, hand-formed patty grilled and then finished under a lid. Next come the twice-cooked fries—from San Luis Valley potatoes—tossed with a little salt. My God, these are easily the best fries on the trip, good enough I don’t want to sully them with the roasted garlic dipping sauce. The Goat Hill burger ($9.75, Colorado-raised lamb with goat cheese, mushrooms and a lemon-rosemary aioli) is right up there with it, cooked slightly pink as requested and requiring a well-hinged mouth to bite into.

Succulence of the lamb at Bingo Burger

Succulence of the lamb at Bingo Burger

Bingo Burger
101 Central Plaza, Pueblo, Colorado
Monday to Thursday 11 am-8 pm, Friday and Saturday 11 am-9 pm. Closed Sunday
Joe's Farm Grill on Urbanspoon

Mountain Sun Pub & Brewery, in Boulder, Colorado boasts a lineup of 12 third-of-a-pound burgers, the Colorado-raised beef cooked to medium. The signature burger is called Date Night, an unusual medley of roasted poblano peppers, smoked bacon, melted goat cheese and, wait for it, date puree. The combination works surprisingly well, with the sweetness of the dates proving a counterpoint to the poblanos’ pungency. The obligatory accompaniment is a generous serving of hot fries that, the menu promises, will be redone if they’re not perfect.

A "date" with a fine burger at Mountain Sun Pub

A “date” with a fine burger at Mountain Sun Pub

Mountain Sun Pub
1535 Pearl Street, Boulder Colorado (a second location at 627 South Broadway)
Daily 11 am-1 am. Cash only
Mountain Sun Pub & Brewery on Urbanspoon

*Charcut Roast House, in my hometown of Calgary, Alberta, breaks most of my road-trip food rules. It’s in downtown Calgary, which means parking and a vacant table are hard to find at lunch. It’s fairly expensive and its signature burger is made of…. pork? Just ignore all this, and go eat at one of the city’s deservedly hottest restaurants. Here’s a tip: Get there before noon and ask for a seat at the counter, where you’ll get a ringside seat of a first-class team of chefs in action.

A friend and I both order the house-ground burger, a massive nine ounces of a unique blend of sausage and beef (70-30%), accompanied by a pile of Parmesan fries and homemade ketchup. Partway through the grill-top cooking, co-owner Connie DeSousa (she finished third in Top Chef Canada; check out the tattoo on her arm), peers over the counter and asks if we’d like an egg and some aioli spread on that burger. After nodding yes, we tuck into these juicy monsters, held together with thick, gooey cheese and a bun that miraculously survives the mauling. Sure, it costs $17, but for one of the better and bigger burgers I’ve had anywhere, it’s still good value. And if we’d paid attention to the name, the Share burger, we could easily have split it.

Charcut Roast House
101, 899 Centre Street SW, Calgary, Alberta
Monday-Tuesday 11 am-11 pm, Wednesday-Friday 11 am-1 am, Saturday 5 pm-1 am, Sunday 5 pm-10 pm
CHARCUT Roast House on Urbanspoon

Honourable Mentions: Sugar Nymphs Bistro, is in the tiny town of Penasco on the scenic High Road between Santa Fe and Taos, New Mexico. But it’s definitely a destination restaurant, thanks to the reputation of owner and former Greens Restaurant (San Francisco) chef Kai Harper Leah. I only had a delicious bite, but my sister said the green chile cheeseburger was one of the best burgers she’s tasted.
Sugar Nymphs Bistro on Urbanspoon

Sugar Nymphs Bistro, Penasco New Mexico

Lovely green chile cheeseburger at Sugar Nymphs Bistro

It doesn’t get more local than Chuckwagon Cafe, in the heart of cattle country, in the town of Turner Valley, an hour’s drive southwest of Calgary. Owner and chief cook Terry Myhre finishes steers at his nearby ranch and has them processed into various cuts for dense, hand-formed burgers or steak benedict.
Chuckwagon Cafe on Urbanspoon

The burgers are almost straight off the range at Chuckwagon Cafe

The burgers are almost straight off the range at Chuckwagon Cafe

At the The Burger Dive, in Billings, Montana, my Blackened Sabbath is an unusual combination of blackened seasoning, blue cheese, bacon, garlic mayo and the kicker, a thick onion ring that provides a contrasting crunch to the luscious burger.
The Burger Dive on Urbanspoon

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From Pueblo To My Favourite Colorado Town: Salida

Gorgeous Arkansas River flowing through Salida, Colorado

Gorgeous Arkansas River flowing through Salida, Colorado

A half-hour’s drive south of Colorado Springs on the I-25, Pueblo is a much quieter, more Latino-based town with nice brick buildings and a river walk in the historic downtown. While strolling these streets, drop into The Daily Grind Cafe for a coffee and maybe a breakfast burrito in this cozy café. You might even want to sit in the distinctive red “hand” chair.

Be careful not to sit on the middle finger, Daily Grind, Pueblo

Be careful not to sit on the middle finger, Daily Grind, Pueblo

The Daily Grind
209 South Union Avenue, Pueblo
Monday to Friday 6:30 am-11 pm, Saturday 7 am-11 pm, Sunday 7am-9pm
The Daily Grind Cafe on Urbanspoon

(Note: I’m repeating this pick from my Best of 2012 road trip eats, but it’s well worth it). When I walk into *Bingo Burger, the very helpful, friendly server tells me my lamb burger will take 10 minutes to prepare—somewhat surprising since there’s only two other customers in the restaurant. But then I see why. All burgers and fries are cooked to order, and from a counter seat I can watch my thick, hand-formed patty grilled and then finished under a lid. Next come the twice-cooked fries—from San Luis Valley potatoes—hot out of the fryer and tossed with a little salt. My God, these are easily the best fries on the trip, good enough I don’t want to sully them with the roasted garlic dipping sauce. The Goat Hill burger (Colorado-raised lamb with goat cheese, mushrooms and a lemon-rosemary aioli) is right up there with it, cooked slightly pink as requested and requiring a well-hinged mouth to bite into. The most popular menu item is the basic Bingo Burger, with pueblo chilis worked into the beef patty. Owner Richard Warner gets about 75% of his meat and produce from area farmers, and it shows, easily justifying the slight premium charged for these superior products.

I wouldn't blame if you bit your computer screen, Bingo Burger, Pueblo

I wouldn’t blame if you bit your computer screen, Bingo Burger, Pueblo

Bingo Burger
101 Central Plaza, Pueblo
Monday to Thursday 11 am-8 pm, Friday and Saturday 11 am-9 pm. Closed Sunday
Bingo Burger on Urbanspoon

A hop and a skip away, Richard’s wife, Mary Oreskovich, runs the killer *Hopscotch Bakery, which turns out artisan breads, daily sandwiches and to-die-for sweets. The sweet treats include an “orange beast” (croissant dough, orange zest and sugar); a kitchen sink cookie with chocolate chunks, almonds and pecans; cream cheese brownies and honeymoon bars. The challenge here is restraining myself.

How about a cookie or three at delectable Hopscotch Bakery in Pueblo

How about a delectable cookie or three at Hopscotch Bakery in Pueblo?

Hopscotch Bakery
333 South Union Avenue, Pueblo
Tuesday to Friday 7 am-4 pm, Saturday 8 am-4 pm. Closed Sunday and Monday
Hopscotch Bakery on Urbanspoon

If you want to experience a longstanding Pueblo tradition, drop into Pass Key Restaurant and order a Super Pass Key Special. It’s a house-made, slightly spicy Italian patty that’s grilled and stuffed inside a mini-loaf along with three cheeses. Puebloans have been eating these sandwiches for more than half a century. The story goes that when former residents return to Pueblo, they stop at Pass Key before visiting their families. As an outsider with no emotional attachment, I find this sandwich a decent change from the regular roadside fare and not nearly as artery clogging as described by some online commentators.

Pass Key Restaurant
1901 US Highway 50 West and two other Pueblo locations
Opens daily at 11 am. Closed Sunday
Pass Key 50 West Restaurant on Urbanspoon

The nice thing about road tripping without deadlines is making spontaneous decisions, which invariably lead to interesting encounters. So it is when a highway sign inspires me to take a detour into sleepy Florence, located along the Arkansas River and sustained by antique shops and a high density of area prisons, so I’m told. I walk down the main drag and into Pour House Coffee Roasters, intrigued by the presence of an in-house organic coffee roaster in such a small place. So while I sip a nice French Press coffee (only $1.95), I chat with young owner Ken Paul, who’s up every morning at four, baking breakfast treats as well as later roasting coffee and making quiches, quesadillas and chicken salad sandwiches.

Pour Coffee House Roaster owner Ken Paul no doubt needs a few coffee shots for all his roasting and cooking

Pour Coffee House Roaster owner Ken Paul no doubt needs a few coffee shots for all his roasting and cooking

Pour House Coffee Roasters
202 West Main Street, Florence
Monday-Tuesday 6 am-8 pm, Wednesday-Friday 6 am- 5 pm, Saturday 7 am-5 pm, Sunday 7 am-1 pm

Just down the street, you can get a nice slice of quiche or pie at Aspen Leaf Bakery and Café. I’ve already eaten two lunches by the time I get here, but Colorado Springs reader Kay Williams Johnson calls it a hidden treasure, well worth the drive for the “fabulous sandwiches” and “best pastries in the area.”

Aspen Leaf Bakery and Cafe
113 West Main Street, Florence
Monday 11 am-3 pm, Tuesday-Thursday 8 am-4 pm, Friday-Saturday 8 am-5 pm

Salida (pronounced Sal-eye-da by locals), is my favourite Colorado town. It’s a nice mix of vibrant arts community (check out the local sculptures) and a lot of young folk playing on the Arkansas River and hills around the leafy town. The historic brick downtown buildings also contain interesting galleries, eateries and drinking establishments. “It’s a great place to be broke,” says a guy who holds down three jobs to make ends meet. But I spot a new condo project along the river, perhaps a sign that Salida will not long remain a relatively undiscovered gem of a mountain town. (By the way, props to Mike Ryan of Mike’s Automotive for quickly fixing my jammed back seat, which wouldn’t fold down, and not charging me.)

Even the kayaks are turned into art in Salida, Colorado

Even the kayaks are turned into art in Salida, Colorado

Close to the Arkansas River, *The Fritz is a cozy, local bar/restaurant that serves sandwiches by day and excellent small and larger plates by night. To me, the atmosphere is more intimate and exuberant at night, when the beer taps really get running. The burger plates (heavy, slightly rare patty) with sweet potato fries are great as are smaller dishes of beet, pear and gorgonzola salad (a bargain at $3.50) and sliced, medium-rare steaks with dijon cream ($6), all washed down with local microbrews. The thick-crust mac and cheese is also very popular.

The Fritz, in Salida, has some fabulous food

The Fritz, in Salida, has some fabulous food

The Fritz
113 East Sackett Street
Daily 11 am-2 am
The Fritz on Urbanspoon

Here’s how things work in small Colorado towns. Sitting in The Fritz, we start talking to a couple at the next table, Kim and Scott, who happen to own Moonlight Pizza & Brewpub. We don’t make it there that trip, but a year later I make a point of visiting their small corner eatery, fronted by several mini kayaks. The fine pizzas start with a chewy, made-daily crust, topped by layers of meat in my Caveman, which the menu describes as having turned “yoga instructors into snarling savages.” Moonlight—which donates 10 per cent of its Monday proceeds to local projects—also brews some flavourful ales, along with house-made sodas such as limeade, vanilla cream and root beer.

A Caveman pizza and a house-made ale hit the spot at Moonlight Pizza

A Caveman pizza and a house-made ale hit the spot at Moonlight Pizza

Moonlight Pizza & Brewpub
242 F. Street
Opens daily at 11 am for lunch and dinner
Moonlight Pizza & Brew Pub on Urbanspoon

It’s enough that a place the size of Salida would have one pizza joint with a brewery. But within two blocks of Moonlight is another fine pizza place, Amica’s Pizza, which also doubles as a brewery. I’m not sure if it’s the water or just a place where people want to live… and make pizza, and beer.

Amica’s Pizza
136 East 2 Street
Daily 11:30 am-9ish
Amicas on Urbanspoon

Cafe dawn (named in part for co-owner Dawn Heigele) is a cozy hangout for a good, strong early morning coffee or a late afternoon Colorado craft beer or wine (weekday happy-hour specials). I don’t usually order outsourced breakfast treats, but the local Flour Girl make a tasty quiche baked in a brioche pastry; if need be, you can even heat it yourself in a microwave.

Early morning patrons at Cafe Dawn in Salida

Early morning patrons at Cafe Dawn in Salida

Cafe dawn
203 West First Street
Daily 6 am-6 pm. Cash only
Cafe Dawn on Urbanspoon