Alligators 'n Roadkill

Alligators 'n Roadkill
On The Road


Monday, August 11, 2014

Who Knew?

(Note, I started writing this last week, when it was fresh in my mind, and on my tongue.  Sorry if it reads as if things are out of order).

          We lived in El Paso's Lower Valley for many years, so I am familiar with some of the old land marks of that area centering on Alameda Avenue.  Since the focus here of late has been hamburgers, that means I recall places like Hamburger Inn (still located on McCarthy Ave., just off Alameda), Hamburger House (used to be on North Loop in a building that had previously been an Oasis Drive In; more recently relocated to Carolina Avenue), Hamburger Hut (out past Ysleta High School, on Alameda), and I think another place that was either Hamburger Hut No. 1, or just The Hut, also on Alameda, closer to Ysleta High, and on the other side of the street.
          Now, one thing these places all had in common was that they all featured three main entrees, and a menu that was pretty much El Paso's version of typical Diner fare.  El Paso's version means Tacos and Burritos and Flautas and the Breakfast of Champions, available all day, every day, Menudo.  The three main entrees were a Hamburger, a Hot Dog, or a Hamburger Steak.  If you are not familiar with El Paso and these places, then it might help to get a better feel for these places if I tell you that hamburger was always pronounced just like John Belushi used to say in his famous SNL skits.
          The Hamburger was of course also available with cheese, by the way.  The Hot Dog was always two weiners, sliced the long way, fried on the Flat Top, thrown onto a hamburger bun (large size only) and topped with chili beans.  The Hamburger always came with mustard, lettuce, tomato, and sometimes pickle.  No other toppings were put on them, but ketchup was usually on the tables.  The Hamburger Steak was just another patty, thrown on a plate, topped with chili beans, with a salad of lettuce and tomato on the side, and usually hash browns.
          Today we had some business in the Valley, and we were not sure where to eat, so I turned right on Yarbrough, as we came south down North Loop.  I had remembered a place that had operated as a restaurant over the years with many different owners and many different menus, and sure enough, it is still there, and is now called "El Hut."  I did not ask, but I bet its name has something to do with those places that used to be on Alameda all those years ago.  The menu sure is identical!
          And, here's what made our choice a wise one.  For less than half what it would have cost from one of the newer food trucks, we got a great burger!  It was so juicy, it dripped when I picked up half to begin feasting.  Oh, yeah, they cut it in half for me without asking!  There was even a pink tinge to the drippings!  And, it ate just fine, thank you very much.  The fries were a golden brown, done just right, and piping hot.  John, Jr. had the old standby, a hamburger steak, topped with two eggs.  He said it was just fine.  And, my granddaughter had a plain burger, with just ketchup and lettuce, and liked what she got just fine.
          Y'all can go on ahead and chase food trucks, or hit the high dollar places, but as long as we've got these places scattered around the Valley, we got your burger!
          One more thing, while I'm talking about burgers and burger places.  If you want a very, very good burger, done just the way you want, with just the toppings you want, and if you are lucky enough to live near one, hi thee to a Smashburger, fast!  Unfortunately, the only one close to El Paso happens to be on Ft. Bliss, and it is just too out of the way for me.  But, every time we go to Arlington, and now, Austin, I know where to go.  These people claim to have a special way of cooking that relies on their name, and I'm not going to argue with them.  Their burgers, on an egg roll bun, are just about the best thing going in the higher cost range.  Their fries are just about perfect, as well.  Very thin sliced, almost like shoestring potatoes, and done up crispy.  They also offer just about the only real, honest-to-goodness ice cream milk shakes anywhere.  Thick, creamy, made with Häagen-Dazs
ice cream, served in an old-fashioned glass milk shake container, with the remainder in the stainless steel cup direct from the machine.  I cannot say enough good things about this chain, which may well have found the secret to maintaining a class operation across state lines.
           By way of an update, I should mention that we took a trip out to Ft. Bliss a month or two ago (my wife, Blanca, and I), just because we wanted a Smash Burger.  And, I am happy to report that, despite the long drive, and the hassle of getting on post, this location offers that same great menu, with that same great taste.  So, if you are around Freedom Crossing, on Ft. Bliss, stop by and enjoy.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

It is no longer just Whataburger.

Well, we have resumed our search for that perfect burger back home, and we have a new burger place.  Blake's Lotaburger has made it to Far East El Paso, Texas.  That's right.  This formerly exclusive to New Mexico tradition (since 1952) has begun to spread into Texas with their second El Paso location!  This new store front operation, with a drive through window, has opened conveniently close to El Dorado High School, on Edgemere Blvd., at its intersection with Tierra Este Road.

You can learn a bit about Blake's history and what they offer at their web site (, but suffice it to say that El Pasoans have long been aware of them, and now find that we do not have to drive all the way to Las Cruces to sample and enjoy their fare.  I ordered a regular Lotaburger, hold the mustard, substitute Mayo, regular fries, and a Chocolate Malt (something you don't often see on a burger joint's menu these days).

Overall, I am giving Blake's a 7 out of a possible 10.  The burger was actually OK, although obviously previously frozen and formed.  The fries were OK, pretty standard, with the skins (the way I prefer them), but imho just not brought to that golden brown that comes with just a touch of crunchiness.  In other words, they could be better.  I declined their 'seasoned' fries.  My grandson asked for the Chili-Cheese Fries, and said they were great, especially the Chili.  He and his grandmother had the add-on Hatch Green Chile on their burgers, and both liked what they got.

The two grand daughters that were with us just had the very basic Itsaburger, with only ketchup.  Our youngest diner, Julius, had his usual "I need a Cheeseburger," which was Blake's version of a Kiddie burger.  He never really eats that much, so who knows how good or bad that might have been.

Ultimately, I have to report on the biggest disappointment we experienced.  I asked for a Chocolate Malt, and John, Jr., asked for a Cherry Milk Shake.  These were both in cups with lids, and very full.  Before we could find a seat, and get the rest of our food, they began to melt, and I have to report, once melting, they no longer even looked like a dairy product, since they both turned into a rather clear liquid, with mine of course being brownish, and his pinkish.  The taste was OK, but obviously not a true Milk Shake, with real ice cream involved.  John, Jr. did not take more than one drink of his, and we threw away the remainder.

So, what have we learned?  Blake's Lotaburger is better than Whataburger, but ain't gonna gain no big raves any time soon.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

"Searchin' every which a-way" (1957; The Coasters)

Guess what?  Austin is a much better place [than El Paso] to search for great burgers!  But, then I imagine you already knew that, didn't you?  Wednesday last, accompanied by three of my lovely granddaughters, I went to Hut's, on West Sixth Street.  I had been there years ago, and my son, AD, reminded of their great Wednesday special just the day before our visit.  The problem is that AD, who introduced me to Hut's many years ago, only said that Wednesday is two for one.  He did not mention, and I "forgot to remember" (anybody know why I put those three words in quotes?) that it is a happy hour sort of thing, from 6PM to 10PM, only.
Well, that's OK.  Hut's is an old place that has been in business for more than 75 years.  They offer twenty different burgers, showing they appreciate a good thing.  They then show their seriousness by including this suggestion on the menu:  "If you would like your burger Well Done, please notify your server."  You can see their complete menu, with a nice little history of the place here:
They even offer malted milk shakes, which was something of a mystery to my grandkids.  Apparently milk shakes are a no-no for kids these days.  What a shame.
Well, our order showed we have some imagination at least:  a plain, lettuce only, burger for one girl (that she promptly smothered in Ketchup), a Milner's Mushroom Burger for another, and the last one (and I) had the Mr. Blue.  I recommended that they all follow the suggestion on the menu to not say anything about how they wanted their burgers cooked, since I figured the cooks know what they are doing.  We got one order of fries for the table, and then, we also asked for a Alan Freed Burger and an All American Buddy Holly Burger (hold the onions; hold the mayo) to go.
These are good burgers!  The service was quick and efficient, the fries are pretty much old school, as in fresh cut, and fried to a golden brown.  The chocolate malt that I had was great.  In my ongoing search for a great burger, Hut's has to rate very high on the scale.
As for atmosphere, Hut's also is special, because there is no question as to the age of the place, with old photos on the walls, and old advertising posters, and logos all over the place.  In spite of the patina of age, it is also clean, so don't worry about finding dim lighting, or a layer of dirt over everything.  It is not that kind of old.
I'd say, if you're in the ATX, don't pass up any chance to try this place.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Best Burger Quest Goes On The Road.

Well, I finally got to Casino El Camino, on 6th Street (near Red River) in the ATX. Gotta tell ya, they do make a good burger, BUT!
According to their web site, they are "NOW PROUDLY SERVING ALL NATURAL SUGAR SODAS, INCLUDING GENUINE MEXICAN COKE!" So, when the waitress asked us what we wanted to drink, I said I'd love to have a Mexican Coke, and I think she thought I was asking for cocaine! She said, "We only have normal cokes." I pointed out what their web site says, and she tried to say that must be their other location, on Ben White. (Their web site only mentions one location. This one). 

We did notice that they will, upon request, make you a smaller burger than the 3/4 pounder featured on the menu, so we all three asked for smaller burgers. We still got big damn burgers, and I have no idea what size they might have been, or what they cost. They did not present me with an itemized bill, only the credit slip for my signature. I find that, together with their false advertising, to be big negatives. Their burger does rate a 9, but their failure to provide a proper bill, and their wait staff's ignorance of their own advertising bring their total rating way down, in my little book.

My Burger was their Chicago Burger, and I forgot to ask for either a ciabatta or a foccacia bun.  My mistake.  The pretty regular bun I got did a fair job of holding things together, but this burger is so juicy, and so greasey (grease is good, folks), that it did literally drip onto the table and my tray.   The bun got soaked, but did hold together pretty well.  The burger had a great, meaty taste, and the romaine lettuce was plentiful.  I also got tomato, and I had asked for Mayo, and the proper amount was there.  Kudos to the guys in the kitchen, because they do a great job.  And, let's keep in mind that this is a BAR!  It is not a restaurant.  They added bar food on their own, but the food is secondary to the bar.

Overall, as I said, the burger gets a 9, but the other problems I encountered make the rating for this place about a 7.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Somewhere on a street in West El Paso

Our quest continues...
               During a family gathering yesterday (Mothers' Day), we planned our next outing.  This time we invited John, Jr's, bro-in-law/compadre, "G," to go with us.  This morning, I talked to John over the phone, and we then decided that while they were going to ride their Harleys, I would go ahead and meet them at a local place known for having a huge selection of beer on tap, The Hoppy Monk.  They also reportedly have a great burger.
               I am now a bit embarrassed to admit that while I looked at their web site for their address, I didn't bother to look at their hours of operation.  Had I taken that extra minute or so, I would have learned that our planning was very incomplete.  We were to meet at this place around 1:30 PM, and it is a long, long drive for us, since we live in far east El Paso, and The Hoppy Monk is in West El Paso.  And, they do not open until 3:00 PM on Mondays (and Tuesdays and Wednesdays and Thursdays)!
               Obviously, this presented us with a bit of a dilemma since we were hungry, and did not really know what to fall back upon.  "G" suggested a place, back down Mesa Street that he said had great Philly Cheese Steak sandwiches.  Personally, I don't care for Cheese Steak sandwiches, but "G" said they also had good burgers.  So, a quick turn around, and back down Mesa to Chicago's Street Food.
               I shoulda known better.  One look at the cute decor, and I just know that Robert Irvine would have screamed that the place needed to be stripped down to the bare walls.  The inside of this place looks like a small street scene, with the tables in the center of what would be the street of, possibly, a small neighborhood somewhere in Chicago, in happier days.  You know, store fronts, office buildings, apartment buildings, and so forth.  Kinda like the casino, New York, New York, in Vegas, but on a very small budget.
               I looked at the menu and chose what read like a pretty good idea, the Mayor Daley Bacon Cheeseburger.  What could go wrong?  6 oz. patty is a good size for me, not too big; not too small.  Cheddar cheese, as opposed to Processed Yellow Cheese; that's good, right?  Crispy lettuce.  Onions?  check"loaded with bacon!"  Wow!  That's cool.   And, a Kaiser bun?  That's great.
               I gotta say I went into this place with no expectations, and they were met.
About all I can say about the cheese was that it was very yellow.  The lettuce (not iceberg, and that should be a good thing, right?) may have been crispy when it left the field a few weeks ago, but not today.  I'm still trying to taste the onions; I'm not even sure there were any onions in there.  I had to put the tomato and the (did I mention that the lettuce was limp?) lettuce on myself, and I don't recall seeing any onion.  One might be forewarned that Chicago's Street Food's idea of "loaded" apparently means one thin slice of packaged bacon, torn in half, and then the two halves sort of criss-crossed, one over the other, on top of the patty. 
               What about the patty, you ask?  Believe it or not, it was cooked to my taste, which is medium rare.  But, there is no hiding the fact that this patty sure looked to be pre-formed, and quite possibly, previously frozen.  As for the Kaiser bun, I found it to be a poor copy of the real deal.  Obviously,  it did not receive a lot of attention from actual human hands in the kneading and baking process.
               "G" showed us a photo on his phone of the Cheese Steak sandwich that he enjoyed on a previous visit.  The sandwich ordered today by John did not appear to be related to the one in the photo.  Maybe a distant cousin.  The bread was processed, as opposed to being a roll.  The meat most closely resembled something you can buy here at the local carniceria called pulpa bola, being very thinly sliced, tough and dry.
               In short, our adventure turned out to be less than great.  And, the Chicago Street Food would probably be better left on the street.
               And, the quest goes on...

Where are the good burgers in El Paso, Texas?

My son and I recently began a quest to find the best burger in El Paso.  We began some months ago with a place called, appropriately enough, Chuco Burgers and Dogs.  We went there, at my insistence I must admit, because I had seen references to this tiny, hole in the wall (used to be a tiny, old, sleazy neighborhood bar) place on Facebook.  If you are interested, it is close to Bel Air High School, at 1201 Lafayette.

First of all, there had been a lot of raves about this place, and upon our arrival (the place was nearly deserted during the noon hour), we heard a bit of bragging from the guy in the kitchen.  This place is, as I said, very small, and you can see the guy cooking very easily.  Despite the brag, and the dearth of customers, we had to wait a very long time for our simple orders to be filled.  Cokes were in cans only, and the only drinks offered were sodas.  The fries were simply greasy, albeit hot, and the burgers were nothing to write home about (since I did not write home about them, I am now blogging about them instead).  Frankly, I found my burger to be a bit dry, and if it wasn't for the grease, I would have needed a second Coke.

Long story short:  This is NOT the great El Paso Burger.  Not even close.

My wife and I had already tried Frisco Burger and Happy Burger (both on Yarbrough, between Pebble Hills and Edgemere).  I found their products to be OK, but very much run-of-the-mill, large, flat patty on large bun, just like Hamburger Inn and Hamburger Hut used to be.  They at least have fountain sodas, but Happy Burger uses foam cups, and I just don't like foam cups.

Next, my son and I tried the new Papa's, located at the corner of Wedgewood and Montwood, in what used to be a 7/11.  They do offer a variety of burgers, with original names for them.  Overall, not a bad burger, but again, very much like the average El Paso Burger, with the flat patty, large bun.

Our most recent foray was to Crave Kitchen & Bar, on the East Side, on Rojas, between George Dieter and Zaragoza.  This experience made us realize that we are going to have to start categorizing our burgers, because this place makes a premium burger, with prices to match.  Their menu is extensive, with a lot more than just burgers offered, and their burgers also carry different names, with different ingredients.

I opted for pretty much their basic burger, with a couple of refinements.  This was because none of their six choices, all alone, appealed to me.  So, I asked for their large patty (1/2 pound is all they offer), and instead of cooked onions, I asked for raw. And, since one of their signature burgers offered ham (among other things) I asked for a slice of ham, with Swiss cheese.  I did not expect to be able to eat the whole thing, and I also asked for fries.

Unfortunately, their menu does not warn you about the seasoning that they put on the fries, which are super thin, almost Julienne-like.  They put some sort of chile powder, that is very heavy on the Ascorbic Acid, because my first bite puckered me up so bad, I lost the flavor of the potato.  Frankly just a touch of salt would have been just fine for me.  I did not finish even a fourth of my order.

As for my Burger, now, that's a whole 'nother story!  This was a very good burger!  Juicy, medium (although I had asked for medium rare), so it was nicely pink.  Instead of putting mustard, or mayo, or ketchup on the burger, the waitress brought us little stainless cups of each, so we could put what we wanted to our own taste.  I really like that because all too often I find the kitchen puts too much mustard, or not enough mayo, and I'm left wanting something.  The bun was like a Kaiser roll, so it was chewier than the other burgers we've had so far, and it holds together just fine.  And, I did finish that puppy, all of it!

So, we're not done yet (actually, we're going across town this afternoon to try Hoppy Monk's burgers), but now we are going to have to be very specific about what kind of place we go to, and what kind of burgers we encounter.  I guess we'll call Papa's a Diner Burger, and lump Chuco, Frisco, and Happy as dive burgers.  I don't think we'll seek out any drive-in burgers, because all that's left in El Paso in that category is one Charburger, way up Mesa, and, of course Sonic.

More later.  I'm hungry.