Finally got around to trying the much-hyped Five Guys Burgers and Fries, and the verdict is…eh. Not meh: they make a good burger, better than the chains for the most part, but not as good as In-N-Out by any sense of the imagination. And definitely nothing so extraordinary as to warrant all the press and adulation it has received from others.
I'm actually sad that Five Guys is out here–there is something to be said about regional chains being, you know, regional, and the joy of having to travel to eat them to a particular part of America, but that's a different conversation for another day. Allow me, then, to play the game: if we're going to have a regional burger chain invade our county and go up against our In-n-Out's and TK's, why couldn't it have been Blake's Lotaburger, the country's most-ardent proponent of what's perhaps burgerdom's greatest manifestation: the green chile hamburger?
And sorry for having used “burger” so much in the preceding sentence…
But now, my pitch: Blake's Lotaburger is a New Mexico institution with over 70 locations dotting the state and an incredible 34 in Albuquerque alone. By comparison, Orange County–at 3 million souls while Albuquerque has a bit more than half a million–has only about 21 In-n-Outs. And this chain as regional as regional can get: not a single Blake's exists outside the Land of Enchantment.
Blake's offers hot dogs, breakfast burritos, biscuit sandwiches and big, juicy hamburgers on a plain bun. Their main attraction is the New Mexican culinary religion: green chile, diced and then spread across the patty. Order your burger with cheese, and the chile sticks to the bun, the relish of ages. These aren't just any green chiles: Blake's gets theirs from Hatch, the state's legendary chile capital. They're in season right now, so when I recently had a green chile cheeseburger at a Blake's in the Duke City, those young peppers burned with a sweet, verdant piquancy that makes our Ortega burger (and yes, I'm claiming the Ortega burger as an OC native food because Emilio Ortega lived in Anaheim and gave the world the Anaheim and Ortega chiles) seem as flavorful as gnawing on a Bic pen.
Green chile on a grilled patty, inside a toasted bun, plays against the smokiness of the two, adds a sweet heat jalapeño only wishes it could aspire to one day, and is a meal I dream about any time I eat a great burger–with green chile, it automatically becomes better.
Blake's doesn't offer the best green chile burger in the world–the debate for outsiders is always between Bobcat Bites and Bert's Burger Bowl–but they are grand, the kind of experience that can make an acolyte out of anyone who eats it. It made Blake's a lot of money, but they have no plans to expand outside New Mexico–and that's a good thing, ultimately. But one can always dream…
**UPDATE: My amigo Dan Mayfield, reporter with the Albuquerque Journal and a Hispano who can trace his ancestry back centuries, reminded me of this on Facebook:
In New Mexico, Blake's is a big deal. The Itsa Burger Combo is a big deal and almost home cooking. But,
ever since the company supported the group fighting [for] Prop 8, there's
been a local backlash against the chain. The company was founded by a local guy who was amazing, and he sold it to another company that changed the business philosophy about 5 years ago.
That makes Blake's even more perfect for OC!