I was in Denver recently, partly to research my coming book, partly to debate former congressman Tom Tancredo on immigration, but really to finally taste the Holy Grail of Mexican-American cookery: the Mexican hamburger. Behold its cheesy, mixed-up glory above, and click after the jump to discover what the hell it actually is.
Brace yourselves, folks: underneath that Syracuse Orangeman-hued goop lies the structure of a burrito–a flour tortilla containing refried beans, your choice of meat, and a grilled hamburger patty, almost extant in shape. This version is smothered, which means Colorado's classic take on green chile (flecked with pork, and prepared as a gravy) drowns the burrito burger with its viscous, spicy glory. The flour tortilla itself is cooked well until it becomes firm, until you can slice off a chunk and it won't flop around on your fork as it enters your mouth.
I've had puffy tacos in San Antonio, glorious bowls of the green in Albuquerque, the Mexican hot dog of El Paso, and gargantuan Mission burritos in San Francisco, but the Mexican hamburger–found only in Denver, much to the surprise of the Mile High City's residents, who always thought their dish, like the Broncos, had a national reach–is the dish that best personifies the Mexican-American experience. The tortilla is wholly indigenous; its flour rendition, the legacy of Spain. The focus on green chile places it firmly in the Southwest; its gravy presentation, the legacy of Tex-Mex. The hamburger patty, of course, is wholly American–but even that has a German past. The combination of all is pure rascuache. And the taste? Heavy, thick, yet the Mexican hamburger at its best retains all the flavors of its distinct parts. I only ate half of this, having to stop myself because I had just eaten a sandwich, a taco, and another burrito.
Let the Baylessistas scream–this is a dish as Mexican as the Templo Mayor, as American as the Washington Monument, as Chicano as SanTana. And few dishes have as juicy a back story: its most-famous seller is Chubby's, a legendary chain run by matriarch Stella Cordova until she was nearing the century mark. But the one above comes from Bubba Chino's, run by her grandson Leonard, who is unfortunately strained from most of his relatives, who ripped off their abuelita's name before she had even passed on, much to Stella's disapproval.
Ah, Mexicans, always fighting among ourselves–but there you have it, folks: the Mexican hamburger, the meal of mestizaje at its tastiest.