As Good as Burgers Get in The Duke City….
Latest visit: March 31, 2012
First visit: February 07, 2011
Urbanspoon lists 180 restaurants in Albuquerque that serve burgers. Many of them are national chains such as McD’s (29), BK (14) and Wendy’s (6) or local chains such as Blake’s Lotaburger (43), Whataburger (6), Carl’s Jr. (9), and Bob’s Burgers (9). The national chains are formula emporiums and generally suck. The local chains are always several cuts above the nationals, serving much better stuff, but none is great.
Then there are the small individual places that serve some of the best burgers to be had in the Duke City, such as Lumpy’s, Little Red Hamburger Hut, Grandpa’s Grill on Route 66, and the near-legendary Owl Cafe. Each of these burger joints is very special. If you have been to any of these, you already know why.
Add Papaburgers to the latter list.
Adriana & Silver Zubia, a charming and proud couple from Rio Rancho, opened Papaburgers in November, 2009. We have driven past it countless times while on our way to someplace else. Last Saturday at lunchtime, we tried Jo’s Place, Sophia’s place, Johndhi’s, and a few others, and they were all closed at that time (Jo’s Place suffered frozen pipes). Then I remembered Papaburgers. Bingo.
Adriana met us at the counter and asked us why we hadn’t been here before. I lied and told her that we made a special trip from Santa Fe just to eat here. She saw through that canard immediately, and started explaining the menu and its options. Jane settled on the Chiara Burger Basket and I asked her for a Green Chile Cheeseburger competition-style. Bun, patty, cheese, and green chile with nothing else added.
Jane’s Chiara Burger (fresh ground beef, onions, pickle, lettuce, tomato, mustard, and a long green chile on a toasted bun) was outstanding. After one bite, she declared it the best she has had in this area, perhaps slightly better that the GCCB at the Owl Cafe on Eubank (currently the #51 restaurant in ABQ). My GCCB was fabulous — almost good enough to make it onto my New Mexico GCCB list. Hotter chiles will elevate it to that list. Next time I will order it double meat.
There are several reasons why these burgers are so outstanding. The patties are hand made from fresh-ground beef and a bit of finely chopped onion and perfectly grilled by Silver on his flattop. Juicy and tender, the beef mixture showed no signs of being overworked. The fixings were crisp and fresh. The green chile was whole (not chopped) and had that unmistakable smoky flavor (I often make my GCCB at home this way). Could have been a little more piquant, though.
Fries were golden crispy and tasty, very good, but not especially remarkable. They taste better when dipped in the cup of green chile salsa that accompanied the burgers. This green was tasty and incendiary. Good stuff.
As we were leaving, Adriana asked us how everything was. We smiled, and told her that we will be back. She smiled. So did Silver. And we will. And they knew it.
It just doesn’t get much better than this.
When Jane and I returned to Papaburgers, we were surprised and delighted that Adriana & Silver had expanded into the space next door that was formerly occupied ny Curves, a silly exercise facility for lazy women. This tripled their floor space, and it was quite crowded. The expansion opened several days before this visit. This many diners would have had no chance of fitting into the original space. Silver told me that they were doing really well. They deserve to, because the food is still as good as (or better than) I remembered. The burgers are among the very best in the city. If you go to one of the national (or even local) chains, then shame on you.
Sweet Potato Fries
You can get fried sweet potatos in many places in the Duke City. Lumpy’s features them. These at Papaburgers are vastly superior to those at Lumpy’s, and many other places, for that matter. They are perfectly done: slightly crispy on the outside and soft but fully cooked on the inside. Don’t use ketchup; it is overkill and ruins the delicate taste. In my humble opinion, the use of ketchup in New Mexico is tantamount to committing a mortal sin. Almost as grievous as adding cumin to red chile. The fries are served in a large metal cone, they taste better than any others that I have had. Huge portion may necessitate a ToGo bag.
Other Fried Goodies
Sliver brought us a small paper basket containing some of his deep fried items that don’d yet appear on the Web site menu. The cheese sticks are smothered in a batter containing green chile pieces and beautifully fried. This is quite a taste treat, and you need to try them. Also in the basket were breaded mushrooms and hand-cut potato chips. The chips have real body and taste. Not at all like that Pringle-type crap served in lesser places, these chips will satisfy your craving for real chips. The deep-fiying here is perfect. Never too crispy and never oily. Next time we will try the deep-fried beans. No stomach room this time.
Papaburgers is now older. And bigger. And better. Silver and Adriana have done a fine job here, and you really need to try their place.
What others are saying
Gil Garduño: 7 July 2010
“Papaburgers has its roots in El Paso, Texas where in 2008, entrepreneur Eric Zubia launched the first instantiation of what has become one of the Sun City’s most popular burger joints. As of this writing, ninety percent of visitors to El Paso’s Urbanspoon Papaburgers page indicate they like it with some being effusive in their praise. Sadly, as of this writing, I’d venture to say ninety percent of Albuquerque diners have no idea about this terrific burger restaurant.
“When Eric Zubia mentioned possibly expanding into the Albuquerque area, his Rio Rancho-based uncle Silver and aunt Adriana Zubia leapt at the opportunity. As with the original Papaburgers, the freshness of ingredients is a strong point of emphasis. Each burger is made to order on a flattop grill from freshly ground beef in which finely chopped onions are integrated. The burgers are adorned with lettuce, tomato, pickles, more onions and your choice of mustard or mayo. The restaurant’s eponymous Papaburger can be topped with American or Swiss cheese.”
Andrea Lin: The ABQ Juornal
“Papaburgers was started in El Paso several years back by a guy named Eric Zubia, known as a place for family-friendly atmosphere with premium burger standards. In 2009, Eric talked to family and friends about another location, and in stepped his aunt Adriana and uncle Silver with their entreprenurial dreams in Albuquerque. Open over a year, Papaburger’s location is smack dab in the middle of fast food country on North Fourth Street, hidden in plain sight – a shame, for the burgers are worth a detour.”