10/13/10

Burger Queen - The best of D.F.




All eyes were on me. I took a big bite and started to chew. Before I could even swallow, Caroline, her lips trembling, blurted out ”So how is it?”. “¿Que tal está?”, Gabriela couldn’t help chiming in. “I don’t usually eat these, I just don’t KNOW – I’m not THAT kind of American”, I pleaded. It was a hamburger tasting at Barracuda in Mexico City. Nobody budged. “I’m a Mexican citizen”, I continued to protest, flashing my voter identification card. “An EX-gringo”. Blank stares. Hugo countered, “But you people KNOW about hamburgers, that’s what you EAT in the US”. “No, I grew up in New York City, we ate calzone, pizza, knishes, falafel, hot dogs maybe, but not ‘burgers’.” My protests were to no avail. I gave up, nodding in accordance. “OK; it’s very good, juicy, flavorful meat, bun has substance – I like the salsa. But the fries suck”. In unison, they nodded in approval. Reminds me of the time my friend Elena, from Madrid, was visiting Mexico and, being an Española, was asked to dance ‘her’ Sevillanas at a party, despite protests that she was not from Andalucía and didn’t know how. She eventually grabbed a fan and danced. Sometimes you just can’t shake the stereotype.
I’ve never particularly liked hamburgers. They are not comfort food for me. Not to say that I haven’t eaten my share of steamed masses of juiceless gray meat, served with equally pallid fries. So I ignore all “best burger” articles. I think the phenomena of the $40 hamburger is philistine. I won’t be stopping by the much hyped Umami Burger next time I go to L.A. And I’d hoped that I’d never have to write about them. I should have known. That critical moment at Barracuda was just the beginning. I suspected that, as a critic writing in English, I’d eventually be asked to attack this dreaded subject. And so it was. “Your next assignment: Best Burgers in Mexico City” my editor wrote. Resigned, I set to work. I’ve been eating burgers this week. No, I haven’t joined the ranks of patty pushers, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised. There are some very decent facsimiles of the American classic south of its border, and, not surprisingly, some Mexicanized adaptations that give the gringo version a run for its money. According to Bay area food maven Nancy Silverton (and she must have been paid to say this) a good burger is the sum of its toppings, bun, cooking method, texture, ingredients, ratios - all play a factor in determining the best in any given area. Here goes.
Barracuda DinerAv. Nuevo León 4A, Colonia Roma
Tel. 5211 9480
13:00-02:00 Sun-Wed, to 03:00 Thu-Sat
$-$$
This is the capital’s only US style diner – or better said, a contrived approximation of one. It is many expat’s first choice for burgers, which are offered, in myriad variations; they also do good milkshakes. Evenings it becomes a bar/hang-out and in the “wee small hours of the morning”, as Babs would sing, a post-disco re-fueling stop. And the fries have improved.
Primos
Michoacan 168, corner of Mazatlan, Condesa
Tel. 5256-0950
Open Mon,Tues., 1-11PM, Wed-Sat 1PM-12:30AM; Sun 1-6PM
SobrinosÁlvaro Obregón 110, corner of Orizaba, Col. Roma
Tel. 5264-7466
Same hours
$$
These upscale bistro-style brother restos offer a mix of Mexican and French classics, but the hamburgers happen to be extraordinary, well seasoned and beefy, just this side of plump enough. The ‘papas a la Francesa’ are crispy and golden and have real potato-y flavor – Jim thinks they’re the best he’s had in Mexico.

Embers Steakhouse
Ejercito Nacional 840 Between Séneca & Moliere, Polanco
Tel. 5282-1905
Open Sun-Wed 11AM-10PM, Thur-Sat until 2AM
$$
This old Polanco warhorse has been in business since 1958, so they should know what they’re doing. “Reminiscent of Mexico’s yesteryear”, their menu proudly proclaims in English although somehow I doubt that anywhere in Mexico’s past existed such a burgercentric place except right here. They do try hard to please. There are 43 different combinations of burgers on the menu including such odd offerings as The Hula Burger Hawaiana (pineapple), The Russian Burger (Russian dressing) and the ‘Bonnie & Clyde’ (filled with paté and olives sautéed in butter – I dared not ask). I chose the house special, with bacon, mushrooms and Oaxaca cheese. The fries are flavorful and a myriad of condiments are set before you, as is a copious salad bar which is included in the price of lunch.
Las Burger’sDirección: Río Tigris #72, corner Río Nazas, Col. Cuauhtémoc
Open daily 1-10PM, y Saturdays until 8.
Tel.: 5525-7227
$-$$
‘Hamburguesas 100% de sirloin’ claims the sign, at this pleasant Colonia Cuauhtémoc spot. And so they are. The menu also includes Argentine empanadas and other south-of-the-border specialties.
Hamburguesas Memorables
Euler 152, Polanco -  Nuevo León 175, Condesa - Río Lerma 335, Cuauhtemoc, c/Manzanillo near Insurgentes, Roma, many other branches.
$$
This chain may look like it serves fast food, but it's better than that. Burgers are satisfying, fries so-so. And prices are on the high side.
Taquería Los ParadosMonterrey 333, corner of Baja California, Colonia Roma
Open every day, 8AM until…
$
It’s standing room only at this table-less traditional taquería hence its name. Varying hours are listed, but they seem to always be open, morning to morning. The late night crowd might consist of a fascinating cross-section of worn out gay/straight bar patrons, off-duty working girls and policemen who happily devouring their succulent char-roasted morsels of goodness, all the while downing ice-cold horchata or beer. Los Parados offers real tacos al carbón that is, meats cooked over coals on an open grill. The salsas, hand mashed and set in gigantic molcajetes, are superior. And, yes, Mexican style burgers (that is, topped with spicy salsa, bacon, cheese, ham - about the richest thing ever wedged into a bun) are sensational. You may not be willing to go back to the old-fashioned US of A variety after you try them. There’s free parking next door for patrons.
Other standout “street burger” stands offering the Aztec variety are located at
The corner of Colima and Morelia, Colonia Roma – crowds gather here all day long and beyond.

Corner of Amberes and Londres, Zona Rosa- MP says “this is the ultimate junk burger, especially good after hours when you’re finished with the nearby clubs, you’re drunk and have a cute boy you picked up on your arm.”

14 comments:

  1. Very nice post. That hamburger looks great. I love home hamburgers the best. Just lettuce, tomatoe, red onion, and a couple of slices pickle. Delish. Have a great rest of the week.

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  2. You begrudgingly rose to the occasion... and did a great job... bravo!

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  3. This is sooooo... brilliant. Now you'll have lot's of references when you try my next culinary obsession...
    And you should really, really, really try DBGB's $16 burger when you're in NYC

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  4. When you come up to San Miguel again, you have to try the burgers at:
    1) La Burger (almost to La Gruta en route to Dolores) - cooked over a mesquite wood-burning grill with homemade parsley fries;
    2) Burger night at The Restaurant at Sollano 16 (their "In-n-Out" burger rivals those of L.A. fame);
    3) The fresh-ground burgers made with steak tips at Cafe Baile behind the Arthur Murray dance studio on Hernandez Macias.
    Not a huge burger fan either, but these places have stand-out burgers for those feeling homesick...

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  5. The Kobe beef burger at Condesa DF is yummy as well.

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  6. Nice round-up of burgers. I don't share your aversion and am constantly looking for a good burger meal. Embers is my mainstay. They grind the meat and make the patty by hand. And they are great with the kids. Just tried the burger at Casa Magnolia (Temistocles) - also good, but more expensive at $110 and no fries, just chips.

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  7. My favorite burger spot in el DF is the aforementioned Hamburguesas a la Parilla, at the corner of Calles Morelia and Colima, Col. Roma Norte.

    I found out about it from the Lonely Planet Mexico guidebook. Now it's our first stop after checking into our Roma way from home hotel.

    I like it so much that I devoted an entire blog post to it.
    "A Hamburger Stands In Colonia Roma". http://tinyurl.com/2cj94k2

    Saludos,
    Don Cuevas

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  8. A good burger is a gift from the Gods.

    I´m guessing that the misused apostrophe in Las Burger´s is not a typo on your part. Amazing how often Mexicans (oops, I mean Mexican´s) abuse the apostrophe.

    Nice post.

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  9. About Barracuda: I think it's gone way downhill. Six years ago it was pretty good, and much more pleasantly kitschy (two words I've never before used together). Today, not so much. I think my visit a few weeks ago was my last.

    Also, there are other diner-style options, such as the Johnny Rockets in Galerías Insurgentes. I'm not wild about it or anything, but at least there are no Condechi types in sight, the kitcsh hasn't been replaced by bad, pretentious art, and you'd probably get more than four onion rings. (FOUR!)

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  10. I was just craving a good burger the other day and thinking about exploring that "dark corner" of Mexican cuisine, but it seems like you have done it for me! Hehe. I want to try the ones at Los Parados. I know where that place is and it smell like heaven when I walked by. Thanks for the great review!

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  11. Do you or someone you know what ever happened to Shirley's on Reforma? It was a mainstay for gringos back in my day. Is there still a Burger Boy chain? Salma Hayek did the "Booger-boy" TV commercials in the late 80's, and at the same time Shirley's of Shirley's Motor Courts fame was still serving "American-style" hamburgers thought their enchiladas were big sellers too.
    Thanks a lot for this blog. It's very helpful when one has little time and visits to La Gran Capital are farther and fewer in between.

    William

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  12. While exploring the vast food scene here I have two sort of "side quests": hamburgers and pizza. So I'm particularly pleased to see this post.

    I gave Taquería Los Parados a shot the other day, and thank you, Nick, that is indeed an excellent burger. The only thing is that it was a tad over-charred. I was surprised it was still pink inside. But I'll take that over under-charred and/or over-cooked. That charcoal grill of theirs holds a lot of promise.

    I have to side with Michael Wolf about Barracuda. The burgers are okay but not great, and simply fail to justify the prices. It's pretty much off my list too.

    Just a few blocks away is El Orujo, down on Amsterdam across from Le Pain Quotidien. Look for the green awning that says "Simplemente al Carbón". Better burger for about half the price ($55). And their kinda-burger-like Chivito Uruguayano… wow. Good empanadas too.

    Hat tip to Don Cuevas for Hamburguesas a la Parilla. That's a definite fav.

    Another Condesa option is Faffas, on Alfonso Reyes at Tamaulipas. I've only been once so far, just had the basic burger, litmus-testing, and it passed admirably. And just $50. They also have a lot of creative offerings named after celebrities, like the Sofia Loren (Parmesan, basil, garlic, and olive oil), the Elvis Presley (sadly not banana, peanut butter, and bacon), and the Monica Lewinsky (that would be the one with chorizo integrado).

    Embers is now high on my to-do list. Thanks again!

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  13. I"m about to take my second trip to Condesa to enjoy yet another Barracuda burger with my family. Love the atmosphere and love the burger. Thanks for the recommendation!

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  14. It should be noted that the Embers you mention having been in operation in Polanco since back in 1958 was actually first located on Mariano Escobedo directly across from the Deportivo Chapulepec. When I lived in El DF in the 1970's, it was THE PLACE for good hamburgers, along with one now long gone on Oaxaca, about one block from Fuente de las Cibeles.

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