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The Laguna Burger has landed

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — If you eat one green chile cheeseburger a week, Laguna Burger Restaurant employees want it to be theirs.

The new restaurant, located at 2400 12th Street NW, held a soft VIP opening Thursday at its first Albuquerque location at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center. The homegrown burger purveyor treated its landlord, vendors and construction crews to lunch a day before the eatery opened to the general public.

A favorite with I-40 travelers and New Mexico locals at its three current restaurants in the Pueblo of Laguna, customers are expected to be lining up Friday well in advance of the new Laguna Burger’s 11 a.m. opening.

While its half-pound never-made-from-frozen-beef burgers will no doubt prove popular with the lunch and dinner crowds, there are scaled-down versions, such as the one-third pound Laguna “Wimpy.” Rounding out the menu are four varieties of hot dogs, chicken and fish sandwiches and salads, including one topped with grilled salmon. The 3,000-square-foot diner-like space also includes a bar.  The dining area seats 78 inside and 50 on an outside patio.

Tribal leaders are optimistic that the Albuquerque market will embrace its version of an American classic, with a decidedly New Mexican twist, in an increasingly crowded burger market.

With the smell of  burgers and fries wafting out through Avanyu Plaza, a new pueblo-owned commercial development just steps away from the first tribally owned freestanding Starbucks in the nation, Jerry Smith, president and CEO of Laguna Development Corp., said he was confident the venture would be a success. “This is one of our major efforts on the economic development front,” said Smith of the city’s first Laguna Burger. “We hope it can be  template for how we might penetrate other markets and bring revenue back to the tribe.”

The new business is providing employment for 26 people, he added.

The first customer in line Thursday was landlord Michael Canfield, president and CEO of the Pueblo Cultural Center, an organization tasked with breathing new economic life into the area.

“Laguna Burger is a perfect match for the pueblo — not to mention its Albuquerque fan base,” said Canfield as he chomped down on what for him is the ultimate comfort food — a green chile Laguna cheeseburger with the works.