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Not quite hamburger heaven, but close

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Santa Fe has a new burger place, and a good one, too. Welcome to town, Five Star Burgers. Burgers and I go way back. Beginning when I was about 3 years old, my grandfather and I would eat at Hamburger King, a one-of-kind family-owned restaurant on Shawnee, Okla.’s, Main Street. Each booth had a telephone. You called in your order and the waitress brought the burger and fries in a red plastic basket. It was Hamburger Heaven to me and, of course, set a high standard.

I’d eaten at the popular Five Star Burgers in Taos last year and enjoyed the food and the casual, welcoming ambience. The Five Star that opened in Santa Fe earlier this summer, occupying the space that was formerly the north-side Java Joe’s coffee shop, follows the same winning formula. The owners expanded the coffeehouse for more seating, added a small bar, walled in the patio and provided shade with umbrellas. The place looks great.

The simple and delicious menu highlights America’s favorite food, the hamburger. Good burgers start with good meat, and they use Angus beef here, all natural and antibiotic free from Harris Ranch. The beef is ground fresh daily and served on a brioche bun. No frozen patties here, and you can taste the difference.

Five Star Burgers
LOCATION: 604 N. Guadalupe St., Suite A, Santa Fe (across the parking lot from the DeVargas Albertsons grocery), 505-983-8977
HOURS: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sundays-Thursdays; 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays

When friends and I ate here recently, one of my guests ordered the signature 5 Star Burger ($8.95), a gourmet burger with crisp, smoky applewood bacon and cheese melted on top of the beef. The meat came medium as requested, and my friend asked for cheddar in place of the standard gorgonzola. The bun tasted light and buttery, and toasting provides a barrier to prevent juices from the meat from soaking to our fingertips.

The menu offers three other beef burgers, a bison burger, turkey or chicken. For an extra dollar (each topping) you can personalize with a choice of six cheeses, avocado, green chile and/or jalapeƱos, onion, mushrooms and even a fried egg. You can pay extra for a gluten-free bun.

All burgers and sandwiches arrive a la carte. Yes, you can find a burger for less than $9 with fries elsewhere in town, but I think the quality here warrants the investment. You can add a side salad or an order of regular fries, sweet potato fries or a mix of both for $3.50 or less. Half-orders of fries are available, a nice touch since the burgers are big. I liked the fries here, crisp, hot and well salted. I would have enjoyed the sweet potato fries more if they had been a thicker cut.

We also ordered the Harris Ranch Hamburger Steak, ($12), a meal for a hungry meat lover. The 12-ounce beef patty arrived hot and cooked to order, medium rare with a bit of pink of in the middle. On top was a bit of luscious gorgonzola cream sauce and a crown of caramelized onions. We liked the sauce so much we ordered a small side of it for an extra dollar. The meat came with a side of grilled squash and tomatoes and fries. It was both tasty and a good deal for the price.

The pretty spinach salad ($8) was another highlight, garnished with sliced fresh strawberries. The fresh greens are tossed with walnuts, dried cranberries, a few slivers of purple onion and a sprinkling of white gorgonzola crumbles. The menu said the salad came with a “creamy lemon” dressing, but we got Thousand Island, too thick, too sweet and the color of a Creamsicle. Luckily, it came on the side. I asked for ranch instead. Much better.

Besides hamburgers, Five Star has several other salads, with or without meat. The 5 Star Turkey Burger ($8.95) sounds intriguing with its combination of ground turkey, sage, onion and peach or cranberry chutney. A mini Thanksgiving on a bun? How about grilled cheese, a fish sandwich or a veggie burger? And don’t forget the special burger of the month, for August a tropical burger with mango salsa.

The kids’ menu includes a healthy turkey burger combo with apple slices and a glass of milk. If you want a stronger beverage, Five Star supports New Mexico brewers with several area-made beers on tap and available in the can or bottle.

Desserts are limited to $1 ice cream shooters, sundaes and a brownie a la mode ($5.50) we shared, topped with aerosol whipped cream. I’d pass on the brownie and stick to ice cream or the burgers and sides here.

We sat on the patio for both visits and service was good, although there were no telephones for calling in our orders and the food sat on pretty plates, not in plastic baskets. On our first trip, a dog sat outside in a convertible parked just over the wall from our table. Its ears perked and it jumped from the back seat into the front when my friend began to talk about how good the bacon was on her burger.

On our second trip, among the guests was a small white poodle that spent the entire lunch hour on a pillow on a dining chair. It didn’t even look up when the waiter came with the food.

Five Star Burgers also has a restaurant at 5901 Wyoming NE at Academy in Albuquerque.