Laguna Burger opened its Albuquerque location in December 2017 to long lines and high expectations. The excitement was understandable: The first two spots, along Interstate 40 in the vast, lonely spaces west of the city, had quickly established reputations for serving some of the state’s best green chile cheeseburgers.
The Albuquerque operation, on 12th Street across from the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, shares a handsome stucco building with another restaurant, Sixty-Six Acres. The interior represents a significant upgrade from the gas station aesthetic of the original locations. The wooden frames and half-globe pendant lights hanging from the ceiling lend a touch of sophistication to the large, earth-toned space.
The restaurant has expanded its menu, adding salads, sandwiches and different burger options, along with a full bar, where you can get rum, vodka and other spirits added to your milkshakes. The prices are generally a couple bucks more than you’d pay for similar items at the other two spots.
Stories of the lines at Laguna Burger are legend, so my friend and I made sure to arrive before the lunch rush. The procession of a dozen or so people in front of us moved slowly, giving us time to watch the cooks frying burger patties in a rotating contraption that resembled a panini press.
Our food came out 10 to 15 minutes after we ordered. The signature Laguna burger ($7.90, $9.90 with fries) was served alongside a generous pile of thin fries in a shallow bowl lined with red-and-white checked paper. It’s hardly the towering construction pictured on the website. The two forlorn-looking pieces of lettuce made me wonder if the restaurant was rationing its greens. The burger itself is an 80/20 blend, with all the pink cooked out of it. Still, there’s a lot to like here. The half-pound patty has a nice crust and is loosely packed for maximum texture and flavor. It’s just the right thickness to match the soft, fresh sesame seed bun. The green chile, however, was so innocuous that I had to check under the bun to confirm its presence. In addition, the fries were barely warm and not particularly crisp.
Better execution was found in a green chile stew ($4.90 a cup, $6.90 a bowl) that offered a good balance of potatoes, tomatoes and tender chunks of slow-cooked pork in a green chile-based broth. The chile brought much more heat to the stew than it did to the burger. With the accompanying warm tortilla, the cup portion was filling enough for a meal.
Frito pie, served under a pile of lettuce, tomato and onion, was a tasty, if rather leaden, affair. Red chile lent flavor and spice to a layer of ground beef that had the consistency of mortar. The corn chips beneath it all held up well, but a more tangible sauce would have helped this immensely.
Laguna Burger has a number of drink options, including lemonades, both spiked and alcohol-free, and flavored iced teas. The mint mango lemonade ($2.90) was quite sweet, the mint barely discernible.
It’s exciting to see all the development going on around the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center. Laguna Burger is just a few nips and tucks away from fulfilling its promise as one of the neighborhood’s anchors.