The operators of the Albuquerque burger joint Santa Fe Bite-ABQ have big shoes to fill as they carry the legacy of not one but two of the state’s most acclaimed burger joints.
The new spot’s roots extend back to the 1950s, when Bobcat Bite opened on the outskirts of Santa Fe and proceeded to become a community treasure renowned for its green chile cheeseburgers. When the restaurant closed in 2013, owners Bonnie and John Eckre revived the concept at a location in town.
Burger lovers flocked to the new place, dubbed Santa Fe Bite, until the Eckres decided to retire last year.
Santa Fe’s loss turned out to be Albuquerque’s gain when the Eckres sold the brand to a new team who in July launched Santa Fe Bite-ABQ in Nob Hill.
The new owners have brought the Eckres’ recipes, equipment and logo down from Santa Fe. They even managed to import the mouthwatering aroma of burgers on the grill. The smell, evoking memories of backyard barbecues, is the first thing you notice when you walk into the modest-sized space on Central next to the Guild Cinema. The atmosphere is seat-yourself casual. Route 66-themed artwork covers one wall; the other features a large photo of the city.
Although the Santa Fe predecessor offered steaks, pork chops and Mexican food, the new place puts its focus squarely on burgers. You can get them in 5-ounce ($8.95) and 10-ounce ($12.95) portions. There’s also the Big Bite, a 16-ounce monster that comes with fries and a salad, for $19.95.
The burgers are made from ground beef from Moriarty. A bit of lean, flavorful sirloin mixed into the fattier chuck makes an ideal burger blend, and the cooks at Santa Fe Bite-ABQ do a great job preparing it. Our bacon green chile cheeseburger ($15.95) had a nice crust on the patty, with lots of juice inside, and was cooked to the requested medium level of doneness. The Hatch chile has noticeable but not scorching heat. The bun mostly contained the juice from the burger, although the bottom started to show wear after a couple of minutes.
The burgers come with veggies on the side. In a quirk carried over from the previous location, the 5-ounce and 10-ounce burgers are served with house-made potato chips: thin-sliced, golden brown, a little underseasoned. Sweet potato fries ($2.95) are well-executed – crisp on the outside and tender on the inside – and a good flavor complement to the green chile in the burger.
The menu offers a few other main dish options, including a steak sandwich, a patty melt and a chicken sandwich. The veggie burger ($11.95), made in-house, tasted mostly of black beans. Like its meat-based partner, it had a good crust on it, but the patty fell apart a little too easily.
Our server was friendly, efficient and well-versed on the sourcing of the food. Everything was on the table in about 10 minutes.
The restaurant is a little over a month old and still getting up to speed.
On the afternoon I went, it was out of agua fresca and garden salads.
The only outdoor sign is the logo on the door.
There’s no beer or wine yet, although the permit process is underway.
These are all incidental details to the main takeaway: Santa Fe Bite-ABQ gets the burgers right and does justice to the legacy of its forerunners.