SANTA FE, N.M. — If you are looking for a locals’ place with good food and reasonable prices away from the hustle of downtown, consider The Original Realburger.
If the name sounds familiar, it’s because the restaurant has been in business in various locations in the Santa Fe area since 1974. When I enjoyed my first green chile cheeseburger here, Realburger operated on Don Gaspar in the building now occupied by the wonderful Zuni store Keshi.
Another reason the name might ring a bell is that Realburger won Santa Fe’s first Green Chile Cheeseburger Smackdown last fall. At the time of the Railyard cook-off, Realburger owner and grill master chef John Chavez said he makes his burgers with fresh, grass-fed Angus beef and roasted green chile from Hatch and serves them on buttered grilled buns.
After several moves, the restaurant now sits facing a parking lot and some office buildings just off Cerrillos Road north of the Camino Carlo Rey intersection on the west side of the street. It’s a little hard to find, but worth the search.
From the layout, you might think this is a take-out only establishment. But no. Beyond the order window, although you can’t see them from the entrance, Realburger has two large dining rooms.
Do not be afraid; you don’t have to eat in your car. After my friend and I ordered, a friendly server delivered our food and checked with us throughout the meal – an unexpected touch of service in a place that is mostly self-serve.
The dining rooms are pleasant and non-corporate with vigas and a mural that depicts aspen, yucca, a roadrunner and a map of the state with Realburger as the center. Another wall displays a collection of old New Mexico license plates.
The self-serve soft drink machine, jugs of iced tea and lemonade beckon, along with a buffet of burger toppings and salsas to go with your meal.
Of course, we tried the award-winning green chile cheeseburger ($7), six ounces of ground beef cooked to order and served up with a generous topping of green chile and melted cheese. You can add grilled onions, mushrooms, cheese and red or green chile at no extra charge. Even the bun was good.
You can also get a tortilla burger, a sopaipilla burger, a patty melt and a turkey burger. The daily special may include your burger plus fries and a drink. The six-ounce patty was plenty, especially with the side of fresh hot fries we ordered as part of the daily special.
Even though “burger” is in its name, the restaurant offers other choices, including a breakfast menu complete with pancakes. I sampled the Philly Cheese steak ($7.50), a yummy combination of warm beef sliced bite-sized, cooked with bell peppers and onions, and finished with mild cheese that holds it all together. It came on a long, soft hoagie bun and was easily enough for two.
On a second visit, my friend and I tried the New Mexican choices. The menu includes enchiladas, tacos, green chile stew and a Frito pie among the nativo choices. The red chile enchilada plate (mistakenly listed as “enchilada casserole” on the posted menu) was good and filling.
The enchiladas came rolled with plenty of seasoned ground beef inside the corn tortillas. The thinly applied chile sauce was too mild for me. The meal came with soft whole pinto beans topped with cheese and a generous serving of papitas, greasy but tasty diced potatoes.
Customers can request tacos and burritos in a variety of flavors including fish, grilled chicken, lamb and chicharrones. You can get the taco ($1.50) either soft or hard shell. It comes with generous filling based on our beef taco, and plenty of fresh lettuce and tomato garnish. We also tried a hot dog ($2.75), which included two wieners. Very good. Next time, we’ll make it a chile dog!
Realburger serves milkshakes. We liked the vanilla, thick with ice cream but still sippable through an oversized straw. It arrived with a crown of whipped cream, and a big smile from the young woman who made it. She offered to add chocolate or caramel syrup, but my friend and I declined. It was already an extravaganza.