’s history is contained within roads and trails. The state is physically and culturally tattooed by the Spanish Trail, the Camino Real, the Santa Fe Trail, Route 66, as well as by significant rail routes and interstate highways.
There is something tangibly forensic and gracefully metaphorical about
’s status as a crossroads in the ongoing anthropological story of the Americas. How we translate that into contemporary interpretation ranges from the mildly respectable (the
Fiber Arts Trails) to the comically offensive (
Not to disparage the green
cheeseburger—it is a noble enough creature and its finest examples instigate epiphany as well as any other cocktail of endorphins, tryptophan and serotonin—but to cynically lament the obvious: Our feverish embrace of marketing often cheapens a rich and layered history.
However, the wandering herds of grease fetishists who roam the highways and byways in search of uncommon obesity are at risk of accidentally entering some of the state’s most intriguing areas in pursuit of the more far-flung outposts along the Cheeseburger Trail. And anything that pulls Americans past the fast-food phalanxes of off-ramps everywhere and into local businesses can’t be all bad, because cheapening our heritage is a relative thing and so is cultural immersion. But a truly epic green
cheeseburger is unequivocal.
, the champion of the Cheeseburger Trail (as designated by a contest at last year’s state fair), Badland’s Burgers in Grants, was recently shut down for health code violations related to ventilation. According to the Cibola Beacon newspaper, Badland’s is unlikely to reopen soon, if ever.
It’s a historic loss, but the nearby Home of the Laguna Burger is better, anyhow.
, the largest of the Keresan pueblos, was bisected first by Route 66 and, later, by Interstate 40, thus creating a market for cheeseburgers, among other things. Still, most travelers stop in Grants, and Laguna remains a place where few outsiders roam beyond the gas station at the Laguna Superette. Fortunately, the Superette also contains Laguna Burger. Within the average gas station market—complete with oppressive fluorescent lighting, meat sticks, and random odds and ends—is a modest counter with a half-dozen stools and a well-tended grill.
Despite its setting, Laguna Burger does it right. The beef comes from area ranches and is not stored as frozen, pre-formed patties, but as luscious, seasoned balls that are carefully formed and meticulously prepared. A to-go burger might take 20 minutes because the patties are cooked slowly and the friendly staff doesn’t cut corners. If you’re anxious, you can phone ahead from approximately 10 miles out and have a burger waiting. But it’s worth stopping, stretching and watching your hand-crafted burger come into being. The
is mild but with enough bite to complement the patty, which, itself, sits atop the bun like an improbable odalisque, suspended in a rare and suggestive state between nubile tenderness, solid serviceability and lusty dissolve.
The French fries are hand-cut—never frozen—and are the best-tasting fries I’ve had since the glory days of Dave’s Not Here (now
). They are a junior harem in support of the burger’s expert seduction.
Laguna Burger sells T-shirts that ask, “Is it the beef or is it the love?” I’m not certain the idea of cooking with love is relevant outside of cooking for family and I wouldn’t know how to apply it to so complex a transaction as a white guy lusting for a green
cheeseburger cooked and served by a Laguna woman on pueblo land adjacent to an interstate highway that’s a designated part of a “cheeseburger trail.”
But I know letting go of whatever hurry you think you’re in, waiting patiently at Laguna Burger and taking the time to savor what’s on offer can change the way you see a lot of things, starting with whatever road you’re on.
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