Selling burritos and tacos on the south side is a whole different game compared to peddling them downtown. Local favorite Bumble Bee's Baja Grill, which was so successful with boutique burritos in the downtown area that it opened a south side location, has acknowledged that it can't compete with the increase in taco carts and burrito stands on the other end of town.
The solution: hamburgers.
Bumble Bee's on Cerrillos Road is now branded as Bumble Bee's Burgers, and no amount of money will get you a burrito. The fare is restricted to burgers (including a vegan offering), hot dogs, grilled cheese sandwiches and BLTs.
Boutique and gourmet burgers are on the uptick in the US—both as the central theme for independent, adventuresome restaurants, and as pseudo-culinary calculations on the menus of big-name fast-food joints. Even as restaurant traffic plummeted in the past few years, burger sales have mysteriously grown. Maybe burgers are a deep-rooted cultural comfort food to which Americans turn in times of stress and uncertainty, but they have become the struggling restaurateur's recession-busting beef bomb.
On one end of the spectrum are imaginative concoctions drawn from seasonal ingredients and local fare, served up in entrepreneurial carts and shoestring restaurants. On the other end is the charge rallied by McDonald's and its ilk, dubbed by the food industry as the "premiumization" of the stalwart hamburger.
Fast-food outlets are offering burger bars at which patrons can choose salsa over ketchup, and dabble in caramelized onions and pineapple.
So where does Bumble Bee's new venture fall?
The Bumble Bee burger has some nice, intimate touches, which include custom, house-made sauces for burgers and fries, and excellent chips that also are made fresh from whole potatoes. One may even opt to have crushed potato chips added to his or her hamburger patty for 49 cents, an act referred to as "crunchifying" a burger. The burgers are consistently well-cooked and the whole package has a kind of satisfying, moist sloppiness that steers one more toward In-N-Out Burger than McDonald's in the fast-food field. The french fries, on the other hand, taste exactly like fries from McDonald's (at least in my memory—it's probably been 20 years since I had one). I don't know if magic or industrial espionage is responsible, but emulating the clown seems strangely clever in this case. A combination of battered jalapeños and onions is worth it when you need a kick (the green chile that comes on the burgers is not hot).
The burgers are respectable and satisfying, but not terribly exciting and the options are limited. There's also no nod to anything local or seasonal, which strikes me as unfortunate given the ready availability of excellent New Mexico beef.
With burgers ranging in price from $5.49 to $7.69 (with fries or chips an extra $1.89 or $3.59, depending on size), there's room to buy local and fresh. I'll choose Bumble Bee's over McDonald's because Bumble Bee's is locally owned. It'd be nice to know that choice is being "paid forward" to other local businesses.
The whole menu is executed well at Bumble Bee's Burgers, but it's hard to tell if there's a real passion for this new venture or if it's just the smart bet according to the numbers. Try it for yourself and ponder the answer over a shake, malt or float.
Better, ponder it over a microbrew, if that’s your style—something still mercifully free of “premiumization” by McDonald’s.
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