Perhaps I'm paranoid, perhaps it's just that time of year—or perhaps I really do feel a spiritual vortex around Santa Fe Bite's new parking-lot-cum-strip-mall location off St. Michael's Drive (1616 St. Michael's Drive, 428-0328). The 70-plus-year-old establishment is surrounded with myths and heroes from its humble beginnings in a cramped, 800-square-foot building in the foothills outside town, but the new location seems rather a hollow, inflated shell of what once was and emits an altogether different sort of energy. The bobcats are long gone, their habitat paved over by urban sprawl.
SFR has published a lot of coverage on Bobcat and, later, Santa Fe Bite, so when the diner crawled into the Midtown remains of Tecolote Cafe's unexpected death (RIP, bakery basket) in mid-September after almost a year of being out of business, we took notice. Admittedly, I moved to town in 2015, after the drama surrounding the move out of the Old Las Vegas Trail location and a couple of successful years at the downtown Garrett's Desert Inn location. I heard recommendations of the burger from passing winds, but never managed to visit before they closed in 2018.
"Guess I'll never get to try that delicious burger," I thought, but like, not really—there's a billion and a half burgers out there, so what's but another manifestation of meat lost to time, tasting so soon the fate that we and all other burgers are bound to meet?
It's potentially portentous that the business bought up Tecolote's corpse, then, which while alive faced similar issues of being evicted from a successful
long-time location and found the St. Michael's corridor the next best choice. The one other successful restaurant in the strip mall, Annapurna's World Café, is at least situated far enough south of the Carl's Jr. to have a decent view of the mountains. The new Santa Fe Bite location, however, lacks such advantageous positioning, and as I stared at the drive-through from my table while waiting for my burger, watching people leave that dive with their flame-charbroiled California-style Beyond Burgers (truly a revolutionary food product), I thought, "this mythic burger better be fucking good."
There's a lot of cute car-themed, Route 66 decor on the walls to gawk at while I wait, although it feels like it's been arbitrarily placed out of obligation to a past aesthetic rather than someone being like, "this would look so cool on the wall of my little cafe," which I hear was the leading design philosophy in the first location. At any rate, I felt like I had been in this same café in many different places, perhaps even in this same place, and my server started looking more familiar to me as I grew more antsy. Was I really trapping my soul here, in a strip mall, for a burger?
But then, it arrived. First off, I'm sorry folks, I didn't get the green chile on my burger, I stuck to just cheese and bacon in the 10-ounce portion ($14.65). Maybe that's my mistake, but I feel that chile, in its power to improve basically anything, can be used to mask cheap meat (I'm looking at you, Blake's Lotaburger—not even chile can mask the taste of your contributions to anti-marriage equality campaigns in California). The cheese was gooey, the bacon was crispy, but my favorite accoutrement to the burger was the bun—a golden brown, flakey shell on the outside with a soft, yeasty interior, it soaked up the burger juices like a sponge.
The burger itself was ominously delicious, like the archetypal burger I had only been tasting echoes of in all other burgers. The meat was ground to a not-quite-crumbly texture and speckled with tiny beads of fat. I hear it's cooked on an ancient cast-iron grill that hasn't been washed in 120 years, and that's why it's so delicious. I kid about the age, but the cast-iron thing is legit. One unfortunate thing I can't lie about: I ordered it cooked -medium, and it arrived just on the well-cooked side. The supporting house-made potato chips were an appropriately light and crunchy alternative to heavier, frenched potatoes, though. I also ordered a mocha milkshake ($7.75), and on first sip my eyes opened wide—the espresso flavor was excellently rich and roasty, and the chocolate came in as a pillowy, delicate aftertaste.
When I next crave a burger, I will be back, and I'll definitely get the green chile—but I'll also make sure to circle my table with salt to keep out the soul-sucking strip-mall demons.