Chris Madrid’s – San Antonio’s best burgers

9 11 2007

Burgers are so over-done that they may even be considered the bane of the food industry. Despite their ubiquity, its difficult to find a really good burger. In fact, most people will tell you that they can make a better burger at home (as opposed to the one in their hands while making the proclamation), even though they have yet to prove it to me.

Now, a great burger, one that you can’t make better at home, one that you will go out of your way for, one that you will go straight from the airport after a long time away from home, one that you will highly recommend to everyone you know, is rare indeed. But that is how I feel about Chris Madrid’s.

In April 2006 AOL’s CitySearch rated their Tostada Burger as the No. 2 in its nationwide list of top 15 burgers to try before you die, and this place has been featured in Texas Monthly as well. My opinion: believe the hype.

The building is kind of dumpy. Although the restaurant sits the beautiful mid-town historic district of Monte Vista, it is far enough away to be considered a fairly undesireable part of town. The restaurant itself began in 1977 as a small building that is now the kitchen and ordering section. In 1982 they took over the next door ice house and turned it into their bar/cantina. Before the “middle room” was built in 1998, people would dash back and forth between the buildings, especially if it was raining. I can’t really say the additions were renovations, however, because all of the framing, electrical wiring, ductwork, plumbing, etc. is completely exposed inside. There is no insulation or sheetrock. The décor of this place consists of neon beer signs and a variety of signed shirts displayed along the walls. It is no-frills decor. The kitchen and ordering line area enclosed a larger area that was probably an old driveway. The water and gas meters are still accessible from the sloping floor. Needless to say, it is not a pretty place.

But none of this matters. It’s the food that keeps the locals coming back. Sometimes the line to order is 30 strong. However, don’t be dismayed. The line moves quickly and the food comes out fast. The only problem you may have is finding a seat. On a busy night, don’t be surprised to find a family standing by your table waiting for you to finish. You could eat outside, but sometimes the weather prevents this. Nevertheless, table squatting is expected. There is a common understanding between the seated and the squatting. I never feel hurried by the table squatters, but it is a common courtesy to not delay nor sit around to mingle. However, a large population of visitors comes to drink from the full bar. Don’t squat at their table, they might be a while.

So, on to the food. Interviews with the owner reveal that he is all about the quality and consistency of the food. Before opening every day, they make a burger and split it four ways amongst the owner, chief cook, and staff to test for quality. It has to pass their taste test.

Any of the “macho” sized burgers will be a ½ lb. patty smashed into a fairly round, irregular shape (the regular is 4 oz.). The meat is not too lean or too fat, and it is seasoned perfectly. The buns are soft and thick enough to absorb juices and condiments without getting too soggy, but thin enough to allow you to fully taste the meat. The buns are steamed then toasted next to the meat to allow some of the grease to splatter onto the bun, adding flavor and a glistening sheen to the top. The veggies (lettuce, tomato, and onion) are finely chopped and piled on and the pickles are thinly sliced. The burgers come with mustard and mayo (not too much of either, but just enough to provide moistness and flavor), but no ketchup. If you ask for cheese, the cheddar actually tastes like cheddar. Both the regular sizes and macho sizes come on the same bun. Therefore, the macho patty and cheese spill out far beyond the bun.

Altogether, this is the best burger I’ve ever had and I recommend it to everyone. I don’t expect that Chris Madrid’s will be everyone’s favorite, but my recommendations haven’t failed yet here. The menu is small. All that is offered are burgers, fries, and nachos (there is a grilled chicken sandwich as well). The restaurant has won recognition for its Tostada Burger, comprised of refried beans and crushed corn chips. Honestly, I’ve never tried it. My choice is always the Macho Porky’s with cheese and bacon. My only disappointment are the fries. They are very tasty, but are normally soggy and not crisp.

Nevertheless, the burger usually leaves me a kind of food buzz. So, whether a visitor to San Antonio or a local, if you want to experience San Antonio through its food, don’t miss out on this place. Don’t just trust me or the long line of diners, trust your own taste buds.

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