As most of you already know, I am working on this year’s list of the best burgers in Tucson. Last year, Zinburger Wine & Burger Bar was chosen Numero Uno. And Zin may win again. However, this year we have more competitors and Neighbor Roy & I are trying to visit at least one per week. Last week it was Monkey Burger Downtown. This week we dined at the new Diablo Burger Downtown.
The first thing we noticed was that the owner had take great care to retain the look & feel of this old brick building across Congress Street from the Congress Hotel. Moreover, the furnishings, while somewhat eclectic, were charming in their whimsicality. I mean, there’s a Vespa on one wall, the very high ceiling was left open, the solid blonde wood tables on one side of the space are quite long and oddly familiar, and the high & low bars are metal-surfaces accompanied by metal tractor seats painted in various primary colors.
Between the big windows along the sidewalk and high ceilings the place feels bigger than it really is. By the time Roy & I had seated ourselves at the high bar we both had a good feeling about this place.
Lee came right over and announced that she would be our server. She handed us each a menu and told us to let her know if we have any questions. As it turned out, once we perused the menu, we had lots of questions.
All About Local
Just below their logo at the top of the menu is what appears to be their slogan: “All About Local”. Reading the Diablo menu takes a while; not because of the laundry list of foods and drinks, but rather because one must read “A Terroir-ist’s Manifesto for Eating in Place” in order to understand this eatery. According to the Manifesto, there are dozens of good reasons to buy food locally.
Diablo says they try to buy everything they serve to their customers fresh from local bakers, winemakers, brewers, farmers, and ranchers they know & trust. For reasons that are not quite as clear, they define “local” as anything within a 250-mile radius. Which by happenstance includes two huge ranches near Flagstaff where they get their beef.
Roy & I got into the “local” spirit and immediately orders two glasses of sauvignon blanc … from Argentina. We weren’t trying to buck store policy. It’s just that our world is bigger and we define “local” as anything within 5,000 miles.
Lee returned and explained a few critical items. First, while still on the hoof, Diablo beef is free-range-grass-fed; no antibiotics, no growth hormones. I told Lee that in my experience, grass-fed cattle produce meat that tastes somewhat different than grain-fed beef. And the grass-fed tend to be a little chewier.
Apparently Lee had heard this one before. She explained that Diablo recommends we order our burger cooked medium rare because the more it’s cooked the dryer & tougher it gets. “But,” she said, “ at medium rare, a Diablo Burger is tender, juicy and delicious.”
The Diablo Burger menu has 11 specialty burgers plus a “build-your-own” option. Roy ordered the “Marilyn”; two slices of Sharp Cheddar, Pepper Jack, Swiss, Provolone, & Blue Cheese ($11.25). Medium rare, of course.
I ordered a custom: Sharp Cheddar, Grilled Onions, & sautéed Mushrooms. Lee looked sad. “What’s a matter?” I asked. “Sorry, but we don’t have mushrooms,” she said in a soft voice. “OK, then, make mine medium rare too.”
Diablo Burgers are served on a preservative-free English muffin (baked locally in Phoenix); Seasonal Greens, Tomato (but not a Willcox tomato), Pickle, and DB Frites and I quote: “(Really good, Belgian-style Fries)”.
Our orders came up fairly quickly and were served in wire baskets. The mustard, ketchup, and napkins were already on the table.
One bite was all it took. Roy & I were in total agreement. Whatever else this meal would bring, we were now experiencing the best meat of any burger we have ever chomped into. But there was something else about the meat patty that resulted in yet another question. Fortunately, the owner, Derrick, was available.
First, we complimented Derrick on his wonderful use of interior space. Unlike Monkey Burger a block or two over, Diablo has class. Derrick explained a few of the more interesting features, such as the long tables we noticed when we first arrived and seemed vaguely familiar … they’re made from re-purposed wood from bowling alley lanes. Very clever!
But then we hit him with the “gotcha” question. “Derrick, your menu says each burger is 6 ounces of beef. Yet, these patties are much larger than any 6 oz. burger we’ve ever had.”
Without hesitation came Derrick’s response. “The beef you gentlemen are eating is only 2% fat. So when we cook it, it hardly shrinks at all. Most places have meat that is 20-25% fat, so when they cook a 6 oz. patty, the fat melts away and the patty comes off the grille small compared to ours.”
Oh, that made sense. And afterward as Roy & I were driving home we both remarked on how full we felt. That was a very generous portion … and yet it was only the usual 6 oz. burger. Amazing!
Now, about those “(Really good, Belgian-style Fries)”. Roy & I agreed wholeheartedly. They were good, but no match for Monkey Fries. But then we’ve never had fries as totally awesome as those at Monkey Burger.
So, as the 2013 contest now stands, Diablo Burger has good fries and the best meat. Monkey Burger has good burgers and the best fries. Fortunately, these two establishments are only a few blocks apart. Conceivably, one could order Monkey Fries to go, then run them over to Diablo Burger and enjoy an unbeatable world-class burger experience.
But wait. We still have several more specialty burger places to review. Including the Ritz where last year Roy & I experienced the most expensive lunch in Tucson … and one of the very best.