Is Monkey Burger The Best Burger In Tucson?by Jim Gressinger on May. 08, 2013, under Best Burgers In Tucson, Restaurant Reviews
I do not know why, but there has been a rash of burger joints opening around Tucson recently. I mean, even the Ritz Carlton opened a specialty burger bar. With their usual pretentiousness, they named it Cayton’s Burger Bistro at The Golf Club at Dove Mountain.
So, Neighbor Roy & I have set ourselves upon a mission to once again select the best burger in Tucson. Last year the winner of the coveted #1 ranking on Southern Arizona Guide was Zinburger Wine & Burger Bar. And it may be again, but we thought we should now review the entire spectrum of wannabes.
Our first candidate was Monkey Burger Downtown on 6th Avenue. Roy’s an old-time Tucsonan and knows the location was, at one time, one of several seedy dive bars in this area. But the area is getting cleaned up even if the buildings are showing their advanced age.
Whatever the owners spent to get this place operational, they certainly didn’t overspend on interior decorating. The interior makes McDonald’s look upscale. The most notable feature is stuck in a corner by a front window. It’s a three and a half foot tall sculpture of a chimp … which seems odd since a chimpanzee is not a monkey.
It was only 11:20 AM when we arrived and the lunch crowd was still hard at work wedged in their cubicles in nearby office buildings. So we seated ourselves right away. Soon thereafter, our waitress arrived to take our drink orders. When she returned, I inquired as to her name. “Valerie,” she said, “What would you gentlemen like for lunch?”
Initially, I inquired as to the characteristics of monkey meat. I mean, is it mostly white or dark? Valerie assured me that monkey meat is mostly dark, but a bit chewy if not well-smoked first. Valerie turned out to be, not only cute, but a quick wit. Good for you, girl!
Roy ordered the True Blue: blue cheese; caramelized onions; romaine lettuce & grilled tomatoes. I asked Valerie if I could have one custom-made to my specs. She said, “Sure, here you’re the boss.” Really? Life is good!
I ordered my burger with caramelized onions, sautéed mushrooms, smoked cheddar cheese, with a side of mayo. No pickle, please. Hate dill.
Valerie then advised us that we could order a side of fries for an additional $1 each. Sure, why not?
There was a good reason for Roy to order the Monkey Burger blue cheese special. We had something with which to compare it. Last year we thoroughly enjoyed the Willcox Wine Festival. The food truck at this event was the Dragoon Market & Café. Roy ordered a blue cheese burger and spent the next few months raving about how good it was.
Then earlier this year, we attended a festival at Fairbank, the ghost town on the San Pedro River near Tombstone. Again, there was Dragoon catering up a storm. This time I ordered the blue cheese burger. Roy was right. How something this delicious comes out of the back of a truck is an amazement.
Glancing around Monkey Burger Downtown, we noted the full bar; and above the bar, color photos of Monkey Burger’s specials: humongous wads of sizzling cow flesh with a ton of various toppings. Each had to be at least 12 inches tall.
Both Roy & I subscribe to the school of “Bigger is not necessarily better”. Typical of old men, I suppose. But we imagine these monsters are good for conversation and publicity. “Did you hear? So-&-so ate a whole Monkey Burger ($9.50) at one sitting.” Catch the update on Twitter.
In no time, Valerie arrived back at our table with our burgers & fries. The two meals together weighed about as much as Valerie soaking wet.
Now, I have dined out with Roy on many occasions and never known him to order fries, let alone eat one. Monkey Burger fries come in a large tin cup … a generous portion, to say the least. And here was my neighbor, friend, and honorary Southern Arizona guide munching happily on Monkey fries. What’s up with that?
Half way through our meal I asked Roy what he thought about his True Blue. He had already devoured half and was scrapping the caramelized onions off the other half. He explained. “The caramelized onions neutralize the taste of the blue cheese. Without the onions, I can now taste the blue cheese and the burger is much more to my liking.” Roy is a gourmet in such complex matters as burger garnishments.
As to my “special order” burger … very good. Fresh bun; cooked to order: medium. But as good as our burgers were, it was the fries that stole the show. Fantastic!!! Crisp. Not soggy and limp like those awful fries I reviewed at Five Guys last year.
But there was something else. I called over Pete, the manager, and inquired as to the seasoning on the fries. “Zesty Ranch seasoning salt,” said Pete. OK. Somehow, some way, these guys have discovered the secret of making “Fries of the Gods”. Roy & I agreed. Best fries we have ever had … period … full stop. Yes, even better than Zinburger fries. I know what you’re thinking. That’s not actually possible. But there you have it.
By now the lunch crowd had arrived in mass. I noticed something had changed. People were lining up to the cash register to place their order. Remember, we merely sat down and Valerie came over and took our order.
I finally got Valerie’s attention. She came over to our table and Roy started to hand her his credit card. “Oh,” she said, “you have to pay at the register.”
Roy looked at me. I looked at Roy. We both looked at the line that was now 10 deep. After standing in line for at least 12 minutes, Roy got the job done and we headed outside. As magnificent as the fries were, we won’t be back. We don’t go to restaurants for the privilege of standing in lines.
Conclusion: is a Monkey Burger better than a Zinburger? No. Very good burgers, to be sure. But if you don’t mind standing in lines, go for the fries.
Now it’s on to the other contenders, which we will showcase over the coming weeks. Bon Appetit! May the best burger in Tucson win.
For our List of the Best Restaurants in Tucson & Southern Arizona by cuisine, click HERE.