A good burger is a deceptively complex dish to master, with many components and variables. I mean, in just the patty alone, you have to master the fat ratio within the meat, juiciness, level of doneness, seasoning, density, size, thickness and cooking method. That doesn't even take into account the bun: traditional or something more eclectic? What's the bread-to-meat ratio? Toasted or untoasted? Buttered or plain? Then we've got toppings of all shapes, sizes, textures and tastes, from spreads to veggies, cheeses, eggs and even the occasional fruit (I'm looking at you, pineapple). And yet, with all of these variables, none of this even takes into account the eater's personal preferences or tastes. So, the burger business is a complex ordeal.
Diablo Burger, a local downtown eatery and second incarnation of a restaurant in Flagstaff, was thoroughly hyped prior to its opening a few months ago. Their business model focuses on sustainability and locally sourced items, including a long diatribe about their beef that graces the menu. Now, I'm all for sustainability, supporting local businesses, boosting the local economy by helping small businesses to support each other and reducing our impact on the planet, but let's be real for a minute: Restaurants are in business to make and serve food. And if the food isn't delicious, and the service isn't shining, then they won't be in business to do all of these noble and wonderful things.
Luckily, on my two visits to Diablo Burger, the burgers were good, albeit a little more than I'd be willing to pay for a burger on a regular basis, and the service wasn't bad, either. The menu, which is burger-focused, as it should be, has a small but acceptable selection of topping combinations, or there's always the DIY option. Burgers start at $10.25 and go up to $13.25. It wouldn't be unthinkable to hit the $14 or $15 mark on the build-your-own burger option (ouch). They are served with a side of fries, or you can substitute a side salad for an additional $2.75 (double ouch).
The burgers are 6-ounce portions. They strongly suggest several times that you order your burger medium rare (generally range-raised beeves produce a much leaner ground beef, and overcooking it leads to a dry, crumbly, nasty burger). I'm totally fine with medium rare burgers but I know LOTS of people who aren't — texturally, medium-rare ground beef can have a mouthfeel that comes pretty close to raw meat.
Though they're only six ounces, they seem awfully dense and are pretty darn filling. Of the four burgers ordered on the two visits, they were all comparable in deliciousness, without any one being a particular stand-out, though the least interesting one was probably the Big Daddy Kane ($12.25), which has bacon, sharp cheddar, pickle slices and "DB Special Sauce." It was good; it just wasn't as interesting a flavor combination as the other three. The Blake ($11.75) and the Wrigley Field ($12.75) were my top two, just barely edging out the Cheech ($12.25).
The Blake featured green chiles, house-made hatch chile mayo and cheddar cheese. It had a nice spiciness to it without being overwhelmingly spicy. My only complaint is it was all a bit mushy, and would have benefited from a little crunch. The Wrigley Field had bacon (crunch factor), Swiss, grilled onions and spicy honey mustard. The honey mustard overwhelmed the other flavors just a touch, but otherwise it was a great combo. I probably would add pickles to it if I was to order it again. The Cheech burger was topped with guacamole, pepper jack cheese and raw jalapeño slices. The guacamole was on the bland side.
All four burgers were ordered medium rare, and on both instances, were all delivered medium rare and hot. The meat itself could have benefited from a little more seasoning, and if you're not used to eating lean beef, it does have a bit of a different flavor profile than your standard supermarket beef — it's usually described as "more beefy" but I think sometimes it can almost have a gamey quality.
The fries at Diablo Burger are absolutely delicious, crunchy, fry perfection in my book. They're hand-cut, double-fried (in peanut oil, so beware if you have allergies), and the seasoning mix that they're generously sprinkled with has the perfect salty-savory-herby ratio going on. The side of fries ($5.50) comes with a choice of dipping sauce: Hatch chile mayo, pesto, ranch, chimichurri, "special sauce", or spicy honey mustard. You can add on a dip to your regular burger and fry order for an additional 75 cents. None of them disappointed.
We also tried out the salad (there's only one on the menu) for $7.25, which is mixed greens, beets, tomatoes and blue cheese crumbles, served with ranch or vinaigrette on the side. It was crisp and fresh, but wasn't very exciting.
Diablo Burger also misses the mark a bit on their alcohol selection. There are a half-dozen or fewer craft beers available in cans, but they come with teeny tiny non-chilled glasses. They've got a blackboard listing the wine selection — there were three when we were there, ranging from $7-$12 a glass/$26-$42 a bottle.
All in all, Diablo Burger makes a damn good burger, but it might not be for everyone. Me? I'll be back ... as long as I can split the check with someone else.