Los Bandidos de Carlos & Mickey's
1310 Magruder St., El Paso, TX 79925 (map); 915-778-3323; Facebook page
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: A loud and touristy Mexican spot makes a passable burger thanks to the addition of green chiles
Want Fries with That? No; nothing much to recommend about these frozen medium-cut spuds. Have a taco instead of fries.
Prices: Burger (w/fries), $6.99
There are so many reasons not to go to a Mexican restaurant for a burger. They don't specialize in burgers. Burgers are an afterthought. The Mexican food is way better. These are all good arguments, but I did it anyway.
A recent plane ride (among many that I took in hopes of producing good reality television) landed me in El Paso, Texas. The driver who picked me up had one and only one food recommendation and it was Mexican: the touristy and boisterous Los Bandidos de Carlos and Mickeys. It's the kind of place you'd expect to find buckets of frozen margaritas abound, and you'd be right. Carlos and Mickey's calls them "Texas-sized" and there's a one per customer limit.
They're also famous (or infamous depending on who you ask) for their Mexican food. But a beefy enchilada plate wasn't going to satisfy my burger urges. I needed the real thing. Luckily enough, Carlos and Mickey's obliges the gringo palate with a selection of four burgers. All are basically a spin on their basic burger, which comes with green chiles. Tricked out toppings get my burger-senses tingling, but as it turned out the chile was my dinner's saving grace.
While El Paso is right on the border with New Mexico it isn't nearly the green chile heaven that the Land of Enchantment fancies itself. Everyone has heard of the green chile cheeseburger at Blake's Lotaburger or Bobcat Bite—heck there's even a Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail. In El Paso, the green chile doesn't hold the same mystique, but when it comes to Carlos and Mickey's burger, it's what holds it together.
The Carlos and Mickey's burger is made up of a skimpy four (or so)-ounce patty that is little more than commercial ground chuck. The lettuce, onion, and tomato is served on the side and seem little more than garnish. There are, however, a couple of elements that stand out. The bun is whole wheat and, of course, the green chiles are plentiful.
Upon first glance I thought there was little hope for my Mexican burger dinner. The patty was a wan, under-seasoned mess that would normally undermine the whole burger. But I left off the lettuce and tomato in favor of getting a full-fledged green chile experience and I was rewarded for the decision. Although the patty was dry and overcooked (despite my medium rare request), there was a noticeable char to it that matched beautifully with the earthiness of the heaps of green chiles. I was shocked by how much flavor the green chiles added to my charred patty. The whole wheat bun and its natural nuttiness was another unexpected harmony. My biggest regret (other than making sure my patty was cooked correctly) was not ordering cheese on my burger; the extra fat would have made this a genuine pleasure.
The fries were not the surprise that my burger was. The basic, medium-cut spuds that were, doubtless, resting in the freezer a few minutes before offered little, if any, flavor to speak of. I think their big problem wasn't that they'd been frozen, but that they'd been cooked and reheated. Even a frozen fry can shine right out of the oil.
It's important to note that I'm not making the argument that Carlos and Mickey's makes a burger worth going out of your way for. Indeed, after sampling some of their chile con queso I'm hard-pressed to say there's much at this Mexican joint worth going out of your for. Rather what I found was another example of how a burger can shine even in the darkest of environs. In this case, the green chile came to its rescue to make for a passable meal. Perhaps the answer when you're in El Paso is to keep driving until you find yourself in New Mexico; then order your green chile burger—with cheese.