Of course we love our mom & pops, and our favorite burger joints around the country are pretty much all independently owned, but there are certain times in life—overnight layovers, hungover Sunday mornings, all-day shopping trips at the outlets—that the only options around are the chains. Chain Reaction is here to help you decide when to go for the burger, and when you're better off sticking with the chicken fingers.
914 N Riverside Dr, Espanola NM 87532 (map); 770-977-9324; 75 other locations in New Mexico; visit lotaburger.com for list
The Schtick: Fast food-style burgers with the New Mexican twist of green chile
The Burger: The namesake Lotaburger has a larger diameter than most fast food burgers
Setting: Chains that you'll find only in New Mexico, many with a very '50s feel
Price: Lotaburger w/green chile, $4
You can't go to New Mexico without eating green chiles—so it's no surprise that the Green Chile Burger is the calling card at Blake's Lotaburger, a chain exclusive to New Mexico. When I surveyed some locals about chains in the are, Blake's was the first suggestion out of anyone's mouth. Consequently, a Green Chile Burger was the first thing in my mouth when I arrived.
Blake's burgers reminded me of In-N-Out, in scale and structure—the patties are thin and cooked to order. My patty was a little crisp on the outside, which I loved, and the meat is pretty loosely ground. One patty feels a little weak on the patty-to-bun ratio, so I recommend a double.
But the green chiles are the real draw, of course. Each chile chunk was warm and juicily popped open, hot and sturdy, under the teeth. And whereas many fast-food chains tone down their "spicy" creations for a mass market, these were the spiciest thing I've ever tasted on a fast food burger. Without the green chile, the burger is still better than McDonald's and Burger King, but the green chili really makes it a star. The Green Chile Lotaburger comes with lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles, and mustard. None of the other toppings are spectacular, not that it matters much since you can barely anything beyond the green chile.
On top of that, at Blake's I found awesome service: The guys behind the counter could tell i'd just gotten off an airplane, and they gave me a water right away, as well as a few free pumps of cherry syrup to go with my Dr. Pepper. "It's really good, man," the cashier told me; "I do it all the time on my break." Really nice people, spartan yet clean restaurant, and a solid, spicy burger—not much more you can ask for from a fast food chain.
About the author: John M. Edwards, the fast-food bureau chief at Serious Eats, also writes about fast food and regional chains at fastfoodr.com. His day job relates to personal training and nutrition. (Seriously.) Follow him at @johnmedwards.