Phoenix: Charred Chile-Topped Burgers at Gallo Blanco

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[Photographs: Erin Jackson]

Gallo Blanco

401 W Clarendon Ave, Phoenix, AZ 85013 (map); 602-327-0880; galloblancocafe.com
Cooking method: Grilled
Short Order: A chile-topped burger that's tasty, but overcooked
Want Fries With That? Decent fries come with the burger. They're just ok
Price: Pica Rico burger, $10; Agua Fresca, $2.50; Liquado, $4

On my last morning in Phoenix, I unknowingly had the same thought as (what felt like) a good 20% of the city's population: brunch at Gallo Blanco. The bar was full of patrons waiting their turn, but the Pica Rico burger topped with roasted chile, aji aioli, and sharp cheddar cheese sounded tasty enough to justify a 30 to 45 minute wait. Besides, there were liquados and aqua frescas available, and on a 110 degree day, literally nothing sounded more appealing.

I tried one of each: a pulpy watermelon aqua fresca and a milky strawberry and banana liquado, which was like a milkshake with the ice cream swapped out for milk: creamy, but not overly sweet or heavy.

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With the heat and my (growing) hunger, it took a herculean effort not to obliterate both glasses in mere seconds. Luckily, the aqua fresca comes with one free refill. You will need it.

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The blended fruit drinks did a lot to satiate my thirst, but not my hunger. That job was left to the Pica Rico burger, a flavor-forward burger topped with a heap of charred chilies, a smear of aji aioli (a condiment made with tomatoes, hot peppers, cilantro, and onion), and a slice of melted sharp cheddar, served open-face. Sitting on the top bun were some buttery slices of avocado. The burger made an excellent first impression, and the toppings were all delicious, but sadly, the beef wasn't up to par.

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Gallo Blanco crafts their seven-ounce patties from chuck that's ground in-house and cooked to order. Mine arrived well past medium-rare and was almost completely sapped of any moisture or juice. The beef did have a tasty charred flavor, which reminded me a lot of the burger patties I ate in Tijuana, but with so little moisture, the patty registered as a secondary element, making the burger taste like a roasted chile and avocado sandwich with a beef patty, rather than the other way around.

It's fine if you want a sandwich where beef is one of many elements, but don't get it if you're hankering specifically for a burger. If you want the charred flavor of the beef to come through, try the classic cheeseburger ($10.50) instead. Better yet, get a carne asada torta ($8.50).

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Burgers come with a side of fries, but I found these skin-on spuds passable at best. They're bland, under-seasoned, and mine arrived at room temperature. If there are no substitutions available, go ahead and blast them with plenty of chipotle sauce. It's like frites and mayo, Mexican-style.

Maybe, had I sent my burger back and given the kitchen another shot at cooking the patty medium-rare, it would have been perfect. But after waiting 30 minutes for a table and another 15 for food, there was just no way that was going to happen. If you can vouch for Gallo Blanco's burger, by all means, let me know in the comments.

About the author: Erin Jackson is a food writer and photographer who is obsessed with discovering the best eats in San Diego. You can find all of her discoveries on her food blog EJeats.com. On Twitter, she's @ErinJax

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