Editor's note: Please welcome AHT's newest contributor, Rita Connelly, a freelance food writer from Tucson. If you have any Tucson burger recommendations, let her know in the comments!
ZinBurger Wine & Burger Bar
1865 E. River Road #101 Tucson, AZ 85718 (map); 520-299-7799; foxrc.com; two other locations in Arizona and three in New Jersey
The Schtick: Ahead of the curve when it comes to pairing great wine with a wide variety of savory burgers.
The Burger: Tender, juicy patties and well-prepared toppings come together to satisfy any burger craving.
Want Fries With That? The hand-cut fries are great, in particular the Double Truffle Fries.
Setting: Casually chic but with a bit of whimsy thanks to the large cows painting on the window blinds.
Price: Samburger, $11; Zinburger, $10; zucchini fries, $6; Double Truffle Fries, $6; milkshakes, $6
When Fox Restaurant Concepts opened Zinburger in 2008 skeptics wondered if Tucsonans would actually pay $10 for a burger. Plus, the concept of pairing wine with a burger seemed a bit over the top. Beer, sure. A shake, of course. But wine?
Yet in a matter of weeks this Foothills restaurant was packing them in, and these days that price point is pretty common anywhere in town. As far as the wine issue goes, leave it to the folks at Zinburger to find the perfect parings for a juicy burger and whatever toppings one might choose. Reasonably priced, all wines come by the glass or the bottle. The servers will also give you the upscale (read pricier) wine list if you ask. For those not into wine, rest assured, the shakes here are pretty amazing and beer is plentiful. Cocktails are built with care, if that's more to your liking.
All the grilled burgers, save for the Kobe burger ($15), are made with Certified Angus Beef, which is ground in-house daily. Any burger can be prepared with the American-style Kobe beef for another $5. All burgers are cooked "pink throughout" unless otherwise instructed. The regular burgers weigh in at seven ounces, while the Kobe tops out at eight ounces.
My favorite burger on the menu is the Samburger ($11), named after owner Sam Fox. There's no reason to opt for the Kobe here; the Samburger is good just as it is. It's served on a buttery bun, custom made for Zinburger at a local bakery, that's soft and airy but doesn't fall apart despite the heft and juiciness of the patty and the toppings. The 80/20 patty is judiciously seasoned with a house blend of garlic and celery salts, onion powder, cayenne pepper, paprika, and salt and pepper that enhances, not overpowers, the patty's true beefy flavor. I went with the suggested "pink throughout" and ended up with a juicy patty. Melted American cheese brings a welcome layer of extra fat, and Nueske's applewood smoked bacon adds a sweet and savory touch as well as crunch. Finally, there's a healthy dose of Thousand Island dressing. The result is the perfect blend of tastes and textures: crunchy, creamy, savory, salty, sweet.
The namesake Zinburger ($10) also holds its own. Here, the cheese is Manchego. Savory, near melting Zinfindel-braised onions and mayo finish it off. It's a gooey mess; thank goodness for that well-made bun.
Besides another half-dozen burgers and several non-red meat choices, you can also build your own burger. Zinburger offers 11 kinds of cheeses and 11 non-cheese toppings encompassing basics (American, cheddar, mushrooms, jalapeños) and the more unique (Manchego, smoked mozzarella, roasted peppers, truffle aioli). Each extra, with the exception of the free barbecue sauce or chipotle mayo, is $1.25, so your burger could cost considerably more if you get carried away. Another option is The Burger of the Week, which is never boring.
No burger joint would be complete without a side or two, and since the burgers come with just a few pickles on the plate, ordering a side is almost a must. While I love Zinburger's hand-cut french fries, onion rings, and sweet potato fries, I opted for the out-of-the-ordinary Zucchini Fries ($6). Their panko coating is topped with a dusting of Parmesan and a sprinkling of chives. The fries are well seasoned enough that the ranch dip is almost unnecessary. But if it's potatoes you want, plenty of people will argue that the Double Truffle Fries ($6) are not to be missed. These gems are tossed with truffle oil as they come out of the fryer, then topped with Parmesan and chives. The "double" part is the side of truffle aioli for dipping.
If wine isn't your thing—or if you've got a couple of kids in tow—you might want to try one of the shakes ($6). The inspiration for these treats comes from classic desserts, like a Crème Brûlée shake and a Strawberry Cheesecake shake. Chocolate lovers get three choices: Double Chocolate Mint, Cookies and Cream, and the pièce de résistance, Bars of Zin. The original dessert was created by the company pastry chef, Spike, who's known for her killer sweets. Chocolate ice cream and melted chocolate are combined in a tall glass then topped with praline flakes and whipped cream. You'll need a spoon to get started through the ice cream—as it softens and the flavors become one, a straw will do.
If ZinBurger continues bringing smart and tasty innovations to its menu, Tucsonans are in for some tasty treats for years to come.
About the author: Rita Connelly lives, eats, and writes in Tucson, Arizona. In her travels, she has been known to bring home home souvenirs that are usually food related from Canadian maple syrup to the famous Danish pastry known as kringle to handmade pizza. Read about her exploits on her Facebook page, The Well-Fed Foodie.