312 E. Congress Street, Tucson AZ 85701 (map); 520-882-2007; original location, 120 N Leroux Street, Flagstaff AZ 86001 (map); diabloburger.com
Cooking Method: Charbroiled
Short Order: Fine example of how good grass-fed beef can taste; locally-sourced menu items as much as possible.
Want Fries With That? Belgian-style frites come with every burger; twice-fried, herbes de Provence, you may want a double order
Price: The Blake $11.75; The Big Daddy Kane, $12.75; Ziggy Stardust (build-your-own), $11.75-$12.25
Note: As a member of 1% For the Planet, Diablo Burger donates one percent of profits to environmental organizations
Going "local" is all the rage these days, especially in the restaurant business. But diners don't want to sacrifice quality in the name of a food trend. Fortunately Diablo Burger has found a way to serve up good burgers using local ingredients—mostly from within a 250-mile radius of Tucson—and do it with finesse and style.
All the beef comes from the Diablo Trust, two ranches—Bar T and Flying M—located near Flagstaff, the home of the original Diablo Burger. Cattle raised at these ranches are grass-fed, free-range, growth hormone-free, and antibiotic-free. The thick six-ounce patties are made from a blend of steak, ribs, and chuck, and are 95 percent lean. The meat is pattied in-house and seasoned simply with salt and pepper. No fat is added. Diablo charbroils each burger to whatever doneness you want, but because the beef isn't heavily marbled, they suggest ordering your burgers medium-rare.
There are 11 in-house burger choices on the menu as well as the opportunity to build your own burger with toppings ranging from the usual (several cheeses, bacon, raw and grilled onions) to the more offbeat (beets, tepary beans, and roasted garlic.) All burgers are served on toasted English muffins, custom made by MJ's Bread in Phoenix. The muffins fit the burger patties like a glove and are branded with the DB logo. If gluten is an issue, the muffins are also available in a gluten-free version.
The Blake ($11.75) is a real winner. This is a well balanced burger thanks to the sharp, gooey cheddar, a whole passel of chopped, smoky green chiles, and a rich, Hatch chile-laced mayo that oozes over the edges. There's heat, of course, but it doesn't overpower. And don't let the low fat content fool you; the patty is surprisingly juicy especially when cooked to the recommended medium-rare. If you're looking for a deeply crusted patty you might be disappointed, but it's plenty satisfying with just a faint crust. The patty has strong beefy flavors balanced with a hint of grassiness.
The Big Daddy Kane ($12.75) is an example of "the simpler, the better." At first glance—cheddar cheese, bacon, pickles and the house DB sauce—this sounds like your typical bacon cheeseburger. But in the hands of the Diablo staff this burger is anything but. The Thousand Island-like DB Sauce is a little tangy, a little sweet, and a perfect complement to the crispy bacon, salty pickles, and sharp cheese.
Lettuce, pickle spear, and tomato accompany all burgers, yet they're almost unnecessary. Thanks to the great care the team at Diablo takes in sourcing local products, these are fine examples of what leafy lettuce, well-ripened tomato, and a snappy pickle should be.
The burgers come with Belgian-style frites made from fresh potatoes and seasoned with herbes de Provence. Twice-fried in peanut oil, the fries come out crispy, fragrant, and flavorful. Some may quibble about the fries being served under the burger, but I liked how some of the mayo dripped on my frites.
A word on the menu itself. Only a small part of it is dedicated to the food offerings and even in that section Diablo explains the how and "why" of serving the burgers at medium-rare. Then there's the section of FAQs that answers questions like, "Why eat local?" to "Where are the bathrooms?" (The second speaks to the quirky sense of humor that's also a part of the Diablo experience.) Finally, there is "A Terroir-ist's Manifesto for Eating in Place" by Gary Paul Nabhan. Nabhan is the "Father of Eating Local" and lives nearby.
Sharing tables, which are made from repurposed bowling lanes, is a must if the place is crowded. Bar stools resemble tractor seats and a motor scooter hangs on one wall. The front window folds open making the most of the great year-round weather Tucson is known for.
Diablo Burger is one of many new restaurants that have opened in Downtown Tucson this year. Not all will succeed, but Diablo Burger looks like it will be a long-term success. The food is honest, well-prepared, fresh, and just different enough. Plus, with the focus on "local" people can feel good about dining at Diablo Burger.
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.