5689 N. Swan Rd., Tucson AZ 85718 (map); 520-882-2007; finislanding.com
Cooking Method: Fire-grilled
Short Order: Crisp, fried jalapeños and housemade hot sauce complement a hefty juicy grilled beef patty with mellow heat
Want Fries With That? The fries are done well but if you really want a treat order the charro beans
Price: The Chubasco $9; the Prickly Pear, $9
Fini's Landing may be best known for their beachfront theme and some pretty good fish tacos, but it's their Chubasco burger that's been garnering much attention of late. And with good reason.
The Chubasco burger ($9) came in second in a city-wide burger contest sponsored by the local daily newspaper, the Arizona Daily Star. The contest was set up like the NCAA tourney in that restaurants went head to head against each other, with readers voting weekly until a winner was chosen. The expected winners went out in the first couple of rounds, with two highly unexpected (Fini's Landing and Zivaz Mexican Bistro) choices duking it out for bragging rights as the Best Burger in Tucson. When the final tally came down the Chubasco burger lost for first place by fewer than 100 votes.
What is Chubasco, you ask? Chubasco is Fini's trademarked housemade hot sauce that blends jalapeño, habanero, and serrano chiles, cayenne pepper, and mystery spices. There's a little distilled vinegar somewhere in the mix, but what sets the sauce apart is the kick that all those chiles get from being fire-roasted. The time on the grill adds a subtle smokiness. Some dishes get sauced with straight-up Chubasco, but for the burger the sauce is applied as a mellower, flavored aioli.
The burgers are half-pound, preformed patties with a medium grind from Harris Ranch. Simply seasoned with just kosher salt and cracked black pepper, the 80/20 patty is grilled to order over an open fire. The result is nicely charred edges, a few grill marks, and a juicy, tender inside that makes one wonder how these guys finished second.
Besides Chubasco aioli, the house Chubasco burger is topped with crisp pecan-smoked bacon, American cheese that oozes out the sides, and enough crisp, fried jalapeños to sink a ship. The first few bites startle the tongue but the spiciness mellows out as you get into the burger. Maybe it's the aioli, maybe it's the bacon or the bun, but the fire here doesn't numb your tongue and it balances with the beefiness of the patty.
But if heat isn't your thing there are several other burgers on the menu. The Prickly Pear burger ($9)—a very Tucson kind of flavor—has sweetness instead of fire. Since all good burgers benefit from a bit of crunch there are a couple of perfectly cooked onion rings on top. Here the cheese is a gooey Swiss. Tomato and onion slices are also included. The housemade prickly pear sauce is made up of cactus syrup, a dash of jalapeño, vinegar, honey, and spices. The slightly sticky sauce is ideal for dipping.
Fini's serves their burgers on sturdy telera rolls from La Brea Bakery that get a light toasting on the grill. The rolls soak up some of the meaty juices while keeping their integrity.
Sides are extra. The fries ($4) are pre-seasoned with a light dusting of flour, dried onion powder, garlic powder and other spices and cooked to a perfect crisp.
But I lost my heart to the charro beans ($2). Charro beans are pretty common in Tucson but I haven't tasted any that come close to what Fini's delivers. Pinto beans are cooked with garlic, bacon, onion, and chiles. The potlikker that sits at the bottom of the tiny crock they're served in is heavenly. I recommend using a spoon to get every drop of goodness and maybe ordering a second helping.
A cold beer goes well with a juicy burger, and Fini's has great choices including several from local breweries Barrio Brewing and Nimbus Brewery.
The nearest beach may be several hours drive away in Mexico, but Fini's Landing gives Tucsonans a place to dream and dine.
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.