The Owl Café
I like to think I’m a laid back, authentic person. For the most part, I’m not judgmental (unless you’re a Kardashian, and then bring it) and I don’t particularly care about status. But there is one thing that I’m a snob about. And that is my chile. And by chile, I mean chile, not chili. I know this is a New Mexico thing, and if you look at dictionaries or websites, they say that you can use chile and chili interchangeably. But not in New Mexico, I say (rather snobbishly). You can always tell a native by whether or not they know the difference between the two. Green or red chile is stuff from heaven (made from our state-grown chile peppers, either red or green depending on when you pick em). Chili is that brown Hormel-like substance served in other states.
So imagine how trepidatious I felt when I found myself at the Owl Café in Albuquerque looking at their menu and seeing the Owl Burger “with green chili.” As a child, I had been to the Owl Café in San Antonio, NM many times to enjoy the Owl Burger. In fact, I believe it serves one of the best green chile (I just can’t call it chili) cheeseburgers in the state.
The original Owl Café was established in the 1930s in San Antonio, NM, and in 1986, the Albuquerque location was opened. The Albuquerque Owl Café has a 1950s diner theme in honor of nearby Route 66. There’s a jukebox in the restaurant, a pie case filled with desserts, and plenty of barstools and tables to enjoy a step back in time.
So had I been wrong about the burger? Had somehow the expansion to Albuquerque changed what the burger had become? Had the Owl Café forgotten its roots and started to make burgers that weren’t as good? Or worse, were smothered in some weird green Hormel-like chili with an I?
During lunch with some friends, I decided to momentarily put my snobbishness aside and order the green chile (won’t do it) cheeseburger. The cheeseburger runs about $5, and you can order regular fries, sweet potato fries or onion rings for an additional $2.
Instead of the staple chips and salsa as an appetizer, the Owl Café offers small bowls of beans and green chile. The green chile had a bite to it, and the beans were nicely flavored, so I began to become hopeful about the Owl burger.
And then the burger came out. The patty was hand-made and large. It was topped with lettuce, tomatoes, cheese and lots of green chile. A nice sized portion of sweet potatoes covered the rest of the plate. This looked promising. Then I took a bite. The burger was juicy, the condiments fresh, and the green chile was hot.
It was delicious and just as good as I remembered from my childhood.
I wolfed the burger down in no time flat. Then I was overcome by a wave of shame. Here I was judging the Owl Café for their use of an I instead of an E, and they delivered a wonderful burger. Luckily, the sweet potato fries helped me push through that shame.
What’s the lesson in all of this? I don’t know, really. I mean, I still don’t like people to use the word chili when talking about green or red or when they’re offering to throw it on my cheeseburger. But the Owl Café still serves a fantastic, mouthwatering, Owl Burger with green chile. So I guess the lesson is…well, just go try the cheeseburger.
The Albuquerque location of the Owl Café is at 800 Eubank Blvd. You can’t miss it. The building is shaped like an owl. Their hours are 7 a.m. – 10 p.m. Monday – Friday, and 7 a.m. – 11 p.m. on the weekends.