Five Star Burgers earns its five stars with Hatch green chile -- and deep-fried banana bread!
There is almost nothing better in the world than really good green chile spread on top of a juicy beef patty or slathered over a pile of hand-cut fries. Five Star Burgers is a transplant from Taos, and even with this city's staggering number of burger joints, Five Star manages to shine because of its warm, roasty green chile. And that's not all that's warm at this small chain: The service is enjoyable and attentive, and you can end your meal with something weird, unexpected and wonderful: a dessert made with deep-fried banana bread.
J. Wohletz The green chile cheeseburger at Five Star Burgers.
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Five Star Burgers is owned by the Taos Restaurant Group, which also owns Old Blinking Light in Taos and Highlands Ranch, and has six Five Star locations scattered between New Mexico, Missouri (that state's spot has a special "Iron Skillet" burger smothered in bacon gravy and topped with a fried egg) and Denver, where it has locations at 2330 East Arapahoe Road in Littleton and 555 Broadway -- the spot where Kokoro used to be.
J. Wohletz A Bananas Foster shake? Yes!
I'd heard that Five Star uses fresh, all-natural, hormone- and antibiotic-free Angus beef in the burger patties, and cooks them on a steam-powered grill. So one recent day I wandered south from the Westword office to the Five Star on Broadway. There's a nice-sized, sunny, twelve-table patio out front with a cozy fire pit in the middle; the inside dining area has bright orange and purple walls with a single bleached cow skull hanging on one, as well as an artfully pitted, finished concrete floor the color of seasoned leather. I spent several years in Albuquerque and got used to the standard issue, terrible décor in too many New Mexico restaurants -- a lot of beige, sands and turquoise color palettes with Georgia O'Keefe prints and fake Navaho pottery -- and in comparison, this was tame and non-ridiculous.
As I was led to a table near the bar I considered asking for a booth near the windows instead, but I was glad I refrained -- the bartender/lifter of heavy beer kegs turned out to be an excellent server, too. I love being helped by staffers who seem genuinely happy to be there, know the menu by heart and really, truly smile at you -- none of that fakey, robotic customer-service stuff. She had pink hair and awesome plug earrings (it's downright beautiful to find a chain restaurant that doesn't get bent out of shape over a little ink or a few piercings), and she didn't do the typical barely-discernible-but-there nose-wrinkle when I ordered a bananas Foster shake. (Anyone who has ever bartended knows that most bartenders despise making shakes.)
J. Wohletz The Bleu cheese bacon fries.
Shakes are shakes, but on occasion I get one that is something special, and this was: incredibly thick, with a fantastic banana-caramelly flavor. The whipped cream on top was actual whipped cream, and there was a single, deep burgundy Bordeaux cherry plopped on that. A restaurant gets mad points for shedding the yucky maraschino cherries in favor of their plumper, better-flavored, more decorative cousins.
My server told me the menu had been revamped only the week before, and it wasn't particularly huge or diverse: burgers, fries, a few sides, beer and wine, and three desserts. I ordered the fried jalapeno bottle caps ($3), fried pickle spears ($3), the yellowfin tuna burger with chile cheese fries ($14), the signature green chile cheeseburger with bleu cheese bacon fries ($10.95) and a lamb burger with Parmesan truffle fries ($12). The massive fries upgrades are a steal, because the loaded fries are $5 on their own -- but if you order burgers that come with fries, it's only an extra buck to load them up.
J. Wohletz The green chile sauce is vegetarian -- and delicious.
Five Star purchases its beef from California-based Harris Ranch, and its fat, eggy brioche buns and Hatch chiles from New Mexico. At the perfect stage of ripeness, properly cleaned and roasted, Hatch chiles are the best ones in the big, wide expanse of the universe. They are fruity, grassy, start out warm and then the heat creeps up until you are a little sweaty and can't wait for the next bite. Five Star's fried jalapeno slices and fried pickles were a good warm-up for the chile, with the peppers spicier than I anticipated (awesome) and the pickles far better breaded than expected. Both came with cool, creamy, green chile-infused dipping sauces, and eating jalapeno peppers dipped in green chile/chipotle sauce is an experience only a pepper-obsessed New Mexico-born joint can offer -- an almost sensual immersion.
I didn't want to use ketchup and mustard on the first burger because the green chile was so good I just wanted to taste that. And I wasn't disappointed: the green chile cheeseburger was an exercise in Southwestern excess and ecstasy, with a fat, medium-rare burger that dripped pinky beef juice, smothered with diced green chiles, covered with a slab of melted pepperjack cheese and the bottom bun spread with green chile mayo. Every bite was better than the one before, and I was almost sorry to switch my attention to the other two burgers...at least until I bit into each of them.