Chain Reaction: Blake's Lotaburger (and What To Order Besides the Burger)


[Photos: John M. Edwards]

If you watch Breaking Bad, you may have seen Walter, Hank, and Skylar sitting around a table of white fast food bags, munching on burgers. Those bags come from Blake's Lotaburger, a chain that doesn't exist outside of New Mexico's borders. They're my favorite fast food in this country. And I've written about the burgers before, but it's not only the burgers they do right.

Because what's really great about the burger is that it's the hottest, spiciest one I've ever had at a fast food restaurant. Sure, they have a delightful crisp, especially on the edge of the patties, and they're salty and juicy throughout. But it's the distinctive green chili sauce, made from New Mexico Hatch Chilies, that really makes it.

So the chicken sandwich, a recent discovery of mine, is just as satisfying as the burger. Unlike so many fast food chains, from McDonald's to Subway, Blake's chicken sandwich is a recognizable cut—a full, meaty breast, grilled to order and juicy as can be. Smother it in Green Chile and it's sloppy, satisfying, and lip-tingling spicy. It's also pretty damn healthy, for a burger chain. I dragged senior managing editor Carey Jones along with me on a recent New Mexico visit, and she not only polished off this thing, but the better part of a chili sauce side. With a fork.

I've long been interested in regional fast food—how in Louisiana, there's the chicken-fingers-only spot Raising Cane's; the local devotion somewhere like Whataburger draws. Blake's is obviously a product of New Mexico, confined to its borders. What I love about it is that it really couldn't come from anywhere else. A chicken finger joint could pop up anywhere in America, but there's only one place that a green chile burger could hail from. New Mexico has such distinctive cuisine, and I love that that's reflected in their fast food, too.

It got me thinking about the "Pizza Cognition Theory" of the esteemed Sam Sifton—that we're predisposed to like the pizza we grew up with. I think many people's affections for fast food, whether Happy Meals or Domino's pizza, can be explained by that theory, an emotional connection with the tastes of childhood, rather than loving the taste of a Big Mac in a less nostalgic way. But Blake's Lotaburger trumps anything I grew up with in Pittsburgh, and made me forget everything that came before it. And, frankly, re-set my fast food expectations a few notches higher.