Off-the-Menu at El Real: The El Real Burger

Let me start by saying that I haven't eaten a Frito tortilla chip in about 15 years, so when I went out to eat and review the off-the-menu El Real Burger, I was a little skeptical. How delicious could it be, if it featured something I stopped eating in college? The answer is: pretty effing delicious. Here are a few of the notes I took when my waiter, Quinn, brought my burger to the table:

• Oh shit. • It comes w/ a knife stuck in the middle to keep it all together. • Good thing I jumped up and down for two hours at Michael Franti/iFest last night.

This burger is obscene, really. This is the kind of giant, cheesy, guac-y, refried bean-y mess -- with Fritos! -- that I'd want to shove down if my husband left me for another woman; it's the Breakup Burger. Thank god my husband was by my side when I ate it, though, because there is no way I could have finished it off by myself.

The El Real burger is piled high with lettuce, tomato, roasted Poblano, cheese, onions and guacamole, plus a layer of refried beans on the bottom bun; somehow they manage to cram Fritos corn chips in there, too. There is no way that one human being can assemble this burger alone, and I am convinced that there is some sort of El Real Burger team on stand-by in the kitchen.

The flavors in the burger are really great--the peppers are smoky and spicy, the guacamole is nice and fresh and cuts through the spice, and the acidity of the tomatoes brighten the whole thing up.

The textural experience is fun as well: meaty burger, plus smooth refried beans, plus creamy guacamole, plus melty cheese, plus crunchy Frito chips, adds up to quite a mouthful with each bite.

This is a serious burger, but a playful one, too. It's served with a side of light cabbage salad -- a good thing, because fries or rice would make the plate impossible to finish, at least for me. I was impressed by how well the bun held up under such strenuous circumstances, and I found that the beans and the guac worked well as binding elements, as well as flavor elements. Between my husband and me, we managed to finish off the burger, plus his cheese enchiladas, which he loved as much as Katharine Shilcutt loved hers -- OMG the cheese.

At the end of our meal, we had a nice chat with the general manager, Justin. He told us about the inspiration for this burger -- the San Antonio bean burger, something we Yankees had never heard of -- and let us know that the burger will be going on the happy hour bar menu soon. Justin also clued us in on the knife thing -- not only does it keep the burger together, it keeps the whole thing upright ... something I was struggling with myself, by the end of the meal.

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Christina Uticone