I've consumed some real good ones at Valley establishments since I began writing Budget Beat, but I haven't had one as good as this. No, I'm not talking about the overrated Delux. No, I'm not talking about any of the several places with the word "burger" in the restaurant's name. Yes, I'm talking about
The Cajun burger: Feel the love.
Welcome Diner is open just a few hours a week, accepts only cash, seats only eight people, and sits off the beaten path, in a residential neighborhood. Upon reading that, a lot of readers have probably already ruled the place out as a legitimate dining option. Others' curiosity has been piqued even more. And the Welcome Diner true believers are nodding their heads in approval because they know it all enhances the place's charm.
The menu is small and burger-centric, but everything is made with a lot of love and TLC. The ingredients are fresh, organic, and some of them are even locally grown. The super-lean burgers are made with Harris Ranch all-natural ground beef, with the patties made daily by hand, and the hot dog is from Schreiner's, a fantabulous local company. The produce comes from McClendon's, another local firm, and the Idaho potatoes are fresh and hand-cut right before they're thrown in the fryer. Even the ice cream for The Float comes from Mary Coyle's, a local ice cream shop.
With all this fresh food, you can really taste the difference and feel the difference. No one's gonna mistake a burger and fries as any kind of health trip, but if you're gonna eat that stuff, you might as well make sure it's natural and unprocessed.
The standard $4.50 hamburger (served with a leaf of Romaine, sliced tomato, onion, mustard, and ketchup is a winner, but WD usually has a burger special that is the real treat. This week, the special was the Cajun burger. Two of my three dining companions and I had had the Cajun burger before and, on our most recent trip to WD, we were telling the fourth guy that he HAD to try the Cajun burger because it was so good. We all ordered it and then, in typical nerd fashion, we all watched him as he took the first bite. After the first bite, he declared it very good. By the fourth bite, he was upgrading his assessment to somewhere between otherworldly and sublime. Ah, another Welcome Diner convert.
The flavorful ground beef was grilled to perfection and topped with a slice of Tillamook cheddar cheese and an awesome Cajun relish, which was consisted of super-thin sliced pickles, picked carrot slices, green peppers, grilled onions, and fresh jalapeños. It wasn't super-spicy or even super-Cajun-y. But it exploded with fresh and dynamic flavors.
Welcome Diner is big on such relishes. There's the corn relish, the sweet red pepper relish, and the serrano chile pepper salsa, all of which can be add to any burger for an extra 75 cents. And then there's a menu item called The Favorite, which is a plate of the wonderful fries top with the sweet pepper relish. Yes, you'll need a fork.
Wait, there's more. The Garfield is a fried-egg sandwich topped with the serrano chile pepper salsa, grilled onions, and green chiles; and The Heartbreaker, a butterflied hot dog topped with a fried egg, cheddar, and grilled chiles and onions.
As I mentioned, the place is small, with just eight stools next to a curved counter. It's a tight squeeze, for sure. There's room behind the counter for just one server and one cook. There's also a small, umbrella-covered table out front, but if you're like me, you think it's too hot to eat outside right now. But given the seating, the one cook, and the handmade nature of the food, it's best to plan your trip to Welcome Diner accordingly. I wouldn't show up with a party of eight and I probably wouldn't go at the height of the lunch rush and I probably wouldn't go knowing I had to be back in the office in 30 minutes for a meeting. But even if I made the mistake and did any one of those things, by the time I'd finished my burger, I'd have realized it was well worth the hassle.
The Welcome Diner
924 East Roosevelt Street
Hours: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday; 5 to 10 p.m. on First and Third Fridays
(Oh, yeah, don't forget . . . Cash only)