One of the finest examples of a regional guilty pleasure in the desert Southwest is the green chile cheeseburger. While it's more of a New Mexico specialty (where the green chile shares State Vegetable honors with the humble pinto bean), fine examples have found their way west to the desert that we call home. It so happens that two excellent ones are on opposite ends of Scottsdale, and both (of course) have bacon as an available option. Whose reigns supreme? Let's get on the trail!
See Also: Want fries with that? Battle Fries: Joe's Farm Grill vs. Bourbon Steak
In This Corner: Greasewood Flat The Setup: Greasewood Flat started life as an 1800s stagecoach stop bunkhouse. Since the mid-1970s, it's been one of the metro Phoenix area's quintessential dive bars. They earned a spot on Esquire Magazine's list of best bars in the country. The rustic, ramshackle style of the place stands in stark contrast to the swank Four Seasons Resort just down the street, and the numerous chichi McMansions that dot the landscape. In addition to plentiful cold beer (including a terrific local draft selection from a fairly new tap house), Greasewood Flat offers up a small menu including hot dogs and hamburgers.
The Good: Greasewood Flat could give a number of much nicer places a lesson in how to properly cook a burger. The patty is seasoned and well-seared. The bun is nicely toasted (Seriously, what IS it with all these expensive burger joints that can't be bothered to toast the damn bun?! [flips a table, pauses a moment, takes a deep breath] But I digress.). Bacon is thick, crispy, and plentiful. Cheddar cheese on the burger is properly melted.
The Bad: I could have gone for more green chile on the burger. I can always order extra next time. The patty is promised medium unless requested otherwise (something I always forget to request until it's much too late), but came out closer to medium-well. It wasn't unforgivably off, but it was noticeable. Ruffles potato chips on the side are a yawn, but almost a given with the picnic-style dining area. The location is best described as "remote" to all but a handful of metro Phoenix residents. My usual directions include "Drive until you think you missed it, drive another mile, and turn right".
Their Special Move: How much you enjoy yourself at Greasewood Flat depends on three words: Live country music. They play a little classic rock, but a little twang is always present. Oh, also, the vast majority of seating is outdoors; arrive a little before sunset for maximum effect. Fire pits are plentiful for chilly evenings (it's noticeably cooler here than in the middle of town), but you're on your own to load 'em up.
And In This Corner: Carlsbad Tavern
The Setup: Carlsbad is the young 'un in this battle. But, they've been open since 1995, which in this town is far from being a spring chicken. The menu is casual American distinctly rooted in New Mexico style, with the kitchen putting chiles of some sort on anything that didn't run away fast enough.
The Good: The green chile here is plentiful and spicy, manifesting as a green chile sauce. Cheese is in the Sonoran-Mex style, as a gooey blanket of melted Cheddar. The patty gets some alluring flavor thanks to cooking over a pecan wood fire. In contrast to Greasewood Flat, burgers are always cooked to order; the chef nailed my preferred medium-rare. The bacon was every bit as good as Greasewood Flat's, but the burger patty brought enough smoke to leave the bacon almost superfluous. The whole shebang is served open-faced on sourdough, a wise move since you don't stand a chance of using your hands to eat it.
The Bad: Remember what I said about toasting the bun? Carlsbad is guilty as charged. Toasting the bread would have given it at least half a fighting chance; as it stands, the sourdough surrendered into flabby obscurity almost instantaneously. The patty, while tasty, could have used a little more sear. The fries are hot from the fryer, but they're those dismal crispy-coated fries that taste more like Styrofoam than potatoes.
Their Special Move: The kitchen is open until 2 AM. Aw yeah.
And The Winner Is... Greasewood Flat. I've been eating at both for years, and I'm sure I'll still order the green chile cheeseburger at Carlsbad on a pretty regular basis. But, location be damned, Greasewood Flat's burger was the more enjoyable overall. They absolutely nailed what a backyard-style burger should be, making it one of my very favorite burger choices in the entire metro Phoenix area. The rustic atmosphere and live honky-tonk are icing on the cake.
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