Was it real? Whispers of its existence circled around me like smoke tendrils from a grill. A monster whose size raised eyebrows, whose mere existence beckoned even the most skeptical. I knew I must find it. I must fight it. I must devour . . . the Apache Burger.
It was rumored to live 100 miles east of Phoenix, on the San Carlos Indian Reservation. I packed only an empty stomach and set off in search of the beast. Through the Tonto National Forest, beyond small towns where fortunes were made and lost, and down a narrow road past an abandoned car, its windshield broken. A victim of the behemoth?
Finally, on an unmarked road, I spied what must be its lair: The San Carlos Café. Too innocent-looking to be the den of a monster, perhaps, but I was not to be fooled so easily. I stepped into a cheerful interior. Children scampered about, looking for an afternoon ice cream fix. This beast was a crafty one, to be sure.
The cafe's owner, Jo Lazo, told me the Apache Burger was brought to life two years ago by her co-owner and mom, Arlene Kast.
I summoned the beast. Indeed, it was unlike anything I had ever seen.
On a platter barely big enough to hold it, the Apache Burger presented itself as anything but a burger. Was it a chimichanga? An oversize omelet? An enormous knife lay at its side. I wouldn't be needing the weapon.
I turned the beast around to face me . . . Dear burger gods in heaven.
Two giant, beefy eyes stared at me, easily a half-pound each, lodged in a thick mixture of tomatoes, lettuce, grilled onions, pickles, and mustard wrapped in a huge hide of golden fry bread.
I picked up the brute with two hands and tore off a piece of fry bread skin. I tried another bite or two from the top until I felt the Apache Burger's eyes shift. A trick! On the second assault, I chomped from one end, this time tasting monstrous deliciousness. Bite after bite, the beast's sheer size threatened to test my resolve. Would this struggle never cease?
Twenty minutes later, it was vanquished.
"Hmm," Jo said smiling as she surveyed the burger-torn battlefield, "not many people finish it."
I patted my stomach, managed a weak "thank you," and waddled out to my car.
On the journey home, with miles ahead and the monster inside me, I realized my battle with the Apache Burger was far from finished. Its mystery may have been revealed, but its legend was living on.