Essentials

A Standout Metro Phoenix Burger With Mad Genius Vibes

Brûlée burger from Paradise Valley Burger Company
Brûlée burger from Paradise Valley Burger Company Chris Malloy
39: Brûlée burger from Paradise Valley Burger Company

These days, you see lots of weird burgers. Burger spots don't just have hamburgers, cheeseburgers, and bacon cheeseburgers. Nope. Burgers are Asian-accented, chile-spiced, and aioli-oozed, topped with smoked mozzarella and tomato jam.

No complaints here. We live in a golden age.

Paradise Valley Burger Company is one spot that jumbles classic burger formulas in the best ways. The place has a theme that is hard to articulate — a tight whimsy, a loose method.


The creativity here is thoughtful, even though some of the burgers looked as though they were designed by someone who just ripped three bong hits. The "booze burger" consists of patties battered, deep-fried, topped with "green chili/vodka/bacon cream sauce," and spiked with whiskey-pickled Fresno chiles.

Kicking with the same carnival spirit as the booze burger, the brûlée burger is PVBC's Free Bird, its signature burger, its most popular two-handed meal.

"Brûlée" refers to the process of burning sugar. Owner Bret Shapiro starts by coating the business side of buns with raw sugar. He uses a culinary torch on the grains. They melt into each other, collapsing into a slick paste that bubbles and shines and turns black in some places, brown in others. The topography of the mutated sugar has slops, peaks, valleys. It cools into a crust that tastes part like caramel, part like campfire.

click to enlarge Ordering at Paradise Valley Burger Company - CHRIS MALLOY
Ordering at Paradise Valley Burger Company
Chris Malloy
Other than a flambéed bun, the burger consists of a patty, a fried egg, bacon, lettuce, Thousand Island dressing, and a heap of neon pickled onion. Bubbling the sugar alters not just the bun, but the whole package. Sweetness brings out pork's best qualities, and the bacon here is no exception. The firm crunch of the bun seems to make everything within softer: the quarter-pound beef disc, the molten egg. Not long into eating this burger, the egg breaks and leaks yolk, slicking everything in yellow cream like a second sauce.

On the extreme textural ends, the burger has snap and softness. On the extreme flavor ends, it has the sharp aromatics of red onion rendered more interesting by acid and fermentation, and bitter carbon flavors where the sugar has blackened. This burger has range.

This burger has creative chops and good flavor.

Like the other burgers in this nook, where the chill, unassuming atmosphere almost makes you feel like you've teleported to a college cafeteria, the brûlée burger has a crucial twist, one that makes the burger. These twists and spins and funky elements aren't random. They are well-considered, and they make the whimsy tight. They make the place worth going to.

And if you go, consider putting a brûlée burger in your mouth.

Paradise Valley Burger Company. 4001 East Bell Road, #102; 602-535-4930.
Sunday through Thursday 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
The Essentials so far:
50: Soul food platter at Lo-Lo's Chicken & Waffles
49: The Bear at Short Leash Hot Dogs + Rollover Doughnuts
48: Grilled squid and other specialties at Andreoli Italian Grocer
47: I-10 Nachos at Cocina 10
46: Coffee made from ROC2 beans
45: The Haturo Sub Sandwich at Cheese 'n Stuff
44: Zookz at Zookz
43: Jade Red Chicken at Chino Bandido
42: Tasting menu at Quiessence at The Farm
41: Single-origin Papua New Guinea Bar at Zak's Chocolate
40: Green chile at Casa Reynoso
39: Brûlée burger from Paradise Valley Burger Company
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Chris Malloy, former food editor and current food critic at Phoenix New Times, has written for various local and national outlets. He has scrubbed pots in a restaurant kitchen, earned graduate credit for a class about cheese, harvested garlic in Le Marche, and rolled pastas like cappellacci stuffed with chicken liver. He writes reviews but also narrative stories on the food world's margins.
Contact: Chris Malloy