When you approach Scottsdale Burger Bar, all the way up by Pinnacle Peak, you get, faintly, unmistakably, the smell of boardwalk. This is the nostalgic tang of fryer grease and mystery.
Inside, after ordering, after your burger comes to your table in its paper sleeve, you will see that the burger is of the slider-thin old breed. There aren’t many burgers like this in North Scottsdale. Once you climb out of the fast-food basement of McDonald's and Habit Burgers, you step into a world of steaky, $14 burgers, grass-fed and topped with Manchego.
Sure, there’s a Shake Shack in Kierland Commons. Shake Shack sizzles burgers in the $5 to $8 range, putting it into a middle tier between fast and gourmet. But the man behind the Shack, Danny Meyer, is also behind many of the best restaurants in New York. Shake Shack isn't exactly a mom-and-pop shop. You don't really get that old-school all-American throwback burger joint experience.
Sometimes, you want something smaller and more classic. Something that taps into the jukebox vibe of a '60s burger joint. Something more like the Lucky Boys and Chuckboxes of the Valley.
Opened in spring, Scottsdale Burger Bar shoots for that classic mood.
The menu is refreshingly pedestrian. You can get burgers, single or double patty. You can get loaded fries, onion rings, milkshakes, and hot dogs. The menu is all black and white. It wordlessly says, loudly and clearly, “here is a damn plain selection of American grub – take your voodoo diets to the nearest juicery.”
The whole anatomy of your burger can be customized here except the bun. Patties are beef or turkey. Cheese options abound. Some possible toppings are generic (tomato, onion); some take a half-step from expectations (grilled mushrooms, grilled jalapeños).
You order. You get a number.
You place that number on a polished white table, and you wait.
Scottsdale Burger Bar is smaller than it looks from outside. Its colors are white and deep blue, paint that shines, black window framing. A line of chintzy chandeliers hangs. What looks like a brick wall made not of brick but blocks of enamel forms one side of the eating area. Swaths of plate-glass windows open to a parking lot that seems to wrap around the eating area with the color scheme and simplicity of a throwback burger joint.
The burger that comes is a good one.
Because this is such a highly customizable burger, you make your own quality to some degree. If you get every last topping, the ratio of meat to vegetable matter is going to be hopelessly broken. A puffy bun looks like it takes up too much compared to the thin patty, but doesn’t.
That bun is soft, mottled with the sexy brown of a good toasting, and sails you into the fillings. My burger had hot toppings on top, cold toppings on the bottom. I got mine sauceless. The patty gave way with a fleeting crisp on the outside to its chewy middle. What it gave to was a bit of pleasant depth, some fraction of what those higher-end discus patties bring, but in '60s burger form.
All said, this is a retro-style, middle-priced burger worth eating.
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If you dig funky potatoes or have a chemical hankering for stoner food, check out the loaded fries. There are a few choices, all the kind a college kid would eat: chili fries, Buffalo chicken fries. Each tray could probably feed two people. My Buffalo chicken fries came so annihilated with sauces and toppings that there must have been three servings of Ranch. I couldn’t even see the melted sliced cheese.
Set aside your taste for the latest wild-fermented, hand-ground, house-made, garlic-scaped, locally sourced, candy-colored edible novelty, if you have one, and if you can. These fries are long and blocky and hot in the middle, ideal for the gooey mess on top. And if you’re feeling the vibe of the past that this place softly exudes, you might even think they taste like boardwalk fries.
Scottsdale Burger Bar. 23535 North Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale; 480-867-1968.
Daily from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.