We cherish Route 66 around here. America’s first fully paved highway is very much a part of Albuquerque’s story. It connected our town to the rest of the U.S. and allowed ease of travel like never before. It brought tourists in greater numbers than even the railroad. Numerous mom-and-pop businesses sprang up and flourished in the highway’s neon wake.
One of the most iconic businesses was the ‘50s-style malt and burger shop. Where Route 66 tied the cities and states of the U.S. together, the malt shop provided a place for people to gather without resorting to disreputable bars or the formal setting of the church. Families could enjoy a casual dinner, teenagers could mingle and flirt, and travelers could stop in for a quick bite. Throw in a jukebox loaded with early rock and roll music, and you’d be hard pressed to find a purer distillation of mid-20th century Americana.
There’s a reason this beef is so juicy and lean: It’s local, from Carlsbad, and all-natural with no growth hormones added.
Unfortunately, the burger bun isn’t quite up to the task of providing a solid, edible platform. Within a few bites, the bread is just destroyed, a soggy mass that disintegrates between your fingers and falls back into the basket. But if you’re like me, you’ll be so focused on the meat that you won’t care that your fingers are covered in mustard and smushed bread and beef juice. Just grab a handful of napkins and carry on.
If a masterfully made malt doesn’t scratch that dessert itch, there are plenty of others, from depression-era treats like egg cream sodas and phosphates to the always fresh-baked dessert du jour (strawberry-rhubarb pie, raspberry-chocolate cake, or whatever else owner Diane Avila is inspired to whip up that day.) And there’s always the option of dropping a scoop of ice cream into that root beer.
A lot has changed in Albuquerque—and America—since the Mother Road first traversed our city. But even as our leaders struggle to find the right balance between new development on Central and honoring 66's historic past, it's comforting to know you can stop by the Route 66 Malt Shop and enjoy a damn fine green chile cheeseburger and a chocolate malt while Elvis plays on the jukebox.