Consider the lesson of J. Wellington Wimpy. The fat, mustachioed member of Popeye’s entourage has got it all figured out. He knows that life is about the pursuit and appreciation of simple, beautiful pleasures. Perhaps, you could interpret his tunnel vision as something of a cautionary tale, but how can we help but admire someone who can—even as two rage-fueled sailors batter each other within an inch of their lives in the background—find true happiness nestled inside of a hamburger bun? Following Wimpy’s philosophical example, I have adopted the hamburger as a sort of Zen locus. Let the world go to hell behind me; as long as there is a patty of ground beef before me, I shall be happy. Thankfully, restaurants like 5 Star Burgers are there to help me with my spiritual practice. 5 Star has actually been kicking around New Mexico for a few years, first in Taos and then in the Northeast Heights. I am an unashamed 66 rat, rarely venturing more than a mile from its arterial pulse, so I was happy to see its latest location going up at Central near Old Town, right next door to the new Chama River Draft Station. This location is pretty swank, with lovely hardwood flooring, tasteful modern decor and an outdoor patio with bar service. If you’re the kind of tortured soul who needs to down a burger while some sort of sports play out on a flatscreen TV, they have those too. Naturally, 5 Star has a fine beer selection. There are a dozen or so taps with local brews—including La Cumbre, Santa Fe Brewing Company and Boxing Bear—and just as many bottled beers. On my most recent visit, I ordered a Bosque lager to complement the summer heat, and the sparkling, golden pint did the trick beautifully, offering a crisp, bright swallow that still had enough malt flavor to count. The other drafts on tap ran the gamut from hoppy IPAs to mellow browns, so all tastes should find something worth imbibing. And for the barley-averse, there’s wine as well. If you come for happy hour, 4pm to 6pm every day, you can get a pint for $2.50 and, even better, treat yourself to some good, cheap food, including slider burgers and a pulled pork slider for $1.45 each. If you need a little taste of the sea, you can get a lobster roll for $3.50.The building block of the menu is, of course, the burger. The beef is exclusively sourced at California’s Harris Ranch and proudly labeled hormone and antibiotic free. According to the website, the beef is ground each day, and it absolutely tastes fresh and wholesome. And I’m happy to report that the kitchen nails “medium rare” every time. Each burger comes in a brioche bun of good consistency and strength equal to the task of holding up the sometimes sloppy contents inside. Beyond these basic components, the hamburgers branch out into five different varieties and a special monthly burger. If you’re feeling plain-Jane, then the Old Timer’s the way to go, being just a regular old burger with lettuce and tomato (you can decorate according to your preference with additional toppings). But you’re doing yourself a disservice by not trying some of the others. My favorite is the eponymous 5 Star burger itself, which comes with a bold topping of gorgonzola cheese and smoky, sweet bacon. Naturally, you can’t operate a burger chain in New Mexico without a green chile cheeseburger. 5 Star goes above and beyond the call of duty by offering two different chile-topped varieties. There’s a standard version, which doubles down with a green-infused mayonnaise in addition to the fresh stuff. But if you take my advice, you’ll skip that one and go straight for the Taos burger, on which the chile strip is battered, fried and seated atop a layer of barbecue sauce. The flavor is something like a sweet, beefy, spicy relleno. My only real complaint about the burgers is that you have to pay extra for fries. But it’s not so bad if you get the mixed cart with both sweet potato and regular fries. It feeds two pretty easy and is a decent deal at $3.50.If you’re an insane person like my wife, and you decide that you don’t want to order meat at the burger restaurant, 5 Star can even meet your crazy, crazy needs with a lineup of salads and non-burger sandwiches. My wife, frothing at the mouth and muttering that the lizard people really control things, ordered the nutty quinoa salad and found it much to her liking. I took a few bites myself and can report that, although it doesn’t approximate the metaphysical perfection of a hamburger, it is a medley of freshness—with cucumbers, celery, red pepper and zingy little cranberries—as well as the promised nuttiness in the form of quinoa, almond slivers and sesame seeds nestled below a vinaigrette dressing. There are also some meaty non-burger entrée options: fish-n-chips, a chargrilled steak and the like. But if meat’s your game, you should hold the lesson of J. Wellington Wimpy in your heart. You’ll see that the true path here is one of profound simplicity. And what could be simpler than ordering a burger at a burger place? Especially when they’re this good.
5 Star Burgers1710 Central SW764-3000 5901 Wyoming NE821-19095starburgers.comHours: 11am to 9pm, Sunday through Thursday11am to 10pm, Friday and SaturdayPrice range: $9-$12Vibe: Laid-back beef bistroGluten free buns? YesExtras: Happy hour specials, monthly gourmet burger option, delivery to Chama River Draft Station (Old Town location)The Alibi recommends: 5 Star burger, Taos burger, nutty quinoa salad, Happy Hour drink specials