Often when I’m traveling, I’ll find that a local place has gotten a lot of positive buzz. It will be on most of the “top 10″ sorts of lists for a city, either in absolute terms of quality, or as a place you are supposed to check out (these aren’t necessarily the same, there are places I heartily recommend visiting while also noting that they aren’t necessarily the best, like Louis Lunch). And the simultaneously get listed as one of the places in their region, and maybe even the occasional mention on national “Best of” lists. Chris Madrids in San Antonio is one of those places. Most any major list of "must eat" restaurants in San Antonio includes Chris Madrids on the list, and it also is a perennial favorite on several “Best burgers in Texas” lists. I’ve even seen it get a few mentions on “Best Burger in the US” lists. Seeing that our B+B was only 2 miles from Chris Madrids, we decided we had to give it a try.
Arriving at Chris Madrids, you can see that it’s got the ambiance thing down. The central building of Chris Madrids is actually two buildings combined: a gas station and a bar, in which the area between the buildings was roofed over to create a large dining area (and a similarly sized patio out back). Indeed, there’s seating here for well over 100 people, and that’s good, because the place is very busy. Indeed, at 1:30 on a Friday afternoon, we found the place chock full, and getting a table inside (with the air conditioning) was a manner of careful observation followed by hawkishly sweeping in on a table microseconds after the previous party started to stand up. So Chris Madrids is obviously popular with the locals (in particular, the fire department and police both had contingents present). The busy nature of the place definitely gives it a good vibe, adding to the ambiance (if the place wasn’t filled with people, the ambiance would be similar to “aircraft hangar”).
Aside from a somewhat unusual traffic flow (the ordering register is located by the old front door of the “gas station” part of the business, so you’ve got to walk through the entire place to get to the ordering line), they are pretty organized, however. You wait through the line, order up your burgers, sides, and beverages (well, basic beers; more complicated orders need to go across the room to the bar), get a number, and wait for your burger.
The menu at Chris Madrids shows their dedication to simplicity, since the menu is basically a half-dozen burger varieties, chalupas, fries, and drinks (Well, there might be a tostada or a chicken sandwich as well). The burger varieties are exactly what you’d expect from a popular burger joint in the center of Tex Mex territory, with the top three burgers being the “Tostada Burger” (burger with a layer of refried beans and chips under a layer of cheese), the “Cheddar Cheezy” (basic cheeseburger with a giant mound of shredded cheddar melted on it), and the “Flaming Jalapeno” (same, but with lots of jalapeno). All the burgers are available as regular and macho sizes. Looking over the options, I opted for the classic Chris Madrid burger: a macho Tostada Burger and a side of fries.
Well, the Tostada burger was pretty much exactly what you’d expect. Think “tostada” meets burger, and you’ve got the idea. Risking being accused of sacrilege, I’ll be honest and say that the burger patty itself wasn’t the greatest I’ve had (I like my burgers with a little more crisp on them, a little more juice, and a slightly less done interior), but it was decent, and it was large (this was definitely one of those burgers that kinda fails the essential nature of a burger: you start out eating it with both hands, but eventually experience collapse and need to resort to cleaning the mess up with a fork). But the novel toppings here actually worked pretty well. The chips added a crunch (that went nicely with the toasted bun). The beans were good homemade refried beans, and added some nice flavor without overwhelming things. And the cheese added…. cheese. A lot of cheese. I can barely imagine what the Cheddar Cheezy is like.
The overall verdict: a pretty good burger. Not top 10 list for me, but still pretty good. I wouldn’t hesitate to come back, even if they can’t spell Shiner right (see, I’m not the only one committing sacrilege!). As an aside, the founder of Chris Madrids died in March of this year, and I think I heard about a third of the tables mention that fact while I was there. He was obviously a well-revered San Antonio icon.