The fire that gutted Paris’s Notre Dame Cathedral in mid-April put me in mind of other iconic, sacred structures that have burned in recent memory. Closer to home, and considered sacred by many, is Chris Madrid’s, an iconic local burger joint established by the city’s “patron burger saint” in 1977. Five years after Madrid’s death in 2012, his family sold the business and the name to Richard Peacock, owner of Paloma Blanca in Alamo Heights. Barely a month after the 2017 sale, a fire forced management to shut the place down. The restaurant has been operating out of a food truck, and under “temporary” tents, ever since.
Diana Madrid, Chris’s sister, has since opened her own shop, Diana’s Burgers, formerly home to Burgers, Brews and Blues on North Zarzamora Street. Minus the Macho category, the restaurant menu seems to evoke the spirit of the original, chapter and verse. Fans of the flat ’n’ floppy style of burger epitomized by Chris Madrid’s will either be thrilled to have the holy grail Cheddar Cheezy and its doppelganger, or they will be outraged at an attempted duplication of the original.
Regardless of which burger you now consider to be the “original” — the one produced by a family member or the one being offered by new owners — what follows is an attempt at an even-handed comparison of two burgers that, on paper, are identical. The Jalapeño Cheddar Burger ($7.75) from Diana’s in one corner, against the regular Flaming Jalapeño Cheddar Cheezy ($8.75) from Chris Madrid’s redux.
I arrived at Diana’s at 11:30 a.m. on a weekday to find a five-minute line at the order counter. But it took 30 minutes for the burger to arrive. Presented in the usual basket, the burger oozed cheese like a flow of golden lava — even dripping over the order ticket that identified this order as #38. A few rings of pickled jalapeño had slipped the bonds of the oozy cheese. Alongside, an order of fries ($2.50) looked unpromisingly dark and shiny.
The deflated bun didn’t betray much toast, and the bottom was slathered in ballpark yellow mustard. A bedding of the usual chopped lettuce, tomato and onion followed. As they always are, everywhere, the tomatoes were tasteless. The thin, quarter-pound patty had been cooked to medium and beyond. It also needed seasoning. The full-bite test was a little better than this listing of parts might suggest, however. The modest jalapeño punch and the rich, generous helping of cheese breathed a little life into the package. But it was not an experience I need to repeat. Though I can usually be counted on to pick away at almost any fries as long as they’re in front of me, these — greasy and seeming both under- and over-cooked at the same time — were left mostly uneaten.
I arrived at the same time of day at Chris Madrid’s, and though the parking lot was reasonably full, there was no line at the order counter. It took five minutes for my burger and fries to arrive. At first glance, there was less cheese, a few slices of jalapeño had once again escaped and the bun was appealingly shiny and pillowy. Some dissection revealed the bun to be toasted and served with less mustard, but there was an equal amount of that boring chop of lettuce, tomato and onion.
The big bite: Chris Madrid’s had better balance all around, a craggier patty with real flavor, a trace of pink and a better ratio of mustard to the whole. However, the whole was hardly “flaming.” My opinion, for what it’s worth? Ditch the lettuce for the pico de gallo, which is available and recommended — at both places. If you don’t get flames, you’ll at least have embers. As for the fries ($3.25), Chris Madrid’s is apologizing that the truck’s kitchen can’t turn out the original version, but they needn’t be too sorry. The fries were lightly oil-slicked and needed just a shake of salt to emphasize their good potato flavor.
On leaving, I was told that the restaurant’s original building is expected to be operational in September. Adjusted for size and complexity, this renovation is taking longer than the projected resurrection of Notre Dame. The historic cathedral has its rescued crown of thorns, Chris Madrid’s has its XXXL T-shirts. Just saying.
So many restaurants, so little time. Find out the latest San Antonio dining news with our Flavor Friday Newsletter.