By Craig Springer
If you live on North 14 and work in town, Burger Boy is about the first thing you see on the way back home, signaling that you’re back in the East Mountains. This iconic East Mountain eatery sits on a site steeped in history.
The old Hispanic village of San Antonio was founded here in 1819. Confederate soldiers camped here on their way to eventual defeat at Glorieta in 1862, and mere feet away, a scene from Henry Fonda’s Grapes of Wrath was filmed along the road in 1940. The building, which is becoming historic itself, was once an old Tastee-Freez and dates to the 1960s.
Now, Kathleen Cushing serves up gastronomical delights that have brought in folks from beyond the East Mountains for nearly 30 years. She is an affable gal, modest and hard-working, with her own unique history.
Kathleen was born in South America, where her dad worked for the Anaconda Mining Company in Chile. Shortly after the U.S. entered World War Two, however, the U.S. Embassy ushered Americans out of the country. Back in the states during the war, Kathleen worked at a “tenderloin shack,” the equivalent of a hamburger stand. “The beef went to the boys on the fronts—it was patriotic,” says Kathleen. “All we had for meat was pork, and I learned to serve up good tenderloin.”
Kathleen wended her way to an eventual career in nursing in Odessa, Texas. She and her late husband, William, affectionately known by East Mountain locals as “Chile Bill,” found their way here. As fate would have it, the former owner of the Burger Boy was eager to sell. They bought it and the rest, as they say, is history.
The couple made their mark in the menu and in a happy base of customers. Burger Boy is known for its green chile cheeseburgers, buffalo and ostrich burgers, and yes, pork tenderloin sandwiches. “We grind our own meat, make our own beans, and make much of our food from scratch,” Kathleen says. She uses as much local food as possible, including breads and sweet things from Tijeras baker, Grant Kitting.
When asked about what draws her loyal customers, she doesn’t have to answer: Andrew and Deborah sitting nearby shout out, “The best food ever!” The couple comes to Burger Boy all the way from Albuquerque’s South Valley on a regular basis.
Kathleen tries to answer the question herself. “They don’t come for ambiance,” she quips as her glance sweeps over the room. “It’s not fancy, cloistered like other places.”
But it is ambiance you’ll find—and let’s call it “East Mountain Vernacular.” Most conspicuous is what she calls her “Wall of Faith.” Up top is a photo of Chile Bill and Father John Carney, the priest who officiated Bill’s funeral. In the center is a cross. These three things started The Wall in 2001, and it has grown to include photos of church leaders of every faith in the East Mountains.
Part of that ambiance is also how you’ll be received. In the course of about 40 minutes, Kathleen greets a half-dozen hungry customers with hugs and smiles. You know the saying, “you are what you eat.” Well, you’re also what you serve up—you’ll be known by your “fruits.” And with Kathleen there, you’ll be sated by more than just a good green chile cheeseburger.
One more thing—Chile Bill lives. He lives in Kathleen’s heart and at the Burger Boy itself. Another East Mountain icon, the late Ross Ward, creator of Tinker Town, captured his pal in paint. Chile Bill stands in a Ward mural with a mule and a canteen that says on it, “Best Burgers on the old Turquoise Trail.” Now, go find out for yourself.
Burger Boy is open about 7am to about 7pm every day but Tuesday.
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