You’ve probably seen the greeting card. There are two very sophisticated looking women in their late thirties talking to each other over cocktails. The one is saying to the other, “Oh my God, I forgot to have children.”
Don Day was reminded of it this week when a very unsophisticated looking man in his late sixties said to himself over a cocktail, “Oh my God, I forgot to have a burger at Hansen’s.”
To Don Day, there is something more American than apple pie. Definitely something he enjoys more than apple pie. Someday, Don Day even hopes to convince one of his grandchildren to call his very first great granddaughter Patty. Yet somehow Don Day had gone an entire winter in San Miguel de Allende without once having gone to Hansen’s for a burger. And a Hansen’s burger is Don Day’s favorite San Miguel burger, about as close as you can come to a perfect burger in San Miguel…no, make that just about anywhere.
I didn’t have much an excuse for not going to Hansen’s. I’d been to the restaurant this year for my other favorites: the filet mignon, the chicken liver pate, the minestrone, the dense chocolate cake. About my only excuse was the one I’ve heard a lot of other people use, “It’s a bit out of the way.”
My friend Rich, who’d also survived the winter without a Hansen’s burger hit, agreed that he had a similar need and off we walked down to Calzada de la Aurora and then up on to Hansen’s roof. The roof is my favorite spot at Hansen’s. It’s not exactly a great view but it gives you a look at an early San Miguel, the one where tangled wires obscured almost everything and there’s a certain urban flavor when you see a congested street as well as smoky blue grey mountains, jacarandas in brilliant bloom and the distant domes of churches.
It was early and getting my favorite table in the far corner was easy. Ordering was easy as well for when I come for a burger it’s always medium, with cheddar, fries and a Coca Lite. For Rich, it was lo mizmo, the same.
Every good burger is really all about the meat. And though sacred cows make the best burgers (thank you for the umpteenth time, Mark Twain), they’re unfortunately extinct in San Miguel. Hansen’s grinds their burger from Certified Angus beef with, I’m guessing, about an 80/20 lean/fat ratio which is perfect in Don Day’s eyes (and mouth). The meat is then nicely seasoned with salt (but not too much like the chains), pepper and, again I’m guessing, one or two other spices.
After you have the right quality of meat, you need the right quantity. There’s an all important ratio between burger and bun.
First let me tell you about getting the wrong quantity. Quarter pounders are obviously meant only for small children or the chains wouldn’t target their advertising at them. Sliders are one of the world’s stupidest inventions and should have slid off the end of the world shortly after they were invented.
The right quantity is what you get at Hansen’s. It’s close to eight ounces. And it’s moist and juicy and always cooked exactly as ordered. Don Day even likes that it comes with a little stick in it indicating that Don Day’s choice is medium. Not only that, the stick becomes a very efficient toothpick when you’re ready to get that last chunk of goodness out of the second last molar.
A perfect burger is a cheeseburger. But Don Day is not a real stickler when it comes to what cheese he chooses. Don Day has had excellent burgers with Swiss, with brie, even with blue. At Hansen’s though, Don Day always chooses the cheddar because it’s good cheddar not some rubberized combination of vegetable oil and water. Don Day also likes that Hansen’s cheddar is white even though yellow cheddar is usually colored with annatto which is the same thing that colors cochinita pibil, one of Don Day’s favorite Mexican dishes.
Then we have the bacon question. Does the perfect burger include bacon? No it doesn’t. A bad burger includes bacon. Bacon is only necessary when the patty is made of beef that’s too lean. A Hansen’s burger has plenty of fat. It’s definitly NBR, no bacon required.
Next we have the fillings. In addition to the cheese, Hansen’s burger comes with one thing already inside the bun. Hansen’s burger arrives on your table with caramelized onions. Don Day thinks all burgers should come with sweet, luscious caramelized onions already inside but Don Day realizes and recognizes the different strokes phenomenon. Don Day realized at an early age that men and women are not quite the same and still pays homage to la difference. Don Day’s wife prefers her burger with raw onions so Hansen’s gladly obliges.
In addition to raw onions…and they’re perfect, tangy red onions by the way…a Hansen’s burger comes with two big leaves of frisee lettuce, a reasonably thick slice of perfectly ripe tomato, and a nicely sour but slightly sweet dill pickle.
Now if you live in San Miguel de Allende you will know that sourcing good dill pickles is even more difficult than sourcing single, heterosexual men without a checkroom full of baggage. There has never been a single San Miguel sighting of Strub’s, Don Day’s first choice of dills. There have been sightings of Claussen’s, Don Day’s second choice of dills, but they’ve been rare and they’ve been very expensive finds.
Hansen’s knows the importance of a good dill to a burgerphile. They know that it’s difficult to have a consistent, cost-effective dill available in San Miguel de Allende. So Hansen’s has the perfect solution. They pickle their own cukes. The result? Hansen’s dills have the five essential characteristics of a perfect dill: Tart, sweet, salty, juicy and crunchy.
Next in the pursuit of the most perfect hamburger in San Miguel comes the bun. Now, just as Don Day isn’t particularly fussy about what type of cheese is placed on top of his meat, he also isn’t terribly fussy about the bread that is placed below and above. There are some things he won’t tolerate. Like a cotton batting type Bimbo bun. But Don Day has enjoyed baguettes, ciabattas and even some soft crusted sandwich rolls in his time. Hansen’s bun is a soft bun with a slightly crispy exterior and a topping of sesame seeds. It is nicely sized in that the taste of bread doesn’t overpower the taste of the meat. Don Day knows that Hansen’s sources its buns from the very good bakery, Mivida, to their exacting specifications.
Are we finished yet? Is the Hansen’s burger now ready to sink our teeth into. Not quite. It still must be sauced. Shortly after you order a Hansen’s burger, the server, and Hansen’s employs some of the most charming, efficient, devoid of attitude, and…I know I’m being a little sexist here…very, very sweet servers, returns to your table with a six pack of Heinies.
Inside the case you will not find six examples of something that refreshes the parts other beers can’t reach but six condiments, some of which are beyond all reach in other restaurants serving burgers. Inside the Heineken case are mayonnaise, chipotle sauce, ketchup (yes, it’s Heinz), yellow mustard (yes it’s French’s), Dijon mustard and BBQ sauce. Now Don Day only adds one of the condiments, the Dijon, to his burger but, vive la difference encore, he understands and appreciates other people adding other sauces, well everything except the most intolerable act of drowning everything in a tsunami of ketchup.
Don Day’s favorite San Miguel burger is now complete. No, make that almost complete. Because a burger without fries is like a man without a large screen TV.
Fortunately Hansen’s not only makes Don Day’s favorite San Miguel burger, they also make Don Day’s favorite San Miguel French fries. They’re slim cut, obviously twice fried, crisp on the outside, yet still soft on the outside.
Rich and I had done it. We had avoided the unforgiveable sin, the unrightable wrong. We had done one of the few things you cannot come to San Miguel without doing.
“How was your burger?”, I said to Rich as we got up to leave.
“Best I’ve ever had in this town”, he replied.
Hansen’s Bar & Grill is located at Calzada de la Aurora #12 in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. They are open Thursday from 5:00 to 10:00 pm, Friday and Saturday from 1:00 to 10:00 pm.