Zivaz Mexican Bistro toppled Fini’s Landing Sunday in the championship round of Caliente’s Burger Madness.
Zivaz’s Asada Burger with chipotle aioli and an optional chile relleno on top got 370 votes to 293 cast for Fini’s, a grill with a beachlike sensibility that serves a spicy Chubasco Burger among other varieties.
“We were hoping to do this, but it’s a great surprise,” said Cecilia Valenzuela, who with her husband, Felipe, opened Zivaz eight years ago today.
The fast-casual restaurant, which bills itself as “traditionally innovative,” features Mexican standbys like carne asada and mole in addition to entrées such as the pescado ajillo: sauteed mahi filet with guajillo spicy mushrooms.
There is only one burger — open-flame grilled with onions, chipotle aioli, tomato and greens. (Add a chile relleno for $2).
Cecilia Valenzuela said they added it as a 4th of July special and kept it on the menu because it was so popular.
“Since we added the burger six years ago, everyone was telling us this is the best burger in town. And when this competition started, a lot of people told us we have to be in the competition,” she said.
Fini’s Landing has been around less than two years.
“I’m really surprised we got as far as we did,” said co-owner Scott Mencke. “We knew our work was cut out for us. We went into the weekend knowing it probably wasn’t going to happen, but we did everything we could.”
Fini’s Landing lagged behind Zivaz’s throughout the day Sunday. With two hours left before voting ended at 10 p.m., Zivaz had a solid 57-vote lead — much of it generated by an aggressive email campaign to the 6,000 people on the restaurant’s email list.
Fini’s, meanwhile, pulled out its A-game, rallying customers throughout the day, blasting updates on Facebook and attracting attention along North Swan Road with a banner depicting a shark eating a burger stretched between two palm trees in front of the restaurant. Around 2 p.m., Mencke’s partner Doug “Fini” Finical posted a campy video onto YouTube to rally supporters.
“Trailing in the polls, yet ecstatic we made it this far, we thought we’d have a little fun and shoot a campy video to promote our cause,” Finical said in an email to Caliente Sunday afternoon.
Zivaz, which is closed on Sundays, never relinquished its lead. Valenzuela said of the 6,000 emails she and her staff sent to supporters, 2,000 were opened and about 700 of those people followed the link to the contest.
Zivaz entered Burger Madness as an underdog but it quickly blasted past downtown newcomer Diablo Burger 482-449 and squeaked in a win by eight votes over Rusty’s Family Restaurant & Sports Grill in Round 2. Valenzuela said the biggest challenge of the competition was against Monkey Burger in Round 3.
“Beating Monkey Burger was very exciting for us. That was the challenge,” she said.
Finical said that once frontrunners Zinburger and Lindy’s on 4th were out in the first round of voting, he felt like Fini’s Landing had a shot at the crown.
“We thought Zinburger would be the big challenge, but when Zinburger didn’t make it through the first round, we thought we had it in the bag,” he said.
Fini’s Landing, a kicked-back and kicked-up island-themed restaurant and bar in the Foothills, launched a spirited campaign on social media and in the restaurant throughout the month-long Burger Madness. The restaurant handily toppled Oro Valley bistro Noble Hops in the first round, then squeaked past Cody’s Beef ‘n’ Beans in Round 2 to face Frank’s Sports Grill & Bar in the semifinals; Fini’s beat Frank’s 548-512 to advance to the finals against Gentle Ben’s Brewing.
“It’s been a lot of fun. It’s been a great reason to interact with our customers in person and on Facebook and get everyone (together) on a common cause,” Mencke said.