Here's what's great about Diablo Burger in Flagstaff:

It's tiny, and ambience is not the point. It's so casual you order at the counter. There are a few tables inside, but most grab their food and sit on the patio outside the restaurant.

Oh, and it has sublime burgers.

Here's what's great about Diablo in downtown Tucson, which opened in May:

It has sublime burgers.

The Tucson restaurant is self-consciously hip. A Vespa is mounted on the wall and serves as a menu holder. There is an "Eat" sign with blinking lights. The four picnic-style tables - there's table service here - are blond wood and bare. Three of those seat around 10, and the fourth, suspended from the ceiling, holds about a dozen diners. This "community" style of dining pretty much eliminates the possibility of intimate conversation (not that you could have it anyway; sound ricochets between the concrete floor and high ceiling with exposed ductwork). There is also seating on stools along the windows that look out on the increasingly busy East Congress Street, and a bar with the same stools - which are brightly painted steel, look mighty comfy, and are not.

It lacks the charm and the burgers-are-serious-business vibe of its pilot up north.

Still, burgers are serious business here.

Diablo - Derrick Widmark owns both the one here and in Flag - is committed to as-local-as-possible ingredients, which is a big plus. And he is also committed to the burger as an art form, which is completely appreciated by this burger lover.

The beef hails from the Diablo Trust ranches, a collaborative of Northern Arizona ranchers who practice sustainable ranching. The cattle that give their lives for our burgers are open-range-raised and free of antibiotics and growth hormones.

There is practically a thesis on the meat and Diablo Burger's philosophy in the menu. It's pretty interesting reading and makes the long time to get your order a bit easier. That isn't a complaint. The menu warns you ahead of time to expect a wait: "Please understand that we cook all of our burgers to order, literally taking the temperature of every single burger we make."

The meat is charbroiled, giving a crisp cover to the patty. The grass-fed beef means less fat - the staff and the menu recommend you order it medium rare in order to chow down on a juicy burger. That's advice worth taking.

The buns are hand-made English muffins (preservative free, mind you) branded with "DB." The 6-ounce patties fit perfectly on the larger-than-store-bought muffins.

You can get the old-fashioned burger with lettuce, tomato and pickle (that would be the "Monk" - at $10.25, the least expensive burger), and it's a good choice if you love the pure taste of the meat. But Diablo offers so many more temptations to pile on: cheeses, spreads such as pesto and Hatch chile mayonnaise; vegetables from jalapeño to beets; eggs and, of course, bacon.

On one visit, the Blutarsky ($13.25) beckoned (yup, the John Belushi character in the movie "Animal House" was the inspiration).

The burger had a kick thanks to a not-too-hot blackening spice and was topped with a wide slab of crispy bacon, smooth guacamole and sharp Cheddar cheese. It came with a bamboo toothpick stuck in the bun to hold it all together. Still, expect a messy meal. And an outrageously good one.

The Marilyn ($11.25) has a choice of two kinds of cheeses - we opted for the Cheddar and the goat, produced by the Bisbee-based Chiva Risa Ranch. The silky goat cheese was mild and slightly tart. And overpowered by the Cheddar. Next time, we'll make both our cheeses the goat.

Vegetarians don't need to shun away from Diablo Burger - there's a veggie option ($11) and an absolutely heavenly grilled cheese ($9.75). Sourdough bread serves as bookends to Cheddar, Swiss and provolone cheeses, melted and mixed with abandon; a basil pesto that rocks with garlic (but not too much); a few sprigs of fresh basil, and a fat, juicy tomato slice. You can opt for a fried egg on top, but that just smacks of overkill. The combination of flavors and textures between the buttery toasted bread was just as thrilling as the burgers.

There are a couple of other touches we loved at Diablo - there is a tall bottle of filtered water for each party, and sandwiches come with a dill pickle spear and crisp Belgian-style fries, which are twice-cooked, golden brown, and worthy of a meal in themselves.

Diablo also offers Mexican Coke - made with real sugar and served in glass bottles that seemed made for your hands. Drinking from that bottle can transport you to a Mexican beach, a cool breeze blowing over you as you down your soda.

Yes, Diablo Burger tries hard to be cool. But who cares when you can get burgers like these?


Diablo Burger

• Where: 312 E. Congress St., 882-2007.

• Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays through Wednesdays; 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Thursdays through Saturdays; closed Sundays.

• Noise level: Loud.

• Alcohol: An ever-changing list of beers and wines, mostly locally or regionally produced.

• Family call: A small kids' menu with junior-sized burgers and grilled cheese.

• Vegetarian options: Yes.

• Gluten-free: Yes.

• Price range: The burgers top out at $13.25, but can go up from there if you add ingredients.

Contact reporter Kathleen Allen at or 573-4128.