One of the most surprising underdogs in this year’s Burger Madness was a young upstart hailing from Tucson’s south side.
The 8-month-old Amigos Burgers and Beer trounced the Silver Saddle Steakhouse, Omar’s Hi-Way Chef and Trident Grill before falling to Zivaz Mexican Bistro in the final four.
Located in the old Mustang Bar on South Nogales Highway, the half bar/half burger joint is owned by longtime friends Robert Gonzalez and Ramiro Flores, hence the name.
Both have a history in Tucson’s food-service industry.
Gonzalez has owned Crossroads Restaurant on South Fourth Avenue for 11 years. His family has run it for more than three decades.
Flores, in addition to being the Gonzalez family attorney, also owns The Original Hideout bar on South Mission Road.
The duo were looking for something new.
“When Ramiro bought The Hideout, it was already an established business,” Gonzalez said. “The Crossroads was also established when I took over. We wanted to create a fun place where we could hang out.”
They looked to the vacant property, a large windowless building sitting empty for five years just north of East Valencia Road, as their opportunity.
For Gonzalez, a former customer of The Mustang, the location was perfect.
“I grew up in that neighborhood,” he said. “The building has been there forever. I was emotionally attached to it.”
After winning the space in a real estate auction, they spent the next two years making it their own.
Gonzalez said a lot of effort was put into the “man cave” motif.
The restaurant sports large, detailed murals of bison, cattle runs and wagon trains.
Diners can sit at picnic benches running across the center of the room or in booths lining the walls.
The bar side of things sports a hodgepodge of decorations, surfboards on the wall, neon signs, the rear end of a 1956 Chevy.
The office entrance is an old vault door picked up at Gersons Building Materials.
“We just messed around with it,” Gonzalez said. “We had no theme. It was more like: ‘This looks cool. Let’s put it in.’ ”
Gonzalez said a mix of customers, from Raytheon employees to detectives to neighboring residents, has given Amigos a solid first year in business.
They come primarily for the burgers, which take up a significant portion of the menu, alongside chicken wings, hot dogs, sandwiches and appetizers.
The restaurant offers ten burgers in all.
Among its best-sellers are the Amigo Burger, a handmade patty covered in bacon, avocado, cheese and a chipotle mayonnaise, and the Southside Burger, which comes with roasted green chiles, jalapeño jack cheese and a cilantro mayonnaise.
“We watched a lot of burger shows, visited a lot of restaurants to get these right,” Gonzalez said. “It took a little bit of a lot of awesome burgers to create them.”
Gonzalez said the restaurant is still picking up steam in its first year. There are no sweeping changes or expansions in the works, but “ask me next year,” he said.
“We are going one day at a time. It has been a little overwhelming, but we are starting to take off.”