What Is a Mexican Hamburger, and Where Can You Find One?

BY: Sean O'Toole |Jul 10, 2015
What Is a Mexican Hamburger, and Where Can You Find One?

Denver may be home to the original Chipotle location, but it’s another contribution to handheld Mexican cuisine that makes the city’s burrito fans proudest. That would be the so-called “Mexican hamburger,” a dish so ubiquitous at Denver Mexican restaurants that many residents assume it’s available everywhere. It’s not. In fact, few people outside the city have even heard of it, much less tried one themselves. Here’s the scoop on the local favorite.

What’s in It

Minor variations abound, but the basic formula goes like this: take a flour tortilla, stuff it with refried beans and melted cheese, and then add in a well-done burger patty. Finally—and this is crucial—smother it in spicy green chili, preferably of the kind that’s flecked with pork and heavy on the heat. The result is what Taco USA author Gustavo Arellano has called “the dish that best personifies the Mexican-American experience.”

Where It Started

Legend has it the dish was invented at the now-closed Joe’s Buffet in the 1960s. A waitress named Linda actually had the idea of adding a beef patty to the restaurant’s standard burrito, hence its original name, “Linda’s Mexican Hamburger.” Efforts to shed more light on the dish’s origin have thus far proven fruitless, but it appears that credit for its spread should go to its fans, who soon began requesting it at other restaurants in the area.

The Must-Go Spot

It’s not without its detractors, but The Original Chubby’s is the consensus pick for best place to try your first Mexican hamburger. The takeout-only spot dates back to the late '60s, when Stella Cordova bought the hamburger stand she’d been working at and started serving Mexican fare doused in her famous green chili. Soon, she added her own take on the Mexican hamburger and became the dish’s unofficial godmother until she passed away in 2009 at the age of 100.

More than 40 years on, The Original Chubby’s Mexican hamburger is still collecting acclaim: in 2014, FiveThirtyEight called it “a world of delight,” and Thrillist said, “It doesn’t get much better than this.”

Other Places to Try It

The rest of the Cordova clan has done their part in popularizing the Mexican hamburger, too. Stella’s descendents have opened a number of their own ventures, including a few more Chubby’s restaurants and a chain called Bubba Chino’s that’s run by her grandson, Leonard. But there are plenty of other spots around town to try the dish. These aren’t necessarily the best restaurants in Denver, but fans say they’re all masters of this one special dish.