Arizona restaurants mix up the burger in James Beard competition

Above: Charro's blended burger is made from its own house grind of 100 percent all grass-fed beef. To make its burger special, Charros adds nopalitos and prickly pear barbeque sauce. Additionally, the Charros team uses bacon-flavored locally grown mushrooms from the Sonoran Mushroom Company. (Photo courtesy of Charro Steak) Restaurants | 21 Jun, 2017 |

Four Arizona-based restaurants are pioneering an up and coming type of burger by competing in the national James Beard Foundation’s Blended Burger Project.

Charro Steak in Tucson, Eagle’s Nest in Goodyear, Lindy’s on 4th in Tucson and Toscana’s Restaurant in Goodyear are asking for your votes on their renditions of the latest burger innovation: the Blended Burger.

The five finalists with the highest number of online votes by July 31st will win a trip to the historic James Beard House in New York City, where they will showcase their own blended burgers at an exclusive event in 2018.

Customers who vote for their favorite blended burger online will also be entered to win an all-expenses paid trip for two to the same 2018 Blended Burger event at the James Beard House.

A Blended Burger consists of blending finely chopped umami-rich mushrooms with ground meat in burgers and is becoming a food movement that focuses on sustainability, flavor and nutrition, all while being good for business.

The Blended Burger Project, “promotes the idea that we can still enjoy the foods we love (burgers) in a more nutritious and sustainable manner,” says Holly Jefferis, James Beard Foundation spokeswoman.

The contest is now in its third year and expects higher contest participation than in previous years with a current count of 359 chefs and counting, Jefferis says. Last year, six Arizona restaurants competed in the Blended Burger Project, but none were able to crack the coveted top five.

Eagle’s Nest Chef Mary Ahrens is hoping to expose more Arizona diners to this unique and new type of burger through the Project.

Since the start of the contest, Ahrens has had a lot of people from the community come in and try her burger, which is made with 25 percent Portabella and button mushrooms, brisket, bacon, all topped off with bacon jam. The dish is high in potassium and antioxidants, she says.

Lindy’s on 4th is a family run business in Tucson and has appeared on Food Network’s “Ginormous Food,” “Man vs. Food” and Travel Channel’s “Meat and Potatoes.” The team hopes to expose Tucson’s diversity with its blended burger.

“For the past twelve years (Lindy’s on 4th) has done amazing burgers and we love trying new and fun ways to create them,” says Kathleen Wheat, Lindy’s on 4th spokeswoman.

Lindy’s burger represents Arizona and the community, because it is made with Arizona grown ground beef blended with locally sourced mushrooms, mesquite smoked heirloom tomatoes, pistachio crusted goat cheese, merchant’s garden bib lettuce and locally distilled Del Bac whiskey agave aioli, Wheat says.

Wheat, who says Lindy’s uses social media daily to promote votes for its burger, is hoping the contest further brings the Tucson region the culinary recognition it deserves.

Charro Steak, which is also located in Tucson, decided to get involved in the competition this year to bring more accolades to the family-owned business.

“James Beard is always something restaurants and chefs want to get involved with and we’ve been looking at going after an American classic award for our parent restaurant, the El Charro Café of Tucson, which has been in our family since 1922,” says Ray Flores, Charro Steak’s president.

The Charro Steak team believes they have one of the best burgers they’ve ever seen or tasted and it is truly representative of Tucson and the Sonoran Desert culture, Flores says.

Flores hopes that they will help Arizona garner more of a presence in the culinary world.

Tucson was given a UNESCO ranking last year as the only city of gastronomy in America, a testament to Tucson’s local food scene. But local restaurants like Charro Steak are still working to further put Tucson on the foodie scene map.

Charro’s blended burger is made from its own house grind of 100 percent all grass-fed beef. To make its burger special, Charros adds nopalitos and prickly pear barbeque sauce. Additionally, the Charros team uses bacon-flavored locally grown mushrooms from the Sonoran Mushroom Company.

The temptation burger is just one of over a half-dozen other blended burgers that will be available all summer long at Charro Steak, all of which were named after food writers and authors in Tucson.

Toscana’s Restaurant in Goodyear recently had an influx of traffic ordering its blended burger, says Chef Robert Nixon. Toscana’s joined the competition because he is trying to get his restaurant a little recognition and wants people to know about the James Beard Foundation, Nixon says.

To him the blended burger is healthy because it has less meat and cholesterol, but still packs a flavorful punch thanks to the earthy flavor of mushrooms. As for his burger, he smokes the mushrooms, and mixes his cowboy candy, which is candied jalapenos inside mayo.

He isn’t sure he can beat the votes it will take to win, but Nixon is trying to be a good sport about it.

“You always have to be positive,” he said. “Everyone that’s eaten the burger has nothing but great reviews about it.”

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