The burger: When spouses Claudia and Gerardo Gutierrez couldn’t find the kind of burgers they craved — fashioned in a brazenly over-the-top style that’s popular in their native Mexico — they started preparing them at home.
“One day, we decided to try and offer them to others,” said Claudia. “We figured if we were missing that style, then others were, too.”
The response was, in a word, “amazing,” she said. “We did it on Friday evenings, for four hours,” she said. “Then people started coming on Saturday, and knocking on the door, so we did it on Saturday, too. Then people started calling for Sunday, so then we were doing it all weekend, four to six hours a day. It was crazy, we would run out of everything. But it was so much fun.”
After four months, they bumped their operation from their Little Canada residence to a storefront on St. Paul’s Payne Avenue, christening it Hamburguesas El Gordo. That was in October 2015, and, naturally, a devoted following followed. In December 2017, the couple expanded to a second location, taking over a modest corner storefront in south Minneapolis (that's the dining room, pictured, below).
“We had lots of customers in St. Paul who were coming over from south Minneapolis,” said Claudia. “I think it’s a wonderful location. I know that several businesses in this building have come and gone, but I think it was just missing the right tenant, and I think we can do business here for a long time.”
If they continue to serve burgers this good, she’s probably right. Each hand-formed patty — thin, grilled to medium and pressed so wide that they hang over the (big) bun’s edges — weighs in at a half-pound. That’s a lot of beef.
“When people come in for the first time, I tell them to go for the Original, which is a single half-pound patty,” said Claudia. “Don’t try the Double on your first visit.”
Take it from someone who didn’t follow that advice: the Double’s 16 ounces of beef (pictured, above) is a lot to handle. And that’s before taking the plentiful pile-on of extras into account, a list that starts with mozzarella and American cheeses, tangy pickled peppers, gently spicy roasted Serrano peppers, creamy avocado, sweet grilled onions, crunchy shredded lettuce, a few juicy tomato slices and, for good measure, a thinly cut slice of ham.
“That gives it a nice flavor,” said Claudia.
It sure does. Wait, I almost forgot: there's a gigantic slice of thin-cut bacon, too. Because, why not? The sesame seed-topped bun, buttered and toasted, holds up to that heavyweight ingredients roster without being dry and bland. The seemingly never-ending portion hits all the right burger adjectives, including greasy, salty, sloppy and unwieldy (the best hope for keeping this behemoth of a burger intact is to preserve its taut, Spanx-like paper wrapper for as long as possible). And impressive. The Gutierrezes are clearly on to something.
“The burgers that we make are exactly the way they sell them in Mexico,” said Claudia, who hails from Matamoros, on the country’s northern border; she has lived in Minnesota for 17 years. “I love it here,” she said. “My kids are here, my mom is here. I go back and visit, but this is my home now.”
Price: $9 for an Original. A Double is $11.99. There’s also a classic, American-style Cheddar cheeseburger for $5.50.
Fries: Not included ($3.50 for a heaping side order, or $12.99 buys a combo: a single-patty burger, fries and a beverage). Skin-on and hand-cut, they’re starchy and slightly greasy, in a dive-bar way. Unlike the burgers, they would benefit from a heavier hand with the salt shaker.
And now, the bad news: The couple’s St. Paul location is closing, today (that’s Friday, May 11). “It’s unexpected,” said Claudia. “This wasn’t in our plans. Unfortunately, the building owner has canceled our lease. We had a month-to-month lease. Apparently, she’s bringing someone else on board. We’re definitely coming back to St. Paul. We’re currently looking for a place, and hopefully it will be near where we are now.”
Where she burgers: “We’re at the business, all the time, so if we have a burger, we have one of ours,” said Claudia. “But before we started this, if we weren’t making them at home, we’d go to Wendy’s. That was our favorite place to go.”
Address book: 4157 Cedar Av. S., Mpls., 612-722-1087. Open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. St. Paul location (closing May 11) is at 990 Payne Av., 651-340-1483.
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