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Owl Bar

77 Highway 380, San Antonio, NM - (575) 835-9946
Posted By Michael Stern on August 27, 2009 9:24 PM
"Masterpiece! Masterpiece" sings the waitress at the Owl Bar as she carries a green chile cheeseburger from the kitchen to my place at the bar. It is 8:30am, and while the menu does have a couple of egg-and-bacon breakfasts as well as a few steaks and sandwiches, the unique New Mexico hamburger is what has put this out-of-the-way watering hole on the good eats map. Since at least the early days of atomic bomb tests at nearby White Sands, when scientists used to come here for an explosive meal, The Owl Bar has built such an exalted a reputation that aficionados drive from Texas and Colorado to eat 'em two by two. It is so popular at lunch in the summertime, you may have to wait for a place to sit.

Crusty, gnarled patties of beef are covered with chopped hot green chilies and the chilies are in turn topped with a slice of cheese that melts into them and the crevices of the hamburger. The green chile itself is a flavor revelation; in concert with beef, it's magic. Customary condiments include raw onion, chopped lettuce, sliced tomato, and pickle chips. This is one glorious package, and while we have never compared it side-by-side to the excellent green chile cheeseburger up at Bobcat Bite in Santa Fe, there can be no doubt that the Owl Bar's version is among the state's best. Green chile cheese fries are also available on the side., and there is a small menu of other sandwiches.

When I ate my cheeseburger at breakfast time, the stools at the bar were occupied by a few regular customers having their own all-liquid breakfasts in the form of Coors Lite. Decor at the Owl is a delightful roadhouse hodgepodge of beer memorabilia, photos, and paper currency that customers tack to the walls. The story is that the proprietors, Adolph and Rowena Baca, regularly take down the donated cash and give it to local charities.

5 star rating
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Posted By Carol Bayer on April 23, 2013 12:52 PM
Buckhorn vs. Owl: Owl wins. The Buckhorn and the Owl have been in competition for a really long time. Their claim to fame is the green chile cheeseburger. Two years ago, we chose the Buckhorn. The burger was great, but the service and atmosphere were lacking. It felt like we were an inconvenience, tourists that had to be tolerated. There was a big TV in the bar showing Judge Judy and the booth was falling apart.

This time, we chose the Owl. They have much better atmosphere, with no TV, great waitresses, and wonderful service. And the burger is as good as the Buckhorn's. Next time we are in the San Antonio area, it's The Owl all the way.
4 star rating
Overall Rating
Green Chile Cheeseburger
Onion Rings

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Posted By Eduardo on November 20, 2012 2:56 PM
Perhaps if you are a local and a friend of the rude owner, this place is for you. If you're anyone else, skip it. I drove down from Albuquerque last weekend, the intention being to eat at the place across the street, which actually has delicious burgers. But the Buckhorn was closed, so we decided to settle for the Owl. I had heard that the Owl has quick service and that the burgers are decent. Eating here was the biggest mistake of the weekend.

We walked in to a filthy restaurant/bar and sat ourselves at a booth. The unfriendly, scowling owner came to our table as we were still sitting down and rudely wiped the table -- obviously, we were in her way -- and I guess she figured that my lap would look better with some shredded lettuce and French fries on it. After a few humorless remarks to us, she stomped back to her perch at the register.

Trying to put the encounter behind us, we waited about five minutes for a waitress. She took our order and decided it would be best if we waited 15 minutes for our drinks, which sat on a counter while she socialized in another area of the restaurant.

Shortly after we got our drinks, a very large and surly waiter (or maybe a bus boy?) silently placed our baskets of fries in front of us, staring creepily at the wall next to us, and then quickly walked away. The fries were undercooked and lukewarm. We finally got our burgers, which each came with about seven or eight flecks of mild and freezer-burned green chile. The buns were soggy and the meat was absolutely tasteless.

The waitress came back once more, as we were about a quarter of the way through our burgers, to drop off our check. How this place ended up in any sort of travel book is beyond me. The food is on par with the worst fast-food chains in the area. And, as we wrote on a napkin in lieu of a tip: "If customers = inconvenience, then you = fail." This place fails. I will never go back.
1 star rating
Overall Rating
Green Chile Cheeseburger
French Fries

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Posted By bear Albrecht on July 25, 2012 2:24 PM
I live within walking distance. Yes, it's legendary, and resting on their laurels big time. They have the distinction of serving me both the worst banquet food and the worst hamburger of my long life. Go across the street.
1 star rating
Overall Rating
Green Chile Cheeseburger
Onion Rings

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Posted By Craig Bowman on July 6, 2012 2:15 PM
The Owl Cafe is a must-stop place. Great green chile cheeseburgers. The "decor" is a hoot, pun intended. The GCC at Buckhorn Tavern, virtually across the street, is nearly as good but the chile concoction at Owl is better tasting to me. A fun place.
5 star rating
Overall Rating
Green Chile Cheeseburger

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Posted By Bill Boehm on July 2, 2012 11:32 AM
I grew up in Alamogordo and later lived in Las Cruces, and there are few restaurants in the region you can set your clock by when it's lunchtime. The Owl Bar is one of those places.

Many times, traveling north to Albuquerque from either city, I would try to time my three-hour drive to arrive at the Owl for lunch. It is efficient, friendly, and no-nonsense. That combination of lettuce, tomato, and onion, along with the green chile and the ground beef, are always tantalizing, and hit the spot just right whether it be with a cold beer or a soft drink.

Eating at the Owl Bar is an experience every out-of-stater should experience as quintessenial New Mexico, along with the Santa Fe Fiesta, the State Fair, White Sands, and Carlsbad Caverns. Sitting at the bar to eat, I often see the same cooks and waitresses, and Mrs. Baca, tending to their customers. Having first eaten there as a child over 30 years ago, the charm of the estalishment is as familiar to me as the drive east from San Antonio to Carrizozo over the Malpais, a/k/a, the Badlands.

Now living on the East Coast, I still feel at home anytime I am in the Owl. It's often the last stop before hopping on a plane in Albuquerque, and it always leaves me in good spirits.

I've only eaten at the Buckhorn once, and as friendly and engaging as Bob is as a proprietor, his bigger burgers weren't as mouth-watering because the green chile was not as hot. Frankly, I could only taste the lettuce, tomato, and onions on his concoction. Very good burger, yes; however, I don't like to stop for the hoopla, which was clearly present on my visit early during operating hours. One other time I hoped to stop there since I knew the Owl was closed, only to get the message from a local gentleman sitting at the door that they were closed. Even though they were supposed to be open that afternoon. Such is life in the Land of Manana.

The comparable GCC in southern New Mexico, which I hope Roadfood.com will take the time to experience someday, is at the Outpost Bar, 65 miles east of San Antonio in the friendly little town of Carrizozo. Their service is slower, and the bigger burger with home-cut fries is a little more expensive, but it is damn good. I'd also drive a long way off the beaten path to eat at the Outpost, just as I would for the Owl. Not all the great places are necessarily in central or northern New Mexico. Far as Roadfood goes, southern New Mexico, e.g., Las Cruces and the surrounding area, also have some good choices (Chope's, Dick's, etc.). Helps to be in the know!

Check it out!
5 star rating
Overall Rating
Green Chile Cheeseburger
Green chile cheese Fries
French Fries
Onion Rings

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Posted By Mark Lowry on June 19, 2012 7:35 PM
The Owl Bar is definitely worth a stop if you are travelling the road between El Paso and Albuquerque. Don't be put off by its somewhat forbidding exterior. Inside there is wonderful ambience, dimly lit, with old wooden booths in both rooms and a venerable bar. The servers are real characters and some seem to have worked there for years.

The hamburgers, chile, and fries are all good but don't expect a long menu: this is basically a great bar that offers really good hamburgers. The green chiles are very spicy and taste like homemade.

Roadfood enthusiasts will be taken aback when they enter San Antonio to find another local bar, the Buckhorn Tavern, which is touted for its green chile cheeseburgers by the Food Network. This is actually also a very good place, with nice ambience, occasional live music, and an owner larger than life. There are sometimes more people at the Buckhorn but locals seem to favor the Owl. The cheeseburgers at Buckhorn are quite thick and take much longer to cook so choose the Owl if you are in a hurry. Some say the green chiles are canned here and they are certainly not as hot.

Rather than take sides I just take my hat off to San Antonio for having two nationally recognized hamburger palaces!
4 star rating
Overall Rating
Green Chile Cheeseburger
French Fries

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Posted By Jim on January 30, 2012 1:39 PM
Interesting place, one should visit for sure, but if it's a fast food burger you're after this is the place, otherwise the Buckhorn Tavern runs circles aroung the Owl. In my honest opinion, the Owl's burgers were ok, nothing to write home about.
2 star rating
Overall Rating
Green Chile Cheeseburger

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Posted By Gordon Hendricks on October 25, 2010 1:12 PM
Though the Green Chile cheeseburgers are smaller here than at Buckhorn Tavern... they are better tasting!! The onion rings are GREAT!!
5 star rating
Overall Rating
Green Chile Cheeseburger
Green chile cheese Fries
Onion Rings

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Posted By Don Jeffus on October 25, 2010 12:18 PM
Back in the 1960's I would fly into San Antonino and buzz the cafe to let them know to pick me up at the dike (only place to land in the area). It was worth the effort and cost just to get a really good chile cheeseburger. I am moving back to NM and will make the Owl Bar a regular place to stop again.
5 star rating
Overall Rating
Green Chile Cheeseburger

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Posted By Donald Skipwith on September 5, 2010 4:40 PM
I regularly pass through San Antonio on my way from my home in Albuquerque to my mountain house in Cloudcroft...in fact I am always hopeful that I have time to stop at the Owl for New Mexico's signature green chile cheeseburger. The Owl is what roadfood is about, fast and delicious. You have a choice in San Antonio and it is the Owl.
4 star rating
Overall Rating
Green Chile Cheeseburger
Green chile cheese Fries
French Fries
Onion Rings

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Posted By Elaine Williamson on December 25, 2007 4:10 PM
I lived in the Ruidoso area for 28 years. Traveled through San Antonio a multitude of times. I never missed a chance to eat at the Owl Bar! I even scheduled my trips to and from Albuquerque around the Owl Bar's serving hours.

The green chili cheeseburger is the very best. I have it every time I go. And the pinto beans are also great. I have tried burger restaurants in practically all the states of the union but still find the Owl burger the best! It's just the right size for a flavor burst but not so big that it overwhelms the delicate balance between the New Mexican green chilies and the cheese. The heat from the chilies can make you sweat, but nothing tastes quite like it. They serve it atop a napkin on a saucer just as the picture shows.
0 star rating
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