For Texans, it’s not hard to conjure an image of Mexican food traditions crossing the border north. For some that means Tex-Mex, though that cuisine comes with a degree of adaptation to the new surroundings. It would make sense that the opposite would be true as well: American food traditions crossing south into Mexico. Just look at the Texas barbecue scene in Monterrey, like ’ or ó. But what about when an American food tradition crosses into Mexico, is adapted to native tastes, and then crosses back? It might not seem obvious, but that kind culinary cross-pollination is increasingly happening. Look at Cuarto De Kilo, a Mexican burger chain that recently set up shop in Helotes, about a half-hour northwest of downtown San Antonio.
What first drew me to wasn’t that it is the biggest burger chain in Mexico, with 31 locations, to break into the U.S. market, according to co-founder Alvaro Aguilar. Instead, I was captivated by a lit by Alex Serna. The video features a spinning grill with hamburgers being seared over glowing orange embers. As a backyard grilling enthusiast, I was blown away. I had never seen this type of grill.
There’s more to Cuarto de Kilo’s burgers than just how they’re cooked. “We Mexicans believe the patty has to have its own flavor,” Aguilar says, “so we mix the ground beef with salt, pepper, parsley, and mustard.” That’s how his mom made it, and she isn’t alone.
Luis “Beto” Robledo runs Austin-based , a food truck that serves Mexico City street-style tacos. Last week, Robledo opened a second truck on the same property, , offering Mexican smashed burgers. He spent some time in Mexico researching the burger scene for his concept. Though his burgers at Cuantas Hamburguesas don’t employ Cuarto de Kilo’s method, Robledo has encountered their technique of seasoning burger patties. “We would visit friends and family in the city of Saltillo, Coahuila, and there is a tradition of mixing seasonings like herbs, mustard, salt, and pepper into the meat,” Robledo says. “It keeps the meat moist.” It seems Mexican-style burgers are everywhere these days. I’ve had three different kinds in the last couple weeks—and at Tex-Mex restaurants in San Angelo last year—but Cuarto de Kilo is the only bona fide burger style to originate from Mexico.
There are four burgers on the menu at Cuarto de Kilo and a “secret menu” with the Bestia burger ($12.99). Each burger features a quarter-kilogram patty, which weighs over a half pound and explains the name. The Classic Cuarto ($8.99) comes with familiar toppings like ketchup, mustard, homemade mayo, lettuce, tomato, and onion. Additional versions introduce cheese and bacon. The Bestia subs in pepper jack cheese, adds bacon, and chooses spicy mayonnaise-based sauce.
The Classic w/ Guac and Cheese is the most interesting of the bunch. Guacamole made in-house is the prominent topping, of course. Tomato, onion, and tortilla chips, which are also made in-house, make up the rest of the toppings. Lettuce and all the wet condiments are smartly removed. Not only does this keep the burger from becoming a slip-and-slide mess but it also allows the smoke from the grill and the deeply seasoned patty to shine.
The most unique thing about this burger is that the patty hit me with an intense cured-meat flavor profile. This is developed from the seasonings mixed into the meat and the intense aromas from the smoke of the mesquite. It’s a burger that veers slightly into a sausage-flavor profile but still hangs on to being a beef burger.
The burgers are cooked through but remain juicy. This is due to a smart ratio of their custom-blend ground chuck—75/25 beef to fat. Each burger is served on a large sesame seed bun from an artisanal bakery in Kyle that Aguilar wants to keep secret.
The place was about half full during the lunch rush on a weekday, but there was a table of four coworkers who had racked up three visits since the store opened in late May. “My goal is for San Antonio to know about us,” manager Samantha Rosenthal says. “We want to serve a burger worth taking a drive for.”
I drove to Helotes from Austin—about two hours one way—and I certainly think the burger is worth it. But my journey is nothing compared to Aguilar’s. He brought his love for his mom’s backyard burgers 800 miles north. “This is a nostalgic burger that reminds me of my childhood,” Aguilar shares, as he takes a bite.
Cuarto de Kilo is located at 12411 Bandera Road, Helotes. 210-263-9228; cuartodekilo.us