Burgers Off the Beaten Path: Speedy Burger, Plausible Inventor of the Hamburguesa Mexicana
Whoosh-zing. My order is written on a paper ticket and fastened into a large, metal binder clip that's suspended from a tiny zip line in Speedy Burger's kitchen. The smiling teenager behind the counter flings it back toward the line cooks, where it whips through the air over a soda fountain before clanging to a stop above the grill.
Photos by Katharine Shilcutt A red, white and green flag designates the hamburguesa mexicana.
Whoosh-zing. Whoosh-zing. You can hear order after order relayed this way during a busy lunch hour at the Lindale Park restaurant, which sells tortas and burgers with equal frequency (and is technically in North Lindale, but who's counting?).
"This is how I get my exercise," laughs the girl behind the counter as she clips another order to the zip line and sends it zooming away. "One arm's a lot stronger than the other, though," she says, like when you scoop ice cream for a summer and your forearm Hulks out after the first month.
Speedy's claim to fame in this heavily Hispanic neighborhood is its hamburguesa mexicana, which earned the joint a spot on Texas Monthly's list of the 50 best hamburgers in Texas back in 2009. (The hamburguesa mexicana is not to be confused with the far different, far weirder Mexican hamburger, the famous Denver-created dish which typifies Colorado's...interesting...approach to Mexican food.)
It's tough to miss the bright red building, which is visible from Loop 610.
Interestingly, although the hamburguesa mexicana is somewhat ubiquitous in Houston -- it's my burger of choice at Taqueria Taconmadre, another entry on our ongoing Burgers Off the Beaten Path list -- owner Nancy claims to have invented the burger herself in 1999. Calls to the restaurant to explore this fascinating claim further were unanswered, but Speedy Burger's website tells the story this way:
Always smiling and ready to serve, Nancy and her husband earned the respect of her parents and were able to get the opportunity of owning this burger staple in the Houston cuisine. As the original inventor of La Hamburguesa Mexicana, while under her parents operation of Speedy Burger; this burger has become Speedy's signature burger.
I can recall eating hamburguesas mexicanas for years in Houston, although last week was my first visit to Speedy Burger, which is approaching 50 years old. I'd honestly never given much though to the creation mythology behind a Mexican hamburger -- I just figured someone somewhere along the line had fused a torta and a burger together because they happened to have the ingredients on hand and got hungry. I relished the idea that I'd inadvertently stumbled upon the birthplace of a dish I'd always taken somewhat for granted.
Speedy stocks a wide selection of hot sauces for your hamburguesa mexicana.
Interested to know more, I asked famous etymologist and Austin resident Barry Popik for some background into the phrase "hamburguesa mexicana." Popik, who's also a bit of a foodie, is the man responsible for chasing down the etymological origins of such phrases as "hot dog" and is a consulting editor for the Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America.
Despite a thorough knowledge of Texas culinary etymology, Popik hit a dead end too.
"I couldn't find any easy answers on this one," he told me after a few days of researching, "but I'll keep looking." Popik directed me to an entry for a "Hot Hamburger" that was as close as he could find to the elusive hamburguesa mexicana.
This burger was born in Del Rio and, says, Popik, "it might be a lead." You can see a connection between the two in the ham that's incorporated into the actual hamburger, but that's where the similarities end. A "Hot Hamburger" -- which, by the way, sounds delicious -- features a "Mexican pâté" that pairs ground beef with cubed ham, celery, Cheddar cheese, an onion, an apple and more, all of which are thrown into meat grinder with some hot sauce.