Chris Madrid, whose eponymous restaurant on Blanco Road at West Hollywood was a magnet for burger lovers throughout the city and beyond, died Sunday.
As the news started to spread across the city, people were pausing to share their favorite memories, whether it was of the legendary tostada burger or of the man himself.
The restaurant was closed, as it usually is on Sundays, but in the late afternoon, a handful of fans could be found standing across the street, watching the cars slowing down while the drivers asked for the few details available. TV crews could be seen filming spots, and someone had placed a bouquet of lilies in one of the doors.
The nearly deserted scene was far from the lively buzz that surrounds Chris Madrid’s when the restaurant is open. Lines snake through the restaurant and on out the door on a regular basis, as patrons gladly wait for a burger smothered in a magma flow of melted cheddar. Pico de gallo and salsa from the bar where you pick up the burgers was such a flavor enhancer that you have to wonder why these simplest of condiments haven’t been copied in burger joints around the city.
Even more impressive was the consistency with which the staff at Chris Madrid’s turned out their burgers, no matter how many people wandered through the door. The burger that was served there last week tasted the same as it was 10 years ago. Even the texture of the patty with its mottled surface was the same. And people in the restaurant business will tell you that such consistency is rare. It is what brought customers back time and time again over the restaurant’s 35-year history.
Is it any wonder the place defied trends and went on to win CitySearch’s Best Burger every year from 2000 to 2007? It has also been cited as readers’ and critics’ favorites in numerous other polls.
Postings on Facebook and Twitter were filled with memories of burgers magic. Many of Madrid’s fellow burger builders paused to offer condolences and prayers for the family. Local chef Jesse Perez grew up in San Antonio and recalled the numerous times he had visited the restaurant for a fat, juicy burger.
One of the drivers Sunday afternoon who had intended to get a burger was initially surprised to find it closed. When someone informed him that it was closed because of the owner’s death, he was further surprised to learn that there really had been a Chris Madrid. It was not some made up name, like Betty Crocker.
The real Chris Madrid was not an attention grabber in need of pushing his name or his burger to the public. When national publications wrote him up, it was because a customer had blissed out on an order of Macho Nachos or a Flaming Jalapeño burger. As the restaurant’s website says, his philosophy was simple: “Cook each item as if you were cooking it for a friend.” That earned him plenty of friends indeed.
Madrid also earned friends from being one himself. Diana Barrios-Treviño talked about how her husband, Roland, essentially grew up with Chris, who had been a boyhood friend of Roland’s older brother and the older boys would let the younger one tag along.
Those who have come to know and love the restaurant in recent years, might not have met Madrid. He had pulled back from his work at the restaurant to take care of his parents, several people said Sunday. In the end, that was what was most important to him, and it is what those who knew him will remember about him.