In our quest to find the best burger in Tucson, Neighbor Roy & I once again left our respective haciendas nestled high in the foothills of the Tucson Mountains and ventured onto the desert flood plain below. Down there, Hohokam eked out a living along the Santa Cruz River a thousand years ago.
In the past several weeks, we have dined at several specialty burger places: Monkey Burger & Diablo Burger downtown; & Lindy’s on 4th Avenue. We can honestly tell you that there has been no eking on our part.
Most of you knew that at some point we would be making the trek to Dove Mountain to review the relatively new burger eatery at the Ritz Carlton.
The Ritz makes it so easy to poke fun at their pretentiousness. I mean, could they just call their establishment something simple, like “Ritz Burgers”? But noooo. They named it Cayton’s Burger Bistro at the Golf Club at Dove Mountain.
It’s no wonder most flatlanders think they would have to wear a tux and/or formal gown and bring a wheelbarrow full of cash just to get a burger & fries at the Ritz.
Just so you know, both Roy & I were dressed to the hilt in polo-shirts, casual shorts, & sandals. OK, to be perfectly honest, in homage to the upper class, Roy did wear black dress socks with his sandals. Roy’s such a slave to fashion!
When last we visited the Ritz, Roy & I “discovered” the most expensive (and perhaps the best) lunch in Tucson. Now, we loaded our pockets with credit cards and bravely entered Cayton’s Burger Bistro.
We noticed immediately that Caytons’ IS NOT a burger joint. Lindy’s on 4th is a burger joint. Monkey Burger is a burger joint. Cayton’s is more like an upscale salon or fine lounge. The art alone at Cayton’s is worth more than most middle-class Tucson homes.
We were seated as if we were royalty … Lord Roy & Count Jim have arrived. Make way. Didn’t receive quite that level of deference at Monkey Burger … or Lindy’s.
Once seated, we could relax and absorb the interior ambiance. We acquired a 3-ring binder that explained the various individual pieces of art. Seriously interesting, including the story of the restaurant’s namesake, Mr. Cayton, who was a real pioneer to these parts.
104 In The Shade & A Fire In The Fireplace
But imagine this. Just beyond the large windows that allowed us to enjoy the spectacular view of the patio and beyond, it’s 104 in the shade. And of course we’re about to dine in air-conditioned comfort. No matter. There’s a fire in the fireplace. Seriously! Hopefully, the only flames you’ll find at Diablo Burger, summer or winter, is in the grille.
Once we got over our amazement at the fire in the fireplace we quickly moved on to other considerations. The interior space is a pleasant mixture of subtle tones & textures of the American Southwest. The ceiling is tongue & grove hardwood like you might expect to see on the floor of a mere ordinary fine restaurant. Conversely, the floor is covered with large plush rugs. The full bar is a bit small, but serves as a glittering statement at one end of the long room. The lighting casts a soft, slightly amber glow over the whole place.
I should mention here that Cayton’s bar serves many foreign & domestic wines & beers. I was particularly pleased to see that we could have ordered beers brewed right here in Tucson from Dragoon, Nimbus, and Barrio breweries. Coming off the course on a hot day, these would border on perfection.
Samantha introduced herself as our waitress. The service staff at ANY Ritz is among the best in the world. The only place we’ve stayed that compares favorably is the Mena House on the Giza Plateau. This level of service is immediately noticeable and can be somewhat off-putting to those who are not used to The Best.
Samantha took our drink order: the usual … hot tea for Roy; iced tea for me. We we were not here to review beers. We reviewed the local breweries several months ago.
I asked Roy if he thought the view from any of the fine burger establishments we have so far reviewed compared favorably with the grand vista that was now before us. He recalled that our view from Monkey Burger downtown was the Ronstadt Transit Center accented with a few homeless souls wandering aimlessly about.
Now seated comfortably at Cayton’s, we were relishing the great expanse that is the Sonoran Desert. Immediately before us was the large patio (with fireplace unlit) that overlooks the first tee & vivid green fairway nestled in a thick saguaro forest. In the far distance we could see the mountains that surround Metropolitan Tucson. Witnessing sunrise & sunset from this vantage point must be an extraordinary desert experience.
Samantha returned with our drinks. My iced tea came in a tall carafe. Situated in the narrow neck of the carafe was an oversize shot glass filled with an amber liquid slightly darker than my tea. Samantha explained, “It’s a natural sweetener made from agave plants.” I tasted it. Roy tasted it. Sweet, but not sugary sweet. Quite delightful.
Even more conspicuous from my point of view was the accompanying lemon wedges. At every other burger place that we have visited, my order of iced tea came with one (1) lemon wedge. And if I wanted a refill, I’d have to flag down a waitress, and inevitably ask for an additional lemon.
Here at Cayton’s, four (4) lemon wedges were daintily clasped to the edge of a small cup. Now I would not have to rely on the staff to refill my iced tea. Nor would I have to ask for yet another slice of lemon. I know it’s a small matter, but I consider it very thoughtful.
Just A Burger-Burger, Please
Samantha explained the menu as if she had personally created it herself. She knew every nuance about every item. Unlike most of the burger places we had recently reviewed, Cayton’s has a lot of non-burger choices, such as soups ($8), Cobb & Caesar ($11-$14) salads; plus ahi tuna, BBQ pulled pork, and turkey sandwiches ($11-$12). Even quiche ($16) & pasta dishes ($18). As to burgers, we had numerous choices, including a Veggie “Greek Style”; crab; ahi tuna; turkey; & buffalo burger ($11-$14).
But Roy & I were here for just a burger-burger. Harkening back in recent time, Roy was thinking about the delicious blue cheese burger he had from the Dragoon Market & Cafe food truck at a wine festival. And more recently, the blue cheese burger he had enjoyed at Monkey Burger. So, by way of fair comparison, he ordered a “gourmet” Ritz burger (1/2 lb. patty) with blue cheese on a whole wheat bun … no bacon ($12).
I ordered a “gourmet” burger with pepperjack cheese, pecan wood smoked bacon, & sautéed mushrooms on a white egg bun. Regular mayo on the side ($12).
For sampling purposes, Roy ordered the sweet potato fries and I order their ‘sea salt dusted hand cut fries” ($5 each), with the implicit agreement that we would share.
A few minutes later a friendly-looking fellow in full, white chef attire arrived at our table. He introduced himself as Chef Michael Press. “ Welcome to Cayton’s, Mr. Gressinger. We’ve been expecting you.”
I can tell you that was a first. Seldom does the chef or management know that I dined at their establishment until a week or two later when I post my review on my Southern Arizona Guide blog. Now, here I was, caught in the act.
I asked Chef Michael how he knew. “ I read your blog,” he replied. We all had a good chuckle and then he turned a bit serious. “I know you often order your burgers with sautéed mushrooms. But today we have no mushrooms to sauté. However, if you’ll just give me a few extra minutes, I’ll run over to the Hotel and get some.” He looked terribly apologetic.
I told him that since he reads my dining reviews, he knows that I also like caramelized onions. “Forget the mushrooms, Michael,” I said, “caramelized onions will suffice nicely.”
“Are you sure? I’d be happy to go …” I knew that in his Ritz-embued pursuit of perfection, he would have gone to the extra trouble as a matter of course.
This “prior notice” explains why Samantha had earlier brought us a basket of Cayton’s “chili lime salted potato chips” that we had not ordered. Our chips came with two dips. One was a “ranch-like” dip with some extra seasoning. The other was similar to a French onion, but somehow better.
Both chips & dips were delicious. To the extent I have a quibble, the chips were so thin they crumbled when we dipped them. Nevertheless, it’s doubtful that you will ever taste better potato chips.
It wasn’t long before Samantha brought us our “gourmet” burgers & fries. Roy was several bites into his when I asked if his “gourmet” blue cheese burger was as delicious as Dragoon’s or Monkey Burger’s. “This is the best by far. The whole wheat bun is sumptuous; the tomato is very flavorful. And the patty with blue cheese … superb!”
Really? Coming from Roy, that’s quite the compliment because he really-really liked Dragoon’s and Monkey’s blue cheese burgers.
As to mine? Excellent! No complaints; not even a quibble. Cooked to perfection. Because Cayton’s does not use grass-fed-only beef, my patty was not as lean as my Diablo burger. Nor was it as greasy as my Lindy’s burger. Just right. “Gourmet” is a term loosely applied to many dishes that aren’t. This burger was, indeed, gourmet.
Generous portions of fries came in a square-ish, polished metal container. Both the regular and sweet potato fries were quite good. In truth, neither Roy nor I care all that much for sweet potato fries. A bit like eating candy. However, some folks tell me that these candy sticks go well with a burger. Whatever. I mean, at Lindy’s you can even get peanut butter on your burger. (Yuk!)
Samantha asked if we would like dessert. We protested in unison. “No please. Just bring the gurney and wheel us to our car.” We were stuffed. Our excellent burger experience was not even that expensive. In fact, payment was accomplished with only one credit card.
At the end of an exceptionally fine lunch, Samantha brought us each a half-cup of chocolate mint cookie milk shake with extra-wide-mouth straws. “I know you gentlemen told me that you are quite full, but this is for the road. We didn’t want you to leave without at least trying one of our regular shakes ($6).” The fact that she described our shake as “regular” reminds me that Cayton’s also offers “Adult Shakes”, such as “The Arnold Palmer”, concocted with Absolut Citron. Next time for sure.
Was Cayton’s the best burger in Tucson. Maybe. Perhaps. Could be. What I can tell you is that we will be back with lots of friends & family.
Some will argue that Cayton’s isn’t even in Tucson. In fact, if there is a downside to Cayton’s Burger Bistro, it’s the 40-minute drive from Downtown. But given the excellent dining experience we had there, that’s close enough for us.
Roy & I still have a couple more possible contenders to evaluate before we bestow the coveted title of “2013 Best Burger In Tucson. I’ll keep you posted.
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Cayton’s Burger Bistro
15000 N Secret Springs Dr, Marana
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