Twisters Burgers and Burritos, a New Mexico-to-Colorado transplant, offers red- and green-chile enthusiasts a chance to get their spicy sauce fixes, with red-draped enchiladas and green-smothered cheeseburgers. But as I dug into a burger and a double-smothered burrito at the Aurora location, it quickly became clear that this Twisters, at least, has turned too far from the original recipes, and is in dire need of red and green rehab -- stat.
The chain began as an offshoot of Albuquerque's popular Hurricane's Café and Drive-in, which Greg Desmarais and Gary Hines opened in 1987. The location of the first Hurricane's had started out as Frank's, a 1950s cruising hangout, and Hurricane's kept the carhops and the '50s feel as it began expanding the chain. But when Hurricane's passed the seven-store mark, Hines and Desmarais decided to part ways. Hines partnered with Ray Ubieta on a new concept, Twisters, which hit the ground in 1997; today the chain has nineteen stores, four of which are located in Colorado.
I came across the Twisters at 1750 South Buckley Road in Aurora while doing some much-loathed house-hunting, and I was glad as hell to see one of my Albuquerque fast-casual faves. Twisters is appreciated if not unique in Albuquerque, which is market-crammed with sit-down, fast-food and fast-casual restaurants all serving traditional New Mexican tacos, burritos, enchiladas, Indian tacos and the all-important breakfast burritos (if you think Coloradans take their breakfast burritos seriously, spend some time in New Mexico, where the a.m. repast has an even more exalted status), all filled and topped with house-made, fiery red and scorching green chile sauces.
I spent five years in Albuquerque during college, and I grew fond of Twisters as an above-average stop for cheap, abundant portions and a medium-thick, fruity, medium-hot green chile and a brick-red, medium-thick, medium-spicy red chile that was particularly well-seasoned with garlic. But while each location was working off the same recipe, they all made the sauces slightly differently.
Too differently, sometimes. I hit the Aurora location in time for lunch, and it looked typical of every other Twisters in the chain: a small, compact, well-scrubbed dining room; a few umbrella-covered patio tables; an ordering area at the counter, with a spot set up for a lot of carryout orders. Feeling nostalgic as well as hungry, I ordered up a pound-plus-sized burrito, as well as a chicken burrito with sour cream, lettuce, tomato and Christmas-style red and green chile; a green chile cheeseburger; fried apple bites; a side of sopas; a two-taco platter with rice and beans and a large Coke for $25.16. That's another thing I've missed about Twisters: the prices.
My order took about fifteen minutes, and I grabbed a seat so I could do justice to the burrito. The huge, overstuffed prize looked the same as I remembered, but something was definitely wrong: I poked around the plate, trying bites from different sections, and it finally hit me that the chile sauces weren't quite right. The red had the same appearance I recalled, but it was conspicuously lacking flavor, and there was virtually no heat. The green sauce was watery, mild and flavorless.
So I moved on to the burger, which was plump and juicy. But rather than the blistering heat that sets a green chile burger apart, this green chile as barely warm enough to notice. I pushed that aside, too.
The sopapillas at Twisters are non-traditional, meaning they aren't the ballooning fried dough puffs, but rather more like flat, fried bread coated with cinnamon-sugar. These were fine but for the side of what I could've sworn was maple syrup in a plastic cup. I get that honey can get expensive, but this was not an acceptable substitute. The apple bites were new to me -- miniature fried dough pillows filled with hot apple goo -- and were a bit heavy on the cinna-sugar coating, but otherwise good.
I investigated the taco platter next, and was relieved to find that the seasoned ground beef tacos were just as delicious as they were in my memories. Twisters does a particularly good job putting effort into the sides: The whole pinto beans were soft and well-seasoned, and the rice was perky with tomato, cumin and jalapeno spice -- spicier than both the signature chile sauces.
Since those sauces seemed so unusual for a Twisters, I asked the manager if the Aurora spot -- and/or the other Colorado locations -- used different recipes. He was a nice guy, and candid. He confirmed that the Colorado locations use the original New Mexico recipes, but admitted that this store had some issues with cooks not always being consistent during prep. They're working on uniformity, he added, as cooks weren't supposed to get all creative with the company's signature sauces. I told him I was disappointed but supportive, because at least management was aware of the issues and addressing them.
I will stop by this Twisters again in a month or two to see if the sauces have improved. I would love nothing more than to make my visits to this Albuquerque outpost more frequent, and having the red and green brought up to company specifications would not only ensure my loyalty, but that of other Colorado customers eager for heat -- and consistency.