A tip of the hat to Laura Anair, waitress and blue-ribbon pie-baker down at the Red Rock Café, for recommending Bun Huggers in Flagstaff. She was abashed to suggest it because it is a self-consciously disheveled dive that seems not to have changed in decades; and its name is a little embarrassing to say. But this extremely colorful joint just off Historic Route 66 delivers surprisingly good eats.
Its heart and soul is a mesquite-fired grill on which meats are cooked. Hamburgers are the main attraction – cooked through, glistening and crusty-edged, perfumed by smoke. They are not extraordinary burgers as you get them, with or without cheese on a nice grill-toasted bun. There are juicier patties in town (at Diablo Burger). But near the grill is a large buffet of condiments where customers are free to dress them to the nines with lettuce, tomato slices, relish, mustard, ketchup, pickles, jalapeno chips, chopped onions, and mayonnaise. That’s the fun part of burger eating here.
Better than the burger are Bun Hugger’s steak sandwiches. Because you pay $10, including a side dish, you don’t expect a prime cut; but I was happily surprised. Unlike the burgers, these sirloins are cooked to order; and while they aren’t pillow-thick, they do have enough substance that degree of doneness is an issue; I ordered medium-rare, and that is what I got: warm and pink in the middle, crusty around the edges, surprisingly tender and tasty. Real beef flavor, for sure! Several variations of steak sandwich are available, with mushrooms, peppers, onions, etc. I recommend one billed as the Sonoran Steak, which includes grilled onions and pepper jack cheese plus a whole roasted chile pepper that adds a halo of gentle geothermal energy heat to the package.
Long a favorite of Northern Arizona University Students, Bun Huggers sports fraternity house décor, its walls covered with a discordant hodge-podge of road signs, old tools, neon, and flea market finds, its wooden booths carved with years’ worth of graffiti.