When I saw the Quesadilla Burger on the menu at Marinas Mexican Restaurant & Bar in League City last year, I promised myself I'd come back to try it someday.
I was in the mood for enchiladas right then (they turned out to be rather good ones), but the idea of wrapping a burger patty in a flour tortilla with cheese and pico de gallo intrigued me. How would the packaging work out, I wondered; and how could you balance the ingredients to get a quesadilla effect?
I wanted to see whether this carefully landscaped, upscale suburban Mexican spot could pull it off. The menu said lots of the right things, the extensive margarita menu looked semi-serious (well, except for the Redneck Margarita with a Big Red soda inverted into it), and diners were cautioned that they'd have to wait for their burger to be "made by hand."
So I went back to investigate recently. Here's how it went.
*PRICE: $7 even for the Quesadilla Burger with seasoned fries.
*ORDERING: table service only. A host will seat you in the dining room, in the up-front bar or on the patio.
*ARCHITECTURE: Salad stuff on the bottom. On a big griddle-singed flour tortilla goes a light gilding of grated yellow and white cheese, followed by a layer of shredded iceberg and a scattering of pico de gallo. Then comes the 1/2-inch ground-beef patty, followed by a final light mesh of grated cheese.
*QUALITY: The ground-beef patty was perfectly decent, but it had been griddled well past the requested medium-rare stage. The sturdy flour tortilla package actually held together (you could eat the burger by hand), but where it was folded together in layers to make a roundish shape, the effect was too damp and doughy to be enjoyable. I ended up pulling those clumps off, which made the sandwich somewhat harder to handle.
My problem was not so much with the overcooked meat or the clumpy parts of the tortilla package as it was with the listless seasoning of the sandwich. There wasn't enough cheese to make for a lush, savory quesadilla effect; nor was the pico de gallo lively enough or plentiful enough to carry the day. I compensated by spooning on lots of red table salsa, but the results, while oomphier, still didn't have the satisfying harmony of a whole that's greater than the sum of its parts.
I couldn't help but compare the Quesadilla Burger unfavorably to the exuberant Mexican-themed Olé Burger at Pena's Donut Heaven in westernmost Pearland, in which chile con queso, pico de gallo, pickled jalapeños and chipotle mayo conspire to rock your burger world.
*OOZE RATING: Fair. The patty managed a drip or two despite being cooked close to well done.
*GRADE: C with the addition of salsa; C-minus without.
*BONUS POINTS: Super-nice service and a chance to custom-order a margarita shaken and served straight up. (Here, that's known as a "Mexican martin.") Just be sure to specify that you want lots of fresh lime juice, because the general style here skews heavily toward the sweet.
*MINUS POINTS: Skinny seasoned fries from a freezer bag, serviceable enough but ultimately just placeholders. I suppose it is unrealistic to hope that a Mexican restaurant would fresh-cut their fries, but hey, I'm a dreamer.
*LOCAL COLOR: The big white cockatoos in a big white cage at the door to Marinas are always a mandatory stop-and-gaze for me. Surrounded by colorful potted plants, the birds seem like the gatekeepers to a more exotic world than the suburban housing developments that march across the coastal prairie, even unto the horizon, southwest of the Gulf Freeway. The residents flock to the bar for the weekly drink specials, advertised by changing jokes on a portable trailer sign. The birds are not amused.
Marinas Mexican Restaurant & Bar, 3500 West Main Street, League City. 281-338-1888. L&D Sunday — Thursday 11 a.m. — 9 p.m.; Friday & Saturday 11 a.m. — 11 p.m.