Not-so Fabulous 50s

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Review: Fresh, not frozen should be its mantra

By The Staff

Sometimes a burger and fries just sounds good. But as just about every Los Alamos resident knows, the choices here are kind of limited, so frequenting the same restaurants can be a bit tiresome after a while. 

Having heard mixed reviews about the Fabulous 50s Diner, this diner was reluctant to try it. Some seemed to like it, others did not. It’s kind of hard to bring yourself to go to a new place, knowing you might like it. Or you might hate it. Either way, it was given a shot on a rainy Sunday afternoon.

Located behind the Hill Diner in the American Legion building, the place is pretty easy to find. Just look for the white Kaleidoscoops school bus parked outside. As you walk in, the walls are covered with flyers announcing specials. It’s a seat-yourself kind of place, so there’s no need to wait for a hostess. 

The dining area is large, with several tables available and a big-screen TV in the corner, to entertain patrons as they eat. Old Chevrolet posters grace the walls, as do others, announcing items that can be ordered. There is an ice cream counter to one side of the dining area that offers a wide variety of flavors. The décor is a bit tacky, it’s easy to envision boys in letterman sweaters and girls in poodle skirts stopping in for a milkshake after school.

The menu is huge and can take a while to peruse. The diner offers everything from barbecue to burgers, fish ’n chips and even some New Mexican dishes. The menu boasts steak burgers, so of course, that was a must-try. They also offer chile cheese fries, rings or tots. There are add-ons at $1 each, which include cheese, bacon, batter-fried jalapeños or jalitos, green chile, Texas chile, roasted bell peppers and onions or sautéed mushrooms. Fries, etc., are sold a la carte, but you can make it a combo with drink and small regular fries, for $2.50 more. A basic steak burger will run $5.95 and is a ¼ lb. patty. They also offer veggie, turkey and salmon burgers. 

The choices are endless, so unless you know exactly what you want, looking at the menu could take a while. During the initial visit, the waitress was very patient and gave us enough time to make a decision before ordering. Finally, one double burger with regular fries, a Reuben with regular fries and a single patty steak burger with chile cheese fries were ordered, along with three sodas. When the waitress said they offered Coca-Cola in a bottle, it was assumed that she meant a glass bottle, so when she brought out a plastic bottle and a glass of ice, it was a bit disappointing.

Actually, the food was kind of disappointing as well. It looked good, initially — though the plate on which it was served was not appealing. Instead of a ceramic plate, the food was put on a plastic plate, which made it seem like we were dining in a cafeteria. The burgers do not come with any fixin’s. Instead, diners are encouraged to get lettuce, pickles, onions and condiments from the salad bar. The salad bar did not look very appealing. The lettuce looked a bit limp and the whole thing lacked the look of crisp, fresh vegetables that one comes to expect from a salad bar. 

Though the burger patty looked good — albeit kind of thin — the taste was nothing to write home about. For one, it was over-cooked, so it was dry. The mustard helped fix that problem, but not much. It tasted like a frozen patty and not exactly a good one, either. It was hard to believe it was a steak burger.

The chili cheese fries looked OK, but the chili suspiciously resembled that from a can. It also tasted like canned chili. Instead of grated cheese, the fries were topped with cheese sauce — think nachos at a football game and you get the picture. Those that like canned chili and cheese sauce, will probably enjoy this side, but if not, steer clear of ordering it.

The regular fries were crisp and had a good flavor. 

The Reuben looked alright, but it needed more Thousand Island dressing and less sauerkraut. It seemed to have more sauerkraut than corned beef. So much, in fact, that it was falling off the sandwich every time it was  picked up. The taste was OK. And as any Reuben lover knows, the Fabulous 50s Diner is one of two places in town that offers it.

Before leaving, a chocolate milkshake was ordered for dessert. That was the best part of the meal. It was made just right — not too thick, not too thin and full of chocolaty flavor, which was not overwhelming. Sometimes too much chocolate syrup is used and can just about leave one in a chocolate-induced coma, but that’s not the case at Kaleidoscoops.

The restaurant is under new ownership, but because this was the first trip there, it’s hard to say if it’s become better, worse or stayed the same. Another trip might be in order, to try some barbecue. 

All things considered, the food was just alright, but not worth the price. The Reuben make-it-a-combo was $10.45. The regular burger with American cheese was $6.95, the chili cheese fries were $4. The double burger with American cheese was $8.50. An order of large fries ran $3 and a bottled soda was $1.75. The grand total came to $40.18 with tax, before tip. Before tax, the regular chocolate shake was $3.95.

With the other burger choices available in Los Alamos, it’s hard to imagine that anyone would get a craving for a Fabulous 50s Diner burger. It’s one of those places that you happen upon or hear about and decide to try. Perhaps the other dishes have that “wow” factor, but it’s definitely not present in the burgers. The place has potential, but using frozen patties and canned chili isn’t going to make it a memorable meal.

 The restaurant also serves breakfast all day, everyday and is open from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. and 5-8 p.m. Monday through Friday. They are open from 8:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Sunday and is closed Saturday. In addition, they have a meeting room available for events and do catering. For a look at the menu, visit fab50sdiner.com.