Marco Vazquez smiles. He’s just finished plating a steaming double cheeseburger inside a plastic basket, sent it out to the quiet dining room, and he mentions that Flaming Burger is family-owned. It took a question or two later to determine that Vazquez, who calls himself the cook, is part of the family that has owned the place for nearly a decade.
“I just don’t like to ... I like to be the cook,” he says, just above a whisper.
Vazquez’s burger joint stands in the windy back lot behind a Comerica Bank and a 24-hour Chevron station. It’s in a static ocean of concrete and beige. His restaurant’s sign looks small against the wide, tall building. A vertical sign, the word "open" in faded paint, looks like it's been there through seven or eight businesses. Inside, Flaming Burger is a surprisingly massive room with ceilings as high as a gym. One mustard-colored wall has Christmas lights and Christmas garland running along the top. A wall-sized menu faces the room, where you order and pay. Vazquez says that he bought the place he could afford, in the neighborhood he could afford.
On a recent visit, Vazquez is behind the flat top, seething smoke from the flat top wrapping around him as he flips the patties. It's where he likes to be, and he drops a handful of shredded cheese over the burger.
The Marco is a crown of Monterey Jack melted between two thin, smashed-into-the-griddle burgers. Vazquez seasons each fresh patty with a blend that he doesn’t want to give away. Shredded lettuce, jalapeno coins, crinkle-cut dill pickles, tomato and thin bacon hang under the patty. It’s how he used to make his own burgers before he owned his own place.
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The Marco is a giant, a true two-hander with a wheel-sized, poppy seed bun. There’s ketchup sweetness and a molten flow of cheese. A mustard-tang and a pickled flavor from the jalapeno cut away at the richness. Marco’s cheeseburger is, in other words, a comforting little gem in the concrete ocean of Lochwood’s strip mall. You’ll need both elbows propped on the table and extra paper towels.
Another Vazquez treat is his bacon-wrapped hot dog, a Mexican street delicacy of the highest order and deliciousness, complete with mayonnaise, ketchup, mustard and pico de gallo. On this visit, it’s Valentine’s Day, which makes the view of the elderly couple devouring cheeseburgers together extra beautiful. The hushed hiss of the flat top sounds throughout lunch.
“We struggled for quite a while,” he says. “It’s hard.” He pauses, taking in his own statement. “But, you know, we survive. We’re still here.”
Flaming Burger, 11255 Garland Road (Lochwood)