The history of concha—Mexican sweet bread topped with a cookie crust—dates back to colonial times. When the Spanish arrived in the 1500s, they brought wheat, which supplemented the corn, squash, and beans that made up the bulk of the indigenous diet. By the seventeenth century, French bakers who migrated to Mexico introduced brioche to the local cuisine, and pan dulce spread in popularity. The concha became perhaps the most iconic of the sweet breads, with its seashell-like pattern making it a visual, as well as a culinary, treat.
The history of the Concha Burger, meanwhile, is much more recent. In 2016, two brothers from McAllen—Bobby and Adrian Cruz, who worked at the now-defunct restaurant the Orchard Lounge—had a tray of concha and some time to kill. Bored, they made a burger and used the pastry as the bun. The owner of the restaurant flipped when he saw the burger, which featured not just the unique bun but a patty made of beef, chorizo, and mushrooms, and toppings including bacon, egg, chipotle mayonnaise, and melted cheese. They entered their creation into the James Beard Foundation’s Blended Burger Project, and scored themselves a win.
Their innovation exists all over the internet now. (The original recipe can be found on the Beard Foundation’s website.) It also exists in El Paso, where the city’s AAA Minor League baseball team, the Chihuahuas, are now offering it up in their stadium.
Absurd baseball stadium food is, of course, a fad these days—and Texas gets into it more than most places, with State Fair–esque creations giving fans something to gorge themselves on for all nine innings. Minor league ballparks tend to stay on the conservative side, though, if only because prices are usually lower, and so too are the budgets for Rangers-like monstrosities. The Concha Burger is a nice compromise—burger patties are cheap, concha are cheap, and it still creates that mix of tantalizing curiosity and gut-level revulsion that all of the best ballpark foods require.
Putting hamburger patties between breads that were never intended for such a purpose has been trendy in recent years. The Concha Burger is, in some ways, just a regional variation of a trend that began in the mid-aughts, as the “Luther Burger”—named for singer Luther Vandross, for some reason—began making the rounds with its hamburger patty sandwiched between two Krispy Kreme donuts. The same year the Concha Burger debuted in McAllen, Burger King in Israel began selling the SufganiKing, a burger made with the jelly-filled pastry sufganiyah. In South Korea, KFC took it even further, eschewing bread altogether by selling the “Zinger Double Down,” a hamburger that used two pieces of fried chicken breast as the bun.
All of that makes the Concha Burger seem relatively tame, which speaks to the nature of the burger arms race that’s going on in the more gluttonous corners of the food world. It also makes it seem likely that, while the Cruz Brothers may have been the Concha Burger chefs behind the concept’s most acclaimed incarnation, they probably aren’t the first people to think of using the sweet bread as a burger bun. (In fact, San Antonio’s now-defunct Old Main Association had a similar burger, with pecan aioli and cheddar cheese, on its menu in 2015.) The Chihuahuas’ chefs had a lot of opportunity to draw inspiration, in other words—and when it comes to putting a slab of ground beef between bread-like foodstuffs, inspiration never really seems to be in short supply.