JewBoy Burgers unite cultures

Mo Pittle blends Jewish and Mexican cuisine in his mashed burgers.

As a guest of Eat cheap, I’ve eaten burgers all over the country and I guess you can tell I’ve tasted them all. II’m not a meat-on-meat burger type, but I made an exception for Jew Boy Burgers’ Goyim: a patty topped with Swisdom homemade cheese, bacon and pastrami. Pastrami burgers are a big deal at old-school burger joints in Los Angeles. They are a little less common in Austin, where JewBoy Burgers is located. I had the impression of trying because of the cut used: the navel of beef. It’s the same cut used by Langer’s, Los Angeles’s legendary Jewish deli. JewBoy Burgers is not playing.

So what’s the name: JewBoy? If you’re like me, you may have found it a little creepy. When I posted a burger joint post on Instagram, I found myself asking questions about what the name implied. II asked friends of the Jewish faith how they feel about it. Some feel more uncomfortable with the non-kosher menu than with the name; others scratched their heads a little and attributed it to a climate that disavows political correctness. The story behind the name is important and adds to the satisfaction of taking down one of the destroyed cargoes Hamburger JewBoy serves.

JewBoy Burgers is about Mo Pittle, an El Paso boy who loves burgers enough to open a food truck in his forties and become a chef through a trial by fire. If he meets Pittle in person, you might not be surprised to find that he played football in high school. At 5 feet 10 inches 230 pounds, he claims to be the only Jewish boy on the Coronado High School team. He grew up mainly among the Latins and “Jewish boy” was the term he was referring to.

When I ask him about the optics of calling a JewBoy restaurant, Pittle enlightens me with a bit of Texas history: Kinky Friedman, a former governor candidate, was also a musician who headlined a band called Texas Jewboys. Friedman coined the name to reflect his identity as a Texan and a Jew, in other words, a Jewish cowboy.. For Pittle, JewBoy ”translates to Hebrew cholo. For Pittle, JewBoy ”means growing up as a Jew in El Paso in the 70s and 80s. I’m not authorizing people to be anti-Semitic, ”says Pittle. “You cannot use this term in a derogatory way. When you have a narrative and a story worth telling, do it. This is mine.”

Though he grew up in a Jewish family, Pittle was surrounded by Mexican food thanks to El Paso’s sizable Mexican-majority community. Many of his friends’ parents never spoke English. Assimilation moves slower at the border, “Pittle muses. Like a boy raised in a family talking about whats for dinner at breakfast, Mexican culture would influence what landed on his plate. She soon found herself incorporating Mexican food and Jewish food into her culinary routines.

Pittle opened JewBoy Burgers at 5111 Airport Boulevard in 2020 after about four years of operation as a food truck. The new place is decorated with lucha libre décor, a testament to El Paso and its smashed burger. Everyone she makes starts with a 6-ounce patty and a Martins potato roll. From there you have the Texas influence with its dressing choices of mustard, pickles and onions. You can get a taste of its Jewish heritage in the Yenta, a hamburger topped with a fried latke, the potato pancake synonymous with Hanukkah festivities. And burgers like Oy Vay Guey scream El Paso’s border cuisine with a green Hatch pepper in the mix.

JewBoy offers an Oy Vay Guey, Yenta and Goyim burger.

The Latke and Hatch chile burgers might seem too far apart to share the same menu. But consider the almighty onion as a connector. The edible bulb is indelible to Jewish and Mexican cuisine as an affordable seasoning item. For much of our history, salt has been expensive, so understanding how to season foods with cheap ingredients has been a big part of Jewish and Mexican cookbooks. Pittle’s burgers recognize this cultural cross-pollination.

“Some of the best burgers I’ve ever eaten come from Mexican restaurants,” says Pittle. Rosco’s Burger Inn in El Paso may be his biggest influence, where ground beef and onions are mashed together for each burger patty. Get out of their onion smell, ”laughs Pittle.

Before founding JewBoy, Pittle worked in advertising. He also helped in the Beto O’Rourke City Council campaign in El Paso. Pittle has traveled the country and his burger list includes the legendary Apple Pan in Los Angeles, The Vortex in Atlanta, Bens Chili Bowl in the District of Columbia, Crown Burgers in Salt Lake City, Vienna Inn in Fairfax, Virginia, and GM Steakhouse in Austin.

My starting point from his burger list is his appeal for timeless classic-style burgers as opposed to the chef-led bespoke burgers that have become trendy over the past couple of decades. Humble, hearty, and delicious is the burger he dreams of.

While his love of burgers is indisputable, Pittle would question anyone who calls him a chef. I do not agree. He has the war stories to tell you how difficult it is to manage a food truck. He not only survived those early years, but he thrived. Pittle has now made the leap to not one but two traditional restaurants: JewBoy Burgers and JewBoy Sub Shop. His success is attributed to an insatiable need to tell the story of who you are through food. I told you there was a lot behind the name.