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Burgers and fries just like mom used to make. Better, if mom wasn't much of a cook.

That's what diners can find at Mama Burger, located at 112 E. Route 66, next to Just Wireless.

"I think it reminds them of a burger either they would make at home for themselves or someone dear to them would make for them," said Bernadette Chavez, who owns Mama Burger. She and her husband also own Fratelli's.

The restaurant is riding high. It celebrated its one-year anniversary last month and its burgers have been compared in Internet circles to the famous and well-loved In-N-Out burger.

Chavez calls the restaurant's burgers "In-N-Out Flagstaff style."

The menu is simple: A variety of burgers, regular or Cajun fries, milkshakes and ice cream sundaes.

"That way we can put out quality," Chavez said.

Among the most popular menu items are the double with bacon and the "Manimal," a burger topped with fries. Carb-conscious patrons can order their burger "protein-style" -- wrapped in a lettuce leaf instead of sandwiched between a bun.

All the burgers are made from fresh ground chuck and topped with "nothing but fresh vegetables." Fries are handcut every day.

"There's just a lot of love that goes into them," she said. "Everything's just made with love."

Chavez comes by that love honestly. She got her start in the kitchen at an early age, learning the kitchen basics from her mother, Josephine. She started out chopping onions.

She said her mother told her, "If you don't know how to do the basic, simple tasks in cooking, you'll never learn how to put the entire meal together."

Now she finds herself teaching her own daughters, ages 8 and 13, what her mother taught her.

"I think there's something really beautiful in that, just passing on your skills," she said.

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She hasn't always been in the restaurant biz (she graduated from Northern Arizona University with a criminal justice degree and worked as a probation officer for 5 1/2 years), but Chavez is happy to demonstrate her cooking skills to hungry Flagstaff diners at Mama Burger.

She said she loves cooking and finds it very rewarding: "You're handing them something you've made and they're as pleased as pie with it."

Many people turn out to devour proof of Chavez's skill in the kitchen -- especially in the summertime, when the line at the counter is out the door. Not too shabby for a place that hasn't done much advertising.

"That's what I think is so amazing about how far we've come," she said. "The word has definitely gotten out."

Open until 3 a.m. Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, Mama Burger caters to the late-night college crowd. There are also lots of regular customers. "I like the idea of knowing them by name and just knowing what they want," Chavez said.

Chavez said some customers have asked if the restaurant plans to expand its menu, perhaps with a chicken sandwich or onion rings. But she doesn't see that happening.

"Simplicity is a good thing."

That's especially true when it's as delicious as the food at Mama Burger.


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