After 15 years in business, Mt Albert’s beloved Burger Queen is shutting down next month. Loyal subject Kate Newton reports.
The small cluster of shops at the intersection of Owairaka Ave and Mt Albert Rd has gone through a gentle renaissance since I moved to the border of Sandringham and Mt Albert nearly four years ago.
It started with the arrival of L’Oeuf - an actual, fancy, Metro-Top-50-tick-of-approval cafe, festooned with trailing plants and art.
Then in the vacant shop next door L’Oeuf’s owners opened Chinoiserie, a night-time twin to the cafe, so now the locals, along with their dogs and babies and bicycles, spill out onto the footpath morning and night.
One more shop down, a sushi shop has now replaced a short-lived bakery.
But venture just across the road, and you’ll find an older, homelier set.
First you pass AJ’s Food Bar, home to New Zealand’s most horrifying wall mural - but that’s a story for another time - and then the superette, covered in Tip Top signs and peeling magazine posters.
Keep going, past the Taro Leaf Polynesian Cafe, past the liquor store, and finally, a hundred metres or so past that, you get to Burger Queen.
What I loved first was the sign on the roof. Featuring an anthropomorphised painting of the Burger Queen, complete with tiny crown perched on her top bun, it proclaims: "Taste it...you will like it". There’s an authoritarian, slightly threatening emphasis on the "will".
A slightly lopsided rendition of the Queen has also been hand-painted onto the side of the stucco building, which is otherwise painted a vomity sort of peach.
I can’t remember who visited first, but we tasted it, we did like it, and so we swore fealty. “How many times do you think we went there?” I messaged my old flatmate this week. “Millions,” she said. “Easily.”
The inside of Burger Queen is even more idiosyncratic than the exterior. Someone has painted fake bricks on one wall that look real if you kind of squint and tilt your head sideways and don’t get too close.
Another wall is covered in sketches and messages and tags, scrawled on bits of paper and then tacked to the noticeboard, because everyone loves the Queen and would never deface her. “CRIPS DONT LIE WE MULTIPLY” is pinned between children’s drawings.
The menu is vast but we’ve stuck to a few favourites: cheeseburger with chips (such salty, fluffy chips) and potato fritters, or the chicken and avocado burger.
One flatmate can’t go there without bringing back a paper bag full of bite-size banana fritters, which are crispy on the outside and molten in the middle. She keeps a pre-mixed jar of cinnamon sugar in the pantry especially for them.
We’ve never been brave or hungry enough to order "The Beast", a $15 monstrosity that is too big for a regular burger bag and is instead placed on a paper plate and wrapped holus-bolus in tinfoil.
They’re fish and chip shop burgers - beetroot is standard and you can still get a fried egg if you want - but they’re the very best of their kind.
One day a few weeks ago we headed down there to find a neat handwritten sign on the counter, informing customers that Burger Queen’s lease was up and her doors would close for the last time in August.
“We would like to thank everyone for enjoying our burgers and supporting our business for the past 15 years.
“Kind regards to all of you.”
I had to tell the ex-flatmate overseas. My bad news was the first message she got when she woke up one morning: “Omg what. Noooooo.”
“RIP QUEEN OF OUR HEARTS AND THE WAY TO THEM VIA OUR STOMACHS,” another former flatmate wailed.
She also took umbrage at someone else’s suggestion that we try to buy the sign: “TOO SOON.”
The Queen will take some secrets to her grave. We’ll never find out just why the proprietor was weighing every can of fizzy drink in the place on a set of electronic scales one afternoon.
Maybe another burger joint - possibly trendier, definitely more expensive - will rise in her place.
For the few weeks we have left though, long live the Queen.