A shout-out today to Jeni who writes the fun mirror blog sites "Like A Fish Out of Fargo" and "An Herbalist Eats". Jeni is a Twin Cities girl who moved to Fargo a couple years ago with her husband. In addition to being a culinary student, Jeni shares a wanderlust with her husband of traveling around parts of eastern North Dakota and western Minnesota looking for interesting places to eat. (Update - her husband has recently been transferred to Mason City, IA for his job. She'll be closer to family in the Twin Cities, but she'll miss Fargo, I'm sure.) Earlier this year, she visited a place that I've had on my "restaurants to visit" list for quite sometime - the Hi-Ho South in Fargo. Food Network Magazine named the burger at Hi-Ho South as North Dakota's "must have" burger. (Click here for an interactive map of all 50 states and their "must-have" burgers.) On a recent trip to the Fargo area, I took the time to stop in to the Hi-Ho South location for a burger.
The original Hi-Ho dates back to before World War II over in Dilworth, MN, which is a small town that butts up next to Moorhead, MN, just across the Red River of the North from Fargo. In 1947, the Cariveau family bought the Hi-Ho and then nearly 50 years later they opened the Hi-Ho South in Fargo. (Owner Rick Cariveau and his wife, Kathy, also own the Mills Lounge in Dilworth.) The burgers at both Hi-Ho locations are made from fresh ground beef - top grade beef, as Rick Cariveau says - from a secret local source and is never frozen.
Actually, the double cheeseburger was the one that was named as North Dakota's "must-have" burger, but I determined I was only going to get a single burger when I made my way over to the Hi-Ho South located in a strip mall on S. 25th St. just north of 32nd Ave. S. in Fargo. (see map) It was before the lunch rush when I made it into the Hi-Ho South and found a small table in the corner with a bench seat up against the wall.
The decor of the Hi-Ho South is decidedly drab and basic. Interestingly, pictures of burgers - and not much else - adorn the walls of the place. The tables and chairs are the sturdy industrial-style that you see in many restaurants. A couple televisions were turned on to CNN and ESPN. Still, it was far from dirty or grungy.
Menus were on the table and I took a look through one when a pleasant young girl came over to greet me. I saw that they had a mushroom Swiss cheese burger on the menu and I immediately ordered that. For a drink, I thought, "What the hell?" and got a tall beer. She asked if I wanted any fries or onion rings, and I declined.
More people began to filter in while I waited for my burger to get to me. I noticed a couple guys in the kitchen area working quickly to make burgers. A few people were coming in to pick up "to-go" orders that they had called in previously. Hi-Ho South certainly appeared to be a popular and hoppin' place to eat.
One of the guys cooking the burgers brought my burger out to me. It was pretty basic looking with a bun crown sitting on top of the burger patty which, in turn, was sitting on a bed of raw onion rings. Dill pickles came on the side of the small paper plate. Ketchup and mustard were provided on the table. Just like the decor at Hi-Ho South, the burger was nothing fancy.
Taking the bun off the top showed a lightly toasted bun with copious amounts of canned mushrooms on top of the Swiss cheese-topped burger patty. For being a "must-have" burger, it was pretty basic in terms of vision.
The first bite of the burger was sort of a mystery to me. Hi-Ho South proudly states that they don't season their beef. And it was about as neutral of a taste that one can have with a burger. Most flat-grilled burgers pick up a seasoned taste from the grill - especially one that has probably been cooking thousands of burgers since 1996. But the beef was bland, so bland that about the only thing that I could taste were the raw onions.
And if the owner of the Hi-Ho places didn't claim that he uses top-grade beef from a secret local source, I would have bet the family farm that the burger patty was previously frozen and bought from a food purveyor. The hard edge of the burger patty told me that it couldn't be a hand-pattied burger. There had to be some machine that they use to measure out and form the ground beef patty.
The whole time I was eating my burger, I was thinking to myself, "This is Food Network's best burger in North Dakota? It's about as lifeless of a burger that you can have!" It wasn't overcooked and there was some juiciness to the meat. But it was a drab taste experience. I will have to say that even with mushrooms and Swiss cheese, the burger I had at the Hi-Ho South was about as neutral in taste of any burger I can remember ever having.
(Jeni at "Fish Out of Fargo"/"An Herbalist Eats" sort of agreed with me with the burger she had at Hi-Ho South. Click here to see her review.)
I've learned in my travels that some establishments that I don't favor are very popular with the locals, mainly because they're used to the taste of the food. Quad City-style pizza is one food that I still can't understand the buzz by people who grew up there. I'll have to say that the Hi-Ho South is probably another place that you have to grow to like. I certainly couldn't see - or taste - what the excitement was all about. I know there has to be better burgers SOMEWHERE in North Dakota. And while I only get up there only a couple times a year, it looks like I'm going to have to search for 'em.