Budget Beat: Lucky Boy
By Jay Bennett
Since moving to Phoenix three years ago, I’ve found that 16th Street is the strip to troll for great food, especially Mexican food — whether it’s the dirt-cheap burritos at Asadero, the wonderful Mexican sandwiches at Tortas El Güero, or the high-end stuff at Barrio Café.
But North 16th is also home to one of the best American delicacies — the hamburger — to be found in Phoenix. It's at Lucky Boy.
When you drive by the tiny stand-alone Lucky Boy building, about a half-mile north of Thomas Road, and see its goofy sign, you can’t help but want to stop in. The restaurant has been around since 1950 and under the ownership of Khani Nano and her brother for the past five years. They moved here to buy the business after running a 24-hour diner in Detroit. Nano had reservations about moving to Phoenix (“Too many scorpions,” she says) but she’d also had enough of Michigan winters, which have their own kind of nasty sting.
The Nanos left the classic Lucky Boy menu alone. Lucky us. It’s pretty basic but it’s also really good (and that’s saying something in a town with killer fast-food burgers at Fatburger and In-N-Out). The quarter-pound burger is charbroiled on what has to be one of the cleaner restaurant grills in town. (During my visit, Khani was constantly scraping and scrubbing those grates.) The juicy burger is placed on a fresh, toasted, doughy bun and loaded up with tomato, ketchup, cheese, onion, lettuce, and flavorful pickles (the burger’s secret weapon, if you ask me). I also tried the BBQ burger, which featured grilled onions, bacon, and tangy barbecue sauce. Lucky Boy’s lineup of burgers also includes a Ranch burger and the exotic-sounding International burger (it has Thousand Island on it).
The BBQ burger and fries
The generous portion of thick-cut fries was hot and fresh and, even though they didn’t blow me away, I gobbled up every last one. The missus and I ordered a banana shake to split. It clearly was a hit with her because I got only two sips. But even from that small sample I recall its being thick, creamy, and very banana-y. I look forward to trying some of the 13 other flavors (including cinnamon!). To wash it all down was a cup refreshing fresh-squeezed lemonade.
Khani Nano told me that Lucky Boy packs ’em in at lunch and does brisk business on game nights, when people are streaming downtown to see the Suns or D-backs. She also said people come from all over the Valley, and as far away as Flagstaff, to dine at Lucky Boy. That’s no surprise, I guess, considering the place has been a Phoenix institution for nearly 60 years. What would be a surprise is if Lucky Boy weren’t around, cooking burgers on that spotless grill, for another 60.
Lucky Boy co-owner Khani Nano and her niece, Ashureen Nano. (Photos by Laura Hahnefeld)