The Money Burger - Airplanista Aviation Magazine Monthly Column4:46 PM
Fill up on ribs in the Arizona Desert - Waldo’s BBQ at Lake Havasu City Airport, Lake Havasu City, Arizona (KHII)
By Chef Stuart Stein
Some might say flying to the desert southwest in late summer is insane. Temperatures can reach 105° F and density altitude is definitely a factor. So why venture out from my new home base of Montgomery Field (KMYF) in San Diego to western Arizona just for lunch? Because it’s pig on a grill!
Lake Havasu City, approximately 175 NM from San Diego and 115 NM from Palm Springs, is known as “Arizona’s Playground”. This unique destination offers three hundred days of sunshine a year and a myriad of family-friendly activities. The clear, pristine, warm waters make Lake Havasu one of the best boating, swimming and fishing lakes anywhere. Vacationers aren’t limited to water sports. Off-roading, hiking and golfing makes this an exciting and diverse Arizona vacation spot. What started out as an Army Air Corps rest camp during World War II, is now a little oasis town in the south western Arizona desert.
I’m an aviator and a chef, so I came for the flying and the food. I waited for the all too familiar morning marine layer to clear and departed the San Diego airspace. The goal was to cross the Laguna Mountains and reach the Arizona border before the afternoon desert heat set in. Lake Havasu City Airport (KHII) is an 8,001 ft. x 100 ft., 783 ft. MSL, non-towered airstrip with both a RNAV (GPS) and VOR/DME instrument approach. Operating in the current location since 1991, HII is located adjacent to Arizona State Route 95 and just east of the Colorado River. It sits approximately six miles north of the city and near the western foothills of the Mohave Mountains.
I touched down at Lake Havasu City Airport just before noon. Take my advice and make a call on 123.3 to announce your arrival to Desert Skies Executive Air and a “follow me” red truck will escort you to transient parking. Desert Skies is the longest operating of the three FBOs on the field. Manager John Gallup certainly knows customer service. They offer relatively inexpensive fuel and a complete array of services that include a flight school, aircraft rental, charters, G.P.U., 100LL, free high speed Wi-Fi, rental cars and two courtesy vans for those who would like to go into town and checkout Lake Havasu’s famous London Bridge. They have complimentary coffee for the caffeine addicted and a free slushy to beat the desert heat.
Proprietor Clay Caldwell has been operating restaurants around the Phoenix area for more than 20 years. His Havasu airport location of Waldo’s BBQ is located adjacent to Desert Skies and is the newest of his four establishments. The aviation themed, sports bar has a number of big screen TVs, a saloon-style bar along the wall and an airplane suspended from the ceiling. The over-sized couch and throw rugs make the place feel like you’re hanging out in your friend’s living room watching a game on the tube.
Waldo’s specializes in Central Texas style BBQ. Their version is similar to Memphis and Kansas City BBQ but the opposite of the vinegar based North Carolina BBQ. Mae West said, “Anything worth doing is worth doing slowly” and this is the credo of true BBQ. Waldo’s dry-rubs and slow smokes their meat over indirect heat from white oak. They don’t automatically moisten their meat with sauce. You’re in control. You have a choice of the Original rather thick, sweet, molasses-based sauce, the Louisiana spicy, the Jerk sweet n’spicy, the Mustard with a hint of vinegar or simply nothing at all.
The ribs deservedly have their own section on the menu ($8.95-$21.95). Choices abound. The meat-on-a-stick options rang from the ubiquitous Baby Back and Country ribs to my favorite, the lip smacking and unctuous St. Louis spare ribs. St. Louis pork ribs are the perfect balance of meat and fat; a mélange of spicy rub, a slightly bitter tinge of hardwood smoke and the sweetness of pork. They’re juicy and tender without completely falling off the bone. These are the kind of ribs that make you want to lick your fingers for hours.
Waldo’s isn’t limited to ribs but certainly could be. The pulled pork, pulled beef and pulled chicken sandwiches with sweet potato fries ($5.95 small, $6.95 large) are heavenly. The meat is cooked over a low, smoky fire to the point where it can be pulled apart by hand - meltingly tender, moist and juicy. They also have a few other sandwiches. The 1/3-pound BBQ Angus beef burger, a sirloin steak and Texas hotlink ($6.95-$7.95) are passable. If you’re going to bypass the four-legged protein, head for the cornmeal-breaded version of the Catfish Po’Boy ($6.95). The crispy and moist fish sandwich is served on a soft, poppy seed baguette and worth topping off with Waldo’s rich, creamy coleslaw ($.49 extra.).
If you want to get a good understanding of what Waldo’s is about, try the Sampler ($11.95) or share the Super Sampler ($15.95). With the Super, you can choose a 1/2-slab of ribs and any three meats from the choice of pork, beef, chicken brisket or hot links. More artery clogging flesh than you can consume in two sittings.
Still have room for dessert? Try the Skookie ($4.95), a chocolate chunk skillet cookie topped with vanilla ice cream. Reminds me of those chocolate chip cookies my mother use to bake when I came home from school. This monster is crisp, chewy and gooey, a little messy and a whole lot of fun.
Waldo’s BBQ and the Lake Havasu City Airport are under-discovered gems. A place where it’s worth stopping just for inexpensive 100LL, great BBQ or even a little weekend recreation. Be aware that your shoulder strap will be a few notches looser on the trip home.
Waldo’s BBQ Havasu Restaurant
5600 N. Highway 95, # 6
Lake Havasu City, Arizona, 86404
Phone: (928) 764-FOOD (3663)
Hours: Open daily
10:30am to 8:00pm Sunday thru Thursday
10:30am to 9:00pm Friday & Saturday
Chef Stuart Stein has worked as a cook, executive chef, culinary instructor and restaurateur all over the U.S. and France, and is the author of “The Sustainable Kitchen: Passionate Cooking Inspired by Farms, Forests, and Oceans.”