Sef Gonzalez aka “The Burger Beast”
Founder Of BurgerBeast.Com and Numerous Great South Florida Food-Related Events
Taken: Inside of El Mago De Las Fritas on SW 8th Street
Photography by: Dro Photography
We have a long running admiration for the work of the infamous Sef Gonzalez aka the Burger Beast. He started his blog around the same time The305.com got started and we’ve seen him grow from being “just” a blog, to now being this go-to name in the South Florida food scene. He’s graduated from only posting reviews and photos of his favorite local eateries – to now, producing some of the most unique food related events in South Florida. Our favorite being The Frita Showdown!
His passion is definitely deep for food, but his passion for helping promote and discover local businesses is really what sets Sef apart from everyone. He uses all of his mediums and relationships to create these create outlets for food trucks, brick and mortar restaurants and even budding chefs to achieve a type press and recognition that goes much further than an article in a perceived “bigger” or national outlets.
So we took to the western end of Calle Ocho to take a quick photo (shown above) of Mr. Burger Beast himself at the infamous El Mago De Las Fritas. We were just having fun with the shoot and we picked a tray of some freshly fried chicharrones prepared by El Mago himself to take a photo with it. Read below to find out a little more about Sef Gonzalez, the Burger Beast.
[dropcap type=”circle” color=”#ffffff” background=”#f2594b”]1[/dropcap]So tell us about a place in Miami that is either your favorite of yours or that has some kind of meaning to you?
I’ve been eating fritas since I was about six or seven years old. Its something that I hold dear to my heart and when I started the blog, one of the things I felt is that there wasn’t enough love for “the frita” in Miami. You hear a lot about other frita places and El Mago De Las Fritas has been my fritas spot for about 16 or 17 years since I’ve been coming here. What’s funny is that the first day I walked in here I sat at the counter and they had a deal where you buy 10 fritas and you get one for free. So I ordered THAT. [Laughs] What was really funny is there are only three parking places in front of the restaurant and someone parked in one of the spaces and went somewhere else. Soon as he (El Mago) saw that, he went after the person with a spatula and started screaming at them in spanish. And soon as I saw that, I knew I found my place. So ever since then, I’d go in and sit at the counter, right at the end and have a good time here. Saturday mornings in particular, you can typically find me here at around 10:30am and I always have friends and family show up then because they know I’m here. But they also do chicharrones only Saturdays. But I love El Mago. I love the food here and its very Miami. And again, it has an emotional attachment to me because of the fritas.
Editor’s Note: See the “BTGOF” sign he mentioned in the background of the photo above.
[dropcap type=”circle” color=”#ffffff” background=”#f2594b”]2[/dropcap]Tell us the story of your sticker “photobombing” photos of the president when he came to visit El Mago a few years ago.
So when my wife suggested that we needed something like stickers to start giving out to these restaurants, we went to Damage Ink. We made stickers that can go on the doors of all the restaurants I like. They took the logo and put on “approved” wording on top of them and created the stickers. I was in love with them. And of course, the first spot that got a sticker…sticker number one….was El Mago. And then when President Obama came here back in 2010, all of these pictures came out with the president walking in and out of the restaurant, you can clearly see my “Burger Beast Approved” sticker in the background on the front entrance. A lot of people accused me of Photoshopping it in, which I thought was ridiculous. But I thought it was a cool moment.
[dropcap type=”circle” color=”#ffffff” background=”#f2594b”]3[/dropcap]I noticed you use the #AyMama hashtag every so often…what’s that about?
One of the hashtags you’ll see me using a lot is “#aymama”. And that’s actually from El Mago because he actually says that. You’ll hear him say that when something is great or incredible, you’ll actually hear him say it often so that’s where I got that from.
[dropcap type=”circle” color=”#ffffff” background=”#f2594b”]4[/dropcap]Eat and support local, seems to be a reoccurring theme for you. Has that always been the motivation behind everything that you do?
I was working in retail for many years and I was a little frustrated, so my wife suggested I should just write about my food experiences around South Florida. The blog started as an outlet for me to de-stress from my regular day job. And when I noticed that people started to get really interested in what I was writing about, it almost became and still is, a crusade to show people the best local and family-run spots in Miami. And I want people to go out there and support these people. Same thing when we started doing the events. With the food trucks and the events like Burger Brawl, Croquetapalooza and Frita Showdown…yes its a cool event and yes you get your money’s worth, but what you’re seeing is local restaurants that you should go out and support. That’s always been the goal. To showcase them all and get people to check out these local restaurants outside of the events. People ask me if I ever eat at chain restaurants and I respond that if they’re doing things right, I do. But I try to stay local like 97% of the time.
[dropcap type=”circle” color=”#ffffff” background=”#f2594b”]5[/dropcap]When I visited your office recently, I noticed you had a vintage Burger King sign and tons of burger and food related memorabilia…how and why did you start collecting those?
I think my obsession with collecting things started as a kid with Star Wars toys. Then I moved on to G.I. Joes and then Transformers. I fell for every trick in the book. At some point when I was in the sixth grade, I saw someone wearing a Hard Rock Cafe “Los Angeles” t-shirt and I knew I had to have one…while knowing there weren’t in any Hard Rocks in Miami at the time. And from there I wanted to go to cities that had Hard Rocks in them and I wanted a t-shirt from each of the locations. When we went to visit my grandmother that summer in Los Angeles, she lived in Glendale, the only thing I cared about was going to Hard Rock. So from there I just kept collecting things obsessively like records, dvd’s, laser discs and you name it. And then when I really got into the burger thing and reading the history, I started just buying memorabilia. A lot of times you’ll read my blog and occasionally you’ll read about the history of burger joints in South Florida and nationwide. In my office, we have a bunch of the stuff I’ve collected on display and about ten bins at my parents house full of stuff that my mom REALLY wants me to remove. [Laughs] But I’ll hopefully get to display all of this in a museum.
[dropcap type=”circle” color=”#ffffff” background=”#f2594b”]6[/dropcap]There’s a lot of history that you probably have knowledge about. Let’s put you to the test. What fun fact or hidden piece of history that can you tell me about the area I grew up in….Cutler Bay?
There’s a lot of history in Miami and Miami is kind of notorious for almost erasing its history. But if you really look, you will see places that stood the test of time or you will find little things that will remind you that they were once around. Royal Castle, which was a very mighty chain here in South Florida and now there’s only one left that you should definitely go to, but there were about 180 stores in the chain with 50 or 60 in Miami. And if you go down south to Ernesto’s Taco Shop off US-1 and SW 200th Street, and if you look on the floor, it still has the terrazzo flooring that says “Royal Castle”. There’s also another Miami-chain called Burger Castle and every restaurant had a giant statue that was at least 30-feet tall. Well, the bottom half of that statue still exists today on about SW 185th Street and US-1, again near Cutler Bay. Its like offices now, but the bottom half of the legs are still there. Its kind of crazy. Its one of those where if you drive around and look, you’ll see these things. Even La Palma Restaurant on 8th Street, used to be Burger King restaurant #2. And even White Castle was in Miami in the ‘60s, a lot of people don’t know that. There were two locations, one being on the corner of 27th Avenue and Flagler. Its really interesting if you really look into it and a lot of this you can read about on my blog.
[dropcap type=”circle” color=”#ffffff” background=”#f2594b”]7[/dropcap]Does “The Burger Beast” have a favorite burger? Or is that an evolutionary thing that always sort of changes?
I’m not sure that I have a favorite burger but I like to compare it to like children at times. You like this burger today more than you like the other. Sometimes you like how this burger was different or how much thought that burger took to create, etc. I’m a big fan of Swine and I really absolutely love that burger and suggest it to people all of the time. But I also love Shake Shack, I like to go there. I like Latin House in Kendall. I like Pincho Factory. The Local in the Gables. There’s a lot of different places, and I like just going around. So you know, I don’t have a certain burger I obsess over and have to have every single time as it would probably get monotonous. And sometimes you always think you just found the best burger you ever had, but you will almost always find one better.
[dropcap type=”circle” color=”#ffffff” background=”#f2594b”]8[/dropcap]You’ve conquered the blogging world and the world of producing events. You even had your own “pop-up” food truck back in the day. Do you have any other goals in mind, maybe of opening your own restaurant or something?
Someone asked me if I was still a blogger, but I would say no, not in the traditional sense because I’ve grown and we’ve moved on into producing events and working with South Beach Wine & Food Festival and such for things like the Medianoches & Mixology event. We sort of became a mutant of sorts. At the end of the day, its all about us spreading the love about local businesses. I would love to eventually be able to not talk about food, but just local businesses in general. Also another thing, my grandfather wrestled professionally in Cuba and Venezuela and wrestled under the mask as Cruz Diablo and we tested a concept we wanted to do called Cruz Diablo Donuts. That’s something we’re still planning to do and hopefully get running by the end of the year and we definitely want to do something very Miami-centric with the donuts. If you tried them when we did them, you’ll see what I mean as we kind of went a little crazy. We want to do a lot of hispanic flavors and we also want to do savory donuts. We don’t want to stay confined in the box of just being “sugar” because I’m really more of a savory guy anyway.
[dropcap type=”circle” color=”#ffffff” background=”#f2594b”]9[/dropcap]Any last words!
Get out there and shop [and eat] local.
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Sef Gonzalez with El Mago.