Looking for the Best Burger in Town? Ask Alex Leo
Sitting between me and Alex Leo is the lunchroom lasagna. There are kids running around every corner, yelling on their way to the playground past my hastily set up interview station.
“Have you heard of Bobby Flay?” Alex asks as he begins his story.
No, I don't know Bobby Flay. I don’t know much about food in the first place. And yet, Alex’s passion for burgers transcends my lack of knowledge. My ignorance doesn’t matter as Alex recounts his burger “awakening.” He was six, sorely disappointed he wasn’t able to get a burger from McDonald’s. His grandmother suggested they try Bobby’s Burger Palace in New Jersey’s Riverside Mall. Alex remembers every detail of what happened next: he fell in love with a burger, and it sent him on a quest to find more food.
Alex’s grandmother, the woman who brought him to the Palace in the first place, cooked El Salvadorian food for him growing up. “She was my caretaker in my formative years,” Alex told me when I asked about her influence. That changed when Alex, who spent most of his life in New York and New Jersey, moved to Utah. This would be daunting to any kid, but the familial changes were especially difficult for Alex. His grandmother, who Alex says taught him to “be kind first,” became less of a presence in his world. Alex Leo was left in suburban Utah without familiar faces and burgers, which was unsettling for a kid that “grew up on Shake Shack.” Culturally, Alex felt stifled. He stresses that when he moved to Utah, “the food was not up to his standards.” But after a bit of digging, Alex found his salvation in authentic jewels of diversity amidst the monocultural setting: restaurants.
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He started with In and Out, quickly moving to Crown Burger, and then to discoveries all over the state and wherever he travelled, meeting a diversity of people who shared a love of food. Alex started using social media to express his passion for burgers. He has over 1,000 followers on Instagram (@burgerchild), where he posts photos of his food adventures. The age of social media, Alex says, has helped him create connection with people across a wider network.
As we were discussing this, a young boy runs past, yelling, “Hey, Burger Guy!” I stop and laugh, reminded of the identity that Alex has crafted even within the Waterford community. I mention his credibility, and Alex smiles almost imperceptibly. “He actually taught me about the different stews of Ramadan,” he says, nodding to the boy.
Our conversation reminds me of the time in eighth grade when Alex, a seemingly quiet kid, stood in front of the podium and started speaking with confidence about an absurd topic: burgers. It sounded like a silly topic for a student government speech, but he spoke about the inclusivity of food communities in a way that compelled us to vote for him. Since then, we have elected Alex to represent us every year he’s been at Waterford. Next year, Alex will serve as Waterford's Student Body President.
Now, as we approach our senior year, I can see that Alex has dedicated his life to something bigger than making it through high school. He’s dedicated his life to his grandmother and the lessons she taught him over traditionally-prepared meals during his childhood. Alex works at Harmon’s every Friday night to earn enough money to take his sister out for dinner on Saturday. He says that “investing in a good meal” is, in turn, investing in other people’s stories. The wisdom that Alex has captured through his taste buds reminds me that life’s lessons and passions can be found in deceivingly simple places, like between two sesame buns.