May 6, 2022 | OPINION | By Hank Bedingfield | Illustration by Patil Khakhamian

With an owner-entrepreneur who markets tirelessly across TikTok trends, Felipe’s 109 offers the fast-food burger craze a local adversary. In an industry that has been wrecked by two years of tumult, disproportionately crushing local eateries while corporate profits and drive-thru lines overflow, Felipe’s 109 is clawing its way towards monetary success one order of burgers and fries at a time.

For those equally disgusted by the greedy plunder of golden arches and purple bells, and the condescension of health-freaks and faux-meat, Felipe’s offers some kind of deep-fried middle path.

Felipe Velasquez has taken to TikTok with such dedication and shockingly in-the-pocket dance moves that one is driven to wonder why he and his restaurant haven’t broken the glass ceiling of TikTok stardom. From the side of a classic Colorado Springs drag, Academy Blvd., Valesquez dances relentlessly and showcases more than a few of 109’s mouthwatering offerings.

The entire cholesterol-raising operation has attracted a heavy flow of Colorado’s finest through dine-in, carry-out, and even a non-corporate drive-thru. With low prices from top to bottom of the menu and fast service, Felipe’s is a hit with the blue-collar, the tired parent, and the DoorDash orderer. More than one “Let’s Go Brandon” sticker can be spotted from the parking lot.

The offerings are a simple yet refreshing take on Mexican-American fast food fusion. Green chili and queso find their way onto most items, offering a gluttonous kick of flavor that American fast food so often lacks. Food is served hot and fast from paper-lined baskets on cafeteria-style trays. Ketchup is in packets. Drinks are in Styrofoam. Environmental and existential despair are an afterthought when grease, comfort food, and bodily neglect are already at hand.

Felipe’s signature taco burger offers a delightfully messy and bizarre combination of two guilty, stoner-food staples. For clarity, it is more of a burger taco than a taco burger. A six-or-so ounce burger patty with cheese, lettuce, tomato, and an in-house green chili is wedged between a hard-shell taco. The whole affair is messy and degrading. There’s no dignified way to eat this meal, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

While the burgers look perfect on TikTok and the hum of searing meat on the flat top sings like a sales pitch, the actual product is underwhelming — only slightly. The OB, a classic and predictable cheeseburger by all standards, suffers the plight of disproportion; the meat is drowned out by the toppings.

The real star at Felipe’s are the fresh-cut fries. They harken back to the best of fast food chains — golden brown, with the thick outer and soft inner of finding vulnerable and elusive love. The staples are massive, drowning their burger companions on the paper-lined baskets with insane proportions and shocking results.

Drinks, too, are kept simple. This is no place for a boozy-five-o’clock-somewhere hideaway, but a return to child-like nostalgia, primordial and sinless. A strawberry shake did it for me, and with the perfect consistency and beautiful pseudo-artificial taste I couldn’t complain about.

Even when you eat local, fast food is fast food, and there’s always a unique, stomach-turning price to pay. Regardless, I’d rather pay local.

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