By Jeff Kronenfeld, July 2020 Issue.
Pink lightening exploded above the McDowell Mountains as we pulled into the parking lot of a nondescript office complex in North Scottsdale. Despite this ominous horizon, the wind and clouds pleasantly dropped my truck’s temperature gauge a whole 10 degrees. We noticed a few tailgaters strewn across the parking lot in socially distant clusters as we approached a grill manned by a handful of sweating cooks in facemasks. The storm air mingled with the greasy sweet smoke and if I hadn’t already known Shameless Burger is an all vegan affair, my nose wouldn’t have alerted me otherwise.
For Ysabella Salazar, who goes by Izzy, the point of Shameless Burger isn’t to hide its meatlessness, but rather, to make food so tasty you want to eat it regardless of whether you’re vegetarian, pescatarian or any other kind of ‘vore. Izzy is a vegan, but not in that holier-than-thou way. “I think it’s the easiest thing we can do on a day-to-day basis to actually change and create some positivity,” Izzy explained. “For me, it’s the environment and the effect that the meat industry is having on our world in general.”
Izzy’s boyfriend Connor Dubin — the second third of the three Shameless Burger co-owners — is a meat eater. Being a good romantic partner, he frequently eats vegan while sharing meals with Izzy. A little over a year ago, they were discussing the dearth of tasty but fast vegan food in the Valley with Colton Mastro, an old friend of Connor. Izzy studied marketing at University of Arizona and, at the time, was working her way up the corporate ladder. Though she had a good job, she didn’t want to stay at it for the long haul. As the three discussed the perfect vegan burger, the idea for Shameless took shape. Following her marketing instincts, Izzy jumped in with both feet. Together with Connor and Mastro, the third co-owner of Shameless, Izzy got to work.
Not having the resources to open a brick and mortar out of the gate, the trio started with a pop-up, working different food festivals and street corners. They ordered a custom grill and fryer to quickly prepare burgers and fries for the masses. When it came to patties, they saw no need to reinvent the wheel. Izzy loved eating Impossible Burgers, a popular meat substitute noted for both its high level of carnivorous verisimilitude and lack of cholesterol. Combined with the Follow Your Heart cheese, it allowed them to offer a tasty but considerably healthier alternative to In-N-Out.
What really distinguishes the burgers of Shameless are the caramelized onions and interesting variety of sauces. Their Jammy onions are slowly cooked in a process that takes two hours per batch. They add a complex blend of sweet and savory flavors that enhance the other parts of the sandwich. The onions are also available as a topping for the fries, which I opted for and recommend. “I think the onions really are the star of the show,” Izzy said.
Speaking of fries, the Shameless team also knew exactly where to go: Frites Street. Izzy is effusive in her praise of the company’s Kennebec potatoes, which are brined and blanched to give crunch and an airy but moist interior. Shameless also does all their prep at a Frites kitchen, ensuring a steady supply of spuds is never too far. “They’re literally the best fries in the Valley,” Izzy said as she bubbled over with enthusiasm. “Like, you will die they are so good.”
Shameless offers four sauces, each with a unique taste. The 24 Karat sauce is a smoky honey mustard base, while the House sauce is like a classic burger “secret” sauce. The pineapple habanero is hotter than it is sweet, so don’t be fooled by its soft green color. It’s perfect for adding some kick, if your stomach allows. Finally, there was my favorite of the four, the Boujee sauce. This tangy condiment has a gochujang base, a Korean red chile paste, and its mild heat is well complemented by the other flavors.
Izzy is candid about the challenges of starting a business serving food during the current crisis. Like so many others, she thought 2020 was going to be her year. Shameless’s diverse group of owners — Izzy is Hispanic and another partner is Native American — were excited to offer satisfying vegan food at festivals, farmers markets and other community events. With most of these cancelled or heavily curtailed, they’ve had to be resourceful. They’ve put in place as much social distancing and other safety policies as they can. One benefit of their currently unmoored state is that the big empty parking lots they tend to set up in offer diners plenty of space to spread out. “We have had to adapt for sure,” Izzy said with a shrug.
For the time being, to try Shameless you have to be in the know. They have no fixed location and manifest at different locales around the Valley on the weekend tending to the evenings. To find out when and where, you can visit their website or social media. It’s easy to use and lets you schedule your pickup or set up a contactless pick up. Preordering also ensures you’ll actually get a burger, because despite the pandemic, Shameless tends to sell out fast. After scarfing down a double paddy burger with added Boujee sauce while watching a haboob racing towards me, it wasn’t hard to see why.