Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Year in Food: September, 2016

Hot Dog and Fries from Spinn’s Burger & Beer in Albuquerque

With a panoply of colors, warm days that transition to crisp evenings and the irresistible aroma of roasting chile, autumn is the favorite season for many New Mexicans and visitors to the Land of Enchantment. Naming the Duke City “one of the best Fall escapes in the United States,” National Geographic invites travelers to “take to the skies in Albuquerque” and enjoy the spectacle of the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. National Geographic also praised our “delicious New Mexican cuisine,” recommending the red chile pork ribs at El Pinto and the chile relleno at Mary & Tito’s.

Not even the beloved taco has been excluded from the divisiveness of 2016’s contentious presidential campaign. Latinos for Trump leader Marco Guttierez warned “that without tighter immigration policies…you’re going to have taco trucks on every corner.” While taco trucks may not be parked on every corner, tacos have become a ubiquitous American favorite. No longer are denizens of the fruited plain subjected solely to Taco Bell’s rather piteous version of the taco. You can find outstanding tacos across the country. Just ask BuzzFeed which compiled a list of the most popular taco spot in every state. Popularity was measured using an algorithm considering the number of reviews plus the star rating for every business on Yelp. New Mexico’s most popular taco comes from El Paisa in Albuquerque. One astute devotee commented on Yelp, “The only comparison is the street tacos in downtown Puerto Vallarta, because this is as authentic as it gets.”

The Apple Tree Cafe in Corrales may have a small menu, but it’s a great one

Bustle, an online presence “for and by women who are moving forward as fast as you are” invites its readers to try seven authentic New Mexican eateries to try because “green chile is king.” The writer, who’s actually lived in New Mexico for four years, attests that “New Mexican cuisine is a flavorful, fiery treat for the taste buds.” She recommends the Frontier Restaurant, “one of the most iconic Albuquerque dining destinations;” Casa Azul “in queso emergency” or for “a meal that takes advantage of the freshest ingredients New Mexico has to offer; El Patio, “a cozy, intimate dining destination that has been family owned and operated for three generations;” Sadie’s of New Mexico where it “doesn’t get much more New Mexican;” Mary & Tito’s which offers “James Beard Award-winning New Mexican food in a relaxed, understated setting;” El Pinto, “a New Mexican restaurant that offers anything your heart desires;” and the 66 Diner whose “whimsical retro decor and friendly, uniformed wait staff might make you feel like you’ve stepped into another era.”

On September 12th, 2016, Laguna Burger earned bragging rights at the New Mexico State Fair’s Green Chile Cheeseburger Challenge, ending a two year reign by national chain Fuddrucker‘s. Finishing second in the blind taste test adjudged event was Starr Brothers while judges determined Pasion Latin Fusion‘s green chile cheeseburger was third best. The competition featured ten of the Land of Enchantment’s most prolific purveyors of New Mexico’s sacrosanct burger. As is often the case, the public’s perception of which burger is best differed from the opinion of the judges. Earning the coveted “people’s choice” award was Sparky’s, a Hatch institution.

Homemade Bread from the Loyal Hound Pub in Santa Fe

In the pages of September’s New Mexico Magazine, you’ll find recipes that will help you ‘”cook like a local with harvest-ready dishes” showcasing green chile from the Hatch valley. Descendants of Hatch chile pioneer Joseph Franzoy and other Hatch pepper buffs offer their favorite home-cooking recipes for such standards as green chile stew. You’ll also learn how to prepare such non-traditional dishes as Crepe Olé, green chile pasta, stuffed eggplant with green chile and even Sparky’s Green Chile Milkshake.

When Santa Fe’s scintillating four-time James Beard award-winning author Cheryl Alters Jamison launches a new brand, it doesn’t solely warrant local attention. The culinary community across the fruited plain takes notice. Food & Beverage Magazine sure did, lauding her launch of Excited About Food, a multimedia Web presence where she shares recipes, cookbooks, exotic ingredients, tips, classes, videos and special events all about the excitement of cooking! The indefatigable culinary evangelist also launched Heating It Up!, a riveting program in which she interviews a wide array of experts from chefs and authors to food critics and farmers from across the country. Fittingly, Cheryl’s radio program comes to us courtesy of KVSF 101.5, the Voice of Santa Fe.

Chocolate Nirvana from ChocoGlitz & Cream in Albuquerque

“Foodies. Gourmands. Epicureans. These are the people seeking adventure on a plate.” These are the people who cast their votes for Open Table’s 2016 list of the Best Restaurants for Foodies. The list of honorees was compiled “after analyzing more than five million reviews of more than 20,000 restaurants across the country — all submitted by verified diners.” Alas, only one restaurant in the Land of Enchantment made the list. Widely regarded as the best fine-dining restaurant in New Mexico, Santa Fe’s Geronimo is perpetually the state’s most consistently honored dining establishment.

Is it any wonder September is probably the favorite month for most New Mexicans? With trees adorned in spectacular colors and the aroma of freshly harvested chile perfuming the air, there’s just something magical about September. Magic certainly pervades every September at Santa Fe’s annual green chile cheeseburger smackdown. Chefs from throughout the Land of Enchantment vie for bragging rights every year, the one constant being the starring ingredient: New Mexico’s sacrosanct green chile. Anthony Smith, executive chef at the Inn and Spa at Loretto in Santa Fe laid the smack down on six other competitors, earning the coveted judges’ choice award with The Santa Fe Autumn Roast which celebrates New Mexican ingredients with grass-fed beef, Angel’s Bakery bun, house-made pancetta, Tucumcari Cheddar Cheese, New Mexico Autumn Roast Green Chile and creamy avocado spread. Chef Milton Villarrubia‘s “Plate Lickin’ Cheese Burger” earned “people’s choice honors.

The Stack House, Bodacious Barbecue in the City of Vision Once Again

The Texas Hill Country. Memphis. The Carolinas. Kansas City. These are America’s paragons of low-and-slow supremacy, each asserting credible claims to smoking the best stuff under spacious skies. New Mexico has never been known for its bodacious barbecue, but that may be changing. NFL powerhouse, the Seattle Seahawks are now showcasing Mr. Powdrell‘s house sauce on brisket sandwiches sold at CenturyLink Field. Paul Allen, the billionaire team owner and former denizen of the Duke City apparently acquired quite a fondness for Powdrell’s when he and fellow Microsoft founder Bill Gates lived in Albuquerque.

Contrary to so many coming of age movies about the college experience, the collegiate lifestyle isn’t only fraternities and sororities, binge drinking, toga parties and starving students subsisting solely on ramen. College is also about discovery–the growth experience that comes from uncovering new experiences. Thrillist believes college “students carrying overpriced textbooks while wearing sweatpants” have discovered the 21 best college burgers in America, a likely major contributor to the fabled freshman fifteen. Making the list is the Frontier Restaurant’s signature “Fiesta Burger with green chiles, cheddar, and lettuce, just as the New Mexican forefathers intended.”

Three Sauces Every Chinese Restaurant Should Have Chili, Hoisin and Hot Mustard: from the Dragon House in Albuquerque

Thrillist also refreshed its annual list of the best barbecue restaurants in the United States. For the second consecutive year, the Land of Enchantment’s best purveyor of smoked deliciousness is Danny’s Place in Carlsbad “thanks to the glory that is consistently great barbecue cooked over sweet hardwood for over 40 years. Oh, and don’t worry, because this is New Mexico after all, you can still get a green chile-smothered burrito and the “flip plate” — a flour tortilla buttered and fried on the grill and filled with a hamburger patty, two cheese slices, green chile, onions, and salsa.” By the way, the “local expert” mentioned in the feature is a blogger of some repute whose thrilling and filling reviews you can trust.

Thanks to the Food Network, restaurants have become a water cooler topic (though water coolers themselves have largely gone out of fashion). The point is, restaurants are a popular topic of conversation. Gastronomes no longer have to skulk in dark corners and speak in hushed tones when we discuss our favorite eateries. We can now shout from the rooftops about our favorite foods, including pizza. The pizzeria everyone is obsessed with in New Mexico, according to Delish comes from Farina Pizzeria in Albuquerque. Farina has made char a flavor in New Mexico and for that we’re obsessed.

Glandjila from Frost Gelato in Albuquerque

The Land of Enchantment’s culinary community was feted during the New Mexico Restaurant Association’s 2016 Hospitality Industry Awards banquet. Restaurateur of the Year honors went to Laura Leal of Leal’s Mexican Food Restaurant in Clovis. Pizza 9 earned the Restaurant Neighbor Award for its community involvement. Chef of the Year went to Tatsu Mizayaki of The Restaurant at Sierra Grande in Truth or Consequences while Wayne Moore of St. Clair Winery & Bistro earned Manager of the Year honors. Several other restaurants were recognized for feeding New Mexico’s families for more than forty years.

Saveur Magazine writer Matt Taylor-Gross undertook a hunt for Hatch chiles, a trek that began at the Hatch Chile Festival which he compared to “walking around an O’Keeffe painting.” Though Georgia O’Keefe may not have spent much time in Hatch, she was known to cook with and enjoy chile. On his weekend assignment to the chile capital of the world, Taylor-Gross enjoyed chile in several New Mexican staples as well as in a milkshake from Sparky’s. He also discovered sopaipillas from Church Street Cafe in Albuquerque.

August, 2016

Pepper Lamb from Budai Gourmet (Photo Courtesy of Haley Hamilton)

In August, 2016, Spoon University, the self-proclaimed “everyday food resource for our generation, on a mission to make food make sense” set off on a course to identify the 50 best ice cream desserts in every state,” one from each state in the fruited plain. The Land of Enchantment’s representative was the ice cream taco from Pop Fizz. Spoon University waxed poetic about this ice cream: “We all scream for this ice cream. You can find this bad boy in Albuquerque, NM, and you can choose from several flavors such as cinnamon churro, cookies and cream, and strawberry.”

Is there anything worse than concession nachos, those depressing, over-salted, stale round chips blanketed in gloppy cheese “stuff” pumped from a large jar? If you’ve ever had them, likely at a ball park or movie theater, you’ve probably tried to repress the memories. Thankfully inspired chefs have done a lot to improve nachos, to the point that it’s grossly unfair and inaccurate that the gloppy concession travesties share the name “nachos.” TABELog, a restaurant review blog undertook the enviable task of naming the ten best places to eat nacos in America. It stands to reason that a restaurant whose very name includes the term “Nachos” would make the list, never mind that Albuquerque’s very own Papa Nacho’s was named for the proprietor’s nickname. In naming Papa Nacho’s the seventh best place to eat nachos, TABELog advised “Do not be fooled by this exterior of this spot—it is better than it looks. They serve Mexican dishes rice & beans, tacos, quesadilla, enchiladas and of course nachos. Their signature papa nachos is packed with enough spices and cost only $7.”

Lunch-Size Stromboli from Saggio’s in Albuquerque

In 1982, Bruce Feirstein wrote “Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche, a “bestselling tongue-in-cheek book satirizing stereotypes of masculinity.” Had he written about truck drivers instead, the book’s title would likely have been “Truck Drivers Don’t Eat Salad.” According to the Center for Disease Control, truck drivers top the occupation obesity list, largely due to a diet of fast food and long periods of inactivity. Truck drivers don’t always eat fast food. Truckers know about the hidden gems most of us would discount, little holes-in-the-wall lacking the pristine veneer off the chains. Thrillist enlisted a trio of professional tractor-trailer drivers to deliver a convoy of those hidden gems. In a feature entitled “Truckers Name America’s Greatest Restaurants You’ve Never Heard Of,” that trucking triumvirate listed among the tantalizing ten, a Route 66 gem in Santa Rosa, New Mexico. The Silver Moon Cafe was described as ” “It’s a pretty popular place. They have it all: beef tacos, cheese dip, salsa, fajitas. But the big thing is that it’s all seasoned so well, especially if you like hot stuff.”

Have you ever wondered why so many guides and books employ fatalistic titles imploring readers to see or do something “before you die?” The likely culprit was the 2007 movie “The Bucket List,” whose premise was indeed to “complete a list of things they want to see and do before they die.” The movie inspired many people to compile their own lists and it engendered a number of publications employing “before you die” in their titles. Spoon University published a predictably and unimaginatively named feature titled “The 50 Best Things to Eat in Albuquerque Before You Die.” From burritos at Twister’s to green chile bread from Golden Crown Panaderia, the comprehensive compendium offered no surprises for residents of the Duke City, many of whom have probably sampled everything on the list many times in their lifetimes.

Reina Margherita Pizza from Eclectic Urban Pizzeria and Tap Room in Albuquerque (Photo Courtesy of Kimber Scott)

“Bugs Bunny and Breaking Bad don’t really capture the essence of this largest city in New Mexico. Albuquerque offers art, culture, history, and places of great surprise, if you know where to look beyond the usual tourist haunts.” Offbeat Travel’s feature “10 Favorites Only Locals Know in Albuquerque” listed only one food-related item. In a snippet about the Green Jeans Farmery, Offbeat Travel waxed poetic about Chill’N handcrafted organic ice cream, explaining the ice cream is created by “created by churning the ingredients in blasts of liquid nitrogen. Remember how some of the trendy cooking shows experiment with this new technique? Well, it makes amazing ice cream. The superfast freezing results in richly creamy frozen confection. The nitrogen bubbles away during the process.”

PureWow, an online women’s lifestyle site “dedicated to finding ways to make your life more interesting, beautiful and manageable” compiled a list of “The Most Iconic Restaurant in Every Single U.S. State.” The list of “restaurants (and, OK, fast-food joints) that make America so tasty” did include some of the most iconic eateries in the fruited plain, many of them introduced to America by the Food Channel. New Mexico was well-represented on the list by Santa Fe’s Cafe Pasqual’s. PureWow explained “Since 1979, visitors have lined up outside Café Pasqual’s turquoise door for New Mexican classics with an inventive twist. (Think: green chili burgers and huevos barbacoa.) The colorful restaurant also houses an art gallery on the second floor.” While it’s difficult to dispute the selection of Cafe Pasqual as the Land of Enchantment’s most iconic restaurant, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a “green chili burger” anywhere on the restaurant’s menu.

Ice Cream Sandwich from Rude Boy in Albuquerque

Shame on those of you who would answer the question “where is the best steak in New Mexico to be found” with LongHorn, Black Angus, Golden Corral or The Sizzler. Steak, “a dish that reaches across American diversity, binding us together through a common love of red meat” is never intended for the institutionalized, corporate fast food treatment. MSN partnered with FourSquare to locate the “best steakhouse in every state.” For a change, the Land of Enchantment’s representative didn’t come from Albuquerque or Santa Fe, but from Mesilla, a “suburb” of Las Cruces: “Margaritas and steak? It’s not a typical dining experience, but at Double Eagle in Mesilla, New Mexico, you won’t want to miss out. Try the signature Green Chili Bloody Mary to spice up your evening.”

From the pages of New Mexico Magazine, managing editor Kate Nelson introduces readers to a “renowned Los Ranchos inn” which “serves what it sows, with scrumptious assists by a host of local farmers.” In 2013, Bon Appetit named Los Poblanos Historic Inn “a top ten hotel for food lovers.” At the helm is multi-time James Beard Award nominee chef Jonathan Perno whose “carefully constructed breakfasts and dinners” are veritable “sensory smorgasbords.” Kate spent time with the culinary architect of “true farm-to-table invention that he calls Río Grande Valley Cuisine.” It’s a very compelling read which may just have you planning your next date night outing to one of New Mexico’s most acclaimed dining destinations.

The Classic Pastrami Sandwich from California Pastrami in Albuquerque

Willy Wonka may have had a chocolate factory, but New Mexico has a Pie Town, described by writer Bobby Christian as “the last stop along a road that never reached its full potential…a desert town where fruit pies are a way of life.” Writing for Travel Mindset, an online site “created by experienced travelers who like to explore the world and are looking for life changing and life shaping experiences,” Christian so eloquently described a Pie Town experience poetically: “In a world where reality trumps frivolity, it’s an escape into the possibility of a magical realm, a place where for the brief time of a roadside stop, life can be a whimsical experience.” His article “Meet Pie Town, New Mexico’s Tastiest Stop” chronicles Pie Town: The Film, an Alec Baldwin narrated documentary introducing, but not centering around, Kathy Knapp, Pie Town’s fabled Pie Lady.

A list of the World’s Best Cities for Food would certainly include such paragons of culinary excellence as New York City, Chicago, New Orleans, San Francisco and so on. That’s to be expected. Perhaps not as expected is the inclusion of Santa Fe, New Mexico as one of the top ten cities for food in the United States. Travel & Leisure magazine readers, a savvy, worldly bunch listed the City Different alongside some of the aforementioned cities when it comes to great food. “For a small city,” said one T+L reader about Santa Fe, “the restaurant and food selections are outstanding.” Others raved about the unique, regional dishes like carne adovada: braised pork featuring local meat, dried red New Mexican chilies, and Mexican oregano.”

Double Meat Green Chile Cheeseburger with Fries, an Onion Ring and Vanilla Pudding From Rex’s Hamburgers in Albuquerque

Delish, one the top 10 food-related destinations online, “rounded up the top-rated burger shop in each state.” While similar lists have named such denizens of deliciousness as Santa Fe Bite and LotaBurger as the best the Land of Enchantment has to offer, Delish dared differ from the usual suspects. Delish’s choice is Holy Cow, an Albuquerque burger institution since 2011. Holy Cow’s best bet, according to Delish, are the “Holy Cow, Mushroom & Swiss and Blue Cheese Burgers.” So for those of us who can’t conceive of a great burger being constructed without New Mexico’s sacrosanct green chile, Holy Cow is telling us otherwise.

It was once said that “seventy-percent of the Earth is covered in water, the rest is covered by the Associated Press.” Because I can’t cover the entirety of the Land of Enchantment by myself, I’ve asked Melodie Kenniebrew for help. A New York City transplant to New Mexico now living in Las Cruces, Melodie publishes the delightful blog “Melodie K” in which she chronicles her travel and culinary adventures, employing a very warm and endearing style that makes it obvious she loves her new home. Melodie has agreed to keep her ear to the ground for news-worthy culinary events throughout Southern New Mexico. She’ll be sharing her findings with readers of Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Blog. Her first update (below) explains how a small-town pizzeria has been invited to a prestigious culinary competition involving restaurants from across the country. You can find a link to Melodie’s bog on my blogroll.

Stir-Fried Noodles with Shrimp and Vegetables from Le Bistro Bakery & Vietnamese Cuisine in Albuquerque (Photo Courtesy of Larry McGoldrick)

Forghedaboudit, a Deming restaurant specializing in New York Italian-style food, is off to represent New Mexico this Labor Day weekend at the National Buffalo Wing Festival in ~ where else? ~ Buffalo, New York. Owner and native New Yorker Bob Yacone will be offering both sauced and dry-rub wings in 6 flavors, including red and green chile, to compete with the best of the best in the world for chicken wings. Restaurants attend the festival by-invitation-only and Forghedaboudit is the first in New Mexico to be invited since the festival began in 2002. The annual event regularly draws thousands of chicken wing aficionados from all over the world.

July, 2016

La Gobernadora Burger from Pasion Latin Fusion in Albuquerque

As oft chronicled in monthly “Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Year in Food” updates, the Land of Enchantment receives a lot of praise from national publications. Almost invariably they tout our incomparably delicious red an green chile–usually to the exclusion of all the other wonderful cuisine available in New Mexico. In a riveting piece for New Mexico Magazine, scintillating four-time James Beard award-winning author Cheryl Alters Jamison invites readers to take a “delightful detour from the norm” and “check out some of the savvy immigrant restaurateurs serving the dishes of their homelands in the Land of Enchantment.” Her NM’s Wide World of Forks article showcases dining diversity at such paragons of deliciousness as Albuquerque’s Ajiaco Colombian Bistro, Pad Thai Cafe and Budai Gourmet Chinese. Because international fare and flavors aren’t exclusive to Albuquerque, she also profiled restaurants in Santa Fe, Gallup and Las Cruces.

A Thrillist feature naming the “best food city in every US state” is bound to invite controversy, if not outright civil war. It takes a lot of gumption, for example, to declare San Francisco a better food city than Los Angeles, to pronounce Kansas City cuisine as superior to St. Louis culinary fare and to rank Pittsburgh’s culinary landscape over Philadelphia’s. Thrillist was clearly divided in selecting the Land of Enchantment’s best food city. “It pains us physically, in our hearts and souls, not to choose Albuquerque for this honor,” the writer declared, however, “Santa Fe has just too much good stuff to be ignored, and a lot of it has to do with green chile.” Citing such green chile apotheoses as the Santa Fe Bite and Horseman’s Haven, Thrillist also noted that the City Different boasts also of “standout American cuisine.”

The Provencale Sandwich from La Quiche Parisienne in Albuquerque

From 1994 to 2014, the number of farmers markets across the fruited plain increased almost fivefold making them a viable alternative to the behemoth supermarkets brimming with food from corporate farms. Today, virtually every city or town has a market area where farm fresh isn’t just an ethereal concept. America Unraveled, self-professed as the “best place online to discover the greatest destinations in the USA” ranked its five favorite farmers’ markets across the country. The number one Farmers’ Market in America, according to America Unraveled, is Santa Fe’s Farmers’ Market, but it isn’t regarded as highly because of its products or location, but because of “the philosophy behind the existence of this market.” “The organizers and participants believe that everyone, independent of their economic status, should have access to fresh, locally grown agricultural products that are nutritious and taste better than the goods that are shipped thousands of miles to grocery stores.” It’s number one in our hearts, too.

No one has eaten America and chronicled its culinary landscape better than Jane and Michael Stern, the trusted, trailblazing restaurant guidebook authors who founded the Roadfood franchise. The Sterns recently assembled a roster of must-eat, iconic dishes they’ve discovered throughout their four decades plus of road-tripping. It stands to reason that New Mexico’s sacrosanct green chile cheeseburger would make that list and that Santa Fe Bite (arguably) the state’s best exemplar of that bodacious burger would be listed as the paragon purveyor. The Sterns described it thusly: “It (the green chile cheeseburger) finds its apotheosis at Santa Fe Bite, where 10 ounces of freshly ground chuck and sirloin are cooked to your specs, smothered with vibrant green Mesilla Valley chilies and melted cheese, and piled into a fluffy-crumbed, house-baked bun. It may not adhere to food-pyramid proportions, but this big, ovoid masterpiece delivers bread, meat, vegetable, and dairy in lip-smacking balance.”

Flowers in Bloom at the Golden Crown Panaderia in Albuquerque in Albuquerque

Refinery 29, “the fastest growing independent fashion and style website in the United States” recently told its readers where to go. On vacation that is. Albuquerque was named in a feature listing “10 Up and Coming U.S. Cities to Visit Now.” Predictably, the feature gave a perfunctory nod to Breaking Bad as well as to our legendary red and green chile: “Albuquerque may still be synonymous with Breaking Bad, but it is sorely underrated as a destination on its own terms. Though its culinary reputation is dominated by green and red chiles, Albuquerque is also home to a surprisingly healthy wine and beer scene: It has a higher concentration of breweries per capita than even Portland, Oregon.”

The Exception Magazine, the self-glossed “favorite news source for the world’s most inspiring and innovative people, places and ideas” has identified “10 Popular Restaurants with the Most Creative Chefs of Albuquerque, New Mexico.” Acknowledging that Albuquerque is “stuffed with appetizing restaurants,” Exception listed some of the most exceptional. Anointed restaurants include Magokoro, B2B Bistronomy, Ajiaco Colombian Bistro, The Cellar and Ben Michael‘s, all showcased on this blog.

June, 2016

My good food friends Bruce “Sr Plata” Silver and Larry McGoldrick, the Professor with the Perspicacious Palate at Limonata in Albuquerque

Ruben Hendrickson was my best friend! That’s a claim dozens of Ruben’s friends can make because that’s precisely how Ruben made us all feel. Ruben had the rare gift of being truly present and fully attentive in every conversation he shared with his friends and family. On Friday, June 3rd, we bid our final good byes to my friend–one of the kindest, most humble and giving people I’ve ever been blessed to know. Ruben was taken from us all too soon. He would have turned 59 on August 3rd. Ruben and I were brought together by our shared love of food, but became friends because of our love of family. We traveled the Rio Grande corridor together–from Hatch to Chimayo–in pursuit of the best carne adovada in New Mexico. Carne adovada was just one of his passions (hence the frequent references to my “adovada adoring amigo” on the blog). So were barbecue and craft beer. Ruben didn’t just sit back and passively enjoy the things he loved. He pursued them vigorously and meticulously, becoming an excellent cook (only Mary & Tito’s, his favorite, makes a better carne adovada) and brewer. He lived and loved life with a similar passion…and we sure loved him. Godspeed, my friend.

Shortly after the Breaking Bad episode aired in which a waiter at Garduno’s (great name for a restaurant) kept trying to hawk the restaurant’s table-side guacamole at inopportune times, sales of the guacamole saw a significant increase with some 35-percent of customers ordering it. Most customers cited the episode as the reason for ordering the guacamole. Some tourists visit the restaurant to have their photos taken at the table in which the Whites and Schraeders could have shared in the most awkard guacamole in television history. Perhaps table tensions would have been allayed had they ordered the guacamole which tabelog ranked as the fifth best guacamole in America. According to Tabelog, “Quality ingredients and customer service are the main focus, and this shines through in the guacamole. Prepared table-side and from fresh ingredients, Garduno’s does the classic guacamole in a memorable way.

Sopaipillas and Tortillas from the El Comal Cafe in Santa Fe

At the risk of introducing an irritating earworm, who can ever forget the Dr. Pepper jingle “Dr. Pepper, so misunderstood. It tastes different and millions of people love the difference of Dr. Pepper. So misunderstood.” As with Dr. Pepper, different can be good. So says Thrillist which compiled a list of America’s 13 most misunderstood cities, cities “that are way cooler than anyone gives them credit for.” Topping the list (only because it was in alphabetical order) is Albuquerque, described as “the perfect place to start your meth empire if you’re a science teacher.” Thrillist conceded that the Duke City’s food scene has plenty to offer, citing Los Poblanos as “a tiny reservation/inn worth snagging a scarce reservation. The feature also indicated “you’d also be remiss not to eat some green chile while you’re in town, and El Pinto’s enormous-but-always-full restaurant (get the red chile ribs and one of the strong margaritas) does the trick. And for an evening in extremes, eat dinner at the upscale, seasonal NM-cuisine spot Farm & Table.

Try dining al fresco in Phoenix, Tucson or even El Paso and you risk being as cooked as your meal (or at least feeling that way). For dining in the great outdoors anywhere across the Southwest, you can’t beat Albuquerque whose moderate climates (and especially its cool evenings) make it an ideal milieu for luxuriating under the shade of a tall tree or patio’s canopy. In compiling its list of the 100 best al fresco dining restaurants in America for 2016, Opentable.com considered the opinion of more than five-million restaurant reviews submitted by verified Open Table diners for more than 20,000 restaurants across the fruited plain. Only two restaurants in New Mexico made the list: Farm & Table in Albuquerque and Indigo Crow in Corrales.

Ground Beef Enchiladas from The Frontier in Albuquerque

Travel & Leisure acknowledges that even “fast food chains are hawking the farm-to-table trend” which leaves consumers feeling that “every restaurant is green to some degree.” Still, within the true farm-to-table movement, there are some restaurants which “stand out from the pack by not only creating exciting innovative cuisine with a locally sourced menu, but also by applying that same eco-minded culinary philosophy to every aspect of the operation.” Travel & Leisure consulted with experts across the fruited plain to uncover the best eco-friendly restaurant in every state. New Mexico was well-represented by La Merienda at the Los Poblanos Historic Inn and Organic farm. La Merienda was described as “a green oasis that pays homage to the pioneering farm-to-table roots of pueblo cuisine. Everything on the menu—from the micro greens to the bacon to the honey and jujubes—is sourced on-site.”

In 2008, America was introduced to Dennis Apodaca, the pioneering chef at Eli’s Place (formerly known as Sophia’s Place) when Dennis wowed Food Network Star Guy Fieri during an episode of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. Eight years later, Dennis will make his second Food Network appearance, this time in an episode of Chopped, a program which challenges four chefs to create dishes out of mystery ingredients. The winner gets $10,000, but more importantly, an opportunity to showcase culinary talents across the country. The show will be taped in August and will air later this fall.

Cherry Tart and Almond Tart from Chez Mamou in Santa Fe

The term “underrated” has connotations of being underestimated or being rated or valued too low. Perhaps it’s because the Land of Enchantment tends to rank with Mississippi and Arkansas on the bottom end of many quality-of-life ratings, New Mexicans feel our beloved state is underrated even when we’re ranked near the top. Despite those quality-of-life ratings, we believe we’re number one in everything. In its Lifestyle section, MSN published its list of the most underrated restaurant in every state. “Whether it’s because of the understated appearance, hidden location or lack of publicity, these restaurants serve great food and everyone should know it.” New Mexico’s most underrated restaurant is Albuquerque’s Dog House. According to MSN “ What the Dog House may lack in ambiance they make up for in the taste of their chili dogs. Breaking Bad even used the Dog House as a filming location.” To really understand the Dog, House, you’ve got to read the assessment penned by Bob of the Village of Los Ranchos on my review.

“Land of the Free, Home of the Heavy.” That’s how Thrillist subtitles its feature “The Best States to Get Fat In.” You would think—considering the Land of Enchantment has the best food in the world—that we would top this list, however, perhaps because we’re a fitness-minded citizenry, New Mexico ranked only 31st. According to Thrillist “The greatest trick New Mexico ever pulled was convincing the world that if you douse everything in green chile it basically counts as eating your vegetables, even if said “everything” happens to primarily involve various meats, tortillas, and melted cheeses. For real, it’s a great trick.” There’s no trick to it. Green (and red) chile makes everything taste better!

Pizza Slice Masterpieces from DaVinci’s Gourmet Pizza in Albuquerque

Who can ever forget Homer Simpson’s bucket list? Predictably it consisted of a bucket of fried chicken, a bucket of shrimp, a bucket of tartar sauce, a bucket of chili and a bucket of popcorn all washed down with a bucket of cholesterol medicine. As with most gourmands, Homer’s bucket list was replete with culinary options. Thrillist compiled its Great American Bucket List: 50 Restaurants to Try Before You Die, listing restaurants whose “overall experience — yes, the food, but not just the food — is so spectacular in its singularity that it’s worthy of telling others to seek out before they kick the bucket.” The Land of Enchantment’s sole representative is Bernalillo’s iconic The Range Cafe which Thrillist described thusly: “When it comes to green chile options, this cafe does, in fact, have range. It also has “ranges,” as in the nickname for the vibrant, vintage toy stoves that adorn the walls.”

Purewow.com, an online presence “dedicated to finding ways to make your life more interesting, beautiful and manageable” compiled a list of “the most iconic restaurants in every single U.S. state,” ostensibly the restaurants which “have emerged as the ultimate representation of each and every state.” New Mexico’s representative was Santa Fe’s Cafe Pasqual. Purewow’s synopsis: “Since 1979, visitors have lined up outside Café Pasqual’s turquoise door for New Mexican classics with an inventive twist. (Think: green chili burgers and huevos barbacoa.) The colorful restaurant also houses an art gallery on the second floor.” Green chili burgers? Unless Texans have started dying their “chili” green, there’s no such animal!

May, 2016

Tempura Cheesecake from Naruto in Albuquerque

Brunch–it’s the best of two worlds–not quite breakfast and not quite lunch, but the best of both. It’s a leisurely weekend repast which makes you feel you’re getting away with something, as if you’re defying your mom’s mandate not to have dessert before the main entree. More than five million verified OpenTable diner reviews of more than 20,000 restaurants across the nation were used in the compilation of the 100 Best Brunch Restaurants in America for 2016. Surprisingly the only restaurant in New Mexico making the list is the Duke City’s own Farm & Table. Going strong since 2012, Farm & Table is a veritable oasis of green amidst Albuquerque’s earth-tone and concrete modernity. With an enviable balance of sweet and savory deliciousness, its brunch options are bountiful and beauteous.

Readers of USA Today and 10Best were given the opportunity to select the very best of the best from among so many outstanding green chile cheeseburgers throughout the Land of Enchantment. A panel of experts picked the initial 20 nominees, and the top 10 winners were determined by popular vote. That popular vote determined Blake’s Lotaburger is the best green chile cheeseburger in New Mexico. Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the final results is that the voting was not dominated by purveyors of New Mexico’s sacrosanct burger in Albuquerque and Santa Fe. The Duke City’s sole representative was the Owl Cafe, a presence in San Antonio since the 1940s. The Owl Cafe was runner-up to Lotaburger. Santa Fe was well represented by Santa Fe Bite in eighth place.

A half-pound of brisket from Pepper’s Bar-B-Q & Soul Food in Albuquerque

Travel & Leisure took the pulse of its readers to compile a list of America’s Favorite Cities. Thanks in large part to a vibrant culinary scene, the Duke City was rated sixth. Here’s what Travel & Leisure had to say: “Readers rated Albuquerque especially well for its bakeries, such as Golden Crown Panaderia, where the loaves of the signature New Mexico Green Chile Bread are decorated with howling coyotes. But since man does not live on green-chile bread alone, Albuquerque also scored well for local beer (like the wildflower wheat at downtown’s Marble Brewery) and diners. For the latter, the Standard Diner offers comfort food such as bacon-wrapped meatloaf and country-friend ahi tuna. Readers also applauded the city for feeling like a good value.”

Travel & Leisure didn’t define how it distinguishes between a city and a town, but for Santa Fe it probably wouldn’t matter. The City Different is beloved regardless of classification. In its 2016 compilation of America’s Favorite Towns, Santa Fe ranked third. As is often the case, the city…er, town’s burgeoning culinary scene is just one of many reasons it’s held in such esteem. According to Travel & Leisure, “It also ranked well for history—like its San Miguel Chapel, the nation’s oldest church, and even its restaurants, like Geronimo, set in an adobe home that dates to 1756. Its lounge offers the opportunity to try the city’s most famous local crop in a creative way: the Norteño margarita is made with Hatch-green-chile-infused tequila, then shaken with an orange liqueur. After a few, you might see why the city also got high marks for its peaceful vibes.”

Sauce Katusu from Magokoro in Albuquerque

“Barbecue festival season kicks off in the spring, with celebrations, cook-offs and competitions held all over the USA until late fall. In general, the barbecue teams and cooks that participate in these festivals pay homage to Memphis-, Texas-, St. Louis-, Kansas City- and Carolina-style barbecue, experimenting with spice rubs, slathering meats with thick, sweet sauces, or dressing shredded tendrils of pork with a tart vinegar-based dip.” USA Today included a New Mexico standard among the best cue-fests in the fruited plain: “The Pork & Brew BBQ State Championship is a Kansas City Barbecue Society-sanctioned event in Rio Rancho, N.M. The three-day festival features top barbecue vendors, offerings from local microbreweries, live music and interactive family activities. General admission is $6 for adults and $4 for kids. The winning barbecue teams can go on to participate in larger national competitions.” The Pork & Brew is an annual tradition for me and my friends Larry “the professor with the perspicacious palate” McGoldrick and the Dazzling Deanell, all of us certified Kansas City Barbecue Society (KCBS) judges and barbecue aficionados.

Mental Floss, “the international media brand that gives smart, curious knowledge junkies their fix with upbeat, witty explorations of everything from science to pop culture to tech to history” compiled its list of the best burger in all 50 states. The Land of Enchantment’s representative is no surprise considering it’s graced similar lists for years. Mental Floss lavished praise on San Antonio’s Buckhorn Tavern, saying “Food experts across the country continuously name Buckhorn Tavern’s Green Chile Cheeseburger one of the best burgers in the U.S. The small, family owned Buckhorn Tavern is so popular that many visitors actually plan their trips around this burger hot spot.

Watermelon Shake from The Owl Cafe in Albuquerque

Americans seem to love lists and often seem willing to forgive list-makers when less than completely accurate choices are made. It’s all in good fun save for those of us who want the world to know there’s a difference between the cuisines of Old Mexico and New Mexico. The most recent culprit in committing this geographic faux pas is Tabelog, a “dynamic, interactive environment where users can come together over a shared passion for fine dining.” In its “10 best Mexican Restaurants in America,” Tabelog listed Santa Fe’s The Shed restaurant as America’s second best pantheon for Mexican cuisine, all-the-while indicating “Rooted in Northern New Mexico cuisine and hospitality, The Shed has been around since 1953.” Perhaps the most offensive statement for New Mexicans was “Any true lover of Mexican cuisine must make a point to hit this spot for an amazing experience.” While the experience will certainly be amazing, it won’t be Mexican.

Pardon my gratuitous self aggrandizing here, but I was tickled pink to read Kitson Harvey’s shout-out to “some of my favorite local bloggers, not on Duke City Fix.” Here’s what the brilliant Kitson wrote about your favorite sesquipedalian sybarite. “Gil Garduño @ Gil’s Thrilling (and Filling) Blog. This is THE Albuquerque food blog. This past week he made a return trip to Joe’s Pasta House in Rio Rancho and, along with his new review, includes the text of his past reviews so we can see whether/if his opinions have changed over time. This blog is a major resource for local eaters, and I love his reason for not including wine pairings (check the FAQs for the answer).” Right back atcha, Kitson. I’ve been a huge fan for years.

April, 2016

The Cubano from Alicea’s Bagels & Subs in Rio Rancho

It’s no April Fool’s Day joke. On April 1st, LotaBurger launched its very first Arizona location, expanding its burger empire to three states (in 2004, Lotaburger debuted in El Paso, Texas). Tucson’s burger aficionados will quickly discover why the 2006 edition of National Geographic’s Passport to the Best: The 10 Best of Everything book, declared LotaBurger serves the “Best Green Chile Cheeseburger in the World“. Going strong for well over six decades, LotaBurger was a New Mexico only institution for all but the past 62 years, but not appears poised to conquer new culinary horizons.

It’s been oft said by chefs that “you eat with your eyes first. Although the senses of taste, smell, and vision are distinct, visual stimuli have been shown to alter your perception of those senses. Tabelog, an “online community for foodies by foodies,” compiled a list of America’s 13 most scenic restaurants, eateries boasting of amazing panoramas from every angle. New Mexico’s sole honoree is the High Finance Restaurant at the top of the Sandia Peak Tramway. According to Tabelog, “With enormous views of the Rio Grande Valley and the Land of Enchantment, High Finance Restaurant offers one of the most unique scenic meals in the country.”

Wings with Buffalo Garlic Sauce from Bucket Headz in Albuquerque

Over the years there have been a number of national online presences purporting some level of expertise about New Mexican cuisine. They publish “best of” features that leave locals asking “huh” and “why was this restaurant selected?”. At other times those “best of” features show a level of savvy that surprises locals. Such was the case when Spoon University, “the everyday food resource for our generation, on a mission to make food make sense” selected the cheeseburger from Burger Boy in Cedar Crest as the Land of Enchantment’s best. Spoon University’s “best burger from every state” feature indicated “Although they offer a few different burgers for a cheap price, most choose the classic cheeseburger, which also comes with fries.” Most New Mexicans we know order their burger with green chile.

What type of restaurant might be named to MSN’s 50 best restaurants in America list? You’re probably thinking it’s some posh fine-dining establishment featuring nouveau French cuisine. “Best,” as we all know is a subjective term subject to individual interpretation. MSN’s list showed some out-of-the-box thinking in naming Albuquerque’s Guava Tree Cafe as the 31st best restaurant in the fruited plain. According to MSN, “this little restaurant has great Caribbean and Latin American-inspired food. With many Cuban type sandwiches and avocados in most of their food, this place definitely has the delicious lunch thing down.”

Toritos from Mariscos Mazatlan in Rio Rancho

Innovative chefs ply their trade all across the fruited plain with some of the very best working across the southwest. Dorado, an online magazine which “celebrates the rugged and eclectic spirit of the Four Corners region” compiled a list of “seven Southwest chefs we love.” New Mexican chefs which made the list included Rob Connoley, the James Beard award-nominated forager from Curious Kumquat in Silver City; Ahmed Obo, the Kenya native who fuses traditional Kenyan dishes with Caribbean flavors at Jambo; and Erin Wade, who’s made really big salads really delicious in Vinaigrette which has a presence in Albuquerque and Santa Fe.

Thrillist, the online presence “obsessed with everything that’s worth caring about in food, drink” compiled a “state-by-state ode to the edible (and drinkable!) dynamos that have literally changed the shape of America (because we’re fatter now). In its “Every State’s Most Important Food Innovation” feature, Thrillist declared (what else) green chile as New Mexico’s choice. According to Thrillist, “Chiles only came to the region post-Columbus, and the chiles you so enjoy today are the results of painstaking research in the early 20th century at New Mexico State University meant to isolate varieties that would thrive in the arid climate there.”

Blueberry Muffin from Desert Grows in Los Ranchos de Albuquerque

Perhaps if our options consisted solely of green chile and pinto beans, more of us might endeavor to become vegetarians. Fortunately for vegetarians, there are many other delicious meat-free choices across the Land of Enchantment…so many that CNN Traveler named Santa Fe as one of the “15 best U.S. cities for vegetarians.” Traveler noted that “like the town itself, Santa Fe’s vegetarian-friendly restaurants offer a number of ways to get out of your comfort zone. Try a fix of the famed local staple, green chile, in a tamale at Cafe Pasqual’s or wrapped in a crispy dosa at the innovative South Indian restaurant Paper Dosa.

Although the Cooking Channel doesn’t grace my cable subscription package, I find comfort in knowing Founding Friends of Gil (FOG) member Jim Millington was able to watch the channel’s “Cheap Eats” show when it featured host Ali Khan visiting beautiful, sunny Albuquerque. Jim reports that “the show is pretty much like Rachael Ray’s old Twenty Dollar a Day show except that Ali lacks Rachael’s cuteness and he has $35. His first stop was at the Tia B’s La Waffleria for vegan waffles which he found to be wonderful. Next stop was the Route 66 Pit Stop for the famous green chile cheeseburger which knocked his socks off. Third was Rebel Donuts. He didn’t even get a donut shaped one. It was long, stuffed and topped with bacon. Papa Felipe’s introduced him to the amazement of carne adovada stuffed in a sopaipilla.” Thank you, Jim.

March, 2016

Polish/German Platter from the Red Rock Deli in Albuquerque

Hollywood has discovered one of New Mexico’s most enchanting qualities. It’s the state’s chameleon-like ability to transform itself to virtually any location movie producers wish to portray. Thanks to its preternaturally diverse topography, various locations throughout the Land of Enchantment have been featured in more than 600 productions over the years, touching virtually every corner of the state. In many instances, New Mexico doubles as some far-away exotic locale and not necessarily within the surly bounds of Earth. The filming location for the 2016 movie Whiskey Tango Foxtrot may have been Albuquerque, but it’s a Duke City many of us won’t recognize. Stretching its acting chops, Albuquerque portrayed Afghanistan in the movie. During an appearance on the Tonight Show, starring actress Tina Fay explained “New Mexico looks a lot like Afghanistan, weirdly, but with really good burgers with green chiles.” You won’t find green chile cheeseburgers in Afghanistan.

Speaking of doubling for something else, several years ago Rebel Donut gained tremendous notoriety for creating a donut mimicking the potent crystal blue meth made famous by AMC’s Breaking Bad series. More recently, Rebel Donut was honored on Food Network Magazine as one of a dozen “best in dough,” an honor bestowed upon fun donuts. The honoree is Rebel Donut’s pina colada donut, a vanilla cake donut dipped in coconut rum glaze then raw coconut with buttercream frosting. Unlike the Breaking Bad donut which has no actual blue meth, there is actual real rum in the pina colada donut. It’s one in a small line of adult donuts though it can be made “virgin” as well.

Corn from Delicias Cafe in Albuquerque

There are dozens of annual sweets and dessert festivals across the fruited plain. USA Today honored just a handful of the most popular, inviting readers to “sweets festivals worth traveling to indulge in.” One of the festivals garnering a mention is Albuquerque’s own Southwest Chocolate & Coffee Fest in March. “The festival features both baking and eating contests, welcoming all ages and skill levels.” More than 120 vendors and 17,000 festival-goers attend” the event according to USA Today.

How many times have you heard it said “only in New Mexico.” Frankly, every state has unique features, landmarks, personalities and quirks that set it apart from other states. Recognizing the uniqueness of each state is the goal of OnlyInYourState.com, an online presence which takes a fun, informal approach to helping readers discover things to do in each of the 50 states. Anyone can write about New Mexico’s enchanting enchiladas and bounteous burritos. OnlyInYourState dares to point out “13 Pizza Places in New Mexico So Good Your Mouth May Explode.” Interestingly, you have to go all the way down to number six before a pizza from Albuquerque is even mentioned. According to the writer, the five best pizzas in New Mexico are the Rooftop Pizzeria in Santa Fe, J.C.’s Pizza Department in Las Vegas (with a branch in Albuquerque), The Pizza Barn in Edgewood, Zeffiro Pizzeria Napoletana in Las Cruces and Forghedaboudit in Deming. How many of us even know these pizza places exist?

Chicken Fried Steak from City Lights in Albuquerque

“Santa Fe’s small, intimate and upscale dining scene provides ample restaurants with hushed lighting, tranquil outdoor seating and a unique fold of Southwestern, American and French cuisines.” Foodandwine.com invited its readers to reserve a table or two at the most romantic restaurants in Santa Fe. The list includes Eloisa, the James Beard award-nominated restaurant from chef John Rivera Sedlar; Izanami, the traditional Japanese izakaya restaurant; Luminaria, where lantern-lit courtyard dining awaits; The Anasazi, a rustic-chick restaurant melding Southwestern and Latin influences; and Santacafe, with its Georgia O’Keefe inspired dining room. Romance is definitely in the air at these restaurants.

22 Words, an online presence which purports to be “your source for the crazy, curious, and comical side of the Web” and offers “funny and fascinating viral content as well as more obscure (but equally interesting) pictures, videos and more” put together its list of the “BEST things to Eat in Every State.” It’s a no-brainer to declare the best thing to eat in New Mexico: “When chili peppers are one of the state vegetables, it’s a given that you’re known for producing fresh, hot chili-based sauces that are poured on everything from eggs to burritos to burgers.” Spelling “chile” as our neighbors in Texas do just takes something away from the credibility of this otherwise interesting feature.

Chiles Rellenos from Tenampa in Albuquerque

When it comes to perpetuating a successful franchise, Pizza 9 is a ten. Franchise Business Review named the burgeoning enterprise among its “best of the best,” one of the top 200 franchises in America for 2016. As one of only 38 franchises in the food and beverage segment to be honored, Pizza 9 has experienced substantial growth since launching its inaugural store in 2008. Today, the company boasts of more than 20 locations in the Land of Enchantment and Texas with other locations being planned. While the name on the marquee pegs it as a pizza restaurant, Pizza 9 is also one of only a handful of restaurants throughout the Land of Enchantment to offer Italian beef sandwiches, a Chicago area staple.

Zap2it, an online movie and television information network , interviewed cast and creators of AMC’s “Better Call Saul” to find out what restaurants in the Land of Enchantment they frequent. Bob Odenkirk (Jimmy McGill/Saul Goodman) and Michael Nando (Nacho) enjoy Farina Pizzeria in Albuquerque. Producer Vince Gilligan favors Santa Fe’s Geronimo while Patrick Fabian (Howard Hamlin) is a fan of Los Compadres . Rhea Seehorn (Kim Wexler) enjoys the food and ambiance at Los Poblanos Farms. Interestingly, none mentioned restaurants such as Loyola’s, Sai Gon Sandwich and Taco Sal which have made cameo appearances in the series.

Hass Aslami, founder of franchise powerhouse Pizza 9

On March 22nd, the Travel Channel debuted its Bizarre Foods: Delicious Destinations episode showcasing Albuquerque. Instead of highlighting the weirdly wonderful aspects of dining in the Duke City, the show focused on the unique foods Zimmern believes define Albuquerque. Understandably that means chile, both red and green. At the Church Street Cafe, Zimmern touted the stacked green chile enchiladas. For green chile cheeseburgers, Zimmern visited The Owl Cafe on Eubank, explaining this satellite location uses the recipes and preparation techniques of the San Antonio Owl Cafe which originated green chile cheeseburgers. For the most intense, rich and smoking hot red chile, Zimmern recommended Mary & Tito’s Cafe, a James Beard Award-Winning restaurant where carne adovada is a mainstay. Because not even New Mexicans can live on chile alone, Delicious Destinations visited The Pueblo Harvest Cafe for a Tewa taco and piñon rolls from Buffet’s.

February, 2016

Nutella and Banana Crepe from Boiler Monkey in Albuquerque

In January, Business Insider put together a list showcasing the best restaurant in every state. Paying particular attention to fine-dining establishments, Business Insider declared Santa Fe’s Geronimo as the best the Land of Enchantment has to offer. Less than a month later, restaurant review guide Zagat compiled a line-up called “50 States, 50 Steaks” which honored the definitive slab of succulent beef to be found in every state. New Mexico’s honoree was none other than the Tellicherry-Rubbed Elk Tenderloin at Geronimo. “Served atop roasted garlic fork-mashed potatoes, sugar snap peas, Applewood smoked bacon and creamy brandied-mushroom sauce,” the Elk Tenderloin is indeed divinely inspired, a transformative steak.

Shortly after Zagat’s affirmation of New Mexico’s premier steak, Geronimo’s uber-talented executive chef Eric DiStefano passed away unexpectedly. Tributes to the chef centered not as much on his greatness as a culinary virtuoso, but on what a kind and gentle soul he was. He was a man beloved in the community, a man who touched many lives as well as palates. My friend Billie Frank who knew him well wrote a very touching feature on Chef DiStefano on Santa Fe Travelers. Billie and I agreed that every apron in Santa Fe should be at half-mast. Godspeed Chef.

Fried Pickles from The Fat Squirrel Pub & Grille in Rio Rancho

It speaks to the remarkable consistency with which New Mexico’s very best chefs perform night in and night out that in 2016, the state’s five semifinalists for the James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef Southwest are repeat honorees. To be named a semi-finalist is to be recognized as among the very best from among the elite. The level of competition throughout the Southwest (Arizona, Colorado, Texas and New Mexico) is extremely high. Semifinalists for Best Chef Southwest for 2016 include Jennifer James of Jennifer James 101 in Albuquerque, Martin Rios of Restaurant Martin in Santa Fe, Jonathan Perno of La Mierienda at Los Poblanos in Los Ranchos de Albuquerque and Andrew Cooper of Terra at the Four Seasons Resort Rancho Encantado in Santa Fe. Eloisa, Chef John Sedlar’s tribute to his grandmother, was nominated for Best New Restaurant.

Rancho de Chimayo was announced as one of five recipients of the James Beard Award’s “America’s Classic” honor. A James Beard Award signifies the pinnacle of achievement in the culinary world, the country’s most coveted and prestigious culinary award while the “Americas Classic Award” honors “restaurants with timeless appeal, beloved for quality food that reflects the character of their community, and that have carved out a special place in the American culinary landscape.” Rancho de Chimayo is the true, timeless American classic–beloved in the community with the highest quality food reflecting the character of New Mexico.

Whoo’s Donuts, Homer Simpson’s Favorite Santa Fe Restaurant

No doh about it. Homer Simpson would drool over the Thrillist’s compilation of the best donut shops in America, thirty-three purveyors of confectionery excellence. Only one of the Land of Enchantment’s decorated domiciles of donut deliciousness made the list. Santa Fe’s Whoo’s Donuts were a revelation to Thrillist writers who described the blue-corn donut experience as “like eating a corn muffin that has been put into a culinary witness-protection program and comes out with a totally new identity, but is more delicious.” While the analogy may be a bit lame, Whoo’s Donuts are fantastic.

“Kiss me, I’m drunk.” While that quote may sound as if uttered by Richard Burton or Joe Namath, it’s how Buzzfeed subtitled its “Best Irish Bar in Every State” feature. Regardless of what the subtitle may or may not have implied, the feature acknowledged that “a good Irish bar isn’t just a bar. It’s home.” Buzzfeed consulted the good folks at Yelp for the top-rated Irish spots in every state. The Land of Enchantment is well represented by Albuquerque’s Two Fools Tavern where “the hardest part is deciding if you want the boxty, fish and chips or the bangers and mash.”

For the Love of Meat – Airing in Santa Fe on Wednesday, March 9th at 7PM. (Click Image for More Info)

Best in the country. It’s one thing to give yourself that title, it’s another to earn it. Chef Todzilla’s Mobile Cuisine, a Roswell food truck earned it! In a poll of the best food trucks in the fruited plain, Chef Todzillas garnered almost half the 4,700 votes cast while competing against food trucks in such cosmopolitan behemoths as Dallas and Las Vegas. Chef Todzilla prides itself on using fresh, local, never frozen ingredients and has a burger menu to be envied. The chorizo burger is reputed to be addictive.

On Wednesday, March 9th at 7PM, the Violet Crown Cinema in Santa Fe will screen a documentary on barbecue as it is incomparably prepared in Central Texas. Entitled “For the Love of Meat,” the documentary introduces some of the top barbecue pit-masters in Central Texas. This documentary comes with a warning: It will make you hungry for some brisket. Purchase your tickets here.

January, 2016

High Point Mac (Choice Center-Cut Steak and Green Chile) from The Point in Rio Rancho

Not since Adam and Eve have ribs been as oft-discussed as they are today.  Barbecue restaurants throughout the fruited plain strive for melt-in-your-mouth pork and beef ribs.  Ribs are the most popular of all barbecued meats, caveman cuisine at its very best.   In a program called Top 5 BBQ in America, the Food Network celebrated barbecue ribs in such barbecue hotbeds as Tennessee and North Carolina.  Admittedly Albuquerque isn’t the first place you think of for great ribs, but the Food Network fell in love with the red chile ribs from El Pinto, ranking them third in the country.  “The secret to their mouth-watering spicy ribs is a paste made of dried caribe chiles rubbed onto the meat and allowed to marinate for 24 hours.” 

“From new attractions and massive additions to quirky flavors, big birthdays and booze, 2016 promises to be a good year for the curious traveler.”  CNN compiled a list of 16 things to see and do in the U.S. in 2016.   Arguably the most delicious destination to be enjoyed this year is New Mexico’s very own Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail.  “With nearly 100 spots to sample, the Trail is a tasty way to add a little spice to your life this year.”  Among the purveyors of incomparable green chile cheeseburgers listed were Sparky’s in Hatch and 5 Star Burgers with locations in Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Taos.

My friend Darren contemplates his meal at Magokoro

In December, 2015, you read on this blog that Zagat, a national online and print restaurant review medium, had selected as New Mexico’s very best dessert not something unique to the Land of Enchantment, but a bundt cake you can find at a chain with locations throughout the fruited plain.  Spoon University, the self-professed “everyday food resource for our generation, on a mission to make food make sense” made a lot more sense than Zagat, naming New Mexico’s best dessert as bizcochitos from the Golden Crown Panaderia.  Spoon described them as “sweet, cinnamony cookies” that became the “official state cookie almost 20 years ago” and “deserve to graduate onto the official dessert.” 

Business Insider didn’t limit itself to cookies, naming the best restaurant in every state.  Sifting through their own list of the best restaurants in America, James Beard Award nominations, expert reviews, and local recommendations, paying particular attention to fine-dining establishments, Business Insider declared Santa Fe’s Geronimo as the best in the Land of Enchantment.  “Noted for its impeccable service and complex dishes,” Geronimo “boasts a host of mouthwatering dishes.”

Wonton soup from Asian Pear

With almost twice as many flavor-characteristics discernible by human senses than wine, coffee is next to water, the world’s most popular beverage with 400 billion cups consumed yearly (1.4 billion cups daily) across the globe. The Huffington Post and Foursquare users compiled a list of the best places for coffee in every state across the fruited plain.  With cups touting them as “passionate about coffee,” the Land of Enchantment representative was Satellite Coffee, an Albuquerque presence with eight locations throughout the city. 

“Until recently, Tim Harris, of Albuquerque was the only restaurant owner in the country with Down syndrome. But what drives a restaurateur who has lived for his business to close up shop? A girl he loves more than anything.”  In a very touching report the CBS news show Sunday morning profiled Harris and his decision to close his popular restaurant Tim’s Place to move to Denver where he could be close to the love of his life.  When Tim launches his restaurant in Denver, it’s a sure bet the Mile High City will embrace him as warmly as the Duke City did.

Lobster Tater Tots from the Freight House in Bernalillo

Santa Fe Chef Marc Quiñones who plies his craft at Luminaria competed with four other chefs on the Food Network’s “Cutthroat Kitchen,” a reality cooking show.  Cutthroat Kitchen features four chefs competing in a three-round elimination cooking competition. The contestants face auctions in which they can purchase opportunities to sabotage one another. Each chef is given $25,000 at the start of the show; the winner keeps whatever money he or she has not spent in the auctions.  While the talented chef didn’t win the competition, every guest at Luminaria is a winner when they get to partake of his culinary fare. 

For years, Santa Fe has been regarded as one of the nation’s premier tourist attractions as well as one of America’s best dining destinations.  This culinary Mecca hosted its inaugural Santa Fe Foodie Classic, highlighting classic flavor combinations as well as new techniques demonstrating the future of Southwestern cuisine.   Several events were held in which some of the city’s very best chefs showcased their talents over a three-day period.

2016SouperBowl

For more than 35 years, the Roadrunner Food Bank of New Mexico has been serving the state’s hungry.  As the largest Food Bank in the state, it distributes more than 30 million pounds of food every year to a network of hundreds of partner agencies and four regional food banks.  Through that network, the Food Bank is helping 70,000 hungry people in our state weekly.  That’s the equivalent to feeding a city the size of Santa Fe every single week. Every January, the Food Bank hosts the Souper Bowl, its largest fundraiser, an event in which restaurants across the metropolitan area prepare and serve their tastiest soups to hundreds of people and several hungry judges who get to weigh in on their favorites.  This year’s winners were: 

People’s Choice Winners – Soup
1st Place and Souper Bowl Champion: Artichoke Café for their Butternut Squash and Coffee Soup; 2nd PlaceSoupDog for New Mexico meets New Orleans Gumbo; 3rd Place: Bocadillos Café and Catering for New Mexico Clam Chowder

Critics’ Choice Winners – Soup
1st Place: Zinc Bistro and Wine Bar for Roasted Chicken and Red Chile Dumpling Soup; 2nd Place: Bien Shur at Sandia Resort and Casino for Fire Roasted Poblano Cream Soup with Corn and Crawfish Salsa; 3rd Place: The Ranchers Club of New Mexico for Bison Posole

People’s Choice Winners – Vegetarian Soup
1st Place: Street Food Asia for Malay Curry PPP Chowder; 2nd Place: Il Vicino Wood Oven Pizza for Vegetable Minestrone; 3rd Place: Turtle Mountain Brewing Company for Green Chile Cheddar Ale soup

People’s Choice – Dessert

1st Place: Nothing Bundt Cakes for Bundtinis; 2nd Place: Theobroma Chocolatier for Assorted Chocolates; 3rd Place: Gardunos Restaurants for Biscochito Flan

People’s Choice – Booth Winner: Bien Shur Restaurant

On the same weekend, The Food Depot in Santa Fe holds its own Souper Bowl event. This year more than 1,200 people enjoyed the best soups some 28 restaurant chefs across the City Different had to serve.  Winners of the 2016 event were:

Best Cream: Rio Chama
Best Savory: Four Seasons Resort Rancho Encantado Santa Fe
Best Seafood: Sweetwater Harvest Kitchen
Best Vegetarian: Paper Dosa
Best Overall Soup: Sweetwater Harvest Kitchen

Eli’s Place (formerly Sophia’s Place) – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Dennis and the lovely Sophia at the viewing of the Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives episode featuring his outstanding restaurant

Dennis and his daughter, the lovely Sophia at the viewing of the Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives episode featuring his outstanding restaurant (Photo courtesy of Sandy Driscoll)

Picture yourself as a first-year marketing student assigned by your professor to perform a marketing analysis of Eli’s Place and its enigmatic chef-owner Dennis Apodaca.  Essentially you’ve got to figure out the rhyme and reason behind the restaurant’s success.  “Easy assignment,” you think to yourself, “Eli’s Place is successful because it serves some of the best, most delicious food in Albuquerque.”  Your research quickly reveals, however, that Eli’s Place actually violates many of the time-honored, trusted and fundamental marketing tenets of growing and successful businesses.  From a marketing perspective, it just shouldn’t work as well as it does. 

Any Marketing 101 student can tell you, for example, the importance of brand identity.  A brand is one of the most valuable and important assets of a restaurant. It needs to be carefully cultivated to ensure it properly and authentically reflects the values, attributes and passions of a business.  Eli’s Place received an enormous boost to its brand identity in 2008 when the Food Network came calling.  Being featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives is generally worth a fortune to any restaurant.  So what does Dennis Apodaca do?  In 2015, he renamed his restaurant, eschewing the well-established and nationally known brand name Sophia’s Place in favor of Eli’s Place.

Eli’s Place may not be as visually appealing as other restaurants, but it serves beautiful food

Then there’s the restaurant itself.  From an esthetic perspective, it isn’t nearly as inviting and attractive as those modern venues with their pristine veneer or the effusive, over-the-top flamboyance of the chains.  It’s virtually homely.  Heck, it doesn’t even have a sign telling you you’ve arrived at your destination.  The parking lot can get muddy during inclement weather which can sometimes render the outdoor patio useless.  Step inside the Lilliputian edifice and during peak hours, you’ll be challenged to find a seat.  It just doesn’t make sense that Eli’s Place works as well as it does.

The main reason for its success, of course, is gifted proprietor and chef Dennis Apodaca, an accomplished restaurateur despite (or maybe in spite of) not following a tried-and-true template. Sure, he may be an enigma to any marketing student, but to savvy diners he’s one of the very best chefs in New Mexico.  Dennis has a very impressive pedigree that includes stints at some of the best restaurants in San Francisco and Santa Fe, having worked for several world-famous, cutting-edge chefs in some of America’s most renown restaurants.  Those include Mark Miller, the high priest of modern Southwest cuisine and founder of Santa Fe’s Coyote Cafe and the pioneering Alice Waters, founder of Chez Panisse, the original California cuisine (focusing exclusively on organic, locally produced foods in season) restaurant in Berkeley, California.

The interior of Eli’s Place. Note the poster signed by Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives host Guy Fieri

Apprenticing under luminary chefs may make apparent the genesis of some of his culinary influences, but it’s also obvious that Dennis loves his craft and plies it with enthusiasm and style.  I heard him speak once of his annual pilgrimages to New York and of dining at such restaurants as Katz’s, a Manhattan deli I hold in reverential esteem. Like most great chefs, he is always in pursuit of new ideas and techniques.  Dennis launched the restaurant he named for his then eight-year-old daughter Sophia on December 3rd, 2002 (and which he renamed for Sophia’s own son in 2015).  It’s situated at the former site of the once very popular, but now defunct Fajitaville, a restaurant at which he served as chef before launching his own operation. As popular as it was, you don’t hear many former Fajitaville patrons lament the change. That’s because they’ve been completely won over by Apodaca’s inventive, eclectic and funky menu–a menu that includes a range of sophisticated salads and soups, extraordinary sandwiches and lots of pleasant surprises.

Dennis is also a stickler for using fine ingredients, many of which are flown in and delivered daily to his charming North Valley restaurant. He insists on the preparation of each meal to order; you won’t find anything sitting under a heating lamp here.  You also won’t find a freezer in the premises.  Dennis believes in ultra-fresh. His menu is replete with specials of the day which change frequently, usually crafted from fresh ingredients he procures from the farmer’s markets.  Eli’s also does not have an oven or burners, just two grills, but sheer magic is created on those grills.

Chips and salsa at Eli’s

On August 25th, 2008 the Food Network’s Guy Fieri taped a segment at Sophia’s for his Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives program.  On a signed poster which hangs on one of the restaurant’s walls, Fieri wrote “little place, huge flavors.”  That pretty much says it all, not that Fieri didn’t say quite a bit more about Sophia’s.  After that segment aired on Monday, November 24th, 2008 getting a seat at this fabulous restaurant became even more difficult.  Guy Fieri pegged it correctly when he called him “a hands-on chef who’s doing things his own way.”  That includes touches like making his own butter and crafting all his culinary creations by hand.

24 November 2012: One holdover from Dennis’s days at Fajitaville are some of the best salsas in town.  An order of salsa and chips rewards diners with two salsas–a roasted tomato salsa and a pico de gallo style salsa coupled with housemade chips served warm.  Neither of the salsas are especially piquant, but both are redolent with freshness and flavor.  The chips are lightly salted and oversized for Gil-sized portions of salsa.  Unfortunately you’ll run out of salsa before you run out of chips.

Grilled Sirloin and Green Chile Sandwich on Sage Bakehouse Bakery Bread with Shoestring Fries

Grilled Sirloin and Green Chile Sandwich on Sage Bakehouse Bakery Bread with Shoestring Fries

Breakfast and lunch entrees are served all day which is a great thing because you never know when the urge will hit for a world-class sandwich. Sage Bakehouse bread, a New Mexico treasure, is the foundation upon which those sandwiches are built. Each sandwich is served with your choice of potato salad, green salad or homemade shoestring potatoes (a must-have).  Don’t desecrate those shoestring potatoes with ketchup. Ask instead for a small bowl of Eli’s red chile and dip your fries into that. Some of the best chile and some of the best fries in town–you can’t go wrong with that combination.

Eli’s grilled pastrami sandwich is a poor man’s version of the aforementioned Katz’s in which pastrami is piled on skyscraper high. Even though Eli’s doesn’t lay the pastrami on as thick as at Katz’s, it’s also not apportioned in waifishly thin shreds like the sandwiches the chains proffer. In Albuquerque only California Pastrami serves a better pastrami sandwich (although it dropped just a bit in my estimation when packets of mustard replaced the gourmet mustard once dolloped on the sandwich). Apodaca gets his pastrami flown in from Chicago where this brisket derivative is best made.

Chipotle Chile Bacon Cheeseburger

The green chile cheeseburger at Eli’s

30 August 2008: Also exceptional is the green chile bacon cheeseburger on hard-crusted Sage Bakehouse bread. As the hack comic Banya would tell Jerry Senifeld, “it’s the best, Jerry, the best.” In a city and state in which green chile cheeseburgers are a religion, Dennis Apodaca is a high priest, serving something just a bit different. This cheeseburger is a two-fisted edible piece of art with an explosively delicious taste.  The green chile is not so assertive that it prevents the salty sweetness of the bacon to sneak out. Instead they meld together wonderfully. The texture of the lightly toasted Ciabatta bread is a nice departure from the traditional soft burger buns. The bacon is crispy and thick. There’s no iceberg lettuce in this masterpiece; it’s salad quality mixed greens. The hamburger patty hasn’t seen  the inside of a freezer; it’s hand-formed and thick, prepared to your exacting specifications.

27 September 2016: Burger aficionados will also love Eli’s chipotle cheeseburger, a work of art and absolute beauty.  It’s got the piquancy (maybe even more) of a green chile cheeseburger with the inimitable flavor of chipotle.  If you’re not sure what a chipotle is, it’s merely a smoked, dried jalapeño.  It’s a versatile pepper, adding depth, complexity and a kick to meats, and a savory counterbalance to sweets.  At Eli’s, the chipotle doesn’t come out of a jar.  It’s the real thing, smoked at home and rehydrated to textural perfection.  This chipotle cheeseburger is simple, a thick hamburger patty, molten cheese and chipotle.  That’s it…and that’s enough.

Sophia's Breakfast Burrito

The breakfast burrito, Albuquerque’s very best

The simply named Breakfast Sandwich on (what else) toasted Sage Bakehouse bread is a concordant composition of fried eggs, bacon, cheese and fresh salsa that will help make your day start off on the right foot. It may well be the best breakfast sandwich in Albuquerque, not that there is a plethora of competition in the breakfast sandwich arena.

10 April 2008: Eli’s breakfast burrito has done something I had thought impossible. It supplanted Milton’s breakfast burrito as my favorite breakfast burrito in New Mexico. The primary reason is a wondrous red chile, a deep, earthy, sweet and utterly delicious chile of medium piquancy. This chile is in rarified company with Mary & Tito’s legendary red which I’ve long considered the best in the Duke City area. It’s the type of chile you might want to lick off your plate so as not to leave any of it behind. If Dennis were to offer New Mexican food exclusively, it would probably be the best in the city. Make sure you order your burrito “smothered” so you won’t be lamenting that there isn’t enough chile on your plate. In its September, 2011 edition, the staff of Albuquerque The Magazine undertook the enviable task of selecting the Duke City’s very best breakfast burrito. Eli’s was rated tenth best. To paraphrase the immortal words of former world boxing champion Max Schmeling’s manager Joe Jacobs, “they waz robbed!”

Huevos Mexicanos

There’s only one thing wrong with Eli’s red chile. It’s that the red is so good, many of us may never again order the breakfast burrito “Christmas style” (with both red and green chile). That would be sad because the green chile is outstanding in its own right. It’s a fruity chile with a comal roasted aroma and flavor. The breakfast burrito is crafted from organic eggs, potatoes, cheese and salsa. You can have it with your choice of bacon, pork carnitas, chicken, beef or vegetables.

23 November 2010: The daily specials on Eli’s menu truly earn the accolade “special.” Such is the case with a breakfast enchilada with turkey sausage, Cojita cheese and poblano chile. The melding of these ingredients make for an outstanding breakfast entree that I may have to bide my time to see returned to the menu. Fortunately, there’s always something else intriguing and invariably delicious to mollify my appetite.

Another special special, duck enchiladas with a green chile cream sauce

Duck enchiladas served with a green chile cream sauce

30 August 2008: Another very special special are the duck enchiladas served with a green chile cream sauce (pictured above). Somehow Dennis manages to segregate the least fatty parts of the duck while retaining all its characteristic flavor and he engorges corn tortillas with the delicious canard. A generous dollop of mildly piquant green chile sauce crowns the enchiladas with even more flavor. This special is served with black beans studded with Cojita cheese as well as a mixed greens and mango salad. This is just Dennis and his free spirited whimsy; he loves to play with ingredients and has a knack for making seemingly disparate ingredients meld together in perfect flavor synchronicity.

The Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives taping took place on a day in which the special of the day was another version of duck enchiladas, this time with tomatillo sauce. Watching the step-by-step construction of this entree revealed the depth of Dennis’s talent, but even more so, just what a perfectionist he is. Every preparation step is meticulous and well practiced, obviously the result of extensive experimentation until everything is absolutely to the chef’s exacting standards.

Scallop Tacos with beans, rice and a salad

The duck, which is left in the bone and skin, is seasoned and rendered in duck fat for several hours then is de-boned by hand and seasoned again (lime, cilantro, Mexican red chile, sugar, salt and other ingredients) on the flat top.  Two legs per order of succulent duck meat are then placed on two soft corn tortillas with Asadero cheese then topped with the tomatillo sauce, toasted pumpkin seeds, scallions and queso fresco.  Fieri uttered “really good” three times punctuated with “an explosion of flavors” and “you’ve got it going on with this one.”

10 April 2015: A Washington Post writer recently proclaimed, “Ok so who in the hell doesn’t do a scallop taco?” He obviously hasn’t been around the restaurant scene in Albuquerque where scallop tacos are a novelty. In fact, Dennis is just one of a handful of chefs in the landlocked Land of Enchantment I know of daring to depart from the de rigueur fish taco (which is rarely done well in New Mexico). His version starts with gigantic sea scallops which he tucks into soft, pliable corn tacos then garnishes with a mild salsa, avocado slices and Crème fraîche. There are two scallops per taco, two tacos per order and they’re at least twice as good as the best fish taco I’ve ever had.

Sophia's shoestring fries with red chile

Eli’s shoestring fries with red chile

Eli’s scallop tacos are inspired–an amalgam of flavor combinations which work very well together.  The pearlescent scallops are grilled so they have a nice char on top and at bottom while retaining an opaque clarity that means they’re absolutely perfect.  I’ve tried in vain several times to duplicate Dennis’s wizardry with scallops, but have concluded begrudgingly that my scallop skills are rudimentary compared to the chef. 

The Saturday and Sunday brunch menu features several items not available during weekdays. These weekend specials have made Eli’s an intensely popular dining destination. You might have to wait in line ten to fifteen minutes to place your order then another half hour for your order to reach your table. It’s worth the wait.

Chilaquiles

20 April 2008: One of the best reasons to get up on a weekend are Eli’s Special Pancakes, priced daily and served with fresh fruit and real maple syrup. Those special pancakes might be sour cream and lemon pancakes with a piñon butter topped with blueberries. The tartness of the blueberries and lemon create a palate pleasing harmony with the maple syrup. The sour cream changes the texture of standard pancakes by adding moistness while retaining the fluffiness inherent in great pancakes. 

23 November 2008: Eli’s pancakes will cure the early morning blues (or anything else that ails you).  A large stack (four) of pumpkin pancakes with pinon nut butter topped with assorted berries may be the very best pancakes you’ll ever have.  They’re stick to your ribs pancakes, the panacea for cold mornings.  Cinnamon and pumpkin pie spice emphasize the flavor of pumpkin while the berries provide a tangy contrast.  The syrup brings together the complementary tastes of sweet, tangy and pumpkiny.  Share these with people you love.

Turkey Sausage Enchiladas with Red and Green Chile

One of the things that makes Dennis’s pancakes a panacea is his homemade butter, a culinary rarity that blew even Guy Fieri away. Fieri who has probably seen just about everything on his road tours seemed amazed that Dennis would go to that extent. After sampling Eli’s homemade butter (made from separated heavy cream mixed with toasted pine nuts, dried cherries and honey), Fieri called it “outstanding.” 

4 November 2012: Other brunch favorites include Eli’s version of chilaquiles and a very unique interpretation of Huevos Rancheros called Huevos Mexicanos.  This dish is constructed from corn tortillas topped with two eggs prepared any way you want them then slathered with green chile stew.  The green chile stew is terrific, the type of which you’d appreciate at any time, but especially on a cold wintery day.  The chilaquiles are simplicity itself though its flavors are complex and delicious.  Chilaquiles are a traditional Mexican dish with which Eli’s takes a few liberties, topping the eggs and tortilla chips with red chile instead of the more conventional salsa.

Lemon and sour cream pancakes with blueberries

Sour cream and lemon pancakes with a piñon butter topped with blueberries

You’ve got to experience this gem for yourself to find out what so many diners know–Eli’s Place is one of Albuquerque’s very best restaurants of any genre. Overflow crowds and accolades don’t tell the whole story. That lies in each and every wonderful morsel of pure deliciousness fashioned by the inventive hands of the chef and owner.  Eli’s Place and its superbly talented owner-chef Dennis Apodaca may be an enigma to marketing students, but to those of us who love great food, he’s a luminous star, one of the very best.

Pumpkin pancakes with pinon nut butter

ELI’S PLACE
6313 4th, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 345-3935
LATEST VISIT: 27 September 2016
# OF VISITS: 20
RATING: 25
COST: $$
BEST BET: Grilled Pastrami Sandwich, Breakfast Sandwich, Chipotle Bacon Cheeseburger, Simple Noodles, Breakfast Burrito, Special Pancakes, Scallop Tacos, Chilaquiles, Huevos Mexicanos, Grilled Sirloin Sandwich, Pork Carnitas Tacos,

Eli's Place (New Name for Sophia's Place) Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Los Chavez Cafe – Belen, New Mexico

Los Chavez Cafe in Belen

Vamos todos a Belen
Con amor y gozo.

Translated from Spanish, those words–lyrics to a traditional New Mexican nativity song–mean “Let’s all go to Bethlehem with love and joy.”  In villages and cities throughout Northern New Mexico, peregrines sing that song as they reverently process from house-to-house reenacting the Gospel of Luke account of Mary and Joseph and their search for shelter.  Peregrines repeat their search every night during the nine days preceding Christmas, culminating with Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve.  Known as “Las Posadas” this Catholic tradition often incorporates farolitos, lighted candles weighted with sand in paper bags which light the way for the peregrines and the Christ child yet to be born. 

You couldn’t blame the Belen Chamber of Commerce if they ever decide to co-opt the lyrics “Vamos todos a Belen con amor y gozo.”  It would make a great marketing campaign, an invitation to visit the “Hub City” with love and joy.  While some of us may not associate love and joy with a visit to Belen, New Mexico, there’s much to love about the second most populous city in Valencia County.  If you regard Belen as solely a place en route to somewhere else, you’re probably overdue for a visit to this ancient settlement (founded in 1741) with an eye to the future.

The Drive-up Menu

The New Mexico Railrunner Express makes it easy for you.  As the southern terminus point for the commuter rail system, Belen welcomes visitors with open arms.  Once you arrive, you’re in close proximity to one of the sixteen Harvey Houses built in New Mexico.  Across the street and acequia from the old Harvey House is the legendary Pete’s Cafe, one of the very best New Mexican restaurants in the Land of Enchantment.  A pedestrian overpass provides easy access to restaurants and galleries on Becker Avenue in downtown Belen.

Not everything Belen has to offer is in walking distance proximity of the Railrunner station.  To take full advantage of the city’s offerings, you’ll need your vehicle.  One event eliciting much love and joy in Belen is the annual matanza held the last Saturday in January.  Touted as the “world’s largest matanza,” the event involves the slaughter and cooking of several dozen fatted pigs then serving them to more than ten-thousand hungry patrons.  All proceeds go toward scholarships for local college students.  This family-fun event is renown for, among other delicious offerings, some of the very best chicharrones and carne adovada in the land of Enchantment.  People from all over the world flock to Belen to taste porcine perfection.

Salsa and Chips

About twenty separate teams carry on the tradition passed down by Spanish vaqueros, preparing a variety of dishes showcasing the versatility and deliciousness of pork.  For some cities it may be enough to be known for one significant achievement (such as the world’s largest matanza), but not for Belen.  In August, 2015, Belen laid claim to another “world’s largest” feat.  Fittingly it also involved pork.  During Belen’s Viva II event, the world’s longest tamale was constructed.  Measuring 116 feet, 7 inches, it easily dwarfed the previous  Guinness Book of World Records’ 66-foot 4-inch tamale, which was assembled in Cancún, Mexico.

LJ Thomason and wife Tina, proprietors of Los Chavez Cafe in Belen, led the tamale team.  When it comes to food and festivals in Belen, the Thomasons lead the pack…er, swineherd.  They also sponsor the Rio Grande Matanzeros, one of the pork preparation teams at the world’s largest matanza.  Since the New Mexico state fair began holding an annual chicharrones competition, the Thomson’s have practically owned both the “peoples’ choice” and “judges’ choice” awards.  When it comes to chicharrones, no one does it better!

Chicharron Taco and Carne Adovada Taco

Fortunately you don’t have to wait until late January or for the state fair to sample those celebrated chicharrones.  All it takes is a thirty-minute (from Albuquerque) ride south to Los Chavez Cafe on Main Street Belen.  It’s a drive to be made with love and joy, two emotions you’ll experience at the popular Cafe (reason enough to visit Belen).  The Cafe is rather innocuous, bearing little semblance to most New Mexican restaurants.  In a previous life, it appears to have been the home of a Long John Silver’s seafood (term used loosely) restaurant.  That notion is reinforced by the large drive-up window and cavalcade of motorized conveyances waiting to place an order.

Rather than trying to be another one of those restaurants purporting to server virtually every New Mexican dish and not necessarily doing any of them well, Los Chavez’s menu is relatively sparse, showcasing what they do best: pork dishes.  Open for breakfast and lunch, the Cafe’s best bets are probably chicharron dishes though the daily specials are tempting.  Chicharrones aren’t just found on the bounteous burrito menu.  You can find chicharrones, porcine gold nuggets, on some items in which you wouldn’t expect to find chicharrones.

Chile Relleno Plate

That includes chicharron tacos, a novelty anywhere else, but a specialty at Los Chavez.  Served on soft-shelled corn tortillas redolent with the alluring aroma of fresh corn, the chicharron tacos are replete with inimitably delicious golden-hued cubed pork.  Nestled within the corn envelope are chopped cilantro, red onions and chopped tomatoes, all reminiscent of Mexican-style tacos.  Though good as gold, you won’t have to raid Fort Knox to pay for them.  While you’re at it, you should also order a carne adovada taco.  The carne adovada is silky smooth and absolutely delicious.  The tender tendrils of chile-marinated pork are addictive. 

You’ll know you’re no longer in Albuquerque with your first sampling of the Cafe’s salsa and chips.  While too many of the metropolitan area’s New Mexican restaurants tend to dumb down their salsa, at Los Chavez the salsa has an incendiary bite–even more heat than the fabled salsa at Sadie’s.  Because heat isn’t the be-all qualify of a great salsa, this one also has a great chile-blessed flavor.  The salsa is served with crisp, low-in-salt chips.  You’ll quickly polish off the complimentary first portion (perhaps with a cup or six of coffee) and will probably order another portion. 

Jim Croce once cautioned against “tugging on Superman’s cape and spitting into the wind.”  He should have added “you don’t order something other than chicharrones at Los Chavez.”  That’s precisely what this humbled critic did because my waitress rhapsodized about the chile relleno plate.  Don’t get me wrong.  The chile relleno was delicious, thanks largely to the piquancy of the cheese-engorged green chile, but it was battered a bit too thickly for my taste.  Though I enjoyed the rellenos–and the superb frijoles and papits–very much, my cheating eyes were focused on the chicharron dishes destined for other tables. 

Love and joy will certainly warm your heart (and that’s not just the chile talking) after lunch at Los Chavez Cafe in beautiful downtown Belen.  It’s time to rediscover Belen and the pleasure pork can bring.

Los Chavez Cafe
633 North Main Street
Belen, New Mexico
(505) 859-4121
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 24 September 2016
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Chicharron Taco, Carne Adovada Taco, Chile Rellenos, Salsa and Chips

Los Chavez Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

San Pedro Middle East Restaurant – Albuquerque, New Mexico

San Pedro Middle East Restaurant, my very favorite Mediterranean restaurant in New Mexico

San Pedro Middle East Restaurant, my very favorite Mediterranean restaurant in New Mexico

The St. Mary Magdalene Catholic Church in Magdalena, New Mexico is adorned with ceramic statues, most familiar and easy to identify…at least for lifelong Catholics like me.   After Sunday Mass one September, 2010 morning, we espied a statue of a saint clutching a curious implement to his chest.  None of the parishioners we asked had any idea who the statue represented.  Father Andy Pavlak, the parish vicar, confirmed the statue depicted Saint Lawrence  of Rome and the curious device he held was a gridiron, a metal grate used for grilling meat, fish, vegetables or any combination thereof.

Father Pavlak went on to explain why Saint Lawrence clutched the gridiron.  Saint Lawrence was one of seven deacons of ancient Rome who were martyred during the reign of Emperor Valerian.  The manner of death he suffered was especially gruesome.  The intrepid saint was grilled on a gridiron.  As his flesh cooked, Lawrence is said to have cried out, “This side’s done.  Turn me over and have a bite.”  That probably explains why Saint Lawrence is the patron saint of comedians, butchers and roasters. He is also patron saint of several parishes throughout the Land of Enchantment.

The dining area at the San Pedro Middle East Restaurant

The dining area at the San Pedro Middle East Restaurant

I suspect Saint Lawrence might also be the patron saint of grillmasters.  If so, I sure could use his divine intercession.  Like the administrators of his death, I seem to have a problem discerning when one side is done.  Consequently one side is usually charred to the consistency of coal while the other is as rare as the raw beef fighters apply over wounds acquired in the ring.  It doesn’t matter how closely I study the collective writings of Bill and Cheryl Jamison, America’s preeminent outdoor cooking experts, my results are disastrous.  On the grill, I’m a disgrace to my gender.

Because I’ve ruined thousands of dollars of meat, fish, poultry and vegetables, my Kim would just as soon see me wave the white flag of surrender (though I’d probably drop it on the grill and only one side would burn.)  Better still, she’d rather I take her to a restaurant in which bona fide grillmasters impart the olfactory-arousing direct application of heat to produce succulent results.  Frankly, that would be my preference, too…so, perhaps my ineptitude on the grill might be a subliminal thing.  Yeah, that’s what I’ll tell myself.

Purchase an assortment of seasoned snacks such as watermelon seeds

It’s no secret that some of the very best grilled meats anywhere are prepared to perfection in Middle Eastern restaurants.  Many Middle Eastern dining establishments have mastered the enviable art of imbuing meats with the pungency of exotic spices; a distinctive aroma inherent from woods with personality; a whisper-thin crust that seals in flavor and tenderness in a pleasantly pink interior; and any number of heavily spiced, flavorful sauces, all of which seem to highlight even more of the magnificence of meat in all its grilled glory.

In Albuquerque as in many other cities, Middle Eastern restaurants seem to fall into two stratum: opulent, lavishly adorned dining rooms or time-worn cafes in bedraggled edifices.   Experience shows that spit and polish alone don’t make the restaurant. Some of the very best Middle Eastern restaurants are often found in tumbledown buildings.  Perhaps the very best of these is the San Pedro Middle East Restaurant on the southwest corner of San Pedro and Montgomery in the Northeast Heights.

Dolmes: Six piece stuffed grape leaves served tahini sauce

The San Pedro Middle East Restaurant is ensconced in a stand-alone building that frankly could be home to just about any retail business.  Much of the building is dedicated to comestibles.  Its shelves are well-stocked with Middle Eastern spices, groceries and dry goods.  Adventurous cooks will enjoy walking up and down the aisles studying all the wonderful options, perhaps inspired by the olfactory arousing aromas coming from the small kitchen at the front of the complex.  The counter separating the kitchen from the store doubles as a counter in which patrons pay for their purchases or place their to-go orders.

Dine-in and carry-out options abound.  Should you decide to dine in, there are several comfortable booths and tables available.  The dining area is ensconced beneath a canopy reminiscent a large Bedouin tent, the biggest difference being that instead of Middle Eastern rugs, the canopy is made from Southwest themed rugs (Kokopeli anyone?).   The menu over the counter is abbreviated; you’ll be handed a laminated menu to take with you to your table.  From the window-side booths, your vantage point will be of busy San Pedro to your east.

Six-piece Falafel appetizer: fried garbanzo beans with herbs and spices served with a yogurt sauce

Six-piece Falafel appetizer: fried garbanzo beans with herbs and spices served with a yogurt sauce

The menu is surprisingly ambitions considering the relatively cramped quarters.  Reading from top-left, the first items to catch your eye are appetizers and small order items followed by a seven salads, only one of which you might see at any type of restaurant.  One entire page is dedicated to platters, both meat-based platters and vegetarian platters.  Platters generally include a meat or vegetarian entree with hummus or rice and one of the seven sensational salads.  Homemade fresh pita bread (which you can see being made at the kitchen) comes with several of the platters.

The last page of the menu is dedicated to sandwiches–non-vegetarian and vegetarian–and desserts.  It’s an intriguing menu, one you might expect to see at a larger Middle Eastern restaurant and not necessarily at a grocery store doubling as a restaurant.  Your hosts are brothers Muhammad and Abraham, who are as cordial and accommodating as any restaurant proprietors in the Duke City.  Both are more than happy to recommend various options and will check up on you periodically.  Trust their recommendations.

Lamb shawarma Platter served with Hummus

The appetizers section includes some de rigueur standards you’ll find at almost all Mediterranean restaurants.  The difference is that the San Pedro Middle East Restaurant prepares them better.  “Heresy,” you say.  After our inaugural visit on November 13th, we were so impressed that we had to return a week later to confirm what our taste buds were saying.  They were telling us this humble little establishment might be the very best Middle Eastern restaurant in Albuquerque.  Zomato readers seem to agree.  As of this writing (September 20, 2016), the restaurant has earned a 4.7 rating (out of 5), one of the highest in Albuquerque. Muhammad proudly points this out to new visitors.

14 November 2010:  The dolmes, a six-piece appetizer of stuffed grape leaves served with tahini sauce is one of those items at which this restaurant excels.  Decoratively plated so that the six dolmes form a pool for the tahini sauce, you can use the plastic fork to cut the dolmes into smaller, bite-sized pieces, but Muhammad will encourage you to eat your entire dinner the way it would be eaten back home in Palestine.  He would just as soon you dispense with your fork altogether.  Great advice!  The dolmes are fabulous!

Bakdunecea Salad

Unlike many Mediterranean and Middle Eastern restaurants in the Duke City, these dolmes are homemade, not from out of a can.  They have a very distinctive flavor with nary a hint of lemon.  The distinctiveness comes from a seven spice blend, one that’s just slightly different than many seven spice blends I’ve seen in Japanese and Arabic cooking.  This one is made with All Spice, Black Pepper, Cloves, Cardamom, Cinnamon, Fennel and Ginger, a blend which enlivens the vegetarian dolmes with a flavor punch that will wow your taste buds.  The dolmes are even better when dipped into the fresh, invigorating tahini sauce.

14 November 2010:  Another terrific starter is the six-piece falafel plate.  Falafel (chickpeas mashed with onions then fried to a nice crunch) are hemispherically shaped, like the top half of the Earth.  Bite into each falafel and you’ll experience the sensation of a slight crispy crunch followed by a soft, moist inside that tastes unlike any falafel I’ve ever had.  It’s the type of falafel which should be used to help broker peace in the Middle East.  They’re that good!  Seasoned with herbs and spices, they’re served with a luscious yogurt sauce which complements them wonderfully.

Housemade Fresh Pita Bread, Maybe the Best in Town

14 November 2010: For years, my local standard for Baba Ghanoug, roasted eggplant with tahini sauce, lemon juice and garlic, has been Yasmine’s Cafe, yet another terrific Palestinian-owned treasure.  If possible, the San Pedro Middle Eastern Restaurant’s version is even better.  It’s rich and creamy with a prominent garlic flavor.  In Middle Eastern fashion, you’ll want to cut up pieces of the wonderful housemade pita (still fresh and warm) and use the pita to scoop up as much Baba Ghanoug as you can fit into your mouth.  Each bite is an adventure in appreciation.

20 September 2016: For me, the highlight of the salad menu–and you can’t go wrong with any of the seven choices–was always the Bakdunecea Salad (parsley with tahini and lemon juice served with olive oil).  Though no longer offered on the menu, the accommodating staff might just whip it up for you if you ask nicely.    This salad has powerful qualities, a term you might not associate with parsley.  Parsley is usually thought up as an ingredient to chop up and sprinkle on entrees needing color.  It’s sometimes thought of in a decorative sense, not for its flavor enhancing qualities.  Used correctly and in combination with other ingredients (such as tahini), it is refreshing and assertive.

Kefta Kabob with Rice

20 November 2010: Another sensational salad is the Tabbouli (lettuce, tomatoes, parsley, onion, mint, cracked Bulgar wheat, fresh lemon juice and virgin olive oil).  Growing up in Peñasco with Lebanese neighbors, I was introduced to Tabbouli, Kibbeh and Tahini long before I’d ever had Chinese food or even my first Bic Mac from McDonald’s.  The Tabbouli may be the best I’ve ever had, reminding me in some ways of what a Middle Eastern pico de gallo might taste like.  It’s got remarkable freshening qualities, like a savory and delicious breath mint.

20 September 2016: It wouldn’t be a fantastic Middle Eastern restaurant without a sensational hummus (ground chickpeas with tahini sauce, lemon juice and garlic) and that, too, is available at the San Pedro Middle East Restaurant.  You can order it on its own as an appetizer or you can order one of the several platters with which the hummus is served.  The hummus encircles the meat platters like an island of creamy, garlicky goodness.  Muhammad taught us to use pita to scoop up heaps of meat and hummus with our hands.  It’s the only way to eat them.

Shisk Kafta Platter: ground beef, onion, parsley served with hummus, salad and homemade fresh pita bread

20 September 2016: The Lamb Shawarma (marinated slices of lamb) is terrific (as if that needs to be said).  Instead of shaved lamb as you’d find on Greek gyros, the lamb is sliced into smaller than bite-sized pieces, each blessed with a grilled smokiness and penetrated with seasonings that are so distinctively Middle Eastern.  Sprigs of fragrant, roughly chopped parsley impart fresh qualities which meld with the other ingredients to fashion a fabulous flavor profile.

Not since Banbury, England in 1987 have we had better shish kabob (cubes of extra lean beef served) than we’ve had on San Pedro.   In describing the grilling expertise at Middle Eastern restaurants earlier in this essay, I must have had this shish kabob in mind.  The meat is grilled to perfection.  At medium, it has just a slight hint of pink inside while its exterior texture is nicely charred. It’s the type of grilling expertise I lack.  It’s perfect grilling.

Chicken Tawook surrounded by the best hummus in Albuquerque

13 February 2011: Another exceptional platter which showcases the grilling process and exceptional seasoning is the chicken tawook platter, marinated juicy cubes of chicken breast with garlic sauce served with hummus, salad and the homemade fresh pita bread.  The chicken is moist and tender, absolutely impregnated with flavor though not so garlicky that it will wreck your breath.  Instead, the garlic melds wondrously with a hint of grilling.

27 March 2011: The chicken shawarma, an island of small-cut chicken pieces surrounded by hummus is yet another fabulous entree.  Similar to the chicken tawook, garlic is a prominent flavor as is the wondrous fragrance of grilling.  Parsley also fits prominently into the flavor profile, imparting an invigorating herbaceous freshness, but this dish is best when scooped up with hummus and that absolutely amazing pita.  Abraham tells me he makes some 700 pieces of bread on an average day.  I’ll typically have four of them each visit and take home another half dozen.  This is the best pita in New Mexico!

Chicken Shawarma

24 August 2011: Even on the rare occasion in which an item you don’t order is delivered to your table, you’ll want to try it before even thinking about sending it back.  Such was the case when my friend Ruben Hendrickson and I ordered dolmes and a strange looking dish with an even stranger name was placed before us.  As it turns out, the Foul Mudammas with Pita is an outstanding appetizer, one which will visit my table in the future. 

There’s nothing foul about this wonderful dish which is made with diced fava beans, fresh garlic, lemon juice and olive oil.  Given the same ingredients and asked to create something wonderful, there’s no way most of us could ever concoct anything nearly this good.  The humble fava hasn’t made significant inroads in the American diet, but in combination with the right condiments and spices, it’s more than palatable.  Fava beans have tremendous healthful benefits, too.

Foul Mudammas with Pita

20 September 2016: The San Pedro Middle East Restaurant is no slouch when it comes to desserts.  Trays of baklava behind a glass pastry case may elicit involuntary salivation.  Don’t hesitate to order the pistachio baklava.  This baklava is on par with the pistachio baklava at the Anatolia Doner Kebab House which means it’s the very best in New Mexico.  The salty pistachios are a perfect foil for the cloying honey, making this a dessert of complementary and contrasting flavors which go so well together.  Bite into the layers of luscious flaky phylo and you’ll be rewarded with a moist, delicious, wonderful way to finish an outstanding meal.

Pistachio Baklava

San Pedro Middle East Restaurant is reminiscent of the type of restaurant you’d find in an ethnic rich area of a large metropolitan area.  It is frequented by customers of all ethnicities, the common denominator being the recognition that this is a very special restaurant with incomparable food, terrific service and the type of grilling skills I envy.

San Pedro Middle East Restaurant
4001 San Pedro
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 888-2921
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 20 September 2016
1st VISIT:  13 November 2010
# OF VISITS: 7
RATING: 24
COST: $$
BEST BET: Shish Kabob Platter, Lamb Shawarma Platter, Fresh Pita Bread, Bakdunecea Salad, Garden Salad, Dolmes, Falafel, Baba Ganouj, Shisk KaftaPlatter, Beef Shawarma, Tabbouli, Chicken Shawarma, Foul Mudammas with Pita, Fatoush, Pistachio Baklava

San Pedro Mart Middle East Grocery & Alquds Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Shake Foundation – Santa Fe, New Mexico

The Shake Foundation in Santa Fe (front view)

If it seems there’s a glut of restaurants brandishing a much-hyped and often self-glossed as “best” version of New Mexico’s fabled green chile cheeseburger, it won’t surprise you to read that yet another purveyor of the Land of Enchantment’s sacrosanct sandwich entered the fray in January, 2014.  What might surprise you is its most worthy motto and raison d’etre:  “Dedicated to the preservation of the original green chile cheeseburger.” Just what exactly does that mean? 

If, like me, your initial inclination is to question why at its pinnacle of popularity, the green chile cheeseburger needs to be preserved, you’re missing the point.  Likewise, the motto has nothing to do with  mimicking the burgers crafted by New Mexico’s two claimants to being progenitor of all green chile cheeseburgers: The Owl Cafe & Bar and Bert’s Burger Bowl.  The Shake Foundation is all about preserving and honoring the inviolable traditions and impeccably high standards of the green chile cheeseburger.  It’s about crafting the type of green chile cheeseburgers that trigger memories of unforgettable burgers past while creating new memories that will have you eagerly anticipating your next great green chile cheeseburger.

The Shake Foundation in Santa Fe (side view)

Despite its “mission statement,” the Shake Foundation isn’t based solely on green chile cheeseburgers as proffered throughout the Land of Enchantment, but also on founder-owner-chef Brian Knox’s boyhood memories of eating cheeseburgers in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  Milwaukee, as burgerphiles everywhere know, is famous for slathering its burgers–both bun and beef–with butter: lots of gooey, unctuous, calorific butter.  Milwaukee’s butyraceous burgers are the quintessential five napkin (or more) burger.

For nearly three decades, the name Brian Knox has been synonymous in Santa Fe with fine-dining.  Prior to launching the Shake Foundation, Chef Knox owned and operated Aqua Santa, a contemporary American restaurant which helped pioneer the city’s slow-food movement.  He’s been wanting to make high-quality burgers widely accessible and affordable in a fun and welcoming venue for several years.  The Shake Foundation is the culmination of those dreams.

ShakeFoundation03

Shoestring Fries and a Lavender Shake

Built on a site which for fifty years housed a gas station, the Shake Foundation isn’t much bigger than a roadside stand, but offers an ambitious menu belying its Lilliputian size.  This burger hop is strictly a walk-up operation with a number of picnic tables for seating.  A number of stately deciduous trees provide seasonal shade and help block New Mexico’s winds.

Burgers are the featured fare: cheese burgers with or sans green chile and the classic burger, both available as singles or doubles.  A number of free and optional toppings are available, the latter including such revolutionary items as whipped lardo (seasoned, cured pork fat), house-brined pickles and jalapeños and garlic mayo.  The menu also offers a turkey burger, a portobello burger and a New Mexico Shepherd’s Lamb Burger as well as a fried oyster sandwich with red chile mayo.  Green chile stew and a Caesar salad round out the food menu.

ShakeFoundation04

Double meat green chile cheeseburger with bacon

31 March 2014: If for no other reason than we’re in America and we like to super-size our burgers, you’ll want to order a double meat burger.  The single is all of three ounces (just an ounce shy of the quarter-pounder), but by all appearances doesn’t look much bigger than some “sliders.”  A better reason to order a double meat burger is the beef’s healthful deliciousness.  The beef blend is a combination of sirloin and brisket with no hormones or antibiotics.  All burgers are cooked to medium unless otherwise requested.  True to Chef Knox’s heritage, buns are buttered though not dripping in butter as you’d find in Milwaukee. 

The menu warns that “Our New Mexico green chile is hot!”  That’s hot with an exclamation point.  Frankly, most New Mexicans won’t wince at its piquancy (or relative lack thereof), but we’ll certainly appreciate its roasted flavor and fruity nuances.  A few strips of bacon are a perfect, salty complement to the green chile as is the rich, gooey Monterey Jack cheese.  Even with a double, you might want to order two of these burgers.  With a bun not more than four inches around, they have a subliminal effect of appearing small even though with double meat, they tower above most chain burgers.  The Shake Foundation’s burgers are juicy and absolutely delicious, well worthy of New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail consideration. 

Fried Oyster Sandwich with Red Chile Mayo

17 September 2016: Having lived on the Mississippi Gulf Coast for nearly eight years, I consumed oyster po’ boys by the boatful, my favorite being the behemoth bivalve sandwich from Cafe Maspero in New Orleans.  In New Mexico, it may be easier to find a prize pearl inside an oyster than to find an outstanding oyster po’ boy or sandwich.  The Shake Foundation’s version, a Gulf Coast meets the Land of Enchantment sandwich may be changing that with its fried oyster sandwich with red chile mayo.  The oyster is moist and delicious and the red chile mayo is slathered on generously.  The combination of flavors is a winner. Note: On occasion, Santa Fe’s Bang Bite Filling Station constructs an even more amazing oyster po’ boy.

17 September 2016:  From 1983 through 1993, a tiny restaurant on Cornell Avenue named Sheepherder’s Café made eating lamb not only fashionable, but immensely satisfying and incomparably delicious. Its specialty was the Lamburger, a thick, charbroiled lamb patty served on a sourdough bun with homemade salsa.   Since its much lamented closure, I’ve sought to replicate that uniquely wonderful dining experience to no avail.   That is, until we discovered the Shake Foundation’s New Mexico Shepherd’s Lamb Burger, a burger I topped with Monterey Jack cheese and green chile.  If taste buds have a memory, my first bite of this super-sized slider transported me back to the Sheepherder’s Cafe and every bite thereafter reinforced the experience.  This burger quickly became my second favorite burger in Santa Fe behind only the Santa Fe Bite‘s green chile cheeseburger.  It’s an amazing burger!  That is, it’s an amazing burger when it’s made with double meat.  To taste and appreciate that meat, you’ll have to strip the burger of the ripe, red tomatoes and crisp lettuce.  Even then, it brought to mind the Wendy’s commercials of yore which lamented “where’s the beef.”

New Mexico Shepherds Lamb Burger

Hand-cut shoestring fries, available in single or double portions, are a nice accompaniment to your burgers.  Made from potatoes grown in Colorado, they’re fried to a crispy, but not potato chip-like texture and don’t require desalinization as do so many other fries.  They’re also not quite as greasy as conventional fries.  Being shoestring thin means they’re also not as moist as other fries. 

True to the name on the marquee, shakes are a point of pride. Rightfully so! These are not the cloying, syrupy, made-from-a mix shakes the chains dispense. You can actually taste the ice cream with which these shakes are made…and it’s great ice cream made from Taos Cow ice cream (one of the “ten best ice cream parlors worldwide” according to Fox News.  It’s a rich, creamy, smooth ice cream available in “viva la differencia” flavors such as lavender and piñon caramel.  Even better is the Mexican Chocolate shake which my Kim calls the best shake she’s ever had.  Unless you’ve got the suck power of a vacuum cleaner, you’ll need a spoon because a straw just won’t cut it. 

It could be debated that the Shake Foundation isn’t as much about “the preservation of the original green chile cheeseburger” as it is taking it to a new level with the type of creativity which made Chef Knox one of Santa Fe’s most acclaimed culinary minds.  

Shake Foundation
631 Cerrillos Road
Santa Fe, New Mexico
(505) 988.8992
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 17 September 2016
1st VISIT: 31 March 2014
# OF VISITS: 4
RATING: 18
COST: $
BEST BET: Double Meat Green Chile Cheeseburger with Bacon, Fried Oyster Sandwich with Red Chile Mayo, Double Meat Hamburger, Shoestring French Fries, Lavender Shake, Piñon Shake, Mexican Chocolate Shake, Double Meat New Mexico Shepherd’s Lamb Burger

Shake Foundation Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Starr Brothers Brewing – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Starr Brothers Brewing in the San Antonio Commons (Albuquerque’s Northeast Heights)

Poets, musicians and authors have long rhapsodized about the loyalty of dogs, the most faithful and loving companions anyone can have. Their love is unconditional, their loyalty boundless.  They’re  truly man’s best friend.  Poets, musicians and authors obviously didn’t know Chato, the sleek and powerful best friend to the Dominican nuns who taught generations of Peñasco’s best and brightest at St. Anthony’s (my alma-mater).  No matter where they drove in their ancient rattletrap of a car, Chato sprinted along to ensure their safety.  When the nuns raffled off that car to raise money for the purchase of a newer, more reliable vehicle, Chato suddenly changed his lifelong residence from the convent to the home of the new car owners…..and everywhere that car went, Chato was sure to go.

In his own way Chato demonstrated the loyalty for which dogs are renowned, albeit to a car instead of to his people.  Among people–who tend to be the most fickle and disloyal of creatures–studies have repeatedly shown that beer is one of the things about which we as consumers tend to be most loyal.  According to a Nielsen (and you thought they only did television ratings) study conducted in 2015, 48% of beer drinkers purchased only one to three brands of their alcoholic beverage of choice in the year preceding the survey.  Only 15% of beer drinkers purchased ten or more brands of beer in the same period.

Dining and Bar Area

Not all beer drinkers are so brand monogamous.  Those who drink craft beers are much more likely to purchase a variety of brands. Almost one-third (32%) of all craft beer drinkers who buy beer at least several times a year bought seven or more brands in the year preceding the survey.  Younger, more frequent craft beer drinkers were found to be more brand “promiscuous,” as 37% purchased seven or more brands of beer in the year preceding the survey.  The survey revealed that younger beer drinkers were more apt to purchase a broader set of brands,  likely resultant from the more adventurous nature  of youth compared to older demographics.  Being younger, it’s conceivable as well that they have not established brand loyalty.

Albuquerque’s burgeoning craft beer industry means beer drinkers have many more choices than the beer drinkers of yore.  It seems a new brewery pops up every week with no surfeit in sight.  Indeed, the New Mexico Brewer’s Guild Map indicates there are (as of this writing) some sixty-six craft breweries across the Land of Enchantment with nearly half of them concentrated in the Albuquerque metropolitan area.  As  competition for beer buyers continues to intensify, breweries are looking for ways to differentiate themselves–to stand out from the crowd–from their brewing brethren.   The differentiator which resonates most with gastronomes, of course, is food.

Herbed Brie with Heidi’s Raspberry-Lavender Jam

Several Duke City breweries have elevated culinary offerings from the “pub grub” (typically deep-fried, stick-to-your-ribs fast foods) of yore to true gastropub fare–high quality, freshly prepared food that may surprise discerning diners.  They offer diverse menus, several orders of magnitude superior to what bar-goers of yesteryear were accustommed to.  In January, 2016, the Starr Brothers Brewing Company joined the fray, launching in an underserved Northeast Heights area in a sprawling 5,000 square-foot edifice.  Situated on heavily-trafficked San Antonio about a mile east of Cracker Barrel, Starr Brothers operates a full kitchen that features a wide-ranging menu showcasing some of the most surprising culinary fare of any brewery in the city.

“Small bites” to get you started include poutine, an artery-clogging Canadian French fry delicacy made uniquely New Mexican with red chile gravy and green chile; pizza constructed on naan flatbread and much more.  Our server informed us the Cubano has become an early favorite of the brewery’s habitues though the burger isn’t far behind in popularity.  Of more interest to my Chicago born-and-bred Kim is the Italian beef sandwich which we’ll return for  Where you’ll do a double-take is with the entrees, some of which seem more likely to be found in a Chicago chophouse than a brew pub in Burque.    The menu truly has something for every member of the family and indeed, several families were dining at Starr Brothers during our inaugural visit.

Bone-In Pork Chops

3 July 2016: My Kim often chides me for ordering items we’ve never previously had instead of tried and true favorites.  Sometimes it pays off and we uncover a new favorite.  Other times we wish we’d ordered one of the standards.  The herbed brie is in the former category, an appetizer we hadn’t previously enjoyed elsewhere.  Molten brie is formed into four golf ball-sized orbs encased in panko breadcrumbs and served with Heidi’s raspberry-lavender jam.  To be honest, we might have regretted having ordered the brie (which lacks the sharpness this turophile enjoys) had it not been for the jam.  The lavender to raspberry is in perfect proportion to bless you with the invigorating and exiting floral qualities of lavender without detracting from the sweet, slightly tart flavor of the raspberries.

3 July 2016: In ordering the bone-in grilled pork chop (singular), we expected something closer to the waifishly thin pork chops served for breakfast in several Duke City eateries than what was delivered to our table.  Our server got her work-out ferrying a plate with two Flintstonian-sized chops with bone “handles” that looked like Lakota battle axes.  We were momentarily mesmerized and took proper pause to gape with awe and reverence at this porcine bounty (if only lamb chops were similarly sized).  Imbued in a brown sugar honey sweet ale sauce and topped with toasted pecans, the pulchritudinous pork chops are easily an inch thick and grilled masterfully so they’re still moist and tender on the inside.  Noting a little bit of raspberry-lavender jam remained, we used it as a sauce and found the combination absolutely magnificent.  Our accommodating server even brought us another ramekin of that wondrous jam.  The pork chops are served with mashed sweet potatoes.

Grilled Bistro Tender Steak with Fingerling Potatoes and Wilted Spinach

3 July 2016: We weren’t sure with what cut of meat we would be rewarded for ordering the “grilled bistro tender steak,” as “tender” tends to be an adjective, not a cut of steak.  Tender, it turns out, is a perfect descriptor for a slab of meat sliced into several medallions and served with fingerling potatoes and wilted spinach.  The steak is prepared to your exacting specifications with a medium degree of doneness providing moistness, flavor and tenderness.  It’s an excellent steak, especially around the “rim” where just a bit of caramelization appears.  The fingerling potatoes and wilted spinach are a perfect accompaniment.

3 July 2016: Starr Brothers is no slouch when it comes to desserts.  While the Polychinka (a crepe stuffed with caramelized banana and topped with nutella, chocolate ganache and powdered sugar) sounds most interesting, it’s hard to pass up bread pudding, especially when it’s described as “chef’s choice” made with the seasonal draft (which turned out to be strawberry ale during our inaugural visit).  At the risk of hyperbole, this is one of the best bread puddings in the city, a sure-fire addition to Larry McGoldrick’s bread pudding hall-of-fame.  Thick slices of bread impregnated with chocolate and berries are caramelized on the edges, moist and tender on the inside then topped with a premium vanilla bean ice cream.  Portion size is prodigious, but the bread pudding’s flavor profile is even larger.

Strawberry Blonde Bread Pudding

13 September 2016:  In the Land of Enchantment, our sacrosanct green chile cheeseburgers transcend the seasons.  They’re enjoyed all year-round, however, two factors combine to make September the one month in which they’re enjoyed more than in any other.  The first factor is the freshly picked, recently roasted crop of green chile.  The second factor is the celebration of the green chile cheeseburger in two premier competitive events–Santa Fe’s Green Chile Cheeseburger Smackdown and the New Mexico State Fair’s Green Chile Cheeseburger Challenge.  On September 12th, 2016, Laguna Burger earned bragging rights at the State Fair event, ending a two year reign by national chain Fuddrucker‘s.  Finishing second in the blind taste test adjudged event was Starr Brothers. 

Frankly had Starr Brothers not garnered such a prestigious honor, it would probably have taken several visits before the Starr Burger crossed my lips.  That’s not so much an indictment of the burger as it is a credit to how diverse and alluring the rest of the menu is.  My server became animated in describing the burger, touting it as the best in Albuquerque.  If it’s not the Duke City’s best, it’s on a very short list as one of the best.  This is a sensational burger!  The canvas is a brioche bun, a rich, eggy bread of optimal thickness–resilient enough to hold up against moist ingredients without becoming a dominant flavor.  Atop the bottom bun are chopped onions, a sliced tomato and fresh greens then comes a choice beef patty prepared to your exacting specifications.  The beef is topped with a green chile ranch aioli, molten melted cheese and strips of bacon in a crossed (X) pattern.  The green chile ranch aioli has a nice bite to it,  The beef patty is moist and seasoned well with a premium beef flavor (obviously not thawed).  You have your choice of a salad or fries with your burger.  The seasoned fries are addictive, with or without the uniquely flavored ketchup with its notes of smokiness and piquancy.

Award-Winning Starr Burger

Lest you think there are no Starr brothers or that they’re a pair of wizened and hirsute gentlemen like the Smith Brothers of cough drop fame, there really are Starr brothers.  They’re the children of owners John and Heather Starr.  If our inaugural visit is any indication, Starr Brothers Brewing is a rising star!

Starr Brothers Brewing
5700 San Antonio Drive, N.E., Suite B1
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 492-2752
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 13 September 2016
1st VISIT: 3 July 2016
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 21
COST: $$
BEST BET: Strawberry Blonde Bread Pudding, Tender Steak, Pork Chops, Herbed Brie, Starr Burger

Starr Brothers Brewing Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

ChocGlitz & Cream – Albuquerque, New Mexico

ChocoGlitz & Cream in Albuquerque (Just Barely)

To whom should you turn when you want a recommendation you can trust for great ice cream?   Your natural inclination is probably to ask a kid.  Kids, particularly those in the age group two through twelve, consume more ice cream than any other American demographic.  Alas, kids in the aforementioned age group are like Mikey in the old Life cereal commercials. They like everything (except maybe coffee flavored ice cream) and aren’t quite as discerning as ice cream paramours in other age groups.  So, why not trust an adult for a recommendation?  Research has shown that contrary to children, adults tend to prefer the same few flavors for which they’ve developed a preference over the course of their lives (talk about getting set in their ways and losing the sense of adventure).

So, to whom does this overgrown kid in an adult’s body turn for advice on great ice cream?  Would you believe I get my ice cream advice from Stefan, one of my two favorite baristas at Rio Rancho’s sublime Cafe Bella.  Here’s why.  Baristas tend to have rather refined palates–they have to considering coffee has almost twice as many flavor characteristics discernible by human senses than wine does–and are able to discern flavor nuances and qualities most of us can’t detect.   When barista extraordinaire Stefan, told me about his favorite place for ice cream, he didn’t just tell me he liked it.  He gave me a detailed flavor profile analysis, describing flavors, ingredients, textures, milk fat content and other qualities only a connoisseur would understand.

Deliciousness Everywhere you Turn

When we stepped into ChocGlitz for the first time, owner-chocolatier Celeste Davis asked how we found out about her charming establishment.  No sooner had we told her our barista recommended it than she responded with “oh, you must mean Michael” as in Michael Gonzales, the effusive owner of Cafe Bella.  Michael, it turns out, frequents ChocGlitz with his beautiful family.  It didn’t surprise us in the least that culinary professionals we respect so much would visit ChocGlitz which just might be Albuquerque’s very best chocolate and ice cream shop.  It’s almost Rio Rancho’s very best chocolate and ice cream shop, too, being situated just south of the Presbyterian Rust Medical Center on Unser Blvd. near the demarcation line between the Duke City and the City of Vision.

ChocGlitz & Cream opened its doors in July, 2014 and almost immediately began garnering not only local accolades, but national attention.  In February, 2015, ChocGlitz staffers created a five-foot chocolate sculpture depicting trees, fairies and woodland creatures for a Food Network program called Outrageous Chocolate.  That painstaking effort took a bit longer than 200 hours.  While Celeste doesn’t have to take nearly as much time in crafting the tempting chocolates on display daily at the shop, it’s obvious hers is a labor of love…and of deliciousness.   ChocGlitz literally surrounds you with eye candy everywhere you turn.

Caramel Apples for Kids of All Ages

Celeste hand-crafts almost all the chocolates sold at the store using fair-trade certified chocolate (ensuring cocoa farmers are paid fair wages and don’t use child or slave labor).  ChocGlitz offers a treasure trove of beguiling treats such as fudge, caramel apples, caramel corn, chocolate-dipped Oreos, hand-made truffles, cheesecakes and many other chocolate specialties.  A whopping 95-percent of the chocolates sold at ChocGlitz are made on the premises with a handful of fair-trade chocolates (and such rarities as Mallow Cups) brought in to complement the locally made product.  All ice creams are also made on the premises.

21 November 2015: With a sensory overload of aromas and sights threatening to engulf us, we started our ChocGlitz adventure with ice cream: a scoop each of raspberry-red chile and salted caramel on a waffle cone for me and a scoop each of egg nog and pumpkin spice, also on a waffle cone for my Kim.  The raspberries for the raspberry-red chile ice cream come from Heidi’s Raspberries in Corrales so you know they’re of the highest quality.  Common denominators in all four ice cream flavors are smoothness, creaminess, delicateness and richness.  These are the hallmark of ice cream greatness, the qualities of which Stefan bragged.  Those qualities make for the type of ice cream with which you want to take your time, the type that releases its nuanced flavors as it melts on your tongue.  A good amount of milk-fat contributes the quality of “mellowness,” coupling with the natural flavors to seduce your taste buds, not attack them.

Left: Raspberry-Red Chile and Salted Caramel; Right: Egg Nog and Pumpkin Spice

21 November 2015: The Cracker Jacks jingle with which some of us grew up boasts of “candy coated popcorn, peanuts and a prize!  That’s what you get in Cracker Jacks!”  After sampling the bacon caramel corn at ChocGlitz, I became immediately convinced that Cracker Jacks got it wrong.  Instead of candy-coated peanuts, Cracker Jacks should have used bacon.  During the third annual Southwest Bacon Fest, ChocoGlitz introduced a number of bacon products which were very well received.  The bacon caramel combines two great ingredients–possibly the very best caramel corn you’ve ever had and bacon, that addictive pork candy America loves.

11 September 2016:  Though the raspberry-red chile ice cream could easily become a lifetime habit, how can you possibly know whether or not you’re going to enjoy another flavor more unless you try them all.  That’s my attitude and the sole reason for not ordering it again.  At ChocoGlitz there are no consolation prizes, no Miss Congenialities.  Every flavor is a winner.  That includes one scoop of malted milk balls ice cream and one scoop of Rocky Road on a waffle cone.  The malted milk balls ice cream, in particular, is rich and utterly addictive with a nice malted milk ball to ice cream ratio.

Chocolate Oreos and Walnut Clusters (Milk Chocolate and Dark Chocolate)

11 September 2016:  A cavalcade of chocolates in a glass display case would tempt the most disciplined of dieters.  Every conceivable chocolate confection possible is available including some of which Willie Wonka never imagined.  My Kim’s favorites are the chocolate Oreos covered in milk chocolate while my preference are walnut clusters, one milk chocolate and another dark chocolate.  They’re so good they’ve never made it home where we can have them with milk.  We’re barely out of the parking lot before they’re gone, pleasant memories left in their delicious wake.

If you’re not happy with the ice cream you’re finding in your neighborhood, there’s no guarantee your barista will be able to recommend something better.  That is, unless that barista has been to ChocGlitz & Cream, quite possibly the best chocolate and ice cream shop in the metropolitan area.

ChocGlitz & Cream
10660 Unser Blvd, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
505-898-GLTZ (4589)
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 11 September 2016
1st VISIT: 21 November 2015
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 23
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Raspberry-Red Chile Ice Cream; Salted Caramel Ice Cream; Egg Nog Ice Cream; Pumpkin Spice Ice Cream; Bacon Caramel Corn; Dark English Toffee; Cashew Turtle

ChocGlitz & Cream Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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