Philly Steaks – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Philly Steaks on Juan Tabo Opened Its Doors in February, 2018

I love the dignity in the name Philadelphia, but at heart, we’re Philly.”
~Lisa Scottoline
New York Times Best-Selling Author

There are a couple of things you should know about Philadelphia,” my friend  Vladimir “Speedy” Gonzalez told me before my first visit to the City of Brotherly Love.  “First, Philadelphians are not rude.  We may be blunt and direct, but that’s just passion.”   Passion?  I always thought he was a grouch.   “Second,” he added, “you’ve got to know the process for ordering a Philly cheesesteak when you visit Pat’s King of Steaks.  If you don’t, you’ll be sent to the end of the line.”  Sure enough, the Pat’s counterman didn’t appreciate my typical twenty questions ordering approach and sent me back to the end of the line, halfway around the block. 

Apparently what Vladimir called passion is pretty pervasive in Philadelphia.  There are dozens of examples of that passion in sporting events, including a notorious 1968 event in which Eagles fans booed and pelted Santa Claus with snowballs.   There are also plenty of non-sporting examples.  In 1998, the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, which oversees taxis, mandated etiquette classes for the city’s cab drivers. Cynics called it “cabbie charm school” and derided it as “a class to teach class.” More recently, a 2012 project called “Twitter heat map” scanned 462 locations in the United States for the phrases “Good morning” and “F–k you.” The project revealed that Philadelphia registered the highest concentration of “f-bombs,” but also the highest concentration of “Good morning.”

The Interior of Philly Steaks

So, how do you reconcile that dichotomy?   “Good morning” is not only a salutation, it’s a wish and a blessing, a life-affirming declaration.  It’s hardly a rude or impolite.  Could it be that denizens of the City of Brotherly Love are morning people?  That the rigors and vicissitudes of the day weigh so heavily that they’re transformed into rude and grumpy people?  Could it be, as Vladimir explained, all about passion?  My friend “8,” who matriculated at an institution of higher learning in Philadelphia explained the notion of the grumpy Pat’s King of Steaks waitstaff this way: “It’s kind of a self fulfilling prophecy much akin to the grumpy counterman at Zabar’s or the attitude of the waiter at Peter Luger when a patron asks for a menu, or any Jewish deli man charged with slicing the pastrami.  It is part of the charm if that’s the way to express the curmudgeonly quality of the service.  I would expect no less when ordering.”  Extrapolate that charm, that attitude, that passion across an entire city and you’ve got Philadelphia, take it or leave it.

I’ll take it, especially if it means incomparable cheesesteaks, peerless pretzels, craveable cannoli, bountiful broccoli rabe and roast pork sandwiches, sumptuous square pizza, terrific tomato pie and scrumptious scrapple.  We were ecstatic to learn about the February, 2018 launch of Philly Steaks, an authentic purveyor of Philadelphia cheesesteak sandwiches owned and operated by veteran restaurateurs who plied their trade in the mean streets of the Cradle of Liberty.  We knew we’d love the sandwiches, were hopeful the portions would be more Philadelphia than Albuquerque, and wondered if the famous Philadelphia passion would be part and parcel of our experience.

Green Chile Fries

Philly’s Steaks is owned and operated by Jim and Joe Lelii, twin brothers with a passion for Italian style cooking.  The brothers launched their first restaurant at only 21 years of age and over the years, opened several successful Italian restaurants and sandwich shops across the Philadelphia metropolitan area.    Recently, however, they relocated to the Land of Enchantment where they launched Philly’s Steaks.  They’ve got the pedigree and the passion to do it right.  In rare lulls in grill activity, we shared good conversation and laughs with the affable Joe, a larger-than-life personality who doesn’t perpetuate the stereotype of the grumpy counterman.  He was as as friendly as could be. Look at his Popeye-like forearms and it’s obvious Joe has spent much of his life chopping rib eye on the grill, a melodic percussion of metal on metal as he slices the rib eye into thin, small pieces.

Philly Steaks is a veritable  shrine to the City of Brotherly Love, both its heroes and its anti-heroes.  Walls are festooned with framed photos of iconic Philadelphia sports icons–living (Smoking Joe Frazier, for example) and cinematic (Rocky Balboa anyone), singers, actors (such as Al Martino) and so much more.  One wall is dedicated to Joe’s family.  He waxes poetic when he points out the photos of his grandfather’s deli and other family enterprises in South Philadelphia.  Philly Steaks, he told us, is configured very similarly to similar restaurants he previously owned.  He has high hopes that Duke City diners will embrace his sandwich shop.

Onion Rings

3 March 2018: Seeing “French Fries” on any menu typically inspires a well-deserved yawn.  At Philly Steaks, it inspires contemplation–a deep, thoughtful deliberation as to how you want your fries.  Sure, you can save the thick, seasoned fries for ketchup, but how boring is that–especially when you can have your fries with Cheese Whiz, Crab, Crab and Cheese, Buffalo chicken and cheese, green chile and cheese, and Philly cheesesteak?  Available in two sizes, regular and bucket, either portion size will sate a family of four.  Don’t be wary about ordering your fries with green chile and cheese.  It’s as if a native New Mexican prepared the green chile.  It’s got both piquancy and the distinctive roasted flavor we love. 

14 March 2018:  On his one “cheat day” a week, my friend Bruce “Sr. Plata” allows himself just a few more carbs than usual.  One of his favorite indulgences is onion rings–what Sesame Street’s Cookie Monster calls “vegetable donuts.”  Philly Steak’s rendition are battered a bit on the thick side with a panko-like breading.  Bite into each of the succulent orbs and the flavor of sweet, juicy onions greets you.  Be careful, though, as these onion rings could burn your mouth.

My Friend Bruce “Sr Plata” Holds A Cheesesteak

If you’ve ever lamented the chintzy meat portions in sandwiches crafted throughout the Duke City, you’ll be pleasantly surprised (maybe amazed) at how generous portion sizes are at Philly Steaks.  Half a Philly Steaks cheesesteak is as big, if not bigger, than most Philly cheesesteaks in Albuquerque.   You’d think there is more livestock in Pennsylvania than there is in New Mexico where sheep and cattle outnumber our citizenry.  And, if you remember the lawsuit a few years ago against Subway for selling twelve-inch and foot-long sandwiches that were allegedly less than twelve-inches long, you’ll be happy to see elongated, torpedo-sized rolls that probably exceed twelve inches at Philly Steaks.  This is the sandwich size Duke City diners deserved and perhaps thought they’d never find in the city. 

3 March 2018: One look at the Philly Cheesesteak and we knew there’s no way my Kim and I would be able to finish it in one sitting.  It was humongous.  Moreover, it was bursting with flavor.  As at the aforementioned Pat’s King of Steaks, there’s a process for ordering your Philly Cheesesteak.  First you select your protein: beef (fresh-cut rib-eye) or chicken (fresh-cut boneless chicken breast) then your choice of cheese (white, American, Provolone, Cheese Whiz) then the type of cheesesteak you want: pizza steak, mushroom cheesesteak, bell pepper cheesesteak, chicken cheesesteak, Buffalo chicken cheesesteak or green chile cheesesteak.

Philly Cheesesteak “Whiz Wit”

If our choice (bell pepper cheesesteak with Provolone) is any indication, you can’t go wrong with any one of them.  The grilled rib eye is superbly seasoned, tender and delicious.  The hoagie roll is perhaps the best we’ve had in Albuquerque.  The portion size–it’s what Duke City sandwich lovers have wanted for years.  Of course, one of the most difficult decisions to make when ordering a cheesesteak is what type of cheese to request.  We’ve had our share of cheesesteaks with the fabled Cheese Whiz as well as with Provolone and American cheeses, but our favorite has been the white cheese with its salty, pungent notes.  It melts well and integrates beautifully with the steak. 

14 March 2018:  My friend Bruce “Sr. Plata” Silver has long lamented the dearth of sizeable sandwiches in the Duke City.  Having grown up in Los Angeles, he was used to sandwiches as big as a football.  In Philly’s Steaks, he’s finally found a sandwich comparable in size to those with which he was raised.  Moreover, the cheesesteak he ordered (mushrooms, red peppers, grilled onions and Provolone) was as delicious as any sandwich he’s had.  My sandwich was exactly the same save for ordering Cheese Whiz instead of Provolone.  Perhaps traumatized by my inaugural visit to Pat’s King of Steaks, I didn’t order mine “Whiz Wit,” local vernacular for ordering a cheesesteak with Whiz and grilled onions.  Maybe next time.  At any regard, we both enjoyed our sandwiches very much and thoroughly enjoyed our visit with Joe.

Italian Special

3 March 2018: Freshly sliced hoagies, all served with lettuce, tomato, onion, oil, oregano, hot or sweet peppers, salt and pepper and mayo on request, are an excellent alternative to a cheesesteak (if you can pry yourself away from the sandwich which made Philadelphia famous).  There are ten sandwiches in the freshly sliced hoagies portion of the menu.  Among them is a sandwich almost as elusive as Forrest Fenn’s treasure, a truly transformative Italian Special (ham, capicola, Genoa salami, Provolone, pepper ham).  It’s roughly the size of two, maybe three, similarly named and priced Italian sub sandwiches at any Albuquerque restaurant. 

Most ordinary humans won’t be able to consume an entire sandwich in one seating (that turns out to be a blessing because the sandwich tastes even better for breakfast the following day).  Most of us (exempting politicians) won’t be able to get the sandwich in our mouths.  It is seriously thick and crammed with meats and condiments.  The meats (Boar’s Head) work very well with the condiments, the more of them the better.  With its sweet and mild notes, Provolone lets other ingredients shine as well as being a great foil for the sweet, tangy peppers.  Oh, and the hoagie rolls are fantastic, reminiscent of Amoroso’s, the legendary Philadelphia hearth-baked bread.  Joe told us the dough is shipped from Philadelphia and baked on the premises.  It’s outstanding bread and the way it’s sliced, there’s not so much bread that it dominates the sandwich and leaves little room for other ingredients.

Crab Soup

3 March 2018: Because of its proximity to Maryland, it’s only natural that the menu of a Philadelphia themed restaurant would include dishes showcasing crab Maryland style.  Befitting Philadelphia’s “passion,”  a little tchotchke about the staff’s “crabbiness” hangs behind the counter where you place your order.  The menu offers “craby” fries, “craby” cheese fries and on the day of our inaugural visit both Maryland style crab cakes and a crab soup.  It’s a thick elixir served hot in a large portion cup.  Creamy and rich, it’s replete with chunks of sweet crab, potatoes, red peppers and seasonings.  As with every item on the menu, portion size is Philadelphia not Albuquerque.

3 March 2018: When my Kim was studying the small dessert case, Joe came up to her and suggested she try the cheesecake which is imported directly from the City of Brotherly Love.  It makes great sense that the city famous for its eponymous cream cheese would make a superb cheesecake.  Indeed it does.  Moreover, food historian Gil (great name) Marks notes that Philadelphia boasted of a tavern called “Cheesecake House” in the 18th century.  So, Philadelphians have been enjoying cheesecake for years.  You’ll enjoy this one.  It’s dense, creamy, buttery and not overly sweet on a Graham crust.  Even better, it’s served slab-sized so it’s big enough to share.  Take my word for it, if you eat even half a sandwich, you’ll only have room enough left for half a slice of cheesecake.


If you’ve ever experienced the stereotyped seedy side of Philadelphia manners as well as the authenticity and deliciousness of the Philadelphia cheesecake, you’ll love Philly Steaks where you can experience the latter without the “passion” for which Philadelphians are known.   Philly Steaks has elevated the sandwich scene in Albuquerque.

Philly Steaks
2520 Juan Tabo, N.E., Suite C
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 582-2527
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 14 March 2018
1st VISIT: 3 March 2018
COST: $$
BEST BET: Philly Cheesesteak, Cheesecake, Italian Special, Crab Soup, Green Chile Fries
REVIEW #1029

Philly Steaks Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Danny’s Place – Carlsbad, New Mexico

Danny’s Place: Home of New Mexico’s Best Barbecue

For some reason, national print and online publications and even the Food Network can’t seem to fathom that the Land of Enchantment has outstanding cuisine outside the shining pinnacles of Santa Fe and Albuquerque.   To some extent the media may be justified in perceiving the City Different and Duke City as offering the quintessence of what makes New Mexico a culinary Mecca.  Obviously, Santa Fe and Albuquerque enthrall hungry visitors armed with voracious appetites (especially for our incendiary red and green chile), but to discount the cuisine at other cities throughout our diverse state is just plain lazy.  Santa Fe and Albuquerque do not have exclusivity when it comes to extraordinary restaurants and cuisine.  Phenomenal eateries and cuisine can be found throughout the Land of Enchantment.

When it comes to naming New Mexico’s best restaurants and best cuisine, the mantra embraced by national media seems to be “round up the usual suspects.”  Invariably, a short list of “anointed” restaurants from Santa Fe and Albuquerque is repeated ad-nauseam whenever a “best this” or “best that” list is compiled. The list of anointed restaurants is short, exclusive and predictable. It’s hard to break into the list if a restaurant isn’t from Santa Fe or Albuquerque.  If you need further proof, read Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Year in Food, where each and every month you’ll learn of more well-deserved accolades being accorded to a restaurant in Santa Fe or Albuquerque.

Danny’s Place for Real Pit BBQ

Credit Dan Gentile of Thrillist for actually doing his homework and reaching out to local experts across the fruited plain to compile a list of where the best barbecue in each state is to be found. The local expert for the Land of Enchantment, in this case, was a blogger of some repute who goes by the handle “nmgastronome.”  When Dan approached me, it would have been easy to declare some bastion of bodacious barbecue in Santa Fe or Albuquerque as our state’s very best, but that would have been falling into the trap of singling out only restaurants in the anointed cities.  Besides, doing so would have been disingenuous.  The very best barbecue my Kim and I have experienced in the Land of Enchantment comes from Danny’s Place in Carlsbad.  I built a pretty good case for Thrillist which declared Danny’s Place as serving New Mexico’s best barbecue for 2015 and 2016.

Here’s what Dan had to say about the best barbecue in the Land of Enchantment: “If you want to know about New Mexican cuisine, you talk to Gil Garduño. The verbose restaurant reviewer who can’t write his own name in under 100 words said the best in show was a toss-up between Danny’s and Sparky’s, but Danny’s partially gets our nod because of the gall involved in tearing up a Dairy Queen franchise agreement when they wouldn’t let him add his own smoked meats to the menu. Forty years later, Danny’s now retired, but his son Tim is running the show and still cranking out the smoked meats that put the rest of the state to shame.”

Kitchen Accoutrements Adorn the Walls

You’ve got to admit a highly regarded barbecue restaurant which got its start as a Dairy Queen is a pretty good story.  Danny’s Place is so much more than a good story.  If, however, you insist on  categorizing it as a story, it would be a tale of a bold independent spirit bolstered in his righteous quest by a small community which believed in his product.  The protagonist of our story is Danny Gaulden, a maverick and hero to many in the barbecue community.  On August 1, 1975, Danny launched Carlsbad’s sole Dairy Queen, but because his true passion and calling was barbecue, he incorporated low-and-slow meats into the menu.  Danny’s barbecue wasn’t advertised in any form of the local menu or anywhere outside the restaurant.  Nonetheless, word quickly got around far-and-wide as to where to find the best barbecue in New Mexico.

To say Dairy Queen was unhappy about the maverick owner who served outstanding barbecue is an understatement.  Even though Danny had one of the original franchise contracts with Dairy Queen and was thus permitted to sell barbecue, corporate bureaucrats were duly upset when they had to field requests from other franchisees to diversify their own menus.  Danny fought the good fight, but in February, 2004, he decided to strike out as an independent barbecue restaurant owner.  He tore up his agreement with Dairy Queen and has never looked back.  Danny’s Place is one of the most popular eateries in Southeastern New Mexico.  Competitive barbecue chefs from across the fruited plain pilgrimage to this legendary establishment.  Though Danny has retired, he left his legacy in the hands of his son Tim.

Two Meat Combination Dinner: St Louis Cut Pork Ribs and Brisket

It goes without saying that there is no vestige of Dairy Queen at Danny’s Place.   Walls are adorned with country kitchen bric-a-brac.  You can study those kitchen accoutrements later.  The fragrant bouquets emanating from the kitchen will command your immediate attention and maybe a napkin or two to wipe the salivation on your chin.  Meats are slow cooked over sweet hardwood on a 100% wood-fired pit.  All dinners–one, two or three meats–are served with rolls, pinto beans and your choice of one side with pickles and onions on request.  Sandwiches are also available as are such “special dinner plates” as the “Flip Plate” (Danny’s invention over 30 years ago and a local favorite… a flour tortilla buttered and fried on the grill and filled with a hamburger patty, two cheese slices, green chile, onions, and salsa.)

10 March 2017:  A two meat barbecue platter will sate even the most ravenous diners.  Make one of those meats brisket.  It’s Texas quality–replete with flavor and lightly smoked with no residual bitterness.  A pinkish smoke ring around the brisket marries well with a nice bit of bark on the outside edge.  Texturally, the brisket is tender with a perfect amount of “stretch” to it.  Another excellent meat option is Danny’s St. Louis cut pork ribs, four meaty bones with sauce practically lacquered on.  The meat pulls off the bones easily and needs no additional sauce.  The sauce, by the way, is fabulous–vinegar-based with a pronounced sweetness and a piquancy that sneaks up on you.  The potato salad has sweet notes, too.  It’s memorable!

Three Meat Dinner: Ham, Pulled Pork and Turkey

10 March 2017: Even better than the two meat dinner is the three meat dinner.  The pulled pork is blessed with a dry rub comprised of salt, pepper and other spices rubbed liberally on the pork.  Both the ham and turkey are sliced thinly and are imbued with a light smoke.   As with all of Danny’s meats, absolutely no sauce is needed though that sauce is so good you’ll want to drink it up.  Worthy accompaniment to the three meats is the coleslaw, a sweet-tangy mound light on creaminess but big on flavor and crispness.  Also terrific is the fried okra.

9 March 2018:  Aside from reading about it on Gil’s Thrilling…how do you know there’s greatness in a restaurant?  For me, much of it has to do with memorability, how well a restaurant’s dishes are remembered over time.  My taste buds seem to be imbued with a memory for recalling the flavors they’ve enjoyed most.  For almost exactly a year, my taste buds beckoned for a return visit to Danny’s and more of that sensational brisket.  One day shy of a year later, my taste buds confirmed what they rediscovered–that Danny’s brisket is the best in the state, some of the best in the country.  This time the brisket was piled on between golden-hued buns about five-inches around.  Light saucing ensured my enjoyment would be concentrated on the smokiness of the brisket.  Caramelized around the edges, the brisket is tender, moist and absolutely an annual tradition we can wrap our taste buds around.

Barbecue Brisket Sandwich

9 March 2018: For my Kim, only a pulled pork sandwich would do. She fell in love with pulled pork during our frequent forays to barbecue joints in the Deep South.  Danny’s Place prepares pulled pork (too much alliteration?) as well as many of our favorite restaurants in Dixie.  The pulled pork is much more heavily sauced than the brisket is, but Danny’s sauce is so balanced and delicious that you can drink it.  Each tender tendril of pork is impregnated with a light smokiness.  Each is cloud-like in its texture.  Each is absolutely delicious, a pulled pork sandwich that exemplifies porcine perfection.

8 March 2018:  If you’ve ever seen the Travel Channel’s food programs, you know the focus tends to be on mighty excess (humongous portions) and strange eats.  Though no longer in the latter category, deep-fried Twinkies are hardly mainstream.  They’re common fare at state fairs (no pun intended) and you’ll find them at Danny’s Place.  My Kim had never tried tried them…and after her inaugural experience, isn’t likely to try them again.  Not surprisingly she enjoyed the fried dough (reminiscent of a donut) much more than she did the cloying filling.

Pulled Pork Sandwich

Whether or not the national media will ever acknowledge culinary greatness in New Mexico exists outside of Santa Fe and Albuquerque, Danny’s Place is in rarefied air as not only New Mexico’s very best barbecue restaurant, but one of the best in the country.

Danny’s Place
902 South Canal Street
Carlsbad, New Mexico
(575) 885-8739
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 9 March 2018
1st VISIT: 10 March 2017
COST: $$
BEST BET: St Louis Cut Pork Ribs, Pulled Pork, Ham, Turkey, Brisket, Brisket Sandwich, Pulled Pork Sandwich, Deep-Fried Twinkies

Danny's Place Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Big D’s Downtown Dive – Roswell, New Mexico

Big D’s Downtown Dive in Roswell, New Mexico

During a March, 2012 trip to Roswell, New Mexico President Barack Obama made the following opening remarks to his speech. “We had landed in Roswell. I announced to people when I landed that I had come in peace. (Laughter) Let me tell you – there are more nine and ten year old boys around the country when I meet them – they ask me, “Have you been to Roswell and is it true what they say? And I tell them, ‘If I told you I would have to kill you.’ So their eyes get all big…so…we’re going to keep our secrets here.”  To many, his comment was just an innocent joke, but to passionate conspiracy theorists, Obama’s remarks were further proof of a government cover-up of the extraterrestrial crash landing which supposedly occurred outside Roswell in 1947.

Ufologists like to point out that in the seventy years since that extraterrestrial crash, there has been a quantum leap in technology, a leap unprecedented in all human history.  Believers will tell you humankind had help in making those advances and that the help came in the form of technology found in the downed alien spacecraft recovered in a pasture northwest of Roswell.  Among the advances borrowed or developed from recovered alien craft are night-vision goggles, lasers, fiber optics and chips.  Through reverse engineering, scientists also significant advances in weaponry and military aircraft.  Ufologists have even coined the term “Roswellian” to describe technology  so advanced that it must have been derived from the reverse engineering of crashed or captured alien spacecraft.

A very busy dining room at 2PM

One advancement for which the “Roswell incident” isn’t given sufficient credit is the improvement of burgers.  Locals will tell you the burgers in Roswell have made a quantum leap in deliciousness over the past few years.  They don’t necessarily credit little green men for imparting advanced burger grilling techniques, but with all the saucer-eyed  alien statues in front of several local restaurants, you have to wonder.  For skeptics who accept truth only if presented with quantitative data, consider that in both 2016 and 2017, Chef Toddzilla’s Mobile Cuisine, a purveyor of gourmet burgers nonpareil, was named Food Truck Burger of the Year.  That’s not just best food truck burger in Roswell.  That’s best food truck burger across the fruited plain.

Chef Toddzilla isn’t the sole Roswell burger emporium to achieve national acclaim.  In 2014, TripAdvisor, a travel review site scoured through millions of user reviews and comments to compile their list of the 10 best burger joints in the U.S.  Two bastions of behemoth burgers from the Land of Enchantment made the list.  Placing third was Sparky’s in Hatch which is fronted by iconic fiberglass and concrete statues, some of whom have an alien appearance.  The other New Mexico eatery on the hallowed list was Big D’s Downtown Dive in Roswell which placed eighth.  TripAdvisor noted: In the Land of Enchantment, owner and chef, Don Nason, uses garden fresh ingredients to grill up burgers that are out of this world.”

Thanksgiving Fries

National and state recognition are nothing new for Big D’s.  In 2013, the kitschy eatery was featured on Rand McNally’s 2013 “best of the road” which showcases America’s Most Beautiful, Most Fun, Friendliest, Most Patriotic and Best for Food small towns.  Rand McNally raved “The owner promises that “nothing we make comes from a tin can or sits months on end on a shelf somewhere,” the first indication that this casual, down-home burger joint is a good bet.”  Big D’s was one of twenty-six restaurants highlighted in the March-April, 2017 edition of New Mexico Journey, the magazine for AAA members.  In the cover story, “Cheap Eats,”  a guide, or “sampler platter” through some of the state’s “wallet-friendly eateries,” Big D’s cheesesteak sandwich and turkey cordon bleu burger were given high marks.

Located in the heart of downtown Roswell just a few blocks north of the International UFO Museum and Research Center, Big D’s is well worth a detour whether you measure distance in miles or parsecs.  You might visit Roswell to look for alien life, but you’ll come back for Big D’s menu.  Before you get to the menu, you’ll encounter one of the most fun and funky, cool and kitschy ambiances in the Land of Enchantment.   The ambiance is automotive garage meets diner.  The tailgate of a Chevrolet truck hangs on one wall, hub caps on another and the counter prefacing the kitchen is festooned in license plates.  Motorists will enjoy perusing the maps under glass on each table, but not as much as they’ll enjoy studying the menu.

The Big Kahuna

It’s a menu which makes it immediately obvious it was designed by an inventive chef.  Snacks, what other restaurants might call appetizers, aren’t de rigueur standards.  They include crab cakes, stuffed avocados, Southwest chicken wontons and more.  The Soup and Greens section of the menu lists several tempting items such as a Hard Apple salad (aged Cheddar cheese, honey-roasted peanuts, arugula, gala apples, craisins and a peanut cider dressing).  Specialties include the aforementioned turkey cordon bleu as well as a number of sandwiches.  It’s the “Burger Machine” page to which my eyes quickly gravitated.  There are eight burgers on the menu, including a breakfast burger (about as rare in these parts as a UFO crash landing).  “Happy Endings” is what Big D’s calls its desserts.

10 March 2017: Though all seven “snacks” would tempt Job, we opted for the Thanksgiving Fries (sweet potato fries, sweet whiskey butter, cinnamon and pecan smoked bacon).  My Kim called them the best fries she’s ever had.  She got no argument from me.  The combination of savory and sweet elements in perfect proportion to each other is an absolute winner.  So is the pecan-smoked bacon which picks up just a bit of sweetness from the sweet whiskey butter and cinnamon while retaining smoky-salty properties.  Every single fry is drizzled with both as if someone in the kitchen had meticulously applied them.  Almost exactly one year from our introduction to these terrific tubers, we returned to the Downtown Dive to see if the magic could be recreated.  If anything, the Thanksgiving fries were even better the second time around.  These truly are fries for which you’ll be giving thanks.


10 March 2017: Two burgers are adorned with autumn roast green chile, usually a magnet for this green chile cheeseburger aficionado.  Not this time courtesy of the “Big Kahuna” (teriyaki-glazed grilled pineapple, Spam, white cheese and cilantro with a spicy jalapeño dressing).  Constructed from six-ounces of freshly ground chuck seasoned and served medium well, it’s a terrific burger with flavor components that seemingly come at your taste buds from all sides.  It’s a burger with complementary elements befitting its name.  Several weeks ago, the President of Iceland president of Iceland casually joked that pizza topped with pineapple should be outlawed, an absurdity which set off a debate of international (and viral) proportions.  The President of Iceland might be the only person who wouldn’t enjoy this burger. 

10 March 2017: Rather than ordering one of the burgers, my Kim opted for a Gyro (marinated lamb, tomato, red onions, roasted garlic tzaziki on pita).  The marinated lamb isn’t shaved from a vertical broiler on a spit as some gyros tend to be.  Instead, the lamb more closely resembles finely cut shawarma meat.  It’s a very moist and very well seasoned lamb that’s enlivened by the roasted garlic tzaziki.  With enough garlic to ward off a family of vampires and the pleasant flavors of yogurt, dill and cucumber, the sauce is quite good. 

The Green

9 March 2018:  Any of us from the northern half of the state who believe our green chile cheeseburgers are the be all and end all, the apotheosis of burger perfection should take an occasional trek way down south where such restaurants as Alamogordo’s Rockin’ BZ Burgers, Hatch’s Sparky’s and Roswell’s Big D’s Downtown Dive prove themselves every bit as good, if not better, than their northern counterparts.  Big D’s rendition, The Green (autumn-roasted green chile, yellow cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, mustard and pickled cucumbers) is superb, one of the five or six very best burgers in New Mexico.  It’s a “takes two hands to handle” behemoth with flavors as large as the six-ounce fresh ground chuck beef patty.  Two elements stand out.  Not surprisingly, one is the autumn-roasted green chile which has a wonderful roasted flavor and a nice bite.  The other is the  pickled cucumbers which are several orders of magnitude better than bottled pickles. 

9 March 2018: My good friend, the late and much-missed Ruben had one complaint about Cuban sandwiches.  Most of them, he complained, were smooshed down in panini presses which seemed to impart a sandpaper-like quality to the bread that tore into the roof of his mouth.  He would have loved Big D’s Cuban (pulled Pork, smoked ham, white cheese, pickled cucumber, stone-ground mustard dressing on a hoagie roll).   This Cuban isn’t prepared on a panini press.  The hoagie roll is soft and tender.  Moreover, this is a sandwich you’ll never describe as parsimonious in its portions.  There’s a ton of roast  beef, sheets of ham, lots of cheese and whoa, those pickled cucumbers are among the best we’ve ever had. 

The Cuban

If another alien craft crash lands in the Roswell area, there’s a good chance its GPS (galactic positioning system) missed its target–Big D’s Downtown Dive.  It’ where all savvy diners from throughout the solar system and beyond should dine when in the Roswell area.

Big D’s Downtown Dive
505 North Main Street
Roswell, New Mexico
(575) 627-0776
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 9 March 2018
1st VISIT: 10 March 2017
COST: $$
BEST BET: Thanksgiving Fries, The Big Kahuna, Gyro, The Green, Cuban Sandwich

Big D's Downtown Dive Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Il Bosco – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Il Bosco Ristorante Italiano on Albuquerque’s Burgeoning West Side

The customer in the Italian restaurant was so pleased that he asked to speak to the chef.
The owner proudly led him into the kitchen and introduced him to the chef.
Your veal parmigiana was superb,” the customer said.
I just spent a month in Italy, and yours is better than any I ever had over there.”
Naturally,” the chef said. “Over there, they use domestic cheese. Ours is imported.”

While we were perusing the menu at Il Bosco, my Kim noticed polpette on the menu and asked me what polpette was. As usual, she got more than what she bargained for. “Polpette,” I joked “is the Italian word for meatballs…unless you’re in Montreal.” “What the heck are you talking about,” she asked. I explained that in 2013, Quebec’s language police cited an Italian restaurant for using Italian names for Italian dishes on the menu instead of their French equivalents. (In French, polpette would be called “boulettes de viande.” ) “That’s absolutely ridiculous,” she vented. “America may go overboard with its political correctness, but there’s no way any state or city could get away with bashing multi-culturalism. It would be like Albuquerque declaring its official city language to be Spanish and insisting everything be called by its Spanish name.” “Exactly,” I affirmed, “And you’ll love this. The language police also frowned upon the use of such words as “pasta,” “antipasti,” “calamari” and “pesce.” “We’re not going to Montreal any time soon,” she insisted.

The Expansive Dog-Friendly Patio

There are exceptions to the language law,” I piled on. “When there is no equivalent French term, the language police leaves the matter alone. For example, using terms such as “pizza” won’t rankle the ire of the bureaucrats.” Widely known as “Pastagate,” the aforementioned language correctness incident led to a public outcry about the overzealousness of the language police. In typical bureaucratic-speak, an official explained that in order to promote the French language, official Quebec policy mandates that the most predominant language on restaurant menus must be French. Italian words are welcome to appear, but just not as frequently as their French equivalents. With that, my Kim determined to understand and appreciate the authenticity and beauty of Italian terms used on Il Bosco’s menu. “We’ll move to Australia if some language police makes our Italian restaurants use English terms to describe their menu items,” she promised.

You haven’t heard about Il Bosco? Not to worry, grasshopper.  Not many people have.  It’s so brand new that it doesn’t even have a Yelp listing (as of March 9th at 9AM).  We’d never heard about it either until last Sunday (March 4th) when Randolph Eck submitted a comment declaring Il Bosco’s meatballs “the best in New Mexico.”  His email came in just as we were contemplating where to go for lunch that lazy Sunday afternoon.  A two minute phone call confirmed that Il Bosco has a dog-friendly patio, so The Dude would be welcome, too.  Best of all, Il Bosco is on Albuquerque’s burgeoning west side in an area with a dearth of independent restaurants.

Risotto di Barbabietola

You won’t see Il Bosco from the street.  Il Bosco is ensconced within the capacious La Bella Spa Salon on Coors Blvd. about a quarter mile from Alameda Blvd.  It shares a parking lot with salad purveyor Sweet Tomatoes.  La Bella promises an experience that is “luxurious in every way, yet uncommonly warm and inviting.”  Previous attempts at making a restaurant part of that experience include Bouche and Tratta Bistro, both of whom received significant public and critical acclaim if not the traffic desired.  Here’s betting Il Bosco achieves both the acclaim and the dining traffic.

One of the reasons is Chef Steven Peyer, a Seattle native and Sonoma, California transplant who has fallen in love with the Albuquerque area.  Chef Peyer launched several restaurant concepts in the Sonoma area, a hotbed for culinary trends.  Among them was a dual restaurant concept in which both Italian food  and South Asian street food were offered under the same roof.  Fittingly named Forchetta/Bastoni (“Forks/Sticks” in Italian; who knows what it would be called in Quebec), the Italian food was the fork and South Asian street food the stick.  Chef Peyer operated the Italian side of the house.

Polpette al Forno

Our first impression as we studied the Il Bosco (an Italian term for “the woods”) menu was “there’s nothing like this in Albuquerque.”  Indeed, the menu is unique, the antithesis of the Italian red sauce restaurants we love so much in the Land of Enchantment.  As with most California-style Italian restaurants, there’s an emphasis on fresh, non-GMO ingredients, sourced locally wherever possible.  You’ll see items on the menu you won’t see elsewhere in Albuquerque (Sonoma coast cockles anyone?).  You’ll also find braised meats, unconventional risotto and pasta dishes and rustic Italian food.  The lunch menu offers about seventy percent of what you’ll find on the dinner menu.

We’ve rarely seen risotto offered as an appetizer save for when served in the form of arancini, stuffed risotto balls coated with bread crumbs then deep fried.  Il Bosco’s risotto dish, Risotto di Barbabietola, is served as an appetizer for lunch and as an entree for dinner.   Chef Peyer uses “the highly prized princess’s rice grown in the Milan region for over 400 years.”  Indeed, this is risotto fit for royalty.  Unlike most Milanese style risotto, this one is far from golden-hued (courtesy of saffron).  Instead, it’s pink-red courtesy of the infusion of red and gold beets along with Gorgonzola, the blue cheese for people who think they don’t like blue cheese.  There are plenty of sweet, delicious beets in this dish and they’re a perfect counterbalance to the salty, sharp Gorgonzola.  The rice is creamy, silky and rich, a wonder to eat.

Linguini alle Vongole

Quebec’s language police may take offense at the name Polpette al Forno (housemade veal, beef and pork meatballs slowly poached in sweet and spicy tomato broth, baked with Bellwether Farms ricotta, Calabrian chili and herbs), but not even the palaver police could take offense at these meatballs.  They may indeed be the best in Albuquerque.  Served in a too-hot-to-touch skillet, the meatballs are about three forkfuls apiece and there are six meatballs per order.  There’s very little filler in these meaty orbs.  This allows the veal, beef and pork flavors to coalesce into a flavorful whole.  Sweet and spicy tomato notes are a perfect foil for the sweet, creamy ricotta.  These are the meatballs you would imagine your own mother (if she was Italian) would prepare for you.

Call it vanity if you will, but for years I’ve avoided reading glasses even though it’s pretty obvious presbyopia has set in.  Sometimes my near-sightedness is annoying.  Sometimes it manifests itself in humorous ways.  While perusing Il Bosco’s menu, I wondered why house-made pasta would be tossed with “Sonoma coast cookies.”   I’d never even heard of this type of cookie. My Kim, who’s not too proud to wear reading glasses, corrected me.  “It doesn’t read cookies.  It reads cockles.”  The dish is actually linguini alle vongolo, house-made pasta tossed with Sonoma coast cockles (not cookies), olives, capers and chilies in a rose’ sauce.  These cockles will warm the cockles of your heart.  Found only in seawater, cockles are bivalve mollusks which are related to clams.  Chef Peyer has obviously mastered the preparation of cockles.  We relished every single bite and spoonful of broth of this rare in Albuquerque seafood dish.

Bresato di Maiale

Our favorite entree and one of the very best Italian dishes we’ve had in New Mexico is the bresato di maiale, braised pork shoulder with winter root vegetables and Swiss chard in a tomato broth.   The braised pork shoulder pulls apart easily, each tender tendril resplendent with flavor, each morsel a joy to eat.  A few caramelized edges provided an enjoyable textural contrast.  Among the root vegetables were tender, sweet carrots and golden beets, both of which imparted light sweet notes to the acidic tomato broth.  Similarly the Swiss chard a spinach-like bitterness which melded so well with other flavors in this magnificent meat dish.

Only two  desserts were available on the date of our inaugural visit, a meyer lemon tart and a flourless chocolate tort.  Not able to decide quickly, we asked our server (the delightful Ashe) to choose for us.  She brought us an exquisite chocolate tort which we enjoyed immensely.  As with so many similar desserts we’ve enjoyed, this one leaned toward the dry side though it was just moist enough.  Though quite good, during our next visit “dessert” might just be a bowl of the minestrone invernale, the restaurant’s winter vegetable and greens soup.

Chocolate Tart

It didn’t take long after her first bite of the risotto for my Kim to forget all about Quebec’s language police.  It didn’t take long for all our cares to melt away as we luxuriated in a magnificent milieu in which great Italian cuisine is standard fare.

Il Bosco
10126 Coors Blvd, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 301-2699
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 4 March 2018
COST: $$ – $$$
BEST BET: Risotto di Barbabietola, Polpette al Forno, Linguini alle Vongole, Bresato di Maiale, Minestrone Invernale, Chocolate Tort

Il Bosco Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Java Joe’s – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Hey, Wasn’t This Once Tuco Salamanca’s Lair

I hate chile powder.”
~Tuco Salamanca
Breaking Bad, Season 2

Duty-bound to make himself available to the citizenry of the fledgling United States, newly elected president George Washington spent the night in so many private homes and inns that  “George Washington Slept Here” remains a real estate cliché and tourist draw centuries later.  Perhaps the closest similarly celebrated landmarks in the Albuquerque metropolitan area are the filming sites for the 16-time Emmy Award-winning television series Breaking Bad.  Never mind that Albuquerque recently celebrated its Tercentennial–three hundred years of history.  History is not what visitors want to see.  They want to see the Duke City of Breaking Bad.  Albuquerque, which itself became a character in Breaking Bad, is the home of Walter White, the down-and-out chemistry teacher who metamorphosed into “Heisenberg,” the city’s meth kingpin.  Five years after the series ended, pilgrimages to every Breaking Bad filming location remain a popular draw.

During my inaugural visit to Downtown Java Joe’s, a number of tourists, not all of them millennials, were snapping selfies in front of the east wall where a towering graffiti-inspired tribute to city life dominates.  One of them exclaimed “this used to be Tuco’s lair.”  Another chimed in, “yeah, until Walter White blew it up?”  Tuco?  It quickly dawned on me they were talking about Tuco Salamanca, one of the best television villains in recent memory.  The exterior of Java Joe’s did indeed serve as Tuco’s sanctuary and Walter White did blow it up by throwing fulminated mercury on the floor.  Thankfully, however, real life didn’t mirror that Breaking Bad episode.  Tuco’s lair is certainly not in ruins.  It serves as the home to Java Joe’s, one of the city’s most popular coffee shops.

The main dining room at Java Joe’s

Java Joe’s is located on Park Avenue one street south of Route 66.  Park Avenue runs between Central Avenue at its eastern-most point to the Albuquerque Country Club at its western flank with Jesse Pinkman’s house (another Breaking Bad landmark) virtually at the center.  Until earlier in 2018, its next door neighbor was Firenze Pizzeria, one of the city’s premier purveyors of pizza pie during its short tenure.  The aforementioned mural is Java Joe’s most distinctive exterior feature.  In a move befitting the edifice’s most notorious occupant, real-world owner Michael Phlieger once had graffiti artists paint wanted posters on that wall in response to the city’s crackdown on illegal graffiti.  The current mural will probably stick around until Breaking Bad aficionados lose interest.  It could be there for a long time.

Step into Java Joe’s and there are no vestiges of Tuco’s headquarters.  Instead of Tuco’s thuggish henchmen, you’ll run into hipsters and hippies, blue collars and white colors, and the type of characters who put the quirky in Albuquerque.  Scrawled on a black slate board above the counter where you place your order is a menu listing every daily special.  Plastic menus on the counter list everything else.  Walls are festooned with eclectic art, much of it for sale.  Handmade lotions and soap on a table hugging a wall are also available for purchase.

Mayan Mocha

Featured fare includes breakfast and lunch, sandwiches and wraps, soups and salads, pastries and beverages.  With so much temptation at your beck and call, you’ll be hard-pressed to make a quick decision.  Breakfast offers a full range of favorites, classics such as savory omelets and yogurt parfait to more elaborate items such as Belgian waffles with fresh strawberries and blueberry granola pancakes. Then there are the New Mexican classics such as  breakfast burritos, breakfast enchiladas, huevos rancheros and even a tofu burrito.  If you’re wary about a coffee shop preparing New Mexican food well, your worries will be quickly dispelled.  Both red and green chiles are terrific (more on them later).

Breakfast, of course, means coffee.  All of Java Joe’s coffees are roasted, flavored, and blended in-house on a daily basis under the name Red Door Roasters.  Daily regular, flavor and decaf brews are available.  So are  beans which can be purchased by the pound.  Flavored coffees are flavored in-house and vary on a daily basis but are always available bulk or by the cup.  Specialty drinks, which can be served hot, iced or blended, are also a good option.  The Mayan mocha (double shot) is an excellent choice, a worthy approximation of my beloved red chile mocha (available only at Cafe Bella).  Sans the annoying acidity of inferior coffees and the cloying qualities of designer drinks, it’s caffeinated love.

Breakfast Enchiladas

Breakfast enchiladas, once a relative rarity in Albuquerque, are becoming more prevalent, a terrific alternative to the ubiquitous New Mexican breakfast burritos and huevos rancheros.  Java Joe’s breakfast enchiladas features three corn tortillas layered with Cheddar, black beans and eggs smothered in red or (and) green chile.  Both the red and green are terrific with the piquancy and flavor aficionados crave.  After more than three decades of occasionally enjoying New Mexican cuisine laced with black beans, it still surprises me to see them on enchiladas, huevos rancheros or burritos.  Pinto beans, after all, are the official New Mexican state vegetable (along with our sacrosanct red and green chile).  No matter.  The chile is the centerpiece of this delicious breakfast dish.

There’s no doubt the psychotic, bejeweled-toothed Tuco Salmanca would have had a much better disposition had he descended the stairs of his Park Avenue lair for coffee and a meal at Java Joe’s.  It’s a Breaking Bad type of hole-in-the-wall which visitors might pilgrimage to out of curiosity, but they’ll return for the food, coffee and quirkiness.

Java Joe’s
906 Park Avenue, S.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 765-1514
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 2 March 2018
COST: $$
BEST BET:  Breakfast Enchiladas, Mayan Mocha
REVIEW #1028

Java Joe's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Year in Food: February, 2018

Santa Fe’s Heralded Geronimo

According to 24/7 Wall St., a financial news and opinion company with content delivered over the Internet, there are approximately 41,000 Chinese eateries across the fruited plain. “In recognition of Chinese cuisine’s proud place in the American culinary tradition,” 24/7 Wall St. created a list of the most popular Chinese restaurants in each state. Employing criteria as complicated as Chinese logograms but which included Yelp reviews, the Chinese Restaurant Foundation’s annual Top 100 Awards as well as dozens of restaurants reviews, polls, and other internet sources, the best from among the Land of Enchantment’s 166 Chinese restaurants was deemed to be Albuquerque’s Rising Star Chinese Eatery which has an average Yelp rating of 4.5 stars.

In some cultures, such foods as ballut (fertilized duck egg with its partly developed embryo insidel), chapulines (grasshoppers), huitlacoche (corn smut) and cazu marzu (rotten Pecorino cheese) are considered delicacies. To the editorial staff of Topix Off Beat, a technology company focusing on entertainment and news media, these foods would be considered “gross.” Topix compiled a list of the grossest food from every single US state. Using such terms as “horrifying foods, “worst regional food” and “some of these are bad,” the foods listed may gross out the non-foodies among us, but gallant gastronomes would very likely enjoy most of them. According to the third graders who wrote this feature, the grossest food in the Land of Enchantment is the green chile sundae. Topix had this to say: “New Mexicans put green chile in everything. EVERYTHING. Why should ice cream be any different? I don’t know, maybe it’s because it’s a frozen dairy dessert. What is your damage, New Mexico?” Huh?

Posole from Warrior Fuel in Bernalillo

From the world’s most luxurious steaks to the season’s most vibrant veggies, diners across the country are going wild for homegrown goodness at these popular farm-to-table restaurants.” That was the premise of the Travel Channel’s Food Paradise episode entitled “Farm to Feast,” a term synonymous with Albuquerque’s Farm & Table. Since its launch in 2012, Farm & Table has been an exemplar of fine dining using locally grown produce, sustainable seafood and grass-fed beef. The short segment featuring Farm & Table showcased Chef Carrie Eagle’s terrific tortilla burger made with sharp Tucumcari Cheddar and roasted green chiles folded into a perfect bite and served with French fries and a side of pinto beans.

Urban America doesn’t hold exclusivity when it comes to great restaurants across the fruited plain. There are terrific eateries throughout rural America. They may not get the publicity of their big city brethren, but some are every bit as good…or better. Within the Land of Enchantment, restaurants such as Deming’s Forghedaboudit, Peñasco’s Sugar Nymph Bistro, El Rito’s El Farolito and Carlsbad’s Danny’s Place have garnered much-deserved attention from national press. Thrillist compiled its list of the absolute best small-town restaurants in the country. New Mexico’s best small town gem was deemed to be Watson’s BBQ in Tucumcari. Ensconced within a family-owned hardware store, Watson’s serves “mouth-watering brisket, ribs, potato salad, and beans to hungry travelers and locals working in the ranching biz.”

A six pack from Bristol Doughnut Co.

Setting the table for romance involves an array of ingredients: scrumptious food, alluring ambiance, and bespoke service.” So says OpenTable whose Most Romantic Restaurants list for 2018 honors “the seductive spots at which couples are creating connections and savoring delicious memories.” The list of honorees is based on more than 12,000,000 reviews of more than 26,000 restaurants across the country — all submitted by verified OpenTable diners. Only one restaurant from New Mexico made the list, but it’s one for whom the term “romantic’ is certainly appropriate. New Mexico’s most romantic restaurant for 2018 is Santa Fe’s legendary Geronimo.

Not so fast, Geronimo. Food & Wine has its own opinion as to the Land of Enchantment’s most romantic restaurant. Just in time for Valentine’s Day, Food & Wine published its list of America’s most romantic restaurants. In its estimation, Tesuque’s Terra within the Four Seasons Rancho Encantado is as romantic as it gets. Food & Wine declared “If the glorious sunsets and sweeping mountain views at Terra don’t scream romantic to you, chances are nothing will. (Its garden-to-table dishes will also catch your eye.)”

Sweet Potato Waffle Fries From Groundstone

Two of the most prolific and talented chefs in the Land of Enchantment were named semifinalists in the James Beard Foundation Awards for 2018. A 2017 semi-finalist in the Rising Star Chef of the Year category, Colin Shane, chef at Arroyo Vino in Santa Fe, repeated in that category in 2018. Also repeating as a semi-finalist is Martin Rios, a 2017 finalist for Best Chef: Southwest category. Since launching Restaurant Martin, Rios has earned eight James Beard award nominations. Rios is actually a two-time finalist for the Best Chef Southwest category, coming oh-so-close in 2015 and 2017.

It’s probable that if you see a restaurant featuring “Chimayó chile” on its menu, the chile actually came from somewhere else. In an article entitled “Why This New Mexico Chile Has An International Cult Following,” Food & Wine lamented that the Chimayó Chile is so precious that a counterfeit market has emerged. Chimayó chile, a distinctly orange-reddish chile craved by connoisseurs the world over is the most prized culinary item in the agrarian community half an hour north of Santa Fe. Despite being so prized, it is grown only in Chimayó and only in small batches by farmers whose families reap the bounty of their harvests. The chile is grown from original heirloom seeds passed down from generation to generation.

Miso Soup from Sushi & Sake in Albuquerque

The humble donut has come along way in recent years, from an obligatory morning staple serving mainly as the basis for cop jokes to an object of obsession that replaced cupcakes as the “everyday sweet treat that everyone’s making all fancy” of the moment.” Thrillist notes “the common denominator” in its compilation of the 31 best donut shops in Americais the kind of eye-rolling satisfaction that’ll dictate a “yes” when you inevitably ponder whether or not to eat another one.” Frankly, you shouldn’t ever have to ponder whether or not to eat another one. That’s especially true at Thrillist’s sole heralded donut from New Mexico, Whoo’s Donuts in Santa Fe. Thrillist raves about the blue corn donut” “Just imagine a corn muffin that was made with blue corn and then cross pollinated with a donut with fantastic results. Then go eat one so you no longer have to imagine.”

Silver City’s loss has become St. Louis, Missouri’s gain. In 2016, James Beard nominated chef Rob Connoley left the very highly regarded The Curious Kumquat and moved to the Gateway City. Two years later, he launched Squatter’s Cafe which was recently featured in a mostly complimentary review from the St. Louis Post Dispatch. The review chronicled his self-taught, second-career chef journey, an unconventional trek that includes modernist cooking and foraged ingredients. The review declared his latest venture ” one of the most interesting and appealing breakfast-lunch restaurants to open in St. Louis in recent memory.”

In 1680, Northern New Mexico’s Pueblos orchestrated a bloody revolt to expel Spanish settlers from the Land of Enchantment. On the Travel Channel’s Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern program, the host explored the route taken by Pueblo leader Po’pay and the united Pueblo peoples during the revolt. In a very respectful tribute to “America’s First Revolution,” Zimmern visited several pueblos and the Jicarilla Apache Nation where he explored native traditions and learned about the pre-contact (the period before the contact of New Mexico’s indigenous people with the Spanish culture) diet and its healthful benefits. Among the delicacies he sampled were porcupine heart, acorn mush cake and elk jerky.

Over the years, Albuquerque has garnered a lot of notoriety. Thanks largely to a television show about crystal meth, it’s been stereotyped and besmirched. What it’s never been called is underrated. That is, not until Thrillist put together a compilation of the Most Underrated Cities to Visit in All 50 States. For some reason, Albuquerque was named New Mexico’s most underrated city. Huh? Thrillist advises prospective visitors to “forget you ever saw an episode of Breaking Bad and you’ll be floored by Albuquerque.” Among the many reasons Albuquerque is underrated is “the The Southwestern influence” which “gives ABQ an impressive food scene, with spots like El Pinto and the James Beard Award-winning Mary & Tito’s Café.”

January, 2018

Green Chile Cheeseburger from Cafe Laurel

If you visit a New Mexican restaurant and you’re offered red or green “sauce,” you might have to question if (like Bugs Bunny) you made a left turn in Albuquerque and wound up in Denver.  Virtually no one calls our sacrosanct red and green chile “sauces.”  That is virtually no one who’s lived in the Land of Enchantment for a while or the Travel Channel.  In an episode of Food Paradise entitled “Saucy,” the Travel Channel showcased some of the best sauce-driven dishes across the fruited plain. Recognized for its red and green chile “sauces” was Santa Fe’s Tia Sophia’s, a veritable institution on the famous Plaza.

In its February issue, Sunset Magazine named Albuquerque as one of “20 Game-Changers That Are Redefining the West,” ranking the Duke City 17th.  “Considering the strong public-art program, miles of hiking trails, and 310 annual days of sunshine, it’s no wonder the locals don’t boast. They’re too busy living,” wrote Sunset’s editors.  Sunset also noted “coffee roasters, restaurants, and food trucks are launching to keep up, many of them focused on local, organic produce, especially New Mexico’s beloved green chile.”

Foie Gras (Hudson Valley Foie, Caramelized Apple, Pickled Strawberry, House Ciabatta) From M’Tucci’s Market & Pizzeria in Albuquerque

To get all existential about it – how do I know the perfect donut for me is the perfect donut for you? The truth is there really is no Perfect Donut because we all love different things. So at Rebel Donut, we are all about options.”  How’s that for an appealing mission statement or operating philosophy, not that Rebel Donut’s Web site calls it that.  With that level of commitment to variety and people pleasing, is it any wonder Albuquerque’s Rebel Donut was named “The Best Donut Shop in New Mexico” by Delish.  Like Rebel Donut, Delish believes “there’s no wrong way to eat a donut.”  To compile its list of each state’s best donuts, Delish consulted Yelp, increasingly the most reliable crowd-source on culinary matters.

In most of America, winter sucks. It is cold out. You don’t feel like doing anything, so you get fat. Pipes freeze. Lips, noses, and cheeks get chapped and raw. Black ice kills.”  That’s how Thrillist began its feature “Every State Ranked By How Miserable Its Winters Are.”  Not surprisingly the state whose winters were deemed most palatable was Hawaii while Minnesota’s winter was rated most miserable.  New Mexico was ranked 45th in the winter misery index, meaning our winters are the fifth best across the fruited plain.  It may raise your temperature to learn that Thrillist believes “New Mexico is basically Colorado” because we both “have high plains, mountain ranges, deserts, basins, and affiliations to green chile.”

Nutella and Cinnamon Cream Crepe from Breve

BuzzFeed which purports to have “all the trending buzz you’ll want to share with your friends” consulted Yelp to uncover the top new restaurant that opened in 2017 in every single state.  Taking into account the number of reviews and star ratings for every new restaurant on the site, Buzzfeed then compiled a list of “the one restaurant to try in every state in 2018.”  New Mexico’s very best new restaurant, according to Yelp’s algorithm was Fresh Bistro in Los Ranchos de Albuquerque.  Yelper Bella B. described Fresh as “Lovely French- and Italian-inspired creations will keep you enticed at this charming, cozy, and newly transformed restaurant in Los Ranchos.”

Cheapism, an online presence which scours the internet for news stories and resources that are informative and fun and can help you save money, acknowledges that “no shortage of cheap, delicious pizza across America, but sometimes something that demands a little more finesse, like veal parmigiana or ravioli heaped with red sauce, is required.”  In tracking down “the best old-school Italian restaurant in every state,” believed there could only be one choice for the best Italian restaurant in New Mexico.   Joe’s Pasta Houseoffers an oasis of Italian just north of Albuquerque. Go traditional with a dish like carbonara, ziti alla vodka or gnocchi, or try the well-reviewed Southwestern fettucine, which has green chile and crushed red peppers for a local twist.” 

Salad with Green Chile Ranch Dressing from Seared

A coffee shop’s design often reflects its neighborhood.”   Perhaps only an architect would think in those terms.  The rest of us typically walk into our favorite coffee shops in a weary and bleary state and only after a caffeine fix do we even notice the ambiance which surrounds us.  The Architectural Digest published its list of the most beautiful coffee shop in every state in America.  The Land of Enchantment’s most beautiful coffee shop was deemed to be Zendo in Albuquerque.  Here’s what the Digest had to say: “On warm days, the outdoor patio at Zendo is open for seating, marked by a colorful mural and covered by sailcloth. The minimalist interior—white-washed brick walls and concrete floors—is pretty sweet, too.” 

Grabbing guac? Craving queso? Dips reflect history, a sense of place and evoke a strong sense of home-state pride, whether they feature locally caught seafood, export-worthy cheese or indigenous produce. So grab that cracker, chip, fry or veggie, and dig into the dips that give each state something to sing about.”  That’s how the Food Network Magazine began its feature 50 States of Dips.  Arizona’s best dip is salsa while California goes gaga for guacamole and Colorado gets mountain high over choriqueso (from a restaurant called Chili Verde).  Representing the Land of Enchantment is the Frontier Restaurant’s Green Chile Salsa. “The salsa gets a double dose of heat from flame-roasted green chiles and jalapenos, which are simmered with sautéed onions, tomatoes and spices and served warm.” 

Green Chile Cheeseburger from the Pecos River Cafe in Carlsbad. Photo Courtesy of Melodie K.

A Travel Channel program called Roadside Eats: Top 20 counts down the “top 20 restaurants in America that might just require a little extra mileage to get to. Just off I-25 in the desert hamlet of San Antonio is the world-famous Owl Cafe where the original owner Jose Miera is credited with having invented the green chile cheeseburger.  The Owl Cafe was the only restaurant in New Mexico to have made the list, but savvy New Mexicans know that the Buckhorn Tavern another destination roadside eat lies just across the street from The Owl and it’s not just The Owl’s overflow crowds who visit.  San Antonio is an exemplar of roadside eats! 

The 2018 Roadrunner Food Bank Souper Bowl in Albuquerque

Every year on the Saturday preceding some much ballyhooed football game, Albuquerque’s Roadrunner Food Bank hosts the Souper Bowl, an annual soup and dessert event which brings 1,200 people into the Food Bank facility to enjoy the wonderful creations of restaurants from throughout the metro area.  While at the event, attendee are able to vote for and select People’s Choice winners by submitting a ballot voting for their favorite soup and dessert.   Drumroll, please. The 2018 Souper Bowl winners were: 

People’s Choice – Overall Soup Winners
1st: The Corn Maiden at the Hyatt Tamaya (Sweet Corn Chowder)
2nd: 99 Degrees Seafood Kitchen (Vegetarian Soup- plantain fennel and butternut squash)
3rd: Indigo Crow (Lavender and corn bisque with smoked crema)

People’s Choice – Vegetarian Soup Winners
1st: 99 Degrees Seafood Kitchen (Vegetarian Soup- plantain fennel and butternut squash)
2nd: The Daily Grind  (Blue cheese root vegetable)
3rd: Zacatecas Tacos (Negro Modelo-Tillamook Cheddar Soup

People’s Choice – Dessert Winners
1st: Nothing Bundt Cakes
2nd: Garduños
3rd: Theobroma Chocolatier

Best Booth
1st: Zactecas Tacos + Tequila+ Bourbon
2nd: 99 Degrees Seafood Kitchen
3rd: Sage Dining @ Albuquerque Academy

Critic’s Choice Awards were chosen by a panel of six judges (including yours truly) who rated each soup based on appearance, aroma, texture, spice blend, flavor and overall impression.

Critics’ Choice Winners
1st Place: Sage Dining @ Albuquerque Academy (“Street” Elote Soup- Roasted Corn Chowder topped with Cotija Cheese)
2nd Place: Ranchers Club of New Mexico (Crab and Green Chile Chowder with Corn)
3rd Place: Garduños (Elote Soup)

Celebrating its 24th anniversary, Santa Fe’s version of the Souper Bowl was also a huge success. In 2017, over 160,000 meals were served that might otherwise been missed, thanks to the generosity of soup lovers, who supported this event. Some of the city’s very best purveyors of soup accorded themselves very well:

Best Overall Soup: Nath’s Inspired Khmer Cuisine (Chicken Tom Yum Soup)
Best Savory Soup: Nath’s Inspired Khmer Cuisine (Chicken Tom Yum Soup)
Best Vegetarian: Kingston Residence of Santa Fe (Cold Pistachio Soup)
Best Seafood Soup: Dinner For Two (Lobster Bisque)
Best Cream Soup: Jambo Cafe (Curry Roasted Garlic & Coconut Cream Bisque)

Groundstone – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Groundstone on San Mateo

Kids say the darnedest things. That was the premise of popular radio and television shows hosted by Art Linkletter from the mid 1940s through 1969. Linkletter would engage children (usually aged three to eight) in casual conversation. Humor–often laced with double entendre–would often ensue out of the children’s naive and silly responses. Once, for example, he asked a little girl to spell Art, his name. She proceeded to spell the host’s name R-A-T. Most parents can relate to the unpredictable nature of what their children say. More often than not, it resonates with child-like innocence, but every once in a while an utterly unintentional and unfiltered zinger sneaks out that will make parents want to slink away and hide.

When her son Caleb was four years old, Kimber Scott, an Albuquerque resident and one of my very favorite people, discovered that he was curious about everything his world had to offer. He was fascinated by all the letters, numbers and colors that whizzed by him. Now nine, he’s always asked a lot of questions and has never shied away from expressing himself. Sometimes he speaks with the insightful precociousness of an older child and sometimes with the naivete of innocence, but more often than not, the streams of consciousness that come out of his mouth warrant being shared. Thankfully Kimber chronicled Caleb’s words of warmth, wit and wisdom in a recently published must-read book she named Caleb-isms: The Things My Kid Says. It’s a wonderful insight into the world of a child you can’t help but love.

The Dude Flirts With Many Women, But Groundstone’s Hostess Extraordinaire Dawn Is His Special Lady.

Because Kimber and her charismatic husband “Break the Chain” maven Ryan are passionate gastronomes and always a pleasure to break bread with, it’s only natural that the book be laced with Caleb’s observations about food. Here’s one of my favorites: Every day after school, Caleb usually asks if I will take him to get a cheeseburger. Cheeseburgers are his all-time favorite food. He has affectionately called them hambahgahs for as long as he could talk. I tried to explain that i was not going to buy him a hamburger every day. I went on to say that if I did, I would spend a lot of money every month just on after-school hamburgers and I was not willing to spend that much money. As well as that it is not not the best after-school snack, mainly because it fills him up too much and he will not eat his dinner. I guess I blabbed too much going on and on about why I was not going to get him one. He was silent. I looked in the rear-view mirror and asked, “Well?” He sulked, then quoted a line from his favorite Pigeon book by Mo Willems. “You don’t want me to be happy, do you?”

To good old Charlie Brown, happiness is a warm blanket. To Caleb and many of the rest of us, happiness in a warm cheeseburger, preferably one with green chile. My friend Ryan and I have shared many a cheeseburger, but I’ve yet to have the pleasure of Caleb’s company at a purveyor of bounteous burgers. One of these days, perhaps I’ll ask Caleb to write a guest review. With his astute mind, there’s no telling what he’ll come up with though it’s bound to be better and more percipient and mirthful than anything I can come up with. In writing this review, I tried to channel my own inner Caleb, but just don’t have his flair for words. Nonetheless, I hope you enjoy this missive as much as we enjoyed our meals at Groundstone.

Spinach, Beet & Goat Cheese Salad

Parents of both two-legged and four-legged children will appreciate Groundstone’s family friendliness. On both our visits, our sylphlike hostess Dawn fawned over our debonair dachshund Dude as did our smiling server Shannon. They’re demonstrative dog lovers, not the pretentious type who only touch dogs with their fingertips. During lull periods they returned to give the Dude more love. We watched them impart the same kindness to children and elderly guests. How can you not love a restaurant in which the term “dog-friendly” is a way of service, not just some patio in which dogs are sequestered away from everyone else? Groundstone actually has two patios–one on the restaurant’s east side where the winter sun will keep you warm and one on the west side where the shade will shield you from summer’s rays.

Veteran restaurant impresario Russ Zeigler is the brainchild behind Groundstone. He’s been creating restaurant concepts for four decades. It’s pretty obvious one of the lessons he’s learned in that time is to hire good people who are earnest and caring in their approach to customer service. That’s one of the things that sets apart restaurants such as Groundstone and Joe’s Pasta House. Russ launched his first restaurant in 1977 and has since then owned or co-owned such stalwarts as Liquid Assets, High Finance, Options, Assets and Sandiago’s.

Green Chile Strips with Avocado Ranch Dressing

Groundstone is located in the 6,700 square-foot edifice which previously housed The Library and before that Johnny Carino’s, a short-lived Italian chain. If you’re wondering, the genesis of the name “Groundstone” comes from the restaurant’s make-over. During the renovation, an undesirable flooring had to be ground down to stone and concrete, leaving the floor with an organic look. The cynosure of the capacious restaurant is an attractive bar back-dropped by distressed red bricks. Several flat screen televisions are strategically placed throughout the dining room and bar, most tuned to NFL games during our visits. Several of the staff are diehard Philadelphia Eagles fans, but they still treated this Cowboys loyalist very well.

Groundstone’s promise to its guests is “local, fresh, fun.” The concept combines “the best of the burger, pizza, and craft beer scene, and rounded off with incredible gourmet salads meant to re-invent the dining experience.” Russ calls the triumvirate of pizza, burgers and beer “the classics,” and indeed, there are few eateries across the Duke City in which this troika can be found under the same roof. A commitment to serving mostly local ingredients will endear local diners who appreciate such high-quality local products as Fano bread and Bueno chile. When local ingredients aren’t possible, the restaurant’s commitment to freshness and quality is not compromised.

The Cubano

26 November 2017: Appetizers (and desserts, too, for that matter) have become pretty blase as if imagination is left to wholesale distributors who supply so many restaurants. It’s rare that we find an appetizer that surprises us. Count among those rare surprises the Ahi Poke (sashimi grade seared tuna, kale, sweet chili (SIC), pickled ginger, wasabi, avocado, sesame soy glaze) at Groundstone. With a perfect sear framing the perfectly red tuna, it’s got the chops of a good sashimi. The sweet chili sauce contrasts nicely with the quick burst of heat from the American wasabi and the biting freshness of the pickled ginger, all of which provide a diversity of flavors. The buttery avocado and slightly bitter kale are good, but it’s the sashimi grade tuna which shines most.

21 February 2018: British chef Yotam Ottolenghi expressed an obvious truth: “A well-made salad must have a certain uniformity; it should make perfect sense for those ingredients to share a bowl.” It doesn’t take a genius chef to know when ingredients are working together well. Your taste buds will quickly and easily discern that harmony for you. Groundstone offers five salads, the ingredients of each read like the promise of a great salad. Our inaugural salad experience was the spinach, beet and goat cheese salad (fresh spinach, golden beets, cucumber, red onion, grape tomato, goat cheese, almonds, with pomegranate vinaigrette). Most restaurants would probably serve such an amazing assemblage of ingredients with a cloying dressing. Groundstone serves it with a pomegranate vinaigrette that’s not quite lip-pursing in its tartness, but it’s definitely not sweet. The bitter, earthy goat cheese benefits most from the symbiotic tartness of the dressing, but so do the acidic grape tomatoes.

The Groundstone Burger with Sweet Potato Fries

3 December 2017: In the past few years, restaurants across the Land of Enchantment seem to have discovered the delicious potential of green chile as an appetizer alternative (or addition) to salsa. It should come as absolutely no surprise that green chile strips have caught on. The real surprise is that it took so long. Groundstone’s version showcases Amber ale battered Bueno green chile strips served with a cooling avocado ranch dressing. The green chile is a bit on the mild side, but it has a nice roasted flavor. The avocado ranch dressing is a winner. Even better is the green chile ranch which our delightful server Shannon thought we might enjoy. The green chile ranch isn’t quite as thick as the Dion’s version, but it’s every bit as flavorful. All salad dressings are made on the premises.

3 December 2017: Several elements define the Cuban sandwich, a hearty sandwich which got its start among the working classes in Cuba. What Americans have come to know as a Cuban sandwich typically includes thin slices of marinated pork roast, thin slices of ham, Swiss cheese and dill pickles. Groundstone pays tribute to the Cuban sandwich with a burger called the Cubano. The burger contains some elements of the popular Cuban sandwich, but it goes much further. Picture Akaushi beef topped with black forest ham, smoked pulled pork, provolone cheese, pickles, whole grain Dijon ale mustard, served on a Fano brioche bun. It’s a mouthful and then some. The generous portion of this burger’s three meats–rich, buttery Akaushi beef (a type of Wagyu); salty, intensely-flavored black forest ham and smoked pulled pork– will make carnivores very happy. It wouldn’t be a Cubano, however, without the pickles which provide a textural and flavor (zesty and sour) contrast.

The Brooklyn with Green Chile

26 November 2017: Sometimes a burger is constructed with too much of a good thing. That was our assessment of the eponymous Groundstone burger (grass-fed beef topped with Gruyere cheese, caramelized onions, sautéed mushrooms, tomato, roasted garlic infused mayo, served on a Fano brioche bun). Though the sautéed mushrooms provide terrific umami (deep, dark, meaty intensity), the strong, pungent garlic mayo is the dominant flavor. That’s almost criminal considering the tender grass-fed beef; rich, sweet Gruyere and sweet caramelized onions. We scraped off some of the mayo and enjoyed it much more. Next time we’ll order this burger sans condiments.

3 December 2017: Nine pizzas grace the Groundstone menu. Available in ten- and eighteen-inch sizes, they’re not as waifishly thin as today’s fashionable pizzas nor are they thick, casserole-like slabs. If the Brooklyn (pepperoni, roasted garlic, mozzarella, fontina, garlic infused olive oil) is any indication, they’re more generously topped than the penurious pizzas on which it’s a challenge to find some of the named ingredients. That generosity applies as well to the cheese which drapes over the crust like a molten blanket. No matter which of the pizzas you order, it can be improved with green chile (which goes well with everything).

The Heisenburger

21 February 2018: Only my former history professor would believe Groundstone’s Heisenburger is named for Werner Heisenberg, a German physicist and catalyst behind the Nazi atomic bomb efforts. The rest of us know The Heisenburger, Groundstone’s version of a green chile cheeseburger, is named for the clandestine alias of Albuquerque’s favorite meth-maker Walter Hartwell “Walt” White, Sr. It’s not only “blue sky” which can manipulate the brain’s Limbic reward system. The Heisenburger (Akaushi beef topped with smoked Cheddar, Bueno green chile, applewood smoked bacon, onions, Bibb lettuce, tomato, green chile infused mayo on a Fano brioche bun) gets diners “high,” too. There are a lot of things going on in your mouth with this burger and all of them are delicious. The Bueno green chile and green chile-infused mayo aren’t especially piquant, but they go very well with all the other ingredients.

21 February 2018: There’s only one problem with Groundstone’s specialty sandwich menu.  The first time you peruse it, you’ll want to order each of the six sumptuous sandwiches.  The second time you visit, you probably will order the sandwich with which you fell in love your previous visit.  That’s become Kim’s dilemma.  After enjoying the Groundfather (Genoa salami, pepperoni, prosciutto ham, mixed greens, pesto, marinara sauce and provolone cheese served on a Fano rustic ciabatta roll), she can’t wait to have it again.  If you didn’t already know how special Fano bread is, this sandwich will quickly show you.  It’s a perfect canvas with the perfect consistency for this sandwich–crusty on the outside and tender on the inside.  The combination of pesto and marinara sauce is a pleasant surprise; they don’t always work together well.  Then, of course, there are the meats and cheeses, an array of Italian delights.

The Groundfather

21 February 2018:  In describing the importance of desserts, movie writer and creator Anne McManus, declared “It’s the finale. It’s the last impression. A bad dessert can ruin the meal.”  Don’t expect to find any bad desserts at Groundstone.  There are six decadent desserts on the menu, all tempting.  Groundstone’s Cobbler (your choice of cherry, apple, or peach, with vanilla ice cream) is work of art on a plate.  Flanking our peach cobbler are vanilla ice cream and whipped cream with chocolate and caramel drizzle.  The cobbler itself showcases a sweetened biscuit topping baked until the peaches are tender and the topping is golden.  The peaches are juicy and fresh.  It’s elevated cobbler at its finest.

Peach Cobbler

Groundstone may not be entirely groundbreaking in its concept or menu, but it’s got a great pedigree and is committed to such ideals as using locally sourced products, enthusiastic and warm service and providing a comfortable milieu in which families can enjoy themselves. With effervescent hostess Dawn and attentive servers such as Shannon at your beck-and-call, you can’t go wrong. Groundstone is terrific: For now you’ll just have to take my word for it, but someday I hope to share Caleb’s unique perspective.

5001 San Mateo, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 404-8287
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 21 February 2018
1st VISIT: 26 November 2017
COST: $$
BEST BET: Ahi Poke, Groundstone Burger, Sweet Potato Fries, The Cubano, The Brooklyn, Green Chile Strips, Salad with Avocado Ranch Dressing, Green Chile Ranch Dressing, The Groundfather, The Heisenburger, Peach Cobbler; Spinach, Beet & Goat Cheese Salad

Groundstone Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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