ABQ BBQ – Los Ranchos de Albuquerque, New Mexico

New Mexico Themed Restaurant is Home to New Mexico-Style Barbecue

“It was Kansas City but it was North Carolina I wanted;
whole hog smoked low and slow over fruit woods and doused liberally with a vinegar-based sauce.
It was North Carolina but it was Texas I wanted;
king beef sliced into juicy brisket prepared over post oak and glistening with a sweet tomato-molasses based sauce.
It was Texas but it was Memphis I wanted;
unctuous pork slow smoked over hickory and served “wet” in a tomato and vinegar-based sauce.
It was Memphis but it was Kansas City I wanted;
a medley of magnificent meats smoked over a variety of woods and dusted generously with a dry rub.
It was all of America’s four dominant barbecue regions, but it was New Mexico I wanted;
applewood-smoked meats of all types imbued with the piquancy of red and green chile sauces.
My search is over.  ABQ BBQ is here!”

For years, the promotional machines behind America’s barbecue have been telling us there are four distinct and dominant barbecue regions across the fruited plain. This assertion has been repeated so long, so loud and so often that most of us accept it as gospel truth. Culinary historian and food writer Robert F. Moss decries the absurdity of such a notion, declaring on The Local Palate that “claiming America has four major barbecue styles is like saying there are four major kinds of music: rock, classical, rap, and elevator.” He acknowledges there are “countless sub-varieties” including “a lot of notable styles.”

Everything You Need in This Table Caddy

Regional styles,” he explains “are defined by the types of meat used, the style of pits on which they are cooked, and the wood used to fire them. It includes the sauce that accompanies the meat and the dishes served alongside—recipes and techniques handed down from one cook to the next over the decades.”  By that strict definition, it would be hard to argue that there has ever existed a truly distinctive New Mexico barbecue style…at least one that has been passed down from one generation to the next.  Nor has there been any uniqueness to the type of meat, style of pit, type of wood or sauce used across the Land of Enchantment…at least not in any traditional fashion (unless you’re willing to cede members of the Zia Pueblo roasting prairie dogs as a style of barbecue).

Albuquerque Chef Jon Young is hoping to change all that with the June, 2018 introduction of New Mexico-style barbecue that showcases the roasted flavor and piquancy of the Land of Enchantment’s official state vegetable, chile, in both its red and green varieties. Sure, other chefs have added chile to their barbecue sauces in the past, but none have made it the cornerstone of their barbecue. This not-at-all-secret ingredient is the differentiator for Chef Young who spent months developing and polishing his recipes. For many of those months, a housemade red chile BBQ pulled pork sandwich has been a mainstay at Fresh Bistro, his other restaurant, and it’s been flying off the menu to significant popular acclaim.

Half Pound of Pulled Pork with Green Chile Mac and Cheese

ABQ BBQ is located in the Los Ranchos space which previously housed Marley’s BBQ, a Texas-style barbecue restaurant. Other short-lived tenants at the location include Taste of Himalayas, Paddy Rawal’s OM Fine Dining Cuisine and Annapurna Ayuredic Cuisine. It’s a pristine and capacious location, but it has no real street storefront presence or prominent signage. The telltale sign that you’ve reached your destination may well be the siren-like plumes of smoke that waft into the air. That smoke is irresistible. You get a lot more of it when you enter the New Mexico themed space, the cynosure of which is an overhead balloon gondola from which colorful fabric fans out in all directions. The colors of the fabric are also New Mexico-centric—red and yellow for the state flag and orange to represent our spectacular sunsets.

Great barbecue is truly a sum of all its parts. Every element—meats, smoke, wood, pit, sauces—has to work together in perfect four-part harmony. Chef Young has mastered them all, none moreso than the unique sauces. You’ll find six of them on the caddy at your table. Sauces are categorized as either “original” or “local.” All of them have red and (or) green chile. Local means the sauces have more piquancy; they’re made with local tastes in mind. There’s even a “Christmas-style” sauce which, as New Mexicans know, means it’s made with both red and green chile. Chef Young confided that some of the volcano-eaters among us have complained that even the local sauces don’t have enough heat so he’s developing a sauce he’ll call “Muerte,” the Spanish word for death. Unlike barbecue at some restaurants, the sauces aren’t lacquered on during or after the smoking process. You’re in complete control as to what sauce you use (though you will want to try them all).

Half Pound of Brisket with Green Chile Cornbread

Within days of its launch, ABQ BBQ received high praise from two highly credentialed critics. Larry McGoldrick, the professor with the perspicacious palate, declared on his Yelp review “Chef Jon Young has for some time dreamt of marrying traditional BBQ techniques with New Mexico’s favorite chiles, and the result is sure to knock your socks off. Jon _never_ oversalts anything–just enough to make the other flavors pop. This new venture is the third jewel in Jon’s crown (Fresh Bistro and Fresh Mobile Bistro are just down the street, and both among my very favorites). ABQ BBQ is already a favorite.” Gary West, the long-time and excelsior proprietor of The Smokehouse, a much-missed Rio Rancho barbecue institution, posted on Facebook “Just got done eating some excellent New Mexican BBQ @ ABQ BBQ! The Ribs, Brisket & Wings we’re lightly Smoked as to compliment all the different sauces that Jon has made up to try! The Pinto Beans, Potato Salad and the Green Chile Cornbread were to die for! Do yourself a favor and go check out this new place with a New Spin on Local New Mexico BBQ!”

With rousing endorsements from two highly respected barbecue aficionados, I just had to try ABQ BBQ for myself—even though my Kim was out-of-town and would be sorely disappointed at not having visited with Chef Young and his beautiful bride Melissa. The menu isn’t especially large—four plates (pulled pork, pork ribs, brisket, pulled chicken and chicken wings), tacos (a half-pound of meat served with lettuce, tomato and queso fresco), sandwiches (a half-pound of meat served on a green chile Cheddar roll with pickled red onions), desserts and sides. For larger appetites, there’s the “El Cochino,” (Spanish for “the pig”) a behemoth sandwich with two pounds of slow roasted pulled pork and other toppings. Dessert-lovers will love the Chingon (Mexican slang for really great) dishes—six ounces of cherries, blackberries or peaches sautéed in butter, brandy and brown sugar and topped with roasted pinon crumble. There are “all kinds of sides,” most of which showcase New Mexico chile.

Roasted Street Corn

To ensure my Kim wouldn’t completely miss out, I ordered two plates—a half-pound of applewood-smoked and slow-roasted pulled pork and a half pound of applewood-smoked, herb rubbed and slow roasted brisket, both of which were accompanied by one side. Both of the meats had a light smoke which meant smoke didn’t overpower the meats. My favorite of the two was the brisket which was moist, tender, delicious and lean with just enough fat for flavor. Experimenting with the different sauces was a fun experience though it didn’t take me long to determine the “local” sauces suited my masochistic tendencies best. The “Christmas” sauce was especially bold, a melding of green and red chiles in a sauce that clearly was a barbecue sauce and not a salsa (though it would be great with chips). How Chef Young concocted this alchemy is a reflection of his talents.

Instead of thick and thin tangles of pork pulled with a fork or by hand, ABQ BBQ’s pulled pork has a very light, almost snowflake-like texture and uniformity. The pork on the plate is like an Ivory soap commercial of yore in that it is 99 and 44/100% pure with none of the fat or sinew that sometimes gets mixed into pulled pork. Because of its delicate flavor and texture, the less assertive sauces—the original red, for example—work best. It went very well with the green chile cornbread, so buttery and moist that nothing else is needed. My favorite of three sides was the roasted street corn topped with queso fresco and a lime crema.

Should New Mexico-style barbecue someday be acknowledge as a unique barbecue region with an incomparable style, perhaps the Village of Los Ranchos de Albuquerque should change the last portion of its name to “Albarbecuerque” with Chef Young as its mayor.

ABQ BBQ
7520 4th Street, N.W., Suite A
Los Ranchos de Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 361-2278
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 17 June 2018
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Pulled Pork, Brisket, Green Chile Cornbread, Roasted Street Corn, Red Chile Macaroni and Cheese, Local Christmas Sauce

ABQ BBQ Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Frank’s Famous Chicken & Waffles – Albuquerque, New Mexico

My Friend Bruce “Sr. Plata” Silver Stands in Front of Frank’s Famous Chicken & Waffles

If one measure of success is having the wherewithal to pursue those things you love most, Frank Willis has led a very successful life. A towering skyscraper of a man, Frank has had four great loves in his life: family, basketball, music and chicken and waffles. They’ve been his passions and his raisons d’être. Maybe that’s why he’s done them all well.

You might remember Frank Willis as a heavily coveted recruit who played basketball for the University of New Mexico Lobos, then the only game in town. At 6’8” and 260 pounds, he was a physical presence down on the post, helping the Lobos win the Western Athletic Conference championship in 1994. Knee injuries kept him from achieving the promise he showed as a high school senior in Los Angeles. After his playing days ended, Frank remained in Albuquerque where he pined for the soul food—especially chicken and waffles–so readily available in the City of Angels. When he couldn’t find the foods he coveted, he began preparing them himself.

Tenderoni Platter

While he cites his mother, grandmother and aunt as formative influences on his cooking, Frank also waxes nostalgic about his frequent visits to Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles, a beloved Los Angeles soul food institution. As he had done in honing his basketball skills, he worked relentlessly on his own recipes until he had perfected them to his exacting standards. In January, 2013, he took his concept to the streets—literally, launching a food delivery business featuring soul food. It was such a hit that within nine months, he opened a brick-and-mortar soul food restaurant, Frank’s Famous Chicken & Waffles.

Now, Frank’s may not have been famous when it first opened, but it quickly garnered a reputation as a purveyor of peerless soul food. In 2015, Albuquerque The Magazine awarded the quickly burgeoning business a Hot Plate Award for the chicken and waffles the Duke City can’t live without. In the 2017 “best of the city” poll, the magazine’s readers declared Frank’s as the best soul food eatery in the metropolitan area. Accolades, awards and glowing media tributes share space on the walls at Frank’s with another of his four loves, music.

12 Wings and 2 Waffles Platter

While you’re enjoying soul food at Frank’s, it’s only fitting that you’re surrounded by the dulcet tones and sensual stylings of sweet, soothing soul music from such stalwarts as Wilson Pickett, Marvin Gaye and Diana Ross. A vintage sound system console stereo complete with eight-track player, turntable and cassette player sits on the distressed wood floor next to a small library of record album sleeves. Still more album sleeves and cassettes festoon the walls. Above the fireplace mantle hangs a painting of Prince right next to an electric guitar, both spotlighted by overhead lights. The only vestige of Frank’s playing days as a Lobo is his old jersey framed on the wall and sporting the number 4 he wore.

Frank’s greatest love, of course, is his family.  His restaurant is the quintessential family owned and operated restaurant.  Family members–sister, daughter, mother–all have a hand in day-to-day operation.  Frank himself is the most visible face of the restaurant.  He’s understandably proud of his business.  When my friend Sr. Plata and I visited for the first time in June, 2018, he asked how we’d heard about Frank’s.  I replied “everyone’s heard about Frank’s.  It just took us too long to get here.”  We joked about Sr. Plata having been from Los Angeles but never having been to Roscoe’s.

Just How Big a Platter with 12 Wings and 2 Waffles: Sr Plata Demonstrates

Frank’s menu is so much more than chicken and waffles though if that sweet and savory combination is what you’re jonesing for, a number of plates are available to sate your appetite. And, if you’re like this indolent eater and prefer not to have to work around chicken bones, there are boneless options. The most prolific offering on the menu is the Temptations Platter, a caloric overachiever showcasing wings smothered with Muddy Waters gravy served with yams, mac n’ cheese, greens and corn bread. You can also put some South in your mouth with grits prepared several ways, including the “Kiss My Grits Bowl” (a heaping bowl topped with cheese, eggs and your choice of bacon, sausage or hot links). Two po’ boy sandwiches—your choice of catfish or shrimp—are available for the sandwich lovers among us. You can also enjoy a catfish platter and a plethora of sides such as smoked turkey greens, candied yams and jazzy red beans and rice.

During our inaugural visit, only my friend Sr. Plata’s eyes were larger than his order of twelve wings and two waffles.  He was awestruck at just how much meat a dozen wings could have, obviously figuring on some scrawny pieces.  Not only did he get a serious work-out hefting that immense platter of poultry, he ate enough to keep him sated until at least dinnertime.  It’s a good thing the two waffles were not of the Belgian variety which tend to be thicker or even he might not have been able to finish the plate.  The waffles were served with a rich cinnamon butter and sweet syrup.  They were a perfect complement to the battered fried chicken which was fried to a golden hue.  Steam wafted upward when he bit into his first piece launching an aroma into the air that smelled of a summer picnic.

As previously recounted, this indolent blogger doesn’t much like having to work through the carapace of a lobster, crab claws and even shrimp shells.  Ditto for boned chicken.  That’s why the tenderoni platter (three battered chicken tenders served with fries, coleslaw and a roll) appealed so much to me.  Well, that and the fact that the chicken tenders were all white meat.  This is chicken worthy of Roscoe’s, better than any the Colonel could dream of preparing.  The thick fries are battered in the same delicious concoction used on the fried chicken.  Other restaurants serve battered or seasoned fries, but these are much better.  The coleslaw is excellent, a creamy, tangy and fresh variety.

Frank’s Famous Chicken & Waffles is a labor of love for a very successful man who pursues the things he loves and does them all well.  You won’t find better chicken anywhere in Albuquerque.

Frank’s Famous Chicken & Waffles
513 San Mateo Blvd, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 712-5109
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 13 June 2018
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: 12 Wings and 2 Waffles, Tenderoni Platter

Franks Famous Chicken and Waffles Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Viet’s Pho – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Viet’s Pho on Menaul

“”Vietnam. It grabs you and doesn’t let you go.
Once you love it, you love it forever.”

~ Anthony Bourdain 

Most of us have never been to Vietnam.  It’s possible, maybe likely, that most of us will never make it to Vietnam…at least not in a corporeal state.  That’s an important distinction because for years, we’ve already been visiting Vietnam.  We’ve been magically transported to Vietnam every time Anthony Bourdain visited.  Bourdain had the rare ability to develop intimate connections with the cultures and people he encountered in his travels then translate those connections into expressive and relatable narratives.  He was a gifted raconteur whose rare honesty, lack of pretense, irreverent sense of humor and self-deprecating humility came across so endearingly empathetic.  His evocative descriptions of exotic foods and cultures expanded our imaginations and allowed us to marvel and wonder about the world we know so little about.  Because of him, many of us fell in love with Vietnam.  Not its food.  We already loved that.  Because of Bourdain, we fell in love with the Vietnamese culture and its people.

Anthony Bourdain was so much more than a celebrity chef.  He was a true citizen of and ambassador for the world.  He had a genuine appreciation for extraordinary foods prepared by accomplished chefs, but demonstrated equal esteem for home cooks as they proudly prepared simple cultural staples.  Moreso, he gave voice to the most downtrodden and trampled upon.  Most of us who attempt, however futilely, to express ourselves with a modicum of the eloquence which seemed to come natural to him, don’t delude ourselves into believing we’re in the same league.  We’re not even in the same universe.

Viet’s Pho Dining Room

It’s only fitting that my inaugural visit to Viet’s Pho was with Alonna Smith, a Philadelphia expat now living in Albuquerque.  Alonna is much closer to Bourdain’s formidable orbit than I am, having published two books: The Philadelphia Food Companion and Lancaster County: The Best Fun, Food, Lodging, Shopping and Sights.  Her current project, an online compendium on Indian food, is an ambitious undertaking I’m very much looking forward to reading.  For several weeks we had been planning to meet for lunch only to be beset by schedule conflicts and other commitments.  Alonna is a kindred spirit, a bold culinary adventurer and proud dog parent.  Like me, she is still reeling by the untimely passing of Anthony Bourdain, an inspiration to both of us.

Alonna related that the Duke City has many more Vietnamese restaurants than Philadelphia, marveling that Albuquerque has somewhere around forty Vietnamese eateries to the City of Brotherly Love’s eight or so.  We were both excited to visit  Viet’s Pho, the metropolitan area’s newest entry into a dynamic Vietnamese culinary community. I knew we’d hit it off immediately after she suggested we order different entrees and share everything, generosity characteristic of most gastronomes.  She never mentioned the seeming grammatical faux pas of the restaurant’s name, an unsnobbish act I found especially Bourdainesque.

Spring Rolls with Grilled Pork

Launched in April, 2018, Viet’s Pho has already garnered a 4.5 star rating on 54 Yelp reviews (as of this writing). Howie “The Duke of Duke City” Kaibel, the charismatic Albuquerque Community Manager for Yelp, described it as “easily one of the most affordable, flavorful Vietnamese restaurants in Albuquerque, bordering on 5-star.”  He lavished his highest praise on the “best in the city” grilled pork.  The Alibi‘s rapaciously talented food editor Robin Babb (like Howie and me, a  Souperbowl 2018 judge) told readers that Viet’s Pho “serves hospitality and huge portions.”  Great food, warm hospitality, huge portions…Viet’s Pho can’t miss!

Located in the familiar space that served as the home to Ko Palace for nearly three decades, Viet’s Pho is the inaugural family-owned and operated venture for Wendy and Bao, both of whom previously worked  as servers at nearby Viet Taste.  Highly indicative of the type of service they provided is the volume of regulars who have followed them to their new restaurant.  They brought that customer orientation with them to Viet’s Pho.  During our hour-long visit, our servers first demonstrated Job-like patience as Alonna and I lingered in perusing the menu in between getting to know one another.  They then demonstrated  the endearing qualities to which all servers should aspire–attentiveness and friendliness, an encyclopedic knowledge of the menu and best of all, the wisdom not to hover when guests are deep in conversation.

Pork and Shrimp Rice Flour Crepe

A few vestiges–specifically glass murals depicting fierce dragons and docile pandas–of Ko Palace remain.  More prevalent as a decorative touch is wallpaper showcasing clusters of bamboo which Vietnamese esteem as both a symbol of vitality and a utilitarian material.  Thankfully, there were no remnants of the space’s previous tenant on the menu, aptly described by Howie as “going on for days.”  Both  Alonna and I came in with a tabula rasa attitude, that is we were both blank slates open to being inscribed upon by something alluring that caught our eyes.  Many items caught our eyes.  The menu is a virtual compendium of all that is great and wonderful about Vietnamese cuisine.

First up were spring rolls (Goi cuon) which are available with shrimp, chicken or pork.  The Duke City default seems to be shrimp so it was a refreshing change to order pork spring rolls (gasp, even the idea sounds almost heretical).  As Howie sagely declared, the grilled pork may just be the very best in the city.  The pork is marinated in a mix that includes fish sauce, soy sauce, sugar and sundry ingredients that meld preternaturally well to create an olfactory treasure that dances on your taste buds.  The  aroma and flavor of thinly sliced pork in thin, nearly transparent rice paper wrappers is reminiscent of grilling outdoors in a small hibachi with fat dripping from the pork and sizzling into a smoky haze which permeates the pork.  Sure there are other ingredients (vermicelli noodles, Thai basil, lettuce) in the thick, cigar-shaped rolls, but that pork stands out and imprints itself on your taste buds and memories.  So does the dipping sauce, a terrific blend of hoisin sauce, peanut butter, chili paste and more.

Spicy Lemongrass Noodle Bowl

Alonna’s selection was a pork and shrimp rice flour crepe (sliced pork, whole shrimp, bean sprouts, and white onions), a crescent-shaped beauty resembling a folded pancake.  Interestingly, Banh Xeo, the Vietnamese name for this dish, actually translates to “sizzling cake” and in many circles, is referred to as a Vietnamese pancake, not a crepe.  Alonna quickly discerned a sweetness courtesy of coconut milk while I marveled at the slightly pungent, early flavor and fluorescent yellow of the turmeric used in the preparation of the crepe.  The crepe is served with a fish sauce with real personality and bite. It proved an outstanding choice, comparable in deliciousness to my “best of the city” choice at Basil Leaf.

Even had my beloved  May Hong  not closed in 2016, Viet Pho’s spicy lemongrass (your choice of chicken, pork, beef or shrimp stir-fried with onions, celery and bell pepper and available on  bed of rice or noodles) might be the best in the city. While lemongrass itself is a very mild herb with very little “spiciness,” this dish is replete with a pleasant piquancy, some of which comes from the accompanying fish sauce.  We’ve already established that the grilled pork is in rarefied air.  So, too, is the stir-fry, done masterfully by someone who obviously knows how to control the intense heat inherent in flash fry cuisine.  This is a magnificent dish.

Perhaps the biggest compliment I can give Viet’s Pho is to proclaim that I believe Anthony Bourdain would have loved it.  I began this review with a tribute to Vietnam’s biggest advocate and champion.  In the days since his untimely passing, it seems everyone in the culinary community has penned a similar paean to him.  The very best I’ve read comes from my friend Hannah Walraven who’s now living in Wisconsin.  It’s too good not to share:

“I read his books, I watched his shows. I admired him and also had plenty of complaints about him. I appreciated some of the ways he presented the world and I disdained other ways. B and I had plenty of criticisms that I would never have dared to say to his face, no matter how brave I think I am. He didn’t know me and never would have. But here’s what hurts the most: that guy was in pain and he just tried to keep going. He was shooting his show. He left behind an 11-year old kid. Someone who obviously and clearly loved him found his body. He was the first to describe himself as a miserable bastard and yet he tried (sometimes against his own will it seems) to make the world better. He tried to make americans better in some small way. That’s so much more than so many people do. I’m so sad. I’m so sorry he was in pain. I’m so sorry for his loved ones. And I’m sorry for us, that another one of the helpers is gone. This crushing world is so crushing, I’m starting to see how only kindness and empathy matter, that being loving and honest and open are subversive acts. I love you guys, please please be well and let me know if you need anything I can give you.”

Viet’s Pho
4208 Menaul, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 717-2359
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 12 June 2018
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Pork Spring Rolls, Spicy Lemongrass Noodle Bowl, Chicken and Shrimp Rice Flour Crepe

Viet's Pho Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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