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Kathy’s Carry-Out – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Kathy's on Isleta Boulevard

Kathy’s on Isleta Boulevard

In 2001, the Alibi staff declared Kathy’s Carry-Out the “best hamburger in the Duke City.” Surely, nay-sayers retorted, this had to be a mistake. How, after all, they reasoned, could a ramshackle garage sized building with a kitschy purple facade and garish orange trim possibly compete with the flamboyant chains and their glitz and glamor or even with the anointed local purveyors in the more well-beaten, well-eaten paths throughout the city?   Kathy’s Carry-Out lived up to its name, emphasis on the “carry-out” portion of its name.  Carry-Out was the only option available for the phalanx of diners eager to bite into those bodacious burgers.

Ensconced in an Isleta Boulevard neighborhood seemingly zoned as much for more residential than commercial purposes, Kathy’s Carry-Out certainly wouldn’t win any awards for esthetics and it probably violated every feng shui principle for harmony, not that hungry diners noticed.  Savvy burger aficionados from the South Valley frequented Kathy’s for its wonderful New Mexican cuisine and a burger so good it’d convert staunch vegans.  It took one visit to convince us you can’t judge a burger by the dilapidated facade of its place of origin. Kathy’s did serve one of, if not THE best burger in town.

The original Kathy's Carryout on Isleta Boulevard

The original Kathy’s Carryout on Isleta Boulevard

It’ll take one visit to this South Valley neighborhood to gain an appreciation for a neighborhood unabashedly bedecked in an ultraviolet spectrum of colors.  It’s part of the charm about this area that I love  It’s also the utter charm of holding on to a rural neighborliness amidst an urban sprawl sometimes lacking the spirit of community lived daily in the Isleta area.  This is a neighborhood which defies the abobe-hued homogeneity which has claimed so much of the city.  It’s a neighborhood which dares to be different, to express its individuality.

And when color isn’t what your eyes are drawn to, it might be a marvel of architectural ingenuity such as the single-wide trailer which sits on top of a stucco building to the immediate north of Kathy’s Carryout.  It’s a tribute to this area that the zoning Nazis haven’t come down on such inventive architectural expression. Or, your eyes might be trained to the skies because of an inordinate number of pigeons fortunate enough to call this neighborhood home.

A large Kathy Burger

In 2007, the dwarfish ugly duckling which served nonpareil New Mexican food and life-changing burgers was transmogrified into a spectacular swan with a broad wingspan. The charmingly garish exterior facade of its first location and its anti-esthetic curb appeal were gone as were any claims to “Albuquerque’s best burger served here.”  That honor didn’t go very far; it now belongs to the restaurant next door.

Kathy’s Carryout left that utterly charming old edifice and moved next door to a beautiful restaurant with seating for dozens of diners. “Carry-Out” now applies to the drive-up window, not to the way diners used to order and take away their orders.  In Kathy’s Carryout of old, separate windows were used for placing and picking up orders. You had to feel sorry for the cramped quarters in which Kathy and her staff filled orders; there wasn’t much room to move and the heat of the stoves seemed stifling.

Rolled tacos and hot sauce

Rolled tacos and hot sauce

The old location had a couple of picnic tables where you could sit and wait, but most patrons seemed to either wait by the pick-up window or taxed their cars’ air conditioners while waiting in relative comfort within the confines of cars of all makes and models. Most were packed with hungry family members waiting for a designated parent to return with a bagful of deliciousness.What they waiting for is not only one of the very best green chile cheeseburgers in New Mexico (ergo, the universe), but excellent take-out Mexican and New   Mexican food. Waiting indoors is much better!

Kathy’s new digs are completely antithetical to its predecessor. It’s almost antiseptic in appearance with pristine denim colored walls, sixteen-inch tiled floors and comfortable seating.  No one is happier to be in the new restaurant than the staff and cooks who love the large kitchen in which they can ply their skills in climate-controlled comfort.  The larger kitchen also means an expanded menu which now includes burritos, tacos, enchiladas burgers, stuffed sopaipillas and much more. Daily specials are offered every day of the week.

Chips and guacamole

Chips and guacamole

27 July 2015: The most popular item on the menu is probably still the green chile cheeseburger extraordinaire called the Kathy Burger (formerly known as the Cuca Burger), a double-meat masterpiece that will kick sand on the so-called Big Mac and other chain claimants to size.  With two behemoth hand-formed patties prepared to medium-well, Kathy Burger and its tongue-tingling green chile, onions, lettuce, bacon and cheese is a phenom. It takes two hands to handle this leviathan, five napkins to wipe yourself off while consuming it and phenomenal willpower not to order another one, great as it is. With red chile, the Kathy Burger is not quite as incendiary but might even taste better.

24 July 2015: Terrific tacos are an excellent alternative to the Kathy Burger. The rolled tacos (order them with guacamole instead of salsa) are cigar-shaped, deep-fried corn tortilla treasures stuffed with a chile emboldened ground beef. Only in the city of Espanola, New Mexico will you find better rolled tacos than at Kathy’s. The guacamole, by the way, can be purchased by the pint (pictured below). It’s good guacamole, buttery and creamy in texture and delicious in flavor.

Bean Burrito with Red and Green Chile

24 July 2015: Several burrito options are also available and they’re not your run-of-the-mill burritos. The carne adovada burrito, for example, comes with fried potatoes and a fried egg. It’s absolutely delicious with red chile blessed pork chunks as tender as Mother Theresa’s heart.  Now, if you really love burritos, but you like bargains even more, you can have both by visiting Kathy’s on Fridays when the daily special is three bean burritos for an inflation-beating cost just barely over five dollars.  The burritos are engorged with frijoles so good you’ll be reminded why pinto beans are, along with chile, New Mexico’s official state vegetable.  The accommodating staff will indulge you with both red and green chile if you ask.  While both exemplars of deliciousness and piquancy, the green gets my nod, but just barely.  

27 July 2015: The term “cheap eats” sometimes has connotations not of inexpensive fare, but of rock-bottom quality.  At Kathy’s cheap eats represents excellent fare at very reasonable prices.  If the exorbitant price of tacos has you wondering if restaurateurs believe taco shells are fashioned from spun gold, you may experience a bit of sticker shock at the low, low, low price of a la carte tacos at Kathy’s.  Nestled within hard-shelled repositories of deliciousness are beans, ground beef, lettuce and cheese with salsa on the side.  These tacos are terrific, a reminder that tacos shouldn’t cost as much as your mortgage to be great.

Tacos

The Alibi was right about Kathy’s Carry-Out so many years ago.  So are the hundreds of discerning Duke City burgerphiles and aficionados of New Mexican food who frequent it!

Kathy’s
823 Isleta, S.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 873-3472
LATEST VISIT: 27 July 2015
# OF VISITS: 8
RATING: 22
COST: $$
BEST BET: Kathy Burger, Rolled Tacos, Bean Burritos, Carne Adovada Burrito, Beef Tacos

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Sandia Chile Grill – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Sandia Chile Grill, Smokehouse and Microbrewery

If perspiration is (as the proverbial “they” have declared) the mother of invention, Mickey and Clinton Coker may just be two of the most glistening guys in the Duke City. Since 2004, the Cokers have “reinvented” their restaurant four times. If you’re thinking, they’re just try, try, trying again until they get it right, you couldn’t be more wrong. Mickey Coker, the entrepreneur behind the four make-overs, started with a culinary concept that was so wildly successful, it prompted almost immediate growth. His second effort, a brick-and-mortar operation, also achieved significant acclaim. Some might have considered the third Coker transition strictly a sideline…until it started garnering one award after the other. The fourth step in the evolution of the Sandia Grill may be the most revolutionary of all.

For Mickey Coker, the route to entrepreneur was inauspicious. He got his start selling New Mexican food at a gas station-convenience store. Yes, the very notion of a gas station-convenience store food conjures images of salty, cylindrically shaped dry meat snacks with the texture of sawdust and air-filled bags of Cool Ranch Doritos.  Now mention New Mexican food and gas station in the same sentence and the likely image would make all the sophomoric six-year-olds among us giggle, the notion of “gas” not having anything to do with petroleum.  Despite these stereotypes, Coker had the confidence in his New Mexico food products to launch his business in 2004, ensconced within the confines of a convenience store-gas station in the Winner’s Circle gas station at Harper and Barstow. A second location, on Montgomery just east of I-25, followed shortly thereafter.

Once strictly a New Mexican Restaurant, Now Showcasing Barbecue and New Mexican Food

From its onset, the Sandia Chile Grill’s made-to-order burrito concept elevated gas station dining from a fast food grab-and-gobble experience to a uniquely sublime New Mexico dining extravaganza, albeit one without on-the-premises seating. The aroma of tortillas on the grill quickly had patrons making a bee-line to the little grill that could at the back of the convenience store portion of the gas station. While relatively little space is required to operate what is essentially a to-go diner, Coker saw his business grow to the extent–as many as 4,000 meals in a busy month–that a real restaurant storefront was in order. He launched the Sandia Chile Grill restaurant at the Del Norte Shopping Center, essentially moving from the Winner’s Circle gas station not that far away.

A native New Mexican (born in Belen), Coker saw two obvious reasons for the name Sandia Chile Grill, the first being Sandia chile which grows in the Mesilla Valley. Sandia chile ranges from four to six-inches long and dries to a deep burgundy color.  It’s one of the most delicious of all red chiles and is served at such fabled New Mexican food treasures as Mary & Tito’s.   Sandia is also the name of the mountain range backdropping the city of Albuquerque.

Pulled Pork Sandwich with Twice Baked Potatoes and Calabasitas

At the restaurant, the staff had the room to operate and customers had comfortable seating in which to enjoy New Mexican food favorites. Though much of the restaurant’s business remained carry-out, it was nice to have had an alternative when you wanted it. As at the service station, burritos dominated the menu: breakfast burritos, steak burritos, steak and chicken burritos, chicken burritos, pork burritos and even veggie burritos. Some burritos were named for professional wrestlers (Ultimate Warrior, Undertaker, Junkyard Dog, Mankind and the Macho Man). There were also burritos named for Mexican western characters: El Matidor (sic), Bandito, Caballero and El Jeffe. The menu also included stuffed sopaipillas, enchiladas, tamales, rellenos and tacos–the New Mexican food essentials which couldn’t be prepared at the gas station sites.

In 2009, the facility was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to can all its chiles and sauces for nationwide distribution. In 2012, the Cokers opened a microbrewery on the premises–and an award-winning brewery at that. Within months after launching, they entered seven items in a New Mexico State Fair competition, earning five medals including a “best of show” in the professional division. The blue and red-ribbons are on display in the restaurant. The menu also began featuring several gluten-free items (nachos, green chile chicken stew, chicken quesadillas, chicken enchiladas, steak tacos and more).

House Sauces: Hot (with Habanero), Tangy (Mustard-Based) and Sweet

The Cokers determined that an even more natural accompaniment to award-winning adult libations than New Mexican food is barbecue. Yes, barbecue! Though their New Mexican dishes were beloved by the masses who frequented the Sandia Chile Grill, the Cokers are not ones to stay still. They transitioned to a smokehouse concept in March, 2014, positioning a smoker near the Wyoming entrance to the shopping center. Aficionados of Sandia’s New Mexican food weren’t left in the cold, however. The new menu also includes several popular New Mexican food favorites (burritos, enchiladas, stuffed sopaipillas, quesadillas, huevos rancheros and a green chile chicken bowl ) prepared with smoked meats instead of the more conventional meats used on New Mexican food.

Because the concept of transitioning from a New Mexican restaurant to a smokehouse may seem radical, you’re probably wondering if this is a haphazardly undertaken venture. In truth, the Cokers have had a smoker for more than a decade. That’s plenty of time to master low-and-slow smoke manipulation on meats. Brimming with confidence from the great reception their barbecue has received, the Cokers have plans for a larger smoker with a much greater capacity. The barbecue menu is replete with the essentials: pulled pork, smoked chicken, brisket, St. Louis ribs and street tacos. You can purchase them in increments ranging from a quarter-pound through ten pounds. You can also partake of a sandwich meal with two sides for a ridiculously low price. Three sauces–a tangy sauce similar to what you’d find in the Carolinas, a spicy sauce redolent with Habanero and a sweet sauce–are available though because it’s good barbecue, they’re wholly unnecessary.

Brisket Enchiladas

The pulled pork sandwich features a hoagie type bun brimming with tender tendrils of pulled pork. It’s good to go as is though you might want to experiment with the three sauces to see if one suits your taste. The spicy Habanero-based sauce provides a “slow burn,” a deceptive “sneak up on you” burn that may water your eyes if you apply too much of the sauce. If you’re from New Mexico, you can handle it. Make one of the two sides the calabasitas. These aren’t your run-of-the-mill calabasitas. They’re prepared al dente and paired with a green chile as incendiary as the Habanero sauce. Another excellent side is the twice-baked potatoes which have a smooth, creamy texture and are punctuated with sour cream.

The pairing of New Mexican food and barbecue is a match made in New Mexico and that’s about as close to heaven as there is on Earth.  One of the most surprisingly natural couplings is smoked brisket with “Christmas” style enchiladas, available in quantities of one, two or three.  Atop tortillas redolent with corn are heaping helpings of smoked brisket, shredded Cheddar, lettuce and the red and green chile with which Duke City diners fell in love when the Ultimate Warrior was on the menu.  The chile has a pleasant piquancy that doesn’t obfuscate the smokiness of the brisket.  Brisket enchiladas are a surprisingly good way to enjoy the best of two flavor combinations.

Mick Coker and his son Clinton are immensely proud of their New Mexican heritage and like most proud New Mexicans, know one of the day’s most difficult decisions is whether to have red or green chile…or both.   They help make that decision easier for their guests by offering excellent New Mexican cuisine showcasing both. They also showcase some of the best adult libations and barbecue in town.

Sandia Chile Grill
7120 Wyoming Blvd, N.E.,
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 798-1970
Web Site

LATEST VISIT: 3 July 2015
1st VISIT:  18 August 2007
# OF VISITS: 4
RATING: 21
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Pulled Pork Sandwich, Calabasitas, Twice Baked Potatoes, Brisket Enchiladas

Sandia Chile Grill on Urbanspoon

Perea’s New Mexican Restaurant – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Perea’s New Mexican Restaurant on Juan Tabo

Note:  In the twenty years or so in which Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Blog has worked hard to earn your trust, I’ve shared with you my impression of many different dishes.  One that hadn’t crossed my lips until rather recently is a rather foul-tasting, hard-to-swallow dish called crow, an odious carrion that no chef can transform into a palatable dish.  

Several years ago on my review of Perea’s New Mexican Restaurant, I whined with my usual rancor about the foul demon spice cumin on the restaurant’s red chile.   Suffering from severe nasal congestion at the time, my usually trustworthy olfactory palate thought it had discerned the repellent cumin.  It was a false read that led to a denouncement of Perea’s red chile.  For that I apologize to the Perea family and any readers who may have held off in ordering what is actually a very good, very pure red chile…– Gil

Chips and Salsa

Tourists visiting San Francisco who wish to partake of the city’s most “authentic” Chinese food might be in for a surprise if they select their dining destination based on the number of indigenous diners they can see from a restaurant’s windows. It’s widely reputed that in San Francisco such “window dressing” is at the least, a facade and at the worst, a bait and switch tactic.  Instead of authenticity, tourists might actually be in for a meal of Americanized Chinese food of which they’ll partake in an upstairs dining room not visible from the street and crowded with other tourists.

If the criteria for authenticity and quality includes the number of indigenous diners at an ethnic restaurant, Perea’s New Mexican Restaurant is one of the Duke City’s most authentic practitioners of New Mexican cuisine The signage “Perea’s Authentic New Mexican Restaurant” even tells you you’re in for authenticity, but the proof, as always, is in the eating, not just in the number of native New Mexicans seated at the restaurant.

A breakfast burrito stuffed with chorizo, potatoes and egg.

A breakfast burrito stuffed with chorizo, potatoes and egg.

Perea’s is one of Albuquerque’s most popular dining destinations regardless of genre.  Open seven days a week from 8AM through 2PM, it is usually crowded with repeat customers making up a significant portion of the restaurant’s guests.  How do you know they’re repeat customers?  The staff greets so many of them by name that you might think they’re family.  Over its 35 years of serving Albuquerque, Perea’s has moved numerous times.  It’s currently situated in a facade that previously housed a Long John Silvers restaurant.

There’s nothing especially remarkable about the restaurant’s interior design though you might never even pay attention to the artwork on the walls as you watch plates brimming with deliciousness being delivered to other tables and take in the aromas of sopaipillas in the fryer. There’s also something almost musical in the clanking of spoons as they stir coffee all day long and it’s certainly comforting to know you can get breakfast at any time of day.

A carne adovada platter.

A carne adovada platter.

Perea’s breakfast and lunch menu features American and New Mexican treasures, all of which are prepared very well.  Most diners seem to eschew burgers and sandwiches and focus their appetites on New Mexican comfort food favorites–essentially anything with red or green chile.  Both the red and green chile include ground beef (vegans are forewarned on the menu). Burritos are one such comfort food favorite.  Perea’s burritos start with the best foundation possible–thick homemade flour tortillas.  You can pretty much pick what you’d like those tortillas stuffed with and can’t go wrong whether it’s ham, bacon, sausage or chorizo.

21 April 2007: The chorizo at Perea’s is redolent with Mexican oregano and other olfactory-arousing spices.  Fold into your tortilla, chorizo, eggs and potatoes and you’ve got one of the best any time of day burritos in New Mexico, one which is made even better when served Christmas style (with both red and green chile). By the way, you can purchase either fresh or day-old tortillas at Perea’s, but good luck in trying to craft a burrito nearly as good.

Perea's pancakes are outstanding!

Perea’s pancakes are outstanding!

21 April 2007: The Carne adovada (cubes of pork that have been marinated and cooked in red chile) is another Perea’s specialty.  This carne adovada is laced with garlic and oregano with fork-tender tendrils of porcine perfection.   The carne adovada is one of the restaurant’s most popular dishes as Yelp contributors will attest (as will my adovada adoring Kim).

Perea’s has some outstanding green chile offerings including one of the two or three best chile rellenos in Albuquerque.  The relleno is creamy and cheesy, a combination we’ve found more often in the Las Cruces area than in the metropolitan area.  The green chile, by the way, was named Albuquerque’s very best by Alibi readers in the 2014 “Best of Burque” poll.

Stuffed Sopaipilla with Green Chile and Whole Beans

There are a couple of additions every diner should request.  One is the restaurant’s incomparable refried beans which have that cooked with lard taste that seems to set apart the very best refried beans. The other is a bowl of the green chile, which is fabulous.  It is more piquant than the chile served at three quarters of the New Mexican restaurants in Albuquerque, but not overly piquant to real chile fanatics.

2 March 2008: Hungry diners may want to try their hand at the large combination plate: a taco, chile relleno, enchilada and burrito along with beans and rice.  It is a prodigious platter replete with New Mexico treasures. Unlike other New Mexican restaurants, Perea’s gives you tremendous latitude in crafting this combo plate to your exacting specifications.  That means beef, chicken or carne adovada on your burrito, enchilada and taco–your choice.  For me, it will no longer be “Christmas style” on this combo platter.  It’s green all the way!

A large combination plate

A large combination plate

Perea’s salsa is somewhat thin, not so much that it all runs off the chip, but enough that some spillage is inevitable.  It’s got a very pleasant piquancy and the chips are lightly salted.  Even better, the chips are thick enough for Gil-sized portions of salsa in each scoop.  This is the type of salsa and chip combination of which you’ll want a second portion.

21 April 2007:  Inexplicably, Albuquerque diners which serve the best breakfast burritos (Milton’s and Murphy’s Mule Barn come to mind) also serve some of the very best pancakes in the city.  That holds true as well for Perea’s where a “short stack” is a must. The batter for these golden orbs includes a bit of cinnamon as well as vanilla.  The taste of both coalesce to form some of the very best pancakes in town.  They would be even better if served with hot syrup instead of syrup from a squeeze jar.

Sopaipilla

Perea’s New Mexican Restaurant is indeed a genuine treasure serving authentic New Mexican cuisine.

Perea’s New Mexican Restaurant
9901 Central Avenue, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 232-9442
Facebook Page

LATEST VISIT: 8 June 2015
# OF VISITS: 4
RATING: 20
COST: $$
BEST BET: Salsa & Chips, Pancakes, Chile Relleno, Stuffed Sopaipilla, Sopaipilla

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