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Five & Dime General Store – Santa Fe, New Mexico

Santa Fe’s famous Five & Dime General Store

The late Fray Angelico Chavez, New Mexico’s preeminent historian once wrote about Santa Fe’s growth, “The only threat to her own distinctive glory, and something to guard against these days, is the kind of hurried “progress” which has, not history or humanity, but only money as its sole aim and purpose.”  Perhaps nowhere in Santa Fe has that hurried progress been more in evidence than in the world-famous Santa Fe Plaza which has seen significant changes over the years. One of the bastions against progress had been the Woolworth’s department store, in place for several generations, but which finally gave up the ghost just before the turn of the 21st century.

In its place stands the Five & Dime General Store which retains much of the charm that made Woolworth’s a throwback to better times.  Best of all, the Five & Dime retained the lunch counter in which the Frito Pie was invented by Teresa Hernandez in the 1960s–nearly 60 years ago. Few, if any, do it better. The Frito Pie is served the old fashioned way, in an open bag of Fritos smothered with meaty red chile and shredded cheese.

The snack bar where dozens of Frito Pies are served

While filming “Parts Unknown” for CNN celebrity glitterati Anthony Bourdain rankled the feathers of proud New Mexicans who have loved the Five & Dime’s Frito pies for generations.  Bourdain claimed the dish was made with canned Hormel chili and a “DayGlo orange cheese-like substance.”   Worse, the acerbic one claimed the Frito pie is a Texas creation, adding that “New Mexico, you have many wonderful things.  I think, let Texas have this one.” Within days after the program’s airing, Bourdain issued a retraction. 

UPDATE:  In 2011, Kaleta Doolin wrote Fritos Pie, Stories, Recipes and More where she dismissed any claims about Santa Fe’s Woolworth’s having been the inventor of the Frito Pie. What gives Doolin credibility is the fact that she was the daughter of the founder of Frito Lays so she had access to company records. Her research found that the “Fritos chili pie” was first served in 1949, more than a decade before Teresa Hernandez “invented it” in the 1960s at the Santa Fe Woolworth’s.

The world-famous Frito Pie

In 1962, the recipe for “Frito pie” appeared on millions of bags of chips: “Heat can of chili, pour into bag of Fritos, and sprinkle with grated cheese, and chopped onions.” That could well have been from where Teresa Hernandez found the recipe…but she most assuredly used New Mexican “chile” and not some dreadful Texas “chili” in concocting her version. For that she should be canonized.

So, while Anthony Bourdain was right about Frito pie having been invented in Texas,  he was wrong in calling it a “warm crap in a bag” and “colostomy pie.”   It’s for his scatological description that New Mexicans have not forgiven him.  Despite his criticism, Bourdain claims to have enjoyed the Five And Dime’s Frito pie.

The Food Network’s popular “The Best Thing I Ever Ate” program gave New Mexico much more love. The premise of this show is that restaurateurs and chefs know where to eat. It answers the question “where do food stars and chefs eat in their free time–when they’re paying.”  Chef Rahm Fama returned to his hometown of Santa Fe for a “Best Thing…” episode entitled “Childhood Favorites.”  In the episode, he recalled the joys of noshing on Frito pie from the original Five & Dime General Store.

The menu includes several other items, but you rarely see anyone order anything but the Frito Pie which made Woolworth’s a Santa Fe institution. The lunch counter doesn’t have much counter space and there are very few tables, so you just might have to walk around the plaza with your Frito Pie in hand, but you might never have a better one. 

Five & Dime General Store
58 E. San Francisco
Santa Fe, New Mexico
(505) 992-1800
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 18 October 2014
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 18
COST: $$
BEST BET: Frito Pie

Five and Dime on Urbanspoon

New Mexico Beef Jerky Company – Albuquerque, New Mexico

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New Mexico Beef Jerky Company on Fourth

The internet is replete with compilations abounding in truth and humor entitled “You know you’re from New Mexico when…”  Perhaps most resonating in factuality are the items which depict just how much New Mexicans value their culinary traditions.  For example, you know you’re from New Mexico when: your favorite breakfast meat is sliced fried bologna; you buy green chile by the bushel and red chile by the gallon; most restaurants you go to begin with ‘El’ or ‘Los'; you have an extra freezer just for green chile; you think Sadie’s was better when it was in a bowling alley; and you can order your Big Mac with green chile.

Even if you’ve lived in the Land of Enchantment for only a short time, several items on that short list will ring with veracity for you. If you’re a lifelong resident, however, the list may get your dander up a bit because, conspicuous by their absence, are sacrosanct New Mexican foods and culinary traditions we treasure. We would add to the list, you know you’re from New Mexico when: your trail mix consists of pinon and carne seca and instead of popcorn, your home movie nights consist of eating chicharrones in front of the television.

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The comfy, cozy interior of NM Beef Jerky Company

You also know you’re from New Mexico if you can drive down the street and pass several stores selling carne seca. New Mexicans have always had an affinity for carne seca whose literal translation is “dried beef” but for which a more accurate description would be “dehydrated beef.” Spanish conquistadores and settlers learned the process for making carne seca from indigenous peoples, quickly discerning the value of preserving and ease of transporting dehydrated meats as they set off on their conquests. When they settled down and raised cattle for their families, they retained their carne seca preparation traditions. Years of preparing it had taught them that beyond its practicality, carne seca is an addictively delicious meat treat.

Frank Chavez and his family have been provisioning New Mexicans with high-quality, delicious carne seca for three decades, proffering some thirteen flavors. The carne seca is hung and dried in a controlled environment until the desired texture is achieved. The thin strips of dehydrated beef are then marinated in such ingredients as Hatch red and green chile with no additives or preservatives. Any triskaidekaphobia you might have will dissipate when you feast your eyes and wrap your lips around any of the thirteen flavors: original (salt only), peppered (salt and pepper), green chile, red chile, tangy teriyaki, extra hot teriyaki, lemon peppered, old-fashioned, garlic, extra hot Habanero, hot chile con limon and Christmas (red and green chile).

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Taco Burgers

27 November 2013: Texturally, the carne seca is absolutely perfect.  That means it snaps when you bite into it or break apart a piece.  It isn’t stringy in the least and is lean and super delicious.  The chile con limon is not to be missed.  Chile con limon is a very popular Mexican spice mix combining chile spices, salt, lemon and lime to impart an addictive piquant-tangy-citrusy flavor.  The heat is real.  So is the citrusy flavor.  Other early favorites include the extra hot teriyaki and the garlic, but that’s likely to change with future visits and more sampling.

Chavez, an Albuquerque native who grew up in the area around Central and Atrisco, realizes that New Mexican’s can’t live on carne seca alone. When he launched his second instantiation of the New Mexico Beef Jerky Company, he diversified its offerings by selling chicharrones, too…and if there’s anything New Mexicans love as much as carne seca, it’s chicharrones. We also love hot and spicy New Mexico Quality (the store brand) red chile chips so Chavez makes the very best, created with the same high standards as other products in the store.

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Carne Adovada Burrito

Several months after launching his second store (1900 Fourth Street, N.W.), Chavez once again listened to his customers (a novel concept more restaurateurs should embrace) who were clamoring for more. He expanded the menu beyond carne seca, chicharonnes and red chile chips, restructuring the store to include several tables for eat-in dining. One of the first to visit after the menu expansion was Rudy Vigil, the Sandia savant who’s led me to some great restaurants. Rudy endorsed the burritos at the New Mexico Beef Jerky Company with the same enthusiasm he has for the University of New Mexico Lobos.

The limited menu befits the store’s diminutive digs.  Four breakfast burritos (served all day long), five lunch burritos, burgers (tortilla or bun) and taco burgers make up the standard menu, but savvy diners will quickly pick up on the fact that they can also order chicharrones in half or full-pound sizes.  Even better, they can indulge in a chicharrones plate which comes with two tortillas and four ounces of chile for a half-pound portion.  Order a full pound of chicharrones and you’ll double the number of tortillas and chile portion size if you order the full pound.  You’ll also double your enjoyment.

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Chicharonnes Burrito with Green Chile

1 November 2013: Order the taco burgers as an appetizer to begin your experience in New Mexico Beef Jerky Company deliciousness. The taco burgers are simple in their construction: a hard-shell corn tortilla, a hamburger-style beef patty, lettuce and your choice of red or green chile (or both). More tacos should be made with hamburger patties. Texturally, hamburgers have an advantage in that they don’t fall off the taco shell. Hamburger patties are also superior in flavor to fried ground beef. The real kicker, literally and figuratively, is the green chile which bites back with a vengeance. It’s an excellent chile, some of the best in town.

1 November 2013: The carne adovada burrito is so good, it’s easy to imagine yourself having one for breakfast and one for lunch two or seven times a week.  The breakfast version is made with carne adovada, eggs, cheese and potatoes while the lunch version omits the eggs (though as previously noted, breakfast burritos are available all day long).  The carne adovada is outstanding with tender tendrils of porcine perfection marinated in a rich, piquant red chile made from chile pods.  Burritos are generously engorged, easily twice as thick as most hand-held burritos…and most of the filling is carne, not potatoes.  They’re easily affordable and will fill you up.  My adovada adoring friend Ruben calls them “unbelievably good,” a sentiment you’ll echo. Another friend Mike Muller believes these are the very best carne adovada burritos in town. Frankly, I can’t think of any better.

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Chicharonnes

1 November 2013: By most measures, the carne adovada burrito would be the best burrito at most restaurants’ burrito line-up, but it may not even be the best burrito at the New Mexico Beef Jerky Company. That honor probably belongs to the chicharrones burrito (with beans and chile), the only possible way in which chicharrones could be improved. The chicharrones are exemplars of crackling pork. They’re crispy, crunchy and redolent with porcine goodness. This burrito is tailor-made for green chile, an R-rated variety in that it may be unsuitable (too piquant) for some children, adults who don’t have an asbestos-lined mouth and Texans. This is chile the way New Mexicans have been preparing it for generations, not dumbed down for tourist tastes.

As a cautionary note, if you get there late in the day, say after 3:30, the New Mexico Beef Jerky Company may have run out of chicharrones.  Fresh batches are made daily and if you’re fortunate enough to arrive shortly after a fresh batch is ready, you’re in for a treat.  Few things are as wonderful as freshly made chicharrones hot enough to burn your tongue.  Before day’s end, the freshly ground beef from which burgers are constructed may also be gone.

Green Chile Cheeseburger with New Mexico Quality Chips

Green Chile Cheeseburger with New Mexico Quality Red Chile Chips

27 November 2013: The ground beef for the burgers comes from the same beef used to create the old-fashioned carne seca. Each beef patty is hand-formed and prepared at about medium-well then topped with mustard and onions. Green chile (a must-have) and cheese are optional. As a green chile cheeseburger, the emphasis here is on chile as in plenty of piquancy. If you’ve ever lamented not being able to discern any chile on your green chile cheeseburger, this is a burger for you. The chile is not only piquant, it’s got a nice flavor. The beef patty exceeds the circumference of the bun and is thick, probably a good eight ounces of delicious, rich beef. Burgers are served with New Mexico Quality red chile chips. 

24 September 2014:  Baloney!  If you’ve ever wondered why the popular Italian sausage is synonymous with a term commonly associated with nonsense, bunkum or insincerity, you’re not alone.  It turns out the word “baloney” was first used in the 1930s as a reference to the disingenuousness of government bureaucracies.  The term was later applied to “Bologna” sausages because the sausage tasted nothing like the meat used to make them (a mixture of smoked, spiced meat from cows and pigs). 

Baloney Sandwich

24 September 2014: There’s nothing insincere or nonsensical about the love of baloney, the sausage.  It’s long been a favorite among families in rural New Mexico, a realization some restaurants are only now starting to grasp.  New Mexicans love the log-sized baloney we slice ourselves so that it’s three or four times the height of the single-sliced baloney sold in supermarkets.  We like to grill or fry it over low heat so that it acquires a smoky char and we love our boloney on a tortilla.  That’s how Frank’s crew prepares it: two thick slices of grilled baloney, melted cheese, lettuce and an incendiary green chile that will bring sweat to your brow.  It’s the baloney sandwich of my youth recaptured. 

9 October 2014:  When I asked the genial server manning the counter whether or not the chorizo included cumin, his answer validated my long-held assertion that cumin has no place in New Mexican food.  He told me: “we don’t use sobaco on anything here.”  Sobaco is Spanish for armpit, a description my friend Bill also uses to describe cumin.  The chorizo burrito (eggs, potatoes, cheese, chorizo in a flour tortilla) is the best I’ve had in memory, maybe the best ever.  The chorizo has a wonderfully piquant kick.  It’s not nearly as piquant as the XX-Hot chile of the day (a placard at the counter will tell you how hot the chile is ), but it’s got personality and deliciousness.

Chorizo Burrito

The New Mexico Beef Jerky Company may be Lilliputian compared to those impersonal mega restaurants, but when it comes to service, the big boys can learn a thing or two from Frank Chavez and his crew. By the time our taco burgers were delivered to our table Frank had already secured our unending loyalty with a generous sample of chicharrones. For “dessert” he brought us chicharrones in red chile and samples of the beef jerky.  He had us at chicharrones.  We’ll be back again and again.

New Mexico Beef Jerky Company
1900 Fourth Street, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 242-6121
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 9 October 2014
1st VISIT: 1 November 2013
# OF VISITS: 4
RATING: 24
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Chicharrones, Chicharrones Burrito, Carne Adovada Burrito, Taco Burger, Beef Jerky, Green Chile Cheeseburger, New Mexico Quality Red Chile Chips, Baloney Sandwich, Chorizo Burrito

New Mexico Beef Jerky Company on Urbanspoon

Santiago’s New Mexican Grill – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Santiago’s New Mexican Grill on Eubank

In Act II, Scene II of Romeo and Juliet, the immortal soliloquy “what’s in a name” is uttered for the first time.  In business, the power of a name in branding a company is everything.  A name can either attract or repel customers.  Ralph Liftshitz, for example, didn’t think his birth name had enough panache to succeed in business so he changed his name to Ralph Lauren.  Today, the Ralph Lauren brand is synonymous with providing quality products and creating vibrant lifestyles.

The power of a name in branding a restaurant can make all the difference in the world, especially in ascribing the quality of authenticity.  A Middle Eastern restaurant named “Bob’s Kebabs” would certainly not fare as well as a similar restaurant named “Anatolia Doner Kebab House.” Similarly “Jim’s New Mexican Grill” would probably not be perceived as as authentic as “Santiago’s New Mexican Grill.”

Santiago’s Dining Room

Perhaps understanding the perception that authenticity is ascribed to names, Jim Madrid chose to brand his restaurant “Santiago’s New Mexican Grill” instead of “Jim’s…”  Santiago, by the way, is a Spanish name which translates in English to James or Jim, hence Jim Madrid is actually using his given name and not making one up so he can hawk New Mexican food.  In any regard, Santiago’s New Mexican Grill has been serving the Duke City for more than a quarter of a century. 

Initially branded as “Santiago’s Tacos,” the venerable family-owned-and-operated restaurant changed its name in 2004 when it moved into a converted computer store.  Santiago’s New Mexican Grill is a more apt descriptor for Jim “Santiago” Madrid’s 40-seat eatery.  Open only for breakfast and lunch (Monday through Saturday from 8AM through 2:30PM), Santiago’s offers a fairly comprehensive menu that includes one of the city’s best green chile cheeseburgers as well as the tacos that earned the restaurant its reputation.  A number of “take and bake” casserole dishes are a popular option.

Two a la carte tacos and a green chile cheeseburger

Breakfast is served all day and features several plates and a phalanx of breakfast burritos.  When you place your order, you’ll undoubtedly notice several stacked cans of Spam on the counter.  As noted on this blog, Spam, the versatile precooked meat product is increasingly being incorporated into the menu at several Duke City restaurants.  At Santiago’s, Spam is available on a breakfast burrito and on huevos rancheros.  Lunch plates are served with your choice of a flour tortilla or sopaipilla.  Lunch burritos can be ordered as hand-held or smothered with your choice of red or green chile. 

Burgers are a popular choice at Santiago’s where six different burger choices are available (twelve if you order them with double meat).  Burgers are served with lettuce, tomatoes, onions, pickles, mustard and mayo unless you request otherwise.  In New Mexico, the green chile cheeseburger is sacrosanct and Santiago’s version doesn’t take a backseat to many. It’s an excellent burger, one recommended to me by my friend Bill Resnik.  If it’s been a while since you’ve had a burger you have to hold with two hands, this one will do the trick.  It’s a tall and thick burger, but you can’t attribute its height to the “filler” ingredients such as lettuce and tomato.  The beef patty is thick and it protrudes beyond the bun.  There’s a generous amount of chopped green chile, too.  It’s not especially piquant, but it has a great flavor.

Simple Breakfast

The Santiago’s legacy was built on tacos so it stands to reason that the restaurant’s tacos would be quite good.  They are!  Served on homemade shells served crispy, the tacos are engorged with ground beef, lettuce and shredded cheese.  The ground beef is well seasoned and not refried as some restaurants have the audacity to do.  Salsa, though not necessary, gives the tacos a bit of a kick.

By any other name, Santiago’s New Mexican Grill would still be a popular family favorite.

Santiago’s New Mexican Grill
1911 Eubank, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 292-8226
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 30 September 2014
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Green Chile Cheeseburger, Tacos

Santiago's New Mexican Grill on Urbanspoon