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El Comal Cafe – Santa Fe, New Mexico

El Comal, serving great New Mexican food in Santa Fe for more than thirty years

From a social connectedness perspective, 1995 was the dark ages. The internet as we know and love it today was in its relative infancy.  There was no Urbanspoon, no Yelp, no Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Blog…no trusted online resource to enlighten and entice diners.  My only knowledge of Santa Fe’s restaurant scene came from fading memories and a 1994 article on Fortune magazine naming the City Different as one of the fruited plain’s ten best dining destinations.  The article listed such stalwarts as the Coyote Cafe, Santacafe and the Tecolote Cafe as among the city’s best.

After nearly two decades of wanderlust and travel courtesy of the United States Air Force, I had finally returned home to New Mexico and looked forward to introducing my bride of ten years to one of Fortune magazine’s anointed restaurants.  It was our first excursion together to Santa Fe and my first opportunity to impress my Kim with sophisticated Santa Fe cuisine.  My mom who’s infinitely more intelligent than I am had other ideas, steering us away from Fortune magazine’s popular tourist destinations and introducing us to one of Santa Fe’s quintessential off-the-beaten-path, mom-and-pop restaurants, a gem named El Comal.

Some of the very best chips and salsa in Santa Fe

By 1995, El Comal had already been serving New Mexican cuisine for over a decade.  Tucked away in a small, nondescript strip mall that already had an anachronistic, timeworn look and feel to it, El Comal was the antithesis of Fortune magazine’s anointed restaurants, devoid of the trappings and superficiality that so often defines what unenlightened diners often consider signs of good restaurants.  El Comal is named for the heavy cast iron griddle used to cook tortillas.  It appeared to be a magnet for blue collar workers and Hispanic families, preparing New Mexican food as they would prepare it at home.

Just as El Comal itself is receded from the well-trafficked Cerrillos Road, over the years memories of the restaurant receded to the back of my mind.  Frankly, it wasn’t until the well-traveled Lobo Lair owner Mark Chavez mentioned it on a tweet that I fondly remembered a very good meal there so many years ago.  Chavez captioned a photo of his lunch “real recognize real.” Real is an apt description for El Comal, one of the least pretentious and most authentic New Mexican restaurants in the Land of Enchantment.  Not much had changed in the nineteen years since my last visit, but it did secure a commitment not to let so much time pass before my next visit.

Breakfast Enchiladas Christmas Style

If you have a number of restaurants on your “rotation” of frequent favorites, one visit to El Comal will probably  convince you to add it to that rotation. It’s that good!  It’s that real!  A comprehensive breakfast and lunch-dinner menu is replete with all your favorite New Mexican dishes while a chalkboard lists a handful of daily specials which the wait staff dutifully pushes. Cumin is not used on either the red or green chile.

Chips and salsa have become so de rigueur that we often take for granted that they’ll be good and that they’ll be the most piquant items on the menu.  More than often the chips and salsa live up to those expectations.  At El Comal, they exceed all expectations.  Quite simply these might be the best chips and salsa served at any New Mexican restaurant in Santa Fe.  The salsa, made with red chile, is incendiary, offering a piquancy that is heightened by the restaurant’s scalding hot coffee.  The chips are crisp, lightly salted and perfect for dredging large scoops of the superb salsa.

Carne Adovada Taco

My server pushed the breakfast enchiladas with such alacrity that not ordering them was not an option.  Thank goodness I’m such an easy mark.  These are among the very best breakfast enchiladas I’ve had: two rolled corn tortillas engorged with scrambled eggs and chorizo topped with shredded cheese and red and green chile.  Chorizo is the Rodney Dangerfield of the breakfast meats, usually mentioned after bacon, sausage and ham, but when it’s made well, there is no meat quite as rousing in the morning. El Comal’s chorizo is rich and flavorful with a pleasant spiciness and just a bit of char.  The corn tortillas are redolent with the enticing aromas of corn just off the comal. 

The highlight of the breakfast enchilada entree is most assuredly the red and green chile, both of which are absolutely magnificent.  The red chile, in particular, has a depth of flavor very few red chiles achieve. The green chile also has a real personality, one that reminds you chile is technically a fruit.  The breakfast enchiladas are served with pinto beans and hash browns.  The hash browns are of the “take it or leave it” variety, but dip them in the chile and they’re addictive.  In fact, the chile is so good you’ll finish off the oft-annoying garnish with it.  The beans are top shelf, as good as they can be made. 

El Comal offers a la carte tacos filled with ground beef, shredded beef, chicken and get this, carne adovada. You haven’t lived until you’ve had a carne adovada taco. It’s a life altering experience, one that should entice you to order the carne adovada plate on your next visit.  The carne adovada is porcine perfection, tender tendrils of pork marinated in a wondrous red chile.  It pairs wonderfully with the corn tortilla.   

El Comal may not be on any national publications touting the best in Santa Fe restaurants, but locals have a high regard for this small mom-and-pop. It’s a great restaurant warranting a greater frequency of visits.

El Comal Cafe
3571 Cerrillos
Santa Fe, New Mexico
(505) 471-3224
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 25 July 2014
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 23
COST: $$
BEST BET: Coffee, Breakfast Enchiladas Christmas Style, Chips and Salsa, Carne Adovada Taco

El Comal Restaurant on Urbanspoon

MARY & TITO’S CAFE – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Mary & Tito's may serve the very best red chile in Albuquerque

Mary & Tito’s, THE very best New Mexican restaurant in the world!

Old-timers whose opinions I respect consistently rate Mary & Tito’s as Albuquerque’s best restaurant for New Mexican food, a restaurant that has been pleasing the most savvy and unindoctrinated palates alike since 1963.  It takes a lot to impress some of those old-timers, none of whom see much substance in the flash and panache of the nouveau restaurants and their pristine veneer and effusive, over-the-top flamboyance.  These guys and gals are impressed only by New Mexican food the way their abuelitas prepared it–unadorned, authentic and absolutely wonderful.  If you want to evoke their ire, take them to one of the chains.  Worse, try sneaking some cumin into their chile.

Just how good is Mary & Tito’s?  In an October, 2009 span of two days, three people whose opinion on food I value weighed in, prompting me to ponder that question and not just take for granted that it’s “one of” the very best restaurants in New Mexico. World-travelers Randy and Bonnie Lake experienced an epiphany during their most recent visit, marveling at just how much better Mary & Tito’s legendary red is than other red chile they’ve ever had.  Bill Resnik who’s authored a cookbook on New Mexican cuisine was more to-the-point, asking why it hasn’t been accorded a “30″ rating–the epitome of perfection in my rating system and a rating I have not bestowed upon any restaurant anywhere.

Mary Ann Gonzales for whom the restaurant is named passed away on Tuesday, September 17, 2013.  She was a great and wonderful lady!  Photo courtesy of Sandy Driscoll.

A dining experience at such an ideal would have to be absolutely flawless with uncompromising standards and an obvious commitment on the restaurant’s part to providing a dining experience I would want to repeat over and over again.  Obviously the food would have to be more than good; it would have to tantalize, titillate, enrapt my taste buds with every morsel.  Every facet of the meal would have to be like a well synchronized and beautiful ballet in which each course is a prelude to the next and leaves me absolutely lusting for the next bite.

There have been times (many, in fact) in which a magical endorphin high from Mary & Tito’s red chile made my taste buds so unbelievably, deliriously happy that I’ve sworn nothing quite as good has ever crossed my lips.  Immediately after each meal at Mary & Tito’s, I want to repeat it, usually right then and there.  It is simply my very favorite restaurant in New Mexico and now my highest rated in the Land of Enchantment and one of the highest rated across the fruited plain.

Mary & Tito’s legendary carne adovada. Photo courtesy of Sandy Driscoll.

I’m not the only patron this loyal to Mary & Tito’s.  In truth, the restaurant’s walls could probably be covered with framed certificates and accolades feting it as the “best” in one category or another. Instead, you’ll find family photo montages along with photos of some of their loyal customers. For ambiance, this homey restaurant might not win any awards, but for outstanding New Mexican cuisine, it has secured a place in the hearts and appetites of their many guests.

Although the legendary Tito passed away in 1990, his devoted wife Mary Ann Gonzales and their effervescent daughter Antoinette provided the hospitality for which Mary & Tito’s is renowned. Better yet, they oversaw an operation that serves what is arguably the best New Mexican food in New Mexico (ergo the entire universe)–and unequivocally the very best red chile anywhere.  A spry nonagenarian, Mary remained a peripatetic presence at the restaurant virtually until passing away on September17, 2013.  Guests at Mary & Tito’s will miss seeing her energetically flitting to and from tables to make sure her customers are enjoying their meals.  Invariably, they all are!

Mary & Tito's green chile burrito stuffed with guacamole and rice--one of the very best burritos in the universe!

A rare sight–green chile on a burrito at Mary & Tito’s where red is best!

The red chile has culled a legendary reputation among aficionados. Slathered generously on your entrees, it is a rich red color. At first impression it tastes great, but the more you eat more of it, the more the piquant heat builds up. Oh, the wonderful burn!  Beads of perspiration glisten on my friend Ruben’s forehead with every bite, but he perseveres through that endorphin generating heat with what can only be described as a lusty fervor.  Even when the particular crop of chile isn’t particularly piquant, Mary & Tito’s red chile is always wonderful, so good some frequent guests have no idea what the green chile tastes like.  It’s been so long since I’ve had the green chile that I no longer remember what it’s like.  The red chile is available meatless for diners of the vegetarian persuasion.

Ask the vivacious Antoinette what makes Mary & Tito’s red chile so uniquely wonderful and she’ll tell you that the chile starts off like the chile at most New Mexican restaurants. The difference is in what is done with it.  Mary & Tito’s chile has been purchased from one Hatch grower for years and it’s ground from pods, not made from powder. Beyond that, the restaurant doesn’t adulterate the chile with other than salt and garlic (absolutely no cumin). There is magic in this purity.  There’s also purity in its almost mesmerizing red-orange color and if you look at the edges of your plate, you won’t see the tell-tale signs of the excessive use of a thickening agent such as corn starch.  There’s none of that in this red chile!

A guacamole, beans and rice burrito with red chile. Photo courtesy of Sandy Driscoll.

The green chile (as I remember it) isn’t quite as piquant, but it is very tasty and generously applied to your entrees. For the best of both, ask for your entree to be served “Christmas” style so you can taste both the chile rojo (red) and chile verde (green). Vegetarians can also ask for it without meat.  My friend Lesley King, the wonderful writer whose monthly “King of the Road” column used to grace New Mexico Magazine, visited Mary & Tito’s for the first time in May, 2010 and recognized immediately that at this legendary restaurant, it’s all about the chile, finding both red and green as good as could possibly be made.

My friend Ruben, who for more than a year was engaged in a Holy Grail type quest to find the best carne adovada in the Albuquerque area, is absolutely besotted with Mary & Tito’s rendition. It’s carne adovada the way it’s supposed to be with tender tendrils of moist, delicious pork ameliorated with the best red chile in the metropolitan area.  Cheryl Jamison, the scintillating four-time James Beard Award-winning author, calls the carne adovada “absolutely spectacular.”  As with most entrees, it’s served with beans and rice, both of which are quite good.

A large combination plate: taco, tamale, cheese enchilada, beans and rice

In New Mexico Magazine‘s “Best Eats” issue for 2011, Mary & Tito’s was recognized as having the best carne adovada in the Land of Enchantment.  As one of the seven culinary experts who selected and wrote about New Mexico’s best, it was the choice with which I most agreed.  Though every other honoree is worthy of “best eats” selection, Mary & Tito’s carne adovada stands out, the best of the best!

The enchiladas are certainly among the best in town and I appreciate the fact that you can have them rolled or stacked (my preference with three corn tortillas), the way they’re served throughout Northern New Mexico. Natives and newcomers alike ask for a fried egg on top of the enchiladas, a flavor-enhancer that improves on a New Mexican entree that doesn’t really need any improvement. An “extra beef” option means enchiladas with even more fantastically well seasoned beef.  With red chile, they will make your taste buds ecstatic.

The Monday Special: A large combination plate–taco, chile relleno and cheese enchilada

Burritos are nearly a foot long and served overstuffed. One of the very best burritos anywhere features guacamole, beans and rice along with the aforementioned red or green chile. It is more than half a pound of New Mexican food greatness, especially when the guacamole practically erupts when you press your fork into the burrito.  It’s become the only dish capable of prying me away from the carne adovada–except when I have the combination plate, stuffed sopaipilla, chiles rellenos… I love it all!

With chips, that guacamole is simplicity itself (avocados in their prime, garlic, lime juice, salt), but it is some of the best guacamole in town. The freshness of guacamole made daily from the best avocados is evident.

Chile relleno covered in red.

Chile relleno covered in red.

The chile rellenos are also among the best I’ve ever had, far superior to their world-famous brethren served at Mesilla’s fabled La Posta restaurant. A thin, crispy batter envelops a piquant pepper stuffed with a sharp Cheddar cheese. Each bite produces an endorphin rush and taste explosion.  The rellenos are available on the combination platter as well as a la carte.  As with other entrees at Mary & Tito’s, they’re best smothered with that miraculous red chile.

My friend Sr. Plata had the privilege of first-time visits to both Chope’s and Mary & Tito’s within two weeks of each other.  In his estimation, the chile relleno at Mary & Tito’s is far superior to Chope’s version (which is often considered THE standard-bearer for the genre in the Land of Enchantment).  New Mexicans from the southern half of the state, in particular, might consider it sacrilege, but Sr. Plata reasons that Mary & Tito’s superior red chile is the difference-maker.  He’s calls it the essence of purity and deliciousness.

A huskless tamale smothered in red chile

You won’t find sopaipillas with honey at Mary & Tito’s, but you will find a “Mexican turnover’ resembling an overgrown empanada or Italian calzone. It’s made from sopaipilla dough stuffed with meat, beans, rice and chile then deep fried. It’s Mary & Tito’s version of stuffed sopaipillas and it’s (not surprisingly) among the very best in the city.

Entrees include some of the best refried beans anywhere…and I mean anywhere in the country. They have that “prepared with lard” taste all good refrieds have. Spanish rice also comes with every entree as does a tomato and lettuce garnish. Garnish is one of those plate decorations many people discard. With Mary & Tito’s fabulous red chile, it’s just something else with which to sop up every bit of that chile rojo.

Enchiladas with a fried egg and red chile

Enchiladas with a fried egg and red chile

Your first bowl of salsa is complimentary and it’s so good you’ll certainly finish it off quickly and order another. The chips, like the salsa, are lightly salted and crisp, the perfect size and texture to complement the tomato rich salsa.  The salsa has a nice piquancy but other than tomatoes and chile, there are no discernible additives such as garlic and onion.

Only the con queso gets a less than outstanding mark at Mary & Tito’s. The cheese has that “melted Velveeta” feel and taste and is somewhat gloppy.  Authenticity and utter deliciousness,however, aren’t spared on the chicharrones which compete with those at Cecilia’s Cafe for best in the city.  Chicharrones are Pieces of pork crackling cooked until crunchy and most of the fat is rendered out.  A plateful of chicharrones and a bowl of that legendary red are a great way to start any meal.

Carne Adovada Omelet

Carne Adovada Omelet

Another excellent entree unique to Mary & Tito’s is a carne adovada omelet.  Yes, you did read that correctly.  It’s a multi-egg omelet folded over that outstanding carne adovada then covered in the red chile of my dreams.  There’s no need for any of the usual omelet ingredients when you’ve got carne adovada.

Compliment Antoinette on an outstanding meal and she’ll invariably credit “the guys in the kitchen.” Those guys, the Arguello brothers–Patricio and Louis–are following Tito’s recipes and keeping his culinary legacy alive.  They’ve been working at Mary & Tito’s since they were but teenagers, schooled under the watchful eye of Tito himself.  They’re well versed at their craft. Antoinette will, however, take credit for the terrific desserts available at Mary & Tito’s.

Salsa and chips at Mary & Tito’s

For dessert, an absolute “must have” is Mary & Tito’s take on traditional New Mexican wedding cake, a yellow cake made with walnuts and pineapple and topped with a cream cheese frosting is spectacular.  Antoinette has been making this cake for better than 30 years (though she doesn’t look much older than 30 herself) and says she’s made it thousands of times.  You won’t find any better in New Mexico.  You won’t find anything close.

In January, 2010, Mary & Tito’s was announced as the 2010 recipient of the James Beard Award’s “America’s Classic” honor. A James Beard Award signifies the pinnacle of achievement in the culinary world, the country’s most coveted and prestigious culinary award while the “Americas Classic Award” honors “restaurants with timeless appeal, beloved for quality food that reflects the character of their community, and that have carved out a special place in the American culinary landscape.” Mary & Tito’s is the true, timeless American classic–beloved in the community with the highest quality food reflecting the character of New Mexico.

Chicharones, Mary & Tito’s style. Photo courtesy of Sandy Driscoll.

Mary and Antoinette received the award at a ceremonial dinner on May 3, 2010 at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall in New York City.  Governor Bill Richardson celebrated the honor by proclaiming May 12th “Mary & Tito’s Day” in New Mexico, a well-deserved honor for an exemplary restaurant.

While writing an article entitled “Ode to the Chile Pepper” for the September, 2011 edition of New Mexico Magazine, I had the privilege, pleasure and honor to interview the owner of the Hatch chile farm which supplies Mary & Tito’s with their fabulous chile. Leticia Carrasco is justifiably proud of the Sandia chile her farm provisions to a James Beard award-winning restaurant. She could not have been nicer–a great person supplying great chile to a great family. How fitting is that?

The James Beard Award of Excellence. Photo courtesy of Sandy Driscoll.

29 April 2013: In January, 2013 Food & Wine Magazine compiled a list of the nation’s “best taco spots.”  The only New Mexico taco spot recognized was Mary & Tito’s for which Food & Wine acknowledged the “famed secret weapon of this mother-daughter-run operation is its fiery red chile sauce–killer with succulent braised pork in the New Mexico classic carne adovada, or drizzled over beef tacos in crispy corn tortilla shells.”  New Mexico’s best tacos at Mary & Tito’s?  Why not?  They’re fantastic!

In the February, 2013 edition of Albuquerque The Magazine  celebrated the Duke City’s best desserts. The fabulous Mexican wedding cake was recognized as the “to die for dessert to remember.”  I’m not too sure what that means, but if it means the Mexican wedding cake is unforgettable, the honor is certainly well deserved.  It’s certainly one of the very best desserts in New Mexico.

Mary & Tito’s fabulous New Mexican Wedding Cake. Photo courtesy of Sandy Driscoll.

The cast and crew of This Old House, a Boston-based home-improvement and remodeling television show spent two days at Mary & Tito’s in April, 2013.  While filming a segment in Hatch, purveyors of New Mexico’s best chile told the crew that the very best example of chile is served at Mary & Tito’s.  The cast and crew proceeded to enjoy every item on the menu.  More converts!

Mary & Tito’s is one of those restaurants that elicits a craving only it can sate. It is the essence of red chile Nirvana.

MARY & TITO’S CAFE
2711 4th Street, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
505-344-6266
Mary & Tito’s Facebook Page

LATEST VISIT: 18 July 2014
# OF VISITS: 36
RATING: 27
COST: $$
BEST BET
: Enchiladas, Chile Relleno, Taco, Natillas, Guacamole Burrito, Carne Adovada Burrito, Chicharrones,  Mexican Wedding Cake, Carne Adovada Omelet, Carne Adovada, Combination Plate

Mary & Tito's Cafe on Urbanspoon

El Patron – Albuquerque, New Mexico

El Patron, a palatial New Mexican restaurant on Montgomery Blvd.

I was a strapping lad of fifteen when hired as a “box boy” at a country store in Peñasco. Now, being a box boy at a small village country store is to being a bagger at Smith’s or Albertson’s in Albuquerque what the red chile at Mary & Tito’s is to McCormick’s chili seasoning mix.  The former is so much more than the latter.  For one thing, my duties included bailing hay, rounding up cattle, stacking lumber, loading cement, operating a forklift and every once in a while actually bagging or boxing groceries.  The job kept me in great physical condition for football season. 

“Eloy,” my fellow “box boy” was a crusty curmudgeon sixty-some years old who didn’t always take direction well and expended more energy getting out of work than actually doing it.  Every morning when our boss, a lovely and gracious woman, gave us our marching orders, he would respond “si patrona” (“yes boss.”) after each order. On busy days those orders came with the rapid fire cadence of an auctioneer.  Eloy’s responded just as quickly, “si patrona, si patrona, si patrona.” Occasionally he sneaked in in a “si cabrona” (the literal term means female goat, but is more often used in a profane and insulting manner) amidst all the “si patronas.”  She either never noticed it or was too ladylike to acknowledge it.

Chips and Salsa

Even though we have a very egalitarian marriage and tend to complete household chores together, my Kim does maintain a “honey do” list of “manly” chores I’m better equipped to perform. Every once in a while when she recites the litany of chores my procrastination has allowed to stack up, I revert to Eloy-like responses.  As she rattles them off, my acknowledgement is “si patrona” peppered by an occasional and very affectionate “si cabrona” (she’s heard and loves the story).  It’s the response I utter when she kiddingly suggests dinner at the Olive Garden or any other restaurant of that ilk. 

When, however, she suggested we try a brand new restaurant named El Patron, the only fitting response was “si patrona.”  As a name for a Mexican restaurant “El Patron” is a very popular choice with dozens of non-affiliated, non-chain restaurants by that name throughout the United States.  The Albuquerque rendition is an independent restaurant as well, owned by Albuquerque impresarios Nick Kapnison and Jimmy Daskalos.  Launched April 5th, 2012, El Patron is located at 10551 Montgomery, N.E., an area increasingly populated by commodious restaurant edifices.  At 11,689 square feet, El Patron may be the largest.

Ceviche

If the names of owners Nick Kapnison and Jimmy Daskalos sound familiar, it’s because this dynamic duo has owned  a triumvirate of highly regarded restaurants in the Duke City.  Yanni’s Mediterranean has been proffering some of the city’s best Greek cuisine since 1995 while the eponymous Nick & Jimmy’s has earned a loyal following since launching in 2009.  The entrepreneurial duo has also had a hand in other enterprises throughout Albuquerque, not all of them restaurants. 

If the address (10551 Montgomery, N.E.) also sounds familiar, it’s because Duke City diners on Albuquerque’s Northeast Heights visited that location to get their Garduño’s fix for nearly two and a half decades. The sprawling structure and its parking lot encompass nearly two full acres.  Only El Pinto at 18,000 square feet eclipses El Patron for sheer size among the city’s New Mexican restaurants while Sadie’s Dining Room seating capacity of 375 is in the same ballpark.  As you approach El Patron from the downward sloping east, it looks like a cross between a rambling hacienda and a citadel.

Red Chile Ribs

Step into the restaurant and it looks even more expansive than it does from the outside, if that’s possible. Even the foyer is capacious. The bar itself is larger than many restaurants.  The main dining room is bathed in glorious New Mexico sunlight courtesy of strategically placed skylights.  Perched on a ledge overlooking the dining room is a mannequin-like mariachi trio.  Appropriately the music reverberating from the restaurant’s sound system is a “desfile de exitos,”  compilation of corridos, rancheras and cumbias from some of Mexico’s most illustrious artists: Vicente Fernandez, Antonio Aguilar, Jose Alfredo Jimenez, Lola Beltran and more.

Though the restaurant had been open scarcely more than a week when we first visited, service was generally first-rate, usually indicative of a very professional and seasoned wait staff and management.  Most, if not all, restaurants have start-up problems, but those problems can be mitigated by ownership which has seen and done it all.  El Patron operates as well as a finely tuned requinto.  The wait staff is courteous and on-the-spot with drink refills.  If anything, the wait staff was even better two years later when we visited for a second time. That’s usually a sign of a well-managed restaurant which wants guests to return.

Carne Adovada with a fried egg on top; calabasitas and papitas on the side

The menu, though not a compendium of New Mexican and Mexican favorites, is quite extensive and it offers some relatively unique dishes.  It also includes a disclaimer about the chile not being for the faint of heart (or something to that effect).  The only menu item with cumin (about one part per million we were assured) is the Spanish rice.  Most of the entrees come with your choice of two sides: calabasitas, papitas, whole beans, refried beans, black beans, Spanish rice and more. 

Shortly after you’re seated, a basket of chips and a bowl of salsa are delivered to your table.  They’ll also be replenished faithfully because it’s a two-bowl minimum quality salsa.  The salsa isn’t especially piquant, but it has a fresh and lively flavor.  What bite it does have comes from jalapeños.  The chips are relatively thin, but crispy and not in dire need of desalinization as many restaurant chips seem to be.

Combination Plate: Carne Adovada, Chile Relleno, Enchilada, Tamale, Whole Beans

15 April 2012: Among the appetizers are red chile ribs, an item Casa de Benavidez popularized many years ago and which few New Mexican restaurants prepare well.  At El Patron, the chile ribs are fall-off-the-bone tender and slathered in a sauce that’s more barbecue sauce (sweet and somewhat sticky) than chile (only a hint and without much piquancy).  There are four ribs to an order and you’ll polish them off quickly, perhaps even gnaw at the bone to make sure you capture all the tender tendrils of the baby backs. 

6 June 2014: If there’s one savory dish that evokes images of beaches and summertime, it’s ceviche.  El Patron’s version is created from very fresh seafood, citrus juices which pack a lip-pursing punch and other ingredients which give it a surprisingly refreshing flavor profile.  White fish and shrimp shrimp are marinated with lemon-lime, tomato juice, tequila, jalapeño, avocado, diced tomatoes and a touch of cilantro all served in a  cocktail goblet.  Saltine crackers are provided, but the seafood goes best by itself or with chips.  El Patron’s ceviche is a bit more expensive than ceviche served in most Duke City New Mexican restaurants, but it’s also some of the best, most “summery” in town.

Blue Corn Enchiladas Christmas Style

15 April 2012: The carne adovada is similarly tender though the kitchen staff’s heavy-handedness with Mexican oregano renders the dish just a bit acerbic.  A fried egg on top mitigates the adovada’s acerbic qualities somewhat.  If your experiences are that many restaurants serve chintzy portions of carne adovada, you’ll be well pleased with the generous serving at El Patron.  Two side dishes which complement the adovada are the papitas and calabasitas.  The papitas are thinly sliced and heavily salted.  The calabasitas are perfectly prepared, neither too soft and chewy nor overly hard and crunchy.

15 April 2012: The menu offers several combination platters including perhaps the most comprehensive combo platter of any New Mexican restaurant in the Duke City.  Picture if you will, a cheese enchilada, a chile relleno, a tamale, a taco, carne adovada and two sides.  It’s a veritable family feast.  Several items are notable, especially the tamale which has a pronounced corn masa flavor and an abundance of tender tendrils of shredded pork.  The hard-shell taco (with your choice of shredded or ground beef) is also quite good, the beef far more prominent than lettuce and tomato.  As for the heat promised on the menu, neither the red or green chile delivers (unless you’re used to getting your salsa from New York City.)

Beef and Chicken Fajitas

6 July 2014:  One of the most colorful entrees on the menu is the blue corn enchiladas served Christmas style (red and green chile) with a fried egg on top and beans and Spanish rice on the side.  El Patron gives you the option of having your enchiladas served either stacked or flat (my preference).  Chicken or ground beef will cost you a bit extra.  Sweeter and more delicious than their yellow corn counterparts, the blue corn tortillas are a perfect canvas for cheese and ground beef topped with chile and a fried egg.  The ground beef is nicely seasoned and not overly salty.   The pinto beans are terrific as is the Spanish rice. Alas, a side of papitas yielded some of the saltiest cubed tubers imaginable. Our server replaced them without hesitation.

6 July 2014: El Patron lets you have fajitas your way, offering your choice of chicken, beef, shrimp or a combination of any two.  You can also request veggie fajitas.  Heck, the grilled onions are so sweet, juicy and delicious, we might be tempted to order grilled onion fajitas next time.  The grilled meats and shrimp are marinated in El Patron’s “special sauce” then are grilled with onions and bell peppers and served with pinto beans, Spanish rice, pico de gallo, guacamole, sour cream and flour tortillas.  The chicken and beef are tender, nicely seasoned and delicious, but it’s those sweet onions that really stand out.

Blueberry Bread Pudding and Natillas

Sopaipillas are served with the honey flavored syrup most restaurants offer, but your server will accommodate your request for real honey if you ask.  It makes a difference.  The sopaipillas aren’t pillowy puffy, but they’re thick and billow with wisps of steam when you cut into them to deposit the sweet honey.  The dessert menu also includes a number of postprandial treats made in-house. 

6 July 2014: The blueberry bread pudding is a dense brick of sweet, moist and near cloying goodness served steaming hot.  If just a pinch of salt is added to this bread pudding to offset the sweetness, it’s not easily discernible.  This is one sweet bread pudding, emphasis on sweet.  The natillas, a cinnamon-rich custard dish, are also sweet, but a generous dusting of cinnamon provides an excellent foil.

There will be critics and detractors who will denounce El Patron as a parody of its predecessor (El Bruno, which replaced the Garduño’s on Fourth Street faces the same criticisms), but mostly there will be contented guests who will return for generous portions of good food served in an inviting milieu by friendly attendants.

El Patron Restaurant & Cantina
10551 Montgomery Blvd, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 275-0223
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 6 July 2014
1st VISIT: 15 April 2012
# of VISITS: 2
RATING: 17
COST: $$
BEST BET: Combination Plate, Carne Adovada, Red Chile Ribs, Sopaipillas with honey, Salsa and Chips, Ceviche, Blue Corn Enchiladas, Fajitas, Blueberry Bread Pudding, Natillas

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