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, my highest rated restaurant of any genre 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 and his devoted wife Mary Ann Gonzales left us in 2013, their effervescent daughter Antoinette and sons Jordan and Travis continue to provide the hospitality for which Mary & Tito’s is renowned. Better yet, they oversee 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.  Interestingly, Mary & Tito’s continues to win over lifelong New Mexicans who never heard of the restaurant until it was featured on the Travel Channel’s Bizarre Foods Dining Destinations program.

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 glistened on my dearly departed friend Ruben Hendrickson’s forehead with every bite, but he persevered 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–contrary to what the Travel Channel’s Andrew Zimmern once reported on Bizarre Foods: Dining Destinations). 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 dear friend Ruben Hendrickson, who for more than a year was engaged in a Holy Grail type quest to find the best carne adovada in the Albuquerque area, was 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.”   The Santa Fe Travelers Billie Frank and Steve Collins called it “the best carne adovada we’ve ever had.”  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 stood 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.

Two Tacos

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.  The Mexican turnover is the most popular item at the restaurant, surpassing even the nonpareil carne adovada.

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

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.  My friend Bill Resnik calls it “one of the ten best things I’ve ever put in my mouth.”

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!

18 August 2017: It took me 45 visits to sample everything on the menu at Mary & Tito’s, the very last item being a Mexican Pizza.  Described on the menu as “fry bread, refried beans and cheese,” it’s so much more than that.  It’ll remind you most of the fry bread tacos served at Indian Pow Wows and on reservations.  The canvas for this unique pizza is a deep-fried sopaipilla similar to the one used on the Mexican turnover.  The sopaipilla is topped with lots of refried beans, red chile, sprinkled with cheese and lined with lettuce and tomato.  Unlike Indian-style fry bread tacos, the fry bread at Mary & Tito’s is crisp and crunchy, not soft and pliable.  It doesn’t make the top ten list of items I’ve had at Mary & Tito’s, but you could put that red chile on a leather boot and it would be delicious.

Mexican Pizza

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.

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 fabulous New Mexican Wedding Cake. Photo courtesy of Sandy Driscoll.

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 August 2017
# OF VISITS: 45
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, Mexican Pizza, Mexican Turnover, Salsa & Chips

Mary & Tito's Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Duran’s Central Pharmacy – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Duran Central Pharmacy on the Fringes of Old Town Albuquerque

In an early episode of the Andy Griffith Show, while contemplating a job offer in South America, Andy tried to assuage his son Opie’s concerns about leaving Mayberry. Instead, he wound up confusing Opie by explaining that people in South America ate something called tortillas. Opie wondered aloud why anyone would eat spiders (tarantulas).  Had Opie ever tasted the delicious, piping hot, just off the comal 16-inch buttered orbs at Duran’s Central Pharmacy, it’s unlikely he would ever confuse those grilled spheres with any arachnid.

That’s because Duran’s features some of the very best tortillas of any restaurant in New Mexico. These are not the flavorless, paper-thin, production-line, machine-fashioned orbs you find at some restaurants (can you say Frontier Restaurant). Duran’s tortillas are made to order on a real comal and shaped by a skilled practitioner using a well-practiced rolling pin.  It’s the way abuelitas in New Mexico have done it for generations, a time-honored tradition Duran’s honors–with one exception.  No lard is used on these tortillas; they’re strictly vegetarian.   You can tell and appreciate the difference.  In its annual Food & Wine issue for 2012, Albuquerque The Magazine awarded Duran Central Pharmacy a Hot Plate Award signifying the selection of its hot-off-the-griddle tortillas as one of the “most interesting, special and tasty dishes around.”  Considering the thousands of potential selections, to be singled out is quite an honor.

Duran’s Dining Room

The tortillas are thick and have a pinto pony blend of char and white. While it may seem the wait staff brushes on butter in parsimonious amounts, you’re almost guaranteed to have some butter drip onto your clothing. These tortillas arrive at your table piping hot and absolutely delicious–a wonderful precursor to a great meal!  Invariably you’ll want to take some home.  Heat them on a griddle, slather on butter (or Kraft sandwich spread–trust me) and you’ve got a fantastically filling snack.  Dorado Magazine which celebrates the rugged and eclectic spirit of the Four Corners, describes them as “thick and fluffy with the perfect blend of darkened char spots and bright white floury goodness.”

True to its name, Duran’s Central Pharmacy is an old-fashioned apothecary in which prescription medicines and over-the-counter drugs are dispensed. The dining area is nestled in the southern portion of the pharmacy and you absolutely have to navigate the aisles of the drug store to get there.  For some, it’s a slow walk as they gawk at meticulously arranged shelves brimming with products you won’t find anywhere else.  Although Duran’s Central Pharmacy has been around since the 1940s, it wasn’t until 1965 that Robert Ghattas, a trained pharmacist, and his family assumed ownership from Pete Duran.  At the time, Duran’s operated as a pharmacy with a soda fountain where you could grab a sandwich and a “malted.”  The Ghattas family decided to retain the name, but because soda fountains were no longer in vogue, they changed the restaurant concept to showcase New Mexican cuisine.

A Very Comfortable Enclosed Patio

In addition to the typical prescription and nonprescription pharmaceuticals found at any drug store, you’ll also find groceries, greeting cards and under glass near the cash registers, a section of fine chocolates that you might want for dessert after your meal of great New Mexican food.  On the dividing wall immediately before the restaurant is a section of books, mostly about New Mexico and by New Mexico authors. Some, like Pulitzer Award finalist River of Traps are absolute gems and must-reads for anyone who loves the Land of Enchantment. The pharmacy is also reputed to carry an excellent selection of perfumes, but perhaps no artificial fragrance compares to the aroma wafting from the kitchen.

The restaurant portion of Duran’s consists of a dozen tables, a small covered patio and a sit-down counter from which you can watch the industrious kitchen and wait staff (some members of whom provide service with a sweet sass) assiduously keeping up with the intense breakfast and lunch crowds.  A banal comment such as “that was fast” might receive a response like, “I’m sorry.  I’ll try to be slower next time.”  I also overheard one waitress tell a frequent guest that if he wanted a drink, he could get one from the small fountain on the patio.   How can you not love that?

Buttered Tortilla Hot Off The Comal

Despite the unusual restaurant setting, Duran’s has long been regarded as one of the best New Mexican restaurants in the Albuquerque area and it’s been regarded as such since 1965 when New Mexican cuisine became featured fare. Within easy walking distance of Old Town and just a short drive from downtown, it is, to the detriment of some local area residents, no longer a well-guarded secret.  With increasing frequency tourists have also discovered Duran’s–a more authentic (translation: not dumbed down for tourist tastes) and delicious alternative to Old Town Plaza restaurants.

Duran’s reputation is built on what has long been considered some of the best red and green chile anywhere in New Mexico.  The red chile lacks the cumin influence  so prevalent in the chile served in many misdirected New Mexican restaurants. The only ameliorant to that chile (in addition to salt) is usually a touch of garlic.  It’s a chile which has garnered many accolades over the years.   In the Alibi’s annual “Best of Burque” restaurant poll for 2005, Duran’s Central Pharmacy earned accolades for serving the “best huevos rancheros” in Albuquerque. In 2006, it was the red chile which earned “Best of Burque” honors. In 2007, Alibi readers accorded “best of” honors to Duran’s chile relleno, red chile and enchiladas. In 2008, it was the huevos rancheros and red chile which took home top honors. Annual awards are nothing new for Duran’s.

Salsa and Chips

The bowl of chile, perhaps the restaurant’s most popular entree, is a Chamber of Commerce exemplar of what this dish should be. It’s heart-warming New Mexico comfort food, especially warm and nurturing on the most bleak and dreary of days.  You certainly can’t get that mother’s love level of comfort from a burger with fries.  Though not strictly a green chile stew, it is certainly “stew-like,” a bowl of red or green chile with beans and seasoned ground beef.  The green chile is neon green in color and about medium on the piquancy scale.  The beans are perfectly prepared while the ground beef is seasoned well.  It’s a concordant marriage of wonderful ingredients that envelop you in a cocoon of warmth and comfort. 

In its June, 2010 edition, New Mexico Magazine celebrated New Mexico’s Best Eats, eight of the best dishes served in restaurants throughout the Land of Enchantment. Two versions of each dish–a down-home version and uptown version were selected. The magazine accorded the honor of New Mexico’s very best down-home green chile stew  to the Duran’s Central Pharmacy.  It’s a well-deserved honor few would dispute. I wrote the article about that stew which required lots of research on my part; it was a delicious assignment.

Blue Corn Cheese Enchiladas

Daily specials include a stuffed sopaipilla platter on Wednesdays and Fridays and on Thursdays carne adovada, some of the very best in the city.  The award-winning orange-red chile used on other entrees is ameliorated with aromatic Mexican oregano and chile pequin, a fiery, dried red chile used judiciously (something which should be practiced with the garlic).  The chile is made from ground chile pods, not from powder.  That chile covers bite sized cubes of porcine perfection so tender and delicious they will make your taste buds smile.  My great and dearly departed friend Ruben Hendrickson, a devotee of carne adovada nonpareil, ranks Duran’s rendition on par with the adovada at Mary & Tito’s.

The carne adovada is served with pinto beans, boiled potatoes (perhaps the only item on the menu that’s unremarkable) and a simple lettuce and tomato salad with French dressing.  The only thing wrong with this platter (besides the papas) is that it’s not all carne adovada, as in the entire plate covered with it.  Fortunately you can purchase a pint of this phenomenal adovada to take home and if you don’t want to wait until the next Thursday, carne adovada is also available for breakfast on Saturdays.

Pork Tamales With Beans

25 July 2017:  A 2013 Huffington Post article entitled “25 Food Things Only A New Mexican Would Understand” describes New Mexican cuisine as living “somewhere between traditional Mexican food and Tex Mex food, in a place where there is a lot more cheese.”  Hmm, more cheese?  Does that mean there’s more cheese in New Mexican food than in its Mexican and Tex Mex counterparts?  That certainly isn’t the case should you order the blue corn cheese enchilada plate (three blue corn cheese enchiladas, green and (or) red chile, beans and onions) from Duran’s Central Pharmacy.  The cheese is discernible, but it’s certainly not a dominant element.  It’s a team player, not a star.  There is no star in this enchilada plate.  Rather it’s a combination of several elements working very well together to create an exemplar of enchilada excellence.

25 July 2017: Aficionados will tell you the best burgers have a perfect meat to bun to ingredients ratio.  Similarly, tamales should have an optimum pork to masa to chile ratio.  Not all burgers achieve the desired ratio.  Neither do tamales.  At Duran’s, you get as close as possible to the perfect ratio, a balance of ingredients that coalesce int a delicious whole.  The pork tamale plate features two generously stuffed tamales topped with Duran’s famous red chile with beans on the side.  This is a delicious dish.

Blueberry pie a la mode

25 July 2017: Lest I forget, Duran’s salsa and chips rarely receive the rants and raves they deserve.  Quite simply, the salsa is some of the very best in the city.  It has the freshness of just made salsa, not salsa made three or even two hours ago.  The salsa, made with chopped tomatoes, cilantro, onion and green chile is thick and chunky so it doesn’t run off your chips.  It’s by far the most piquant item on the menu, on par with the incendiary heat of Sadie’s salsa.  That salsa, as well as green and red chile, is available for purchase on Duran’s Web site.

Duran’s is a neighborhood institution in which neighbors congregate to catch up and enjoy a belly pleasing meal. That neighborhood expanded to the Northeast Heights in 2006 with the launch of Duran’s Station at 4201 Menaul, N.E.   Duran’s Station is situated in the former Fire Station #8 and is owned by Marcel Ghattas, scion of Robert (the founder) and Mona (the current owner of Duran’s Central Pharmacy). It retains some vestiges of its days as a fire station, including the original alarm bell.  The engine bay was converted into the dining room while the bunkhouse is now the kitchen.  Duran’s Station includes all of your favorite Pharmacy favorites.  Similarities don’t stop with the menu.  The restaurant also includes an exposed prep kitchen and a comal for making those addictive tortillas (there may be none better in Albuquerque).  Best of all, it stays open for dinner.

A bowl of green chile with beans and seasoned ground beef. It's the very best in Albuquerque!

A bowl of green chile with beans and seasoned ground beef. It’s the very best in Albuquerque!

If you just can’t get enough of Duran’s fabulous chile, the Slate Street Cafe just north of Lomas in the downtown district, offers it as well. Red chile runs in the family. Slate Street Cafe is owned by Myra Ghattas, Mona and Marcel’s sister.  Every New Mexican restaurant should have chile this good, preferably with the best tortillas in Albuquerque, too.

Duran’s Central Pharmacy
1815 Central, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 247-4141
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 25 July 2017
# OF VISITS: 12
RATING: 20
COST: $$
BEST BET: Buttered Tortillas, Carne Adovada, Salsa and Chips, Green Chile, Blue Corn Cheese Enchiladas, Pork Tamales

Duran Central Pharmacy Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Lollie’s New Mexican Food – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Lollie’s

In the frontier wilderness of New Mexico–long before the advent of culinary schools and home economics classes–a cook’s credentials weren’t bestowed by some accredited institution of higher learning.   Instruction in the culinary arts was most often imparted lovingly by mothers.  Recipes were passed on from one generation to another, using ingredients often grown in the family farm and livestock raised locally.  “Credentials” were earned by reputation and the word of mouth of satisfied diners (most often family members, neighbors and visitors).  A good cook was known about far and wide.

Lollie Padilla can relate to the New Mexican culinary traditions of yore, having worked next to her mother (to whom the restaurant is dedicated) in learning to cook homemade, wholesome New Mexican dishes at a very young age.  On April 3rd, 2013, Lollie launched the eponymous Lollie’s New Mexican Food restaurant in the Barelas-South Valley area in which she was raised as were generations of her family.  Two things are immediately obvious: Lollie was a very good student and her mother was a very good cook.

Chips and Salsa

Don’t let the restaurant’s motto “Proudly Serving The Southwest” confuse you. There are no pretenses to food being influenced by a mixed bag of Spanish, Mexican Native American, French and California genres as “Southwest cuisine” is defined in some upscale Santa Fe restaurants. Lollie’s serves New Mexican food the way it’s been served for generations. The “Southwest” portion of the motto refers to Albuquerque’s southwest quadrant where the restaurant is located. It’s off the well-beaten (and eaten) path just a few blocks north of popularly anointed restaurants on Route 66.

If you’re driving south on Isleta, you might miss Lollie’s which, despite a street-facing storefront, is a bit obfuscated from view. Just remember it’s directly across the street from Dairy Queen about half a mile from where Avenida Cesar Chavez turns southward to Isleta and you’ll get there. The nearly almost always full parking lot evinces that a lot of hungry diners have found it. Lollie’s is open only for breakfast (starting at 8AM sharp) and lunch seven days a week. On weekdays it closes at 2PM and on weekends at 3PM.

Guacamole and salsa

Lollie is a peripatetic presence at her colorful restaurant, meeting and greeting regulars and those who will become regulars (it should take only one visit). She’s a very engaging and friendly person with a broad, warm smile after every compliment she receives–and she receives many. During our inaugural visit we were so touched by the authenticity and homey familiarity of her cooking that we thanked her for keeping it real. For Lollie, keeping it real means chile with piquancy and absolutely no cumin. It’s the way her mother taught her.

The restaurant is comprised of three distinct dining rooms.  The front room includes a view not only of the cashier’s station, but of the counter at which servers pick up orders to be delivered to lucky guests.  Seating is more functional than it is attractive.  The wait staff is cheerful and attentive, working as a cohesive unit to make sure your beverages are replenished and everything is to your satisfaction. The servers rank up there with Joe Guzzardi’s team at Joe’s Pasta House in Rio Rancho in terms of friendliness and professionalism.

Beef and Bean Tostada

You won’t be seated long before a basket of chips and ramekin of salsa are delivered to your table.  The first order is complementary.  You’ll have to pay a pittance for the second order.  Trust me, you’ll ask for a second helping.  My friend Bill “Foodie Star” Resnik was thoroughly besotted by the salsa, a pleasantly piquant blend in which red chile is discernible (surprisingly not many New Mexican restaurants use red chile on their salsa).  It’s fresh and piquant, the type of salsa which pairs very well with hot coffee which accentuates its piquancy oh so well.

5 June 2017: The qualities most in evidence in Lollie’s guacamole salad are freshness and flavor.  Mashed from fresh avocados at their prime of ripeness, the rich, meaty avocados are the most prevalent flavor component.  Alas, if you’re wary of guacamole being succeeded by “salad,” you probably won’t like all the lettuce on the plate.  Purists don’t want lettuce getting in the way of their guacamole.  This is a very good guacamole which should be liberated from its lettuce bed.

Ground Beef Taco with Salsa

The menu includes daily specials for every day but Monday (and if ever a day needed something special, it’s Monday).  It’s a comprehensive menu offering all New Mexican food favorites as well as burgers.  “Southwest Lunches” are served with beans and papas and your choice of red or green chile as well as tortillas.  Ask your server for a recommendation and chicharrones will invariably be mentioned (for good reason). 

2 June 2014: Appetizers include quesadillas, chile con queso, chile cheese fries with your choice of red or green chile, Rio Grande nachos, the aforementioned guacamole salad and a side of chicharrones with red or green chile.  Another good bet from the a la carte menu are the tostadas (including one topped with carne adovada).  A simple beef and bean tostada is everything New Mexicans love about this very simple–and very delicious–snack or starter. The fried tortilla shell is too delicate and the toppings too generous for you to pick everything up intact, but a fork will do just fine. Immediately obvious is the fact that the ground beef hasn’t been refried, a nefarious practice in which almost every other New Mexican restaurant engages. Fresh ground beef, shredded cheese, lettuce and chopped tomatoes in good proportion topped with salsa–for what more can you ask.

Carne Adovada with two fried eggs

2 June 2014: If you prefer your crispy corn tortillas to remain intact, you can order the taco plate (three tacos), a single ground beef taco from the a la carte menu or a combination plate.  Some may say a taco is basically a tostada folded like a sandwich, but it’s so much more than that.  A taco is hand-held comfort, the perfect snack whether mobile or stationary.  As with the tostada, the ground beef is freshly prepared and lightly seasoned.  Despite being deep-fried, it’s not greasy at all.   Apply Lollie’s salsa liberally for best results.

2 June 2014: Saturday’s special is a carne adovada breakfast–two fried eggs, carne adovada and a tortilla.  You’ll never again crave Captain Crunch or other breakfast cereals of that ilk.  Carne adovada is the perfect morning wake-up food.  Unlike some New Mexican dishes which might shock you awake with piquancy, carne adovada wakes you up with the loving caress of porcine perfection, tender tendrils of cubed pork marinated in a rich, delicious red chile.  This is a chile my adovada-adoring friend Ruben Hendrickson needs to try.  Good as it is, there isn’t as much of it as you’ll want…not enough of a good thing.

Stuffed Sopaipillas with Red and Green Chile (Refried Beans and Papitas on the side)

2 June 2014: When Spanish conquistadors risked life and limb in pursuit of gold, had they known about chicharrones they would have stopped there.   Chicharrones, small, fatty cubes of deep-fried pork, are a New Mexico treasure worth their weight in gold.  New Mexicans in quest of wonderful chicharrones need not go further than Lollie’s where these crispy pork cube are available on burritos and sopaipillas.  A chicharron stuffed sopaipilla is an excellent way to sample them.  “Stuffed” should be prefaced with “generously” because you’ll find plenty of golden-brownish porcine nuggets within each sopaipilla.  The stuffed sopaipilla plate includes two sopaipillas, the perfect vehicles for both red and green chile.  Lollie’s chile has a pleasant piquancy with the green having more bite than the red.  Both are delicious.  Refried beans and cubed papitas are also excellent.

5 June 2014: The menu includes two combination plates.  Both include a ground beef taco and a cheese enchilada, but one comes with a chile relleno and the other with a homemade tamale.  The tamale, one of the very few things not made on the premises, is not to be missed.  Lollie’s tamale maker should be knighted for creating one of the very best tamales in Albuquerque.  The proportion of corn masa to pork is absolutely perfect with the flavor of each complementing the other very well.  The cheese enchilada is excellent.  Being a combination plate, you should combine both red and green chile with this terrific plate.

Combination Plate

20 July 2017: Several years ago, my Intel colleagues hosted a team luncheon at Macayo’s Mexican Table, a very popular Arizona-style Mexican restaurant.  The New Mexicans among us took to calling it “Mocoso’s,” a Spanish term used to describe a snotty brat.  None of us liked it (to put it mildly).  Ask most New Mexicans and few of us would ever concede that anything edible has ever been invented in Arizona except for maybe the chimichanga.  In 1922, Monica Flin, founder of the Tucson restaurant El Charro accidentally dropped a burrito into the deep-fat fryer.  Thus was born the chimichanga. 

We’ve had a chimichanga at El Charro and we’ve had them in New Mexico where our sacrosanct red and (or) green chile transform the dish into a masterpiece.  One of the very best we’ve had across the Land of Enchantment is Lollie’s version, Friday’s special of the day.  What distinguishes this chimichanga from most is that it’s lightly fried.  It’s not sheathed in a thick, hard-to-cut tortilla.  You can cut into it with a spoon where you’ll extricate seasoned ground beef.  The chimichanga is topped with melted, shredded cheese and covered with your choice of red or green (go Christmas here) chile.  If I didn’t previously mention how good the refried beans are, let me take the opportunity here to tout them as some of the very best in town.  So is the chimichanga, the Arizona mistake that it takes New Mexicans to perfect.

Chimichanga Burrito

Lollie’s embodies the heart and soul of Albuquerque’s South Valley, showcasing the type of New Mexican cooking generations of mothers have passed on to their children.  Every neighborhood should be so lucky as to have such a homey, tradition-oriented restaurant in its midst.

Lollie’s New Mexican Kitchen
424 Isleta Blvd, S.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 452-9096
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 20 July 2017
1st VISIT: 31 May 2014
# OF VISITS: 4
RATING: 21
COST: $$
BEST BET: Stuffed Sopaipilla, Carne Adovada, Ground Beef Taco, Beef and Bean Tostado, Combination Plate,

Lollies New Mexican Food Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

El Patio – Albuquerque, New Mexico

El Patio on Harvard Avenue

For more than a quarter century, award-winning journalist Charles Kuralt had the type of job any aspiring sojourner would envy.  He hit the road on a motor home, crisscrossing  the fruited plains where waving fields of wheat passed in review and snow-capped mountains reached for cobalt colored skies.  Observing that “thanks to the interstate highway system, it is now possible to travel from coast to coast without seeing anything,” Kuralt avoided the interstates, instead traversing America’s back roads and byways in search of real people with interesting stories to tell.

Kuralt loved New Mexico, which he noted in his terrific tome America, is really a misnomer.  In his estimation, New Mexico “should be called Precambria for the sea that crashed upon its shores for tens of millions of years, or Mastadonia, for the mammals that later roamed its plains..; or Sandia for the mountain where the camp of an ice age hunter, the earliest known American was found in a cave…New Mexico is old, stupendously old and dry and brown, and wind-worn by the ages.”

Chips and Salsa

Kuralt also loved the cuisine of the Land of Enchantment.  In his book America, he declared the Owl Cafe in San Antonio, New Mexico “one of the best food tips” he’d ever gotten.  During his peridoc visits to the Duke City, the peripatetic wanderer also frequented Old Town’s La Placita restaurant which he considered one of his favorite feeding stations.  In 1988, the legendary newsman featured El Patio in a CBS “Sunday Morning On The Road” segment.

El Patio was then but ten years old, but already becoming a formidable presence in the Duke City dining scene.  It was then one of the few New Mexican restaurants in the UNM area, but that wasn’t solely the reason it garnered rave reviews and legions of loyal fans.  Discerning UNM students appreciated the authenticity and deliciousness of the food; for many of them, it represented a home away from home where they could get cooking as good or better than mom’s.  Those former students have raised a generation, many of whom followed their parents to UNM and to El Patio.

Frito Pie

El Patio is ensconced in a converted home just south of Central Avenue on Harvard Drive.  A telltale sign you’ve made it to the popular restaurant on this relatively low traffic drive is the can’t miss Taos blue Mexican picket fence.  Beyond the fence lies the patio (El Patio), essentially the entire front yard, which is shaded by tall trees, a welcome respite from the sun’s heating rays.  El Patio’s patio also welcomes dogs.

For the duration of its three decade plus, El Patio has been family owned and operated.  Founding owners Dave Sandoval (a fellow Taoseño) and wife Gloria Sandoval remain involved, but much of the day-to-day operation has been transitioned over to their progeny, sons Thomas and Christopher who have made some changes, including the addition of a catering service and a sales operation which markets El Patio’s fabulous salsa and green chile.  Both can be purchased in the restaurant and at several stores throughout the Duke City.

Carne Adovada plate (no beans)

Thomas Sandoval, the elder sibling, is the chef while Christopher is the restaurant’s front-end man.  Thomas acquired his culinary skills literally at his maternal grandfather’s apron strings.  His grandfather taught him well.  El Patio’s food is as good today as it was decades ago when it first blew me out of the water.

Interestingly, El Patio considers itself primarily a vegetarian restaurant, but that distinction isn’t readily apparent in its meat dishes which are as good, if not better, than meat-based New Mexican entrees at other restaurants.  Even the most ardent carnivores, however, should at least try the vegetarian entrees which go a long way toward showcasing the delicious versatility of New Mexican cuisine.  The restaurant’s vegetarian enchiladas, for example, are made with spinach instead of meat.  The spinach imparts a spring-like freshness and healthful, but surprisingly (at least to meatatarians) delicious qualities to the enchiladas.  The Frito pie is also meatless, but you won’t miss the meat.  It’s one of the best Frito pies in town.

Carne Adovada Taco

Many pundits rank El Patio among the top four or five New Mexican restaurants in Albuquerque, leaving one to wonder if voters on “best of” polls mistakenly stuff the ballots for “El Pinto” when meaning to vote for El Patio which is several orders of magnitude better.  You’d think after the “dangling chad” episodes during the 2000 presidential elections in Florida, more extreme care would be taken in the voting process.

Salsa isn’t complementary at El Patio, but it’s worth the paltry pittance for which you pay for it, especially considering the attentive wait staff is on the ball to replenish each ramekin just as you’re running low.  The salsa is jalapeno based, but I believe it includes a tinge of red chile powder.  In any case, this is a wonderful salsa, some of the very best in the city.  This flavorful salsa has a nice piquant bite that will get your attention without dulling your taste buds for your entrees.  The accompanying chips are low in salt, crisp and formidable enough to scoop up ample amounts of salsa.  In its September, 2012 edition, Albuquerque The Magazine named the salsa at El Patio the seventh best in Albuquerque from among 130 salsas sampled throughout the city.

Green Chile Chicken Enchiladas

30 June 2017: The restaurant’s most popular entree, according to the menu, are the green chile chicken enchiladas.  El Patio is so accommodating (one of the main reasons for its popularity), you can have dual meat–beef and chicken–enchiladas and you can have them Christmas style and on blue corn tortillas with the requisite fried egg on top.  This best of all worlds approach for one of New Mexican cuisine’s most versatile entrees is my favorite way to have them.  The shredded chicken is moist and delicious, prepared to absolute perfection.  The beef is ground hamburger, not shredded beef as Mexican restaurants will serve on enchiladas, but the beef is well-seasoned and not refried as some restaurants are apt to do.  The red chile is rich and flavorful at about a medium level of piquancy.  The green chile has a fresh, fruity taste.  Both are par excellence.

31 December 2011: Carne Adovada is available in several dishes, including on a smothered or hand-held burrito. Because the chile with which carne adovada is smothered is oftentimes not the same chile in which the pork is prepared, my Kim will never order a smothered carne adovada burrito. She contends it allows her to better enjoy the purity of the adovada. El Patio’s adovada is outstanding, well worthy of a visit from my friend Ruben Hendrickson whose quest for the perfect carne adovada continued until his passing on 30 May 2016 (I miss you, dear friend). The pork is spoon tender (that means even more tender than fork-tender) and absolutely delicious, a benchmark which competes with some of the very best in the city.

Combination Plate

1 July 2017: El Patio’s combination plate is the best way to introduce newcomers to some of the best the restaurant has to offer.  A veritable platter is brimming with two cheese enchiladas engorged with chile, a chile relleno and a taco (thankfully served on a small plate) all topped with shredded Longhorn Cheddar and your choice of chile.  Longhorn Cheddar is what makes the cheese enchiladas some of the very best you’ll ever have.  It’s a good melting cheese with a nice degree of sharpness and terrific cows’ milk flavor.  The chile relleno is especially noteworthy.  A single sweet-piquant chile is stuffed with even more of that luscious Longhorn cheese then battered lightly and deep-fried.   It’s quite good.  So is the taco.  Given your choice of carne advocada, chicken or ground beef (all good), opt for the carne adovada.  It’s prepared on a hard-shelled corn tortilla that crumbles quickly, but that’s why God invented forks.

Each entree is served with pinto beans (not refried), boiled and peeled potatoes and lots of garnish (lettuce and tomato).  The potatoes have a consistency near being mashed.  Similar to the boiled potatoes at Duran’s Central Pharmacy, they appear to be an anomaly at first in that they’re not crisply fried, but by your second forkful, you’ll be hooked.  The potatoes have a sweet-savory marriage that makes them a joy to eat.  The beans are perfectly cooked and absolutely delicious.

Fajitas

1 July 2017:  There’s a short list of fajitas on our list as best in the Duke City.  Topping our current list are the fajitas at El Patio.  Among the many reasons we esteem these so highly is the full half-pound of marinated steak, as tender and flavorful as any fajita beef we’ve ever enjoyed.  The marinated steak is hand-cut and sauteed with green and red peppers, mounds of onions, and diced tomatoes. They’re served with guacamole, sour cream, pico de gallo, salsa, a side of potatoes and two flour tortillas (white or wheat).  Oh, and there’s plenty of Longhorn cheese, too.

Entrees also include complementary sopaipillas.  Large, cloud-like and puffy, they emit wisps of steam as you cut into them to form a pocket for honey.   Kudos to El Patio for serving real raw honey, not that aberrational honey-flavored syrup.   These sopaipillas are not doughy as some sopaipillas are made, but rather have thin walls that are easy to penetrate, but not so thin that they’re sieves for the honey. If you don’t imbibe adult beverages, the watermelon limeaid is a very nice alternative.  It’s more tangy than it is sweet and it’ll quell your thirst on the dog days of summer.

Sopaipillas

We’ve found service at El Patio extremely capable and more than accommodating, but then we tend to visit when the restaurant first opens (11AM seven days a week) and the choicest seating is available.  Experience has taught us that this extremely popular restaurant fills up quickly–and for good reason.  This is one of Albuquerque’s very best New Mexican restaurants, a genuine gem.

El Patio
142 Harvard Dr SE
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 268-4245
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 1 July 2017
# OF VISITS: 5
RATING: 23
COST: $$
BEST BET: Salsa and Chips, Sopaipillas, Beef and Chicken Enchiladas Christmas Style, Carne Adovada Burrito, Chicken Taco, Combination Plate, Carne Adovada Plate, Green Chile Chicken Enchiladas, Watermelon Limeaid, Frito Pie, Fajitas

El Patio de Albuquerque Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Garcia’s Kitchen – Albuquerque, New Mexico

The Original Garcia's on Juan Tabo, N.E.

The Original Garcia’s on Juan Tabo, N.E.

One of the central themes of William Faulkner’s magnus opus Absalom, Absalom! is that no two people experience the same thing. Of the four characters who narrate the story, none of them is completely reliable because each has a personal bias, a unique frame of reference based on personal experiences to call upon. Readers are left to determine those biases and how they affect the telling of the story. With the passage of time, one of the characters experiences the memory of the events differently than she experienced the events when they happened. 

Similarly, no two diners experience the same meal.  Sure, they may partake of the very same entrees, but how they perceive their dining experience may be tainted or enhanced by personal bias and past experiences.  This is painfully obvious in reading the comments following my review of Garcia’s Kitchen.  Some readers took umbrage at my having reviled a restaurant they love while others agreed with my assessment and readily piled on.  My friend John L. sagely suggested “they (Garcia’s) need to work on consistency among the various branches,” the implication being I should try Garcia’s at other locations as he had.

The caricature of Andy Garcia can be found throughout the restaurant

The caricature of Andy Garcia can be found throughout the restaurant

There are seven Original Garcia’s restaurants across the Duke City.  Though one might expect a consistent experience and standardization across the seven, John’s comments and reviews published on Yelp indicate a lack of consistency among the seven Garcia’s.  To paraphrase Faulkner’s observation, perhaps “no two kitchens prepare the same food” and “no two restaurants provide the same service”–even if those restaurants are of the same family and bear the same name.  The review I published and with which some readers took umbrage was based on a visit in 2007 to the Garcia’s on Juan Tabo.  It was a visit that tarnished my opinion of the restaurant. 

When my friend Nader Khalil recommended we visit Garcia’s Kitchen on 4th Street (just north of Mountain Road), my initial response was hardly enthusiastic, but Nader has never led me astray when it comes to restaurants.  He once worked as a chef in Phoenix and truly understands the nuances of ingredients, seasoning, preparation and the multitudinous factors which play into a great meal.  Garcia’s, he assured me, would redeem itself.  He boasted especially of the restaurant’s menudo, a welcome repast on the rainy, windy day in which we visited.

Chips and salsa

Chips and salsa

External signage at some of the Garcia’s restaurants includes the subtitle “The Original.”  Obviously this doesn’t mean the first one of the seven Garcia’s Kitchen restaurants.  I surmise the designation “The Original” might have something to do with a short-lived interloper named Garcia’s of Scottsdale which opened and closed in the early 1980s in the uptown area.  The bona fide Original Garcia’s Kitchen has been serving Albuquerque diners since 1973.  That’s nearly 45 years of people pleasing that says it’s doing many things right.

Some of Garcia’s familiarity can be credited to a caricature of Andy Garcia, the restaurant’s owner.  That caricature depicts a sombrero wearing Andy with a cherubic smile holding a plateful of tacos on one hand and a towel on the other.  It is prevalent throughout his restaurants; you can find it on colorful paintings, the menus and even on napkins.  Every one of the seven restaurants is brightly and festively decorated with an ambiance tailored to the specific neighborhood it is serving.   One of the many things that makes Garcia’s so popular is its breakfast at any time option.  Likely because of political correctness, the menu no longer includes a separate section called “Gringo Breakfast” which listed entrees without chile.

Enchilada plate with a fried egg atop

Enchilada plate with a fried egg atop

Make that “chili” or at least that’s the way it’s spelled on the menu.  It’s one of several menu malapropisms the purist in me finds hard to accept as cutesy.  Other liberties taken on the menu include the spelling “Karnitas” and the listing of fajitas under the New Mexican food (fajitas originated in Texas).  Yeah, I know.  What do I want–good grammar or good taste?  Obviously there’s nothing as important as great tasting New Mexican food and that’s where Garcia’s has won over legions of fans.  If my visit with Nader is any indication, you may soon count me among them.

20 October 2007 (Juan Tabo location):  Modern technology has made possible the desalinization of ocean water.  It shouldn’t be that difficult to desalinate chips (or to find vendors who proffer chips that aren’t quite so salty).    Unfortunately, the chips at Garcia’s are almost too salty to enjoy.  That’s entirely too bad considering they’re served with an excellent, rich red salsa with the piquant bite purists crave.  With better chips, it’s a two bowl minimum pre-meal salsa.

Menudo

20 October 2007 (Juan Tabo location):  Another culinary transgression no restaurant should ever commit is serving its food at a  lukewarm temperature.  To me that’s a near criminal offense.  New Mexican food should be served piping hot.  Diners would rather hear the warning, “be careful, the plate’s hot”  than to have to request their meal be reheated (never ask for it to be “nuked” because microwaves commit felony-level crimes on foods they reheat).  During this visit, I did have to ask for my enchilada plate to be reheated. That, more than the flavor of the plate, is what remained on my memory.

15 May 2017 (1113 4th location): My friend Nader is a bona fide volcano-eater, an intrepid diner with an asbestos-lined mouth.  Even more than me, he enjoys food that bites back.  The fact that Garcia’s menudo earned his respect, admiration and utterances of “that’s hot!” should be a calling card for diners who enjoy a “pain is a flavor” dining experience.  Available in large and extra large sizes, the menudo is served with hominy (not called posole on the menu).  As New Mexicans know, menudo is made from cow’s honeycomb-structured offal.  Unless prepared correctly, menudo’s off-putting, appetite-suppressing odor will deter even the most intrepid of diners.  Garcia’s prepares it well, serving it with an incendiary red chile that bites back.  Menudo is not for everyone, but if you’re an aficionado, Garcia’s version is one you’ll enjoy.

Green Chile Stew

15 May 2017 (1113 4th location):You’ll also enjoy Garcia’s green chile stew, especially on cold, blustery days–even in mid-May when New Mexico’s weather makes liars out of media meteorologists.  Available with or without beans, it’s served piping hot–just as it should be when cold weather will chill you to the bone.  From both the perspective of temperature and piquancy, it’s a “hot” green chile stew with a pleasant bite.  It’s also very well balanced with plenty of ground beef and chile, not an excess of potatoes.  If your preference is to enjoy it with beans, you’ll appreciate these frijoles, whole beans with a terrific flavor. 

15 May 2017 (1113 4th location):  The burritos menu is prefaced with the boast “the best in town.”  There are thirteen burritos on the menu and they’re available with chile on the inside or smothered with chile and cheese on top.  You can have your burrito ala carte or in the form of a plate (refried or whole beans, rice or papas).  Nader’s favorite is the aforementioned fajitas burrito (grilled beef stripped, grilled onions and green peppers with guacamole and pico de gallo inside).  You’ll maximize your chile apportionment by having your burrito smothered.  Ask for red and green, too.  Both the red and green chile have a pleasant piquancy.  There’s no false advertising with the fajitas burrito.  It does indeed taste like chile smothered fajitas.  Very good fajitas!

Fajitas Burrito

15 May 2017 (1113 4th location): Garcia’s sopaipillas are also quite good–and they are served steamy hot.  They’re not quite pillowy as at other restaurants, but they always feel and taste freshly made and delicious.  Moreover, they’re not at all greasy and have a pleasant “mouth feel.”  Instead of being served with real honey, they’re accompanied by a “honey-flavored syrup.”  It’s not quite the same.

Garcia’s also serves excellent biscochitos.  The official New Mexico state cookie, the best biscochitos are topped with plenty of anise for sweetness and flavor.  These are some of the best!

Sopaipillas

It’s always been my contention that the true mark of a great restaurant is consistency (great food, great service) over time.  For restaurants with more than one presence in a city or state, that consistency should apply across all locations.  If diners know exactly what they can expect at McDonald’s, shouldn’t they also know what to expect at the seven Garcia’s restaurants across the Duke City?  It will be interesting to visit other locations throughout the city to see the degree of consistency at each of the seven.

Garcia’s Kitchen
3601 Juan Tabo, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 275-5812
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 16 May 2017
# OF VISITS: 4
RATING: 17
COST: $$
BEST BET: Biscochitos, Salsa, Menudo, Green Chile Stew, Fajitas Burrito

Garcia's Kitchen Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Pana’s Cafe – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Pana’s Cafe for Excellent New Mexican Food

The term “red or green” has connotations beyond New Mexico’s sacrosanct chile.  For restaurateurs across the Duke City, red or green can spell the difference between a good or bad reputation and even success or failure.  All food service establishments across the city must display the results of the most recent restaurant inspection conducted by the Albuquerque Environmental Health Department.  Those results are displayed on a “current grade” sticker in a visible inspection, typically the front door.  Savvy diners look for a green sticker which signifies that a food establishment received a passing grade at their most recent inspection.  It means the restaurant staff has demonstrated skills and knowledge that create a safe and sanitary food service environment. 

A red sticker, on the other hand, means the food service establishment has been downgraded for non-compliance with the Food Sanitation Ordinance. The dreaded red sticker can be the proverbial kiss of death. Although food service establishments are given the opportunity to correct critical violations, sometimes the damage to reputation is done. For years, the “red or green report” was a weekly staple of KOAT Action 7 News with appropriate dramatic emphasis accorded restaurants earning red stickers. As with inspections of any type, restaurateurs who strive consciously to maintain a safe and sanitary food service environment look forward to proving their mettle.

Pana’s Dining Room

Despite my years of reviewing restaurants I’d never actually witnessed a restaurant inspection until my inaugural visit at Pana’s Cafe.  It was the cafe’s first inspection.  Inspector Rosanna Trujillo was the consummate professional, providing constructive feedback, dispensing praise, imparting training and providing helpful tips as warranted.  She was the antithesis of any negative perception about restaurant inspectors you may have.  When she completed her inspection–no violations–owners Joe and Michelle Repichowski were so proud they immediately posted a photo of the inspection results on their Facebook page.  That’s not something you see many restaurants do.  Then again, Pana’s Cafe isn’t like many other restaurants.

Pana’s Cafe is ensconced in the space which previously housed Patricia’s Café and before that Choroni Café. The café is set back from heavily trafficked San Mateo and doesn’t especially stand out visually among the multitude of stores and shops with which it shares space in a timeworn shopping center. Where Pana’s Café does stand out is with the New Mexican fare it serves. It’s New Mexican food with a pedigree. The restaurant is named for Michelle’s mother whose sister Mary has owned and operated the immensely popular Padilla’s Mexican Kitchen for decades. Joe admits Pana’s recipes are essentially the same family recipes which have made Padilla’s beloved in the Duke City.

Salsa and Chips

Unlike the venerable Padilla’s, Pana’s Café isn’t serving to overflow crowds—at least not yet. As with many relatively new mom-and-pop restaurants, sometimes word is slow to get around. Pana’s launched in January, 2016, exactly four days after Patricia’s Café shuttered its doors. Remnants of its previous tenant remain on the walls where the north wall is painted with a mural depicting the Santuario de Chimayo. On the south wall are painted three other murals, each with a New Mexico theme. Pana’s Café is fairly small in an intimate sort of way. The menu is somewhat abbreviated, too, but it’s got many of the traditional New Mexican favorites. Cumin is added only to the carne adovada.

Pana’s is currently open for breakfast and lunch Tuesday through Saturday. Breakfast is served from 8AM through 11AM and lunch is served from 11AM through 3PM. Among the smattering of breakfast items are pancakes, huevos rancheros and breakfast burritos. Lunch plates–which include beans, rice and two sopaipillas—feature such traditional New Mexican favorites as tamales, chile rellenos, enchiladas, tacos, burritos and a phalanx of ala carte items. “This and that” are available in the form of guacamole and chips, salsa and chips, a Frito pie or a hamburger with fries. As you peruse the menu, a bowl of salsa and basket of chips are ferried to your table. The chips are crispy and thick, ready to scoop up as much salsa as you’re able to lay on them. Alas, the salsa is a bit on the thin side and is better for dipping than for scooping. The jalapeno-based salsa has very distinctive flavor notes courtesy of cumin and bay leaves (yes, bay leaves). It’s not especially piquant, but it’s quite good.

Blue Corn Enchiladas with Red and Green Chile

16 June 2016: You can have your enchiladas constructed with cheese, ground beef, chicken or carne adovada and on either blue- or yellow-corn tortillas. Regardless of filling you choose, make it an early Christmas and ask for both red and green chile. For good measure ask for at least one fried egg (over easy) on top. The chile is hot! For a fire-eater, it’s not necessarily piquant, but it’s served piping hot, not lukewarm. It’s a very good, earthy chile, unadorned with seasonings that don’t belong on New Mexican food. Both the red and green are about even on the piquancy scale and both are absolutely delicious. The accompanying beans will remind you of those prepared by your abuelita while the Spanish rice is…well, it’s Spanish rice.

12 April 2017: What do you do when a combination plate asks you to select three items from among four choices?  You pay a little bit extra for the forth item, of course.  Pana’s combination plate offers three choices from among four equally delicious items: a cheese enchilada, tamale, chile relleno and ground beef taco.  That’s akin to ask you to pick three of your children to the exclusion of the fourth.   You just can’t do it!  All four items are exemplars of how they should be prepared.  The taco, a crescent-shaped corn tortilla housing well-seasoned ground beef, shredded cheese, lettuce and tomato is excellent, the likely first item you’ll finish.  The tamale features features a nice balance between corn masa and chile marinated pork topped with shredded cheese and more of Pana’s addictive chile.  Puncture the chile relleno with your fork and it practically oozes molten cheese.  Cheese enchiladas are usually pretty boring to me, but not so at Pana’s where the red and green chile enliven the dish.  The chile is memorable!

Combination Plate

Complimentary sopaipillas are becoming increasingly rare in New Mexican restaurants. Lunch plates at Pana’s include not one, but two of them. They’re large, puffy and fresh with deep pockets beckoning for honey to be poured in. If you’re so inclined, you might also want to stuff your savory entrée into those deep pockets, a sort of stuffed sopaipilla in miniature.

14 April 2017: Every year on Holy Thursday at about 7PM, by brothers would set off on the 25-mile pilgrimage to the Santuario De Chimayo, a torturous walk through winding roads that climb and descend precipitously. They would arrive home the next day thoroughly exhausted–too exhausted, it turned out, to enjoy my mom’s traditional Good Friday lunch of tortas de huevo. That left more for me. Tortas de huevo are a traditional Lenten dish typically served on Fridays when New Mexican Catholics are expected to abstain from meat. Moreover, they’re absolutely delicious. Picture a sort-of egg fritter whipped into a light, fluffy texture and fried then topped with red chile. Five or six of these eggy chile delivery vehicles with pinto beans, quelites, calabasitas and fideos and there’s no way you can bemoan the fact that you didn’t have a single hamburger on a Lenten Friday.

Pana’s Magnificent Lenten Special

14 April 2017: Every Friday during Lent in 2017, Pana’s served all the aforementioned Lenten treats, preparing them nearly as well as my mom did. The quelites (lamb’s quarters, commonly referred to as wild spinach throughout Northern New Mexico), calabacitas (sautéed zucchini, onions and corn) and fideos (a pasta dish with short spaghetti noodles and a mild tomato sauce) made me wish Lent would last longer than forty days. The fideos rekindled many fond memories. Unlike spaghetti which is seasoned (sometimes heavily) with oregano and garlic, this New Mexican vermicelli noodle dish is lightly seasoned and light on the tomato sauce, too. Pana’s adds a few beans to the quelites, perhaps acknowledging that quelites are an acquired taste. To me, they taste like my mom’s home.  The calabasitas are fresh, crisp and addictive.

Joe and Michelle are the consummate hosts. Their customer-orientation became apparent when, despite having an inspector performing a white-glove routine on their café, they were timely to take my order, quick to replenish my beverage and ever present to ensure my dining experience was a good one.   Pana’s Café is the type of restaurant you pull for to succeed and not only because of its culinary lineage. It’s a very good New Mexican restaurant.

Pana’s Cafe
3120 San Mateo Blvd, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505)884-4260
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 14 April 2017
1st VISIT: 16 June 2016
# OF VISITS: 4
RATING: 23
COST: $$
BEST BET: Chips and Salsa, Sopaipillas, Blue Corn Enchiladas with Ground Beef and Beans Christmas Style, Combination Plate (Ground Beef Taco, Cheese Enchilada, Tamale, Chile Relleno), Tortas de Huevo, Quelites, Fideos, Calabasitas

Pana's Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Hurricane’s Cafe – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Hurricane’s Cafe on Lomas

“What is it with you New Mexicans and your fascination for natural disasters?” my Maryland transplanted friend Jessie Miller once asked me. When I inquired as to what he was talking about, he elaborated that two of his favorite Duke City restaurants are named for natural disasters. “Natural disasters,” I asked. “I don’t know of any restaurants named “Forest Fire” or “Drought,” the only New Mexico occurring natural disasters that came immediately to mind. He laughed, “what’s ironic about the restaurants I have in mind is that they’re named for hurricanes and twisters, two natural disasters that don’t occur in Albuquerque.” I reminded him that our ubiquitous spring dust devils are, by definition, twisters.

“”Yeah, but you sure don’t have hurricanes in New Mexico.” I argued that the Land of Enchantment has proudly boasted of hurricanes for decades, adding that New Mexico’s hurricanes even had masculine names long before hurricanes on the Gulf and East Coasts did. “What names?” he asked? In as straight-face as I could muster, I recounted the names Al and Al, Jr., as in New Mexico music legend Al Hurricane and his son Al, Jr. Okay, that’s just me being a smart alec, but Al and Al, Jr. are about the closest a hurricane will ever get to New Mexico though their associated rainfall and resultant flooding have wreaked some havoc on our enchanted state.

Cyclone Burger, Hurricane’s Version of a Green Chile Cheeseburger

Hurricane’s Cafe and Drive-In has nothing to do with the godfather of New Mexico music. Nor, I’ve been told, is the restaurant named for the tropical cyclones that can bring torrential downpours, fierce winds and damaging tornados. Hurricane’s Café and Drive-In was launched in 1987, the brainchild of Greg Desmarais and Gary Hines. When Hurricane’s expanded to eight restaurants, Desmarais and Hines parted ways. In 1997, Hines partnered with Ray Ubieta on a concept they named Twisters. While Twisters has expanded to some nineteen restaurants, including four in Colorado, only the original Hurricane’s remains. Still, in 2010, Desmarais was named the New Mexico Restaurant Association’s “Restaurateur of the Year” in recognition of his dedication to the community, for the hundreds of jobs he’s provided and for his active involvement in the restaurant industry.

Hurricane’s is situated on Lomas in a ‘50s style drive-in reminiscent of those depicted on American Graffiti and Happy Days. The restaurant got its start as Frank’s Drive-In, a popular cruising spot for high school students in the 60’s. Frank’s was renowned for its taco burgers, tater dogs, and fresh limeades, items which are now available on Hurricane’s expansive menu. Hurricane’s retained much of the motif which made Frank’s a Mother Road era classic. Covered parking stalls equipped with menu boards and intercoms are evocative of the car culture of the 50s and 60s though during every one of our visits, we didn’t espy a single person sitting in their cars awaiting their burger or burrito bounty. Perhaps the technology of yesteryear confuses diners or more likely, today’s social media connected restaurant-goers prefer to dine with others.

Patty Melt

As might be expected, Hurricane’s ambiance also brings to mind a bygone era replete with black and white checkerboard tile floors, old-fashioned louver blinds, red vinyl padded booths and a counter where you place your order. To protect the checkerboard tile floor, chair feet are padded with tennis balls. Tables and chairs fastened to the concrete are available beneath the covered patio for al fresco dining weather-permitting (though as previously mentioned, it’s amazing how many diners choose to eat indoors even in good weather and how many of them the smallish dining room will accommodate.

The two menu items for which the restaurant is best known are the “disaster burrito” and the Cyclone, Hurricane’s version of the green chile cheeseburger. Contrary to my friend Jessie’s assertion, the disaster burrito wasn’t named because of New Mexicans’ fascination for natural disasters. Many years ago, a food critic (not me) declared Hurricane’s foods a disaster. Desmarais’ good-natured response was “let’s show them a disaster.” The disaster burrito–a beef, egg and bean burrito smothered with pan-fried potatoes, red and green chile and topped with lettuce and tomatoes—is available in 1/8th, 1/4th, ½ and whole burrito sizes.

Onion Rings (Top) and Tater Gems

The disaster burrito made its national television debut in May, 2014 in a Travel Channel program called “Chow Masters.” In an episode entitled “Santa Fe Burritos,” three purveyors of bounteous burritos were pitted in a piquant melee: La Choza and Dr. Field Goods Kitchen in Santa Fe and Hurricane’s Cafe in Albuquerque (a suburb of Santa Fe?). Judging was based on creativity and flavor. The ten thousand dollar burrito winner was Dr. Field Goods who wowed the judges with a smoked goat chimichanga burrito in mole. Many locals would argue that the disaster burrito should at least have garnered a tie.

Not counting the taco burger, Hurricane’s menu offers five burgers.  The Cyclone, a New Mexico green chile cheeseburger (lettuce, tomato, pickles) is a very popular option.  Hungry diners will ask for their Cyclone “Earthquake burger” style meaning double meat and double cheese.  The cheese melts like a molten blanket over the beef patties.  If you like your green chile to bite you back, this isn’t the green chile cheeseburger for you.  The chile has about as much piquancy as a bell pepper though it does have a nice flavor.  Burgers and sandwiches are served with your choice of French fries, tater gems, coleslaw, cottage cheese or fruit cocktail.  For a pittance you can upgrade to onion rings, fried zucchini or a salad.

Fried Zucchini

If your preference is sandwiches (and burgers are NOT sandwiches), Hurricane’s offers ten choices.  My Kim’s favorite is the Patty Melt, a quarter-pound beef patty, cheese and grilled onions on light rye.  She prefers it over the green chile cheeseburger and hasn’t bought into my suggestion that a patty melt would be even better with green chile.  At any event, Hurricane’s version is quite good courtesy of a lightly toasted rye replete with plenty of rye grains.  The grilled onions aren’t quite caramelized to a brownish hue, but retain a slight crispness.  There’s plenty of melted cheese to bind all the sandwich elements into one cohesive whole.

Fried stuff–onion rings, tater gems and fried zucchini–are a cut above what you find at most burger emporiums.  The fried zucchini resembles the fried mozzarella you might find at an Italian restaurant, but bite into any of these golden hued little logs and the inimitable flavor of zucchini greets you.  The fried zucchini is served with a ranch dressing though it’s not absolutely necessary.  The biggest difference between tater tots and tater gems seems to be shape and size.  Tater gems are larger and more “roundish.” 

Serving Albuquerque for thirty years now, Hurricane’s Restaurant & Drive-In shows no surcease in popularity.  Visit almost any time of day on any day in which it’s open and you’ll be among like-minded devotees of this very popular drive-in.

Hurricane’s Restaurant & Drive-In
4330 Lomas Blvd., N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 255-4248
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 1 April 2017
# OF VISITS: 4
RATING: 18
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Cyclone Burger, Patty Melt, Tater Gems, Onion Rings, Fried Zucchini

Hurricane's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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