Sadie’s Dining Room – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Sadie’s, a landmark New Mexican restaurant

Albuquerque and Sadie’s Dining Room have come a long way since 1950. Back then the Duke City’s population was 96,815, up 173% from 1940. Sadie Koury, the oldest child of Lebanese immigrants, was four years away from launching her first Albuquerque restaurant. Located on Second and Osuna, the first Sadie’s was housed in a Lilliputian edifice not much bigger than the restrooms at the Fourth Street restaurant which today bears her name.  The Duke City was much more pastoral in the early 50s and Sadie’s restaurant was but a diminutive nine-stool diner on what was then one of the city’s most busy thoroughfares (though not quite as busy as Fourth Street which in 1954, was already seventeen years removed from having been part of historic Route 66). 

Sadie opened her eponymous eatery for breakfast every morning at 5AM and served lunch late into the afternoon.  Standing room only crowds often included truckers who deviated from their Route 66 throughway and who would park their diesel rigs around the tiny edifice.  Sadie greeted her customers with a friendly “hi honey” and got to know many of her regulars as well as how they liked their favorite meals prepared.

Sadie’s dining room

In 1973 after nearly twenty years at her restaurant’s original home, Sadie and her baby sister Betty-Jo moved the restaurant next door to the Lark Bar which could accommodate 35 guests. They would remain at the Lark Bar for only two years.  In 1975, Sadie retired and left the restaurant in Betty-Joe’s very capable hands.  Betty-Jo and her husband Bob Stafford soon relocated the restaurant again, this time to the noisy confines of the Sun Valley Bowl on Fourth Street where its reputation for humongous portions of incendiary chile-laden dishes was further cemented. The restaurant’s 120-seat capacity saw overflow crowds every night.

Sadie passed away in 1986, four years before the Staffords opened the palatial Fourth Street dining establishment that thirty years later continues to be one of Albuquerque’s most popular dining establishments.  Despite a comfortable lounge, a banquet room for large parties, a spacious bar and a capacious covered patio with fountains and greenery, the restaurant often seems crowded.  Such are the overflow crowds that frequent Sadie’s.  In 2009, a second instantiation of the restaurant opened, this one on Albuquerque’s east side. East-siders can share a parking lot with he Owl Cafe and  get their Sadie’s chile fix.  A third outlet, in the Santa Ana Star Casino opened in 2012.  Yet another Sadie’s opened in 2013 at an Academy location which previously housed Garduño’s of Mexico.

The grill that made Sadie’s famous

Today, the Duke City flirts with a population of more than half a million and Sadie’s remains one of the city’s most popular New Mexican restaurants–and certainly one of its most commodious with the Fourth Street location boasting of a 375 diner seating capacity.  With the addition of three other Sadie’s outlets, seating capacity for the burgeoning restaurant empire is closer to 1000 today.  Long waits are still typical at the Fourth Street location where a large mural taking up nearly the entire South-facing main dining-room wall depicts Sadie’s humble diner and its business neighbors, all back-dropped by the Sandias. On the roof of the diner was a large sign reading simply “Hamburgers” while signage reading “Chops” and “Steaks” flanked the restaurant’s door and sole frontage window.  In the accolade-laden shrine that is the hallway between the dining room and the restrooms are dozens of framed newspaper articles touting Sadie’s restaurant, but also holding a place of prominence is the original grill in which Sadie prepared her famous hamburgers.

Sadie’s is renown for several things, among which are: its rags to riches success story, consistently hot chile and prodigious portions. Over the years it has developed a growing and faithful following that has remained steadfast in its devotion.  Avid proponents make a case for Sadie’s being one of the best restaurants in the state. A fellow gourmand whose opinion I value swears the triumvirate of Sadie’s in the North, the Owl Cafe in Central New Mexico and Chope’s in the state’s Southern region are the three best restaurant’s in the Land of Enchantment.

Salsa and Chips at Sadie’s

Unlike so many other so-called New Mexican restaurants, Sadie’s hasn’t “dumbed down” its chile which retains its characteristically piquant flavor, a fire-eaters elixir that makes our tongues tingles and brings sweat to our brows. That’s the reason–along with the prodigious portions–so many native New Mexicans crowd Sadie’s.  Newcomers to New Mexico who are eager to prove their mettle or obtain an endorphin rush also list it among their favorites.  My own personal estimation (and rating) of Sadie’s has waned in recent years, largely (but not exclusively) because of the restaurant’s use of cumin, a distinctly non-New Mexican food ingredient.  Unlike some other cuminista restaurants, Sadie’s doesn’t actually use cumin on its chile.  Instead, the cumin is used liberally on the restaurant’s beef (including the Roberto Special described below).

At Sadie’s, salsa is complimentary and masochists like me might polish off two bowlfuls as our brows glisten (sometimes profusely) courtesy of the capsaicin rich, green chile endowed salsa (which, by the way, is bottled and sold in stores throughout New Mexico).  The salsa is the most piquant item on the menu.  Comparatively, the red and green chile are tepid. In its September, 2012 edition, Albuquerque The Magazine named the salsa at Sadie’s the sixth best in Albuquerque from among 130 salsas sampled throughout the city.

Award-Winning Burger

Portion sizes are gargantuan! Some platters would feed a developing nation or as former Tonight Show host Jay Leno might joke, one endomorphic American diner. Hefting home a doggie bag won’t burn off many of the 2,000 or so calories you just consumed, but it does provide tomorrow’s lunch or dinner. Most “dinner” plates includes frijoles and papitas.  For years no restaurant in Albuquerque prepared its papitas (little cubes of potato perfection with the taste of well-salted, square-shaped French fries) quite as well as Sadie’s.  During our most recent visits, we’ve found the papitas desiccated and underseasoned.

My long-time Sadie’s favorite for years was the Roberto Special, a pounded hamburger steak patty–the likes of which Sadie herself may have hand-formed back in the 50s. The Roberto Special is topped with enough artery-clogging melted queso to up your cholesterol 50 points.  That molten queso blankets a mountain of papitas and frijoles in a plate the size of a car tire.   For a mere pittance you can request a “large” Roberto special which essentially doubles the pounded steak portion.  Even with the pounded steak doused in cumin, what has stripped this dish of its “Special” designation for me is the fact that  all too often the steak is cooked at well-done.

The Roberto Special Christmas Style

At many New Mexican restaurants salsa and chips are no longer complementary and it’s increasingly rare to find restaurants which also don’t charge for sopaipillas. That’s definitely not the case at Sadie’s where each meal is accompanied by several of these puffy treasures. During a 2006 Food Network episode of the Secret Life of…Southwestern Food, host Jim O’Connor spent a day at Sadie’s where he learned all about sopaipillas. He ate stuffed sopaipillas, sopaipillas with honey and sopaipillas by themselves and enjoyed every single morsel.

When he traveled to Albuquerque for a taping of the Travel Channel’s Man vs Food Nation (which aired for the first time on June 22nd, 2011) host Adam Richman was introduced to the world’s largest sopaipilla at Sadie’s–a foot wide, six and a half pound behemoth of stewed chicken, ground beef, carne adovada, papitas, pinto beans, red and green chile and Cheddar. Served on what appeared to be a pizza-sized platter, it was “sopa-perfect” according to the effusive Richman.

Grilled Pork Chop with Beans and Papitas

Sadie’s stuffed sopaipillas are indeed very enjoyable (for me only if they’re stuffed with chicken which doesn’t receive the cumin dousing to which the beef is subjected).   Even if you’re not inclined to eat the largest sopaipilla in the world, you’ll find a standard stuffed sopaipilla dish quite formidable.   Sadie’s sopaipillas can be engorged with spicy beef, chicken, grilled lean ground beef or just frijoles and can be topped with green or red chile (or even better, Christmas style).

The house specialty at Sadie’s is the enchilada dinner, a platter-sized plate brimming with two soft corn tortillas rolled or stacked with Cheddar cheese and onions and served with frijoles. The enchilada dinner is as flexible as the soft corn tortillas on which it is made. That means you can have it with blue corn tortillas instead of the standard yellow corn tortillas. You can have it with boneless grilled chicken or with Billy’s spicy ground beef and if that’s not enough, you can customize your creation–maybe one ground beef enchilada and one with chicken.

Sopaipillas

Your customization might also extend to the chile where you can have red or green chile or preferably both (what New Mexicans call Christmas style). You can even ask for a third enchilada if you’re so inclined. By all means ask for a fried egg on top of your enchilada. It’s the way New Mexicans have had their enchiladas for generations.

13 July 2016: Even non-chile eaters will find something to love at Sadie’s. One such option is the grilled pork chops, two bone-in chops grilled to a smoky perfection and served with papitas. These are flavorful half-inch thick chops which retain their succulent juiciness and are imbued with delicious, smoky charred edges.  The grilled pork chops are served with a dinner salad which is topped with moist, unctuous avocados.  Try it with a green chile Ranch dressing for a New Mexico kick.

13 July 2016: Allow me to introduce yet another contender into the highly disputed “best green chile cheeseburger” in New Mexico category. That would be Sadie’s version of the ubiquitous burger practically worshiped by local eaters.  Sadie’s burger is crafted with a six-inch, hand-formed meat orb topped with chopped green chile (or green chile sauce if you prefer), tomatoes, lettuce, and cheese. The meat is grilled and prepared to your exacting specifications and the bun is lightly toasted. It is sensational, a wonderful alternative to other entrees.  Better still, order your burger the way Sadie prepared burgers in the 1950s–on two thick slices (Texas toast-sized) of French bread. In 2013, Sadie’s rendition of the green chile cheeseburger won the inaugural Governor’s Green Chile Cheeseburger Challenge at the New Mexico State Fair, besting ten other contestants. 

Sadie’s is a member of the New Mexico Culinary Treasures Trail, a New Mexico State Tourism initiative which honors independent mom and pop restaurants which have stood the test of time to become beloved institutions in their neighborhoods and beyond.  Sadie’s truly is that.

Sadie’s Dining Room
6230 Fourth Street, N.W.
Los Ranchos de Albuquerque, New Mexico
Web Site

(505) 345-5339
LATEST VISIT: 13 July 2016
# OF VISITS: 17
RATING: 16
COST: $$
BEST BET: Roberto Special, Enchiladas, Salsa, Stuffed Sopaipillas, Papitas, Green Chile Cheeseburger

Sadie's on Fourth 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.

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.

8 July 2016: 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.

Sopaipillas

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: 8 July 2016
1st VISIT: 16 June 2016
# OF VISITS: 2
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)

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

El Comal Cafe – Santa Fe, New Mexico

El Comal Cafe, Serving Great New Mexican Food in Santa Fe for 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.

Chips and Salsa

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.  During a visit in 2014, neither the red or green chile were made with cumin.  Two years later, cumin is used on the red chile and salsa, but the wait staff will swear it’s in moderation (though for someone who can discern one part cumin per million, it’s intensely present).  The green chile tends to be more piquant than the red so the heat obfuscates the influence of the cumin.

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…even though the presence of cumin is certainly discernible.  During my 2014 visit, I thought the chips and salsa were among the best served at any New Mexican restaurant in Santa Fe, but the addition of cumin has changed my opinion.  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

25 July 2014: When your server pushes a dish such as the breakfast enchiladas with alacrity, not ordering them is 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 (Christmas-style).  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 quite good.  The red chile 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. 

Chicken Enchilada with Guacamole

25 July 2014: 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 might 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 (albeit tinged with cumin).  It pairs wonderfully with the corn tortilla in which it’s nestled.  My Kim now wishes all tacos were carne adovada tacos.

5 June 2016: When consternation crossed our faces upon hearing that both the red and green chile were made with cumin, our server insisted we wouldn’t even notice.  That wasn’t the case (not even close), but the green chile has such a pleasant piquancy that it offset the McCormack’s seasoning flavor of cumin.  There was plenty of green chile blanketing flat enchiladas engorged with chicken with a dollop of  guacamole on the side.  Yes, in an example of truth in labeling, the menu described the dish as enchiladas with guacamole and that’s what we got.  Mary & Tito’s seems the only restaurant capable of actually using guacamole as a filler as well as a topper.  In any case, the green chile and the pronounced corn flavor of the tortillas made these enchiladas a winner.

Migas

5 June 2016:  Santa Fe is home to the best migas we’ve enjoyed in New Mexico with the very best being found at Cafe Fina (The Chocolate Maven’s version is also excellent).  Despite the addition of jalapeños, El Comal’s rendition lacked any real bite…and that’s not this asbestos-tongued fire-eater talking, but my infinitely more delicate wife.  A molten blanket of cheese covered scrambled eggs, tomatoes and torn ribbons of tortilla chips.  Should we order migas at El Comal a second time, we’ll ask for the green chile instead of the tepid jalapeños.

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
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 5 June 2016
1st VISIT: 25 July 2014
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 20
COST: $$
BEST BET: Coffee, Breakfast Enchiladas Christmas Style, Chips and Salsa, Carne Adovada Taco, Migas, Guacamole and Chicken Enchiladas, Sopaipillas, Tortillas

El Comal Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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