Papa Felipe’s Mexican Restaurant – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Papa Felipe's on Eubank and Menaul in Albuquerque

Papa Felipe’s on Eubank and Menaul in Albuquerque

In 2009, James Beard Award-winning food journalists Jane and Michael Stern published a terrific tome entitled 500 Things to Eat Before It’s Too Late.  Despite the ominous (some might say fatalistic) name, the book is actually a celebration of the best dishes that are unique to this country.  The Sterns, who have been focusing on quirky All-American food haunts since 1977, describe in delicious detail, the best dishes proffered at roadside stands, cafes, street carts throughout the fruited plain.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Michael Stern was asked if the inclusion of the words “too late” in the book’s title referred to the “death of the small eatery, or the reader’s impending doom from eating too much fried chicken, French fries and fried fish.”  He indicated he was referring to “the impending onslaught of the nutrition police who will make all of this stuff illegal one of these days.”  He also warned of the loss of “some variety and some local specialties that were once easy to find and are now hard or impossible to find due to chain restaurants.”

The interior of Papa Felipe's

The interior of Papa Felipe’s

Despite the onslaught of the ubiquitous national food chain, Stern was  optimistic that “Americans have become more conscious about regional food,” which in his experience was once thought to be limited to fried chicken and hot dogs.  He praised the “rebirth of interest in regional food that parallels its diminution because of franchises.”

New Mexicans should be duly proud at how well represented our cuisine is among the 500 uniquely American foods celebrated in the book.  By the same token, as I’ve often railed about on this blog, if we don’t patronize the mom and pop restaurants who prepare these authentic time-tested treasures, all we will be left with is the chain restaurants and their homogeneous cardboard tasting food, superficial flamboyance and saccharin service.

Chips and Salsa

Chips and Salsa

Unlike on their previous Roadfood books, the Sterns actually rank what they consider the “best of the best” among the foods described.  Understandably, when a book is published which encompasses the length and breadth of the United States, omissions are bound to occur.  Still, for the most part, the Sterns do a wonderful job of winnowing out the premium wheat from a prize crop, highlighting those restaurants which provide unforgettable dining experiences in their natural setting prepared by locals who still do it in the traditional ways.

In the Sterns’ estimation, the “hot list” of New Mexican restaurants proffering the very best carne adovada in America starts with Rancho de Chimayo, whose carne adovada is described as “chunks of meat turned tender from their long marinade and glistening fiery red.” Following in succession are the Horseman’s Haven Cafe in Santa Fe, Albuquerque’s Frontier Restaurant, Leona’s Restaurant in Chimayo, then two Duke City dining institutions Sadie’s of New Mexico and Papa Felipe’s.

Botana Crispeante

Botana Crispeante

Most New Mexicans would probably agree with at least one restaurant named in that hallowed list.  My own “hot list,” for example, would rank Mary & Tito’s Cafe as the standard-bearer, but would also include the carne adovada at Cecilia’s Cafe, The Burrito Lady and Duran’s Central Pharmacy in Albuquerque as well as The Shed in Santa Fe and the aforementioned Rancho de Chimayo.

One restaurant climbing toward my hot list is Papa Felipe’s, an astute listing by the Sterns who observed that “an unusual version is served at Papa Felipe’s Mexican Restaurant…where the pork is sopped with a marinade of green chiles, giving it a unique vegetable potency.  It’s great as a green tamale pie, baked in sweet corn masa and laced with cheese.”


Caldo de Albondigas

Green chile carne adovada is indeed a unique spin on a New Mexico standard, and to the best of my knowledge, Papa Felipe’s is the only restaurant in Albuquerque, if not the entire state, to feature it.  When you stop to think about it, why not green chile carne adovada.  The preparation process is the same–marinating chunks of pork in chile.  Papa Felipe’s uses a blend of chopped green chile from Bueno Foods (a New Mexico institution since 1946) as well as the fat, elongated chiles they use for chile rellenos.  The marinading process takes about three hours.  The results will impress themselves on your taste buds for much longer.

Papa Felipe’s Mexican Restaurant & Lounge has been pleasing Albuquerque palates for more than 30 years with chef Larry Gonzales at the helm for most of that time.  As with several restaurants in the Land of Enchantment, it straddles the sometimes ambiguous demarcation between New Mexican food and Mexican food and in fact, serves cuisine unique to and shared by both (often the sole distinction being the degree of heat). Some of the very best items on the menu are those with which Chef Gonzales has taken liberties and those he’s essentially invented.

Green Tamale Pie only at Papa Felipe's

Green Tamale Pie only at Papa Felipe’s

From an experiential perspective, Papa Felipe’s has the look and feel of a Mexican restaurant that belies the New Mexico style stucco exterior. The interior features a combination of whitewash and stucco colored walls with faux adobe half-walls separating the main dining room.  A mural of what appears to be a Mexican village is painted on one wall.  A surprisingly good house stereo system pipes in Mexican standards by the great crooners of yesteryear and today. Seating is comfortable and plush.

A full bar serves a wide variety of domestic and Mexican beers and a selection of house wines as well as what is reputed to be “the meanest margarita in town.”  One of the more popular margaritas is named for New Mexico’s legendary Dixon apple.   Additionally, Papa Felipe’s offers full-service catering, drop-off catering and pick-up services.


Big Papa Breakfast Burrito

The wait staff is prompt with complementary chips and salsa.  The chips are lightly salted and thin.  The salsa, which is sold online internationally, is also lightly salted.  It is a jalapeno-based salsa which according to the Web site is made from “the finest ingredients combined with secret spices.”  It’s not an especially piquant salsa and has a pureed texture like a tomato paste, but it very much tastes like New Mexico.

18 July 2009: One of chef Gonzales’s unique creations, the Botana Crispeante has an “east meets west” feel to it.  The menu describes this appetizer as “spicy beef, chicken or carne adovada filling (or a combination of the three), crisp fried as a chimipiqueño.”  Chimipiqueño appears to be a diminutive version of a chimichanga, a deep-fried burrito.  The Botana Crispeante features of these six bite-sized miniature burritos which might remind you more of miniature egg rolls with unique New Mexico touches.

Chilaquiles Casserole

The Botana Crispeante is served with chile con queso and guacamole, both of which are quite good.  The chile con queso is creamy and delicious, thick enough not to run off your chips but not so gloppy that it breaks the brittle chips.  The guacamole showcases the flavor of fresh avocados seasoned with garlic.  Both complement the deep-fried mini burritos very well.  If for no other reason than their uniqueness, this is an appetizer you should try.  The fact that they’re quite good is a bonus. 

28 July 2013: While several Duke City restaurants serve excellent renditions of caldo de res, the hearty, satisfying beef soup, not as many restaurants offer caldo de albondigas, another Mexican comfort food favorite often referred to as “Mexican soul food.”  Moorish in origin, Caldo de Albondigas was integrated into Spanish culinary tradition when Spanish King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella conquered the region occupied by the Moors.  Albondigas made their way to Mexico with the conquistadores where the dish has flourished into iconic status.  Papa Felipe’s version is a soul-warming and delicious bowl of hearty goodness with a generous number of meatballs swimming in a savory 16-ounce broth with perfectly prepared carrots, celery, onions, tomatoes and squash.  The meatballs are terrific, so good you’ll want a dozen or so.


Mexican Skillet

18 July 2009: As for the green tamale pie which Jane and Michael Stern praised so highly, that praise is well warranted.  Succulent carne adovada is baked in a sweet corn masa with bits of vegetables, green chile and a touch of onion set of with a liberal lacing of melted yellow Cheddar cheese and green chile.  The star is definitely the green chile carne adovada which is as tender as any we’ve had in Albuquerque, but with the pronounced flavor and aroma of green chile.  Your taste buds might be confused at first bite, but they’ll quickly get over it and will enjoy this dish immensely.  It’s a winner–truly one of the best 500 things to eat in America and a contender for my carne adovada “hot list.”

Speaking of “hot lists,” it wasn’t solely Papa Felipe’s carne adovada which the Sterns rated as among America’s best.  The green tamale pie was one of three tamale pies beloved enough by the Sterns to praise effusively in their book.  About the green tamale pie, they wrote, “Green tamale pie at Papa Felipe’s Mexican Restaurant in Albuquerque broadcasts the palmy essence of New Mexico chiles and is well appointed with Papa’s excellent carne adovada.”

Sopaipillas at Papa Felipe's

Sopaipillas at Papa Felipe’s

6 November 2015: Traditionalists who love their carne adovada red can have that, too.  One of the best ways is in Papa Felipe’s Chilaquile Casserole, a brimming bowlful of joy (think Beethoven’s Fifth at every bite).  This entree is layer upon layer of luscious carne adovada (red), melted yellow Cheddar cheese, spicy green peppers, sweet corn, and tostadas smothered in red chile.  The casserole is baked to perfection then topped with even more cheese, chile and garnish.  This entree includes a flour tortilla and a side of guacamole (among the very best in New Mexico).  Only with a fried egg can this dish be improved upon. 

28 July 2013: Although Papa Felipe’s isn’t open for breakfast, it does offer one of the very best–and certainly one of the largest–breakfast burritos in Albuquerque.  The aptly named Big Papa Breakfast Burrito is constructed from a giant flour tortilla engorged with three scrambled eggs, Papa’s potatoes, carne adovada (marinated in your choice of red or green chile) and Cheddar Jack cheese topped with your choice of chile and more Cheddar Jack cheese.  Both the red and green chile are exemplars of New Mexico’s official state vegetable with plenty of piquancy and flavor.  Not every diner will be able to finish this behemoth of a burrito. 

Friends of Gil Enjoy Spirited Conversation During FOG V at Papa Felipe’s

28 July 2013: Another entree as good for breakfast as it is for lunch or dinner is the Mexican skillet, a sizzling skillet filled with papitas, carne adovada, and two eggs any style.  The papitas aren’t fried in the style of French fries as so many papitas tend to be.  Try this dish with the green marinated chile carne adovada for a different take on the dish.  This entree is served with one side and a flour tortilla.

In its annual Food & Wine issue for 2012, Albuquerque The Magazine awarded Papa Felipe’s New Mexican Restaurant a Hot Plate Award signifying the selection of its Camarones Victor 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.

Papa Felipe’s is one of those rare restaurants which defies paradigms and dares to be different with such inventive entrees as carne adovada made with green chile, entrees which are too good to be on any endangered list. Just in case, make sure you try them before it’s too late.

Papa Felipe’s Mexican Restaurant
9800 Menaul, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 292-8877
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 6 November 2015
COST: $$
BEST BET: Botana Crispeante, Salsa and Chips, Green Tamale Pie, Chilaquile Casserole, Sopaipillas, Caldo de Albondigas, Mexican Skillet, Big Papa Breakfast Burrito

Papa Felipe's Mexican Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Matanza Beer Kitchen – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Matanza Beer Kitchen in Nob Hill

At school, whenever I heard the word matanza, hog butchering,
My face warmed up with joy and my heart beat a happy sound.
It was a heavenly time for me.
Images of sizzling chicharrones, crisp, meaty cracklings and
Fresh, oven-baked morcillas, made my mouth water.”
~Hoe, Heaven and Hell by Dr. Nasario Garcia

For young boys growing up in rural New Mexico in the 60s, one of the rites of passage signifying our transition from childhood to young adulthood was being asked to participate in the matanza.  As one in a succession of life’s progressions, working a matanza was an even more important milestone than being allowed to order the “Teen Burger” instead of the “Mama Burger” at A&W.  Among other things, it meant adults now trusted us not to get in the way, to follow orders to the letter and perhaps more importantly, not to shed tears for the “guest of honor” we helped raise from suckling piglet to fatted hog. 

It would be disingenuous of me to say I ever got over the gory sights and smells of slaughtering what were essentially pets we’d nurtured just for that purpose.  Fortunately those memories don’t haunt me as much as my heart is warmed by the wonderful memories of time spent with family.  A matanza is so much more than a rite of massage.  It is a time-honored tradition, a festive occasion in which friends and family gather together to celebrate the changeover from harvest season to winter’s early arrival.  It’s a way of life.  Reading Dr. Nasario Garcia’s inspiring tome Hoe, Heaven, and Hell: My Boyhood in Rural New Mexico rekindled so many wonderful experiences of growing up in Peñasco and being around matanzas since about the age of six. 

Matanza’s commodious dining room

When it was announced that a new restaurant to be called the Matanza New Mexico Local Craft Beer Kitchen was to launch in Albuquerque’s Nob Hill district, those memories flooded back.  Despite the beer hall-kitchen appellation, I entertained faint hopes that it would be some sort of pantheon of porcine perfection, a memory-inducing milieu that would recall the matanzas of my youth.  As more information trickled down, it was obvious the true spirit an tradition of the matanza would not be relived at this Matanza.

Instead, the Albuquerque Journal‘s pansophical retail reporter Jessica Dyer divulged that Matanza would feature “progressive New Mexican food” with a menu showcasing such contemporary interpretations as “blue corn duck tamales, tacos stuffed with ground Kobe beef and blue cheese crumbles, or even kale-and-wild-mushroom blue corn enchiladas.”  Moreover, she revealed, Matanza would spotlight only New Mexico beers (more than 100 on tap) and wines.   Hmm, that doesn’t sound like any matanza in which I participated though enough beer and wine might evoke a familial spirit in some crowds.

The Trifecta

Matanza is located in a cavernous 5,500 square-foot edifice which previously housed a retail boutique.  Situated on the corner of Central and Wellesley, it has the advantage of being at the heart of heavily trafficked Nob Hill and the challenge of providing close proximity parking.  Matanza is the brainchild of restaurant impresario and chef Peter Gianopoulos whose footprint in the Duke City dining scene includes Q Burger in the downtime district and the UNM area’s Brickyard Dive.  His restaurants tend to be avant-garde and fun with food guests really seem to enjoy.

To hard-line traditionalists, the terms “contemporary” and “progressive” are often seen as pejoratives. Some view restaurants taking such approaches as stabbing at tradition. Others argue that not every cuisine needs to evolve and New Mexican food especially is perfect just the way it is. Call it the “anti Santa Fe argument,” a reference to the progressive Southwest fusion cuisine movement of the 1990s that made it fashionable to meld New Mexican ingredients, particularly chile, with other cuisines.

Matanza Adovada

Matanza is a perfect restaurant for those of us who respect tradition, but don’t consider it blasphemous to try something new and different.  My own grandparents might not recognize the melange of heretofore untried ingredient combinations, but they were open enough to have tried them and would probably have found many of them not just acceptable, but delicious. My millennial nieces, on the other hand, would welcome (if they noticed them at all) the innovations, especially if they looked good on a selfie.

The trepidatious at heart might want to start with something at least vaguely familiar, something they can find at many New Mexican restaurants. The Trifecta is that familiar starter, a triumvirate of New Mexican appetizer favorites: house guacamole, roasted green chile salsa and queso blanco.  If that sounds pretty blasé for a supposedly leading edge restaurant, you’ll quickly note that the Trifecta is served with a variety of tostadas (chips) and chicharrones. Though the salsa and queso somewhat obfuscate the salty-fatty flavor of the chicharrones, the smooth, buttery guacamole pairs well with them. Only the salsa has much of a bite.

Fideo Carbonara

My adovada adoring Kim would not have been happy had Matanza taken too many liberties with carne adovada, an entree she considers sacrosanct and absolutely perfect as is. Rather than trifle with the delicate perfection that is carne adovada, Matanza pairs the Hatch red chile-marinated pulled pork with crispy pork belly adovada and chile-rubbed, pecan-smoked ribs and serves them with “artisan” tortillas. The carne adovada is delicious, each tendril of pulled pork impregnated with pleasantly piquant red chile.  The pecan-smoked ribs have a caramelized bark and very endearing sweet-smoky-piquant notes.  The crispy pork belly adovada and its smoky, bacony properties is also noteworthy.  Frankly, the only component not passing muster are the “artisan” tortillas: flimsy, floppy, waifishly thin tortillas with little substance.

In a New Mexico meets Italy twist that works surprisingly well, Matanza offers a Fideo Carbonara entree that may have you doing a double take. Instead of pasta made from thin noodles (usually vermicelli or angel hair pasta), this dish is made with a thicker, longer pasta (probably spaghetti) and served in a concave bowl with Ponderosa-Cabernet braised pork belly with red chile, snap peas, toasted pinon, fresh basil and aged Parmesan. As with its Italian counterpart, this is a sinfully rich dish that has the added benefit of red chile’s delightful heat. Considering the liberties taken with one of my favorite traditional Italian dishes, it made a very good impression on me.

So did Matanza which may not trigger memories of good times past, but is good enough to engender new memories.

Matanza Beer Kitchen
3225 Central Avenue, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 312-7305
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 25 October 2015
COST: $$
BEST BET: The Trifecta, Fideo Carbonara, Matanza Adovada

Matanza Beer Kitchen Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Posa’s El Merendero – Santa Fe, New Mexico

Posa’s El Merendero in Santa Fe

When we phoned our friend Carlos to ask where the best tamales in Santa Fe were to be found, he waxed enthusiastic about a tamale factory and restaurant on Rodeo Road just west of Saint Francis.  He told us the restaurant was once owned by a professional wrestler and is Santa Fe’s equivalent of Albuquerque’s legendary El Modelo.  After we hung up with Carlos, neither my Kim nor I could remember the restaurant’s name or exact address.  We’d both assumed the other one would remember.  I seemed to recall the restaurant’s name being “El Mero Mero,” a name which made a lot of sense to me because it can translate from Spanish to “the main one,” “the top dog,” “the head honcho” or other terms of that ilk.  Needless to say, we couldn’t find El Mero Mero.

Because El Mero Mero didn’t work out, my second brilliant hypothesis was “El Maromero,” or “the somersaulter.”  That name didn’t even make sense to me (much less to my brilliant better half), but considering the uniquely wacky names (not to mention costumes) used by Mexican luchadores, maybe El Maromero wasn’t that outlandish.  After not being able to El Maromero, we turned into a parking lot to call Carlos again.  There in front of us was Posa’s El Merendero, the tamale factory and restaurant of which he had spoken so highly.

El Merendero Dining Room

Merendero is a Spanish word for an open-air cafe or bar, typically in the country or on the beach.  While a restaurant by that name being in Santa Fe made just a little more sense to us as “El Maromero” did, it must have made sense to the Posa family who launched their tamale-making operation  on Galisteo Street in 1955.  Today El Merendero has two locations in Santa Fe, the tamale factory and restaurant on Rodeo Road (the one whose name and address we couldn’t remember) and a newer one on Zafarano Drive.  

El Merendero has been owned and operated from the beginning by the Posa family.  Among the Posa proprietors were Antonio and Carmen Posa, the former being the professional wrestler of which Carlos spoke.  Antonio Posa wrestled for several decades, once holding the world middleweight title.  Today the operation is owned by Jeff Posa, a third-generation owner who values continuity and quality so much that he still uses his grandmother’s original recipes.  Why mess with perfection…or at least a very good thing?

Posa’s Tamale Pie

Who says those recipes touch perfection? Not only generations of Santa Feans esteem Posa’s El Merendero that highly, but so do Americans from coast-to-coast to whom tantalizing tamales are shipped…and if you’re wondering where some of the Land of Enchantment’s most popular New Mexican restaurants obtain their tamales, wonder no further. El Merendero has been provisioning restaurants with tamales for years. Not surprisingly, the tamale factory’s busiest tamale-making time of year is around the Christmas holidays when as many as 14,000 handmade tamales per day are made each day, using only Hatch chile.

For many restaurants and cooks at home, tamales begin and end with pork, leaving many of us to wonder what tamales would be like if constructed with something else.  El Merendero has actualized that foodie fantasy, offering not only a green chile-chicken tamale, but a vegetarian option (a combination of mozzarella and asadero cheeses and green chile) and even a hard-core vegan version (squash, black beans, corn and green chile). No longer are tamales solely for carnivores. No longer do we have to wonder what tamales taste like when green chile isn’t added after-the-fact.

Carne Adovada with Calabasitas

Lest you remain in suspense, you should know that the tamales–both the red chile pork and the green chile chicken–are terrific.  We took home a half-dozen of each and wiped them out over the course of two meals.  They’re not quite as sizable as the tamales at El Modelo nor are they as piquant, but they’ve got all the qualities great tamales share.  The ratio of masa to pork or chicken allows for the flavor profile of each to be easily discerned.  The masa has the pronounced flavor of corn with sweet and savor notes.  Both the pork and the chicken are tender and impregnated with chile, not so much that it overwhelms the delicate flavors of the meat, but just enough to complement both.  Ever the traditionalists, we enjoyed the red chile pork tamales most, but would partake of the green chile chicken tamales any time we can get them.

El Merendero is no one-trick-pony, offering a full menu of New Mexican food favorites you can enjoy in the dining room or as take-out, the latter being an extremely popular choice.  You’ll place your order at a counter above which is posted an oversized six-panel menu that includes appetizers, hand-held burritos, Mexican plates, “local favorites,” tamales (of course) and Mexican grill items.  A number of sides are also available for your in-house or to-go enjoyment.  If there’s one item you should try during your inaugural visit, it’s the tamales and as you’ve read, there are several ways to enjoy them.

Frito Pie

One unique way to enjoy El Merendero’s tamales is in the form of Posas tamale pie (two tamales, red chile beef with beans, cheese, lettuce, diced tomato and onion).  It’s a deep bowl of comfort food goodness New Mexican style.  As much as possible, you’ll want each bite to include a little bit of every ingredient on the dish.  The one stand-out on this savory pie is, of course, the two tamales which enhance the flavor of everything else on the plate.  Alas, because the tamales are rather small, you’ll run out of tamale before you run out of beans, cheese, etc. 

For my Kim, it wouldn’t be a visit to a New Mexican restaurant without carne adovada (marinated red chile pork served with your choice of beans, rice or calabasitas as well as garnish and either a tortilla or a sopaipilla).  A generous amount of carne rewards you with tender tendrils and cubes of porcine perfection ameliorated with a pleasantly piquant red chile.  The calabasitas (green and yellow squash and zucchini with corn) have a fresh, in-season texture and deliciousness. 

Instead of the usual salsa and chips, consider Frito Pie (Fritos corn chips, red chile beef with beans, cheese, lettuce, diced tomato and onions) a viable and absolutely delicious appetizer option.  Good as it is, two things would make it even better–less lettuce and tomatoes to cool what is already a barely warm enough dish.  In fact, dishes served warm and not hot was a commonality of all three dishes we ate.  The other commonality was lack of piquancy.  When my Kim complains of a New Mexican dish being “gringo hot,” you can bet the chile is somewhat on the wimpy side. 

For one-hundred percent handmade tamales and so much more, Posa’s El Merendero is an excellent choice.

Posa’s El Merendero
1514 Rodeo Road
Santa Fe, New Mexico
(505) 820-7672
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 24 October 2015
COST: $$
BEST BET: Posa’s Tamale Pie, Carne Adovada, Frito Pie, Watermelon Agua Fresca

Posa's El Merendero Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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