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

Beto’s Cocina – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Beto’s Cocina on Juan Tabo

It’s a folly of the human condition that we tend to go looking for exciting food in all the shiny new restaurants…only to find it in the venerable restaurants that time has nearly forgotten. The fleeting, fickle nature of our fascination with something new and something different is so strong that some restaurants actually peak in popularity within a few months after opening, particularly after their first glowing reviews. Perhaps indicative of our human need for constant new sources of stimulation and gratification, diners (and restaurant critics) flock to new restaurants like moths to a flame. In our minds, new seems to translate to fresh and exciting. We seem drawn to the spit, polish and promise of new restaurants in our constant quest for new and different.

In time the flash and panache of modernity wears out and restaurants which survive the ravages of time and the fickleness of the dining public come to be referred to as “venerable” or an “institution.”  True, there are some which–much like a lonely grandfather in a nursing home–wait eagerly for visitors that never come, but most have carved out a niche of regulars who visit with regularity.  Those of us who have achieved our own advanced levels of geriatric progression tend to appreciate older restaurants a bit more than youngsters do.  Older restaurants tend to inspire nostalgic reflections about the good old days when, like us, those venerable institutions were younger and more spry.

Dining Room at Beto’s Cocina

By restaurant standards, Beto’s Cocina on Juan Tabo just north of Constitution, is an elder statesman and every bit the venerable institution described above.  Still going strong after more than a quarter-century, Beto’s, named for owner Alberto “Beto” Urquieta, is ensconced in the Sandra Shopping Center, not the most heavily trafficked center of commerce in the Duke City (an understatement).   Parking spots near the restaurant are plentiful, but that’s more indicative of the ghost town feel of the shopping center with its several vacant storefronts.  Beto’s, unfortunately, does not have a prominent storefront presence visible from Juan Tabo, a factor perhaps in its lack of mention among the city’s popular New Mexican restaurants.

Surprisingly my first visit to Beto’s Cocina didn’t transpire in the mid-90s when we returned to Albuquerque for good.  In fact, we lived in the Duke City for more than two decades before my shadow crossed over Beto’s door.  My reason is surprisingly pedestrian–out of sight, out of mind.  We just don’t frequent the area as much as we do other sections of the Duke City.  That seems to be the case for many diners.  Perusal of Yelp’s page for Beto’s yielded only six reviews, the most recent more than a year old.  There were ten reviews for Beto’s on Zomato.  My research revealed the last time Beto’s Cocina was reviewed by one of the city’s periodicals was in 1993 when Joline Gutierrez Krueger wrote the fabulous “Chow Mondo” restaurant review column for the much-missed Tribune.  Back then, Beto’s was a young, fresh face on the Duke City dining scene.

Salsa and Chips

A couple of things will probably catch your eye about Beto’s, one even before you set foot inside the restaurant.  First, the Urquieta family doesn’t shy away from its Christianity.  The front door is flanked on one side by the words “Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner” and on the other side with the name “Christ” and a Biblical passage.  Even the signage references a New Testament passage (Matthew 4:4 – Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.).  There are more passages on the restaurant’s walls along with family photographs, decorative Mexican serapes and colorful sombreros.  The second thing diners (especially Dallas Cowboys fans) will notice is the family’s (misbegotten) loyalty to the Pittsburgh Steelers.  One entire wall is dedicated to the hated “Black and Gold” and you’ll find other Steelers memorabilia throughout the restaurant (fortunately not to close to the table in which I was seated).  

Beto’s menu includes all the New Mexican food favorites including enchiladas done in more ways than we’ve seen in just about any restaurant in town.  A number of combination plates offer excellent variety, surprisingly high quality and a good introduction to the cook’s culinary skills.  Neither the green or red chile are made with cumin.  Make sure you have salsa and chips on your table as you peruse the menu.  Though not complimentary, they’re well worth the pittance you’ll pay.  As at most restaurants which serve salsa, it’s the most piquant item you’ll enjoy during your experience.  This salsa has a tongue-tingling bite, the kind that generates the endorphin rush on which New Mexicans get high.  The chips are crisp and have a pleasant corn flavor.

Large Combination Plate

The large combination plate, roughly the size of a truck tire, includes more individual items than any combination plate in recent memory.  A hard-shelled taco brimming with seasoned ground beef and topped with shredded cheese, lettuce and tomato may have you cursing the fact that you devoured all the salsa and didn’t leave any for the taco.    On the other hand, you may need the taco to quell the heat generated by that incendiary salsa.  Shredded beef is also the filling for the burrito while the enchilada is filled with molten Cheddar.  The pork engorged tamale proved to be my favorite thanks to an optimum balance of corn masa and red chile marinated pork.  This combination plate is served with unremarkable Spanish rice and beans the way your abuelita may have prepared them.  Both the red and green chile are packing heat though they pale in comparison to that fiery salsa.

In the not too distant future, we’ll be able to tell our children and grandchildren about restaurants which once severed complimentary sopaipillas with every plate and our story will be received with the same credibility as if we’d told them we walked to school in a foot of snow.  Beto’s is one of those rare restaurants which still offers complimentary sopaipillas with some plates.  Served with a plastic squeeze bottle of honey-flavored syrup, the sopaipillas aren’t quite as puffy as others around town, but they’re also not greasy.  Open them up and a puff of steam escapes, as welcoming a siren’s call as there is in a New Mexican restaurant.  The sopaipillas offer engorged cavities for the honey, a perfect way to finish a good meal.

Sopaipillas

Beto’s Cocina is one of those venerable institutions that time has seemingly forgotten until you step through its doors to find a number of regulars enjoying the favorite dishes which have given them comfort and sustenance for years.  If you’re not one of those regulars, it may be time for you to rediscover Beto’s Cocina.

Beto’s Cocina
1605 Juan Tabo Blvd, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 296-1734
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 6 May 2016
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET:  Salsa and Chips, Combination Plate, Sopaipillas

Beto's Cocina Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Old Martina’s Hall – Ranchos de Taos, New Mexico

Old Martina’s Hall in Ranchos de Taos

Between the years 2000 and 2014, The Taos News had the prestigious distinction of being named the best weekly newspaper in the United States by the National Newspaper Association. Although the most famous words in American journalism–“all the news that’s fit to print”–don’t grace its masthead, The Taos News has fairly and objectively reported news of events and personalities that seemingly can exist only in Taos county. Readers like me marveled at the periodical’s ability to refrain from punchline-pocked cynicism when, for a couple of years, three topics perhaps more appropriate for Jerry Springer or The National Inquirer ostensibly dominated the front page.

One topic was the dysfunctional shenanigans of the Questa school board, the behavior of whom warranted a state-mandated suspension. Another was the hubris and arrogance of the five-member Taos County Commission who, despite a spate of unpopular decisions, thought enough of themselves that they named three new buildings in their own honor (so Bill Richardsonesque). The third topic which graced The Taos News repeatedly was that Commission’s refusal to issue a beer and wine license for Old Martina’s Hall in Ranchos de Taos, an absurd, self-serving drama that dragged on ad-nauseum. Obviously the second and third most news-worthy topics were interrelated, not an anomaly in a county historically replete with nepotism.

Bar at Old Martina’s

If that diatribe seems a bit rancorous toward Taos County, it’s not intended to be. Taos County has always been a quirky and special place, albeit long in patience and tolerance with duplicitous political wrangling. In 1981, Merilee Danneman wrote a book entitled Taos by the Tail, a collection of columns she wrote for The Taos News from 1974 through 1979. In her “nostalgic look back at a magical place in a time long ago,” Danneman attributes “everything I need to know about politics” to the Taos County Commission. It’s neither comforting nor funny to see that while the players have changed, political dynamics in Taos County remain the same. It’s the way it is and has always been in Taos County.

By denying a beer and wine license on the grounds of Old Martina’s Hall proximity to the San Francisco de Asis Church, perhaps the County Commission thought themselves to be taking a higher moral ground than previous Commissions. Factors such as precedence and history didn’t seem to matter to these paragons of virtue. You certainly didn’t see any “excuse me while I save the world” righteous indignation on the part of previous Taos County Commissioners who, for generations, allowed the edifice to serve as a rowdy dance hall (and venue for Dennis Hopper’s wild parties).

Dining Room at Old Martina’s

Old Martina’s Hall dates back to 1790, predating the San Francisco de Asis Church by a quarter century.  Sitting directly across the street from the Church made famous by the paintings of Georgia O’Keefe and the photographs of Ansel Adams, the stately adobe structure had fallen into disrepair and appeared ready to return to the dirt from which it was built.  That’s when an unlikely benefactor stepped in.  German cosmetic manufacturer and visionary entrepreneur Martina Gebhardt had visions of restoring the historic dance hall to its halcyon days as a community treasure, a milieu which had long served as the site of weddings and community gatherings. 

Martina spent more than two-million dollars renovating the long-derelict Old Martinez Hall, transforming the crumbling Pueblo Revival building into an enchanting edifice with massive adobe walls and stout viga-and-latilla ceilings.  Though her efforts weren’t universally appreciated, she persevered and after years of contentiousness (and the antics of the Taos County Commissioners), Old Martina’s Hall reopened in 2012.  Renaming the venerable structure from Old Martinez Hall to Old Martina’s Hall was a small concession for restoring an important historical center of community life.

Healthful Minded Fruit Plate

The new Old Martina’s Hall is a magnificent structure inside and out, a perfect complement to the Spanish Colonial church across the street.  Imposing and stately from the outside, it’s a breath-taking experience at every turn when you step inside.  The front room is a combination bar and dining room with light and dark wooden accents throughout.  Bright lights stream into the main dining room where you’ll want a seat by the window facing the Church.  The capacious dance hall is a splendid venue for dinner and a show or dinner and dancing.  New Mexican art, including contemporary and venerable weavings, festoons the walls.

Breakfast, lunch and dinner menus offer a tempting variety of diverse and delicious delicious served in a unique casual-fine dining atmosphere.  Old Martina’s Web site describes the fare as a “marriage of refined European simplicity with traditional New Mexican dishes.”  The dinner menu showcases a number of fine-dining quality seafood (picture pan seared sea scallops with pomegranate beurre blanc, quinoa pilaf and shaved fennel) and chops (carnivores can’t resist rustic grilled Berkshire pork porterhouse with apple pinon green chile chutney mashed sweet potatoes and anise creamed spinach).

Duck Enchiladas with Posole

Lunch isn’t quite as elaborate (or expensive) and the menu is somewhat abbreviated, but you’re bound to find something exciting…and the accommodating wait staff may even allow you to order something from the breakfast menu.  For the calorically conscious diner, the Healthful Minded Fruit Plate (seasonal fruit served with Greek yogurt, housemade granola and honey comb) is a good choice.  Unlike so many yogurt-granola dishes, this one isn’t rot-your-teeth-sweet.  That’s courtesy of the Greek yogurt which is somewhat thicker and more sour than other yogurt.  Because it’s so sour, the contrast with the sweetness of fruit tends to be more pronounced.  A bit more granola would make this dish even more enjoyable.

Surely New Mexican colonials were no strangers to duck, but it seems that only relatively recently has duck  been widely incorporated in New Mexican dishes.  Though not as traditional on New Mexican entrees as are other proteins, duck certainly lends its unique and delicious flavor profile to any dish in which it’s used.  The duck enchiladas at Old Martina’s are superb!  Rolled blue corn tortillas are engorged with a generous amount of moist, flavorful duck and slathered in your choice of red or green chile (ask for both) unadulterated by cumin.  Both the red and green chile have a pleasant, but not incendiary, piquancy.  Melted white and yellow Cheddar lends a salty richness to the dish while the posole and whole beans are wonderful accompaniment.  A small dollop of guacamole leaves you wanting more.  Frankly, a bit more of everything served on this plate would have been more than welcome.

Pumpkin-Pecan Tart

Desserts are far from standard fare as you’ll see when your server ferries them over to your table.  Next to deciding which Taos County site you’ll visit next, determining which one to order may be the hardest decision of your day.  I couldn’t even default to my usual choice–ordering something I’ve never previously had–because several dessert items fit that criteria.  Ultimately it took a coin flip to settle on the pumpkin-pecan tart, a  miniature pie-shaped pastry resembling pecan pie.  Pecans and pumpkin go surprisingly well together, a melding of diverse flavor profiles that serve as flavor and textural foils for each other. 

If walls could talk, the massive walls at Old Martina’s Hall would probably sing out with alacrity as they once again play witness to family functions and celebrations Taos County-style.

Old Martina’s Hall
4140 Highway 68
Ranchos de Taos, New Mexico
(575) 758-3003
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 20 April 2016
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Duck Enchiladas, Pumpkin-Pecan Tort, Healthful Minded Fruit Plate

Old Martina's Hall Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Cocina Azul – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Cocina Azul on Montgomery

Ever the lexicologist, my first inclination at seeing the mantra “panza llena, corazon contento” emblazoned on any restaurant’s menu is to ponder the veracity of the audacious claim that filling the belly can leave diners contented.  The venerable New Mexican dicho which translates from Spanish to “full belly, happy heart” was, after all, conceived at a time when food wasn’t nearly as plentiful as it is today.  Enchanting as it may be, New Mexico is a land which can be harsh and unforgiving as my forefathers found out when, for centuries, they eked out a meager subsistence from an austere terrain amidst the ravages of climatic extremes.

As the popularity of buffets serving humongous helpings of pitiful pabulum will attest, any restaurant can accomplish the “full belly” feat, but it takes something special to truly make the heart happy.   February, 2010 saw the launch of a New Mexican food restaurant which has been accompanying that feat since its opening.  Fittingly Cocina Azul, the “blue kitchen” not only uses the slogan “panza llena, corazon contento” on its menu, its exterior signage invites diners to “get your chile on.”

Chips and Salsa

The original Cocina Azul is located in the venerable building that for generations housed the aptly named Sunshine Market, a cornerstone of the neighborhood since it launched in 1925 until its closure  some three quarters of a century later.   From 2007-2009, the converted market on the southeast corner of Mountain Road and 12th Street was home to the Sunshine Cafe, a very highly regarded restaurant which retained some vestiges of the market–-a wooden door to the market’s meat locker, exposed roof trusses and other wood accents taken from the market.  Those vestiges are still visible with the Cocina Azul.

It didn’t take Cocina Azul long to earn significant popular and critical acclaim.  Guests quickly discerned the differentiators which single out the truly special restaurants from their competitors.  Perhaps first and foremost is the service which might be best described as familial.  Quite literally, Frank and Evelyn Barela, the affable owners and their staff, treat their guests as they would treat family members, exuding warmth and hospitality.  Secondly, the food is prepared from time-tested and traditional family recipes bolstered by contemporary nuances that give it upscale qualities.  Those recipes don’t call for dumbed-down chile.  This is chile natives like me respect as much for its flavor as for its piquancy.

Posole

Step into the bright and airy cafe and your eyes might train on a menu board above the counter prefacing the kitchen.  The menu board offers “self-service catering,” an interesting concept in that customers can saunter up to trays of New Mexican food favorites and load up on quart or gallon sized portions of carne adovada, red or green chile, beans, rice and chile con queso.  You can also purchase enchilada casseroles in small (5-7 people), medium (18-20 people) and large (35 people or more) sizes; and tamales in quantities of half-dozen or a dozen.

With the success of the Mountain Road location, it became inevitable that the Barela family would expand their restaurant enterprise.  Their first attempt at expansion was on Albuquerque’s burgeoning west side in a shopping center where restaurants turn over at a rapid pace.  Cocina Azul west was short lived at the location.  Downtown proved no more welcoming to Cocina Azul when its fast-casual concept called Azul Burrito Co. didn’t last very long, a casualty of traffic choking problems caused by construction.  Based on a heavy lunch crowd during our inaugural visit on 8 April 2016, the family’s most recent expansion venture, at the Granada Square restaurant space on Montgomery, appears poised to succeed where its predecessors did not.

Ribeye Steak Enchilada Plate with Whole Beans and Fideos

Faithful readers know my enmity for  misguided New Mexican restaurants which commit the mortal sin of adding cumin to chile.  In Frank Barela, I found a kindred spirit.  The amicable co-owner of Cocina Azul assured me you won’t find cumin anywhere near his kitchen, comparing cumin’s odoriferous qualities to smelly socks (my friend Bill Resnik would go a bit further and say “wet dog wearing smelly socks.”).  Barela appreciates the purity of chile, a fruit so perfect it needs no amelioration.  The chile at Cocina Azul is made from pureed whole pods, strained to a silky smoothness.

That purity is discernible in the wondrous salsa, a plastic molcajete brimming with a piquant blend of chile rojo, tomatoes, onions, garlic, oregano and cilantro.  It’s an eye-opening, mouth-watering salsa with a nice bite.  The salsa is served with  a generous heaping of crispy white and blue corn tortilla chips sturdy enough to hold Gil-sized portions of salsa.  These may be the very best restaurant chips of any New Mexican restaurant in Albuquerque.  They’re lightly salted and heavy on corn flavor.  A green salsa, a surprising rarity in New Mexican restaurants, is also available.   It’s at least as good as the red salsa and perhaps slightly more piquant.

Carne Adovada Relleno Plate

10 April 2016: During our inaugural visit to Cocina Azul’s Montgomery location, we experienced a number of issues which detracted from our enjoyment of what we expected would be a very good meal.  First, we ordered the “bottomless” salsa, expecting to have it replenished faithfully at least twice.  Alas, no sooner had the salsa arrived at our table than our server ferried over our bowl of posole and within only a few enjoyable bites of the posole, our entrees arrived.  We would much have preferred a well-paced meal with a more lengthy interval between “courses.”  The kitchen’s heavy hand with salt was the restaurant’s second transgression.  A carne adovada relleno plate (doesn’t that sound fabulous) was so salty we had to send it back.  Other items were only slightly less salty.  Future visits will determine if these issues were, as we suspect, anomalous.

10 April 2016:  During our visits to the Mountain Road location, we concluded Cocina Azul’s posole just might be the best in the city.  For one thing, it looked and tasted like posole and not  Southern hominy (yes, there is a difference).  The  posole  (nixtamilized corn kernels slaked in lime water sans husk) was of a perfect consistency, swimming in a large bowl of red chile and tender chunks of pork.   This was New Mexican comfort food at its finest, one of those dishes that truly can make your heart happy.  At the Montgomery location we didn’t feel the same level of love and comfort.  The culprit (wouldn’t you know it) was posole in need of desalinization.

Whole Beans and Fideos

10 April 2016: One of the most wonderful things about enchiladas is their versatility.  You don’t always have to have yellow corn tortillas when blue corn tortillas are available.  You don’t have to stuff them with ground or shredded beef.; you can engorge them with virtually any protein or vegetable (calabasitas are a great option) you desire.  Similarly, you’re free to choose the cheese and the chile (red, green or both) you want.  A fried egg or two or three–that’s no problem.  Cocina Azul offers several options to make your enchiladas more enchanting.  

The ribeye steak enchiladas (three flat corn tortillas, marinated select ribeye steak, filled with a Cheddar and Monterey Jack blend, melted and smothered with your choice of Frank Sr.’s red or green chile) is an excellent option.  The ribeye is cut into small pieces about the size into which your mom may have cut your steak.  It’s a high quality ribeye with no gristle or fat and it may leave you wondering why more restaurants don’t offer ribeye for your enchiladas.

Two Ala Carte Beef Tacos

10 April 2016:  Unlike at so many other New Mexican restaurants, Cocina Azul doesn’t limit the sides that come with your entrees to the de rigueur rice and beans.  Items on the “Platos de Nuevo Mexico” section of the menu include your choice of two sides including whole beans, fideos, calabasitas, rice and more.  The whole beans are an exemplar of how New Mexico’s “other” official state vegetable should be prepared.  For a unique treat, ask for the fideos, an unassuming short, thin and slightly curved pasta served in a tomato sauce.  Fideos have been served in Spain since the 13th century. 

10 April 2016:  After the crushing disappointment of sending back the carne adovada relleno plate, my Kim opted for two ala carte tacos constructed on soft flour tortillas and stuffed with seasoned ground beef, chopped tomatoes, fresh lettuce and a shredded Cheddar cheese blend.  These tacos are a perfect repository for the restaurant’s wonderful salsa.  The soft tortillas are soft and pliable with just enough thickness to hold in all the ingredients.  If you’re still of the mind that tacos should be prepared in hard shells, these will make a convert out of you.

Sopaipillas

The sopaipillas with real clover honey will have that “corazon contento” effect on you, too.  Not quite the size of a deflated football, they’re the perfect way to end a great meal.  Best of all, these golden treats are served with real honey, not that inferior honey-flavored syrup some restaurants use.

Cocina Azul is one of those rare restaurants which pays attention to the small details, the difference-makers understood by all businesses (such as its predecessor on the premises, the Sunshine Market) striving for longevity.  Our first two experiences at this sterling restaurant convinced me that the issues we experienced on our third visit were an anomaly.  We’ll certainly be back.  Cocina Azul is widely regarded one of Albuquerque’s best New Mexican restaurants and should continue being so provided it continues to create panzas llenas and corazones contentos.

Cocina Azul
1134 Mountain Road, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 503-8009
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 10 April 2016
1st VISIT:  25 November 2010
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 18
COST: $$
BEST BET: Posole, Creamy Green Chile Chicken Soup, Steak Tacos, Salsa and Chips, Guacamole, Chile Verde Con Queso, Frank Sr. Super Combo Plate, Fideos, Whole Beans, Ribeye Steak Enchilada Plate

Cocina Azúl Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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.

25 October 2015: 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

25 October 2015: 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.

25 October 2015: 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.

Black & Blue Label Tacos with Calabasitas and Refried Black Beans

27 January 2016: For the entirety of the eighteen years I worked for a Fortune 50 company whose corporate values include “risk-taking,” I was never asked to organize a team outing that included a restaurant meal. For many of my colleagues, venturing outside the Chili’s, Applebee’s, Olive Garden comfort zone was apparently too much of a risk. That’s not the case at the University of New Mexico where my new colleagues enjoy venturing away from the “usual suspects” and experiencing new culinary adventures. When asked to organize a retirement dinner for a beloved collegue, my choice was Matanza, a restaurant none of them had visited. Murphy’s Law reared its ugly head the minute we walked in when our server greeted us with news that the venting system wasn’t functioning and we’d be limited to ensaladas (salads), horno flat breads and some appetizers. Not to be deterred, our intrepid group made the best of a potentially bad situation and merrily ordered dishes we otherwise would have skipped over in favor of entrees.

For several of us, that meant horno flat breads, a lovosh-like thin pizza. Matanza offers five flat breads, each named for a different area of the city: The Nob Hill, The Old Town, The Valley, The West Side and The Heights. Whether or not the flat breads are intended to represent the personality of the areas they represent can be debated. What’s not up for debate is that they’re delicious. My choice was The Valley (crispy pork belly, chiffonade pear, candied Las Cruces pecans, poppy seed-dressed micro cilantro and goat cheese) which I ordered not because of any particular affinity for that part of town, but for the interplay of flavors. The chiffonade pear and candied pecans, for example, provided a sweet contrast to the slightly sour and wonderfully pungent goat cheese. The crispy pork belly provided the smokiness and flavor of thick bacon.

The Valley, an Horno Flat Bread from Matanza in Albuquerque

25 February 2016: Because their inaugural experience at Matanza had been so enjoyable, the team asked me to organize another event a few weeks later at “our table.” It surprised me to see how familiar some of them had become with the menu, the result of several visits (five by Louella and Chuck) on their own. With a full menu available to us, we cut a wide swathe through entrees theretofore untried. Three of us planned to compare notes on the bue corn duck tamales. Alas, Mr. Murphy determined to dampen my experience. When asked about my entrée, my tongue-in-cheek response was “these is the worse blue corn duck tamale I’ve ever had.” That’s because our server delivered black and blue label tacos (Kobe beef, melty bleu cheese crumbles, crispy onion strings and housemade New Mexico-style hot sauce) instead of the coveted tamale. Rather than send them back, I sought to enjoy them though when you’ve got your heart set on duck tamales, it wasn’t easy. There are several enjoyable elements to the tacos, but the Kobe beef wasn’t one of them. Kobe beef makes a great steak, but may be a bit too oleaginous for tacos.

Matanza, the restaurant, may become a tradition in much the way matanzas have been part and parcel of life in New Mexico for generations.

Matanza Beer Kitchen
3225 Central Avenue, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 312-7305
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 25 February 2016
1st VISIT: 25 October 2015
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 20
COST: $$
BEST BET: The Trifecta, Fideo Carbonara, Matanza Adovada, The Valley (Flatbread), Black & Blue Label Tacos, Calabasitas

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

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