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Teofilo’s Restaurante – Los Lunas, New Mexico

Teofilo’s Restaurante on Main Street in Los Lunas

Several years ago award-winning Albuquerque Journal columnist Leslie Linthicum (since retired) penned a wonderfully evocative column entitled “Spanish Names Fade into History.”  Leslie observed that if you frequent the obituaries, especially those published on the Journal North and Journal Santa Fe, you may have observed  and lamented the passing of another great Spanish name.   The lyrical names with which the scions of Coronado were christened–Leocaida, Elfido, Trinidad, Pacomio, Seralia, Evilia, Amadea, Aureliano and others– have become increasingly rare in the Land of Enchantment. 

Leslie noted that “just about every day in New Mexico, another great old Spanish name passes on as a family loses a viejo.”   Former state historian Estevan Rael-Gálvez believes the disfavor which has befallen once-honored given names can largely be attributed to  “the stigma against the use of the Spanish language, which stretched from the 1940s into the 1980s.”   It’s a shameful stigma that “extended into many families as they welcomed babies into the world.”

Salsa and Chips

Today, instead of bestowing their children with such culturally-rooted names as Prudencio, Malya, Natividad, Onofre, Celso, Andreita, Ramoncita and Piedad, young New Mexican parents tend to favor more “homogeneous” names as Noah, Elijah, Jacob, Aiden, Daniel, Jayden, Josiah, Ethan and Michael for boys and Sophia, Emma, Isabella, Olivia, Emily, Sofia, Ariana, Ava and Abigail for girls. According to the state Bureau of Vital Records and Health Statistics, in 2014, the most popular names for newborns in New Mexico were Liam for boys and Mia for girls followed by the aforementioned names. Coronado would not recognize these names.

Having grown up daily hearing the mellifluous and traditional Spanish names of a bygone era, I can now appreciate their distinctively melodic qualities and like Leslie, mourn the passing of friends, relatives and strangers alike who brought honor to those names.  It makes me cringe when young Hispanos mispronounce (butcher would be a more appropriate term) names those of my generation hold sacrosanct.  Because their own parents were taught to eschew Spanish, it’s entirely inappropriate to blame young Hispanos for any linguistic malapropisms.

Breakfast Quesadilla (Cheddar-Jack Cheese, Avocado, Bacon) with Papitas

Leslie recalls the appropriate recitation of these names by former state historian Estevan Rael-Gálvez as “somewhere between a poem and a lullaby.”  Were she to visit Teofilo’s Restaurante in Los Lunas, Leslie would probably first celebrate the perpetuation of a time-honored, traditional Spanish name on the restaurant’s marquee.  She would probably then shudder the first and subsequent times she heard a server answer the phone “Tio Philo’s.”   Servers aren’t the only ones employing this aberrant mispronunciation, but even more than their customers, they darned well should know better. 

That not everyone in the village of Los Lunas can correctly pronounce the name Teofilo is probably attributable to the fact everyone calls Pete “Teofilo” Torrez, Jr. by his first name.  Everyone in Valencia county pronounces the Torrez name correctly and with a bit of reverence.   To put it mildly, the dynastic Torrez family is restaurant royalty in Valencia County. In 1949, Pete Jr.’s father and mother Elijia (another melodic New Mexican name) founded the legendary Pete’s Café in Belen, which (ask Arnold Schwarzenegger) is still going strong.  In 1986, Pete, Jr., and his wife Hortencia (more music to my ears) launched Teofilo’s in Los Lunas. 

T’s Huevos in a Bowl (Blue Corn Tortilla topped with papitas, T’s red chile carne adovada, two over-medium eggs, chile, Cheddar-Jack cheese piled high in a bowl

Teofilo’s is situated on Main Street where it faces the historic Luna Mansion which Pete, Jr. purchased in 2009.  Both are historic properties.  The venerable complex which houses Teofilo’s dates from 1913.  It was built for Doctor W.F. Wittwer who was enticed to stay in Los Lunas for the princely sum of fifty dollars per month.  The distinctively old New Mexican architectural design showcases period-specific architecture, including terron (thick slabs of earth rather than adobes) walls and a high-pitched, corrugated tin roof. 

Step into Teofilo’s and you’re not only walking into history, you’re walking into a warm and beckoning interior with period pieces throughout.  It’s akin to walking into someone’s home and in a very real sense, you are.  The small waiting room, which is often standing room only, includes a number of black-and-white photos of Doctor Wittwer and his family.  There are a number of small dining rooms, the most popular of which is probably the enclosed porch area where historic artwork festoons the wall.  The east-facing windows let in both heat and sunlight.

Red Chile Carne Adovada on Blue Corn Tortillas with refritos and arroz

You’ll also find plenty of heat on the salsa.  The salsa is a rich red jalapeno-based salsa with as much heat as it has flavor. Your first serving of salsa is complementary. After that there’s a small charge. Freshness, flavor, piquancy and a little bit of smokiness are hallmarks of the very best salsas and this one ranks near the very top. Aside from jalapenos, you’ll discern the boldness of chopped onions and fresh cilantro. The chips are over-sized and delicious with little salt to get in the way of your taste buds enjoying them with a scoopful of the salsa.

Rather than lamenting Sunday as the day preceding the start of a new workweek, savvy diners in Los Lunas and beyond celebrate Sunday as the day in which Teofilo’s offers a Sunday breakfast menu unlike any in the area. Available only from 9AM until 2PM, this is a Sunday breakfast the good doctor would have ordered. Start with a breakfast quesadilla (Cheddar-Jack cheese, avocado and bacon) with a side of papitas. It’s not only a good way to obtain another portion of salsa, it’s a way to treat yourself to as good a quesadilla as you’ll find anywhere. You’ll love the way the buttery richness of the sliced avocadoes, sharpness of the Cheddar and smokiness of the bacon nestled within a grilled flour tortilla all combine to form an eye-opening, mouth-watering flavor combination. The lightly-sheened papitas are thinly sliced and are fried to perfection.

Flawless Sopaipillas

If the breakfast quesadilla doesn’t have you praying for Sunday, T’s Huevos in a Bowl (blue corn tortilla topped with papitas, T’s red chile carne adovada, two over-medium eggs, chile, Cheddar-Jack cheese piled high in a bowl) certainly will. At first glance, T’s Huevos in a Bowl might appear to be a gloppy, cheesy mess, but as your fork peels back layer-upon-layer of concordant flavors, you won’t care what it looks like. To your taste buds, this is a masterpiece, a convergence of ingredients that complement one another very well. The carne adovada is among the very best in New Mexico. It’s silky smooth porcine perfection marinated slowly in a superb red chile. The blue corn tortilla has a sweet, nutty flavor that plays off the sharpness of the cheese very well.

For many of us, enchiladas are the benchmark we use to measure just how good a New Mexican restaurant is. While they may appear rather simple in their construction, when you consider the vast diversity of ingredients with which they can be created, enchiladas can be a rather complex dish. Teofilo’s creates enchilada plates from which dreams are made. Picture a blue corn tortilla canvas topped with carne adovada and a fried egg over-easy slathered with a rich red chile and served with sides of refritos and arroz. Quite simply, Teofilo’s enchiladas are poster child quality, as good as they can be made. “As good as it can be made” aptly describes the red chile which may tempt you to lick the plate so as not to leave any behind.

Award-winning Natillas

Sopaipillas are, very often, the way most meals at New Mexican restaurants end. Most of the time, it would be criminal to consume anything after reveling in the hot, puffy pillows of dough. Doing so is generally anti-climatic. As wonderful as the sopaipillas are at Teofilo’s, you’re forgiven if you choose to indulge in one of the rich, delicious desserts. For many diners, a meal at Teofilo’s wouldn’t be complete without finishing it off with natillas. In its “Best of the City” issue for 2008, Albuquerque The Magazine named them the “best natillas,” indicating they’re “worth driving for.” These rich, creamy, cinnamon custard delights are absolutely addictive.

If there’s one dessert which may top (yes, it’s blasphemy, I know) the natillas, it’s Teofilo’s Toledo Crème Cake, a three-layer coconut-buttermilk cake studded with pecans and thick, rich cream cheese frosting. Served Fred Flintstone slab-sized, it’s an addictively rich, calorific indulgence you’ll have to share and even so, will probably take much of it home with you. This is the type of cake few restaurants endeavor to prepare and serve any more.   Lucky for all of us, Teofilo’s isn’t like other restaurants.

Toledo Creme cake (three-layer buttermilk, pecan, coconut cake layered with cream cheese frosting)

While so many mellifluous New Mexican names are going by the wayside, we’re comforted in knowing that wonderful family restaurants such as Teofilo’s continue to prepare and serve the traditional foods of New Mexico the way they’ve been prepared for generations.  Teofilo’s is a Land of Enchantment classic!

Teofilo’s Restaurante
144 Main Street
Los Lunas, New Mexico
(505) 865-5511
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 15 March 2015
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 23
COST: $$
BEST BET: Natillas, Toledo Creme Cake, Blue Corn Enchiladas, T’s Huevos in a Bowl, Sopaipillas, Breakfast Quesadilla, Chips and Salsa

Teofilos Restaurante on Urbanspoon

Ortega’s New Mexican Restaurant – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Ortega’s Mexican Restaurant on Wyoming just north of Comanche

If you were raised in New Mexico  thirty or more years ago, chances are you weren’t raised on the healthiest of diets.  New Mexican food, while incomparably delicious, isn’t exactly a dietician’s dream.  Even our beloved frijoles, the healthiest of carbohydrates, were prepared in lard…and many of our dishes which weren’t prepared with lard, had enough cheese to keep Wisconsin fiscally afloat.  It’s no wonder the Land of Enchantment’s population is rife with caloric overachievers.

You’ll forgive those of us who survived such overindulgence to somehow reach middle age if we’re skeptical when a New Mexican restaurant boasts that “you don’t have to be health conscious – because we already are!”  To support that contention, Ortega’s New Mexican Restaurant in Albuquerque:

  • uses only all-vegetable oil in their fryers and food preparation,
  • serves whole wheat sopaipillas with every meal, 
  • doesn’t use MSG or any other food preservatives,
  • offers all its sauces and dressings on-the-side,
  • serves whole beans, not mashed–or refried,
  • prepares its food fresh daily.

View from dining room at Ortega’s

Reading all of this, we’re even more skeptical of Ortega’s claim that “our food tastes as good as (if not better than) homemade.”  Better than homemade?  That an audacious, if not heretical, claim.  The proof, as it’s long been said, is in the eating.  A lot of Duke City diners have been eating at Ortega’s for the entirety of its twenty-seven years.  For many of them, it truly is a home away from home.  Yelp reviews are replete with four- and five-star ratings while 88 percent of Urbanspoon reviewers like it. 

As Ortega’s approaches its third decade, this venerable restaurant is understandably showing some signs of age.  The wall paneling is a bit dated and there’s a little wear and tear on the furniture, but that only adds to the restaurant’s charm.   Besides, even if the ambiance is a bit of an anachronism, Ortega’s menu has more than kept up with the times.  In fact, the menu at this beloved local favorite offers some items you probably won’t find at any other New Mexican restaurant in town.

Salsa and Chips

While every New Mexican restaurant in town will gladly top your chile relleno with either red or green chile, to my knowledge, Ortega’s is the only restaurant which will stuff a roasted red chile, in-season, of course.  Ortega’s will also stuff your sopaipillas or prepare your enchiladas with a barbecue quality brisket.  Then there’s the Nachos Grande (fresh tostada chips topped with beans, seasoned beef and melted cheddar cheese along with guacamole, sour cream and pico de gallo) which were named among the Duke City’s best by Albuquerque the Magazine

The tostada chips which form the base for those award-winning nachos are served with your complimentary first bowl of salsa.  You’ll be charged a pittance for additional bowls.  The salsa (tomatoes, garlic, onions, cilantro) is very good, albeit not especially piquant.  It pairs very well with the large, thick, formidable chips which are only lightly salted.  Should you order a la carte tacos, they come with a small ramekin of salsa, enough for any remaining chips you may have.

Beef Fajitas

The Spanish rice and red chile (including carne adovada) are made with cumin.  For those of us who would rather our chile not include this distinctively aromatic spice (trying to be nice here), it’s a great excuse to order Ortega’s green chile or to indulge in something sans chile.  Fortunately there are many alternative options on a very interesting and inviting menu.

One of those alternatives is fajitas, marinated chicken tenders or beef strips served sizzling over a bed of sautéed onions and peppers and served with fresh guacamole, shredded cheese, sour cream and pico de gallo on the side along with four warm flour tortillas.  The menu describes these fajitas as “que bueno” or “that’s good.”  You’ll be echoing that sentiment.  The beef strips are grilled to a tender consistency permeated by a pleasant smokiness.  The onions are grilled to a pearlescent sheen and impart sweet notes that contrast the sharp cheese and richness of the sour cream.  Add Ortega’s to the short list of New Mexican restaurants which serve very good fajitas.

Stuffed Sopaipillas with Beef Brisket and Green Chile

Ortega’s stuffed sopaipillas can be tailored to your exacting tastes.  You can have them stuffed with shredded beef, carne adovada, beef and beans, all beef or all chicken, carne adovada or brisket.  That’s a lot of variety.  Alas, if you order your sopaipillas stuffed with brisket, you’re likely to order it again and again.  This is excellent brisket, maybe even barbecue-quality brisket.  We all know brisket is one of the least tender (or toughest, if you prefer) cuts of beef, but it can be made tender.  It’s worth the investment of time Ortega’s takes to braise (similar to a pot roast) a very tender, very delicious brisket.  Top it with green chile and melted, shredded cheese and you’ve got a real winner.  The accompanying whole beans and potatoes are also quite good. 

If for no other reason than an additional portion of salsa, you should order an a la carte taco or six.  So good, in fact, they don’t even need the salsa.  Crispy hard-shelled corn tortillas are engorged with ground beef, lettuce, shredded cheese and chopped tomatoes.  Clear out some of the excess lettuce and make room for the salsa, but not until you try it sans salsa so you can appreciate the nicely seasoned ground beef.

Two A la Carte Tacos

Ortega’s gives its guests the choice of having their whole wheat sopaipillas with their meal or afterwards as a dessert.  They then prepare them to order.  Regardless of when you choose to enjoy them, you’ll want to indulge while wisps of steam reach towards the heavens when you puncture the pillowy dough.  The differences between whole wheat sopaipillas and traditional flour-shortening variety are discernible just as the differences between whole wheat bread and standard white bread are discernible.  These sopaipillas are quite good, probably too good for the honey flavored syrup with which they’re served. 

Ortega’s is the first New Mexican restaurant in which I truly enjoyed natillas, the custard-like dessert made from milk, sugar and eggs cooked together, whipped and chilled until the consistency becomes thick and creamy.  There are two readily apparent qualities which distinguish Ortega’s natillas from the rest.  The first is the “bowl” in which they’re served–a fried tortilla shell generously sprinkled with cinnamon.  The second is the “egginess” of the dish, indicative of the whipped and separated egg yolks used to create this delicious dessert. The natillas are so rich, you wouldn’t mind sharing them.

Natillas

Another hallmark of the Ortega’s dining experience is the convivial service.  Servers are friendly and attentive, many of them on a first-name basis with regulars.  The excellent service is a reflection of owner Rudy Ortega’s customer orientation.  Rudy is a peripatetic presence at his restaurant and even when he’s not there, his staff will treat you very well. 

Oh, and those “healthy” qualities Ortega’s touts, you probably won’t notice much of a difference as you’ll be too busy enjoying every morsel of your meal.

Ortega’s New Mexican Restaurant
3617 Wyoming Blvd, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 298-0223
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 7 March 2015
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 19
COST: $$
BEST BET: Fajitas, Beef Brisket Stuffed Sopaipillas, Salsa and Chips, Natillas, Tacos

Ortegas on Urbanspoon

Loyola’s Family Restaurant – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Loyola’s Family Restaurant on Central Avenue just East of Washington

You might think that the etymology of the name Loyola has always been tied to the quality of being loyal and faithful. Instead, the name has its genesis in a Basque term meaning “mud” and only over time did the name come to represent the honorable qualities of loyalty and faithfulness.  When it comes to Loyola’s Family Restaurant on Central Avenue in Albuquerque,  an association with those qualities just makes sense.  Not only are Duke City diners loyal to this expansive restaurant on the eastern fringes of Nob Hill, that loyalty is reciprocated by the restaurant’s staff and ownership.  A framed placard on one wall proclaims “Mi restaurante es su casa” (my restaurant is your home) and the staff will do its darnedest to make you feel that way.

Loyola’s Family Restaurant is an anachronism, a throw-back to the days when Route 66 (now Central Avenue) bisected Albuquerque, then a more intimate, close-knit city. In some ways Loyola’s is a relic because its genuinely friendly service and wholesome food truly elicits return visits and the type of patron loyalty that has all but evaporated with the onslaught of corporate chains. Loyola’s is the type of restaurant where your coffee (Farmer Brothers) is never allowed to cool down too much because faithful servers replenish it at about the time your cup is half full. That’s how attentive the wait staff is, but their secret is being attentive and personable without being intrusive and hovering.

One of Loyola’s Capacious Dining Rooms

The familial feel of Loyola’s Family Restaurant is a tradition established by founding owner Loyola Baca for whom the restaurant is named.  Loyola launched her eponymous home away from home in 1990 and quickly earned a faithful following attributable as much to her buoyant, outgoing nature as to the restaurant’s menu of New Mexican and American comfort foods.  When Loyola passed away just as 2010 was dawning, she left a legacy of happy, satisfied and well-fed guests. 

That legacy and the homey feel she sowed continues to this day courtesy of Loyola’s daughter Sarah Baca.  During a visit in 2015, I asked her what the secret to Loyala’s addictive green chile was.  She answered just as her mom would have, sharing with me the secret to their chile: “love.”  It’s an ingredient Loyola’s uses on all the ambitious menu’s offerings.  The menu has something for everybody–from American comfort foods such as pork chops (delicious), fried chicken and roast beef to hamburgers, sandwiches, New Mexican entrees and wake-you-up breakfast offerings known by faithful throngs to be among the Duke City’s very best.

Chips, salsa and faithfully replenished Farmers’ Brothers Coffee

Loyola’s salsa is a bona fide hot sauce with a sunset red-orange hue, a pleasant piquancy and addictive properties aplenty courtesy of the capsaicin-caused endorphin rush that salsa engenders with every bite.  It’s just a bit on the salty side so you’ll be grateful that the thin, crispy chips are low salt.  Your first portion of chips and salsa are gratis when you order off the New Mexican Favorites menu, but if you don’t order from that menu, it’s worth splurging.

Tom’s special burrito certainly earns its sobriquet. It’s a flour tortilla engorged with roast beef, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, sour cream and topped with Cheddar cheese and red or green chile (get both).  It’s among the best burritos in town. The red chile has a New Mexico sunset red/orange hue and while not particularly piquant has a memorable taste leaving you wanting another dosage. If piquant is what you’re after, a better choice is the breakfast burrito covered generously with a green chile sauce that has an endorphin stimulating heat you’ll love. 

Tom’s Special Burrito

American breakfast favorites include a pork chop and eggs combination that appears to be among the most popular order choices. You can request the eggs any way you want them and invariably, they’re prepared just the way you order them. The pork chops are thinly cut, but meaty and delicious. Loyola’s pancake short-stack is also top tier, among the very best in the city.

An intriguing menu, delicious food, great service–these are the legacy of Loyola Baca and these are the things that make Loyola’s patrons loyal in return.

Loyola’s Family Restaurant
4500 Central, S.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 268-6478
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 04 March 2015
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 19
COST: $$
BEST BET: Tom’s Special Burrito, Pork Chops, Breakfast Burrito, Salsa and Chips, Coffee

Loyola's Family on Urbanspoon