Milly’s Restaurant – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Milly’s, a Journal Center area favorite

Until rather recently, if there was a wide diversity of opinion about Albuquerque’s restaurant scene, it wasn’t widely shared. Albuquerque’s two daily periodicals, the Albuquerque Journal and the Albuquerque Tribune as well as a number of alternative publications published weekly restaurant reviews, but opinions and observations expressed therein were rather one-sided. It wasn’t until about 2008 that crowd-sourced restaurant reviews really took off in the Duke City. Published in such online mediums as TripAdvisor (founded in 2000), Yelp (launched in 2004) and Urbanspoon (debuted in 2006), crowd-sourced review venues gave everyone an opportunity to become a “critic.” More than ever before “Joe and Jane Diner” had license to express rather colorful (sometimes bordering on libel) versions of their truth.

One of the predictable outcomes of this open, honest and direct culture became the wide swath of differing opinions. This illustrated how different people can have distinctly different perceptions—each a snapshot of time–of their experience at a restaurant. Reviews for some restaurants run the gamut with some reviewers extolling every aspect of their visit as “fabulous” while others lambaste every facet of their experience. It’s almost as if two different restaurants are being reviewed. The differences are sometimes so very pronounced that readers might be wise to recall the traditional story from India six blind men and an elephant.  Haven’t heard it?  It goes something like this:

Bowl of green chile stew

Six blind men were asked to determine what an elephant looked like by feeling different parts of the elephant’s body. The blind man who feels a leg says the elephant is like a pillar; the one who feels the tail says the elephant is like a rope; the one who feels the trunk says the elephant is like a tree branch; the one who feels the ear says the elephant is like a hand fan; the one who feels the belly says the elephant is like a wall; and the one who feels the tusk says the elephant is like a solid pipe. A king explains to them: All of you are right. The reason every one of you is telling it differently is because each one of you touched the different part of the elephant. So, actually the elephant has all the features you mentioned.

The analogy here is that six different visitors to the same restaurant might–depending on the date and time of their visit, which chef prepared the meal, what dishes were ordered, how attentive the wait staff was, and numerous other factors—have a different experience than other guests, making their perceptions their truth. Before joining my friend Elaine Briseno at Milly’s Restaurant in the Journal Center area, I consulted Yelp to read what others had to say. Despite one one-star rating (based largely on faulty air conditioning on the date of the visit) by one reviewer, Milly’s averaged a four-star rating over 21 reviews.

Ground beef enchiladas plate

Elaine and I shared a laugh over one five-star review which indicated “Gordon Ramsey would have an issue with Milly’s mostly because the cliental is mostly elderly folks. It is obviously not a “hip” go to restaurant for the younger crowed.” As we looked around, we espied a mostly young, energetic crowd of blue- and white-collar professionals with a small spattering of fifty-something executive types. Elaine, who frequents the restaurant, told me she’d never seen a lunch crowd of “mostly elderly folks” at Milly’s. Hmmm, perhaps the reviewer is a youthful sprig who might perceive us (or at least me) as among the elderly.

As for Milly’s not being a “hip go-to restaurant for the younger crowd,” we might concede that at least in terms of ambiance, Milly’s may not appeal to some Generation Zs (born from the mid-or-late 1990s to the 2010s). From a culinary perspective, however, it should appeal to anyone who enjoys good food at a reasonable price served by one of the friendliest, most attentive wait staffs in town. As a demographic cohort, Millie’s itself is a “Millennial,” having been launched in 1983. The label it prefers is “community-style” restaurant in that it appeals to people from all walks of like (and ostensibly all age ranges).

Turkey Crisp with Fries

The first Milly’s was established at 2100 Candelaria, N.E., with a location on Jefferson added later and a third currently in the planning stages. Milly’s is the brainchild of George Daskalos, a restaurant impresario who also co-owns Los Cuates. The restaurant, named his mother Milly, specializes in New Mexican, American and Greek food with a breakfast and lunch menu sure to please even the most discerning diners. That menu includes a number of salads, sandwich specialties, burgers, pastries and so much more. The tinkling of spoons as they stir the aromatic house coffee is almost melodic.

Elaine helped me navigate through the menu, pointing out the many dishes Milly’s does well. As is often the case the first time I visit a restaurant (and especially when caught up in great conversation with a friend), our smiling server had to return to our table three times before I was ready to order. Fortunately Elaine was savvy enough to order a bowl of green chile stew for us to share. Even if I didn’t like anything else, she was confident I’d love the green chile stew. Though described on the menu as a “seasonal” dish, it’s always on the menu according to our server.

There would be a raucous outcry if Milly’s ever removed it from the menu. Quite simply, it’s among the very best green chile stew in town, a fragrant elixir redolent with perfectly roasted green chile of medium piquancy. The green chile stew is flecked with tiny red shards, the genesis of which we surmised is roasted red chile whose flavor profile is even sweeter and fruitier than that of green chile. Replete with bite-sized chunks of pork, this olfactory-arousing stew luxuriates in a large bowl it shares with potatoes Goldilocks would find “just perfect” (not too soft, not too firm). Frankly “just perfect” is an apt descriptor for the entire dish.

Though listed on the menu as “Mexican” plates, several dishes are unmistakably New Mexican attitudinally (courtesy of New Mexico grown chile) and in the way they’re prepared. Both Elaine and our delightful server highly endorsed the beef enchilada plate (including pinto beans and Spanish rice) with red chile. Available either rolled or stacked (my preference), the enchiladas are engorged with ground beef and topped with a blanked of molten Cheddar. The red chile is relatively mild in its piquancy, but has a rich flavor that isn’t adulterated by cumin, Mexican oregano or other seasonings which tend to add astringent properties to chile. The beans are a poster child for how beans should be prepared while the Spanish rice is better than most. A pleasant addition to the plate are a number of crisp tostada chips formidable enough to scoop up the other components of the plate.

Over the years Milly’s has cemented its reputation as a source of sumptuous sandwiches, offering some fifteen specialty sandwiches. Elaine’s favorite is the Turkey Crisp (turkey, Jack cheese, bacon, chile, avocado, sprouts, lettuce and tomato on your choice of bread), a towering creation served with your choice of potato salad, fries, chips, coleslaw or for a pittance more, cottage cheese, fresh fruit, a cup of soup or a small salad. The recommended bread for this sandwich is rye. Great choice! The lightly toasted rye is an excellent canvas for a textural and ingredient-laden masterpiece. What makes this sandwich “crispy” is bacon and lots of it. The butteriness of the avocado and prominent roasted flavor of the green chile are a terrific foil for the moist roasted turkey.

Despite diversity of opinion, savvy diners over the years have agreed that Milly’s offers something for everyone, whether it be the “younger crowd” or the “elderly folks” like me.

Milly’s Restaurant
7308 Jefferson, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 345-9200
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 21 January 2016
COST: $$
BEST BET: Green Chile Stew, Enchilada Plate, Turkey Crisp

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

Perea’s Tijuana Bar & Restaurant – Corrales, New Mexico

Perea's Tijuana Bar in Corrales

Perea’s Tijuana Bar & Restaurant in Corrales

The curious appellation “Tijuana Bar” dates back to the 1920s when the 18th amendment to the Constitution established Prohibition in the United States during the period 1920 to 1933.  Because Prohibition forbade the sale of alcoholic beverages, many Americans got their alcohol illegally or they went to Mexico. Tijuana was a popular vacation and honeymoon destination and it happens to be where  Teofilo C. Perea, Sr. and his bride honeymooned in the 1920s.  The newlyweds visited a bar called the “Tijuana Bar” and decided then and there to use that name should they ever open a bar. Bureaucracy being what it is, once a license to dispense alcohol is issued, it’s very difficult to change the name on the license–hence Tijuana Bar.  It fits.

Housed in one of the oldest buildings in Corrales, a 200 year plus old structure constructed of “terrones” or thick slabs of earth rather than adobes, Perea’s Tijuana bar & Restaurant doesn’t subscribe to the notion that all food served in Corrales has to be of high-brow fru-fru variety. In fact, for outstanding home-cooked New Mexican food, Perea’s is one of a handful of restaurants vying for “best restaurant” in the Duke City area. In my humble opinion and that of Larry McGoldrick, the professor with the perspicacious palate, it is in rarefied company as one of the very best New Mexican restaurants not only in the Albuquerque area, but in the state.

John (at left) and T.C. Perea, the genial braintrust of Perea's Tijuana Bar & Restaurant.

John (at left) and the late T.C. Perea, current and former owners of Perea’s Tijuana Bar & Restaurant.

The operative word here is “home-cooked” as in prepared the old-fashioned way by members of the Perea family, a prominent Corrales presence for generations.  T.C., the affable family patriarch who took over the restaurant operation in 1968 tended the bar until his untimely passing on June 20th, 2012.  His genial son John continues to oversee the restaurant operation while either his charming wife Stella or his lovely mom prepares the traditional favorites which have made Perea’s a hugely popular dining destination.  For most of my eighteen years at Intel, Perea’s was a refuge, a sanctuary, a home-away-from home.

Old-fashioned doesn’t just apply to traditional home-cooking.  It’s part and parcel of the wonderful service provided to each and every guest.  The Perea family is a genuinely warm and friendly bunch.  Until September, 2005, perspicacious granddaughter Carina, an aspiring lawyer, waited on us during our every visit and became our favorite member of a genuinely warm and friendly family that makes each visit feel like a return home.  Carina is now a mom with a degree who visits the restaurant as often as living in Bend, Oregon will allow.

The lovely and talented Mayling Garcia bringing a green chile cheeseburger to our table. We've got the best seat in the house, by the fireplace.

The lovely and talented Mayling Garcia bringing a green chile cheeseburger to our table. We’ve got the best seat in the house, by the fireplace.

Fortuitously, the vivacious Mayling Garcia just happened to be looking for a job shortly after Carina’s departure and has now become a restaurant fixture, serving Perea’s faithful for a dozen years before striking out into the “real world.”  Thankfully she’s back at Perea’s where she’s practically family.  Mayling is a rare beauty in many ways, becoming one of only thirteen people (out of six billion) in the world to play the airmonica, an instrument invented by Benjamin Franklin.  Mayling’s Web site includes a video clip from her appearance on “America’s Got Talent.” 

Serving lunch from 11AM to 2PM Monday through Saturday, this charming one-story adobe bar and restaurant features red chile that isn’t just red food coloring like in most restaurants; it’s ground from chile pods, flakes of which are visible on your entrees.  The chile has bite without being acerbic, taste and bite without being overwhelmingly piquant (but has on occasion, been known to be hot enough to cause hiccups).  Its chile is consistently among the very best chile in the Albuquerque area with the red chile usually being hotter than the green, and even when it’s not especially piquant, it’s always delicious.

Chips and salsa at Perea's

Chips and salsa at Perea’s

16 January 2016:  The menu doesn’t list a lot of appetizers.  That makes good sense considering the entire menu covers only one laminated page and lists probably no more than twenty items in total.  Among available appetizers are the de rigueur chips and salsa, nachos and a cheese quesadilla served with salsa.  The salsa is terrific though not a complimentary offering.  It’s thick and rich, punctuated with piquant jalapeños.  The chips aren’t made on the premises, but they’re good chips–round, low-in-salt and formidable enough to hold up against Gil-sized scoops of salsa.

16 January 2016:  That salsa is part and parcel of another appetizer, the cheese quesadillas.  In an age when every sandwich-like dish seems to incorporate as many ingredients as possible, this quesadilla is engorged with nothing but melted, molten Cheddar cheese.  Nothing else (though you can add chopped tomatoes and lettuce if you’d like)!  A gigantic tortilla with a pinto pony char is sliced into five triangular wedges, each stuffed with gooey cheese.  The salsa is a perfect foil, offering piquancy and freshness to an otherwise savory Frisbee-sied masterpiece.

Cheese Quesadillas with Salsa

Perea’s serves the best Frito Pie in New Mexico!  Period!  End of story!  A generous portion of beans, seasoned ground beef, that wondrous red chile and of course, Fritos corn chips is big enough for two to share, but might lead to a tableside tiff if one of you manages to abscond with a larger share of this delicious bounty.  You can also have your Frito Pie made with carne adovada for an even more wonderful taste sensation. How many restaurants do you know that offer Frito pie “Christmas style” (with both red and green chile)?  Perea’s does and it’s a terrific way to have your Frito pie.  You can also top your Frito pie with onions and (or) sour cream. 

The very best Frito pie in New Mexico!

The very best Frito pie in New Mexico!

16 January 2016: The carne adovada plate features tender pork bathed in Perea’s red chile and served with beans and posole, an unbeatable combination.  My Kim, an adovada devotee swears Perea’s version competes with the carne adovada at La Choza and at Mary & Tito’s for best in New Mexico honors.  It’s a tender, shredded pork redolent with red chile flavor–pure porcine perfection for the discerning New Mexico diner.  Perea’s tops it with shredded Cheddar and my Kim enjoys it most with a fried egg or two.

Another coveted “best” (though a case could certainly be made for the legendary El Modelo) are Perea’s tamales which also feature that oh-so-tender shredded pork and just enough corn masa to ameliorate, not dominate the taste.  This delicious entree is also available Christmas style (with red and green chile) and with or without onions.  Each tamale is roughly four inches long and about half as thick.  As with the carne adovada, the tamales aren’t as piquant as other entrees at Perea’s.  The marinated pork has some bite, but moreover, it has the smooth flavor that characterizes great tamales.

Carne Adovada with a fried egg

16 January 2016: The green chile cheeseburger is one of the top ten of its kind in New Mexico (ergo the universe)–even though it was somehow left off the New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail.  It is roughly six inches in diameter and is always garnished with the freshest ingredients–mustard, lettuce, tomato and green chile.  It’s simplicity itself, but done exceptionally well.   One of its many fine qualities is just how moist the beef is; there’s obviously no spatula mashing with these patties.  Oh, and make sure you ask for a double-meat burger for twice the flavor.   This burger is accompanied by a bag of potato chips (no fries here).

Unique to this gem of a restaurant is an enchilada casserole–corn tortillas layered with chicken and green chile in a creamy sauce.  It is absolutely wonderful.  It’s the very first thing we had when we discovered Perea’s in 1996 and one of the entrees we order most often.  Enchilada casseroles are rarely found on menus in the Land of Enchantment’s wonderful New Mexican restaurants, but attend any high school graduation or funeral in Northern New Mexico and you’ll be served some of the best homemade enchilada casseroles you’ll ever have.  Perea’s is even better!

Green Chile Cheeseburger

Perea’s beef stew is a perfect remedy for a winter day doldrums (and is best consumed on the table nearest the restaurant’s wood-burning fireplace).  This is the type of stew that best defines comfort foods New Mexico style–with green chile.  Perea’s tortillas are thick and substantial, unlike the paper-thin aberrations offered at other restaurants.  The sopaipillas are puffy clouds of goodness just waiting for honey.  The salsa is fresh and lively (with a slightly sweet taste that complements the green chile), made with plump red tomatoes and the chips are served warm, my favorite combination. 

Many New Mexicans who hold fast to long-established traditions celebrate New Year’s eve with steaming bowls of posole, a hearty stew of pork, onion, garlic, chile and processed corn kernels.  Some (like me) feast on posole year-round.  Note: It’s a cardinal sin to say posole is synonymous with hominy.  While they’re both processed corns, hominy is unimaginative and soft while posole is earthy, robust and delicious.  At Perea’s posole is a seasonal offering available as a side with one of the plates.  It’s also available separately if you’re looking for lighter fare.  It’s some of the very best posole you’ll find anywhere.  You’ll agree it’s not just for Christmas eve.

Perea's tamales with beans and posole

Perea’s tamales with beans and posole

Perhaps because Americans are so used to foods which practically need desalinization, you will notice that Perea’s cuisine is somewhat under-salted.  To me, that’s a good thing because it allows salting to taste.  Too many New Mexican food restaurants salt their entrees in greater quantities than the blocks of salt given to cows. 

Stacked Enchiladas with Carne Adovada, Beans and Posole

Stacked Enchiladas with Carne Adovada, Beans and Posole

There’s no pretentiousness in the cordial, attentive service you receive at Perea’s.  The Perea family is down-to-earth and as friendly as can be.  Mayling is one of the very best waitresses in the state with no surcease to her talent or charm.  There’s nothing pretentious about the food either.  It’s just great New Mexican home cooking–the way it should be done!

Perea’s Tijuana Bar & Restaurant
4590 Corrales Road
Corrales, New Mexico
(505) 898-2442
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 16 January 2016
COST: $$
BEST BET: Green Chile Cheeseburger, Frito Pie, Enchilada Casserole, Green Chile Stew, Beef Enchiladas

Perea's Tijuana Bar on Urbanspoon

A & B Drive In – Truth or Consequences, New Mexico

A&B Drive in in Truth or Consequences

Michael Newman, the charismatic and ebullient host of New Mexico True Television and Melinda Frame, the show’s brilliant producer-director have the very best jobs in the world.  Though not expressly stated, their true job titles should be “Ambassadors for the Great State of New Mexico” because that’s what they really are.  Every Sunday (8:30AM on KOB-TV Channel 4), they showcase the Land of Enchantment in all its magnificent splendor and incomparable beauty.  With the flair of gifted raconteurs, they know just when narration is necessary and when it’s best to let spectacular backdrops tell the story.  New Mexico True’s thematic episodes truly feed the soul and capture the imagination.

In Season 3 (Episode 4: El Camino Real Part I), the New Mexico True cast (really just Michael) and crew  spent time in Truth or Consequences, but saved any time they may have spent indulging in the city’s salubrious thermal waters (reputed to cure “anything that ails you”) for another episode.  Because New Mexico True also celebrates the Land of Enchantment’s bold flavors and culinary culture, the focus of the T or C segment was on one of the city’s most popular eateries.  Within easy walking district of the spas and bathhouses, the A & B Drive-In is not to be missed.

Place your Order at the Window

If you’re of the mind that drive-ins are anachronisms, chronological misplacements in a time to which they don’t belong, you haven’t been to the A & B at meal time.  That’s when you’ll find motorized conveyances of all types and sizes parked under metal canopies.  The experience is described by one Yelp reviewer as right out of American Graffiti, the coming-of-age movie in which teens spent much of their free time at a drive-in similar to A & B.  After you park your vehicle, you’ll walk up to a window at which you’ll place your order (the menu takes up an entire window panel) then you’ll wait for your name to be called.  You can either eat in your vehicle or on one of the picnic tables provided.

When Michael walked up to the window, he ordered a green chile cheeseburger and fries.  In his warm, casual style, he also did much of my research for me, discovering that the drive-in was named for Anthony (A) and Barbara (B), offspring of the drive-ins founders.  The drive-in was started because the siblings’ mother’s loves to cook.  Her dream was to feed her guests and have them enjoy their experience.  In that regard, the A & B is a dream-come-true.  The drive-in remains a family-owned, family-operated venture.

Green Apple Hawaiian Shaved Ice and Chocolate Shake

Though we didn’t get to meet Barbara as Michael did, the employee taking our order shared in our enthusiasm for New Mexico True having highlighted the drive-in.  She recommended the New Mexican food (burritos, tacos, tostadas, flautas, enchiladas, etc.), all of which are prepared with cumin.  The menu also includes several burgers, hot dogs, sandwiches and even gizzards.  Likely because of balmy summer temperatures, Hawaiian shaved ice is also featured fare.

The Hawaiian shaved ice (green apple) is a coarse, granular ice concoction texturally similar to a snow cone.  Similar to a snow cone, much of the “flavoring” tends to settle near the bottom which means chewing on rather flavorless ice for a while.  Much better is the chocolate shake which can be made to your exacting specifications for thickness.  It’s a chocolaty delight made with real (and really cold) ice cream.

Double Green Chile Cheeseburger with Fries

For the most part, I live vicariously through Michael whose daring exploits on New Mexico True show a much more fit, athletic and daring man than this geriatrically advanced blogger.  Though I can’t hope to duplicate his exploits in biking, running and square-dancing, I, as he did, ordered a double meat green chile cheeseburger at A & B.  You know it’s going to be a great burger when thick beef patties extend beyond the five-inch buns and when those buns practically collapse when you squash the burger down so you can get it in your mouth.  This is an excellent burger–moist, well-seasoned, dressed with fresh ingredients and skyscraper tall.  If we didn’t know better, we might have thought we were in Socorro county, New Mexico’s epicenter for behemoth burgers.

A & B’s version of a green chile Philly is a good one.  It could be a great one with a better sandwich roll.  The chopped steak, peppers and green chile work very well together, but they’re nestled in a bread home that just doesn’t cut it.  Dry and chewy, it detracts from ingredients that are otherwise moist and delicious.  My Kim took to extricating the ingredients from the bread with a fork and cutting up the bread for some birds nearby.

Green Chile Philly

The A & B Drive-In remains open longer during the day than other restaurants in Truth or Consequences, but that doesn’t account for its popularity.  It’s a solid dining option with genuinely good food and one of the best green chile cheeseburgers in southern New Mexico.

A & B Drive In
211 North Broadway Street
Truth or Consequences, New Mexico
(575) 894-9294
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 21 December 2015
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Double Meat Green Chile Cheeseburger, Green Chile Philly, Chocolate Shake

A & B Drive In Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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