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.”

One of the capacious dining rooms at Teofilo’s

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.

Salsa and Chips

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

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. 

Guacamole and Chips

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” Torres, Jr. by his first name.  Everyone in Valencia county pronounces the Torres name correctly and with a bit of reverence.   To put it mildly, the dynastic Torres 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

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, among the very best in New Mexico.  Aside from jalapenos, you’ll discern the boldness of chopped onions, fresh cilantro and naturally sweet and absolutely delicious crushed tomatoes. 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.

15 March 2015: 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.

Chile Rellenos

15 March 2015: 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. 

26 April 2015: In Old Mexico, mention chiles rellenos and the likely reply will probably be “Que rico!, a lustful expression declaring how very good chiles rellenos are.  New Mexicans aren’t quite as expressive about our chiles rellenos, but we love them no less.  Perhaps we’d be more prone to rhapsodizing enthusiastically if all chiles rellenos were as wonderful as those served at Teofilo’s.  These chiles rellenos are in rarefied company in a small pantheon of great New Mexican chiles rellenos.  At first glance, the coating around the New Mexico green chile stuffed with cheese might have you thinking Panko breadcrumbs, but one bite will confirm they’re not nearly that grainy textured.  They also retain their integrity at the press of a fork.  Each forkful rewards you with chile, cheese and the wondrous sheathing around the rellenos, not some crumbly mess.  Not all chiles rellenos are created equal; these are among the very best!

Stuffed Sopaipillas with Ground Beef and Refritos

15 March 2015: 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. 

20 December 2017:  No less mellifluous than the aforementioned Spanish names is the name Johnnah, daughter of Hortencia and Teofilo Torres, owners of this legendary restaurant.  We had the pleasure of meeting Johnnah during our December, 2017 visit and found her to be as charming and beautiful as her name.  She could be a restaurant critic if she wanted.  While I would have struggled to find the best descriptor for the enchiladas dish on our table, she described them as “meaty,” ironic but wholly accurate though those enchiladas were stuffed with quelites (lamb’s quarters) and topped with a superb mushroom green chile.  They were “meaty” tasting and absolutely delicious.  The mushroom green chile is transformative…so much so that the quelites enchiladas topped with mushroom green chile made it to my “best of the best for 2017” list.

Sopaipillas

26 April 2015: Because the sopaipillas at Teofilo’s are so good with honey, it stands to reason they’d be just as good in the form of stuffed sopaipillas.  If anything, the stuffed sopaipillas are even better, especially if they’re engorged with ground beef and refritos then slathered in rich, red chile and blanketed in molten shredded Cheddar.  As with every entree at Teofilo’s, a case could easily be made for these being among, if not the very best stuffed sopaipillas in New Mexico.  They’re also served piping hot, a serving style every New Mexican restaurant should emulate.

Award-Winning Natillas

15 March 2015: 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.

15 March 2015: 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

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 | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 20 December 2017
# OF VISITS: 6
RATING: 24
COST: $$
BEST BET: Natillas, Toledo Creme Cake, Blue Corn Enchiladas, T’s Huevos in a Bowl, Sopaipillas, Breakfast Quesadilla, Chips and Salsa, Chile Rellenos, Stuffed Sopaipillas, Guacamole and Chips

Teofilos Restaurante Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Chile Time Restaurant – Albuquerque, New Mexico

The Chile Time Restaurant in the Scottsdale Village Shopping Center

“For everything there is a season,
    a time for every activity under heaven.
A time to be born and a time to die.
    A time to plant and a time to harvest.”
~Ecclesiastes 3

Autumn in New Mexico is indisputably chile time.  The high mountain air is at its most crisp and salubrious.  Foliage is adorned in a vibrant panoply of color. Magnificent cottonwoods and aspens gleam in the evening sun like the fabled cities of gold sought by Spanish explorers. Hazy smoke plumes waft upward from giant rotating drums.  These irresistible smoke signals beckon hungry masses to roadside stands where flame-licked chile tumbles in steel-meshed drums.  Those chiles blister then seem to hiss and spit in protest as their skins blacken, leaving their fleshy insides intact and imbued with an intoxicating aroma and addictive flavor. 

Winter in New Mexico is indisputably chile time.  The salient aromas of piñon burn in kiva fireplaces, perfuming a night air swathed in a canopy of stars.  Glowing rows of farolitos perched on adobe-hued rooftops and sidewalks light the way for the Christ child.  Glissading down precipitous mountain slopes during the day gives way to sedentary evenings in the company of friends and family.  This is when the hours spent peeling freshly-roasted chile pays off.  Our bounty showcases soul-warming green chile stew and enchiladas with enough heat to temper the cold air.

Salsa and Chips

Spring in New Mexico is indisputably chile time.  Spring is the season of reawakening and new beginnings–the blooming of fresh buds, animals leaving their dens after a long winter’s nap, farmers and gardeners planting seeds and tending to them lovingly.  For generations, family farmers have risen with the sun then toiled past sunset, lovingly tending to fertile acreage which will yield the sacrosanct red and green chile so very beloved throughout the Land of Enchantment.  Grown across the state for at least four centuries, chile is the one ingredient which distinguishes New Mexican cuisine from that of any other state across the fruited plain.

Summer in New Mexico is indisputably chile time.  Abundant sunshine, intense heat and fecund fields irrigated by the Rio Grande and its tributaries are nature’s blessings; assertive monsoon seasons, pests and blights its banes.   The distinctive pungency, sweetness, flavor, and piquancy of chile are fashioned in summer.  Across the state, the freezers which once held large caches of green chile apportioned in baggies, have seen their chile stashes depleting rapidly.  Autumn can’t return soon enough so we can replenish our chile supply.  It’s an yearly cycle, a ritual we eagerly repeat because in New Mexico, every season is chile time.

Carne Adovada Enchiladas

My friend Steve from my days at Kirtland Air Force Base never invited me for lunch though we dined together frequently.  He’d come into my office and in his best Ben Grimm impression would growl “It’s chile time!”  For a Maryland transplant, he sure loved chile–the hotter, the better.   He would have loved the Chile Time Restaurant, not only because his “it’s chile time” declaration also answered the question “where should we go for chile,” but because the kitchen staff knows what it’s doing with red and green chile.  The kitchen staff, it turns out, is the one-man whirling dervish named Mick whose other restaurant, Mick’s Chile Fix is a long-time Duke City favorite.

Located in the Scottsdale Village Shopping Center in the space which previously housed the Karibu Cafe, the Chile Time Restaurant opened its doors in September, 2017.  My inaugural visit two months later evoked a feeling of déjà vu upon espying Dave Sweis, a long-time server at Mick’s.  I couldn’t place where I’d see him before until Mick peeked out from the kitchen to survey the Black Friday breakfast crowd.   There’s comfort in knowing what to expect.  What you can expect from Chile Time is hearty portions of New Mexican favorites, breakfast served any time of day and behemoth burgers. 

You can also expect the salsa to be the most piquant item on the menu.  The salsa and chips are right-priced.  They’re complimentary, but so good you wouldn’t mind paying for them.  Piquancy isn’t the salsa’s sole redeeming quality.  It’s fresh, lively and delicious–the type of salsa you’ll need replenished at least once. The chips are crisp, low in salt and probably better for dipping than scooping (my preference). If, like me, you like heat with heat, enjoy a cup of coffee (or six) with the salsa. Hot coffee has the unique ability to enhance the piquancy of chile.   Dave will refill your cup faithfully. 

The trite phrase “have it your way” has long been associated with Burger King, but at Chile Time, “have it your way” applies to enchiladas, too.  Enchiladas are made with yellow corn tortillas and your choice of seasoned ground beef, chicken or carne adovada and they’re made flat or rolled.  That endearing fact means they’re made to order, not prepared en masse and waiting to be apportioned from a large casserole dish.   Then there are the egg choices: one or two, over easy, over medium or over hard.  The carne adovada is mild and mellow, as smooth and tender as any in Albuquerque.  Tender tendrils of red chile marinated pork are smothered in melted shredded chile and layered in between corn tortillas.  The enchiladas are served with refried beans and Spanish rice.

Because any time, every time and all the time are chile time, the Chile Time Restaurant promises to please discerning palates needing their chile fix.

Chile Time Restaurant
3107 Eubank Blvd, N.E., Suite 12
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 237-8463
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 24 November 2017
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Enchiladas, Salsa and Chips

Chile Time Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Las Ristras Restaurant – Corrales, New Mexico

Las Ristras Restaurant: Comedor de Corrales

Based on interviews conducted with Hollywood luminaries who’ve starred in movies or television shows shot in New Mexico, you might think our state either doesn’t have a symbol of hospitality or that symbol is something as poorly representative of the Land of Enchantment as crack (Josh Brolin), tire stores (Jonathan Banks), shirtless drivers (Seth McFarlane), Walmart (Jessica Alba) or loudness (Tommy Lee Jones).   With all the tax breaks and enticements afforded film production companies, shouldn’t its most visible beneficiaries at least have something nice to say about New Mexico?

While New Mexico doesn’t have an official (as in legislatively decreed) symbol of hospitality, most of us recognize a ristra hanging on a doorway as an invitation to visitors, ergo a symbol of hospitality. It’s as much a symbol of hospitality as the pineapple is in Hawaii and the fleur de lis is in Louisiana. Moreover, the ristra has come to represent the state of New Mexico, maybe not quite as much as the Zia sun, but to a large extent. Now, if you want your texts to reflect New Mexico hospitality, download an app called “New Mexico Emojis” for your iPhone or iPad. Among the emojis you can add to your texts is one depicting a bright red ristra.

Chips and Salsa

In Spanish, “ristra” actually means string.  “Chile ristra” then translates into “a string of chiles.”   While the chile ristra has utilitarian roots (chiles being strung together by their stems and hung on walls to dry in the sun), it’s possible decorative ristras fashioned from ceramic, fabric, plastic, and plaster mold are almost as common as actual chile ristras.  Traditionalists appreciate the decorative qualities of the chile ristra, but ultimately will use them as they’ve been used for generations–for cooking and eating.

Because of the esteem with which the chile ristra is held throughout New Mexico, the expectations for a restaurant calling itself Las Ristras are high.  That name brings with it the promise of hospitality and good food showcasing chile.   Las Ristras opened its doors in August, 2015 at the site which scant weeks earlier was home to The Spot.  The restaurant was the brainchild of Corrales resident Ginger Hunter, a fourth generation Corralenia who in 2015 was awarded a Civic Recognition Award in recognition of “acts of compassion and kindness.”  Doesn’t that just bode of hospitality?

Baked Queso Fresco Topped with Chorizo

At its onset, the featured fare at Las Ristras was New Mexican cuisine—most of the “usual suspects” with a few creative touches added for good measure. Las Ristras made an impact on my friend Larry McGoldrick, the professor with the perspicacious palate who gave it the “McGoldrick stamp of approval: “What I like about Las Ristras is that it is not a clone of the many dozens of cookie-cutter NM restaurants. The food is homemade and I feel like I’m eating (and conversing) in Ginger’s kitchen. This is simple food lovingly prepared.” Alas, not everyone shared the same opinion with Yelp and Zomato critics casting dissenting opinions. 

By year’s end, ownership of Las Ristras had transitioned to Chef Jude Sanchez, a Corrales native (and Cibola graduate) who had returned home after cutting a wide swath across some of the best kitchens in Chicago and New York. One of the restaurants at which he worked even earned a Michelin star, a distinction accorded to very few restaurants. While a Michelin star for any restaurant in the Land of Enchantment may seem a fanciful hope, Chef Sanchez has very high aspirations for Las Ristras. To that end, he’s expanded the restaurant’s menu from mostly New Mexican fare to one now showcasing chophouse favorites the likes of which he enjoyed during his time in Chicago.

Dinner Salad

TTo say Chef Sanchez has come a long way is an understatement. Unlike many chef luminaries who aspire from a very young age to pursue the culinary arts, he had no such designs. Fate—and a famous New Mexico chef—intervened. After committing a teenage indiscretion, Chef Sanchez found himself in front of a judge about to impose a sentence of community service. Chef Jim White, then at the helm of Corrales institution La Casa Vieja, convinced the judge to let the young rapscallion perform his community service at his restaurant. The rest, as the proverbial “they,” say is history.

Initially, Chef Sanchez was assigned to what the military terms as “kitchen police,” or “KP,” a punishment calling for washing and drying mountains of soiled dishes. When the repentant teen proved himself adept at following instructions and performing quality work, Chef White taught him how to cut and peel vegetables, the next tasking to which he was assigned. Laboring in the fast-paced kitchen environment went from judicially imposed community service to a career path Chef Sanchez wanted very much to pursue. After his stint at La Casa Vieja, he made it his life’s quest to learn as much as he could about the vast diversity of culinary arenas, hence his sojourn to Chicago and New York.

Half Rack Green Chile Rubbed Ribs

The domain of some chefs is solely the kitchen where they toil in relative anonymity and rarely mingle with the dining public. Other chefs glad-hand diners and let others actually prepare meals for their guests. Not so with Chef Sanchez who not only makes it a point to check up on his guests, he prepares meals. When we met him, he was toting heavy boxes of locally grown produce for use at Las Ristras, but the prospect of spending time with our debonair dachshund Dude lured him toward our table under a porch at the back of the restaurant. Chef Sanchez is an outgoing gentleman with an easy smile and ebullient passion for his restaurant. He’s got a pit bull terrier at home whom he loves like a child. How can you not appreciate a chef like that? 

You’ll certainly appreciate the multifarious menu, a surprisingly ambitious bill of fare that is actually several menus in one.  There’s the Steak House Menu which is subtitled “Chef Inspired Dishes.”  This is where carnivores of all persuasions will gravitate.  Then there’s the New Mexican Favorites page which lives up to its name.  The third menu, called “From the Grill” includes such inviting offerings as green chile meatloaf, fajitas and the Corrales Tortilla Burger.  A breakfast menu includes both New Mexican and American wake-you-up items.  Drive past Las Ristras and invariably you’ll see a slate board inviting you to try the latest du jour offering.

The “Bad Boy”

Five appetizers and three “in the bowl” starters (posole, green chile stew and chile with beans) may not seem like many, but you’ll be hard-pressed to make a decision as to which to order.  Luckily while you’re perusing the menus, a bowl of fresh salsa and chips is ferried over to your table.  It may inspire you (as it did us) to order a Mexican inspired starter–the baked queso fresco topped with chorizo.  Described as “a fresh slice of queso fresco baked and topped with sauteed chorizo served with chimi chips,” it’s presented beautifully.  More importantly it’s flavored beautifully.  The chorizo has a pleasant piquancy that permeates the entire dish with the queso fresco slice serving as a nice foil, maybe even palate-cleanser.  Since my Kim found the chorizo a bit too piquant for her Chicago palate, it was only fair that I let her have both slices of the melted queso.  We suspect that what the menu described as “chimi chips” may have been the three sopes-like fried dough circles on which everything else is piled.  In any case, it was the canvas on which a masterpiece was created.

Ever since a rib was taken from Adam’s body and fashioned into the first woman, both men and women (exempting vegetarians and vegans, of course) have craved ribs.  Whether spare ribs, baby backs, rib tips or St. Louis cut ribs, they’re beloved by many, but don’t always offer many surprises.  Chef Sanchez’s half rack of green chile rubbed ribs (fire-roasted baby back ribs with a Corrales green chile rub and sweet jalapeño sauce) surprised us.  Most surprising is just how balanced and complementary the Corrales green chile and jalapeño sauce were.  If you ever thought “never the twain shall meet,” you’ll be won over by just how much flavor can be extricated from that combination.  The ribs themselves aren’t quite fall-off-the-bone tender, but then the best ribs aren’t.  They have a little bit of give, indicative that they’re not overdone as those fall-off-the-bone ribs tend to be.  These are competition worthy ribs which would fare well at Rio Rancho’s Pork & Brew.

For my Chicago born-and-bred Kim, meat and potatoes have been a lifelong dietary staple, so you just have to know that she spent most of her time perusing the Steak House Menu.  Not that she got very far even on that page.  Mostly she contemplated at length the very first item on the menu, a beefy behemoth called “The Bad Boy.”  Picture a sixteen to eighteen ounce bone-in ribeye, it’s described on the men as the “James Dean of the menu,” “so good, it’s bad.”  That’s bad in a good way.  At medium rare, this beauteous slab of beef has picturesque grill marks that preface flowing juices and a rich, beefy flavor with nice marbling throughout and after all, fat is where a lot of the distinctive flavor of beef comes from.  In some places, ribeye is sold as “beauty steak.”  The two-inch-thick Bad Boy certainly fits the bill.  Steak House menu items are served with a terrific dinner salad drizzled with a creamy avocado ranch dressing.  You also have your choice of sides: smoked Gouda green chile potatoes, pancetta vegetables or cilantro lime rice.  Go for the former.

Las Ristras is part New Mexican, part steak house and a one-hundred percent destination restaurant.  Chef Jude Sanchez certainly has knows his way around the kitchen.

Los Ristras Restaurant
4940 Corrales Road, N.E., Suite 400
Corrales, New Mexico
(505) 433-4192
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 4 November 2017
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Chips and Salsa,

Las Ristras Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Matanza New Mexico Local Craft 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 in the Nob Hill Restaurant

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.

Fideo Carbonara

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.

The Matanza Experience

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.

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 colleague, 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.

Albuquerque’s Second Matanza, This One on the West Side

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.

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 blue corn duck tamales. Alas, Mr. Murphy determined to dampen my experience. When asked about my entrée, my tongue-in-cheek response was “this 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.

Big Dipper

Matanza West

In September, 2017, Matanza launched its second restaurant, this one on the burgeoning west side.  Located in the space which previously housed Vernon’s Open Door and before that the Stumbling Steer and even Quarters, Matanza West has nearly twice the space as its elder sibling with 10,000-square-feet and a capacity of some 300 guests, not including a sprawling patio.  In addition to  100 local craft beers, wines and other drinks, an expansive kitchen allows for a menu twice the size as its predecessor.   You’re bound to find a thing or ten you’ll like.  After you’ve perused the soups and salads, you’ll come across a menu called Matanza Smokehouse.  This section of the menu is described as “Matanza’s secret spice rubbed pecan wood smoked or slow roasted all natural cruelty-free meats.  Served with fresh flour tortillas, Matanza barbecue sauce and choice of two sides.  Add Caesar Limon or soup or cup of soup…” 

15 October 2017:  Among the appetizers available only at Matanza West is the Big Dipper, an Ursa Major-sized platter large enough to feed a family of four.   Picture green chile spinach and artichoke fondue; white bean and Chimayo chile hummus; Spanish olive, caper and piñon tapenade all served with homemade pita chips and flatbread.  Though the pita chips and flatbread are tailor-made for scooping, we would have preferred soft pita bread on which we could spread the three dips.  We would also have preferred chile with more bite, especially on the fondue.  The tapenade was our favorite of the three dips, a flavorful melange of ingredients which work so well together, especially the sharp, tangy capers and woodsy piñon.

Cream of Peppercorn Elk and Wild Mushroom Soup

15 October 2017:  My adovada adoring Kim, a purist about her favorite New Mexican dishes, was not very happy with the creative liberties took with a dish showcasing a quadrumvirate of items.  In Matanza’s defense, a plate named The Matanza Experience didn’t promise traditional New Mexican authenticity.  Instead of carne adovada, the plate offered pulled pork adovada.  There’s a big difference, the latter being more akin to a barbecue entree (and indeed, a smoky barbecue sauce is provided).  The plate also included smoked ribs, pork belly and chicharrones, none prepared as you’d find them in a New Mexican matanza.  That doesn’t make them bad, just different.  Viva la differencia. The pecan-smoked ribs have a caramelized bark and very endearing sweet-smoky-piquant notes.  The crispy pork belly and its smoky, bacony properties are noteworthy.  The four items are served with “artisan” tortillas: flimsy, floppy, waifishly thin tortillas with little substance.  Two sides are also served with this dish.  Make one of them calabasitas, some of the very best in town.

15 October 2017: The Matanza menu includes “Soups Del Corazon,” soups from the heart, six exemplars of why soup is a comfort food favorite.  We had only one, but will return for other such as the calabasitas bisque and lamb posole with Hatch green chile and Mexican oregano.  If the cream of peppercorn elk and wild mushroom soup is any indication, Matanza’s soups are enchanting elixirs for whatever ails you. Quite simply, it’s one of the very best mushroom soups we’ve ever had–comparable to the one we make at home (don’t tell my Kim). Its depth of flavors is well balanced between the earthy wild mushrooms and their rich umami qualities and the clean, healthful flavor of elk seasoned not too assertively with peppercorn. A cup of this sumptuous soup isn’t sufficient. A pho-sized bowl would be perfect.

High Desert Fried Steak

15 October 2017: Hoping lightning would strike twice, I ordered the High Desert Fried Steak (country-fried sirloin, elk and mushroom cream gravy, red chile Cheddar mashed taters and braised greens). Alas, no good deed goes unpunished. The elk and mushroom cream gravy, while quite good, isn’t as memorable as the peppercorn elk and wild mushroom soup. It’s a hearty, thick gravy served hot and it covers the entire steak which itself is fork-tender and flavorful. It’s also as big as a western saddle so you’ll be taking some home. Ask for a side of the gravy for your mashed potatoes which otherwise lean toward the dry side. The braised greens are terrific.

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 New Mexico Local Craft Beer Kitchen
3225 Central Avenue, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 312-7305
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 15 February 2016
1st VISIT: 25 October 2015
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 17
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

Matanza New Mexico Local Craft Beer Kitchen
3700 Ellison N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 897-6753
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 15 October 2017
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Cream of Peppercorn Elk and Wild Mushroom Soup, The Matanza Experience, High Desert Fried Steak, The Big Dipper

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

Cafe 6855 – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Cafe 6855 on 4th Street

The cover page of the May 20, 2013 edition of Time Magazine depicts a twenty-something woman sprawled on the floor taking a selfie. In large type above the photo is the caption “The Me Me Me Generation” subtitled with “Millennials are lazy, entitled narcissists who still live with their parents.” If you believe the monolithic label “millennial” (typically assigned to a person born between 1981 and 2001) defines all young people and that popular characterizations and stereotypes about millennials are accurate, perhaps you’ll be interested in an oceanfront piece of real estate I’m selling in Arizona. If your perceptions of young people skew toward the negative, let me introduce you to Victoria and Julian Gonzales.

Victoria and Julian are among the 80-million millennials across the fruited plain. As with many millennials, they’re technologically savvy, very civic-minded and conscious of health, environmental and socioeconomic issues. They’re confident and driven. They’ve got exceptional work ethics and value social connectedness very much…and not just online Both are very outgoing and friendly. They’ve had to be. We’ve known Victoria and Julian since they tagged along with their charismatic dad Michael as he launched Café Bella, his then-fledgling coffee empire in Rio Rancho. We’ve watched them grow not only into very accomplished baristas who’ve served me hundreds of red chile mochas, but into extraordinary young adults with good heads on their shoulders. To say we’re very fond of them is an understatement.

Left: Our beautiful server and friend Victoria Gonzales and her sister…er, mom Tiffany

Until recently, Victoria, a full-time student at the University of New Mexico somehow managed to put in as many as sixty hours in her two part-time jobs (Café Bella and Joe’s Pasta House).  When she moved on to another job, we missed seeing her perpetually smiling face, always effusive greeting and nonpareil ability to prepare the perfect red chile mocha. Fortunately, her new job is as a hostess and server at Café 6855 on North 4th.  It’s not much further from Cafe Bella for us and it’s got a capacious, but intimate dog-friendly patio.  Our inaugural visit to the Cafe was a happy reunion in that we were well taken care of by Victoria and got to visit with her mom Tiffany and grandmother Mary Ann who were also visiting Cafe 6855 for the first time.  It’s easy to see where Victoria and Julian get their good looks and winning personalities (okay, Michael may have had a little to do with that as well).

Cafe 6855 is the sister restaurant to Vernon’s Speakeasy, a highly touted steak restaurant which has garnered local and national recognition as New Mexico’s most romantic restaurant.  Its name is derived from its address (6855 4th Street) where it shares space with its elder sibling.  More precisely, Cafe 6855 is located in the space which previously housed Prime and before that the Calico Cantina & Cafe.  Cafe 6855 is open daily for lunch and serves a fabulous brunch on weekends, but in the evenings and at night, the cafe space and patio become part of Vernon’s.  At the Cafe, you can even order Vernon’s steaks at lunch and brunch

Carolina Chicken Salad

Instead of a large menu, Cafe 6855 focuses on a few items and if our inaugural experience is any indication, they’re prepared extraordinarily well.  By the way, when you dine al fresco, especially with a dining companion as charming and outgoing as our debonair dachshund Dude, you get to know everyone on the patio.  There was consensus among the dozen or so people enjoying the patio as to the high level of deliciousness to which we were all treated.  Those of us who ordered the breakfast enchiladas (more on them later) were especially enthralled with our choice.  One diner even offered a thousand dollar bribe to get the recipe for the chile.  It would have been a bargain at that price.

The lunch menu (noting that all items are subject to change and availability) is segmented into four sections: Soups and Side Salads, 6855 Sandwiches, Salads and Cafe Specialties.  Then there’s the dozen item brunch menu which features items you might find at other purveyors of eye-opening brunches.  In other words, outwardly the menu has no surprises.  What is surprising, however, is just how good your meal is prepared.  Moreover, there’s enough variety to warrant frequent return visits (that is, if you can get past those breakfast enchiladas).

New York Steak with Eggs, Toast and Fruit

There are four salads on the lunch menu, each intriguing in its own way.  The most unique offering is the Carolina Chicken Salad (fried chicken, pickled okra and red onion, chopped tomato, shredded cheese, candied bacon and pecans, with romaine tossed with a spicy honey mustard vinaigrette). This is the antithesis of every boring chicken salad you’ve ever had (and I’ll bet most of them were probably constructed with cold chopped chicken).  You’ll probably want to pluck the fried chicken out of the salad and eat it on its own, but it goes very well with the other ingredients, perhaps marrying best with the candied bacon and pecans.  The spicy honey mustard vinaigrette is slathered on generously, a huge plus.

In the Land of Enchantment, two ubiquitous breakfast favorites reign supreme and have done so for a long time. New Mexico’s two most beloved—some would say beatified–breakfast items are breakfast burritos and huevos rancheros. Breakfast tacos (not talking here about the Texas-style taquitos at Whataburger) and, perhaps to a lesser extent, breakfast enchiladas have played third and fourth fiddle to their breakfast brethren. Café 6855 may just change your mind about to order for breakfast and brunch. The brunch menu offers the very best breakfast enchilada we’ve ever had, a beauteous behemoth that covers an entire plate. Picture three rolled enchiladas engorged with your choice of chicken or seasoned ground beef and cheese covered in a blanket of red or (and) green chile and two eggs prepared to your exacting specifications. Trust me, you’re going to want these enchiladas “Christmas” style. Red and green are equally terrific with a nice balance of piquancy (a little too much heat for my Kim) and flavor (sheer lick-the-plate deliciousness). These enchiladas are so good you’ll probably polish them off even though they’ll fill you up halfway through your meal. If you’re going to leave anything on the plate, it’ll probably be the pinto beans which are quite good, but the star of this dish is clearly the enchiladas. 

Breakfast Enchiladas with two eggs

My Chicago born-and-bred bride of three decades thought she might be disappointed with the brunch entrée of strip steak and eggs, figuring that a fifteen dollar steak could hardly compete with the high priced steaks she’s had at Vernon’s. Okay, so the steak wasn’t prime beef, but it was eight-ounces of well-seasoned, nicely-marbled beef as tender and delicious as we’ve had at several higher priced chop houses. Served atop the steak is an herbaceous compound butter which you can spread onto the beef. It’s a nice touch! The steak is served with two eggs your way, seasoned papas, fresh fruit and toast. The small, cubed papas are a worthy accompaniment though you’ll probably want even more than you’re served.

It goes without saying that service was flawless with Victoria taking care of our every need and brightening our day with her smiles and charm.  Seeing her was the reason we visited Cafe 6855.  Outstanding food and service are two of the many reasons we’ll return.

Cafe 6855
6855 4th Street, N.W., Suite A
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 341-0831
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 7 October 2017
# OF VISITS:  1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET:  Carolina Chicken Salad, Breakfast Enchiladas with Two Eggs, New York Steak with Eggs

Cafe 6855 Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

MARY & TITO’S CAFE – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Mary & Tito's may serve the very best red chile in Albuquerque

Mary & Tito’s, THE very best New Mexican restaurant in the world!

Old-timers whose opinions I respect consistently rate Mary & Tito’s as Albuquerque’s best restaurant for New Mexican food, a restaurant that has been pleasing the most savvy and unindoctrinated palates alike since 1963.  It takes a lot to impress some of those old-timers, none of whom see much substance in the flash and panache of the nouveau restaurants and their pristine veneer and effusive, over-the-top flamboyance.  These guys and gals are impressed only by New Mexican food the way their abuelitas prepared it–unadorned, authentic and absolutely wonderful.  If you want to evoke their ire, take them to one of the chains.  Worse, try sneaking some cumin into their chile.

Just how good is Mary & Tito’s?  In an October, 2009 span of two days, three people whose opinion on food I value weighed in, prompting me to ponder that question and not just take for granted that it’s “one of” the very best restaurants in New Mexico. World-travelers Randy and Bonnie Lake experienced an epiphany during their most recent visit, marveling at just how much better Mary & Tito’s legendary red is than other red chile they’ve ever had.  Bill Resnik who’s authored a cookbook on New Mexican cuisine was more to-the-point, asking why it hasn’t been accorded a “30” rating–the epitome of perfection in my rating system and a rating I have not bestowed upon any restaurant anywhere.

Mary Ann Gonzales for whom the restaurant is named passed away on Tuesday, September 17, 2013. She was a great and wonderful lady! Photo courtesy of Sandy Driscoll.

A dining experience at such an ideal would have to be absolutely flawless with uncompromising standards and an obvious commitment on the restaurant’s part to providing a dining experience I would want to repeat over and over again.  Obviously the food would have to be more than good; it would have to tantalize, titillate, enrapt my taste buds with every morsel.  Every facet of the meal would have to be like a well synchronized and beautiful ballet in which each course is a prelude to the next and leaves me absolutely lusting for the next bite.

There have been times (many, in fact) in which a magical endorphin high from Mary & Tito’s red chile made my taste buds so unbelievably, deliriously happy that I’ve sworn nothing quite as good has ever crossed my lips.  Immediately after each meal at Mary & Tito’s, I want to repeat it, usually right then and there.  It is simply my very favorite restaurant in New Mexico, my highest rated restaurant of any genre in the Land of Enchantment and one of the highest rated across the fruited plain.

Mary & Tito’s legendary carne adovada. Photo courtesy of Sandy Driscoll.

I’m not the only patron this loyal to Mary & Tito’s.  In truth, the restaurant’s walls could probably be covered with framed certificates and accolades feting it as the “best” in one category or another. Instead, you’ll find family photo montages along with photos of some of their loyal customers. For ambiance, this homey restaurant might not win any awards, but for outstanding New Mexican cuisine, it has secured a place in the hearts and appetites of their many guests.

Although the legendary Tito passed away in 1990 and his devoted wife Mary Ann Gonzales left us in 2013, their effervescent daughter Antoinette and sons Jordan and Travis continue to provide the hospitality for which Mary & Tito’s is renowned. Better yet, they oversee an operation that serves what is arguably the best New Mexican food in New Mexico (ergo the entire universe)–and unequivocally the very best red chile anywhere.  Interestingly, Mary & Tito’s continues to win over lifelong New Mexicans who never heard of the restaurant until it was featured on the Travel Channel’s Bizarre Foods Dining Destinations program.

Mary & Tito's green chile burrito stuffed with guacamole and rice--one of the very best burritos in the universe!

A rare sight–green chile on a burrito at Mary & Tito’s where red is best!

The red chile has culled a legendary reputation among aficionados. Slathered generously on your entrees, it is a rich red color. At first impression it tastes great, but the more you eat more of it, the more the piquant heat builds up. Oh, the wonderful burn!  Beads of perspiration glistened on my dearly departed friend Ruben Hendrickson’s forehead with every bite, but he persevered through that endorphin generating heat with what can only be described as a lusty fervor.  Even when the particular crop of chile isn’t particularly piquant, Mary & Tito’s red chile is always wonderful, so good some frequent guests have no idea what the green chile tastes like.  It’s been so long since I’ve had the green chile that I no longer remember what it’s like.  The red chile is available meatless for diners of the vegetarian persuasion.

Ask the vivacious Antoinette what makes Mary & Tito’s red chile so uniquely wonderful and she’ll tell you that the chile starts off like the chile at most New Mexican restaurants. The difference is in what is done with it.  Mary & Tito’s chile has been purchased from one Hatch grower for years and it’s ground from pods, not made from powder. Beyond that, the restaurant doesn’t adulterate the chile with other than salt and garlic (absolutely no cumin–contrary to what the Travel Channel’s Andrew Zimmern once reported on Bizarre Foods: Dining Destinations). There is magic in this purity.  There’s also purity in its almost mesmerizing red-orange color and if you look at the edges of your plate, you won’t see the tell-tale signs of the excessive use of a thickening agent such as corn starch.  There’s none of that in this red chile!

A guacamole, beans and rice burrito with red chile. Photo courtesy of Sandy Driscoll.

The green chile (as I remember it) isn’t quite as piquant, but it is very tasty and generously applied to your entrees. For the best of both, ask for your entree to be served “Christmas” style so you can taste both the chile rojo (red) and chile verde (green). Vegetarians can also ask for it without meat.  My friend Lesley King, the wonderful writer whose monthly “King of the Road” column used to grace New Mexico Magazine, visited Mary & Tito’s for the first time in May, 2010 and recognized immediately that at this legendary restaurant, it’s all about the chile, finding both red and green as good as could possibly be made.

My dear friend Ruben Hendrickson, who for more than a year was engaged in a Holy Grail type quest to find the best carne adovada in the Albuquerque area, was absolutely besotted with Mary & Tito’s rendition. It’s carne adovada the way it’s supposed to be with tender tendrils of moist, delicious pork ameliorated with the best red chile in the metropolitan area.  Cheryl Jamison, the scintillating four-time James Beard Award-winning author, calls the carne adovada “absolutely spectacular.”   The Santa Fe Travelers Billie Frank and Steve Collins called it “the best carne adovada we’ve ever had.”  As with most entrees, it’s served with beans and rice, both of which are quite good.

A large combination plate: taco, tamale, cheese enchilada, beans and rice

In New Mexico Magazine‘s “Best Eats” issue for 2011, Mary & Tito’s was recognized as having the best carne adovada in the Land of Enchantment.  As one of the seven culinary experts who selected and wrote about New Mexico’s best, it was the choice with which I most agreed.  Though every other honoree is worthy of “best eats” selection, Mary & Tito’s carne adovada stood out, the best of the best!

The enchiladas are certainly among the best in town and I appreciate the fact that you can have them rolled or stacked (my preference with three corn tortillas), the way they’re served throughout Northern New Mexico. Natives and newcomers alike ask for a fried egg on top of the enchiladas, a flavor-enhancer that improves on a New Mexican entree that doesn’t really need any improvement. An “extra beef” option means enchiladas with even more fantastically well seasoned beef.  With red chile, they will make your taste buds ecstatic.

Two Tacos

Burritos are nearly a foot long and served overstuffed. One of the very best burritos anywhere features guacamole, beans and rice along with the aforementioned red or green chile. It is more than half a pound of New Mexican food greatness, especially when the guacamole practically erupts when you press your fork into the burrito.  It’s become the only dish capable of prying me away from the carne adovada–except when I have the combination plate, stuffed sopaipilla, chiles rellenos… I love it all!

With chips, that guacamole is simplicity itself (avocados in their prime, garlic, lime juice, salt), but it is some of the best guacamole in town. The freshness of guacamole made daily from the best avocados is evident.

Chile relleno covered in red.

Chile relleno covered in red.

The chile rellenos are also among the best I’ve ever had, far superior to their world-famous brethren served at Mesilla’s fabled La Posta restaurant. A thin, crispy batter envelops a piquant pepper stuffed with a sharp Cheddar cheese. Each bite produces an endorphin rush and taste explosion.  The rellenos are available on the combination platter as well as a la carte.  As with other entrees at Mary & Tito’s, they’re best smothered with that miraculous red chile.

My friend Sr. Plata had the privilege of first-time visits to both Chope’s and Mary & Tito’s within two weeks of each other.  In his estimation, the chile relleno at Mary & Tito’s is far superior to Chope’s version (which is often considered THE standard-bearer for the genre in the Land of Enchantment).  New Mexicans from the southern half of the state, in particular, might consider it sacrilege, but Sr. Plata reasons that Mary & Tito’s superior red chile is the difference-maker.  He’s calls it the essence of purity and deliciousness.

A huskless tamale smothered in red chile

You won’t find sopaipillas with honey at Mary & Tito’s, but you will find a “Mexican turnover‘ resembling an overgrown empanada or Italian calzone. It’s made from sopaipilla dough stuffed with meat, beans, rice and chile then deep fried. It’s Mary & Tito’s version of stuffed sopaipillas and it’s (not surprisingly) among the very best in the city.  The Mexican turnover is the most popular item at the restaurant, surpassing even the nonpareil carne adovada.

Entrees include some of the best refried beans anywhere…and I mean anywhere in the country. They have that “prepared with lard” taste all good refrieds have. Spanish rice also comes with every entree as does a tomato and lettuce garnish. Garnish is one of those plate decorations many people discard. With Mary & Tito’s fabulous red chile, it’s just something else with which to sop up every bit of that chile rojo.

Enchiladas with a fried egg and red chile

Enchiladas with a fried egg and red chile

Your first bowl of salsa is complimentary and it’s so good you’ll certainly finish it off quickly and order another. The chips, like the salsa, are lightly salted and crisp, the perfect size and texture to complement the tomato rich salsa.  The salsa has a nice piquancy but other than tomatoes and chile, there are no discernible additives such as garlic and onion.

Only the con queso gets a less than outstanding mark at Mary & Tito’s. The cheese has that “melted Velveeta” feel and taste and is somewhat gloppy.  Authenticity and utter deliciousness,however, aren’t spared on the chicharrones which compete with those at Cecilia’s Cafe for best in the city.  Chicharrones are Pieces of pork crackling cooked until crunchy and most of the fat is rendered out.  A plateful of chicharrones and a bowl of that legendary red are a great way to start any meal.

Carne Adovada Omelet

Carne Adovada Omelet

Another excellent entree unique to Mary & Tito’s is a carne adovada omelet.  Yes, you did read that correctly.  It’s a multi-egg omelet folded over that outstanding carne adovada then covered in the red chile of my dreams.  There’s no need for any of the usual omelet ingredients when you’ve got carne adovada.

Compliment Antoinette on an outstanding meal and she’ll invariably credit “the guys in the kitchen.” Those guys, the Arguello brothers–Patricio and Louis–are following Tito’s recipes and keeping his culinary legacy alive.  They’ve been working at Mary & Tito’s since they were but teenagers, schooled under the watchful eye of Tito himself.  They’re well versed at their craft. Antoinette will, however, take credit for the terrific dessert (that’s singular, but when you serve a dessert as wonderful as the New Mexican wedding cake, who needs anything else) available at Mary & Tito’s.

Salsa and Chips

18 August 2017: It took me 45 visits to sample everything on the menu at Mary & Tito’s, the very last item being a Mexican Pizza.  Described on the menu as “fry bread, refried beans and cheese,” it’s so much more than that.  It’ll remind you most of the fry bread tacos served at Indian Pow Wows and on reservations.  The canvas for this unique pizza is a deep-fried sopaipilla similar to the one used on the Mexican turnover.  The sopaipilla is topped with lots of refried beans, red chile, sprinkled with cheese and lined with lettuce and tomato.  Unlike Indian-style fry bread tacos, the fry bread at Mary & Tito’s is crisp and crunchy, not soft and pliable.  It doesn’t make the top ten list of items I’ve had at Mary & Tito’s, but you could put that red chile on a leather boot and it would be delicious.

7 December 2017: A deeper perusal of the menu (which by now I should have memorized considering the number of times visited) revealed one other heretofore untried item. That would be the flautas de carne adovada with beans and guacamole.  Mary & Tito’s might be the only restaurant in New Mexico to stuff flautas with carne adovada.  Surprisingly despite the deep-frying, the adovada retains its moistness and tenderness.  Use the flautas to scoop up some of the rich, creamy guacamole for a wonderful combination of flavors.

Chicharones, Mary & Tito’s style. Photo courtesy of Sandy Driscoll.

For dessert, an absolute “must have” is Mary & Tito’s take on traditional New Mexican wedding cake, a yellow cake made with walnuts and pineapple and topped with a cream cheese frosting is spectacular.  Antoinette has been making this cake for better than 30 years (though she doesn’t look much older than 30 herself) and says she’s made it thousands of times.  You won’t find any better in New Mexico.  You won’t find anything close.  My friend Bill Resnik calls it “one of the ten best things I’ve ever put in my mouth.”  In its February, 2013 edition  Albuquerque The Magazine  celebrated the Duke City’s best desserts. The fabulous Mexican wedding cake was recognized as the “to die for dessert to remember.”  I’m not too sure what that means, but if it means the Mexican wedding cake is unforgettable, the honor is certainly well deserved.  It’s certainly one of the very best desserts in New Mexico

While writing an article entitled “Ode to the Chile Pepper” for the September, 2011 edition of New Mexico Magazine, I had the privilege, pleasure and honor to interview the owner of the Hatch chile farm which supplies Mary & Tito’s with their fabulous chile. Leticia Carrasco is justifiably proud of the Sandia chile her farm provisions to a James Beard award-winning restaurant. She could not have been nicer–a great person supplying great chile to a great family. How fitting is that?

Carne Adovada Flautas

29 April 2013: In January, 2013 Food & Wine Magazine compiled a list of the nation’s “best taco spots.”  The only New Mexico taco spot recognized was Mary & Tito’s Cafe”for which Food & Wine acknowledged the “famed secret weapon of this mother-daughter-run operation is its fiery red chile sauce–killer with succulent braised pork in the New Mexico classic carne adovada, or drizzled over beef tacos in crispy corn tortilla shells.”  New Mexico’s best tacos at Mary & Tito’s?  Why not?  They’re fantastic!

The cast and crew of This Old House, a Boston-based home-improvement and remodeling television show spent two days at Mary & Tito’s in April, 2013.  While filming a segment in Hatch, purveyors of New Mexico’s best chile told the crew that the very best example of chile is served at Mary & Tito’s.  The cast and crew proceeded to enjoy every item on the menu.  More converts! 

Mary & Tito’s fabulous New Mexican Wedding Cake. Photo courtesy of Sandy Driscoll.

“The inside of Mary and Tito’s Restaurant on Albuquerque’s 4th Street doesn’t look like much: vinyl tablecloths, walls plastered with family photos. But the kitchen produces some of New Mexico’s best chile—not the meaty stew, spelled chili, served across the border in Texas, but the pepper-based sauce that holds pride of place in New Mexican cuisine.” That’s how the Wall Street Journal began its feature “Why Doubling Down on the Chile is the Way to Go.” The feature boasted “New Mexico’s red and green chile sauces are so good, why not opt for both at once?” Red and green chile are precisely why the Land of Enchantment celebrates Christmas all year long. No one does it better than Mary & Tito’s.

In January, 2010, Mary & Tito’s was announced as the 2010 recipient of the James Beard Award’s “America’s Classic” honor. A James Beard Award signifies the pinnacle of achievement in the culinary world, the country’s most coveted and prestigious culinary award while the “Americas Classic Award” honors “restaurants with timeless appeal, beloved for quality food that reflects the character of their community, and that have carved out a special place in the American culinary landscape.” Mary & Tito’s is the true, timeless American classic–beloved in the community with the highest quality food reflecting the character of New Mexico.

The James Beard Award of Excellence. Photo courtesy of Sandy Driscoll.

Mary and Antoinette received the award at a ceremonial dinner on May 3, 2010 at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall in New York City.  Governor Bill Richardson celebrated the honor by proclaiming May 12th “Mary & Tito’s Day” in New Mexico, a well-deserved honor for an exemplary restaurant.

Mary & Tito’s is one of those restaurants that elicits a craving only it can sate. It is the essence of red chile Nirvana.

MARY & TITO’S CAFE
2711 4th Street, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
505-344-6266
Mary & Tito’s Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 13 December 2017
# OF VISITS: 46
RATING: 27
COST: $$
BEST BET
: Enchiladas, Chile Relleno, Taco, Natillas, Guacamole Burrito, Carne Adovada Burrito, Chicharrones,  Mexican Wedding Cake, Carne Adovada Omelet, Carne Adovada, Combination Plate, Mexican Pizza, Mexican Turnover, Salsa & Chips, Carne Adovada Flautas

Mary & Tito's Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Duran’s Central Pharmacy – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Duran Central Pharmacy on the Fringes of Old Town Albuquerque

In an early episode of the Andy Griffith Show, while contemplating a job offer in South America, Andy tried to assuage his son Opie’s concerns about leaving Mayberry. Instead, he wound up confusing Opie by explaining that people in South America ate something called tortillas. Opie wondered aloud why anyone would eat spiders (tarantulas).  Had Opie ever tasted the delicious, piping hot, just off the comal 16-inch buttered orbs at Duran’s Central Pharmacy, it’s unlikely he would ever confuse those grilled spheres with any arachnid.

That’s because Duran’s features some of the very best tortillas of any restaurant in New Mexico. These are not the flavorless, paper-thin, production-line, machine-fashioned orbs you find at some restaurants (can you say Frontier Restaurant). Duran’s tortillas are made to order on a real comal and shaped by a skilled practitioner using a well-practiced rolling pin.  It’s the way abuelitas in New Mexico have done it for generations, a time-honored tradition Duran’s honors–with one exception.  No lard is used on these tortillas; they’re strictly vegetarian.   You can tell and appreciate the difference.  In its annual Food & Wine issue for 2012, Albuquerque The Magazine awarded Duran Central Pharmacy a Hot Plate Award signifying the selection of its hot-off-the-griddle tortillas as one of the “most interesting, special and tasty dishes around.”  Considering the thousands of potential selections, to be singled out is quite an honor.

Duran’s Dining Room

The tortillas are thick and have a pinto pony blend of char and white. While it may seem the wait staff brushes on butter in parsimonious amounts, you’re almost guaranteed to have some butter drip onto your clothing. These tortillas arrive at your table piping hot and absolutely delicious–a wonderful precursor to a great meal!  Invariably you’ll want to take some home.  Heat them on a griddle, slather on butter (or Kraft sandwich spread–trust me) and you’ve got a fantastically filling snack.  Dorado Magazine which celebrates the rugged and eclectic spirit of the Four Corners, describes them as “thick and fluffy with the perfect blend of darkened char spots and bright white floury goodness.”

True to its name, Duran’s Central Pharmacy is an old-fashioned apothecary in which prescription medicines and over-the-counter drugs are dispensed. The dining area is nestled in the southern portion of the pharmacy and you absolutely have to navigate the aisles of the drug store to get there.  For some, it’s a slow walk as they gawk at meticulously arranged shelves brimming with products you won’t find anywhere else.  Although Duran’s Central Pharmacy has been around since the 1940s, it wasn’t until 1965 that Robert Ghattas, a trained pharmacist, and his family assumed ownership from Pete Duran.  At the time, Duran’s operated as a pharmacy with a soda fountain where you could grab a sandwich and a “malted.”  The Ghattas family decided to retain the name, but because soda fountains were no longer in vogue, they changed the restaurant concept to showcase New Mexican cuisine.

A Very Comfortable Enclosed Patio

In addition to the typical prescription and nonprescription pharmaceuticals found at any drug store, you’ll also find groceries, greeting cards and under glass near the cash registers, a section of fine chocolates that you might want for dessert after your meal of great New Mexican food.  On the dividing wall immediately before the restaurant is a section of books, mostly about New Mexico and by New Mexico authors. Some, like Pulitzer Award finalist River of Traps are absolute gems and must-reads for anyone who loves the Land of Enchantment. The pharmacy is also reputed to carry an excellent selection of perfumes, but perhaps no artificial fragrance compares to the aroma wafting from the kitchen.

The restaurant portion of Duran’s consists of a dozen tables, a small covered patio and a sit-down counter from which you can watch the industrious kitchen and wait staff (some members of whom provide service with a sweet sass) assiduously keeping up with the intense breakfast and lunch crowds.  A banal comment such as “that was fast” might receive a response like, “I’m sorry.  I’ll try to be slower next time.”  I also overheard one waitress tell a frequent guest that if he wanted a drink, he could get one from the small fountain on the patio.   How can you not love that?

Buttered Tortilla Hot Off The Comal

Despite the unusual restaurant setting, Duran’s has long been regarded as one of the best New Mexican restaurants in the Albuquerque area and it’s been regarded as such since 1965 when New Mexican cuisine became featured fare. Within easy walking distance of Old Town and just a short drive from downtown, it is, to the detriment of some local area residents, no longer a well-guarded secret.  With increasing frequency tourists have also discovered Duran’s–a more authentic (translation: not dumbed down for tourist tastes) and delicious alternative to Old Town Plaza restaurants.

Duran’s reputation is built on what has long been considered some of the best red and green chile anywhere in New Mexico.  The red chile lacks the cumin influence  so prevalent in the chile served in many misdirected New Mexican restaurants. The only ameliorant to that chile (in addition to salt) is usually a touch of garlic.  It’s a chile which has garnered many accolades over the years.   In the Alibi’s annual “Best of Burque” restaurant poll for 2005, Duran’s Central Pharmacy earned accolades for serving the “best huevos rancheros” in Albuquerque. In 2006, it was the red chile which earned “Best of Burque” honors. In 2007, Alibi readers accorded “best of” honors to Duran’s chile relleno, red chile and enchiladas. In 2008, it was the huevos rancheros and red chile which took home top honors. Annual awards are nothing new for Duran’s.

Salsa and Chips

The bowl of chile, perhaps the restaurant’s most popular entree, is a Chamber of Commerce exemplar of what this dish should be. It’s heart-warming New Mexico comfort food, especially warm and nurturing on the most bleak and dreary of days.  You certainly can’t get that mother’s love level of comfort from a burger with fries.  Though not strictly a green chile stew, it is certainly “stew-like,” a bowl of red or green chile with beans and seasoned ground beef.  The green chile is neon green in color and about medium on the piquancy scale.  The beans are perfectly prepared while the ground beef is seasoned well.  It’s a concordant marriage of wonderful ingredients that envelop you in a cocoon of warmth and comfort. 

In its June, 2010 edition, New Mexico Magazine celebrated New Mexico’s Best Eats, eight of the best dishes served in restaurants throughout the Land of Enchantment. Two versions of each dish–a down-home version and uptown version were selected. The magazine accorded the honor of New Mexico’s very best down-home green chile stew  to the Duran’s Central Pharmacy.  It’s a well-deserved honor few would dispute. I wrote the article about that stew which required lots of research on my part; it was a delicious assignment.

Blue Corn Cheese Enchiladas

Daily specials include a stuffed sopaipilla platter on Wednesdays and Fridays and on Thursdays carne adovada, some of the very best in the city.  The award-winning orange-red chile used on other entrees is ameliorated with aromatic Mexican oregano and chile pequin, a fiery, dried red chile used judiciously (something which should be practiced with the garlic).  The chile is made from ground chile pods, not from powder.  That chile covers bite sized cubes of porcine perfection so tender and delicious they will make your taste buds smile.  My great and dearly departed friend Ruben Hendrickson, a devotee of carne adovada nonpareil, ranks Duran’s rendition on par with the adovada at Mary & Tito’s.

The carne adovada is served with pinto beans, boiled potatoes (perhaps the only item on the menu that’s unremarkable) and a simple lettuce and tomato salad with French dressing.  The only thing wrong with this platter (besides the papas) is that it’s not all carne adovada, as in the entire plate covered with it.  Fortunately you can purchase a pint of this phenomenal adovada to take home and if you don’t want to wait until the next Thursday, carne adovada is also available for breakfast on Saturdays.

Pork Tamales With Beans

25 July 2017:  A 2013 Huffington Post article entitled “25 Food Things Only A New Mexican Would Understand” describes New Mexican cuisine as living “somewhere between traditional Mexican food and Tex Mex food, in a place where there is a lot more cheese.”  Hmm, more cheese?  Does that mean there’s more cheese in New Mexican food than in its Mexican and Tex Mex counterparts?  That certainly isn’t the case should you order the blue corn cheese enchilada plate (three blue corn cheese enchiladas, green and (or) red chile, beans and onions) from Duran’s Central Pharmacy.  The cheese is discernible, but it’s certainly not a dominant element.  It’s a team player, not a star.  There is no star in this enchilada plate.  Rather it’s a combination of several elements working very well together to create an exemplar of enchilada excellence.

25 July 2017: Aficionados will tell you the best burgers have a perfect meat to bun to ingredients ratio.  Similarly, tamales should have an optimum pork to masa to chile ratio.  Not all burgers achieve the desired ratio.  Neither do tamales.  At Duran’s, you get as close as possible to the perfect ratio, a balance of ingredients that coalesce int a delicious whole.  The pork tamale plate features two generously stuffed tamales topped with Duran’s famous red chile with beans on the side.  This is a delicious dish.

Blueberry pie a la mode

25 July 2017: Lest I forget, Duran’s salsa and chips rarely receive the rants and raves they deserve.  Quite simply, the salsa is some of the very best in the city.  It has the freshness of just made salsa, not salsa made three or even two hours ago.  The salsa, made with chopped tomatoes, cilantro, onion and green chile is thick and chunky so it doesn’t run off your chips.  It’s by far the most piquant item on the menu, on par with the incendiary heat of Sadie’s salsa.  That salsa, as well as green and red chile, is available for purchase on Duran’s Web site.

Duran’s is a neighborhood institution in which neighbors congregate to catch up and enjoy a belly pleasing meal. That neighborhood expanded to the Northeast Heights in 2006 with the launch of Duran’s Station at 4201 Menaul, N.E.   Duran’s Station is situated in the former Fire Station #8 and is owned by Marcel Ghattas, scion of Robert (the founder) and Mona (the current owner of Duran’s Central Pharmacy). It retains some vestiges of its days as a fire station, including the original alarm bell.  The engine bay was converted into the dining room while the bunkhouse is now the kitchen.  Duran’s Station includes all of your favorite Pharmacy favorites.  Similarities don’t stop with the menu.  The restaurant also includes an exposed prep kitchen and a comal for making those addictive tortillas (there may be none better in Albuquerque).  Best of all, it stays open for dinner.

A bowl of green chile with beans and seasoned ground beef. It's the very best in Albuquerque!

A bowl of green chile with beans and seasoned ground beef. It’s the very best in Albuquerque!

If you just can’t get enough of Duran’s fabulous chile, the Slate Street Cafe just north of Lomas in the downtown district, offers it as well. Red chile runs in the family. Slate Street Cafe is owned by Myra Ghattas, Mona and Marcel’s sister.  Every New Mexican restaurant should have chile this good, preferably with the best tortillas in Albuquerque, too.

Duran’s Central Pharmacy
1815 Central, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 247-4141
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 25 July 2017
# OF VISITS: 12
RATING: 20
COST: $$
BEST BET: Buttered Tortillas, Carne Adovada, Salsa and Chips, Green Chile, Blue Corn Cheese Enchiladas, Pork Tamales

Duran Central Pharmacy Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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