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Loyola’s Family Restaurant – Albuquerque, New Mexico

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

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

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

One of Loyola’s Capacious Dining Rooms

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

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

Chips, salsa and faithfully replenished Farmers’ Brothers Coffee

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

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

Tom’s Special Burrito

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

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

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

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Padilla’s Mexican Kitchen – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Padilla’s Mexican Kitchen

“Why, this here sauce is made in New York City!”
“New York City? Git a rope!”

Uttered in a 1980s commercial for Pace Picante sauce, those lines expressed the ire of several hungry cowboys who threatened to string up the cook for serving a “foreign” salsa (translation: not made in Texas). That commercial also brings to my mind the annual issue in which–from 1999 through 2005–Hispanic magazine named its top 50 Hispanic restaurants across America.

The sentiment so eloquently expressed by those ravenous cowpokes reflects just how many New Mexicans feel when Hispanic magazine listed among its top 50, only two or three New Mexico restaurants per year.  It really rankled us when both Texas and California had four times as many selections. Just as you won’t find too many cowboys who appreciate salsa made in New York City, you won’t find many New Mexicans who will freely admit that Texas, much less California, can have edible Hispanic food.  Hispanic magazine further lost any credibility among New Mexicans when that top 50 list included restaurants in, heaven help us, Georgia or Mississippi.

The front dining room at Padilla’s has a view to a larger dining room

Hispanic magazine did have a lot of credibility among the Albuquerque dining crowd when, for three consecutive years (2002-2004), it named Padilla’s Mexican Kitchen among its elite fifty. For nearly three decades, Padilla’s has been the anchor tenant of a small shopping strip which appears to be doing a booming business–at least around meal time. If you arrive for lunch only a couple minutes past eleven, you may have to park on a side street somewhere because neighboring businesses have a strict prohibition against Padilla’s customers parking in front of their stores.

Arrive ten minutes past eleven and you’ll probably queue up behind a line of hungry patrons, most of whom are employees of neighboring businesses lingering outside the restaurant’s door until it opens promptly on the hour.  Even though Padilla’s serves its guests promptly, you don’t want to spend half your lunch hour hoofing it to your parking spot a few blocks away.

Chips with Salsa

For what it’s worth, most of Padilla’s patrons seem to be locals who know the difference between real New Mexican food and the kind that might be served in New York City.  New Mexicans of several generations have made this restaurant one of the most popular dining establishments in the city. Unfortunately, it’s not one of the largest restaurants in town despite two dining rooms.  If you’re seated in the front dining room, you might feel a little cramped as the line of diners queues up behind you and all eyes are seemingly on the deliciousness on your table.

Padilla’s is sparsely decorated.  Several Southwestern landscapes festoon the walls.  That’s to be expected in New Mexico.  Out of the ordinary, however, are a number of elephant pictures and figurines throughout the restaurant.  It turns out the owner, Mary Padilla likes elephants (Padilla’s pachyderms?) and knows that elephants facing east with their trunks raised bring good luck. It’s certainly been more than good luck that has made Padilla’s such a success story because it’s certainly not its business hours.  The restaurant is open only Monday through Friday from 11AM to 7:45PM.  Patron loyalty is so strong that you’ll swear the same crowd which queued up before lunch returns to their place in line for dinner, and in some cases, they do.

Blue Corn Enchiladas with Beef

The sense of triumph at finally being seated is akin to having won a small jackpot–the longer your wait in line, the more exhilarating your triumph. Once you are seated, a small bowl of salsa and some of the largest toasted tortilla chips you’ll find anywhere are quickly dispatched to your table.  The chips are unfailingly crisp and have a pronounced corn taste. The salsa is like a nearly pureed like tomato sauce with flavorful, piquant ingredients.  It doesn’t quite run off your chips, but it’s also not the thickest salsa in town.  At about medium heat, it’s also not among the hottest salsas around, but it’s much better than the aforementioned Pace Picante Sauce.

Padilla’s menu includes a la carte guacamole salad and a guacamole tostada only in season (other restaurants don’t seem to realize that fresh avocado is a seasonal item). Despite the name on the marquee–Padilla’s Mexican Kitchen–the food is definitely New Mexican through and through.  All dinner plates are served with beans, rice and two sopaipillas. The daily special on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday showcases the restaurant’s outstanding carne adovada: carne adovada dinner (Monday), carne adovada burrito (Tuesday) and carne adovada dinner (Wednesday).  The Thursday special is carnitas, papas and quelites (canned spinach at Padillas), a treat not that many New Mexican restaurants dare to serve.

Padilla’s Tacos

18 April 2007: A la carte orders (which you can upgrade to dinners for a pittance more) include a variety of burritos and stuffed sopaipillas.  The stuffed sopaipillas are among the very best in town.  That’s because they start with a base constructed of some of the most wonderful sopaipillas you’ll ever have. The sopaipillas are fabulous!  They’re light and pillowy forming a perfect pocket in which to insert honey or meat and beans.  It’s certainly worth upgrading from a la carte just so you can have two of these honey colored treasures. One of the a la carte items you should order is the restaurant’s tacos, made with crispy tortilla shells stuffed with seasoned ground beef, cheese, lettuce and salsa.  One taco will be gone in six or seven glorious bites so you might be tempted to order two instead.

18 April 2007: Padilla’s enchiladas are also quite good and served with chicken, beef or cheese.  Among the most popular are the blue corn enchiladas (pictured above) which are even better than the standard yellow corn tortilla enchiladas.  When your server takes your order, you’ll be asked whether or not you want onions on your entree, a courtesy you don’t see elsewhere.  You’ll want a fried egg atop your enchiladas and though you can have them stuffed with cheese, chicken and ground beef are also available.

Tamales with beans and rice

12 February 2015:  Tamales.  They’re not just for Christmas any more.  Not that in New Mexico, they ever were.  In the Land of Enchantment, tamales are an everyday treat, something locals enjoy for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Padilla’s tamales are superb!  The cornmeal masa is redolent with the sweet flavor of finely ground corn kernels.  The masa isn’t overly thick, presenting a nice balance and contrast of flavors with the tender tendrils of pork.  Then there’s the chile.  It’s a rich red blend with a pleasant piquancy and there’s enough of it to enjoy with your beans and rice, too.

Despite my whiny sniping at Hispanic magazine, I admire the gumption it takes to create a list that’s bound to stir up controversy.  The magazine takes special care to recognize restaurants which have carved out a niche in a competitive market in the way outstanding restaurants do–with delicious food and good service that build a loyal clientele.  Padilla’s has certainly done that.

Sopaipillas

Padilla’s has established itself as an Albuquerque institution, one of the city’s very best New Mexican restaurants.  Credit that to tremendous fan loyalty–not only to the restaurant, but to Mary Padilla and her family, many of whom work in the restaurant. Despite lines snaking out the door just prior to opening time, no one really wants Padilla’s to expand into larger quarters.  Expansion sometimes takes away the charm and personality that makes some restaurants locally beloved and Padilla’s is certainly one very loved restaurant.

Padilla’s Mexican Kitchen
1510 Girard, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 262-0115

LATEST VISIT: 12 February 2015
# OF VISITS: 5
RATING: 20
COST: $$
BEST BET: Blue Corn Enchilada Dinner, Meat & Bean Stuffed Sopaipilla, Sopaipillas with Honey, Salsa, Tamale Plate

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New Mexico Beef Jerky Company – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Green Chile Cheese Fries

The internet is replete with compilations abounding in truth and humor entitled “You know you’re from New Mexico when…”  Perhaps most resonating in factuality are the items which depict just how much New Mexicans value their culinary traditions.  For example, you know you’re from New Mexico when: your favorite breakfast meat is sliced fried bologna; you buy green chile by the bushel and red chile by the gallon; most restaurants you go to begin with ‘El’ or ‘Los'; you have an extra freezer just for green chile; you think Sadie’s was better when it was in a bowling alley; and you can order your Big Mac with green chile.

Even if you’ve lived in the Land of Enchantment for only a short time, several items on that short list will ring with veracity for you. If you’re a lifelong resident, however, the list may get your dander up a bit because, conspicuous by their absence, are sacrosanct New Mexican foods and culinary traditions we treasure. We would add to the list, you know you’re from New Mexico when: your trail mix consists of pinon and carne seca and instead of popcorn, your home movie nights consist of eating chicharrones in front of the television.

The comfy, cozy dining room

You also know you’re from New Mexico if you can drive down the street and pass several stores selling carne seca. New Mexicans have always had an affinity for carne seca whose literal translation is “dried beef” but for which a more accurate description would be “dehydrated beef.” Spanish conquistadores and settlers learned the process for making carne seca from indigenous peoples, quickly discerning the value of preserving and ease of transporting dehydrated meats as they set off on their conquests. When they settled down and raised cattle for their families, they retained their carne seca preparation traditions. Years of preparing it had taught them that beyond its practicality, carne seca is an addictively delicious meat treat.

Frank Chavez and his family have been provisioning New Mexicans with high-quality, delicious carne seca for three decades, proffering some thirteen flavors. The carne seca is hung and dried in a controlled environment until the desired texture is achieved. The thin strips of dehydrated beef are then marinated in such ingredients as Hatch red and green chile with no additives or preservatives. Any triskaidekaphobia you might have will dissipate when you feast your eyes and wrap your lips around any of the thirteen flavors: original (salt only), peppered (salt and pepper), green chile, red chile, tangy teriyaki, extra hot teriyaki, lemon peppered, old-fashioned, garlic, extra hot Habanero, hot chile con limon and Christmas (red and green chile).

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Taco Burgers

27 November 2013: Texturally, the carne seca is absolutely perfect.  That means it snaps when you bite into it or break apart a piece.  It isn’t stringy in the least and is lean and super delicious.  The chile con limon is not to be missed.  Chile con limon is a very popular Mexican spice mix combining chile spices, salt, lemon and lime to impart an addictive piquant-tangy-citrusy flavor.  The heat is real.  So is the citrusy flavor.  Other early favorites include the extra hot teriyaki and the garlic, but that’s likely to change with future visits and more sampling.

Chavez, an Albuquerque native who grew up in the area around Central and Atrisco, realizes that New Mexican’s can’t live on carne seca alone. When he launched his second instantiation of the New Mexico Beef Jerky Company, he diversified its offerings by selling chicharrones, too…and if there’s anything New Mexicans love as much as carne seca, it’s chicharrones. We also love hot and spicy New Mexico Quality (the store brand) red chile chips so Chavez makes the very best, created with the same high standards as other products in the store.

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Carne Adovada Burrito

Several months after launching his second store (1900 Fourth Street, N.W.), Chavez once again listened to his customers (a novel concept more restaurateurs should embrace) who were clamoring for more. He expanded the menu beyond carne seca, chicharonnes and red chile chips, restructuring the store to include several tables for eat-in dining. One of the first to visit after the menu expansion was Rudy Vigil, the Sandia savant who’s led me to some great restaurants. Rudy endorsed the burritos at the New Mexico Beef Jerky Company with the same enthusiasm he has for the University of New Mexico Lobos.

The limited menu befits the store’s diminutive digs.  Four breakfast burritos (served all day long), five lunch burritos, burgers (tortilla or bun) and taco burgers make up the standard menu, but savvy diners will quickly pick up on the fact that they can also order chicharrones in half or full-pound sizes.  Even better, they can indulge in a chicharrones plate which comes with two tortillas and four ounces of chile for a half-pound portion.  Order a full pound of chicharrones and you’ll double the number of tortillas and chile portion size if you order the full pound.  You’ll also double your enjoyment.

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Chicharonnes Burrito with Green Chile

1 November 2013: Order the taco burgers as an appetizer to begin your experience in New Mexico Beef Jerky Company deliciousness. The taco burgers are simple in their construction: a hard-shell corn tortilla, a hamburger-style beef patty, lettuce and your choice of red or green chile (or both). More tacos should be made with hamburger patties. Texturally, hamburgers have an advantage in that they don’t fall off the taco shell. Hamburger patties are also superior in flavor to fried ground beef. The real kicker, literally and figuratively, is the green chile which bites back with a vengeance. It’s an excellent chile, some of the best in town.

1 November 2013: The carne adovada burrito is so good, it’s easy to imagine yourself having one for breakfast and one for lunch two or seven times a week.  The breakfast version is made with carne adovada, eggs, cheese and potatoes while the lunch version omits the eggs (though as previously noted, breakfast burritos are available all day long).  The carne adovada is outstanding with tender tendrils of porcine perfection marinated in a rich, piquant red chile made from chile pods.  Burritos are generously engorged, easily twice as thick as most hand-held burritos…and most of the filling is carne, not potatoes.  They’re easily affordable and will fill you up.  My adovada adoring friend Ruben calls them “unbelievably good,” a sentiment you’ll echo. Another friend Mike Muller believes these are the very best carne adovada burritos in town. Frankly, I can’t think of any better.

Green Chile Cheeseburger with New Mexico Quality Chips

Green Chile Cheeseburger with New Mexico Quality Red Chile Chips

1 November 2013: By most measures, the carne adovada burrito would be the best burrito at most restaurants’ burrito line-up, but it may not even be the best burrito at the New Mexico Beef Jerky Company. That honor probably belongs to the chicharrones burrito (with beans and chile), the only possible way in which chicharrones could be improved. The chicharrones are exemplars of crackling pork. They’re crispy, crunchy and redolent with porcine goodness. This burrito is tailor-made for green chile, an R-rated variety in that it may be unsuitable (too piquant) for some children, adults who don’t have an asbestos-lined mouth and Texans. This is chile the way New Mexicans have been preparing it for generations, not dumbed down for tourist tastes.

As a cautionary note, if you get there late in the day, say after 3:30, the New Mexico Beef Jerky Company may have run out of chicharrones.  Fresh batches are made daily and if you’re fortunate enough to arrive shortly after a fresh batch is ready, you’re in for a treat.  Few things are as wonderful as freshly made chicharrones hot enough to burn your tongue.  Before day’s end, the freshly ground beef from which burgers are constructed may also be gone.

Baloney, Cheese, Egg and Bean Burrito

Baloney, Cheese, Egg and Bean Burrito

27 November 2013: The ground beef for the burgers comes from the same beef used to create the old-fashioned carne seca. Each beef patty is hand-formed and prepared at about medium-well then topped with mustard and onions. Green chile (a must-have) and cheese are optional. As a green chile cheeseburger, the emphasis here is on chile as in plenty of piquancy. If you’ve ever lamented not being able to discern any chile on your green chile cheeseburger, this is a burger for you. The chile is not only piquant, it’s got a nice flavor. The beef patty exceeds the circumference of the bun and is thick, probably a good eight ounces of delicious, rich beef. Burgers are served with New Mexico Quality red chile chips. 

24 September 2014:  Baloney!  If you’ve ever wondered why the popular Italian sausage is synonymous with a term commonly associated with nonsense, bunkum or insincerity, you’re not alone.  It turns out the word “baloney” was first used in the 1930s as a reference to the disingenuousness of government bureaucracies.  The term was later applied to “Bologna” sausages because the sausage tasted nothing like the meat used to make them (a mixture of smoked, spiced meat from cows and pigs). 

Baloney Sandwich

24 September 2014: There’s nothing insincere or nonsensical about the love of baloney, the sausage.  It’s long been a favorite among families in rural New Mexico, a realization some restaurants are only now starting to grasp.  New Mexicans love the log-sized baloney we slice ourselves so that it’s three or four times the height of the single-sliced baloney sold in supermarkets.  We like to grill or fry it over low heat so that it acquires a smoky char and we love our boloney on a tortilla.  That’s how Frank’s crew prepares it: two thick slices of grilled baloney, melted cheese, lettuce and an incendiary green chile that will bring sweat to your brow.  It’s the baloney sandwich of my youth recaptured and for my friends Bill and Phil, it’s a new way to appreciate the “Rodney Dangerfield” of meat products.  They’ve become hooked on the baloney sandwiches, much to the detriment of ordering anything else.

17 November 2014: Baloney–it’s not just for sandwiches anymore!  In fact, baloney is a versatile ingredient that improves almost every dish in which it’s used (and it’s pretty terrific on its own, too).  In addition to using it on the aforementioned baloney sandwich, the New Mexico Beef Jerky Company deploys baloney on its burritos, too.  Were it not for that sublime carne adovada, the baloney, egg and cheese burrito would be in contention for best burrito in town.  The only thing that can improve this winner is beans.

Chorizo Burrito

9 October 2014:  When I asked the genial server manning the counter whether or not the chorizo burrito included cumin, his answer validated my long-held assertion that cumin has no place in New Mexican food.  He told me: “we don’t use sobaco on anything here.”  Sobaco is Spanish for armpit, a description my friend Bill also uses to describe cumin.  The chorizo burrito (eggs, potatoes, cheese, chorizo in a flour tortilla) is the best I’ve had in memory, maybe the best ever.  The chorizo has a wonderfully piquant kick.  It’s not nearly as piquant as the XX-Hot chile of the day (a placard at the counter will tell you how hot the chile is ), but it’s got personality and deliciousness.

17 November 2014: Chile cheese fries aren’t a new idea.  Several New Mexican restaurants offer them though very few are notable.  At the New Mexico Beef Jerky Company, they’re so memorable you might wish they were available at every meal.  The French fries are reminiscent of the fries at the K&I Diner in that they’re soft and easy to pick up en masse with a fork.  The cheese is shredded, not gloppy.  The chile, of course, is fantastic!  The plate includes a garnish of chopped tomatoes and lettuce which go surprisingly well with the fries.

Green Chile Cheese Fries

3 December 2014: The New Mexico Beef Jerky Co. started its December (2014) in a new site about four blocks south of its inaugural Fourth Street location.  Now occupying the building where the late, lamented 4 Aces Grill got its start in 2011, Frank Chavez and his crew now have a venue in which they can better showcase the great service which has always accompanied the excellent New Mexican cuisine.  Now you can order either at the counter up front or you can take a seat and be waited upon. 

The new, larger space also allows for even more expansion of the menu.  With virtually every visit, there seems to be something new on the menu which means menu boredom can’t set in.  Cheese enchiladas are a  heretofore offering that won me over immediately.  That’s an easy feat considering how transformative the red and green chile are.  Beyond the chile, these enchiladas are prepared as well as enchiladas can be and they’re accompanied by outstanding refried beans and papitas along with a single tortilla.  Don’t forget to ask for a fried egg atop your enchilada.

Enchiladas with red and green chile and a fried egg (over easy)

7 February 2015: In past years there have been efforts to define New Mexico’s best sandwich.  More often than not, the de facto best “sandwich” named has been the green chile cheeseburger.  While the green chile cheeseburger is outstanding in its own right, as a sandwich it’s a cop-out choice, especially considering the surfeit of superb sandwiches crafted throughout the Land of Enchantment.  Among the very best unique to New Mexico sandwiches is the green chile Philly, essentially a Philadelphia cheese steak with green chile.  

Enter into the fray the New Mexico Beef Jerky Company whose green chile Philly might be in the company of the one served at Itsa Italian Ice as among Albuquerque’s very best.  It’s an overstuffed behemoth brimming with red, yellow and green peppers, cheese, chopped steak and the restaurant’s fabulous green chile.  It’s a concordant collection of ingredients in a soft, chewy bread canvas.

Green Chile Philly

New Mexico Beef Jerky Company may be Lilliputian compared to those impersonal mega restaurants, but when it comes to service, the big boys can learn a thing or two from Frank Chavez and his crew. By the time our taco burgers were delivered to our table during our inaugural visit, Frank had already secured our unending loyalty with a generous sample of chicharrones. For “dessert” he brought us chicharrones in red chile and samples of the beef jerky.  He had us at chicharrones.  We’ll be back again and again.

New Mexico Beef Jerky Company
1527 4th Street, N.W
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 242-6121
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 6 February 2015
1st VISIT: 1 November 2013
# OF VISITS: 8
RATING: 24
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Chicharrones, Chicharrones Burrito, Carne Adovada Burrito, Taco Burger, Beef Jerky, Green Chile Cheeseburger, New Mexico Quality Red Chile Chips, Baloney Sandwich, Chorizo Burrito, Chile Cheese Fries, Enchiladas, Green Chile Philly

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