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 and now my highest rated 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 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.

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 glisten on my friend Ruben’s forehead with every bite, but he perseveres 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). 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 friend Ruben, who for more than a year was engaged in a Holy Grail type quest to find the best carne adovada in the Albuquerque area, is 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.”  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 stands 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.

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 desserts available at Mary & Tito’s.

Salsa and chips at Mary & Tito’s

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.

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.

Chicharones, Mary & Tito’s style. 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.

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?

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

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 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!

In the February, 2013 edition of 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.

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

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 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: 23 January 2016
# OF VISITS: 40
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

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

Casa de Benavidez – Los Ranchos de Albuquerque, New Mexico

Casa de Benavidez, nestled under the pines on Fourth Street

There are restaurants throughout the Duke City that have seemingly always been “there.”  They’re  as much a part of the fabric of the city as the neighborhoods they serve.  Casa de Benavidez is one of those restaurants, a familiar part of the landscape on North Fourth Street, some would say an institution.  Despite the notion of permanence, this venerable treasure has, in fact, been around only since 1984–at least under its current name.

Before there was a Casa de Benavidez, there was, just a mile or so away, a tiny little eatery with only three tables and a bustling take-out business.   There was also a dream, the shared ambition of Paul and Rita Benavidez  to serve their hometown with the food they loved and prepared so well.  At El Mexicano, a diminutive eatery they operated with their children, that dream began the transformation from monochromatic to technicolor with every one of their trademarked sopaipilla burgers sold.

Salsa and Chips

While the family was selling more and more sopaipilla burgers, they were also stockpiling used restaurant equipment in hope and anticipation of an expansion that would allow them to more fully realize their dreams.  Not far from their diminutive digs, Paul found a nearly 100-year-old two-story territorial style adobe home with a half-finished waterfall just south of the structure.  Quickly consummating the sale of the home, the Benavidez family moved out of their old location into the sprawling edifice in just one day.  The rest, as the proverbial “they” say, is history.

Over time, the carryout business at the back of the home became so successful that the family expanded their operation to include a full-service restaurant in the front of the house.  The restaurant was rechristened “Casa de Benavidez,” and the dream culminated with a commodious restaurant offering an expansive menu featuring traditional New Mexican and Mexican food in elegantly appointed interior dining rooms and exterior surroundings that include lush gardens, a koi pond teeming with life and strolling mariachis.

Combination No. 1 Tamale, Cheese Enchilada, Chile Relleno and Taco Served With Beans, Rice, Special Rib and Sopaipilla

On the marquee, subtitled directly below the restaurant’s name, are the words “Home of the Sopaipilla Burger.”  That’s a recognition of the role played in the restaurant’s early and current successes by its unique rendition of New Mexico’s ubiquitous green chile cheeseburger.  Several other restaurants offer their own take on a sopaipilla burger, but Casa de Benavidez’s version was the very first and it remains first in the heart of its loyal patrons, some of whom order the “jumbo” sized half-pound version.

Repeat after me (to the tune of the old Big Mac jingle) — one all-beef patty, refried beans, lettuce, cheese, tomato and chile  (red, green or both) on two sopaipilla “buns.”  That’s the sopaipilla burger, still one of the most popular and celebrated items on the menu.  The sopaipillas are more dense than the puffed-up sopaipillas on which New Mexicans love honey.  They’re formidable enough not to fall apart at the moistness of other ingredients, but if the chile is ladled on a bit too generously, expect your hands to be covered in the red or green stuff.

Carne Adovada Plate

Casa de Benavidez was one of the first restaurants we visited after moving back to Albuquerque in 1996. It didn’t surprise us when this casa was the 1996 winner of KOB TV’s “Salsa Challenge.” The salsa is about medium on the piquancy scale  and has a garlicky flavor aficionados love while the chips (served warm) are unfailingly crisp and fresh. Alas, sometimes because of overflow crowds your empty salsa dish isn’t replenished as faithfully as at other New Mexican restaurants. That’s about the only short-coming in the service which tends to be friendly and attentive.  That salsa, by the way, was named Albuquerque’s fifth best salsa by Albuquerque The Magazine from among a sampling size of 130 different restaurant salsas reviewed in the September, 2012 issue.

The menu features many New Mexican standards, but it also includes “foreign” items such as  chimichangas (Tucson) and fajitas (Texas).  Breakfast is served Friday, Saturday and Sunday with lunch and dinner (same menu) served every day of the week.  Lunch specials are a more economical dining option than dinners. To say Casa Benavidez is one of the more pricey New Mexican restaurants  might be an understatement.  You might experience a bit of sticker shock at seeing some items approaching the nine dollar price point–and that’s just the appetizers.  The entrees are all priced in double-figures.

Sopaipillas and Tortilla

3 January 2017: Perhaps the best way to experience the restaurant’s culinary wizardry is by ordering one of the four combination plates.   Combos are served with beans, rice, one very special rib and sopaipillas.  Combination plate number one features a cheesy enchilada, a taco, a crunchy chile relleno and a tamale. Of these, the real stand-out is the crunchy chile relleno whose sweet, battered texture is unlike any other we’ve had in Albuquerque.  The special pork rib is unique to Casa Benavidez.  It’s a real treat.  Be forewarned that combination plates are humongous–large enough for two.

One of the restaurant’s very best, albeit most unconventional entrees are the succulent pork short ribs: four meaty ribs on which is slathered a semi-sweet and smoky homemade sauce.  These are multi-napkin ribs, the type of which will leave a red beard on any clean-shaven face.  They’re better ribs than you’ll find at several of the Duke City’s barbecue restaurants.  That goes for the sauce, too.  You’ll find yourself dredging up excess sauce with the accompanying fries (or you can have rice).

Natillas

3 January 2017: My Kim tells me it’s a woman’s prerogative to change her mind.  She does so frequently, but rarely when ordering at a New Mexican restaurant.  Almost invariably, she’ll order the carne adovada plate though only with the chile in which the carne has been marinated, no extra.   Casa de Benavidez serves some of her favorite adovada.  Tender tendrils of easily pulled apart pork marinated in a rich, hearty red chile make her happy and when she’s happy, Gil’s happy.  The carne adovada plate is served with Spanish rice and beans (which she passes over to me). 

3 January 2017: Casa de Benavidez offers a number of desserts: German chocolate cake, carrot cake, fried ice cream, flan, natillas, brownies and a sweet roll.  The natillas are topped with a very generous dollop or ten of whipped cream.  When scraped off, not much of the natillas actually remain.  That’s too bad because these natillas are cinnamon rich, creamy and delicious.

On Fourth Street, facing east Casa de Benavidez is at the forefront of the Sandia Mountains.  Both seem to have an air of distinction and permanence.  Because of its longevity and community standing, the Casa de Benavidez is on the New Mexico Tourism Department’s “Culinary Treasures trail,” an initiative which honors those rare and precious family-owned-and-operated gems operating continuously since at least December 31st, 1969.  As with all the restaurants on the list, the Casa is an independent mom-and-pop restaurant which has stood the test of time to become beloved institutions in their neighborhoods and beyond.

Casa de Benavidez
8032 Fourth Street, N.W.
Los Ranchos de Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 893-3311
Web Site | Facebook Page

LATEST VISIT: 3 January 2017
# OF VISITS: 9
RATING: 18
COST: $$
BEST BET: Sopaipilla Burger, Pork Ribs, Chile Relleno, Salsa and Chips, Combination Plate #1, Sopaipilla

Casa de Benavidez Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Burritos Alinstante – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Burritos Alinstante on Broadway

A couple of days before my Kim and I were to be married (some three decades plus ago), my mom flew to Chicago to teach her how to prepare some of my favorite dishes (is it any wonder my sisters call me “consentido” (spoiled)?). A quick study, Kim learned how to make tortillas, lasagna, fried chicken, red chile and other favorites just the way mom makes them. Among the wedding presents my mom gave Kim were a cast-iron comal (griddle) and a rodillo (rolling pin) of her own.   In short order Kim began making tortillas as if she’d been making them all her life, in the process contributing significantly to my adulthood struggle with caloric overachievement.

The time-honored, traditional art of making tortillas on a sizzling cast-iron comal is truly one of the defining elements of both New Mexican and Mexican cuisine. Tortillas are a simple, round flatbread partaken with just about every meal in many a New Mexican household. They are a staple available in most New Mexican restaurants and certainly in the Garduño household. With the widespread availability of plastic-wrapped, store-bought pretenders, however, the art of kneading dough and shaping orbs for preparation on a griddle is slowly being lost.

Green Chile Cheeseburger Burrito

That’s truly a shame because store-bought tortillas can’t compare in taste (and certainly not in aroma) with a tortilla just been peeled off of the comal with its robust, lightly crisped outside and soft, chewy center. The store-bought variety tends to be thin, highly processed and tastes like cardboard might.  You need go no further than Duran’s Central Pharmacy in the Old Town area to experience the former.  The latter is, unfortunately, available in far too many New Mexican restaurants.

Shirley Chavez was a tortillera in the traditional sense, a true craftsperson connected in tradition to rich, ancient cultures as far back as the advanced Mesoamerican civilizations. In 1989, she opened a small tortilla factory called Chavez Tortillas and while her product was known to be outstanding, sales were disappointing. It wasn’t until she began preparing burritos with her tortillas that her business took off. Thus was born Burritos Alinstante, a restaurant which now has a presence in Albuquerque as well as in Belen, Bosque Farms and Los Lunas.

Burrito with Chicharrones, Beans, Cheese and Green Chile

Although the tortillas at Burritos Alinstante are no longer made in the old-fashioned ways, food preparation is still an in-house, hand-crafted process. Everything on the menu is made fresh daily from scratch.  Gleaming metal vessels hold the ingredients in readiness until an order is placed.   Place your order and almost in an instant, your burrito will be ready for you.  If that sounds too much like “just add water and your burrito will be ready,” that’s certainly not a case.  The well-practiced hands of the restaurant’s staff are so deft that your wait will be minimal.

The menu offers twelve burrito choices plus a breakfast burrito (available only until noon) and build your own options (pick one meat, red or green chile, shredded or nacho cheese and two more ingredients). You can have your burritos smothered in red or green chile or hand-held with the chile inside. Combination plates include beans (prepared with lard for that wonderfully authentic New Mexican taste) and Spanish rice.  You can also order nachos, Frito pie, tamale bowl and a taco plate.  Several ala carte items such as salsa and chips, guacamole, tacos and tamales are also available.

The chile isn’t particularly piquant–at least for this fire-eater, but it is very tasty.  The number four burrito (chicharrones, beans, cheese and green chile) hand-held is a popular favorite.  It’s a full eight-ounces of flavor-packed deliciousness with chicharrones in every single bite.  Hand-held doesn’t necessarily mean you can drive with one hand and hold your burrito with the other.  The burrito is so crammed with beans, melting shredded cheese and chile that copious spillage is bound to occur no matter how careful you are.  You’ll enjoy the burrito more if you take a seat in the restaurant’s comfortable confines and savor it slowly. 

Comprehensive as it may be, the New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail doesn’t list a single burger that isn’t constructed on conventional burger buns.  Savvy New Mexican restaurateurs long ago figured out green chile cheeseburgers can also be made on tortillas.  Burritos Alinstante doesn’t call their version a “tortilla burger” as some restaurants do.  It’s called a green chile cheeseburger burrito and it’s terrific!  Instead of cutting up a burger patty as some restaurants do, Alinstante’s cooks fill the tortilla with seasoned ground beef then they add traditional green chile cheeseburger ingredients: lettuce, tomatoes, green chile and cheese.  This has become my favorite among the restaurant’s many delicious offerings.

For some inexplicable reason, there was a ten-year gap in between my visits to Burritos Alinstante.  That shameful travesty won’t be repeated.  Burritos Alinstante can become a habit.

Burritos Alinstante
2101 Broadway, S.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 242-0966
Web Site | Facebook Page

LATEST VISIT: 21 December 2016
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 18
COST: $
BEST BET: Chicharones Burrito, Salsa and chips, Guacamole, Green Chile Cheeseburger Burrito

Burritos Alinstante Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Los Chavez Cafe – Belen, New Mexico

Los Chavez Cafe in Belen

Vamos todos a Belen
Con amor y gozo.

Translated from Spanish, those words–lyrics to a traditional New Mexican nativity song–mean “Let’s all go to Bethlehem with love and joy.”  In villages and cities throughout Northern New Mexico, peregrines sing that song as they reverently process from house-to-house reenacting the Gospel of Luke account of Mary and Joseph and their search for shelter.  Peregrines repeat their search every night during the nine days preceding Christmas, culminating with Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve.  Known as “Las Posadas” this Catholic tradition often incorporates farolitos, lighted candles weighted with sand in paper bags which light the way for the peregrines and the Christ child yet to be born. 

You couldn’t blame the Belen Chamber of Commerce if they ever decide to co-opt the lyrics “Vamos todos a Belen con amor y gozo.”  It would make a great marketing campaign, an invitation to visit the “Hub City” with love and joy.  While some of us may not associate love and joy with a visit to Belen, New Mexico, there’s much to love about the second most populous city in Valencia County.  If you regard Belen as solely a place en route to somewhere else, you’re probably overdue for a visit to this ancient settlement (founded in 1741) with an eye to the future.

The Drive-up Menu

The New Mexico Railrunner Express makes it easy for you.  As the southern terminus point for the commuter rail system, Belen welcomes visitors with open arms.  Once you arrive, you’re in close proximity to one of the sixteen Harvey Houses built in New Mexico.  Across the street and acequia from the old Harvey House is the legendary Pete’s Cafe, one of the very best New Mexican restaurants in the Land of Enchantment.  A pedestrian overpass provides easy access to restaurants and galleries on Becker Avenue in downtown Belen.

Not everything Belen has to offer is in walking distance proximity of the Railrunner station.  To take full advantage of the city’s offerings, you’ll need your vehicle.  One event eliciting much love and joy in Belen is the annual matanza held the last Saturday in January.  Touted as the “world’s largest matanza,” the event involves the slaughter and cooking of several dozen fatted pigs then serving them to more than ten-thousand hungry patrons.  All proceeds go toward scholarships for local college students.  This family-fun event is renown for, among other delicious offerings, some of the very best chicharrones and carne adovada in the land of Enchantment.  People from all over the world flock to Belen to taste porcine perfection.

Salsa and Chips

About twenty separate teams carry on the tradition passed down by Spanish vaqueros, preparing a variety of dishes showcasing the versatility and deliciousness of pork.  For some cities it may be enough to be known for one significant achievement (such as the world’s largest matanza), but not for Belen.  In August, 2015, Belen laid claim to another “world’s largest” feat.  Fittingly it also involved pork.  During Belen’s Viva II event, the world’s longest tamale was constructed.  Measuring 116 feet, 7 inches, it easily dwarfed the previous  Guinness Book of World Records’ 66-foot 4-inch tamale, which was assembled in Cancún, Mexico.

LJ Thomason and wife Tina, proprietors of Los Chavez Cafe in Belen, led the tamale team.  When it comes to food and festivals in Belen, the Thomasons lead the pack…er, swineherd.  They also sponsor the Rio Grande Matanzeros, one of the pork preparation teams at the world’s largest matanza.  Since the New Mexico state fair began holding an annual chicharrones competition, the Thomson’s have practically owned both the “peoples’ choice” and “judges’ choice” awards.  When it comes to chicharrones, no one does it better!

Chicharron Taco and Carne Adovada Taco

Fortunately you don’t have to wait until late January or for the state fair to sample those celebrated chicharrones.  All it takes is a thirty-minute (from Albuquerque) ride south to Los Chavez Cafe on Main Street Belen.  It’s a drive to be made with love and joy, two emotions you’ll experience at the popular Cafe (reason enough to visit Belen).  The Cafe is rather innocuous, bearing little semblance to most New Mexican restaurants.  In a previous life, it appears to have been the home of a Long John Silver’s seafood (term used loosely) restaurant.  That notion is reinforced by the large drive-up window and cavalcade of motorized conveyances waiting to place an order.

Rather than trying to be another one of those restaurants purporting to server virtually every New Mexican dish and not necessarily doing any of them well, Los Chavez’s menu is relatively sparse, showcasing what they do best: pork dishes.  Open for breakfast and lunch, the Cafe’s best bets are probably chicharron dishes though the daily specials are tempting.  Chicharrones aren’t just found on the bounteous burrito menu.  You can find chicharrones, porcine gold nuggets, on some items in which you wouldn’t expect to find chicharrones.

Chile Relleno Plate

That includes chicharron tacos, a novelty anywhere else, but a specialty at Los Chavez.  Served on soft-shelled corn tortillas redolent with the alluring aroma of fresh corn, the chicharron tacos are replete with inimitably delicious golden-hued cubed pork.  Nestled within the corn envelope are chopped cilantro, red onions and chopped tomatoes, all reminiscent of Mexican-style tacos.  Though good as gold, you won’t have to raid Fort Knox to pay for them.  While you’re at it, you should also order a carne adovada taco.  The carne adovada is silky smooth and absolutely delicious.  The tender tendrils of chile-marinated pork are addictive. 

You’ll know you’re no longer in Albuquerque with your first sampling of the Cafe’s salsa and chips.  While too many of the metropolitan area’s New Mexican restaurants tend to dumb down their salsa, at Los Chavez the salsa has an incendiary bite–even more heat than the fabled salsa at Sadie’s.  Because heat isn’t the be-all qualify of a great salsa, this one also has a great chile-blessed flavor.  The salsa is served with crisp, low-in-salt chips.  You’ll quickly polish off the complimentary first portion (perhaps with a cup or six of coffee) and will probably order another portion. 

Jim Croce once cautioned against “tugging on Superman’s cape and spitting into the wind.”  He should have added “you don’t order something other than chicharrones at Los Chavez.”  That’s precisely what this humbled critic did because my waitress rhapsodized about the chile relleno plate.  Don’t get me wrong.  The chile relleno was delicious, thanks largely to the piquancy of the cheese-engorged green chile, but it was battered a bit too thickly for my taste.  Though I enjoyed the rellenos–and the superb frijoles and papits–very much, my cheating eyes were focused on the chicharron dishes destined for other tables. 

Love and joy will certainly warm your heart (and that’s not just the chile talking) after lunch at Los Chavez Cafe in beautiful downtown Belen.  It’s time to rediscover Belen and the pleasure pork can bring.

Los Chavez Cafe
633 North Main Street
Belen, New Mexico
(505) 859-4121
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 24 September 2016
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Chicharron Taco, Carne Adovada Taco, Chile Rellenos, Salsa and Chips

Los Chavez Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Apple Tree Cafe – Corrales, New Mexico

The Sprawling Wagner Farms Complex in Corrales Includes The Apple Tree Cafe

Apple trees have had a bad rap ever since a conniving serpent (probably a lawyer or politician in disguise) in a verdant paradise beguiled Eve into taking a bite of the fruit of the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” Never mind that Genesis does not specifically mention an apple as having been the forbidden fruit, for some reason (perhaps collusion among grape growers), religious art has always depicted the apple as the one fruit God prohibited Adam and Eve from touching or eating “lest you die.” The apple tree’s nefarious reputation took another nasty hit when an orchard of apple trees hurled fruity missiles at Dorothy and her friends as they made their way to Oz. Dorothy was just trying to follow the edict “an apple a day keeps the doctor (or the wicked witch of the west) away.”

Today, temptation is still synonymous with the apple tree, particularly in Corrales where generations of New Mexicans converge every year to get their chile fix at Wagner Farms. Few can resist the alluring siren’s call of chiles being roasted, their tender flesh hissing and spitting as they blacken as their alluring aroma perfumes the air. Like Eve succumbing to the wiles of the serpent, many of us also can’t resist the lure of the Apple Tree Café adjacent to the farm store. It’s a temptation so strong, we walk briskly past bins showcasing crisp, fresh vegetables and fruits. We fidget and fuss if we have to stand in line to place our orders at the counter then we count the minutes until we’re summoned back to that counter to pick up our bounty of deliciousness.

Place Your Order Here

Long queues are not atypical at the Apple Tree where ardent aficionados line up for a New Mexican breakfast or lunch fix. In fact, the number of hungry diners queuing up at the cash-only counter is often longer than the number of items on the menu.  While the menu may be small, flavors and aromas emanating from the tiny kitchen are not.  Alas, you can sate your appetite at the Apple Tree Cafe only during chile roasting season, a seasonal event that (sometimes) ranges from as early as mid-July through mid-November depending on the harvest (though the breakfast burritos are available at the Corrales Growers Market on Sundays).  Breakfast–essentially two burritos and huevos rancheros–is available all day.  Savvy diners traverse highways and byways to have one of the Cafe’s behemoth breakfast burritos. 

That became evident in the summer of 2014 when the New Mexico Tourism Department invited New Mexicans to nominate and vote for their favorite purveyors of breakfast burritos.  Nearly 50,000 votes were cast for the 400 restaurants nominated for inclusion in the New Mexico True Breakfast Burrito Byway.   Katrinah’s East Mountain Grill in Edgewood garnered the most votes with 2,623 tallies. The Apple Tree Café placed second with 1,907 votes.  The fact that the restaurants earning the most votes were from small towns speaks volumes about New Mexico’s oft quirky voting preferences.

Beef Enchiladas Christmas Style

In her novelty hit popular music singer Rosemary Clooney invited listeners to “try an enchilada with da fish a bac a lab and then a…”   While the lyrics may confound listeners, New Mexicans love enchiladas and would probably try them with “da fish a bac a lab” if only we could figure out exactly what that means.  Generally we like our enchiladas made in the traditional way.  More often than not in Northern New Mexico, that means flat, not rolled.  At the Apple Tree Cafe, enchiladas are rolled, but you get three of them on a plate along with your choice of red or green chile (if for no other reason but to sample them both, ask for “Christmas”).  Available with either chicken or beef (shredded), the enchiladas go best with a fried egg over-easy on top and are served with beans and rice.  The beans are terrific, but the Spanish rice is about as boring as every other Spanish rice dish in New Mexico.  We enjoyed the green chile quite a bit more than we did the red though neither is especially piquant.

Any compilation of New Mexican food favorites has to include green chile stew, a staple at virtually every restaurant and home throughout the Land of Enchantment.  Odes and paeans have been written about the invigorating properties of green chile stew, an elixir which can assuage hunger and make partakers contented.  A bowl of green chile stew is a must at the Apple Tree Cafe.  More than most, it’s replete with chopped green chile, fresh tomatoes, bite-sized chunks of potatoes and cubed pork.  Though it lacks the incendiary heat many New Mexicans love (remember, here pain is a flavor), the green chile is redolent with green chile goodness.  The green chile stew is served with a thick locally made tortilla that puts to shame most of the waifishly thin factory-made tortillas served elsewhere.

Green Chile Stew

It’s almost endemic in New Mexico that all restaurants, cafes, restaurants, drive-ins, diners, dives, joints, roadside stands and bowling alleys with cooking capabilities serve up their version of our state’s sacrosanct green chile cheeseburger.  The Apple Tree Cafe’s version is a nice vehicle for Wagner Farm’s chopped green chile, alas a fairly tepid offering.  Constructed with fresh, naturally ripened tomatoes, chopped lettuce, mustard, American cheese and green chile between sesame seed buns, this burger would be greatly improved with hand-formed, never refrigerated beef.  With every bite you’re reminded of the telltale signs of frozen beef patties on what would otherwise be an excellent burger.

Several postprandial delights await though you’ll probably take them home for later consumption because of the Cafe’s generous portions.  Make one of them the blueberry-lemon cake, a brick-sized cake featuring two fruits with varying degrees of tanginess.  Spongy freshness and moistness are hallmarks of this terrific cake.  We weren’t quite as enamored of the apple turnover which wasn’t nearly as flaky or fruit-filled as similar offerings at local bakeries.  Other desserts include homemade apple pie, peach cobbler and ice cream as well as caramel apples as teasingly tempting as they can be.

Green Chile Cheeseburger

Temptations abound at the Apple Tree Cafe, but unless you’re dietetically depriving yourself of New Mexican food deliciousness, you need not ever feel guilty about succumbing to the allure of culinary favorites blessed by the incomparable flavors and aromas of chile.

Apple Tree Cafe
5000 Corrales Road
Corrales, New Mexico
(505) 270-7056
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 5 September 2016
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 19
COST: $$
BEST BET: Beef Enchiladas, Green Chile Cheeseburger, Green Chile Stew, Watermelon Juice, Apple Turnover, Blueberry-Lemon Cake

Apple Tree Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Casa Diaz – Bernalillo, New Mexico

Casa Diaz on Camino Del Pueblo in Bernalillo

The siren song of a small town living has always appealed to Irma Rodriguez who just can’t see herself in the big city.  Having grown up in Gallup, New Mexico, she appreciates the sense of community–the extended family feeling of really getting to know her neighbors.  It’s an attitude she imparts to guests at Casa Diaz Mexican and American Grill, the Bernalillo restaurant she and husband Jesus launched in August, 2016.  For her, the term “locally owned and operated” is deeply rooted, a reflection of her upbringing in and around family owned and operated restaurants in Gallup. 

Irma’s grandmother served for decades as the tortillera at the legendary Jerry’s Cafe in Gallup.  Later when Irma herself worked at Jerry’s, she assimilated the day-to-day nuances of running the most popular independent restaurant in the Heart of Navajo Country.  In particular, she observed as the restaurant’s staff inculcated a customer-oriented attitude.  The lessons she learned are inscribed in her restaurant’s operational model on the Web site’s “About Us” page: “We strive to give you a fresh meal that’s similar to being home cooked. When you are at Casa Diaz we treat you like family because that’s what you are to us. We want to give you the best experience and provide the highest quality of service.”  Treat you like family, best experience, highest quality of service…those are small town values you’ll find at Casa Diaz.

Casa Diaz Dining Room

If you’ve ever been to Jerry’s Cafe, you’ve not only experienced great service, but some of the very best New Mexican cuisine in the Land of Enchantment.  Irma admits that when she’s stuck for a recipe or a dish is missing a little something, she’ll call her friends at Jerry’s and they help her out.  Having a strong service foundation and a little help from Jerry’s–that’s a good formula for keeping her guests happy.  It also helps that Casa Diaz has an inviting and homey look and feel.  Seating, on chairs imprinted with the sunburst symbol, is comfortable.  A kiva fireplace lends warmth even when it’s not in use.  Walls are festooned with artwork courtesy of the Rio Rancho Art Association

Casa Diaz is located on heavily trafficked Camino Del Pueblo in a space previously occupied by long-time Bernalillo favorite La Casita Cafe.  When La Casita shuttered its doors in 2013 after more than thirty years of feeding Bernalillo, it left a significant void.  Bellies still rumble when former patrons drove by the empty location.  As with Casa Diaz, La Casita was a family-owned and operated restaurant which treated its guests like family.  That’s just how things are in small towns such as Bernalillo.  That’s why Casa Diaz is already becoming a local favorite.

Empanadas

The concept of a Mexican and American grill is an interesting and ambitious undertaking, but if our inaugural visit is any indication, Irma and her culinary crew are up to the task.  As is our practice, we asked whether or not the chile is prepared with cumin.  Interestingly the green chile is made with cumin as is the fire-roasted tomato salsa, but the red chile is not (usually it’s the other way around).  Neither is the terrific tomatillo salsa (more on that later).  No matter what you order, make sure to wash it down with either the horchata or the Jamaica agua fresca.

Mexican and American dishes are not always the mix-and-match dichotomy they’re painted to be, especially when grilled.  They actually go very well together.  The breakfast menu includes a number of Mexican and New Mexican favorites such as huevos rancheros and breakfast burritos, but it’s also got French toast, pancakes (with bananas or strawberries) and a ham-and-egg breakfast sandwich.    While the menu may tell you breakfast is served only until 11AM, if you use the “my watch stopped” excuse and ask nicely, the ever-accommodating wait staff might let you order a breakfast entree even at 1:30PM.

Eggs & Nopoalitos

Casa Diaz doesn’t offer distinctive lunch and dinner menus which means you can have any of the twelve starters any time after 11AM.  The starters menu offers quite a bit of diversity: coctel de camaron and queso con carne as well as fried pickles and buffalo wings.  Soups and salads are available as well as menudo (Saturday and Sunday only).  Four burgers will tempt the burgerphiles among us.  Entrees range from ribeye and salmon to enchiladas and shrimp fajitas.  Kids meals include cheese pizza and grilled cheese.  There’s bound to be something for everyone, including vegetarians.

Casa Diaz may shatter any preconceptions about empanadas you’ve ever had.  Almost every other empanada we’ve ever had has been made with a bread-type dough, sometimes flaky.  At Casa Diaz, the empanadas are made with flattened sopaipillas.  It’s a winning idea!  The empanadas are engorged with ground beef, green peppers and tomatoes and topped with a crema fresca.  Excellent on their own, the empanadas are made exceptional when you spoon on the accompanying tomatillo salsa, as good as any tomatillo salsa we’ve found in the area.  The tomatillo salsa imparts bright, tangy, sour-sweet and piquant flavor notes.

Torta

There are several breakfast items you’ll certainly want to try.  One of those is eggs and nopalitos, two eggs scrambled with nopalitos, tomatoes and onions, served side of Casa potatoes and charro beans with two corn tortillas.  Don’t let the fact that nopalitos are the edible young pads of the prickly pear cactus dissuade you from enjoying a truly tasty dish.  Yesa, the pesky, prickly cactus spines are removed and no, nopalitos don’t taste like chicken.  Nopalitos have a distinctive herbaceous-sour flavor and a better flavor than so many other “vegetables.”  The accompanying charro beans are magnificent, among the best we’ve ever had.  Perfectly prepared pintos with pieces of hot dog and bacon, those charros are championship caliber.   

If you still think a torta is just some sort of cake, you haven’t spent much time in Mexican restaurants throughout the Duke City where tortas are making significant inroads.  Instead of ordering tacos which are far less substantial and quite a bit more expensive for what you get, savvy diners are ordering tortas, the quintessential, generously endowed Mexican sandwich.  Sometimes called “lonche” because they’re often eaten for lunch, tortas are good any time of day.  Anyone who loves sandwiches will love tortas.  Casa Diaz’ rendition is served on sourdough bread with lettuce, tomato, avocado, pepperjack cheese, roasted jalapeno on the side and your choice of protein.  The ham, a thick, smoky slice is especially good.

Adovada Pork Chops

When New Mexicans hear the term “adovada”  we tend to think tender chunks of New Mexico pork braised in wondrous New Mexico red chile.  Indeed, throughout the Land of Enchantment, when you see carne adovada on the menu, that’s almost invariably how you’re going to get it.  There are exceptions (Orlando’s in Taos comes to mind), but they’re few and far between.  Add Casa Diaz to the proud few restaurants for whim the term “adovada” doesn’t always subscribe to expectations.  As at Orlando’s, adovada at Casa Diaz means grilled, quarter-inch thick marinated pork chops marinated in chile.  The adovada pork chops are better than the waifishly thin breakfast pork chops area restaurants tend to serve courtesy of a red chile which, not especially piquant, has a nice flavor.  The adovada pork chops are served with calabasitas and papitas.

There was only one item on the menu we didn’t enjoy, the cherry cobbler.  After going two-for-two with outstanding cobbler dishes at The County Line Restaurant and Eclectic Urban Pizzeria and Tap House, we thought a trifecta might be possible. Twas not meant to be.  We managed to locate only one cherry in the cobbler, a gelatinous pectin-packed mess topped by a very good crust and a generous scoop of vanilla ice cream.  Since the theme of this review seems to be small town, we can only hope there are cherry trees in Bernalillo.  Casa Diaz is too good a restaurant to serve cherries from a can.

Cherry Cobbler

If you appreciate small town values and good food, you’ll like Casa Diaz Mexican American Grill, soon to be another Bernalillo dining destination restaurant.

Casa Diaz Mexican American Grill
567 South Camino Del Pueblo
Bernalillo, New Mexico
(505) 688-3589
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 3 September 2016
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Empanadas, Adovada Pork Chop, Ham Torta, Eggs & Nopalitos

Casa Diaz Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Cervantes Restaurant & Lounge – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Cervantes Restaurant & Lounge on San Pedro and Gibson

In 1706, a group of Spanish colonists were granted permission by King Philip of Spain to establish a new villa on the banks and in the valley of the Rio del Norte. The colonists chose a spot “in a place of good fields, waters, pastures, and timber, distant from the villa of Santa Fe about twenty-two leagues.”  They named the new settlement La Villa de Alburquerque in honor of the Viceroy of New Spain, Fernandez de la Cueva, Duque de Alburquerque.”  A portrait of el Duque de Alburquerque hangs prominently just above the mantle at Cervantes Restaurant & Lounge in the southeast quadrant of the city named for him.  Though there is a lot to see throughout the restaurant, the portrait of El Duque is the cynosure to which all eyes are inevitably drawn, a commanding presence with a quiet air of dignity and regal bearing.

One wonders what El Duque de Alburquerque would think of the city bearing his name and of the lively cuisine that prompted Livability.com to name that city one of America’s “10 most surprisingly vibrant cities for foodies to flex their taste buds” and for the Huffington Post to declare it “one of the ten best cities for local food.”  El Duque would certainly marvel at the profligate portions served at every meal and of the rotundity of many who partake of those portions.”  An aristocrat renown for the luxury and magnificence of his administration, El Duque would probably take great self-aggrandizing pleasure at the portrait hanging at Cervantes, but it’s likely the food would cause him severe gastronomic distress.  He would certainly not be used to the richness and piquancy of the ingredients and might wonder what manner of alchemy is searing his tongue and saturating his brow.

Cervantes Dining Room

Note:  It was during my initial visit to Cervantes in 1979 that I was told the portrait hanging over the mantle depicted El Duque de Albuquerque.  During my most recent visit in July, 2016, our server related that no one really knows whose countenance hangs on the wall.  She joked that it could be a portrait of “just about anybody.”  Whether you choose to believe that distinguished gentleman who’s presided over every meal at Cervantes is El Duque or just some noble looking dude won’t add to or take away from how much you’ll enjoy a meal at this legendary eatery.

Although Cervantes Restaurant and Lounge is hardly contemporaneous with El Duque de Alburquerque, it is one of the city’s venerable dining institutions.  Hundreds of Albuquerque restaurants have come and gone in the three and a half decades since Roberta Finley launched her restaurant in 1976.  Still, this Kirtland Air Force Base area institution continues to thrive against increasingly formidable competition, outlasting many of the anointed “flavor of the day” restaurants which burn hot at the start, but fizzle out over time.

Salsa and Chips

There are many reasons Cervantes has not fizzled out like so many of its competitors and one of them is because it still burns red hot—literally.  In the early 80s, Cervantes was where to go if you needed a chile fix, the hotter the better.  The chile was incendiary, but addictively so.  While stationed at Kirtland, we used to take the dreaded Inspector General team to Cervantes so we could watch them sweat in much the same way they probably delighted in watching us sweat their white-glove inspections of our mission readiness.

Today Cervantes’ chile isn’t nearly as piquant as the chile burned into my memory engrams (not to mention my taste buds and tongue), but it seems to be much more flavorable—especially the red chile.  For the non-fire-eaters among us, the incendiary heat of that chile may have detracted from the flavor appreciation that just isn’t possible when your mouth is burning.  For those of us with asbestos-lined tongues, eating that chile was a rite of passage, a demonstration of our manliness (being the more mature gender, women need no such affirmation).  In any case, the red chile at Cervantes remains very good.  It’s very healthy, too.  In keeping with today’s healthier lifestyles it is made with less sodium, fewer calories and no fat or cholesterol while retaining the richness of traditional flavors.  Cervantes food products contain no artificial preservatives, chemical additives, fillers or animal products.

Con Queso

Cervantes Food Products has become synonymous with the restaurant.  The Food Products Division was born from the family’s commitment to preserving heirloom family recipes, many of which are more than a century old.  Heart-healthy gift baskets for all occasions are available through the Cervantes Web site.  They’re especially popular with expatriated New Mexicans craving a chile fix.  Several Cervantes products have earned a multitude of Scovie awards over the years.  Named for Wilbur Scoville who pioneered the rating scale for piquancy, the Scovie award was created by Albuquerque resident Dave DeWitt, founder and co-publisher of Fiery-Foods & BBQ magazine.  Every year as many as 800 products from around the world compete for these coveted honors.

Cervantes remains, at heart, a much loved restaurant that has served three generations of loyal patrons.  Active duty and retired Air Force personnel and the civilian workforce from nearby Kirtland are especially loyal, constituting a significant percentage of the restaurant’s daily visitors.  No doubt they still bring the dreaded Inspector General for a meal or two, perhaps no longer to make them sweat from the piquancy of the chile, but to soothe the savage breast with New Mexican food with charms to do so.

Ground Beef Enchiladas Christmas Style with an Over Easy Egg

The dining room at Cervantes is in two levels with a lower center section flanked on both sides by seating for lesser numbers.  Tables in the lower center section accommodate larger parties.  The ambience is a sort of Spanish Gothic meets Mexican traditional.  Chandeliers suspended from the ceiling provide low-light comfort that just seems appropriate considering the dark woods and especially the crossed Spanish swords and shields festooning the walls on either side of the fireplace where el Duque de Alburquerque appears to look over the restaurant.  Colorful Mexican blankets are strewn about judiciously.

A basket of chips and a bowl of salsa are presented with your menu.  The first round is complementary, the second (and likely third and forth) will cost you a pittance.  The chips are unsalted, but large and crisp, perfect for Gil-size scoops of salsa.  The salsa is gloriously red, constructed of fresh ingredients (garlic, tomatoes, onion and I believe both jalapeno and green chile).  It is of medium piquancy with just enough bite to get your attention.

Carne Adovada

The menu includes many traditional New Mexican food favorites: enchiladas, chile rellenos, tacos, carne adovada, stuffed sopaipillas, burritos, taco salad and more.  House specialties include bowls of red or green chile with two flour tortillas and butter, posole, a New York cut steak and a unique Cervantes twist on the traditional New Mexico green chile cheeseburger.  This burger is crafted with a three-quarter pound of lean ground sirloin served open-faced on your choice of tortilla, French bread or a sopaipilla.  It’s quite good.

17 July 2016: Marinated overnight then slow-cooked until so tender it’s falling apart, Cervantes’ carne adovada is among the very best in Albuquerque, melding the exquisite flavors of New Mexican red chile, oregano and garlic with pork.  Unlike some restaurants, Cervantes doesn’t adulterate their carne adovada with cumin or an excess of Mexican oregano which can make the dish acerbic.  Instead, the marinade accentuates the marriage of pork and chile, imparting flavors that warrant reverence.  My Kim enjoys the carne adovada with a fried egg over easy on top.  A runny yoke atop the crimson carne may sound heretical, but the resultant flavors are quite good.

Ala Carte Tamal

Huevos Rancheros with Carne Adovada is a popular way for your taste buds to pay proper homage to Cervantes’ carne adovada.  This plate includes two eggs any style, beans and rice on a flour or corn tortilla.  The beans are excellent, refried with melted white Cheddar atop.  The Spanish rice is moist and delicious with bits of green pepper which enliven the rice.  It’s the carne adovada which stands out.  Unfortunately there isn’t much of it–enough to make you crave more of it, but not enough to sate your immediate need for its delicious qualities.

17 July 2016: Another long-time Cervantes favorite is the enchilada plate, a plate of New Mexico enchantment comprised of your choice of two or three rolled enchiladas–two stuffed with cheese and one with ground beef.  You can also have them stuffed with carne adovada or chicken.  The enchiladas are great with both green and red chile and with a fried egg on top, but for my money, the red chile accentuates the other ingredients best.  As with other plates, the enchiladas are served with refried beans and Spanish rice.  Skip the Spanish rice and ask for two portions of the beans.  They’re among the best in town.

Sopaipillas

The sopaipillas are a true contender for “best in the city” honors.  These are puffy pillows of fried dough without any of the greasiness sopaipillas tend to have.  Cervantes also uses real honey (local) instead of that honey-flavored syrup some restaurants serve.  Don’t save them for dessert; polish them off as soon as they arrive at your table when they’re hot and steam wafts upwards as you pull them apart to form a pocket for the honey. 

17 July 2016: Even after polishing off the sopaipillas with honey, do yourself a favor and order either natillas or flan for dessert.  The natillas are exemplars of what natillas should be–a creamy custard made with milk, eggs, sugar, vanilla and cinnamon.  Ask for lots of cinnamon, an ameliorant which imbues the natillas with a fragrant bouquet you’ll enjoy as you’re spooning up the light, delicate (never lumpy at Cervantes) natillas.

Natillas

Cervantes Restaurant and Lounge is somewhat off the beaten path for diners who live outside the city’s Southeast quadrant, but thousands of loyal local patrons find their way to this popular  favorite for New Mexican food the way it’s been made for generations.  It’s one of the very best, most traditional New Mexican restaurants in the city of El Duque de Alburquerque.

Cervantes Restaurant & Lounge
5801 San Pedro, S.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 262-2253
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 17 July 2016
# OF VISITS: 7
RATING: 22
COST: $$
BEST BET: Sopaipillas, Enchiladas, Carne Adovada, Salsa and Chips, Natillas, Con Queso

Cervantes Restaurant & Lounge Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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