AK Deli – Albuquerque, New Mexico

AK Deli, a True Chicago-Style Sandwich Shop

“You’ll never be one of us,” my brother-in-law Chuck quipped in his best Baron von Trapp voice. He wasn’t talking about me being part of the family. He was talking about me being a Chicagoan. Chuck wasn’t being mean-spirited or condescending in any way. The only person not born in the Windy City whom he considers a true Chicagoan is da coach Mike Ditka. “He’s the embodiment of Chicago. It’s in his soul. It’s his attitude.” he explained. Michael Jordan? “Nah, his Royal Airness probably has never even had a real Italian beef sandwich.” Oprah? “Too Hollywood. Not a real person.” Barack Obama? (Surely a former President for whom Chuck voted twice would have to be given a pass). “Politicians are what make Chicago the “Windy City,” he joked. “To be a Chicagoan, you have to have been born here, not transplanted here in your 20s,” Chuck qualified. He isn’t alone in his thinking. A lot of people in the Windy City feel that way and they’re not xenophobic in the least.

Throughout Chicago the walls at many small cafes, diners and hot dog stands are festooned with a poster entitled “You know you’re from Chicago when…” This colorful, fact-filled poster was created by Vienna Beef, the true sausage king of Chicago (with apologies to Abe Froman, the mythical sovereign of tubed meat immortalized in the 1986 classic “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.)” Among other things, the poster will tell you that you’re from Chicago if…”you know what the phone number is for Empire Carpet (it’s 588-2300, by the way),” “you commute 20-feet above street level,” “you have two favorite football teams—the Bears and anyone who beats the Packers,” and of course, “you know you’re from Chicago when you insist on a Vienna Beef hot dog with all seven condiments” (more on this later).

Chicago Hotdog Made with Vienna Beef Hot Dogs

Vienna Beef’s famous poster festoons one wall at AK Deli, the Chicago-style sandwich shop which opened its doors shortly after Labor Day in 2017. The Deli is named for Allan and Kameko, the friendly husband-and-wife couple who own what has already become one of my favorite sandwich destinations in Albuquerque (four visits in two weeks).  Allan is originally from the south side of Chicago which legendary troubadour Jim Croce described as “the baddest part of town,” while Kameko is from Aurora.  AK Deli is located in a nondescript shopping center on Wyoming Blvd just north of Comanche. It’s next door to Ortega’s New Mexican Restaurant. Sadly it isn’t nearly as capacious as Ortega’s. In fact, it’s downright Lilliputian. Within feet of its entrance, you run into the counter where you place your order. There’s a menu on one wall and a few chairs where you can sit while you wait for your order.  There’s not much else.

Unlike two classic Saturday Night Live (SNL) skits which immortalized Chicago, there aren’t many telltale signs that AK Deli is destined to be a second home for Chicago transplants living in the Duke City (and for those of us who love the City of Big Shoulders). No, you won’t hear the exaggerated Chicago accent embodied by George Wendt playing Bill Swerski on the Saturday Night Live “Super Fans” skit. Nor will you hear anything approximating “cheeburger, cheep and Pepsi” as you might at Chicago’s Billy Goat Tavern (and in another classic SNL skit). What you will find is amiable people who are happy to see you…and contrary to stereotypes, there are very nice people in Chicago.  They’re happy to answer your questions on their little restaurant and big menu.

Italian Combo with Hot Giardinara

That menu is very similar to what you’d see at restaurants and cafes throughout Chicago where the distinction between blue-collar and white-collar is blurred because real Chicagoans tend to love the same foods.  Three breakfast sandwiches–available in your choice of bread: bagel, English muffin or toast–as well as bagel and cream cheese will open your eyes in the morning, but Chicagoans (including wannabe-Chicagoans like me) will gravitate toward the “Chicago Favorites” menu.  That’s where you find Chicago hotdogs, Italian beef, Italian combo (sausage and beef) and the ribeye steak sandwich.  Other sandwich choices include pastrami, corned beef, fried bologna and more.

You can have your sandwich dressed with such condiments as mustard, spicy mustard, mayo, A1 steak sauce and BBQ sauce.  Available cheeses include Cheddar, Havarti, Provolone and Swiss.  Sandwiches can be constructed on a canvas of rye bread, sourdough, kaiser roll, English muffin or bagel.  Extras include whole pickles and chips–Lay’s or Jay’s.  The latter is a 90-year old Chicago institution.  Of course, you know you’re from Chicago if you grew up eating Jay’s potato chips.  My Kim got me hooked on Jay’s, especially the open pit BBQ chips with their hint of heat.  AK Deli offers these gems and will soon be carrying regular potato chips, too.

Fried Bologna Sandwich

If you know only one thing about eating a hot dog in Chicago, it’s probably the hard and fast rule: absolutely, under penalty of ridicule or torture, no ketchup!!!  Even Dirty Harry, who’s not even from Chicago, will tell you (in the movie Sudden Impact) in his inimitable manner: “Nobody, I mean nobody, puts ketchup on a hot dog.”  Though he didn’t declare a presidential fiat, Barack Obama (sounding very much like a real Chicagoan) chimed in: “You shouldn’t put ketchup on your hot dog.”  The most definitive anti-ketchup declaration, however, came from Chicago’s legendary columnist Mike Royko: “No, I won’t condemn anyone for putting ketchup on a hot dog. This is the land of the free. And if someone wants to put ketchup on a hot dog and actually eat the awful thing, that is their right. It is also their right to put mayo or chocolate syrup or toenail clippings or cat hair on a hot dog. Sure, it would be disgusting and perverted, and they would be shaming themselves and their loved ones. But under our system of government, it is their right to be barbarians.”

18 September 2017: There is absolutely no ketchup in a Chicago Hotdog, whom Chicagoans lovingly tease is “dragged through the garden” because of the many accoutrements with which it is constructed: yellow mustard, chopped white onions, neon green sweet pickle relish, a dill pickle spear, tomato wedges, pickled sport peppers and a dash or two of celery salt on a poppy seed bun (preferably from Rosen’s).   Then there’s the Vienna Beef hot dog in a natural casing with its first-bite-snap.  By the way, you should never say “Chicago style hot dog” because “style” implies Chicago’s hot dogs are a variation of an original. No self-respecting Chicagoan can accept that.  AK’s rendition of the Chicago Hotdog is exemplary (my Kim called it “spectacular.”).  It will trigger memories of your very first Chicago Hotdog.  This is what most transplanted Chicagoans will order their first visit to AK Deli.

Pastrami on Rye

Ask any Chicago transplant in Albuquerque or anywhere else to list the five things they miss most about the Windy City and it’s a good bet the list will include Italian beef sandwiches, a staple in Chicago. Citizens of the Toddlin’ Town are almost as passionate about this sloppy sandwich as they are Da Bears. Chicagoans grow up worshiping at high counters on which they prop their elbows as they consume Italian beef sandwiches–sometimes because the restaurant has no tables, but more often than not, because no matter how careful they are, they’re bound to spill shards of beef, bits of giardiniera and drippings of spice-laden beef gravy onto their clothing. An Italian beef sandwich is made with roasted sirloin tip which is massaged with a blend of herbs and spices (oregano, black pepper, basil and more) before roasting. The beef is sliced Nicole Ritchie thin and is so tender it shreds into pieces.  Kameko’s favorite Italian beef sandwich, by the way, comes from Portillo’s.

18 September 2017: At many Chicago restaurants, it is momentarily immersed (dipped) in the gravy to make it even juicier. It is often served with either hot or mild giardiniera (a concoction of spicy, pickled, chopped-up vegetables such as peppers, carrots, cauliflower and celery), but sometimes with sautéed mushrooms and bell peppers. The entire creation is extremely messy; you dare not ever try to eat one while driving.  My favorite variation is an Italian combo which pairs Italian sausage with the Italian beef.   AK Deli’s rendition is very good though I regret not having had it served “wet” (dipped).  The gravy is a wonderful counterbalance to the heat of the hot giardiniera.  During her inaugural visit with me on September 30th, my Kim had an Italian Beef sans everything–and she had it wet.  “It’s just like home,” she declared.

Jay’s Open Pit BBQ Chips, a Chicago Staple

20 September 2017: Midwesterners have long claimed fried bologna sandwiches as their own, but if you’re from Northern New Mexico (particularly if you lived on or near an Indian pueblo), you’ve probably consumed dozens of fried bologna sandwiches in your day.  In that regard, having a fried bologna sandwich from AK Deli was for me like going home.  Another way in which it was akin to going home is that AK Deli prepares sandwiches the same way we do at home.  That means they’re not chintzy in their portions.  With three thick slices of bologna fried just the way I like it, mustard and onions on lightly toasted sourdough, this is a sandwich’s sandwich.  Comedian Mitch Hedberg calls bologna “a deli meat for people with eyes.”  It’s also for people with great taste who love deli meats that taste great!

30 September 2017: In two of my first four visits, my choice has been a pastrami sandwich–a regular-sized sandwich my first visit and an “AK Max” sandwich on my second.  Both times the pastrami has been served on a canvas of light rye with mustard–the way Chicagoans like pastrami.  The pastrami served at AK Deli is quite a bit thicker than the fabulous pastrami served at California Pastrami.  While Joe Rodriguez slices his pastrami into thin shards, at AK Deli the pastrami is sliced into thick ribbons.  Aside from the distinctive brine flavor that characterizes great pastrami, this pastrami has a peppery influence–large flecks of pepper that compete with the mustard as the most assertive element of the sandwich.  It reminded me very much of the wonderful pastrami sandwiches shared with Aunt Emily at Siegelman’s Deli in Arlington Heights, a Chicago suburb.

Ribeye Steak Sandwich on a Kaiser Roll

21 September 2017:  Determined to have something other than a pastrami sandwich or Italian combo, I asked Kameko what her favorite sandwich is.  Without hesitation she recommended the Ribeye Steak Sandwich on a kaiser roll with A1 sauce, onions, tomato and lettuce.  That’s just how Allan prepared it for me and I loved every single bite.  Ribeye is tender, juicy and full-flavored, with nice marbling throughout.  It loses none of those qualities the way it’s prepared at AK Deli.  This is a terrific sandwich!  By the way, you should always order the combo which includes chips (Jay’s, of course) and a soda. 

You may have noticed that AK Deli is the 1000th review published on Gil’s Thrilling…  While achieving a millennial occasion of any sort is one worthy of celebration with friends and family, the truth is I often dine alone.  I wanted to be alone on this momentous occasion to take pause to reflect on the many wonderful friends this blog has brought into my life.  My journey to 1000 reviews has been made special because it’s been shared–on at least one meal–by great friends such as Andrea Lin, Barbara Chase, Bill Resnik, Bob of the Village of Los Ranchos, Bruce and Grayce Schor, Bruce “Sr. Plata” Silver, Bruce Terzes, Bryan Byun, Captain Escalante Tuttle, Carrie Seidman, Dave Hurayt,  Dazzling Deanell, Delightful Darren, Elaine Rising, Esther Ferguson, Franziska Moore,  Dennis Gromelski, Hannah Walraven, Henry Gabaldon, Howie Kaibel, Huu Vu, Jim Millington and The Child Bride, Jim and Sylvia Westmoreland, John Colangelo, John and Kay Lucas, John and Zelma Baldwin, Joe Vaughn, Karen Baehr, Professor Larry McGoldrick, Mary Ann Spencer, Mike Muller, Nader Khalil, Nikko Harada,  Paul Lilly, Ruben Hendrickson, Ryan “Break the Chain” and Kimber Scott, Schuyler, Scott McMillan, Shawn Riley, Tom and Elyn Hamilton, Tuan Bui and others whose names may not appear here, but which are forever impressed in my heart.  Thank you for accompanying me on this cavalcade of calories.

AK Deli
3615B Wyoming Blvd, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 639-4249
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 30 September 2017
# OF VISITS: 4
RATING: 21
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Pastrami Sandwich, Chicago Hot Dog, Italian Combo Sandwich, Ribeye Steak Sandwich, Jay’s Open Pit BBQ Chips, Fried Bologna Sandwich
REVIEW #1000

AK Deli Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Chumlys Southwestern – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Chumly’s Southwestern in Albuquerque’s Green Jeans Farmery

The old Jewish proverb “worries go down better with soup than without” may just be the most understated aphorism about soup ever uttered.  When soup is discussed, it’s usually with a sense of warm nostalgia, perhaps even reverence.  We ascribe such adjectives as comforting, restorative, soothing, nourishing, hearty, warming and fulfilling to that nostalgic elixir in a bowl.  The number of adjectives would probably quadruple if we attempted to describe soup’s qualities of deliciousness in addition to its satisfying properties.  There’s no doubt that a luxurious bowl of steaming soup has life-affirming attributes.  Is it any wonder one of the most popular paperback series of all-time is named for soup–the Chicken Soup For the Soul series, an inspirational and uplifting anthology?

Soup is so much more than nostalgia in a bowl, more than a comfort food favorite.  Though good year-round, soup has its own season, one that doesn’t necessarily follow a calendar.  It just seems tailor-made for the chill and bluster of winter.    Indeed, there is much anecdotal and even some scientific evidence to support claims that soups can help restore us back to health when we’re under the weather and wrapped up tightly under blankets.  On days that make us shake, shiver and tremble, soup’s warmth gives us the impetus to brave the cold and attack the day with vigor.

Owner Jesse Zimmerman stands by the 1st Place Award Earned by Chumlys Southwestern at the Roadrunner Food Bank’s Souper Bowl in 2017

It was on one of those gelid days that I first visited the SoupDog, an olfactory oasis ensconced in the Green Jeans Farmery (3600 Cutler Avenue, N.E.), the community-oriented commercial plaza constructed entirely with repurposed shipping containers as modular, architectural building blocks.  Four days previous during our inaugural foray to the Green Jeans Farmery for lunch at Amore Neopolitan Pizzeria, we had espied SoupDog and earmarked it for additional study (as in whether or not it was named for Snoop Dogg, the notorious reefer-loving rapper) and a potential visit.

For shizzle (I’ve always wanted to say that) SoupDog wasn’t named for the splendid stoner, but for two of the most comforting and iconic foods–soup and hot dogs.  It became readily apparent in time that a name change was warranted as Duke City diners tended to believe Soupdog served only soup.  Its new name, Chumlys Southwestern, has a friendly (as in chum, buddy, pal) connotation without implications of typecasting.  As with other restaurants in the Farmery complex, Chumly’s Southwestern plies its trade in what could pass for a large concession stand.  Menus scrawled in an array of colors describe the featured fare which you order from a counter.  Next, you’ll saunter over to your choice of several indoor and outdoor dining areas, none attached to a restaurant (although some seating areas are on the roof of the restaurants they serve).

New Orleans Meets New Mexico Gumbo Earned a Second Place Finish in the Roadrunner Food Bank’s Souper Bowl Event in 2016

While the soup menu is relatively limited (listing five or so soups), deciding which to order won’t be a simple process.  For the peely-wally, the perusal may stop at the creamy green chile chicken noodle soup, the so good and good for you elixir infused with equal parts nostalgia and magic.  Millions of mothers still swear by it.  Chumly’s version is an invitation to both salivation and sulubriousness.   If you prefer your chicken soup sans creaminess, a more traditional (at least in New Mexico) green chile chicken noodle soup is also available.  From among the five soups listed during my inaugural visit, chile was a chief ingredient in three.

3 December 2015:  That includes the soup which combines the flavors of my current home in the Land of Enchantment with the flavors of my previous home on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.  The New Orleans Meets New Mexico Gumbo is as delicious as it sounds, a melding of diverse cultures and cuisines to form an even better concoction.  Picture Andouille sausage and chicken broth with veggies, homegrown herbs and Hatch red chile served over brown rice.  The red chile has just enough bite to be discernible without obfuscating the Cajun flavors which make gumbo one of America’s favorite soups.  If every other soup on the menu is as good, SoupDog will soon join Cafe Bella as my hook-ups when cold weather has me down.  I’m not the only one with a high opinion of this paragon of deliciousness.  During the Roadrunner Food Bank’s Souper Bowl for 2016, this great gumbo earned a second place award in the People’s Choice category.

Creole Corn & Crawfish Chowder Earned First Place in the Critics’ Choice Category at the Roadrunner Food Bank’s Souper Bowl in 2017

29 January 2017:  More than twelve-hundred guests enjoyed scrumptious soups and delectable desserts from nearly forty area Albuquerque restaurants in the Roadrunner Food Bank’s Souper Bowl 2017.  Awards were presented in two categories: Critic’s Choice and People’s Choice with attendees casting their ballots for their favorite soup and dessert.  Drum roll please…Chumlys Southwestern accomplished a rare feat in earning first place in the Critics’ Choice category and second place in Peoples’ Choice.  The award-winning soup was Chumly’s Creole Corn & Crawfish Chowder, an outstanding elixir showcasing a netful of sweet, succulent, pink-fleshed crawfish swimming in a nicely seasoned broth with sweet niblets of corn.   This is a magnificent, multi-faceted soup with a pleasing personality.

3 December 2015:  Chumlys Southwestern also lists five gourmet hot dogs, three of which pack the piquancy New Mexicans crave regardless of weather.  Each dog is a right-sized (not too small, not “compensating”) Nathan’s dog.  Though only vaguely reminiscent of eating a Nathan’s hot dog at the original Coney Island stand, Chumlys hot dog offerings will create delicious new memories. My introduction came in the form of a Sonoran Hot Dog (bacon-wrapped Nathan’s Hot Dog in a freshly-baked bolillo roll topped with chili (SIC) beans, homemade roasted jalapeño salsa, mayo and homemade mustard. 

Sonoran Hot Dog

The Sonoran Hot Dog may just be the most delicious export from the Grand Canyon State to hit New Mexico where it’s made significant inroads.  In recent months we’ve uncovered Tucson-quality Sonoran hot dogs in Albuquerque (Sharky’s Fish & Shrimp and Pop Fizz) and Rio Rancho (the now defunct Ice Cream Palace And Hot Dog World) and we understand there are several purveyors of this paragon of delicious messiness operating from motorized conveyances.  Chumlys’ Sonoran is so good it may take several visits before another hot dog tempts me enough to try it.  The combination of garlicky hot dog, piquant salsa and tangy mustard nestled in a beauteous bolillo is a winner!

29 January 2017: Con queso, a diminutive of chile con queso, is an aptly named term because some con queso is so innocuous and tepid that you have to wonder if chile is even part of the mix.  Not so at Chumlys Southwestern where the con queso bites back.  So do the tater chips which are made on the premises.  The Tater Chips & 505 Queso are not to be missed though they may not pair as well with a delicate soup such as the Creole Corn & Crawfish Chowder as they do with the New Orleans Meets New Mexico Gumbo which also has notes of piquancy.  There’s some serious heat on this queso.

Tater Chips & 505 Queso

Chumlys is the brainchild of Jessie Zimmerman, a 30-year veteran in the restaurant business as a kitchen manager and production manager for 505 Southwestern Restaurant and Chile Products.  Those of us who remember 505 Southwestern when it was a restaurant are sure to notice some of its uniquely delicious touches.   Chumlys Southwestern is a sure cure for winter blues and an even better cure for hunger. For soup, hot dogs and so much more, it should be on your radar.

Chumly’s Southwestern
3600 Cutler Avenue, N.E., Suite #7
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Web Site | Facebook Page
(505) 401-5827
LATEST VISIT: 29 January 2017
1st VISIT: 3 December 2015
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 23
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Sonoran Hot Dog, New Orleans Meets New Mexico Gumbo, Creole Corn & Crawfish Chowder, Tater Chips & 505 Queso

SoupDog Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Kaktus Brewery Tap @ Nob Hill – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Kaktus Brewery Tap @ Nob Hill Launched in January, 2016

Most of us have known a wine snob or two. You know the type. They refer to themselves as oenophiles, a fancy way of saying “connoisseur or lover of wines.” They believe themselves to possess refined palates and won’t drink a wine that isn’t as cultured as they are. Even then, they first have to check the color and opacity of the wine. Then they twirl their glass for ten minutes or so before sticking their nose into the glass (like anteaters at an ant hole) and sniffing the wine noisily. They then proudly proclaim the wine has notes of oak, berries or butter. Their next step is to gargle with the wine, sloshing it between their cheeks and gums before finally imbibing of its delicate flavors and proclaiming it worthy.

In recent years, another adult beverage snob has arisen to give oenophiles some competition in the haughtiness department. They’re called “cerevisaphiles,” a term that refers to beer enthusiasts. Cerevisaphiles turn their nose up at Pabst Blue Ribbon and other “pedestrian swill.” As with their oenophile counterparts, the cerevisaphiles pride themselves on their discerning palates. They will drink no beer before or after its time and are careful to note its appearance (color, head density) and aroma before sipping (yes, sipping) it and contemplating its worthiness. Where the snobbiest and most well-heeled of oenophiles pride themselves on wine cellars, cerevisaphiles (like my friend Ruben) take pride in brewing their own.

The dining room at Kaktus Brewing Company in Nob Hill

That, my dear readers, is this gastronome’s feeble attempt to use humor and stereotypes to exploit the misconceptions behind the much maligned, much misunderstood talents and passions of oenophiles and cerevisaphiles. Most oenophiles and cerevisaphiles I know (including some of my best friends) are actually very down-to-earth and uncommonly modest. They’re justifiably proud of their bona fide gifts and abilities to discern and appreciate wine and beer in ways plebeians like me aren’t fully capable of doing. Where I’m mildly jealous is that sometimes their gifts and abilities extend to the culinary realm. With their enhanced taste buds and olfactory senses, they can discern nuances and subtleties in foods better than I can. For all I know, they even have better vocabularies, too.

Dana Koller is one such person. Born into a family which included talented chefs, Dana couldn’t help but develop a passion for quality foods. He parlayed his passions and precocious experiences in the food and beverage industries toward entrepreneurial channels, founding a marketing platform for local restaurants, bars, breweries and wineries throughout central and northern New Mexico. He also launched indulgenm.com, a Web site celebrating the Land of Enchantment’s wines. Although wine is his true passion, Dana’s refined palate also appreciates good beer.

Meat Sampler

Seeing an untapped opportunity in Bernalillo, Dana partnered with brew master Mike Waddy to launch Kaktus Brewing Company in October, 2013. In the vernacular of the brewing industry, Kaktus is a nano-brewery in that it brews only about 500 total barrels a year. Kaktus, named for the German spelling of the word “cactus,” is also unique in that all beer is brewed on steel, flat-bottomed German-made equipment which allows for lighter style lagers without compromising on the quality of other beers. This Lilliputian brewery uses all natural and organic ingredients in its beer. As you enter Kaktus, you can take a self-guided-tour of the brewery.

Though primarily a brewery in which patrons can gather together leisurely and enjoy high quality craft beer, Kaktus didn’t neglected the gustatory needs of its guests. From the onset, it offered a small, but very intriguing menu of surprisingly high quality options, all prepared without the luxury of a true kitchen. Initially Kaktus offered only Frito pie and a number of superb build-your-own hot dogs and brats, the least adventurous of which was an all-natural beef dog. Intrepid diners opted instead for Buffalo Chile Dog; Elk, Cheddar and Jalapeno Brat; All-Natural Beef Dog; Duck and Cilantro Game Sausage; and Wild Boar Game Sausage. Over time, Dana added salads and gourmet pizza to the menu. Andrea Lin, erstwhile critic for the Albuquerque Journal, gave Kaktus a three-star rating.

Dana’s Dog Bites

In part because of public demand, Dana entered Albuquerque’s burgeoning brewery fray in January, 2016, opening the first Kaktus taproom at the space which previously housed Amore Neapolitan Pizzeria and before that Bailey’s on the Beach. That location, on the western fringes of Nob Hill and eastern extremities of the University of New Mexico, is situated in an area already bustling with taprooms. Thanks to its family-friendly atmosphere and a menu sure to capture hearts, minds and appetites, Kaktus will do just fine. Half of the 2,400-square-foot space is, in fact, dedicated to dining while the other half includes a bar you can belly up to. Then there’s an expansive rooftop patio that offers exquisite city views as well as spectacular sunset panoramas.

Knowing what to expect from having visited Kaktus several times at its Bernalillo location, it thrilled me  to see the reactions of my friend Bill and his colleagues Tisha and Jeff as they indulged in their first game meat hot dogs. Jeff, in particular, was practically verklempt with joy at every bite of his elk, Cheddar and jalapeno brat. It’s the same reaction my friend Sr. Plata had when introduced to the duck and cilantro game sausage in Bernalillo. It’s the same reaction I had while reveling in the splendorous glory of the meat sampler, links of duck, elk, jalapeno, wild boar and natural beef served on a bed of sauerkraut and accompanied by dipping mustard and house-made curry sauce. This magnificent meatfest will sate carnivores of all stripes, enrapturing their taste buds with well-seasoned sausages heightened in flavor by the mustard and curry sauce. Each sausage has its own distinct flavor profile and all are addictive.

BBQ Piggie Pizza

There’s a warning on the Kaktus menu which cautions guests “if you don’t like our food, your taste buds may be stressed from the week and need another beer.” While it may be true of other eateries that the level of your enjoyment of the food directly correlates with how much you’ve had to drink, you don’t need to be “four sheets to the wind” to enjoy even the most basic of appetizers at Kaktus. That would be Dana’s Dog Bites, two-to-three bite-sized all-beef dog bites wrapped in a crispy pastry dough served with dipping mustard. This is the adult version of the little Smokies wrapped in biscuit dough you may have enjoyed in your youth. Though they probably won’t make you nostalgic for the “good old days,” Dana’s Dog Bites will make you thankful you can partake of adult indulgences.

The pizza menu lists three specialty pies, four gourmet pizzas, three veggie pizzas, three “simple” pizzas and a build-a-pie option. Just as he didn’t want to offer standard (translation: boring) bar-quality hot dogs, in designing the pizza menu, Dana wanted to construct pizzas different from what other restaurants offer. He wanted to put the pizza in pizzazz. Mission accomplished! Kaktus’s pizza menu is unlike that of any gourmet pizza restaurant in the area. He imports 51-percent whole grain crust from Arizona for the pies. The crust is firm, but has the right amount of “give” when ingredients are heaped on. The BBQ Piggie Pizza, constructed with curry, BBQ sauce, red onions, lots of bacon and Vermont cheese is an eye-opener, the antithesis of all too many pizzas in which barbecue sauce is candy sweet. This barbecue sauce pairs with the curry to give this pizza a more savory punch that complements the bacon very well.

Red Pumpkin Pizza

For sheer uniqueness, you can’t beat the Red Pumpkin Pizza (thinly sliced pumpkin squash, sprinkled pine nuts, goat cheese and drizzled red chili sauce with bacon crumbles). Not only is the squash sliced waifishly thin, its texture is more akin to a dehydrated fruit than what you’d think would be “squashy.” While all ingredients work very well together, it’s the goat cheese and pine nut combination of which you’ll certainly take heed. The pine nuts provide a sweet, roasted flavor with a subtle hint of pine while the goat cheese lends a tangy, slightly sour flavor. The chili sauce adds just a little piquancy to the mix while the bacon provides a porcine presence, the inclination to enjoy of which is imprinted in the DNA of most carnivores.

The vibe in the Nob Hill version of Kaktus is a veritable world of difference from the vibe in Bernalillo. It’s not solely “a little bit rock and roll” compared with “a little bit country.” The Nob Hill location is more fast-paced and rollicking. The Bernalillo milieu is more laid back and sedate. What they both have in common is a great brewery serving great good.

Kaktus Brewery Tap @ Nob Hill
2929 Monte Vista, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 379-5072
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 23 January 2016
1st VISIT: 22 January 2016
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 22
COST: $$
BEST BET: Meat Sampler, Red Pumpkin Pizza, BBQ Piggie Pizza, Dana’s Dog Bites

Kaktus Brewing Company @ Nob Hill Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Ice Cream Palace and Hot Dog World – Rio Rancho, New Mexico (CLOSED)

Ice Cream Palace and Hot Dog World on Southern Blvd in Rio Rancho

Nay-sayers, those nattering nabobs of negativism, have always had it in for hot dogs. First they plied us with horror stories and urban myths about what hot dogs are made of. Essentially, they decried, hot dogs are made of everything from pigs snouts and chicken feet to snips and snails, and puppy dogs tails. Then they ratcheted up our shock and awe by telling us how hot dogs are loaded with artery-clogging, cancer-causing saturated fats, not to mention those nasty nitrates and nefarious nitrites. They’ve even disparaged hot dogs as processed pink slime in a bun.

Despite all the brouhaha and rigmarole, hot dogs continue to thrive across the fruited plain as aficionados of the tantalizing tubular treats snub their noses at those who would abolish an American institution. What’s next—motherhood, apple pie, the Dallas Cowboys? Recent statistics reveal that the U.S. population consumes 20 billion hot dogs per year. That’s some 70 hot dogs per person per year (or about as many as Joey Chestnut ate in one sitting during Nathan’s International Hot Dog Eating Contest). In 2012, CNN compiled a list of America’s top fifty foods and the hot dog ranked fourth. That’s a lot of love for a beloved American icon some would deprive us of.

Nathan’s Hot Dog with Jalapeño Mustard, Onions and Relish

Unlike the humble hot dog which has been disparaged and bad-mouthed to no end, ice cream has been practically beatified. It is both loved and revered, a symbol of all that is good, wholesome and pure. Research findings from Cornell University revealed that both men and women consider ice cream one of their three favorite comfort foods (not that men will admit to it). CNN confirms this: “Think of any modern romantic comedy to come out of Hollywood; what do citizens of the United States reach for when their boyfriend leaves them for their therapist? A gun? A simple solution? Try a tub of ice cream.”

In the entirety of mankind’s history, there is only one ice cream that’s beyond contempt, a turn-off even to the most ardent aficionados. For some inexplicable reason, an ice cream brand in India bears the stern, mustachioed countenance and name of the Führer of Germany.  Sure, branding an ice cream Adolf Hitler is an exercise in the freedom of speech, but moreover, it’s a demonstration of extremely poor taste and insensitivity (and I need a shower just for mentioning it here).

Tamale

Somehow nature decreed that ice cream and hot dogs become inextricably associated with one another, a sort of “saint and sinner” pairing of foods that just seem to go so well together. That’s especially true in sweltering spring and summer days when the outdoors beckon. Fortunately New Mexico averages nearly 400 days of sunshine a year so ice cream and hot dogs are a good idea any time of the year and in any season. The preternaturally delicious pairing of this dynamic duo wasn’t lost on Abrahan Montaño, an entrepreneur who in March, 2015 launched the Ice Cream Palace and Hot Dog World in Rio Rancho.

Though he may be a first-time restaurant owner, Abrahan is passionate about ice cream, blending unique ingredients into rich, creamy ice cream flavors you don’t often see.  The paleterias (Mexican Popsicle and ice cream shops) he frequented during his youth were one of the inspirations for his restaurant.  The other inspiration was his grandfather Fred Reade, a familiar name in the restaurant community.  Reade owned and operated Antonio’s Mexican Restaurant on Fourth Street for more than two decades before closing shop in 1996.  Reade has become a fixture at the ice Cream Palace and Hot Dog World.

Frito Pie

Although not on the menu, a visit to this Southern Boulevard gem is guaranteed fun as might be expected from a shop offering ice cream and hot dogs.  One corner of the shop is dedicated to kids and includes a number of toys which might make the geriatrically advanced among us wish we were kids, too.  The menu also bespeaks of fun.  A number of aguas frescas are at the ready to quench your thirst while Italian ice and fresh fruit paletas (Popsicles) will quell the heat.  Ice cream flavors include two sure-to-become New Mexican favorites: red chile-chocolate and green chile pistachio.

Nathan’s hot dogs are featured fare and you’ll find all your favorite toppings, too, but if you really want to live a little, try “Grama Faviola’s Fabulous Homemade Jalapeno Mustard.” It’s got almost as much personality as Grama Faviola herself. Faviola and her brother Eddie are friends of the owners and serve as the shop’s unofficial ambassadors.  Much as we love them, we can’t live on hot dogs alone.  Fortunately the shop also offers tamales and Frito pies as well as corn-on-the-cob or in a cup.

Sonoran Hot Dog

The tamales are made for the shop in Santa Fe.  Even when not blanketed by chile, they pack a pleasant piquancy and are packed with shredded, tender tendrils of pork marinated in a very flavorful chile.  These are the type of tamales you would want two (or six) per serving.  The Frito pie is also quite good, a mound of Fritos corn chips topped with ground beef, red chile, lettuce, onions, and onions.  The vegetables offer a cool contrast to the hot chile and ground beef.  The chile won’t water your eyes with heat, but it’ll make you happy.

Among the specialty hot dogs are one you couldn’t find in Albuquerque five years ago.  The Sonoran Hot Dog has made its way into New Mexico and it’s been embraced by the masses.  The Ice Cream Palace and Hot Dog World offers an interesting and delicious version: a thick Nathan’s hot dog, meat candy (er…bacon), chopped tomatoes and an incendiary jalapeño mayo you can respect.  Had this hot dog been served in the traditional Sonoran bolillo style Mexican bread (resembling) a hot dog bun that hasn’t been completely split length-wise), it would have been even better.

Left: Red Chile Chocolate Ice Cream; Right: Chocolate and Vanilla

Our verdict on the red chile chocolate ice cream–if you’re not revving up your engine to head to Rio Rancho for a scoop or two, you probably didn’t read this far.  Surprisingly, this may be the most piquant dish we enjoyed during our visit.  The combination of chile and chocolate has been wowing diners since before Montezuma’s reign.  This one will definitely wow you.  So will the regular (if such a pedestrian word is appropriate) chocolate ice cream.  Then there’s the pumpkin ice cream, a true taste of autumn that’s wonderful all year long. 

The Ice Cream Palace and Hot Dog World pairs two of America’s very favorite foods in a fun, friendly shop that promises to be a haven for the hungry and solace for all who need soothing comfort.

Ice Cream Palace and Hot Dog World
2003 Southern Blvd., Suite 118
Rio Rancho, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 3 October 2015
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Sonoran Hot Dog, Tamale, Nathan’s Hot Dog, Red Chile Chocolate Ice Cream, Frito Pie

Ice Cream Palace and Hot Dog World Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Kaktus Brewing Company – Bernalillo & Albuquerque, New Mexico

Kaktus01

The Kaktus Brewing Company in Bernalillo

Most of us have known a wine snob or two. You know the type. They refer to themselves as oenophiles, a fancy way of saying “connoisseur or lover of wines.” They believe themselves to possess refined palates and won’t drink a wine that isn’t as cultured as they are. Even then, they first have to check the color and opacity of the wine. Then they twirl their glass for ten minutes or so before sticking their nose into the glass (like anteaters at an ant hole) and sniffing the wine noisily. They then proudly proclaim the wine has notes of oak, berries or butter. Their next step is to gargle with the wine, sloshing it between their cheeks and gums before finally imbibing of its delicate flavors and proclaiming it worthy.

In recent years, another adult beverage snob has arisen to give oenophiles some competition in the haughtiness department. They’re called “cerevisaphiles,” a term that refers to beer enthusiasts. Cerevisaphiles turn their nose up at Pabst Blue Ribbon and other “pedestrian swill.” As with their oenophile counterparts, the cerevisaphiles pride themselves on their discerning palates. They will drink no beer before or after its time and are careful to note its appearance (color, head density) and aroma before sipping (yes, sipping) it and contemplating its worthiness. Where the snobbiest and most well-heeled of oenophiles pride themselves on wine cellars, cerevisaphiles (like my friend Ruben) take pride in brewing their own.

The artsy compound

The artsy compound

That, my dear readers, is this gastronome’s feeble attempt to use humor and stereotypes to exploit the misconceptions behind the much maligned, much misunderstood talents and passions of oenophiles and cerevisaphiles. Most oenophiles and cerevisaphiles I know (including some of my best friends) are actually very down-to-earth and uncommonly modest. They’re justifiably proud of their bona fide gifts and abilities to discern and appreciate wine and beer in ways plebeians like me aren’t fully capable of doing. Where I’m mildly jealous is that sometimes their gifts and abilities extend to the culinary realm. With their enhanced taste buds and olfactory senses, they can discern nuances and subtleties in foods better than I can. For all I know, they even have better vocabularies, too.

Dana Koller is one such person.  Born into a family which included talented chefs, Dana couldn’t help but develop a passion for quality foods.  He parlayed his passions and precocious experiences in the food and beverage industries toward entrepreneurial channels, founding a marketing platform for local restaurants, bars, breweries and wineries throughout central and northern New Mexico.  He also launched indulgenm.com, a Web site celebrating the Land of Enchantment’s wines.  Although wine is his true passion, Dana’s refined palate also appreciates good beer.  

Sit with the cast of Breaking Bad

Sit with the cast of Breaking Bad

Seeing an untapped opportunity in Bernalillo, Dana partnered with brew master Mike Waddy to launch Kaktus Brewing Company in October, 2013.  In the vernacular of the brewing industry, Kaktus is a nano-brewery  in that it brews only about 500 total barrels a year.  Kaktus, named for the German spelling of the word “cactus,” is also unique in that all beer is brewed on steel, flat-bottomed German-made equipment which allows for lighter style lagers without compromising on the quality of other beers.  This Lilliputian brewery uses all natural and organic ingredients in its beer.  As you enter Kaktus, you can take a self-guided-tour of the brewery.

You have to get there first and that can be a bit tricky.  Kaktus is located on South Hill Road, a lightly trafficked, relatively unknown two-lane west of and which essentially parallels I-25.  It’s about half a mile from the Railrunner and lies in what seems to be part industrial complex, part residential area with a couple of trailer parks along the way.  A single sign depicting Kokopelli points the way to the brewery.  Signage not withstanding, you might still wonder if you entered a kitschy art compound instead of a brewery.  Then there’s the brewery itself.  There’s none of the pristine veneer or effusive, over-the-top flamboyance of the typical brew pub to lure in patrons.

All Natural Buffalo Frito Pie

All Natural Buffalo Frito Pie

Instead, Kaktus resembles a somewhat austere converted home to which is attached a canopied patio, ostensibly for use when weather permits it.  If you choose not to take the self-guided tour, you’ll step into a brightly illuminated room where you’ll espy Dana Koller manning the brewery taps behind the bar.  What will almost immediately catch your eye are the chairs and stools.  Carved onto the chairs on one six-person table is the cast of Breaking Bad.  The four stools on another table (which will probably be most popular among male patrons) pays tributes to the “dollys:” Salvadore Dali,  the Dalai Lama and of course, Dolly Parton.  The Dolly Parton stool is a bit uncomfortable because of  a couple of a couple of wooden “protuberances” that won’t let you sit up straight.

4 January 2014: Primarily a brewery in which patrons can gather together leisurely and enjoy high quality beer, Kaktus hasn’t neglected the gustatory needs of its guests, offering a small, but inviting menu.  As with the beer menu (eight beers on tap), the food menu focuses on quality.  The first item on the menu is a homemade all-natural buffalo Frito pie (Fritos corn chips, sour cream, onion, Cheddar cheese).  It’s not a conventional Frito pie, at least from a New Mexico standpoint.  The “chile” is black bean chipotle chile and it’s seasoned with bay leaf, oregano and coriander stewed with all-natural bison, cumin, sea salt and peppers.

Knockwurst

Brats

If, like me, you’ve been so inundated with hot dogs obfuscated by everything but the kitchen sink, Kaktus is your hook-up, offering build-your-own hot dogs and brats. Build your own starts with selecting your own dog or brat from an alluring selection: buffalo chile dog; Elk, Cheddar and Jalapeno Brat; All-Natural Beef Dog; Duck and Cilantro Game Sausage; and Wild Boar Game Sausage. Next you select your choice of bun: baguette or pretzel and lastly your favorite toppings: mustard, ketchup, sauerkraut, garlic, onions and relish. You even get to specify whether you want your mustard or ketchup spread light, medium or heavy. Green chile and curry ketchup are available for a pittance. All brats and dogs are served with chips and salsa.

To ensure the quality he wants, Dana sources the brats and dogs from Colorado. Great choice! The three we sampled were “restore my faith in brats and dogs” good! They were “can’t wait to sample others” good! The brats are “Wisconsin good” and in the Badger State, brats are almost a religion. Kaktus’s brats are thick and meaty sausages incorporating a blend of old world German spices with the aforementioned  contemporary twists. They snap when you bite into the casing, releasing moist, smoky deliciousness. These brats are so thick that even the chewy pretzel bun is challenged to hold it in, especially if you add anything more than mustard.

Duck and Cilantro Game Sausage on Pretzel Bun Hickory Smoked Wild Boar Game Sausage

Duck and Cilantro Game Sausage on Pretzel Bun
Hickory Smoked Wild Boar Game Sausage

4 January 2014: After only one visit, the wild boar game sausage has quickly become my very favorite exotic hot dog in the Land of Enchantment. Credit some of that to the hickory smoke flavor impregnating this behemoth between a pretzel bun. The hickory smoke is more than noticeable, but it doesn’t mask the feral, but fabulous flavor of the wild boar which, by the way, isn’t quite as sweet or as fatty as domestic pork. Boar meat is also a bit darker and more coarse, but otherwise shares a similar flavor profile to pork.  If you love pork-based hot dogs, you’ll love the wild boar game sausage.

4 January 2014: We admire the monogamous commitment and beauty of ducks so much, it sometimes makes it difficult to fully enjoy the wonderful watery fowl, one of my very favorite proteins. The duck and cilantro game sausage means I’m no closer to giving up my guilt-edged enjoyment of duck. This is an outstanding sausage! It’s not nearly as fatty as some duck entrees tend to be while the cilantro lends the element of an invigorating freshness to the sausage. As with the other hot dogs, this one is long and thick, reminiscent of the “fifteen schnitzengruben” sausages in Blazing Saddles.

Curry Dog: All Natural Beef Dog with Housemade Curry Sauce

Top: Curry Dog: All Natural Beef Dog with Housemade Curry Sauce
Bottom: Wild Boar Game Sausage

3 February 2014: Throughout Chicago, using ketchup on a hot dog is considered a desecration akin to scrawling graffiti on Mike Ditka’s countenance.  It just isn’t done!  Customers wanting to exercise their freedom to choose ketchup are either refused (Superdawg Drive-In comes to mind) or gruffly handed a bottle and told to apply it themselves.  One wonders if Kaktus’s curry sauce would even be given a shot.  My Chicago in-laws will probably consider it heresy, but I believe this curry sauce would improve even the sacrosanct Vienna hot dogs.  It’s a very nice curry with a good depth of flavor complexity.    

Not being a certified cerevisaphiles, I can’t vouch for what beer goes well with what brats or dog. What I can vouch for with much alacrity is that Kaktus Brewing Company has hot dogs which go well with any carnivorous appetite.

Kaktus Brewing Company
471 South Hill Road
Bernalillo, New Mexico
(505) 379.5072
LATEST VISIT: 3 February 2014
1st VISIT: 4 January 2014
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 19
COST: $$
BEST BET: Knockwurst, Duck and Cilantro Game Sausage on Pretzel Bun, Hickory Smoked Wild Boar Game Sausage, Curry Dog

Kaktus Brewing Company on Urbanspoon

Urban Hotdog Company – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Let the Barking Begin! The Urban Hotdog restaurant is open as of October, 2012.


Fat kids, skinny kids, kids who climb on rocks
Tough kids, sissy kids, even kids with chicken pox
love hot dogs.
Armour Hot Dog Commercial, 1960s

Advertising standards in the 1960s were quite a bit more lax than they are today.  In today’s culture of American political correctness, there’s no way an earworm-inspiring jingle such as the Armour Hotdog commercial would ever see the light of day, but back then it helped sell a lot of hot dogs.  Even in the 1960s, Armour’s savvy ad agency undoubtedly understood the influence children had on the family’s food consumption budget.  In addition to catchy jingles designed to appeal to children, Armour’s advertising agency enticed children with prizes to be had for a monetary pittance and a coupon cut out from the back of a package of its hot dogs.  Not even parents were immune from Madison Avenue’s charms.  They were swayed by assurances that hot dogs were actually good for children because they were “made from lean meat” and were “protein rich.”

The 1963 United States census reported the production of 1.11 billion pounds of frankfurters and wieners, constituting thirty percent of all sausages made that year.  Two years later, a study by the US Department of Agriculture revealed that the household per capita consumption of hot dogs averaged nine pounds or about 75 hot dogs per family per year, numbers consistent regardless of socioeconomic status or region.  Interestingly, the world-champion gurgitator in the 1960s established a personal best of 18-1/2 hot dogs and buns in the International Hot Dog Eating Contest held at Nathan’s in Coney Island.  That’s less than a third the number of hotdogs consumed by today’s gurgitator extraordinaire Joey Chessnut.

The order counter at the Urban Hotdog

The 60s were also a time in which, for the most part, hot dogs were rather basic, lacking in imagination and flair.  The most common toppings were mustard (sometimes a deli variety) and relish.  Daring diners might add onions, sauerkraut or chili (not chile), hardly what you might consider gourmet ingredients.  Most hot dogs were prepared in boiling water though grilling was becoming increasingly popular.  Most were made from beef or pork. 

The advent of “gourmet” hot dogs can largely be attributed to the desire of immigrants and their descendents to incorporate their traditional foods and ingredients into a standard hot dog.  A Greek hot dog, for example, might include feta cheese, an olive tapenade and sun-dried tomatoes.  Mexican-style hot dogs might be served in tortillas and slathered with guacamole or (and) salsa.  Asian-style varieties frequently incorporate soy sauce, ginger, onions, teriyaki sauce and more.  Most varieties of gourmet hot dogs develop locally and spread across the region.  The best ones ultimately become national phenomena.

The Crunchy Onion Hotdog and baked beans

In 2007, my good friend Becky Mercuri published The Great American Hotdog Book, a terrific tome which takes readers on a state-by-state tour across America, introducing us to each state’s special take on this American comfort food classic (New Mexico’s contribution, by the way, was the red chile hotdog as prepared at Albuquerque’s Dog House Drive In).  Becky replicated each of the fifty unique ways to prepare hot dogs in her kitchen, finding that though a hot dog may be a source of pride for its state of origin, it doesn’t always export well.

My initial impression of the gourmet hotdogs offered at Albuquerque’s Urban Hotdog Company mirrors Becky’s findings.  Though most of the hotdogs will appeal to some diners, few will have a universal appeal though adventurous eaters will enjoy testing their mettle and taste buds.  As validated in Albuquerque The Magazine‘s “Best of the City” for 2013, Duke City diners love these hot dogs, naming them Albuquerque’s best.     The menu lists more than a dozen “urban dogs” with gourmet toppings heretofore not seen in the Duke City.   If you could go back in time to the 1960s and describe these hotdogs, you’d probably find yourself in a straightjacket.  There’s no way those of us who are products of the 60s could have conceived of such “weirdness.”

Rosemary-Garlic French Fries and Curry Hot Dog

If gourmet isn’t your style, you can also have a more “standard” hotdog, ranging from the “starter” made with your choice of mustard, ketchup, onion and relish to a Chicago Dog, described as it would be in the Windy City: “dragged through the garden.” The menu earns extra props from me by acknowledging its New Mexico adorned hot dog as “Real Chile,” made with white Cheddar cheese, green chile, tomato and onions. Alas, a grammatical faux pas is committed in that the “Other Chile” hotdog isn’t spelled “chili” even though the menu describes it as “East coast style chile.”

Each hotdog is made to order in a semi exhibition kitchen though most diners probably won’t stand behind the counter to observe the process.  Instead, most of us take the little three-by-five cards handed to us when we placed our orders and which are inscribed with the name of some city (Dallas, for example) to our table and place it in the card slot atop the napkin holder.  Expect to wait ten to fifteen minutes for your order to be ready.  That’s on top of the time you spend in line as diners ahead of you peruse the menu carefully (and painfully slowly if you’re hungry) before placing their orders.

Top: The Tiger
Bottom: Le Bleu

The Urban Hotdog Company has the look and feel of a sophisticated chain, but it is definitely and proudly local, procuring as many products locally as possible.  The corner space housing the restaurant is bright and airy courtesy of unobstructed sunlight filtering in from the east.  It’s open seating is more utilitarian than it is comfortable.  Large plastic menus are on display next to the counter where you place your order and there are also paper menus available for your perusal.  Your order is taken on an iPad configured with a point of sale software system.    An “expediter” stands watch over the kitchen to make sure all orders are comprehended and delivered accurately.  The self-serve beverage dispenser is in a small room adjacent to the open dining room.

9 October 2012: With my predilection for the “strangest” or most unique items on any restaurant menu, my inaugural visit proved a fun culinary adventure as well as a challenge.  How, after all, do you determine the strangest, most unique item on a menu replete with unique and different items?  The “tamest” of the four hotdogs I split with my Kim was the Crunchy Onion Hotdog crafted with fresh-fried Ancho chile dusted onion strings with the restaurant’s signature chipotle mayo.  Texturally the crunchy onions are a success, but neither the Ancho chile nor the chipotle mayo packed much discernible punch and were overwhelmed by the thick hot dog itself, a salty, garlicky and thick wiener with a lot of flavor.  The buns, made locally by Pastian’s Bakery, are soft and pliable, but substantial enough to hold in the copious ingredients of some hot dog creations.

UrbanHotDog06

Chorizo

9 October 2012: The Curry Urban Dog is a vegetarian delight, but it’s not a hotdog.  If you order it as it’s described on the menu, it’s made with marinated tofu grilled and served with green curry vegetables, chopped peanuts and cilantro on a poppy seed bun.  I made the mistake of ordering it hotdog style, effectively rendering the wonderful green curry vegetables anemic because of the overwhelming hotdog.  The green curry, chopped peanuts and cilantro are very much reminiscent of Thai curry dishes without a pronounced coconut milk flavor.  Marinated tofu is actually an excellent vehicle for these ingredients as tofu tends to inherit the flavor properties of ingredients around it. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa for not having ordered the Curry as it’s designed.

9 October 2012: We had hopes the Le Bleu (fried hot dog wrapped in bacon and covered with sauteed mushrooms, blue cheese and thyme) would rekindle memories of the Sonoran hotdogs we enjoyed so much in Tucson.  It didn’t, but this hotdog is a standout on its own.  The sharp, pungent blue cheese is a perfect foil for the garlicky hotdog while the sauteed mushrooms play a deliciously complementary role.  This is the one hotdog in which the wiener itself didn’t dominate the flavor profile.   The Tiger (housemade Asian slaw, spicy dried peas and fresh pea shoots on a poppy seed bun) is more tame than it is wild courtesy of a relatively anemic Asian slaw.  Many Asian slaws utilize ginger, rice wine vinegar and citrus to add tartness and personality.  This Tiger could have used a more Asian-like slaw.

UrbanHotDog07

Real Chile

13 December 2013:One of the potential pitfalls of gourmet hot dogs is “too much of a good thing,” as in too many ingredients competing for your attention, especially when some of those ingredients mask the flavors of others.  That may be the case with the Chorizo hot dog (spicy mayo, pineapple & pepper salsa and cilantro) in which the spicy mayo pretty much obfuscated the flavor of the chorizo.  The occasional sneak-in of chopped pineapple is a nice foil to a flavor profile that is primarily piquant. 

13 December 2013: More complimentary are the ingredients on the “Real Chile” hot dog (white Cheddar cheese, green chile, tomato, onions and chopped bacon) and that’s not just because green chile makes everything else around it taste better.  The green chile has a pleasant piquancy, more kick than entrees at far too many New Mexican ingredients.  The chopped tomatoes and onions are a natural pairing with the chile, a sort of pico de gallo.  Then there’s the bacon, which like green chile, seems to pair well with everything.

13 December 2013: The menu calls its sides “bells and whistles,” a term which somehow makes sense.  Bells and whistles include five types of French fries (plain and simple; rosemary-garlic; chile con queso; “the other chile,” cheese and onion; and blue cheese, chives and truffle oil).  The rosemary-garlic fries are so much better than the flaccid out-of-the-bag fries and don’t require ketchup to be edible.

In the 1960s and in the new millennium, there’s no doubt all kinds of kids love hotdogs.  Most of them will find at least one hotdog to love on the Urban Hotdog Company menu.   Edward Sung did and he wrote about it in his inimitable fashion on one of my very favorite food blogs in New Mexico, Once Again We Have Eaten Well.  It’s a great read!

Urban Hotdog Company
10250 Cottonwood Park NW Suite 400H
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 898-5671
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 13 December 2013
1st VISIT: 9 October 2012
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 18
COST: $$
BEST BET: Le Bleu, The Crunchy Onion, The Tiger, The Curry, The Real Chile

Urban Hotdog Company Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

El Guero Canelo – Tucson, Arizona

El Guero Canelo for the quintessential Tucson food, the Sonoran hot dog

El Guero Canelo for the best in the quintessential Tucson food, the Sonoran hot dog

If asked to participate in a word association exercise, any well-traveled foodie undergoing psychoanalysis would find it easy to name the first food that comes to mind when a city is mentioned: Philadelphia – the Philly cheesesteak sandwich; Boston – baked beans; Chicago – Italian beef sandwiches; San Francisco – sourdough bread; Milwaukee – butter burgers; San Antonio, New Mexico – green chile cheeseburgers.  You get the point.  Some foodies might not know that Philadelphia is the birthplace of liberty, but they know about Geno’s and Pat’s King of Steaks and their decades-long battle for Philly cheesesteak supremacy.

You might find it strange that seemingly pedestrian foods would be the defining cuisine of burgeoning cosmopolitan cities, historically significant metropolises and tiny hamlets in the desert, but it’s not solely foodies who associate foods with places. Anthropologist Maribel Alvarez of the University of Arizona says the “quintessential food of Tucson” is the Sonoran hot dog, explaining that instead of taking guests to high-end restaurants, locals will bring their out-of-towners to one of the city’s purveyors of Sonoran hot dogs.

Hot dogs, like baseball and barbecue, aren’t exclusively the domain of Americans any more.  In fact, they never were. Before you call that statement unpatriotic heresy, consider the evolution of the hot dog.  Two words synonymous with that American term–frankfurter and wiener–come from Frankfurt, Germany and Vienna, Austria respectively.  In Germany, pork sausages were served in buns similar to those used in hot dogs while Austrians preferred a sausage made of a pork and beef amalgam.

The colorful menu at El Guero Canelo has something for everyone

The colorful menu at El Guero Canelo has something for everyone

In her fabulous tome The Great American Hot Dog Book, my friend Becky Mercuri writes that many popular foods in Arizona reflect the cuisine of the neighboring Mexican state of Sonora.  Those influences go far and deep in Tucson where the Mexican food is quite dissimilar to the foods with which New Mexicans are intimately familiar.  Not even the humble hot dog escapes those far-reaching Sonoran influences.

The Hot Dog Book celebrates the tremendous diversity of hot dogs across the fruited plain, examining in loving tributes the many ways in which hot dogs are prepared across America.  Becky showcases the best and most popular hot dogs in every state, even including recipes you’ll want to replicate in your own kitchen.  It was only natural that she include as the Arizona selection, the Sonoran-style hot dogs served in such paragons of hot dog deliciousness as El Guero Canelo and BK Carne Asada and Hot Dogs.

Though true hot dog aficionados are well-acquainted with Sonoran-style hot dogs and the aforementioned purveyors non-pariel, in April, 2010, both attained a heretofore unparalleled national profile.  The April 6th episode of the Travel Channel’s Food Wars show pitted El Guero Canelo against BK Carne Asada and Hot Dogs in a delicious duel to determine the best Sonoran hot dogs in Tucson.  Later in the month, Saveur magazine profiled “Eat Street,” the nickname of Tucson’s 12th Avenue in which both are denizens.

Throngs of patrons frequent El Guero Canelo, more since a Food Wars episode aired in 2010

Throngs of patrons frequent El Guero Canelo, more since a Food Wars episode aired in 2010

More than one-hundred vendors ply the Sonoran-style hot dog trade in Tucson.  Known as “hotdogueros,” they offer a surprising number of inventive variations on the Sonoran hot dog.  Where none deviate is in wrapping bacon barbershop pole style around a wiener then griddling or grilling it until the bacon has practically caramelized into the wiener.  A phalanx of garnishes and toppings are then stuffed into a bolillo style Mexican bread that resembles a hot dog bun that hasn’t been completely split length-wise.

Perhaps it’s only appropriate that El Guero Canelo, a claimant to being the original purveyor of the Sonoran hot dog in Tucson, champions authenticity and tradition more than any competitor in town.  El Guero Canelo, which translates to “the cinnamon blonde” is the nickname of its founder and owner Daniel Conteras.  The Contreras family has about a century and a quarter’s worth of cumulative restaurant experience, starting their Tucson operation in a humble 6X8 taco stand.  Today the family operates two full-sized restaurants.

El Guero Canelo, the original Sonoran hot dog restaurant on the celebrated “Eat Street” is the most famous and popular.  Save for the indoor kitchen, the entire complex is situated in a well-shielded outdoor pavilion.  In the summer, cooling misters dispense a fine drizzle to provide respite from the scalding heat.  In the center of the pavilion is a condiment bar that, save for the sneeze guard and metalwork, features the three colors of the Mexican flag: green, white and red.   Seating is more functional than comfortable.

Two Sonoran Hot Dogs, one with beans and one without.

Two Sonoran Hot Dogs, one with beans and one without.

Hungry customers queue up in one of two lines to place their orders, a vast proportion of which are for Sonoran hot dogs.  Order numbers are called out both in English and Spanish  You probably have time to visit the condiment bar for sliced cucumbers, radishes, pico de gallo, grilled onions and more before your order is ready.  Dally too long at the condiment bar and you’re likely to hear a rather animated reminder that customers need to pay attention to the numbers on their order stubs.

There’s a reason El Guero Canelo serves more than 10,000 Sonoran hot dogs a week.  These hot dogs are mouth-watering–a thin dog gift-wrapped in bacon and nestled in a pillowy soft, slightly sweet bun where it shares room with pinto beans, grilled onions, chopped tomatoes, mayo and mustard then topped with a hint of jalapeño sauce.  The buns are imported from a bakery in Mexico which prepares them to the exacting specifications of the Contreras family.  You’ll be besotted at first bite–to the tune of at least two hot dogs per visit.

This hot dog is a wonderful study in contrasts: the sweetness of the bun and the smoky savoriness of the hot dog and bacon; the heat of the hot dog and the cool of the chopped tomato; the piquancy of the jalapeño sauce and the creaminess of the mayo.  Moreover, it’s a study in the appreciation of complex simplicity.  Being in close proximity to other diners, you’ll be privy to your neighbor’s swooning lustily at every bite.  This is truly an amazing hot dog!  During a week’s stay in Tucson, we visited El Guero Canelo three times and readers know I’m the least monogamous person in the world when it comes to repeat visits to restaurants.

Some of the fabulous complementary condiments at El Guero Canelo

Some of the fabulous complementary condiments at El Guero Canelo

You’ll want to wash down your meal with El Guero Canelo’s fabulous aguas frescas.  The jamaica (hibiscus), pina (pineapple) and tamarindo are refreshing and delicious though not homemade.

El Guero Canelo has been serving Tucson since 1993.  While that may not seem like a long time, it’s long enough for the restaurant to have established itself as a standard-setter for a cuisine that is beloved throughout the city.  It is a perennial winner of Tucson Weekly’s annual “best of” in the Sonoran hot dog category and now holder of Gil’s personal “best of” for any hot dog in America.

El Guero Canelo
5201 South 12th Avenue
Tucson, Arizona
(520) 295-9005
Web Site
1ST VISIT: 12 April 2010
LATEST VISIT: 28 June 2013
# OF VISITS: 5
RATING: 23
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Sonoran Hot Dogs, Aguas Frescas: Pina and Jamaica

El Guero Canelo on Urbanspoon

1 2