Stack House BBQ – Rio Rancho, New Mexico

Stack House BBQ in Rio Rancho

One of my Psychology professors cautioned students about the danger of “amateur diagnosis,” the practice of assigning specific psychoses and neuroses to people we meet solely on the basis of our cursory familiarity with the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.  He explained that it often takes an experienced practicing psychiatrist several sessions to arrive at a diagnosis and many more sessions before treatment proves effective.  His point–a little knowledge can be dangerous–applies in virtually every arena of knowledge in practicum.  Reflecting back on all the times my rudimentary conclusions were ultimately proven incorrect, it’s a point well driven. 

When my friends Larry “the professor with the perspicacious palate” McGoldrick, Dazzling Deanell and Beauteous Barb decided to pursue Kansas City Barbecue Society (KCBS) certification, the words of my Psychology professor resonated in my memory.  Sure, we’d all been eating barbecue most of our lives, but how much did we really know about passing judgement on barbecue?  Not much, it turned out.  Over the course of several hours, our KCBS instructor imparted sage knowledge and proven techniques to help us understand thee three most important and very nuanced elements of competitive judging: taste, texture and appearance.   Much like getting a Psychology degree, obtaining KCBS certification gave us a modicum of knowledge.  Applying what we learned in such competitions as Rio Rancho’s annual Pork & Brew built upon that knowledge.

Long lines queue up for terrific ‘cue

Recently when Larry and Deanell rhapsodized poetic about the barbecue at the Stack House BBQ in Rio Rancho, my first questions were “how would that barbecue rate in a KCBS barbecue competition?” Larry gave it nines in taste, texture and appearance. Deanell one-upped Larry, indicating the Stack House BBQ’s ‘cue warranted all tens (and she knows what it is to be a ten). They invited me to discover for myself whether their ratings were hyperbole or justified.  Alas, during my inaugural visit, I was suffering the ravages of a bad cold which rendered my taste buds untrustworthy and enfeebled my olfactory senses.  You can’t judge barbecue if you can’t imbibe its aromas and taste its subtle flavor qualities. 

Having a bad cold tends to exacerbate my desire for chile, the more piquant the better.  In the throes of even the most egregious colds, I’ve been known to drive to Santa Fe for some of the Horseman’s Haven‘s combustible chile.  The Haven’s Level II chile, affectionately known as “El Diablo” is about the only thing that can quell the stuffiness of a head cold.  While the Stack House doesn’t offer anything quite as incendiary as El Diablo, the menu does include two pepper-infused items: Frito pie and jalapeño sausage.  From what my compromised palate could surmise, both were probably quite good though it would take a return visit or ten to know for sure. 

Pit Master Extraordinaire Greg Janke Slices Brisket with Surgical Precision

My return visit transpired exactly one week after my inaugural visit, so eager were my Kim and I to experience the bodacious barbecue about which Larry and Deanell had raved.  We had the great fortune to spend time discussing all things barbecue with proprietor-pit master Greg Janke.  Like me, Greg is an Intel alum, having toiled at the technology giant for 23 years, five years longer than I.  Not one to let grass grow under his feet, Greg left Intel in April, 2016 and five months later–on Friday, September 23rd–he launched Stack House BBQ. 

Greg’s transition from technologist to restaurateur wasn’t as challenging as one might think.  In fact, Greg admits, working at Intel prepared him very well to own and operate a restaurant.  Even in such technically demanding areas as Automation where he rose through the ranks, Intel employees have the opportunity to hone their business and customer orientation skills (not to mention the discipline to work long hours).  There is, of course, nothing in the semi-conductor arena which translates directly to the mastery of smoking meats in the low-and-slow manner.  Greg began smoking meats at home several years ago, eventually earning praise from friends and the confidence to enter the arena of competition.

Half Rack of Baby Back Ribs

In each of the past two years, Greg has competed at Rio Rancho’s Pork & Brew, a Kansas City Barbecue Society sanctioned event.  In 2016, he finished seventeenth overall in a field of thirty-one, faring especially well in the pork category where he placed eleventh.  As much as the judges in the blind taste foodfest may have enjoyed his barbecue, it was event-goers who convinced him to launch his own barbecue restaurant.  In each of the event’s two days, he sold out–every morsel of magnificent meat–well before day’s end.   Moreover, many of them lavished praise and encouragement, essentially convincing Greg that he belonged in the barbecue restaurant arena.

Just seven months previously, Rub-N-Wood had shuttered its doors, leaving the City of Vision without a barbecue restaurant.  Now, Rio Rancho without barbecue is akin to Hillary not wearing a pantsuit.  It just doesn’t and shouldn’t happen.  Barbecue became a Rio Rancho tradition in 1983 when the great Gary West launched Smokehouse BBQ  at 4000 Barbara Loop, a location which would henceforth become synonymous with great barbecue. He owned and operated the stately home of seductive smoke for nearly a quarter-century before moving on. With Roger Bell at the helm, Rub-N-Wood moved in and pleased palates for nearly three years.  The hazy smoke plumes which had so long emanated from 4000 Barbara Loop resumed on a lazy, late September day when Greg assumed the role as Rio Rancho’s proprietor of the pit.  It was a day warranting celebration.

Half Chicken

As had transpired during the Pork & Brew, Greg sold out his first few days of operation.  Barbecue aficionados quickly embraced his Memphis meets Texas approach to smoking meats.  What’s not to love!  Greg uses a combination of oak and cherry woods to impart a unique flavor to his barbecue.  He developed a rub that includes some twelve ingredients that penetrate deeply into the meats and imbue them with flavor-boosting, crust-forming properties.  Not only that, the Stack House BBQ restaurant is an inviting milieu for meat lovers.  It may well be the most pristine barbecue restaurant in which you’ve ever set foot.  If cleanliness is indeed next to godliness, Greg is probably being fitted for a halo as you read this.  In addition to the immaculate nature of the premises, service is friendly and attentive (another Rio Rancho tradition exemplified by the terrific staff at Joe’s Pasta House among others).

The Stack House menu is rather limited.  Meats–brisket, chicken or pulled pork–are available by the half or full pound.  Also available are sausage, jalapeño sausage, half-a-chicken and baby back ribs (available in quantities of three, half a rack or a full rack).  You can also opt to have your meats on a sandwich.  Then there’s the aforementioned Frito pie.  Sides are pretty much what you’d expect at a barbecue joint: potato salad, cole slaw, green beans, corn on the cob, chile, beans, mac and cheese and fries (including chile cheese fries).  A baked potato, with or without meat, can also be had.  Limited applies solely to the number of items on the menu board, not to how great they taste.

Sides: Green Beans and Potato Salad

7 October 2016: You won’t mind getting your hands dirty handling the baby back ribs on which Greg’s magical rub is liberally applied.  These ribs are messy and they’re magnificent, each meaty morsel pried away easily from the bone.  They’re not fall-off-the-bone tender, having just the right amount of give that signifies the perfect degree of doneness.  Make no bones about it, these baby back ribs are (as Larry would say) competition-worthy, needing neither sauce nor amelioration to improve upon them.   The sauce, by the way, is terrific, a sweet and tangy complement to the richly satisfying smokiness of the ribs.

7 October 2016: With the emphasis on pork and brisket, chicken is often a sorry afterthought at some barbecue establishments.  Not so at the Stack House where the full-flavored half-chicken is a main-event item.  Quite simply, it’s fantastic, some of the very best we’ve had in New Mexico!  Peel back the blackened skin (delicious in its own right) and you’ll be rewarded with moist, juicy and delicious white and dark meat chicken…and there’s plenty of it.  A nice-sized half-chicken (breast, thigh and leg) won’t leave much for sharing–not that you’ll want to.  Update: Because the half-chicken didn’t always sell out, Greg decided to offer chicken thighs instead.  Aside from being the most moist part of the chicken, chicken thighs don’t have to spend as much time on the smoker as half chickens.

Frito Pie

In November 2016, Stackhouse began offering daily specials from Wednesday through Sunday. Wednesday’s child is a pulled pork sandwich.  On Thursday, it’s a chicken sandwich.  Friday features beef back ribs (a whole pound) though you’re well advised to get them early.  When we attempted to order beef back ribs on December 2nd, 2016, Greg apprised us that on that very date, my friend Sr. Plata ordered two portions for lunch and took home another for dinner.  Sr. Plata enjoys the Stackhouse’s beef ribs so much, he may move in…at least on Fridays.  But I digress.  Saturday’s special is three baby back ribs while Sunday, it’s Frito pie.  All daily specials are value priced.

2 December 2016: New Mexico’s contribution to Health.com’s “50 Fattiest Foods,” a state-by-state hall of infamy, was our ubiquitous Frito pie. The version low-lighted in the article contained a pants-popping 46 grams of fat and 14 grams of saturated fat. Still, it’s hard to resist the Land of Enchantment’s most egregious fat-offender, especially since it sometimes looks like a healthy lettuce and onion salad when prepared by some restaurants. Underneath the lettuce and chopped onions, however, is a mound of ground beef covered in chile and cheese surrounded by Frito’s corn chips.  At the Stack House, Greg dispenses with all the offending lettuce, tomatoes and onions.  Instead, this Frito Pie is constructed with only the good parts–lots of Fritos corn chips, ground beef, chile and a generous sprinkling of shredded cheese.   The chile has a nice bite, just enough to get your notice.  This is a fat-fest all New Mexicans will enjoy.

Three Meat Platter: Brisket, Chicken Thighs and Pork

2 December 2016: For a veritable meatfest, your best bet is a three meat platter (pictured above).  Kim, my carnivorous better-half will vouch for the brisket, chicken thighs and pulled pork.  Though a half chicken would be her preference, the chicken thighs make for a good consolation prize.  They’re moist, tender and delicious with a light smokiness.  The best of the three may well be the brisket which is shredded and pulls apart easily.  As with brisket in Central Texas, the cradle of Southwest barbecue, this isn’t the most lean of brisket.  It’s got just enough fat for flavor.  Tender tendrils of deliciousness define the shredded pork, a tangle of white and dark meat.  All three meats are lightly smoked and are perfect vehicles for the Stack House barbecue sauce.

2 December 2016: My Kim has often threatened to take away my man card, especially when we prepare steak at home or order it at a restaurant.  While she immediately–and with great zest–attacks the steak, my focal point is usually a loaded baked potato with plenty of melting butter, sour cream and shredded cheese.  The Stack House does one better than local steak houses.  First, the baked potatoes are smoked–lightly impregnated with hickory-cherry smoky goodness.  Secondly, you can load them up with the aforementioned baked potato suspects and with your choice of smoked meat.  The pulled pork is a magnificent choice for the smoked baked potato.  You’ll wish all your baked potatoes were similar endowed.

Smoked Baked Potato with Pulled Pork

7 October 2016: Great barbecue restaurants know that to provide an excellent full-meal experience, smoked meats must be accompanied by worthy sides.  Stack House has a two-tiered pricing model for its sides, the most expensive being three dollars.  Sides are served on Styrofoam vessels and are generously portioned.  The potato salad may evoke memories of picnic meals long gone.  It’s a mayonnaise-based potato salad with a pleasant mustardy-vinegary tang.  Alas, the green beans could use a few bits and pieces of smoked meats and maybe a pinch of salt.  Much better is the cherry cobbler, replete with whole cherries and a crumbly and delicious crust. 

Cherry Cobbler

Stack House BBQ may ultimately become yet another destination restaurant in Rio Rancho, a port-of-call for barbecue aficionados from throughout the metropolitan area, if not the entire Land of Enchantment.  With its September launch, all is right in Rio Rancho once again.

Stack House BBQ
4000 Barbara Loop, S.E.
Rio Rancho, New Mexico
(505) 903-7516
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 2 December 2016
1ST VISIT: 29 September 2016
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 21
COST: $$
BEST BET: Baby Back Ribs, Half Chicken, Cherry Cobbler, Apple Cobbler, Brisket, Pulled Pork, Chicken Thighs, Frito Pie, Smoked Baked Potato

Stack House BBQ Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Richie B’s – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Richie B’s on Montgomery and Louisiana

If you’ve ever wondered why New Yorkers fold their pizza slices in half lengthwise (aka the “fold hold”) and if you’ve ever  attributed that practice to Big Apple quirkiness, you owe it to yourself to visit Richie B’s, a New York-style pizzeria on Montgomery and Louisiana.  Now, the Albuquerque metropolitan area has plenty of claimants to New York-style pizza, but can you name a single one in which you’ve actually HAD to utilize the fold hold to eat a slice? New Yorkers have mastered the fold hold because true New York-style pizza is thin-crusted and cut into wide slices (usually wider than your face) which taper down to a perfectly pointed (and invariably “floppy”) bottom.

I’ve seen friends and colleagues employ the fold hold simply to double the amount of pizza they can consume in one bite (then wonder why they finished off their pizza twice as fast). I’ve also seen them utilize “The Travolta” method—layering one slice on top of another and eating both simultaneously—again, to double the amount of pizza in each bite.   I’ve also seen the more “civilized” (or haughty) among us (Mayor di Blasio should be impeached for doing so) use knives and forks on a slice; they’ve obviously forgotten or don’t care that God intended for pizza to be a finger food. NOTE:  If you’re not acquainted with “The Travolta” method, you may not have been paying close attention to the opening sequence of Saturday Night Fever.

The dining room at Richie B’s is studded with New York City memorabilia

8 June 2015: At Richie B’s, each slice is so large and so wide that the holding and eating method which makes most sense  is the fold hold. It’s not only the best way to trap the prodigious toppings, gooey cheese and dripping sauce within its crusty confines, it’s also the only way to avoid the mess made by an overloaded pizza on a thin-crusted slice.  At Richie B’s, the slices are very thin, very wide and very overloaded. That’s especially true of the aptly named Supreme, a beauteous behemoth topped with Italian sausage, pepperoni, mushrooms, onions, red peppers and olives, all with the sheen of olive oil and garlic.

It’s humanly impossible to pick up, hold and consume the Supreme unless you actually fold it in half lengthwise. For one thing, the only triangle-shaped man-made object that’s larger is the Great Pyramid of Giza. Because of the length and width of each slice coupled with the generosity of ingredients piled on, physical laws dictate that each foldable slice flops, not unlike a fish out of water.  This is the antithesis of the ironing board stiff pizza crust that won’t buckle under a ten-pound weight.  Not even the cornicione, an Italian term for the “lip” or puffy outer edge of the pizza, is stiff.

The Supreme

We’ve established that Richie B’s pizza is long, wide and floppy. That’s a given for many New York-style pizzas. “How does it taste?” you ask. Ann Marie Allen, who called me out on Zomato and recommended I get myself “over here pronto and review this place” says it’s “fantastic and the best pizza I’ve ever had!” Similar rousing endorsements adorn both Zomato and Yelp. My preliminary assessment is that this is a very good pizza, but it’ll take a few more slices to gauge its nuances. It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it. 

As for its authenticity, Richie B’s is true New York by way of Dothan, Alabama brought to you by an Albuquerque native. That would be Preston Smith who was working as a contractor at Fort Rucker, Alabama near Dothan where he discovered the original Richie B’s and “the best pizza I’ve ever tasted.” He also struck up a friendship with the owner, an entrepreneur-showman whose career path included a ten-year stint portraying Conan the Barbarian at Universal Studios. Before moving back to Albuquerque, Preston purchased the naming rights and recipes. The rest, as the proverbial “they” say, is history. Should Richie B’s do as well as Preston expects, he hopes to expand throughout the Duke City.

Green Chile Philly

To say Preston is passionate about pizza is an understatement. For his venture, he chose a deck oven instead of a conveyor oven. Deck ovens are generally the oven of choice for traditional sit-down pizza restaurants. They require much closer babysitting than conveyor ovens, but tend to distribute heat more evenly and give the pizzaioli greater control over temperature and air flow. It makes a great difference. Preston is also very passionate about Richie B’s “Viper Sauce” which can be used on virtually everything (much like green chile) save for dessert.

Richie B’s menu lists six custom pies available in 18- and 25-inch sizes. Also available are three twelve-inch sub sandwiches, two of which feature Boar’s Head meats. The other is a Philly cheesesteak. Also on hand are a garden house salad and a number of sides (including whole garlic pickles and stuffed cherry peppers) as well as cannoli and New York-style cheesecake. Although not expressly stated on the menu, Hatch green chile (from the Young Guns folks) can be added to virtually anything else on the menu. 

Onion Rngs

It would be audacious and probably laughable (much like Denver declaring its green chile the equal of New Mexico’s) to proclaim Phillys in Albuquerque the equal of or superior to those in Philadelphia, but we’ve got something even the City of Brotherly Love doesn’t have.  Albuquerque adorns its Phillys with green chile, an ingredient which improves everything with which it comes into contact.  Restaurants such as Philly’s N Fries and Davido’s Pizza & More have made Green Chile Phillys an edible art form. 

12 June 2015: You won’t find a Green Chile Philly at Richie B’s, but you can certainly request chile on the restaurant’s twelve-inch Philly Cheesesteak (grilled top sirloin, onions, mushrooms and sweet peppers topped with mozzarella and Provolone cheese served with a side of Viper Sauce.  It’s a very good sandwich bringing together ingredients meant to be together.  The Viper sauce, while more than interesting, is wholly unnecessary.  It’s an excellent dip for the onion rings, one portion of which will serve a family.

Italian Sub

30 November 2016: If, like me, you’ve ever lamented getting a veritable salad’s worth of lettuce, tomatoes and onions between bread when you order a sub, you’ll appreciate Richie B’s Italian Sub (thin-sliced ham, Genoa salami, prosciutto, capocalla, sopressata, pepperoni, mortadella, provolone, white American, onions, pepperoncini, sweet peppers, seasoned oil and vinegar dressing).  Nowhere on the ingredient list will you see lettuce and tomatoes, the two banes of Duke City sandwiches.  This is one meaty sandwich, emphasis on the word meaty.  Those meats aren’t rendered virtually tasteless by the overly generous presence of lettuce and tomatoes.  Instead, the sweet peppers, pepperoncini and onions serve a very complementary role that allow the meats to shine.  This is an Italian sandwich made the way many of us would create our own.  It’s a twelve-inch beauty constructed on a soft sub roll.

Richie B’s is located at Louisiana Plaza in a storefront that’s somewhat obfuscated from both Montgomery and Louisiana, but Duke City pizza paramours will discover it and they’ll return in droves for a pizza they’ll have to employ the fold hold to eat.

Richie B’s
7200 Montgomery Blvd, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 312-8579
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 30 November 2016
1st VISIT: 8 June 2015
# OF VISITS: 4
RATING: 19
COST: $$
BEST BET: The Supreme, Green Chile Philly, Onion Rings, Italian Sub

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The Supper Truck – Albuquerque, New Mexico

The Supper Truck, A Taste of South in Your Mouth

On December 20th, 2014, a part-paean, part elegy graced this blog.  The opening stanza read:  “Supper Truck, I hardly knew you!  Inexplicably and to the detriment of my taste buds, I didn’t partake of your delightfully creative interpretation of Southern cuisine until your very last day of serving Albuquerque.  So, why do I miss you so much already?  Most likely it’s the lost opportunities to partake of Southern cuisine inspired by the dynamic food truck scene of Charleston, South Carolina, one of my very favorite culinary destinations in America.   It begs a paraphrase of a time-honored question is it better to have loved and lost the chance to further enjoy your edgy, contemporary, fusion twists on classic Southern comfort food favorites than never to have loved them at all?” 

To write a second chapter about the Supper Truck is to write a tale of rebirth, of starting over.  Some six months after our inaugural visit,  founding owner Amy Black sold both the truck and naming rights to Kristen Galegor and Claude Freeman.  Because Amy had emphasized she wouldn’t sell until she found “the right person with the rare combination of drive, creativity and community-mindedness” which epitomized her purview, Duke City diners have every reason to be optimistic about the future of one of the city’s stellar mobile kitchens. Kris and Claude seem primed to deliver as The Supper Truck Web site indicates: “Claude and Kris have kept the fan favorites and are working to expand this creatively Southern menu.  The pair have many years experience in restaurants and are the visionaries of what SUPPER is to become!

Grits

The Supper Truck rolled into town in September, 2012, inviting Duke City denizens to “put a little South in your mouth.”  Savvy diners (in whose ranks I obviously don’t belong) responded immediately and with a rare fervor, according “best of the city” honors in both the Alibi and Albuquerque The Magazine‘s annual “best of” issues for 2013 and 2014.  More than perhaps any other motorized conveyance in Albuquerque, The Supper Truck brought people together, its crepuscular rays seemingly beckoning the city’s hungry huddled masses yearning for great Southern cuisine.

Fittingly, The Supper Truck served its last meals while parked on the south side of the Marble Brewery on an unseasonably warm Saturday.  For regulars the event was akin to one last pilgrimage to a beloved culinary shrine which had assuaged their hunger and pleased their palates for more than two years.  For newcomers (like me) and curiosity-seekers wondering if The Supper Truck warranted all the hullabaloo, it was an event that would ultimately leave us with mixed emotions–regret for not having visited sooner and sheer pleasure for having partaken of a rare excellence in esculence.

SupperTruck03

Fried Chicken Banh Mi

20 December 2014: The South takes its grits very seriously–so much so that unbeknownst to Yankees and those of us not blessed to have been born in the South, there are ten commandments of grits.   One of the principle commandments considers it blasphemous to eat Cream of Wheat and call it grits.    The Supper Truck’s grits are every bit as good as the best grits we enjoyed while living on the Mississippi Gulf Coast for nearly eight years.  These gourmet-quality grits are made with grilled shrimp, bacon, roasted red pepper coulis, green onion, parsley and white wine cream sauce over creamy stone-ground South Carolina grits.  They’re so good even Yankees will enjoy them. 

20 December 2014: While the Old South tends to hold fast to tradition, the contemporary South has embraced change, particularly in the culinary arena.  At the forefront of this evolution is the city of Charleston, South Carolina (where Amy cut her teeth) which has become a bastion of culinary expansiveness.  Though Charleston has a very vibrant Vietnamese culinary community, it’s unlikely they’ve seen anything like The Supper Truck’s South Carolina meets Vietnam offering of a fried chicken banh mi. Yes, a fried chicken banh mi.  The canvas for this unlikely but uncommonly delicious sandwich is a fresh, locally-baked baguette into which are piled-on house-seasoned fried chicken, pickled daikon and carrots, cucumber, jalapeño, cilantro and a housemade momo sauce of Sriracha, mayo and lime juice.  It’s one of the best banh mi we’ve ever had.  Ever!  Anywhere!

BBQ Beef Tacos

20 December 2014: The Supper Truck’s tacos are on par with Cafe Bella’s street tacos and the scallop tacos at Eli’s Place (formerly Sophia’s Place) as my favorite tacos in the metropolitan area.  Traditionalists might decry them as nontraditional and unconventional even as their taste buds experience one foodgasm after another at every bite of their sheer deliciousness.  The shrimp taco ( grilled shrimp, Sriracha sour cream, Asian slaw, pickled red onion and cilantro on a grilled corn tortilla and the  BBQ beef taco (Coca-Cola braised New Mexico beef, Sriracha-Hoisin bbq sauce, Asian slaw, pickled red onion, cilantro on a grilled corn tortilla) don’t even need red or green chile to make them addictive.  It’s heartening to know Duke City diners won’t have to miss out on these gems.

20 December 2014: Among foreigners (anyone who’s not from the South), boiled peanuts (sometimes called goober peas) may just be the most hard to grasp of sacrosanct Southern culinary traditions.  In the South, unroasted and unshelled peanuts are boiled in salt water for hours, rendering the peanuts soft and salty.  Then they’re consumed while still hot and wet.  The Supper Truck’s boiled peanuts are terrific, the type of snack you might offer friends in hopes they’ll snub it so you can enjoy them all yourself.

SupperTruck03

Boiled Peanuts

26 November 2016: Our second visit to The Supper Truck also took place at the Marble Street Brewery, albeit the Westside version of the popular watering hole.  Similar to its elder sibling, the Westside location invites food trucks to park on its premises and feed its patrons.  The Supper Truck doesn’t often frequent the Westside Marble Street, but its reputation preceded its November, 2016 as long lines of hungry diners will attest.  Kris was very effusive about some of the civic projects in which The Supper Truck crew has been involved and raved about an online commercial for eHarmony in which Supper Truck made a brief cameo appearance.  More than anything, she waxed enthusiastic when discussing how well the new owners have been received.

Credit much of that reception to the graciousness of the Supper Truck crew and to the continuity of Amy Black’s creatively Southern inspired fusion cuisine.  Southern fusion is very much in evidence, especially the fusion of Southern elements with Vietnamese, New Mexican and Mexican ingredients.  The South meets the Far East in such daringly different items as the fried chicken banh mi and Vietnamese beef and grits.  New Mexican beef finds its way into several items, among them BBQ beef tacos and borrachitos (more on them later).

Chicken and Waffles

26 November 2016: John T. Edge, the director of the Southern Foodways Alliance and author of Fried Chicken: An American Story calls chicken and waffles “a Southern dish once or twice removed from the South,”  meaning it’s “a dish most popular among Southerners now living in urban areas.”  Though the unlikely combination of fried chicken and waffles was popularized largely in restaurants throughout Los Angeles and New York City, today that pairing can be found virtually everywhere–even in food trucks.  It should come as no surprise that the Supper Truck’s version is terrific even if served on a paper vessel.  Available in quantities of two each pieces of chicken and waffles, this terrific twosome will make a Southerner of us all.  Though the fried chicken is boneless, it is still quite good with a crispy, golden hue sheathing tender white meat.  The waffles are roundish and on the small side.  They’re slathered with peach butter and syrup dusted with confectioners sugar and topped with strawberries.

26 November 2016: Spanish-speaking New Mexicans tend to ascribe small size, youth, affection or contempt to objects and people by appending their names with the suffix “ito.”  A short man named Juan, for example, might be called Juanito.  We had to wonder what the heck a “borachito” might be.  Being that a drunk is a borracho, could a borachito be a small drunk (and why is it spelled with only one “r”?  It turns out a borachito is a deliciously different burrito (unwrapped below) constructed on a large flour tortilla engorged with Coca Cola braised New Mexico beef with rich Vietnamese flavors, Cheddar, fries, sriracha sour cream and cilantro.  The diminutive terminology is out-of-place considering the size of this behemoth.  Its size is matched only by the flavorful melange with sweet, savory, tangy and piquant profiles.  Very much in evidence on the beef, in particular, are bold Vietnamese flavors.  The fries are an interesting foil which works very well with other ingredients.

Vietnamese Beef Borrachitos, a Unique Fusion Burrito

The Supper Truck Web site advises diners to “Be prepared to pull out your first aid kit because your mind will be blown when you experience the taste of SUPPER. Keep your eyes open for what’s to come!!!”  That’s pretty good advice from a purveyor of deliciousness we’re glad to have back serving the Duke City.

The Supper Truck
Location Varies
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 796-2191
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 26 November 2016
1st VISIT: 20 December 2014
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 20
COST: $$
BEST BET:  BBQ Beef Tacos, Shrimp Taco, Fried Chicken Banh Mi, Grits, Boiled Peanuts, Vietnamese Beef Borachitos, Chicken and Waffles

Supper Truck Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Casa Taco – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Casa Taco on Academy

“Nowadays, hoy en día, with our world full of war and violence and lack of love, a world full of greed
A world of domination, grasping power, venal stupidity, real evil.  Don’t get me started.
It’s good to know that a conversation about tacos will always engender a sense of comfort and happiness.
If only we could sit down at a big round world table and eat tacos in a spirit of love we might begin to work on world peace!”
~
Denise Chavez
New Mexican Author

Not even the beloved taco was excluded from the divisiveness of 2016’s contentious presidential campaign. Marco Gutierrez, founder of the group Latinos for Trump warned MSNBC that without tighter immigration policies…”you’re going to have taco trucks on every corner.” While taco trucks may not yet be parked on every corner, tacos have become a ubiquitous favorite across the fruited plain, as American as apple pie, hot dogs, pizza and egg rolls.  Their popularity is unparalleled with a market segment outpacing competitors in the quick service restaurant category.  Despite a near cult status, analysts believe tacos have yet to reach their peak in popularity–and not solely because their portability and deliciousness make them such a desirable dining option.  Culinary anthropologists attribute much of their increasing popularity to their diversity–the adaptation to a wide variety of ingredients across culinary cultures–agreeing that these are not your mom’s tacos.

The invention of tacos is largely credited to eighteenth century Mexican silver miners.  Largely considered working-class food, tacos made their way north of the border in 1905 when Mexican migrants were brought in to work the mines and railroads of the burgeoning States. From being constructed with offal or shredded beef (when available) in Mexico to being made with hamburger (along with the widely available Cheddar cheese, tomatoes and iceberg lettuce) in the United States, the taco began to evolve.  Credit Taco Bell and its proliferation of the pre-fried hard shell with the next significant evolution of the taco.  Further adoption, adaptation and transformation can be imputed to other immigrant cultures (such as the Lebanese who introduced the taco al pastor).

John Wayne Loved Tacos

While many of us are quick to criticize Millennials, Elizabeth Johnson, a Latin Cuisine Specialist at the Culinary Institute of America credits the most recent–and maybe most profound–evolution of the taco to “the next greatest generation.” “Millennials are very multi-ethnic…and very interested in cuisine from around the world,” she posits, adding that “we are becoming more and more casual.”   Coining the term “tacofication” of foods, she points out the fusion of various ethnic foods with tacos: Korean barbecue, Belgian waffles, Chinese dim-sum, Vietnamese banh mi and more, explaining that “this is happening because the United States is changing, especially the younger generation.”  That tacofication of foods is evident even in the Duke City where diners are indulging in taco adventures of which our abuelitas could not have conceived.

In its Fall Food and Wine Issue for 2016, Albuquerque The Magazine (ATM) crunched the numbers and told us that in 2015, Americans ate more than 4.5 billion tacos (so it wasn’t just me).  That’s more than 490,000 miles of tacos or roughly the equivalent of circling the globe nineteen times.  In terms of tonnage, the totality of tacos consumed across the fruited plain is the equivalent of two Empire State Buildings (730,000 tons).  In its “Taco the Town” feature, ATM indicated Albuquerque has “nearly 170 restaurants that create and serve some of the tastiest tacos of every ilk–from New Mexican to gourmet; seafood to veggie.”  The Magazine sampled and presented several examples of the city’s “unique, unusual, and undeniably savory taco types.”

Salsa Bar

With nary a nod to Taco Bell and its  own contributions to the revolutionary-evolutionary diversity of tacos (Cool Ranch Doritos Tacos, Breakfast Waffle Tacos), ATM’s feature  on unique, unusual, and undeniably savory taco types across the Duke City celebrated several exemplars of cultural taco fusion.  One of the best illustrations cited is the Jerk Chicken Taco, a specialty of Casa Taco on Academy.  If you’re not yet acquainted with this purveyor of taco innovation, lake-lovers among you might recognize its elder sibling of the same name in Elephant Butte.  The popularity of the latter, serving the popular reservoir vacation area since 2002, is one of the reasons the former launched in the Duke City in July, 2015.

Founder James Pecherski is a  Detroit native who fell in love with the Southwest while vacationing with family as a child.  He later attended the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu culinary school in Phoenix where his passion for the region’s culinary traditions were further inculcated.   It was never his intention to replicate Mexican or New Mexican style tacos, but to honor them with innovative concepts and ingredients.  He characterizes  Casa Taco as a “Southwestern, contemporary restaurant with New Mexican and central Mexico influences, with a tropical twist.”  Those influences are very much in evidence throughout the menu.

Jerk Chicken Burrito Plate

If you love tacos and can relate to the culinary adventurousness of a Millennial, you’ll love Casa Taco’s menu where tacos are more than just corn or flour tortillas stuffed with sundry deliciousness.  Three categories of tacos festoon the menu: Signature Tacos, Specialty Tacos and Grande Tacos.  Strewn throughout that menu are familiar options–ground beef tacos, carne asada tacos, calabasitas tacos–you can find elsewhere.  Seek instead those taco options with which you might not be familiar, those innovative creations, tacos unique to the Land of Enchantment.  Options such as the aforementioned Jamaican Jerk Chicken tacos were the impetus for our inaugural visit.  Not in the mood for tacos?  The accommodating staff can create a burrito, wrap, sandwich or salad from any of the ingredient combinations used to build tacos.

That’s precisely what they did for me.  Rather than order the Jamaican Jerk Chicken Taco plate (spicy jerked chicken breast and a fiery habañero pineapple-mango salsa), I asked for and received a Jamaican Jerk Chicken Burrito plate (with beans and rice).  As if the sweet-fiery qualities of the habañero pineapple-mango salsa and the incendiary properties of assertively seasoned Jamaican Jerk chicken aren’t enough, the amenable waitstaff will top your burrito with your choice of red chile, green chile (both laden with cumin) or con queso.  Combustible and delicious, it’s a terrific way to enjoy a burrito.  There’s only one drawback–the burrito is served with plastic utensils which make cutting into the soft, pliable flour tortilla a challenge.  The accompanying beans are quite good, but the rice is on the boring side (something that can be said about most “Spanish” rice).

Yucatan Pork Tacos

When we espied “Yucatan Pork Tacos” on the menu, we envisioned tacos engorged with the myriad of exotic tropical fruits and vegetables found in abundance throughout the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico.  Instead we were rewarded with two tacos engorged with lean chile-crusted pork loin, a spicy cucumber salsa and sweet pickled onions.  The spicy cucumber salsa is very much reminiscent of the sweet cucumber relish served in Thai restaurants with dishes such as satay.  It’s a wonderful complement to the lean, chile crusted pork loin which is plentiful in bite-sized pieces.  You can alter the flavor profile of these (or any) tacos with the addition of any one of the lively salsas found on the salsa bar.

For a more “conventional” (term used lightly) taco evocative of Old Mexico, try the La Puerto Steak tacos (cilantro and garlic “mojo” marinated steak with guacamole and cilantro).  Lest some lexicologist surmises “mojo” means these tacos are imbued with some magical voodoo charm or infused with libido, in this case mojo is also what several types of Mexican sauces are called.  The mojo penetrates deeply into the steak, infusing it with a lightly spicy personality.  The steak marries well with the invigorating freshness of the cilantro and the astringency of garlic.   This a great taco for experimenting with the various salsas.

La Puerto Steak Tacos

There was a time “con queso” was better known by its full name “chile con queso.”  At Casa Taco, it’s still called “chile con queso.”  By any name, it’s the perfect vehicle for crispy fried tortilla chips.  Picture a heaping bowl (or Styrofoam vessel) of hot, velvety cheese festooned with fiery chiles and chips sprinkled with red chile.  If you frequently crave chile con queso, this one will quell your ardor and possibly make an addict out of you.  It’s some of the very best chile con queso in the Duke City area.  Remember, you can have your burrito smothered in this liquid gold, too.

As if tacos, burritos, wraps, sandwiches and salads weren’t already enough to make your mouth water, Casa Taco’s menu also includes huevos rancheros, a third-pound Angus cheeseburger, chimichangas and two nacho platters.  Dessert options include caramel-filled churros with vanilla ice cream, a warm brownie sundae, apple flautas, strawberry nachos or old-fashioned milkshakes or malts.  There ae plenty of interesting and delicious options sure to inspire return visits a plenty.  Bottled Mexican Coke or Fanta are available to wash down your meal.

Con Queso

In 2016, Casa Taco earned TripAdvisor’s coveted “Certificate of Excellence.”  One visit and you’ll discover why so many Yelp reviews are peppered with the adjective “excellent.”

Casa Taco
5801 Academy Road, N.E., Suite B
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 821-TACO
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 25 November 2016
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Con Queso, Jerk Chicken Burrito, La Puerto Steak Tacos, Yucatan Pork Tacos, Chocolate Milk Shakes

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

An Hy Quan Vegetarian Restaurant – Albuquerque, New Mexico

An Hy Quan for Outstanding Vegetarian Vietnamese Cuisine

Celebrity chef  and professional cynic Anthony Bourdain, one of the more vocal detractors of the vegetarian lifestyle, contends “Vegetarians are the enemy of everything good and decent in the human spirit, an affront to all I stand for, the pure enjoyment of food.”  He’s not alone in his opinion.  Vegetarians are perhaps the most maligned and misunderstood group in the culinary community.  Consider the stereotypes.  Nay-sayers with their preconceived and oversimplified notions founded on ignorance would have you believe all vegetarians are emaciated and pallid tree-huggers who worship at the altar of PETA.  They attack vegetarian fare as bland and boring, lacking in variety and mostly tofu and lettuce. 

You can bet they wouldn’t spout their ill-founded drivel about vegetarian cuisine if they partook of just one meal at An Hy Quan, a Duke City restaurant showcasing Vietnamese vegetarian cuisine.  An Hy Quan’s cuisine is every bit as good as the food served at Albuquerque’s best Vietnamese restaurants, all of which cater primarily to carnivores.  They’d also have to toss out their stereotypes that a vegetarian diet renders its practitioners pale, sickly and scrawny should they meet Bill, the restaurant’s affable proprietor.  Admittedly not a bona fide vegetarian, Bill has reduced his consumption of meat over the years by nearly ninety-percent and he’s never felt better.  He sports a mesomorphic somatype (meaning he’s really built) that would put some athletes to shame.

Papaya Salad: The Very Best I’ve Ever Had

Interestingly,  even though many Vietnamese dishes are replete with vegetables, a vegetarian diet is rare in Vietnam.  Bill confirmed that strict adherence to vegetarianism is practiced mostly in Buddhist temples and on the first and fifteenth of each Lunar Calendar month when all Buddhists shy away from meat.  In Vietnam as in much of Asia, the citizenry believe meat is the best part of any dish.  Try going meatless along the Mekong and you can expect quizzical looks if not being overtly asked “why would anyone would turn down meat?”  It’s not easy for Vietnamese to comprehend that someone wouldn’t want meat which they believe imbues people with strength, stamina and vigor.  Eschew meat and they worry you’ll become too enfeebled and malnourished to function.

An Hy Quan, a term which translates to “a place of peace and happiness” is breaking down any stereotypes diners may have about vegetarian food and is earning converts daily in the process.  One of the reasons for its popularity is that An Hy Quan features Vietnamese vegetarian fare that’s true to traditional Vietnamese flavors and ingredients.  It’s the antithesis of faux burgers which, even diehard vegetarians will admit, taste like desiccated, overcooked corrugated cardboard.  Another reason so many savvy diners flock to An Hy Quan is Bill, the peripatetic owner and amiable ambassador of an addictive restaurant.

Egg Rolls

Bill grew up in the restaurant business.  His mother was a pioneer, launching Huong Thao back when there were fewer than a handful of Vietnamese restaurants in the Duke City.  From the onset, Huong Thao had a reputation as a vegetarian-friendly restaurant, earning accolades from the Vegetarian Society of New Mexico for its “great food” and “many vegetarian options.”  Bill eventually bought and operated Huong Thao for about seven years before embarking on other ventures.  When he made his return to the restaurant business, he wanted to do something different, something as pioneering as his mother had done.  He launched An Hy Quan in 2015.

Almost from the beginning, An Hy Quan was recognized as something special. In September, 2015, it was named by Movoto, a multi-state real estate brokerage, as one of the “ten best Albuquerque restaurants for vegetarians.”  Movoto wrote “The menu at An Hy Quan Vegetarian Restaurant is enough to make a person cry with happiness. From appetizers to dessert, dining is an adventure in flavor and technique combined with excellent service and generous portions. Select memorable dishes like Vietnamese spring rolls, avocado shakes, mock pork, and much more.”  Not long thereafter, An Hy Quan was recognized by Three Best Rated as one of the Duke City’s three best vegetarian restaurants.

“Chips and Salsa” An Hy Quan Style

Peruse the menu and you’ll quickly discern many familiar favorites–ranging from rice plates to noodle dishes and some of the best, most diverse soup (including pho) selections in the city.  While some Vietnamese restaurants in Albuquerque boast of menus listing well over one-hundred items, An Hy Quan’s menu seems somewhat abbreviated in comparison.  That doesn’t make it any easier to decide what to order.  Put yourself in Bill’s hands and you’re assured of a great meal.  There are at least two “must have” appetizers, one of which I had both during my inaugural and second visit.  It’s an addictive dish you might dream about.

24 June 2016: That would be the papaya salad, the very best my Kim and I have ever had.  A fresh and invigorating starter possessing more mouth-pleasing qualities than any salad in recent memory, it’s artfully plated and large enough to share.  Matchstick-like slivers of papaya resembling noodles are tossed with fresh basil, chopped peanuts, ground chili and mock ham in a shallow pool of pleasantly piquant “fishless” sauce with tangy citrusy notes.   You’ll be tempted to lap it up off your plate when the last remnants of the salad have been polished off.

Curry Tofu with Rice

24 June 2016: Following traditional New Mexican restaurant practices, An Hy Quan delivers complimentary Vietnamese “chips and salsa” to your table.  They’re not chips and salsa as you’d enjoy them at say, Mary & Tito’s Cafe.  They’re chips and salsa as they might be served in Vietnam.  The chips are made from fried potato starch.  Texturally they resemble the packing peanuts you shove into boxes to protect your delicate valuables.  The salsa is a chili sauce with a nice level of heat.  Instead of dipping the chips into the sauce, you’ll spoon it on as liberally as your taste buds can appreciate.

25 June 2016: Vegetarian egg rolls sound much like an oxymoron, a seemingly contradictory term much like “honest politician.”  Though described on the menu as “deep-fried egg rolls,” eggs aren’t used in preparing these tightly-wrapped, golden-hued cylindrical treasures.  Served four per order, they’re as good as any egg rolls served at any Vietnamese or Thai restaurant in the Duke City.  Because most egg rolls are engorged primarily with vegetarian ingredients, you might not be able to tell any difference.  They’re absolutely delicious.  So is the dipping sauce with flavor notes resembling fish sauce.

Curry Noodles

24 June 2016: Regular readers recognize my rapacious love of curry, whether it be Thai, Vietnamese, Indian, Japanese or meteorologist (KRQE’s pulchritudinous Kristen Currie).  It stands to reason vegetarian curry would be added to that list…and it was.  My inaugural meal at An Hy Quan was curry tofu served with rice.  Vietnamese curry tends to be very aromatic, somewhat lighter than Indian curries and not cloying as some coconut-infused Thai curries tend to be.  Though you’ll be tempted to finish the large portion, consider that the flavors of curry get better over time and the promise of left-overs becomes something to look forward to.  This curry is served piping hot and has a pleasant amount of piquancy that’s tempered only slightly by the cubed tofu and vegetable variety.  It’s an absolutely delicious curry dish!

25 June 2016: If your preference with curry leans toward noodles instead of rice, An Hy Quan has you covered.  The curry noodles dish features wide rice noodles, cubed tofu and assorted vegetables (including yu choy which resembles spinach in both appearance and flavor).   As with the curry rice dish, curry noodles are served with tofu which inherits the wonderfully pungent and pleasantly piquant flavors of the curry.  The assorted vegetables are fresh and unfailingly crispy–not quite al dente, but perfectly prepared.  My Kim, who doesn’t share my affinity for curry, loved this dish.  So will you!

Cashew Mock Pork Over Crispy Noodles

25 June 2016:  One of An Hy Quan’s most popular dishes (raved about in several Yelp and Zomato reviews) is the cashew mock pork rice dish.  My Kim who prefers noodles (even over Alford) asked nicely if she could have the mock pork and cashews over crispy noodles and the ever-accommodating Bill agreed.  The dish was even more delicious than she could have conceived.  Kim finds something magical in the reconstitution of crispy noodles in the dish’s light sauce.  She loved the mock pork, admitting it’s as good as the real stuff.  She even enjoyed the vegetables and the sesame seeds which topped them.  This dish should be standard on the menu (Kim won’t even ask for residuals). 

21 November 2016: Deciding to pursue a vegetarian lifestyle is the easy part.  Preparing palatable vegetarian dishes at home or discovering restaurants which make them delicious takes a little more work.  When my friend Elaine, already one of the most healthy and fit people I know, decided to try vegetarianism, she asked me to take her to my favorite vegetarian restaurant.  It didn’t take much deliberation to decide where we’d go.  Not surprisingly, Hy Quan exceeded her expectations.  Elaine fell in love with the papaya salad and egg rolls, but it may have been the clay hot pot rice dish we split (and couldn’t finish) which most excited her.  Clay pot cooking is very popular throughout Asia where the clay pot is used as both pot and serving vessel.  Aside from rice, this dish contains an assortment of vegetables (carrots, cabbage, zucchini  and green onion) prepared perfectly as is the accompanying tofu.  The dish has a a smoky, wok-fried flavor with crispy, fresh vegetables and at the bottom edges of the pot, amazing caramelized rice which Bill confirmed is the most popular feature of a terrific dish.

Clay Hot Pot Rice

If you’ve never enjoyed vegetarian fare, it’s time to visit An Hy Quan where you might not be able to taste any significant difference and even if you do, you’ll enjoy it nonetheless.  An Hy Quan isn’t only one of Albuquerque’s very best vegetarian restaurants, it’s one of the city’s best Vietnamese restaurants.  Make that best restaurants of any genre.  It’s that good!

An Hy Quan Vegetarian Restaurant
1405 Juan Tabo, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 332-8565
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 21 November 2016
1st VISIT: 24 June 2016
# OF VISITS: 4
RATING: 23
COST: $$
BEST BET: Papaya Salad, Curry Tofu, Egg Rolls, Curry Noodles, Cashew Mock Pork Over Crispy Noodles, Clay Hot Pot Rice

An Hy Quan Vegetarian Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Toro Burger – Rio Rancho, New Mexico

Toro Burger in Rio Rancho

While watching a “sanitized for television” version of the audacious satirical comedy Blazing Saddles, my precocious six-year-old niece asked several questions with deep sociological implications: “Why is everyone in the town of Rock Ridge named Johnson? Why were all the town’s citizens white?” From her silence, you’d think my Kim was a “perp lawyering up” at a police inquiry. Rather than responding herself, she enjoyed seeing my brother and I hem and haw in trying to give accurate and age-appropriate answers. Far easier to answer were Blazing Saddles questions which inspired nostalgic reflection: “Is there a Howard Johnson’s Ice Cream Parlor in Albuquerque? Does Howard Johnson’s really serve only one flavor?”

For those of us who grew up in the dark ages, Howard Johnson’s restaurants were almost as ubiquitous as McDonald’s are today. During its halcyon days (peaking in 1975), more than 1,000 “Ho Jo’s” restaurants and motor lodges dotted the American landscape, their distinctive orange roofs a familiar beacon for hungry sojourners. Among the restaurants’ culinary draws were its 28 flavors of butterfat-enhanced ice cream and fried clam strips, an exotic offering theretofore available only in New England. The Marriott Corporation’s 1982 acquisition of all Howard Johnson’s properties signaled the precipitous beginning of the end of the once popular and profitable restaurant. Today, a sole remaining Howard Johnson’s restaurant (in Lake George, New York) remains from among more than 1,000 original restaurants.

Toro’s Welcoming Dining Room

Having returned to the Land of Enchantment in 1979 after a two-year Air Force assignment to Massachusetts, this inveterate fried clam aficionado craved the plump, intensely-flavored paragons of deliciousness. Only Howard Johnson’s provided an approximation, albeit waifishly thin, desiccated strips (sorry Bob) vastly inferior to the tender, juicy whole bellied clams available seaside throughout New England. Despite having to settle for crummy clams, Howard Johnson’s became a frequent stop, a milieu of memories.  When the Albuquerque Howard Johnson’s restaurant on Eubank gave up the ghost in the early 1980s, I mourned.  Where now would fried clams be found?

When Mary Ann Schaefer, a long-time friend of this blog wrote to tell me about the Toro Burger Bar in Rio Rancho’s Howard Johnson hotel, it wasn’t the prospect of juicy, beefy burgers which came to mind, but my beloved fried clams.  Nonetheless, her enthusiasm for the burgers would be the impetus for a visit.  We hadn’t visited the hotel since it housed Wine and Roses, a rather good German restaurant.  That was more than a decade ago when the hotel was the Inn at Rio Rancho.  The Inn became a Howard Johnson’s property in 2014.

Chile Cheese Fries

Since Wine and Roses shuttered its doors so many years ago, a number of restaurant concepts gave it the old college try in the Inn’s restaurant space but none had the staying power engendered by customer loyalty.  The seemingly du jour concept during the conversion from Inn at Rio Rancho to Howard Johnson’s was the Toro Bar and Grill which offered dinner service seven days a week.  It garnered the same level of enthusiasm as another tumbleweed rolling onto the street.  We surmised the name change to Toro Burger was just a rebranding-repackaging effort offering the same uninspiring fare.  Boy were we wrong!

Toro Burger is a terrific restaurant, one every burger aficionado in the metropolitan area should visit.  Ryan, an inventive Indiana born-and-bred chef has suffused the menu with some of the most superb and innovative burgers in the Land of Enchantment.   Chef Ryan’s previous gig in New Mexico was at Annapurna.  Now he’s doing his own thing and creating culinary magic.   You’ll be hard-pressed to decide which burger or sandwich to order, so tempting are the choices.  Even better, the beef is ground daily on the premises from three different cuts of steak.  That means superior burgers!  All burgers come with your choice of patty–house ground beef, turkey, veggie, chorizo-beef blend or lamb–on a potato bun with lettuce, tomato, red onion, burger sauce (unless noted) and your choice of side.  You can also ask for your burger to be wrapped in a flour tortilla.

Fried Pickles

Before rushing out the door to get your burger fix, you should know that Toro is open only from 5PM through 10PM Tuesday through Saturday.  Much as you’d love to have one of Toro’s fabulous burgers for lunch, you’ll appreciate the reason for the restaurant’s limited hours.  Not only does Chef Ryan prepare everything to order, he spends a lot of time sourcing fresh ingredients, grinding the beef, creating sauces and even curing and smoking the restaurant’s bacon and pastrami.  That pastrami is cured for 18 days then smoked for another 12 to 16 hours.    The bacon undergoes a similar meticulous hands-on curing and smoking process.  These are the difference-makers, the reasons burgerphiles will return often.

The menu is another reason.  To get you started, you can select from one of six appetizers, three soft tacos (ground beef, adobado chicken, blackened tilapia) or four salads.  Be cautioned that the appetizers are generously portioned and you’ll want lots of room for those burgers.  There are twelve highly imaginative burgers on the menu as well as a build-your-own-burger option with seemingly unlimited options considering you can choose your meat, cheese (seven choices), veggies (eight choices) and sauces (eleven choices).  It’s a mad burger scientist’s dream!  There are three entrees on the menu: catfish dinner, New Mexico hot chicken and beef ribs.  There are also ten sandwich options, each intriguing.  All sandwiches include your choice of side.  If you’re not already planning a visit, I haven’t done my job well.  If the burgers are any indication, you should rush right over!

Jack and Dianne Burger with Onion Things

18 November 2016: When we ordered our appetizers we had no idea how generously portioned they’d be.  An order of chile cheese fries rewarded us with a mountain of house-cut fries and a generous sprinkling of New Mexico green chile with a cheese blend dousing and Ranch dressing on the side.  The green chile has a pleasant piquancy–enough heat for me to notice and for my Kim to call it “hot.”  Anytime you can find house-cut fries, you should jump on them.  Infinitely better than out-of-a-bag fries, these golden planks of salty deliciousness are terrific repositories for cheese and green chile.

18 November 2016: Our server, the ambassadorial and indefatigable James recommended the fried pickles, one of the more popular appetizers on the menu.  Served with a ramekin of Ranch dressing (ask for one with blue cheese, too) is a pile of thinly sliced, lightly breaded dill pickles which would really purse your lips were it not for the breading.  In our eight years down South (on the Mississippi Gulf Coast), we never received such a generous portion of fried pickles as we did during our inaugural visit to Toro Burger.  We wound up taking half of them home and found them as delightful the next day as we did when they first graced our table.

Mo’ Better Burger with Fries

18 November 2016: Until just before we placed our order, I fully intended to order what Mary Ann’s hubby had enjoyed so much–the Toro burger (Hatch green chile, house made bacon, cheese and chipotle aoli), but perusing a full-sized menu instead of one online gave us new perspective on just how inventive Toro’s burgers are.  If, like me, you enjoy flavor combinations that pair disparate (sweet and savory, tangy and piquant, etc.) taste profiles, you’ll love the Mo’ Better Burger (grilled pineapple jam, house-made bacon and Sriracha aioli) which teases and tantalizes every one of your ten-thousand taste buds.  While the combination of pineapples and bacon has long been exploited on pizza, we found it to be tailor-made for burgers, too.  The bacon has a wonderful smokiness paired with a sweet-peppery element that renders it positively addictive.  One taste of the pineapple jam and your imagination will conjure up all the different ways you can enjoy it.

18 November 2016: My Kim’s choice was a slightly modified Jack and Dianne (which she ordered not because she likes the John Mellencamp song by that name) which comes standard with sauteed garlic mushrooms and Jack cheese.  Kim asked that the Jack cheese be eighty-sixed and substituted grilled onions instead.  The last trade that good was when the 2016 World Series champion Chicago Cubs acquired Jake Arrieta for a song and dance.  There’s something almost magical about earthy garlic-infused mushrooms paired with sweet, almost caramelized onions.  Lest I forget, the beef is of superior caliber, a delicious, nicely seasoned patty of about six-ounces.  Burgers at Toro are so good you can dispense with mustard and ketchup.

Travis Pastrami

19 November 2016: So impressed were we after our inaugural visit that we couldn’t wait to return.  It took us only one day to make like McArthur.  To avoid marital strife, we flipped a coin to determine which of us would order the pastrami sandwich (Kim wins so many coin tosses she must have a two-headed coin).  Called the Travis Pastrami, the sandwich is constructed on grilled light rye bread smeared with hot mustard and piled generously with the housemade pastrami about which James, our affable guide had waxed poetic.  The sandwich comes standard with sauerkraut, but Kim opted to have it on the side.  As with all great pastrami, this one’s got plenty of marbling.  That’s where so much of the flavor comes from. Well, that a meticulous, painstakingly monitored brining, curing, smoking process.  It’s obvious Chef Ryan knows what he’s doing.  Only at Joe Rodriguez’s California Pastrami will you find pastrami this good. 

19 November 2016: Our inaugural visit taught us to be more judicious about ordering appetizers. Instead of, for example, ordering an overly generous platter of chile cheese fries and risk being near-full when entrees arrive, opt for the pulled pork sliders (three slow-cooked pulled pork sliders with a red chile BBQ sauce and house slaw).  Tender tendrils of pork nestled between pillowy soft bread rolls is just the beginning.  The red chile BBQ sauce is more tangy than it is piquant, but it infuses the pork with a delightful liveliness.  Ditto for the coleslaw which imparts tangy, creamy notes. There’s only one thing wrong with these sliders–you’ll want at least two (or eight) more.

Pulled Pork Sliders

19 November 2016: Having lost the coin flip and thus the opportunity to order the pastrami sandwich didn’t make me a Miss Congeniality.  There are just too many terrific options on the menu, each one a winner.  James recommended the catfish dinner (buttermilk soaked fried catfish fingers tossed in a spicy cornmeal dredge and served with house-cut fries, slaw and a roasted corn tartar sauce).  Who would have thought Rio Rancho would become my go-to destination for catfish–first at K’Lynn’s Cuisine and now at Toro Burger?  The two planks of catfish placed gently atop a haystack-sized pile of French fries are terrific–light, flaky and delicate with a bit of personality courtesy of a spice blend.  Dip the catfish into the roasted corn tartar and the flavor profile changes altogether.  This is the tartar sauce for those of us who don’t like tartar sauce courtesy of sweet corn niblets that serve as a nice foil to other savory elements.

Catfish Dinner

18 November 2016: Even among the most creative and experienced chefs, desserts are often a challenge, one usually left to an assistant or pastry chef.  Chef Ryan may be just as adept at desserts as he is with savory elements.  As with everything that comes out of his kitchen, there’s plenty of imagination in every dish.  There’s also quite a bit of magic.  Our introduction to his prowess with postprandial aspects of a meal was with a crustless cheesecake.  Well, there is a crust, but it’s not Graham crackers or anything of the like.  This “crust” is comprised of thinly sliced red apples atop of which rests a molded round cheesecake topped with a green chile compote punctuated by more thin apple slices.  The green chile compote has both piquant and sweet elements, a perfect foil for the tangy apples and even sweeter cheesecake.  We were surprised at how much we enjoyed this masterpiece.

Housemade Cheesecake with Green Chile Compote

19 November 2016: We weren’t surprised at how much we enjoyed Chef Ryan’s housemade ice cream sandwich.  Now, this one does have a Graham cracker crust which sandwiches a layer of chocolate ganache and a thick wedge of chocolate ice cream.  The ice cream sandwich arrives at your table in a frozen state.  You’ll be advised to let it sit for a few minutes for maximum enjoyment.  Would that we had such discipline.  No sooner had it arrived at our table than we began to gnaw on it.  Our sole complaint about this delightful ice cream treat is how small it is–maybe four inches.  It’s not the ice cream sandwich behemoth you’ll find at Rude Boy Cookies, but it’s just as good.

Housemade Ice Cream Sandwich

Ice Cream Sandwich

19 November 2016: My friend Larry McGoldrick, the esteemed professor with the perspicacious palate, will be happy to hear Toro Burger’s dessert menu includes a bread pudding, perhaps one worthy of inclusion on his Bread Pudding Hall of Fame.  This particular bread pudding, resplendent with the presence of sweet-tangy peaches and topped with a vanilla icing is reminiscent of peach cobbler, albeit just a bit sweeter.  Though some might consider them anachronistic, bread pudding and cobbler are two of my very favorite desserts and for some of the same reasons.  What we enjoyed most about Toro’s rendition is the interplay of different flavors to compose a cohesive, absolutely delicious whole.  Next time, however, we may ask for the green chile compote instead of the vanilla icing.

Peach Bread Pudding

Peach Bread Pudding

If you visited any one of Toro Burger’s predecessors at the Rio Rancho Howard Johnson’s, you likely weren’t very impressed.  Don’t let that dissuade you from trying Toro Burger.   It’s better…much better.  Chef Ryan’s burger creations are not to be missed and you’ll be well taken care of by James, the restaurant’s whirling dervish server whose recommendations you can take to the bank.

Toro Burger
1465 Rio Rancho Drive, S.E.
Rio Rancho, New Mexico
(505) 892-1700
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LATEST VISIT: 19 November 2016
1st VISIT: 18 November 2016
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 23
COST: $$
BEST BET: Chile Cheese Fries, Fried Pickles, Jack and Dianne Burger, Mo’ Better Burger, Housemade Cheesecake with Green Chile Compote, Peach Bread Pudding, Housemade Ice Cream Sandwich, Pulled Pork Sliders, Catfish Dinner, Travis Pastrami, French Fries, Onion Things

Toro Burger Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Saigon 2 Restaurant – Rio Rancho, New Mexico

Saigon 2 Restaurant in Rio Rancho

In Chinese and Vietnamese cultures, numerology is very important.  If you’ve traveled extensively, you may have wondered why the term “Pho” followed by a number is so commonplace.  Often these numbers are considered lucky–and not necessarily across an entire culture.  A number may be lucky on a personal level, perhaps marking a date that’s special to the restaurant owner.  Espy a restaurant named Pho 66and the number  66 may well represent the year the owner fled Vietnam during the war.  Restaurants named Pho 75 may well be honoring 1975, the year Saigon fell.  Numerical repetition is also considered fortuitous.  The City of Vision certainly counts the number eleven as a lucky number.

November 11th, 2011 at precisely 11 o’clock AM (11/11/11 at 11AM) saw the launch of Rio Rancho’s third Vietnamese restaurant when Saigon 2 Restaurant opened its doors on Southern Boulevard.  The restaurant is situated in an 1,800 square foot space that’s about a thousand feet smaller than Saigon Restaurant, its elder sibling on San Mateo.  Because the Rio Rancho restaurant is smaller, the menu is somewhat abbreviated–115 items instead of 145 items.  Fish dishes are not be served in Saigon 2, but for the most part, the dishes prepared incomparably well at the original Saigon are also available in its sibling.

Saigon 2 Main Dining Room

Owner Vicki Truong could well have named her first restaurant Pho 88 in honor of 1988, the year she left Vietnam or she could have named it Pho 2000 in honor of the year she arrived in Albuquerque and launched her first restaurant.  She chose instead to honor the former capital of South Vietnam, now more often called Ho Chi Minh City.  Since launching her first restaurant, she’s garnered a tremendous following among devotees of Vietnamese cuisine.  She still spends most of her time at her original restaurant, entrusting her capable staff in Rio Rancho to uphold the high standards for which her restaurants are known. 

Vicki does try to spend Sundays in her Rio Rancho restaurant, flitting between the kitchen and the dining room, addressing her guests as “honey” or “sweetie” and ensuring their comfort.  She is one of the most personable restaurateurs in the metropolitan area and one of the very best Vietnamese chefs in New Mexico.  The latter is especially surprising considering that when she first arrived in the States, she couldn’t cook.  She learned how to cook at the Vietnamese restaurant in which she worked in San Jose, California.  That makes her mastery of Vietnamese cooking a marvel.

The best egg rolls in the Albuquerque area

SaiGon is the only restaurant for which I’d list egg rolls as an absolute “must have” (typically, especially at Chinese restaurants, egg rolls should be categorized as “must avoid.”) These cigar shaped treasures, served with a tangy fish sauce, are among the very best I’ve had anywhere. They explode with the flavor of perfectly seasoned ground pork and vegetables encased in a crispy, deep-fried yellow wrapper. Served six to an order, it might be advisable to request two orders to keep peace in the family. As with other appetizers, the greenery (cilantro, mint and Thai basil) isn’t there solely as plate decoration. Vicki expects that her guests will wrap just about their egg rolls on a lettuce leaf and add cilantro and Thai basil to taste–and if you don’t, she’ll certainly talk you into it.

If you ever espy a diner at one of the Duke City’s Vietnamese restaurants wrapping something that’s already wrapped (egg rolls) in lettuce, chances they picked up that habit at SaiGon under Vickie’s tutelage. It’s the way we now like them, but only at SaiGon where generous amounts of Thai basil and cilantro along with some of the very best fish sauce in town enliven the best egg rolls in town. The only drawback is dipping them into the fish sauce which can be a pretty messy proposition.

Steamed Vermicelli with Grilled Onion Beef

Very much a “beefaholic,” my very favorite entree, found in the “salted dishes” portion of the menu, is grilled onion beef, an order of which features ten cigar-shaped “beef rolls” encasing slightly caramelized grilled white onions then topped with ground peanuts and diced green onion. Every bite is like an adventure in culinary flawlessness with tastes that awaken and tantalize your taste buds. The beef rolls are thin (but not carpaccio thin) and have a more than subtle smoky sweet fragrance. You can eat these sans fish sauce or with fish sauce. They’re terrific either way.

Another way to have the grilled onion beef is with steamed vermicelli fashioned into one large rice noodle sheet in a cheesecloth pattern.  At May Hong, these noodles are called patter noodles.  The noodles are cut into squares about four-inches in diameter.  This entree (#46 on the menu) is served with a bowl of lettuce, carrots, daikon, cucumbers, bean sprouts, basil and cilantro.  Obviously, the intent is to use the lettuce as the outer wrap in which you layer the vermicelli noodles, grilled onion beef and vegetables into a lettuce roll to be dipped in fish sauce.  It’s a messy option, but unbelievably good.

Rare Beef with Rice Noodle Soup

If you suffer from triskaidekaphobia (fear or avoidance of the number 13), you might not order the #13 beef noodle soup at Saigon 2.  You’d be depriving yourself of one of the best pho dishes in the metropolitan area, a brimming, swimming-pool sized bowl of luxurious beef pho with rare beef, buttery rice noodles, scallions, cilantro and sundry herbs.  Perhaps the only aspect of this soup more pleasurable than how it tastes is the aroma which precedes its arrival at your table.  Steam wafts toward your eagerly awaiting nostrils, a precursor to a soup that known to make grown men (at least this one) swoon. 

There are Vietnamese cuisine aficionados who will tell you the only restaurant equal to or better than Saigon 2 is the original Saigon.  Both have made visitors believe in luck and it’s all good.

Saigon 2 Restaurant
2003 Southern Blvd Suite, S.E., 105-106
Rio Rancho, New Mexico
505-896-0099
LATEST VISIT: 12 November 2016
1st VISIT:  18 November 2011
# OF VISITS: 5
RATING: 23
COST: $$
BEST BET: Grilled Onion Beef, Egg Rolls, Rare Beef With Rice Noodle Soup, Special Clay Pot with Grilled Chicken

Saigon 2 Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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