The Daily Grind – Albuquerque, New Mexico

The Daily Grind on Cutler

Sometimes–such as when Teri, a faithful reader of this blog, recommended I visit The Daily Grind–being a lexicologist can be a detriment.  The first thing that came to mind was the drudgery of the software development project to which I was assigned.  Since the 1800s, “grind” has been synonymous with boring, tedious work as in “grinding away.”  Why then would I want to visit The Daily Grind when the daily grind was visiting me everyday in the form of SQL databases, configuration scripts and dot-net framework.

My Kim, who’s got all the common sense in the family, clarified that the type of grind to which Teri was referring had nothing to do with the tedium of the dog-eat-dog routine. The Daily Grind Teri recommended is a coffee shop she and her husband consider awesome. The term Daily Grind as used in the restaurant’s name refers to the daily grinding of coffee, a routine prefacing the luxurious indulgence in a steaming cup.  The Daily Grind proudly serves Allegro Coffee, a subsidiary of Whole Foods which roasts flavorful coffee from Arabica beans.  Two cups of cafe au lait sold me on this coffee.

Beyond the landscaping and water feature is the Daily Grind’s patio

The Daily Grind has been making the daily grind easier to bear since 1996.  For seven years–until September, 2013–the coffee shop operated in the East Downtown district before relocating to the Calibers Center on Cutler Avenue just west of Washington.  The Daily Grind is located in a battleship grey corrugated steel building. If not for the signage and picture windows in the restaurant’s storefront, first-timers might think they’ve mistakenly arrived at an industrial complex of some sort.  Compounding doubts newcomers might as to whether they’ve reached the right location is that The Daily Grind is sandwiched between I40 on its south and a diversion channel about a quarter mile north.  Its next door neighbors are a gun store and pro shop and a fly and tackle shop, not the usual coffee shop neighbors.

The weirdness continues when you discover there is no entrance up front.  Instead, you have to navigate a concrete path that takes you past a rock garden with interesting water features.  The coffee shop’s entrance precedes the patio where umbrellas provide cooling shade.  You can choose to dine in a capacious dining room or, weather permitting, a delightful patio.  When you walk in, your eyes will instantly be trained on the glass pastry case in which scrumptious pastries and cookies baked on the premises are on display.  This lexicologist also detected exposed grinding gears on the clock just over the window to the kitchen.  Two grinding gear mirrors hang on a dining room wall.

The capacious dining room

The Daily Grind is open seven days a week for breakfast, lunch or dinner.  During our inaugural visit we spent at the coffee shop on a unseasonably warm Saturday afternoon, we were surprised both at the eclectic crowd and volume of take-out and eat-in traffic.  Our server told us the crowd was a mix of loyal patrons who followed their favorite coffee shop to its new home and newcomers like us.  The Daily Grind has all the elements that make coffee shops popular: a friendly, attentive wait staff; an inventive and diverse menu; an attractive milieu; and of course, good coffee.

A multi-page menu includes distinctive breakfast, lunch and dinner items, focusing on traditional American favorites prepared with creative touches.  The fourteen item breakfast menu, served all day, includes an array of sweet (pancakes, French toast), savory (Cheddar waffle BLT, breakfast bagel), piquant (huevos rancheros, chile pocket) and healthy (yogurt).  The lunch menu includes leafy greens, panini sandwiches or burgers.  The dinner menu features only seven items, some of which you might find at a gourmet restaurant.  Don’t make your dessert decision based on the menu.  You’ve got to visit the pastry case to select the sweet treat that’s just perfect for you.  In the three years in between our first and second visit, the menu had changed substantially.  As with all good restaurants, changes to the menu are inevitable to keep things fresh.

Gourmet Fries Topped with Blue Cheese and Caramelized Onions

12 October 2013: Appetizers, sub-titled on the menu as “To Share…Or Not” are few in number (five), but they’re sure to please, especially if you love French fries.  Grind gourmet fries (available also from sweet potatoes) are not only  calorically endowed, but inventive.  Consider bacon, cheese, sour cream and green onion fries; Philly cheese steak fries; Truffle Parmesan fries; Blue cheese and caramelized onion fries; Carne Adovada with Cheddar fries; and a loaded sweet potato.  The blue cheese with caramelized onion fries are a turophile’s dream courtesy of sharp, deep blue-veined blue cheese crumbles melted atop medium-cut fries.  The caramelized onions lend a sweet contrast to the blue cheese’s sharp, tangy qualities

12 October 2013: Within the sandwich menu, you’ll find only a couple of paninis, but they’re memorable.  All sandwiches are prepared on locally baked bread from Le Paris French Bakery in Albuquerque.  Sandwiches are served with housemade potato chips or fries and cornichon pickles.  The chips are crispy, but not brittle and they’re low in salt.  A bowlful of cornichons isn’t enough to sate pickle lovers so the four that accompany your sandwich are strictly a tease.

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The Cubano with housemade potato chips and Cornichon pickles

12 October 2013: As with most sandwich shops in Albuquerque, The Daily Grind offers its own version of The Cubano, the Cuban sandwich or as it might be called in Cuba–a sandwich.  Over the years, many liberties have been taken with the Cubano with tradition pushed by the wayside.  The Daily Grind’s Cubano is a pressed panini stuffed with ham, turkey breast, pickle, Swiss cheese and cilantro mayo.  Many Cubanos are made with mustard which, some might argue, throws off the balance in the sandwich’s flavor profile.  The cilantro mayo provides very complementary flavor notes that allow the ham, turkey breast and Swiss to sing.

12 October 2013: On Nancy’s Curried Chicken Salad Sandwich, a baguette is hollowed out and ingredients are stuffed where soft bread innards used to be.  The chicken salad is constructed from shredded chicken breast, pineapple, golden raisins, celery and curry mayo.  It’s a terrific sandwich with savory and sweet (but not overly so) notes that coalesce into a surprisingly delicious combination.  The curry mayo, pineapple and golden raisins provide the sweet elements while the shredded chicken breast lends savory qualities.  If you love curry, you’ll love this sandwich.  If you don’t love curry, you’ll probably still like this sandwich.

DailyGrind06

Nancy’s Curried Chicken Salad Sandwich with housemade potato chips and Cornichon pickles.

25 March 2017:  For those of you who like word play almost as much as you like sandwiches, the “Dressed Up Pear Essentials Panini” will get your attention.  Picture white wine poached pear, ham, bacon, Swiss, brie and balsamic reduction on a baguette.  The sandwich is a bit on the diminutive size, but it’s huge in flavor and especially in flavor contrasts that complement one another.  The crisp, smoky bacon contrasts beautifully with the crispy poached pear while the ham and brie are a marriage made in kitchen heaven.  Then there’s the balsamic which lends a slight tang to the entire sandwich.

Dressed Up Pear Essentials Panini

25 March 2017: New York City’s prestigious Waldorf-Astoria Hotel is not only renowned for its upscale and luxury accommodations, but for its culinary innovations.  The Waldorf-Astoria is credited for having invented Eggs Benedict as well as the Waldorf Salad which the hotel first served in 1896.  The Daily Grind’s take on the Waldorf Salad, fittingly called “Waldorf – Grand Style,” is a very tribute to the salad made famous at the most famous hotel in New York City.  It’s constructed from a mound of baby greens, red and green apple slices, sliced pear, candied walnuts, dried cranberries and raspberry vinaigrette.  If you like fresh, invigorating flavors with leafy green goodness and sweet-tangy fruit, this is the salad for you.

Waldorf Salad – Grind Style

12 October 2013: Desserts are truth in advertising.  The advertising comes from the glass pastry case under which are displayed some of the Duke City’s most delectable desserts: pies, cakes, cookies and more.  The truth comes as your taste buds confirm what your eyes have been telling you.  These are absolutely amazing desserts, some of the very best in the city.  The French Silk Pie, very much reminiscent of French gateaus, may be the best I’ve had in the United States.   It’s smooth, rich and best of all, not too sweet (courtesy of the semi-sweet chocolates).  The pie is topped with blueberries which provide a terrific contrast to the chocolate.

12 October 2013: Peñasco’s Sugar Nymph’s Bistro has long held the distinction of serving what I believe are New Mexico’s very best scones.  The Daily Grind’s raspberry scones are right up there with Sugar Nymph’s.  That’s rarefied air.   The Daily Grind’s scones are both moist and crumbly, dense and light, sweet and savory and absolutely addictive.   So, too, are the cinnamon rolls which are brick thick with icing spread generously as if by trowel.

German Chocolate Cake

25 March 2017:  When we espied the German chocolate cake destined for our table, we wondered whether we should eat it or challenge Taos mountaineer Dave Hahn to climb it.  Eating it in one seating might prove as formidable as one of Hahn’s twenty-one expeditions to Mount Everest.  A taller slab of German chocolate cake we’ve never seen: three layers of thick coconut layered in between moist chocolate and topped by a chocolate ganache.  It’s a cake you have to eat in layers, too.  We managed to put a dent in it, but had enough left over for two additional desserts.  

25 March 2017: If you’re served green key lime pie, there’s a good bet either food coloring was added or the pie mix came out of a box.  In the Florida keys, no restaurant can expect to stay in business for long if it serves green key lime pie.  Key lime pies should always be pale yellow, usually a good indication that actual key lime juice is used.  The Daily Grind’s key lime pie is very reminiscent of those we enjoyed so much when traveling through Florida where the key lime pie has been designated by the state legislature as “the official pie of the state of Florida.”  The Daily Grind’s version has a tart, but not lip-pursing, flavor.  It’s also very aromatic, another sign of authenticity.  One unique feature of this pie is that it’s drizzled with sweetened condensed milk which proves a nice foil to the tartness of the lime.

Key Lime Pie

The Daily Grind is a true respite from the daily grind, the type of coffee shop you’d frequent if it was in your neighborhood or that you wouldn’t mind driving a half hour for, especially with the promise of warm raspberry scones awaiting you.

The Daily Grind
4360 Cutler Avenue, N.E., Suite A
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 883-8310
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 25 March 2017
1st VISIT: 12 October 2013
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 21
COST: $$
BEST BET: Cafe Au Lait, Cinnamon Roll, French Silk Pie, Nancy’s Curried Chicken Salad Sandwich, Cubano, Green Chile Cheese Fries, Raspberry Scone, Gourmet Fries with Blue Cheese and Caramelized Onions, Waldorf Salad – Grind Style, Dressed Up Pear Essentials Panini, German Chocolate Cake, Key Lime Pie

Daily Grind Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Huong Thao – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Huong Thao Vietnamese Restaurant on Juan Tabo

In the year 2000 (ancient history by restaurant standards) when the Duke City had only a handful of Vietnamese restaurants, only one was listed on Zagat Survey’s Millennium Edition of the top restaurants in the Southwest. That restaurant was Huong Thao which was widely regarded at the time as perhaps the city’s very best Vietnamese dining establishment. Zagat Survey accorded Huong Thao a rating of “24” which categorized it as “very good to excellent.” The restaurant was praised for its “delicious traditional foods” and was singled out for its “no-puff” policies back when smoking was still allowed in Albuquerque dining establishments.  

In 2002, Huong Thao eked out a win over other highly-regarded Vietnamese restaurants in La Cocinita magazine’s (defunct) 2002 second annual critic’s choice awards. Garnering praise from an august body of panelists were the “herb-filled spring rolls” and “oh-so-crispy grilled pork.” Today, Huong Thao is a venerable presence, an elder statesperson among a phalanx of very good to outstanding Vietnamese restaurants throughout the Duke City. It remains a formidable favorite to this day because it’s not only retained loyal patrons, it’s cultivated new aficionados.

Huong Thao’s Dining Room

From the very beginning, Huong Thao has held a reputation as a Vegan-friendly restaurant, earning accolades throughout the 1990s and beyond from the Vegetarian Society of New Mexico for its “great food” and “many vegetarian options.” Although the word “Huong” translates from Vietnamese to “scent of the flower” and “Thao” translates to “herbal,” the restaurant was actually named for its founder. Though she long ago sold her eponymous restaurant, the fragrant bouquets which always wafted from Huong Thao’s kitchen remain part and parcel of the restaurant experience. Huong Thao (the restaurant’s founder, not the restaurant) continues to perform fragrant feats of culinary magic, albeit at her son Bill’s restaurant An Hy Quan. Not surprisingly, An Hy Quan is not only the city’s very best Vietnamese vegetarian restaurants, but one of its best restaurants of any genre.

Over the years, our visits to Huong Thao have been infrequent, in part because this Northeast Heights restaurant is the furthest east from our home of any Vietnamese restaurant in Albuquerque. My return visit in March, 2017, after an eleven year absence sure makes me wish I’d listened to my friend and fellow epicurean Jim Millington who long ago urged me to return. My flimsy excuse had been that Huong Thao had begun offering sushi (which no Vietnamese restaurant should ever do), but Jim also assured me the restaurant’s sole focus had also long ago returned to its Vietnamese cuisine. If there is one excuse that only partially absolves my transgression of not having visited sooner, it’s that Huong Thao does not have a street (Juan Tabo) facing presence and is set back in a nondescript shopping center.

New Mexico Spring Roll

Unlike several other Vietnamese restaurants in the city, Huong Thao’s menu isn’t a veritable compendium of all possible Vietnamese deliciousness. With fewer than sixty appetizers and entrees, its menu is roughly half the size of the menu at some restaurants. Study the menu and you’ll be hard-pressed to find any of your favorites absent. In fact, the menu offers several items not widely seen in the Duke City. The appetizer menu, for example, includes an asparagus and crab meat soup. Among unique entrée offerings are stir-fried curry, shaken beef and mung bean crepes. The menu is a delight to peruse, offering something for everyone who loves Vietnamese cuisine.

22 March 2017: When you do visit Huong Thao, there’s really no excuse for not having the restaurant’s amazing spring rolls. After all these years, these zeppelin-sized spring rolls are still the biggest (and among the very best) in the city–two rice paper rolls per order engorged with pork (and or shrimp and tofu), noodles and fresh vegetables. New Mexicans, of course, will order the New Mexico Spring Roll (green chile and avocado with chicken, tofu or shrimp). This is an idea whose time has come, further confirmation that green chile improves the flavor of everything it touches. The green chile isn’t especially piquant, but it has a nice roasted flavor. Fresh avocado and cilantro lend the essence of freshness. The accompanying fish sauce is a bit on the sweet side, but that’s easily remedied with a liberal application of the chili sauce on your table.

Boneless Stuffed Chicken Wings

24 March 2017: Despite pretty obvious limitations—they’re messy, they don’t give you a lot of meat and they’re so small it takes a lot of them to put a dent on your appetite—chicken wings have become a veritable culinary institution in America. In many cases, however, the only difference between the chicken wing at one eatery and another is the sauce with which they’re served. There’s not much originality in the concept. Some Vietnamese and Thai restaurants have an answer to the homogeneity of the ubiquitous chicken wing—stuff it.

Huong Thao’s boneless stuffed chicken wings are terrific, the complete antithesis of the limitations listed above. Somehow, the chef has managed to debone a chicken wing; stuff it with ground pork, clear noodles and mushrooms; and deep-fry it. Frankly, it resembles a small fried game hen, pumped up like a football (no Tom Brady jokes here) and fried to a crispy, golden brown. The stuffing is addictive with pungent, earthy notes that complement the crispy chicken skin. The accompanying fish sauce is wholly unnecessary.

Spicy Beef Soup (Bun Ho Hue)

22 March 2017: My very favorite entrée is the Hue-style spicy beef soup (bun bo Hue), the spicier, heartier, livelier, more flavorful cousin to pho. It’s the best (and only) reason to eschew pho. Huong Thao’s rendition is, by far, the “beefiest,” most beef-concentrated version of Hue-style soup I’ve ever had. Some of that is courtesy of the beef, meatloaf, tendon and pork hock swimming around in the aromatic beef stock, but look closer and you’ll see lots of the fatty globules which characterize soup that starts with beef and pork bones. Some diners may consider the pork hock and tendon a bit off-putting, but they lend so much personality to a soup already brimming with soul-warming and assertive flavors. Its spiciness comes from lots of lemongrass, shrimp paste and a tangle of aromatic herbs.

24 March 2017: While it seems the Land of Enchantment competes with Mississippi for last place in virtually every quality of life factor, there is one area in which the Magnolia State reigns supreme. That would be in the preparation of catfish. I’ve often lamented (probably ad-nauseum) the lack of great catfish dishes in New Mexico, but should qualify that doesn’t apply to the way Vietnamese restaurants prepare catfish. Café Dalat and before that May Hong have quelled our yen for catfish many times. In Huong Thao’s deep-fried catfish in ginger sauce, we found another superb catfish dish. The ginger sauce is applied lightly as opposed to the lacquered on sauce at Café Dalat, but it is no less potent. That sauce enlivens the flaky fish. Perhaps in deference to queasy diners, Huong Thao serves its catfish sans head which is a shame because there’s plenty of flavorful flesh in fish cheeks.

Deep-Fried Catfish in Ginger Sauce

Huong Thao remains one of the city’s best and most popular Vietnamese restaurants. Don’t just take my word for it (considering the eleven year gap between visits). Ask anyone who knows and loves Vietnamese cuisine and they’ll tell you.

Huong Thao
1016B Juan Tabo, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 292-8222
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 24 March 2017
# OF VISITS: 6
RATING: 22
COST: $$
BEST BET: New Mexico Spring Rolls, Boneless Stuffed Chicken Wings, Rice Noodle Bowl Grilled With Lemongrass and Sliced Pork, Stir Fried Egg Noodles With Pork, Deep-Fried Catfish in Ginger Sauce, Spicy Beef Soup,

Huong Thao Vietnamese Cuisine Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

The Grill – Albuquerque, New Mexico

The Grill at its new home (as of February 8, 2017) on San Mateo

I’m not telling you, ‘Never eat a hamburger.’ Just eat the good ones with real beef, you know,
like the ones from that mom-and-pop diner down the street, …
And it’s so good that when you take a bite out of that burger,
you just know somewhere in the world a vegan is crying
.”
Homer Simpson

America’s favorite everyman philosopher may have had The Grill in mind when uttering that pithy pearl.  What, after all, is a burger if not the celebration of meat, a pulchritudinous beef patty sandwiched between glorious golden orbs and festooned with ingredients intended to bring out flavor combinations that dance on your taste buds?  Made properly–personalized for taste to your exacting degree of doneness and with your  unique choice of ingredients–a burger can elicit tears of rapturous joy among burgerphiles.

Though the corporate  chains offer convenience and consistency (a boring sameness), few would argue that their copycat burgers could elicit raw delirium when bitten into.  Cynics, like me, would argue that chain burgers aren’t  even made with real meat, USDA definitions for meat be damned.  No, my friends, it’s solely the bounteous burgers at your local mom-and-pop diners down the street that elicit the carnal cravings and libidinous lust that make you want to rush over to visit your preferred provider of  meaty happiness with great regularity.

The Grill’s Capacious New Digs Are Easily Four Times Larger Than Its Previous Home on Menaul

For Duke City diners one of the best the mom-and-pop diners down the street has a burger which just might elicit swoons of joy as it quells the most rapacious of appetites.  It’s a burger that had Rudy Paul Vigil waxing poetic when he told me about it.  An advocate of homemade tastes, Rudy is the guy who introduced me to Lumpy’s Burgers shortly after it opened so he’s got plenty of down-the-street burger cred with me.  In describing The Grill, he expounded about a unique wood-firing contraption that imbues each burger with enchantment.

The Grill is the brainchild of veteran restaurateur Phillip “Phil” Chavez, a man who knows and likes burgers as much as he likes bussing, or at least that’s the impression you might get in reading the menu’s claim of “food so good, you’ll wanna kiss the cook!”  Before opening The Grill, Chavez operated grill-oriented family restaurants in Gallup as well as Shiprock and Farmington.

Phil Chavez (right) and assistant tend to The Grill’s unique mesquite-fired grill

The Grill launched initially on the far western fringes of the Duke City just east of 98th Street and was then called “Grandpa’s Grill.”  From the restaurants east-facing windows you were treated to some of the very best views of the Sandia Mountains and downtown Albuquerque.  At night, the panoramic view of the city lights were absolutely inspirational. 

In July, 2011, Grandpa’s Grill moved to Menaul (next door to Jennifer James 101) and rechristened itself “The Grill.”  The Grill remained on Menaul for nearly six years before relocating to much more capacious digs on San Mateo, a venue easily four times larger than its predecessor.  Interior walls are festooned with thematic pieces–everything from kitchen related bric-a-brac to sports memorabilia.  Much of it donated by patrons of the popular restaurant. Old-fashioned coffee makers, blenders and other appliances make for interesting reminiscences among us seasoned diners and for strange curiosities among the Y-generation crowd.

The Salsa and Toppings Cart

The most interesting period piece, however, is the restaurant’s signature grill. White hot and throbbing red embers of mesquite coals lay on a steel tray atop of which sits a metal grated grill which Chavez raises and lowers via a hand-crank. He’s mastered the art of temperature control to prepare your burgers or steaks to the level of doneness you specify.

An old-fashioned burger fixings bar, complete with sneeze guard, hosts sliced tomatoes, pickles, mustard, ketchup, lettuce and onions which means you truly can have your burger your way.  A deep metal serving tray holds salsa which you can ladle onto plastic ramekins.  Another holds crisp, homemade (but excessively salty) chips, both free with each order.

Complimentary Chips and Salsa

The salsa is exceptional–as in so good it should be bottled good. It’s so good that properly pureed, it would make an excellent bloody Mary mix. It’s so good, it would make the the key component of a great gazpacho. It’s so good, you’ll eschew ketchup and dunk your fries in it. It’s so good, you’ll finish two or three trays of chips before your order is up. Seriously, this is good salsa. Its components are rather typical–tomatoes, onions, jalapenos, garlic, salt–but Chavez mixes each batch up in perfect proportions. The salsa is pleasantly piquant, not so incendiary you won’t be able to taste anything else.

You’ll definitely want to taste the burgers!  Prolific eaters will opt for the Papa Burger, a whopping eight-ounces sure to sate hearty eaters.  A six-ounce Mama Burger and a four-ounce Little Rascal Burger are also available.  The beef patties are hand-formed and thick.  You can top them with green chile and your choice of Cheddar, American or Swiss cheese.  The buns are lightly toasted.  More than any other burger in the Duke City, this one reminds me of a burger perfectly prepared over a campfire.  That’s courtesy of Phil’s unique mesquite grill and the masterful manipulation of the mesquite coals.  All burgers are available in combination with a drink and Fries.

Eight-Ounce Papa Burger with Green Chile and Cheddar

18 March 2017: The Papa Burger with green chile is terrific, a true compliment to the grill master and his deft manipulation of temperature!  The beef patty is imbued with the kiss of mesquite heat, but not so much that the usually acerbic grilling wood imparts its characteristic bitter aftertaste.   The green chile is a bit on the mild side, but the other ingredients from the fixings bar are all fresh and delicious.  Fries aren’t much to write home about, but they’re much improved when you dip them into the salsa instead of ketchup.

The menu also includes an insanely low-priced sixteen-ounce Ribeye  served with your choice of fries or beans and tortilla. Also available are a chicken breast platter, a chicken sandwich, a Southwest chicken sandwich (with green chile and cheese wrapped in a tortilla) and chicken strips with fries. Hot dogs, in either jumbo or regular sizes, with or without chile and cheese, can also be ordered. Deep-fried sides include French fries, fried zucchini, fried mushrooms and onion rings.

Ribeye Steak with Fried Mushrooms (Baked Potato not Pictured)

18 March 2017:  The  Ribeye  prepared at medium is too good to pass up. Ribeye tends to be a well-marbled and tender cut of beef that is well-suited to dry-heat preparation style. That means The Grill’s unique mesquite grill brings out the optimal flavor profile in this steak. Not quite fork-tender, the Ribeye cuts easily, juices flowing not quite copiously but enough. The only seasoning discernible is salt and pepper, but sometimes that can be enough. It is in this case. Value-priced means sixteen-ounces of steak for just over a dollar an ounce, a good deal by any standard. My Kim believes this ribeye is one of the best steaks in the city and questions why anyone would pay exorbitant amounts for steak elsewhere.

The steak is accompanied by your choice of French fries or beans and a tortilla.  At first glance, the beans look inviting, a hearty portion topped with shredded cheese, but as they approached our table, the malodorous emanation of cumin wafted toward us.  As usual, I whined vociferously, urging our attentive waitress and Phil Chavez himself to take the beans and dispose of them at a nuclear waste dump site.  Phil indicated 99-percent of his customers appreciate the beans, some even asking for the recipe…but I’m not crazy; everyone else is.

Coconut Cake

On the counter gracing your visage is a domed cake platter holding the delicious cake of the day.  Fortune was with us during my second visit because the cake under glass on that day was a gorgeous red velvet cake. Red velvet cakes have been popular since the 1920s, experiencing a resurgence in the 1990s, but it’s never really gone out of style.  Essentially not much more than a chocolate cake with a dark red-brown color and layered with a creamy white icing, it is beautiful to look at and generally delicious to consume.  This decadent dessert isn’t prepared in-house, but you will want to take a piece home with you.  Even better is the coconut-vanilla cake pictured above.

The Grill is an anachronism–a throw-back to the 1960s with prompt, courteous, unobtrusive service and a genuine spirit of welcome from the owner.  Ask Phillip Chavez for a tour of the kitchen and he’ll gladly show off his unique grill, the contraption which makes some of the very tastiest burgers in Albuquerque.  Somewhere on old Route 66, a vegan is crying.  That’s how good these burgers are!

The Grill
3300 San Mateo, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 872-9772
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 18 March 2017
1st VISIT:  17 August 2010
# OF VISITS: 4
RATING: 20
COST: $$
BEST BET: Papa Burger with Fries, Salsa and Chips, Ribeye Steak, Onion Rings, Red Velvet Cake, Coconut Cake, Fried Mushrooms

The Grill on San Mateo Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Pizzeria Luca – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Pizzeria Luca which launched in November, 2011 also goes by Luca Italian Bistro & Wine Bar

Can there truly be too many pizzerias? Perhaps only among pizzeria owners who don’t want much competition might you hear that ridiculous notion about one of America’s essential food groups. Take for example one monopoly-minded pizzeria owner in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania who had a resolute belief that there was too much competition in the area and determined to do something about it. It apparently didn’t dawn on him that by serving a better pizza or lowering prices, his business might improve. Instead, in the tradition of villainous scofflaws everywhere, he decided to sabotage his rivals.

Alas, his exploits only proved fodder for late night talk show hosts who lampoon stupid criminals. In perpetrating his nefarious misdeed, the perfidious proprietor of the poor-performing pizzeria created such a ruckus that his intended victim quickly investigated and discovered a bag full of mice had been deposited in his drop ceiling. As luck would have it, two uniformed officers were dining at the presumably palatable pizzeria at the time. They quickly apprehended the would-be rodent rapscallion and charged him with criminal mischief, disorderly conduct, harassment and cruelty to animals. There’s no indication as to whether his room mate at the local hoosegow was Mr. Murphy or whether the competitor’s pizza was served for dinner.

Pizzeria Luca is proud to offer a traditional East Coast Italian pizzeria experience in an upscale yet casual environment

So, just how many pizzerias are there?  With more than 65,000 pizzerias (58 percent of which are independent and 42 percent of which are chains) in the United States, pizzerias make up nearly seventeen percent of all restaurants in America and gross over 30 billion dollars per year, accounting for greater than ten percent of all food service sales.  Independent pizzerias account for 52 percent of those sales totals. In 2005, the average store earnings for all pizzerias was nearly $450,000.  The “big four” pizza chains–Pizza Hut, Domino’s, Papa John’s and Little Caesars–represent nearly 37 percent of industry sales at nearly $11 billion per year.  The top fifty pizza chains across the United States own 42 percent of all pizzerias and control greater than 48 percent of all pizza sales.

According to PMQ Pizza Magazine’s “Pizza Power Report” for 2010, Americans consume approximately 3 billion pizzas per year.  That translates to a whopping 100 acres of pizza each day–an astounding 350 slices per second over each of the 86,400 seconds in each day. 93 percent of Americans eat at least one pizza per month with the most popular ingredient being pepperoni.  The United States has an average of one pizzeria per 4,350 people across the fruited plain.  Surveys indicate 45 percent of pizza orders are take-out, 36 percent are delivery and 20 percent are dine-in. Sixteen percent of all pizzas ordered across the country were ordered on-line.

Zuppe di Vongole

In its 2010 Food and Wine edition, Albuquerque The Magazine chronicled its search for the best pizza in the Duke City area, reviewing and rating some 37 independent restaurants (and subjecting themselves to take-out pizza from five chains).  That’s barely scratching the surface.  Urbanspoon lists 151 pizza restaurants in the metropolitan Albuquerque area which translates to one pizza restaurant for every 6,012 residents (based on the 2011 census estimate of 907,775 as of 2011).  That pales in comparison with the 2,070 pizza restaurants in New York City or the one pizza restaurant per 3,600 residents in Miami. 

According to Slice, a Serious Eats blog, there are 21 regional styles of pizza.  In the Duke City, perhaps the most prevalent regional style–or at least the one most often claimed–is New York-style characterized by having a puffy, bread-like, outer crust which quickly tapers down to a very thin, crisp middle).   When Pizzeria Luca, a locally owned company which launched in October, 2011, purported to offer a traditional “East Coast Italian pizzeria experience” in an upscale yet casual environment, it was interesting to note that the pizza itself is certainly not New York style nor does it resemble any of the East Coast pizzas with which I’m familiar. It’s only the look and feel that bears a resemblance to Metropolis.

Antipasto: Artisan cheese plate with salami, olives, fresh fruits and baked rustic bread

Pizzeria Luca is ensconced in a shopping center on the far Northeast Heights not too far from the Duke City’s first Jinja restaurant and the über popular Trader Joe’s.  From the outside the pizzeria is fairly inconspicuous despite the prevalence of the red, white and green colors of the Italian flag.  Step inside the doors and you might indeed get the impression that you’ve stepped into a cosmopolitan setting that will tell you you’re not in Kansas any more.  It’s a setting quite unlike that of any other pizzeria in Albuquerque.

The restaurant’s high-ceilings bear the popular exposed industrial-style ductwork that seem to express modernity.  The height of the ceiling seems exaggerated because the back wall more closely resembles an external wall with its distressed brick and faded Pizzeria Luca signage, two vintage touches.   Floors are tiled in large red and white squares not unlike nostalgia restaurants. To your left is a serpentine wine bar whose cynosure is a semi-circular wine tower sporting some 56 different wines from Italy, Washington and California (none from New Mexico as of this writing).  A flat screen television seems somewhat out of place next to the wine tower.  Televisions, by the way, can also be found in the pizzeria’s restrooms though if you don’t know this, you might freak out to hear the voice of the opposite gender as you walk in. Walls are adorned with movie posters.  The musical stylings of Italian crooners of the 1930s are piped in via the restaurant’s sound system.

Fricassee di Funghi

The menu offers seven appetizers including an antipasto and littleneck clams in a white wine-based broth.  Nine salads (insulate), mostly of the designer variety are also available as are five panini sandwiches available in half or full sizes.  The sandwiches are crafted from house-prepared meats served on fresh baked bread.  Five pasta dishes adorn the menu not including a “doggie plate” consisting of a housemade meatball with dry kibble.  There are seven pizza options as well as a “build your own pie” option which starts with mozzarella and marinara.  You can also have a large slice if you prefer.  

14 March 2017: One of the very best appetizers served at any Italian restaurant in the metropolitan area is Luca’s Zuppe di Vongole (littleneck clams in white wine, butter and spicy plum tomato sauce).  There are only eight or nine clams in the dish, but this appetizer can be quite filling by itself.  That’s because the broth has so much personality you’ll keep your spoon busy.  You’ll also use the accompanying garlic bread to sop up as much of that broth as you can.  The clams themselves are fresh and clean, but they’re brought to life with the acidity of the spicy plum tomato sauce, garlic, oregano and other seasonings.

The Modena

27 November 2011: The antipasto, a piccole piastre is described on the menu as an artisan cheese plate with salami, olives, fresh fruits and baked rustic bread.  It’s the fresh fruits that make it some what unique for Albuquerque.  Four slices of lightly toasted bread with shaved cheese and parsley flank a bed of mixed greens drizzled with a light balsamic dressing atop of which and within you’ll dig out sliced strawberries, olives, raspberries, salami slices, more shaved cheese, a whisper-thin slice or two of prosciutto and slices of hard cheese.  As with all good appetizers, it serves very well to make you look forward to your entrees in hopes they’ll be as good, if not better.

30 November 2013: Mushrooms are one of those foods that are all too often “typecast.”  For the most part, chefs tend to accentuate their woodsy-earthy qualities.  While these qualities make them a delicious accompaniment to complementary foods, a few chefs take mushrooms in a separate direction and prepare them with a flavor profile almost antithetical to their woodsy-earthy notes.  One way not often seen in the Duke City is sautéed seasonal mushrooms in a lemon-caper sauce, a dish called fricassee di fungi.  Thinly cut mushrooms are sautéed in a rich butter and garlic sauce with lemon juice and plenty of capers.  The natural woodsy-earthy flavor profile of the mushrooms prevents this dish from being too tart or tangy, just enough to be discernible.  It’s a delicious partnership.

Pesto Pizza

27 November 2011: The pizzas are as clever as the antipasto platter with inventive ingredient combinations festooning each fourteen- or sixteen-inch pie.  Even the Margherita, the pizza which started it all, is unique for Albuquerque in that it’s made with mozzarella di bufala (fresh water buffalo mozzarella).  For turophiles,  only the tasty, creamy, milky buffalo mozzarella will do on pizza in which mozzarella is called for.  At my request, the accommodating pizzaioli added it to the Calabria (Prosciutto di Parma, shallots, Fontina, truffle oil and marinara) I ordered.  That meant two of my very favorite pizza ingredients in the world–buffalo mozzarella and Prosciutto di Parma–were available in one pie in Albuquerque. 

19 March 2017:  Our initial impression of the Modena (Italian sausage, pepperoni, crimini mushrooms and roasted garlic) from 2011 was that it was a very good pie with much to like about it.  While first impressions are often lasting, they can be superseded by subsequent impressions.  When my Kim ordered that pizza six years later, she wondered how our initial impressions could have been so wrong.   Our second Modena lacked personality.  From the crust to the ingredients, the seasonings didn’t assert themselves much.  The garlic, basil and oregano were barely discernible.  Even the roasted garlic cloves were rather anemic.  The sole saving grace was the buffalo mozzarella Kim requested though there wasn’t nearly enough to sate her.

Luca Signatura Speciale: Macaroni and imported cheeses with truffle oil, topped with prosciutto and homemade bread crumbs

Luca Signatura Speciale (Don’t call it macaroni and cheese)

19 March 2017:  What the Modena lacked in personality, the Pesto (pesto sauce with buffalo mozzarella, sun-dried tomatoes and pine nuts) pie more than made up for it.  Pesto is, however, not everyone’s cup of tea.  If you like the aromatic properties of basil, you’ll appreciate the basil-olive oil marriage.  Toss in a handful of piñon with its own woodsy fragrance and you’ve got the essence of   invigorating freshness.  The third component on the pie is sun-dried tomatoes with their tangy acidity and fruity sweetness.  Alas, a larger portion of buffalo mozzarella would have added an almost (but not quite) sour taste to complement the other flavors.

30 November 2013: While the menu makes a big deal out of the restaurant’s signature macaroni and cheese menu, don’t be surprised if your server doesn’t.  Ask what the best pasta dish is on the menu and you might be surprised to hear “macaroni and cheese,” which is called something else–something more elegant and enticing–on the menu.  On the menu it’s called Luca Signatura Speciale and it’s a triumvirate of imported cheeses with truffle oil topped with prosciutto and homemade bread crumbs.  The cheeses accentuate the sharp and pungent qualities of cheese without compromising on richness.  It’s an adult macaroni and cheese, as far removed from Kraft macaroni and cheese as the Lobo Lair is from San Diego State University boosters.

Baked Ziti

14 March 2017:  The menu offers two ziti dishes–Ziti Pollo (ziti pasta with grilled chicken and green chile; tossed in basil cream sauce, topped with mozzarella and baked) and Baked Ziti (with meat sauce or marinara, ricotta, Parmigiano and mozzarella cheese).  Served in a casserole dish, Luca’s rendition is very reminiscent of baked ziti as it’s prepared and served in the East Coast. That means it’s served piping hot with a blanket of molten cheese melted atop layers of pasta and rich, red sauce. Rhee Drummond, the Food Network’s “Pioneer Woman” likens baked ziti to be “almost like a lasagna that forgot to use lasagna noodles. Messy. Gooey. Decadent. Ridiculous. In every sense of the word.” That’s how you’ll find the baked ziti at Luca.

14 March 2017: The Eggplant Parmesan is simply magnificent–three medium-thickness eggplant medallions topped with marinara sauce and house-fresh mozzarella.  You can easily puncture the light and crispy breading with a spoon, but there’s nothing mushy about the interior of this dish, just a silky smooth, delicious eggplant. The sauce is redolent of tart and juicy fresh tomatoes, a perfect foil for the melted mozzarella.  Fittingly, the Eggplant Parmesan is served with a side of spaghetti and a piece of garlic bread.

Eggplant Parmesan

27 November 2011: Dessert options include some of the “usual suspects” such as cannoli (traditional or chocolate) and tiramisu.  The tiramisu is made in-house and doesn’t really distinguish itself (remember, Albuquerque is home to several restaurants proffering truly outstanding tiramisu–Torinos @ Home, Joe’s Pasta House and Farina Pizzeria, for example).  The cannoli is similarly just okay, nothing about which to write home. 

Cannoli and Tiramisu for dessert

Perhaps because of the wine bar, Pizzeria Luca is most decidedly a restaurant in which young urban professionals will feel right at home, toddlers in tow.  It’s the type of pizzeria which will many will call home away from home, a hang-out type, making it a good candidate for expansion–and indeed the ownership group is planning on several sites in the Albuquerque area.  That’s a great thing for the Duke City because as everyone knows, you can’t have too many pizzerias!

Pizzeria Luca
8850 Holly Avenue, N.E., Suite J
Albuquerque, New Mexico
505-797-8086
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 14 March 2017
1st VISIT: 27 November 2011
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 20
COST: $$
BEST BET: Antipasto, Calabria, Modena, Cannoli, Tiramisu, Fricassee di Funghi, Luca Signatura Speciale, Eggplant Parmesan, Baked Ziti, Zuppe di Vongole

Pizzeria Luca and Wine Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Andele’s Dog House – Mesilla, New Mexico

Andele’s Dog House on the Northern Outskirts of the Old Mesilla Plaza

Put a savvy foodie from Las Cruces and a gastronome from Albuquerque in the same room (preferably not a kitchen well stocked with knives) and you’re bound to start a culinary civil war.  Such was the case when I worked at Intel with a colleague who was born-and-bred in the City of Crosses.  We were both adamant that the cuisine in our half of the state (mine being the upper half) was far superior to cuisine in the other (lower in her case) half.  We debated every nuance that made our preferred cuisine distinctive from the other.  We argued about the prominence of Mexican and Native American culinary influences, the preferred degree of piquancy in each region, whether or not cumin has any place in New Mexican cuisine, even whether the biscochito can truly be New Mexico’s official state cookie if it’s not as common in Southern New Mexico.

Rather than squabbling like the prickly, contentious British Parliament, we could have spared ourselves hours of rancor by breaking sopaipillas together at restaurants in both Northern and Southern New Mexico.  With detente based on a shared meal, we might even have become friends.   Think of the missed opportunities to compare the best of the north against its southern counterpart:   Rancho de Chimayo in the north and La Posta De Mesilla in the south; Albuquerque’s beloved institution Mary & Tito’s and Las Cruces legend Nellie’s Cafe; and Santa Fe’s James Beard award-winning The Shed with Chope’s of La Mesa.  Surely there would have been no winners or losers, just two very satisfied New Mexicans enjoying the best our beloved state has to offer.

Al Fresco Dining

The truth is, the two cuisines probably don’t differ enough to warrant a heated debate. There is as much to love in New Mexican cuisine in the North as there is in the South. Moreover, the distinction between the two isn’t usually determined broadly by geographical location, but at a more finite level–by kitchen. In every kitchen across the Land of Enchantment, New Mexicans prepare our beloved cuisine differently…just as they have for generations.  Discerning diners should shout “Viva La Differencia” with mucho gusto.  What could be more fun than exploring the subtleties of New Mexican cuisine prepared with just a delicate gradation of difference?  Why, you could create a blog dedicated to such a delicious quest.

Since January, 1996, Andele Restaurant, located in the heart of historic Mesilla just south of Las Cruces, has been luring hungry guests with fragrant bouquets that waft like a siren’s call across the length and breadth of the L-shaped complex that encompasses the  suites at 1950 Calle del Norte.  Andele is on every short list of “best restaurant” listings you’ll find for the Las Cruces area.  As if lovingly tending to more than 10,000 square feet and offering an immensely popular restaurant isn’t enough, the Andele brand includes  catering, take-out, banquet service, a mercado and tortillaria and the production and distribution of award-winning specialty salsas (both the  traditional Andele brand and Ol’ Gringo have won earned “best in New Mexico” distinction on multiple occasions at the New Mexico State Fair).

Chips and Salsas

The most recent addition to the Andele Restaurant family is Andele’s Dog House across the street from its sprawling sibling.  Andele’s Dog House shares much of its elder sibling’s menu with a spattering of new favorites such as Mexican hot dogs.  The Dog House has a relaxed cantina-like vibe, making it the perfect venue for eating dogs in the company of your own four-legged children.   It isn’t just a fall-back when lines snake around Andele Restaurant.   Al fresco dining is a popular draw as is the enclosed patio where several flat screen televisions are tuned to sporting events.  Andele’s Dog House was named one of the Land of Enchantment’s ten best hot dog joints by “Best of New Mexico,” a very entertaining site dedicated to the greatness that is our state. 

If you’re not already acquainted with the menu at the main restaurant, you’re well advised to peruse it at length before your visit to the Dog House. It’s a multi-page menu that warrants your rapt attention lest a post-prandial review reveals something you should have ordered.  Section headings include burritos, soups and salads, a la carte and sides, appetizers, house specialties, combination plates, Platos Mexicanos, Steak and Chicken, Burgers and Sandwiches, Drinks, Desserts and of course, Hot Dogs.  The house specialty, by the way, is the Tacos Al Carbon (white corn tortillas topped with flame-broiled beef, pork or chicken with sundry ingredients).

Chile Con Queso

In her fabulous review of Andele, my blogging buddy Melody K. practically had us drooling at her description of Andele’s complimentary salsa bar.  We finished off two bucketfuls of chips by the time we were done, enjoying the not so subtle properties of each incendiary salsa: chipotle, traditional, chile de árbol, and a tomatillo and jalapeño salsa.  My Kim advised me to include a disclaimer every time I indicate a salsa isn’t especially piquant.  She reminded me that my assessment of piquancy is at the level of calling molten lava merely warm.  Her personal Scoville scale indicated the chile de árbol salsa was tongue-searing, eye-watering and nose-clearing.  Piquancy not withstanding, all the salsas are excellent.  My favorite is the chipotle with its distinctively smoky flavor.

Ordinarily most diners wouldn’t order chile con queso when a complimentary salsa bar is available, but the con queso in Southern New Mexico’s restaurants is superior to the con queso in Northern New Mexico.  Yes, it pains me to admit as such and I’ll blame a virus should my nemesis ever read this.  One of the main differences between con queso in the South and con queso in the North has everything to do with the operative word – chile (and shame on New Mexican restaurants in the North who don’t use it on their con queso).  The other is the creamy blend of cheeses (none of which taste like Velveeta) used in the South.  Andele’s chile con queso should be served in a vat.  It’s simply outstanding!

One-Half Rotisserie Chicken

In fitful acts of desperation, most of us will admit to picking up a rotisserie chicken from our neighborhood grocery store.  Never mind that it’s probably sat out as long as a hot dog at an all-night quickie mart.  After vigorously interrogating our server, my Kim decided Andele’s rotisserie chicken was probably unlike what she’d find at a grocery store.  Andele seals in pure deliciousness by marinating the chicken in their fabulous (no cumin) red chile.  The result is one of the very best rotisserie chickens we’ve ever had.  Not only does the incomparable flavor of the red chile penetrate deeply into the chicken, the rotisserie process somehow manages to keep the chicken moist and tender.  Rotisserie chicken is available in half or quarter chicken sizes served with corn tortillas and garnished with wedges of avocado and tomato. 

In recent years, the Sonoran Hot dog has gone from being the definitive food of Tucson, Arizona to being a popular offering in the Land of Enchantment.  While the Dog House menu calls their version a Mexican Dog, it doesn’t differ much from the kennel full of Sonoran hot dogs we’ve had in Tucson.  What is a Mexican hot dog.  I’ll let the Dog House menu describe it: “Well, it’s not a Chihuahua standing in the sun! This is unlike any hot dog you’ve ever had. We start with a grilled, bacon-wrapped all-beef frank, serve it in a specially baked bun, and then top it with pinto beans, grilled onions, diced onions and tomatoes, plus jalapeno mayonnaise, mustard,ketchup, jalapeno salsa.” By any name, this is a superb hot dog, albeit just a bit tough to eat if you can’t crane your mouth like a baby bird being fed. One Mexican hot dog is roughly the size of two Tucson-sized Sonoran hot dogs and nearly as delicious.

Mexican Dog

I’ve long contended that no one prepares baked potatoes as well as Mexican restaurants.  The Dog House’s baked potato, adorned simply with a couple dollops of sour cream and slathered generously with melting butter, is a great accompaniment for any entree.  The potato is soft without being mushy and about the size of a softball. It’s the type of potato prepared so well that you’ll even finish off the skin (which some claim is really the most nutritious part of a potato anyway).

Had my Southern New Mexico nemesis taken me to Andele’s Dog House, I would certainly have conceded that this magnificent milieu in Mesilla is one of the very best New Mexican-Mexican restaurants in the Land of Enchantment.  Not just Southern New Mexico!  The entire state!

Andele’s Dog House
1983 Calle del Norte
Mesilla, New Mexico
(575) 526-1271
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 12 March 2017
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Mexican Hot Dog, Rotisserie Chicken, Chips and Salsa, Chile con Queso, Baked Potato

Andele's Dog House Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Rockin BZ Burgers – Alamogordo, New Mexico

Rockin BZ Burgers in Alamogordo

Since its inception in 2009, a number of competitors across the length and breadth of the Land of Enchantment’s 121,593 square miles have competed in the New Mexico State Fair’s Green Chile Cheeseburger Challenge. The inaugural champion was Badlands Burgers (since defunct) from Grants.  Only one–a national chain at that–has repeated as champion. That would be Fuddrucker’s which reigned supreme in 2014 and 2015. In 2013, Sadie’s proved its culinary repertoire extends far beyond New Mexican food by winning the Challenge. After participating every year since the competition’s launch, Laguna Burger finally won it all in 2016. Two restaurants won the competition scant months after launching their restaurant operations–ABQ Brew Pub in 2010 and Rockin’ BZ Burgers in 2012.

Rockin’ BZ Burgers, the sole Challenge winner currently not to have a presence in Albuquerque, was in business for all of four months when it clinched the top honors at Green Chile Cheeseburger Challenge in 2012. Consider that for a moment. With fewer than 120 days in business, Rockin’ BZ bested a dozen seasoned competitors to earn the most coveted culinary title in New Mexico. That speaks volumes about its award-winning green chile cheeseburger. Never mind that the trophy was grievously misspelled (chili), a travesty which caused a bit of a stir among prideful New Mexicans. In 2013, the Alamogordo restaurant was awarded second place in the competition and in 2014, it finished fourth.

Winner of the 2012 Governor’s Green Chile Cheeseburger Challenge

Rockin’ BZ’s win at the Green Chile Cheeseburger Challenge isn’t the burger emporium’s sole brush with fame. In 2016, Spoon University, an online lifestyle presence, selected Rockin’ BZ as New Mexico’s representative in its compilation “Where to Get the Best Sandwich in Every State in America.” Spoon University noted “Rockin’ BZ Burgers have all your green chile needs covered with their New Mexico State Fair award-winning burger.” Also in 2016, my blogging buddy Melody K. described Rockin’ BZ’s burgers as “perfection” in her outstanding review. In USA Today’s “Top Ten” popular vote feature, readers selected Rockin’ BZ in 2016 as the tenth best green chile cheeseburger in the Land of Enchantment.

Owned by the father and son duo of Rusty and Cody Childress, Rockin’ BZ is named for Rusty’s father-in-law Buz Zink’s cattle brand. A true Southerner (Southern New Mexico, that is) Rusty uses only green chile from Young Guns in Hatch. Buns are freshly baked. Rockin’ BZ employs a true “have it your way” menu with dozens of free and “for a pittance” toppings available. Burgers are available in quarter-pound, half-pound and three-quarter pound options. An easy to complete order form is available on a round table just in front of the counter where you place your order. The form ensures your burger will be prepared to your exacting specifications. If the number of options are too much for you, Rockin’ BZ has a no-hassle option. Just order “The Champ,” the Green Chile Cheeseburger Challenge winner, which is constructed with a half-pound beef patty, grilled onions, American cheese, green chile, lettuce and tomato. A Half Champ is available for diners with smaller appetites.

Order Forms

That Rockin’ BZ Burger would be one of the stops we’d make during our stay in Alamogordo was a no-brainer. That decision was solidified in Cloudcroft when we ran into a young airman stationed at Holloman Air Force Base who told us about the fantastic burger he’d enjoyed an hour earlier at Rockin’ BZ’s. His ardent enthusiasm for the burger would have convinced a vegetarian to try one. When we arrived at the restaurant we found that almost all of the two dozen or so patrons enjoying a late lunch were also stationed at Holloman, some fifteen miles away. You can trust America’s best and brightest to know where to find the best burgers in town.

It didn’t inspire my Kim to have a green chile cheeseburger, however. My Chicago born-and-bred bride doesn’t share my enthusiasm for New Mexico’s fiery pepper blessed burger. That would be grounds for divorce were she not such a wonderful wife. Give her a Philly Cheesesteak any time. The Philly is one of a handful of non-burger options on the menu along with chicken strips, grilled chicken sandwich, hot dogs and corn dogs. Unlike many Philly’s which are served on hoagie buns, this one is served on burger buns. Those buns proved a perfect canvas for one of the most tasty Philly’s we’ve had outside of Philly’s N’ Fries in Albuquerque. This sandwich is brimming with perfectly grilled onions, red and yellow peppers, white cheese and plenty of the best seasoned steak anywhere.

Philly Cheese Sandwich

The mad scientist in me resisted creating my own burger (which would undoubtedly have been loaded with nearly every ingredient available). Thankfully The Champ made it easy for me…no hassle, just burger perfection. It takes two hands to handle this behemoth burger. The Angus beef is seasoned nicely, a perfect complement for the Young Guns chile which has some bite (out-of-staters would be reaching for water), but is more notable for its fruitiness and roasted flavor. There’s plenty of green chile on this burger and it’s blanketed by a molten white cheese. It’s easy to see how this fabulous burger earned its Green Chile Cheeseburger Challenge title. What left me scratching my head is how it hasn’t won that title more often. It’s one of the best green chile cheeseburgers I’ve ever had.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention just how nice and helpful the staff at Rockin’ BZ Burgers is. Their hospitality and professionalism adds to what is already an outstanding green chile cheeseburger experience. In our discussions with the heroes from Holloman, we were assured great service comes standard at this beloved local institution.  Some of them consider Rockin’ BZ Burgers a home away from home with cooking better than they get from mama.

Award-Winning Green Chile Cheeseburger with Fries

Rockin’ Z Burgers is indeed one rocking joint. With a green chile cheeseburger that’s among the very best in the Land of Enchantment, it’s the pride of Alamogordo and one of many reasons to visit this beautiful desert hamlet.

Rockin BZ Burgers
3005 White Sands Blvd.
Alamogordo, New Mexico
(575) 434-2375
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 11 March 2017
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Green Chile Cheeseburger, Philadelphia Cheesesteak

Rockin BZ Burgers Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Danny’s Place – Carlsbad, New Mexico

Danny’s Place: Home of New Mexico’s Best Barbecue

For some reason, national print and online publications and even the Food Network can’t seem to fathom that the Land of Enchantment has outstanding cuisine outside the shining pinnacles of Santa Fe and Albuquerque.   To some extent the media may be justified in perceiving the City Different and Duke City as offering the quintessence of what makes New Mexico a culinary Mecca.  Obviously, Santa Fe and Albuquerque enthrall hungry visitors armed with voracious appetites (especially for our incendiary red and green chile), but to discount the cuisine at other cities throughout our diverse state is just plain lazy.  Santa Fe and Albuquerque do not have exclusivity when it comes to extraordinary restaurants and cuisine.  Phenomenal eateries and cuisine can be found throughout the Land of Enchantment.

When it comes to naming New Mexico’s best restaurants and best cuisine, the mantra embraced by national media seems to be “round up the usual suspects.”  Invariably, a short list of “anointed” restaurants from Santa Fe and Albuquerque is repeated ad-nauseam whenever a “best this” or “best that” list is compiled. The list of anointed restaurants is short, exclusive and predictable. It’s hard to break into the list if a restaurant isn’t from Santa Fe or Albuquerque.  If you need further proof, read Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Year in Food, where each and every month you’ll learn of more well-deserved accolades being accorded to a restaurant in Santa Fe or Albuquerque.

Danny’s Place for Real Pit BBQ

Credit Dan Gentile of Thrillist for actually doing his homework and reaching out to local experts across the fruited plain to compile a list of where the best barbecue in each state is to be found. The local expert for the Land of Enchantment, in this case, was a blogger of some repute who goes by the handle “nmgastronome.”  When Dan approached me, it would have been easy to declare some bastion of bodacious barbecue in Santa Fe or Albuquerque as our state’s very best, but that would have been falling into the trap of singling out only restaurants in the anointed cities.  Besides, doing so would have been disingenuous.  The very best barbecue my Kim and I have experienced in the Land of Enchantment comes from Danny’s Place in Carlsbad.  I built a pretty good case for Thrillist which declared Danny’s Place as serving New Mexico’s best barbecue for 2015 and 2016.

Here’s what Dan had to say about the best barbecue in the Land of Enchantment: “If you want to know about New Mexican cuisine, you talk to Gil Garduño. The verbose restaurant reviewer who can’t write his own name in under 100 words said the best in show was a toss-up between Danny’s and Sparky’s, but Danny’s partially gets our nod because of the gall involved in tearing up a Dairy Queen franchise agreement when they wouldn’t let him add his own smoked meats to the menu. Forty years later, Danny’s now retired, but his son Tim is running the show and still cranking out the smoked meats that put the rest of the state to shame.”

Kitchen Accoutrements Adorn the Walls

You’ve got to admit a highly regarded barbecue restaurant which got its start as a Dairy Queen is a pretty good story.  Danny’s Place is so much more than a good story.  If, however, you insist on  categorizing it as a story, it would be a tale of a bold independent spirit bolstered in his righteous quest by a small community which believed in his product.  The protagonist of our story is Danny Gaulden, a maverick and hero to many in the barbecue community.  On August 1, 1975, Danny launched Carlsbad’s sole Dairy Queen, but because his true passion and calling was barbecue, he incorporated low-and-slow meats into the menu.  Danny’s barbecue wasn’t advertised in any form of the local menu or anywhere outside the restaurant.  Nonetheless, word quickly got around far-and-wide as to where to find the best barbecue in New Mexico.

To say Dairy Queen was unhappy about the maverick owner who served outstanding barbecue is an understatement.  Even though Danny had one of the original franchise contracts with Dairy Queen and was thus permitted to sell barbecue, corporate bureaucrats were duly upset when they had to field requests from other franchisees to diversify their own menus.  Danny fought the good fight, but in February, 2004, he decided to strike out as an independent barbecue restaurant owner.  He tore up his agreement with Dairy Queen and has never looked back.  Danny’s Place is one of the most popular eateries in Southeastern New Mexico.  Competitive barbecue chefs from across the fruited plain pilgrimage to this legendary establishment.  Though Danny has retired, he left his legacy in the hands of his son Tim.

Two Meat Combination Dinner: St Louis Cut Pork Ribs and Brisket

It goes without saying that there is no vestige of Dairy Queen at Danny’s Place.   Walls are adorned with country kitchen bric-a-brac.  You can study those kitchen accoutrements later.  The fragrant bouquets emanating from the kitchen will command your immediate attention and maybe a napkin or two to wipe the salivation on your chin.  Meats are slow cooked over sweet hardwood on a 100% wood-fired pit.  All dinners–one, two or three meats–are served with rolls, pinto beans and your choice of one side with pickles and onions on request.  Sandwiches are also available as are such “special dinner plates” as the “Flip Plate” (Danny’s invention over 30 years ago and a local favorite… a flour tortilla buttered and fried on the grill and filled with a hamburger patty, two cheese slices, green chile, onions, and salsa.)

A two meat barbecue platter will sate even the most ravenous diners.  Make one of those meats brisket.  It’s Texas quality–replete with flavor and lightly smoked with no residual bitterness.  A pinkish smoke ring around the brisket marries well with a nice bit of bark on the outside edge.  Texturally, the brisket is tender with a perfect amount of “stretch” to it.  Another excellent meat option is Danny’s St. Louis cut pork ribs, four meaty bones with sauce practically lacquered on.  The meat pulls off the bones easily and needs no additional sauce.  The sauce, by the way, is fabulous–vinegar-based with a pronounced sweetness and a piquancy that sneaks up on you.  The potato salad has sweet notes, too.  It’s memorable!

Three Meat Dinner: Ham, Pulled Pork and Turkey

Even better than the two meat dinner is the three meat dinner.  The pulled pork is blessed with a dry rub comprised of salt, pepper and other spices rubbed liberally on the pork.  Both the ham and turkey are sliced thinly and are imbued with a light smoke.   As with all of Danny’s meats, absolutely no sauce is needed though that sauce is so good you’ll want to drink it up.  Worthy accompaniment to the three meats is the coleslaw, a sweet-tangy mound light on creaminess but big on flavor and crispness.  Also terrific is the fried okra. 

Whether or not the national media will ever acknowledge culinary greatness in New Mexico exists outside of Santa Fe and Albuquerque, Danny’s Place is in rarefied air as not only New Mexico’s very best barbecue restaurant, but one of the best in the country.

Danny’s Place
902 South Canal Street
Carlsbad, New Mexico
(575) 885-8739
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 10 March 2017
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: St Louis Cut Pork Ribs, Pulled Pork, Ham, Turkey, Brisket

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