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El Norteño – Albuquerque, New Mexico

El Norteño's Second Albuquerque Location: On Montgomery and Wyoming

El Norteño On Montgomery and Wyoming

No Mexican restaurant in Albuquerque has a pedigree that approaches that of El Norteño, a venerable elder statesperson in the Duke City’s burgeoning and constantly evolving Mexican restaurant scene.  El Norteño has been pleasing local diners for more than a quarter of a century as evinced by its perennial selection as the city’s “Best Mexican” restaurant. Respondents to the Alibi’s annual “best of” poll accorded El Norteño that coveted accolade against increasingly more formidable competition every year for seven consecutive years.

Launched in 1986 by Leo and Martha Nuñez, El Norteño is an Albuquerque institution, a Mexican restaurant which can’t be pigeonholed for serving the cuisine of one Mexican state or another.  That’s because El Norteño offers traditional Mexican specialties while staying true to the Land of Enchantment, using only peppers grown in New Mexico.  In 1993, Monica Manoochehri and her husband Kamran took over the restaurant, maintaining the exceptional standards established by her parents.

A trio of salsas

Three salsas and chips at El Norteno

As consistently excellent as it has been, El Norteño became one of those restaurants even its most loyal patrons may have begun to take for granted.  We all knew it was in a class by itself with incomparable cuisine; warm, friendly service and a homey ambiance in which all guests felt welcome.  We thought it would always be there, but in July, 2008, an early morning conflagration caused extensive damage to this treasure which at the time of the fire was situated at 6416 Zuni, S.E..  With its closure, a little piece of all of us was tragically, seemingly irreplacaebly gone.

In December, 2008, El Norteño reopened at 1431 Wyoming, N.E., (just north of Constitution) the former site of Cafe Miche, one of the city’s very best French restaurants. Cafe Miche’s elegant French appointments were replaced by more colorful, thematically Mexican trappings including the art of Diego Rivera and other Mexican artists. Just as in its former home, El Norteño treats all diners like welcome guests.  Just as in its former home, Monica performed culinary magic as only she can.

Queso Fundido with Chorizo

Queso Fundido with Chorizo

As elegant as its new digs were, frequent guests will tell you they just didn’t seem as welcoming and warm as the original, more humble and more homey Zuni location generations had come to love.  Even  Monica will tell you she felt much more comfortable in her original restaurant home than in the more spacious, more ostentatious strip mall setting her restaurant occupied. 

In November, 2012 Monica launched a second instantiation of El Norteño on Wyoming and Montgomery just a few miles north of its Wyoming and Constitution location which closed when its lease elapsed.  The restaurant is situated in the corner space once occupied by Yen Ching, a popular Chinese eatery coincidentally also consumed by fire.   Monica’s new restaurant includes an expansive banqueting room (which hosted Friends of Gil III) and a panaderia in which such popular Mexican and New Mexican pastries as biscochitos, empanadas, conchas and even sopaipillas will be available for dessert or take-home.

Tostadas de Ceviche

Tostadas de Ceviche

While El Norteño holds a firm grasp on the hearts and appetites of Duke City diners, it’s not just locals who traverse to this family-owned and operated gem.  As an unabashed ambassador for New Mexico’s restaurants, I’m often surprised that Land of Enchantment residents don’t always grasp just how highly regarded our restaurants are across the country.  Restaurants such as El Norteño paved the way for the pantheon of restaurant gems which have recently earned acclaim from the Food Network.

In the year 2000, Michael and Jane Stern conceived Roadfood.com as a Web site devoted to finding the most memorable local eateries along the highways and back roads of America. One of their favorites for years has been El Norteño which they visit during their frequent sojourns to the Land of Enchantment.  In rating El Norteño’s horchata among the very best in the country for their terrific tome, 500 Things To Eat Before It’s Too Late, the Sterns called El Norteño “Albuquerque’s home of meals that are true Mex, not Tex-Mex or New Mex.”

Carne Asada

Carne Asada

When Chile Pepper magazine published a “best of zest” feature, a mainstay for years was El Norteño which the magazine rated as one of the very best Mexican restaurants in the country. According to Kamran, his wife’s restaurant was even named “best authentic Mexican restaurant in America” in 1999 by no less than Gourmet Magazine.

Both the culinary unadventurous and the “epicurious” diners will find something to their liking at El Norteño. Until 2005, El Norteno offered a daily lunch buffet, a repast for the rapacious, but not necessarily adventurous, diner. The lunch buffet offered pretty standard fare prepared exceptionally well–some of the best beans in the city, terrific rice, lively enchiladas and the most tender carne adovada imaginable–as well as some departures into the realm of culinary audacity such as menudo and chipotle sauced chicken.

Some of the best horchata in America

Some of the best horchata in America

True epicureans, however, will always order off the menu because we recognize that El Norteño is probably the one restaurant in Albuquerque where the distinction between the cuisines of New Mexico and Old Mexico is most discernible. You can get enchiladas, burritos and tacos anywhere. Give us barbacoa (meat from a cow’s cheek), lengua (tongue), cabrito (young goat) and nopalitos (nopal leaves).

El Norteño is most appreciated by discerning diners who understand and crave authentic Mexican food as it would be prepared at the region in which it originated. Unlike many other Mexican restaurants in the city, El Norteño doesn’t specialize in the cuisine of solely one of Mexico’s diverse regions; it celebrates Mexican cuisine from throughout the many states of Mexico. Authenticity is certainly a hallmark at El Norteño!

Cabrito al Horno Estilo Birria

Cabrito al Horno Estilo Birria

The charming Monica is the heart and soul of the restaurant, managing the kitchen, yet seemingly always finding time to check in on her guests.  The charming and beauteous Monica is a real treat to converse with.  She is personable, intelligent and possesses a smile that will light up a room.  The wait staff reflects her customer orientation and is generally on-the-spot and friendly.  Dining at El Norteño is always a treat!

The salsas are also a treat. A guacamole based salsa ameliorated with jalapeño is only mildly piquant but rich in the buttery smooth flavor of well-ripened avocados. El Norteño also specializes in a couple of salsas rarely seen in New Mexico, but common in the state of Puebla. They’re peanut-based salsas, including the salsa de cacahuates con Guajillo, a peanut salsa with chile Guajillo. None of the peanut salsas are as cloying as the peanut sauces so prevalent in Thai foods.

Tamales at El Norteno

Tamales at El Norteno

El Norteño’s appetizer selection includes many standard favorites such as queso fundido served in various ways, but it also offers a fairly unique starter you don’t often find in Albuquerque–ensalada de nopalitos, a refreshing salad made from tender nopal (a member of the cactus family sometimes referred to as a prickly pear) simmered in vinaigrette and served with tomato, onion, minced chiles and corn tortillas. It has a tangy flavor that salad savants will love. 

6 January 2013: Not on the appetizer menu, but on the mariscos (Mexican seafood) menu, is another excellent starter, tostadas de ceviche.  In all good ceviche, the briny-savory flavors of seafood should never be obfuscated by citrus juices or by the chopped tomato-cilantro-jalapeño-onion accompaniment.  In other words, shrimp and fish should taste like shrimp and fish and not a seafood and lime Popsicle.  El Norteño accomplishes this very well, but also gives you several limes to add more citrus if you so desire.

Monica and Leo, the heart and soul of El Norteno.  The tres leches cake in Monica's hands is destined for our table.

Monica and Kamran, the owners of El Norteño

Where El Norteño truly excels is in the art of preparing porcine perfection. Every pork-based entree is unbelievably tender (thanks in part to an overnight marinade in a mixture of lemon juice and olive oil) and uniquely delicious:

  • 8 August 2009: Utilizing ancient Mayan techniques, El Norteño prepares the very best Cochinita Pibil we’ve ever had. Citrus and spice marinated shredded pork is wrapped in banana leaves and steamed until tender. The pork literally melts in your mouth, imparting with it as it goes, a lively aftertaste of complementary spices and citrus juices that may elicit tears of joy.

  • Monturas are a specialty at El Norteño. From all appearances, this appears to be a very simple dish–medallions of pork topped with melted Monterrey Jack cheese and a rich, flavorful green chile–but appearances can be deceiving. You can masticate this pork with your gums; that’s how tender it is. It is one of the very best pork chop-like dishes in the city.
  • If pork chops are what you crave, the Guisado Norteño will assuage your cravings. Two hearty pork chops are topped with a wild tomato sauce that enlivens them with flavor. Need I say the pork is unbelievably tender.
Cochinito Pibil, the very best in New Mexico

Cochinito Pibil, the very best in New Mexico

It also goes without saying that the carne adovada is exceptionally tender and delicious (even though it includes a modicum of cumin) as is the al pastor which derives its flavor from as many as 13 different spices. I could rhapsodize for several pages on how wonderful the pork is, but that would be an injustice to the other terrific items on the menu which aren’t pork based.  Pork isn’t the sole treasure at El Norteño where it’s quite possible there is no ordinary entree.  Every dish is extraordinary or better, if possible.

6 January 2013: The cabrito (meat from very young, milk fed kids between 4 and 8 weeks of age) al Horno Estilo Birria (a style of Mexican barbecue) is absolutely wonderful, some of the best non-barbecued cabrito I’ve had in the past 25 years (maybe even better than the cabrito at Santa Fe’s fabled Los Potrillos). Oven roasted, marinated in chile and its own juices then served shredded, it oozes the pungent flavors of a classic Mexican entree. The cabrito is served with a pico de gallo and corn tortillas, perfect for crafting scrumptious tacos.

Chicken Mole with Beans and Rice

7August 2014:  The best mole recipes tend to be very closely guarded.  Monica will concede that the mole served at El Norteño includes seeds, chocolate, nuts and chilies and while they combine to form a greater whole, they’re not always discernible as individual ingredients.  Mole is so rich and complex that each bite is an adventure in flavor and though chilies are part and parcel of mole, piquancy is rarely a prominent feature.  El Norteño’s mole is smooth and creamy with a very slight hint of chocolate flavor.  It permeates the shredded chicken, imbuing it with a delicious richness.  The shredded cheese tempers the sweetness and provides a welcome contrast.

7August 2014:  Some New Mexican and Mexican restaurants make a big deal out of their presentation of fajitas, parading them from the kitchen with a vapor trail which would make jet aircraft envious.  The procession resembles a phalanx of models walking the runway with tortillas, shredded cheeses, sour cream and pico de gallo plated separately.  At El Norteño, there isn’t much fanfare in the presentation of the fajitas.  In fact, these fajitas are simplicity itself: grilled skirt steak, onions, green peppers and pico de gallo share a plate with beans and rice.  Only the tortillas are served separately. The grilled steak is moist, tender and seasoned nicely, a perfect complement to the grilled onions and green peppers.

Fajitas with Beans and Rice

7 August 2014: Dessert at El Norteño is a heavenly experience. The pastel de tres leches is unique in that the cake itself is cut up into small cubes which swim in a huge goblet filled with three types of rich, sweet milks then is dolloped with sweet cream and strawberries. It is sinfully decadent and delicious. Sweet and tangy flavors also combine like a concordant concert in your mouth in a dessert of frescas con crema (sweet strawberries blended with cream). 

6 January 2013: The glass pastry case at the Montgomery location is so enticing, I’d like one in my man cave–provided it’s stocked with the luscious pastries at El Norteño.  The biscochitos, the official cookie of the state of New Mexico, are wonderful with an abundance of anise and cinnamon flavor on perfect shortbread cookies.  Three varieties of empanada fillings–apple, crema and cherry–are available as are a number of other Mexican pastries.  When Monica launches her panaderia, expect even more deliciousness from the oven.

Biscochitos and Cherry Empanadas from the Pastry Case

Biscochitos and Cherry Empanadas from the Pastry Case

Mexican restaurants come and go in Albuquerque.  El Norteño has staying power because it continues to deliver great value, terrific service and fantastic food to its loyal patrons.

El Norteno
1431 Wyoming, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 299-2882
Web Site

LATEST VISIT: 7 August 2014
# OF VISITS: 10
RATING: 23
COST: $$
BEST BET: Cochinita pibil, Queso Fundido con Chorizo, Tostadas De Ceviche, Horchata, Tres Leches, Guisado Norteño, Cabrito al Horno Estilo Birria, Fajitas, Chicken Mole, Bischochitos, Empanadas


View El Norteno on LetsDineLocal.com »

El Norteño on Urbanspoon

El Norteño
4410 Wyoming Blvd, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 508-4372
LATEST VISIT: 6 January 2013
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: *
COST: $$
BEST BET: Tostadas de Ceviche, Chips and Salsa, Queso Fundido with Chorizo, Cabrito al Horno Estilo Birria, Horchata

El Norteño on Urbanspoon

Lindo Mexico Grill & Seafood – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Lindo Mexico, one of the most capacious and beautiful Mexican restaurants in the Duke City

Lindo Mexico, one of the most capacious and beautiful Mexican restaurants in the Duke City

In the entire world, there may not be a national anthem that inspires as much heart-felt pride as the Mexican ballad Mexico Lindo Y Querido.  It is a hauntingly stirring proclamation of the balladeer’s profound love for his native land–a love so intense that even his guitar awakens in the morning inspired to sing with alacrity about that land he loves.  The song speaks to the country’s volcanoes, prairies and flowers serving as talismans for the love of his loves, the country of Mexico itself.

While the country of Mexico is indeed blessed with awe-inspiring wonders, its greatest beauty lies in the soul and character of its people.  From the downtrodden descendents of its indigenous peoples to the scions of Cortez, most Mexicans remain God fearing, finding His presence in the simplicity of nature and glorifying His name in the way they approach life.  There is also much simplicity in the daily bounty they receive with sincere reverence and gratitude.  That simplicity is most often evident in the ingredients used to prepare Mexican food–corn, flour, peppers and beans being but a few staples.

Chips, Salsa and Con Queso

Chips, Salsa and Con Queso

Lindo Mexico (literally Beautiful Mexico), a restaurant which launched in 2005, celebrates the culinary heritage of Mexico.  Its menu features many of the grilled Mexican food standards  diners have come to know and love as well as mariscos (seafood) entrees.  Initially situated on San Pedro in a building formerly occupied a once popular Chinese restaurant, Lindo Mexico now occupies a much more commodious, much more attractive edifice on Central Avenue, moving into its new digs in December, 2012.

While colorful Mexican blankets and sombreros festooned the walls of the original location, the new restaurant is much more smartly appointed, though no less vibrant.  Personal space proximity seating is on equipales, the seats crafted from fibrous materials removed from maguey cactus and fixed with leather bands.  The wait staff maintains a frenetic pace to keep up with the throngs of families waiting to be served.

Tostada de ceviche con camarones

Tostada de ceviche con camarones

A favorable first impression was quickly made by the restaurant’s horchata which would be among the best we’ve had in the Duke City were it not served at just above room temperature (even with ice cubes, it just isn’t that cold).  The flavor and aroma of ground cinnamon made this refreshing rice beverage truly memorable.  The aguas frescas menu also includes melon, pineapple and more.

Also inspiring instant affection is an appetizer sized Tostada de Ceviche, a crispy corn tostado smeared with a layer of guacamole then topped with diced shrimp, lettuce, white cheese, tomato and splashed with lime juice.  There is just too much lettuce and tomato on the tostada to let the seafood taste really come through, but it’s not bad Ceviche by Albuquerque standards.  Much better is Lindo Mexico’s salsa which, in its September, 2012 edition, Albuquerque The Magazine named the third best in Albuquerque from among 130 salsas sampled throughout the city.  The salsa is superb with a nice level of piquancy.

Parrillada

Parrillada

We were elated to find parrillada de carne asada (marinated, grilled beef) on Lindo Mexico’s menu and even happier to find that it was pretty good.  The waifishly thin cut of beef is more than a bit tough and more than slightly stringy (fairly typical in Mexican restaurants), but there is no mistaking the wonderful tastes and intoxicating aromas of well-seasoned beef.  Served in a platter for two, the parrillada platter includes warm tortillas (flour, corn or both) just off the comal, sliced sausages, a bowl of queso fundido, two fried jalapenos and two baked potatoes, all of which were quite delicious.  Also quite wonderful is a plate of charro beans, well-flavored with sausage and tripe.

By the way, if you’ve never had a baked potato Mexican style, you’re in for a treat.  Mexican baked potatoes are wrapped in tin foil and baked until perfectly soft (not mushy and overdone) and served with a heaping portion of melting butter.  These terrific tubers are surprisingly moist and an excellent side dish.  The queso fundido complements everything well, but is a bit too elastic for chips.  You may need to slice off a hunk or three.

Papa Asada and Queso Fundido

Papa Asada and Queso Fundido

Our sole departure into the nautical realm (the mariscos side of the menu) resulted in an anomalous entree–desiccated seafood.  More specifically, the camarones a la fiesta (shrimp a la fiesta) was among the driest seafood entrees we can remember ever experiencing.  At Mexico Lindo, this entree is a large shrimp stuffed with cheese and jalapeno then wrapped in bacon, an entree that is hit and miss at most Mexican restaurants.  If the bacon isn’t too salty and overdone, the complementary surf and turf tastes are wonderful.  Alas, at Mexico Lindo, the bacon is salty and crispy, completely overwhelming the shrimp. 

The dessert menu includes such traditional Mexican favorites as flan and tres leches cake, but also features a couple of delicious departures from the standards. The dulce de leche cheesecake is befitting of its name which translates literally to “candy of milk,” but which is meant to describe the caramelization of sweetened milk by heating it slowly. Dulce de leche has many uses though cheesecake was a new one for us. The cheesecake was rich, creamy and delicious atop a Graham cracker crust. At the other end of the flavor profile spectrum is a volcano lava cake, a flourless cake with a molten inner core of chocolate ganache served with vanilla ice cream. Perhaps a better name for this cake would be chocolate overdose because it’s as rich as chocolate cakes come. It’s so good you’ll finish it, but the richness will challenge you to do so.

Volcano Lava Cake and Dulce De Leche Cheesecake

Volcano Lava Cake and Dulce De Leche Cheesecake

Lindo Mexico is such a beautiful restaurant that it just might inspire a ballad to be sung in its honor. It’s one of the most beloved Mexican restaurants in Albuquerque with near capacity crowds for lunch and dinner.

Lindo Mexico
7209 Central Avenue, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 266-2999
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 10 November 2013
# OF VISITS: 4
RATING: 18
COST: $$
BEST BET: Parrillada de Carne Asada; Horchata; Tostada de Ceviche, Volcano Lava Cake, Dulce De Leche Cheesecake, Salsa and Chips


View Lindo Mexico on LetsDineLocal.com »

El Zarandeado – Albuquerque, New Mexico

El Zarandeado, Mexican Seafood al Estilo Sinoloa

El Zarandeado, Mexican Seafood al Estilo Sinoloa

“Anyway, like I was sayin’, shrimp is the fruit of the sea.
You can barbecue it, boil it, broil it, bake it, saute it.
Dey’s uh, shrimp-kabobs, shrimp creole, shrimp gumbo.
Pan fried, deep fried, stir-fried. There’s pineapple shrimp,
lemon shrimp, coconut shrimp, pepper shrimp, shrimp soup,
shrimp stew, shrimp salad, shrimp and potatoes, shrimp burger, shrimp sandwich.
That- that’s about it.”
Bubba from Forrest Gump

Benjamin Bufford “Bubba” Blue may have thought he knew all there was to know about shrimp, but he didn’t know about camarones and he had no idea about ceviche.  In 1967 while Bubba was in Vietnam helping “save the world for Democracy,” only the jet-setters who spent time in Mexico’s coastal regions had an inkling about the magical things which could be done with mariscos (Mexican seafood) freshly plucked out of the sea.  In 1967 American restaurants–particularly steak restaurants–were still serving butterflied fried shrimp in “surf and turf” entrees and calling it gourmet.  Long John Silvers was still two years away from making inexpensive shrimp available to the masses.  The most exotic use of shrimp during the year of the “summer of love” was probably on Chinese dishes. 

Mariscos restaurants didn’t make significant inroads in America until the 1980s and not surprisingly, not until somewhat later in the “Land of Mañana.” In the second decade of the twenty-first century, it can be said that mariscos restaurants have truly arrived, though some of the restaurants which most artfully and deliciously prepare the pescatarian delights throughout the Duke City  remain virtually undiscovered except seemingly by former residents of Los Mochis, Culiacan, Mazatlan and other towns in the Mexican states sharing the coastline of the Gulf of California.

Salsa and Chips

Salsa and Chips

One such restaurant is El Zarandeado, a crown jewel on Central Avenue across the street from the New Mexico State Fairgrounds in Albuquerque’s International District. Since its launch in October, 2010, this  maven of magnificent mariscos has been a home away from home for Baja transplants longing to quell their mariscos cravings.  In fact, despite  a glowing review from the Albuquerque Journal‘s Andrea Lin, most of the restaurant’s guests (according to the owners) remain the scions of Cortez and Montezuma.  I suspect the area’s erstwhile “war zone” reputation may have something to do with that along with the fact that the restaurant’s facade is somewhat timeworn. 

One of the dichotomies of Mexican food is that there is often an inverse correlation between flavor and ambiance.  Some of the very best Mexican food you’ll find anywhere is served in facilities cynics might decry as almost ramshackle–or putting it more poetically, the ugly duckling restaurants serve often serve the most beautiful food.   El Zarandeado is hardly off-putting; in fact it’s just quite homey.  Let the deep-pocketed chains have their pristine trappings.  El Zarandeado shines where it counts–in the kitchen, in the dining room and in the hearts, minds and stomachs of diners like John Lucas, a long-time friend of this blog who gave me an effusive recommendation for the restaurant several months ago.

    A dozen empanaditas rellenas stuffed with cheese, chile and shrimp

A dozen empanaditas rellenas stuffed with cheese, chile and shrimp

The mariscos at El Zarandeado come from Sinaloa whose western borders hug the azure, seafood rich waters of the California Gulf and the Pacific Ocean. The recipes come from the convivial family which owns and operates the restaurant.  It’s a family which takes tremendous pride in the execution of those recipes.  There are two conjoined dining rooms with table and booth seating.  As with almost every mariscos restaurant in Albuquerque, a blue marlin has a place of prominence on one wall.

The restaurant is named for pescado Zarandeado, a game and eating fish James Beard Award-winning author Jonathan Gold describes as “as intimidating as an entrée can get, a vast, smoking creature split open at the backbone and flopped open into a sort of skeleton-punctuated mirror image of itself, wisps of steam rising around the onions and lemon slices with which it is strewn.”  In 2009, Gold also called pescado Zarandeado “the latest cult object in Los Angeles restaurants.”   Fittingly Zarandeado is on the menu, but because preparation time is approximately one hour, it’s highly recommended that you call in your order in advance. It’s priced at $15.99 per pound (as of January, 2012).

Tostada Mixta (Pulpo and Jaiba)

Tostada Mixta (Pulpo and Jaiba)

Not on the menu, but which was served gratis during our inaugural visit is a cup of shrimp consomme.  Though it may have but one visible shrimp, the consomme is replete with the flavor of Mexico’s favorite decapod crustacean.  This is not a soup for which a couple of cubes of “shrimp bouillon” are thrown into a pan of water and heated.  Preparation is a painstaking process that involves not only deveining each shrimp, but grinding and mashing the shrimp skins and shrimp heads, both of which are used in the preparation of the broth.  The consomme is quite good–better if enlivened with a few drops of the bottled habanero salsa on the table.  Saltine crackers are also provided along with two crisp corn tortillas just beckoning for any of the bottled salsas on the table.  Best of all, each meal comes with a basket of thick, steaming corn tortillas.  They’re among the very best in the city.

El Zarandeado’s botanas (snacks or appetizers) are shrimp and oyster intensive.  One–the ostiones rellenos–invites you to try oysters and shrimp together by offering oysters stuffed with ceviche. Another inventive way to enjoy shrimp is in the form of a half or full dozen empanaditas rellenas stuffed with cheese, chile and shrimp.  The masa with which the empanaditas are made is redolent with the aroma of ground corn and each of these gems is served hot, hot, hot with very little greasiness.   Bite into them and wisps of steam escape, a precursor to the pure deliciousness in each morsel.  Served with the empanaditas is a frothy light green salsa made from jalapeños, cilantro and lime.  Once the froth is gone, the salsa becomes the color of lime Kool Aid, but the taste is a tangy-savory piquancy.

Camarones “Culiche” en salsa de chile chilaca con aroz y ensalada

El Zarandeado is somewhat of an anomaly among mariscos restaurants in Albuquerque in that it offers both camaron crudo (raw shrimp) and camaron cocido (cooked shrimp) on its ceviche and tacos.  The tostada de ceviche is available with shrimp, fish or any combination of two or three seafood ingredients, options of which also include pulpo (squid) and jaiba (imitation crab).  As with most Mexican ceviche, each tostada is heaped with not only the seafood of your choice, but with chopped tomatoes, cilantro, slices of fresh avocado and a lime juice marinade which “cooks” the shrimp.

The menu showcases camarones (shrimp) in the many ways in which they can be prepared: A La Diabla (devil-style shrimp prepared with a piquant sauce), Rancheros (shrimp served in a salsa, albeit not as spicy as the a la diabla sauce), Al Mojo De Ajo (garlic shrimp), Empanizados (breaded and fried shrimp), Costa Azul (shrimp stuffed with cheese and jalapeño then wrapped in bacon), a la plancha (shrimp prepared on a metal plate, usually a cast iron skillet) and Camarones “Culiche” (shrimp prepared in a sauce of Mexican crema and chile chilaca).

Molcajete Sinaloense

Our introduction to El Zarandeado’s Camarones Culiche was an eye-opener, the first truly unique shrimp preparation style we’ve had in Albuquerque in quite a while.  Culiche (usually spelled culichi) is, in fact, what residents of the city of Culiacan in the state of Sinaloa call themselves.  When you see “Culichi” on a menu in a restaurant, it often means nothing more than “Culiacan style” and that can be a very liberal term.  El Zarandeado’s interpretation of Culiacan style features a sauce made with Mexican crema and the chilaca chile, a green chile with medium heat.  More than a dozen perfectly prepared shrimp add an element of sweet brininess.  This plate is served with a fluffy, buttery rice and a small salad.

The dish which captivated both John Lucas and Andrea Lin is the Molcajete Sinaloense, one of three molcajete-based entrees on the menu.  A molcajete is a three-legged cooking and serving vessel made from pure volcanic basalt.  Not surprisingly, it retains heat very well.  In fact, the contents with which the deep pucked cauldron is filled, remain every bit as hot when you finish your last bite as they were when the first bite burnt your tongue.  The Molcajete Sinaloense includes three types of shrimp–Camarones Costa Azul, Camarones Empanizados and Camarones Al Mojo de Ajo–along with two butterflied fish filets and ringlets of octopus served in a mildly piquant green salsa served almost bubbling.  This is an entree large enough for two, but so good you might not want to share it. 

Natilla de coco and Natilla de Canela

There’s only one dessert on the menu, but it’s done two ways.  That dessert is natillas, the delicate custard dish made with eggs and milk.  One rendition is topped with coco (coconut flakes) and one with canela (cinnamon).  Both are served in a plastic bowl with a lid, perhaps lending an impression that they’re not homemade.  Like the Jello brand pudding of Bill Cosby commercial fame and the pudding George Costanza enjoyed on Seinfeld, these natillas have a “skin” which you have to puncture to get to the moist, creamy custard which is thankfully not too sweet. 

Second Visit: March 10, 2013:  Our second visit transpired on a Sunday, which for Mexican families, is a family day.  When families aren’t getting together at home for a meal, they dine at restaurants which can offer an authentic taste of home.  No longer served is the complimentary shrimp consomme.  Instead, Culiacan-style tostadas and salsa arrive at your table shortly after you do.  You can break off the tostadas into chips and dip them into the salsa or better yet, scoop up as much of the piquant pepper-based salsa as you can tolerate.  The salsa is incendiary with a bit of lime to cut the heat.

Molcajete Aguachile

Molcajete Aguachile

One of the most unique offerings we’ve seen at a Mexican restaurant in the Land of Enchantment is the Molcajete Aguachile (literally chile water).  It’s not a unique dish in Mexico, but it’s not that common north of the border.  Aguachile is essentially a very piquant version of ceviche mixto (camarones, pulpo, jaiba, pescado) in a cold citrus fruit, lime and Serrano chile broth.  The incendiary nature of this broth won’t hit the back of your throat as some chiles do, but you will find your tongue afire quickly.  The citrus mitigates the heat and lends a complementary flavor profile.  With every spoonful, you’ll extricate chopped shrimp, imitation crab, squid and fish, the type and quality of which you generally find on ceviche.

The third Molcajete dish on the menu is the Molcajete Mar Y Tierra (literally sea and Earth), a hollowed-out volcanic vessel brimming with a butterflied fish filet (the mar), a single salchica (sausage), chicken, beef, Mexican cheese, homemade corn tortillas and a large nopal (cactus pad).  It’s similar in deliciousness and portion-size to the Molcajete Lupe at Antojitos Lupe in Bernalillo.  The cavity of the molcajete retains its heat for the entire duration of your meal which means every morsel is as hot as the first.  Each morsel is also as delicious as the first.  This entree is large enough for two, but so good you won’t want to share.

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Molcajete Mar Y Tierra

Since 1967 American diners come a long way in the ways we appreciate shrimp.  It’s too bad Bubba didn’t have the opportunity to enjoy the many wondrous ways in which El Zarandeado prepares its camarones or his little paean would have included a few more stanzas.  Close your eyes and El Zarandeado just may transport you to a beachside restaurant in Sinaloa.

El Zarandeado
6500 Central Avenue, S.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
505 266-0143
LATEST VISIT: 10 March 2013
1st  VISIT: 14 January 2012
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 22
COST: $$
BEST BET: Consomme de Camaron, Empanaditas Rellenas, Tostada de Ceviche, Tostada Mixta, Camarones “Culiche, Molcajete Sinaloense, Natillas, Molcajete Aguachile, Molcajete Mar Y Tierra,

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