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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


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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.

Zarandeado13

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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Tacos Mex Y Mariscos – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Taco Mex Y Mariscos on Fourth Street

Taco Mex Y Mariscos on Fourth Street

The taco landscape across the Duke City may well be a tale of two tacos. At one extreme we have Zacatecas Tacos & Tequila, the upscale, gourmet taco eatery situated in fashionable Nob Hill. In February, 2013, Zacatecas Tacos was named a semi-finalist for the James Beard Foundation‘s “best new restaurant” in America honor. Zacatecas Tacos represents the “self-actualization” of tacos…tacos which are all they can be…tacos which have been elevated to the nth degree of creativity and deliciousness…tacos at a price point heretofore not achieved in Albuquerque by what is essentially a street food favorite.

The antithesis of Zacatecas Tacos & Tequila may well be Tacos Mex Y Mariscos, a timeworn restaurant on heavily trafficked Fourth Street.  Situated in an edifice which previously housed everything from a Thai restaurant to a sandwich shop, Tacos Mex Y Mariscos is as humble as Zacatecas Tacos is ostentatious.  It’s as much a “cheap eat” as Zacatecas is pricy.  The menu at Tacos Mex is simple and unsophisticated compared to the complex and urbane menu at Zacatecas.  From all conceivable appearances, Tacos Mex Y Mariscos is the pauper to Zacatecas’ prince.

TacoMex02

A busy Saturday afternoon at Taco Mex Y Mariscos

There’s even a socioeconomic dichotomy between the customers who habituate these two contradistinctive taquerias.  Zacatecas Tacos is frequented by a decidedly chic and urban crowd while Tacos Mex is  beloved by entire families, many of whom are immigrants more comfortable speaking in Spanish.  The one commonality between guests at both taquerias is a love for terrific tacos and they can get them at both Zacatecas Tacos and Tacos Mex.

The kicker is that one purveyor of terrific tacos isn’t any more authentic or more Mexican than the other.  Both honor Mexican culinary traditions and do so very well.   If there’s one word which best  distinguishes the tacos at Tacos Mex from the tacos at Zacatecas, it would be “campesino,” a word for a peasant or farmer.  The tacos proffered at Tacos Mex subscribe to the timeless campesino practice of using whatever ingredients were available at the time to feed the family, often through times of abject poverty and hardship.

TacoMex03

Tostadas de Ceviche Mixto

To less-than-intrepid diners, those ingredients might constitute adventure eating.  To aficionados of authentic Mexican food, those ingredients signal an invitation to deliciousness.  Among the “adventurous” ingredients are lengua (beef tongue), cabeza (head), buche (pork stomach),  tripas (intestines), longonisa (sausage) and birria (goat meat).  The menu also includes tacos crafted with more familiar ingredients: carnitas (cubed pork), al pastor (spit-roasted pork), chorizo (spiced pork sausage), carne asada (grilled beef) and shrimp.

The value-priced tacos are terrific, some of the very best in town.  Two corn tortillas are engorged with the ingredients of your choosing as as well as onions and cilantro if you want.   Then you can mosey on over to the salsa bar for pico de gallo, a guacamole-salsa, a tomatillo salsa or a fire-roasted tomato salsa, not that they’re needed.  It’s hard to say one taco is better than the next because they’re all so very, very good.  With each successive taco you eat, you’ll likely discover a new favorite.  For now…and probably because it was the last one sampled, my favorite is the al pastor.  Weather permitting, on weekends Tacos Mex will set up the spit grill outdoors.  It’s like a sweet Mexican smoke signal beckoning the hungry masses.

TacoMex04

Tacos: Carnitas, Al Pastor, Chorizo, Longonisa

The mariscos menu includes a number of Mexican seafood favorites including tostadas de ceviche–one made with camarones (shrimp) and one a mix (mixto) of seafood: shrimp, fish and squid.  A generous smear of mayo tops the tostada, both as a “binder” to hold the seafood ingredients and as a contrast to the briny seafood flavors. Unlike some ceviche, this one is light on the citrus flavor which is perfectly fine because you can squeeze on as many limes as you’d like.  The shrimp is whole, not chopped.  In addition to seafood, the tostada is topped with slices of ripe avocado and finely chopped tomatoes, cilanto and onion.

As if tacos and mariscos aren’t enough, the menu offers a wonderful array of caldos (soups): posole, caldo de siete mares (seafood stew), menudo and caldo de res, the Mexican comfort food favorite.  Caldo de res will warm you up, fill your belly and make you feel good all over when it’s made well.  Tacos Mex prepares a very good caldo de res.  Swimming in a large bowl of light beef broth are perfectly prepared vegetable favorites such as potatoes, carrots, zucchini, cabbage and corn-on-the-cob as well as very flavorful shank bones and their meat.  Garnish the caldo with onions and cilantro and you’ve got a soup as nurturing and comfortable as a Vietnamese pho.

TacosMex06

Tacos: Longonisa, Lengua, Brisket, Pollo

Tacos Mex Y Mariscos offers a number of aguas frescas (literally fresh waters) to wash down all the rich, delicious food you’ll enjoy.  The horchata is as sweet as milk left over from a bowl of Captain Crunch cereal and it doesn’t have the “powdery” aftertaste of some horchata.  Also available are a number of Mexican carbonated beverages, including Mexican Coke a Cola. 

TacoMex05

Caldo de Res

Tacos Mex Y Mariscos is located on my well-beaten-path to Mary & Tito’s Cafe.  Because Mary & Tito’s is nonpareil in its excellence, I drove by Tacos Mex with hardly ever giving it a second thought.  My mistake!  Tacos Mex is a destination restaurant in its own right, a taqueria good enough to be mentioned in the same breath as a Duke City restaurant nominated as one of America’s best new eateries for 2013.

Tacos Mex Y Mariscos
5201 4th Street, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 344-1456
LATEST VISIT: 17 May 2013
1st VISIT: 23 February 2013
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 18
COST: $$
BEST BET: Horchata, Caldo de Res, Tostadas de Ceviche Mixto, Tacos: Al Pastor, Carnitas, Longoniza, Chorizo


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