Gil's Thrilling (And Filling) Blog

Follow the Culinary Ruminations of New Mexico's Sesquipedalian Sybarite. 876 Restaurant Reviews, More Than 7000 Visitor Comments…And Counting!

Kathy’s Carry-Out – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Kathy's on Isleta Boulevard

Kathy’s on Isleta Boulevard

In 2001, the Alibi staff declared Kathy’s Carry-Out the “best hamburger in the Duke City.” Surely, nay-sayers retorted, this had to be a mistake. How, after all, they reasoned, could a ramshackle garage sized building with a kitschy purple facade and garish orange trim possibly compete with the flamboyant chains and their glitz and glamor or even with the anointed local purveyors in the more well-beaten, well-eaten paths throughout the city?   Kathy’s Carry-Out lived up to its name, emphasis on the “carry-out” portion of its name.  Carry-Out was the only option available for the phalanx of diners eager to bite into those bodacious burgers.

Ensconced in an Isleta Boulevard neighborhood seemingly zoned as much for more residential than commercial purposes, Kathy’s Carry-Out certainly wouldn’t win any awards for esthetics and it probably violated every feng shui principle for harmony, not that hungry diners noticed.  Savvy burger aficionados from the South Valley frequented Kathy’s for its wonderful New Mexican cuisine and a burger so good it’d convert staunch vegans.  It took one visit to convince us you can’t judge a burger by the dilapidated facade of its place of origin. Kathy’s did serve one of, if not THE best burger in town.

The original Kathy's Carryout on Isleta Boulevard

The original Kathy’s Carryout on Isleta Boulevard

It’ll take one visit to this South Valley neighborhood to gain an appreciation for a neighborhood unabashedly bedecked in an ultraviolet spectrum of colors.  It’s part of the charm about this area that I love  It’s also the utter charm of holding on to a rural neighborliness amidst an urban sprawl sometimes lacking the spirit of community lived daily in the Isleta area.  This is a neighborhood which defies the abobe-hued homogeneity which has claimed so much of the city.  It’s a neighborhood which dares to be different, to express its individuality.

And when color isn’t what your eyes are drawn to, it might be a marvel of architectural ingenuity such as the single-wide trailer which sits on top of a stucco building to the immediate north of Kathy’s Carryout.  It’s a tribute to this area that the zoning Nazis haven’t come down on such inventive architectural expression. Or, your eyes might be trained to the skies because of an inordinate number of pigeons fortunate enough to call this neighborhood home.

A large Kathy Burger

In 2007, the dwarfish ugly duckling which served nonpareil New Mexican food and life-changing burgers was transmogrified into a spectacular swan with a broad wingspan. The charmingly garish exterior facade of its first location and its anti-esthetic curb appeal were gone as were any claims to “Albuquerque’s best burger served here.”  That honor didn’t go very far; it now belongs to the restaurant next door.

Kathy’s Carryout left that utterly charming old edifice and moved next door to a beautiful restaurant with seating for dozens of diners. “Carry-Out” now applies to the drive-up window, not to the way diners used to order and take away their orders.  In Kathy’s Carryout of old, separate windows were used for placing and picking up orders. You had to feel sorry for the cramped quarters in which Kathy and her staff filled orders; there wasn’t much room to move and the heat of the stoves seemed stifling.

Rolled tacos and hot sauce

Rolled tacos and hot sauce

The old location had a couple of picnic tables where you could sit and wait, but most patrons seemed to either wait by the pick-up window or taxed their cars’ air conditioners while waiting in relative comfort within the confines of cars of all makes and models. Most were packed with hungry family members waiting for a designated parent to return with a bagful of deliciousness.What they waiting for is not only one of the very best green chile cheeseburgers in New Mexico (ergo, the universe), but excellent take-out Mexican and New   Mexican food. Waiting indoors is much better!

Kathy’s new digs are completely antithetical to its predecessor. It’s almost antiseptic in appearance with pristine denim colored walls, sixteen-inch tiled floors and comfortable seating.  No one is happier to be in the new restaurant than the staff and cooks who love the large kitchen in which they can ply their skills in climate-controlled comfort.  The larger kitchen also means an expanded menu which now includes burritos, tacos, enchiladas burgers, stuffed sopaipillas and much more. Daily specials are offered every day of the week.

Chips and guacamole

Chips and guacamole

27 July 2015: The most popular item on the menu is probably still the green chile cheeseburger extraordinaire called the Kathy Burger (formerly known as the Cuca Burger), a double-meat masterpiece that will kick sand on the so-called Big Mac and other chain claimants to size.  With two behemoth hand-formed patties prepared to medium-well, Kathy Burger and its tongue-tingling green chile, onions, lettuce, bacon and cheese is a phenom. It takes two hands to handle this leviathan, five napkins to wipe yourself off while consuming it and phenomenal willpower not to order another one, great as it is. With red chile, the Kathy Burger is not quite as incendiary but might even taste better.

24 July 2015: Terrific tacos are an excellent alternative to the Kathy Burger. The rolled tacos (order them with guacamole instead of salsa) are cigar-shaped, deep-fried corn tortilla treasures stuffed with a chile emboldened ground beef. Only in the city of Espanola, New Mexico will you find better rolled tacos than at Kathy’s. The guacamole, by the way, can be purchased by the pint (pictured below). It’s good guacamole, buttery and creamy in texture and delicious in flavor.

Bean Burrito with Red and Green Chile

24 July 2015: Several burrito options are also available and they’re not your run-of-the-mill burritos. The carne adovada burrito, for example, comes with fried potatoes and a fried egg. It’s absolutely delicious with red chile blessed pork chunks as tender as Mother Theresa’s heart.  Now, if you really love burritos, but you like bargains even more, you can have both by visiting Kathy’s on Fridays when the daily special is three bean burritos for an inflation-beating cost just barely over five dollars.  The burritos are engorged with frijoles so good you’ll be reminded why pinto beans are, along with chile, New Mexico’s official state vegetable.  The accommodating staff will indulge you with both red and green chile if you ask.  While both exemplars of deliciousness and piquancy, the green gets my nod, but just barely.  

27 July 2015: The term “cheap eats” sometimes has connotations not of inexpensive fare, but of rock-bottom quality.  At Kathy’s cheap eats represents excellent fare at very reasonable prices.  If the exorbitant price of tacos has you wondering if restaurateurs believe taco shells are fashioned from spun gold, you may experience a bit of sticker shock at the low, low, low price of a la carte tacos at Kathy’s.  Nestled within hard-shelled repositories of deliciousness are beans, ground beef, lettuce and cheese with salsa on the side.  These tacos are terrific, a reminder that tacos shouldn’t cost as much as your mortgage to be great.

Tacos

The Alibi was right about Kathy’s Carry-Out so many years ago.  So are the hundreds of discerning Duke City burgerphiles and aficionados of New Mexican food who frequent it!

Kathy’s
823 Isleta, S.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 873-3472
LATEST VISIT: 27 July 2015
# OF VISITS: 8
RATING: 22
COST: $$
BEST BET: Kathy Burger, Rolled Tacos, Bean Burritos, Carne Adovada Burrito, Beef Tacos

Click to add a blog post for Kathy's Carry-Out on Zomato

Rustic: A Divine Food Truck – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Rustic: A Divine Food Truck

Pop culture’s most famous exemplar of teenage angst may have been Napoleon Dynamite, a socially awkward daydreamer constantly tormented by bullies. Napoleon frequently lamented his ineptitude: “I don’t even have any good skills. You know, like nunchuck skills, bow hunting skills, computer hacking skills. Girls only want boyfriends who have great skills.” Napoleon’s best friend Pedro, on the other hand, possessed skills Napoleon coveted: “Well, you have a sweet ride. And you’re really good at hooking up with chicks. Plus you’re the only guy at school who has a mustache.”

In a previous review I bemoaned my lack of skills in the manly art of grilling (though not nearly as much as my dear Kim bemoaned my having ruined thousands of dollars of meat, fish, poultry and vegetables). Despite voracious absorption of the collected works of Bill and Cheryl Jamison, America’s foremost grilling and smoking gurus, my grilling skills are probably not even at the equivalent of Napoleon’s nunchuck skills. It got so bad, my saintly Kim confiscated my treasured “kiss the chef” apron (which admittedly I set afire numerous times).

The Rustic Menu

Unlike Napoleon who doggedly persisted in his indefatigable efforts to develop skills, I’ve finally come to the conclusion that you either have them or you don’t…and if you have skills, you can ply them virtually anywhere. How else can you explain all the virtuosos and prodigies who coax sheer, unbridled deliciousness in the motorized conveyances we not long ago chided as “roach coaches?” The food truck revolution has unleashed upon the fruited plain, a phalanx of peerless purveyors of the gourmet arts. These folks have mad skills.

Rather than envy them, it’s been my multi-year obsession to explore strange new dining opportunities, to seek out new eateries in all forms, to boldly dine where I haven’t dined before. Food trucks are indeed the final…or at least, the next frontier. Several of them undertake a weekly voyage to Talin, the largest international grocer in the Land of Enchantment. There they congregate in pods, converging in the sprawling parking lot every Wednesday at around high noon. Diners seem preternaturally drawn (in a sort of pied piper fashion) to Rustic: A Divine Food Truck.

The Sacred, Rustic’s version of the green chile cheeseburger

Perhaps it’s divine intervention or (more likely) the enticing aromas emanating from Rustic’s mobile kitchen, but I found myself queuing up with the teeming masses yearning to be fed.  You might think it wouldn’t take much deliberation or time to choose from among only four burgers on the current menu.  You’d be wrong.  Each of the four burgers is constructed from freshly ground chuck, local Fano brioche buns and a creative array of ingredients which ostensibly go very well together.  Burgers are always made to order.

Curse my advancing geriatric progression as I forgot which burger Thomas Molitor, a very discerning diner and good friend of this blog, recommended (it was the Divine Intervention: bleu cheese, caramelized onions, rosemary Balsamic reduction, Romaine lettuce and tomato).  Oh well, that just means I’ll have a Divine Intervention next time.  The Sacred (Wagner Farm’s green chile, American cheese, Romaine lettuce, tomato, onion, mustard), Rustic’s version of a green chile cheeseburger is hardly a consolation prize.  It’s a beefy behemoth with a lot of flavor.  Even though the beef patty is thick and nicely seasoned, it doesn’t obfuscate the piquancy and roasted goodness of the green chile. 

Rustic: A Divine Food Truck can be found hanging around Talin on Wednesdays from 11AM through 1:30PM though hours can change without notice.  Make sure to visit Rustic’s Facebook page for more information on the Duke City’s only divine food truck.

Rustic: A Divine Food Truck
Location Varies
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505)
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 1 April 2015
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET:The Sacred, French Fries

Mac’s Steak in the Rough – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Mac’s Steak in the Rough on Menaul is an Albuquerque Institution

In Mark 6:4, Jesus instructs his disciples that “a prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” Theologists and Bible scholars have translated this to mean “A prophet is honored everywhere except in his own hometown and among his relatives and his own family.”  While certainly not as venerated as prophets, this verse could also apply to some of our local restaurants. If ever you’ve heard a disparaging word about one of our local restaurant institutions, you’ll know of what I speak.

Think of all the times you’ve heard such august Duke City institutions as Lotaburger and Mac’s Steak in the Rough disparaged by locals who didn’t grow up with these sacrosanct traditions.   For every one of us who revere and frequent these local treasures, there may be as many (if not more) nay-sayers with antipathy toward those lionized local treasures.  Some yearn instead for such big city sophisticates as In-N-Out-Burger and others of that ilk.

Mac’s Steak in the Rough on a busy Thursday afternoon

Forgive me if my retort and admonishment to locals who would deprecate our local treasures sounds too much like the jarring and insensitive statements used by some parents to get persnickety children to eat. The truth is, there are many people throughout the fruited plain who would love to have restaurants such as Lotaburger and Mac’s Steak in the Rough in their cities.  They don’t understand the uppity New Mexicans who bad-mouth the local gems many of us take for granted. 

Think I’m kidding? In 2006, Lotaburger was recognized by National Geographic for serving the “Best Green Chile Cheeseburger in the World.”   In June 2012, National Geographic also ranked  Lotaburger fourth on its “10 Best Hamburgers in America” list. In 2010, Gustavo Arellano, the brilliant and hilarious author of Ask a Mexican, a widely syndicated newspaper column published mostly in weekly alternative papers, asked the question “Forget Five Guys Burgers: Why Can’t We Get a Blake’s Lotaburger.” There are more such testimonies, but you get the picture.

Original Rough Combo

As for Mac’s Steak in the Rough, in 2013 Thrillist named it “one of the best drive-in restaurants in America.”  Mac’s largest advocate with a national profile, however, appears to be The Huffington Post, an online news aggregator and blog.  In naming Albuquerque one of “5 American Cities You Should Visit in 2015,” the Post advised “Go for the insanely good chicken-fried steak fingers at Mac’s Steak in the Rough.”  Two years previously, Post writer Rebecca Orchant wrote a feature entitled “Mac’s Steak In The Rough: An Albuquerque Original We Adore.”  Admittedly Orchant grew up in Albuquerque so she’s intimately familiar with Mac’s.  In fact, her experiences and sentiments pretty much mirror those of many locals who also love this Duke City institution.

In her article, Orchant describe Mac’s Steak in the Rough as “an old-school, drive-in, fry-shack of a restaurant, that has been slinging taquitos, onion rings and Steak in the Rough for over fifty years.”  She shares her experiences of visiting Mac’s with her dad and being introduced to “limeade so sour it will cross your eyes” and “dipping steak fingers in hot sauce sitting on the hood of a car.”  If you grew up in Albuquerque, you can certainly relate and even if you didn’t absolutely love Mac’s food, you undoubtedly enjoyed the experience…and that lip-pursing limeade.

The best limeade in New Mexico and beyond

In its halcyon days, Mac’s Steak in the Rough had about a dozen restaurants strewn throughout the Duke City. As much as the restaurant has long been associated with Albuquerque, Mac’s actually got its start in Artesia way back in 1949 when a restaurant impresario named Dave McCarty launched the first of what would become a beloved local empire.  McCarty also invented and trademarked the “taquita,” a rolled taco that’s remained one of several menu standards over the years.

Today only the Mac’s Steak in the Rough on Menaul just east of Washington remains.  At its heart and essence, it’s still a drive-in and it’s still a dive.  Traditionalists eschew the antiseptic modern indoor restaurant and opt instead to dine in the elements.  That means parking your motorized conveyance under a canopy of parking spots and placing your order on an intercom built into each menu board.  Remodeling and modernity included the replacement of a message board with an LED sign as well as replacement of the trademark sign pole.

Double Meat Green Chile Cheeseburger with Fries

Detractors will argue that each meal at Mac’s Steak in the Rough should come with its own angioplasty and maybe a beach towel for wiping your mouth.  To supporters, however, Mac’s high-calorie, high-cholesterol, high-fat fast food menu is just what the doctor prescribed.  You can get burgers, fries and shakes anywhere.  Only at Mac’s Steak in the Rough can you have the name on the marquee.  That would be the original steak in the rough, described as “tender slivers of ranch-cut beef cut fresh daily, dipped in our special batter and deep-fried.”

Similar to fried clams in New England, the original steak in the rough is served in a cardboard box, one accommodating not only the four crispy steak strips, but a mound of French fries, a hot roll, white gravy, coleslaw and a single fresh green scallion.  It’s a combination you can only get at Mac’s Steak in the Rough.  It’s ours and we’re proud of it.  The steak in the rough is nearly hot enough to singe your fingers as it arrives at your table.  So is the mildly peppery white gravy.  The coleslaw is virtually saturated in a creamy mayo and is very sweet.  The green scallion is one of those perplexing adds that seems out of place until you sample it with the steak fingers where its strong bite serves as a perfect foil for the battered steak.

Large order of onion rings

Burgers provide a nice alternative to the steak in the rough.  The four burgers on the menu are made with 100 percent USDA ground beef and are served with mustard, onion, lettuce and tomato unless you opt otherwise.  The beef patties are a bit on the thin side and unless you request otherwise are prepared at medium-well to well.  For the right-sized ratio of beef to bun, you’ll want to request double meat on your burger as well as green chile.  The chile isn’t especially piquant, but it’s got a good flavor.  As green chile cheeseburgers go, this one is much better than other notables. 

So are the onion rings.  They’re not the out-of-a-bag variety most restaurants serve (you know–the ones with the sandpaper-rough breading; the ones where you take a bite and the entire onion slides out, leaving you an intact shell of breading. Mac’s onion rings are reminiscent of those served along New Hampshire’s beaches. They’re lightly coated with a golden breading over sweet, juicy Spanish onions. These are onion rings the way onion rings are supposed to be: hot, delicious and addictive.  Alas, on occasion the onion rings are occasionally fried too long and may be a bit dry.  As with any meal you have, they’re best washed down by Mac’s limeade, the very best in Albuquerque.

Taquita Tusum with Onion Rings

One of the menu items that started it all for Mac’s Steak in the Rough is the Taquita Tusum, two crisp taquitas served with a guacamole salad and hot sauce.  The menu indicates the taquitas are made with 100% ground beef, but you’ll be hard-pressed to discern any ground beef.  Texturally, the amalgam with which the taquitas are stuffed is similar to moist, mashed beans.  What you will discern, however, is cumin and not even the hot sauce and guacamole can mask that distinct spice.

Mac’s Steak in the Rough has been going strong for more than sixty years with no surcease in sight. Even though its operations have been centralized to one single location, it stands at the ready to ensnare the hearts of even more generations of Duke City diners.

Mac’s Steak in the Rough
4515 Menaul Blvd, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 888-3611
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 31 March 2015
# OF VISITS: 14
COST: $ – $$
RATING: 18
BEST BET: Double Meat Green Chile Cheeseburger, French Fries, Onion Rings, Limeade,

Mac's Steak in the Rough on Urbanspoon