Big D’s Downtown Dive – Roswell, New Mexico

Big D’s Downtown Dive in Roswell, New Mexico

During a March, 2012 trip to Roswell, New Mexico President Barack Obama made the following opening remarks to his speech. “We had landed in Roswell. I announced to people when I landed that I had come in peace. (Laughter) Let me tell you – there are more nine and ten year old boys around the country when I meet them – they ask me, “Have you been to Roswell and is it true what they say? And I tell them, ‘If I told you I would have to kill you.’ So their eyes get all big…so…we’re going to keep our secrets here.”  To many, his comment was just an innocent joke, but to passionate conspiracy theorists, Obama’s remarks were further proof of a government cover-up of the extraterrestrial crash landing which supposedly occurred outside Roswell in 1947.

Ufologists like to point out that in the seventy years since that extraterrestrial crash, there has been a quantum leap in technology, a leap unprecedented in all human history.  Believers will tell you humankind had help in making those advances and that the help came in the form of technology found in the downed alien spacecraft recovered in a pasture northwest of Roswell.  Among the advances borrowed or developed from recovered alien craft are night-vision goggles, lasers, fiber optics and chips.  Through reverse engineering, scientists also significant advances in weaponry and military aircraft.  Ufologists have even coined the term “Roswellian” to describe technology  so advanced that it must have been derived from the reverse engineering of crashed or captured alien spacecraft.

A very busy dining room at 2PM

One advancement for which the “Roswell incident” isn’t given sufficient credit is the improvement of burgers.  Locals will tell you the burgers in Roswell have made a quantum leap in deliciousness over the past few years.  They don’t necessarily credit little green men for imparting advanced burger grilling techniques, but with all the saucer-eyed  alien statues in front of several local restaurants, you have to wonder.  For skeptics who accept truth only if presented with quantitative data, consider that in both 2016 and 2017, Chef Toddzilla’s Mobile Cuisine, a purveyor of gourmet burgers nonpareil, was named Food Truck Burger of the Year.  That’s not just best food truck burger in Roswell.  That’s best food truck burger across the fruited plain.

Chef Toddzilla isn’t the sole Roswell burger emporium to achieve national acclaim.  In 2014, TripAdvisor, a travel review site scoured through millions of user reviews and comments to compile their list of the 10 best burger joints in the U.S.  Two bastions of behemoth burgers from the Land of Enchantment made the list.  Placing third was Sparky’s in Hatch which is fronted by iconic fiberglass and concrete statues, some of whom have an alien appearance.  The other New Mexico eatery on the hallowed list was Big D’s Downtown Dive in Roswell which placed eighth.  TripAdvisor noted: In the Land of Enchantment, owner and chef, Don Nason, uses garden fresh ingredients to grill up burgers that are out of this world.”

Thanksgiving Fries

National and state recognition are nothing new for Big D’s.  In 2013, the kitschy eatery was featured on Rand McNally’s 2013 “best of the road” which showcases America’s Most Beautiful, Most Fun, Friendliest, Most Patriotic and Best for Food small towns.  Rand McNally raved “The owner promises that “nothing we make comes from a tin can or sits months on end on a shelf somewhere,” the first indication that this casual, down-home burger joint is a good bet.”  Big D’s was one of twenty-six restaurants highlighted in the March-April, 2017 edition of New Mexico Journey, the magazine for AAA members.  In the cover story, “Cheap Eats,”  a guide, or “sampler platter” through some of the state’s “wallet-friendly eateries,” Big D’s cheesesteak sandwich and turkey cordon bleu burger were given high marks.

Located in the heart of downtown Roswell just a few blocks north of the International UFO Museum and Research Center, Big D’s is well worth a detour whether you measure distance in miles or parsecs.  You might visit Roswell to look for alien life, but you’ll come back for Big D’s menu.  Before you get to the menu, you’ll encounter one of the most fun and funky, cool and kitschy ambiances in the Land of Enchantment.   The ambiance is automotive garage meets diner.  The tailgate of a Chevrolet truck hangs on one wall, hub caps on another and the counter prefacing the kitchen is festooned in license plates.  Motorists will enjoy perusing the maps under glass on each table, but not as much as they’ll enjoy studying the menu.

The Big Kahuna

It’s a menu which makes it immediately obvious it was designed by an inventive chef.  Snacks, what other restaurants might call appetizers, aren’t de rigueur standards.  They include crab cakes, stuffed avocados, Southwest chicken wontons and more.  The Soup and Greens section of the menu lists several tempting items such as a Hard Apple salad (aged Cheddar cheese, honey-roasted peanuts, arugula, gala apples, craisins and a peanut cider dressing).  Specialties include the aforementioned turkey cordon bleu as well as a number of sandwiches.  It’s the “Burger Machine” page to which my eyes quickly gravitated.  There are eight burgers on the menu, including a breakfast burger (about as rare in these parts as a UFO crash landing).  “Happy Endings” is what Big D’s calls its desserts.

10 March 2017: Though all seven “snacks” would tempt Job, we opted for the Thanksgiving Fries (sweet potato fries, sweet whiskey butter, cinnamon and pecan smoked bacon).  My Kim called them the best fries she’s ever had.  She got no argument from me.  The combination of savory and sweet elements in perfect proportion to each other is an absolute winner.  So is the pecan-smoked bacon which picks up just a bit of sweetness from the sweet whiskey butter and cinnamon while retaining smoky-salty properties.  Every single fry is drizzled with both as if someone in the kitchen had meticulously applied them.  Almost exactly one year from our introduction to these terrific tubers, we returned to the Downtown Dive to see if the magic could be recreated.  If anything, the Thanksgiving fries were even better the second time around.  These truly are fries for which you’ll be giving thanks.

Gyro

10 March 2017: Two burgers are adorned with autumn roast green chile, usually a magnet for this green chile cheeseburger aficionado.  Not this time courtesy of the “Big Kahuna” (teriyaki-glazed grilled pineapple, Spam, white cheese and cilantro with a spicy jalapeño dressing).  Constructed from six-ounces of freshly ground chuck seasoned and served medium well, it’s a terrific burger with flavor components that seemingly come at your taste buds from all sides.  It’s a burger with complementary elements befitting its name.  Several weeks ago, the President of Iceland president of Iceland casually joked that pizza topped with pineapple should be outlawed, an absurdity which set off a debate of international (and viral) proportions.  The President of Iceland might be the only person who wouldn’t enjoy this burger. 

10 March 2017: Rather than ordering one of the burgers, my Kim opted for a Gyro (marinated lamb, tomato, red onions, roasted garlic tzaziki on pita).  The marinated lamb isn’t shaved from a vertical broiler on a spit as some gyros tend to be.  Instead, the lamb more closely resembles finely cut shawarma meat.  It’s a very moist and very well seasoned lamb that’s enlivened by the roasted garlic tzaziki.  With enough garlic to ward off a family of vampires and the pleasant flavors of yogurt, dill and cucumber, the sauce is quite good. 

The Green

9 March 2018:  Any of us from the northern half of the state who believe our green chile cheeseburgers are the be all and end all, the apotheosis of burger perfection should take an occasional trek way down south where such restaurants as Alamogordo’s Rockin’ BZ Burgers, Hatch’s Sparky’s and Roswell’s Big D’s Downtown Dive prove themselves every bit as good, if not better, than their northern counterparts.  Big D’s rendition, The Green (autumn-roasted green chile, yellow cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, mustard and pickled cucumbers) is superb, one of the five or six very best burgers in New Mexico.  It’s a “takes two hands to handle” behemoth with flavors as large as the six-ounce fresh ground chuck beef patty.  Two elements stand out.  Not surprisingly, one is the autumn-roasted green chile which has a wonderful roasted flavor and a nice bite.  The other is the  pickled cucumbers which are several orders of magnitude better than bottled pickles. 

9 March 2018: My good friend, the late and much-missed Ruben had one complaint about Cuban sandwiches.  Most of them, he complained, were smooshed down in panini presses which seemed to impart a sandpaper-like quality to the bread that tore into the roof of his mouth.  He would have loved Big D’s Cuban (pulled Pork, smoked ham, white cheese, pickled cucumber, stone-ground mustard dressing on a hoagie roll).   This Cuban isn’t prepared on a panini press.  The hoagie roll is soft and tender.  Moreover, this is a sandwich you’ll never describe as parsimonious in its portions.  There’s a ton of roast  beef, sheets of ham, lots of cheese and whoa, those pickled cucumbers are among the best we’ve ever had. 

The Cuban

If another alien craft crash lands in the Roswell area, there’s a good chance its GPS (galactic positioning system) missed its target–Big D’s Downtown Dive.  It’ where all savvy diners from throughout the solar system and beyond should dine when in the Roswell area.

Big D’s Downtown Dive
505 North Main Street
Roswell, New Mexico
(575) 627-0776
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 9 March 2018
1st VISIT: 10 March 2017
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 23
COST: $$
BEST BET: Thanksgiving Fries, The Big Kahuna, Gyro, The Green, Cuban Sandwich

Big D's Downtown Dive Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Groundstone – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Groundstone on San Mateo

Kids say the darnedest things. That was the premise of popular radio and television shows hosted by Art Linkletter from the mid 1940s through 1969. Linkletter would engage children (usually aged three to eight) in casual conversation. Humor–often laced with double entendre–would often ensue out of the children’s naive and silly responses. Once, for example, he asked a little girl to spell Art, his name. She proceeded to spell the host’s name R-A-T. Most parents can relate to the unpredictable nature of what their children say. More often than not, it resonates with child-like innocence, but every once in a while an utterly unintentional and unfiltered zinger sneaks out that will make parents want to slink away and hide.

When her son Caleb was four years old, Kimber Scott, an Albuquerque resident and one of my very favorite people, discovered that he was curious about everything his world had to offer. He was fascinated by all the letters, numbers and colors that whizzed by him. Now nine, he’s always asked a lot of questions and has never shied away from expressing himself. Sometimes he speaks with the insightful precociousness of an older child and sometimes with the naivete of innocence, but more often than not, the streams of consciousness that come out of his mouth warrant being shared. Thankfully Kimber chronicled Caleb’s words of warmth, wit and wisdom in a recently published must-read book she named Caleb-isms: The Things My Kid Says. It’s a wonderful insight into the world of a child you can’t help but love.

The Dude Flirts With Many Women, But Groundstone’s Hostess Extraordinaire Dawn Is His Special Lady.

Because Kimber and her charismatic husband “Break the Chain” maven Ryan are passionate gastronomes and always a pleasure to break bread with, it’s only natural that the book be laced with Caleb’s observations about food. Here’s one of my favorites: Every day after school, Caleb usually asks if I will take him to get a cheeseburger. Cheeseburgers are his all-time favorite food. He has affectionately called them hambahgahs for as long as he could talk. I tried to explain that i was not going to buy him a hamburger every day. I went on to say that if I did, I would spend a lot of money every month just on after-school hamburgers and I was not willing to spend that much money. As well as that it is not not the best after-school snack, mainly because it fills him up too much and he will not eat his dinner. I guess I blabbed too much going on and on about why I was not going to get him one. He was silent. I looked in the rear-view mirror and asked, “Well?” He sulked, then quoted a line from his favorite Pigeon book by Mo Willems. “You don’t want me to be happy, do you?”

To good old Charlie Brown, happiness is a warm blanket. To Caleb and many of the rest of us, happiness in a warm cheeseburger, preferably one with green chile. My friend Ryan and I have shared many a cheeseburger, but I’ve yet to have the pleasure of Caleb’s company at a purveyor of bounteous burgers. One of these days, perhaps I’ll ask Caleb to write a guest review. With his astute mind, there’s no telling what he’ll come up with though it’s bound to be better and more percipient and mirthful than anything I can come up with. In writing this review, I tried to channel my own inner Caleb, but just don’t have his flair for words. Nonetheless, I hope you enjoy this missive as much as we enjoyed our meals at Groundstone.

Spinach, Beet & Goat Cheese Salad

Parents of both two-legged and four-legged children will appreciate Groundstone’s family friendliness. On both our visits, our sylphlike hostess Dawn fawned over our debonair dachshund Dude as did our smiling server Shannon. They’re demonstrative dog lovers, not the pretentious type who only touch dogs with their fingertips. During lull periods they returned to give the Dude more love. We watched them impart the same kindness to children and elderly guests. How can you not love a restaurant in which the term “dog-friendly” is a way of service, not just some patio in which dogs are sequestered away from everyone else? Groundstone actually has two patios–one on the restaurant’s east side where the winter sun will keep you warm and one on the west side where the shade will shield you from summer’s rays.

Veteran restaurant impresario Russ Zeigler is the brainchild behind Groundstone. He’s been creating restaurant concepts for four decades. It’s pretty obvious one of the lessons he’s learned in that time is to hire good people who are earnest and caring in their approach to customer service. That’s one of the things that sets apart restaurants such as Groundstone and Joe’s Pasta House. Russ launched his first restaurant in 1977 and has since then owned or co-owned such stalwarts as Liquid Assets, High Finance, Options, Assets and Sandiago’s.

Green Chile Strips with Avocado Ranch Dressing

Groundstone is located in the 6,700 square-foot edifice which previously housed The Library and before that Johnny Carino’s, a short-lived Italian chain. If you’re wondering, the genesis of the name “Groundstone” comes from the restaurant’s make-over. During the renovation, an undesirable flooring had to be ground down to stone and concrete, leaving the floor with an organic look. The cynosure of the capacious restaurant is an attractive bar back-dropped by distressed red bricks. Several flat screen televisions are strategically placed throughout the dining room and bar, most tuned to NFL games during our visits. Several of the staff are diehard Philadelphia Eagles fans, but they still treated this Cowboys loyalist very well.

Groundstone’s promise to its guests is “local, fresh, fun.” The concept combines “the best of the burger, pizza, and craft beer scene, and rounded off with incredible gourmet salads meant to re-invent the dining experience.” Russ calls the triumvirate of pizza, burgers and beer “the classics,” and indeed, there are few eateries across the Duke City in which this troika can be found under the same roof. A commitment to serving mostly local ingredients will endear local diners who appreciate such high-quality local products as Fano bread and Bueno chile. When local ingredients aren’t possible, the restaurant’s commitment to freshness and quality is not compromised.

The Cubano

26 November 2017: Appetizers (and desserts, too, for that matter) have become pretty blase as if imagination is left to wholesale distributors who supply so many restaurants. It’s rare that we find an appetizer that surprises us. Count among those rare surprises the Ahi Poke (sashimi grade seared tuna, kale, sweet chili (SIC), pickled ginger, wasabi, avocado, sesame soy glaze) at Groundstone. With a perfect sear framing the perfectly red tuna, it’s got the chops of a good sashimi. The sweet chili sauce contrasts nicely with the quick burst of heat from the American wasabi and the biting freshness of the pickled ginger, all of which provide a diversity of flavors. The buttery avocado and slightly bitter kale are good, but it’s the sashimi grade tuna which shines most.

21 February 2018: British chef Yotam Ottolenghi expressed an obvious truth: “A well-made salad must have a certain uniformity; it should make perfect sense for those ingredients to share a bowl.” It doesn’t take a genius chef to know when ingredients are working together well. Your taste buds will quickly and easily discern that harmony for you. Groundstone offers five salads, the ingredients of each read like the promise of a great salad. Our inaugural salad experience was the spinach, beet and goat cheese salad (fresh spinach, golden beets, cucumber, red onion, grape tomato, goat cheese, almonds, with pomegranate vinaigrette). Most restaurants would probably serve such an amazing assemblage of ingredients with a cloying dressing. Groundstone serves it with a pomegranate vinaigrette that’s not quite lip-pursing in its tartness, but it’s definitely not sweet. The bitter, earthy goat cheese benefits most from the symbiotic tartness of the dressing, but so do the acidic grape tomatoes.

The Groundstone Burger with Sweet Potato Fries

3 December 2017: In the past few years, restaurants across the Land of Enchantment seem to have discovered the delicious potential of green chile as an appetizer alternative (or addition) to salsa. It should come as absolutely no surprise that green chile strips have caught on. The real surprise is that it took so long. Groundstone’s version showcases Amber ale battered Bueno green chile strips served with a cooling avocado ranch dressing. The green chile is a bit on the mild side, but it has a nice roasted flavor. The avocado ranch dressing is a winner. Even better is the green chile ranch which our delightful server Shannon thought we might enjoy. The green chile ranch isn’t quite as thick as the Dion’s version, but it’s every bit as flavorful. All salad dressings are made on the premises.

3 December 2017: Several elements define the Cuban sandwich, a hearty sandwich which got its start among the working classes in Cuba. What Americans have come to know as a Cuban sandwich typically includes thin slices of marinated pork roast, thin slices of ham, Swiss cheese and dill pickles. Groundstone pays tribute to the Cuban sandwich with a burger called the Cubano. The burger contains some elements of the popular Cuban sandwich, but it goes much further. Picture Akaushi beef topped with black forest ham, smoked pulled pork, provolone cheese, pickles, whole grain Dijon ale mustard, served on a Fano brioche bun. It’s a mouthful and then some. The generous portion of this burger’s three meats–rich, buttery Akaushi beef (a type of Wagyu); salty, intensely-flavored black forest ham and smoked pulled pork– will make carnivores very happy. It wouldn’t be a Cubano, however, without the pickles which provide a textural and flavor (zesty and sour) contrast.

The Brooklyn with Green Chile

26 November 2017: Sometimes a burger is constructed with too much of a good thing. That was our assessment of the eponymous Groundstone burger (grass-fed beef topped with Gruyere cheese, caramelized onions, sautéed mushrooms, tomato, roasted garlic infused mayo, served on a Fano brioche bun). Though the sautéed mushrooms provide terrific umami (deep, dark, meaty intensity), the strong, pungent garlic mayo is the dominant flavor. That’s almost criminal considering the tender grass-fed beef; rich, sweet Gruyere and sweet caramelized onions. We scraped off some of the mayo and enjoyed it much more. Next time we’ll order this burger sans condiments.

3 December 2017: Nine pizzas grace the Groundstone menu. Available in ten- and eighteen-inch sizes, they’re not as waifishly thin as today’s fashionable pizzas nor are they thick, casserole-like slabs. If the Brooklyn (pepperoni, roasted garlic, mozzarella, fontina, garlic infused olive oil) is any indication, they’re more generously topped than the penurious pizzas on which it’s a challenge to find some of the named ingredients. That generosity applies as well to the cheese which drapes over the crust like a molten blanket. No matter which of the pizzas you order, it can be improved with green chile (which goes well with everything).

The Heisenburger

21 February 2018: Only my former history professor would believe Groundstone’s Heisenburger is named for Werner Heisenberg, a German physicist and catalyst behind the Nazi atomic bomb efforts. The rest of us know The Heisenburger, Groundstone’s version of a green chile cheeseburger, is named for the clandestine alias of Albuquerque’s favorite meth-maker Walter Hartwell “Walt” White, Sr. It’s not only “blue sky” which can manipulate the brain’s Limbic reward system. The Heisenburger (Akaushi beef topped with smoked Cheddar, Bueno green chile, applewood smoked bacon, onions, Bibb lettuce, tomato, green chile infused mayo on a Fano brioche bun) gets diners “high,” too. There are a lot of things going on in your mouth with this burger and all of them are delicious. The Bueno green chile and green chile-infused mayo aren’t especially piquant, but they go very well with all the other ingredients.

21 February 2018: There’s only one problem with Groundstone’s specialty sandwich menu.  The first time you peruse it, you’ll want to order each of the six sumptuous sandwiches.  The second time you visit, you probably will order the sandwich with which you fell in love your previous visit.  That’s become Kim’s dilemma.  After enjoying the Groundfather (Genoa salami, pepperoni, prosciutto ham, mixed greens, pesto, marinara sauce and provolone cheese served on a Fano rustic ciabatta roll), she can’t wait to have it again.  If you didn’t already know how special Fano bread is, this sandwich will quickly show you.  It’s a perfect canvas with the perfect consistency for this sandwich–crusty on the outside and tender on the inside.  The combination of pesto and marinara sauce is a pleasant surprise; they don’t always work together well.  Then, of course, there are the meats and cheeses, an array of Italian delights.

The Groundfather

21 February 2018:  In describing the importance of desserts, movie writer and creator Anne McManus, declared “It’s the finale. It’s the last impression. A bad dessert can ruin the meal.”  Don’t expect to find any bad desserts at Groundstone.  There are six decadent desserts on the menu, all tempting.  Groundstone’s Cobbler (your choice of cherry, apple, or peach, with vanilla ice cream) is work of art on a plate.  Flanking our peach cobbler are vanilla ice cream and whipped cream with chocolate and caramel drizzle.  The cobbler itself showcases a sweetened biscuit topping baked until the peaches are tender and the topping is golden.  The peaches are juicy and fresh.  It’s elevated cobbler at its finest.

Peach Cobbler

Groundstone may not be entirely groundbreaking in its concept or menu, but it’s got a great pedigree and is committed to such ideals as using locally sourced products, enthusiastic and warm service and providing a comfortable milieu in which families can enjoy themselves. With effervescent hostess Dawn and attentive servers such as Shannon at your beck-and-call, you can’t go wrong. Groundstone is terrific: For now you’ll just have to take my word for it, but someday I hope to share Caleb’s unique perspective.

Groundstone
5001 San Mateo, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 404-8287
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 21 February 2018
1st VISIT: 26 November 2017
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 22
COST: $$
BEST BET: Ahi Poke, Groundstone Burger, Sweet Potato Fries, The Cubano, The Brooklyn, Green Chile Strips, Salad with Avocado Ranch Dressing, Green Chile Ranch Dressing, The Groundfather, The Heisenburger, Peach Cobbler; Spinach, Beet & Goat Cheese Salad
RESTAURANT REVIEW #1009

Groundstone Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

66 Diner – Albuquerque, New Mexico

The 66 Diner on Route 66 (Central Avenue)

Known as “America’s Highway” and celebrated by author John Steinbeck as the “Mother Road,” the legendary Route 66 meandered across 2,448 miles of the fruited plain, crossing three time zones and eight states as it traversed from Chicago to Los Angeles. For many—especially destitute sharecroppers fleeing Oklahoma’s devastating Dust Bowl—Route 66 held the promise of a better life. For others, Route 66 brought a sense of connectedness with parts of America previously considered difficult to reach. For them, Route 66 engendered a frontier spirit of adventure, greatly expanding their vacation options and travel opportunities.

For hundreds of communities strewn along the two-lane blacktop, Route 66 was also an engine of economic prosperity, creating tremendous opportunities for entrepreneurs large and small. The service industry fared especially well with roadhouses, motels and restaurants springing up, offering respite and sustenance to weary and hungry travelers. Since the halcyon days of Route 66, neon signage has been a prominent and vital part of the Mother Road as it winds through Albuquerque. From the foothills of the Sandias in the east to the parched desert expanse of the west, Route 66 is festooned with vibrant neon signage that cuts a luminous swath through the city. The nocturnal spectacle of glowing neon might be the siren’s call that has drawn generations of “cruisers” to the nostalgic route.

My Friend Bruce “Sr Plata” Silver Enjoys the Nostalgia

One of the Route 66 corridor’s most popular neon-spangled destinations celebrates Route 66 in name and spirit. Even though Route 66 was decommissioned as a U.S. highway in 1984, a visit to Albuquerque’s 66 Diner takes you back in time to when Nat King Cole was singing about getting his kicks on the fabled highway. It will transport you back to the days of pony-tailed waitresses in blue skirts and bobby socks, back to when rock-and-roll was making inroads to ruling the airwaves, to when Ed Sullivan was nabbing all the top talent for his popular variety television show.

With a jukebox full of hits, walls adorned with nostalgic black-and-white photographs and plenty of neon, the 66 Diner celebrates the era of Route 66 with aplomb, earning it an internationally known reputation. Hundreds of Pez dispensers line the ledges directly above the steely countertops in the front dining room. A black-and-white classic lunch counter calls to mind the ice cream fountain of yesteryear. There is much to like about the Route 66 the diner even if Route 66 the two-lane blacktop is solely something you’ve read about. You’ve got to admire the gumption of a restaurant willing to replace a recipe if a better one is brought in by a guest. That’s right! If you believe you have a tastier recipe for something, the 66 Diner will try it out and if they like it more, it will go on the menu. Not only that, they’ll treat you and three friends to dinner. Frankly, I have a feeling they haven’t had to comp many dinners.

Nostalgia Abounds at the 66 Diner

That’s because the 66 Diner’s recipes are tried and tested over time. The diner originally launched in 1987 in a converted World War II era Phillips 66 gas station named Sam’s. It was an instant hit among locals and tourists alike. In May, 1995, the 66 Diner went up in flames, only a portion of the original structure remaining. Albuquerque was in mourning for nearly seven months as the diner was rebuilt. It relaunched in February, 1996 and like the Phoenix of legend, has arisen from the ashes to reclaim its previous glory.

Like many 1950s diners, the 66 Diner features a daily “blue plate special.” Ironically the term “blue plate special” originated not in the 1950s, but in the 1890s courtesy of the Fred Harvey restaurants along the railroad lines of the frontier west. I’ve written extensively in other reviews of Fred Harvey’s culinary contributions to the West. Like his other contributions, the genesis of the blue plate special is very interesting. Apparently Harvey bought cheap, disposable plates colored blue similar to Wedgwood dishes and used them to serve inexpensive meals, hence the term.

Albuquerque’s best shakes according to many are at the 66 Diner

At the 66 Diner, the blue plate specials range from spaghetti and meatballs on Monday to chicken pot pie on Tuesday, chicken and dumplings on Wednesday, a taco platter on Thursday, fried catfish on Friday, a hot turkey sandwich on Saturday and “mom’s choice” (whatever mom comes up with) on Sunday. For the most part, the blue plate specials are comfort food favorites prepared very well and served in generous portions.

No ’50s-era diner would be complete without thick, rich milkshakes, floats and malts (egg creams are available, too). No one in Albuquerque does it any better. That’s the consensus of respondents to various annual polls of city diners who have voted the 66 Diner’s shakes “best in the city” consistently year after year. It’s unlikely, however, that you’d have been able to find a strawberry-lemonade or Mochaccino shake during the Route 66 era. The 66 Diner offers more than twenty different shake flavors.

One of the very best green chile cheeseburgers not to make the New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail

Many people eschew the old stand-bys–chocolate, vanilla and strawberry–in favor of flavors that weren’t available in the 1950s. In fact, some of those revolutionary flavors might have been considered heretical in the more conservative era of the 50s. Those flavors include the Elvis Presley (banana and peanut butter), the Pink Cadillac (strawberry ice cream and crushed Oreos), Oreo, Dreamsicle, Mocha, Coffee and several others. Pumpkin pie and Egg Nog shakes are featured as “shakes of the month” during winter holiday season. Despite all the inventiveness, the most popular shake remains chocolate.

Unique flavors not withstanding, the 66 Diner’s milkshakes are made with real hand-dipped ice cream and whole milk and are mixed in a tin on a Hamilton Beach blender, the way they were made in the 50s. They’re then served in a shake glass with the tin on the side, much like getting a shake and a half. The 66 Diner is also one of the few places in town to offer red cream soda, my favorite before I gave up sodas altogether.

Sloppy Joe and onion rings

25 June 2011: Nothing goes better with a shake, float or malt than a burger. In New Mexico, naturally this means a green chile cheeseburger. The 66 Diner makes one of the very best (top ten) green chile cheeseburgers in town–even though it didn’t made the New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail in either 2009 or 2011. When you request a burger a certain way, it’s delivered to your exacting specifications. Moreover you get a two-fisted burger in which the beef is prepared to your exacting specifications, the ingredients are unfailingly fresh and the chile (spelled correctly on the menu) actually bites back. It’s a very good chopped green chile with piquancy and flavor. Burgers are accompanied by your choice of sides–French fries, potato chips, coleslaw or potato salad. 

28 June 2014: There are probably only a handful of Duke City restaurants deigning to serve a Sloppy Joe sandwich today.  While the Sloppy Joe wasn’t “invented” during the Route 66 era, its peak in popularity occurred during that time.  The Food Timeline Web site explains how the name Sloppy Joe came about: “There is probably no Joe after whom it is named–but its rather messy appearance and tendency to drip off plate or roll makes “sloppy” an adequate description, and “Joe” is an American name of proletarian character and unassailable genuineness.”   At its most basic, the Sloppy Joe is a simple sandwich constructed with ground beef and a tomato sauce to which salt, pepper and spices are added.  At its elevated form, it’s  sandwich deliciousness you will crave.  Route 66’s Sloppy Joe will inspire craving.

Patty Melt with Potato Chips

28 June 2014: Contrary to cynics who decry the patty melt as nothing but a “cheeseburger served on toast instead of a bun,” a patty melt—when made well—can be a transformative sandwich constructed from a high-quality ground beef patty topped with molten cheese and grilled onions on rye bread pan-fried in butter. The 66 Diner may prepare the very best patty melt in town. Perhaps that’s because the patty melt actually originated in the Route 66 era. Every element of this sandwich is absolutely textbook perfect, the way every patty melt should be made.

All sandwiches are served with your choice of French fries, potato chips, potato salad or coleslaw. For a pittance more, you can substitute onion rings, Cheddar fries, Fiesta fries, okra or a dinner salad. The onion rings are worth the splurge. They’re lightly battered and golden-hued, sheathing a sweet onion. The potato chips are crisp and whole, not annoying bottom-of-the-bag bits and crumbs.

The Breakfast Burrito

The 66 Diner isn’t as well known for breakfast as perhaps it should be. Its limited breakfast menu might be the reason. Frankly, many New Mexicans are of the opinion that if you have breakfast burritos on the menu, you don’t need much else. The diner’s breakfast burrito is one of the biggest in the city, a large tortilla engorged with home fries, scrambled eggs and chopped green chile topped with melted Cheddar cheese and your choice of red and (or) green chile.

12 October 2008: Make yours “Christmas style,” a burrito covered with both red and green chile. Both are surprisingly good and more piquant than at many New Mexican food restaurants. In fact, the green chile is downright special, a fruity sweet and incendiary chile that elicits the type of endorphin rush which makes people fall in love with chile in the first place. The burrito is served with pinto beans.

A “short stack” of pancakes

12 October 2008: On our way to the 66 Diner for breakfast one Sunday, we passed a restaurant on Central Avenue offering “all you can eat pancakes for seven dollars.” A better bet would be ordering a “short stack” at the 66 Diner. Short obviously isn’t synonymous with small as we found out when our waitress delivered two pancakes which covered all but a tiny bit of the plate. These enormous pancakes would fill a small, developing nation (or as Jay Leno might quip, one fat American). We barely put a dent on them and even contemplated the notion of left-over pancakes, but perhaps only if you’re stoned would pancake left-overs be palatable…and they might cure the munchies. Otherwise, they’re almost inedible.

13 December 2017: My friend Bruce “Sr. Plata” Silver is as California as a surfer girl or an In & Out Burger, but as much as he loves chicken fried steak, you’d think he was from Texas.  When we make plans to meet for breakfast or lunch, one of us is invariably “low-carbing” it.  Healthy eating be damned when one of us suggests chicken fried steak.  It’s a choice we always agree upon.  In our two-man quest to traverse the length and breadth of the New Mexico chicken fried steak trail, it surprised me to learn he’d never tried the Route 66 Diner’s version.  He quickly discovered what generations have known–that the tenderized slab of breaded steak on his plate is roughly the size of Danny DeVito.   Seriously!  It’s one large slab.  As always, Sr. Plata didn’t settle for for only the house gravy (a meatless brown).  He also requested a side of the con queso.  He then slathered the slab with a sinful portion of both–not gravy on one side and queso on the other, but both intermixed.  It was a delicious choice!

Chicken Fried Steak, Another Route 66 Favorite

13 December 2017:  While Sr. Plata enjoys chicken fried steak best, my preference is for chicken fried steak, a redundantly named dish which Serious Eats calls “country cooking at its most comforting.”  This is one chicken dish about which any pretensions about chicken being a healthier alternative to beef go out the window.  There’s not much healthiness in the tender, juicy hunk of tenderized and breaded chicken.  Add queso and you can virtually feel your arteries hardening with every bite.  What a way to go!

Friendly, attentive service is also a constant. There are many who say nothing could be finer than a meal at the 66 Diner.  They’re right!

Chicken Fried Chicken

66 Diner
1405 Central Avenue, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 247-1421
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LATEST VISIT: 13 December 2017
# OF VISITS: 16
RATING: 19
COST: $$
BEST BET: Green Chile Cheeseburger, Breakfast Burrito, Pancakes, Red Cream Soda, Shakes, Malts, the “Dagwood”, Sloppy Joe, Patty Melt, Chicken Fried Steak, Chicken Fried Chicken

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