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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

Lucky Boy – Albuquerque, New Mexican

Sr. Plata stands in front of Albuquerque's Lucky Boy restaurant where East meets West and green chile cheeseburgers meet egg rolls.

Sr. Plata stands in front of Albuquerque’s Lucky Boy restaurant where East meets West and green chile cheeseburgers meet egg rolls.

During its seventh season, the X Files television series in which FBI agents investigated paranormal phenomena featured an episode in which a ravenous Lucky Boy employee in California struggled against his craving for human brain matter (almost anything goes in the Golden state). The most paranormal thing about the Duke City Lucky Boy is its “east meets west” dining concept. Nowhere else in town can you order Chinese and American food so inexpensively and from the very same menu.

If you think about it, ordering inexpensive Chinese and American food from within one menu shouldn’t be such an anomalous event–especially when you consider that many of Lucky Boy’s patrons are UNM students, many of whom know how to stretch a buck. It’s not just UNM students who patronize this hole-in-the-wall. You might just as soon find faculty and staff also indulging in inexpensive (but good) food.

Lucky Boy's genial proprietors hard at work.

Lucky Boy’s genial proprietors hard at work.

Lucky Boy is a quintessential American mom and pop  diner tended lovingly by Chinese proprietors named Suzy and Ron who know what many of their customers are going to order as soon as they walk in. You’ll do a second-take the first time you see a steaming wok preparing noodles next to the sizzling griddle on which burger patties are being cooked.  Lucky Boy has been around since 1968 and it shows.  The restaurant is somewhat bedraggled and is certainly dated with 1960s style paneling on the walls and well-trodden tile on the floor.

Lucky Boy’s green chile cheeseburger is six inches of well seasoned meat and standard (lettuce, pickles, tomato, onions) but high quality condiments, including a tangy Day-Glo colored mustard and ketchup sauce the proprietors refer to as Lucky Boy sauce. The green chile is flavorful and more piquant than at many New Mexican restaurants and proprietors of the green chile cheeseburger (Lotaburger comes to mind).  The buns are lightly toasted, but so thick they obfuscate the flavor of the burger. The beef patties have the telltale signs of having been frozen.  They’re also quite thin so you’ll want to order a double meat burger.  Lest I forget, expect your burger to be prepared at medium-well to well.  Despite these shortcomings, you might be surprised to find yourself craving one or three of them.

Double Meat Green Chile Cheeseburger with Onion Cakes

Lucky Boy was one of 48 restaurants, drive-ins, diners, dives, joints, cafes, roadside stands and bowling alleys selected for the New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail, a celebration of New Mexico’s iconic burger.  When I proposed its entry to the four person team which put the Trail together, there was more than a little sniggering, but since then, several team members have expressed their appreciation for what is actually a pretty good green chile cheeseburger.  Being on the New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail placed it in select…make that elite, company.  It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to call Lucky Boy’s green chile cheeseburger one of the city’s most popular, if not best of its genre.

The menu also includes an Egg Foo Young sandwich, a culinary curiosity served in St. Louis where it’s called a “St. Paul sandwich” and which you won’t find in Minnesota. At Lucky Boy, you can have the Egg Foo Yong sandwich alongside a hamburger beef patty and the condiments which normally accompany a burger (including the aforementioned Lucky Boy sauce, chile and green chile). It’s a great sandwich with or without the beef patty!  It’s become a favorite of my friend Sr. Plata.

Sr. Plata holds a Egg Foo Young sandwich with green chile, meat and cheese from Lucky Boy

Sr. Plata holds a Egg Foo Young sandwich with green chile, meat and cheese from Lucky Boy

Lucky Boy’s French fries are only so-so (fairly standard).  A better bet are onion cakes, which are rather dissimilar to the scallion pancakes served at many Chinese restaurants.  Their flavor profile is more akin to onion rings though much thicker and more heavily breaded.  Biting into the sweet onion is a treat, but you’ll have to get through the breading first.

While we’ve found the chocolate shakes to be rather gloppy and bland, Lucky Boy has managed to escape the slavitude of the Coke and Pepsi monopolies.  You can actually get an RC Cola (remember those?) or a Diet Rite soda in a can.  A can, by the way, is a much more sanitary way to indulge in soft drinks (another of my soapbox tirades saved for another day).

Egg Foo Young Sandwich with Green Chile, Meat and Cheese

Egg Foo Young Sandwich with Green Chile, Meat and Cheese

Chinese fare includes sweet and sour pork, Mandarin chicken and other American favorites. We’ve  observed that there’s almost a fifty/fifty split among patrons ordering burgers and Chinese food.  The sweet and sour chicken is pretty much what you’d expect for the pittance at which it’s offered.  It’s rather heavily breaded and topped with a lacquered-on orange sauce that emphasizes the sweet component of sweet and sour.  It’s not gourmet Chinese food, but it is what you expect and appreciate most when funds are low.

Lucky Boy is much more than an anomaly worth visiting only for the experiential aspect.  It serves a genuinely good green chile cheeseburger as well as other surprisingly good items.  You can’t beat the prices and the service is warm and genial.

Sweet and Sour Chicken

Lucky Boy
3521 Constitution, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 268-2785
LATEST VISIT: 11 March 2015
# OF VISITS: 9
RATING: 18
COST: $
BEST BET: Green Chile Cheeseburger, Egg Foo Yong Sandwich

Lucky Boy on Urbanspoon