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The Supper Truck – Albuquerque, New Mexico

On its final day of operation, The Supper Truck parked on Marble Street just south of the Marble Street Brewery (Photo Courtesy of the Supper Truck)

Supper Truck, I hardly knew you!  Inexplicably and to the detriment of my taste buds, I wasn’t graced with your delightfully creative interpretation of Southern cuisine until your very last day of serving Albuquerque.  So, why do I miss you so much already?  Most likely it’s the lost opportunities to partake of Southern cuisine inspired by the dynamic food truck scene of Charleston, South Carolina, one of my very favorite culinary destinations in America.   It begs a paraphrase of a time-honored question “is it better to have loved and lost the chance to further enjoy your edgy, contemporary, fusion twists on classic Southern comfort food favorites than never to have loved them at all?” 

The Supper Truck rolled into town in September, 2012, inviting Duke City denizens to “put a little South in your mouth.”  Savvy diners (in whose ranks I obviously don’t belong) responded immediately and with a rare fervor, according “best of the city” honors in both the Alibi and Albuquerque The Magazine‘s annual “best of” issues for 2013 and 2014.  More than perhaps any other motorized conveyance in Albuquerque, The Supper Truck brought people together, its crepuscular rays seemingly beckoning the city’s hungry huddled masses yearning for great Southern cuisine.

Grits

Fittingly, The Supper Truck served its last meals while parked on the south side of the Marble Brewery on an unseasonably warm Saturday.  For regulars the event was akin to one last pilgrimage to a beloved culinary shrine which had assuaged their hunger and pleased their palates for more than two years.  For newcomers (like me) and curiosity-seekers wondering if The Supper Truck warranted all the hullabaloo, it was an event that would ultimately leave us with mixed emotions–regret for not having visited sooner and sheer pleasure for having partaken of a rare excellence in esculence.

The Supper Truck’s closure was precipitated by a combination of family needs and staffing issues.  Founding owner and heart of the operation Amy Black is willing to sell both the truck and naming rights to the right person with the rare combination of drive, creativity and community-mindedness which epitomized her purview.  To say a new owner will have Shaquille O’Neal sized shoes (22) to fill is a vast understatement.  Should an owner with such gumption emerge, I’ll be in line shortly thereafter.

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Fried Chicken Banh Mi

The South takes its grits very seriously–so much so that unbeknownst to Yankees and those of us not blessed to have been born in the South, there are ten commandments of grits.   One of the principle commandments considers it blasphemous to eat Cream of Wheat and call it grits.    The Supper Truck’s grits are every bit as good as the best grits we enjoyed while living on the Mississippi Gulf Coast for nearly eight years.  These gourmet-quality grits are made with grilled shrimp, bacon, roasted red pepper coulis, green onion, parsley and white wine cream sauce over creamy stone-ground South Carolina grits.  They’re so good even Yankees will enjoy them. 

While the Old South tends to hold fast to tradition, the contemporary South has embraced change, particularly in the culinary arena.  At the forefront of this evolution is the city of Charleston, South Carolina (where Amy cut her teeth) which has become a bastion of culinary expansiveness.  Though Charleston has a very vibrant Vietnamese culinary community, it’s unlikely they’ve seen anything like The Supper Truck’s South Carolina meets Vietnam offering of a fried chicken banh mi. Yes, a fried chicken banh mi.  The canvas for this unlikely but uncommonly delicious sandwich is a fresh, locally-baked baguette into which are piled-on house-seasoned fried chicken, pickled daikon and carrots, cucumber, jalapeño, cilantro and a housemade momo sauce of Sriracha, mayo and lime juice.  It’s one of the best banh mi we’ve ever had.  Ever!  Anywhere!

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Hoisin BBQ Beef Taco and Shrimp Taco

The Supper Truck’s tacos are on par with Cafe Bella’s street tacos and the scallop tacos at Eli’s Place (formerly Sophia’s Place) as my favorite tacos in the metropolitan area.  Traditionalists might decry them as nontraditional and unconventional even as their taste buds experience one foodgasm after another at every bite of their sheer deliciousness.  The shrimp taco ( grilled shrimp, Sriracha sour cream, Asian slaw, pickled red onion and cilantro on a grilled corn tortilla and the Hoisin BBQ beef taco (Coca-Cola braised New Mexico beef, Sriracha-Hoisin bbq sauce, Asian slaw, pickled red onion, cilantro on a grilled corn tortilla) don’t even need red or green chile to make them addictive.  I’ll miss these most of all! 

Among foreigners (anyone who’s not from the South), boiled peanuts (sometimes called goober peas) may just be the most hard to grasp of sacrosanct Southern culinary traditions.  In the South, unroasted and unshelled peanuts are boiled in salt water for hours, rendering the peanuts soft and salty.  Then they’re consumed while still hot and wet.  The Supper Truck’s boiled peanuts are terrific, the type of snack you might offer friends in hopes they’ll snub it so you can enjoy them all yourself.

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Boiled Peanuts

Supper Truck, I miss you!

The Supper Truck
Location Varied
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 205-7877
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 20 December 2014
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Hoisin BBQ Beef Taco, Shrimp Taco, Fried Chicken Banh Mi, Grits, Boiled Peanuts

Supper Truck on Urbanspoon

NM Rodeo Burgers – Rio Rancho, New Mexico (CLOSED)

NM Rodeo Burgers In Rio Rancho

“Traveling with the rodeo
It’s the only life I’ll ever know
I started in New Mexico
Must have been a thousand years ago.”
~Lyrics to “Ride ‘Em Cowboy” by Paul Davis

Although my friends and I were all fairly accomplished horse riders in the svelte and carefree days of our youth, Peñasco didn’t have a high school rodeo team so we couldn’t show off our skills in the arena of competition.  Instead we entertained ourselves with such non-sanctioned “rodeo” events as hand-fishing for bottom-feeding suckers and tossing them into a chicken coop where a frenzied take-away melee would ensue with feathers and fish entrails flying.  We also enjoyed tossing wet bailing wire into electrical wires overhead.  if done right, the bailing wire returned to earth a smoldering ashen heap reminiscent of snake fireworks. 

Risking life and limb with thousands of volts of electrical current was child’s play compared to riding rambunctious young bulls who would invariably toss us to the ground with impunity.  My days of bull riding ended when a recalcitrant bull was spooked by a horse who aimed a kick at my flank, leaving me no recourse but to jump off into a fresh, fetid pile of horse and cow sh…er, excrement.  Memories of walking home to face my mom covered head-to-toe in manure were rekindled when a Burger King commercial for its new “rodeo burger” aired.  It wasn’t the brawny beef on the hoof we rode I associated with that commercial, but the dung pile into which I fell.  That’s the “appeal” chain restaurants seem to have with me.

The Rodeo Burgers Menu

I did a double-take when first spotting the NM Rodeo Burgers restaurant in Rio Rancho.  My first thought was of the maverick rodeo days of my youth then of America’s eagerly litigious society and its affinity for copyright infringement lawsuits.  A quick Google search revealed a number of Rodeo Burgers throughout the fruited plain and even Canada so copyright shouldn’t be an issue.  Side note: Even though Rio Rancho can’t claim the very first Rodeo Burgers restaurant across the fruited plain, the Land of Enchantment is one of several claimants to having held the very first rodeo in America.  That rodeo transpired in Santa Fe some 65 years before New Mexico joined the Union. Take that Texas!

The NM Rodeo Burgers is more a “joint” than a “restaurant.”  There are no indoor sit-down amenities save for a handful of concrete picnic tables where you can dine al fresco (or “al viento” on windy days).  To place your order, you can either drive up or walk up to the counter at the front of the edifice which once housed a  Weinerschnitzel (which long ago misplaced its “Der”).   While its address (900 36th Place, N.E.) may sound residential and unfamiliar, look for it off Southern Boulevard in the same cul-de-sac which is home to the Turtle Mountain Brewery.

The Rodeo Burgers Unique Hamburger Menu

The Rodeo Burgers menu (pictured above) may be limited in terms of sheer numbers, but for sheer variety look within the burgers themselves.  The Cowboy Burger, for example, includes spam and green bell peppers, two ingredients not often found in burgers around these parts.  The 8 Second Burger is even more uniquely adorned.  If you’re inclined to think these burgers were designed by a rodeo clown, you really need to lasso one before passing judgment.  

You’d think that with my personal rodeo experiences, my inaugural burger would have been the 8 Second Burger (in the rodeo vernacular, eight seconds is the length of time a rider should remain on a bucking bull for it to be considered a good ride).  Even cowboys start with baby steps, ergo the Cowboy Burger.  What caused me most trepidation is actually one of the best aspects of this burger.  That would be the Spam (ukuleles playing Home on the Range in the background) which, though a bit salty, complemented the beef very well.  The green chile, described as mild chopped green chile, actually has more bite than found in most green chile cheeseburgers.  The beef patty extended beyond the sesame seed buns and the burger was made fresh to order.  On the debits and credits side of the ledger, these were the credits.

The Cowboy Burger

On the debits side, the beef is prepared at medium-well, a degree of doneness which almost always means desiccated beef (no napkins necessary).  The green peppers are sliced into rather thick ribbons which makes them more prevalent an ingredient than all but the most ardent green pepper lovers would enjoy. The lettuce was a bit wilted.   Still, this is a burger I’ll order again if only to confirm how good Spam can be on a burger. 

The same can’t be said for the Rancher, a hot dog whose composition isn’t described on the drive-up menu.  Certainly the ranching profession is far from glamorous, but a restaurant creative enough to add Spam to a burger can certainly gussy up a hot dog with exciting and innovative ingredients.  Alas, upon wrapping the Rancher at home, it was nothing more than a toasted bun with a sliced hot dog.  No mustard.  No onions.  No relish.  No sense of rodeo adventure.  If the ordering protocol is to stipulate the ingredients with which you want your hot dog prepared, it certainly wasn’t described anywhere.  Grrrrr!

The Rancher

Rodeo Burgers shows some imagination and creativity in its menu, but must perform well on every single order or discerning diners won’t return.

NM Rodeo Burgers
900 36th Place, N.E.
Rio Rancho, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT:  5 September 2014
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET:Cowboy Burger

Nm Rodeo Burgers on Urbanspoon

Paco’s International Smoked Cuisine – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

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Paco’s International Smoked Cuisine

If salt is the odorless spice, smoke is the ephemeral magical invisible spice.
You can’t feel it, you can’t touch it, but you can taste it.”
~Chef Seamus Mullen, Tertulia Restaurant, New York City.

Have you ever wondered why some people drool when they pass by a computer displaying a fireplace screen saver? They’re not thinking about romance. They’re thinking about barbecue. There’s just something about smoked foods that has excited humans across the millennia. It’s been that way since a lightning bolt struck a mastodon and rendered its flesh delicious. Since then humans have been genetically predisposed to crave the flavors created by the penetration of smoke.  We associate fire and the fragrant bouquet of wood smoke with  grilling, barbecues and mostly, eating things we love.

When my friend Ryan “Break the Chain” Scott told me of an Albuquerque chef incorporating the element of smoke into virtually every ingredient of every dish he creates, my initial inclination was to think Ryan had been smoking something. It hadn’t surprised me to read in Around the World in 80 Dinners that Bill and Cheryl Jamison ate smoked zebra carpaccio in South Africa as much as it did to learn that the chef of whom Ryan spoke, Chef Paco Aceves, smokes marshmallows, peanut butter, tomatoes, bananas and so much more at Paco’s International Smoked Cuisine. Because smoking techniques are applied to all sorts of meats and fish, it’s almost a paradigm shift to hear of smoking techniques used outside of meat, fish and vegetables.

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Chef-Proprietor-Genius Paco Aceves

For Paco Aceves, the lure of aromatic smoke plumes emanating from a smoker began at an early age because his first job was as the “pit boy” at Geezamboni’s, a popular eatery which put the “cue” in Albarbecuerque for many years. It was Paco’s job to tend to the smoker, stoking it with fragrant woods to keep the smoker at an optimal temperature for the “low and slow” preparation of meats. Low and slow, as barbecue purists know, has nothing to do with Española’s low-riders, but everything to do with the preparation of meats utilizing low heat over an extended period of time.

Paco’s baptism by fire fueled his interest in the culinary arts. After graduating from St. Pius High School in Albuquerque, he matriculated at the Albuquerque Technical Vocational Institute (TVI) culinary arts program then later studied at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA), the country’s most respected school for culinary arts training. Paco returned to the Duke City in 2012 and partnered with Sue Heistermann to launch his eponymous restaurant.  Coincidentally, Paco’s International Smoked Cuisine is situated at the former site of Geezamboni’s (and later Johndhi’s) on the southwest intersection of Rio Grande and Griegos. The launch reunited him with the well-seasoned smoker on which he cut his teeth.

Ryan "Break the Chain" Scott stands in front of the massive smoker used to create smoked deliciousness

Ryan “Break the Chain” Scott stands in front of the massive smoker used to create smoked deliciousness

Dismiss any notions you might have that Paco’s International Smoked Cuisine continues the barbecue traditions of Geezamboni’s and Johndhi’s. Paco’s predecessors practiced American barbecue traditions, garnering their reputations on the strength of their smoke and sauce. Paco’s is more sophisticated; it’s American barbecue grown up, evolved and evangelized across the world stage. Chef Aceves captures the essence of smoke and applies it to a repertoire of dishes inspired by his training and his travels.

Savvy diners will eschew the indoor dining room and, weather permitting, will gravitate toward the aroma of smoked food wafting toward them from the outdoor patio. That aroma comes from delicate apple and hickory woods which will envelop you in a comforting fragrance Chef Aceves should bottle and sell as a cologne. Trepidation set in (thank you to Albuquerque’s ubiquitous winds) during our inaugural visit and we ate indoors. We had the entire dining room to ourselves while more intrepid, more savvy diners ate outdoors in the presence of smoky Shangri-La.

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Brisket Nachos: Tender Smoked Pulled Brisket, Green Onions, Cheddar, Tomatoes & Green Chlle Queso

The seasonal menu is full of surprises, offering items from various countries, but not prepared as they would be prepared in their country of origin. Instead, Chef Aceves imparts the element of smoke to otherwise traditional dishes. Because of this element, the bigger surprises won’t occur until you bite into the foods you order. Menu descriptions can’t do justice to the flavors imparted by the just right amount of smoke. After tasting Paco’s variations on international foods with which you may have thought you were familiar, you might come to the realization that those foods were missing something.

Salads and starters include four very inventive salads as well as a spinach and olive strudel and brisket nachos, an appetizer destined to become a Duke City favorite. The menu lists only six entrees, the descriptions of which won’t blow you away (but eating them will). Entrees come with your choice of two sides, but you can order more a la carte for a pittance more. On the Spring, 2013 menu, those sides are French green beans, grilled squash and onions, glazed carrots, almond and cranberry brown rice, roasted potatoes and Cheddar grits.

Appetizers

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Tortilla Roll-Up: Feta Cheese, Guacamole, Pepper Relish, Smoked Pork

31 May 2013: In 2006, the Wall Street Journal named the nachos created in two New Mexico restaurants as among the fifteen very best nachos across the fruited plain. Should the Wall Street Journal revisit New Mexico, they will most certainly find nachos that supplant some of the top fifteen nachos in America. Among them would be the Brisket Nachos at Paco’s. These are outstanding nachos, some of the very best you’ll find anywhere. What makes these nachos special is the tender pulled brisket which has been smoked low and slow for nearly fourteen hours. Brisket is one of those cuts of beef which is both lean and fat depending on where you cut it. That combination makes it very flavorful when prepared correctly. Paco’s pairs the tender brisket with fresh green onions, Cheddar, smoked tomatoes and a green chile con queso (sour cream need not apply). This is a mouth-watering introduction to Paco’s.

Campechana

Campechana

31 May 2013: As an amuse bouche (a complimentary introduction to the chef’s cuisine), Chef Aceves brought us one of the most unique (for lack of a better name) tortilla roll-ups we’ve had: a lightly toasted tortilla engorged with a sweet-tart pepper relish, sharp feta cheese, ethereal smoked pork, sweet raisins and guacamole. Sometimes the most surprisingly delicious dishes are those which pair seemingly incongruous ingredients. This tortilla roll-up is an example of contrasting elements complementing each other to form terrific bursts of flavor in surprising combinations: the sweetness of the raisin against the unctuousness of the guacamole, the sharpness of the feta against the tartness of the pepper relish, for example. 

Paco's unique take on lettuce wraps

Paco’s unique take on lettuce wraps

31 May 2013: A surprise starter on the night of our inaugural visit is a favorite of Mexican restaurants everywhere.  It’s Campechana, a Mexican seafood cocktail constructed of sundry seafood, usually white fish, shrimp, oysters, mussels, squid and more.  The seafood swims alongside diced tomatoes, onions and cilantro in a large goblet of Clamato and lime juice.  It’s a fresh, healthy and invigorating.   The delicious difference at Paco’s is that the seafood is smoked.  If you’ve ever had good smoked oysters, you’ll appreciate what the element of smoke can do to seafood.  It’s a transformative influence. 

26 September 2013:  Whenever a menu, seemingly any menu, offers lettuce wraps, the seemingly de facto comparison is to the lettuce wraps made popular at Paul Fleming (PF) Chang’s.  Dialogue which typically ensues is “these lettuce wraps are better (or worse) than the ones at PF Chang’s.  As someone who finds lettuce wraps insipid, boring and usually almost candied, such comparisons are lost on me.  That is, until sampling what Paco can do with lettuce wraps.  The difference-maker is the smoked pork which is shredded (not minced) and mixed with woody mushrooms and celery in a light sauce of ginger and soy.  Paco’s lettuce wraps made a believe out of me.

Entrees

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Mussels: Sautéed Mussels with Potatoes & Leeks in a Smooth Coconut Milk and Chipotle Broth, served with Grilled Bread

31 May 2013: It didn’t take much perusal through the menu to decide that the Thai-inspired mussels dish would be making its way from the kitchen to my table. This dish is a fusion of flavors and ingredients: sautéed Prince Edward Island mussels with potatoes and leeks in a smooth coconut milk and chipotle broth served with grilled bread. The broth is an exemplar of comfort food, so good you’ll ask for more bread so you can sop up every delectable drop. The sweetness of the coconut milk and the piquancy of the chipotle don’t offset one another so much as they form a dynamic duo that showcases the best qualities of each. The potatoes are perfectly prepared, an excellent foil for the briny mussels.

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Brick Chicken: Half Chicken, oven roasted till crispy and dressed with Coriander Dressing, parsley and Peanuts

31 May 2013: One of the specialties of the house and perhaps the restaurant’s most popular dish is the lemon coriander brick chicken. Served in a half chicken portion size, you’re almost guaranteed to take some home with you. It’s a chicken on steroids, poultry so profuse it makes those desiccated birds at the grocery store look anorexic in comparison.  Best of all, it’s absolutely delicious–moist, meaty and seasoned perfectly. The most eye-opening aspect of this pulchritudinous poultry is the complexity of the lemon and coriander rub which isn’t confined to the skin. It penetrates deeply and imbues the chicken with a magnificent flavor profile. This is one chicken my friend Sr. Plata needs to try on his quest to find Albuquerque’s best non-fried chicken dish.

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Ryan “Break the Chain” Scott holds up a Cast Iron Chuck Filet (Juicy House Rub Steak Gently Seared on Cast Iron)

31 May 2013: Several years ago, we experienced a carnivore’s dream come true in dining on a coffee spice-rubbed rotisserie filet mignon at Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill.  It’s a steak I’ve dreamed about several times, much to the detriment of my pillow.  At Paco’s, we found an even better steak.  It’s the cast iron chuck filet as tender as possible (you can cut it with a fork) and more delicious than should be legal.  The filet is prepared with a spice rub that includes smoked paprika, espresso, cayenne and garlic salt.  The triumvirate of espresso, smoked paprika and cayenne should be mandated on every steak.  The cayenne lends a bit of piquancy while the smoked paprika imbues the steak with even more meatiness.

Grilled House Steak Smoked Shallot and Bourbon Compound Butter + cedar roasted mushrooms

Grilled House Steak Smoked Shallot and Bourbon Compound Butter + cedar roasted mushrooms

26 September 2013: Ironically, many of the very best steaks available in the Duke City area don’t come from expensive steak restaurants, but from restaurants specializing eclectic offerings such as Blades’ Bistro in Placitas and P’Tit Louis Bistro in Albuquerque.  Add Paco’s International Smoked Cuisine to that list.  It would be easy to ascribe the many fine qualities of the grilled house steak to the grilling process which imbues each meaty morsel with a faint smokiness, but that would shortchange the deep penetrating influence of the smoked shallot and bourbon compound butter, not to mention the earthy accompaniment of cedar roasted mushrooms.  The cut of meat, an exquisite tri-tip, is about three-quarters of an inch thick and despite being relatively low in fat, has a surprising moistness and rich, full-bodied flavor.   Served with two sides, it goes especially well with roasted shallot and chive mashed potatoes and glazed carrots.

Desserts

S'Mores Paco style

S’Mores Paco style

31 May 2013: There’s absolutely no surcease in quality on the dessert menu.   Desserts are a must-have, so if it means filling up a few doggie bags with entrees, sides and starters so you’ll have room for dessert, all the better.  Perhaps the most wonderful of four desserts is one the charismatic Ryan Scott calls the “Elvis Presley” although it’s missing one element (bacon) from Elvis’s favorite sandwich.  This Paco’s dessert pairs a split caramelized banana with peanut butter cheesecake mousse drizzled over by a rich caramel.  The peanut butter cheesecake mousse is amazing, a sweet-salty-rich amalgam as ephemeral as a wisp of smoke.  Come to think of it, ephemeral, which means short-lived, is the most apt description for this dessert because it’ll go quickly.

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Peanut Butter Cheesecake Mousse, Roasted Bananas

31 May 2013: Is there any back-to-nature pairing as tasty as S’mores, that campfire favorite of children of all ages?  Paco’s has created a more adult version of the S’more with smoked marshmallows, cinnamon caramel and powdered sugar on a Graham cracker crust. It’ll take you back to days of yore when New Mexico’s forests weren’t on fire and you could enjoy a S’more or ten.

Smoked Pecan Pie Ala Mode

Smoked Pecan Pie Ala Mode

26 September 2013:  If you’ve never heard grown men swoon, you should have been with Ryan and I as we experienced a foodgasm or two with every morsel of Paco’s smoked pecan pie ala mode.  Pecan pie is one of those richer than it needs to be foods which is often dismissed from the pantheon of great desserts.  At Paco’s, the smoking influence lends a campfire quality to what might otherwise have been a rather ordinary pecan pie, transforming it into an extraordinary dessert.  The ice cream provides a nice foil and textural contrast.   

Lunch

Paco began serving lunch in September, 2013. The pairing of a warm autumn day with the capacious patio at Paco’s is idyllic for a great lunch. The lunch menu includes a number of sandwiches and salads interpreted in Paco’s unique style, but the accommodating restaurant will serve dinner entrees whenever possible. Lunch is served Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 11 until 2.

Service at Paco’s is exceptional, especially if you’re attended to by JB, a 25-year veteran of the food service industry.  JB is attentive, friendly and knowledgeable, a paragon of professionalism.

Paco’s International Smoked Cuisine was featured on the third episode of Break the Chain.  If this review doesn’t convince you that you need to visit Paco’s soon, Ryan Scott will.

Paco’s International Smoked Cuisine
3851 Rio Grande Blvd. NW
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 26 September 2013
1st VISIT: 31 May 2013
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 24
COST: $$$
BEST BET:Brisket Mussels; Brick Chicken, Lemon Coriander Dressing; Cast Iron Chuck Filet; Mussels; Cheddar Grits; Campechana; S’more, Cinnamon Caramel & Powdered Sugar; Peanut Butter Cheesecake Mousse, Roasted Bananas


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