The Range – Bernalillo, New Mexico

The Range in Bernalillo

The Range in Bernalillo

The phoenix of ancient Egyptian mythology was a sacred firebird of beautiful red and gold plumage said to live for centuries. At the end of its life, the phoenix built itself a nest of cinnamon twigs which it then ignited. Both the phoenix and the nest burned fiercely and were reduced to ashes from which a new phoenix arose.  Similarly, the Range Cafe in Bernalillo was claimed by a fiery conflagration only to rise up from the ashes to exceed its former glory to become one of the most popular restaurants in New Mexico.

Like the phoenix, the Range is a rare breed–one of the few locally owned and operated (non-chain) restaurants which at any given time (make that, almost all the time) has diners lining up for a seat. That may be because the Range offers the “familiar” in serving comfort foods and local favorites and serves them in the profuse portion sizes American diners love.

Surrounded by Art as You Dine

The original Range debuted in September, 1992 in Bernalillo’s main street, Camino Del Pueblo. The restaurant was an instant success, quickly becoming more than a local favorite.  Not quite three years later (on May 30, 1995), the Range went up in smoke–a huge conflagration consumed the entire restaurant. The community let it be known that they wanted their favorite restaurant rebuilt and held fund-raising events to help with the process.

Two months after the fire, the Range was back in business, albeit in a temporary location directly across the street from the church, thereby making it unlawful to obtain a beer and wine license. In April, 1996, the Range negotiated to rent a circa 1905 property which once served as the warehouse of the Bernalillo Mercantile. By December of that year, the Range officially re-opened at its present address, 925 Camino del Pueblo in the heart of downtown Bernalillo. Like the majestic phoenix, the Range rose from the ashes and has been going strong ever since.

My friend Karen Baehr and the Range

My friend Karen Baehr stands next to the range at The Range

The Range shares building space with Rose’s Pottery House owned by life-long Bernalillo resident Antoinette Silva. Part museum, part art gallery, it features contemporary and ancient Pueblo pottery and art. It’s a must stop before or after dining at the Range. During its nearly 80 year history, the building, now covering a full city block, served as a general store, movie theater, auto repair shop and permanent home to one of the finest collections of Native American and Hispanic art in New Mexico.

After obtaining a liquor license, the Range opened the Lizard Rodeo Lounge, a welcoming, non-smoking gathering place for locals and visitors alike. The Lounge includes a full-service bar and offers a full service-menu as well as live, free entertainment featuring local New Mexico bands. Every Thursday is open mike night for all aspiring stars. The Range Cafe has since expanded to three locations–one on Menaul and one on Wyoming, both in Albuquerque–but the most popular remains the original restaurant in Bernalillo.

More Ranges

A contemporary Southwestern artsy ambiance enhances your entire dining experience. Everywhere you turn, there’s something to catch your eye. Even the chairs and tables are functional art. While the milieu may seemingly scream “contemporary western,” ergo “home on the range,” the restaurant is actually named for the other kind of range–the one on which you prepare food. Several old stoves as well as stove art festoon the restaurant. Art and ambiance not withstanding, it’s the wonderful food that’s the big attraction. Not only are the portions profuse and most menu items familiar, they are generally delicious and reasonably priced.

The Range is the brainchild of restaurant impresario Matt DiGregory whose other popular restaurant ventures in the Duke City area include the Standard Diner in Albuquerque and the Freight House Kitchen & Tap Room in Bernalllo as well as the now defunct and much missed Gregorio’s Italian Kitchen. The entrepreneurial restaurateur is a visionary innovator whose restaurant concepts defy local stereotypes. His idea to combine fine cooking (such as applying French culinary techniques to the preparation of meatloaf) with comfort food was years before its time. The Range’s motto is “Ordinary Food Done Extraordinarily Well.” The Range lives up to that high standard.

Unique Art

Breakfast

If breakfast is the most important meal of the day, the Range’s eye-opening, belly-busing breakfasts are a fulfilling (and very filling) way to start off the day, but if you’re inclined to get sleepy after a big meal, you might want to split breakfast with someone you love. That’s because the Range’s portions are humongous. The most popular entree on the voluminous Range menu, by the way, is the huevos rancheros. It’s possible the Range sells more huevos rancheros than any other restaurant in New Mexico. Diners come from miles around to partake of these award-winning treasures.

A “Short Stack”

The gargantuan breakfast burrito includes three large eggs scrambled with either ham, sausage or grilled veggies, wrapped in a flour tortilla and topped with white cheddar and your choice of red or green chile. It is accompanied by Range fries and pinto beans. Both the red and the green chile at the Range can be about as piquant (or as mild) as you’d get at some New Mexican restaurants, depending on the season and batch. It may open your eyes in the morning.

Range Roundup

29 April 2017:  A smile crossed over our server’s face when we ordered the Range Roundup, a behemoth breakfast offering she gleefully described as “the best thing on the menu.”  If not the best, it’s certainly one of the biggest.  It’s large enough to feed two adults or maybe one trencherman (someone who eats heartily, not someone who works in a trench).  Imagine a housemade buttermilk biscuit as large as a frisbee and covered with crumbled bacon, sausage, two fresh eggs, white Cheddar and your choice of chile (the green is terrific) with pinto beans and Range fries smothered with con queso.  If you love big, fluffy, moist biscuits, you’ll love this one.  It serves as a magnificent canvas for the aforementioned toppings, but it’s the green chile that brings it all together.  The Range fries with con queso are also quite good.

Wagon Train

29 April 2017: One of the most perplexing mysteries of the human condition is that we get up early to have breakfast only to consume portions so profuse that we’re immediately placed in a semi-comatose state and can’t wait to get back to bed.  It’s sleep-inducement in its most delicious form.  One of the Range’s most sleep-inducing breakfasts is called the Wagon Train (two fresh eggs, two sausage links, two strips of bacon, white Cheddar, pinto beans, Range fries and a short stack of pancakes).  The pancakes alone are the size of manhole covers.  Range fries, cubed porcine perfection with a goodly amount of salt, are the star here.  They’re classic papitas as good as you’ll find anywhere.

2 May 2009: For a week’s worth of calories, try the stuffed Range toast–three brick-sized slices of cinnamon raisin bread with a rich egg batter, grilled and stuffed with strawberries and bananas then topped with homemade apple/peach butter, whipped cream and maple syrup. These are among the most decadent French toast in New Mexico and should be shared. Should you opt instead for pancakes “Short stack” is a misnomer for the two large pancakes (the size of manhole covers) that leave very little of your plate uncovered. These syrupy orbs, like most Range portions, are big enough to share (they could feed a developing country).

Breakfast Tacos

8 January 2017: While many restaurants throughout the Land of Enchantment have long offered breakfast tacos, most of them are just slightly minor variations on tacos you’d eat for lunch or dinner. Leave it to The Range to serve a breakfast version of America’s favorite (although the ubiquitous hamburger might have something to say about that) portable meal. These breakfast tacos are sheathed in two corn tortillas each stuffed with omelette style eggs, chorizo, cotija and pico de gallo with a ramekin of guacamole and side of papitas. Two per order (you’ll want to ask for a third) tacos will sate your appetite with delightful flavors. Especially noteworthy is the chorizo which is impregnated with a mixture of seasonings, including cinnamon. The guacamole has a tinge of piquancy in addition to the buttery richness of avocados at their peak of ripeness.  It’s some of the best guacamole you’ll have anywhere.  The pico de gallo is similarly excellent, a perfect foil for the savory omelet-style eggs.

A trio of salsa, con queso and guacamole with blue corn tortilla chips

The Range trio of guacamole, salsa and con queso with blue corn chips

Appetizers, Soups and Salads

2 April 2008: Lest I forget, one of the best ways to start a meal at the Range is with the trio of guacamole, salsa and con queso with blue corn tortilla chips. The salsa is about medium on the piquancy scale, but it is fresh, rich and delicious. The guacamole is buttery and fresh, the product of excellent ingredients. Unlike so many other guacamole dishes, this one isn’t merely smashed avocados.  This guacamole has got both piquant and citrusy (lime) notes.  Only the con queso, which lacks creaminess, disappoints and only slightly at that. It’s a bit on the thick side and includes no ameliorants to contrast the cheesiness.

Elote

8 January 2017: The Range also offers an excellent alternative to the ubiquitous trio New Mexicans know and love.  It’s called simply Elote, a Spanish word which translates to corn on the cob.  Elote is a very popular street food throughout Mexico.  Easily portable, it is customarily consumed on a stick, or by grasping the husk of the cob that has been pulled down to form a “handle.”  The Range honors the spirit, if not the style of the Mexican Elote.  Corn niblets are scraped off a roasted cob and plated in a creamy chile de arbol lime sauce and cotija cheese with blue and white corn tortilla chips.  It’s consumed similar to chips and salsa; that is, you use the chips to scoop up the corn niblets.  This is a wonderful way to enjoy corn and has become for us, a nice alternative to the chips and salsa with which we often start our meals at The Range.

The Range’s version of green chile chicken stew

28 May 2012: You can’t mention comfort foods without a prominent spot on the list for soups. The soups–especially the cream of mushroom soup and the cream of carrot soup–are among the very best you’ll find in New Mexico. These are the type of soups you love most on a cold winter day, but which are great any time of year. Thick, rich, hearty and replete with fresh ingredients, they’re an elixir for whatever (if anything) ails you. I’m not quite as fond of the Range’s green chile chicken stew, perhaps a misnomer because it’s described on the menu as a “soup that serves like a meal.” It really is a soup, not thick and creamy as most traditional green chile stews tend to be. Within a thin soupy broth, you’ll find blue corn tortilla chips, potatoes, carrots, celery, tendrils of chicken and a barely discernible chile.

Shrimp Scampi Quesadilla

Shrimp Scampi Quesadilla

20 November 2009: The motto of the Range Cafe is “ordinary food done extraordinarily well.” Ordinary doesn’t have to be boring or the “same old thing” everyone else serves. The Range Cafe takes some liberties with New Mexican cuisine and comfort food favorites. Take for example the shrimp scampi quesadilla, sauteed shrimp marinated in tequila, lime and garlic combined with tomatillo, pico de gallo, corn and white Cheddar cheese grilled on a flour tortilla and served with sour cream and guacamole. The shrimp is sweet and succulent, blending in extraordinarily well with the other flavor combinations.

Range Quesadilla

Range Quesadilla

4 April 2014: Vegetarians and Catholics out on a Lenten Friday aren’t left out in the cold when they crave quesadillas. The Range Quesadilla is everything any discerning diner desires in a quesadilla save for a meaty protein. A large, grilled flour tortilla is folded over artichoke hearts, red bell pepper, tomato, green chile and white Cheddar then served with the tasty triumvirate of salsa, guacamole and sour cream. Even avowed carnivores will enjoy this terrific tortilla treat, but if they must have a protein, it’s also available with chicken.

Green Chile Strips

28 May 2012: Another appetizer catering to New Mexican tastes is a plate of green chile strips, breaded whole chiles served with a cool, creamy jalapeño dipping sauce.  Served four to an order, each of the green chile strips is at least six inches of piquancy and deliciousness.  Unlike some chile rellenos, the batter is thin, light and doesn’t fall off the chiles.  The jalapeño dipping sauce is cool heat, a perfect accompaniment for chilephiles who know the only way to improve on a heat-generating food is with even more heat. One of the most redeeming features of the green chile strips is that they’re not greasy.

Asian Salad

Asian Salad

4 April 2014: The Range menu features ten salads ranging from the familiar and traditional (taco salad, Caesar and wedge) to the innovative (Grilled Salmon Berry and Quinoa).  The Asian Salad–fresh spinach and mixed greens with cabbage, carrots, jicama, cucumber, snow peas, sliced almonds and frizzled onions tossed in sesame ginger dressing–probably falls in the latter category.  It’s an exceptional salad highlighted by freshness and diversity of ingredients.  Alas, those ingredients have a similar flavor profile and the salad would probably benefit from a mild cheese.

Entrees

The aforementioned meatloaf, christened Tom’s meatloaf in honor of Range co-founder Tom Fenton, is a comfort food standard served with garlic mashed potatoes and a delicious mushroom gravy. The meatloaf is a substantial brick-sized slab of moist deliciousness. Like most Range entrees, it’s served almost out-of-the-stove hot. The mashed potatoes are made with real potatoes, not the powdery stuff and surprise, surprise…you can actually taste the garlic.

Another comfort food specialty, the chicken fried steak (a fresh beef cube steak breaded and smothered with cream gravy) is as good as you’ll find anywhere in the Land of Enchantment’s Rio Grande valley. Even Texans (for whom chicken fried steak is a religion) enjoy the Range’s Texas-sized version which even has the size (everything’s bigger in Texas) they appreciate. This chicken fried steak is tender enough to be cut with a fork.

Mac and cheese with a unique Range twist, green chile

Mac and cheese with a unique Range twist, green chile

20 November 2009: Recognizing that mac and cheese are everyone’s favorite, the Range makes theirs with a special New Mexico unique twist–green chile. The macaroni is rigatoni, the size of a culvert. The cheese is creamy and delicious with a prominent white Cheddar flavor though it’s entirely possible more than one cheese is used. The entire bowl–and it’s the size of a hub cap–is covered with ground parmesan. The green chile is a bit mild on the piquancy scale, but it’s a delicious chile that complements the mac and cheese very well.

Trout

The Range Trout

2 April 2008: Dinner specials are generally so good you’ll wish they were on the standard menu. One example is the Range’s trout which is topped with capers, artichoke hearts and sun-dried tomatoes in a light white wine sauce. The trout is flaky and grilled to perfection. The natural brininess melds perfectly with the tanginess of the ingredients topping the trout. A lime and cilantro infused Basmati rice makes for excellent accompaniment to this dish.

The Range burger starts with an eight-ounce fresh ground chuck patty flame grilled to order.  It’s topped with shaved ham, green chile strips and melted white cheddar cheese on a fresh, homemade bun.  It is one of six inventive burgers on the menu, the most unique being a Relleno Burger topped with a blue corn chile relleno and green chile sauce.  Obviously these are not boring burgers. The ground chuck patty is what all burgers in the area should aspire to be.

The Rio Grande Gorge

28 May 2012:  An eight-ounce ground chuck patty is also a key component of the Rio Grande Gorge (named for the ravine through which the Rio Grande runs near Taos) in which the patty is served open face on a tortilla, topped with red or green chile sauce, Cheddar, grilled onions, black beans and Range fries with queso. It sounds great–and for the most part it is, save for the queso which tops the Range fries which is of Velveeta quality.

Plato Combinacion Del Norte

8 January 2017:  Why follow Taco Bell’s advice to head for the border when you can go North of the Border for the Range’s interpretation of New Mexican cuisine.  The North of the Border menu includes a number of Land of Enchantment favorites served with arroz verde, pinto beans, white cheddar cheese, your choice of chile and sour cream, guacamole or fried egg for a pittance.  Your best bet is the Plato Combinacion Del Norte: blue corn chile relleno, chicken taco, two rolled beef enchiladas served with arroz verde, pinto beans, white cheddar cheese and your choice of chile.  It’s one of the very best combination plates you’ll find anywhere.  Instead of the usual cheese enchiladas, these are stuffed with beef with plenty of melted white Cheddar covering them.  The blue corn chile relleno is superb as are the pinto beans.

The dessert case is an edible work of art. You'll want to lick the glass.

The dessert case is an edible work of art. You’ll want to lick the glass.

Desserts

Desserts, are so good, they’re almost indecent!  The Range bakes only with real butter, fresh cream, real vanilla, fresh fruits and fine chocolates. Anything can be made a la mode for a pittance.  The Range’s dessert case is one of Bernalillo’s most popular attractions, one that should be displayed on tourist guide books.  Not only is each dessert aesthetically pleasing (drool eliciting), they’re all delicious.

The roadhouse chocolate cake,  a moist, rich chocolate cake layered with thick chocolate fudge frosting is among the most moist cakes you’ll find anywhere while the “Life by Chocolate” cake defines the word decadent. Featuring milk chocolate, bittersweet chocolate, Belgian white chocolate and raspberry mousse layered together and glazed with a rich ganache, this is the type of dessert your dentist warned you about as a child and your dietician cautions against today.

Key Lime Pie at The Range

The dessert case is an edible work of art. You’ll want to lick the glass.

20 November 2009:  If you’re served green key lime pie, there’s a good bet either food coloring was added or the pie mix came out of a box.  In the Florida keys, no restaurant can expect to stay in business for long if it serves green key lime pie.  Key lime pies should always be pale yellow, usually a good indication that actual key lime juice is used.  The Range’s key lime pie is very reminiscent of those we enjoyed so much when traveling through Florida where the key lime pie has been designated by the state legislature as “the official pie of the state of Florida.”  The Range’s version has a tart, but not lip-pursing, flavor.  It’s also very aromatic, another sign of authenticity.

Gooey Pecan Caramel Roll

4 April 2014: When stationed at Keesler Air Force Base, Bobbye Barlow, our department admin and one of the most wonderful people I’ve ever known used to treat us to monkey bread, a pan full of gooey, sweet, decadent, nutty love.  Every time we walk by The Range’s pastry case and espy the Gooey Pecan Caramel Roll, it tugs at my heart strings to remember my special friend.  This rich treat is very reminiscent of Bobbye’s wonderful monkey bread.  Each morsel of this spiral roll is replete with decadent caramel with plenty of pecans which serve as a foil for an otherwise cloying pastry.

Green chile apple pie with piñon streusel in a flaky pie crust

Green chile apple pie a la mode

4 April 2014: In New Mexico, chefs and cooks love showing off the versatility of green chile.  One of the most delicious is in apple pie, an idea which makes good sense considering chile (a member of the nightshade family) is closer related to fruits than it is to vegetables.  The Range’s green chile apple pie with piñon streusel in a flaky pie crust is among the best.  The green chile packs the type of piquant punch that titillates the back of your throat.  For the faint of heart and tongue, this pie should be served a la mode.  The Range, by the way, is perhaps New Mexico’s most generous restaurants when it comes to ice cream.  Scoops are super-sized, twice as large as scoops at most restaurants.

The Range is a restaurant about which seldom a disparaging word is heard. Like the Phoenixes rise from the ashes, it continues to ascend in the estimation of its many patrons.

The Range
264 Camino Pueblo
Bernalillo, New Mexico
(505) 867-1700
Web Site  | Facebook Page


LATEST VISIT: 29 April 2017
# OF VISITS: 26
RATING: 20
COST: $$
BEST BET: Desserts, Meatloaf, Mushroom Soup, Mac and Cheese, Shrimp Scampi Quesadilla, Range Quesadilla, The Wagon Train, The Roundup, Elote, Breakfast Tacos

Range Café Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Casa Diaz – Bernalillo, New Mexico

Casa Diaz on Camino Del Pueblo in Bernalillo

The siren song of a small town living has always appealed to Irma Rodriguez who just can’t see herself in the big city.  Having grown up in Gallup, New Mexico, she appreciates the sense of community–the extended family feeling of really getting to know her neighbors.  It’s an attitude she imparts to guests at Casa Diaz Mexican and American Grill, the Bernalillo restaurant she and husband Jesus launched in August, 2016.  For her, the term “locally owned and operated” is deeply rooted, a reflection of her upbringing in and around family owned and operated restaurants in Gallup. 

Irma’s grandmother served for decades as the tortillera at the legendary Jerry’s Cafe in Gallup.  Later when Irma herself worked at Jerry’s, she assimilated the day-to-day nuances of running the most popular independent restaurant in the Heart of Navajo Country.  In particular, she observed as the restaurant’s staff inculcated a customer-oriented attitude.  The lessons she learned are inscribed in her restaurant’s operational model on the Web site’s “About Us” page: “We strive to give you a fresh meal that’s similar to being home cooked. When you are at Casa Diaz we treat you like family because that’s what you are to us. We want to give you the best experience and provide the highest quality of service.”  Treat you like family, best experience, highest quality of service…those are small town values you’ll find at Casa Diaz.

Casa Diaz Dining Room

If you’ve ever been to Jerry’s Cafe, you’ve not only experienced great service, but some of the very best New Mexican cuisine in the Land of Enchantment.  Irma admits that when she’s stuck for a recipe or a dish is missing a little something, she’ll call her friends at Jerry’s and they help her out.  Having a strong service foundation and a little help from Jerry’s–that’s a good formula for keeping her guests happy.  It also helps that Casa Diaz has an inviting and homey look and feel.  Seating, on chairs imprinted with the sunburst symbol, is comfortable.  A kiva fireplace lends warmth even when it’s not in use.  Walls are festooned with artwork courtesy of the Rio Rancho Art Association

Casa Diaz is located on heavily trafficked Camino Del Pueblo in a space previously occupied by long-time Bernalillo favorite La Casita Cafe.  When La Casita shuttered its doors in 2013 after more than thirty years of feeding Bernalillo, it left a significant void.  Bellies still rumble when former patrons drove by the empty location.  As with Casa Diaz, La Casita was a family-owned and operated restaurant which treated its guests like family.  That’s just how things are in small towns such as Bernalillo.  That’s why Casa Diaz is already becoming a local favorite.

Empanadas

The concept of a Mexican and American grill is an interesting and ambitious undertaking, but if our inaugural visit is any indication, Irma and her culinary crew are up to the task.  As is our practice, we asked whether or not the chile is prepared with cumin.  Interestingly the green chile is made with cumin as is the fire-roasted tomato salsa, but the red chile is not (usually it’s the other way around).  Neither is the terrific tomatillo salsa (more on that later).  No matter what you order, make sure to wash it down with either the horchata or the Jamaica agua fresca.

Mexican and American dishes are not always the mix-and-match dichotomy they’re painted to be, especially when grilled.  They actually go very well together.  The breakfast menu includes a number of Mexican and New Mexican favorites such as huevos rancheros and breakfast burritos, but it’s also got French toast, pancakes (with bananas or strawberries) and a ham-and-egg breakfast sandwich.    While the menu may tell you breakfast is served only until 11AM, if you use the “my watch stopped” excuse and ask nicely, the ever-accommodating wait staff might let you order a breakfast entree even at 1:30PM.

Eggs & Nopoalitos

Casa Diaz doesn’t offer distinctive lunch and dinner menus which means you can have any of the twelve starters any time after 11AM.  The starters menu offers quite a bit of diversity: coctel de camaron and queso con carne as well as fried pickles and buffalo wings.  Soups and salads are available as well as menudo (Saturday and Sunday only).  Four burgers will tempt the burgerphiles among us.  Entrees range from ribeye and salmon to enchiladas and shrimp fajitas.  Kids meals include cheese pizza and grilled cheese.  There’s bound to be something for everyone, including vegetarians.

Casa Diaz may shatter any preconceptions about empanadas you’ve ever had.  Almost every other empanada we’ve ever had has been made with a bread-type dough, sometimes flaky.  At Casa Diaz, the empanadas are made with flattened sopaipillas.  It’s a winning idea!  The empanadas are engorged with ground beef, green peppers and tomatoes and topped with a crema fresca.  Excellent on their own, the empanadas are made exceptional when you spoon on the accompanying tomatillo salsa, as good as any tomatillo salsa we’ve found in the area.  The tomatillo salsa imparts bright, tangy, sour-sweet and piquant flavor notes.

Torta

There are several breakfast items you’ll certainly want to try.  One of those is eggs and nopalitos, two eggs scrambled with nopalitos, tomatoes and onions, served side of Casa potatoes and charro beans with two corn tortillas.  Don’t let the fact that nopalitos are the edible young pads of the prickly pear cactus dissuade you from enjoying a truly tasty dish.  Yesa, the pesky, prickly cactus spines are removed and no, nopalitos don’t taste like chicken.  Nopalitos have a distinctive herbaceous-sour flavor and a better flavor than so many other “vegetables.”  The accompanying charro beans are magnificent, among the best we’ve ever had.  Perfectly prepared pintos with pieces of hot dog and bacon, those charros are championship caliber.   

If you still think a torta is just some sort of cake, you haven’t spent much time in Mexican restaurants throughout the Duke City where tortas are making significant inroads.  Instead of ordering tacos which are far less substantial and quite a bit more expensive for what you get, savvy diners are ordering tortas, the quintessential, generously endowed Mexican sandwich.  Sometimes called “lonche” because they’re often eaten for lunch, tortas are good any time of day.  Anyone who loves sandwiches will love tortas.  Casa Diaz’ rendition is served on sourdough bread with lettuce, tomato, avocado, pepperjack cheese, roasted jalapeno on the side and your choice of protein.  The ham, a thick, smoky slice is especially good.

Adovada Pork Chops

When New Mexicans hear the term “adovada”  we tend to think tender chunks of New Mexico pork braised in wondrous New Mexico red chile.  Indeed, throughout the Land of Enchantment, when you see carne adovada on the menu, that’s almost invariably how you’re going to get it.  There are exceptions (Orlando’s in Taos comes to mind), but they’re few and far between.  Add Casa Diaz to the proud few restaurants for whim the term “adovada” doesn’t always subscribe to expectations.  As at Orlando’s, adovada at Casa Diaz means grilled, quarter-inch thick marinated pork chops marinated in chile.  The adovada pork chops are better than the waifishly thin breakfast pork chops area restaurants tend to serve courtesy of a red chile which, not especially piquant, has a nice flavor.  The adovada pork chops are served with calabasitas and papitas.

There was only one item on the menu we didn’t enjoy, the cherry cobbler.  After going two-for-two with outstanding cobbler dishes at The County Line Restaurant and Eclectic Urban Pizzeria and Tap House, we thought a trifecta might be possible. Twas not meant to be.  We managed to locate only one cherry in the cobbler, a gelatinous pectin-packed mess topped by a very good crust and a generous scoop of vanilla ice cream.  Since the theme of this review seems to be small town, we can only hope there are cherry trees in Bernalillo.  Casa Diaz is too good a restaurant to serve cherries from a can.

Cherry Cobbler

If you appreciate small town values and good food, you’ll like Casa Diaz Mexican American Grill, soon to be another Bernalillo dining destination restaurant.

Casa Diaz Mexican American Grill
567 South Camino Del Pueblo
Bernalillo, New Mexico
(505) 688-3589
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 3 September 2016
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Empanadas, Adovada Pork Chop, Ham Torta, Eggs & Nopalitos

Casa Diaz Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Freight House Kitchen & Tap – Bernalillo, New Mexico

The Freight House in Bernalillo

Many of us look at an unused and timeworn historical building and a wave of nostalgia sweeps over us as we imagine what life was like when that building teemed with activity. Some see such a building as a pig in need of lipstick, nothing a coat of paint and a few nails can’t fix up. Others see that same edifice as having served its purpose, a structure which should be razed to make room for a modern complex. Still others view a weathered building as a thing of beauty from which they draw inspiration. For restaurant impresario Matt DiGregory, driving by the Santa Fe Freight House nearly two decades ago planted the seed for an idea that took years to germinate.

The long-time owner of The Range Café and Standard Diner drew inspiration from the two story Mission-Revival façade, envisioning it as the potential site of a restaurant with the thematic look and feel of the railroad industry which once thrived in Albuquerque. Because of the historical nature of the building, DiGregory was unable to realize that particular dream at that particular location. In 2015, he did the next best thing, launching The Freight House Kitchen & Tap Room, a restaurant inspired by the grand Santa Freight House. The restaurant is located in the yawning complex which previously housed the Flying Star on Bernalillo’s heavily trafficked Camino Del Pueblo. Fittingly, the Freight House Kitchen is in close proximity to the town’s Railrunner stop.

Pickled Veggies

It’s easy to see why the Santa Fe Freight House was such an inspiration to DiGregory. Though constructed some seven decades ago and currently in disuse, the Santa Fe Freight House remains an impressive structure. Located on First Street practically beneath Lead Avenue, the building is emblazoned with red neon signage which reads “Santa Fe Freight House” flanked by the words “Rail” and “Truck.” Lintels, window sills, base and canals are made of concrete while the stucco is a greyish adobe. The Freight House was one of the last additions to the sprawling railyard made by the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway. It is on the National Historic Register.

The halcyon days of the railroad is revisited at DiGregory’s Freight House Kitchen, a bustling establishment with 176-seating spaces on two levels and two expansive patios. Even the restaurant’s logo is thematic, depicting a locomotive engine designated “FR8” barreling down the track. Framed vintage photographs of life around the railyards festoon the brick walls, but the true masterpiece is a painting of the restaurant’s historic namesake. Even the wait staff gets into the act, sporting shirts emblazoned with clever play-on-words slogans such as “The Chew Chew Crew” and “We Smoke The Good Stuff.”

Tempura Green Beans with Manchego

The Freight House Web site purports to “raise the bar on bar food,” showcasing gastropub fare–high quality, freshly prepared food several orders of magnitude superior to the stereotypical pub grub of yore. During the railroad’s prosperous past, you could find food of this caliber near a railyard only at Fred Harvey establishments. The menu is very eclectic, offering both “chili” and “chile” (and you thought never the twain shall meet) as well as a number of sandwiches, burgers, plates and smoked items. Brunch is served on Sundays from 9AM to 3PM.

If appetizers are the preamble to a great meal, The Freight House’s “Snacks,” an inventive array of comfort food starters, will get you started on the right foot. The Snacks menu has so many intriguing options, in fact, that ordering two…or ten would constitute a very good meal. Our early favorite is the pickled veggies, a colorful mélange of pickled al dente vegetables (crisp carrots, cauliflower, green beans and celery) arranged artfully on a rectangular plate. Sometimes pickling vegetables brings out the worse in them, particularly when those vegetables are imbued with lip-pursing sour properties that take away their native freshness and flavor. Among the pickling spices used by the Freight House chef are cardamom and juniper berries, two aromatics with strong, distinctive flavors. They impart an invigorating quality to the vegetables that you’ll enjoy immensely even if you think you don’t like vegetables.

Smoked Bison Meatloaf

Another Freight House appetizer, the tempura green beans with Manchego, is almost a polar opposite to the pickled vegetables. Where the pickled vegetables are garden-fresh and crisp, this fried dish is crispy in other ways. Green beans are sheathed with a light tempura batter and fried to a crispy texture then sprinkled generously with shredded Manchego, a mild, nutty-flavored Spanish cheese. The green beans are served with a creamy green chile ranch dressing with a little kick and lots of flavor. Reflecting on the Freight House’s Snacks menu, you have to wonder if the chef isn’t consciously also trying to get children of all ages to eat their vegetables…and we would if they all tasted this good.

From the smoker, you’ll find such summer favorites as baby back ribs, beer canned chicken, smoked prime rib (Friday and Saturday nights) and a smoked bison meatloaf served with garlic mashed potatoes topped with a barbecue glaze and green beans. Meatloaf and mashed potatoes is a comfort food combination favorite that has made generations pine for a nap immediately after consuming a plateful or two. Being a very lean meat, bison offers a slightly different textural experience than beef, but its sweeter, more intense flavor more than makes up for any textural difference. A tangy barbecue sauce is slathered on generously to imbue the meatloaf with a summery, smoky feel. You’ll want to ask for the restaurant’s green chile gravy (maybe even an extra portion) to enliven the mashed potatoes. It’s an excellent green chile gravy.

BBQ Beer Can Chicken with Mac and Cheese and Garlic Green Beans

Beer can chicken—sometimes called chicken on a throne or dancing chicken—earns its name because of its preparation style. An entire chicken is placed over an opened, partially-filled can of beer. The chicken must be placed on a grill in an upright position in order for this dish to work. The heat of the grill warms the can, causing the beer inside to evaporate. Ostensibly, the beer, now in gaseous state, fills the inside of the chicken, imparting moistness and flavor to the chicken. While it may disappoint some diners that you don’t taste the beer at all, most of us are in it for the chicken, not the beer. The Freight House’s BBQ beer can chicken is indeed moist and tender with a mild smokiness. Few things go better with beer can chicken than mac n’ cheese, a rich, molten, cheesy version the restaurant does well.

The Freight House dessert menu is a winner, offering a number of innovative options that will make choosing a challenge. If it’s on the menu, one unique and delicious option is the olive oil rosemary ice cream cake topped with a peach compote. Ice cream is made on the premises in flavors that go well beyond vanilla and chocolate. Olive oil and rosemary is one such example. Too much rosemary and it could overwhelm the flavor profile. The olive oil also poses textural challenges. Kudos to the chef for optimizing the proportions of each ingredient to create a deliciously decadent (without being overly rich) ice cream . The peach compote serves as a very nice foil.

Olive Oil Rosemary Ice Cream Cake with Peach Compote

If a visit to the Freight House Kitchen & Tap Room doesn’t inspire you to travel the rails, it will inspire you to come back to see what the inventive kitchen staff is cooking up. It’s bound to be good.

Freight House Kitchen & Tap
200 South Camino Del Pueblo
Bernalillo, New Mexico
(505) 588-2143
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 10 July 2016
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Pickled Veggies, Tempura Green Beans with Manchego, Bison Meatloaf, Olive Oil Rosemary Ice Cream Cake, BBQ Bear Can Chicken

Freight House Kitchen & Tap Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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