Gil's Thrilling (And Filling) Blog

Follow the Culinary Ruminations of New Mexico's Sesquipedalian Sybarite. 871 Restaurant Reviews, More Than 7000 Visitor Comments…And Counting!

Señor Tortas – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Señor Tortas for Super Tortas on Louisiana South of Central

In Albuquerque’s panoply of Mexican fast foods, the torta–despite all its heartiness and versatility–is the “Rodney Dangerfield” of cheap eats. It garners no respect, warranting nary a mention in annual paeans to the “best of” virtually everything else Alibi and Albuquerque The Magazine readers care to celebrate. Long overshadowed and under-appreciated, the humble torta presents a glaring contrast to its culinary cousin, king taco. While the taco has become a pop culture diva, the torta has been relegated to a homely afterthought. It’s become cool to consume tacos, but tortas are the porn of fast food–usually kept wrapped until it’s time to enjoy them. 

Could it be that there are still people who don’t know what a torta is? That may well be because the name “torta” is often confused for some sort of cake. One wonders if its popularity would have exploded if “Torta Bell” franchises had spread across the fruited plain instead of Taco Bell. Whatever the reason for its relative anonymity, tortas are long overdue recognition and adulation from the mainstream masses in the Duke City.  While the culinary cultures in such cosmopolitan and urbane cities such as Los Angeles and Denver have embraced the torta, Albuquerque languishes behind.

The colorful interior of Señor Tortas

While a number of Mexican restaurants in the Duke City offer tortas, only one diminutive diner contains the term “tortas” on its name and signage.  That restaurant is Señor Tortas which follows “recipes made in Heaven” according to its Web site.  Your can find this purveyor of divine deliciousness on Louisiana Blvd. about a mile south of Central Avenue.  One of the most interesting aspects of its signage (and its Web site) is the mustachioed chef sporting a toque who looks suspiciously like the chef on old Italian stock photos.  The restaurant’s walls are even more interesting, showcasing numerous posters, including one of Cantinflas, a pioneer of Mexican cinema.  There’s also a reference to a “Grumpy Gringo Burger,” a remnant from one of the restaurant’s previous incarnations, a burger joint called (what else) the Grumpy Gringo Restaurant.

The Castillo family which owns and operates Señor Tortas has more than fifteen years in the food services industry and runs two food trucks also sporting the Señor Plata appellation.  Although the restaurant’s marquee touts its “super tortas,” the menu offers other Mexican food standards such as tacos, burritos, enchiladas and a number of beef plates.  Try those some other time.  Your first visit should be reserved for one of the ten tortas on the menu.  Compared to the ubiquitous sandwich chains, ten may not seem like a slew of sandwich options, but all it takes to hook you is one sandwich.

The Hawaiana  with French Fries

Hawaiana” sounds more like a pizza than a torta and some of its components are indeed featured on “Hawaiian” pizzas, but this is no pizza.  The canvas for this sumptuous sandwich is a French-bread inspired telera roll which is topped by beans, avocados and jalapeños in addition to “Hawaiian” constituents: pineapple, quesillo (an Oaxacan string cheese), jamon (ham) and chuleta (pork chop).  It’s a terrific sandwich with a diverse porcine-centric flavor profile forged by complementary and contrasting ingredients.  Mexican ham is more smoky and thicker than most American hams and the pork chop is much thinner than the half-inch chops we enjoy.  Together they form the basis for a very enjoyable sandwich.

If you ponder the matter, you’ll likely conclude that the torta supplants the taco in portability, mass, value and dare I say, even deliciousness.  Señor Tortas is at the forefront of giving the humble, but hearty paragon of sandwich greatness, its well-deserved just dues.

Señor Tortas
532 Louisiana Blvd, S.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 265-5896
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 22 June 2015
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Hawaiana Torta, French Fries, Lift Apple Soda

Richie B’s – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Richie B’s on Montgomery and Louisiana

If you’ve ever wondered why New Yorkers fold their pizza slices in half lengthwise (aka the “fold hold”) and if you’ve ever  attributed that practice to Big Apple quirkiness, you owe it to yourself to visit Richie B’s, a New York-style pizzeria on Montgomery and Louisiana.  Now, the Albuquerque metropolitan area has plenty of claimants to New York-style pizza, but can you name a single one in which you’ve actually HAD to utilize the fold hold to eat a slice? New Yorkers have mastered the fold hold because true New York-style pizza is thin-crusted and cut into wide slices (usually wider than your face) which taper down to a perfectly pointed (and invariably “floppy”) bottom.

I’ve seen friends and colleagues employ the fold hold simply to double the amount of pizza they can consume in one bite (then wonder why they finished off their pizza twice as fast). I’ve also seen them utilize “The Travolta” method—layering one slice on top of another and eating both simultaneously—again, to double the amount of pizza in each bite.   I’ve also seen the more “civilized” (or haughty) among us (Mayor di Blasio should be impeached for doing so) use knives and forks on a slice; they’ve obviously forgotten or don’t care that God intended for pizza to be a finger food. NOTE:  If you’re not acquainted with “The Travolta” method, you may not have been paying close attention to the opening sequence of Saturday Night Fever.

The dining room at Richie B’s is studded with New York City memorabilia

At Richie B’s, each slice is so large and so wide that the holding and eating method which makes most sense  is the fold hold. It’s not only the best way to trap the prodigious toppings, gooey cheese and dripping sauce within its crusty confines, it’s also the only way to avoid the mess made by an overloaded pizza on a thin-crusted slice.  At Richie B’s, the slices are very thin, very wide and very overloaded. That’s especially true of the aptly named Supreme, a beauteous behemoth topped with Italian sausage, pepperoni, mushrooms, onions, red peppers and olives, all with the sheen of olive oil and garlic.

It’s humanly impossible to pick up, hold and consume the Supreme unless you actually fold it in half lengthwise. For one thing, the only triangle-shaped man-made object that’s larger is the Great Pyramid of Giza. Because of the length and width of each slice coupled with the generosity of ingredients piled on, physical laws dictate that each foldable slice flops, not unlike a fish out of water.  This is the antithesis of the ironing board stiff pizza crust that won’t buckle under a ten-pound weight.  Not even the cornicione, an Italian term for the “lip” or puffy outer edge of the pizza, is stiff.

The Supreme

We’ve established that Richie B’s pizza is long, wide and floppy. That’s a given for many New York-style pizzas. “How does it taste?” you ask. Ann Marie Allen, who called me out on Zomato and recommended I get myself “over here pronto and review this place” says it’s “fantastic and the best pizza I’ve ever had!” Similar rousing endorsements adorn both Zomato and Yelp. My preliminary assessment is that this is a very good pizza, but it’ll take a few more slices to gauge its nuances. It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it. 

As for its authenticity, Richie B’s is true New York by way of Dothan, Alabama brought to you by an Albuquerque native. That would be Preston Smith who was working as a contractor at Fort Rucker, Alabama near Dothan where he discovered the original Richie B’s and “the best pizza I’ve ever tasted.” He also struck up a friendship with the owner, an entrepreneur-showman whose career path included a ten-year stint portraying Conan the Barbarian at Universal Studios. Before moving back to Albuquerque, Preston purchased the naming rights and recipes. The rest, as the proverbial “they” say, is history. Should Richie B’s do as well as Preston expects, he hopes to expand throughout the Duke City.

Green Chile Philly

To say Preston is passionate about pizza is an understatement. For his venture, he chose a deck oven instead of a conveyor oven. Deck ovens are generally the oven of choice for traditional sit-down pizza restaurants. They require much closer babysitting than conveyor ovens, but tend to distribute heat more evenly and give the pizzaioli greater control over temperature and air flow. It makes a great difference. Preston is also very passionate about Richie B’s “Viper Sauce” which can be used on virtually everything (much like green chile) save for dessert.

Richie B’s menu lists six custom pies available in 18- and 25-inch sizes. Also available are three twelve-inch sub sandwiches, two of which feature Boar’s Head meats. The other is a Philly cheesesteak. Also on hand are a garden house salad and a number of sides (including whole garlic pickles and stuffed cherry peppers) as well as cannoli and New York-style cheesecake. Although not expressly stated on the menu, Hatch green chile (from the Young Guns folks) can be added to virtually anything else on the menu. 

Onion Rngs

It would be audacious and probably laughable (much like Denver declaring its green chile the equal of New Mexico’s) to proclaim Phillys in Albuquerque the equal of or superior to those in Philadelphia, but we’ve got something even the City of Brotherly Love doesn’t have.  Albuquerque adorns its Phillys with green chile, an ingredient which improves everything with which it comes into contact.  Restaurants such as Philly’s N Fries and Davido’s Pizza & More have made Green Chile Phillys an edible art form. 

You won’t find a Green Chile Philly at Richie B’s, but you can certainly request chile on the restaurant’s twelve-inch Philly Cheesesteak (grilled top sirloin, onions, mushrooms and sweet peppers topped with mozzarella and Provolone cheese served with a side of Viper Sauce.  It’s a very good sandwich bringing together ingredients meant to be together.  The Viper sauce, while more than interesting, is wholly unnecessary.  It’s an excellent dip for the onion rings, one portion of which will serve a family. 

Richie B’s is located at Louisiana Plaza in a storefront that’s somewhat obfuscated from both Montgomery and Louisiana, but Duke City pizza paramours will discover it and they’ll return in droves for a pizza they’ll have to employ the fold hold to eat.

Richie B’s
7200 Montgomery Blvd, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 312-8579
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 10 June 2015
1st VISIT: 8 June 2015
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 19
COST: $$
BEST BET: The Supreme, Green Chile Philly, Onion Rings

Click to add a blog post for Richie B's on Zomato

The Shop Breakfast & Lunch – Albuquerque, New Mexico

The Shop Breakfast and Lunch on Monte Vista

In the 60s and early 70s, movies and television programs would have you believe all spies were hard-drinking, fast-driving, woman-chasing playboys as good with their fists as they were with a gun. They were worldly, sophisticated and charming, but could just as easily use guile and deception to get the job done. Bob Ayers, who worked in intelligence for 30 years in the U.S. Army and Defense Intelligence Agency counters those stereotypes: “All of that stuff about James Bond, that’s Hollywood. You don’t want anyone standing out in the intelligence business. You want someone nondescript. The ideal spy is 5-foot-6 and kind of dumpy.”

That ideal—nondescript and dumpy—just wouldn’t work in the restaurant business…or would it? Restaurants, especially those which are generously bankrolled by corporate megaliths, tend to have a lot of cash, flash and panache to create the illusion of glamor and allure which brings in customers (and most of us are easily entertained). In addition to all the pristine veneer and effusive, over-the-top flamboyance money can buy, these restaurants tend to have catchy, memorable names which help in the establishment and proliferation of brand identity. They’re capacious, swanky, memorable and largely successful.

Interior of The Shop Breakfast and Lunch

Anyone who thinks this formulaic approach is the recipe for success would be at a loss to explain a restaurant like The Shop Breakfast and Lunch. It has none of the aforementioned characteristics of superficiality that seem to draw in the crowds. Even its name is so ambiguous that unless you know The Shop is a restaurant (the Breakfast and Lunch part is subtitled), you might dismiss it as yet another kitschy university area vintage clothing shop. While not “dumpy,” its ambiance is far from ostentatious. Maybe, that’s part of its charm. Perhaps that’s why The Shop has a faithful following that eschews the artifice and ambiance of the “shiny” restaurants to eat there instead.

Like The Shop itself, its patrons aren’t pretentious. Many of them are students at the University of New Mexico (UNM) which sprawls just across Buena Vista from the restaurant. They appreciate being able to fuel up on great food that isn’t going to break a student’s ramen-in-a-Styrofoam-box budget. You can bet the UNM voting demographic stuffed the Alibi’s ballots in 2014 when The Shop was named the Duke City’s “best new restaurant.”

Kentucky Hot Brown

Those of us who have only been students of life for a while also appreciate the great food…and to be honest, most of us don’t imbibe the “ambiance.” After all, a swanky milieu doesn’t improve the flavor of any food. The Shop’s furnishings are more utilitarian than they are comfortable, but you won’t be thinking about how much more comfortable you’d be in a plush, cozy chair as you’re indulging on an even cozier Kentucky Hot Brown.

Your eyes didn’t just deceive you. You did read “Kentucky Hot Brown,” perhaps the only thing more popular in the Bluegrass State than the University of Kentucky Wildcats basketball team. The Kentucky Hot Brown is to Kentucky what the green chile cheeseburger is to New Mexico. It’s a sacrosanct sandwich beloved throughout the state. Even if you haven’t been to Kentucky, you may have heard about it on the Food Network, Travel Channel, PBS or any number of nationally syndicated stations. At The Shop, it’s far from the only sandwich surprise on the menu.

QBano

Surprises start with the most important meal of the day.  The breakfast menu, served all day long (from 8AM through 3PM) offers hearty options, some of which you can’t find anywhere else in Albuquerque.  The duck hash, biscuits and chorizo gravy, shrimp and grits and of course, the Kentucky Hot Brown are just a few of them.  Lunch offerings are categorized into sandwiches (with your choice of house made chips or side salad), mac and cheese (three scrumptious options) and three creative salads (Kale Caesar anyone?) .

15 April 2015: During the Roaring 20s, the executive chef at the Brown Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky invented a sandwich to help revelers to wind down and sober up.  Today that sandwich, the Kentucky Hot Brown may be more popular (at least in the Louisville area) than the Kentucky Derby.  To say it should be served with an angioplasty may be an understatement.  This is a caloric overachiever constructed from egg-battered pain de mie (a soft-crusted butter- and milk-rich loaf), thick cut ham, white Cheddar mornay sauce (a type of Bechamel), two eggs and bacon.  Because it’s so very rich and creamy, it’s not for everyone, but everyone should try it at least once or twenty times.

Breakfast Sandwich

15 April 2015: Several years ago, former Albuquerque mayor Martin Chavez attempted a commercially-driven re-branding of the city.  Despite his efforts, the sobriquet “The Q” didn’t exactly catch on, not that anyone would believe The Shop’s QBano  is named for the mayor’s folly.   Obviously, the QBano is a Cuban sandwich, one of the very best in “The Q,”…er, the Duke City.  The canvas for this magnificent sandwich is a toasted bolillo roll stuffed and pressed with citrus-brined roasted local pork shoulder, sliced ham, yellow mustard, roasted garlic aioli, Gruyere cheese and housemade pickles.  Just perusing the ingredients will cue you in that there are many elements which make this sandwich so special.  My friend Bill raved about the garlic aioli while the pork shoulder won me over.  This is a sandwich that’s more delicious than the sum of its ingredients! 

15 April 2015: In some cultures (Vietnamese, for example), sandwiches are a breakfast mainstay.  For some reason, however, Americans seem to dismiss the notion of much more than eggs and ham on their breakfast sandwich (Cafe Bella being an exception).  Perhaps acquiescing to American tastes, The Rush’s ubiquitously named Breakfast Sandwich does indeed include eggs and a type of ham (prosciutto) then it gets creative with  tomato, arugula, and basil aioli.  There isn’t enough prosciutto to suit the ham lover in most of us and veggie haters might not like the thick tomatoes or peppery arugula, but most will enjoy the sandwich in its entirety. 

Fried Chicken Sandwich

23 April 2015:The answer-slash-punchline to the trite joke that begins “why did the chicken cross the road?” could well be “to avoid becoming a chicken sandwich.” What chicken in its right mind would want a fate so boring? Despite being so commonplace (operative word, common), the chicken sandwich at one restaurant is more of the same banality as you’ll find at almost every other restaurant. You’d think someone (besides the Stone Face Tavern) could come up with something original to do with chicken. The Shop has! Its fried chicken sandwich is constructed with a buttermilk fried chicken breast, shaved cabbage slaw, a creamy caraway dressing, housemade pickles and just enough hot sauce to create an absolutely delicious interplay with the caraway dressing. The chicken itself is moist and sheathed with a light breading which glistens from the creaminess of the caraway and fiery red of the sauce. The pickles provide a tart, but not lip-pursing foil while the shaved cabbage slaw offers a textural contrast. It’s a chicken sandwich any self-respecting chicken would gladly sacrifice its feathers to be a part of.

23 April 2015: For years I didn’t understand coffee snobs and their haughty, expensive designer mochas, lattes, espressos and cappuccinos. The lure of these trendy and upscale aromatic elixirs escaped me until my first sip of the red chili (SIC) mocha at Café Bella in Rio Rancho. To say it was love at first sip was an understatement, one that opened my eyes to the realization that maybe the coffee snobs were right. Because my daytime proximity to Café Bella has shifted by nearly twenty miles, I’ve searched high and low for a closer proximity version of the soothing, sating, invigorating siren’s call that is red chile mocha. While none have equaled the one at my beloved Café Bella, the Mexican Mocha at The Shop has lessened my pain a bit. It’s an earthy, palate-pleasing beverage which more than hints at piquancy and chocolate, two of the world’s finest taste sensations.

Housemade Granola & Yogurt (Photo Courtesy of Hannah Walraven)

19 May 2015: In the early ’70s, a television commercial for Post Grape-Nuts cereal featured outdoorsman Eull Gibbons asking viewers “Ever eat a pine tree?  Many parts are edible.”  This quote fueled the public’s imagination and made him a celebrity.  Much like Grape Nuts, granola signified the back-to-nature, whole-grain tenor which grew from the American counterculture movement of the 1960s and ’70s.  In fact, to the mainstream, granola was practically synonymous with a hippie lifestyle. 

Like many of the hippies of the ’60s and ’70s, granola has become mainstream.  Inventive restaurateurs have sown their wild oats with granola and have transformed what was once considered a sensible and healthy food concept into a popular and delicious dish.  The Shop’s rendition ranks right up there with the Flying Star‘s magnificent “Morning Sundae” as perhaps the city’s best granola dish.  This hearty housemade bowl of oats, nuts and dried fruits pairs oh so well with a tangy-sour yogurt punctuated with lemon and agave nectar and topped with fresh berries and local honey.

Duck Confit Sandwich (Photo Courtesy of Hannah Walraven)

19 May 2015: In its annual food and wine issue for 2012,  Albuquerque The Magazine named Torinos @ Homeduck confit sandwich one of the yummiest sandwiches in the city.  The Shop’s own duck confit sandwich is in rarefied air with Torinos sacrosanct sandwich as the city’s very best.  A toasted bolillo roll is the canvas for this masterpiece–a moist, delicious creation of confit duck, caramelized onions, lemon aioli, Fontina cheese, arugula and Balsamic vinaigrette.  The tangy tartness of the vinaigrette and lemon aioli complement the sweetness of the caramelized onions and the fatty richness of the duck.  It’s a sandwich that will remain on your mind long after you’ve finished it.

19 May 2015:  As we grow older, most of us no longer crave the indulgences of our childhood: Lucky Charms cereal, Franco-American’s SpaghettiOs (now with a Campbell’s Soup brand) and Smarties Candy, but we never lose our taste for Macaroni and Cheese.  Not only is it a fun food for children of all ages, it’s the epitome of comfort food favorites, each morsel imparting warmth and deliciousness.  Most of us, however, graduate well beyond the gooey, neon-bright Kraft mac and cheese out-of-a-box.  We won’t settle for less than an adult mac and cheese.

Steakhouse Mac (Photo Courtesy of Hannah Walraven)

Fortunately The Shop has us covered and not just with one adult macaroni and cheese offering.  The daily menu showcases three different mac and cheese meals: chorizo mac, bacon mac and steakhouse mac.  The latter is a beauteous bowl brimming with shaved ribeye, caramelized onions, mushrooms and a white Cheddar mornay sauce topped with Parmesan and bread crumbs.  Every forkful is an adventure in great flavors blending together.  It’s possible we may not have appreciated the steakhouse mac as children, but it’s a dish all adults will love.

While The Shop Breakfast and Lunch may be an ugly duckling compared to some of Albuquerque’s “shiny,” flashy restaurants, it’s a beautiful, graceful swan in the kitchen where some of the most creative and delicious dishes in the Nob Hill district are created.

The Shop Breakfast And Lunch
2933 Monte Vista Blvd, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 433-2795
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 19 May 2015
1st VISIT: 15 April 2015
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 22
COST: $$
BEST BET: Qbano, Breakfast Sandwich, Kentucky Hot Brown, Housemade Potato Chips, Fried Chicken Sandwich, Duck Confit Sandwich, Steakhouse Mac, Granola & Yogurt

The Shop Breakfast and Lunch on Urbanspoon