Petra Restaurant & Times Square Deli Mart – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Petra Restaurant and Times Square Deli Mart in Albuquerque

As the clock approaches midnight every year on December 31st, the eyes of the world are focused on a single geodesic sphere some twelve-feet in diameter and weighing nearly six tons.  Covered with nearly 3,000 Waterford Crystal triangles, that sphere descends slowly down a flagpole at precisely twelve o’clock, signaling the transition to a new year.  The event is witnessed by more than a billion people across the world, including more than one million who crowd the area to bid a collective adieu to the year just completed and to express hope and joy for the upcoming year.  This event takes place in Midtown Manhattan’s fabled Times Square, oft called the “crossroads of the world.” 

Contrast the bustling energy and modernity of Time Square with the sedate tranquility of the ancient city of Petra in the Middle Eastern nation of Jordan. Inhabited from 312 BC through the 1980s, Petra, a vast, unique city, carved into sheer red rock face, is most often spoken of in historical terms and indeed, much history has transpired in Petra. Petra served as a center of trade between Arabia, Mesopotamia, Egypt and the eastern Mediterranean though today it is more often recognized for its cameo role in major movie productions such as Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen than for being a United Nations World Heritage Site.

The capacious dining room

You might not know it, but in Suite C on the southwest intersection of Central Avenue and Yale Boulevard in Albuquerque, Times Square converges with Petra. No, not in the fashion of some bizarre inter-dimensional Twilight Zone or X-Files plot twist. This convergence is in the merger of restaurant concepts. The Times Square Deli Mart, a combination deli and convenience store which has operated in Albuquerque since 2007, was acquired by a delightful Palestinian family who added a Middle Eastern menu to an already bustling deli and sandwich menu. The deli portion of the complex is on the northwest corner of the capacious store, but the aroma emanating from that corner permeates its every square inch…and it’s a great aroma, the melding of spices, meats and cheeses. It’s an aroma familiar to anyone who’s lived on the east coast. It’s the aroma of a New York City deli.

Step through the front door and you’ll cast a quick glance at aisles of convenience goods, refrigerators stocked with assorted libations and behind a long counter, racks of cigarettes, but with the draw of a siren’s sweet song, you’ll be lured toward the deli area where the aforementioned meats and cheeses are lined up behind a deli case. Above the deli case is a menu listing sandwiches constructed from those meats and cheeses. It’s a carnivore and turophile paradise. Alas, during our inaugural visit since the ownership transition, my friend Bruce “Sr. Plata” Silver and I were easy prey for an enthusiastic counterman hawking the daily special, a gyros sandwich served with a side salad and fries (at a ridiculously low price).

Gyros with French Fries and Salad

Nestled within the cozy confines of a warm pita bread are slices of the lamb-beef amalgam shaved thinly from a cone-shaped spit and served with lettuce, tomatoes and tzatziki sauce. Though better gyros can be found a couple of blocks away at Gyros Mediterranean, for the daily special price, this was a filling and mostly satisfying sandwich. Rather than more meat, however, our preference would have been for meat with more juiciness (meat on a spit should practically be sweating moistness). If the accompanying salad (lettuce, tomatoes, feta cheese, pepperoncini) has any dressing, it’s applied so lightly that we couldn’t discern it. Fortunately a generous sprinkling of feta and the squeeze of two pepperoncini onto the salad made up for no or weak dressing. The fries are strictly out-of-a-bag quality.

The same smooth-talking counterman who sold us on the gyros told us the restaurant’s most popular sandwich is the Philly Cheesesteak about which he gushed effusively. Available in six- and ten-inch sizes, this Philly features thinly sliced roast beef grilled in butter sauce with seasoned and sautéed onions and green peppers under a blanket of melted American cheese. While good, it made us long for the melodic percussion of Steve Garcia chopping meat, onions, green peppers and green chile on the grill at Philly’s N Fries. That’s Albuquerque’s very best Philly and it’s probably unfair to compare it with any other. Similar to the gyros, the roast beef lacked juiciness nor did it acquire any from the sautéed onions and peppers. A different cheese would also have improved the sandwich; the melted American cheese resembled that processed cheese used on nachos served in ballparks.

Philly Cheesesteak

The menu lists a phalanx of New York style specialty sandwiches, cold sandwiches, subs and even vegetarian sandwiches as well as a Lobo Burger special. NYC deli cold cuts (roast beef, oven-roasted turkey, pastrami, corned beef and six others) are available to take home by the half-pound as is cheese (American, Swiss, Provolone, Muenster, Pepper Jack, Colby Jack). Desserts include NYC Italian cannolis, homemade rice pudding, NYC cheesecake, homemade baklava and homemade cookies. A breakfast menu includes a long-time Albuquerque favorite called the “Twin Towers,” double egg, double bacon, double sausage, double ham, double cheese, (can you say double bypass) onions and peppers on a ten-inch toasted sub roll.

The Petra Restaurant & Times Square Deli Mart may be as close to New York City as most of us get a chance to frequent. That’s reason enough to visit. So are the dozens of sandwich options and now, Middle Eastern deliciousness.

Petra Restaurant & Times Square Deli Mart
2132 Central Avenue, S.E., Suite C
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 242-0809
Web Site | Facebook Page
10 August 2016
1st VISIT:
8 November 2008

Times Square Deli Mart Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Bricklight Dive – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Brickyard Dive, a UNM area favorite

If we really are what we eat, I’m fast, cheap and easy.

Fast, cheap and easy. That would certainly describe the stereotypical college diet, especially for freshmen. On their own for the first time, freshmen eat what they want when they want it. They load up their trays with junk food in heaping helpings so mountainous it would make Dagwood Bumstead envious. They fuel marathon study sessions with sugary snacks. Exercise consists of sixteen-ounce curls, clicking the remote and fork lifts. It’s no wonder the “freshman fifteen” myth–the belief that many college students pack on 15 pounds during their first year at school–exists.

A study out of Oregon State University concluded that college students are not eating enough fruits, vegetables and fiber in their diets (not even close) and that both male and female students derived more than 30 percent of their calories from fatty foods. Not since an internet security company revealed that the most common computer password is “123456” has such an obvious nugget been divulged. Anyone who’s attended college knows that students pretty much survive on anything they can get their hands on. It’s also much easier to drive through the nearest grab and gobble emporium than it is to walk into a store and purchase fruit.

The interior of Bricklight Dive

Now, if there’s at least a smidgen of truth in some stereotypes, you can take this one to the bank: the five food groups that form the building blocks for that stereotypical college diet are pizza, burgers, French fries, sandwiches and beer. Statistics—and I’ll provide only one–will bear this out. According to PMQ Pizza Magazine, the top-rated pizza trade publication, 25 percent of all college students order pizza three or four times per month while 17.5 percent order it five times or more. That’s a lot of pie!

Similar to many, if not most, institutions of higher learning, the University of New Mexico (UNM) area is practically glutted with providers of the aforementioned five food groups. UNM’s Anderson School of Business might attribute that to savvy businesses being in close proximity to where their target demographic lives. Within blocks of UNM, you’ll find dozens of inexpensive eateries including at least a half dozen independent and corporate purveyors of pizza. Many of them stock beer, the adult beverage of choice for students (some of whom would make beer the school mascot if they could).

Housemade pita chips with an olive tapenade

It’s easy to understand the concept of captive markets (and students, many of whom don’t have vehicles, are precisely that), but what accounts for the fact that UNM area restaurants are heavily trafficked by an older, more affluent demographic decidedly not of the student persuasion? Could it be we’re all trying to relive our collegiate experience? Do we like communing with younger, cooler crowds? Is it possible that restaurants in the UNM area are really that good? For me, it’s all about the latter. The UNM area has some very good restaurants providing outstanding value for the dollar. Moreover, they don’t all fall under the five food group categorization.

The Brick Light District, a long-established area boasting of both residential and commercial development and a very hip Bohemian vibe is a hub for several popular eateries. Directly across the street from UNM on Harvard between Central and Silver, the area is named for the street’s brick sidewalks and a pedestrian-friendly, relaxed pace exemplified by its logo, a turn-of-the-century (20th) cyclist leaning on his bike. It’s the quintessential college area for hanging out.

La Bella: Chicago-style Italian Beef with giardiniera and au jus; side of Caesar salad and pickle

In January, 2011, restaurant impresario Peter Gianopoulos launched a fast casual Italian restaurant in the District offering three (four if you count the occasional burger special) of the five collegiate food groups: pizza, sandwiches and beer. Fittingly its name is the Bricklight Dive. The “Dive” part is figurative because this quaint eatery hardly qualifies as either disreputable or run-down. If anything, this 1,200 square-foot Dive shouts fun, especially when the city’s ubiquitous winds allow use of the expansive outdoor patio.

Painted in “tagger” style directly over the exit to the porch are the words “manzetta” and “porchetta,” two of the restaurant’s sandwich options. The menu (even the one on the Web site) resembles the black-and-white composition notebooks college students of last century used. Flat screen televisions flank the slate board menu on which featured fare is scrawled in multi-hued chalk. On the day of our inaugural visit, two notices were inscribed on the community board: “ Chicken, pot, pie…my three favorite things” and “Ass, grass or cash. No one dines for free.” Anywhere else, these aphorisms would constitute workplace harassment; in a college dive, it’s all good fun.

Prima Pizzetta: Natural Pepperoni, Fire-Roasted Hatch Green Chile, Slow-Cooked Tomato Sauce, Mozzarella and Goat Cheese

The menu has a distinctive approach to calling attention to its priced-right-for-students structure. At the top of the page listing salad and pizzetta (a small pizza) options is the hand-scrawled note “Eat for $7.25” with the price crossed out, supplanted directly below with the even more reasonable $6.00. On the next page, porchettas, bruschetta, manzettas and panino started off at $6.25 but are marked down to $5.00. This discounted price approach works for used car sales and it works in college area restaurants. When school is in session, throngs of diners converge on the restaurant. It’s not quite as hectic on slow, sleepy Sunday mornings when students are in…church (?).

22 April 2012: Our inaugural visit to the Dive was prompted by the promise of “amazing Chicago style Italian beef.” It’s a promise we’ve heard before, but rarely outside of Chicago is it delivered upon. In the Windy City, Italian beef is practically a religion, albeit one in which the faithful worship at high counters on which we prop our elbows, careful to avoid excessive spillage of shards of beef, bits of giardiniera and drippings of spice-laden beef gravy on our attire. The menu describes the “La Bella” as “tender Italian beef, giardiniera, garden herbs, fresh Italian baguette.” By Chicago standards, it’s a middling quality Italian beef. The beef isn’t cut nearly as thinly as true Italian beef and it isn’t nearly as “moist” even though dipping it into an “au jus” made it moreso. The giardiniera is crisp and has a briny quality, but it’s chopped a tad too big to be sandwich friendly. This sandwich comes with your choice of housemade pita chips or a Caesar salad, both of which are quite good. Frankly, for the price, you’d have to say the Italian beef sandwich is quite good, too.

Pizzetta Bianco: Mozzarella, Spinach, Prosciutto and Garlic on an Artisan White Crust

In other restaurants purporting to serve pizzetta, the resultant pie resembles something prepared in an Easy Bake oven (a functional toy oven popular in the late middle 20th century). Typically its crust is dry and brittle, ingredients are desiccated and burnt and sauce is indiscernible. At the Bricklight Dive, the pizzetta is an individual-sized Neapolitan-style, thin-crust pizza made on white or wheat crust and topped with natural ingredients. It’s also better than many more highly regarded pizzas in town (and it’s not the college student in me talking here).

22 April 2012The Prima is constructed with natural pepperoni, fire-roasted Hatch green chile, slow-cooked tomato sauce and mozzarella (on top of which I requested goat cheese). More oblong than it is round, the pizzetta is indeed thin-crusted, but formidable enough to support the high-quality ingredients generously heaped upon it. The green chile has more piquancy than at some New Mexican restaurants.  With a crust that’s both crispy and soft and ingredients that are of surprising quality considering the price, this pizzetta will not only fill you up.  It’ll please your palate.

Italian Lover’s Pizzetta

22 April 2012:  The Pizzetta Bianca (mozzarella, spinach, prosciutto and garlic on an artisanal white crust) may be even better courtesy of the interplay of ingredients with salty (prosciutto), creamy and pungent (mozzarella), lightly astringent (spinach and garlic) qualities. Thin doesn’t mean you won’t have left-over pizzetta to take home, and if you do, you’ll find the pizzetta is almost as good cold as it is out of the oven.  Over the years diners have discovered that tomato sauce isn’t requisite in order for a pizza to be delicious.  This is a cheap-eats example of a pizza sans tomato sauce that works very well.

7 August 2016:  It’s easy to walk into the Bricklight Dive and focus solely on the menu you’re handed, but you owe it to yourself to study the specials of the day.  That’s where we found the Italian Lover’s Pizzetta (basil pesto, artichoke, sun-dried tomatoes, mozzarella, goat cheese and candied walnuts).  More than any of the ingredients on their own, what we loved was the interplay of specific ingredients.  Candied walnuts and goat cheese, ingredients more often found on salads, make for nice pizza toppings, especially the candied walnuts which bring a sweet-savory dimension to a mostly savory pie.  Artichoke hearts and sun-dried tomatoes, two other salad standards, also form a good flavor counterbalance.  All in all, many Italians will indeed love this pizzetta.

Bruschetta Trio

7 August 2016: As a canvas for ingredients, there may be nothing better than bread.  On its own, bread is a favorite food for virtually every culture.  When topped with other ingredients, it’s even better. The Bricklight Dive offers six different bruschetta options, toasted artisan garlic bread slices with inventive toppings. Select any combination of three from among six options.  Our favorite, thanks to the interplay of flavor combinations that work well together is topped with Bartlett pear slices, goat cheese and candied walnuts.  Again, these are ingredients often seen on salads.  Another trio of toppings you’ll enjoy if herbaceous notes appeal to you is the bruschetta topped with Genoa salami, basil-walnut pesto and sliced tomatoes.  Balsamic-marinated mushroom, roasted red bell pepper and havarti for another terrific topping combination.

7 August 2016: The menu features three porchetta (slow-cooked and hand-pulled, housemade Italian-herb rubbed pork) sandwiches served with a pickle spear and your choice of our pita chips, lemon-Caesar salad or Tuscan potato salad.  About three dollars south of a ten-spot, the sandwich is crammed full of tender, herbaceous and sweet pork.  The “Verde,” topped with Hatch green chile and creamy havarti is my Kim’s favorite.  The havarti tempers the Hatch green chile’s piquancy, not something New Mexican fire-eaters will enjoy, but the most prominent flavor on this sumptuous sandwich is the Italian herbs with which the pork is rubbed.  You wouldn’t kick any of the accompanying sides off the plate, but because you have a choice, opt for the lemon-Caesar salad, a surprisingly tasty choice.

Porchetta Verde

Even if you can’t relive the good times of your college days, on occasion you should still eat like a college student. With restaurants such as the Brickyard Dive, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Bricklight Dive
115 Harvard SE, Suite 9
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 6 August 2016
1st VISIT:  22 April 2012
# of VISITS: 2
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Pizzetta Bianco, Pizzetta Prima, La Bella (Italian Beef Sandwich), Pita Chips with Olive Tapenade, Caesar Salad

Bricklight Dive Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

IKrave Cafe – Albuquerque, New Mexico

iKrave Cafe for Albuquerque’s very best Vietnamese Sandwiches

Please say it isn’t so!  According to Nations Restaurant News, a highly respected trade publication “a new crop of restaurant chain entrepreneurs” believes “American diners will soon embrace the Vietnamese bánh mì sandwich as the next burrito or taco.”  The notion of corporate chain megaliths setting their sights on the humble banh mi should send shudders down the spine of everyone who frequents the mom-and-pop nature of the banh mi restaurants we’ve come to know and love. Imagine a phalanx of Subway-like sandwich shops creating and selling banh mi. The notion isn’t as far-fetched as you might think.

One of the first chains vying to expand the presence of banh mi in the mainstream is Chipotle whose Asian-themed offshoot “ShopHouse Southeast Asian Kitchen” features banh mi as the menu’s cornerstone. If Chipotle does for the banh mi what it did for burritos and what Olive Garden did for Italian food, there will be generations of American diners who may never experience the real thing–an authentic banh mi prepared in the traditional manner by Vietnamese weaned on banh mi. Worse, slick Madison Avenue advertisers might convince them they prefer the faux food.

iKrave’s energetic, customer oriented owner Hien

It’s a small consolation that it will probably take a while before the heavily bankrolled chain interlopers reach Albuquerque (think about how long it took before Chipotle invaded).  That gives the Duke City’s  three established independent purveyors of peerless banh mi the opportunity to win over even more converts.  It should take only one visit!

Until just a few years ago, you had to visit larger cosmopolitan areas such as San Francisco to find banh mi.  Eventually such banh mi pioneers as May Café, May Hong and Cafe Dalat, all full-service Vietnamese restaurants, began offering “Vietnamese Sandwiches” on their appetizer menus.  Before long, almost every other Vietnamese restaurant in the Duke City followed suit.  In 2010, Banh Mi Coda became the Duke City’s first full-fledged banh mi shop.  It took three more years before Sai Gon Sandwich launched, becoming the second restaurant in Albuquerque dedicated solely to banh mi.

#4 Grilled Pork Banh Mi

The third banh mi restaurant–the one about which you may not yet have heard–is called iKrave.  The name means exactly what it sounds it should mean as in “I crave” banh mi. iKrave opened its doors in August, 2014. Being ensconced in a rather nondescript strip mall on Juan Tabo (just north of Constitution) and without a prominent eye-catching storefront, much of its business has come from the Vietnamese community and nearby residents. You wouldn’t blame them if they wanted to keep secret what is one of New Mexico’s best sandwich shops of any genre. Indeed, much of the restaurant’s traffic comes from word-of-mouth. That’s truly the best advertising you can get.

iKrave exemplifies the axioms “big things come in small packages” and “small place, huge flavors.” This Lilliputian lair has room for only a couple of small tables, a free-standing beverage refrigerator and a bamboo counter where you place your order. The man behind the counter is owner-chef Hien who not only constructs the banh mi (it’s a thing of beauty), he cures, marinades, cuts and otherwise imparts preternatural deliciousness on all the meats which grace the banh me he serves. He also slices, dices and juliennes all the fresh vegetables adorning each banh mi.

Grilled Chicken Banh Mi

To say the banh mi is a sacrosanct sandwich is an understatement. So is calling it merely delicious or utterly wonderful. During a 2009 visit to Vietnam for his award-winning “No Reservations” show, Anthony Bourdain described banh mi as “a symphony in a sandwich.” It’s an apt description for the effect this superb sandwich has on your taste buds. You can almost picture all ten-thousand taste buds dancing, enrapt in the melodious harmony of flavors

Bourdain elaborated further: “The baguette alone is something of a miracle. How do they stay so crunchy, crisp and fresh on the outside, so airy, so perfect on the inside?” In truth, this statement is much more applicable to the baguettes in Vietnam than the bread used by banh mi purveyors throughout the Duke City. Hien procures his baguettes from a local baker whose classic preparation techniques are very close to those used in Vietnam. Unlike American sandwiches whose bread can lull taste buds to sleep, Vietnamese baguettes are really the vessel that coalesces all the flavors of the banh mi.

#1 Special Combination Banh Mi

With your first bite, you’ll notice the difference and with each subsequent bite, your appreciation will grow for this delicious duality of light and airy, crisp and soft, fresh and flavorful bread. It’s the perfect canvass for any one of the eight sandwiches on the iKrave banh mi menu.  Before he creates your sandwich, Hien brushes the baguette with a rather expensive French butter then heats it.  It’s one of several touches he employs to ensure the most moist and meticulously crafted banh mi in town.  It’s sandwich artistry at its finest and most delicious.

16 April 2015: Combination #1 is the mother lode, the bahn mi with the most. It’s an unheated sandwich (the Vietnamese version of a “cold cut” sandwich, but infinitely better) constructed with barbecue pork, pork roll and cured pork pate along with the classic banh mi condiments: Vietnamese mayo (cut with butter for moistness and nuttiness), fresh herbs (cilantro, scallions), pickled (julienne daikon and carrots) and unpickled vegetables (jalapeños).  Note: For the fire-eaters among you, ask Hien to replace the jalapeños with Thai bird peppers which are far more incendiary and delicious.   The sandwich is further moistened by sauce Hien uses on the barbecue pork.  Every element in this sandwich is as fresh and delicious as it can be. Together they coalesce to create my very favorite banh mi in New Mexico.

Grilled Chicken and Pork Banh Mi

23 July 2016: if your preference is for a heated sandwich, iKrave has several wonderful options.  Savvy diners who frequent Vietnamese restaurants are familiar with grilled pork, porcine perfection marinated with the sweet spices of anise and cinnamon to create an olfactory treasure that dances on your taste buds.  Imagine a banh mi created with this incomparably delicious pork.  It’s better than your imagination.  So is the grilled chicken banh mi.  If you can’t make up your mind between grilled pork and grilled chicken, the ever-accommodating Hien will build a combination grilled pork and chicken banh mi for you.  It’s my new favorite among the grilled banh mi.

16 April 2015: You’ll want to wash down your banh mi with sugar cane juice made on the premises by Hien himself.  Take a gander at the beverage refrigerator where you’ll see bundles of sugar cane stalks from which Hien extracts the juice.  Organic Lifestyle Magazine lists sugar cane juice  (which has a relatively low glycemic index of 43), as a healthy alternative to table sugar when used in moderation. It contains fructose and glucose, which, unlike sucrose-based sugars, do not require insulin for metabolism.  Moreover, it’s absolutely delicious! Alternatively, iKrave serves what Hien believes to be some of the strongest iced coffee in town.  It’s excellent!  

Sugar Cane Juice

One of the most  common, albeit more than a little bit Americanized, nicknames for Vietnam is “Nam,” obviously a diminutive of its full name.  In honor of the banh mi, perhaps its nickname should be “num num.”  iKrave is home to banh mi which will have you uttering “num num” and more.

iKrave Cafe
1331 Juan Tabo Blvd, N.E., Suite 1P
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 275-6625
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 19 April 2015
1st VISIT: 16 April 2015
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Special Combination Banh Mi, Sugar Cane Juice, Coconut Macaroons, Grilled Pork Banh Mi, Grilled Chicken Banh Mi

Ikrave Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

DG’s Deli – Albuquerque, New Mexico

DG’s Deli, a mainstay on Martin Luther King Avenue

There are sandwich shops in New York which offer the nobility and gentry
a choice of no less than 100 different sandwiches,
all of them alluring and some of them downright masterpieces.

H.L. Mencken

In conversations with trusted gastronomes about what the Albuquerque area dining scene is most direly lacking, it’s not Basque cuisine, Russian food, Low-Country cooking or the food of any other race or ethnicity that’s most often mentioned.  Surprisingly, what my esteemed colleagues believe is most desperately needed in the Duke City is a big city deli–and not just any kind of deli.  My colleagues lament the absence of a true Kosher-style deli, the type of which were born in the Jewish enclaves of New York City in the 1930s.  While the short-lived Nosh Jewish Delicatessen & Bakery quelled some of those longings, it still wasn’t the quintessential kosher deli my urban sophisticate colleagues wanted.

Kosher-style delis are not true practitioners of traditional Kosher dietary laws, meaning the food they produce is not deemed “fit” for consumption by Jews in accordance with standards for cleanliness, spotlessness and for being “intact.”  As an example, Kosher practices forbid the consumption of meat and milk together while Kosher-style delis break taboos by offering such favorites as pastrami or corned beef (on real rye bread, of course) topped with cheese.

Hungry patrons waiting in line to place orders

It’s not the “forbidden fruit” aspects my colleagues love about the Kosher-style deli (also known as a Jewish deli or New York deli).  It’s the concept of “farshtopt” they (we) love.  Farshtopt, a Yiddish word which means “stuffed” is an understatement.  At many New York style delis, you can expect your sandwich to be over-stuffed, a skyscraper high behemoth with a pound or more of meats which are generally smoked and cured right on the premises by seasoned professionals who have been doing it for years.  You can’t get meats like this from a franchised food service provider nor will you see a pound of meat on any sandwich at any Duke City diner or deli.  Best of all, you can provision yourself with meats, cheeses, condiments and sundry deliciousness to take home.

We also love the dour disposition of the countermen who are as quick with their wit as they are with the knife.  Some may call it attitude; we call it charm.  Countermen expect you to understand the ordering process, to know what you want and to state it clearly and loudly.  If you want your pastrami a little fatty (the way former New York City mayor Koch likes it), just let them know and they’ll serve it that way.  That’s fatty as in with plenty of marbling for flavor.  Your cardiologist might not like it that way, but you will.

The walls at DG’s Deli are covered in posters: movies, musicians, pin-up girls and more

We love the New York style delis which specialize in such old-world favorites as stuffed cabbage, matzoh ball soup, knishes, lox schmear, bagels, kippers and of course, pickles (which are made on the premises in plastic garbage bags).  Frankly, there’s not much about a New York style deli we don’t like and miss.  From an experiential perspective, there’s nothing like them and the food they proffer is incomparable.  Not convinced?  Rent When Harry Met Sally and fast-forward to Meg Ryan’s er…enthusiastic reaction to a meal at Katz’s Deli in New York City.

The hard-liners among my colleagues consider the word “deli” a misnomer for any so-called “deli” in New Mexico.  Others use the word “travesty” to describe the use of the word “deli” on marquees in New Mexico.  Most have conceded that New Mexico might never have a true New York style deli.  That’s not necessarily bad.  New York style delis generally don’t serve sandwiches with green chile.  That’s one point–a huge one–you have to concede to New Mexico.  Frankly, if you can overlook the fact that you might never have a farshtopt sandwich with house-made meats, you can find very good sandwiches in New Mexican “delis,” semantics not withstanding.

A jumbo-sized green chile Philly

DG’s Deli is one such purveyor of quality sandwiches.  Founded in 1994, DG’s Deli is an Albuquerque lunchtime favorite for throngs–as in lines extending outside the door to place their orders–of sandwich lovers.  Between 11AM and 2PM, this converted grocery market is the haven and hang-out for hungry health care professionals from nearby hospitals, police officers, students and professors from the university, car dealers and just about anyone who craves the appetite-sating comfort of a very good sandwich.  During the lunch rush, DG’s receives such a high volume of calls for take-out orders that a busy signal is commonplace and if you don’t get a busy signal, you might be placed on hold for a while. Though DG’s has implemented an online ordering system, you still have to call to confirm your order.

Similar to the New York style delis of old, DG’s offers a variety of meats and cheeses for purchase: chicken breast, turkey breast, smoked turkey, domestic ham, smoked ham, mortadella, capocllo, cotto salami, Genoa salami, prosciutto, bacon, pepperoni, pastrami, corned beef, roast beef and choice ribeye steak.  Boar’s Head products are featured.  Cheese selections are white American, yellow American, pepper Jack, Cheddar, provolone and Swiss.  Available breads are hoagie, sliced wheat, sliced rye, sliced sourdough, Kaiser roll and tortilla.  Open for breakfast Monday through Friday from 9AM to 11AM, DG’s offers a nice variety of breakfast burritos, omelets and bagels.  If you’re not breakfast inclined, you can have anything from the lunch menu during breakfast hours.

A jumbo meatball sandwich

That means you can have a sandwich selection unlike any in Albuquerque–31 cold sandwiches alone, including a build your own option. They’re available in four sizes: mini (six-inches), regular (eight-inches), large (nine-inches) and jumbo (ten-inches).  A wide variety of condiments and dressings are available so you can have your sandwich your way.  The menu also showcases sixteen hot sandwiches (not available in mini), eleven “Favorites” and four Vegetarian sandwiches.  That’s more than sixty sandwiches alone, not counting daily specials.  You can have your sandwich with your choice of sides: potato salad, macaroni salad, coleslaw, chips (eleven options) and pickles.

Several sandwich purveyors in the Albuquerque area won’t use hoagie rolls baked in the Albuquerque area, citing our water’s “chemical” taste as an off-putting influence on how baked bread tastes.  DG’s obtains its hoagie rolls from the Le Paris French Bakery, an Albuquerque treasure.  The hoagie rolls are actually quite good!  The exterior crust crunches when you bite into it, but the insides are soft and chewy, a nice repository for nestling meats, condiments and seasonings.

Tuna Melt: Grilled White Meat Tuna & Swiss Cheese

27 June 2011: A triumvirate of companions with whom I frequently dine consider the Green Chile Philly to be the be-all and end-all for sandwich sumptuousness in Albuquerque.  The standard-bearer is currently Philly’s N Fries in Albuquerque and until it closed in 2011, Rocco’s Pizzeria in Rio Rancho.  The former is beloved for its flavor and the latter for its size.  The quest for a Green Chile Philly which matches Itsa for flavor and Rocco’s for sheer size may have been answered by DG’s Deli where a jumbo-sized sandwich is redolent with the flavor of sliced choice ribeye steak, mushrooms, onions, bell peppers, white American cheese and green chile.  It’s a tasty sandwich with both piquancy and size.  White American cheese is an under-utilized, under-appreciated cheese which puts the flavor profile all together on this sandwich.  It’s so good, however, that Sr. Plata, having consumed the ten-inch jumbo complained it was too small.

7 July 2011: As much as I personally love Green Chile Phillys, I wouldn’t be much of an essayist if I wrote solely about them.  It takes willpower not to order one at every visit, but doing so would mean missing out on other very good sandwiches–such as the meatball hoagie (meatballs, marinara sauce, provolone and Parmesan cheeses).  This is a behemoth in which meatballs mean meat not some mystery meat-substitute filler.  With meatballs in every bite and a sweet marinara sauce worthy of mama’s spaghetti and meatballs, DG’s rendition of a meatball hoagie is among the best in the Duke City. 

Italian Grinder

12 November 2012: DG’s is a rarity in sandwich shops in that it offers both a tuna melt and a tuna salad sandwich.  The tuna melt is for tuna aficionados who like the purity of unadorned tuna.  Unlike so many tuna sandwiches, it isn’t slathered in an excess of mayonnaise.  Nor is it served with a veritable salad of celery, onions and lettuce.  This is tuna at its essence.  In fact the only thing coming between the tuna and the bread is melted Swiss cheese, a fairly innocuous cheese that doesn’t get in the way of the tuna.

29 July 2016: If there’s one aspect of dining at DG’s that kosher deli aficionados don’t like, it’s that sandwiches aren’t at all farshtopt.  In fact, the meat on some sandwiches is nearly as rare as a Detroit Lions win (of course, this could be said about almost all sandwich joints in Albuquerque).  Case in point is the Italian Grinder (mortadella, prosciutto, salami, provolone, lettuce, tomato, onion, Italian dressing, oil and vinegar) in which the meats–a single, waifishly thin slice of each meat listed–are dwarfed by seemingly half-a-head of lettuce.  Worse, the sandwich is virtually drenched in Italian dressing, making it the predominant flavor.  Having partaken of dozens of overstuffed, meat-laden Italian grinders during my days in Massachusetts, comparisons are inevitable.  Alas, DG’s Italian Grinder falls woefully understuffed.

Not only are the sandwiches at DG’s Deli redolent with flavor and personality, the deli itself is a lively, jumping joint with something to see everywhere you turn.  Walls are festooned with posters of movies, pin-up girls (including Bettie Page), bands and more.  It doesn’t take long after you place your order for your name to be called to pick it up and ferry it back to your table as all eyes train lasciviously on the sandwich destined for your table.

The ultimate compliment I can pay DG’s Deli is to say I’d bring my friend Bob from Tesuque here for a sandwich.  Bob, who’s lived in both New York City and Los Angeles and who’s traveled extensively is a true deli connoisseur and a tough critic.  I believe he will like DG’s.

DG’s Deli
1418 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Avenue
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505)  247-DELI
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 29 June 2016
1st VISIT:  27 June 2011
COST: $$
BEST BET: Green Chile Philly, Meatball Sandwich, Tuna Melt, Italian Grinder

DG's Deli Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Limonata Italian Street Food Cafe – Albuquerque, New Mexico


While contemplating a name for their second Duke City restaurant venture, Maxime and Daniela Bouneou wanted to convey the feeling of a refreshing and invigorating venue in which their patrons could relax and enjoy themselves. After deliberating several options, they ultimately decided on Limonata, the Italian word for lemonade. When Daniela proudly told her friends in Italy what the new restaurant would be named, they laughed, reminding her that Limonata is an Italian slang term for “French kiss.”

Though Maxime and Daniela may have become a bit more “Americanized” by having lived in the United States for more than a decade, Limonata has the look, feel and most importantly, tastes of a true Italian trattoria. Limonata was launched as the more informal and sassy younger sibling of Torinos @ Home, the sensational Italian ristorante many of the cognoscenti consider one of, if not the Land of Enchantment’s best for Italian cuisine. Limonata’s menu focuses on simple fare–Italian street food–at relatively low prices in a relaxed, family-friendly atmosphere and as the Bouneous envisioned, it’s a refreshing change of pace.

Place your order here and in minutes, deliciousness will be delivered to your table

Limonata is located in Albuquerque’s Nob Hill district, one block south of Central Avenue on Silver. There’s a bit of delicious irony in that its next door neighbor is a French kiss of deliciousness, the second instantiation of P’Tit Louis Bistro.  Limonata is the eastern-most cornerstone in a contiguous complex that includes ‘Tit Louis and Ajiaco Colombian Bistro. Save for the Spanish tiled roof, the wider-than-it-is-deep building is wholly antithetical to the abobe hued stereotype of Duke City architecture. Limonata actually more closely resembles its residential neighbors than it does other area restaurants.

Step inside the welcoming edifice and you’ll be enveloped in a swath of warm colors and the architecture of a bygone era.  You’ll also be welcomed by a very courteous and professional staff, perhaps even Bill and (or) Brenda Ennis who acquired Limonata early in 2015.  With with experience in restaurants and baking, the Ennis family hasn’t skipped a beat.  Standards are still exceedingly high.  The front room, where you place your order invites browsing through the slate board on which the menu is scrawled in chalk. You’ll want to carefully study the glass display cases and their treasures. It’s a wonder there aren’t drool tracks on the glass because the tortas (Italian-style quiches) and pastries are mouth-watering.

My friend Bruce “Sr. Plata” enjoys a large house salad

The best part of waking up may just be breakfast at Limonata which offers cappuccino, espresso, lattes and cioccolata calda all’Italiana (Italian hot chocolate) as well as such breakfast favorites as granola, pastries, waffles and the New Mexican breakfast standard, the breakfast burrito.  Fresh lavender lemonade, fresh-squeezed orange juice and an array of San Pellegrino Italian fruit beverages are also available.  One of the welcome additions brought in by the new owners is an alluring assortment of sweet and savory crepes.  If it sometimes feels as if crepes are priced like gold, you’ll appreciate the reasonable prices of Limonata’s crepes.

Limonata’s goal is twofold–“make you happy” and “make you feel you are in Italy.”  Mission accomplished…or at least as much as it’s possible to do so in the desert Southwest.  A sun-bathed east-facing patio is the perfect venue for meeting up with friends and family for great conversation and (perhaps even better) food.  In the spirit of the true and authentic Italian trattoria, Limonata’s menu focuses on housemade pastas, fresh and locally sourced vegetables and produce, fine cheeses and delicious antipastos.  Because the menu offers such variety and deliciousness, repeat visits are a certainty.

Antipasto Platter

Launched on June 26th, 2012, Limonata–open from 7AM to 5PM Monday through Friday and 8AM to 5PM on Sunday–has something for all tastes, including one of the most vegetarian-friendly menus in town. Best of all, breakfast and lunch are available all day long.   Whether it’s a loaded breakfast burrito, a bowl of granola and yogurt or something as simple as toast and jam, you can’t help but start your day off in a good mood.  You’ll sustain that good mood all day long if you take home as many of Limonata’s macaroons as you can carry.

It’s been my experience (Gutiz comes to mind) that when a restaurant offers an outstanding chocolate croissant (also known as pain au chocolat), you’d better order one before they’re all gone. Don’t wait to decide if you want dessert or not. Order the chocolate croissant and don’t worry about saving the best for last. This is a life-altering chocolate croissant, on par with those at the aforementioned Gutiz. The croissant itself is very delicate and flaky. It’s also buttery, but not overly so. The chocolate is an adult chocolate, not the cloying kid stuff and there’s just enough of it.

Marionberry Pie

During a May, 2016 visit to Limonata, I had the pleasure of meeting up with my good friends Larry “the professor with the perspicacious palate” McGoldrick, the dazzling Deanell  and that culinary bon-vivant Bruce “Sr. Plata” Silver.  It was the inaugural visit for all three of them and the first time Larry and Deanell got to meet Sr. Plata.  It’s been my experience that great food is made even better by great company and sparkling conversation.  That’s an unbeatable combination.  So were the unbeatable combination of dishes we ordered, dishes which quickly won over our little gastronomic group.

31 May 2016: One of the many not-to-be-missed entrees at Limonata is the antipasto platter, a beautifully plated wooden cutting board piled generously with diverse ingredients, each one seemingly titillating different taste buds. The grilled vegetables–red peppers, grilled zucchini and eggplant–are nicely pickled so that their natural flavors are accentuated, not masked. One of the platter’s many highlights are the pickled cipolline onions. Cipolline onions are saucer-shaped Italian pearl onions with a uniquely sweet and mild flavor. They are positively addictive.  So is the goat cheese which Deanell found delightful on or independent of the focaccia, half a loaf of which is served with each antipasto platter.  The meats–mortadella and prosciutto–on the antipasto platter are an excellent foil for the vegetables.  The mortadella, a generously sliced pork sausage, will remind you that to ever equate it to American baloney is an insult.  The thinly-sliced, salt-cured prosciutto is nicely marbled for flavor richness.

31 May 2016:  It’s a given that if a menu features something this gastronome has never previously tried, it’ll be crossing my lips in short order.  Limonata’s dessert case included one such item–marionberry pie which I jokingly referred to as “Marion Barry,” for the disgraced former mayor of Washington, D.C.  Marrionberry is a cross between Chehalem blackberry and Olallieberry blackberry.  If that doesn’t help much, think of it as sweeter and not as tangy as blackberries.  At any regard, it’s a delicious pie, densely packed with berries sandwiched between a flaky crust (alas rendered somewhat flaccid by being microwaved). 

31 May 2016: According to The Kitchn, one of the ten food items which defined the 1970s was salad bars with Green Goddess and Ranch dressings.  We’ve come a long way since the disco era.  Salads are much more diverse and imaginative while retaining many of the healthful properties that have long made salad a dietary staple.  Limonata’s large house salad is a bounty of the garden, a plate brimming with organic baby green mix, grilled zucchini and eggplant, red bell pepper, tomatoes, chicken mix, cipollini onions and a shallot vinaigrette.  It’s a far cry from the relatively plain, iceberg lettuce-laden salads of yesteryear.  Best of all, it’s both good for you and delicious to eat.

Limonata is a fabulous Italian trattoria with an inspired menu served in the European fashion.  Though separated from Route 66 by one mere block, a visit may transport you to Italy.

Limonata Trattoria
3222 Silver Street, S.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 266-0607
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 31 May 2016
1st VISIT: 3 November 2012
COST: $$
BEST BET:  Chocolate Croissant, Antipasto Platter,  Lavender Lemonade, Large House Salad

Limonata Italian Street Food Caffe on Urbanspoon

Guava Tree Cafe – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Guava Tree Cafe on Richmond in the Nob Hill District

A few years ago, my friend Bill Hanson, a gastronome of the first order, was hosting several of his Costa Rican employees  at Intel’s Ocotillo (Arizona) plant.  Like me, Bill delights in introducing his friends to new culinary adventures.  Unfortunately, not all our colleagues were similarly inclined (despite one of Intel’s corporate values being “risk-taking”).  One of them convinced the “Ticos” that the restaurant they should not miss for a “true American dining experience” was Claim Jumper, a regional chain (and slight upgrade from Chili’s).

Ever the gracious host, Bill acquiesced to the Ticos’ request.  I’ll let him describe the rest (from his gastronomic blog The Tao of Chow): “As each dish was produced and delivered to the table I sank further into my chair as the American decadence of over indulging was displayed in glorious Sysco provided plates heaping with food. Each dish could have easily have served three people as I sat and wondered how much food was actually consumed versus how much went into the dumpsters out back.”

Two hungry patrons waiting to order

If the Ticos were disappointed in any way with the cavalcade of calorie-laden comestibles brought to the table, you’d never know it.  To break bread (or arepas) with a Tico is to experience Pura Vida, the vibrant joie de vivre that is not only the national phrase of Costa Rica, it’s the national attitude.  Pura Vida translates literally to “pure life,” but the actual meaning is more akin to “life is good!”  Ticos live life the way they eat–to the fullest.

Pura vida is the attitude Diego and Mari Barbosa have infused into the Guava Tree Cafe, a Latin American restaurant on Richmond Drive just south of Central Avenue in the Nob Hill district.  Though neither are from Costa Rica (Diego is from Colombia and Mari is from El Salvador), they met in and lived in the scintillating Central American tropical paradise for eight years. Their philosophy is that “food is art and food is life.”   Their vision is for the Cafe to be a neighborhood gathering space in which their guests can enjoy each others’ company in the spirit of pura vida while enjoying slow-cooked home-style food, the best kind.  They invite guests to make this space their own and promise to have something good to eat whenever you visit.

Left: Orange Juice-Mango-Milk; Right: Orange Juice-Passion Fruit-Milk

The Guava Tree Cafe opened in November, 2010 in a converted old home on Yale Boulevard before moving five years later to its current location in a more heavily-trafficked area.    Though situated in a larger two-story edifice, the Cafe seems even more crowded.  You may find yourself paraphrasing the old western cliche “this hallway’s not big enough for the two of us” as you make your way to the counter at which you place your order.  It’s not uncommon for the queue to start just outside the restaurant and end at that counter.

The dining area consists of only a few tables in personal space proximity to one another.    Lively Latin music plays in the background, not too loud for conversation and not loud enough for dancing should the spirit of pura vida overcome you.  Once you place your order, expect a bit of a wait.  The Guava Tree prepares food to order.  You won’t find food sitting under a heat lamp here!  All these factors were considered in MSN’s decision to name The Guava Tree one of the 50 best restaurants in America list.  In naming Guava Tree as the 31st best restaurant in the fruited plain, MSN indicated “this little restaurant has great Caribbean and Latin American-inspired food. With many Cuban type sandwiches and avocados in most of their food, this place definitely has the delicious lunch thing down.” 

Cubano: House‐roasted pork,sweet ham, Swiss cheese, pickles and yellow mustard,warm‐pressed on 8.5"Cuban bread


In January, 2015, the Movoto Blog, a blog celebrating the lighter side of real estate, did a seriously great job of naming “15 New Mexico Restaurants Which Will Blow Your Taste Buds Out Of Your Mouth.”   According to Movoto “You’ll never find a better balance of Caribbean spices in New Mexico then you will at Guava Tree Café.  With cuisine heavily influenced by Latin America and island life, menu items like the stuffed arepas and the Cuban sandwich will leave you craving more.  Just make sure you don’t leave without trying the yucca fries.” 

In its October, 2014 issue, Women’s Day magazine named Albuquerque as home to one of the country’s up-and-coming food scenes. Taking input from Yelp, the magazine evaluated cities with a large proportion and variety of highly rated new restaurants, delis, grocery stores and other purveyors of comestibles. The article didn’t cite the usual suspects in the pantheon of outstanding New Mexican restaurants. Instead, Women’s Day touted a “handful of new Peruvian, Costa Rican and Cuban spots” which have “reenergized local palates.” Three Duke City restaurants were singled out: Pollito Con Papas, Guava Tree Cafe and Pasion Latin Fusion.

Pernil: slow roasted Caribbean‐rubbed pork with Swiss cheese, caramelized onions and home‐made garlic sauce


1 May 2016: While you wait, you’ll want to luxuriate in a cafe con leche (Spanish for “coffee with milk”), a strong coffee mixed with scalded milk.  Sometimes called Cuban coffee, it’s the type of coffee which will envelop you warmly as you contemplate how strong coffee can be so mellow.  Usually sweetened to taste, it’s the type of coffee which goes well with Latin American cuisine and the pura vida attitude. 

14 December 2013: At the opposite end of the spectrum are the tropical fruit blends called “juice en leche” on the menu.  En leche means with milk.  The OJ & Mango and Milk, served chilled and thick but not overly sweet is one of the very best smoothie type beverages I’ve ever had. The catalyst is the sweetened condensed milk which counterbalances to the perfect extent, the citrusy flavors of the mango and orange juices. Equally good is the mango juice sans milk.

Ajiaco: Traditional chicken, corn and potato chowder,with authentic Guasca herb topped with avocado, corn on the cob and shredded chicken, and served with a side of cream and capers


20 May 2011: The menu is segmented into three sections: sandwiches, arepas and tamales, and soups and salads.  Sandwiches are described as “8-inches full of flavor.”  They’re crafted on fresh bread pressed panini-style and wrapped in thin butcher paper.  The bread, a Puerto Rican bread known as “pan de agua” is baked specially for the Guava Tree Cafe by Albuquerque’s Fano Bread Company.  The specialty of the house is the Cuban Sandwich, Miami-style heaven.  It’s crafted with home-roasted pork shoulder which has been marinated for several days until “it’s all happy” (which the chef can tell by it’s singing of the “Tico Tico” in the fridge).  The pork is sliced thickly and combined with sweet or “bolo” ham, Swiss cheese and pickles on the flat, crunchy bread.

The Cuban Sandwich so enamored Larry McGoldrick that the professor with the perspicacious palate described it as “the absolute best that I have ever had anyplace in this universe or its parallels.”  That’s high praise indeed from a well-traveled bon vivant who’s not often given to hyperbole.  If anything, Larry may have undersold this Cuban Sandwich.  It is one of the very best sandwiches of any kind in the Duke City.

Guava Tree Salad: House roasted mushrooms, caramelized onions,roasted peppers black olives and queso fresco dressed with house‐made vinaigrette

Guava Tree Salad

The roast pork, in particular, is superb, more than several orders of magnitude better than the pre-sliced variety offered on many sandwiches throughout the Duke City.  The bolo ham is cured and sweet, a complete antithesis the overly-salted hams which seem to be in favor among sandwich purveyors.  The crusty exterior and soft inside texture provide a delicious home for outstanding ingredients prepared exceptionally well.  The  Cuban Sandwich is truly a little piece of Miami heaven Duke City diners will love.

20 May 2011: Vegetarians who may feel left out by the dearth of sandwiches crafted with them in mind will love the Luciano, a plancha-pressed beauty on wheat bread.  Layers of flavor is an apt description for this panini piece of art.  A generous smear of chimichirri (a flavor-packed green sauce made from finely chopped parsley, minced garlic and a host of other seasonings) starts the flavor parade which is ameliorated by grilled provolone cheese and house-roasted red peppers.


20 May 2011: I’ve often lamented the desiccation of dishes showcasing chicken.  With few exceptions, show me a sandwich, pizza or pasta dish in which chicken is used and I’ll show you a dry and dull dish.  It’s as if some chefs are out to prove chicken is not an aquatic fowl.  Guava Tree’s El Guava Pollito sandwich proves chicken doesn’t have to be desert-dry.  The shredded chicken breast is moist and succulent, obviously the product of the chef’s attentiveness and mastery over temperature and time.  The chicken is absolutely bursting with flavor and would be good on its own, but its greatness shines when melded with Swiss cheese, caramelized onions, mushrooms, greens and tomatoes.

14 December 2013:  It’s well acknowledged that a true Cubano is an ode to pernil (roast pork shoulder), and while the Cubano showcases the versatility of pernil, there are many ways to enjoy it.  The Guava Tree offers the Pernil, a panini constructed with irresistible slow-roasted Carribean-rubbed pork, Swiss cheese, caramelized onions and homemade garlic sauce.  The garlic sauce is the perfect foil for the sweet caramelized onions and both pay tribute to the magnificence of the pork.  Then, of course, there’s the magical pan de agua, likely the best canvas for panini-style sandwiches in the Duke City.  If you’re tired of panini that tears up the roof of your mouth, you’ll appreciate the loving tenderness of The Guava Tree’s cloud-like panini.

Pastel Tres Leche

Tres Leches

20 May 2011: The vast diversity of the countries and cultures comprising Latin America means there are so many things to explore and learn about the cuisine.  Even among nations bordering one other, the same dishes are often prepared in vastly different but always delicious ways.  New Mexicans might be surprised at tamales the way they’re prepared throughout Latin America.  It’s not corn husks which sheath the masa-covered ingredients but banana leaves which impart a delicious herbal flavor and uncommon moistness to food prepared within them.  Within the masa of Guava Tree’s tamales are the incomparable roast pork, a vegetable medley and sweet peppers.

Among the most ubiquitous of dishes served throughout Latin America are the tasty triumvirate of black beans, rice and sweet plantains, all three of which are prepared well at the Guava Tree.  My Puerto Rican friends in the Air Force could subsist on this tasty trio, but American tastes which are more accustomed to heavily seasoned flavor profiles might not be as enamored. Perhaps that’s one reason the three are served as sides and not as main entrees. 

Pastelito de Guayaba

14 December 2013: Ajiaco, a type of Colombian soup, may be the quintessential soul-warming soup, a true exemplar of the term “comfort food.”  It’s nurturing and warm with a unique deliciousness.  The ingredients on this traditional corn and potato chowder include shredded chicken, Guasca (a herbaceous plant often called the potato weed), avocado and corn-on-the-cob served with a side of cream and capers.  This jumble of ingredients melds into an absolutely delicious concoction though New Mexicans might, like me, wonder what it would taste like with a little green chile.  The corn-on-the-cob is a wonderful surprise as is the unctuous avocado.

14 December 2013: If you’re tired of salads in which ingredients are obfuscated by strong dressings, the Guava Tree Salad is your huckleberry.  This is a salad which emphasizes its constituents with only a lightly drizzled housemade vinaigrette, not some overly sweet or tangy masking agent.  The ingredients which are allowed to shine on their own are house-roasted mushrooms, caramelized onions, roasted red peppers, black olives, queso fresco and a tangle of crisp, fresh greens.  It’s a salad in which freshness stands out.  

14 December 2013: Desserts are easily a worthy equal to the savory portion of your meal.  You owe it to yourself to save room and splurge on the tres leches, prepared Costa Rican style.  Can I have a “pura vida” here?  At its essence, a tres leches cake is made from three milks: sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk (or regular milk) and heavy cream, making it one of the most rich, moist and decadent desserts you can have.   The Guava Tree version is served in an aluminum foil muffin cup and is topped with a frothy whipped cream.  Below the whipped cream is pure, calorie-laden deliciousness, a tres leches cake as good as any you’ll ever have.

14 December 2013: Another must-have dessert is the Pastelillo de Guayaba, a Cuba pastry very much resembling an empanada.  Its light, flaky, multi-layered crust gives way to a wonderful mixture of guava and cream cheese.  The interplay of flavors and textures–the rich and dense cream cheese, the savory, puffy crust and the sweet tartness of the guava–is a terrific combination.  Purchase a half dozen to take home and it’s not likely they’ll make it there.  This is an addictively delicious and memorable pastry.

The Guava Tree Cafe invites you to partake of a piece of la pura vida as well as some of the most delicious sandwiches and sumptuous surprises in the Duke City. 

Guava Tree Cafe
216 Yale Blvd, S.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 990-2599
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 1 May 2016
1st VISIT: 20 May 2011
COST: $$
BEST BET: Latin Tamale, Plantains, Cuban Sandwich, El Guava Pollito, The Luciano, The Pernil, Ajiaco, Guava Tree Salad, Pastel Tres Leche, Pastelillo de Guayaba

Guava Tree Cafe on Urbanspoon

Cheesy Street – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Cheesy Street for Grown-up Grilled Cheese Sandwiches and More

There once was a sandwich with cheese,
That quickly brought me to my knees.
Toasted, roasted. Oh sweet bliss.
I’d be completely remiss
Not to say, I’ll take two please.
~Ode To Grilled Cheese
Courtesy of Clean Eats, Fast Feets

Comedian Rodney Dangerfield used to joke that “I’m at the age where food has taken the place of sex in my life.  In fact, I’ve just had a mirror put over my kitchen table.”  Masterfully delivered in his inimitable perennial loser persona, that joke followed the thematic formula of his landmark 1980 album “No  Respect.” With that joke, the pudgy bug-eyed comic unabashedly hinted at the importance of food porn in his life without actually uttering the term.  Fittingly, Dangerfield, who based his entire comedy routine on getting no respect, isn’t even given the respect and credit for first suggesting the notion of food porn.

In fact it wasn’t until 1984 that the term “food porn” was coined when author Rosalind Coward wrote in her groundbreaking book Female Desires: How They Are Bought and Packaged:  “Cooking food and presenting it beautifully is an act of servitude. It is a way of expressing affection through a gift… That we should aspire to produce perfectly finished and presented food is a symbol of a willing and enjoyable participation in servicing others. Food pornography exactly sustains these meanings relating to the preparation of food. The kinds of picture used always repress the process of production of a meal.”

Place Your Order and In Minutes, You’re on Cheesy Street

Today food porn is both an art and a science, perhaps best exploited to its utmost by an enterprising advertising industry.  The Huffington Post believes “food commercials sexualize food, likening it to a lewd pastime that could replace sex altogether.”  Artfully arranged culinary concoctions are presented in print ads and television commercials designed to entice viewers to make a run to nearby fast food chain emporiums which promise to assuage our  lascivious cravings for deliciously depicted Big Macs, Whoppers, Quesalupas and Footlongs from Subway.  “Real” foods almost never look anything like the posed foods depicted in media.

Were it not for the remote control which allows us to change channels during commercials, many of us would be powerless against the unrelenting enticement of the food porn which dominates the airwaves in thirty second segments during prime-time.  Alas, Hollywood still manages to ensnare our attention by depicting food porn in all its mouthwatering, hunger-inducing, gotta-have-it-now glory.  Television shows and movies elevate simple food to true food pornography, as sensual and stimulating as any carnal act.  The raw sensuality and unadulterated allurement of food is perhaps most effective when the construction of sandwiches is aired in close-up.

The Dubliner with Bacon

Who can ever forget Adam Sandler lovingly constructing “the greatest sandwich in the world” for Paz Vega in the 2004 comedy-drama-romance Spanglish?   Relying heavily on high-quality ingredients, the sandwich–constructed from a rustic white bread, Monterey Jack cheese, mayonnaise, butter lettuce, fresh tomato slices, bacon and a fried egg over-easy–even manages to pull the attention of every XY-chromosome paired, red-blooded viewer away from the sultry Spanish siren.

Then there’s the scene in the movie Chef in which Jon Favreau’s character constructs a simple grilled cheese for his ten-year-old son.  Though the scene has our rapt attention from the moment butter is slathered on a slice of bread, the first sizzle on the grill evokes salacious salivation.  When the sandwich is sliced in half and a cascade of molten cheese slowly oozes out from between perfectly golden slices of crisped bread, our wanton lust reaches a crescendo.  We have to have a grilled cheese sandwich now!

Spaghetti Grilled Cheese

Such was our recent experience during our nth viewing of Chef.  Alas, we were unable to duplicate the magic of carefully orchestrated food porn.  We decided to leave it to the pros, determining we’d visit Cheesy Street the next time it was in the neighborhood.  Cheesy Street, one of the metropolitan area’s most revered food truck virtually since its launch in September, 2013, has elevated the grilled cheese from simple comfort food to creative and innovative grilled cheese you will crave.  Cheesy Street is a mobile purveyor of food porn, featuring a rotating selection of grilled cheese deliciousness along with fresh soups and desserts. 

Fortunately for us, Cheesy Street is a frequent guest of the Westside Marble Brewery not too far from our humble abode.  Cheesy Street is easy to spot with its shamrock-green countenance and long queues of hungry diners waiting to place their order.  The Westside Marble Brewery is a perfect host.  Place your order at the food truck’s order counter and you can saunter over to the comfy confines of a very friendly watering hole where your order will be delivered in due course.  If you don’t partake of adult beverages, the Brewery offers excellent non-alcoholic libations (and they’re not the usual Coke or Pepsi suspects).  Ostensibly they all pair well with grilled cheese.

Tomato Basil Soup

Only five grilled cheese sandwiches graced the menu during our inaugural visit, each one a tempting combination of flavor and innovation.  We did a double-take at seeing The Dubliner, a grilled cheese sandwich sharing the name of one of my favorite burgers from The Placitas Cafe.  Described as a “St. Paddy’s Special” constructed from “decadent Irish Cheddar cheese with tart green apple slices,” this is a superb version of grilled cheese food porn made even more sultry with bacon.   Dubliner Cheddar has a distinctive flavor, imparting a sweet, lingering aftertaste.  Despite a firm and slightly dry texture, it melts nicely.  The richness of the molten Dubliner pairs magnificently with the tartness of the green apples and the smoky saltiness of the crisp bacon.

My Kim’s choice, Spaghetti Grilled Cheese, is aptly reflective of her playful nature.  As described on the menu this sumptuous sandwich “sounds funny, tastes amazing.”  Between two golden-hued slices of  bread grilled in garlic butter you’ll find mounds of sausage spaghetti topped with mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses.  Strands of spaghetti escape their crispy confines on all four sides, but unlike with their plated brethren, you won’t have a red sauce mustache from slurping them up.  If you’ve always enjoyed the combination of spaghetti and garlic bread, you’ll enjoy this Italian inspired sandwich.

Irish Cream Bread Pudding

Few food pairings go as well as grilled cheese and tomato soup.  Cheesy Street’s homemade tomato and basil soup is not only soul-warming and comforting, it’s healthy, always vegetarian and gluten-free.  It’s not especially thick or creamy, but it does accentuate the acidity of tomatoes and the brightness and freshness of the basil very well.  This is the type of soup that transcends the seasons; it’ll be good any time of year and with any type of  weather.

Cheesy Street’s version of Irish Cream Bread Pudding is surprisingly good, especially considering it’s served in a Styrofoam cup.  What makes it uniquely delicious is just how much of the bread pudding is caramelized. Biting into those crispy edges we initially thought were burnt bread was akin to biting into bread pudding candy.  Texturally, the contrast between the soft, eggy bread and the caramelized edges is an enjoyable postprandial experience, a fitting way to complete a meal of luscious food porn.

April is National Grilled Cheese Month. There’s no better way to celebrate this momentous month than a visit or ten to perhaps the metropolitan area’s best purveyor of creative grilled cheese deliciousness. It’s a good thing food porn isn’t illegal because it’s out in the open at Cheesy Street.

Cheesy Street
Location Varies
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 352-4151
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 13 March 2016
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Irish Cream Bread Pudding, Tomato-Basil Soup, Spaghetti Grilled Cheese, The Dubliner with Bacon

Cheesy Street Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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