Oak Tree Cafe – Albuquerque, New Mexico

The Oak Tree Cafe is now on Alameda as of April, 2013

This isn’t Burger King!
You can’t have it your way.
You get it our way or you don’t get it at all.

For some reason, human beings seem inclined to level criticism by the shovelful while apportioning praise and plaudits by the thimbleful.  We  seem genetically predisposed to put more stock into negativity than we are to believe the best of others.  We consider compliments to be based on insincerity or ulterior motives.  Even our television viewing preferences gravitate toward gratuitous depictions of misbehavior and depravity.  We consider unwatchable any movie or television show portraying kindness and humanity.

That grim indictment of humanity is, by virtue of its own unflattering characterization, itself an example of misanthropic pathos.  In the spirit of John 8:7, I will cast the first stone at myself.  For years, I heard about a humble little sandwich shop in which customer service was said to be more than a slogan; it was a way of doing business.  Instead of embracing this supposed people-pleasing panacea, my first inclination was skepticism and a willingness to lump the Oak Tree Cafe with any number of other eateries which provide good service, albeit with transparent insincerity.

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Affable proprietor Rob Carson at the counter where you place your order

You’re no doubt familiar with the type of restaurant of which I’m talking  (chains are especially good at this). The minute you walk in, a painted-on smile approaches you and begins the well-rehearsed wait “schtick” that typically begins with something like, “I’m Julie and I’ll be your server tonight.”  Periodic visits to your table (usually when your mouth is full) include perfunctory chit chat as well as refills and more napkins.  Though typically not unpleasant, this type of service is still rather impersonal and unmemorable.  It’s essentially a game of reciprocal expectations between customer and client; both parties know what to expect and fulfill their respective roles.  It’s basically harmless.

Unfortunately, as feedback to this blog will attest, for some restaurants, harmless would be a vast improvement. Some restaurants, it seems, don’t seem to understand that good customer service is the lifeblood of any business. All too often, customer service appears to be of the “This isn’t Burger King!  You can’t have it your way.” variety.   This type of service is characterized by a haughty disregard for the axiom that the customer is always right.  Its rendition of the golden rule stops at “do onto others” as in “do ignore them,” “do belittle them,” do patronize them.”  Quite naturally it dissuades return visits.

The Taos

Since most customer service seems to fall somewhere between the impersonal and well-rehearsed wait schtick and the “you get it our way or you don’t get it at all” approach, you’ll forgive me if I was skeptical about the Oak Tree Cafe.  It really is too easy to be cynical about a restaurant which has made its reputation not only because of its great sandwiches, but because of its genuinely warm, personable and attentive service.  Though I’m not from Missouri, Oak Tree would just have to show me.

The Oak Tree Cafe was founded just over a quarter century ago by the father-son duo of Michael and Rob Carson who worked side-by-side until Michael’s death at age 86 in 2009.  Today Rob is ably assisted by a kitchen staff which abides with the cafe’s long-standing tradition of excellent customer service.  In the tradition of Cheers, television’s friendliest bar, it seems everyone–or at least Rob–knows the name of all regulars as they walk in.  He also knows each regular’s “usual,” what those regular patrons like to order when they visit.  If my first few visits are any indication, the regulars outnumber new visitors undoubtedly eager to find out if the cafe’s reputation for outstanding food and exceptional service is well deserved.

Hot Corned Beef on Rye With a Side Order of Chips and Fresh Fruit

In April, 2013, the Oak Tree Cafe relocated from its Uptown location to a new shopping center at 4545 Alameda, N.E. (just west of Jefferson).  The Oak Tree Cafe’s digs are 2,500 square-feet of welcome to west side diners whose sandwich options were primarily chain restaurants which blight their neighborhoods.  An outdoor patio with umbrella-shaded tables accommodates another forty guests or so.  At its expansive new location, the Oak Tree Cafe now serves burgers, beer, wine and appetizers. 

As of my initial visit to the Alameda location on 10 May 2013, only the famous Oak Tree bell hasn’t made it to its new home.  At the Uptown location, once you took your seat, conversations with your dining companions were periodically be punctuated by the tintinnabulation of a bell positioned by the cafe door.  As customers exited, they were invited to please ring the bell “if the food was great and service was crazy.”  Without exception, everyone exiting the premises rang the bell.  Even if Rob doesn’t bring the bell back, the service remains great and the service as crazy as ever.

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The Oak Tree Combo Sandwich

For a restaurant with a reputation for service, it’s surprising to find that there is no tableside wait service.  Instead you’ll place your order at a counter, interacting with an affable server (maybe even Janet, Rob’s pulchritudinous bride as of August, 2016) who’s happy to answer any questions you may have or to make recommendations if you need them.  When you first walk in don’t be surprised to be greeted with a friendly handshake and an introduction “I’m Rob Carson.  Welcome to the Oak Tree Cafe.”  It probably won’t be the only time you interact with Carson who’s a peripatetic presence at the restaurant, flitting throughout the premises with an ambassadorial flair.

The sandwiches warrant not only bell-ringing, but cheers. They’re that good! The sandwich and wraps menu is formidable, nearly two dozen different sandwiches crafted on fresh bread, (sub rolls, wheat, rye, white, Kaiser rolls and French rolls) either toasted or untoasted.  Meat products come from Boar’s Head.  Sandwiches are named for faithful customers, New Mexico landmarks and celebrities such as Monty Hall and Al Capone.  Each sandwich towers with meats, condiments and ingredients, some of which are infrequently found at other Duke City sandwich shops.

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Beer-battered “Black and Tan” onion rings, some of the very best in Albuquerque

5 July 2011: If you’re uncertain as to what sandwich to order, focus your study of the menu on those crafted with roast beef, a specialty of the house. The roast beef is slow-cooked on the premises from choice top round. It’s as tender as a marshmallow and as moist and delicious as any roast beef you’ll ever have anywhere! The Taos–hot USDA choice top round roast beef, melted Monterey Jack, grilled onions, grilled green chile, tomato, mayo and lettuce on a fresh-baked Kaiser roll–showcases layer upon layer of roast beef, so juicy and unctuous it resembles a hamburger patty until you taste it.  That’s when you gain an appreciation for how wonderful roast beef can be.  It’s especially wonderful when its flavor profile melds with the other ingredients which make this my choice for best roast beef sandwich in town.

5 July 2011: During my inaugural visit to the Menaul location, the special of the day featured an ingredient combination–hot corned beef on rye toast topped with grilled onions, Monterey jack cheese, banana peppers, lettuce, tomato and deli mustard–that made my taste buds very happy.  The combination of banana peppers, deli mustard and grilled onions was especially notable, a complementary mix of sweet, savory and tangy flavors.  This sandwich is piled about twice as high as many other sandwiches you’ll find in local eateries.  It also stands tall above the rest in terms of pure deliciousness.

Fried green beans with green chile Ranch dressing

Fried green beans with green chile Ranch dressing

The sprawling Alameda location is every bit as accommodating and friendly as its previous home.  Even the menu bespeaks of friendliness with the slogan “A warm, friendly atmosphere full of camaraderie and congeniality.”  Location aside, the biggest difference between one location and another is the menu which now includes three gourmet burgers, chicken sandwiches, salads and appetizers.  Sandwiches are the Oak Tree Cafe’s raison de’etre and will probably always be the most popular draw, but burgers and chicken sandwiches will beckon, too.

Although all sandwiches are served with a pickle spear and your choice of homemade apple coleslaw, homemade macaroni salad or fresh fruit, you owe it to yourself to try some of the other sides on the menu: hand-cut fries, sweet potato fries or beer-battered onion rings.  The beer-battered black and tan onion rings are among the two  best in the city (the others being from Flamez Burgers & More).  These golden hued beauties are served on a tree-like apparatus, just ready to be plucked.  Bite into them and onion juiciness squirts out, a wonderful departure from the usual desiccation you experience with out-of-the-bag onion rings most restaurants serve. 

Janet's Bacon Green Chili Burger

Janet’s Bacon Green Chili Burger

10 May 2013: Much as the burgers and chicken sandwiches beckon, chances are you’ll succumb to the stronger calling of a sumptuous sandwich.  One of the best is the Oak Tree Combo, a sandwich honoring the years spent at the San Mateo (Uptown) location.   This is a sandwich’s sandwich, a meaty behemoth on a Kaiser roll.  The ingredients–USDA top round roast beef, turkey breast, corned beef, melted Swiss cheese, melted Cheddar cheese, mayo, lettuce and tomatoes–go very well together.  It’s such a good sandwich, you may mourn finishing your last bite. 

13 June 2013:  On the day of my second visit to the Alameda location, it did my heart good to see more cars parked in front of the Oak Tree Cafe than there were in front of Panera Bread, a chain restaurant five miles away which also serves sandwiches.  It goes to show Duke City Diners can be a discerning lot that recognizes the superiority of locally owned and operated restaurants and home-grown touches such as the Oak Tree Cafe’s green chile Ranch dressing which accompanies the fried green beans.   While no dressing is necessary for these perfectly breaded, perfectly fried green beans, a little piquancy and roasted flavor goes a long way.

The Father Paul Sandwich, “Heaven in a Sandwich”

13 June 2013: The best new green chile cheeseburger I’ve had in 2013 is the quaintly named Janet’s Bacon Green Chili (SIC) Burger, a burger so good the Oak Tree Cafe can get away with the Texas-like spelling of New Mexico’s official state vegetable.  The burger is named for the delightful Janet, Rob’s fiance and a partner in the restaurant.   All the burgers at the restaurant are made from fresh ground beef from Nelson’s Meat Market formed on the premises daily and served on a fresh bakery bun.  The Janet invites you to “Cowgirl It Up” (a phrase meaning stop being a sissy) with this half-pound behemoth topped with pecan-smoked bacon, Pepper Jack cheese, New Mexico green chile, red onions, lettuce and tomatoes.  The green chile has a nice roasted flavor and just enough bite to let you know it’s there.  The beef is moist and perfectly prepared at about medium.  The bacon is terrific as is the cheese.  It’s a burger which goes very well with the onion rings.

13 June 2013: If you’ve ever wondered what “heaven in a sandwich” tastes like, try the Father Paul Sandwich, named for a Catholic priest friend of Rob Carson.  Although Father Paul is now in Florida, this sandwich is a terrific legacy to leave behind.  The sandwich is constructed on a baguette which is ungashtupt (that’s Yiddish for overstuffed) with USDA top round roast beef, melted Swiss cheese, red onions, deli mustard, lettuce and tomatoes.  The deli mustard pulls no punches, enlivening the sandwich with an eye-watering flavor that complements the tender as butter roast beef.  If you’ve discerned a predilection for ordering roast beef sandwiches, it’s simply because The Oak Tree Cafe serves the very best roast beef in Albuquerque.

Mike's Chicken Sandwich: Six-ounce chicken breast, jalapeño bacon, Pepperjack cheese, honey mustard, topped with lettuce and tomatoes

Mike’s Chicken Sandwich

18 June 2013: While turkey is often blamed for post-meal Thanksgiving lethargy, chicken actually has more of the serotonin-boosting tryptophan than turkey does.  Perhaps that’s why most chicken sandwiches bore me to the point of sleepiness.  In the spirit that the Oak Tree Cafe can do no wrong, I didn’t put up much resistance when Janet recommended Mike’s Chicken Sandwich, a six-ounce grilled chicken breast, jalapeño bacon, Pepperjack cheese and honey mustard topped with lettuce and tomatoes.  This is what all chicken sandwiches should aspire to. The chicken (no breading) is grilled to perfection, but what makes this sandwich special is the combination of smoky-piquant bacon, slightly incendiary Pepperjack cheese and the honey mustard.  This is a multi-napkin affair, a very juicy and delicious chicken sandwich that won’t leave you sleepy after consuming it.

8 July 2013: It’s entirely conceivable that if the 1982 best-seller Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche were to be rewritten for the new millennium, quiche would be replaced on the title by tortilla wraps or maybe quesadillas.  It’s practically an XY chromosome expectation that real men order behemoth sandwiches overstuffed with ingredients.  Real men certainly wouldn’t order a tortilla wrap with raspberry sauce of all things.  That is unless real men are really comfortable in their own skin or who don’t want to miss out on a terrific tortilla wrap constructed with superb ingredients.  The Roasted Raspberry Chipotle Wrap is bursting with roasted turkey breast, cream cheese, New Mexico green chile, spring mix, tomatoes and raspberry chipotle sauce wrapped in a tortilla.  The combination of green chile and raspberry chipotle gives the wrap a piquant personality with a sweet kick.  The turkey, and there’s plenty of it, is terrific, the antithesis of the boring turkey.  Real men would love this sandwich…if only they would try it.

Roasted Raspberry Chipotle Wrap: Turkey Breast, Cream Cheese, New Mexico Green Chile, Spring Mix, Tomatoes, Raspberry Chipotle Sauce Wrapped in a Flour Tortilla

Roasted Raspberry Chipotle Wrap

Contemporary culinary culture is so competitive (forgive the alliteration) that a purveyor of sandwiches can’t just slap some meats and cheeses on bread and expect to stay in business for long.  The very best restaurateurs are constantly reinventing their menus, looking for exciting new options with which to entice their diners.  Since the Oak Tree Cafe moved into its commodious new digs, the opportunities for tinkering with an already outstanding menu have been more readily available.  A number of new burgers (including an excellent blue cheese burger) show up in the menu of daily specials.  The most successful among them will hopefully make it onto the everyday menu

27 March 2014: Call it audacious if you will, but the Oak Tree Cafe serves the very best fish and chips in the Duke City area.  Yes, better than the fish and chips at Fat Squirrel Pub & Grill and the Two Fools Tavern.  Rob Carson and his crew didn’t just decide one day to start serving fish and chips then immediately started doing so.  They worked on the batter for two months (going through boatloads of fish) before considering it worthy of the guests they value so much.  It’s a light and crispy beer batter that sheathes two large pieces of tender and flaky haddock.  The light batter allows for excellent penetration by malt vinegar and pairs well with the superb tartar sauce with which the fish are served.  The fish is delicate and delicious and because it’s virtually grease-free, you can eat it with your hands.  The fries have a twice-fried texture and also absorb malt vinegar well.  An accompanying coleslaw is crisp, fresh and delicious.

Possibly the very best fish and chips in the Duke City area

Possibly the very best fish and chips in the Duke City area

28 August 2015:  My friend Franzi, Albuquerque’s most beauteous barrister, books time with a “personal shopper” at Gucci when she flies into Chicago.  I can one-up her by having my very own personal sandwich advisor every time I visit the Oak Tree.  Not only are reservations not required to book this service, anyone can avail themselves of getting great sandwich advice every time you visit.  All you’ve got to do is ask Janet for a recommendation.  She’ll ask some questions to discern your tastes and desires before recommending your next favorite sandwich at the Oak Tree.  

My Kim is eternally grateful to Janet for recommending the Don Juan (which isn’t named for the legendary libertine, but for John who conceptualized it).   The Don Juan (ham, pepperoni, melted Provolone cheese, Balsamic vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, red onion, artichokes, lettuce and tomatoes on a baguette) is a concordant masterpiece of ingredients which work so very well together.  The Balsamic vinegar and artichokes are a very nice touch, lending a tangy contrast to otherwise savory ingredients.  The baguette is the perfect canvas, lending the properties of chewiness and staff-of-life deliciousness to the meats and cheeses.

The Don Juan

13 November 2015: Most sandwich restaurants tend to have a turkey sandwich and invariably it lives up to its name, turkey being a term used to describe something that is extremely or completely unsuccessful.  The Oak Tree Cafe’s version of a turkey sandwich is the antithesis of every boring turkey sandwich out there, second in my estimation only to the turkey sandwich at the legendary Smokehouse.  The canvas for this terrific turkey is toasted sourdough bread topped with green chile, melted Monterey Jack, homemade guacamole, lettuce and tomatoes.  The turkey breast is moist and delicious, a natural complement to the other ingredients and a perfect foil for the incendiary green chile and rich, buttery guacamole.

13 November 2015: In her terrific tome American Sandwich, my friend Becky Mercuri explains that the origin of the Reuben sandwich is hotly contested with at least three sources claiming to be its progenitor.  None of those sources credit the sandwich as being named for Baroque painting genius Peter Paul Rubens, but an argument could easily be made for his cause.  That’s especially true if you consider his preference for plus- or real-sized women, the genesis for the term Rubenesque meaning plump or voluptuous. Those terms could apply to the sandwich as well, especially its homonym, the Rueben sandwich.  The Oak Tree’s rendition is a triple-decker beauty constructed of housemade lean corned beef (cooked in Guinness which imparts a dark, rich, complex flavor); tart and tangy sauerkraut, melted Swiss cheese and housemade Thousand Island dressing on a beautiful light rye.  It’s one of Albuquerque’s very best!

Triple Decker Reuben

29 December 2016: There are thirteen specialty sandwiches on the menu, but dispense with any notion of triskaidekaphobia (fear or a phobia concerning the number 13) you might have.  That’s because the Oak Tree also offers a daily special which may mean upping the number of specialty sandwiches to fourteen.  Daily specials are listed on the white board you encounter as you wind along the queue path to the counter where you’ll place your order.  Some of the daily specials are so good they’d be the starring attraction at other sandwich shops across the Duke City. One such special is the Turkey Pesto Sandwich (turkey breast on toasted roll topped with basil pesto, melted Provolone cheese, lettuce and tomatoes.  Add green chile and you’ve got one of the most invigoratingly flavorful sandwiches in town.  The basil pesto practically pops with its sharp freshness while the green chile lends just a bit of heat.  As we’ve come to expect from Oak Tree, the turkey is plentiful and plenty good, too.

Turkey Pesto Sandwich

10 August 2017: Because you can never have enough chile, the Oak Tree Café recently added battered and fried green chile strips to an already formidable appetizer menu. Lightly battered in a Sierra Blanca ale (brewed in Moriarty), it’s got just enough heat to ramp up your endorphins. Served golden brown and inviting, these green chile strips are served with a ranch dressing, the perfect complement to a savory starter which (wishful thinking here) should replace French fries as a burger accompaniment. My Kim assessed these as the best she’s ever had. Me, too.

Fried Green Chili Strips

10 August 2017: Having judged many a culinary competition, it’s galled me to discover that dishes served during the competition aren’t necessarily the ones a restaurant serves its customers on a daily basis. I’ve experienced this duplicity only a handful of times, but that’s enough to have diminished my respect for the purveyors. Rob and Janet are absolutely committed to serving their loyal customers the very same dishes they might serve persnickety competition judges. That means the green chili (SIC) cheeseburger on their daily menu is the same green chili cheeseburger judges at the New Mexico State Fair competition will sample during the 2017 event. It’s a great burger! How could it not be? The canvas upon which this masterpiece is constructed is a bun flecked with green chile. It’s made locally at Sergio’s Bakery and Café. The fresh ground beef—a whopping half-pound of never frozen deliciousness—comes from Nelson’s and the chile is New Mexico proud with a pleasant piquancy. Unless otherwise requested, burgers are prepared at medium where their juiciness shines. Then there’s a thick slice of Cheddar draped lovingly over the beef patty. Red onion, crisp lettuce and ripe tomatoes somehow manage to fit in between the buns, too. It takes two hands to handle this beauteous behemoth, a green chili cheeseburger you’ll love.

New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger

The Oak Tree Cafe has made a believer our of this cynic who often laments the absence of truly sincere, truly personable service coupled with excellent sandwiches. This cafe is an anachronism, a throwback to the days in which the customer was always right and you could get things done your way.

Oak Tree Cafe
4545 Alameda, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 830-2233
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 10 August 2017
1st VISIT: 5 July 2011
# OF VISITS: 11
RATING: 23
COST: $$
BEST BET: The Taos Sandwich, Hot Corned Beef Sandwich, Oak Tree Combo, Onion Rings, Fried Green Beans, The Father Paul Sandwich, Janet’s Green Chili Burger, Mike’s Chicken Sandwich, Roasted Raspberry Chipotle Wrap, Apple Coleslaw, Fish & Chips, The Don Juan, The Pauley, Triple Decker Reuben, Turkey Pesto, New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger

Oak Tree Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Rolls & Bowls – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Rolls & Bowls Vietnamese Deli and Boba Coffee

The banh mi sandwich is really the only good argument for colonialism.”
~Calvin Trillin

By most historical standards, the banh mi is a rather new entrant in the world culinary stage. Its evolution into the revered sandwich we know and love today began in 1859 with the French arrival in Saigon. Along with military occupation, the French brought their c’est delicieux cuisine to Southeast Asia…although to be clear, the colonial rulers never had the benevolent intent of introducing the Vietnamese to their more “refined” cuisine. The French, in fact, initially forbade their subjects from partaking of such stables as bread and meat, believing the Vietnamese diet of fish and rice kept them weak. In time, wealthy Vietnamese who embraced French rule were allowed to purchase sandwiches from expensive bakeries which constructed them on French baguettes (which were too pricey for the poverty classes).

One of the culinary traditions the French brought to Vietnam was casse-croute, a term which translates literally to “break or crush the crust,” but which more often translates to “snack.” Among the most popular snacks was a traditional French baguette which the “upper crust” served with a plate of cold cuts, pate, ham, cheese and butter. Is this starting to sound familiar? This obviously was the deconstructed precursor of the modern banh mi. The term “banh mi,” by the way, actually translates to “bread,” but is understood to refer specifically to the Vietnamese baguette and more often, the sandwiches constructed on those baguettes.

The counter where you place your order

After the French were ousted from Vietnam in 1954, baguettes and cold cuts became increasingly available to the Vietnamese people. It didn’t take long before a tiny family-owned snack bar known as Hoa Ma constructed the first truly Vietnamese sandwich–the banh mi which became the progenitor of the beloved banh mi of today. Hoa Ma’s version of the banh mi included traditional ingredients, condiments, sauces and garnishes the Vietnamese people considered their own. It didn’t take long before street vendors popularized the banh mi as a staple food for the masses.

When Saigon fell to the Communist North Vietnamese Army in 1975, a unified Vietnam entered a period of austerity and hardship. It fell upon those who fled Vietnam’s shores to carry forward to their new homes in America, Europe and Australia, the propagation of such Vietnamese delights as the banh mi and its culinary cousin, pho. Initially some of the expatriates established bakeries and delis which catered to their communities, but when the local populace discovered the incomparable deliciousness of Vietnamese cuisine, its popularity soared. Today there are hundreds of restaurants, bakeries, delis and cafes offering banh mi…and for that, Calvin Trillin’s statement makes good sense.

Raspberry Boba Tea and Vietnamese Coffee

We’ve been loving banh mi in Albuquerque since at least 1995 when they were called “Vietnamese Sandwiches” by the few Vietnamese restaurants (May Hong among them) which served them. That’s sixteen years before banh mi made it to the Oxford English dictionary. Albuquerque’s very first Vietnamese bakery whose primary focus was banh mi was Banh Mi Coda which opened in 2010 after a short stint as Lee’s Bakery. In its annual Food & Wine issue for 2012, Albuquerque The Magazine named the banh mi at Banh Mi Coda as “one of the city’s “12 yummiest sandwiches.” In early 2013, the Duke City saw the launch of its second banh mi shop when Sai Gon Sandwich opened in Franklin Plaza, a timeworn shopping center made infamous on Better Call Saul. Ten different banh mi adorn the menu at this combination bakery, deli and tofu house.

In November, 2016, SweeTea Bakery Café opened its doors in the Montgomery Plaza shopping center, gracing the Duke City with yet another very impressive array of delicious banh mi as well as some of the best pastries this side of Paris. Not quite a year later, Rolls & Bowls became the fourth Vietnamese bakery-restaurant specializing in banh mi to launch in Albuquerque. One commonality among the quadrumvirate of banh mi purveyors is some of the city’s very best sandwiches prepared and served by very talented and dedicated owners all committed to proving (to paraphrase the Beatles) you can banh mi love (how’s that for a pithy covfefe?).

Egg Rolls

Located in the timeworn shopping center that also serves as home to Basil Leaf (next door) and La Salita, Rolls & Bowls proves once again that a small space doesn’t belie huge flavors.  A handful of booths hug one wall then there’s the counter at which you place your order.  That’s the extent of this Lilliputian lair.  The face of Rolls & Bowls is the lovely Ai (or the American name Tina if you prefer) who’s lived in the Duke City for nearly a quarter-century though she barely looks much older than that.  Ai is as friendly and engaging as any restaurateur in town.  Her husband prepares the baked goods and the restaurant’s featured fare.

The menu at Rolls & Bowls is rather ambitious considering its diminutive digs though as previously declared, if restaurants were measured solely by their deliciousness, it would be one of the city’s most capacious restaurants.  The menu’s tag line reads “Asian fusion comfort food freshly made for you!”  Those comfort foods include rolls (obviously), a number of egg rolls and spring rolls and bowls (of course) of rice served with your choice of chicken, grilled pork char siu (Chinese barbecued pork) and tofu loaf.  Noodle dishes also grace the menu as do bowls of salad and assorted breads, pastries and snacks.  Then there’s the banh mi, a phalanx of superb sandwiches.  To wash it all down, Rolls & Bowls offers boba flavored teas in several flavors as well as an outstanding Vietnamese espresso.

Meatball Banh Mi

Vietnamese egg rolls tend to be thinner and lighter than their Chinese and American counterparts.  Thinner, too, are the wrappers which are tightly packed with ground pork and vegetables (cabbage, dried mushrooms, carrots, and jicama) cut so small and thin that they’re difficult to distinguish by sight alone.  It’s only in the tasting that a determination as to their deliciousness can be discerned.  Rolls & Bowls prepares excellent egg rolls, as good as you’ll find at any Vietnamese restaurant in town.  Accompanied by a tart-tangy fish sauce, they’re a terrific way to start a meal.

The canvas for the banh mi are whole baguettes baked in-house and dressed with a type of aioli spread infused with fish sauce. About ten-inches in length, the baguettes become a repository for a wide variety of fillings: your choice of grilled pork, char siu, meatballs, sardines, ham, chicken, fried eggs and vegetables. A common denominator on all banh mi is a bright, crunchy “slaw” constructed from shredded carrots, daikon radish, fresh cilantro and sliced jalapeños. Freshness and flavor are a hallmark of all banh mi as is value. Unlike so many American sandwiches, the price point of most banh mi remains less than six dollars.

Grilled Pork Banh Mi

Rolls & Bowls meatball banh mi ranks with its brethren from SweeTea as my favorite Vietnamese sandwich in the Duke City.  There’s just something magical about the moist pork meatballs interplaying with the crunchy slaw that appeals to my taste buds.  As with all banh mi, the secret to this sandwich is the balance between meatballs, slaw and sauce.  Banh mi are not intended to be behemoth “Dagwood” sandwiches crammed with meats and cheeses.  You can actually taste, discern and appreciate every single component of every banh mi.

Perhaps the most popular banh mi across the fruited plain is the one constructed with grilled pork.  Yes, this is the same grilled pork that’s magically marinated with the sweet spices of anise and cinnamon to create an olfactory treasure that dances on your taste buds.  The grilling infuses the flavors of those spices deeply into the pork while imparting the unmistakable essence of meats prepared on a grill.  The grilled pork banh mi is the favorite of my Kim–to the point that all she ever lets me have is one bite of her sandwich.

Vietnamese Steamed Pork Buns

Vietnamese steamed pork buns are, much like their Chinese counterparts, a type of dumpling made with leavened dough and rolled out into round shapes then stuffed and steamed.  Rolls & Bowls shapes their steamed pork into pig faces, a precursor to the delicious pork sausages with which the buns are stuffed.  The exterior of these steamed pork buns is cakey and dense indicative of being steamed for an optimum time (when not steamed long enough, the interior can taste undercooked and doughy).  The interior is stuffed with sausage and hard-boiled egg tinged with a sweet barbecue-like sauce.  These are addictive.

Rolls & Bowls–the name slides off your tongue like a rhapsodic melody and indeed, the flavors conjured in the kitchen are carefully orchestrated to give diners maximum enjoyment.  Rolls & Bowls is a wonderful addition to the Duke City’s increasing repertoire of banh mi restaurants.

Rolls & Bowls
1301 Eubank, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 990-0480
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 2 July 2017
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET:  Raspberry Boba Tea, Vietnamese Espresso, Egg Rolls, Vietnamese Bun, Grilled Pork Banh Mi, Meatball Banh Mi, Ham Banh Mi

Rolls & Bowls Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Fork & Fig – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Fork & Fig, a Modern Eatery on Menaul Just East of Louisiana

Listen to Billy Joel’s 1983 doo wop hit Uptown Girl and you’ll probably get the impression that uptown is synonymous with uppity or at least upscale.  The lyrics describe a working-class downtown man (ostensibly Joel himself who’s originally from blue-collar Long Island) trying to win the heart of a wealthy, white bred uptown girl (Joel’s future wife Christie Brinkley). The perception of uptown’s haughtiness were reenforced in “The Contest” episode of Seinfeld in which John F. Kennedy, Jr. lived in trendy uptown.  When they finally came into money, the Jefferson’s moved on up, too.

Until just a few years ago, the Albuquerque neighborhoods around which conversations typically centered were Old Town, downtown, Nob Hill and even EDo (East Downtown).  Uptown was solely where the Coronado and Winrock Malls were.  With the closure of the Winrock Mall and subsequent launch of ABQ Uptown, a pedestrian-friendly, open-air lifestyle center, Albuquerque’s uptown area seemingly became “the heart of the city’s modern shopping and business district.”

The dining room with open kitchen at Fork & Fig

Though it may appear national chains such as the Elephant Bar, Dave & Buster’s, Bonefish Grill and Romano’s Macaroni Grill dominate the uptown culinary landscape, actually only 45 percent of the uptown area’s 75 restaurants are national chains.  Local mom-and-pop restaurants continue to thrive against the onslaught of deep-pocketed corporate competition.  Enter into the fray Fork & Fig, a modern eatery which opened its doors just before the calendar flipped to February, 2015. 

Fork & Fig is an exemplar of locally owned and operated.  After having worked as a personal chef in Los Angeles and Phoenix, Josh Kennon, a Deming native credentialed at Le Cordon Bleu in Scottsdale, decided to try his hand at owning and operating his own restaurant.  Though Fork & Fig specializes in gourmet burgers, sandwiches, wraps and salads, you can also get more substantial offerings (such as steak) on a take-out basis.  The restaurant, which has neither a freezer or a fryer, emphasizes fresh, local ingredients. 

Citrus Salad

Compared with some of the megalithic chains in the area, Fork & Fig is practically Lilliputian, seating only 40 patrons in its 1,500 square-foot space. Diminutive, however, doesn’t mean dull and drab.  Fork & Fig is a hip and happening venue sure to excite both even the most discerning palates.  Seating is in personal space proximity (which means you have a good view of what’s being delivered to your neighbors’ tables) with bar-like seating overlooking an exhibition prep kitchen and, when they’re not swamped, you can even interact with the chefs.  

In Albuquerque The Magazine‘s annual “Best of the City” peoples’ choice poll for 2015, Fork & Fig was named “Best New Restaurant.”  That’s quite an honor considering the high quality of new restaurants launched in 2015.  In January, 2017, Fork & Fig was one of a handful of Duke City eateries highlighted by Young Professionals of Albuquerque for inclusion in list naming “5 Eateries Perfect For Your Lunch Break.”  Since its launch, Fork & Fig has remained a consistent presence on Yelp’s list of “best restaurants in Albuquerque.”  It’s certainly a restaurant going places.

Sesame Salad

If there’s one thing a smallish restaurant with no freezer and no fryer can’t do, it’s be all things to all people.  It makes better sense to focus on a select few items and prepare them exceptionally well.  The few, the proud, the delicious at Fork & Fig is comprised of eight sandwiches (Sammys), five burgers (Burgs), three wraps, three greens (salads), five sides, a sour du jour and a dessert du jour as well.  With the Sammys, Burgs and Wraps, you also receive one side (Cotija corn, grilled zucchini, potato gnocchi, cherry tomato salad, green chile slaw).  Please note that because of menu rotation, some of the items described below may not be available when you visit.

8 February 2015: It’s probably not polite to drool when servers deliver a meal to your neighbors, but such is the hazard of close proximity seating.  The burgers, in particular, are drool-worthy.  They’re skyscraper tall with thick beef patties topped with sundry ingredients and imagination.  Sometimes, however, you feel like a burger and sometimes you don’t.  In the rare latter event, it’s nice to know you can find something as good as the Grown-Up Grilled Cheese Sandwich (four cheeses, tomato fig relish and bacon on Hawaiian bread).  This magnificent melange of sweet, unctuous and smoky deliciousness is indeed an all grown up version of the sandwich we all loved as children.  The Cotija corn, a grilled ear of corn topped with shredded Cotija cheese) is a terrific foil.

The Fig with a Cool Watermelon Gazpacho

8 February 2015: Save for the sacrosanct green chile Philly at Philly’s N’ Fries, I’m at a loss to recall a single transformative or even memorable steak sandwich in the Duke City. Fork & Fig’s Ribeye Sammy (ribeye, caramelized onions, smoked Gouda and creamy chimichurri on a ciabatta bun) aims to change my thinking. The ribeye is on the thin side (similar to a Mexican steak), but it’s tender and nary fat nor sinew rear their yucky presence. The chimichurri is indeed creamy, but a bit more of it would have been nice. The green chile slaw doesn’t have much personality or piquancy, but it doesn’t take anything away from the Ribeye Sammy.

8 February 2015: Uber chef Marcus Samuelsson believes “Salad can get a bad rap.  People think of bland and watery iceberg lettuce, but in fact, salads are an art form, far from the simplest rendition to a colorful kitchen-sink approach.”  It’s with this approach that Fork & Fig creates the four salads on its Greens menu.  You’ve probably had a salad similar to The Citrus (berries and orange supremes, mixed greens, candied walnuts and goat cheese with a blood orange vinaigrette), but you’ll probably enjoy The Citrus more.  The blood orange vinaigrette should be bottled and sold. 

Cubano

24 June 2017: Humorist Fran Lebowitz once remarked “A salad is not a meal.  It’s a style.”  Most of us will agree with at least the first part of that quote.  Salad is definitely not a meal!  That said, salad can be a very enjoyable first course, a precursor to something less spartan.  Much as we might enjoy Fork & Fig’s The Sesame, we’re happy in the realization that something more substantial will follow–not that this salad is small by any means.  The sesame (greens, avocado, candied ginger, heirloom carrots, orange supremes, pickled red onion and sesame vinaigrette) is an excellent salad, one in which the combination of sesame seeds and sesame vinaigrette impart a discernible nutty flavor, something akin to sunflower seeds.  The sesame flavor is a perfect complement to the peppery arugula while the orange supremes and especially the candied ginger add a delightful contrast.

24 June 2017:  While mathematicians may get their jollies in contemplating the golden ratio (a special number found by dividing a line into two parts so that the longer part divided by the smaller part is also equal to the whole length divided by the longer part), burgerphiles would rather contemplate ratios which make a perfect burger: the ratio of meat to fat and the ratio of beef to bun to ingredients.  Fork & Fig got the first ratio (meat to fat) just right on the eponymous Fig (beef, caramelized onion, Swiss cheese, fungi, truffle fig aioli, bacon, greens, crispy onion and tomato on a brioche bun).  The beef, prepared a medium degree of doneness, is moist, juicy and very flavorful, about as flavorful as some very good steaks.  Alas, the ratio of bun to beef to ingredients was a bit askew.  Before we had consumed even half the burger, the bun had crumpled under the moistness and volume of the beef and accompanying ingredients.  We had to finish the burger with a fork.  By definition (at least mine), it’s no longer a burger when a fork has to be used.

Opera Cakes

24 June 2017:  Virtually every sandwich purveyor in the Duke City, it seems, offers its rendition of a Cubano.  Virtually all of them are formulaic copies of the other, most often served panini style.  Kudos to Fork & Fig for employing a buttery croissant as the canvas for its Cubano (sliced ham, pulled pork, Swiss cheese, aioli grain mustard, kosher pickle). Two things stand out about this Cubano: the aioli grain mustard and kosher pickle.  Two things are in short supply: pulled pork and sliced ham.  Had more substantial portions of these proteins been piled on, this sandwich would be in contention for “best in the city.”

24 June 2017:  Fork & Fig offers a dessert du jour.  Good fortune smiled upon us when opera cakes were the delight of the day.  Essentially petit fours, a French term which literally translates as “small oven,” the opera cakes are bite-sized pastries.  Nine different cakes are available, but only five to an order are ferried over to your table and you don’t get to choose which five of the nine you’ll get.  Live dangerously.  If the five–apple crumble cake, pistachio, tiramisu, raspberry and lemon tart–which graced our table are any indication, you can’t go wrong with any of the five.  They’re small slices of decadent deliciousness.

Albuquerque’s Uptown area is far from the uppity and exclusive neighborhood so often stereotyped in song and literature.  In restaurants such as Fork & Fig, all are welcome no matter your neighborhood.

Fork & Fig
6904 Menaul, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 881.5293
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 24 June 2017
1st VISIT: 8 February 2015
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 20
COST: $$
BEST BET: Grown-up Grilled Cheese, Cotija Corn, Ribeye Sandwich, Green Chile Coleslaw, The Fig, Cubano, Watermelon Gazpacho, Opera Cakes

Fork and Fig 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. 

24 May 2017: In modern vernacular, the term “size doesn’t matter” has implications of double entendre.  In the culinary world, only the Food Network and Travel Channel would have you believe meatballs should be the size of basketballs.  Vietnamese purveyors of meatball banh mi know better and the proof is in the eating.  iKrave’s meatballs are about the size of the tiny meatballs once found on Chef Boyardee’s spaghetti and meatballs.  Size truly doesn’t matter when the flavor of these tender pork meatballs will make you swoon.  The meatballs are impregnated with seasonings that complement the fresh, crispy vegetable “slaw” made with pickled carrots and daikon radishes, sliced jalapeños, cucumber slices and fresh cilantro in a baguette canvas.  This is one of the very best banh mi in the city.

Meatball 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!  

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
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 23
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

The Farmacy – Albuquerque, New Mexico

The Farmacy on the Corner of Mountain and Road

In this age of “fake news,” biased media slants and unabashed tell-alls, the one recent headline which has  pleased me most comes from Bloomberg.  Splashed in bold typeface was the eye-catching lead “Mom-and-Pop Joints Are Trouncing America’s Big Restaurant Chains.”  Elaborating on this contention, the first paragraph reads:  “Americans are rejecting the consistency of national restaurant chains after decades of dominance in favor of the authenticity of locally owned eateries, with their daily specials and Mom’s watercolors decorating the walls.”  The numbers bear this out–“annual revenue for independents will grow about 5 percent through 2020, while the growth for chains will be about 3 percent.”

Fittingly, I read this article during my inaugural visit to The Farmacy, a Lilliputian lair of luscious food on the southeast corner of the Mountain Road-Eighth Street intersection. If big restaurant chains and their well-heeled operations are the proverbial muscle-bound beach bullies who kick sand in the face of scrawny kids, The Farmacy embodies the small underdog who fights back with the only weapons at its disposal: great food and friendly service at an affordable price. The Farmacy is David to the Philistine’s Goliath, the plodding tortoise to the overly confident hare, unknown journeyman Rocky Balboa to the world champion Apollo Creed. It’s the little engine that could…and does.

Cozy Interior

On my way out the door, I ran into Howie “The Duke of Duke City” Kaibel, the charismatic Albuquerque Community Manager for Yelp. The Bloomberg article I had just read credited “free-marketing websites such as Yelp” with boosting “the fortunes of independents in the age of McDonald’s, Cracker Barrel, Domino’s, Taco Bell, Olive Garden…” Perhaps no one in Albuquerque does as much to evangelize for mom-and-pops than Howie. It was his Yelp review, in fact, that prompted my visit to The Farmacy. The catalyst for his own inaugural visit was Yelp reviewers having accorded The Farmacy a perfect rating: “5 stars at 50-plus reviews!”   (Naturally as soon as Howie noted this, a nay-sayer gave The Farmacy a rating of “4.”)

Howie is the Duke City dining scene’s version of The Pied Piper. When he sings the praises of a restaurant, savvy readers beat the path to its doors. His prose is poetic, his rhetoric rhapsodic. Here’s what he wrote that lured me to The Farmacy. “The reuben is indeed what you’re looking forward to in a dinosaur-esque luncheon, you’re just kind of clawing, mawing and ultimately grabbing various business cards with square edges to dislodge pastrami from your teeth, it’s a damn fine sammie, on par with one of my faves at Bocadillos .” Frankly, he had me at dinosaur-esque, but the clincher was his comparison of The Farmacy’s Reuben to Bocadillo’s.

Rail Runner Reuben with Coleslaw

The Farmacy may well be the archetypal neighborhood mom-and-pop restaurant. Situated in the historical Sawmill District, it’s ensconced in a residential neighborhood which means you’ll be parking in front of someone’s home (so tread lightly). A home is exactly what The Farmacy once was, albeit a very small home. Today it’s a very small restaurant with seating (on two-top tables) for about a dozen guests. Weather permitting, another dozen or so guests can enjoy al fresco dining with their four-legged children.

Not only is the dining room small, so is the kitchen…and by default, the menu, a one-pager. Coffee and tea are listed first. Though the listed coffees include latte, cappuccino, mocha, cortado, macchiato, espresso, Americano and drip coffee, my inaugural visit was on a hot chocolate kind of day. You know the type—the New Mexico sun shining brightly while angry winds blow as if seeking revenge. Eight items festoon the breakfast section of the menu while lunch is comprised of six items, not counting daily specials. Befitting the small kitchen, the lunch menu is dedicated to sandwiches. Breakfast features both New Mexican favorites (such as a breakfast burrito and savory empanada) as well as inventive takes on American specialties (such as the “Not McMuffin”).

Large Hot Chocolate

19 May 2017: It goes without saying that the Rail Runner Reuben was destined for my table. Aside from its dinosaur-esque proportions, what stands out best and most about this Reuben are the terms “house made corned beef” and “house made sauerkraut.” You can certainly taste the difference between corned beef that’s been lovingly made in small batches and the mass quantities produced by corporate delis (and served by the chains). The Farmacy’s corned beef is imbued with a moist, tender texture. It pulls apart easily. (Some corporate delis produce corned beef with the texture of rigor-mortis.) Deep flavors bursting with subtle seasonings (it may sound like a contradiction, but it isn’t) are the hallmark of The Farmacy’s corned beef. It’s not at all salty and when you discern notes of cloves, you may shut your eyes in appreciation. The sauerkraut has a slight tang, but it’s not of the lip-pursing variety that defeats all other flavors. The canvas for this sandwich masterpiece is fresh marble rye.

20 May 2017: One of the few telltale signs that you’ve reached The Farmacy is a wooden sign depicting an anatomical diagram of a pig, essentially showing where all the porcine deliciousness can be found. Think of that sign as a precursor to a terrific sandwich constructed of two terrific pork-based cold-cuts. Even the sandwich’s name hints of pork. It’s the Porcellino (ham, Capocollo, olive tapenade, Provolone, picked red onion and greens on focaccia) and it’s a memorable masterpiece. Aside from the ham and Capocollo, the olive tapenade and picked red onion are notable. So is the accompanying housemade mojo slaw which has a nice tang and none of the cloying creaminess of so many slaws.

Savory Empanada

20 May 2017: If Delish is to be believed, the “most-searched food” in New Mexico—what New Mexicans want most to know how to make–is empanadas. You need not search any further than The Farmacy for a superb empanada. It’s a made-from-scratch-daily savory empanada and if our inaugural experience is any indication, you’ll want the recipe. Our savory empanada was stuffed with sweet potatoes, green chile, bacon and walnuts). Despite the sweet potatoes, it was indeed savory with a melding of ingredients that just sang. The crust is especially memorable.

20 May 2017: Though not listed on the menu, you’ll want to peruse the counter for such pastries as muffins and cinnamon rolls. This cinnamon roll isn’t a behemoth brick with troweled-on icing. It’s a knotty, twisty, tender, doughy roll with cinnamon in every crevice. It’s glazed with an angelic icing, but it’s not overly sweet. This is not a cinnamon roll meant to be shared, not that you’d want to. It’s a cinnamon roll you (and any dining companions you may have brought with you) will want for yourself and themselves. 

Cinnamon Roll

20 May 2017:  Much as I enjoyed the Reuben, after two visits my very favorite item on the menu is the migas (a scramble of corn tortilla, bacon, egg, red and green chile, Cheddar, tomato and cilantro). Very few restaurants we’ve frequented prepare migas you’ll want to experience a second time. The Farmacy’s migas are some of the very best in Albuquerque, if not the state. The corn tortillas are crispy yet light and all ingredients are in perfect proportion to each other. The highlight is the chile—green mixed in with the other ingredients all encircled by a fiery ring of red. This is chile that bites you back, an endorphin-generating chile you’ll love.

Chef-owner Jacob Elliot is a peripatetic presence at the restaurant. Though filling orders occupies much of his time, he meets-and-greets when the opportunity presents itself. He’s passionate about his locally sustainable operation and is bullish on Albuquerque, a city he believes has many of the same qualities as Portland, a city in which he once lived and worked. It’s Albuquerque’s gain.

Migas

The Farmacy is the antithesis of the behemoth chain restaurants. If you love fresh, made-from-scratch, locally sourced deliciousness at very reasonable prices, this is a restaurant for you. It exemplifies the reasons mom-and-pop are finally starting to gain ground.

The Farmacy
724 Mountain Road, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 227-0330
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 20 May 2017
1st VISIT: 19 May 2017
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 22
COST: $$
BEST BET: Migas, Rail Runner Reuben, Porcellino, Cinnamon Roll, Hot Chocolate, Coleslaw, Savory Empanada

The Farmacy Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Chumlys Southwestern – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Chumly’s Southwestern in Albuquerque’s Green Jeans Farmery

The old Jewish proverb “worries go down better with soup than without” may just be the most understated aphorism about soup ever uttered.  When soup is discussed, it’s usually with a sense of warm nostalgia, perhaps even reverence.  We ascribe such adjectives as comforting, restorative, soothing, nourishing, hearty, warming and fulfilling to that nostalgic elixir in a bowl.  The number of adjectives would probably quadruple if we attempted to describe soup’s qualities of deliciousness in addition to its satisfying properties.  There’s no doubt that a luxurious bowl of steaming soup has life-affirming attributes.  Is it any wonder one of the most popular paperback series of all-time is named for soup–the Chicken Soup For the Soul series, an inspirational and uplifting anthology?

Soup is so much more than nostalgia in a bowl, more than a comfort food favorite.  Though good year-round, soup has its own season, one that doesn’t necessarily follow a calendar.  It just seems tailor-made for the chill and bluster of winter.    Indeed, there is much anecdotal and even some scientific evidence to support claims that soups can help restore us back to health when we’re under the weather and wrapped up tightly under blankets.  On days that make us shake, shiver and tremble, soup’s warmth gives us the impetus to brave the cold and attack the day with vigor.

Owner Jesse Zimmerman stands by the 1st Place Award Earned by Chumlys Southwestern at the Roadrunner Food Bank’s Souper Bowl in 2017

It was on one of those gelid days that I first visited the SoupDog, an olfactory oasis ensconced in the Green Jeans Farmery (3600 Cutler Avenue, N.E.), the community-oriented commercial plaza constructed entirely with repurposed shipping containers as modular, architectural building blocks.  Four days previous during our inaugural foray to the Green Jeans Farmery for lunch at Amore Neopolitan Pizzeria, we had espied SoupDog and earmarked it for additional study (as in whether or not it was named for Snoop Dogg, the notorious reefer-loving rapper) and a potential visit.

For shizzle (I’ve always wanted to say that) SoupDog wasn’t named for the splendid stoner, but for two of the most comforting and iconic foods–soup and hot dogs.  It became readily apparent in time that a name change was warranted as Duke City diners tended to believe Soupdog served only soup.  Its new name, Chumlys Southwestern, has a friendly (as in chum, buddy, pal) connotation without implications of typecasting.  As with other restaurants in the Farmery complex, Chumly’s Southwestern plies its trade in what could pass for a large concession stand.  Menus scrawled in an array of colors describe the featured fare which you order from a counter.  Next, you’ll saunter over to your choice of several indoor and outdoor dining areas, none attached to a restaurant (although some seating areas are on the roof of the restaurants they serve).

New Orleans Meets New Mexico Gumbo Earned a Second Place Finish in the Roadrunner Food Bank’s Souper Bowl Event in 2016

While the soup menu is relatively limited (listing five or so soups), deciding which to order won’t be a simple process.  For the peely-wally, the perusal may stop at the creamy green chile chicken noodle soup, the so good and good for you elixir infused with equal parts nostalgia and magic.  Millions of mothers still swear by it.  Chumly’s version is an invitation to both salivation and sulubriousness.   If you prefer your chicken soup sans creaminess, a more traditional (at least in New Mexico) green chile chicken noodle soup is also available.  From among the five soups listed during my inaugural visit, chile was a chief ingredient in three.

3 December 2015:  That includes the soup which combines the flavors of my current home in the Land of Enchantment with the flavors of my previous home on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.  The New Orleans Meets New Mexico Gumbo is as delicious as it sounds, a melding of diverse cultures and cuisines to form an even better concoction.  Picture Andouille sausage and chicken broth with veggies, homegrown herbs and Hatch red chile served over brown rice.  The red chile has just enough bite to be discernible without obfuscating the Cajun flavors which make gumbo one of America’s favorite soups.  If every other soup on the menu is as good, SoupDog will soon join Cafe Bella as my hook-ups when cold weather has me down.  I’m not the only one with a high opinion of this paragon of deliciousness.  During the Roadrunner Food Bank’s Souper Bowl for 2016, this great gumbo earned a second place award in the People’s Choice category.

Creole Corn & Crawfish Chowder Earned First Place in the Critics’ Choice Category at the Roadrunner Food Bank’s Souper Bowl in 2017

29 January 2017:  More than twelve-hundred guests enjoyed scrumptious soups and delectable desserts from nearly forty area Albuquerque restaurants in the Roadrunner Food Bank’s Souper Bowl 2017.  Awards were presented in two categories: Critic’s Choice and People’s Choice with attendees casting their ballots for their favorite soup and dessert.  Drum roll please…Chumlys Southwestern accomplished a rare feat in earning first place in the Critics’ Choice category and second place in Peoples’ Choice.  The award-winning soup was Chumly’s Creole Corn & Crawfish Chowder, an outstanding elixir showcasing a netful of sweet, succulent, pink-fleshed crawfish swimming in a nicely seasoned broth with sweet niblets of corn.   This is a magnificent, multi-faceted soup with a pleasing personality.

3 December 2015:  Chumlys Southwestern also lists five gourmet hot dogs, three of which pack the piquancy New Mexicans crave regardless of weather.  Each dog is a right-sized (not too small, not “compensating”) Nathan’s dog.  Though only vaguely reminiscent of eating a Nathan’s hot dog at the original Coney Island stand, Chumlys hot dog offerings will create delicious new memories. My introduction came in the form of a Sonoran Hot Dog (bacon-wrapped Nathan’s Hot Dog in a freshly-baked bolillo roll topped with chili (SIC) beans, homemade roasted jalapeño salsa, mayo and homemade mustard. 

Sonoran Hot Dog

The Sonoran Hot Dog may just be the most delicious export from the Grand Canyon State to hit New Mexico where it’s made significant inroads.  In recent months we’ve uncovered Tucson-quality Sonoran hot dogs in Albuquerque (Sharky’s Fish & Shrimp and Pop Fizz) and Rio Rancho (the now defunct Ice Cream Palace And Hot Dog World) and we understand there are several purveyors of this paragon of delicious messiness operating from motorized conveyances.  Chumlys’ Sonoran is so good it may take several visits before another hot dog tempts me enough to try it.  The combination of garlicky hot dog, piquant salsa and tangy mustard nestled in a beauteous bolillo is a winner!

29 January 2017: Con queso, a diminutive of chile con queso, is an aptly named term because some con queso is so innocuous and tepid that you have to wonder if chile is even part of the mix.  Not so at Chumlys Southwestern where the con queso bites back.  So do the tater chips which are made on the premises.  The Tater Chips & 505 Queso are not to be missed though they may not pair as well with a delicate soup such as the Creole Corn & Crawfish Chowder as they do with the New Orleans Meets New Mexico Gumbo which also has notes of piquancy.  There’s some serious heat on this queso.

Tater Chips & 505 Queso

Chumlys is the brainchild of Jessie Zimmerman, a 30-year veteran in the restaurant business as a kitchen manager and production manager for 505 Southwestern Restaurant and Chile Products.  Those of us who remember 505 Southwestern when it was a restaurant are sure to notice some of its uniquely delicious touches.   Chumlys Southwestern is a sure cure for winter blues and an even better cure for hunger. For soup, hot dogs and so much more, it should be on your radar.

Chumly’s Southwestern
3600 Cutler Avenue, N.E., Suite #7
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Web Site | Facebook Page
(505) 401-5827
LATEST VISIT: 29 January 2017
1st VISIT: 3 December 2015
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 23
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Sonoran Hot Dog, New Orleans Meets New Mexico Gumbo, Creole Corn & Crawfish Chowder, Tater Chips & 505 Queso

SoupDog Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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

22 June 2015: “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.

12 January 2017: You may have noticed on the photo below that there’s a bit of “glistening” on the Chrindonga (carne asada, salchicha, jamon) torta. Unfortunately, this torta is quite greasy which might be off-putting to some diners.  To offset the greasiness, ask for additional japaneños.  A small bowl of pickled jalapeños, onions and carrots might not make the carne asada and salchicha (sausage) less greasy, but they’ll liven up the flavor profile a bit.  The pickled jalapeños aren’t so piquant that an asbestos-lined tongue would be necessary, but they do complement the other ingredients.  Had this torta been “degreased” it would have been quite good.

The Chirindonga

If you ponder the matter, you may 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 | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 12 January 2017
1st VISIT: 22 June 2015
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 17
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Hawaiana Torta, French Fries, Lift Apple Soda, The Chirindonga

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