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Tara Thai Cuisine – Albuquerque, New Mexico

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Tara Thai Cuisine on Wyoming just south of Menaul

The Internet is replete with personality assessments. Some–such as a personality assessment based on your choice of pizza toppings–are created by psychologists ostensibly intent on obtaining scientifically valid results, but many others are intended solely for fun and have no real validity.  In the latter category, most assessments can easily be manipulated to achieve the results you want.  As you’re responding to questions, an inevitable conclusion becomes transparent.  You can usually tell by the way you’re answering those questions what the results will be.  On the other hand, some personality assessments are baffling.  While you may think you’re manipulating the results, the subsequent assessment winds up contrary to your responses.

One such assessment purports to tell you which “Big Bang Theory” character you are–to expose the inner geek or super hot neighbor inside all of us.   For readers who may not be familiar with The Big Bang Theory, TV.com describes it as “a sitcom that shows what happens when hyper-intelligent roommates/physicists Sheldon and Leonard meet Penny, a beautiful woman moving in next door–and realize they know next to nothing about life outside of the lab. Rounding out the crew are the smarmy Wolowitz, who thinks he’s as sexy as he is brainy, and Koothrappali, who suffers from an inability to speak in the presence of a woman.”

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Tara Thai’s dining room

Answering semi-honestly so as to derive semi-valid results, it turns out the Big Bang Theory character with which I most identify is Sheldon Cooper (at least according to this personality assessment), whom the assessment synopsizes as being “a wunderkind for longer than you can remember” and “always the smartest person in the room” although “you have a hard time connecting with people sometimes,” not that it matters because “you’ll be the leader of a new race of cyborg-humans soon enough.”  Bazinga!

While some of these character traits may–to a greater extent than I care to admit–accurately profile me, before taking the assessment, I would have said Sheldon is the Big Bang Theory character with whom I least identify.  That’s most readily apparent in the way we approach dining.  Possessing personality traits consistent with obsessive-compulsive disorder, Sheldon’s food schedule is practically set in stone.  It’s monotonous and monogamous.  On Mondays, it’s always mee krob and chicken satay with extra peanut sauce from Siam Palace.  On Tuesdays, it’s the Cheesecake Factory’s barbecue bacon cheese burger with cheese on the side while the Thursday staple is pizza with sausage, mushrooms and light olives from Giacomo’s.  Can you imagine how boring a food blog based on Sheldon’s dining preferences would be?

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Gyoza with sweet chili sauce

As a gastronome whose culinary leanings are wholly antithetical to those of Sheldon Cooper, I actually felt a twinge of sympathy for the erudite one when we first stepped into Tara Thai Cuisine and imbibed the magical aromas emanating from the kitchen.  Despite an IQ which can’t accurately be measured by standard tests and an eidetic memory the envy of anyone experiencing advancing geriatric progression, Sheldon’s quirkiness would not allow him to try some of the alluring offerings on the Tara Thai menu.  Worse, that menu doesn’t include mee krob, his favorite entree and no one, not even Sheldon. can live on chicken satay with extra peanut sauce alone.

Tara Thai is the type of restaurant which most makes me happy to be a gastronome. It’s got most of the Thai standards aficionados love and it’s got exciting dishes, including fabulous seasonal specials, heretofore not found in the Duke City. The Albuquerque Journal’s luminous restaurant critic Andrea Lin accorded it a rare four-star rating, likening it to a “red giant of a fiery star” among the Duke City’s pantheon of very good to excellent Thai restaurants. Fiery is an apt descriptor for many of Tara Thai’s dishes which are prepared to your exacting degree of heat preference.  

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Chicken Satay with peanut curry sauce and cucumber salad

Located within the sprawling Wyoming Mall and immediately next door to the Cool Water Fusion restaurant, Tara Thai’s motto and mission statement are to “excite the senses.” Prepared well, few of the world’s cuisines have the ability to excite the senses, particularly the sense of taste, more than Thai cuisine. Although widely known for its spiciness, balance, variety and detail are essential to Thai cooking. The best Thai restaurants are adept at balancing the five fundamental tastes–spicy, sweet, savory, sour and (optionally) bitter—within a meal, and often within an individual dish. Tara Thai is such a restaurant.

1 February 2014: Although Thai food can be very filling, it’s such a palate exciting cuisine to eat that you’ll want to sample at least two appetizers. Make one of them gyoza, an Asian dumpling commonly known as a “potsticker” or “dumpling” in America. Although most widely associated with Japanese cuisine, gyoza actually originated in China, but are common throughout Asia. At Tara Thai, the gyoza appear to be steamed then pan-grilled, my favorite method for preparing these delightful pockets. Tara Thai’s gyoza are engorged with chicken and mixed vegetables then served with a sweet chili dipping sauce. This eight-piece starter is artfully plated, but the true artistry is in their deliciousness.

Chicken Spring Rolls

1 February 2014: Somehow the “Big Bang Theory” personality assessment surmised that Sheldon Cooper and I are compatible–at least in terms of our common affinity for chicken satay with extra peanut sauce. The persnickety physicist would love Tara Thai’s chicken satay, five chicken skewers marinated in yellow curry served with a peanut curry sauce and cucumber salad. With a savory-sweet flavor profile, the peanut curry sauce is magnificent as is the cucumber salad, but the chicken is the star. It’s fresh, moist and imbued with the sweet-savory-pungent flavors of a superb yellow curry.

11 October 2014:  The Fall specials menu in 2014 included chicken spring rolls, a terrific option you don’t see very often in a pork or vegetable dominated spring roll market.  The chicken spring rolls, four to an order, are engorged with chicken, cabbage and onion and are served with a housemade sweet and sour sauce.  As with many Thai spring rolls, these are fried to a golden hue, leaving the wrapper crispy.  There’s a nice balance, both in quality and in flavor accentuation, between minced chicken and vegetables.  Alas the “sweet and sour” sauce is a misnomer in that sweet is the dominant taste (to an extreme extent).  The chicken spring rolls deserve better.

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Asian Pumpkin Red Curry with Chicken

11 October 2014:  Claims have been made (though to my knowledge not scientifically validated) that bite-sized foods taste better, perhaps because we don’t have to open up quite as wide to enjoy them.  The Thai-style meatballs at Tara Thai certainly taste better than many of the Italian, Swiss and American meatballs we’ve had at Duke City restaurants.  These grilled meatballs (two skewers with four meatballs each) are imbued with lively Thai seasonings and not with the cracker or bread filler that too often makes up meatballs in other cultures.  Alas, as with the chicken spring rolls, they’re served with an anemic sweet “chili” sauce, emphasis on the sweet.

1 February 2014: With his propensity for repetition, Sheldon would not enjoy Tara Thai’s fall specials, a five item menu so enticing even the non-OCD among us will be hard-pressed to decide which to have. How, for example, can you pick from among Asian pumpkin red curry with chicken and duck curry? The answer, of course, is to order one today and return for the other tomorrow. The Asian pumpkin red curry with chicken is superb, an amalgam of hearty Asian pumpkin chunks, white meat chicken, red chili paste curry in coconut milk with bamboo shoots, bell pepper and fresh Thai basil. This is Thai comfort food at its finest, especially if you order it at least “hot.” It quickly became my favorite Thai dish in Albuquerque. That will probably last until my next visit when I order the duck curry. 

Duck Curry: Roast duck, red chili paste in coconut milk with fresh pineapple, cherry tomatoes, bell peppers, and basil

11 October 2014:  In six visits to Lotus of Siam (the best Thai restaurant in the universe), my taste buds have thrice experienced la petite mort courtesy of a duck curry dish so good, no one else should make it.   By any other restaurant’s standards, the duck curry (roast duck, red chili paste in coconut milk with fresh pineapple, cherry tomatoes, bell peppers and basil) at Tara Thai might be the very best dish on the menu, but (paraphrasing Lloyd Bentsen’s most famous quote) it’s not the Lotus of Siam’s duck curry.   The “cherry” tomatoes are in the form of large slices; my Lotus of Siam inspired preference is for bite-sized grape tomatoes.   That may seem a minor point, but an ingredient-by-ingredient comparison would yield similar commentary for every aspect of the dish.  Then there was the matter of the degree of heat (hot) which our server described as “as hot as the hottest chile in Albuquerque.”  To my Kim it was molten death; to me, it was insipid compared to the xx-hot chile at the New Mexico Beef Jerky Company.

1 February 2014: If you love fiery heat (as most New Mexicans do), Tara Thai should make all but a few bona fide fire-eaters very happy. You can even find heat in the five-item fried rice menu. The spicy fried rice (fresh garlic, chili, onion, bell pepper and Thai basil with your choice of chicken, beef or pork) lives up to its name without detracting in the least from the other components in this dish. The fresh garlic and Thai basil, in particular, stand out. The rice itself is fluffy and perfectly prepared.

Pad Thai

1 February 2014: Tara Thai’s “pad” menu is as exciting as any you’ll find in New Mexico. Pad, a Thai term which describes stir-fry, is a specialty of the house with ten items on the “wok” menu. Pad Pet is the choice for heat lovers, not for the faint of heart. Though you can request it be prepared at “mild” or “medium” levels of heat, you’re still going to feel the burn. It’s a good burn, a delicious burn. The heat comes from sautéed red chili paste on a stir-fry dish which includes baby corn, mushroom, onion, bamboo shoot, garlic and Thai basil. Feel the heat and love it with this dish!

11 October 2014:   Not wanting a repeat of her experiences with the Pad Pet (which she described as “death by noodles”) my Kim ordered the safest, most innocuous dish on any Thai restaurant’s menu–Pad Thai.  I’ve often referred to Pad Thai as “Pad Boring” (sorry, Ryan) because it lacks the incendiary, “pain is a flavor” personality of my favorite Thai dishes.  Tara Thai’s rendition is actually quite good, perhaps the best we’ve had in the Duke City.  The stir-fried rice noodles are masterfully prepared and enjoyable as is every other ingredient on this popular dish.

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Pad Pet

11 October 2014: With eight items, Tara Thai’s dessert menu is actually quite sizable compared to many Thai restaurants.  Every dessert listed is inviting and tempting, but in-season, there can only truly ever be one option: mangoes with sticky rice.  In Thailand, this delightful dessert is actually a finger food eaten by rolling the rice with the fingers and scooping up mango slices.  There’s too much coconut milk on Tara Thai’s version for Thai-style eating, not to mention American sensitivities.  At any regard, this is a wonderful dish, one we miss greatly when mangoes go out of season.

Mangoes with Sticky Rice

Tara Thai is the type of restaurant which could easily become a habit. In that respect, I envy Sheldon Cooper who could visit every Monday and not think twice about it. From the moment you walk in and imbibe the magnificent aromas from the kitchen to the moment you leave, completely contented and full, you’re in for a great dining experience in one of the best Thai restaurants in the Albuquerque.

Tara Thai
2010 Wyoming Blvd, N.E., Suite C
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 298-2278
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 11 October 2014
1st VISIT: 1 February 2014
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 22
COST: $$
BEST BET: Gyoza, Chicken Satay, Chicken Spring Rolls, Grilled Meatballs, Asian Pumpkin Red Curry with Chicken, Duck Curry, Pad Thai, Pad Pet, Spicy Fried Rice, Mangoes with Sticky Rice

Tara Thai Cuisine on Urbanspoon

New Mexico Beef Jerky Company – Albuquerque, New Mexico

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New Mexico Beef Jerky Company on Fourth

The internet is replete with compilations abounding in truth and humor entitled “You know you’re from New Mexico when…”  Perhaps most resonating in factuality are the items which depict just how much New Mexicans value their culinary traditions.  For example, you know you’re from New Mexico when: your favorite breakfast meat is sliced fried bologna; you buy green chile by the bushel and red chile by the gallon; most restaurants you go to begin with ‘El’ or ‘Los'; you have an extra freezer just for green chile; you think Sadie’s was better when it was in a bowling alley; and you can order your Big Mac with green chile.

Even if you’ve lived in the Land of Enchantment for only a short time, several items on that short list will ring with veracity for you. If you’re a lifelong resident, however, the list may get your dander up a bit because, conspicuous by their absence, are sacrosanct New Mexican foods and culinary traditions we treasure. We would add to the list, you know you’re from New Mexico when: your trail mix consists of pinon and carne seca and instead of popcorn, your home movie nights consist of eating chicharrones in front of the television.

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The comfy, cozy interior of NM Beef Jerky Company

You also know you’re from New Mexico if you can drive down the street and pass several stores selling carne seca. New Mexicans have always had an affinity for carne seca whose literal translation is “dried beef” but for which a more accurate description would be “dehydrated beef.” Spanish conquistadores and settlers learned the process for making carne seca from indigenous peoples, quickly discerning the value of preserving and ease of transporting dehydrated meats as they set off on their conquests. When they settled down and raised cattle for their families, they retained their carne seca preparation traditions. Years of preparing it had taught them that beyond its practicality, carne seca is an addictively delicious meat treat.

Frank Chavez and his family have been provisioning New Mexicans with high-quality, delicious carne seca for three decades, proffering some thirteen flavors. The carne seca is hung and dried in a controlled environment until the desired texture is achieved. The thin strips of dehydrated beef are then marinated in such ingredients as Hatch red and green chile with no additives or preservatives. Any triskaidekaphobia you might have will dissipate when you feast your eyes and wrap your lips around any of the thirteen flavors: original (salt only), peppered (salt and pepper), green chile, red chile, tangy teriyaki, extra hot teriyaki, lemon peppered, old-fashioned, garlic, extra hot Habanero, hot chile con limon and Christmas (red and green chile).

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Taco Burgers

27 November 2013: Texturally, the carne seca is absolutely perfect.  That means it snaps when you bite into it or break apart a piece.  It isn’t stringy in the least and is lean and super delicious.  The chile con limon is not to be missed.  Chile con limon is a very popular Mexican spice mix combining chile spices, salt, lemon and lime to impart an addictive piquant-tangy-citrusy flavor.  The heat is real.  So is the citrusy flavor.  Other early favorites include the extra hot teriyaki and the garlic, but that’s likely to change with future visits and more sampling.

Chavez, an Albuquerque native who grew up in the area around Central and Atrisco, realizes that New Mexican’s can’t live on carne seca alone. When he launched his second instantiation of the New Mexico Beef Jerky Company, he diversified its offerings by selling chicharrones, too…and if there’s anything New Mexicans love as much as carne seca, it’s chicharrones. We also love hot and spicy New Mexico Quality (the store brand) red chile chips so Chavez makes the very best, created with the same high standards as other products in the store.

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Carne Adovada Burrito

Several months after launching his second store (1900 Fourth Street, N.W.), Chavez once again listened to his customers (a novel concept more restaurateurs should embrace) who were clamoring for more. He expanded the menu beyond carne seca, chicharonnes and red chile chips, restructuring the store to include several tables for eat-in dining. One of the first to visit after the menu expansion was Rudy Vigil, the Sandia savant who’s led me to some great restaurants. Rudy endorsed the burritos at the New Mexico Beef Jerky Company with the same enthusiasm he has for the University of New Mexico Lobos.

The limited menu befits the store’s diminutive digs.  Four breakfast burritos (served all day long), five lunch burritos, burgers (tortilla or bun) and taco burgers make up the standard menu, but savvy diners will quickly pick up on the fact that they can also order chicharrones in half or full-pound sizes.  Even better, they can indulge in a chicharrones plate which comes with two tortillas and four ounces of chile for a half-pound portion.  Order a full pound of chicharrones and you’ll double the number of tortillas and chile portion size if you order the full pound.  You’ll also double your enjoyment.

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Chicharonnes Burrito with Green Chile

1 November 2013: Order the taco burgers as an appetizer to begin your experience in New Mexico Beef Jerky Company deliciousness. The taco burgers are simple in their construction: a hard-shell corn tortilla, a hamburger-style beef patty, lettuce and your choice of red or green chile (or both). More tacos should be made with hamburger patties. Texturally, hamburgers have an advantage in that they don’t fall off the taco shell. Hamburger patties are also superior in flavor to fried ground beef. The real kicker, literally and figuratively, is the green chile which bites back with a vengeance. It’s an excellent chile, some of the best in town.

1 November 2013: The carne adovada burrito is so good, it’s easy to imagine yourself having one for breakfast and one for lunch two or seven times a week.  The breakfast version is made with carne adovada, eggs, cheese and potatoes while the lunch version omits the eggs (though as previously noted, breakfast burritos are available all day long).  The carne adovada is outstanding with tender tendrils of porcine perfection marinated in a rich, piquant red chile made from chile pods.  Burritos are generously engorged, easily twice as thick as most hand-held burritos…and most of the filling is carne, not potatoes.  They’re easily affordable and will fill you up.  My adovada adoring friend Ruben calls them “unbelievably good,” a sentiment you’ll echo. Another friend Mike Muller believes these are the very best carne adovada burritos in town. Frankly, I can’t think of any better.

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Chicharonnes

1 November 2013: By most measures, the carne adovada burrito would be the best burrito at most restaurants’ burrito line-up, but it may not even be the best burrito at the New Mexico Beef Jerky Company. That honor probably belongs to the chicharrones burrito (with beans and chile), the only possible way in which chicharrones could be improved. The chicharrones are exemplars of crackling pork. They’re crispy, crunchy and redolent with porcine goodness. This burrito is tailor-made for green chile, an R-rated variety in that it may be unsuitable (too piquant) for some children, adults who don’t have an asbestos-lined mouth and Texans. This is chile the way New Mexicans have been preparing it for generations, not dumbed down for tourist tastes.

As a cautionary note, if you get there late in the day, say after 3:30, the New Mexico Beef Jerky Company may have run out of chicharrones.  Fresh batches are made daily and if you’re fortunate enough to arrive shortly after a fresh batch is ready, you’re in for a treat.  Few things are as wonderful as freshly made chicharrones hot enough to burn your tongue.  Before day’s end, the freshly ground beef from which burgers are constructed may also be gone.

Green Chile Cheeseburger with New Mexico Quality Chips

Green Chile Cheeseburger with New Mexico Quality Red Chile Chips

27 November 2013: The ground beef for the burgers comes from the same beef used to create the old-fashioned carne seca. Each beef patty is hand-formed and prepared at about medium-well then topped with mustard and onions. Green chile (a must-have) and cheese are optional. As a green chile cheeseburger, the emphasis here is on chile as in plenty of piquancy. If you’ve ever lamented not being able to discern any chile on your green chile cheeseburger, this is a burger for you. The chile is not only piquant, it’s got a nice flavor. The beef patty exceeds the circumference of the bun and is thick, probably a good eight ounces of delicious, rich beef. Burgers are served with New Mexico Quality red chile chips. 

24 September 2014:  Baloney!  If you’ve ever wondered why the popular Italian sausage is synonymous with a term commonly associated with nonsense, bunkum or insincerity, you’re not alone.  It turns out the word “baloney” was first used in the 1930s as a reference to the disingenuousness of government bureaucracies.  The term was later applied to “Bologna” sausages because the sausage tasted nothing like the meat used to make them (a mixture of smoked, spiced meat from cows and pigs). 

Baloney Sandwich

24 September 2014: There’s nothing insincere or nonsensical about the love of baloney, the sausage.  It’s long been a favorite among families in rural New Mexico, a realization some restaurants are only now starting to grasp.  New Mexicans love the log-sized baloney we slice ourselves so that it’s three or four times the height of the single-sliced baloney sold in supermarkets.  We like to grill or fry it over low heat so that it acquires a smoky char and we love our boloney on a tortilla.  That’s how Frank’s crew prepares it: two thick slices of grilled baloney, melted cheese, lettuce and an incendiary green chile that will bring sweat to your brow.  It’s the baloney sandwich of my youth recaptured. 

9 October 2014:  When I asked the genial server manning the counter whether or not the chorizo included cumin, his answer validated my long-held assertion that cumin has no place in New Mexican food.  He told me: “we don’t use sobaco on anything here.”  Sobaco is Spanish for armpit, a description my friend Bill also uses to describe cumin.  The chorizo burrito (eggs, potatoes, cheese, chorizo in a flour tortilla) is the best I’ve had in memory, maybe the best ever.  The chorizo has a wonderfully piquant kick.  It’s not nearly as piquant as the XX-Hot chile of the day (a placard at the counter will tell you how hot the chile is ), but it’s got personality and deliciousness.

Chorizo Burrito

The New Mexico Beef Jerky Company may be Lilliputian compared to those impersonal mega restaurants, but when it comes to service, the big boys can learn a thing or two from Frank Chavez and his crew. By the time our taco burgers were delivered to our table Frank had already secured our unending loyalty with a generous sample of chicharrones. For “dessert” he brought us chicharrones in red chile and samples of the beef jerky.  He had us at chicharrones.  We’ll be back again and again.

New Mexico Beef Jerky Company
1900 Fourth Street, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 242-6121
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 9 October 2014
1st VISIT: 1 November 2013
# OF VISITS: 4
RATING: 24
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Chicharrones, Chicharrones Burrito, Carne Adovada Burrito, Taco Burger, Beef Jerky, Green Chile Cheeseburger, New Mexico Quality Red Chile Chips, Baloney Sandwich, Chorizo Burrito

New Mexico Beef Jerky Company on Urbanspoon

California Pastrami & More – Albuquerque, New Mexico

California Pastrami for some of the very best sandwiches in New Mexico

During a 1997 episode of Seinfeld, the “show about nothing,” George Costanza and his girlfriend du jour discussed the possibility of incorporating food into their lovemaking–not as a post-coital meal, but in flagrante delicto. George listed as potential food candidates: strawberries, chocolate sauce, honey and…pastrami on rye with mustard.  Yes, that’s pastrami on rye.  His girlfriend, unfortunately, failed to appreciate the erotic qualities of pastrami and thus, their relationship terminated.

Ultimately George met up with a woman who echoed his sentiments when she declared pastrami to be “the most sensual of all the salted cured meats.”  With that proclamation, their lustful appetites took over and they succumbed to the pastrami inspired throes of passion, albeit also incorporating television watching.  It’s no wonder George Costanza’s face grew flush when he ate with friends at their favorite neighborhood diner; the association of food with pleasure became a sensual one.

The interior of California Pastrami

I don’t know about pastrami being the most sensual of all salted cured meats (sounds like a bit of double entendre here), but do know there are few sandwiches quite as wonderful as a pastrami sandwich.  Alas, not all pastrami is created equal.  The perfect pastrami finds its genesis as brisket given a salt, sugar and spice rub, dry cured, smoked, and cooked.  Having grown up in bucolic Northern New Mexico, I had no idea pastrami existed until the Air Force sent me to Massachusetts and I discovered pastrami at Steve’s House of Pizza in Bedford. It was love at first bite. For two years I visited delis throughout New England and New York City in search of the best pastrami.

If you’ve ever wondered what the differences are between pastrami and corned beef aside from taste and texture.  Pastrami comes from the naval area while corned beef emanates from the brisket area.  Where pastrami is given a salt and spice rub, dry cured, smoked then cooked, corned beef is cured in brine.  To me, the main difference is that pastrami is much better, but then, like George Costanza, I consider pastrami the most sensual of all salted, cured meats.

The”Classic” Pastrami Sandwich

Since returning to New Mexico in 1995, I’ve lamented being short-changed insofar as Duke City restaurants or delis not offering a world-class pastrami product, not even close.  Fortunately semi-frequent (every few years) trips to Chicago have proven to be fulfilling pastrami pilgrimages.  Most meat distributors serving New Mexico sell a processed pretender, pastrami “loaf.” I wanted the real thing–whole beef brisket with lots of marbling and heavy, briny seasoning.

Real pastrami is also what Joseph Rodriguez wanted to bring to New Mexico.  A California native now living in New Mexico, Rodriguez was raised on hot pastrami sandwiches and like dozens of us pastrami paramours, he couldn’t find good pastrami in New Mexico.  Rodriguez buys his pastrami from a supplier who furnishes it to The Hat, a Los Angeles area pastrami sandwich shop chain.  It’s the real stuff–well marbled, briny, highly seasoned and absolutely delicious.  It’s comparable to pastrami I remember fondly in New York City, but not quite as good as my favorite pastrami in Chicago.

The Eastern: pastrami on fresh baked New York style rye bread with spicy brown mustard

The rest of us are thrilled that he took it a step further and begin selling it at the New Mexico state fair during the fall of 2006. His success there convinced him there was a legitimate market of passionate pastrami fanatics like me. Rodriguez didn’t start off by selling his pastrami at some fancy storefront.  He built a concession trailer and parked it on the corner of St. Francis Drive just as you turn into Alameda.  The trailer was furnished with all he needed to prepare his product and was so portable, he took it to the state fair and balloon fiesta. 

In November, 2009, Duke City pastrami aficionados no longer had to drive to Santa Fe to assuage their chile fix when Rodriguez launched California Pastrami on Alameda Boulevard.  California Pastrami was in that location until January, 2011, its closure coinciding with the opening of a location at 6125 Montgomery, N.E.  By year’s end, he had sold the concession trailer and closed the Santa Fe operation.  Ever the entrepreneur, he remains optimistic about opening another storefront location both in Albuquerque’s west side and perhaps in Santa Fe.

Corned Beef Reuben sandwich

9 December 2012: Having lived on the East Coast and traveled extensively in the Golden State, the term “California pastrami” gave me nightmarish visions of pesto packed pastrami desecrated with sushi grade sashimi, artichoke and the designer vegetable de jour. Fortunately, as it turns out California (since renamed as the “Classic”) pastrami is served on a hoagie bun with yellow mustard and dill pickles (just as some grinder shops in Massachusetts sold it). Even better, this is an outstanding sandwich. It’s got the requisite marbling (for flavor) pastrami lovers crave and the addictive flavor profile that keeps us coming back for more.

Years ago, television and radio commercials for Reece’s Peanut Butter Cups introduced America to a catchy jingle which touted “two great tastes that taste great together” in describing the marriage of chocolate and peanut butter. Until my friend Larry McGoldrick suggested it, I had not tried a pastrami sandwich with green chile–a marriage of California and New Mexico. Indeed these are two great tastes that taste great together. Green chile can improve almost everything, including desserts. California Pastrami doesn’t shy away from piquant chile; it’s got a tongue-tingling bite and a nice roasted flavor that complements the pastrami surprisingly well.

Pastrami Burger

1 October 2014:  You can also get your pastrami sandwich Eastern style–on light New York-style rye sandwich bread with grainy mustard. Having tried both the “Classic” and “Eastern” style pastrami, I’m not ready to declare a preference. Both are terrific!  Make that outstanding!  The advantage the hoagie roll has over the rye bread is that it holds up better against the onslaught of juiciness from the fresh, delicious and utterly unctuous pastrami. The advantage of the Eastern-style pastrami sandwich at California Pastrami is that it’s served with a side of coleslaw and a dill pickle spear, both made on the premises and both being excellent.

My friend and frequent dining companion Bill Resnik thought he had partaken of good pastrami during his years of travel and was skeptical when I first brought him to California Pastrami in January, 2010. He had no idea what a difference truly great pastrami can make, his previous experiences with pastrami being less than memorable. By mid-February, he had visited the restaurant at least once a week and as often as three times in one week. He’s hooked and has been every since.  So are many other Duke City diners.

Corned Beef Sandwich

20 May 2014: As for the “More” portion of the restaurant’s name, “more” includes burgers, sandwiches and burritos, some of which I may never try courtesy of pastrami George Costanza would have loved in the Biblical sense. It also includes corned beef and a number of burgers, including a pastrami burger. The pastrami burger is humongous, a generous amount of pastrami, a one-third pound ground beef patty with a slice of cheese, lettuce, pickle and mayonnaise on a sesame seed bun which struggles to contain all that flavor, all those ingredients. It’s a great burger!

9 December 2010: Pastrami and corned beef are often paired together in menus and in the hearts of sandwich aficionados. California Pastrami offers a very good corned beef sandwich stacked high on light rye bread with Swiss cheese and Russian dressing. As previously stated, it’s a very good corned beef sandwich, but it’s not a special sandwich as both pastrami sandwiches are. Still, I would stack it up against any corned beef sandwich in town. It’s far superior to the one served about a block away at Jason’s Deli, a chain with a large menu. The difference is that California Pastrami’s largeness is in the flavor of its product, not its price.

Philly Cheese Steak

Philly Cheesesteak

Astute members of the Duke City Fix’s Chow Down in Burque Town” forum found it intriguing (to say the least) that mayonnaise and pastrami would share space in the same sentence, much less the same sandwich (the aforementioned pastrami burger).  Though a purist myself, I’ve long ceased being surprised by flavor combinations that work surprisingly well.  My first experience with pastrami and mayonnaise was at the aforementioned Deli Mart’s elder sibling on Albuquerque’s east side where the much-missed New York transplanted to Albuquerque Cerami family served their pastrami sandwiches in that fashion.  My first inclination was to declare that blasphemy, but the mayonnaise-pastrami combination is actually quite good, albeit not as good as pastrami with real deli mustard.

17 January 2010: Call it blasphemy if you will, but I’ve long had a preference for pastrami Reubens instead of the more conventional corned beef Reuben sandwich. A pastrami Reuben at California Pastrami is a thing of beauty. Unlike other Reubens I’ve had in the Duke City, the Russian dressing doesn’t taste like a cloying Thousand Island clone and the sauerkraut won’t purse your lips with its tartness. It’s served on a lightly toasted light rye bread and includes a heaping mound of pastrami, the starring attraction of any sandwich.

Half a loaf of Joe’s outstanding New York-style rye bread

3 February 2010: Joe Rodriguez, like me, recognizes the potential in pastrami to improve everything it touches.  He didn’t blink an eye during a visit in which I asked for a patty melt sandwich with pastrami.  By itself, the patty melt has all the essential elements of a very good patty melt sandwich–a light rye bread grilled until toasty brown, finely chopped onions fried nearly to the point of caramelization, a hand-formed all-beef patty and rich melted cheese.  The pastrami elevated it from very good to excellent.  Some time I may just ask Joe to add pastrami to one of the burritos served at his restaurant. 

3 February 2010: Lest you think California Pastrami is a one-trick pony whose expertise is limited to pastrami, the menu includes several burritos as well as fish tacos (on hard shells, no less) I’ve heard draw utterances of “wow” from other patrons.  The restaurant also prepares a very good Philly cheesesteak.  It’s served on a hoagie roll and is engorged to overfull with chopped beef steak, finely chopped green peppers and onions and melted white cheese.  It’s steaming hot when you bite into it and is as juicy and delicious as almost any Philly cheesesteak you’ll find in Albuquerque (my favorite being the one at Itsa Italian Ice).  You won’t find a speck of excess fat or sinew on the beef which is very tender.

Housemade potato chips

10 APRIL 2013:  Several years ago, television commercials for a pseudo Mexican fast food chain encouraged diners to “make a run for the border.”  Duke City diners should run, not walk, to California Pastrami to partake of a new menu item called The Border Dog.  The Border Dog is perhaps as close to a Sonoran Hot Dog as you’ll find in Albuquerque. The hot dog is wrapped in bacon and deep-fried.  Nestled in the bun are caramelized onions and chopped jalapeños.  The hot dog bun is made on the premises and is quite good.

Another addition, perhaps in response to complaints of bread which withered neath the moistness of the steamed pastrami, is a much improved bread baked on the premises.  The bread is chewy and formidable enough for the moistness of the steamed pastrami.  It doesn’t wither and doesn’t get soggy.  Best of all, it’s a delicious bread which disproves the notion that good bread can’t be baked in the alkaline-rich Albuquerque area.  Joe not only bakes his own hoagie and rye breads, but the buns for his burgers and hot dogs.  The rye bread is especially delicious, a wonderful canvas for sandwiches or toast.  It’s amazing how much better bread can be without artificial preservatives.

The Border Dog

The Border Dog

Joe Rodriguez knows that the best way to grow his business is to invest in his business. To that end, he continues to expand his restaurant’s offerings.  A pastry case displays several dessert options, but on balmy summer days only Breyer’s ice cream will do.  Currently available only on a cone or bowl, Joe is planning on making milkshakes and malts available in the near future.  Smoothies are also available as are some of the best housemade potato chips in Albuquerque. 

1 October 2014: Joe is especially proud of the pineapple upside-down cake which is baked by his lovely bride who works beside him at the restaurant.  He’s got good reason to be proud of this dessert.  It’s rich, moist and utterly delicious.  It’s also not overly sweet as some pineapple upside-down cake tends to be.

Pineapple Upside-down Cake

California Pastrami is one of the best sandwich purveyors in New Mexico, introducing new diners to “real” pastrami while continuing to appease those of us who consider pastrami the most sensual of all cured meats.

California Pastrami & More
6125 Montgomery, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
505-730-4507
Web Site

LATEST VISIT: 1 October 2014
# OF VISITS: 18
RATING: 22
COST: $$
BEST BET: California Style Pastrami Sandwich, Eastern Pastrami Sandwich, Corned Beef Sandwich, Pastrami Burger, Philly Cheese Steak, Pastrami Ruben Sandwich, Fish Tacos, The Border Dog, Pineapple Upside-Down Cake, Potato Chips

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