Mimmo’s Ristorante & Pizzeria – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Mimmo’s Ristorante And Pizzeria on Coors

My sisters present quite a dichotomy. On one hand, it’s as if they’ve never set foot in the Land of Enchantment. Case in point: In a recent family instant messaging session, they discussed our mom’s delicious red “chili.” A disgrace, I know. Our mom, a spry octogenarian, has never made “chili,” but has always prepared some of the best “chile” in Taos county. You can almost excuse one of my sisters as she’s lived in Texas for many years, but my other sister is married to a guy from Hatch. On the other hand, you can take the girls out of New Mexico, but you can’t take New Mexico out of the girls. On Valentine’s Day, my sisters took our mom to Buca Di Beppo, a mediocre chain restaurant serving “family style portions” (if you’re a family of NFL offensive linemen). Only in New Mexico do hordes frequent Buca di Beppo when there are so many better options available—options such as Mimmo’s Ristorante & Pizzeria.

From the outside, Mimmo’s has the look and feel of a typical casual Italian restaurant, but step inside and you can’t help but notice right away that this venerable restaurant has a devoted following.  If long lines and crowded tables portend an excellent meal, then Mimmo’s is one of the Duke City’s premier Italian dining establishments.  On busy nights hungry patrons queue up from the restaurant’s entrance to the host’s station to get their names on a list for the next available table.  Mimmo’s has no pretensions to being a trendy Northern Italian restaurant.  This is a classic Southern Italian and Sicilian restaurant with more than a touch of New York City thrown in.  It’s reminiscent of the “red sauce” Italian restaurants on the East Coast which is appropriate because its roots are deeply New York.  Mimmo’s is a family restaurant in the classic sense of the word, too.  It’s not uncommon to see several tables pushed together with family members of several generations sharing a bountiful repast.

Mimmo’s capacious dining room

Set your expectations high at Mimmo’s.  It’s not the type of restaurant for which you have to dress up, but you’ll be treated better than at most of the so-called four-star restaurants or those stereotypical chain Italian restaurants with their saccharine service and family-style portions.  Even if your visits are spaced out by several months (or years), the wait staff will remember having served you before–or at least they’re professional enough to give that impression.  The nattily attired–white shirts, black slacks and ties–wait staff is unfailingly polite, accommodating and energetic.  Most of the wait staff has been with Mimmo’s for years.

Even before you’re seated, your olfactory senses will respond to the arousing authenticity in the air as the aroma of seasoned sauces wafts toward you.  You’ll want to grab the nearest menu and find the genesis of those enticing emanations.  As in many Italian restaurants, portions are generally “right-sized” only if you’re famished (meaning the portions are humongous).  Your order is at your table within minutes after you order with a significant number of orders being for the special of the day.

Silver Trays Brimming with Red Sauce Favorites

Popular among couples with children and diners looking for good value is Mimmo’s lunch hour buffet, an all-you-can-eat feeding trough brimming with pizza, salad, soup and pasta.  Similar to many buffets, items are kept warm under serving lamps, but they’re turned around rather quickly by the ever-vigilant wait staff.  The frequent replenishment of buffet items ensures freshness and that hot items stay hot.  The buffet allows you to craft salads your ways with a variety of fresh ingredients and thick, creamy salad dressings.

The menu is a veritable compendium of Southern Italian and Sicilian favorites–heavily sauced pastas of all types as well as pizzas resplendent with all the usual ingredients and then some.  Some of the restaurant’s entrees are accompanied by salad, garlic bread, vegetables and spaghetti while pasta entrees include your choice of salad or soup and garlic bread.  It’s not uncommon to leave Mimmo’s with a doggie sack or two.  The make-your-own-salad allows you to be as creative and generous as you wish.  For me, that means as much blue cheese dressing as it’s humanly possible to carry.  Beneath all that blue cheese are some of the freshest salad ingredients to grace a salad bowl in Albuquerque.

Underneath all that blue cheese is a pretty good salad

In 1949, Louis P. De Gouy wrote The Soup Book which included nearly 800 recipes for thin and thick soups, hot and cold soups, instant soups and soups taking hours to prepare.  He called good soup “one of the prime ingredients of good living.  For soup can do more to lift the spirits and stimulate the appetite than any other one dish.”  Some of the soups at Mimmo’s have that effect on diners, especially the tomato soup which is creamy and delicious.  Served piping hot, it’s the type of soup which can quell the cold of winter.

2 May 2010: Mimmo’s cream of mushroom soup has the distinction of having more mushrooms than any soup of this genre we’ve ever had–especially considering some cream of mushroom soup only seems to hint at the proximity of mushrooms.  Fetid fungi can be tasted in every single sip of this soul-warming soup, some mushrooms covering much of the spoon.  It’s an earthy, soul-warming soup as comforting as you’ll find anywhere.

Affettati Misti For Two

23 April 2016: Mouth-watering appetizer options abound, including an antipasto which could easily make a meal for one.  That would be an appetizer called affettati misti (mixed cured meats), an antipasto comprised of salami, proscuitto, olives, ham, Swiss and provolone cheeses and an assortment of pickled vegetables that may include tomatoes, carrots, celery and more.  It is one of our favorite antipastos in Albuquerque even though it’s more than doubled in price in the years we’ve been ordering it.  The affettati misti is meant to be shared and even at that, it might fill you up if you’re not careful.  It’s served with a sliced loaf of delicious, crusty bread which can be used to craft sandwiches from the cold-cuts or dipped into a mix of Balsamic vinegar and olive oil.

Some say the secret to great Southern Italian food is in the sauce.  Mimmo’s seemingly has a sauce to satisfy any palate–Carbonara, Marinara, Alfredo, Fra Diavalo, Bolognese, Béchamel and others.  None of the sauces are subtle either in flavor or in profusion.  Pasta-based entrees tend to swim in sauce, which is not entirely a bad thing because the sauces are fairly prototypical examples of Italian sauces done well.

Rigatoni and Scallops Amatriciana

The carbonara sauce, for example, is very rich.  I’ve had carbonara on the East coast that was so rich, you couldn’t finish it thanks to a profusion of pancetta and a deluge of heavy cream.  Mimmo’s carbonara approaches that level.  One of our favorite sauce-based entrees has been the Gamberi Fra Diavalo, shrimp served in a sauce which translates to “Brother Devil.”  The sauce earns its sobriquet because it’s not only delicious, it’s fiendishly piquant thanks to the liberal use of incendiary peppers.  At Mimmo’s, this is one sinfully delicious entree.

Where Mimmo’s truly excels is in the pizza department with a pie that is better than we’ve had at pizzerias raved about by the cognoscenti.  Don’t let the buffet pizza be your measuring stick for the greatness of Mimmo’s pizza.  Order one of the menu standards (the Mediterranean pizza is terrific).  Better yet, have Mimmo’s craft one for you with the ingredients of your choice.

Baked Ziti

2 May 2010: Make it Sicilian style, a rectangular pizza with a thick crust.  Its body is similar in texture to focaccia bread, save for the wonderful crunch on the bottom.  Some Sicilian pizza is upwards of an inch thick and is almost casserole-like.  Not so at Mimmo’s where the pizza is probably just over half an inch thick including toppings.  The toppings are unfailingly fresh and delicious and even though the green chile isn’t particularly piquant, it’s got that unmistakable roasted flavor New Mexicans love.

Sicilian pizza is very popular in the New York area–even though there’s no way you can fold it in half vertically the way many New Yorkers like.  It’s stiff enough to be held by the rim without it drooping over and spilling ingredients all over you, but only the bottom is crunchy.  The rest is like soft focaccia.  Mimmo’s pizza sauce is applied thickly, but it’s redolent with Italian spices (garlic, oregano) and is better than the restaurant’s Marinara sauce.  If possible, a Sicilian pizza from Mimmo’s might taste even better after being refrigerated (and it’s fabulous just out of the oven).  Considering there are bound to be leftovers, that’s a great thing.  A large pizza will generally tide you over for lunch and dinner with a slice or two left over for breakfast.

Garlic Bread

29 March 2008: The wait staff raves about Mimmo’s Quatro Formaggi (four cheese) pizza.  Atop a thin, chewy canvas and a thin slathering of oregano and basil blessed tomato sauce is a rich blend of mozzarella, fontina, gorgonzola and parmesan cheeses.  This is a pizza so rich you’ll want to cut that richness with other toppings.  Two which do the job well are meatballs and garlic.  This pizza is not too heavy or crust-laden so the focus is squarely on the ingredients.  Because it is so rich, two people may not be able to finish an entire pie.

2 May 2010: Perhaps the richest entree at Mimmo’s is a special–mushroom stuffed ravioli with scallops absolutely buried under a thick carbonara sauce.  This is most definitely a two meal ordeal, a pasta dish so rich you can feel your arteries hardening.  As my friend Bill Resnik would say, it should come standard with an angioplasty.  My gosh, this is a rich dish!  Okay, you’ve got the point–it’s rich.  It’s also very good, addictively so.  The mussels are sweet, fresh and tender.  The mushrooms are earthy and fleshy and the carbonara sauce is redolent with pancetta.

Limoncello Cake

24 April 2016: Baked ziti, a classic Italian-American hybrid showcasing a medium-sized tubular pasta baked with a “chunky” meaty sauce is a specialty at Mimmo’s. Served in a casserole dish, this rendition is very reminiscent of baked ziti as it’s prepared and served in the East Coast. That means it’s served piping hot with a blanket of molten cheese melted atop layers of pasta and rich, red sauce. Rhee Drummond, the Food Network’s “Pioneer Woman” likens baked ziti to be “almost like a lasagna that forgot to use lasagna noodles. Messy. Gooey. Decadent. Ridiculous. In every sense of the word.” That’s how you’ll find the baked ziti at Mimmo’s.

24 April 2016: It speaks volumes about a restaurant that is willing to change the way it serves a dish to accommodate a customer. For one thing, it says that restaurant has a customer first policy that engenders customer loyalty and repeat visits. Secondly, it means dishes are prepared to order; they’re not waiting under some heat lamp for a server to pick them up. On a Sunday, for example, the special of the day was spaghetti all’ Amatriciana with scallops. Explaining my lack of dexterity with spaghetti noodles, I asked if the dish could be made with rigatoni instead. Our server didn’t even bat an eye. The dish arrived as requested—a mound of rigatoni with bits of pancetta, a slathering of olive oil and red hot peppers in a slightly piquant sauce. New Mexico chile lovers will appreciate this dish. 

Chocolate Cannoli

24 April 2016: Mimmo’s offers some terrific desserts, all shipped fresh from Roma Food Enterprises in New Jersey.  The cannoli are generously stuffed (on the premises) with rich ricotta embellished with chocolate chips.  The shell has a crispy, light texture but it doesn’t crumble when you press your fork down on it.  Best of all, you can have either the traditional cannoli or a chocolate-coated cannoli and both are good.

Our favorite Mimmo’s dessert is an Italian cream cake (sometimes called Italian Wedding Cake) so rich and luscious, you can gain weight just looking at it.  It is an edible work of art, three layers of heavily iced white cake sprinkled with confectioner’s sugar, topped with caramel and edged with toasted coconut.  No two recipes of Italian cream cake are alike.  Mimmo’s version is a winner.

Mimmo’s has the look and feel of a neighborhood Italian restaurant in New York or Boston.  It’s a little piece of Italy in Albuquerque.  You’ll remember the friendly service almost as long as you’ll fondly recall the well-sauced meals.

Mimmo’s Ristorante & Pizzeria
3301 Coors, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 831-4191
Facebook Page

LATEST VISIT: 24 April 2016
# OF VISITS: 14
RATING: 19
COST: $$
BEST BET: Affetati Misti, Sicilian Style Pizza, Quatro Formaggi Pizza, Cannoli, Italian cream cake, Tomato Soup, Cream of Mushroom Soup, Gamberi Fra Diavalo, Baked Ziti, Spaghetti All’Amatriciana, Lemoncello Cake

Mimmo's Ristorante and Pizzeria Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Naruto – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Naruto on Central Avenue in the University of New Mexico area

During a 2015 episode of the Travel Channel’s Delicious Destinations, glaborous host Andrew Zimmern articulated what may be the very best–or at least most comprehensive–definition of comfort food ever. “Comfort food,” he explained, “makes us feel good. Every culture has its favorites–satisfying classics carried throughout the generations. Simple recipes loaded with carbs and full of love. It’s the taste of a feeling: warm, cozy, hearty and homey. Comfort foods satisfy more than physical hunger. They’re the feel good favorites that connect us to our past, family and cultural classics that fill us with sustenance and warm feelings at the same time.”

At first browse, it appears that Zimmern’s definition applies solely to the act of consuming comfort foods, however, read closely and nowhere within that definition is it explicitly stated that comfort foods have to be eaten in order to be warm, cozy, hearty and homey. Nor do we have to masticate, graze, sup or savor comfort foods in order to feel good or to satisfy more than our physical hunger. Whether deliberate or unintentional, Zimmern’s definition can also apply to acts other than eating one’s food. Indeed, for some of us, the sense of warmth, coziness and comfort from food can be derived from acts other than eating it.

Naruto’s long, narrow dining room

That may be especially true for ramen, arguably the most popular comfort food in the world. In Japan, ramen is so revered that several major cities boast of museums designed to pay homage to this national dish. Considering the veneration with which they revere this sacrosanct food, you might think the Japanese consider ramen as strictly for degustation, for lovingly luxuriating in its nuanced flavors, studiously imbibing its fragrant aromas and ruminating about the sheer delight of enjoying such sheer deliciousness. You might even believe Japanese would consider it heretical, perhaps even blasphemous for ramen to be used as a “play thing” or worse, as bath water. You would be wrong on both counts.

Since 2007, a Japanese spa has been offering patrons the opportunity to luxuriate in a tub filled with ramen. While health regulations mandate that only non-edible (synthetic) noodles be used in the hot bath water, real pork broth is added. The broth not only renders the water brownish, it imparts collagen which ostensibly has the salubrious benefits of helping improve the bather’s metabolism while cleansing the skin. Frankly, a tonkatsu (pork bone) broth sounds just a bit greasy and there’s no telling what bodily nook and crannies those noodles will sneak up into.

Jim and Janet Millington, founding Friends of Gil (FOG) members

We joked about the ramen baths with our friends and founding Friends of Gil members Jim and Janet Millington who joined us for our inaugural visit to Naruto, an Albuquerque ramen house open since December, 2015. The Millingtons were already planning a visit to a ramen museum in Tokyo during an upcoming sojourn to the Land of the Rising Sun. I tried in vain to talk them into indulging in a ramen bath, but Jim has too much respect and love for ramen. Like me, he would rather eat a tubful than bathe in it. Googled images of ramen bathers did little to make the ramen bath concept more enticing. In fact, our Japanese server found the notion rather silly.

It’s becoming a tradition that Jim and I break in new ramen restaurants together. On 24 April 2014, we made our initial excursion to the delightful O Ramen on Central Avenue across the street from the University of New Mexico (UNM). Surprisingly, only one (currently vacant) storefront separates O Ramen from Naruto which occupies the space which previously housed the Mint Tulip Vegan Café. Out of concern and curiosity, we walked the twenty steps or so from Naruto to O Ramen and were very happy to see nearly every seat at both ramen houses occupied. It makes sense that collegiate types would appreciate having two ramen houses in close proximity (after all, ramen is a dietary staple for students).

Gyoza

Naruto may be new to Albuquerque, but it’s got a New Mexican pedigree. Founding owners Hiro and Shohko Fukuda opened the Land of Enchantment’s very first sushi bar some four decades ago. Since its opening in 1975, the Shohko Café has been considered one of the very best sushi restaurants in the Land of Enchantment, earning first place in the Santa Fe Reporter’s annual “Best of Santa Fe” edition from 2009 through 2014. Not strictly a sushi restaurant, Shohko serves a number of ramen dishes as well as soba or udon noodles and many other Japanese favorites.

The transformation from the Mint Tulip Vegan Café to Naruto is startling, an aesthetic and functional make-over. Bar stools overlooking the exhibition kitchen give diners a window to the real transformation which goes on everyday at Naruto. That’s the transformation of fresh ingredients into some of the very best ramen in New Mexico. There are similarities to the ramen at O Ramen, but it’s distinctive enough that comparisons will be in order. The menu showcases eight different ramen dishes, including some heretofore unavailable in the Duke City. We’re talking miso ramen, seafood ramen and vegetable ramen here. Also available are a number of entrees including kimchi fried rice, a chashu bowl (sliced pork with ramen noodles) and gyoza.

Miso Ramen with Tempura Shrimp

6 February 2016: If your experience with gyoza is similar to ours, you’ve found there’s very little to distinguish gyoza at one Japanese restaurant from another. Worse, there’s little to distinguish gyoza from dumplings you’ll find at any Chinese, Thai or Vietnamese restaurant in town. At first bite, we could tell the gyoza at Naruto is different. It’s better…legions better These pulchritudinous pan-fried dumplings are stuffed with the usual minced pork, but that’s where similarities end. The greenish tint of the pork is courtesy of Chinese leeks and scallions. They infiltrate the pork with an herbaceous quality no other dumpling in memory possesses.

6 February 2016: The gyoza isn’t accompanied by the usual soy-based dipping sauce served with most dumplings in the Duke City. Instead, you’ll find a condiment caddy at your table replete with everything you need to impart as much additional personality to your gyoza (or ramen) as you’d like. The caddy includes a pickled ginger that’ll water your eyes, pickled garlic that’ll ward off a family of werewolves, chile oil that’ll have you coughing and sputtering and another oil whose undoubtedly delicious qualities escape me.  Darn, that means I have to visit Naruto again…and soon.

Tonkatsu Super Rich Ramen: Murky, Cloudy Deliciousness

6 February 2016: Tonkotsu ramen is porcine perfection, an intensely porky elixir concocted by culinary wizards who, over many hours of simmering time, transform pork bones into an opaque broth with a rich, butyraceous flavor and the aroma of heaven. Naruto offers two versions of its Tonkotsu ramen, the standard “as good as winning the lottery” version and a super-rich version that’s even better than winning the lottery. The super-rich version includes Japanese pickled mustard greens, black mushrooms and chashu pork as well as any additional toppings (there are eleven of them) you may choose to add. The ramen noodles are imported from California where they’re fashioned to Naruto’s exacting specifications. They’re transformative, as good as you’ll find anywhere in Albuquerque! This is comfort food ramen at its very best, a melt-in-your-mouth dish that will make adults swoon.

6 February 2016: Even better if you can imagine that is a Miso Ramen (green onions, two slices of chashu, bamboo shoots and kikurago) a relative newcomer in that Miso Ramen has been made in Japan only since the 60s. The broth combines “copious amounts of miso blended with an oily pork broth to create a thick, nutty, slightly sweet and very hearty soup.” Dismiss any notions you might have about miso soup; this one is many orders of magnitude better than any miso soup you’ve ever had at any Japanese restaurant.  The dashi stock, the base for any miso soup, is made in-house.  As with the Tonkotsu Ramen, there are twelve optional toppings. Try this special elixir with shrimp tempura; you’ll thank me later.

Shoyu Ramen

23 April 2016: During our second visit to Naruto, we sat in personal space proximity to a very uninhibited millennial couple.  By uninhibited, I don’t mean they groped each other or flashed other diners.  What they did may be an even bigger taboo in the oft prudish American culture.  They slurped their ramen so loudly we joked they risked ingesting the ceramic off the bowl.  Slurping ramen is perfectly acceptable, perhaps even expected in Japanese ramen and noodle restaurants (as detailed in my review of the Asian Noodle Bar), but not necessarily in Albuquerque.  My Kim and I are still too westernized to have initiated our own slurpfest, but we didn’t judge or condemn the enthusiasm other diners had for very slurp-worthy ramen.

23 April 2016: Unlike tonkatsu ramen which tends to be heavy and cloudy, Shoyu ramen (which can trace its origin back to the very first ramen) is light and clear. Known for its tangy, savory and salty flavor, the basis for Shoyu ramen is, of course, Japanese soy sauce. Naruto’s version is made with pork bones and a special shoyu base with such toppings as green onions, two slices of chashu (salty, sweet, fatty, pork belly braised until it practically melts-in-your-mouth), bamboo shoots, scallions, white onions and two halved soft-boiled eggs which have been marinated in multi-flavored seasonings. These hard-boiled eggs are indispensable on ramen, a wonderful flavor profile contrast to the chashu. As with the miso ramen, tempura shrimp make a wonderful additive. 

Kimchi Fried Rice

23 April 2016: Though more prevalent in Korea than it is in Japan, kimchi fried rice is no stranger in Japanese cuisine. Naruto’s version incorporates Japanese kimchi which doesn’t have nearly the personality and kick of Korean kimchi which is imbued with pungent properties from fermentation and a discernible level of umami (a pleasant savory taste imparted by glutamate). It’s a very good fried rice with many of the standard fried rice ingredients, but would be improved with the kick of Korean kimchi. Kimchi fried rice is one of only six appetizer-type items listed on the “Entrée” section of the menu, along with gyoza, fried rice, Takana (pickled mustard leaf) fried rice, chashu bowl and white rice. 

23 April 2016: Dessert options are limited, too, but who needs a compendium of postprandial sweets when you’ve got tempura green tea cheesecake, a wedge of creamy, moist cheesecake drizzled with cocoa powder served atop a swirl of chocolate. The cheesecake is coated in a light tempura batter that lends a slight crispiness to each bite. The tempura also adds a savory quality that wonderfully complements the sweet-tanginess of the green tea cheesecake. Sliced strawberries on the side add their own tang. This is a unique cheesecake, wholly unlike the deliciously decadent creations made by Eli’s Cheesecake Company of Chicago offered about half a mile away at Saggio’s.

Tempura Green Tea Cheesecake

Naruto’s ramen is made for luxuriating–not the type you do in a tubful of hot water, but for slurping merrily with a soup spoon.  Naruto is blazing new paths in culinary deliciousness.

Naruto
2110 Central Avenue, S.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 369-1039
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 23 April 2016
1st VISIT: 6 February 2016
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 23
COST: $$
BEST BET: Miso Ramen, Tonkatsu Ramen Super Rich, Gyoza, Kimchi Fried Rice, Tempura Green Tea Ice Cream, Shoyu Ramen

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

Taqueria El Paisa – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Taqueria El Paisa on Bridge Avenue in Albuquerque

The immediacy of a taco, handed to you hot from grill and comal, can’t be equaled. 
You can stand there and eat yourself silly with one taco after another,
each made fresh for you and consumed within seconds. 
A great taco rocks with distinct tastes that roll on and on,
like a little party on your tongue, with layers of flavor and textures:
juicy, delicious fillings, perfectly seasoned; the taste of the soft corn tortilla;
a morsel of salty cheese and finally, best of all,
the bright explosion of a freshly-made salsa that suddenly ignites and unites everything on your palate.
At the end of our two or three-bite taco you just want to repeat the experience until you are sated.”
~Deborah Schneider, 1000 Tacos | Mexico, One Bite At A Time

If you’re wondering why such a heartfelt expression of sheer appreciation and unfettered love has been so eloquently conveyed about something as humble and–some would say pedestrian–as the taco, perhaps you’ve haven’t heard about the taco evolution-slash-revolution taking America by storm. And no, I’m not talking about Taco Bell’s Doritos Locos Taco Supreme (that’s a mutation, not an evolution). Nor am I talking about artisan cooks exploiting the limitless possibilities of what is essentially a rather simple concept–a corn or flour tortilla stuffed with sundry and delicious ingredients.

The small dining room at Taqueria El Paisa

To be sure, a paean could be written about the creative use of multi-ethnic ingredients in constructing tacos bursting with flavor profiles heretofore unexplored. Judges and guests alike certainly waxed poetic about the fusion evolution vividly on display at the 2015 Taste of Rio Rancho where Street Food Blvd earned three first place awards (best appetizer, best entree and People’s Choice) by showcasing its unique tacos. Over the years we’ve also been enthralled by temptingly toothsome tacos at such exemplars of cutting edge cooking as Pasion Latin Fusion, Sophia’s Place and others, but none of them exemplify the taco evolution/revolution of which I write.  

No, my friends, the taco evolution/revolution of which I write is the widespread availability of the humble Mexican taquerias which have exploded across the culinary landscape over the past two decades or so. Though not nearly as ubiquitous as Taco Bell (which Anthony Bourdain would probably say is as widespread as herpes), the number of quality Mexican taquerias across the fruited plain might surprise you. These taquerias have introduced teeming masses yearning to eat well to the concept that sometimes simple, fresh and relatively unadorned is best. Most of these taquerias are the antithesis of fancy, but they’re paragons of deliciousness.

The exterior patio at Taqueria El Paisa

For many savvy taco aficionados across the Duke City, the taco trek begins and ends on the west side of Bridge Boulevard scant yards from where it crosses the Rio Grande. That’s where you’ll find Taqueria El Paisa, a delicious little slice of Mexico in the Land of Enchantment. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week, El Paisa maintains an operating schedule that would exhaust many of us. It opens its doors when some of us are still sleeping (7AM) and closes at midnight, long after we’ve gone to bed.

Despite its diminutive digs, El Paisa is heavily trafficked, its Lilliputian dining room accommodating only a few diners while a sprawling covered porch handlies the overflow crowds. And they do overflow! Just how good is this taqueria? According to an article entitled “15 Restaurants in New Mexico That Will Blow Your Mind” published in the Movoto Insider blog it’s so good, it “will ruin all other Mexican food for you.” That’s an audacious claim considering the surfeit of superb Mexican restaurants across the Land of Enchantment, but some devotees won’t go anywhere else for their tacos.

Aguas Frescas: Pina and Melon

While it bears the name “Paisa,” a diminutive of “Paisano” which translates from Spanish to “countryman,” diners of all stripes and colors are welcome here. It’s a friendly milieu in which it may help to know a little Spanish, but it’s not absolutely requisite. You and the servers at the counter can make yourselves mutually understood even if it means pointing at the menu (which is also in Spanish). That menu hangs to the right of the counter where you place your order and you’ll espy it the second you walk in.

At first glance, the menu may appear to be rather limited. Its offerings are categorized into burritos, gorditas, tacos, tortas and aguas frescas. The variety increases exponentially because you’re able to have your tacos, burritos, gorditas and tortas constructed from the same basic ingredients (al pastor, buche, barbacoa, carne asada, etc.). For example, not only can you have a taco al pastor, you can order a burrito stuffed with the same al pastor pork. If the menu doesn’t make you drool, the “cheap eats” pricing structure just might. Two can eat rather well (and probably take some home) for around twenty dollars.

Six Tacos: El Pastor, Carnitas and Asada

1 February 2015: In addition to eating well, you can drink merrily. Not only does El Paisa offer Mexican Coke in a bottle (which is sweetened with real sugar and not the high-fructose corn syrup used in America), you’ll find some of the very best aguas frescas in town.  Served from large barrel-shaped containers, these refreshing beverages actually taste like the fruits (or almond milk and cinnamon in the case of horchata) from which they’re derived.  The melon, platano (banana), sandia (watermelon) and piña (pineapple) are absolutely amazing!  The accommodating wait staff may even acquiesce if you ask them nicely to give you a mix of any two.  Banana and pineapple make a wonderful combination.  Simply amazing!

1 February 2015: So are the tacos although the more appropriate descriptor would be “muy ricos,” the Mexican term used for food items which are “very delicious.”   The quality of riquisimo (even more delicious) begins with the soft corn tortillas in which all other ingredients are nestled.  A pronounced corn flavor coupled with an inherently pliable texture make them the perfect vessel for the ingredients of your choice, topped if you desire with chopped onions and cilantro.  

Top: Chile Relleno Burrito; Bottom: Mole Burrito

1 February 2015: Four different salsas of varying piquancy are also available, but the more incendiary among them will serve more to obfuscate other flavors than to ameliorate them.  The salsa offering perhaps the most refreshingly pleasant and just right heat level may be the tomatillo-jalpeño salsa which you might be tempted to chug.  It’s very good!  You won’t want anything masking the glorious flavor of the meats, especially the al pastor.   That the al pastor is so delicious was no surprise, but its just slightly crispy texture (not quite chicharron-like, but in the vicinity) was a pleasant surprise.  The other meats (carne asada and carnitas) we sampled had similar qualities and were equally enjoyable.  

1 February 2015: Burritos are of the hand-held variety and are about seven inches in length.  Each tightly-wrapped flour tortilla plays host to some of the very best burritos in Albuquerque.  You’ll exclaim “Holy Mole” at your first bite of the mole burrito, love-me-tender tendrils of pork prepared in a complex and numerous blend of ingredients, some with a discernible sweetness and all coalescing to provide a back-of-the-throat heat you’ll enjoy.  It’s an amazing mole made even more impressive by its low price.  It’s not every Mexican restaurant which serves a chile relleno burrito so if you see it on the menu, you’re well advised to try it.  In contrast to the mole which is dominated by sweet notes, the chile relleno burrito has a pleasant bite. It won’t water your eyes, but your tongue and the back of your throat will feel its bite.

Ceviche

19 June 2015: There are so many Mexican restaurants in Albuquerque offering ceviche that sometimes the only thing distinguishing one from another isn’t the freshness and flavor of the seafood, but the influence of citrus.  Some border on an almost lip-pursing lime-infused flavor while others have a much lesser presence of citrus juices.  There’s comfort in the consistency of getting what you’re expecting at virtually every Mexican restaurant.  El Paisa’s rendition of Ceviche is the first to surprise me in months.  At first glance, it resembles every other ceviche and in composition, it has all the standard ingredients: fish, chopped tomatoes, onions, cilantro and avocado slices atop a crispy corn tortilla.  What distinguishes this one is the tomatoes which are wholly unlike the artificially ripened, flavorless variety so prevalent everywhere.  These tomatoes have a flavor profile very much like a sweet tomato jam.  It’s a pleasant departure from the usual.

19 June 2015: When pining for a delicious sandwich, the notion of finding one at a Mexican restaurant doesn’t always jump to the surface.  Perhaps it should, especially if you’ve become budget conscious and tired of parting with your Alexander Hamiltons.  In Mexico, just as in the United States, the sandwich has become a ubiquitous staple.  What it hasn’t become is unaffordable.  For just about what you’d pay for half a sub at one of those abysmal chains, you can get a torta stuffed with sundry ingredients and you’ll wonder why you sunk your children’s inheritance at Subway.  El Paisa offers a phalanx of tantalizing tortas,  Among them is the torta de jamon, a savory, crusty bolillo engorged with two slices of fried jamon, a thin Mexican ham; lettuce; tomatoes; cheese and avocadoes.  It’s moist, delicious and flavorful.  Frankly, it’s got everything you crave in a sandwich and so much more.

Torta de Jamon

10 June 2015:  Gorditas which translate from Spanish to “fatties” are a popular street food in Mexico and have gained a foothold in the culinary culture of its bordering states.  Loosely described as “flat bread sandwiches,” gorditas are constructed from masa (corn or flour) and are about the size of the corn tortillas used for tacos only much thicker.  They’re usually split open and stuffed with sundry ingredients.  El Paisa’s gorditas are terrific and they can be stuffed with any of the wondrous ingredients with which you can stuff a burrito or sandwich.  The al pastor is my early favorite. 

20 April 2016: When my friends and frequent dining companions Larry “the professor with the perspicacious palate” McGoldrick and the Dazzling Deanell met me for lunch at El Paisa I welcomed them with “Bienvenidos a Mexico.”  It isn’t far from the truth.  Both recognize that El Paisa is as authentically Mexico as you’ll find in the Land of Enchantment.  Among the buffet table of items we shared (for a ridiculously low price), was a quesadilla for which we requested an al pastor filling.  Larry called it the very best quesadilla he’s ever had while Deanell was surprised at just how good a quesadilla can be.  Stuffed with queso (naturally), beans and al pastor, this quesadilla is indeed an adventure in delicious, perhaps equal to the quesadilla synchronizada  at La Familiar as Albuquerque’s very best.  This tortilla treasure is accompanied by cheesy and delicious beans and a rich guacamole.

Quesadilla con El Pastor

Taqueria El Paisa is the real thing–as authentic a taqueria as you’ll find in Old Mexico without pretentions or compromise.  It’s the home of riquisimo!  

Taqueria El Paisa
820 Bridge Blvd, S.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 452-8997
LATEST VISIT: 20 April 2016
1st VISIT: 1 February 2015
# OF VISITS: 5
RATING: 22
COST: $
BEST BET: Mole Burrito, Chile Relleno Burrito, Al Pastor Burrito, Verde en Puerco Burrito, Carne Asada Tacos, Al Pastor Tacos, Carnitas Taco, Gordita de Al Pastor, Torta De Jamon, Tostada De Ceviche

El Paisa Restaurante on Urbanspoon

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