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Chopstix – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Chopstix Chinese Cuisine on the northwest corner of Lomas and San Pedro.

Chopstix Chinese Cuisine on the northwest corner of Lomas and San Pedro.

And I find chopsticks frankly distressing. 
Am I alone in thinking it odd that a people
ingenious enough to invent paper, gunpowder,
kites and any number of other useful objects,
and who have a noble history extending back
3,000 years haven’t yet worked out that a pair
of knitting needles is no way to capture food? 
~Bill Bryson

The precise date in which chopsticks were first used has been lost in time. Archaeological evidence found in burial plots indicates they are at least 3,200 years old though some scholars believe they’ve been around even longer than that. Even the evolution of chopsticks is in debate. Some surmise that chopsticks evolved from the practice of using wooden sticks to stir food as it cooked on large pots over an open fire. Others believe that hasty eaters broke twigs from trees to retrieve food as it cooked. Whenever their origin and whatever its genesis, chopsticks have, for thousands of years, been the main tableware of the Chinese. By the Fifth Century A.D., the use of chopsticks had even spread from China to present day Japan, Korea and Vietnam.

The dualistic philosophies of Yin Yang that seek universal balance and harmony even posit a correct way to use chopsticks so that the user forges a correct ration of sauce to meat. Their fundamental use remains unchanged over time. While many Americans have mastered the etiquette and techniques for using chopsticks properly, in the hands of others (including me), chopsticks become a lethal weapon, the attempted use of which might result in someone’s eye being gouged out.

The Chopstix dining room

Ironically, the only chopsticks you’ll see when you walk into Chopstix Chinese Cuisine are in the hands of deft users. On unoccupied tables, the place settings are spoons, forks, knives and a napkin. What makes this doubly ironic is that Chopstix, despite the Westernization of the name, is, along with the fabulous Budai Gourmet Chinese Restaurant, the most authentically Chinese restaurant we’ve found in Albuquerque.  How authentic?  For the unacculturated, it’s scary authentic with such rare specialties as chicken feet and pickled kohlrabi with pork and chive (both are delicious).

From its launch in 2005 until my inaugural visit, I received more e-mail about Chopstix than any other restaurant not previously reviewed on my blog. None of the e-mail was more passionate or compelling than one from Tom Donelan who described Chopstix as having “really excellent food with amazing and not familiar flavors.” Tom should know, having sampled 50 to 60 menu items.  While it’s not unusual for Chinese restaurants to have more than a hundred items on the menu, what is unusual for many diners is to sample so many of them.  Most diners seem to settle on a handful of select favorites.

Sesame Shaobing (left) and homemade Szechwan Sausage

Sesame Shaobing (left) and homemade Szechwan Sausage

Chopstix is ensconced in a nondescript shopping center on the northwest corner of Lomas and San Pedro. It occupies the space which once held Taeja, a highly regarded and widely popular Korean restaurant which closed in 2004. On its signage, the “x” at the end of the name Chopstix resembles a pair of chopsticks. The bottom end of the chopsticks (the end used for picking up food) is tapered to a blunt end. That, we quickly found out, is where the “Westernization” ends.

The menu at Chopstix is very similar to what you might find in the Chinatown district of a large Cosmopolitan city such as San Francisco or my former hometown of Boston. Every item on the menu is spelled out in English and in Chinese and is accompanied by a photograph. A plethora of healthful options, including several vegetarian dishes makes this menu unique in that it doesn’t specialize in the deep-fried, heavily breaded, candied meat favorites proffered elsewhere. The menu does include several of the “usual suspects” (Kung Pao Chicken, Sweet and Sour Chicken, Orange Beef), but the Chopstix’ version is  better and not nearly as Westernized.

Chinese Fried Bread with Sweetened Condense Milk

Additional dishes (specials) are posted in plastic sleeves on the east-facing wall. Many of these dishes are not to be found anywhere else in Albuquerque and rotate in and out seasonally and as customers request. To my surprise, there were several menu items I hadn’t seen since my days in Boston.  The cuisine is Beijing-style which focuses on poultry and vegetables and relies heavily on spices (though not as extensively as Szechwan style cooking) and breads. This style of cuisine is surprisingly not that common, even in Cosmopolitan cities throughout America.

Most of the dishes are truly authentic, prepared as they would be in Beijing itself, without modification for American tastes. These dishes are prepared from scratch and take meticulous preparation time before they reach your table. When the restaurant is busy, it can mean long waits. While that may tax the patience of some Americans, many of Chopstix’ customers are Chinese who don’t seem to mind the wait. It’s certainly worth it.

The hot and sour soup is really HOT...and thoroughly delicious.

The hot and sour soup is really HOT…and thoroughly delicious.

The appetizer section of the menu lists twelve appetizers including the ubiquitous egg rolls. Appetizers also include sesame shaobing, a layered baked flatbread with sesame on top. In texture, shaobing bears some semblance to naan, the wonderful Indian flatbread.  It’s crispy on the outside and soft on the inside.  Unlike naan, however, shaobing is virtually devoid of flavor, not even salt.  In Taiwan, it’s served for breakfast with soy milk, a combination considered the most iconic breakfast in Taiwan.

The shaobing is accompanied by a standard “pot sticker sauce” (soy sauce, ginger and rice wine vinegar) for dipping, but savvy diners order the shaobing with their meals instead of as an appetizer. Dredging up the sauce on some of the entrees with shaobing is an improved use of a very tasty, very utilitarian bread that you just don’t find in many Albuquerque Chinese restaurants.

Shrimp with garlic sauce, the best we've had in New Mexico.

Shrimp with garlic sauce, the best we’ve had in New Mexico.

20 May 2012: Though New Mexico doesn’t currently have a full-fledged Chinese bakery, a surprisingly wide variety of Chinese bakery goods can be found in Chinese restaurants throughout Albuquerque (the dim sum menu at Ming Dynasty, for example, offers several). Only at Chopstix will you find Chinese fried bread, a deep-fried cruller that’s a Hostess cupcake shade of gold served with sweetened condensed milk which has a “frosting” like effect on the bread. It’s akin to having a Chinese donut. Only a scalding cup of coffee could possibly improve on this Chinese fried bread.

4 August 2007: Another appetizer unique in Albuquerque to Chopstix is Szechwan Sausage. While Szechwan cooking is characterized by spicy and piquant food, the Sausage barely registers on the piquant scale, but is redolent with spices (ginger, star anise, dried red chili and wild pepper), making it a very flavorful appetizer.  Szechwan sausage is made from shredded fresh pork, both lean and fat meat cuts.  You’ll occasionally bite into a sinewy bit, but for the most part, the texture of the sausage is akin to that of many German dry sausages.

Mustard with dried bean curd.

Mustard with dried bean curd.

17 March 2007: There’s a lot of truth in labeling when an asterisk (*) prefaces a dish. That means the dish is hot and spicy. Even the hot and sour soup (one of three soups on the menu) is gunpowder incendiary. It’s also as delicious and comforting as any hot and sour soup we’ve had, with throat and stomach warming properties that move it near the top of my favorite soup list.  There are plenty of woody mushrooms on this soup, a sign of its authenticity.

17 March 2007: Near the very top of my list of outstanding garlic shrimp entrees I’ve ever had is the Chopstix version. Laden with minced garlic and populated with barbed hot peppers, it is intensively flavored and preternaturally delicious. Prepared to absolute perfection were the dish’s vegetables: sweet snow peas, julienne carrots, green peppers, white onions and more. The sauce is incredibly flavorful, a perfect accompaniment to the aforementioned shaobing.

Dong Bo Pork on a Hoison-Soy Sauce

17 March 2007: Chinese physicians tout the healthful properties of mustard seed (which contain lots of protective substances called phytochemicals, which may inhibit the growth of existing cancer cells and help prevent normal cells from turning into cancerous ones), while diners will tout the surprising deliciousness of mustard with dried bean curd. Somewhat resembling, in both taste and appearance, the mustard greens so popular in Southern cooking, this dish doesn’t have the intense flavoring of the garlic shrimp, but it may be the most surprisingly good version of “greens” I’ve ever had. 

20 May 2012: If the Chinese dish of mustard with dried bean curd resembles the mustard greens of the Deep South, Chopstix’ rendition of Seafood Noodles has only a passing resemblance to the Caldo de Siete Mares served in many Mexican mariscos restaurants.  It more closely resembles a Vietnamese pho with a rich broth redolent with the flavors of the bounty of the sea–shrimp, crab, squid and fish.  The baby bak choy lends a slightly bitter flavor profile while the thick rice noodles provide one of life’s best pleasures, that of slurping perfectly prepared, almost buttery noodles.

Vinegar and sugar ribs

Vinegar and sugar ribs

4 August 2007: Pork entrees include Vinegar and Sugar Ribs in which pork ribs are stewed with soy sauce, Chinese vinegar, various seasonings and what is likely brown sugar. Not everyone appreciates a sweet and savory combination, and even if you do, this may be too much of a good thing–as in not enough taste contrasts for you to continue enjoying it with the same gusto as you had when gnawing the meat off the first few bones. 

20 May 2012: In recent years, perhaps as an offshoot of bacon’s popularity, one of America’s favorite gourmet cravings has been for pork belly.  The Chinese version is called Dong Bo Pork and it’s fabulous.  On the bowl in which it’s served, it bears an almost off-putting resemblance to fatty pork served in ink or tar.  The sauce in which it is served is a Hoisin-soy sauce mix that’s wholly unnecessary, but quite good.  This half-lean meat and half-fat pork belly dish is a wonderful study in textural contrasts, but if you like pork regardless of texture, it’s a dish you’ll love.

Chicken with Ginger

2 October 2015:  Little chili icons next to specific items on the menu denote levels of spiciness.  Several items are rated one chili, but only one item has two chili icons next to it.  That’s the chicken with ginger, a unique dish unlike any we’ve had in Albuquerque.  Lightly breaded chicken usually means tender and moist, but not on this dish.  Texturally the chicken is chewy and crisp with not as much moistness as you might expect.  Piquancy is courtesy of finely chopped bird peppers as well as stir-fried ginger strips.  It’s not the type of piquancy which should intimidate most New Mexicans, but it’ll make most of us happy.

Several entrees are accompanied by steamed white rice, but for a pittance you can also have fried rice, with or without pork. Chopstix’ version of fried rice isn’t as soy sauce salty as most fried rice you’ll find in Americanized Chinese restaurants. It lets other flavors speak out for themselves.

Seafood Noodles (Baby Bak Choy, Shrimp, Crab, Squid, Fish)

You should never visit Chopstix alone because while every item might be good, you miss out on the fun and adventure of sharing and even a good thing (like the Vinegar and Sugar Ribs) might be too much of a good thing. There is much to like and much to be explored at Chopstix, a restaurant which may have a Westernized spelling, but which serves some of the best, most authentic dishes of any Chinese restaurant in New Mexico. This one will remain highly placed on my rating list!

6001 Lomas Blvd, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Web Site

LATEST VISIT: 2 October 2015
COST: $$
BEST BET: Mustard With Dried Bean Curd, Shrimp With Garlic Sauce, Sesame Shaobing, Hot & Sour Soup, Seafood Noodles, Chicken with Ginger, Vinegar and Sugar Ribs, Dong Bo Pork, Chinese Fried Bread with Sweetened Condense Milk

Chopstix on Urbanspoon

Slate Street Cafe – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Slate Street Cafe (view from the southwest)

In 2005, Slate Street and an eponymous bistro just north of Lomas became the toast (a garlicky bruschetta) of the town. The Slate Street Cafe opened its doors in July, 2005 in a heretofore lightly trafficked, relatively unknown street north of Lomas. Nestled in the heart of the legal district, the Slate Street Cafe is so, make that Soho cool.  Its sleek, modern, high-ceilinged dining room, looming wine bar and capacious patio  is frequented by some of Albuquerque’s most hip and beautiful people. It’s a breath of fresh air in a burgeoning downtown district where revitalization appears to be working.

The Slate Street Cafe is the braintrust of a proven and very successful pedigree whose bloodline includes founding chef Albert Bilotti (Al’s NYPD and Kanome) and owner Myra Ghattas whose family owns Duran’s Central Pharmacy. The menu might best be described as eclectic, contemporary and fun with a playful twist to American comfort food favorites such as buttermilk fried chicken, chicken soup, mac and cheese, fish and chips and even homemade cupcakes for dessert. For breakfast, green eggs and ham might just be what the doctor ordered–and not just if your physician is Doctor Seuss. Slate Street’s version of green eggs and ham is an omelet with green chile courtesy of Duran’s.

The ambiance at the 7,400 square foot “bistro with a Western accent” is decidedly contemporary with an energizing bright color pallet. A hard plastic glass shields a half moon bar covered with vintage New Mexico postcards such as the perpetual tourist favorite depicting the uniquely New Mexican jackalope (which Texans have copied). The restaurant’s commodious loft serves as a wine bar (Ghattas is a certified sommelier) where upscale, meal-sized appetizers are served and a great view of the dining room is available.

With something for everyone, it’s easy to see why long lines typify the lunch hour and why the Slate Street Cafe is the place to be on weekends for brunch. An exhilarating menu will challenge you to limit your selection as you really will want to order more than one of each starter, entree and dessert. The starters are chic and eclectic with options ranging from Asian (Japanese style fried rock shrimp with orange Habañero dip) to Middle Eastern (house-made hummus and pita) to dishes that play on New Mexico’s ubiquitous chile.

Pear & Stilton salad: walnuts, Stilton blue cheese, field greens, port vinaigrette

19 September 2008: While many Duke City restaurants offer Bruschetta (grilled bread rubbed with garlic and garnished with sundry toppings), a Tuscan favorite, the Slate Street Cafe does it best. For a pittance you can have three different Bruschetta from a list of eight. Bountiful portions of lightly toasted bread two can share become the consummate canvas for such toppings as tomato, fresh mozzarella and basil; Feta, sun-dried tomatoes and pine nuts; calabasitas and queso blanco; muffaletta (salami, provalone and olive relish) and blue cheese, spinach and Balsamic reduction. The melding of ingredients makes for lively combinations that both complement and contrast in delightfully tasty ways.

Johnny Carson once defined happiness as “finding two olives in your martini when you’re hungry.” I’d wager he’d find happiness in Slate Street’s fried olives stuffed with garlic and Boursin cheese, a salty, albeit wonderful starter option. Having lived in the deep South for eight years, we thought we’d tried everything (pickles, okra, tomatoes, etc.) that could be fried, but fried olives were new to us. Seemingly equal flavor pronouncements between garlic, olives and cheese will tantalize your taste buds.

Fish tacos: tilapia, cabbage, avocado, tomatillo salsa, mango cream drizzle in corn tortillas

Lunchtime entrees are categorized as “mean greens” (the star of which appears to be a profuse Nicoise salad), “sandwich stuff” and “other stuff.” Other stuff includes brown bag fish and chips with a twist. Instead of the usual fried cod, you’re treated to a Guinness stout-battered salmon and house-made chips (American, not British) copiously sprinkled with sea salt served in a warm brown paper bag. We eschewed a very good lemon-basil tartar sauce for malt vinegar in honor of our former home in England. Biting into filets of lightly-breaded, pinkish salmon instead of the boring white flesh of cod is strange at first, but you’ll be won over quickly. The homemade chips, though paper-thin and wonderfully crisp, are  perhaps just a tad salty.

19 September 2008: The menu includes several seafood entrees, including fish tacos, an entree few restaurants in New Mexico seem to do well. The Slate Street Cafe’s twist on this California favorite is to compose the tacos on deep fried corn shells, fashioning two crispy corn cups engorged with sundry ingredients. Similar to tostadas, these tacos are a challenge to eat and you might have to dredge the ingredients out of the cup with a fork because the shell falls apart otherwise. Insofar as taste, these are quite good with citrusy, briny and acidic tastes melding together quite well.

3 August 2010: The “lunchy” section of the brunch menu includes a salad that’s not on the “mean greens” section of the regular lunch menu, but probably should be.  It’s a pear and Stilton salad constructed with walnuts, Stilton blue cheese, field greens and a port vinaigrette dressing.  Stilton blue cheese, a pungent cheese produced only in three English counties, is often eaten with pears, a combination that pits the strongly flavored cheese with the tangy-sweetness of pears.  It’s a combination that works, as does the addition of walnuts, not sugared but in their natural state.  The field greens are fresh, crisp and a perfect vehicle for the port vinaigrette, a lip-pursing tangy dressing.

19 September 2008: The Slate Burger crafted with black angus beef and served on a ciabatta bun is so good, it (this may sound like heresy coming from me) doesn’t need green chile. As with many New Mexicans, green chile has become a “crutch” and it’s hard to conceive of a burger being good without it. While you can ask for green chile on your Slate Burger, it’s absolutely unnecessary. The main reason is the perfectly seasoned, perfectly prepared to your exacting specifications (it’s perfect at medium) angus beef. It’s a high quality beef with nary a hint of sinew or excess fat. The Slate Burger is an excellent burger for which you can pick your toppings from a bevy of fresh ingredients!

Sausage sliders: green chile turkey sausage on housemade green chile cheddar biscuits, chipotle gravy

Salty might be the first adjective I’d used to describe the Cafe’s buttermilk fried chicken, but I’d also have to add zesty and mouth-watering. This free-range poultry features three prodigious pieces of mostly white meat with a thick coating of buttermilk-enriched batter seasoned with garlic and red pepper. Not quite as Cayenne potent as Popeye’s chicken, it’s as juicy and flavorful as any chicken we’ve had in the Duke City (which has never been known as a great city for fried chicken). 

28 September 2015: Green chile mac and cheese, on the other hand, may eventually grow into yet another dish for which Albuquerque gains acclaim.  Slate Street Cafe’s version is among the very best we’ve had: three cheeses–sharp Cheddar, Havarti and Gouda–and rotelli pasta with a pleasantly piquant green chile.  It’s an adult mac and cheese with plenty of flavor, richness and personality.  The cheeses and green chile go so well together that the flavor of this dish is a sum of this part, not distinct components.  That’s how well the ingredients complement one another.

Three Chile Green Chile Mac and Cheese

Breakfast at the Slate Street Cafe is an eye-opening experience that might begin with the aforementioned green eggs and ham (a multi-egg omelet folded with double roasted green chile, white cheddar and honey cured ham). Dr. Seuss would have been proud (and undoubtedly addicted to the endorphin rush from the Duran’s recipe for green chile). This delectable morning delight comes with white cheddar hash browns that don’t have that out-of-the-bag taste.

Slate Street’s fried egg sandwich (fried egg, white Cheddar and applewood smoked bacon on toasted ciabatta) will have you forever swearing off Egg McMuffins. It’s a delicious two fisted masterpiece that defines the best in breakfast sandwiches.  Applewood smoked bacon is magnificent on its own, each slice a thick and crispy best of the breakfast table example of pure deliciousness.  The bacon has a sweet-savory flavor combination resultant from a brown sugar and maple sugar glaze baked into each glorious piece.  It is on par with the award-winning honey-chile glazed bacon at the Gold Street Caffe.  It’s not the restaurant’s most celebrated sandwich, however.  That honor goes to the bacon, lettuce and fried green tomato sandwich which was named one of the city’s 12 yummiest sandwiches in Albuquerque The Magazine‘s annual food and wine magazine for 2012.

3 August 2010: Perhaps even better, if possible, as a morning sandwich option is a brunch-only offering of sausage sliders.  Housemade green chile Cheddar biscuits are the canvas for thick disks of green chile turkey sausage, giving you an eye-opening one, two punch of green chile to wake you up.  If all that green chile doesn’t do the trick, the chipotle gravy will.  It looks innocuous, just like any other brown gravy, but it packs a piquant punch.  Unlike the flaky, fall-apart biscuits that don’t hold together, the green chile biscuits hold up well against the moistness of the absolutely delicious turkey sausage.

The restaurant has become famous locally for its gourmet cupcakes and may have, in fact, been responsible for the introduction of cupcakes as a viable dessert option in the Duke City. Gourmet cupcake favorites include chocolate with cream cheese frosting, coconut, blueberry with lemon icing and a Boston cream cupcake drizzled in chocolate ganache and filled with vanilla custard. The cupcakes are so good many guests don’t realize there’s more on the dessert menu than these decadent gems.

Bread pudding

3 August 2010: There is, for example, chocolate cake like your mother used to make.  There’s a bread pudding with a warm rum sauce–and there’s also a banana split big enough for two.   This banana split includes some departures from the conventional Dairy Queen style banana split and its de rigeur vanilla, strawberry and chocolate ice creams.  The Slate Street Cafe’s version replaces the strawberry ice cream with a rich, flavorful and tangy blueberry ice cream and its chocolate ice cream has more of an adult (less cloying) flavor.  The bananas are caramelized and both peanuts and cashews are piled on top of the real whipped cream for a nice salty taste contrast.  This is a calorie-laden bit of heaven.

Slate Street Cafe is pure gold, one of Albuquerque’s paragons of the locavore movement and one of Albuquerque’s best reasons to visit downtown.  The restaurant partners with local farmers and producers who provide fresh, high-quality ingredients ranging from organic eggs at breakfast to heirloom tomatoes at dinner.  A second-story wine loft is reputed to offer exquisite wine pairings that complement the restaurant’s innovative menu.  Wine tastings are held on the first Tuesday and last Thursday of the month.

Slate Street Cafe
515 Slate, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 243-2210
Web Site

LATEST VISIT: 28 September 2015
COST: $$
BEST BET: Fried Olives Stuffed With Garlic & Boursin Cheese; Bruschetta; Fried Chicken; Brown Bag Fish & Chips; Green Eggs & Ham; Sausage Sliders, Bread Pudding; Boston Cream Cupcake; Green Chile Mac & Cheese

Slate Street Café Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Desert Grows – Los Ranchos de Albuquerque, New Mexico

The patio at Desert Grows

And he gave it for his opinion,
that whoever could make two ears of corn,
or two blades of grass,
to grow upon a spot of ground where only one grew before,
would deserve better of mankind,
and do more essential service to his country,
than the whole race of politicians put together.”
–  Jonathan Swift, Gulliver’s Travels

 Had Jonathan Swift not uttered those words of sagacious cynicism, there’s a good chance Armand Saiia would have.  It’s a sentiment that resonates with Armand, the effusive chef-owner of Desert Grows.  Sensing our confusion as we approached the towering trees providing sweet, salubrious shade to a charming courtyard, Armand welcomed us to one of the Duke City’s most unique and most welcoming milieus, assuring us that we were indeed at the right place.  Only partially joking, he explained that the goal of his restaurant is to “provide food on Route 66 for the 99-percent”  and that he would like to “turn the Route 66 upside-down as a sign that the 99-percent of us are in distress.”

Route 66, or at least the original route that meandered south from Santa Fe through Fourth Street is where Desert Grows is located though you won’t see much in the way of signage to let you know you’ve reached your destination.  Your best bet is to look for vertical flags in front of a converted stuccoed home directly across the street from the venerable Dan’s Boots and Saddles.  A weather-worn dirt road and sparsely graveled parking lot behind the restaurant does little to alleviate your confusion.  Then there’s a mobile food kitchen in a utility trailer which might lead you to wonder if Desert Grows is a food truck operation.  There’s also nothing to indicate the restaurant is within the stuccoed edifice.  When Armand guided us to a comfortable, shaded space on the patio, we knew there was nowhere else on Earth we’d rather be.

Heirloom Tomato Salad

Armand is a true Renaissance man with a passion for sustainable, healthy food, but unlike so many of the celebrated chef luminaries plying their trade in New Mexico, his path to a culinary career in the Land of Enchantment doesn’t include the usual matriculation at an accredited culinary school.  Instead of artistry on a plate, Armand’s chosen career path was as a painter and sculptor who attained success in New York City (and if you can make it there, you’ll make it anywhere), but being an artist only begins to define his assiduous life.  He’s also been a filmmaker, yogi, healer, wilderness camp instructor, organic farmer, restaurateur and chef.

It was his experiences in the restaurant field that would define his current life’s path.  Those experiences didn’t cultivate a myopic, profit-driven mindset; they awakened a passion to combat the “industrial food plague” which he contends contributed to the deaths from cancer of two wives.  He also believes that poor consumer health and suspect food quality is the ultimate cost of corporate agriculture and its mass production of inexpensive, chemically modified food.  The alternative, he says is sustainable, local agriculture which may cost more, but is so much better and more importantly, better for you.

Potato Wedges with Housemade Ketchup

About a decade ago, Armand’s passions led him to Ribera, New Mexico where he bought a nine-acre farm he christened Infinity Farms.  After tending to vegetable gardens and greenhouses for three years, the gentleman farmer expanded his operation, establishing Desert Grows, a nonprofit agency he chartered to encourage and support other small farmers in the valley.  For eight years, Armand even served as mayordomo for the acequias which are the life’s blood for all farms in the area. 

In 2014, Armand launched a restaurant he named The Desert Rose at the Fashion Outlets of Santa Fe, offering simple fare–sandwiches, salads, pastas and baked goods–to enthusiastic diners.  Despite critical and popular acclaim, he didn’t see eye-to-eye with the mall owners and relocated to Los Ranchos de Albuquerque where he launched Desert Grows.  The menu boasts of “serving 90% New Mexico locally and naturally grown or eco-sourced food,” The restaurant is provisioned with fresh local produce from his new acreage in the South Valley as well as his farm in Ribera and from La Montañita Co-op.

Brisket Tacos

Whether you’re passionate about sustainability and maintaining a small footprint or you’re just passionate about great food, Desert Grows has something for you.  It’s got breakfast and lunch Tuesday through Sunday and dinner by reservation only.   The lunch menu features salads, sandwiches and chef’s specialties such as an Italian meat loaf plate, carne adovada tacos and more.  Whatever you order is best washed down with organic apple cider (cherry, ginger, mint or lemonade apple).  It’s, by far, the best we’ve had in New Mexico. 

While the menu is replete with temptation, daily specials are equally alluring.  Armand is proud and passionate about everything on the menu, perhaps proudest of all of the heirloom tomato salad, a lush, lavish in-season cornucopia of freshness plated with artistic flair.  This bounty of the garden showcases beauteous red and yellow heirloom tomatoes whose juicy deliciousness belies their plum size, julienne carrots, red onions, red peppers and mozzarella slice drizzled with a beet vinaigrette.  It’s beautiful to ogle and delightfully delectable to eat.

Brisket Ribs with French fries and Coleslaw

If you see potato wedges scrawled on a slate board on one of the mobile kitchens window, you’re well advised to order them.  While technically not wedge-shaped (they’re more silver-dollar shaped), these terrific tubers, each about an eighth of an inch thick, are superb–maybe even better when dipped into the housemade (with fresh tomatoes) ketchup.  If you like the papitas served with so many New Mexican dishes, you’ll love these, though they may make you pine for red or green chile. 

Even though you won’t see a smoker on the premises, there are many ways to impart a barbecue-like smokiness to meats.  The brisket tacos are certainly imbued with the type of smokiness you’ll find in sanctioned barbecue competition.  It’s a light smoke intended to impart flavor and personality, not overwhelm the meats.  Tender tendrils of brisket blanketed by molten cheeses nestled in moist, pliable tortillas define these tasty tacos.  Carne adovada tacos are also on the menu, but this isn’t your abuelita’s carne adovada.  Armand uses five different chiles, not all New Mexican, on the adovada, imparting a piquancy that’ll please fire-eaters.


Barbecue aficionados will appreciate the boneless brisket ribs (any comparisons with Applebee’s riblets should subject you to flogging), a plateful of moist, meaty ribs glistening with a chocolate-mole barbecue sauce.  The unique sauce alone makes these ribs a great choice, but it’s the magnificent meat carnivores will appreciate most.  Though not quite fall-off-the-bone tender, each mouth-watering rib has a fresh-off-the-grill flavor.  The ribs are served with French fries (which are best eaten with the chocolate-mole barbecue sauce) and a tangy coleslaw. 

Desert Grows is no slouch when it comes to desserts.  Armand’s partner Betina Armijo bakes some of the best bizcochitos in town.  Four per plate of these anise-kissed cookies will leave you pining for more when they’re done.  Neither cake nor pie, bread pudding can be a carb-overload, ultra-decadent dessert too rich for some.  For others, bread pudding is a little slice of heaven.  Desert Grows’ bread pudding cake is so sinfully rich, moist and delicious it may leave you swooning.

Bread Pudding Cake

If you find yourself in the North Valley and you see a sign telling you you’re on Route 99, make your way to Desert Grows where all your cares melt away as you luxuriate in fresh food you can trust.

Desert Grows
6916, 4th Street, N.W.
Los Ranchos De Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 362-6813
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 26 September 2015
COST: $$
BEST BET: Heirloom Tomato Salad, Potato Wedges, Brisket Tacos, Brisket Ribs, Bizcochitos, Bread Pudding Cake

Desert Grows Kitchen Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato