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Central Grill and Coffee House – Albuquerque, New Mexico

The Central Grill and Coffee House near Old Town

“Life is short. Eat more pancakes and fewer rice cakes”.
~ Unknown

With an almost reverential zeal they come, their cellphone cameras at the ready. The enthusiasm for their pilgrimages has brought them to this hallowed destination from every corner of the country.  Some know next to nothing about the city, save for it having been the hometown of chemistry-teacher turned meth-kingpin Walter White.  They don’t regard the city with the ignominy with which it’s been portrayed, but as a Mecca replete with landmarks of the groundbreaking television series Breaking Bad.  They come for  up-close-and-personal views of locations frequented by its characters. 

The more enthusiastic among them have gone as far as to toss a pizza on Walter White’s roof, recreating White’s famous pizza toss from season three.  Roughly 200 avid devotees wishing to bid one last goodbye to the drug lord better known by the clandestine pseudonym Heisenbergeven participated in his mock funeral.  Most, however, are content to take in the landmarks from the air-conditioned conveyances of the several companies capitalizing on the show’s popularity.

Hot and Buttered Salted Caramel Sticky Bun

One landmark Breaking Bad enthusiasts will no longer find is Liu’s Chinese Fast Food Restaurant which made a cameo appearance during a season one episode entitled “Cancer Man.”  No longer will fans be able to reenact the scene in which Christian “Combo” Ortega stood outside the restaurant to call Jesse Pinkman, Breaking Bad’s deuteragonist. It may not seem like much to the casual watcher, but to diehard devotees, it’s part of living the dream.

Situated on Old Route 66 directly across the street from the Old Town Plaza parking lot, Liu’s may not have been contemporaneous with the Conquistadores, but it sure seems that way.  In May, 2014, the Central Grill and Coffee House replaced Liu’s at the 60-year-old edifice, in the process transforming the nondescript building from a rather austere and uninviting premises to a bright, welcoming diner. 

“Christmas Style” Breakfast Burrito with Sausage and Bacon

The Central Grill and Coffee House seats 48 with outdoor seating on an expansive patio accommodating several more patrons. Walk in on a Sunday morning and you’ll swear there are at least 48 guests standing in line to place their orders.  The process is rather brisk.  While standing in line you’ll have plenty of time to peruse the menu and after you place your order, it’ll be delivered in a short while.  Watching one order after another of pancakes being ferried to eagerly awaiting guests is part of the fun. 

Pancakes are one of many options on a rather wide-ranging menu that includes numerous breakfast favorites, burgers, sandwiches, salads, sides and “perks.”  The latter would be a line-up of coffee and blended smoothies sure to wake you up on a sleepy morning.  There’s enough variety on the menu that you’ll be hard-pressed to make a quick decision.  Fortunately, as previously stated, you could be in line long enough to deliberate your choices thoroughly.

Carne Adovada Burrito

28 June 2015: Perhaps the most difficult choice to make is deciding from among the scone of the day, muffin of the day and sweet of the day.  If the salted caramel sticky bun is available, it’s a no-brainer.  This is a sweet treat which should be mentioned in the same breath as the fabled Frontier roll and the cinnamon rolls at San Marcos Cafe outside of Santa Fe.  In other words, it’s in rarefied company.  It’s even better when served hot with lots of melting butter.  Calories be damned; just double-up on the treadmill. 

28 June 2015: The behemoth breakfast burrito is probably even more dietetically devastating than the sticky buns.  Roughly the size of a log of firewood, it’s engorged with the ingredients New Mexicans love on their breakfast burritos: scrambled eggs, potatoes, cheese and your choice of bacon or sausage (live it up and have both) topped with red or green chile (or both).  This is one of the best breakfast burritos to have crossed my path in quite a while.  The red chile has a very pleasant piquancy while the green has the roasted nuances aficionados appreciate.

ABQ Western Sandwich

28 June 2015: For my Kim, a carne adovada burrito sans additional chile makes great sense.  She contends that the chile in which the pork has marinated has a porcine-blessed flavor profile other chile doesn’t have.  She was blown away by the sheer volume of pork with which this burrito is engorged.  Tender tendrils of pure pork deliciousness marinated in chile practically made her swoon. 

28 June 2015: Among the more intriguing sandwiches on the menu is one called the ABQ Western Sandwich, sliced brisket, smoked sausage, Cheddar and barbecue sauce on a toasted ciabatta bun.  One of the things that make this an intriguing sandwich is that there is no smoker on the premises.  Somehow, the brisket has the hint of smokiness that seems to indicate it spent time imbibing low-and-slow smoke.  The smoked sausage doesn’t quite have the same discernible smoke notes, but it pairs well with the brisket.

Inside-Out Burger with Tater Tots

30 July 2015: When the craving for a blue cheese burger hits and nothing else will do but you don’t want to take out a second mortgage to pay for it, visit the Central Grill where a bleu cheese burger can still be found for under a ten spot.  Note that spelling.  “Bleu” is simply a nod to the French word for blue, not any type of superior cheese (sorry, Francophiles).  The bleu cheese burger is replete with the fetid fromage turophiles love (though for me, there’s never enough).  With a creamy, pungent essence, it contrasts nicely with the sweet buns and the Angus beef.

30 July 2015: Just as New Mexicans revere the green chile cheeseburger, Minneapolis, Minnesota residents hold one burger in the highest esteem.  They call it the “Juicy Lucy” and it’s essentially a cheese-stuffed burger which oozes molten cheesy goodness with every bite.  Delicious though they are, they’re best consumed several minutes after receiving them or you risk burning the roof of your mouth.  The Central Grill’s signature burger is called the Inside-Out Burger and it features Cheddar used as a stuffing rather than as a topping.  It’s a good burger served with pickles, tomatoes, onions and lettuce on the side along with mustard, ketchup and Tabasco sauce on a condiment cozy.  They’re served with your choice of French fries, sweet potato fries, onion rings, potato chips or tater tots.

While Breaking Bad devotees may not find one of their favorite Old Town area landmarks, if the pangs of hunger strike during their pilgrimages, they’ll certainly find a terrific diner and coffee house to sate them.

Central Grill and Coffee House
2056 Central Avenue, S.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 554-1424
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 30 July 2015
1st VISIT: 28 June 2015
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 19
COST: $$
BEST BET: Salted Caramel Sticky Bun, Breakfast Burrito, Carne Adovada Burrito. ABQ Western Sandwich, Black & Bleu Burger, Tater Tots, Inside-Out Burger

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Anatolia Turkish & Mediterranean Grill – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Anatolia Turkish & Mediterranean Grill on Central Avenue

In the mid 80s when my Kim and I lived in rural, agrarian England, a “sandwich” meant one of three things: a warm, fresh floury bap with butter, Cheddar cheese and Branston’s Pickle from our favorite bakery in Lechlade; a grilled ham and cheese sandwich (with chips (fries), of course) from The Plough in Fairford; or a doner kebab from a jankety kebab house in Banbury.  There just weren’t many other sandwich options (not to mention burgers and pizza) in the Cotswolds region of England where we lived and certainly no subs, grinders, torpedoes, po’ boys or hoagies. In fact, to our British hosts, the notion that “Yanks” had so many options and fillings for our sandwiches was sheer lunacy on the level of King George, III. Never mind that the bread-encased convenience food known as the “sandwich” was invented by Englishman John Montague, the Fourth Earl of Sandwich.

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Anatolia’s expansive dining room

Of the three sandwiches, the memories of all which still rekindle pangs of hunger, our favorite was the doner kebab. It was our special occasion sandwich, the extravagance of which we chose to partake on birthdays and anniversaries. It was the indulgence on which we splurged (we were very poor back then) when we wanted to maximize our culinary enjoyment and stretch our pounds (English monetary unit). To this day—more than 25 years later—memories of those doner kebabs stir the type of powerful emotions one associates with the most pleasant of memories–on par with olfactory-arousing memories of my grandma’s tortillas just off the comal.We weren’t the only ones crazy for kebabs. In England, where they’re even served in pubs, doner kebabs are considered an icon of urban food culture. They’re especially popular following a night of adult beverage excess, but are beloved at any time.  If possible, they’re even more popular in Germany, where, as in England, large communities of Turkish immigrants settled. Doner kebabs are, in fact, the most popular street food in Germany,  by far exceeding the popularity of the German source of historical and cultural pride, the sausage.

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Babaghannoug with Pita

Aside from vegans, vegetarians and calorie counters, it seems the only person in England who doesn’t like doner kebabs is contrarian extraordinaire Gordon Ramsey who likens kebabs throughout the United Kingdom to “a piece of (expletive) on a stick that is taken off the burner at night frozen then reheated the next day.”   Obviously he never visited the jankety little kebab house in Banbury which forever set our benchmark for excellence in Middle Eastern sandwiches.If you’ve never had a doner kebab or have gleaned from this essay only that it’s some sort of sandwich, let me describe it.  A doner kebab is a traditional Turkish dish made from meat roasted vertically on a spit, very similarly to how Greek gyros and other spit-roasted meats from throughout the Mediterranean region are prepared.  On the long cylindrical spit, the meat resembles an elephant’s foot  from which small pieces of juicy meat are shaved then crammed into warm pita or epic flat bread before being topped with a sauce and (or) lettuce, onions and tomatoes.

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Falafel with hummus

By American standards, the Anatolia Turkish & Mediterranean Grill (formerly the Anatolia Doner Kebab House) could hardly be called upscale, but it’s posh and elegant compared to the jankety little kebab house in Banbury.  After several years in a nondescript edifice on Fifth Street just north of Central in the downtown area, Anatolia nearly doubled its real estate (from 1,100 square-feet to 2,106 square feet) when it moved to Central Avenue, making it even that much larger than many kebab houses in England, some of which are hardly more than roadside stands.  Best of all, Anatolia’s menu includes a number of Turkish delicacies more than a step above street food.  Anatolia’s menu touts its cuisine as “what mama used to make.”Mama must have been one heckuva cook.  The food at Anatolia is so good that our server declared confidently that we’d be back within a week.  That was three days before my first return visit.  I can’t yet state that Anatolia transports me back to England because I have yet to try Anatolia’s version of my beloved doner kebab.  During my first two visits the specials of the day were too tempting to pass up.  If that trend persists, it may be a while before I get to try the doner kebab.

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Combination Platter: Chicken Kebab, Beef Kebab, Ground Beef, Onion Salad, Pita, Rice, Green Chile and Cacik

5 January 2013: The first special was a combination platter consisting of three meat skewers: chicken kebab, beef kebab and ground beef as well as an onion salad, several wedges of pita, a single roasted green chile, rice and Cacik, a very refreshing and cool sauce made with cucumber, yoghurt, mint, olive oil and spices.  The meats are perfectly grilled and seasoned masterfully.  All three meats are fork-tender and devoid of any annoying fat or sinew.   The onion salad is drizzled with a sweet-tangy dressing, but would have been more interesting with just a bit of feta.  The warm and delicious pita is the only item on the menu that’s not made on the premises, but it’s a high-quality pita.  The Cacik (what Greeks call tzaziki) is outstanding while the rice is buttery, but not especially memorable.8 January 2013: Owners Mehmet and Umut Kokangul pay homage to their Turkish hometown with the Adana Shish Kabob, the special of the day during my second visit.  Unlike other kebabs offered at Anatolia, the Adana is pleasantly piquant courtesy of Aleppo peppers, a Turkish pepper favorite with balanced heat and rich, sweet and smoky notes.  This kebab has the texture similar to meatballs, but in an elongated meat package.  Because of its heat properties, it should become a favorite of Duke City diners.

Adana Shish Kabob

Adana Shish Kabob

5 July 2013: Appetizers are very inexpensive at Anatolia where you can get single-sized portions of falafel and dolmas for under a dollar.  The falafel, fried balls of spiced chickpeas and favabeans, are quite good, especially for the price.  Even better are the dolmas which are homemade.  You can definitely tell the difference between the canned dolmas served at many Middle Eastern restaurants and the homemade dolmas served at Anatolia.  The grape leaves are fresher and the flavors of lemon zest and olive oil permeate each bite.8 July 2013: Anatolia’s babaghannoug is among the very best in the city (as well as one of the most challenging to spell).  The combination of olive oil, roasted eggplant and tahini (a sesame paste) is ameliorated with Turkish spices to form a wonderful dip for the pita bread.  For an even more eye-opening, mouth-watering version, ask for the spicy babaghannoug which is punctuated with the bite of the Aleppo pepper.  The color of the hummus resembles Thousand Island dressing and that’s not the only way in which Anatolia’s hummus differs from most in the Duke City.  Texturally it’s somewhat creamier than most and it’s also more heavily seasoned, including a good amount of cumin. 

Leg of Lamb Shish Kabob plate

Leg of Lamb Shish Kabob plate

29 July 2015: Dessert at Turkish restaurants means baklava, or more specifically pistachio baklava.   It’s not sodden with the dreaded corn syrup as some baklava tends to be.  Instead, trust that real honey is used.  This is a buttery, flaky pastry whose sweetness is mitigated with ground green pistachios.  It’s homemade and is among the very best I’ve ever had.  12 July 2013: When John L, a very discerning gastronome whose opinions I value, wrote about a less than stellar dining experience at Anatolia, I surmised John must have visited on a rare off day.  Still his comments hastened my return with my good friends Bruce “Sr Plata” Silver, Paul “Boomer” Lilly and Ryan “Break the Chain” Scott in tow.  It was their first visit and they weren’t privy to any discouraging words about Anatolia.  All three of them found their meals very enjoyable (especially the pistachio baklava) and promised to return.

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Pistachio Baklava

12 July 2013: The special of the day was leg of lamb shish kabob.  At fourteen dollars, it was the most expensive item I’ve seen on Anatolia’s menu, but also one of the most delicious.  The lamb was tender, moist and perfectly seasoned, but there wasn’t a lot of it, so each small bite was cherished with small bites.  The special included a roasted green chile, rice and a salad.  Only the rice was unremarkable.  My friend and colleague John Flaco spent significant time in Anatolia, but didn’t know about the restaurant until hearing about it from me.  We visited on July 29th, 2015 with our friend Elaine Ascending who’d never experienced Turkish food before.  John confirmed the authenticity and “just as delicious as Turkey” quality of the food at Anatolia while Elaine uncovered another cuisine she’ll want to experience again and again.

Some psychologists credit the dissolution of the family unit as the reason behind America’s social ills.  It’s also thought that families which dine together, stay together. In June, 2013, Urbanspoon put together its list of the most popular family-friendly restaurants in America and two Albuquerque eateries were on the list.  Apparently Duke City families enjoy going out for non-American food because the two honorees were Anatolia Doner Kebab and Paddy Rawal’s OM Fine Indian Dining, both outstanding choices. 

Don’t be surprised if Anatolia’s doner kebab makes it to my best sandwich list.  That is if I ever get to try the doner kebab, which considering those fantastic specials of the day may not be too soon.  Anatolia is a terrific Turkish restaurant in a city which welcomes diversity and has long been overdue for the authentic flavors, hospitality and deliciousness of Turkey.

Anatolia Doner Kebab House
313 Central, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 242-6718
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 29 July 2015
1st VISIT: 5 January 2013
# OF VISITS: 4
RATING: 23
COST: $$
BEST BET: Pistachio Baklava, Babaghannoug, Pita, Falafel, Combination Platter, Leg of Lamb Shish Kabob

Anatolia Doner Kebab Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Kathy’s Carry-Out – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Kathy's on Isleta Boulevard

Kathy’s on Isleta Boulevard

In 2001, the Alibi staff declared Kathy’s Carry-Out the “best hamburger in the Duke City.” Surely, nay-sayers retorted, this had to be a mistake. How, after all, they reasoned, could a ramshackle garage sized building with a kitschy purple facade and garish orange trim possibly compete with the flamboyant chains and their glitz and glamor or even with the anointed local purveyors in the more well-beaten, well-eaten paths throughout the city?   Kathy’s Carry-Out lived up to its name, emphasis on the “carry-out” portion of its name.  Carry-Out was the only option available for the phalanx of diners eager to bite into those bodacious burgers.

Ensconced in an Isleta Boulevard neighborhood seemingly zoned as much for more residential than commercial purposes, Kathy’s Carry-Out certainly wouldn’t win any awards for esthetics and it probably violated every feng shui principle for harmony, not that hungry diners noticed.  Savvy burger aficionados from the South Valley frequented Kathy’s for its wonderful New Mexican cuisine and a burger so good it’d convert staunch vegans.  It took one visit to convince us you can’t judge a burger by the dilapidated facade of its place of origin. Kathy’s did serve one of, if not THE best burger in town.

The original Kathy's Carryout on Isleta Boulevard

The original Kathy’s Carryout on Isleta Boulevard

It’ll take one visit to this South Valley neighborhood to gain an appreciation for a neighborhood unabashedly bedecked in an ultraviolet spectrum of colors.  It’s part of the charm about this area that I love  It’s also the utter charm of holding on to a rural neighborliness amidst an urban sprawl sometimes lacking the spirit of community lived daily in the Isleta area.  This is a neighborhood which defies the abobe-hued homogeneity which has claimed so much of the city.  It’s a neighborhood which dares to be different, to express its individuality.

And when color isn’t what your eyes are drawn to, it might be a marvel of architectural ingenuity such as the single-wide trailer which sits on top of a stucco building to the immediate north of Kathy’s Carryout.  It’s a tribute to this area that the zoning Nazis haven’t come down on such inventive architectural expression. Or, your eyes might be trained to the skies because of an inordinate number of pigeons fortunate enough to call this neighborhood home.

A large Kathy Burger

In 2007, the dwarfish ugly duckling which served nonpareil New Mexican food and life-changing burgers was transmogrified into a spectacular swan with a broad wingspan. The charmingly garish exterior facade of its first location and its anti-esthetic curb appeal were gone as were any claims to “Albuquerque’s best burger served here.”  That honor didn’t go very far; it now belongs to the restaurant next door.

Kathy’s Carryout left that utterly charming old edifice and moved next door to a beautiful restaurant with seating for dozens of diners. “Carry-Out” now applies to the drive-up window, not to the way diners used to order and take away their orders.  In Kathy’s Carryout of old, separate windows were used for placing and picking up orders. You had to feel sorry for the cramped quarters in which Kathy and her staff filled orders; there wasn’t much room to move and the heat of the stoves seemed stifling.

Rolled tacos and hot sauce

Rolled tacos and hot sauce

The old location had a couple of picnic tables where you could sit and wait, but most patrons seemed to either wait by the pick-up window or taxed their cars’ air conditioners while waiting in relative comfort within the confines of cars of all makes and models. Most were packed with hungry family members waiting for a designated parent to return with a bagful of deliciousness.What they waiting for is not only one of the very best green chile cheeseburgers in New Mexico (ergo, the universe), but excellent take-out Mexican and New   Mexican food. Waiting indoors is much better!

Kathy’s new digs are completely antithetical to its predecessor. It’s almost antiseptic in appearance with pristine denim colored walls, sixteen-inch tiled floors and comfortable seating.  No one is happier to be in the new restaurant than the staff and cooks who love the large kitchen in which they can ply their skills in climate-controlled comfort.  The larger kitchen also means an expanded menu which now includes burritos, tacos, enchiladas burgers, stuffed sopaipillas and much more. Daily specials are offered every day of the week.

Chips and guacamole

Chips and guacamole

27 July 2015: The most popular item on the menu is probably still the green chile cheeseburger extraordinaire called the Kathy Burger (formerly known as the Cuca Burger), a double-meat masterpiece that will kick sand on the so-called Big Mac and other chain claimants to size.  With two behemoth hand-formed patties prepared to medium-well, Kathy Burger and its tongue-tingling green chile, onions, lettuce, bacon and cheese is a phenom. It takes two hands to handle this leviathan, five napkins to wipe yourself off while consuming it and phenomenal willpower not to order another one, great as it is. With red chile, the Kathy Burger is not quite as incendiary but might even taste better.

24 July 2015: Terrific tacos are an excellent alternative to the Kathy Burger. The rolled tacos (order them with guacamole instead of salsa) are cigar-shaped, deep-fried corn tortilla treasures stuffed with a chile emboldened ground beef. Only in the city of Espanola, New Mexico will you find better rolled tacos than at Kathy’s. The guacamole, by the way, can be purchased by the pint (pictured below). It’s good guacamole, buttery and creamy in texture and delicious in flavor.

Bean Burrito with Red and Green Chile

24 July 2015: Several burrito options are also available and they’re not your run-of-the-mill burritos. The carne adovada burrito, for example, comes with fried potatoes and a fried egg. It’s absolutely delicious with red chile blessed pork chunks as tender as Mother Theresa’s heart.  Now, if you really love burritos, but you like bargains even more, you can have both by visiting Kathy’s on Fridays when the daily special is three bean burritos for an inflation-beating cost just barely over five dollars.  The burritos are engorged with frijoles so good you’ll be reminded why pinto beans are, along with chile, New Mexico’s official state vegetable.  The accommodating staff will indulge you with both red and green chile if you ask.  While both exemplars of deliciousness and piquancy, the green gets my nod, but just barely.  

27 July 2015: The term “cheap eats” sometimes has connotations not of inexpensive fare, but of rock-bottom quality.  At Kathy’s cheap eats represents excellent fare at very reasonable prices.  If the exorbitant price of tacos has you wondering if restaurateurs believe taco shells are fashioned from spun gold, you may experience a bit of sticker shock at the low, low, low price of a la carte tacos at Kathy’s.  Nestled within hard-shelled repositories of deliciousness are beans, ground beef, lettuce and cheese with salsa on the side.  These tacos are terrific, a reminder that tacos shouldn’t cost as much as your mortgage to be great.

Tacos

The Alibi was right about Kathy’s Carry-Out so many years ago.  So are the hundreds of discerning Duke City burgerphiles and aficionados of New Mexican food who frequent it!

Kathy’s
823 Isleta, S.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 873-3472
LATEST VISIT: 27 July 2015
# OF VISITS: 8
RATING: 22
COST: $$
BEST BET: Kathy Burger, Rolled Tacos, Bean Burritos, Carne Adovada Burrito, Beef Tacos

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