Taqueria El Paisa – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Taqueria El Paisa, Maybe New Mexico’s Very Best and Most Authentic Mexican Taqueria

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 (now enclosed) 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 handles 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.
  • In 2017, Business Insider teamed up with Yelp to “find out which restaurants, trucks, and food stands are serving up the very best tacos in America.” Ranked 43rd was Albuquerque’s El Paisa where even a trencherman can eat well for a few pesos. 
  • in 2016, BuzzFeed compiled its own list of the most popular taco spot in every state. Popularity was measured using an algorithm considering the number of reviews plus the star rating for every business on Yelp. New Mexico’s most popular taco comes from El Paisa in Albuquerque. One astute devotee commented on Yelp, “The only comparison is the street tacos in downtown Puerto Vallarta, because this is as authentic as it gets.”

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.

Three Tacos: El Pastor, Carnitas and Carne 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.  

Chile Verde con Puerco 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 Al Pastor

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 Al Pastor with Beans and Guacamole

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
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 15 January 2018
1st VISIT: 1 February 2015
# OF VISITS: 6
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 Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

M’TUCCI’S MARKET & PIZZERIA – Albuquerque, New Mexico

M’Tucci’s Market & Pizzeria

Greek mythology recounts the story of Tantalus, progeny of a divine parent (Zeus himself) and a mortal one.  Uniquely favored among mortals by being invited to share the food of the gods, Tantalus abused that privilege by slaying his own son and feeding him to the gods as a test of their omniscience.  The gods immediately figured out what Tantalus had done and in their rage condemned him to the deepest portion of the underworld where he would be forever “tantalized” with hunger and thirst.  Though immersed up to his neck in water, when Tantalus bent to drink, it all drained away.  When he reached for the luscious fruit hanging on trees above him, winds blew the branches beyond his reach.

For years, Duke City diners have been tantalized by the promise of signage beckoning us to visit “delis” only to realize, much like the gods of Olympus, that all is not as it appears.  A sign does not a deli make nor do products from peripatetic distributors.  As with Tantalus, we’re left to pine for the authenticity of a true deli, the type of which Albuquerque has not seen since the bygone days of Deli Mart.  Savvy diners may not be able to vanquish the ersatz delis to the underworld, but we can banish these pretenders to the realm of chain restaurants we choose not to frequent.

Huge Flavors Come out of This Small Space

By strict definition a “deli,” an abbreviated form of delicatessen, is a term meaning “delicacies,” “fine foods” or “delicious things to eat.”   Over time delicatessen and its diminutive form came to represent the store, restaurant or combination thereof in which these delicacies, fine foods and delicious things to eat are sold, either for take-out or eat-in.    For many of us who have lived in large cities, the term deli is synonymous with Jewish deli while for others a deli proffers specialty foods indigenous to Italy, Poland (see Red Rock Deli) or other European nation. 

The hard-liners among us will never accept  that Schlotzky’s, Jason’s, McAlister’s and others of that ilk are delis despite what their signage may say.  Nor will we ever be duped by the deception of diners daring to call themselves delis.  It goes without saying that we don’t believe a deli should  feature products burnishing the labels of Oscar Mayer, Hormel, Kirkland, Butterball or even the ubiquitous Boar’s Head.  An authentic deli should preferably cure, salt, dry and cut its own meats and make at least some of its cheeses–and if it doesn’t do that, it should procure and sell only the finest, most authentic meats and cheeses available.

Italian Charcuterie Board

With the December, 2014 launch of M’Tucci’s Italian Market & Deli, Albuquerque once again has an authentic Italian deli in the tradition of delis for which hard-core deli aficionados have pined for far too long.  It’s a deli in which I’d proudly break bread with Dave Hurayt, Bruce Schor, Bob Sherwood and Gary Feaster with whom I’ve commiserated about the absence of an authentic deli in Albuquerque.  Best of all, it’s a deli with a pedigree that promises authenticity and deliciousness. 

Trust the ownership triumvirate of John Haas, Katie Gardner and Jeff Spiegel to do for their Italian market and deli what they’ve done for their restaurant. The trio launched M’Tucci’s Kitchina in 2013 and accolades quickly piled on (including “Best New Restaurant” honors from Albuquerque The Magazine readers and being named one of the top 100 neighborhood restaurants in the US by Open Table).  M’Tucci’s Italian Market & Deli is located about 150 feet away from its elder sibling in the Montaño Plaza shopping center.

Pickled Board

Ensconced within Lilliputian digs, M’Tucci’s Italian Market & Deli embodies the axiom “little place, huge flavors.”  Add huge aromas and you might feel you’ve been transported to a small corner New York City Italian deli.    You’ll be amazed at just how much is crammed into such a small space.  Seating for about ten guests is to your immediate left and right as you walk in.  Because of space constraints, the deli’s take-out business will be a robust part of the operation.  The rest of the space is devoted to mouth-watering Italian products, many of which are created on the premises. 

In fact, the talented staff at M’Tucci’s Italian Market & Deli bakes its own breads (sourdough, rye, whole wheat, baguette, ciabatta, foccacia), makes its pastas and sausages, cures many of its own meats (prosciutto, cotto, sopressata, mortadella, etc.) and makes its cheeses (mozzarella, ricotta, burrata, etc.).  What isn’t made on the premises is procured from trusted, high-quality sources.  On the shelves you’ll also espy jars of fresh herbs (basil, sage, rosemary, thyme, oregano, etc.) while refrigerated deli cases showcase pickled goods (eggplant, sweet or spicy cucumbers, cardamom carrots, giardinera, Sicilian green olives, Macedonian peppers and more).  Your taste buds might go into sensory overload, not to mention involuntary salivation.

Muffaletta with Farro Salad

Optimally, you’ll be able to score one of the four tables for a unique eat-in experience that will allow you to browse and sample as you wait for your meal which, by the way, is so much more than sandwiches.  First on the menu are three Italian charcuterie boards, all of which are accompanied by house-made artisan bread.  After you peruse the four enticing appetizers and three scrumptious salads, you’ll be hard-pressed to choose from among seven featured sandwiches, including a build-your-own option and all served with one side.  You can opt instead for one of three pastas.  Either way, you might not have room left for one of the three luscious desserts.

If, like me, you believe Italian delis start and end with meats and cheeses, you’ve got to try one of the three Charcuterie Boards (Salumi Board, Pickled Board, Cheese Board).  In America, the ancient European culinary art of charcuterie has recently started to become a highly revered and well-practiced art.   Charcuterie refers to the products made and sold in a delicatessen-style shop, also called a charcuterie. The operative word here is “made” as in butchering, cutting, salting, curing, slicing, storing and preparing such meat products such as bacon, sausage, ham, pates, and more.  M’Tucci’s Italian Market & Deli not only offers charcuterie, it is a charcuterie!

Pastrami

14 December 2014: The Salumi Board offers three options: pick two, pick three or pick four from among the meats.  An outstanding option is the spicy coppa (short for capicolla), a traditional, rustic Italian cured meat with a taste and texture similar to prosciutto.   If you’re a Sopranos fan, you might recognize capicolla by its slang name “gabagool.” By any name it’s delicious.   Speck, which is cured with such spices as juniper berries, nutmeg, garlic and bay leaves before being cold-smoked, is another terrific option.  It wouldn’t be a salumi (Italian cold cuts) board without Toscano salami, a dry, salami with large bits of fat, garlic and black peppercorns surrounded by leaner meat which provides a robust, distinctive but not overpowering flavor.  It goes without saying you’ll also want prosciutto on your board.  Accompanying these meats are slices of Italian bread, an addictive onion jam, house-made mustard, tomato relish and probably the very best spicy pickles you’ll ever have.

12 April 2015: M’Tucci’s pickled board is the very best we’ve had in New Mexico though there aren’t that many to compare with.  Available in quantities of two, three or four pickled vegetables, it’s essentially a vegetable plate even vegetable-haters will love.  Usually served with a local goat cheese, we lucked out during our April, 2015.  Because the deli had run out of what is undoubtedly an outstanding goat cheese, a Bucherondin de Chevre, a luscious and creamy French goat cheese was substituted.  Pierce the Bucherondin’s rind and you’ll enjoy a near-buttery soft, creamy and mild goat cheese that complements pickled vegetables very well.  Our pickled board included sweet and hot pickles, carrots and eggplant, all of which were oh, so delicious with distinctive notes in each.  Those pickles are absolutely addictive!

BLT

14 December 2014: The sandwich menu includes several familiar favorites such as the Cubano, BLT, Pastrami and Muffaletta, but while M’Tucci’s pays homage to traditions which spawned these sacrosanct sandwiches, it does not attempt to duplicate them.  The muffaletta, for example, is not an exact replica of the muffaletta you might have at the Central Grocery in New Orleans, but it’s an outstanding Italian inspired sandwich in its own right.  The canvas for this superb sandwich is housemade ciabatta which is generously topped with housemade capicola, mortadella, salami, an olive tapenade and house-smoked mozzarella. It takes two hands and a wide-open mouth to handle this mighty, meaty, magnificent sandwich.  The yin to the muffaletta is a ferro salad  (fresh grape tomatoes, walnuts, Tucumcari feta, pickled red onions on a lettuce leaf), one of the four available sides.

14 December 2014: Pastrami paramours often consider it heretical for pastrami sandwiches to be topped only with a good deli mustard with a dill pickle on the side.  Before they become apoplectic at learning M’Tucci’s pastrami (made on the premises) sandwich is made with herbed goat cheese, fresh red onions, a housemade mustard on housemade rye, they had darned well better try it.  It’s unlike any pastrami this aficionado has ever had and it’s a bit lean (fat is flavor) for my tastes, but it’s still a pretty good sandwich with that herbed goat cheese really standing out.  This sandwich pairs well with oven-roasted herbed potatoes, red potatoes seasoned with rosemary, thyme and fresh garlic. 

Carbonara

12 April 2015: For years, the benchmark against which I’ve measured all BLTs in New Mexico has been the TBL, a Gecko’s Bar & Tapas original stacked in triplicate with applewood smoked bacon, green leaf lettuce and ripe tomatoes on wheatberry bread.  It took more than a decade to find a BLT that’s better.  Like the TBL, M’Tucci Market’s version is also an original.  In its standard form, it, too, is made with applewood smoked bacon though for a mere pittance, you can substitute bourbon-glazed bacon.  Splurge!  It’s the best bacon we’ve had in New Mexico, better even than the red chile-honey glazed bacon at the Gold Street Caffe.  The BLT (butter leaf lettuce, fresh tomato, blue cheese aioli and wheat bread made on the premises) is all a sandwich should be though the hard-crusted bread scrapes against the roof of your mouth just a bit.  The blue cheese aioli is rather mild which is perfectly fine because it lets the bacon shine.  The lentil salad (pickled onion, carrot, zucchini, rosemary, sage, thyme and Tucumcari gouda) is an excellent accompaniment.

12 April 2015: While judging the Taste of Rio Rancho in February, 2015, my friend Mario D’Elia, the uber-talented executive chef for the Albuquerque Isotopes, commiserated that guanciale (an Italian cured meat prepared from pork jowl or cheeks) isn’t that widely used in Albuquerque restaurants, Chef Maxime Bouneou, formerly of  Torinos @ Home being one of the few to use it.  Add M’Tucci’s Italian Market & Deli to what will hopefully become a trend.  M’Tucci’s makes its own guanciale and it’s terrific.  The guanciale is perhaps my favorite ingredient in a Carbonara dish constructed of superb ingredients (housemade cured egg yolk, Pecorino, sage, pepperoncini flakes, shallots and tagliatelle made on the premises).  The tagliatelle (long, flat pasta ribbons) is fortified with an unctuous, but not overly excessive, sauce.   The portion size is relatively modest, but being so rich, Carbonara isn’t a pasta dish on which many diners can over-indulge.  This is a great one!

Italian Mac & Cheese

7 June 2016:  My friend Larry McGoldrick, the professor with the perspicacious palate, has (as of this writing) visited MTucci’s Italian Market & Deli some 48 times.  It’s easy to see why he loves this restaurant so much–as well as why your humble sesquipedalian blogger needs to increase the frequency of his visits.  The Italian Mac & Cheese (Rosemary ham, Morbier Mornay, handmade penne, fresh Mozzarella, Aleppo pepper bread crumbs) warrants a visit or ten all by itself.  After one forkful Larry declared it the best mac and cheese he’s ever had.  High praise indeed.  There’s a lot to love about this skilletful of deliciousness and inventiveness.  Instead of the usual half-and-half mixture of Gruyere and Parmesan cheeses, the Mornay sauce is made with Morbier, a semi-soft cow’s milk cheese which, interestingly, is fashioned with a black layer of tasteless ash.  The Morbier not only coalesces the penne, some of it melts into a delightfully oily pool at the bottom of the skillet.   Chunks of Rosemary ham imparts resinous, savory and sweet qualities that blend magnificently with other ingredients while the Aleppo peppers (about 10,000 on the Scoville scale) lends a pleasant piquancy.

7 June 2016:  When she hangs out with Larry and me, Dazzling Deanell  is like a delicate flower among two wilted weeds.  She not only graces our table with beauty, wit and charm, she always seems to order the right things.  Take for example, the Market Reuben (fresh market-cured corned beef, homemade sauerkraut, red chile mostarda on rye bread) she ordered during our June 7th visit.  Even as she ordered it, she declared the Reuben at O‘Hare’s Grille and Pub in Rio Rancho to be her favorite Reuben then conceded that M’Tucci’s version will probably be even better.  She has the gift of prophecy!  This is a fantastic Reuben, one she paired with a glorious beet salad.  The housemade rye is the perfect canvas for the other components.  The red chile mostarda (which has nothing to do with mustard and more closely resembles a relish) is a magnificent blend of fruity sweetness, piquancy and tanginess.  As we enjoyed the sandwich, we discerned a flavor similar to cloves (or perhaps crushed lebkuchen, a type of gingerbread spice cookies), but weren’t quite sure what its genesis was.  We surmise it may have come from the roasting of the corned beef itself.  The corned beef is even better than M’Tucci’s pastrami and that’s saying something.

Market Reuben (Photo Courtesy of Larry McGoldrick)

11 December 2016:  There appears to be no limit to the talents of Chef Cory Gray and sous chef Shawn Cronin , the uber-talented chefs who “bake, cook, age, and cure their way to creative culinary bliss.”    In November, 2016, the dynamic duo transformed M’Tucci’s Italian Market & Deli  into M’Tucci’s Italian Market & Pizzeria.  It’s not just a change in concept or solely an exercise in re-branding, but rather an ambitious expansion that reflects the addition of 12 pizzas into an already outstanding menu.  When you think about it, it just makes sense.  They were already hawking some of the best cheese, meat and bread in the city.  Why not put them all together?  And, if you’re thinking to yourself, there’s already a top tier pizza at M’Tucci’s Kitchina, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to find M’Tucci’s Market & Pizzeria has one-upped its elder sibling.  In fact, in our estimation, the only pizza in the Duke City that’s even in the same zip code is at the Eclectic Urban Pizzeria and Tap House. 

Custom-made ovens that heat to 800-degrees will ensure your pie is baked quickly and evenly.  You’ll find plenty of char on each pie, a hallmark of the pizza at Farina  where Shawn and Cory cut their teeth.  If char is not a flavor you like much, you can ask for light char.  The menu indicates “Our pizza dough uses wild sourdough starter instead of yeast, giving a better flavor and texture. We cook it until a deep caramelization occurs. We source the best ingredients, either house made, local, or imported.”  Ten years ago you wouldn’t have found a pizza menu like this one.  Instead of last decade’s sausage, pepperoni, mushrooms, black olives and the like, this menu lists such ingredients as orange-herb gremolata, baby kale, smoked buffalo mozzarella and caramelized onion coulis.  The result will make a believer out of you!

Caprese Trio

11 December 2016:  Mike Greenberg, the metrosexual nerd who pairs with the brutish former NFL player Mike Golic to host the morning sports talk show Mike & Mike (on Albuquerque’s ESPN 101.7 The Team) contrasts the difference in their personalities by condescendingly pointing out he enjoys Caprese salads while his endomorphic partner prefers donuts.  The implication here is that the Caprese salad (tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and basil drizzled with a sweet balsamic reduction and olive oil) is enjoyed by worldly sophisticates while donuts are an opiate for the hoi polloi.  In truth, Caprese salads are a favorite of all of us who enjoy salads. 

Though listed in the Insalata (salad) section of the menu, the “Caprese Trio” is unlike any composed Caprese salad you’ve ever seen.  Served on a slate board is a treasure trove of deliciousness: fresh mozzarella, Balsamic roasted tomato, fresh basil, smoked mozzarella, house Italian tomato jam, pesto, Burrata, fresh tomatoes, basil oil, ten-year old Balsamic vinegar and wedges of lightly toasted bread.  It’s sheer genius to compile such individually delicious ingredients into a cohesive array of complementary, harmonious magnificence.  Every single component is a shining star.  Our favorite may have been the burrata, an unnaturally soft and moist fresh Italian cheese made from cream and mozzarella.  Translated to “buttered,” it bears a strong resemblance to mozzarella, but is much softer and when penetrated by a knife or fork, has an interior that spills out, revealing unctuous, stringy curd and fresh cream.   The smoked mozzarella is absolutely amazing and the tomato jam is addictive!

Carbonara Pizza

11 December 2016:  Ordering the Carbonara pizza brought a broad smile to our server’s face.  She said it was her favorite pizza.  It’s easy to see why.   M’Tucci’s pizzaiolos nonpariel have taken Carbonara to the nth degree, actualizing its potential and fashioning a pizza as good as it can possibly be.  Not since Pizzeria Mozza in Newport Beach, California have we found a pizza that amazed us as much as this one did (Jim Millington, are you reading this?).  This fourteen-inch masterpiece redolent with char is topped with house-cured and smoked Guanciale, caramelized onion coulis, sauteed spinach, Tallegio cheese and Rosemary cured egg yolk.  The caramelized onion coulis imparts sweet notes while the Tallegio cheese provides an unusually fruity tang.  Our favorite ingredient, however, is the guanciale (about which I rave above).  The Neapolitan crust is light and chewy with the distinctive flavor of sourdough in evidence.

11 December 2016:  While the Margherita may be the forerunner of all pizzas, it’s never been one of my favorites.  It’s just too basic and unadorned to suit my “more is better” tastes.  M’Tucci Market & Pizzeria has made a convert out of me with its Buffalo Margherita (smoked buffalo mozzarella, basil-infused olive oil, tomato jam and roasted garlic).  Buffalo mozzarella, made from the milk of domestic Italian water buffalo, is a difference-maker.  With a high butterfat content, it’s got a seductive tang you just don’t get from mozzarella made from cow’s milk.  Then there’s the tomato jam with its rich, sweet-savory notes. It’s wholly unlike the savory acidity of the tomato sauce which typically graces pizza. Every Margherita should be this good!

Margherita Pizza

25 June 2017:  My friend Larry McGoldrick writes on his blog, “For my last dozen or so visits, I don’t even look at the menu. Cory and Shawn know what I like and what is healthy for me, and automatically start a custom meal as soon as I walk in the door.”  You, too, can eat like Larry and not just vicariously.   All you’ve got to do is roll the dice.  A small placard over the door reads, “Don’t know what to eat?  Roll the dice and let us decide with Chef Roulette.”  Yeah, it requires a high level of trust and not every chef warrants such trust.  Cory and Shawn do!

What is most amazing about the Chef Roulette concept is that the dish tailor-made for you may not be made exactly the same for the next intrepid diner who decides to roll the dice.  I wouldn’t change a thing about the mushroom stuffed pork tenderloin, two thick tenderloins stuffed with mushrooms and local-roasted leeks over roasted potatoes, cannellini beans, piñon and scallions over a roasted tomato cream sauce.  Along with Forghedaboudit‘s transformative pepperoni and sausage pizza and magnificent meatballs, this is the best dish I’ve enjoyed in 2017.  The roasted tomato cream sauce has an element of piquancy that pairs perfectly with the sweet-tanginess of the roasted tomatoes.  There is a complexity to this dish that extends far beyond its ingredients.  This is a dish which will enrapt your taste buds.  Knowing it may never again cross my lips is almost painful to contemplate.

Mushroom Stuffed Pork Tenderloin

21 October 2017:  Almost universally, New Mexicans tend to consider autumn their favorite season and rightfully so.  Autumn means the incomparable aroma of chile roasting, warm sunny days and cool crisp nights and canopies of brilliant yellow leaves on cottonwoods and aspens.  Autumn also means pumpkin pie and even better, hearty butternut squash stews and soups.  The very best we’ve ever had comes from M’Tucci’s Market & Pizzeria.  It’s an amazing melange of magnificence, a coalescence of complementary ingredients that bring out the best in each other.  This enchanting elixir is made with grade A Iberico house-cured bacon made from free-range, 100% Ibérico breed pigs that eat acorns.  Iberico ham is considered the “Beluga caviar of hams.”  That means it’s the absolute best. 

Though Iberico house-cured bacon gives this stew a pedigree, it’s just one of several ingredients put together so well that each spoonful may elicit a swoon or ten.  The sweetness of the butternut squash is counterbalanced by the piquancy of a local cayenne.  Yes, cayenne.  Louisiana may have made cayenne famous, but New Mexico-grown  cayenne is more flavorful and it rates higher on the Scoville scale than the jalapeño.  Other ingredients on the stew include cubed potatoes, cubed pear, kale and farro.  The stews is served hot the way autumnal stews are supposed to be served.  It’s the type of soul-warming soup which is synonymous with comfort food greatness.

Butternut Squash Soup

21 October 2017:  We all know diners who find something on a menu they love and would never consider ordering anything else.  Then there are the adventurous among us who rarely order the same thing twice…or at least not until we’ve tried everything on the menu at least once.  For us, M’Tucci Market & Pizzeria’s Chef Roulette concept makes great sense.  Believe me, you can trust Cory and Shawn to create something absolutely wonderful every time.  They’re the proverbial mad scientists only instead of steaming beakers and malevolent cackling, they experiment with ingredients, their quest being to concoct something delicious and different for all of their guests.  Sarah, our delightful server, told us about a recent evening in which everyone at a table of six ordered the chef’s roulette.  Every one of them was enthralled to receive something entirely different. 

As an aspiring cook, my own efforts at concocting delicious dishes with disparate ingredients often result in discordant and contradictory ingredient combinations that just don’t taste good.  As such, my admiration for Cory and Shawn grows with each Chef Roulette.  They truly have the Midas touch when it comes to creating the harmonious interplay of ingredients seemingly reserved for only the most delicious dishes.  Take for example the Chef Roulette pictured below–a pasta dish with the aforementioned Iberico house-cured bacon, kale and a butternut squash mostarda cream sauce.  Though it’s tempting to pluck out the rich, fatty (well marbled) Iberico bacon and let it linger on your tongue like a fine wine, it goes best with the sweet mostarda cream sauce and the slightly bitter kale.  This is one of those dishes a habitual “order the same thing” person should never order because chances are they’ll never experience anything quite this good.

Rolling the Dice Again…

21 October 2017: It’ll probably be a while (if ever) before my Kim can be convinced to roll the dice and order the Chef Roulette especially since she knows she can reach over and have a forkful or ten of mine.  She’s enamored of the Neapolitan pizzas (characterized by its thin, slightly crispy texture; hand-kneaded and wood-fired preparation) and plans to try them all eventually.  Her newest favorite (and it will be until her next pizza) is the Truffle (Morbier cheese, wild mushrooms, orange-herb Gremolata, white truffle oil and goat cheese).  If you’re wondering what the differences are between mushrooms and truffles, those differences can be described in two words–scarcity and flavor. 

Truffles need the right tree roots to grow on, some rain to fall, and the perfect temperature.  Then it takes special teams with dogs to find them underground.  Compared to the intensely robust flavor of truffles, mushrooms are fairly mild in flavor.  Truffle oil either is made with high-quality olive oil that’s been infused with white truffles or it’s manufactured with aromatic components.  M’Tucci’s uses the former, the good stuff. As a result, the white truffle oil imparts intensely earthy qualities–like mushrooms on overdrive.  Kudos to the chefs for their use of an orange-herb Gremolata whose citrusy notes sneak through every once in a while.  So does the Morbier and goat cheese blend with their salty, creamy deliciousness.  This is a great pizza!

Truffle Pizza

22 October 2017:  Though the menu offers a buffalo pâté (house buffalo-heart pâté, tapenade and candied pecan on a baguette), my Kim asked instead for duck pâté, a Chicago area favorite.  “Wait,” you ask, “didn’t Chicago ban pâté a few years ago?”  Close, but no cigar.  The Chicago City Council actually banned foie gras, a decision Mayor Richard M. Daley called “the silliest law that they’ve ever passed.”   And yes, there is a difference between pâté and foie gras, which is actually a popular form of pâté.   Pâté is actually French for “pie,” but it’s quite simply a mixture of seasoned ground seafood, poultry, meat or vegetables, and often a combination of several different base ingredients.  Duck  pâté is terrific on its own.  With the addition of a sweet-tangy tapenade and candied pecans, it’s certainly not the “livery” taste you might expect.  Instead, its flavor profile is a mild combination of duck seasoned very well.  It’s spread generously on a baguette and will spread delight all over your face.

Duck Pâté

22 October 2017: On a lazy Sunday morning, Cory proved himself a mind-reader in addition to being an absolute genius in the kitchen.  How could he have known that the perfect Chef Roulette for such a day would be two farm-fresh eggs over-easy, roasted potatoes, grilled red peppers, fresh local arugula and Iberico house-cured bacon with a housemade mustard.  My breakfast preferences lean toward enchiladas, tacos and burritos, but this Chef Roulette–even sans New Mexico’s sacrosanct red and green–is as good an Albuquerque breakfast as I’ve ever had.  Even without the iberico house-cured bacon, it would have been an off-the-charts breakfast.  That bacon just makes everything better.

Breakfast Roulette

14 January 2018: Late in the evening of Saturday, 13 January 2018, we learned that Cory and Shawn had introduced a new menu.  Cursing the lateness of the hour,  we had to wait until Sunday afternoon to learn what wondrous surprises awaited.  Instead of a wholesale purge, the new menu is a combination of popular favorites interspersed with new items.  Among the latter is a ham and pineapple salad.  While that may sound like ingredients on a Hawaiian pizza, any pizza would be greatly elevated the way M’Tucci’s transforms ingredients. 

No ordinary ham graces the salad; it’s rosemary ham which melds the sweet, salty, smokiness of ham with the fresh, piney flavor of rosemary.  Nor is the pineapple your garden variety pineapple; it’s pickled pineapple with discernible ginger notes (all pineapple should be pickled with ginger).  An olive tapenade gives the salad an umami intensity while feta cheese crumbles lend a sharpness which contrasts well with the apple and sweet pepper vinaigrette.  Red onions and kale, that ubiquitous leafy green vegetable you either hate or love, are perhaps the most common salad ingredient on the plate.  As with all great salads, this is a medley of ingredients which come together so very well.

Ham and Pineapple Salad

14 January 2018:  Over time we’ll try every new item on the menu and somday I’ll break my streak of ordering the Chef’s Roulette.  Another new menu item, a 14-hour braised pork collar almost accelerated that “someday.”  My Kim wanted it, too, but doesn’t particularly like the sauteed spinach with which it’s served.  I reminded her that Cory and Shawn could walk over to the nearby bosque, rake up a pile of leaves and make them absolutely delicious.  The only other words she uttered about the sauteed spinach were “wow” and “oh, my gosh”–and the sauteed spinach may have been what she enjoyed least about this magnificent entree. 

Pork collar may be destined to be the “next pork belly,” in other words a food trend that’ll sweep the nation.  We became acquainted with it in England and are heartened that it finally made it across the pond.  Pork collar is beautifully marbled and very flavorful.  It’s the perfect braising meat because its flavor intensifies.  M’Tucci’s version, a slow-cooked Duroc (a red hog) is served with red chile potatoes, red onions, the aforementioned sauteed spinach and a generous dollop of roasted apple mustard.  This is not an entree you eat one component at a time.  It’s meant to be enjoyed with a bit of everything in each forkful though you really need to savor the braised pork by itself.  It’s porcine perfection!

14-Hour Braised Pork Collar

14 January 2018:  My Kim jokingly chided me “you always order the same thing!”  That’s true only in that my recent trend has been to trust Cory and Shawn with feeding me whatever they want by ordering the Chef’s Roulette.  It not only saves time perusing the menu, but guarantees a pleasant surprise every visit.  Your humble blogger’s New Year’s Resolution will never be “try something new.”  As faithful readers have come to realize, “something new” is one of my favorite dishes.  If indecision is part of your make-up or if unexpected surprises are what you love most, the Chef’s Roulette is for you, too. 

My first Chef’s Roulette of 2018 included some of my very favorite items served on a slate serving board. On one side of the unique serving vehicle was a jumble of deliciousness: sauteed spinach, oven-roasted potatoes, roasted zucchini and the crowning ingredient Iberico house-cured bacon.  On the other side of the slate plate was a single roasted butternut squash gourd glistening with melting butter.  In between was a dollop of herbed goat cheese.  If you’re wondering how best to eat such an array of deliciousness, my recommendation is as much of everything as you can get in each forkful, but enjoy the butternut squash by itself.  It’s the butternut squash for people who think they don’t like squash.  It’s the antithesis of the syrupy novelty pumpkin-spiced coffee drink some of us hate as much as we do mountains of snow..

My FIrst Chef’s Roulette of 2018

14 December 2014: There are only three desserts on the menu and if they’re all as good as the two we chose, you’re sure to sate, if not titillate, your sweet tooth. The molded cheesecake topped with a fig jam renewed my faith in cheesecakes which of late have all been plagued by a boring sameness.  The crostata, a delicate Italian tart enveloping buttery butternut squash infused with sage is nearly as good.  Somewhat small by contemporary dessert size standards, they’re not to be missed.

12 April 2015: Not that long ago you could practically count on one hand, the number of Italian restaurants offering cannoli as a dessert option.  For the most part, it’s been pretty standard–tube-shaped shells of fried pastry dough, filled with a sweet, creamy filling usually containing ricotta and often, mascarpone.  “Radical” versions sometimes included chocolate toppings.  Yawn!  During our visit in April, 2015, M’Tucci’s served a cannoli pila (an Italian term meaning “stacked” or “piled”) that was essentially a deconstructed cannoli.  Instead of the standard stuffed shell, bits of shell were topped with a mascarpone-ricotta mix topped with a cherry-walnut compote.  It’s a deliciously different way to enjoy one of the most popular of Italian desserts.

Italian Bread Pudding (Photo Courtesy of Larry McGoldrick)

7 June 2016:  When Larry first tried M’Tucci’s Italian bread pudding, it immediately rocketed to the coveted number one spot on his Bread Pudding Hall of Fame.  It was so good that both he and Deanell regretted not having ordered one each instead of sharing a portion.  One of my life’s greatest regrets is not having driven over immediately as soon as they told me (months ago) how fabulous this bread pudding is.  There are several reasons it’s so good.  First, the bread isn’t the mushy, squishy mess so often used on bread pudding.  It’s a housemade foccacia.  Secondly, it’s not cloying as bread pudding is oft to be.  Third, it’s made with premium ingredients.  The version to which I was introduced included blueberries and piñon and was topped with a seasonal melt-in-your-mouth gelato.  This is transformative stuff!

Pop culture enthusiasts will remember the scene from the 1989 movie When Harry Met Sally in which Meg Ryan experienced delirious joy from her sandwich at New York City’s revered Katz’s Deli. Similar reactions at M’Tucci’s are sure to be repeated and when they are, you can tell your server “I’ll have what she’s having.”

M’TUCCI’S  MARKET & PIZZERIA 
6001 Winter Haven Road,  N.W., Suite G
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 503-7327
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 14 January 2018
1st VISIT: 14 December 2014
# OF VISITS: 8
RATING: 25
COST: $$
BEST BET: Italian Charcuterie Board, Pickled Board, Pastrami Sandwich, BLT, Muffaletta, Carbonara, Farro Salad, Lentil Salad, Oven-Roasted Herbed Potatoes, Cheesecake with Fig, Crostata with Butternut Squash, Cannoli Pila, Italian Mac and Cheese, Market Reuben, Italian Bread Pudding, Carbonara Pizza, Buffalo Margherita Pizza, Caprese Trio, Mushroom Stuffed Pork Tenderloin, 14-Hour Braised Pork Collar

M'Tucci's Market and Pizzeria Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

AK Deli – Albuquerque, New Mexico

AK Deli, a True Chicago-Style Sandwich Shop

“You’ll never be one of us,” my brother-in-law Chuck quipped in his best Baron von Trapp voice. He wasn’t talking about me being part of the family. He was talking about me being a Chicagoan. Chuck wasn’t being mean-spirited or condescending in any way. The only person not born in the Windy City whom he considers a true Chicagoan is da coach Mike Ditka. “He’s the embodiment of Chicago. It’s in his soul. It’s his attitude.” he explained. Michael Jordan? “Nah, his Royal Airness probably has never even had a real Italian beef sandwich.” Oprah? “Too Hollywood. Not a real person.” Barack Obama? (Surely a former President for whom Chuck voted twice would have to be given a pass). “Politicians are what make Chicago the “Windy City,” he joked. “To be a Chicagoan, you have to have been born here, not transplanted here in your 20s,” Chuck qualified. He isn’t alone in his thinking. A lot of people in the Windy City feel that way and they’re not xenophobic in the least.

Throughout Chicago the walls at many small cafes, diners and hot dog stands are festooned with a poster entitled “You know you’re from Chicago when…” This colorful, fact-filled poster was created by Vienna Beef, the true sausage king of Chicago (with apologies to Abe Froman, the mythical sovereign of tubed meat immortalized in the 1986 classic “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.)” Among other things, the poster will tell you that you’re from Chicago if…”you know what the phone number is for Empire Carpet (it’s 588-2300, by the way),” “you commute 20-feet above street level,” “you have two favorite football teams—the Bears and anyone who beats the Packers,” and of course, “you know you’re from Chicago when you insist on a Vienna Beef hot dog with all seven condiments” (more on this later).

Chicago Hotdog Made with Vienna Beef Hot Dogs

Vienna Beef’s famous poster festoons one wall at AK Deli, the Chicago-style sandwich shop which opened its doors shortly after Labor Day in 2017. The Deli is named for Allan and Kameko, the friendly husband-and-wife couple who own what has already become one of my favorite sandwich destinations in Albuquerque (four visits in two weeks).  Allan is originally from the south side of Chicago which legendary troubadour Jim Croce described as “the baddest part of town,” while Kameko is from Aurora.  AK Deli is located in a nondescript shopping center on Wyoming Blvd just north of Comanche. It’s next door to Ortega’s New Mexican Restaurant. Sadly it isn’t nearly as capacious as Ortega’s. In fact, it’s downright Lilliputian. Within feet of its entrance, you run into the counter where you place your order. There’s a menu on one wall and a few chairs where you can sit while you wait for your order.  There’s not much else.

Unlike two classic Saturday Night Live (SNL) skits which immortalized Chicago, there aren’t many telltale signs that AK Deli is destined to be a second home for Chicago transplants living in the Duke City (and for those of us who love the City of Big Shoulders). No, you won’t hear the exaggerated Chicago accent embodied by George Wendt playing Bill Swerski on the Saturday Night Live “Super Fans” skit. Nor will you hear anything approximating “cheeburger, cheep and Pepsi” as you might at Chicago’s Billy Goat Tavern (and in another classic SNL skit). What you will find is amiable people who are happy to see you…and contrary to stereotypes, there are very nice people in Chicago.  They’re happy to answer your questions on their little restaurant and big menu.

Italian Combo with Hot Giardinara

That menu is very similar to what you’d see at restaurants and cafes throughout Chicago where the distinction between blue-collar and white-collar is blurred because real Chicagoans tend to love the same foods.  Three breakfast sandwiches–available in your choice of bread: bagel, English muffin or toast–as well as bagel and cream cheese will open your eyes in the morning, but Chicagoans (including wannabe-Chicagoans like me) will gravitate toward the “Chicago Favorites” menu.  That’s where you find Chicago hotdogs, Italian beef, Italian combo (sausage and beef) and the ribeye steak sandwich.  Other sandwich choices include pastrami, corned beef, fried bologna and more.

You can have your sandwich dressed with such condiments as mustard, spicy mustard, mayo, A1 steak sauce and BBQ sauce.  Available cheeses include Cheddar, Havarti, Provolone and Swiss.  Sandwiches can be constructed on a canvas of rye bread, sourdough, kaiser roll, English muffin or bagel.  Extras include whole pickles and chips–Lay’s or Jay’s.  The latter is a 90-year old Chicago institution.  Of course, you know you’re from Chicago if you grew up eating Jay’s potato chips.  My Kim got me hooked on Jay’s, especially the open pit BBQ chips with their hint of heat.  AK Deli offers these gems and will soon be carrying regular potato chips, too.

Fried Bologna Sandwich

If you know only one thing about eating a hot dog in Chicago, it’s probably the hard and fast rule: absolutely, under penalty of ridicule or torture, no ketchup!!!  Even Dirty Harry, who’s not even from Chicago, will tell you (in the movie Sudden Impact) in his inimitable manner: “Nobody, I mean nobody, puts ketchup on a hot dog.”  Though he didn’t declare a presidential fiat, Barack Obama (sounding very much like a real Chicagoan) chimed in: “You shouldn’t put ketchup on your hot dog.”  The most definitive anti-ketchup declaration, however, came from Chicago’s legendary columnist Mike Royko: “No, I won’t condemn anyone for putting ketchup on a hot dog. This is the land of the free. And if someone wants to put ketchup on a hot dog and actually eat the awful thing, that is their right. It is also their right to put mayo or chocolate syrup or toenail clippings or cat hair on a hot dog. Sure, it would be disgusting and perverted, and they would be shaming themselves and their loved ones. But under our system of government, it is their right to be barbarians.”

18 September 2017: There is absolutely no ketchup in a Chicago Hotdog, whom Chicagoans lovingly tease is “dragged through the garden” because of the many accoutrements with which it is constructed: yellow mustard, chopped white onions, neon green sweet pickle relish, a dill pickle spear, tomato wedges, pickled sport peppers and a dash or two of celery salt on a poppy seed bun (preferably from Rosen’s).   Then there’s the Vienna Beef hot dog in a natural casing with its first-bite-snap.  By the way, you should never say “Chicago style hot dog” because “style” implies Chicago’s hot dogs are a variation of an original. No self-respecting Chicagoan can accept that.  AK’s rendition of the Chicago Hotdog is exemplary (my Kim called it “spectacular.”).  It will trigger memories of your very first Chicago Hotdog.  This is what most transplanted Chicagoans will order their first visit to AK Deli.

Pastrami on Rye

Ask any Chicago transplant in Albuquerque or anywhere else to list the five things they miss most about the Windy City and it’s a good bet the list will include Italian beef sandwiches, a staple in Chicago. Citizens of the Toddlin’ Town are almost as passionate about this sloppy sandwich as they are Da Bears. Chicagoans grow up worshiping at high counters on which they prop their elbows as they consume Italian beef sandwiches–sometimes because the restaurant has no tables, but more often than not, because no matter how careful they are, they’re bound to spill shards of beef, bits of giardiniera and drippings of spice-laden beef gravy onto their clothing. An Italian beef sandwich is made with roasted sirloin tip which is massaged with a blend of herbs and spices (oregano, black pepper, basil and more) before roasting. The beef is sliced Nicole Ritchie thin and is so tender it shreds into pieces.  Kameko’s favorite Italian beef sandwich, by the way, comes from Portillo’s.

18 September 2017: At many Chicago restaurants, it is momentarily immersed (dipped) in the gravy to make it even juicier. It is often served with either hot or mild giardiniera (a concoction of spicy, pickled, chopped-up vegetables such as peppers, carrots, cauliflower and celery), but sometimes with sautéed mushrooms and bell peppers. The entire creation is extremely messy; you dare not ever try to eat one while driving.  My favorite variation is an Italian combo which pairs Italian sausage with the Italian beef.   AK Deli’s rendition is very good though I regret not having had it served “wet” (dipped).  The gravy is a wonderful counterbalance to the heat of the hot giardiniera.  During her inaugural visit with me on September 30th, my Kim had an Italian Beef sans everything–and she had it wet.  “It’s just like home,” she declared.

Jay’s Open Pit BBQ Chips, a Chicago Staple

20 September 2017: Midwesterners have long claimed fried bologna sandwiches as their own, but if you’re from Northern New Mexico (particularly if you lived on or near an Indian pueblo), you’ve probably consumed dozens of fried bologna sandwiches in your day.  In that regard, having a fried bologna sandwich from AK Deli was for me like going home.  Another way in which it was akin to going home is that AK Deli prepares sandwiches the same way we do at home.  That means they’re not chintzy in their portions.  With three thick slices of bologna fried just the way I like it, mustard and onions on lightly toasted sourdough, this is a sandwich’s sandwich.  Comedian Mitch Hedberg calls bologna “a deli meat for people with eyes.”  It’s also for people with great taste who love deli meats that taste great!

30 September 2017: In two of my first four visits, my choice has been a pastrami sandwich–a regular-sized sandwich my first visit and an “AK Max” sandwich on my second.  Both times the pastrami has been served on a canvas of light rye with mustard–the way Chicagoans like pastrami.  The pastrami served at AK Deli is quite a bit thicker than the fabulous pastrami served at California Pastrami.  While Joe Rodriguez slices his pastrami into thin shards, at AK Deli the pastrami is sliced into thick ribbons.  Aside from the distinctive brine flavor that characterizes great pastrami, this pastrami has a peppery influence–large flecks of pepper that compete with the mustard as the most assertive element of the sandwich.  It reminded me very much of the wonderful pastrami sandwiches shared with Aunt Emily at Siegelman’s Deli in Arlington Heights, a Chicago suburb.

Ribeye Steak Sandwich on a Kaiser Roll

21 September 2017:  Determined to have something other than a pastrami sandwich or Italian combo, I asked Kameko what her favorite sandwich is.  Without hesitation she recommended the Ribeye Steak Sandwich on a kaiser roll with A1 sauce, onions, tomato and lettuce.  That’s just how Allan prepared it for me and I loved every single bite.  Ribeye is tender, juicy and full-flavored, with nice marbling throughout.  It loses none of those qualities the way it’s prepared at AK Deli.  This is a terrific sandwich!  By the way, you should always order the combo which includes chips (Jay’s, of course) and a soda.

13 January 2018: Located in the shadow of downtown skyscrapers, Maxwell Street is a mile-long venue beloved by Windy City denizens because of its diversity of commerce and cuisine. A legendary sandwich was invented on the corner of Maxwell and Halsted Streets some seventy years ago.  That sandwich is almost as famous as the street in which it was born. In the Duke City you can find the Maxwell Street Polish Sausage sandwich only at the AK Deli.  Take a bite and you might swear you’re strolling along the Maxwell Street market.  It’s every bit as good as you’ll find in Chicago.  The canvas for this paragon of deliciousness is a soft celery seed bun in which is nestled a thick, well-seasoned beef and pork sausage with a smear of mustard, a tangle of grilled Spanish white onions and a couple of sport peppers.  The aroma and flavor of those sweet onions is so addictive, you could make a meal of just those alliaceous beauties, but you wouldn’t want to.  This is a sandwich that’s great because of the sum of its terrific ingredients.  This is sandwich greatness!

Maxwell Street Sandwich

You may have noticed that AK Deli is the 1000th review published on Gil’s Thrilling…  While achieving a millennial occasion of any sort is one worthy of celebration with friends and family, the truth is I often dine alone.  I wanted to be alone on this momentous occasion to take pause to reflect on the many wonderful friends this blog has brought into my life.  My journey to 1000 reviews has been made special because it’s been shared–on at least one meal–by great friends such as Andrea Lin, Barbara Chase, Bill Resnik, Bob of the Village of Los Ranchos, Bruce and Grayce Schor, Bruce “Sr. Plata” Silver, Bruce Terzes, Bryan Byun, Captain Escalante Tuttle, Carrie Seidman, Dave Hurayt,  Dazzling Deanell, Delightful Darren, Elaine Rising, Esther Ferguson, Franziska Moore,  Dennis Gromelski, Hannah Walraven, Henry Gabaldon, Howie Kaibel, Huu Vu, Jim Millington and The Child Bride, Jim and Sylvia Westmoreland, John Colangelo, John and Kay Lucas, John and Zee Baldwin, Joe Vaughn, Karen Baehr, Professor Larry McGoldrick, Mary Ann Spencer, Mike Muller, Nader Khalil, Nikko Harada,  Paul Lilly, Ruben Hendrickson, Ryan “Break the Chain” and Kimber Scott, Schuyler, Scott McMillan, Shawn Riley, Tom and Elyn Hamilton, Tuan Bui and others whose names may not appear here, but which are forever impressed in my heart.  Thank you for accompanying me on this cavalcade of calories.

AK Deli
3615B Wyoming Blvd, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 639-4249
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 13 January 2018
# OF VISITS: 5
RATING: 21
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Pastrami Sandwich, Chicago Hot Dog, Italian Combo Sandwich, Ribeye Steak Sandwich, Jay’s Open Pit BBQ Chips, Fried Bologna Sandwich, Maxwell Street Polish Sausage Sandwich
REVIEW #1000

AK Deli Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

The Birds Paradise Hot Pot – Albuquerque, New Mexico

The Birds Paradise Hot Pot, a Unique Dining Experience

It was 2:15AM on a workday, a full four hours before my dreaded alarm clock was set to utter a tone surpassed for annoyance only by the screechy prattle on The View.  Inexplicably my brain decided it was a good idea to play deejay and serenade me with Sukiyaki, the only Japanese pop song ever to top the charts across the fruited plain.  Yep, my mind had been invaded by an earworm, a song that sticks with you long after the note is played.   Akin to a broken record (millennials may have read about “records” in their history books) scratching the same chords over and over again, earworms can be nostalgic and pleasant or annoying and torturous, especially when they visit in the middle of the night. 

Compounding this earworm is that the version of Sukiyaki stuck in my head was the Japanese version, not the only with English translations.  So instead of repeating lyrics I understand, my mind was trying to replay incomprehensible Japanese phrases.  Sukiyaki is not one of those tunes for which “la la la la la” will work.  “Nyah nyah nyah nyah nyah nyah” works a little better, but it sounds a bit disrespectful.  Replaying an earworm over and over when you don’t know the lyrics is an adventure in futility and frustration.  At least, I consoled myself, it wasn’t Gangham Style, The Macarena or Achy Breaky Heart (and if reading those song titles triggered your own earworm, you probably hate me right now).

The Sauce and Spice Cart

The funny thing is “suki” translates from Japanese to “slice thinly” and “yaki” translates to “boil or sear.”  Put them “together and you’ve got Sukiyaki, a Japanese noodle dish with stir-fried vegetables and some sort of protein (pork, chicken, beef, fish) in a delicious broth.  Other than its title, the song haunting me that night has absolutely nothing to do with the dish called Sukiyaki.  Had Sukiyaki the song been about Sukiyaki the noodle dish, it would have made sense as my mind and stomach sometimes conspire to create dreams about a food I crave.  Those types of dreams recess quickly, but earworms persist in their annoyance, much like winter in Buffalo, New York (a veiled shout-out to my friend Becky Mercuri who’s probably shoveling another foot of snow off her driveway). 

Japanese Sukiyaki is but one form of hot pot cooking.  Most Asian culinary cultures have their own versions of hot pot dishes, but the genesis of this cooking style is China.  History tells of invading Mongol horsemen rigging their shields over campfires to sear meat and turning up those helmets in the embers to simmer soup.  Put the seared meat and soup together and you’ve got a hot pot dish (not to mention the heads of Mongol hordes smelling like delicious soup).  Hot pot has since been one of China’s signature dishes with regional variations accounting for a diversity of ingredients and proteins. 

Veggie Tempura with Tempura Sauce and Spicy Mayo

One commonality throughout Asia is the communal nature of traditional hot pot meals.  Families and friends still gather around a steaming hot pot not only to escape winter’s biting chill, but to spend convivial time together in spirited conversation and fellowship.  Unlike gobble and go meals across the fruited plain, a leisurely hot pot meal can last for hours. Sure, western cultures have fondue, the hearty tradition of spearing and eating gooey, melted cheese and rich, decadent chocolate, but it’s not quite the same as Asian hot pot.

Eating Chinese hot pot is a participatory event which typically begins well before diners are gathered around a communal table. First, soup stock is prepared, a laborious process involving the boiling of beef, pork or (and) chicken bones for a lengthy period of time. Meat is then sliced into thin strips as other fresh (an absolute must) ingredients and sauces are carefully prepared and placed around the table. Then and only then do diners begin the fun part. First they select morsels of prepared raw food and place them into the steaming soup stock until they cook. Diners then fish the cooked proteins and vegetables out of the soup and dip them in their sauce of choice. Of course, they also ladle up the broth and enjoy it, too.

Chili Puff

The Bird Paradise Hot Pot, the Duke City’s first restaurant dedicated to the time-honored tradition of Chinese hot pot cooking opened its doors in November, 2017. It’s ensconced in a very unlikely International District location, essentially next door to the Bird Discount Liquors store and in the front part of a space which houses a bar behind the restaurant. In fact, many of the bar’s patrons walk through the restaurant to get to the bar (and they might just stop to ogle your plate). If you’re familiar with the spot previously held by Antonio’s Cafe & Cantina, you know the space. At present there’s no permanent signage to indicate you’ve made it to the Bird Paradise Hot Pot, just a banner indicating “Now Open.”

A dead give-away that you’ve arrived is the aromas emanating from tables in which other diners are enjoying their hot pot experience.  Those aromas are positively intoxicating.  Much as you may want to begin your own hot pot indulgence, ten appetizers beckon.  Veggie tempura, seven pieces of crispy, lightly coated delights including sweet potato, eggplant and zucchini is an excellent choice if you want smaller fare.  The tempura veggies are served with two dipping sauces, a sweet tempura sauce and spicy mayo with just enough bite to earn its name.  It’s not a mind-blowing way to start an inaugural hot pot experience, but it’ll sate you until the main event.

Pork Hot Pot with Ramen Noodles

More satisfying is a New Mexico meets China starter called Chili Puff, two pieces of green chile lightly coated in tempura batter and stuffed with cream cheese and crab meat with spicy mayo and eel sauce on top.  Fire-eaters might want the green chile just a tad more piquant and the spicy mayo doesn’t add additional heat to counterbalance the sweetness of the eel sauce, the slightly sour, slightly salty cream cheese and the faintly fishy, briny flavor of the crab meat.  Still, it’s a very pleasant appetizer.  Cut it into inch-long slices and you could call it green chile sushi sans the vinegared rice.

There are seven hot pot options on the menu: vegetable, pork, chicken, beef, lamb, seafood and “water-land” (fish, squid, shrimp, scallop, oyster, beef, pork and chicken).  All hot pot dishes are served with your choice of rice or dongfen (organic rice noodles) as well as the hot pot base, a soup stock made by boiling pork, beef and chicken bones for eight to twelve hours.  Obviously, a veggie-based soup stock is used for the vegetable hot pot dish.  Each hot pot dish also includes cabbage, carrots, flammulina (golden needle mushrooms), ice tofu, green onion and inch-long corn on the cob.  If you’re of the carnivorous bent, you also get imitation crab and a beef meatball or pork meatball.

Lamb Hot Pot with Rice Noodles

Instead of raw ingredients presented at our table for us to cook over the tabletop hot pot stove, our server ferried to our table a steaming hot pot pan bubbling with broth, vegetables and our choice of protein (pork hot pot for my Kim and lamb hot pot for me).  Our proteins arrived eighty-percent cooked.  We were instructed to submerge the uncooked proteins under the broth and told those proteins would finish cooking in about two minutes.  Once cooked, we extricated those proteins and vegetables and immersed them quickly into the dipping sauce our server helped us concoct (chile oil, sesame, garlic, soy sauce along with cilantro and green onion for me).  Throughout our meal, as the level of broth dropped because of evaporation and our slurping, our server replenished it faithfully.  Our inaugural hot pot experience proved as delicious as it was enjoyable.  Chinese hot pot is every bit as good as many Vietnamese phos and Thai soups we’ve enjoyed over the years–and it’s more fun.

From an experiential standpoint, the Birds Paradise Hot Pot is unlike any other restaurant in the Duke City.  From the perspective of service, its a bastion of hospitality and kindness.  From a culinary point of view, it’s hot pot dishes are delicious and comforting.  For this earworm-haunted blogger, it’s what I’ll think of when Sukiyaki visits me again.

The Birds Paradise Hot Pot
5407 Gibson Blvd., S.E
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 255-3151
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 12 January 2018
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Lamb Hot Pot with Rice Noodles, Pork Hot Pot with Ramen Noodles, Veggie Tempura, Chili Puff

Birds Paradise Hot Pot Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

The Acre – Albuquerque, New Mexico

The Acre, Vegetarian Comfort Food Carnivores Will Love

Toula: Actually, um Ian’s a vegetarian. Uh, he doesn’t eat meat.
Aunt Voula: He don’t eat no meat? HE DON’T EAT NO MEAT?! *Long silence* Oh that’s ok, I make lamb.
~Big Fat Greek Wedding

A cross-sectional study conducted in 2006 by medical researchers in Austria concluded that “vegetarians are less healthy and have a lower quality of life than meat-eaters” and that “there is an association between a vegetarian diet and an increased risk of certain chronic diseases.” The “chronic diseases” cited in the study were allergies, cancer and mental illness. While this study and its methodologies have largely been discredited, my former colleague Matt Mauler, a fanatical meat-and-potatoes paramour, likes to cite this study when someone “preaches” the virtues of vegetarianism. He especially revels in emphasizing the part about mental illness. “You’ve got to be crazy not to love cheeseburgers, steak and pork chops,” he snorts with derision.

The only vegetables Matt likes are those with which he tops his favorite comfort foods: pizza (lots of mushrooms and black olives followed by a six-pack chaser), burgers (only lettuce unless you consider bacon and cheese vegetables) and Chicago hot dogs (enough sport peppers to choke a dragon). Every other vegetable may as well be hemlock, poison ivy or poison sumac. Though he disagrees vehemently with Anthony Bourdain’s “commie” politics, Matt celebrated when the celebrity chef, author and television host called vegetarians “the enemy of everything good and decent in the human spirit, an affront to all I stand for, the pure enjoyment of food.” Similarly, Matt has always loathed Lady Gaga, but praised her fashion sense when she donned a dress made of raw beef at the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards.

Cheeseburger with Chips

Surprisingly, Matt’s attitude (and that of Anthony Bourdain) toward vegetarians isn’t uncommon…and attitudes are even more visceral toward vegans. The internet is rife with rancorous railing against the 3.2 percent of adults (an estimated 7.3 million people, including about 1 million vegans) across the fruited plain who follow a vegetarian- or vegan-based diet. It’s as if the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness guaranteed in the Declaration of Independence should exclude “those v. people.” As with all stereotypes, much of Matt’s enmity toward vegetarians and vegans is based on the perception of a threat to a belief system—in this case, his belief that “if God didn’t mean for us to eat animals, He wouldn’t have made them out of meat.”

Should Matt ever read this review, he’ll probably “have a cow” (wouldn’t that be appropriate?) to learn about The Acre, an Albuquerque vegetarian restaurant with the audacity to describe its cuisine (not the word he’d use) as “comfort food,” and worse to declare that its “fresh, hearty, traditional American cuisine” will “satisfy even the most devoted carnivore.” Being a staunch, unwavering meat-eater, he would view those assertions as “fighting words” or “blasphemy” but would never consider taking it as a challenge to sample the cuisine, if only to prove his contentions as to how bad vegetarian food is. Nope, readers of Gil’s Thrilling… will never see Matt’s shadow cross over The Acre’s doors. You’re not missing much.

Roasted Butternut Squash, Gorgonzola Cream, Piñon, Parmesan

You are, however, missing some of the very best vegetarian food in Albuquerque if you don’t visit The Acre, where as we discovered, those claims of “comfort food” and “satisfying devoted carnivores,” are all true. My friend and colleague Elaine and I had to do a double-take when we perused the menu which was teeming with some of Matt’s comfort food favorites: cheeseburger, grilled cheese, mac n’ cheese, enchiladas and more.  Also available were vegetarian versions of a hot dog (marinated, braised carrot dogs), meat (less) loaf and several sandwiches which sound so good, you might not miss meat at all.

The Acre is the brainchild of executive chef-owner Sean Weed, a former private chef in New York and 26-year veteran of the restaurant industry.  Nostalgia –memories of time spent as a youth at his grandparents’ farm in Pennsylvania where true fresh “farm to table” food was grown and served–provided the impetus for his restaurant.  Situated in a 1,440 square-foot space, part of which previously housed the India Palace, The Acre is seasonal, local and in this omnivore’s estimation, so good it defies labels.  It’s the antithesis of the stereotypical vegetarian restaurants which showcase tofu, sprouts and kale (and which help perpetuate beliefs of folks like Matt).

Fresh Peach Crumble with Snickerdoodle Ice Cream

It hasn’t been for lack of trying that I’ve never enjoyed a vegetarian burger.  Most range from barely edible to downright awful.  The Acre’s cheeseburger propels all the others into my repository of bad memories.  The “beef” substitute is a beet-black bean combination which might not make you forget your favorite 80-percent lean ground chuck to 20-percent fat content ratio, but it shouldn’t.  It’s very good on its own with a moistness and flavor yes, even carnivores will enjoy.  The burger also includes Cheddar, avocado, lettuce, tomato and onion with mustard and ketchup on the side.  It’s served with potato chips.

From among the “mains” section of the menu, deciding whether to have mac n’ cheese, enchiladas or pasta will prove a challenge akin to selecting one favorite from among your three favorite Dallas Cowboys.  Ultimately, the seasonality of the pasta dish won me over.  Though labeled strictly “pasta” on the menu, this dish is so much more: roasted butternut squash, Gorgonzola cream, piñon and Parmesan.  Frankly, the dish had me at “roasted butternut squash,” a very underrated ingredient at Duke City restaurants.  Vibrant, sweet, creamy and earthy, the roasted butternut squash, cut into small cubes, melds wonderfully with the sharp and robust Gorgonzola cream and nuttiness of the Parmesan.  This dish is reminiscent of so many rich, delicious pasta dishes found at Italian restaurants.

Green Chile Apple Crisp with Snickerdoodle Ice Cream

The Acre’s five desserts (as well as cookies and milk and an ice cream of the day) alone might convert carnivores to a life of vegetarianism…or at least to increased open-mindedness.  Elaine’s choice was the  Fresh peach crumble (brown sugar, vanilla).  Though fresh peaches were a bit out of season, at least they weren’t canned…and who doesn’t love a good crumble.  For someone who espouses green chile as an ingredient which goes well with everything including desserts, my only logical choice was the green chile apple crisp showcasing Hatch green chile.  It was a bit too incendiary for Elaine’s tastes, but perfect for this fire-eater.  Besides, the snickerdoodle ice cream was there to quell any burn.

Vegetarian food for carnivores?  You bet!  The Acre’s vegetarian food is food for everyone who appreciates fresh, local and thoroughly delicious food.

The Acre
4410 Wyoming, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 299-6973
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 4 January 2018
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Cheeseburger, Roasted Butternut Squash Pasta, Green Chile Apple Crisp, Peach Cobbler

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

TFK Smokehouse & Art Barn – Albuquerque, New Mexico

The TFK Smokehouse, No Longer Just on Wheels

Every summer, a predictable ritual takes place. After hibernating comfortably since the previous autumn, men attired in aprons emblazoned with the slogan “kiss the cook” will selflessly volunteer to “cook” a meal. This, of course, means barbecue, a decidedly masculine affectation and the only type of cooking most men can be entrusted to do. When this ritual is completed and guests are sated, lavish praise and thanks are heaped upon the “chef.” In truth, the only aspects of this ritual for which men are typically responsible is getting the grill lit, placing the meats on the grill and turning them (after our female better halves warn us that the meats are burning). Normally all the preparatory work—buying the food; preparing the salad, vegetables and desserts; preparing the meat for cooking; organizing plates and cutlery; preparing the plates—is done by our wives and girlfriends. Ditto for the post-dining rituals—clearing the table, doing the dishes and putting everything away. Insouciant clods that men are, we can’t figure out why our ladies are upset when we asked how they enjoyed their “night off.”

While most of us endowed with the XY-chromosome pairing can identify with the scenario described above (which some women might find entirely accurate), Katie Calico and her husband Chris White have a more egalitarian relationship when it comes to the barbecue ritual. The two own and operate the TFK Smokehouse, an endeavor which requires equally exhausting effort from both of them. We first observed them prepare then serve meals out of their barbecue mothership, one of the very best mobile food kitchens (food truck for you, Bob) an endeavor which nearly wore us out. They performed the same type of prep work the brick-and-mortar restaurants do, but they did so in a much more confined space, a food truck other food truck vendors refer to as “The Cage” for its mix of industrial meets artistic design.

My Friend Ryan “Break the Chain” Scott (in his Ugly Denver Broncos Shirt) Stands by the TFK Smoker

TFK, by the way, doesn’t stand for “Truck Food Kitchen” as we had surmised before meeting Katie. It stands for “Talking Fountain Kitchen,” in honor of Katie’s erstwhile venture, Talking Fountain Gallery and Boutique. Before launching the TFK Smokehouse in November, 2013, Katie owned and operated the gallery on Lead Avenue. She explained that “talking fountains” don’t speak on their own; for centuries, fountains have served as meeting places in which citizens of Rome could express themselves—even during Mussolini’s regime. The idea of expressing yourself any way you can resonated deeply with Katie who continues in that spirit even though her primary focus has expanded to now include the culinary arts.

The TFK Smokehouse is reflective of the creativity formerly on display at her gallery. Once a flatbed trailer sporting stainless steel tables, the Smokehouse underwent a significant make-over. Many of the display fixtures and racks from the defunct art gallery were repurposed for the truck along with other artistic treasures. The result is a rather unique food truck that belies any stereotypes you may have about food trucks…at least in terms of appearance. From a functional standpoint, however, the Smokehouse is everything you would expect a great food truck to be. The aromas wafting from this mobile conveyance are akin to smoke signals beckoning you to sample the fruit wood-perfumed fare.

Burqueño Cheesesteak with Coleslaw

When we asked to which style the Smokehouse subscribes from among the four regional pillars of American barbecue (Memphis, Texas, Kansas City, Carolinas), Chris told us they employ the St. Louis style of barbecue. On a per capita basis, St. Louis consumes more barbecue sauce than any city in the nation and boasts of former world barbecue champion Super Smokers among other purveyors of outstanding barbecue. He added that the influence of molasses is readily apparent on their sauce. It’s also apparent that savvy diners keep track of where the Smokehouse will be parked. In the time it took us to finish our lunch, dozens of diners had queued up and ordered food either to go or to consume at one of La Cumbre Brewing Co’s shaded picnic tables.

3 June 2017: In that time, the most frequently ordered item appeared to be the Burqueno Cheesesteak (smoked prime rib with grilled onions, green chile and Asadero cheese on a toasted baguette). In this town only the transcendent green chile Philly from Philly’s N’ Fries is even in the same ballpark as this behemoth sandwich. Several elements make this a special sandwich. First and foremost, it really is made with prime rib, not some inferior cut of beef. That prime rib is lightly smokes so as not to detract from the native deliciousness of that cut. Secondly, the green chile actually bites back. You probably won’t be reaching for water (unless you’re from Colorado), but you’ll definitely get a little endorphin rush. Third, the toasted baguette is courtesy of Albuquerque’s premier bakery, Golden Crown Panaderia. No one in this town knows bread as well as Pratt and Chris Morales.

BBQ Beef Brisket Sandwich

3 June 2017: On the date of our inaugural visit, the Smokehouse menu featured six sandwiches, each served with a side item (your choice of cole slaw, potato salad or kettle chips).  Roasted green chile can be added to any barbecue sandwich for a dollar more.  It’s a very worthwhile investment especially with the BBQ beef brisket sandwich (smoked beef brisket on a bed of cole slaw with the Smokehouse’s sweet BBQ sauce on a toasted bolillo roll.  This is a very good sandwich with contrasts (the crunchy, tangy cole slaw and the sweet sauce, for example) which work very well together.  The brisket is shredded into tender tendrils of moist, juicy beef.  True to its genesis, the St. Louis style sauce is very much on the sweet side.  Thankfully other elements provide a nice counterbalance.

3 June 2017: For lesser appetites, the Smokehouse offers “pint” sized barbecue sandwiches for about half the price of the standard-sized sandwiches.  These pint-sized treasures are available in your favorite meats (brisket, pork, chicken).  A vegetarian-friendly sandwich christened the Bella (balsamic-glazed portabella mushrooms on a bed of coleslaw with the Smokehouse’s sweet sauce on a toasted bolillo roll) is another superb option.  The balsamic glaze imparts vinegary notes that work very well with the sweet sauce.  The portabella mushrooms have a meaty texture and earthy flavor, but it’s just a bit obfuscated by the sauce. 

Pint-Size BBQ Bella Sandwich with Potato Salad

On Wednesday, 3 October 2017, the mobile smokehouse with a siren-like appeal launched a brick-and-mortar operation in the cute big red barn that previously housed Kasey’s Restaurant & Pub on Washington about a mile south of Central.  For Katie, who once worked in the food truck on a 103-degree day while nine months pregnant, getting out of the elements is a blessing.  A larger venue also means she and Chris can expand their menu to showcase bodacious barbecue that just can’t be contained in a mobile kitchen.  Visit the TFK website and you’ll notice the restaurant’s full appellation is TFK Smokehouse and Art Barn.  In addition to culinary arts, Katie is exhibiting  paintings of her “beautiful friends” which hang on the wall.  Reminiscent of the Talking Fountain gallery, the entire venue showcases art in various mediums. 

Though the brick-and-mortar restaurant will attract new guests, habitues of La Cumbre Brewing Co. consider Saturday, October 14th a day which will live in infamy. That’s the last day the TFK Smokehouse rolled onto the familiar parking lot to feed cerevisaphiles.  Many of them will be making the ten mile trek to experience their familiar favorites at a new location.  Occasional specials such as the Burqueño Cheesesteak are now part of the daily menu.  Oh, and what a menu!  It’s got everything from salads and sandwiches to smoked meat by the pound to bbq platters.   For those of us who love our meats slathered in sauce, the Smokehouse now gives you a choice of four sauces: Carolina BBQ, Tangy Cider BBQ, Green Chile BBQ and a Sweet BBQ.  You can also order a flight of all four or enjoy the meats san sauce.

Barbecue Brisket Nachos

27 October 2017: Joining me during my inaugural visit to the barbecue barn were my great friends Bill Resnik and Ryan “Break the Chain” Scott, both tough critics when it comes to barbecue.  Ryan has been smoking meats for years and has visited many of the prestigious pantheons of Texas barbecue.  The Land of Enchantment’s barbecue hasn’t impressed him much.  Similarly Bill prefers smoking his own meats though he has an affinity for Powdrell’s barbecue sauce.  The TFK Smokehouse would have to be pretty darned good in order to impress these two.  It is!

27 October 2017:  Six appetizers adorn the menu–everything from lemongrass chicken satay to fried asadero mac n’ cheese bites.  While all are tempting, Peter, our ebullient server steered us toward the special of  the day, brisket nachos.  Great choice.  Picture a creamy asadero cheese sauce, house-pickled jalapeños, scallions, and some of the most tender and delicious brisket you’ll find all piled onto deep-fried flour tortillas cut into triangle shaped chips.  These are some of the very best nachos in town with every component a perfect complement to the others.  Asadero is a great choice for a cheese sauce, a mild tasting, nicely melting cheese with a pleasant acidity and fresh flavor.  The pickled jalapeños have a nice balance between sweetness and piquancy.  The star of these nachos, however, is the brisket which is redolent with fruit wood smoke.  Each tender tendril of brisket is moist and delicious.

The Smokehouse Reuben

27 October 2017:  Peter was two-for-two in the recommendations department.  When we queried him about the pastrami used on the Smokehouse Reuben, he explained that a recent guest said the Reuben should win a Nobel prize and that the pastrami is smoked on the premises though it’s brined elsewhere.  The menu describes the Smokehouse Reuben as “a pile of TFK smoked pastrami, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, grilled onions and housemade Russian dressing on toasted marble rye.”  Pile is a good term.  The sandwich is generously endowed with some of the very best smoked pastrami you’ll ever have.  The smokiness is tempered by the tangy, assertive sauerkraut and a delicate Russian dressing on a fresh marble rye canvas.  The most prevalent flavor is that of the pastrami.  Everything else is supporting cast, but the type of supporting cast which should win awards (maybe not a Nobel prize, but…).

27 October 2017:  Bill’s inaugural selection, the meatball platter with two sides, also proved a winner, too, though the sweet sauce is practically lacquered on each meatball and virtually covers the bottom of the plate.  The meatballs themselves are terrific, fashioned from housemade smoked pork tenderloin and bacon.  They’re fork tender, moist and just a bit smaller than a ping pong ball.  The appetizer menu offers an alternative meatballs option, smoked pork chile cheese meatballs, which shouldn’t be quite as sweet.  Bill raved about his Caprese salad side though he couldn’t find much mozzarella in it.

Meatballs Platter with French Fries and Caprese Pasta Salad

27 October 2017: Ryan’s meal choice was the three-meat combo featuring brisket, pork and baby back ribs, all prepared to Ryan’s liking.  He appreciated the meatiness of the baby back ribs.  All too often you have to commission a search party to find much meat on baby backs.  These ribs also have a nice bark and an obvious smoke ring, very endearing qualities on any barbecued meat.  Ryan also loved the brisket, the Lone Star state’s favorite barbecue.  Both the brisket and pork are cut thick with flavorful fat left on–again as it’s often served in Texas.  Nary a disparaging word was heard at our table as three tough critics all certified TFK Smokehouse barbecue as very, very good.

From among the four sauces, there was consensus as to the one we enjoyed least.  That would be the sweet sauce which we all found to be almost cloying.  Ryan and I enjoyed the Carolina mustard sauce with its tangy kick while Bill was partial to the tangy cider BBQ sauce (which even reminded him of his cherished Powdrell’s sauce).  Neither of us discerned any heat at all in the green chile sauce, but at least it wasn’t cloying.  Consensus was also decreed that none of the meats needed sauce.  That’s one of the signs of truly great barbecue.

Three Meat Combo

16 December 2017:  During her inaugural visit to the brick-and-mortar instantiation of the TFK Smokehouse, my Kim also opted for the three meat combo though she substituted a grilled chicken breast for the baby back ribs.  The chicken breast is the only meat which isn’t smoked though it is thoroughly rubbed with a wondrous house concoction.  As did Ryan, my Kim sampled the flight of sauces, but concluded that good as the sauces may be, they are wholly unnecessary.  It’s obvious the pitmaster knows what he’s doing!

16 December 2017:  When the phenomenal Bucketheadz closed its doors early in 2017, we feared we’d seen the last of fried macaroni and cheese in Albuquerque.  It’s a terrific appetizer with which we fell in love back in Mississippi half a lifetime ago.   TFK’s version is as good as any we had in the Magnolia state and on par with Malaika’s version at Bucketheadz.  Picture breaded and fried asadero mac ‘n cheese bites shaped into glorious golden wedges and served with your choice of the green chile bbq sauce or the classic sweet bbq sauce.  Asadero is a creamy, virtually oil-free cheese with a slight tang.  It’s the perfect choice for fried mac ‘n cheese.  The green chile bbq sauce with a discernible bite is the perfect foil for this delicious starter.

Fried Asadero Mac N’ Cheese Bites

The Food Network’s Eat, Sleep BBQ program  would have you believe that it’s no longer sufficient for a barbecue restaurant to feature the tried and true standards–low and slow smoked beef and pork either or both rubbed and sauced.  In the contemporary fruited plain, even barbecue has become avant-garde, just another platform for experimentation.  Recently celebrated on the aforementioned networks were such inventive barbecue dishes as barbecue brisket ramen noodles (The Granary in San Antonio, Texas), brisket barbecue egg rolls and burnt end nachos (Sauced in Petaluma, California). 

Those bastions of barbecue have nothing on the TFK Smokehouse whose own unique barbecue dishes are certainly Food Network worthy.  Some of those unique dishes such as the Burqueño cheesesteak and barbecue brisket nachos began as specials, but are now on the regular menu.  You’ll want to follow TFK on Facebook to make sure you don’t miss (as we did) such creative wonderment as the Smokehouse Chicken Carbonara (farfalle pasta in champagne cream sauce topped with grilled chicken, bacon, tomatoes, green onions, and shredded Parmesan) and smoked brisket Stroganoff.  It’s reason enough to visit Facebook.

Hawaii 505 Barbecue Sliders

16 December 2017:  In his inimitable style, Gil’s Thrilling pollmeister (my spellchecker insists on poltergeist) Bob of the Village of Los Ranchos (BOTVOLR) described TFK’s Hawaii 505 Barbecue Sliders as “knock you socks or thongs… aka go-aheads…off”  as well as “scrumpdillyiciously yummy.”  Good call, Bob!  My first inclination was that most “sliders” tend to be rather small, sometimes almost bite sized.  While that may suit someone with an avian appetite, big guys like me consider most sliders mere canapes.  The ever-reliable Peter assured us the three-per-order sliders have as much meat as any other sandwich on the menu.  Soft, toasted Hawaiian rolls courtesy of the Fano Bread Company, a premier Duke City bakery are the canvas upon which this sandwich is made.  Indeed, there is plenty of the TFK’s addictive smoked pork as well as a tangy coleslaw, grilled pineapple and sauce.  Rather than the house sauce, I asked for the Carolina bbq sauce, a tangy mustard and vinegar-based sauce with a lip-pursing tanginess that contrasts nicely with the sweet pineapple.  This sandwich quickly dispelled any notions I had about the sliders being too small.  You’ve got to open wide to get this skyscraper of a sandwich in your mouth.  Its size isn’t the only surprise.  More surprising is its sheer deliciousness.

16 December 2017:  The TFK Smokehouse dispels another menu about barbecue restaurants.  If you believe barbecue joints serve only cobbler (and cobbler ala mode) for dessert, boy are you in for a treat.  Diet be damned when such deliciousness as a fried pineapple chimichanga is available.  Yes, it really is a fried tortilla bursting at its seams with pineapple and white caramel topped with vanilla ice cream and sprinkled with plenty of cinnamon.  It’s absolutely delicious, well worth the extra hour of time on the treadmill.  Best of all, it’s a dessert big enough to share and big enough to sate the sweetest of sweet teeth.

Fried pineapple chimichanga with white caramel and vanilla ice cream

More than most Albuquerque area restaurants, the TFK Smokehouse does a terrific job of posting on its Facebook page what it’s daily specials are (including tempting desserts and specials you’ve probably never before seen at a barbecue restaurant).  Alas, the page also includes photos of some of the featured fare.  It’s food porn that’ll have barbecue aficionados salivate with lust.  That lust is justified.  The TFK Smokehouse was one of the city’s very best food trucks.  Now it’s one of its very best barbecue restaurants.

TFK Smokehouse
400 Washington Street, S.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 369-8668
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 16 December 2017
1st VISIT: 3 June 2017
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 22
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: BBQ Bella Sandwich, Burqueño Cheesesteak, BBQ Beef Brisket Sandwich, Coleslaw, Potato Salad, Baked Beans, The Smokehouse Reuben, Hawaii 505 Barbecue Sliders, Fried Pineapple Chimichangas

TFK Smokehouse Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

66 Diner – Albuquerque, New Mexico

The 66 Diner on Route 66 (Central Avenue)

Known as “America’s Highway” and celebrated by author John Steinbeck as the “Mother Road,” the legendary Route 66 meandered across 2,448 miles of the fruited plain, crossing three time zones and eight states as it traversed from Chicago to Los Angeles. For many—especially destitute sharecroppers fleeing Oklahoma’s devastating Dust Bowl—Route 66 held the promise of a better life. For others, Route 66 brought a sense of connectedness with parts of America previously considered difficult to reach. For them, Route 66 engendered a frontier spirit of adventure, greatly expanding their vacation options and travel opportunities.

For hundreds of communities strewn along the two-lane blacktop, Route 66 was also an engine of economic prosperity, creating tremendous opportunities for entrepreneurs large and small. The service industry fared especially well with roadhouses, motels and restaurants springing up, offering respite and sustenance to weary and hungry travelers. Since the halcyon days of Route 66, neon signage has been a prominent and vital part of the Mother Road as it winds through Albuquerque. From the foothills of the Sandias in the east to the parched desert expanse of the west, Route 66 is festooned with vibrant neon signage that cuts a luminous swath through the city. The nocturnal spectacle of glowing neon might be the siren’s call that has drawn generations of “cruisers” to the nostalgic route.

My Friend Bruce “Sr Plata” Silver Enjoys the Nostalgia

One of the Route 66 corridor’s most popular neon-spangled destinations celebrates Route 66 in name and spirit. Even though Route 66 was decommissioned as a U.S. highway in 1984, a visit to Albuquerque’s 66 Diner takes you back in time to when Nat King Cole was singing about getting his kicks on the fabled highway. It will transport you back to the days of pony-tailed waitresses in blue skirts and bobby socks, back to when rock-and-roll was making inroads to ruling the airwaves, to when Ed Sullivan was nabbing all the top talent for his popular variety television show.

With a jukebox full of hits, walls adorned with nostalgic black-and-white photographs and plenty of neon, the 66 Diner celebrates the era of Route 66 with aplomb, earning it an internationally known reputation. Hundreds of Pez dispensers line the ledges directly above the steely countertops in the front dining room. A black-and-white classic lunch counter calls to mind the ice cream fountain of yesteryear. There is much to like about the Route 66 the diner even if Route 66 the two-lane blacktop is solely something you’ve read about. You’ve got to admire the gumption of a restaurant willing to replace a recipe if a better one is brought in by a guest. That’s right! If you believe you have a tastier recipe for something, the 66 Diner will try it out and if they like it more, it will go on the menu. Not only that, they’ll treat you and three friends to dinner. Frankly, I have a feeling they haven’t had to comp many dinners.

Nostalgia Abounds at the 66 Diner

That’s because the 66 Diner’s recipes are tried and tested over time. The diner originally launched in 1987 in a converted World War II era Phillips 66 gas station named Sam’s. It was an instant hit among locals and tourists alike. In May, 1995, the 66 Diner went up in flames, only a portion of the original structure remaining. Albuquerque was in mourning for nearly seven months as the diner was rebuilt. It relaunched in February, 1996 and like the Phoenix of legend, has arisen from the ashes to reclaim its previous glory.

Like many 1950s diners, the 66 Diner features a daily “blue plate special.” Ironically the term “blue plate special” originated not in the 1950s, but in the 1890s courtesy of the Fred Harvey restaurants along the railroad lines of the frontier west. I’ve written extensively in other reviews of Fred Harvey’s culinary contributions to the West. Like his other contributions, the genesis of the blue plate special is very interesting. Apparently Harvey bought cheap, disposable plates colored blue similar to Wedgwood dishes and used them to serve inexpensive meals, hence the term.

Albuquerque’s best shakes according to many are at the 66 Diner

At the 66 Diner, the blue plate specials range from spaghetti and meatballs on Monday to chicken pot pie on Tuesday, chicken and dumplings on Wednesday, a taco platter on Thursday, fried catfish on Friday, a hot turkey sandwich on Saturday and “mom’s choice” (whatever mom comes up with) on Sunday. For the most part, the blue plate specials are comfort food favorites prepared very well and served in generous portions.

No ’50s-era diner would be complete without thick, rich milkshakes, floats and malts (egg creams are available, too). No one in Albuquerque does it any better. That’s the consensus of respondents to various annual polls of city diners who have voted the 66 Diner’s shakes “best in the city” consistently year after year. It’s unlikely, however, that you’d have been able to find a strawberry-lemonade or Mochaccino shake during the Route 66 era. The 66 Diner offers more than twenty different shake flavors.

One of the very best green chile cheeseburgers not to make the New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail

Many people eschew the old stand-bys–chocolate, vanilla and strawberry–in favor of flavors that weren’t available in the 1950s. In fact, some of those revolutionary flavors might have been considered heretical in the more conservative era of the 50s. Those flavors include the Elvis Presley (banana and peanut butter), the Pink Cadillac (strawberry ice cream and crushed Oreos), Oreo, Dreamsicle, Mocha, Coffee and several others. Pumpkin pie and Egg Nog shakes are featured as “shakes of the month” during winter holiday season. Despite all the inventiveness, the most popular shake remains chocolate.

Unique flavors not withstanding, the 66 Diner’s milkshakes are made with real hand-dipped ice cream and whole milk and are mixed in a tin on a Hamilton Beach blender, the way they were made in the 50s. They’re then served in a shake glass with the tin on the side, much like getting a shake and a half. The 66 Diner is also one of the few places in town to offer red cream soda, my favorite before I gave up sodas altogether.

Sloppy Joe and onion rings

25 June 2011: Nothing goes better with a shake, float or malt than a burger. In New Mexico, naturally this means a green chile cheeseburger. The 66 Diner makes one of the very best (top ten) green chile cheeseburgers in town–even though it didn’t made the New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail in either 2009 or 2011. When you request a burger a certain way, it’s delivered to your exacting specifications. Moreover you get a two-fisted burger in which the beef is prepared to your exacting specifications, the ingredients are unfailingly fresh and the chile (spelled correctly on the menu) actually bites back. It’s a very good chopped green chile with piquancy and flavor. Burgers are accompanied by your choice of sides–French fries, potato chips, coleslaw or potato salad. 

28 June 2014: There are probably only a handful of Duke City restaurants deigning to serve a Sloppy Joe sandwich today.  While the Sloppy Joe wasn’t “invented” during the Route 66 era, its peak in popularity occurred during that time.  The Food Timeline Web site explains how the name Sloppy Joe came about: “There is probably no Joe after whom it is named–but its rather messy appearance and tendency to drip off plate or roll makes “sloppy” an adequate description, and “Joe” is an American name of proletarian character and unassailable genuineness.”   At its most basic, the Sloppy Joe is a simple sandwich constructed with ground beef and a tomato sauce to which salt, pepper and spices are added.  At its elevated form, it’s  sandwich deliciousness you will crave.  Route 66’s Sloppy Joe will inspire craving.

Patty Melt with Potato Chips

28 June 2014: Contrary to cynics who decry the patty melt as nothing but a “cheeseburger served on toast instead of a bun,” a patty melt—when made well—can be a transformative sandwich constructed from a high-quality ground beef patty topped with molten cheese and grilled onions on rye bread pan-fried in butter. The 66 Diner may prepare the very best patty melt in town. Perhaps that’s because the patty melt actually originated in the Route 66 era. Every element of this sandwich is absolutely textbook perfect, the way every patty melt should be made.

All sandwiches are served with your choice of French fries, potato chips, potato salad or coleslaw. For a pittance more, you can substitute onion rings, Cheddar fries, Fiesta fries, okra or a dinner salad. The onion rings are worth the splurge. They’re lightly battered and golden-hued, sheathing a sweet onion. The potato chips are crisp and whole, not annoying bottom-of-the-bag bits and crumbs.

The Breakfast Burrito

The 66 Diner isn’t as well known for breakfast as perhaps it should be. Its limited breakfast menu might be the reason. Frankly, many New Mexicans are of the opinion that if you have breakfast burritos on the menu, you don’t need much else. The diner’s breakfast burrito is one of the biggest in the city, a large tortilla engorged with home fries, scrambled eggs and chopped green chile topped with melted Cheddar cheese and your choice of red and (or) green chile.

12 October 2008: Make yours “Christmas style,” a burrito covered with both red and green chile. Both are surprisingly good and more piquant than at many New Mexican food restaurants. In fact, the green chile is downright special, a fruity sweet and incendiary chile that elicits the type of endorphin rush which makes people fall in love with chile in the first place. The burrito is served with pinto beans.

A “short stack” of pancakes

12 October 2008: On our way to the 66 Diner for breakfast one Sunday, we passed a restaurant on Central Avenue offering “all you can eat pancakes for seven dollars.” A better bet would be ordering a “short stack” at the 66 Diner. Short obviously isn’t synonymous with small as we found out when our waitress delivered two pancakes which covered all but a tiny bit of the plate. These enormous pancakes would fill a small, developing nation (or as Jay Leno might quip, one fat American). We barely put a dent on them and even contemplated the notion of left-over pancakes, but perhaps only if you’re stoned would pancake left-overs be palatable…and they might cure the munchies. Otherwise, they’re almost inedible.

13 December 2017: My friend Bruce “Sr. Plata” Silver is as California as a surfer girl or an In & Out Burger, but as much as he loves chicken fried steak, you’d think he was from Texas.  When we make plans to meet for breakfast or lunch, one of us is invariably “low-carbing” it.  Healthy eating be damned when one of us suggests chicken fried steak.  It’s a choice we always agree upon.  In our two-man quest to traverse the length and breadth of the New Mexico chicken fried steak trail, it surprised me to learn he’d never tried the Route 66 Diner’s version.  He quickly discovered what generations have known–that the tenderized slab of breaded steak on his plate is roughly the size of Danny DeVito.   Seriously!  It’s one large slab.  As always, Sr. Plata didn’t settle for for only the house gravy (a meatless brown).  He also requested a side of the con queso.  He then slathered the slab with a sinful portion of both–not gravy on one side and queso on the other, but both intermixed.  It was a delicious choice!

Chicken Fried Steak, Another Route 66 Favorite

13 December 2017:  While Sr. Plata enjoys chicken fried steak best, my preference is for chicken fried steak, a redundantly named dish which Serious Eats calls “country cooking at its most comforting.”  This is one chicken dish about which any pretensions about chicken being a healthier alternative to beef go out the window.  There’s not much healthiness in the tender, juicy hunk of tenderized and breaded chicken.  Add queso and you can virtually feel your arteries hardening with every bite.  What a way to go!

Friendly, attentive service is also a constant. There are many who say nothing could be finer than a meal at the 66 Diner.  They’re right!

Chicken Fried Chicken

66 Diner
1405 Central Avenue, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 247-1421
Web Site| Facebook Page

LATEST VISIT: 13 December 2017
# OF VISITS: 16
RATING: 19
COST: $$
BEST BET: Green Chile Cheeseburger, Breakfast Burrito, Pancakes, Red Cream Soda, Shakes, Malts, the “Dagwood”, Sloppy Joe, Patty Melt, Chicken Fried Steak, Chicken Fried Chicken

66 Diner on Urbanspoon

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