Huong Thao – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Huong Thao Vietnamese Restaurant on Juan Tabo

In the year 2000 (ancient history by restaurant standards) when the Duke City had only a handful of Vietnamese restaurants, only one was listed on Zagat Survey’s Millennium Edition of the top restaurants in the Southwest. That restaurant was Huong Thao which was widely regarded at the time as perhaps the city’s very best Vietnamese dining establishment. Zagat Survey accorded Huong Thao a rating of “24” which categorized it as “very good to excellent.” The restaurant was praised for its “delicious traditional foods” and was singled out for its “no-puff” policies back when smoking was still allowed in Albuquerque dining establishments.  

In 2002, Huong Thao eked out a win over other highly-regarded Vietnamese restaurants in La Cocinita magazine’s (defunct) 2002 second annual critic’s choice awards. Garnering praise from an august body of panelists were the “herb-filled spring rolls” and “oh-so-crispy grilled pork.” Today, Huong Thao is a venerable presence, an elder statesperson among a phalanx of very good to outstanding Vietnamese restaurants throughout the Duke City. It remains a formidable favorite to this day because it’s not only retained loyal patrons, it’s cultivated new aficionados.

Huong Thao’s Dining Room

From the very beginning, Huong Thao has held a reputation as a Vegan-friendly restaurant, earning accolades throughout the 1990s and beyond from the Vegetarian Society of New Mexico for its “great food” and “many vegetarian options.” Although the word “Huong” translates from Vietnamese to “scent of the flower” and “Thao” translates to “herbal,” the restaurant was actually named for its founder. Though she long ago sold her eponymous restaurant, the fragrant bouquets which always wafted from Huong Thao’s kitchen remain part and parcel of the restaurant experience. Huong Thao (the restaurant’s founder, not the restaurant) continues to perform fragrant feats of culinary magic, albeit at her son Bill’s restaurant An Hy Quan. Not surprisingly, An Hy Quan is not only the city’s very best Vietnamese vegetarian restaurants, but one of its best restaurants of any genre.

Over the years, our visits to Huong Thao have been infrequent, in part because this Northeast Heights restaurant is the furthest east from our home of any Vietnamese restaurant in Albuquerque. My return visit in March, 2017, after an eleven year absence sure makes me wish I’d listened to my friend and fellow epicurean Jim Millington who long ago urged me to return. My flimsy excuse had been that Huong Thao had begun offering sushi (which no Vietnamese restaurant should ever do), but Jim also assured me the restaurant’s sole focus had also long ago returned to its Vietnamese cuisine. If there is one excuse that only partially absolves my transgression of not having visited sooner, it’s that Huong Thao does not have a street (Juan Tabo) facing presence and is set back in a nondescript shopping center.

New Mexico Spring Roll

Unlike several other Vietnamese restaurants in the city, Huong Thao’s menu isn’t a veritable compendium of all possible Vietnamese deliciousness. With fewer than sixty appetizers and entrees, its menu is roughly half the size of the menu at some restaurants. Study the menu and you’ll be hard-pressed to find any of your favorites absent. In fact, the menu offers several items not widely seen in the Duke City. The appetizer menu, for example, includes an asparagus and crab meat soup. Among unique entrée offerings are stir-fried curry, shaken beef and mung bean crepes. The menu is a delight to peruse, offering something for everyone who loves Vietnamese cuisine.

22 March 2017: When you do visit Huong Thao, there’s really no excuse for not having the restaurant’s amazing spring rolls. After all these years, these zeppelin-sized spring rolls are still the biggest (and among the very best) in the city–two rice paper rolls per order engorged with pork (and or shrimp and tofu), noodles and fresh vegetables. New Mexicans, of course, will order the New Mexico Spring Roll (green chile and avocado with chicken, tofu or shrimp). This is an idea whose time has come, further confirmation that green chile improves the flavor of everything it touches. The green chile isn’t especially piquant, but it has a nice roasted flavor. Fresh avocado and cilantro lend the essence of freshness. The accompanying fish sauce is a bit on the sweet side, but that’s easily remedied with a liberal application of the chili sauce on your table.

Boneless Stuffed Chicken Wings

24 March 2017: Despite pretty obvious limitations—they’re messy, they don’t give you a lot of meat and they’re so small it takes a lot of them to put a dent on your appetite—chicken wings have become a veritable culinary institution in America. In many cases, however, the only difference between the chicken wing at one eatery and another is the sauce with which they’re served. There’s not much originality in the concept. Some Vietnamese and Thai restaurants have an answer to the homogeneity of the ubiquitous chicken wing—stuff it.

Huong Thao’s boneless stuffed chicken wings are terrific, the complete antithesis of the limitations listed above. Somehow, the chef has managed to debone a chicken wing; stuff it with ground pork, clear noodles and mushrooms; and deep-fry it. Frankly, it resembles a small fried game hen, pumped up like a football (no Tom Brady jokes here) and fried to a crispy, golden brown. The stuffing is addictive with pungent, earthy notes that complement the crispy chicken skin. The accompanying fish sauce is wholly unnecessary.

Spicy Beef Soup (Bun Ho Hue)

22 March 2017: My very favorite entrée is the Hue-style spicy beef soup (bun bo Hue), the spicier, heartier, livelier, more flavorful cousin to pho. It’s the best (and only) reason to eschew pho. Huong Thao’s rendition is, by far, the “beefiest,” most beef-concentrated version of Hue-style soup I’ve ever had. Some of that is courtesy of the beef, meatloaf, tendon and pork hock swimming around in the aromatic beef stock, but look closer and you’ll see lots of the fatty globules which characterize soup that starts with beef and pork bones. Some diners may consider the pork hock and tendon a bit off-putting, but they lend so much personality to a soup already brimming with soul-warming and assertive flavors. Its spiciness comes from lots of lemongrass, shrimp paste and a tangle of aromatic herbs.

24 March 2017: While it seems the Land of Enchantment competes with Mississippi for last place in virtually every quality of life factor, there is one area in which the Magnolia State reigns supreme. That would be in the preparation of catfish. I’ve often lamented (probably ad-nauseum) the lack of great catfish dishes in New Mexico, but should qualify that doesn’t apply to the way Vietnamese restaurants prepare catfish. Café Dalat and before that May Hong have quelled our yen for catfish many times. In Huong Thao’s deep-fried catfish in ginger sauce, we found another superb catfish dish. The ginger sauce is applied lightly as opposed to the lacquered on sauce at Café Dalat, but it is no less potent. That sauce enlivens the flaky fish. Perhaps in deference to queasy diners, Huong Thao serves its catfish sans head which is a shame because there’s plenty of flavorful flesh in fish cheeks.

Deep-Fried Catfish in Ginger Sauce

Huong Thao remains one of the city’s best and most popular Vietnamese restaurants. Don’t just take my word for it (considering the eleven year gap between visits). Ask anyone who knows and loves Vietnamese cuisine and they’ll tell you.

Huong Thao
1016B Juan Tabo, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 292-8222
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 24 March 2017
# OF VISITS: 6
RATING: 22
COST: $$
BEST BET: New Mexico Spring Rolls, Boneless Stuffed Chicken Wings, Rice Noodle Bowl Grilled With Lemongrass and Sliced Pork, Stir Fried Egg Noodles With Pork, Deep-Fried Catfish in Ginger Sauce, Spicy Beef Soup,

Huong Thao Vietnamese Cuisine Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

The Grill – Albuquerque, New Mexico

The Grill at its new home (as of February 8, 2017) on San Mateo

I’m not telling you, ‘Never eat a hamburger.’ Just eat the good ones with real beef, you know,
like the ones from that mom-and-pop diner down the street, …
And it’s so good that when you take a bite out of that burger,
you just know somewhere in the world a vegan is crying
.”
Homer Simpson

America’s favorite everyman philosopher may have had The Grill in mind when uttering that pithy pearl.  What, after all, is a burger if not the celebration of meat, a pulchritudinous beef patty sandwiched between glorious golden orbs and festooned with ingredients intended to bring out flavor combinations that dance on your taste buds?  Made properly–personalized for taste to your exacting degree of doneness and with your  unique choice of ingredients–a burger can elicit tears of rapturous joy among burgerphiles.

Though the corporate  chains offer convenience and consistency (a boring sameness), few would argue that their copycat burgers could elicit raw delirium when bitten into.  Cynics, like me, would argue that chain burgers aren’t  even made with real meat, USDA definitions for meat be damned.  No, my friends, it’s solely the bounteous burgers at your local mom-and-pop diners down the street that elicit the carnal cravings and libidinous lust that make you want to rush over to visit your preferred provider of  meaty happiness with great regularity.

The Grill’s Capacious New Digs Are Easily Four Times Larger Than Its Previous Home on Menaul

For Duke City diners one of the best the mom-and-pop diners down the street has a burger which just might elicit swoons of joy as it quells the most rapacious of appetites.  It’s a burger that had Rudy Paul Vigil waxing poetic when he told me about it.  An advocate of homemade tastes, Rudy is the guy who introduced me to Lumpy’s Burgers shortly after it opened so he’s got plenty of down-the-street burger cred with me.  In describing The Grill, he expounded about a unique wood-firing contraption that imbues each burger with enchantment.

The Grill is the brainchild of veteran restaurateur Phillip “Phil” Chavez, a man who knows and likes burgers as much as he likes bussing, or at least that’s the impression you might get in reading the menu’s claim of “food so good, you’ll wanna kiss the cook!”  Before opening The Grill, Chavez operated grill-oriented family restaurants in Gallup as well as Shiprock and Farmington.

Phil Chavez (right) and assistant tend to The Grill’s unique mesquite-fired grill

The Grill launched initially on the far western fringes of the Duke City just east of 98th Street and was then called “Grandpa’s Grill.”  From the restaurants east-facing windows you were treated to some of the very best views of the Sandia Mountains and downtown Albuquerque.  At night, the panoramic view of the city lights were absolutely inspirational. 

In July, 2011, Grandpa’s Grill moved to Menaul (next door to Jennifer James 101) and rechristened itself “The Grill.”  The Grill remained on Menaul for nearly six years before relocating to much more capacious digs on San Mateo, a venue easily four times larger than its predecessor.  Interior walls are festooned with thematic pieces–everything from kitchen related bric-a-brac to sports memorabilia.  Much of it donated by patrons of the popular restaurant. Old-fashioned coffee makers, blenders and other appliances make for interesting reminiscences among us seasoned diners and for strange curiosities among the Y-generation crowd.

The Salsa and Toppings Cart

The most interesting period piece, however, is the restaurant’s signature grill. White hot and throbbing red embers of mesquite coals lay on a steel tray atop of which sits a metal grated grill which Chavez raises and lowers via a hand-crank. He’s mastered the art of temperature control to prepare your burgers or steaks to the level of doneness you specify.

An old-fashioned burger fixings bar, complete with sneeze guard, hosts sliced tomatoes, pickles, mustard, ketchup, lettuce and onions which means you truly can have your burger your way.  A deep metal serving tray holds salsa which you can ladle onto plastic ramekins.  Another holds crisp, homemade (but excessively salty) chips, both free with each order.

Complimentary Chips and Salsa

The salsa is exceptional–as in so good it should be bottled good. It’s so good that properly pureed, it would make an excellent bloody Mary mix. It’s so good, it would make the the key component of a great gazpacho. It’s so good, you’ll eschew ketchup and dunk your fries in it. It’s so good, you’ll finish two or three trays of chips before your order is up. Seriously, this is good salsa. Its components are rather typical–tomatoes, onions, jalapenos, garlic, salt–but Chavez mixes each batch up in perfect proportions. The salsa is pleasantly piquant, not so incendiary you won’t be able to taste anything else.

You’ll definitely want to taste the burgers!  Prolific eaters will opt for the Papa Burger, a whopping eight-ounces sure to sate hearty eaters.  A six-ounce Mama Burger and a four-ounce Little Rascal Burger are also available.  The beef patties are hand-formed and thick.  You can top them with green chile and your choice of Cheddar, American or Swiss cheese.  The buns are lightly toasted.  More than any other burger in the Duke City, this one reminds me of a burger perfectly prepared over a campfire.  That’s courtesy of Phil’s unique mesquite grill and the masterful manipulation of the mesquite coals.  All burgers are available in combination with a drink and Fries.

Eight-Ounce Papa Burger with Green Chile and Cheddar

18 March 2017: The Papa Burger with green chile is terrific, a true compliment to the grill master and his deft manipulation of temperature!  The beef patty is imbued with the kiss of mesquite heat, but not so much that the usually acerbic grilling wood imparts its characteristic bitter aftertaste.   The green chile is a bit on the mild side, but the other ingredients from the fixings bar are all fresh and delicious.  Fries aren’t much to write home about, but they’re much improved when you dip them into the salsa instead of ketchup.

The menu also includes an insanely low-priced sixteen-ounce Ribeye  served with your choice of fries or beans and tortilla. Also available are a chicken breast platter, a chicken sandwich, a Southwest chicken sandwich (with green chile and cheese wrapped in a tortilla) and chicken strips with fries. Hot dogs, in either jumbo or regular sizes, with or without chile and cheese, can also be ordered. Deep-fried sides include French fries, fried zucchini, fried mushrooms and onion rings.

Ribeye Steak with Fried Mushrooms (Baked Potato not Pictured)

18 March 2017:  The  Ribeye  prepared at medium is too good to pass up. Ribeye tends to be a well-marbled and tender cut of beef that is well-suited to dry-heat preparation style. That means The Grill’s unique mesquite grill brings out the optimal flavor profile in this steak. Not quite fork-tender, the Ribeye cuts easily, juices flowing not quite copiously but enough. The only seasoning discernible is salt and pepper, but sometimes that can be enough. It is in this case. Value-priced means sixteen-ounces of steak for just over a dollar an ounce, a good deal by any standard. My Kim believes this ribeye is one of the best steaks in the city and questions why anyone would pay exorbitant amounts for steak elsewhere.

The steak is accompanied by your choice of French fries or beans and a tortilla.  At first glance, the beans look inviting, a hearty portion topped with shredded cheese, but as they approached our table, the malodorous emanation of cumin wafted toward us.  As usual, I whined vociferously, urging our attentive waitress and Phil Chavez himself to take the beans and dispose of them at a nuclear waste dump site.  Phil indicated 99-percent of his customers appreciate the beans, some even asking for the recipe…but I’m not crazy; everyone else is.

Coconut Cake

On the counter gracing your visage is a domed cake platter holding the delicious cake of the day.  Fortune was with us during my second visit because the cake under glass on that day was a gorgeous red velvet cake. Red velvet cakes have been popular since the 1920s, experiencing a resurgence in the 1990s, but it’s never really gone out of style.  Essentially not much more than a chocolate cake with a dark red-brown color and layered with a creamy white icing, it is beautiful to look at and generally delicious to consume.  This decadent dessert isn’t prepared in-house, but you will want to take a piece home with you.  Even better is the coconut-vanilla cake pictured above.

The Grill is an anachronism–a throw-back to the 1960s with prompt, courteous, unobtrusive service and a genuine spirit of welcome from the owner.  Ask Phillip Chavez for a tour of the kitchen and he’ll gladly show off his unique grill, the contraption which makes some of the very tastiest burgers in Albuquerque.  Somewhere on old Route 66, a vegan is crying.  That’s how good these burgers are!

The Grill
3300 San Mateo, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 872-9772
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 18 March 2017
1st VISIT:  17 August 2010
# OF VISITS: 4
RATING: 20
COST: $$
BEST BET: Papa Burger with Fries, Salsa and Chips, Ribeye Steak, Onion Rings, Red Velvet Cake, Coconut Cake, Fried Mushrooms

The Grill on San Mateo Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Pizzeria Luca – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Pizzeria Luca which launched in November, 2011 also goes by Luca Italian Bistro & Wine Bar

Can there truly be too many pizzerias? Perhaps only among pizzeria owners who don’t want much competition might you hear that ridiculous notion about one of America’s essential food groups. Take for example one monopoly-minded pizzeria owner in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania who had a resolute belief that there was too much competition in the area and determined to do something about it. It apparently didn’t dawn on him that by serving a better pizza or lowering prices, his business might improve. Instead, in the tradition of villainous scofflaws everywhere, he decided to sabotage his rivals.

Alas, his exploits only proved fodder for late night talk show hosts who lampoon stupid criminals. In perpetrating his nefarious misdeed, the perfidious proprietor of the poor-performing pizzeria created such a ruckus that his intended victim quickly investigated and discovered a bag full of mice had been deposited in his drop ceiling. As luck would have it, two uniformed officers were dining at the presumably palatable pizzeria at the time. They quickly apprehended the would-be rodent rapscallion and charged him with criminal mischief, disorderly conduct, harassment and cruelty to animals. There’s no indication as to whether his room mate at the local hoosegow was Mr. Murphy or whether the competitor’s pizza was served for dinner.

Pizzeria Luca is proud to offer a traditional East Coast Italian pizzeria experience in an upscale yet casual environment

So, just how many pizzerias are there?  With more than 65,000 pizzerias (58 percent of which are independent and 42 percent of which are chains) in the United States, pizzerias make up nearly seventeen percent of all restaurants in America and gross over 30 billion dollars per year, accounting for greater than ten percent of all food service sales.  Independent pizzerias account for 52 percent of those sales totals. In 2005, the average store earnings for all pizzerias was nearly $450,000.  The “big four” pizza chains–Pizza Hut, Domino’s, Papa John’s and Little Caesars–represent nearly 37 percent of industry sales at nearly $11 billion per year.  The top fifty pizza chains across the United States own 42 percent of all pizzerias and control greater than 48 percent of all pizza sales.

According to PMQ Pizza Magazine’s “Pizza Power Report” for 2010, Americans consume approximately 3 billion pizzas per year.  That translates to a whopping 100 acres of pizza each day–an astounding 350 slices per second over each of the 86,400 seconds in each day. 93 percent of Americans eat at least one pizza per month with the most popular ingredient being pepperoni.  The United States has an average of one pizzeria per 4,350 people across the fruited plain.  Surveys indicate 45 percent of pizza orders are take-out, 36 percent are delivery and 20 percent are dine-in. Sixteen percent of all pizzas ordered across the country were ordered on-line.

Zuppe di Vongole

In its 2010 Food and Wine edition, Albuquerque The Magazine chronicled its search for the best pizza in the Duke City area, reviewing and rating some 37 independent restaurants (and subjecting themselves to take-out pizza from five chains).  That’s barely scratching the surface.  Urbanspoon lists 151 pizza restaurants in the metropolitan Albuquerque area which translates to one pizza restaurant for every 6,012 residents (based on the 2011 census estimate of 907,775 as of 2011).  That pales in comparison with the 2,070 pizza restaurants in New York City or the one pizza restaurant per 3,600 residents in Miami. 

According to Slice, a Serious Eats blog, there are 21 regional styles of pizza.  In the Duke City, perhaps the most prevalent regional style–or at least the one most often claimed–is New York-style characterized by having a puffy, bread-like, outer crust which quickly tapers down to a very thin, crisp middle).   When Pizzeria Luca, a locally owned company which launched in October, 2011, purported to offer a traditional “East Coast Italian pizzeria experience” in an upscale yet casual environment, it was interesting to note that the pizza itself is certainly not New York style nor does it resemble any of the East Coast pizzas with which I’m familiar. It’s only the look and feel that bears a resemblance to Metropolis.

Antipasto: Artisan cheese plate with salami, olives, fresh fruits and baked rustic bread

Pizzeria Luca is ensconced in a shopping center on the far Northeast Heights not too far from the Duke City’s first Jinja restaurant and the über popular Trader Joe’s.  From the outside the pizzeria is fairly inconspicuous despite the prevalence of the red, white and green colors of the Italian flag.  Step inside the doors and you might indeed get the impression that you’ve stepped into a cosmopolitan setting that will tell you you’re not in Kansas any more.  It’s a setting quite unlike that of any other pizzeria in Albuquerque.

The restaurant’s high-ceilings bear the popular exposed industrial-style ductwork that seem to express modernity.  The height of the ceiling seems exaggerated because the back wall more closely resembles an external wall with its distressed brick and faded Pizzeria Luca signage, two vintage touches.   Floors are tiled in large red and white squares not unlike nostalgia restaurants. To your left is a serpentine wine bar whose cynosure is a semi-circular wine tower sporting some 56 different wines from Italy, Washington and California (none from New Mexico as of this writing).  A flat screen television seems somewhat out of place next to the wine tower.  Televisions, by the way, can also be found in the pizzeria’s restrooms though if you don’t know this, you might freak out to hear the voice of the opposite gender as you walk in. Walls are adorned with movie posters.  The musical stylings of Italian crooners of the 1930s are piped in via the restaurant’s sound system.

Fricassee di Funghi

The menu offers seven appetizers including an antipasto and littleneck clams in a white wine-based broth.  Nine salads (insulate), mostly of the designer variety are also available as are five panini sandwiches available in half or full sizes.  The sandwiches are crafted from house-prepared meats served on fresh baked bread.  Five pasta dishes adorn the menu not including a “doggie plate” consisting of a housemade meatball with dry kibble.  There are seven pizza options as well as a “build your own pie” option which starts with mozzarella and marinara.  You can also have a large slice if you prefer.  

14 March 2017: One of the very best appetizers served at any Italian restaurant in the metropolitan area is Luca’s Zuppe di Vongole (littleneck clams in white wine, butter and spicy plum tomato sauce).  There are only eight or nine clams in the dish, but this appetizer can be quite filling by itself.  That’s because the broth has so much personality you’ll keep your spoon busy.  You’ll also use the accompanying garlic bread to sop up as much of that broth as you can.  The clams themselves are fresh and clean, but they’re brought to life with the acidity of the spicy plum tomato sauce, garlic, oregano and other seasonings.

The Modena

27 November 2011: The antipasto, a piccole piastre is described on the menu as an artisan cheese plate with salami, olives, fresh fruits and baked rustic bread.  It’s the fresh fruits that make it some what unique for Albuquerque.  Four slices of lightly toasted bread with shaved cheese and parsley flank a bed of mixed greens drizzled with a light balsamic dressing atop of which and within you’ll dig out sliced strawberries, olives, raspberries, salami slices, more shaved cheese, a whisper-thin slice or two of prosciutto and slices of hard cheese.  As with all good appetizers, it serves very well to make you look forward to your entrees in hopes they’ll be as good, if not better.

30 November 2013: Mushrooms are one of those foods that are all too often “typecast.”  For the most part, chefs tend to accentuate their woodsy-earthy qualities.  While these qualities make them a delicious accompaniment to complementary foods, a few chefs take mushrooms in a separate direction and prepare them with a flavor profile almost antithetical to their woodsy-earthy notes.  One way not often seen in the Duke City is sautéed seasonal mushrooms in a lemon-caper sauce, a dish called fricassee di fungi.  Thinly cut mushrooms are sautéed in a rich butter and garlic sauce with lemon juice and plenty of capers.  The natural woodsy-earthy flavor profile of the mushrooms prevents this dish from being too tart or tangy, just enough to be discernible.  It’s a delicious partnership.

Pesto Pizza

27 November 2011: The pizzas are as clever as the antipasto platter with inventive ingredient combinations festooning each fourteen- or sixteen-inch pie.  Even the Margherita, the pizza which started it all, is unique for Albuquerque in that it’s made with mozzarella di bufala (fresh water buffalo mozzarella).  For turophiles,  only the tasty, creamy, milky buffalo mozzarella will do on pizza in which mozzarella is called for.  At my request, the accommodating pizzaioli added it to the Calabria (Prosciutto di Parma, shallots, Fontina, truffle oil and marinara) I ordered.  That meant two of my very favorite pizza ingredients in the world–buffalo mozzarella and Prosciutto di Parma–were available in one pie in Albuquerque. 

19 March 2017:  Our initial impression of the Modena (Italian sausage, pepperoni, crimini mushrooms and roasted garlic) from 2011 was that it was a very good pie with much to like about it.  While first impressions are often lasting, they can be superseded by subsequent impressions.  When my Kim ordered that pizza six years later, she wondered how our initial impressions could have been so wrong.   Our second Modena lacked personality.  From the crust to the ingredients, the seasonings didn’t assert themselves much.  The garlic, basil and oregano were barely discernible.  Even the roasted garlic cloves were rather anemic.  The sole saving grace was the buffalo mozzarella Kim requested though there wasn’t nearly enough to sate her.

Luca Signatura Speciale: Macaroni and imported cheeses with truffle oil, topped with prosciutto and homemade bread crumbs

Luca Signatura Speciale (Don’t call it macaroni and cheese)

19 March 2017:  What the Modena lacked in personality, the Pesto (pesto sauce with buffalo mozzarella, sun-dried tomatoes and pine nuts) pie more than made up for it.  Pesto is, however, not everyone’s cup of tea.  If you like the aromatic properties of basil, you’ll appreciate the basil-olive oil marriage.  Toss in a handful of piñon with its own woodsy fragrance and you’ve got the essence of   invigorating freshness.  The third component on the pie is sun-dried tomatoes with their tangy acidity and fruity sweetness.  Alas, a larger portion of buffalo mozzarella would have added an almost (but not quite) sour taste to complement the other flavors.

30 November 2013: While the menu makes a big deal out of the restaurant’s signature macaroni and cheese menu, don’t be surprised if your server doesn’t.  Ask what the best pasta dish is on the menu and you might be surprised to hear “macaroni and cheese,” which is called something else–something more elegant and enticing–on the menu.  On the menu it’s called Luca Signatura Speciale and it’s a triumvirate of imported cheeses with truffle oil topped with prosciutto and homemade bread crumbs.  The cheeses accentuate the sharp and pungent qualities of cheese without compromising on richness.  It’s an adult macaroni and cheese, as far removed from Kraft macaroni and cheese as the Lobo Lair is from San Diego State University boosters.

Baked Ziti

14 March 2017:  The menu offers two ziti dishes–Ziti Pollo (ziti pasta with grilled chicken and green chile; tossed in basil cream sauce, topped with mozzarella and baked) and Baked Ziti (with meat sauce or marinara, ricotta, Parmigiano and mozzarella cheese).  Served in a casserole dish, Luca’s rendition is very reminiscent of baked ziti as it’s prepared and served in the East Coast. That means it’s served piping hot with a blanket of molten cheese melted atop layers of pasta and rich, red sauce. Rhee Drummond, the Food Network’s “Pioneer Woman” likens baked ziti to be “almost like a lasagna that forgot to use lasagna noodles. Messy. Gooey. Decadent. Ridiculous. In every sense of the word.” That’s how you’ll find the baked ziti at Luca.

14 March 2017: The Eggplant Parmesan is simply magnificent–three medium-thickness eggplant medallions topped with marinara sauce and house-fresh mozzarella.  You can easily puncture the light and crispy breading with a spoon, but there’s nothing mushy about the interior of this dish, just a silky smooth, delicious eggplant. The sauce is redolent of tart and juicy fresh tomatoes, a perfect foil for the melted mozzarella.  Fittingly, the Eggplant Parmesan is served with a side of spaghetti and a piece of garlic bread.

Eggplant Parmesan

27 November 2011: Dessert options include some of the “usual suspects” such as cannoli (traditional or chocolate) and tiramisu.  The tiramisu is made in-house and doesn’t really distinguish itself (remember, Albuquerque is home to several restaurants proffering truly outstanding tiramisu–Torinos @ Home, Joe’s Pasta House and Farina Pizzeria, for example).  The cannoli is similarly just okay, nothing about which to write home. 

Cannoli and Tiramisu for dessert

Perhaps because of the wine bar, Pizzeria Luca is most decidedly a restaurant in which young urban professionals will feel right at home, toddlers in tow.  It’s the type of pizzeria which will many will call home away from home, a hang-out type, making it a good candidate for expansion–and indeed the ownership group is planning on several sites in the Albuquerque area.  That’s a great thing for the Duke City because as everyone knows, you can’t have too many pizzerias!

Pizzeria Luca
8850 Holly Avenue, N.E., Suite J
Albuquerque, New Mexico
505-797-8086
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 14 March 2017
1st VISIT: 27 November 2011
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 20
COST: $$
BEST BET: Antipasto, Calabria, Modena, Cannoli, Tiramisu, Fricassee di Funghi, Luca Signatura Speciale, Eggplant Parmesan, Baked Ziti, Zuppe di Vongole

Pizzeria Luca and Wine Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Rex’s Hamburgers – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Rex’s Hamburgers, An Albuquerque Institution

From 1988 through 2005, Rex’s Hamburgers stood practically alone in offering Duke City consumers an alternative to the homogeneous gobble-and-go offerings of deep-pocketed fast-food chains like McDonald’s, Burger King and Wendy’s. Rex’s earned and retained the hearts of Albuquerque diners for nearly 20 years. During its halcyon days, it garnered the long defunct’s Abq magazine’s “Best of Albuquerque” honors for several consecutive years.

The reason Duke City patrons were so loyal to Rex’s was because Rex’s was at the diametric extreme opposite of the chain restaurants. Whether ensconced in a strip mall or housed in a single tenant edifice, Rex’s offered real sit-down service at a relaxed and reasonable pace. Moreover, it served hamburgers the way they are intended to be prepared.  That means they started with real meat, never frozen, formed into a ball and flattened on the griddle with a spatula then allowed to cook slowly to retain the beef’s natural juiciness. Unlike at the Golden Arches, you never had to wonder what filler was used in Rex’s all-beef patty. It was always 85 percent lean and 15 percent fat, the time-tested optimum balance for optimum flavor. It was always served hot and with only the freshest of ingredients.

A double-meat green chile cheeseburger, one of the best in town

When Rex’s closed the last of its restaurants in 2005, the Duke City should have flown the city flag at half mast. Rex’s was one of the last of the independents, a true locally owned and operated mom-and-pop restaurant. The brainchild of Rex Thompson and his family, Rex’s had carved a niche in the burger market and a spot in the heart of discerning Duke City diners. As of the summer of 2008, our period of mourning can now cease. Rex’s is back, initially with a new moniker–Bubsters The Original Rex Burger Grill–but later to embrace its roots as Rex’s Hamburgers.

Also back are some of the recognized Rex’s touches–the golden oldies piped through the restaurant’s sound system, the familiar turquoise and mauve paint, posters of 50s icons and walls dedicated to the University of New Mexico Lobos.  Rex’s is located at the former site of the 505 Southwestern which operated a chile factory and restaurant at the site for years. The space is cavernous with the front portion of the restaurant providing comfortable seating and the back part dedicated to video gaming.  Even the way you order is familiar. A large menu showcasing all that Rex’s has to offer backdrops the counter at which you place your order. Take your seat and within minutes, a tray of deliciousness is bound for your table.

Rex’s famous onion rings

The menu includes all the Rex’s favorites which means not only hamburgers, but sandwiches, hot dogs, tacos, burritos, green chile stew and for the Texans among us, even chili con carne. Sandwich and burger platters include an order of french fries, an onion ring and Rex’s familiar applesauce. You can substitute onion rings for the fries if you’re so inclined.  The burger platters are a bit steeper in price today than they were when Rex’s cornered the sit-down burger market, but then, so is everything else. Besides, what’s a few extra cents when you’re talking freshness and burgers done right–when we’re talking Rex’s reborn!

The burgers are still adulation worthy with perfectly seasoned beef served to your exacting specifications. At medium with just a hint of pink, they are absolutely delicious. The double-meat burgers are still two-fisted behemoths bursting with flavor and moistness. These are still three or four napkin burgers replete with the great ingredients for which Rex’s was always known. The green chile actually registers on the piquancy scale and it’s got a nice, fresh-roasted flavor.  With a more piquant chile, it might be one of the two or three best green chile cheeseburgers in the metropolitan area instead of being merely among the top five or six.

Two tacos

There is one item for which Rex’s is nonpareil and that’s chocolate milkshakes.  Made with Dreyer’s premium ice cream and served bone-chilling cold, the chocolate milk is very chocolatey.  It’s an adult chocolate not something which will decay your teeth on the spot.  Other shake flavors include vanilla, strawberry, Oreo, cherry and we’ve even had a Caramel shake there once.

10 October 2015: Should you ever succeed in prying yourself from ordering one of Rex’s addictive green chile cheeseburgers, a phalanx of alternatives are available.  The “Southwestern” menu, for example, includes such New Mexican favorites as tacos, burritos, chile cheese fries, Frito pie, green chile stew and red chile with beans.  Burritos are engorged with your choice of beans, beef or both and topped with your choice of red or green chile.  As is often the case, many diners opt for “Christmas” style with both red and green adorning the burrito.  A combination burrito platter includes French fries, lettuce and tomato.  The seasoned fries are crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside.  The shredded cheese blanketed burrito is quite good with both red and green shining.

Burrito Platter

On Sunday, February 6, 2017, The Travel Channel aired a program showcasing some of the best fair foods in the nation for its Food Paradise series. The Land of Enchantment has hosted a fair since 1881–32 years before becoming a state. A mainstay for nearly five decades has been Rex’s Hamburgers. Rex Thompson demonstrated for Food Paradise how to construct a bacon-wrapped deep-fried green chile cheeseburger (fresh, handmade burger, topped with green chile and American cheese, wrapped in bacon and deep-fried to a crispy, brown perfection). Rex explained that his burgers are prepared “low and slow” seasoned with only salt and pepper. Rex’s bacon-topped green chile nachos were also showcased. If you haven’t been to the New Mexico State Fair in a while, maybe it’s time to make your way back.

Whether it’s known as Rex’s or Bubsters, there’s no mistaking the quality and freshness of a great meal at an Albuquerque favorite. There’s just something better about the world with Rex’s back in town.

Rex’s Hamburgers
5555 Montgomery, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
505-837-2827
Facebook Page

LATEST VISIT: 6 February 2017
1st VISIT:  28 July 2008
# OF VISITS: 9
RATING: 21
COST: $$
BEST BET: Green Chile Cheeseburger, Double Hamburger, Onion Rings, Tacos, French Fries, Apple Sauce, Chocolate Milkshake, Burrito

Bubsters - Rex's Hamburgers Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Tia B’s La Waffleria – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Tia B’s La Waffleria on Campus Blvd

While waffles may be forever associated with late nights at The Waffle House (the ubiquitous Southern chain which has served nearly one billion waffles since its inception), waffles have made significant inroads as a bona fide culinary trend, albeit somewhat under-the-radar.  That’s waffles singular…by themselves, not with chicken.  The chicken and waffles combination is even more yesterday than kale and poutine.  Gourmet waffles topped or stuffed with sundry, inventive ingredient combinations have inspired a sort of wafflemania across the fruited plain.  No longer are fluffy and crispy waffles boringly predictable (smothered with butter and dripping with syrup) or strictly for breakfast.

It’s often been noted that in New Mexico, trends–whether they be in fashion or in the culinary arena–move at the speed of mañana, a term which contrary to the Velasquez dictionary does not translate to “tomorrow” in the Land of Enchantment.  It translates instead to “not today’ which means if something can be put off until tomorrow or later, it usually will be.  George Adelo, Jr., an enterprising Pecos resident even coined (and copyrighted) a phrase to describe the New Mexican way: “Carpe Mañana”–Seize Tomorrow.   When it comes to the burgeoning popularity and inventiveness of waffles, however, the Duke City was actually at the forefront of the honeycomb-shaped culinary trend.

One of three dining spaces at Tia B’s La Waffleria

In the Duke City, the diverse exploration of waffles began in 2012 (about three years before waffles were first declared a national culinary trend) with the launch of Tia Betty Blue’s, an excellent New Mexican food eatery which introduced sweet-and-savory blue corn waffle boats.  They were an immediate hit with Tia Betty Blue’s guests.  Two years later, owner (and burgeoning restaurant impresario) Daniel Boardman proved himself to be a culinary visionary with the launch of Tia B’s La Waffleria, an offshoot dedicated to the humble waffle.  Whether referred to as “Tia B’s” or “La Waffleria,” this unique restaurant has earned significant critical and public (4.0 rating on Yelp) acclaim.

Situated in a converted home on Campus Blvd. just west of Carlisle, Tia B’s preceded the third of Boardman’s terrific triumvirate of innovative restaurants by two years (when sibling El Cotorro, an excellent taqueria launched a few doors east).  Tia B’s is a cozy, intimate milieu which often serves to overflow crowds.  Weather permitted, shaded outdoor seating is available, but during inclement weather, it’s all two- and four-top seating in personal space proximity with seating by the fireplace coveted by most.  On display in several nooks throughout the restaurant are waffle irons of yesterday.  You may be surprised at how little they’ve changed.

Mocha Mexicana

Tia B’s will never be accused of being singularly focused or boring.  When you’ve got such a terrific canvases as wheat, buttermilk, blue corn/buttermilk, buckwheat/sour cream, rye/sour cream, multi-grain/milk and rice/coconut waffles prepared to order, possibilities are endless.  As explained on its Web site “Tia B’s offers an extraordinary array of fresh-baked, high-quality waffles, both sweet and savory, finished with an amazing assortment of house-made sauces, syrups, fresh fruits and coulis.”  The menu includes both sweet combinations (served with a small fruit garnish) and savory combinations (served with a dressed mixed green garnish).  Intrepid diners are invited to build their own waffles.  Vegetarian and gluten-free options a plenty are also available.

As if waffles aren’t enough to sate those of us who smile at the memory of greeting the sun at The Waffle House, Tia B’s offers separate all-day breakfast and lunch menus.  Breakfast options include such waker-uppers as biscuits and gravy and Waffles Rancheros.  For lunch, chicken and waffles are an option if for no other reason than to see just how a restaurant specializing in waffles does it.  Lunch also includes such teasing temptresses as smoked salmon waffles.  Premium coffees give you another reason to head for Tia B’s when it opens at 8AM.  The Mocha Mexicana (dark chocolate, red chile powder, spices, two shots of espresso and steamed milk) is the best coffee I’ve had in the metropolitan area outside Cafe Bella.  It’s got plenty of personality–a bit of capsaicin-induced fire coupled with luxurious dark chocolate and a heady coffee.

Salted Caramel and Apples Atop a Buttermilk Waffle

Fittingly, my inaugural visit was with my friend Bob of the Village of Los Ranchos (BOTVOLR), one of the few people with whom I ever discuss politics.  That makes it all the more ironic that we never discussed the term “waffling,” which describes a politician who frequently changes positions for the sake of political expediency.  The term waffling, by the way, has nothing to do with the delicious griddled treats we were to enjoy, but comes from the Scottish term “waff” which means “to yelp like a puppy.”  (My apologies to any puppies who may be offended in being compared to politicians.)  In any regard, I invited Bob to describe his meal in his own inimitable style.

From Bob of the Village of Los Ranchos: Met up with El Jefe mid AM in this semi-funky place which, combined with a great NM, clear blue sky and waning chill, reminded me of being seaside up in verdant Palos Verde, CA…a moment of delightfully “time traveling”! Salted Caramel and Apples: A buttermilk waffle topped with tangy sliced green apples, drizzled with decadent caramel cow milk (in lieu of the goat option) and sprinkled with sea salt. Aha, that’s something Californian in itself! The green apples were finely sliced wedges. While having tang, I could’ve gone a level or two higher, albeit maybe it was the not overly sweet (just right) caramel that mellowed them. While often eschewing salt of any kind, it too could have been amped up a tad, as some of us might so embarrassingly indulge in with apples/tomatoes….LOL. Waffles…nice; not too dense and not mushed out by the sauce. A nice setting to munch and blab as Yuppies might do…albeit of the older genre….while distracted by Lobo Lucies.

Sweet Goat Cheese and Port-Infused Cherries Atop A Buttermilk Waffle

My own breakfast choice was decided to some extent by the fact that we visited Tia B’s on a Lenten Friday and my Catholic guilt wouldn’t let me indulge in any of the carnivorous options, but also by the lure of sweet goat cheese and port-infused cherries atop a buttermilk waffle.  Whether sweetened or in its natural state, goat cheese has a delightfully sour tang that couples well with cherries which are also naturally tart.  When infused with port, the cherries absorb the sweetness of the port while retaining just a hint of their tartness.  It’s a nice combination.  Though we were offered warmed syrup, adding it would have risked an overly-sweet dish.  The waffle itself, sliced diagonally into four wedges, was just slightly crisp on the outside and soft and chewy inside.  It bore no resemblance nor did it inspire memories of The Waffle House. 

During future visits to Tia B’s La Waffleria, a make-your-own waffle adventure is in order, but first there are so many sweet and savory combinations to be tried.  It will be easy to waffle (be indecisive and change my mind frequently) in deciding which waffle to try next.  The options are all so inviting.

Tia B’s La Waffleria
3710 Campus Blvd, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 492-2007
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 3 March 2017
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Buttermilk Waffle with Salted Caramel and Apples, Buttermilk Waffle with Sweet Goat Cheese and Port-Infused Cherries, Mocha Mexicana

Tia B's la Waffleria Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Papa Felipe’s Mexican Restaurant – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Papa Felipe’s on Menaul

In 2009, James Beard Award-winning food journalists Jane and Michael Stern published a terrific tome entitled 500 Things to Eat Before It’s Too Late.  Despite the ominous (some might say fatalistic) name, the book is actually a celebration of the best dishes that are unique to this country.  The Sterns, who have been focusing on quirky All-American food haunts since 1977, describe in delicious detail, the best dishes proffered at roadside stands, cafes, street carts throughout the fruited plain.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Michael Stern was asked if the inclusion of the words “too late” in the book’s title referred to the “death of the small eatery, or the reader’s impending doom from eating too much fried chicken, French fries and fried fish.”  He indicated he was referring to “the impending onslaught of the nutrition police who will make all of this stuff illegal one of these days.”  He also warned of the loss of “some variety and some local specialties that were once easy to find and are now hard or impossible to find due to chain restaurants.”

One of Papa Felipe’s Dining Rooms

Despite the onslaught of the ubiquitous national food chain, Stern was  optimistic that “Americans have become more conscious about regional food,” which in his experience was once thought to be limited to fried chicken and hot dogs.  He praised the “rebirth of interest in regional food that parallels its diminution because of franchises.”

New Mexicans should be duly proud at how well represented our cuisine is among the 500 uniquely American foods celebrated in the book.  By the same token, as I’ve often railed about on this blog, if we don’t patronize the mom and pop restaurants who prepare these authentic time-tested treasures, all we will be left with is the chain restaurants and their homogeneous cardboard tasting food, superficial flamboyance and saccharin service.

Chips and Salsa

Unlike on their previous Roadfood books, the Sterns actually rank what they consider the “best of the best” among the foods described.  Understandably, when a book is published which encompasses the length and breadth of the United States, omissions are bound to occur.  Still, for the most part, the Sterns do a wonderful job of winnowing out the premium wheat from a prize crop, highlighting those restaurants which provide unforgettable dining experiences in their natural setting prepared by locals who still do it in the traditional ways.

In the Sterns’ estimation, the “hot list” of New Mexican restaurants proffering the very best carne adovada in America starts with Rancho de Chimayo, whose carne adovada is described as “chunks of meat turned tender from their long marinade and glistening fiery red.” Following in succession are the Horseman’s Haven Cafe in Santa Fe, Albuquerque’s Frontier Restaurant, Leona’s Restaurant in Chimayo, then two Duke City dining institutions Sadie’s of New Mexico and Papa Felipe’s.

Botana Crispeana

Most New Mexicans would probably agree with at least one restaurant named in that hallowed list.  My own “hot list,” for example, would rank Mary & Tito’s Cafe as the standard-bearer, but would also include the carne adovada at Cecilia’s Cafe, The Burrito Lady and Duran’s Central Pharmacy in Albuquerque as well as The Shed in Santa Fe and the aforementioned Rancho de Chimayo.

One restaurant climbing toward my hot list is Papa Felipe’s, an astute listing by the Sterns who observed that “an unusual version is served at Papa Felipe’s Mexican Restaurant…where the pork is sopped with a marinade of green chiles, giving it a unique vegetable potency.  It’s great as a green tamale pie, baked in sweet corn masa and laced with cheese.”

PapaFelipe09

Caldo de Albondigas

Green chile carne adovada is indeed a unique spin on a New Mexico standard, and to the best of my knowledge, Papa Felipe’s is the only restaurant in Albuquerque, if not the entire state, to feature it.  When you stop to think about it, why not green chile carne adovada.  The preparation process is the same–marinating chunks of pork in chile.  Papa Felipe’s uses a blend of chopped green chile from Bueno Foods (a New Mexico institution since 1946) as well as the fat, elongated chiles they use for chile rellenos.  The marinading process takes about three hours.  The results will impress themselves on your taste buds for much longer.

Papa Felipe’s Mexican Restaurant & Lounge has been pleasing Albuquerque palates for more than 30 years with chef Larry Gonzales at the helm for most of that time.  As with several restaurants in the Land of Enchantment, it straddles the sometimes ambiguous demarcation between New Mexican food and Mexican food and in fact, serves cuisine unique to and shared by both (often the sole distinction being the degree of heat). Some of the very best items on the menu are those with which Chef Gonzales has taken liberties and those he’s essentially invented.

Green Tamale Pie only at Papa Felipe’s

From an experiential perspective, Papa Felipe’s has the look and feel of a Mexican restaurant that belies the New Mexico style stucco exterior. The interior features a combination of whitewash and stucco colored walls with faux adobe half-walls separating the main dining room.  A mural of what appears to be a Mexican village is painted on one wall.  A surprisingly good house stereo system pipes in Mexican standards by the great crooners of yesteryear and today. Seating is comfortable and plush.

A full bar serves a wide variety of domestic and Mexican beers and a selection of house wines as well as what is reputed to be “the meanest margarita in town.”  One of the more popular margaritas is named for New Mexico’s legendary Dixon apple.   Additionally, Papa Felipe’s offers full-service catering, drop-off catering and pick-up services.

PapaFelipe10

Big Papa Breakfast Burrito

The wait staff is prompt with complementary chips and salsa.  The chips are lightly salted and thin.  The salsa, which is sold online internationally, is also lightly salted.  It is a jalapeno-based salsa which according to the Web site is made from “the finest ingredients combined with secret spices.”  It’s not an especially piquant salsa and has a pureed texture like a tomato paste, but it very much tastes like New Mexico.

26 February 2017: One of chef Gonzales’s unique creations, the Botana Crispeante has an “east meets west” feel to it.  The menu describes this appetizer as “spicy beef, chicken or carne adovada filling (or a combination of the three), crisp fried as a chimipiqueño.”  Chimipiqueño appears to be a diminutive version of a chimichanga, a deep-fried burrito.  The Botana Crispeante features of these six bite-sized miniature burritos which might remind you more of miniature egg rolls with unique New Mexico touches.

Chilaquiles Casserole

The Botana Crispeante is served with chile con queso and guacamole, both of which are quite good.  The chile con queso is creamy and delicious, thick enough not to run off your chips but not so gloppy that it breaks the brittle chips.  The guacamole showcases the flavor of fresh avocados seasoned with garlic.  Both complement the deep-fried mini burritos very well.  If for no other reason than their uniqueness, this is an appetizer you should try.  The fact that they’re quite good is a bonus. 

28 July 2013: While several Duke City restaurants serve excellent renditions of caldo de res, the hearty, satisfying beef soup, not as many restaurants offer caldo de albondigas, another Mexican comfort food favorite often referred to as “Mexican soul food.”  Moorish in origin, Caldo de Albondigas was integrated into Spanish culinary tradition when Spanish King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella conquered the region occupied by the Moors.  Albondigas made their way to Mexico with the conquistadores where the dish has flourished into iconic status.  Papa Felipe’s version is a soul-warming and delicious bowl of hearty goodness with a generous number of meatballs swimming in a savory 16-ounce broth with perfectly prepared carrots, celery, onions, tomatoes and squash.  The meatballs are terrific, so good you’ll want a dozen or so.

PapaFelipe11

Mexican Skillet

26 February 2017: As for the green tamale pie which Jane and Michael Stern praised so highly, that praise is well warranted.  Succulent carne adovada is baked in a sweet corn masa with bits of vegetables, green chile and a touch of onion set of with a liberal lacing of melted yellow Cheddar cheese and green chile.  The star is definitely the green chile carne adovada which is as tender as any we’ve had in Albuquerque, but with the pronounced flavor and aroma of green chile.  Your taste buds might be confused at first bite, but they’ll quickly get over it and will enjoy this dish immensely.  It’s a winner–truly one of the best 500 things to eat in America and a contender for my carne adovada “hot list.”

Speaking of “hot lists,” it wasn’t solely Papa Felipe’s carne adovada which the Sterns rated as among America’s best.  The green tamale pie was one of three tamale pies beloved enough by the Sterns to praise effusively in their book.  About the green tamale pie, they wrote, “Green tamale pie at Papa Felipe’s Mexican Restaurant in Albuquerque broadcasts the palmy essence of New Mexico chiles and is well appointed with Papa’s excellent carne adovada.”

Sopaipillas

26 February 2017: Traditionalists who love their carne adovada red can have that, too.  One of the best ways is in Papa Felipe’s Chilaquile Casserole, a brimming bowlful of joy (think Beethoven’s Fifth at every bite).  This entree is layer upon layer of luscious carne adovada (red), melted yellow Cheddar cheese, spicy green peppers, sweet corn, and tostadas smothered in red chile.  The casserole is baked to perfection then topped with even more cheese, chile and garnish.  This entree includes a flour tortilla and a side of guacamole (among the very best in New Mexico).  Only with a fried egg can this dish be improved upon. 

28 July 2013: Although Papa Felipe’s isn’t open for breakfast, it does offer one of the very best–and certainly one of the largest–breakfast burritos in Albuquerque.  The aptly named Big Papa Breakfast Burrito is constructed from a giant flour tortilla engorged with three scrambled eggs, Papa’s potatoes, carne adovada (marinated in your choice of red or green chile) and Cheddar Jack cheese topped with your choice of chile and more Cheddar Jack cheese.  Both the red and green chile are exemplars of New Mexico’s official state vegetable with plenty of piquancy and flavor.  Not every diner will be able to finish this behemoth of a burrito. 

Fiesta Tacos

26 February 2017:  Papa Felipe’s offers three styles of tacos: a traditional crisp fried corn tortilla filled with beef or chicken, the Fiesta Style Taco (two flour tortillas filled with marinated beef strips sautéed with onions, peppers, avocado and tomatoes, garnished with sour cream and pico de gallo) and a Puffy Taco (a large sopaipilla shell filled with chicken that has been marinated with salsa).  The Fiesta Taco will remind you of fajitas which stands to reason the ingredients from which it’s constructed can also be found on fajitas.  The marinated beef strips are of prime steak quality.

28 July 2013: Another entree as good for breakfast as it is for lunch or dinner is the Mexican skillet, a sizzling skillet filled with papitas, carne adovada, and two eggs any style.  The papitas aren’t fried in the style of French fries as so many papitas tend to be.  Try this dish with the green marinated chile carne adovada for a different take on the dish.  This entree is served with one side and a flour tortilla.

Friends of Gil (FOG) enjoy spirited conversation at Papa Felipe’s

In its annual Food & Wine issue for 2012, Albuquerque The Magazine awarded Papa Felipe’s New Mexican Restaurant a Hot Plate Award signifying the selection of its Camarones Victor as one of the “most interesting, special and tasty dishes around.”  Considering the thousands of potential selections, to be singled out is quite an honor. 

In April, 2016, Papa Felipe’s was one of four Duke City restaurants (along with Tia B’s La Waffleria, Laguna Burger and Rebel Donut) featured on the Cooking Channel.  In an episode entitled “Cheap Eats,” host and food blogger Ali Khan had dinner at Papa Felipe’s where he enjoyed a sopaipilla stuffed with carne adovada.  Papa Felipe’s was selected because of its unusual take on New Mexican food.

Papa Felipe’s is one of those rare restaurants which defies paradigms and dares to be different with such inventive entrees as carne adovada made with green chile, entrees which are too good to be on any endangered list. Just in case, make sure you try them before it’s too late.

Papa Felipe’s Mexican Restaurant
9800 Menaul, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 292-8877
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 26 February 2017
# OF VISITS: 7
RATING: 23
COST: $$
BEST BET: Botana Crispeante, Salsa and Chips, Green Tamale Pie, Chilaquile Casserole, Sopaipillas, Caldo de Albondigas, Mexican Skillet, Big Papa Breakfast Burrito, Fiesta Tacos

Papa Felipe's Mexican Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Hello Poké – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Hello Poké in the Far North Shopping Center

Ask most professional restaurant critics where to find the highest rated or best restaurant across the fruited plain (or even in their locality) and they’ll likely steer you in the direction of some highfalutin restaurant serving haute cuisine prepared by (or at least named for) a celebrated chef.  With an exclusive wine cellar showcasing fine aged vintage, these white tableclothed pantheons of gastronomy are altars of excess.  Obtaining a table could mean several months on a waiting list and a meal could set you back the equivalent of two months in groceries. For most of us dining at such establishments is a rare event reserved for special occasions.

The difference between professional restaurant critics and the general dining population is that the latter isn’t necessary impressed by ambiance, cost and exclusivity.  To the “average” Joe and Jane, it’s all about enjoyment and experience.  The venue in which much of the general dining population expresses its likes and dislikes isn’t a newspaper or blog, but a crowd-sourced online presence named Yelp.  In 2014, Yelp’s highest rated restaurant in these United States was a hole-in-the wall takeout eatery with the pedestrian name Da Poké Shack.   Reflective of the “every man and woman” nature of many Yelp posters, the Land of Enchantment’s “best restaurant‘ for 2016 was deemed to be Albuquerque’s Asian Pear.

Where Poké Bowls Are Constructed

The year it was named the country’s highest-rated restaurant, Da Poke Shack’s average Yelp rating was five stars (on a scale of one to five) on roughly 600 customer reviews.  That’s a flawless Bo Derek rating with nary a disparaging word uttered.  Sure poke is one of the most popular foods in Hawaii, but Yelp analysis actually determined most reviews were posted by tourists–ostensibly some of them from mainland locales in which poké is not to be found.  Fortunately, Albuquerque is not such a place.  In Poki Poki Cevicheria, the Duke City has had a poke restaurant since May, 2016 and it’s one of Yelp’s highest rated Albuquerque restaurants with an average rating of 4.5 on 95 reviews as of this writing.

If you haven’t had poké (always pronounced po-kay), you’re in for a treat.  Poké refers to a “chunked” marinated or seasoned raw fish dish that’s been served primarily as an appetizer in Hawaii for centuries. In fact, the Hawaiian term “poké” simply means to “chunk” or to “cut crosswise into pieces,” both aptly descriptive terms for the salad-like preparation of seafood that has been cut into small chunks and marinated. Largely influenced by Asian flavors and ingredients, poké can be–and is–made with almost any type of seafood and topped with a vast array of garnishes and sauces. As with sushi, the chef’s imagination often determines the composition and diversity of poke.

Make Your Own Poke Bowl with Virtually Everything

Although it may seem the Duke City is slow to embrace culinary trends that have captured seemingly every other major metropolitan market, once we catch onto something, we embrace it enthusiastically.  February, 2017 saw the launch of Albuquerque’s second poke restaurant when Hello Poke opened for business in the Far North Shopping Center complex which hosts the transcendent gourmet Chinese restaurant Budai as well as Aura, a European-Middle Eastern eatery.  Very shortly thereafter, Poki Poki will open its second location, this one on Wyoming.  Unlike recent culinary trends such as kelp, quinoa and cronuts, poké appears to have staying power.  Attribute some of that to its healthful qualities, but the truth is, poké is absolutely, addictively delicious.

Hello Poké was initially slated to debut as Aloha Poké, but that name was trademarked by Chicago-based restaurant.  By any name, this is a restaurant you should add to your “must try” list, especially if you haven’t previously tried poké.  Hello Poké manager Maron Mangan told us he’s been surprised at how large a Hawaiian population Albuquerque has and he’s thrilled at how well the restaurant has been received by both poké veterans and novitiates.   In the short time we visited, at least a dozen guests placed take-out orders, all customized to taste and preference.

Less “Busy” Poké Bowl

Customization is largely what Hello Poké is all about.  It’s also not “sushi in a bowl” nor is it a donburi bowl.  Essentially guests are at liberty to be creative, first by selecting a base for their poké–either brown rice, white rice or organic mixed greens then by topping it with such proteins as tuna, salmon, albacore, shrimp, scallops, spicy tuna, spicy salmon, tofu (non GMO) and marinated tuna.  Last to be added are sauces (house, house spicy, sweet Ponzu, Yuzu Miso or a gluten-free house) and toppings (crab meat, avocado, masago, green onion, seaweed salad, cucumber, pickled ginger, onion, edamame, jalapeño, roasted seaweed, wasabi, furikake, sesame seeds, spicy mayo, eel sauce and sriracha). The “house” fish is cubed yellowtail that’s been marinated for 12-24 hours in a blend of sesame seeds, onions and a salted seaweed.

My advice is “go wild.” My own make-your-own bowl had virtually everything that could fit on the bowl highlighted by the house yellowtail, spicy tuna and spicy salmon ameliorated by fiery complements such as jalapeño, wasabi, spicy mayo and sriracha.  Because my bowl was absolutely brimming with content, it became difficult to mix all the ingredients with the rice.  Consequently, the last third of my bowl would have been a bit on the dry sauce had Maron not suggested more spicy mayo and sweet Ponzu.  Good call.  My poké was a wholly satisfying, absolutely delicious dish to be repeated soon and often. 

My Kim’s poké bowl was somewhat “less adventurous” and certainly more focused.  Her choice of proteins was spicy tuna, shrimp and krab (imitation crab) on organic mixed greens with just a few toppings and no incendiary sauces.  Only one thing could have improved her poké experience–noodles instead of rice and mixed greens.  She suggested as such to Maron who promised to explore the possibility.  Maron, by the way, previously served as sous chef at La Crepe Michel, but he would not acquiesce to serving nutella and banana crepes with the poké.

With only three weeks having elapsed since its launch, there are only five Yelp reviews on Hello Poké, but all five Yelpers accorded five-star ratings to what promises to be another well-received poké restaurant.  It may not garner Yelps best restaurant in the country honors, but it may just contend for best in the city.  

Hello Poké
6300 San Mateo, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 508-5653
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 25 February 2017
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Make Your Own Poke Bowl

Hello Poke Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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