Golden Crown Panaderia – Albuquerque, New Mexico

The Golden Crown Panaderia, one of Albuquerque’s premier dining destinations

Although we pride ourselves on keeping a pulse on the local dining scene, it took a nationally syndicated Food Network cable program called Food Finds to introduce us in 2003 to the Golden Crown Panaderia, an Albuquerque fixture for nearly three decades.  In an episode entitled Viewer’s Choice filmed entirely in New Mexico, hostess Sandra Pinckney visited several small-town shops, mom-and-pop stores and local vendors that pride themselves in creating specialty foods the old-fashioned way.

The Golden Crown Panaderia is an exemplar of dichotomy, a highly successful operation in which old-fashioned meets state-of-the-art and father and son proprietors rely on both technology and tradition to create one of New Mexico’s most unique and beloved dining experiences.   The Panaderia crafts its magnum opuses on equipment that is positively ancient by modern automation standards, but it uses avant-garde technology to grow the herbs and vegetables for its salads, sandwiches and pizzas.

View from the Patio

Old-fashioned might also describe the relationship between senior proprietor Pratt Morales and his son Chris.  It’s an old-fashioned father and son relationship in the tradition of Andy and Opie. On Food Finds, Pratt recounted having helped deliver his son, calling it the beginning of a life-long love affair.  Pratt also demonstrated his unique craft–bread sculpting. He can literally prepare bread in any shape and form as chronicled in a photo album replete with pictures of the artistic bread creations. Although the Food Network made larger than life celebrities out of father and son, they are both as friendly and accommodating as possible.

I probably wouldn’t be writing about Golden Crown, however, if the end product wasn’t good. Make that outstanding! Make that “the very best bakery in Albuquerque” outstanding!”  Situated in a ramshackle old building just outside Old Town, it’s far enough off the beaten path as to be relatively inconspicuous.  Inconspicuous, however, doesn’t mean diners aren’t finding it.  This humble Panaderia has been consistently ranked by TripAdvisor, the world’s largest travel community, as one of the top five out of 1,235 restaurants in the Duke City.   Golden Crown receives similar praise from Yelp while Lonely Planet, a French publication calls Golden Crown “Albuquerque’s best place to eat.”

A rare sight–no queue

The Panaderia’s crown jewel (no pun intended) is the original New Mexico green chile bread on which is sculpted a Santa Fe style coyote baying at the moon. Aside from green chile, this staff of life is fashioned with onions, fresh tomatoes, Parmesan cheese and cilantro.  The bread is baked slowly to seal in the flavor and aroma of all the fresh ingredients.  Toast it with butter and (if you can get it) New Mexican chokecherry jelly and you’ve got a mouth-watering breakfast.

All artisan breads are baked fresh daily and are out of the oven at regular intervals between 10:30AM and 2PM.  There may be no more pleasing bouquet in the Duke City than the aroma of fresh bread baking in one of the Golden Crown’s ovens: honey whole wheat, cinnamon raisin honey whole wheat, cinnamon pecan honey whole wheat, Appaloosa bread (a dark and light swirled rye), black rye and even seven-grain bread.  They’re all great!

One of the most beautiful pastry cases in New Mexico

The Appaloosa bread is edible artwork.  Swirling patterns of visually appealing dark brown pumpernickel ornament the bread like a beautiful Rorschach ink blot.  This is a full-bodied bread, the type of which makes outstanding delicatessen style sandwiches thickly smeared with a fine mustard or with sauerkraut piled on generously.  It’s also excellent toasted which enhances the vibrancy and flavors of the bread.

Also beyond reproach are the biscochitos, New Mexico’s official state cookie which is mildly sweet with a light taste of anise and a hint of cinnamon. These orb-shaped treats are melt-in-your-mouth delicious!  The minute you step into the bakery, a complementary biscochito is handed to “children of all ages,” a gift from the bakery gods.  You’ll probably leave with a dozen or more biscochitos courtesy of that warm cookie welcome.

Blueberry Empanada and the World’s Greatest Coffee Shake

You might think it heretical, but the Moraleses also feature a chocolate biscochito made from a strong, slightly bitter dark chocolate and sprinkled liberally with anise.  If you like your chocolate dark, you certainly won’t care that New Mexico’s official state cookie has been altered such. A more recent addition to the biscochito family is a unique cappuccino biscochito. It’s like dunking a biscochito into strong coffee.  Abuelitas everywhere (or at least in New Mexico) marvel at the fact that Golden Crown even bakes biscochitos from blue corn flour. 

How good are the Golden Crown’s biscochitos? The October, 2005 edition of Gourmet magazine indicated the Golden Crown’s handmade version of biscochitos “make a delightful holiday accompaniment to red or white wine.” Wine, by the way, is how biscochitos were originally served in Spain. With or without wine, biscochitos are an absolute treat in which New Mexicans delight.  The Golden Crown’s biscochitos were also celebrated in the July-August edition of National Geographic Traveler magazine.  An article entitled “five American desserts worth the trip” describes them as “fragrant, infused with anise, this flaky shortbread coated with cinnamon.”  A more succinct way to describe them is absolutely wonderful!

Combination Pizza on Green Chile Bread Crust

Another pastry favorite are the flautas (flutes). No, not the corn tortillas rolled around a filling of shredded chicken or beef then fried until crisp. These flautas are filled with glorious lemon or apricot filling and dusted with white powdered sugar. Not too sweet and not too tart, they are absolutely delicious.  The Golden Crown’s empanadas are nonpareil, absolutely the very best in New Mexico–whether pumpkin, sweet potato, apple, blueberry, strawberry, apricot, lemon or raspberry.  The crust is reminiscent of the biscochitos in both texture and flavor. 

The menu purports to offer the “creamiest latte in town,” its creaminess attributed to”the freshest milk in town–straight from the cow.”  Espresso, latte and mocha coffee drinks are all available if indeed you wish to dunk your biscochito into excellent coffee.  The coffee-flavored milk shake also has the flavor of strong coffee (courtesy of two shots of espresso) without the cloying flavor of coffee that’s been over-sweetened.  It’s an adult coffee shake and it’s served cold thanks to nearly a full pound of vanilla ice cream out of the freezer.  This is my very favorite shake in Albuquerque and the very best coffee-flavored shake I’ve ever had anywhere.  Obviously, both the proprietors and legions of fans agree with me as this shake has earned the designation of “the world’s greatest coffee shake.”  That’s how it’s listed on the menu.

Make Your Own Pizza: Sausage, Canadian Bacon, Extra Cheese on Peasant Bread Crust

The Morales family goal is to serve products which are delicious, nutritious and beautiful. In keeping with that lofty aspiration, Pratt has figured out how to bake breads that are free of trans-fats, oils and fat without losing absolutely nothing taste-wise.  Still, it’s the artistic nature of his bread sculpture that continues to induce awe among visitors, including Guy Fieri who visited the Golden Crown Panaderia for a 2013 airing of an episode titled “All kinds of Gobble, Gobble” celebrating restaurants who specialize in Thanksgiving offerings.  Pratt Morales demonstrated his technique for sculpting a bread turkey.

By popular demand, the Golden Crown Panaderia also serves bakery-style pizza that starts with your choice of three innovative crusts: blue corn dough, peasant dough or the famous New Mexico green chile dough.  Doesn’t it stand to reason that no one knows bread (or pizza) crust as well as a baker?  While Albuquerque The Magazine‘s staff didn’t give this pizza enough love to place it among their top five pizzas in their annual Food & Wine issue for 2010, it was rated the best pizza along Route 66 by a Roadfood crew rating the “best of the best” from among the dozens of restaurants they sampled in a 5,250-mile excursion along the route.  The pizza which captured the Roadfood crew’s affection was a green chile and roasted chicken pizza on a blue corn crust.  Golden Crown’s pizza is among my top three in Albuquerque and top five in New Mexico.

Roast Beef Sandwich with Chips and Queso

24 July 2016: This hand-tossed, thin-crust pizza features a housemade pizza sauce, mozzarella and your choice of ingredients in sizes ranging from personal to extra large (30% larger than the regular large). Gourmet toppings include anchovies, oven roasted chicken, artichoke and more.  Each pizza is baked to order in about fifteen minutes baking time per pizza.  Each pizza comes with a biscochito, an amuse bouche you don’t often see.  The personal-sized combination pizza (tasty pepperoni, hearty Italian sausage, black olives, crisp bell  peppers, red onions and mozzarella) is my favorite, an artisan-style pie that isn’t nearly as circular as what you might find at a chain, nor is the crusty rim of equal thickness throughout the circumference of the pie.  Not that it matters much because every morsel of the pie is an adventure in deliciousness.  At eight-inches, the personal-sized pizza is probably right-sized, but it’s so delicious you’ll want a larger sized pie to sate your pizza cravings.

The ingredients are of the highest quality and are absolutely terrific, but it’s the crust that will absolutely blow you away.  If you love your pizza crust imbued with the memory-inducing, olfactory arousing aroma of fresh bread just out of the oven, this is the pizza for you.  You won’t be leaving behind any of the crust from around the rim, nor will you be sharing it with the annoying pigeons scavenging around the outdoor seating areas waiting for a hand-out.  When it comes to olfactory arousing, the green chile crust is absolutely for you with just enough piquancy to get your attention, but moreover, the bouquet of roasted green chile.  The green chile crust includes some 18 ingredients while more than 20 ingredients go into both the blue corn and peasant crusts.

Blueberry, Cherry and Lemon Empanadas with Biscochitos

24 July 2016:  The housemade sauce is slathered on thickly and is quite good, a perfectly seasoned tomato sauce that complements other ingredients well.  The Italian sausage is not that benign sausage which tastes like so much hamburger meat; it’s sausage with a bit of attitude and a pronounced smokiness.  The pepperoni is nicely spiced; several thinly-sliced orbs generously applied throughout the pie.  The black olives and green peppers are fresh and delicious and the mozzarella is creamy and chewy.  My Kim’s favorite pizza is a make-your-own topped with sausage, Canadian bacon and extra cheese on a peasant crust.  It’s an outstanding pizza!

A sandwich board features six sandwiches built on the panaderia’s fresh-baked bread and uses only high quality meats, cheeses and fresh vegetables. Your sandwich can be built on sliced bread (including the fabled green chile bread) or sub sandwich bread.

Turkey sandwich adorned with fresh from the garden lettuce, tomatoes and more

in the November, 2010 edition of New Mexico Magazine I was asked to write an article showcasing the use of turkey for breakfast, lunch and dinner in  three Albuquerque restaurants.  My featured lunch selection was Golden Crown’s Turkey & Swiss sandwich (served with mayonnaise, Italian dressing, deli mustard, onions, tomatoes, lettuce and a kosher pickle).  It is an outstanding sandwich–and thankfully NOT named the “Albuquerque Turkey” as so many turkey sandwiches (particularly those offered by chains) seem to be.  Crafted on the Panaderia’s fabulous bread and adorned with vegetables grown on the premises on a hydroponic (a method of growing plants in water using mineral nutrient solutions with no soil) garden, the sandwich is accompanied by a biscochito and chips.

I also had the opportunity to introduce the world to Golden Crown in an article entitled “America’s Best Food Regions” published on the May, 2011 edition of Frommer’s Budget Travel Magazine. Along with bloggers from other storied American food regions, I was given 500 words to explain why New Mexico’s “Chile Country” reigns supreme over other culinary regions. Naturally the Golden Crown was one of six purveyors of America’s most incendiary regional cuisine I wrote about.

Ham and Swiss toasted with avocado on the famous New Mexico Green Chile bread

Ham and Swiss toasted with avocado on the famous New Mexico Green Chile bread

It’s no surprise this humble bakery was also featured in the Unique Boutique section of the November, 2005 edition of New Mexico Magazine. In May, 2007, the magazine published a lengthier article profiling Pratt and his passion for baking. It’s no longer a surprise when the Golden Crown Panaderia receives national accolades….such as a designation as the “best place for a book stop” from Southwest Airlines’ Spirit magazine. The magazine extolled the green chile bread and urged readers to “buy a loaf and snack away during an extended session.”

The Golden Crown Panaderia leaves no stone unturned in providing the highest possible in quality products and produce. In 2010, the Morales family began cultivating its own herbs and vegetables for use on its salads, sandwiches and pizzas. In a temperature controlled indoor environment, utilize state-of-the-art aquaponic techniques to grow several varieties of lettuce as well as fresh basil which resonates with flavor on pizza. The garden is somewhat of an anomaly in that so much of the equipment throughout the bakery is an anachronism, veritable antiques which function under the master bakers to create culinary masterpieces.

Chris Morales proudly shows off the Golden Crown’s herb and vegetable garden from which they craft fresh salads.

Before the advent of propane-powered chile roasters, New Mexicans either roasted chile themselves or they took it to their favorite baker.  With advance arrangements, the Moraleses will still provide this service for loyal customers.  Under the skillful hands of the Duke City’s very best bakers, the chile is roasted far more evenly than it is on a gigantic rotating drum–and without the abuse to which the chile is subjected in the tumbling process.

At 81 years young (as of this writing on July 24, 2016), Pratt Morales still has the energy of a man half his age.  He bikes distances that would tire out people generations younger if they drove those distances.  His youthful exuberance and energy are resultant from having a passion for what he does.  He loves being a baker so much that he often wakes up at three in the morning and walks to work so he can get started on his next sculpting project or bread innovation.  We should all love our jobs as much as he does.

My friends and frequent dining companions Sr. Plata, Bill Resnik and Paul Lilly with Pratt Morales, a baker’s baker.

The Golden Crown Panaderia is a rarity–a bakery-slash-restaurant that does both well.  Pratt and Chris Morales have made this panaderia an Albuquerque institution and in the process, have become part of the fabric of the Duke City’s unique cuisine culture themselves.

Golden Crown Panaderia
1103 Mountain Road, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
505-243-2424
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 24 July 2016
# OF VISITS: 13
RATING: 24
COST: $$
BEST BET: Green Chile Bread, Tres Leche Cake, Biscochitos (Traditional, Chocolate and Cappuccino), Specialty Pizza, Turkey & Swiss Sandwich, Combination Pizza, Blueberry Empanada, Cherry Empanada, Lemon Empanada, Roast Beef Sandwich

Golden Crown Panaderia Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

IKrave Cafe – Albuquerque, New Mexico

iKrave Cafe for Albuquerque’s very best Vietnamese Sandwiches

Please say it isn’t so!  According to Nations Restaurant News, a highly respected trade publication “a new crop of restaurant chain entrepreneurs” believes “American diners will soon embrace the Vietnamese bánh mì sandwich as the next burrito or taco.”  The notion of corporate chain megaliths setting their sights on the humble banh mi should send shudders down the spine of everyone who frequents the mom-and-pop nature of the banh mi restaurants we’ve come to know and love. Imagine a phalanx of Subway-like sandwich shops creating and selling banh mi. The notion isn’t as far-fetched as you might think.

One of the first chains vying to expand the presence of banh mi in the mainstream is Chipotle whose Asian-themed offshoot “ShopHouse Southeast Asian Kitchen” features banh mi as the menu’s cornerstone. If Chipotle does for the banh mi what it did for burritos and what Olive Garden did for Italian food, there will be generations of American diners who may never experience the real thing–an authentic banh mi prepared in the traditional manner by Vietnamese weaned on banh mi. Worse, slick Madison Avenue advertisers might convince them they prefer the faux food.

iKrave’s energetic, customer oriented owner Hien

It’s a small consolation that it will probably take a while before the heavily bankrolled chain interlopers reach Albuquerque (think about how long it took before Chipotle invaded).  That gives the Duke City’s  three established independent purveyors of peerless banh mi the opportunity to win over even more converts.  It should take only one visit!

Until just a few years ago, you had to visit larger cosmopolitan areas such as San Francisco to find banh mi.  Eventually such banh mi pioneers as May Café, May Hong and Cafe Dalat, all full-service Vietnamese restaurants, began offering “Vietnamese Sandwiches” on their appetizer menus.  Before long, almost every other Vietnamese restaurant in the Duke City followed suit.  In 2010, Banh Mi Coda became the Duke City’s first full-fledged banh mi shop.  It took three more years before Sai Gon Sandwich launched, becoming the second restaurant in Albuquerque dedicated solely to banh mi.

#4 Grilled Pork Banh Mi

The third banh mi restaurant–the one about which you may not yet have heard–is called iKrave.  The name means exactly what it sounds it should mean as in “I crave” banh mi. iKrave opened its doors in August, 2014. Being ensconced in a rather nondescript strip mall on Juan Tabo (just north of Constitution) and without a prominent eye-catching storefront, much of its business has come from the Vietnamese community and nearby residents. You wouldn’t blame them if they wanted to keep secret what is one of New Mexico’s best sandwich shops of any genre. Indeed, much of the restaurant’s traffic comes from word-of-mouth. That’s truly the best advertising you can get.

iKrave exemplifies the axioms “big things come in small packages” and “small place, huge flavors.” This Lilliputian lair has room for only a couple of small tables, a free-standing beverage refrigerator and a bamboo counter where you place your order. The man behind the counter is owner-chef Hien who not only constructs the banh mi (it’s a thing of beauty), he cures, marinades, cuts and otherwise imparts preternatural deliciousness on all the meats which grace the banh me he serves. He also slices, dices and juliennes all the fresh vegetables adorning each banh mi.

Grilled Chicken Banh Mi

To say the banh mi is a sacrosanct sandwich is an understatement. So is calling it merely delicious or utterly wonderful. During a 2009 visit to Vietnam for his award-winning “No Reservations” show, Anthony Bourdain described banh mi as “a symphony in a sandwich.” It’s an apt description for the effect this superb sandwich has on your taste buds. You can almost picture all ten-thousand taste buds dancing, enrapt in the melodious harmony of flavors

Bourdain elaborated further: “The baguette alone is something of a miracle. How do they stay so crunchy, crisp and fresh on the outside, so airy, so perfect on the inside?” In truth, this statement is much more applicable to the baguettes in Vietnam than the bread used by banh mi purveyors throughout the Duke City. Hien procures his baguettes from a local baker whose classic preparation techniques are very close to those used in Vietnam. Unlike American sandwiches whose bread can lull taste buds to sleep, Vietnamese baguettes are really the vessel that coalesces all the flavors of the banh mi.

#1 Special Combination Banh Mi

With your first bite, you’ll notice the difference and with each subsequent bite, your appreciation will grow for this delicious duality of light and airy, crisp and soft, fresh and flavorful bread. It’s the perfect canvass for any one of the eight sandwiches on the iKrave banh mi menu.  Before he creates your sandwich, Hien brushes the baguette with a rather expensive French butter then heats it.  It’s one of several touches he employs to ensure the most moist and meticulously crafted banh mi in town.  It’s sandwich artistry at its finest and most delicious.

16 April 2015: Combination #1 is the mother lode, the bahn mi with the most. It’s an unheated sandwich (the Vietnamese version of a “cold cut” sandwich, but infinitely better) constructed with barbecue pork, pork roll and cured pork pate along with the classic banh mi condiments: Vietnamese mayo (cut with butter for moistness and nuttiness), fresh herbs (cilantro, scallions), pickled (julienne daikon and carrots) and unpickled vegetables (jalapeños).  Note: For the fire-eaters among you, ask Hien to replace the jalapeños with Thai bird peppers which are far more incendiary and delicious.   The sandwich is further moistened by sauce Hien uses on the barbecue pork.  Every element in this sandwich is as fresh and delicious as it can be. Together they coalesce to create my very favorite banh mi in New Mexico.

Grilled Chicken and Pork Banh Mi

23 July 2016: if your preference is for a heated sandwich, iKrave has several wonderful options.  Savvy diners who frequent Vietnamese restaurants are familiar with grilled pork, porcine perfection marinated with the sweet spices of anise and cinnamon to create an olfactory treasure that dances on your taste buds.  Imagine a banh mi created with this incomparably delicious pork.  It’s better than your imagination.  So is the grilled chicken banh mi.  If you can’t make up your mind between grilled pork and grilled chicken, the ever-accommodating Hien will build a combination grilled pork and chicken banh mi for you.  It’s my new favorite among the grilled banh mi.

16 April 2015: You’ll want to wash down your banh mi with sugar cane juice made on the premises by Hien himself.  Take a gander at the beverage refrigerator where you’ll see bundles of sugar cane stalks from which Hien extracts the juice.  Organic Lifestyle Magazine lists sugar cane juice  (which has a relatively low glycemic index of 43), as a healthy alternative to table sugar when used in moderation. It contains fructose and glucose, which, unlike sucrose-based sugars, do not require insulin for metabolism.  Moreover, it’s absolutely delicious! Alternatively, iKrave serves what Hien believes to be some of the strongest iced coffee in town.  It’s excellent!  

Sugar Cane Juice

One of the most  common, albeit more than a little bit Americanized, nicknames for Vietnam is “Nam,” obviously a diminutive of its full name.  In honor of the banh mi, perhaps its nickname should be “num num.”  iKrave is home to banh mi which will have you uttering “num num” and more.

iKrave Cafe
1331 Juan Tabo Blvd, N.E., Suite 1P
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 275-6625
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 19 April 2015
1st VISIT: 16 April 2015
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 23
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Special Combination Banh Mi, Sugar Cane Juice, Coconut Macaroons, Grilled Pork Banh Mi, Grilled Chicken Banh Mi

Ikrave Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Cervantes Restaurant & Lounge – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Cervantes Restaurant & Lounge on San Pedro and Gibson

In 1706, a group of Spanish colonists were granted permission by King Philip of Spain to establish a new villa on the banks and in the valley of the Rio del Norte. The colonists chose a spot “in a place of good fields, waters, pastures, and timber, distant from the villa of Santa Fe about twenty-two leagues.”  They named the new settlement La Villa de Alburquerque in honor of the Viceroy of New Spain, Fernandez de la Cueva, Duque de Alburquerque.”  A portrait of el Duque de Alburquerque hangs prominently just above the mantle at Cervantes Restaurant & Lounge in the southeast quadrant of the city named for him.  Though there is a lot to see throughout the restaurant, the portrait of El Duque is the cynosure to which all eyes are inevitably drawn, a commanding presence with a quiet air of dignity and regal bearing.

One wonders what El Duque de Alburquerque would think of the city bearing his name and of the lively cuisine that prompted Livability.com to name that city one of America’s “10 most surprisingly vibrant cities for foodies to flex their taste buds” and for the Huffington Post to declare it “one of the ten best cities for local food.”  El Duque would certainly marvel at the profligate portions served at every meal and of the rotundity of many who partake of those portions.”  An aristocrat renown for the luxury and magnificence of his administration, El Duque would probably take great self-aggrandizing pleasure at the portrait hanging at Cervantes, but it’s likely the food would cause him severe gastronomic distress.  He would certainly not be used to the richness and piquancy of the ingredients and might wonder what manner of alchemy is searing his tongue and saturating his brow.

Cervantes Dining Room

Note:  It was during my initial visit to Cervantes in 1979 that I was told the portrait hanging over the mantle depicted El Duque de Albuquerque.  During my most recent visit in July, 2016, our server related that no one really knows whose countenance hangs on the wall.  She joked that it could be a portrait of “just about anybody.”  Whether you choose to believe that distinguished gentleman who’s presided over every meal at Cervantes is El Duque or just some noble looking dude won’t add to or take away from how much you’ll enjoy a meal at this legendary eatery.

Although Cervantes Restaurant and Lounge is hardly contemporaneous with El Duque de Alburquerque, it is one of the city’s venerable dining institutions.  Hundreds of Albuquerque restaurants have come and gone in the three and a half decades since Roberta Finley launched her restaurant in 1976.  Still, this Kirtland Air Force Base area institution continues to thrive against increasingly formidable competition, outlasting many of the anointed “flavor of the day” restaurants which burn hot at the start, but fizzle out over time.

Salsa and Chips

There are many reasons Cervantes has not fizzled out like so many of its competitors and one of them is because it still burns red hot—literally.  In the early 80s, Cervantes was where to go if you needed a chile fix, the hotter the better.  The chile was incendiary, but addictively so.  While stationed at Kirtland, we used to take the dreaded Inspector General team to Cervantes so we could watch them sweat in much the same way they probably delighted in watching us sweat their white-glove inspections of our mission readiness.

Today Cervantes’ chile isn’t nearly as piquant as the chile burned into my memory engrams (not to mention my taste buds and tongue), but it seems to be much more flavorable—especially the red chile.  For the non-fire-eaters among us, the incendiary heat of that chile may have detracted from the flavor appreciation that just isn’t possible when your mouth is burning.  For those of us with asbestos-lined tongues, eating that chile was a rite of passage, a demonstration of our manliness (being the more mature gender, women need no such affirmation).  In any case, the red chile at Cervantes remains very good.  It’s very healthy, too.  In keeping with today’s healthier lifestyles it is made with less sodium, fewer calories and no fat or cholesterol while retaining the richness of traditional flavors.  Cervantes food products contain no artificial preservatives, chemical additives, fillers or animal products.

Con Queso

Cervantes Food Products has become synonymous with the restaurant.  The Food Products Division was born from the family’s commitment to preserving heirloom family recipes, many of which are more than a century old.  Heart-healthy gift baskets for all occasions are available through the Cervantes Web site.  They’re especially popular with expatriated New Mexicans craving a chile fix.  Several Cervantes products have earned a multitude of Scovie awards over the years.  Named for Wilbur Scoville who pioneered the rating scale for piquancy, the Scovie award was created by Albuquerque resident Dave DeWitt, founder and co-publisher of Fiery-Foods & BBQ magazine.  Every year as many as 800 products from around the world compete for these coveted honors.

Cervantes remains, at heart, a much loved restaurant that has served three generations of loyal patrons.  Active duty and retired Air Force personnel and the civilian workforce from nearby Kirtland are especially loyal, constituting a significant percentage of the restaurant’s daily visitors.  No doubt they still bring the dreaded Inspector General for a meal or two, perhaps no longer to make them sweat from the piquancy of the chile, but to soothe the savage breast with New Mexican food with charms to do so.

Ground Beef Enchiladas Christmas Style with an Over Easy Egg

The dining room at Cervantes is in two levels with a lower center section flanked on both sides by seating for lesser numbers.  Tables in the lower center section accommodate larger parties.  The ambience is a sort of Spanish Gothic meets Mexican traditional.  Chandeliers suspended from the ceiling provide low-light comfort that just seems appropriate considering the dark woods and especially the crossed Spanish swords and shields festooning the walls on either side of the fireplace where el Duque de Alburquerque appears to look over the restaurant.  Colorful Mexican blankets are strewn about judiciously.

A basket of chips and a bowl of salsa are presented with your menu.  The first round is complementary, the second (and likely third and forth) will cost you a pittance.  The chips are unsalted, but large and crisp, perfect for Gil-size scoops of salsa.  The salsa is gloriously red, constructed of fresh ingredients (garlic, tomatoes, onion and I believe both jalapeno and green chile).  It is of medium piquancy with just enough bite to get your attention.

Carne Adovada

The menu includes many traditional New Mexican food favorites: enchiladas, chile rellenos, tacos, carne adovada, stuffed sopaipillas, burritos, taco salad and more.  House specialties include bowls of red or green chile with two flour tortillas and butter, posole, a New York cut steak and a unique Cervantes twist on the traditional New Mexico green chile cheeseburger.  This burger is crafted with a three-quarter pound of lean ground sirloin served open-faced on your choice of tortilla, French bread or a sopaipilla.  It’s quite good.

17 July 2016: Marinated overnight then slow-cooked until so tender it’s falling apart, Cervantes’ carne adovada is among the very best in Albuquerque, melding the exquisite flavors of New Mexican red chile, oregano and garlic with pork.  Unlike some restaurants, Cervantes doesn’t adulterate their carne adovada with cumin or an excess of Mexican oregano which can make the dish acerbic.  Instead, the marinade accentuates the marriage of pork and chile, imparting flavors that warrant reverence.  My Kim enjoys the carne adovada with a fried egg over easy on top.  A runny yoke atop the crimson carne may sound heretical, but the resultant flavors are quite good.

Ala Carte Tamal

Huevos Rancheros with Carne Adovada is a popular way for your taste buds to pay proper homage to Cervantes’ carne adovada.  This plate includes two eggs any style, beans and rice on a flour or corn tortilla.  The beans are excellent, refried with melted white Cheddar atop.  The Spanish rice is moist and delicious with bits of green pepper which enliven the rice.  It’s the carne adovada which stands out.  Unfortunately there isn’t much of it–enough to make you crave more of it, but not enough to sate your immediate need for its delicious qualities.

17 July 2016: Another long-time Cervantes favorite is the enchilada plate, a plate of New Mexico enchantment comprised of your choice of two or three rolled enchiladas–two stuffed with cheese and one with ground beef.  You can also have them stuffed with carne adovada or chicken.  The enchiladas are great with both green and red chile and with a fried egg on top, but for my money, the red chile accentuates the other ingredients best.  As with other plates, the enchiladas are served with refried beans and Spanish rice.  Skip the Spanish rice and ask for two portions of the beans.  They’re among the best in town.

Sopaipillas

The sopaipillas are a true contender for “best in the city” honors.  These are puffy pillows of fried dough without any of the greasiness sopaipillas tend to have.  Cervantes also uses real honey (local) instead of that honey-flavored syrup some restaurants serve.  Don’t save them for dessert; polish them off as soon as they arrive at your table when they’re hot and steam wafts upwards as you pull them apart to form a pocket for the honey. 

17 July 2016: Even after polishing off the sopaipillas with honey, do yourself a favor and order either natillas or flan for dessert.  The natillas are exemplars of what natillas should be–a creamy custard made with milk, eggs, sugar, vanilla and cinnamon.  Ask for lots of cinnamon, an ameliorant which imbues the natillas with a fragrant bouquet you’ll enjoy as you’re spooning up the light, delicate (never lumpy at Cervantes) natillas.

Natillas

Cervantes Restaurant and Lounge is somewhat off the beaten path for diners who live outside the city’s Southeast quadrant, but thousands of loyal local patrons find their way to this popular  favorite for New Mexican food the way it’s been made for generations.  It’s one of the very best, most traditional New Mexican restaurants in the city of El Duque de Alburquerque.

Cervantes Restaurant & Lounge
5801 San Pedro, S.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 262-2253
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 17 July 2016
# OF VISITS: 7
RATING: 22
COST: $$
BEST BET: Sopaipillas, Enchiladas, Carne Adovada, Salsa and Chips, Natillas, Con Queso

Cervantes Restaurant & Lounge Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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