Petra Restaurant & Times Square Deli Mart – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Petra Restaurant and Times Square Deli Mart in Albuquerque

As the clock approaches midnight every year on December 31st, the eyes of the world are focused on a single geodesic sphere some twelve-feet in diameter and weighing nearly six tons.  Covered with nearly 3,000 Waterford Crystal triangles, that sphere descends slowly down a flagpole at precisely twelve o’clock, signaling the transition to a new year.  The event is witnessed by more than a billion people across the world, including more than one million who crowd the area to bid a collective adieu to the year just completed and to express hope and joy for the upcoming year.  This event takes place in Midtown Manhattan’s fabled Times Square, oft called the “crossroads of the world.” 

Contrast the bustling energy and modernity of Time Square with the sedate tranquility of the ancient city of Petra in the Middle Eastern nation of Jordan. Inhabited from 312 BC through the 1980s, Petra, a vast, unique city, carved into sheer red rock face, is most often spoken of in historical terms and indeed, much history has transpired in Petra. Petra served as a center of trade between Arabia, Mesopotamia, Egypt and the eastern Mediterranean though today it is more often recognized for its cameo role in major movie productions such as Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen than for being a United Nations World Heritage Site.

The capacious dining room

You might not know it, but in Suite C on the southwest intersection of Central Avenue and Yale Boulevard in Albuquerque, Times Square converges with Petra. No, not in the fashion of some bizarre inter-dimensional Twilight Zone or X-Files plot twist. This convergence is in the merger of restaurant concepts. The Times Square Deli Mart, a combination deli and convenience store which has operated in Albuquerque since 2007, was acquired by a delightful Palestinian family who added a Middle Eastern menu to an already bustling deli and sandwich menu. The deli portion of the complex is on the northwest corner of the capacious store, but the aroma emanating from that corner permeates its every square inch…and it’s a great aroma, the melding of spices, meats and cheeses. It’s an aroma familiar to anyone who’s lived on the east coast. It’s the aroma of a New York City deli.

Step through the front door and you’ll cast a quick glance at aisles of convenience goods, refrigerators stocked with assorted libations and behind a long counter, racks of cigarettes, but with the draw of a siren’s sweet song, you’ll be lured toward the deli area where the aforementioned meats and cheeses are lined up behind a deli case. Above the deli case is a menu listing sandwiches constructed from those meats and cheeses. It’s a carnivore and turophile paradise. Alas, during our inaugural visit since the ownership transition, my friend Bruce “Sr. Plata” Silver and I were easy prey for an enthusiastic counterman hawking the daily special, a gyros sandwich served with a side salad and fries (at a ridiculously low price).

Gyros with French Fries and Salad

Nestled within the cozy confines of a warm pita bread are slices of the lamb-beef amalgam shaved thinly from a cone-shaped spit and served with lettuce, tomatoes and tzatziki sauce. Though better gyros can be found a couple of blocks away at Gyros Mediterranean, for the daily special price, this was a filling and mostly satisfying sandwich. Rather than more meat, however, our preference would have been for meat with more juiciness (meat on a spit should practically be sweating moistness). If the accompanying salad (lettuce, tomatoes, feta cheese, pepperoncini) has any dressing, it’s applied so lightly that we couldn’t discern it. Fortunately a generous sprinkling of feta and the squeeze of two pepperoncini onto the salad made up for no or weak dressing. The fries are strictly out-of-a-bag quality.

The same smooth-talking counterman who sold us on the gyros told us the restaurant’s most popular sandwich is the Philly Cheesesteak about which he gushed effusively. Available in six- and ten-inch sizes, this Philly features thinly sliced roast beef grilled in butter sauce with seasoned and sautéed onions and green peppers under a blanket of melted American cheese. While good, it made us long for the melodic percussion of Steve Garcia chopping meat, onions, green peppers and green chile on the grill at Philly’s N Fries. That’s Albuquerque’s very best Philly and it’s probably unfair to compare it with any other. Similar to the gyros, the roast beef lacked juiciness nor did it acquire any from the sautéed onions and peppers. A different cheese would also have improved the sandwich; the melted American cheese resembled that processed cheese used on nachos served in ballparks.

Philly Cheesesteak

The menu lists a phalanx of New York style specialty sandwiches, cold sandwiches, subs and even vegetarian sandwiches as well as a Lobo Burger special. NYC deli cold cuts (roast beef, oven-roasted turkey, pastrami, corned beef and six others) are available to take home by the half-pound as is cheese (American, Swiss, Provolone, Muenster, Pepper Jack, Colby Jack). Desserts include NYC Italian cannolis, homemade rice pudding, NYC cheesecake, homemade baklava and homemade cookies. A breakfast menu includes a long-time Albuquerque favorite called the “Twin Towers,” double egg, double bacon, double sausage, double ham, double cheese, (can you say double bypass) onions and peppers on a ten-inch toasted sub roll.

The Petra Restaurant & Times Square Deli Mart may be as close to New York City as most of us get a chance to frequent. That’s reason enough to visit. So are the dozens of sandwich options and now, Middle Eastern deliciousness.

Petra Restaurant & Times Square Deli Mart
2132 Central Avenue, S.E., Suite C
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 242-0809
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT:
10 August 2016
1st VISIT:
8 November 2008
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 16
COST: $
BEST BET:  

Times Square Deli Mart Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Middle Eastern Food & Kababs – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Middle Eastern Food in Albuquerque

What do you do when you’ve just finished saving the world? Because warding off a vicious onslaught of alien invaders is bound to make you hungry, you just might have shawarma. That’s what the Avengers, Earth’s mightiest superheroes did. Lying on his back amidst the rubble of a demolished building after helping vanquish a phalanx of evil extraterrestrials, Iron Man doesn’t revel in victory or proclaim “We’re number one!” He asks his superhero colleagues “You ever try shawarma? There’s a shawarma joint about two blocks from here. I don’t know what it is, but I want to try it.” After an intense and lengthy fight scene, his seemingly innocuous statement breaks the tension and reminds viewers that after working hard, even superheroes deserve a well-earned meal.

After credits have rolled, the entire Avengers team is shown assembled at the shawarma joint, most still attired in full superhero regalia. The battle weary Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) eat (and ostensibly enjoy) their shawarma while the restaurateurs go about the business of sweeping the floor and cleaning up. As the Avengers’ collective exhaustion has rendered them silent, it’s hard to tell whether or not they enjoyed the shawarma. They’re too tired and beaten even to utter such customary expressions of appreciation as “mmm” or “yum” (perhaps Rachael Ray has copyrighted that superpower).

Chicken Shawarma Plate

Because some of the Avengers movie was filmed in Albuquerque, my Kim and I wracked our brains trying to figure out where in the Duke City the “shawarma joint” could have been located. It didn’t look like any local shawarma joint with which we’re acquainted. We also wondered how a “genius millionaire playboy philanthropist” such as Iron Man’s alter-ego Tony Stark could have lived into his early 50s and not know what shawarma is. Thanks to a number of Middle Eastern Restaurants throughout Albuquerque, most of our fair city’s savvy diners not only know what shawarma is, they can tell you where to find the best shawarma in town. Yes, the Duke City does have several options…and most of them will elicit utterances of “mmm” and “yum.”

Talk about the effectiveness of product placement in Hollywood blockbusters. Worldwide increases in shawarma sales have been attributed to the Avengers movie. According to TMZ, sales of shawarma at one Hollywood shawarma joint, went “through the roof,” shooting up some 80 percent after the movie opened. Whether or not shawarma sales in Albuquerque were similarly impacted by the Avengers isn’t known, but it’s a certainty that if it took the Avengers movie to get you to try it for the first time, your second, third and fiftieth times ordering it will be because good shawarma has addictive properties.

Salad

As of May, 2016, Duke City diners have another shawarma joint where they can assemble. Sporting the descriptive appellation of Middle Eastern Foods & Kabobs, it’s housed in the space which once served as home to Kasbah Mediterranean Cuisine and prior to that to Guicho’s Authentic Mexican Food. Though it has a Central Avenue address, you’ve got to turn north onto Monroe to park in one of the restaurant’s few slots. The restaurant is on the smallish side, but has an homey appeal with shades drawn to keep the room cool. Music videos play from a television in the dining room. You’ll be invited to seat where you wish and a menu will be delivered promptly.

Menu offerings are relatively sparse, listing three appetizers, four plates, four kabob plates, a house salad, three sandwiches and one specialty dish (rack of lamb) not always available. Where the menu lacks in variety, it excels in price structure. There are only two items on the menu priced north of ten dollars. Everything else is priced for the year 2010. There are no burgers on the menu nor is there anything prepared with red or green chile.

Lentil Soup

Cost-conscious diners will appreciate the bargain-rich plates. The chicken shawarma plate, for example, is served with two dolmas, freshly grilled pita bread, hummus and your choice of salad or fries. It’s a lot of food. Though you’ll be tempted to spear the bite-sized strips of seasoned chicken with your fork, the more traditional way to eat shawarma is to create small “sandwiches” with the pita bread. A little hummus and a bit of tzatziki sauce and your taste buds will perform a happy dance. Sumac, that delightfully lemony reddish spice is sprinkled liberally onto the hummus though for me, even a bit more would have been better. For the dolmas (rice and dill wrapped in grape leaves), only tzatziki sauce will do. The salad if pretty routine stuff (chopped Romaine, tomatoes, onions, cucumbers sprinkled with feta cheese and lightly dressed), but very satisfying.

There’s a tiny café in Israel employing a unique way to promote reconciliation. The restaurant offers a 50-percent discount to any table in which Arabs and Jews elect to sit together. That’s promoting peace one falafel at a time. When good falafel is served, it’s hard not to think of peace and love and other good things. Falafel (small orbs constructed of soaked chickpeas, coriander, garlic, cumin, salt and pepper) is one of the most popular foods in the world. Experience it for yourself in the form of a falafel plate (two dolmas, freshly grilled pita bread, hummus and your choice of salad or fries) at the Middle Eastern Foods & Kabobs restaurant.

Falafel Plate

The menu offers a soup of the day served with pita bread. On my second visit, my server brought me a complimentary bowl of the restaurant’s vegetarian lentil soup, a warm and delicious elixir. Never mind that the day’s temperature was steadily climbing near the century mark, a good, hot soup has cooling properties that make the exterior heat tolerable. You can imagine just how much better that soup will be on a cold winter day.

After an arduous day of waging war against tight deadlines and fighting work challenges, savvy diners make like the Avengers and assemble at Middle Eastern Food & Kabobs for shawarma and so much more.

Middle Eastern Food & Kabobs
4801 Central Avenue, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 255-5151
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 25 July 2016
1st VISIT: 22 July 2016
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 18
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Falafel Plate, Chicken Shawarma Plate, Lentil Soup

Middle Eastern Food & Kababs Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Olive Branch Bistro – Albuquerque, New Mexico

The Olive Branch Bistro in Albuquerque’s Northeast Heights

The depiction of a dove in flight with an olive branch in its beak is common in early Christian art and tradition.  The dove symbolizes the Holy Spirit while the olive branch is seen as a symbol of peace.  Christian tradition, as chronicled in Genesis 8:11, describes a dove carrying an olive branch to signal the cessation of flooding throughout the world after forty days and forty nights of rain: “And the dove came in to him in the evening; and, lo, in her mouth was an olive leaf pluckt off: so Noah knew that the waters were abated from off the earth.” 

Greek mythology mentions the olive branch numerous times, including during a tale of a competition between Athena, the goddess of the wisdom and Poseidon, the god of the sea.  With both immortals vying to become the patron deity of Athens, the victor and recipient of the city itself would be determined by which of the immortals bestowed the city with the best gift.  Poseidon stuck his massive trident into the ground to create a well of briny sea water, a fairly useless gift.  The wise Athena then planted a simple yet infinitely more useful  olive tree beside the well.  Athena’s gift was judged to be superior, earning her the title of patron deity of the city.

Athena and Poseidon Watch Over You As You Dine

A large mural on a dining room wall at the Olive Branch Bistro in Albuquerque’s Northeast Heights depicts both deities as well as the Parthenon, the temple on the Athenian Acropolis.  It’s not every restaurant in which two imposing Olympian gods watch over you as you partake of traditional and contemporary Mediterranean cuisine.  Then again, not every restaurant has the history and heritage of the Olive Branch. if you’re scouring your memory banks for recollections of the Olive Branch, you need go no further than March, 2016 when the restaurant opened its doors at the site which, for the previous 34 years, housed the beloved Duke City institution, the India Kitchen.

Before there was an Olive Branch Bistro, however, there were a couple of food trucks prowling the mean streets of Albuquerque plying their mobile kitchen wares for the teeming masses.  One of those food trucks, the Greek Geek specialized in seven-inch pita pizzas and gyros.  The other, Hot off the Press, earned a following on the deliciousness of their Cubano and grilled mac and cheese sandwich.  Ryan Seabrook (Greek Geek) and the duo of Michelle Haskins and Karen Seabrook (Ryan’s mother) joined forces to launch the Olive Branch.  Instead of kitchens on wheels with no permanent seating for their guests, the triumvirate now offers 58 seats for guests and a kitchen in which the walk-in refrigerator eclipses  their previous working spaces

Bread and Olive Oil

Though sporting a Montgomery address, the Olive Branch Bistro is set back quite a ways from the heavily trafficked street (which sometimes doubles as a racecourse).  Its signage doesn’t beckon you either.  In fact, unless you’re looking for it (or at least looking for the India Kitchen), you might not find it.   Fortunately Heidi Pinkerton, the second most prolific contributor (behind my friend Larry McGoldrick) to Zomato waxed poetic about her inaugural experience: “Lamb, lamb, lamby lamb…oh my goodness, the best lamb that I have had in Albuquerque!”  Heidi had me at “lamb.”

Lamb, the other red meat, isn’t as prominent on the menu as you might expect for a restaurant specializing in Mediterranean food.  There’s plenty of beef and chicken, too, as well as several items in which meat doesn’t play a part at all.  The menu is a sort of “best of” compilation of items once offered at the Greek Geek and Hot Off The Press.  That means there’s something for everyone.  The “House Favorites” section of the menu, for example, showcases favorites from the Hot Off The Press days such as twice burnt tacos and the original Cubano.  The Grilled Sandwich section pays tribute to other Hot Off The Press creations such as the Grilled Mac and Cheese.

Italian Nachos

The “Mediterranean” section of the menu lists a number of Greek Geek favorites such as lamb and chicken gyros.  The menu also offers a number of burgers, salads and the incomparable seven-inch pita pizzas made famous by the Greek Geek.  The menu purports to offer an “irresistible blend of Mediterranean and American cuisine” with “recipes inspired by authentic Mediterranean dishes brought back from Greece, Turkey and Italy, with a touch of Albuquerque.”  If that doesn’t have you reaching for your car keys, you should see the housemade desserts, all made from scratch “with love.”

As you peruse the menu and wrestle with the many choices available, a basket of bread with olive oil is brought to your table.  It wasn’t the “peasant bread and a floral-olive oil” Heidi Pinkerton described in Zomato, but that’s probably an anomaly.  It may, in fact, have been fortuitous for us that the bread was somewhat stale because we didn’t polish it off quickly and ask for more.  On the other hand, the bread and olive oil were the restaurant’s opportunity to make a good first impression and it didn’t do so.  Luckily everything else made up for it, but we were dubious.

Lamb and Chicken Gyros

Italian Nachos (tortilla chips, Mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses, green and black olives, pepperoncini and balsamic vinegar) would make a good impression on any discerning diner.  Unlike the Mexican and New Mexican nachos to which we’re all accustomed, Italian Nachos are an adventure into the unexpected, offering a flavor profile of contrasting and complementary ingredients that go very well together.  The salty richness of the cheese pair is a nice counterbalance to the pickled, lip-pursing tanginess of the pepperoncini.  You might be surprised at just how different green and black olives taste.  Then there’s the Balsamic vinegar which has both acidic and sweet notes.  You’ll scoop up these nachos with alacrity. 

Gyros, the traditional Greek fast food wrap stuffed with meat, vegetables, and Tzatziki, are served open-face style at the Olive Branch.  A large, flat pita served warm is topped with the restaurant’s signature lamb or chicken, black olives, tomatoes, feta and your choice of traditional or spicy Tzatziki sauce.  For a blend of flavors, ask the accommodating staff for both lamb and chicken.  Both are good.  If you like sharp, tangy feta, you’ll appreciate the large chunks which adorn the gyro.  For me, there can never be enough Tzatziki, that sauce made from Greek-style yogurt, diced cucumbers, dill weed and a small amount of vinegar.  Make sure you ask for a second portion, and make it the spicy version which packs a punch.

The Kraken

“Release the Kraken!”  If everything you ever learned about Greek mythology comes from the campy 80s movie Clash of the Titans, you probably believe the Kraken is a mythological sea monster released by Zeus to destroy Argos for its insolence.  In actuality, the Kraken is nowhere to be found in Greek myths.  Its origins are Nordic.  In any case, you’ll be happy that the Olive Branch has released The Kraken (the restaurant’s signature lamb piled on a ground beef patty topped with feta, spicy or traditional Tzatziki sauce and pepperoncini) on its burgers menu.  The combination of a ground beef patty and lamb brings out the best in both, but my favorite elements on this behemoth creation–where its personality comes from–is the spicy Tzatziki and lip-pursing pepperoncini.  The Kraken is served with fries (out-of-a-bag and nothing special).

The dessert menu is scrawled on a strategically placed slate board you’ll ponder throughout your meal.  It features such intriguing items as a ricotta cheesecake, baklava and pecan pie, again all housemade and made from scratch “with love.”  You can certainly taste the love in the Loukoumades, a type of Greek doughnuts (or more closely resembling donut holes).  Where traditional Loukoumades are generally  served with honey syrup and cinnamon, the Olive Grove takes creative liberties.  The Olive Branch injects chocolate and caramel into the center of a Loukoumades and tops them with even more chocolate and caramel.  What could be better.  Well, maybe one with key lime in the middle or one with cherry and peach.  Served piping hot, they’re a delightful treat.

Loukoumades

Another Olive Branch specialty is the restaurant’s chocolate cheesecake.  Delightfully dense cheesecake on a Graham cracker crust–what’s not to like?  Chef Ryan Seabrook admits to not liking chocolate, but to enjoying this cheesecake which he told us “tastes like ice cream.”  It does indeed, albeit room temperature chocolate ice cream that doesn’t melt.  Sweet and delicious as these desserts may be, they pair well with the restaurant’s pomegranate-lemonade, a thirst-slaking beverage that’s sweeter and not as tangy as regular lemonade.

Chef Seabrook checked up on us several times during our visit.  He’s an engaging fellow with an aim-to-please customer orientation that’s reflected on the restaurant’s wait staff.   Because everything is made to order, a meal at the Olive Branch is nicely paced, not rushed. There’s something to see on every one of the restaurant’s walls, including tea towels with recipes for Greek standards.  Then, of course, there’s the mural of the Olympic gods watching over you as if to make sure you finish everything on your plate.

Chocolate Cheesecake

It’s not every food truck that translates well to a brick-and-mortar operation.  The Olive Branch Bistro has the pedigree and following to be successful, perhaps even to experience the longitude of its predecessor, The India Kitchen.

Olive Branch Bistro
6910 Montgomery, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 881-2291
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 4 June 2016
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Chocolate Cheesecake, The Kraken, Gyros, Italian Nachos, Loukoumades

The Olive Branch Bistro Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Gyros Mediterranean – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Gyros Mediterranean on Cornell just south of Central

It’s not easy being a gastronome about town when you make less than a thousand dollars a month and have a car payment, rent and a social life.   Stationed at Kirtland in the early 1980s, my Air Force salary pretty much dictated that most of my meals were at the base’s chow hall (which thankfully was legions better than the Peñasco High School cafeteria).   The little that was left of my meager monthly take-home pay meant social outings were pretty much of the cheap eats variety.

The epicenter for many of my off-site meals seemed to be Cornell Drive where it was possible to find restaurants with a broad socioeconomic appeal–restaurants which nurtured a refreshing open-mindedness toward the cuisines of the world.  Within easy walking distance of one another on Cornell, you could find battleship sized slices of pizza at Nunzio‘s, the very best lamb burger and green chile stew in the world at the long defunct Sheepherder’s Cafe, half a city block of full-contact eating at the Frontier Restaurant and a gourmand’s paradise of Greek food at Gyros Mediterranean.

Gryos Mediterraneon just off the UNM campus is a popular dining destination.

Gryos Mediterranean just off the UNM campus is a popular dining destination.

Though my first two years in the Air Force (happily served outside of Boston) introduced me to Asian cuisine of every type, I was virginal when it came to Greek food until discovering Gyro’s Mediterranean on Cornell. Back then, this was the place to go for the eponymous gyros, a popular sandwich. Gyros, a blend of lamb, beef and aromatic herbs and spices is grilled slowly on a vertical spit then sliced thinly into a pita which is topped with tomatoes, onions and tzatziki, a savory yogurt sauce loaded with garlic and cucumbers.

5 December 2015: Both Gyros,  the restaurant, and I have grown up and out since then.  While Gyro’s gyros are still among the best in town, the restaurant itself has added an extensive menu of Greek classics.  Your best bet remains the gyros combination platter (pictured below) which includes a Greek salad and patates.  Order it with double meat and you might have some left over to take home.  By far, the very most popular side dish or appetizer at Gyros are the patates, thinly sliced homemade potato chips served warm.  They’re not quite as thin as conventional potato chips, but they’re much better tasting even if a bit salty.  Don’t dare desecrate these chips with ketchup.

The Gyros combination plate with Patates, a Double Meat Gyro and a Greek Salad

Appetizers (mezethes) play an important role in the Greek table.  Most Greek appetizers are salty, piquant (or both) and accompanied by ouzo (a clear anise-flavored liqueur).  By tradition, appetizers are meant to be eaten slowly and while they are quite delicious, their traditional purpose remains to make drinking ouzo easier. Although Gyros Mediterranean doesn’t serve ouzo, appetizers themselves are cause for celebration.

One of the most popular is the aptly named mezethes (small plates of tasty morsels or appetizers).  At Gyros, the featured tasty morsels are dolmades (vine leaves stuffed with aromatic rice), feta cheese, Kalamata olives and pita bread (all pictured below).  The dolmades, although fresh and well seasoned, have a “canned” taste (very few restaurants make their own any more).   The feta is of the wonderful breath-wrecking variety, definitely not recommended for a hot date.  The Kalamata olives are mouth-watering with a briny flavor and meaty texture.  The pita is unfailingly warm.

A Mezze (Appetizer) Platter

5 December 2015: The saganaki, a slab of bubbly Green Kasseri cheese served with pita is far superior to the de rigueur cheesy fried mozzarella offered at chain restaurants. Crisp on the outside, soft and gooey on the outside, it is expertly pan-fried at your table then extinguished with a squeeze or two of lemon.  As with other Greek appetizers, saganaki is designed to be consumed in small amounts, as part of a large spread of small dishes.  The saganaki by itself won’t fill you up, but it will leave you sated.

Saganaki set afire at our table

Another intensely flavored appetizer is tarama, a carp roe spread.  I’ve heard tarama referred to as a “poor man’s caviar” and while I wouldn’t go that far myself, tarama is one of the most delicious things you can spread onto a piece of warm pita bread.  The name for this dish is derived from the Turkish taramas, which means “preserved roe,” and salata, Italian for “salad.”  The dish is made by blending the roe with olive oil, garlic, and lemon juice to create a smooth, creamy paste,  then adding body to the paste with mashed potatoes or moistened breadcrumbs.

Some entrees include sides of Pepperonici and Kalamata olives, both of which are delicious. The Greek salad includes huge chunks of feta cheese, a sharp, fetid fromage. It also features red, ripe tomatoes, lettuce and a tangy Greek dressing that will enliven your taste buds. As with the gyros, the onions used on the salad are white onions which are much more flavorful than the seemingly more popular red onions.

Skorthalia: Greek-style dip made with garlic, potatoes, olive oil and lemon. Served with pita bread.

Something else you can spread onto pita bread is potatoes. While that may sound somewhat unconventional, Greeks have long used potatoes as a vehicle for complementary ingredients.  In Skorthalia, an appetizer at Gyros Mediterranean, potatoes served cold and the consistency of mashed potatoes are blended with lemon juice, garlic, olive oil and white wine.  The potatoes spread easily onto the pita bread and make for an interesting starter.

Dessert options include a bevy of baklava or baklava-like sweet treats, most resplendent in a honey sheen.  A nice alternative is the tongue-twisting Galaktoboureko, an inspired custard pie sandwiched between flaky phyllo dough baked until golden then drenched with a citrus-infused syrup.  Don’t buy the Homeric myth that the Trojan War started over Helen of Troy, the face that supposedly launched a thousand ships.  the Trojan War started over Galaktoboureko, an epic dessert!

Galaktoboureko, a tongue-twister name for a terrific dessert

Though this gastronome about town can now afford more than the cheap eats of my youth, I still return often to Cornell where some of the deliciously diverse diners that sated me in my poverty are still appeasing patrons of every wallet size.

Gyros Mediterranean
106 Cornell, S.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexican
(505) 255-4401
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 5 December 2015
# OF VISITS: 19
RATING: 19
COST: $$
BEST BET: Gyros, Patates, Tarama, Galaktoboureko, Spanakipita, Saganaki

Gyros Mediterranean on Urbanspoon

Anatolia Turkish & Mediterranean Grill – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Anatolia Turkish & Mediterranean Grill on Central Avenue

In the mid 80s when my Kim and I lived in rural, agrarian England, a “sandwich” meant one of three things: a warm, fresh floury bap with butter, Cheddar cheese and Branston’s Pickle from our favorite bakery in Lechlade; a grilled ham and cheese sandwich (with chips (fries), of course) from The Plough in Fairford; or a doner kebab from a jankety kebab house in Banbury. 

There just weren’t many other sandwich options (not to mention burgers and pizza) in the Cotswolds region of England where we lived and certainly no subs, grinders, torpedoes, po’ boys or hoagies. In fact, to our British hosts, the notion that “Yanks” had so many options and fillings for our sandwiches was sheer lunacy on the level of King George, III. Never mind that the bread-encased convenience food known as the “sandwich” was invented by Englishman John Montague, the Fourth Earl of Sandwich.

Anatolia02

Anatolia’s expansive dining room

Of the three sandwiches, the memories of all which still rekindle pangs of hunger, our favorite was the doner kebab. It was our special occasion sandwich, the extravagance of which we chose to partake on birthdays and anniversaries. It was the indulgence on which we splurged (we were very poor back then) when we wanted to maximize our culinary enjoyment and stretch our pounds (English monetary unit). To this day—more than 25 years later—memories of those doner kebabs stir the type of powerful emotions one associates with the most pleasant of memories–on par with olfactory-arousing memories of my grandma’s tortillas just off the comal.

We weren’t the only ones crazy for kebabs. In England, where they’re even served in pubs, doner kebabs are considered an icon of urban food culture. They’re especially popular following a night of adult beverage excess, but are beloved at any time.  If possible, they’re even more popular in Germany, where, as in England, large communities of Turkish immigrants settled. Doner kebabs are, in fact, the most popular street food in Germany,  by far exceeding the popularity of the German source of historical and cultural pride, the sausage.

Anatolia02

Babaghannoug with Pita

Aside from vegans, vegetarians and calorie counters, it seems the only person in England who doesn’t like doner kebabs is contrarian extraordinaire Gordon Ramsey who likens kebabs throughout the United Kingdom to “a piece of (expletive) on a stick that is taken off the burner at night frozen then reheated the next day.”   Obviously he never visited the jankety little kebab house in Banbury which forever set our benchmark for excellence in Middle Eastern sandwiches.

If you’ve never had a doner kebab or have gleaned from this essay only that it’s some sort of sandwich, let me describe it.  A doner kebab is a traditional Turkish dish made from meat roasted vertically on a spit, very similarly to how Greek gyros and other spit-roasted meats from throughout the Mediterranean region are prepared.  On the long cylindrical spit, the meat resembles an elephant’s foot  from which small pieces of juicy meat are shaved then crammed into warm pita or epic flat bread before being topped with a sauce and (or) lettuce, onions and tomatoes.

Anatolia03

Falafel with hummus

By American standards, the Anatolia Turkish & Mediterranean Grill (formerly the Anatolia Doner Kebab House) could hardly be called upscale, but it’s posh and elegant compared to the jankety little kebab house in Banbury.  After several years in a nondescript edifice on Fifth Street just north of Central in the downtown area, Anatolia nearly doubled its real estate (from 1,100 square-feet to 2,106 square feet) when it moved to Central Avenue, making it even that much larger than many kebab houses in England, some of which are hardly more than roadside stands.  Best of all, Anatolia’s menu includes a number of Turkish delicacies more than a step above street food.  Anatolia’s menu touts its cuisine as “what mama used to make.”

Mama must have been one heckuva cook.  The food at Anatolia is so good that our server declared confidently that we’d be back within a week.  That was three days before my first return visit.  I can’t yet state that Anatolia transports me back to England because I have yet to try Anatolia’s version of my beloved doner kebab.  During my first two visits the specials of the day were too tempting to pass up.  If that trend persists, it may be a while before I get to try the doner kebab.

Anatolia04

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

5 January 2013: The first special was a combination platter consisting of three meat skewers: chicken kebab, beef kebab and ground beef as well as an onion salad, several wedges of pita, a single roasted green chile, rice and Cacik, a very refreshing and cool sauce made with cucumber, yoghurt, mint, olive oil and spices.  The meats are perfectly grilled and seasoned masterfully.  All three meats are fork-tender and devoid of any annoying fat or sinew.   The onion salad is drizzled with a sweet-tangy dressing, but would have been more interesting with just a bit of feta.  The warm and delicious pita is the only item on the menu that’s not made on the premises, but it’s a high-quality pita.  The Cacik (what Greeks call tzaziki) is outstanding while the rice is buttery, but not especially memorable.

8 January 2013: Owners Mehmet and Umut Kokangul pay homage to their Turkish hometown with the Adana Shish Kabob, the special of the day during my second visit.  Unlike other kebabs offered at Anatolia, the Adana is pleasantly piquant courtesy of Aleppo peppers, a Turkish pepper favorite with balanced heat and rich, sweet and smoky notes.  This kebab has the texture similar to meatballs, but in an elongated meat package.  Because of its heat properties, it should become a favorite of Duke City diners.

Adana Shish Kabob

Adana Shish Kabob

5 July 2013: Appetizers are very inexpensive at Anatolia where you can get single-sized portions of falafel and dolmas for under a dollar.  The falafel, fried balls of spiced chickpeas and favabeans, are quite good, especially for the price.  Even better are the dolmas which are homemade.  You can definitely tell the difference between the canned dolmas served at many Middle Eastern restaurants and the homemade dolmas served at Anatolia.  The grape leaves are fresher and the flavors of lemon zest and olive oil permeate each bite.

8 July 2013: Anatolia’s babaghannoug is among the very best in the city (as well as one of the most challenging to spell).  The combination of olive oil, roasted eggplant and tahini (a sesame paste) is ameliorated with Turkish spices to form a wonderful dip for the pita bread.  For an even more eye-opening, mouth-watering version, ask for the spicy babaghannoug which is punctuated with the bite of the Aleppo pepper.  The color of the hummus resembles Thousand Island dressing and that’s not the only way in which Anatolia’s hummus differs from most in the Duke City.  Texturally it’s somewhat creamier than most and it’s also more heavily seasoned, including a good amount of cumin. 

Leg of Lamb Shish Kabob plate

Leg of Lamb Shish Kabob plate

29 July 2015: Dessert at Turkish restaurants means baklava, or more specifically pistachio baklava.   It’s not sodden with the dreaded corn syrup as some baklava tends to be.  Instead, trust that real honey is used.  This is a buttery, flaky pastry whose sweetness is mitigated with ground green pistachios.  It’s homemade and is among the very best I’ve ever had.  

12 July 2013: When John L, a very discerning gastronome whose opinions I value, wrote about a less than stellar dining experience at Anatolia, I surmised John must have visited on a rare off day.  Still his comments hastened my return with my good friends Bruce “Sr Plata” Silver, Paul “Boomer” Lilly and Ryan “Break the Chain” Scott in tow.  It was their first visit and they weren’t privy to any discouraging words about Anatolia.  All three of them found their meals very enjoyable (especially the pistachio baklava) and promised to return.

Anatolia07

Pistachio Baklava

12 July 2013: The special of the day was leg of lamb shish kabob.  At fourteen dollars, it was the most expensive item I’ve seen on Anatolia’s menu, but also one of the most delicious.  The lamb was tender, moist and perfectly seasoned, but there wasn’t a lot of it, so each small bite was cherished with small bites.  The special included a roasted green chile, rice and a salad.  Only the rice was unremarkable. 

My friend and colleague John Flaco spent significant time in Anatolia, but didn’t know about the restaurant until hearing about it from me.  We visited on July 29th, 2015 with our friend Elaine Ascending who’d never experienced Turkish food before.  John confirmed the authenticity and “just as delicious as Turkey” quality of the food at Anatolia while Elaine uncovered another cuisine she’ll want to experience again and again..as in exactly one week later.  

Leg of Lamb Kebab Sandwich

5 August 2015:  It took until my fifth visit to Anatolia before I finally ordered a sandwich…and it wasn’t a doner kebab.  Interest piqued by its sheer uniqueness, I ordered a leg of lamb kebab sandwich, something we never saw in all the kebab eateries in England.  Leg of lamb isn’t the sole unique ingredient from which this sandwich is crafted.  French fries occupy the very top layer.  They’re a bit on the flaccid side and don’t add much to the flavor profile so you might want to pluck them off and enjoy the other ingredients: mixed greens, a dill-cucumber sauce and tender, moist leg of lamb so heavily (and heavenly) spiced that it’ll wreck your breath.  The French fry anomaly aside, this is an excellent sandwich!

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

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

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

Kabob Anatolia Doner Kebab Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Ali Baba – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

Ali Baba Food Mart on Lomas

Legends recount that in his quest for immortality, Mesopotamian king Gilgamesh visited a tavern where a divine barmaid gave him the advise: “Eat and drink your fill, Gilgamesh, and celebrate day and night. Make every day a festival; day and night dance and play.” Because of the fecundity of their land, the people of Mesopotamia could indeed afford to eat, drink and be merry until they died–even if they were denied immortality.

The rich culinary legacy of ancient Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq) can be traced back more than 10,000 years when the comparatively lush and fecund land constituting the fertile crescent gave rise to the cradle of civilization.  The availability of water and agricultural resources allowed some of the world’s earliest human civilizations to flourish from both a societal and technological perspective.  This region is credited with the development of writing, glass, the wheel and the use or irrigation. 

Ali Baba Dining Room

Tablets found in ancient ruins throughout Iraq document recipes used in temple festivals, including a 3,700-year-old recipe for a meat pie baked in an unleavened crust. In what are essentially the world’s very first cookbooks, these tablets reveal a very large and gastronomically advanced civilization. A cuneiform script on 24 stone tables dated from about 1900 BC lists more than 800 different foods and beverages including more than 100 varieties of soup, 300 types of bread and 20 different cheeses–each with varying ingredients, shapes, fillings and sizes.

The picture of Iraq (formerly Mesopotamia) conjured in most peoples’ minds today is not of a verdant and fertile land, but of a desolate desert in which little grows.  In truth, only about fifteen percent of Iraq’s acreage is arable with another ten percent being permanent pasture.  Rain-fed irrigation is enough to cultivate the winter crops (mainly wheat and barley) which have long been a staple of the region.  Valleys along the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, whose headwaters some theorize was the site of Biblical Eden, account for about half of Iraq’s arable land

Amira brings us Arabian bread

Culinary anthropologists have extrapolated from the ancient tablets that while the cuisine of Mesopotamia has evolved significantly, many of the dishes and preparation techniques from time long past can still be found today in Iraq.   A visit to Ali Baba Food Mart in the far Northeast Heights may not magically transport you back to the bygone days of yore, but it will give you an appreciation for the cuisine of Iraq, most of which is very familiar.  Moreover, you’ll be treated to Iraqi hospitality (and if you’re fortunate, you may even meet Amira, the precocious daughter of Ali Baba’s owners). 

Named for the character in Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, Ali Baba is located next door to the Red Rock Deli on Lomas just west of Tramway.  Signage indicates it’s a food mart and indeed, about half of the store’s real estate is devoted to comestibles.  The other half houses a very charming, ornately decorated dining room unlike any in Albuquerque.  It’s a magnificent milieu for dining on the restaurant specialties, some listed on the storefront signage: gyros, baba ghanoush, falafel, kabab, hummus, tabooli, fattoush and more.

The tandoor-like oven in which Arabian bread is baked

Arabian bread is baked in a small back room.  A cylindrical metal oven operates very similarly to the tandoor clay ovens of India in baking large flat bread more closely resembling Indian naan (about the size of a pizza) than Greek pita.  As with tandoor ovens, rolled dough is slapped against the oven wall.  Extricating it is a delicate (and sometimes painful) process.   The resultant flat bread is wonderful with a pinto-pony char, a chewy texture and an addictive flavor.  Mesopotamia, by the way, may have actually invented bread.  The oldest known clay oven was excavated about 45 miles south of Baghdad. It dates to 4000 B.C. and was used to make the flat bread which was the progenitor of the bread we enjoyed. 

Ali Baba doesn’t have tableside service.  Instead you’ll place your order at a counter behind which a cook is shaving shards of meat from a rotating spit.  Meats are prepared halal style and are procured from the Al Noohi company in California.   The menu is rather limited, but you certainly can’t say that about portion size.  Generous plating belies the outrageously reasonable prices.  Call it “cheap eats” if you will, but only if your definition of cheap is “high quality and inexpensive.”  As with the Red Rock Deli next door, two can eat very well for under thirty dollars and still have some to take home.

Falafel Plate

Start your introduction to the cuisine of Ali Baba with the amazing Falafel Plate (pictured above).  Large enough to feed a small family, the plate includes eight deep-fried falafel balls, half of which are sprinkled with sesame seeds; sliced dill pickles, sliced olives, yellow peppers, jalapeños, lettuce and a cucumber-tomato salad.   Almost as amazing as the generosity of the plate is how good the falafel are (equalled only by the falafel at the phenomenal San Pedro Middle East Restaurant).  Both texturally (moist, but not oily with a crisp exterior and soft, parsley infused interior) and flavor-wise, each falafel will bring a smile to your face.

Baba Ghanoush

As good as the falafel is the baba ghanoush, a garlicky, smoky roasted eggplant spread popular throughout the Middle East.  The melodic name baba ghanoush (fun to say even if you don’t know what it means) has its genesis in an Arabic phrase which translates to “pampered daddy” (not necessarily in a paternal sense).   Baba ghanoush is made from grilled eggplant that is mashed and mixed with olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and tahini (a sesame seed paste).  Ali Baba serves it with the aforementioned Arabic bread which you’ll dip into the spread and consume lustily.  Interestingly, the baba ghanoush is served with a spoonful of chili (similar in heat to Sriracha) which goes well with the dip. 

In a unique cultural interchange, Ali Baba serves its sandwiches on New Mexico-style flour tortillas instead of on pita or Arabic bread.  Call it an Iraqi burrito if you will, but you’ll also call it delicious.  On the shish kabab sandwich, the tortilla is engorged with grilled meat marinated in a combination of herbs and spices then sliced into small pieces and served finely chopped tomatoes, cucumbers and a lightly applied, but mouth-watering sauce.  The shawarma, a tortilla sandwich with thinly sliced cuts of meat generously sprinkled with sumac is also quite good.

Shish Kabob on a Tortilla

Ali Baba provides a true essence of authentic Middle Eastern cuisine with a culinary heritage that dates back more than two-thousand years. Moreover, Ali Baba provides a very welcoming ambiance and hospitality galore.

Ali Baba
13025 Lomas, Blvd. N.E., Suite B
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 22 November 2014
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Falafel Plate, Shish Kabob, Shawarma, Babaganouj, Arabian Bread

Ali Baba on Urbanspoon

Yanni’s Mediterranean Bar & Grill – Albuquerque, New Mexico

No Yanni come lately is Albuquerque's best Greek restaurant.

No Yanni come lately is Albuquerque’s best Greek restaurant.

The now defunct Albuquerque Monthly magazine titled a May, 1995 article “Yanni Come Lately,” heralding the arrival of a new Greek restaurant on Nob Hill.  More than a decade has elapsed since that article and Yanni’s Mediterranean continues to more than live up to the lofty accolades it has earned over the years. Yanni’s has been recognized by other national, regional and local publications for its outstanding cuisine.  It has also earned the unwavering devotion of teeming masses who patronize the city’s best Mediterranean restaurant.

In 1998, Gourmet magazine named Yanni’s a restaurant of distinction in the Southwest.  Southwest Airline’s Spirit magazine has also proclaimed it a great restaurant for Greek food.  More recently, readers of the Alibi voted Yanni’s as the best Greek restaurant in Albuquerque as well as the city’s very best restaurant overall in 2009.  Considering the vast improvements in the city’s restaurant landscape since Yanni’s launch a decade and a half ago as well as Albuquerque’s propensity for embracing the newest kids in the block, that’s a tremendous accomplishment for what is becoming one of the city’s venerable institutions.

Deep Mediterranean Blues Throughout the Dining Room

Deep Mediterranean Blues Throughout the Dining Room

In that time, more than Yanni’s reputation has grown.  The restaurant now occupies much of a city block.  Immediately adjacent to the restaurant is a swanky 75-seat Lemoni Lounge in which the most popular libations are available for every occasion.  Live music is provided every weekend.   A commodious banquet room with comfortable and private seating for up to 100 guests provides state-of-the-art audiovisual equipment as well as a special banquet menu.

Yanni’s Mediterranean is the brainchild of Nick Kapnison and his wife Chris Kapnison, veteran restaurateurs and successful entrepreneurs who have a keen grasp of what their dining patrons want–hearty portions of reasonably priced cuisine served in a pleasant milieu by an attentive wait staff.  Their restaurant delivers!

Warm, fresh bread from Fano Bakery in every meal.

Warm, fresh bread from Fano Bakery in every meal.

The south-facing Yanni’s is at the heart of Nob Hill on Central Avenue.  Its interior is awash in hues of azure, the shades and colors of the Aegean Sea.  Sculpted plaster busts and verdant plants sit atop truncated Corinthian columns.  The restaurant’s windows provide a panoramic view of the Nob Hill traffic and of the interesting shops that make this one of the city’s most diverse and interesting shopping districts.

Interestingly (and I’m certainly not complaining), the ratio of women to men always seems very high–or at least it has during the times we’ve visited.  Feminine pulchritude may account, in part, for consistently pleasant dining experiences at Yanni’s, but it’s degustation of outstanding cuisine that brings us back.  If you’d like to avoid crowds, Sundays are a good day to visit for when Popejoy is hosting a matinee event.  Once the event lets out, however, Albuquerque’s cultured crowd loves Yanni’s.

Spanakopita--there is none better in the Duke City!

Spanakopita–there is none better in the Duke City!

While you’re pondering the expansive menu, Yanni’s starts you off with some of the best baked bread in town (courtesy of Fano’s Bakery, a local institution).  It encapsulates all that is wonderful about the staff of life–a hard-crust surrounding a soft, yeasty bread.  When dipped into mixture of virgin olive oil and herbs (including chile pequin seeds), the character of the bread really stands out.  If you’re not careful, however, you can easily fill up on bread and still call it a great meal.

The mezathakia (appetizer) options are a veritable pantheon of prandial perfection (forgive the alliteration).  The challenge is in deciding which appetizer(s) with which to start.  If you favor simplicity instead of sophistication and sweet breath be damned, you can start off with Greek olives and feta cheese served with a generous amount of pita wedges.  The fetid feta spreads easily on the warm pita which tempers the acrid and salty fromage.  The olives are rich and briny.   You won’t find any better in the city.

Feta Psiti: Baked Feta with peppers, tomato & olive oil; Served with pita wedges

Feta Psiti: Baked Feta with peppers, tomato & olive oil; Served with pita wedges

A more complex flavor-rich starter features goat cheese, sun-dried tomatoes and roasted garlic served with pita wedges, a tasty triumvirate which spreads easily on the warm pita.  The soft, easily spread goat cheese and its strong and pungent, but very pleasant flavor is an excellent foil for the sweet acidity of the sun-dried tomatoes and the eye-watering garlic.   The resultant mix is absolutely delicious.

4 May 2014: If a cheese can embody a nation, it should be said that Feta is the flavor of Greece.  Feta is slightly pungent, delightfully soft and crumbly.  It’s also surprisingly versatile as Feta Psiti demonstrates.  Feta Psiti is baked feta with red and green peppers, tomato and olive oil served with pita wedges.  Baked feta isn’t quite as sharp or pungent as in its natural state, but it marries very well with red and green peppers. A single grilled tomato topped with the same seasonings used on the bread provides acidity and contrast.

Another wonderful pasta dish at Yanni's: Penne pasta with poached salmon in a Cayenne cream sauce.

Another wonderful pasta dish at Yanni’s: Penne pasta with poached salmon in a Cayenne cream sauce.

Not surprisingly, Yanni’s serves the very best dolmathes (wonderfully seasoned beef and rice stuffed grape leaves) in town.  Four of these wonderful treasures are served warm and drizzled with the whisper-thin tartness of Avgolemono sauce made with lemons.  You can also opt for dolmathes served cold and vegetarian style.

10 March 2007: Yanni’s saganaki, a dish of flaming Green Kaseri cheese is almost as much fun to see prepared tableside as it is to eat it.  Alit courtesy of a common lighter and incendiary rum, the flames ascend toward the heavens, leaving blue and orange plume trails in their aromatic wake.  Your well-trained attendant turns the cheese over with but a steak knife, manipulating the flames so they lick the cheese, imparting high heat through and through and with an evenness that ensures every bit of the cheese is flame-kissed.

Lamb Chops Marinated in Greek Oregano, Lemon and Garlic, Grilled to Perfection

Pork Chop Marinated in Greek Oregano, Lemon and Garlic, Grilled to Perfection

Yanni’s appetizers are better than entrees at many other restaurants and you can easily make a meal of two or three of them, but you’ll want to partake of incomparably prepared main courses.  The menu categorizes them into traditional Greek dinners; vegetarian entrees; steaks, chops and seafood; pastas; calzone and pizza.  The specials of the day might fall into any one of these categories and are generally terrific.

The pastas are primo good!  In fact, a daily special of Greek meatballs and fettuccine with marinara constitutes the very best spaghetti dish I’ve had in New Mexico.  The meatballs were heavenly spiced and of divine texture, wholly unlike the sawdust meatballs served at many local Italian restaurants.  It’s the entree I look for every time we visit Yanni’s, an entree which truly earns the sobriquet “special.”  Perhaps that’s why the restaurant features it as a “special of the day” and not as a daily offering.

Greek style chicken

Greek style chicken

Another pasta entree, appropriately named Mediterranean Linguini, is a gem of a dish which includes Kalamata olives, fresh Roma tomatoes, artichoke hearts, capers, sweet basil, virgin olive oil and marinara.  Talk about taste contrasts blending together to form something unbelievably wonderful.  The linguini, a wider noodle than spaghetti, is prepared at a bit more than al dente while the other ingredients are fresh and delicious, all perfectly prepared.

10 March 2007: Still another pasta entree that came from the daily specials list to capture my heart is a penne pasta dish with poached salmon, spinach and sun-dried tomatoes in a Cayenne cream sauce.  The piquant creaminess of the Cayenne sauce and well-seasoned salmon tastes play well on each other’s contrasts.  Salmon can be difficult to flavor and bad salmon is prone to “fishiness.”  Not so under the skilled skillet of Yanni’s chef where the salmon has a fresh taste, almost as if caught in the wild.   It is an absolutely perfect pasta dish!

Avgolemono, a chicken rice soup with lemon and egg.

Avgolemono, a chicken rice soup with lemon and egg.

10 March 2007: A departure from pasta dishes to meat based entrees is like departing Paris for Rome.  Both are wonderful in their own right and each is done very well at Yanni’s.  The Greek style chicken entree is, like many entrees at Yanni’s, prolific enough for two people to share.  It is comprised of a breast, leg, thigh and wing, all slow-roasted and flavored with lemon and flecked with garlic and oregano.  The skin is crispy while the chicken is moist and delicious.

27 March 2010: Partaking of Yanni’s bone-in pork chops is reminiscent of dining at a big city Chophouse where prime cuts of beef and pork are presented with pulchritudinous pork and beauteous beef clinging to a Flintstone sized bone.  At Yanni’s, the pork chops are marinated in Greek oregano, lemon and garlic then grilled to perfection.  These chops are moist and tender and at nearly an inch-thick, each and every morsel extricated easily from the bone is very satisfying.  Accompanied by roasted red potatoes potatoes resplendent in olive oil and Greek seasonings and deliciously bitter spinach, this is a terrific entree.

A fresh and delicious Greek salad

A fresh and delicious Greek salad

Several lamb based entrees are prepared in traditional Greek style and all exemplify all that is great about lamb.  Very little (if any) gaminess is ever found on Yanni’s lamb entrees, whether it be the lamb ragout, lamb chops or lamb shank.  Greek “fast food” in the form of Yanni’s gyros is an absolutely delicious, perfectly seasoned amalgam of lamb and beef swimming in tzadziki sauce and stuffed into a warm pita bread pocket.  There may be no better gyros anywhere in New Mexico.

10 March 2007: Entrees are accompanied by your choice of soup or salad.  For me, it’s a no-brainer.  The Avgolemono, a chicken rice soup with lemon and egg is the very best I’ve had anywhere.  Wholly unlike the sweet and sour soup you might find at a Chinese restaurant, it’s only mildly tart and blends tart and savory tastes in seemingly equal proportions.  27 March 2007: The Greek salad is certainly no consolation prize.  Artistically constructed of Romaine lettuce, red onion, cucumber slices, tomato wedges and lots of fetid feta, it’s as good and fresh a Greek salad as you’ll find anywhere.

Barcelona Pizza: Marinara, chicken breast, mozzarella, cilantro, prosciutto & red onions

Barcelona Pizza: Marinara, chicken breast, mozzarella, cilantro, prosciutto & red onions

4 May 2014: The menu lists six pizzas, each named for a European port of call.  Every pizza can be made into a calzone and you’re free to craft your own by selecting the ingredients of your choosing.  Baked whisper-thin on the restaurant’s pizza oven, the pizza has a nice char around the edges with bubbling cheese sharing canvas space with other ingredients.  The Barcelona (chicken breast, mozzarella, cilantro, prosciutto and red onions) is a very good pizza which would be made even better sans chicken (which tends to dessicate in an oven) and with the addition of whole garlic cloves.  It’s a personal-sized pizza cut into eight slices, several of which you’ll take home for lunch the following day.

4 May 2014: Not counting salads, there are four vegetarian entrees on the menu.  Contrary to what some believe, vegetarian is not synonymous with boring or tasteless.  There are few examples that prove this point as well as the stuffed acorn squash, a partially hollowed out acorn squash gourd stuffed with sauteed spinach, fennel, cherry tomatoes, artichoke hearts, asparagus and mushrooms served with a dill cream sauce and garlic mashed potatoes.  Leave the dill cream sauce for the garlic mashed potatoes (which are rather dry) and partake of the vegetables alone.  The squash is prepared with brown sugar and butter, imbuing it with a slightly sweet flavor profile that blends well with the crisp, perfectly prepared and absolutely delicious vegetables.

Stuffed Acorn Squash: Spinach, fennel, cherry tomatoes, artichoke hearts, asparagus & mushrooms served with garlic mashed potatoes & topped with dill cream-sauce

Stuffed Acorn Squash:
Spinach, fennel, cherry tomatoes, artichoke hearts, asparagus & mushrooms served with garlic mashed potatoes & topped with dill cream-sauce

10 March 2007: A wealth of dessert options (if you have room) will satiate the sweetest of teeth.  From the traditional baklava to an inspired baklava sundae, Yanni’s has a dessert line-up with which no other Mediterranean restaurant can compete.  Our recent favorite is Galaktoboureko, a traditional Greek dessert made with a lemon-kissed custard in a crispy phyllo pastry shell.  The custard is (gasp, forgive the blasphemy) as good (if not better) as the very best natillas we’ve had in New Mexico while the light pastry shell cuts into the richness just enough so you’re not overwhelmed.  It is one of the best dessert options available in the city.

Galaktoboureko, a traditional Greek dessert made with a lemon-kissed custard in a crispy phyllo pastry shell.

Galaktoboureko, a traditional Greek dessert made with a lemon-kissed custard in a crispy phyllo pastry shell.

There are many reasons Yanni’s Mediterranean separates itself from the rest.  Quite simply, it provides one of the Duke City’s very best dining experiences.

Yanni’s Mediterranean
3109 E. Central
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 268-9250
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 4 May 2014
# OF VISITS: 9
RATING: 22
COST: $$$
BEST BET: Souvlaki, Greek Chicken, Mediterranean Pasta, Galaktoboureko, Gyros, Pizza, Pork Chops, Lamb Chops, Stuffed Acorn Squash, Feta Psiti

Yanni's Mediterranean Bar & Grill on Urbanspoon

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