Omira Bar & Grill – Santa Fe, New Mexico (CLOSED)


Omira Brazilian Steakhouse on the southeast intersection of Cerrillos and St. Michael’s in Santa Fe

HOLLY: I can’t believe you’ve never taken anybody here before.
JERRY: Well, I’m not really that much of a meat eater.
HOLLY: . . . You don’t eat meat? Are you one of those. . .
JERRY: Well, no, I’m not one of those.
~ Seinfeld

“One of those!”  Around my Chicago born and bred Kim and her family, that term fits me to a tee.  As with many Midwestern families, my in-laws are rapacious carnivores.  Their dining room table is a pantheon of pork and a bastion of beef.  It’s a Bacchanalian feast of multitudinous meats.  Similarly, meals at Windy City  restaurants are veritable meat-fests where diners unleash their innermost meat-eating-machine.  In the city’s chophouses (what every other city calls a steakhouse) heavily marbled flesh is displayed under glass, trophies of edible excess.  Is it any wonder the city’s defining foods include humongous Italian beef sandwiches, slabs of Flintstonian-sized ribs and steaks the size of manhole covers. 

This obsession with meat isn’t solely a Midwestern phenomena.  People throughout the world are eating more meat and fat than ever with worldwide meat consumption expected to double by 2020.  In the western world alone, the per capita consumption of meat is a whopping 176 pounds–or about what my in-laws eat in a week.  When they decide to lose weight or live more healthily, meat mongers eschew carbs and happily sink their teeth into…even more meat, a much-appreciated dietary byproduct of the most popular meat-centric diets in the world.


The massive Salad Bar at Omira

Carnivores–and those among us who, unlike Jerry Seinfeld, are “one of those”–can dine together in perfect harmony, eating side-by-side at veritable meatatoriums known as Brazilian Churrascarias.  Strictly speaking, calling a Churrascaria a Brazilian “steakhouse” is a misnomer in that you don’t plop yourself down and order a slab of beef (not that there’s anything wrong with that).  Instead, you pay a fixed price (preco fixo) for the decadent indulgence of sitting down for bounteous portions of magnificent meats and full access to a sumptuous salad bar.  For carnivores, this is basically heaven on Earth.  For those among us who are “one of those” there’s still  much to enjoy.

The rodizio service is almost as entertaining as it is indulgent.  Machete-wielding servers channeling their inner gaucho traverse the room with oversized skewers of freshly prepared meats.  They risk life and limb to appease ravenous carnivores, some of whom would just as soon not wait for the meats to be sliced and apportioned.  On each table, you’ll find a “signaling” apparatus (not wholly unlike the famous bat signal in the campy Batman series) that apprises your server you want more meat.  This carnivorous cavalcade doesn’t end until you turn off the signaling device.


While the light is on, your server will continue to bring food to your table

Perhaps someday Santa Fe’s resident carnivores will celebrate the summer of 2013 as the “summer of meat,” a tribute to the launch of the Omira Bar & Grill.   While the marquee is subtitled “Brazilian Steakhouse,” Omira is Brazilian only in the spirit and style of the Churrascaria.  Its world-cuisine offerings are more than a tad more sophisticated and of significantly higher quality than at other Churrascarias we’ve frequented while holding to a much appreciated price point.  Within months of opening, the Santa Fe Reporter named Omira one of Santa Fe’s ten best restaurants for 2013, a tremendous accomplishment considering the quality and diversity of the city’s restaurant scene.

Omira is the brainchild of Ziggy Rzig, a Tunisian-born entrepreneur who also owns the Pyramid Cafe, a popular Mediterranean restaurant on Cordova Road.  Ziggy is as hands-on and personable as any restaurant owner we’ve met.  He’s a peripatetic presence at the cavernous Omira, flitting from table-to-table while simultaneously acting as host, server, busboy and all-around ambassador.  The only job he doesn’t do is chef.  That’s the bailiwick of his beauteous bride Sally.  Ziggy credits being actively involved in every facet of day-to-day operation as one of the reasons Omira is able to maintain such high quality at a surprisingly low price point.


Owner Ziggy Rzig

It’s certainly not the only reason.  Ziggy frequents the farmers’ market to find fresh, local produce where the tremendous variety and seasonal diversity allows for frequent menu changes.  Meats are also sourced locally.  Lamb and pork, both grass-fed, are procured from the Talus Wind Ranch Heritage Meats in Galisteo.  Beef is sourced from 4 Daughters Land & Cattle Company in Los Lunas.  While technically an all-you-can-eat (AYCE) restaurant, the quality at Omira is wholly antithetical to your typical AYCE pantheon of the pig-out.

Ziggy jokes that Omira is named for the Spanish expression “¡O, mira!’” which translates from Spanish to “oh, look” as in “oh, look at all the wonderful food.” (Actually, Omira is a portmanteau for the names of Zigg’s children, Omar and Samira.)  You won’t just look.  You’ll do a double- or triple-take.  As you walk past the front dining room into the larger, main dining room, your eyes will instantly train on a glimmering, glinting steely salad bar, one unlike any salad bar you’ll find in New Mexico.  It’s a veritable cornucopia of freshness, variety and pulchritude.  The burnished salad containers aren’t overfilled with their contents replenished faithfully to ensure freshness and minimize wastage.


From the salad bar and a bowl of butternut squash soup

If your idea of salad is the anachronistic concept of iceberg lettuce, tomatoes and gloppy blue cheese, you’re in for a surprise.  The salads, about two dozen in all, are already prepared for you.  Clearly marked cards are labeled with the names of artistic composed salads: mushrooms in Balsamic vinaigrette, Greek salad, kale salad, Basmati rice, watermelon and cantaloupe in mint dressing, chopped beets and feta, Asian coleslaw and so much more.  If you discern an Asian influence throughout the menu, credit Sally, of Southeast Asian descent. 

There are a number of very pleasant surprises in the salad bar experience though because of the rotating menu, it’s likely some of those we enjoyed most won’t be available in future visits.  Among our early favorites were a butternut squash soup, as warm and comforting as any soup.  It’s a soup with personality, seasoned assertively but not so much that it takes anything away from the flavor of the squash.  The Thai chicken curry is as good as we’ve had at some Thai restaurants.  Bread rolls are yeasty and delicious, perfect for sopping up the curry and soup.


Egg Rolls

The fried bananas, a popular dish in Malaysia where they’re known as pisang goring, bring together sweet, ripe bananas sheathed in a light batter.  Traditionally a street food favorite, they’re wonderful even without coconut sprinkles or ice cream (hint here). The mushrooms in Balsamic vinegar are only lightly dresses so  as to allow the fleshy fungi to sing with delicious earthiness.  Surprisingly, the freshly-made Caesar salad is as good as you’ll have at fine dining restaurants.  It’s a daily salad bar standard.

If you’re not carnivorously inclined (or you’re “one of those”) you can opt out of the cavalcade of carne altogether and you’ll be perfectly happy (understatement) with the salad bar.  Better still, focus on the salad bar one visit and the meat next time.  Only certified gurgitators will have the caloric overachieving capacity to eat everything they want on both during one visit.  My friend Ryan “Break the Chain” Scott and I certainly tried, but were woefully inadequate for the task.


At top, Bottom Sirloin Steak; At bottom: Panko Encrusted Pork Sirloin wrapped in Bacon

Though the meats are slow-cooked to bring out the optimum smokiness and delicate flavors of the nicely marbled grass-fed stock, you may quickly find yourself falling behind if you’re still attacking your salad when the parade of meats begins.  Depending on where in the meaty rotation your server (likely Izzy himself) is, you might start with German sausage, a nicely seasoned, not too assertive sausage with a smoky flavor.  Maybe it will be with the crispy egg rolls stuffed with ground beef.  The egg roll plating isn’t only decorative, it’s deliciously functional with swirls of a Sriracha and a soy-Hoisin sauce for your dipping pleasure.

The meat-fest features both bottom sirloin and top sirloin, two distinctly different cuts of beef from a one to two foot section of the cow.  Top sirloin, along with tenderloin, is considered one of the “better” cuts.  From the bottom sirloin comes a personal favorite, the tri-tip.  Both the top and bottom sirloin are flavor-rich though not necessarily as tender as one might think.  The meat with which I fell most in love is the panko-encrusted pork sirloin wrapped in bacon.  Panko, Japanese breadcrumbs, imbue the sweet, tender pork with a delightful crispiness while bacon imbues everything it touches with deliciousness.  For my friend Ryan, it was the Picanha, the most prized cut of meat in Brazil.  Picanha is the cap that sits on top of the top sirloin butt roast.  It’s a wonderfully beefy, magnificently marbled and superbly flavored cut of beef.


Two chicken hearts and Tokyo style beef

For the intrepid among you (Franzi, I have you in mind here), chicken hearts are not to be missed. Probably closer in flavor to dark meat chicken than to white meat, chicken hearts have a musky offal flavor and impart a slightly metallic aftertaste.  More to the liking of most diners is Tokyo style beef, folded flank steak with the complementary contrasting flavors of soy and teriyaki for savory and sweet notes.  Among carnivores filet mignon is a universal favorite.  Often referred to as “beef tenderloin,” filet mignon is a tender cut resplendent with superb beefy flavor.  The leg of lamb is a moist, tender dark meat with a wonderful flavor and very little of the gaminess for which lamb is renowned.  One commonality among all meats is absolutely impeccable seasoning.  Every dish is served as well as it can possibly be made–an optimum in deliciousness.  You could happily make a meal of any one of the cavalcade of meats, but you’re treated to all of them.  It’s truly a carnivore’s paradise.

There are about a dozen meat offerings on the lunch buffet with filet mignon and leg of lamb added for dinner.  As an intermediary in between meats, Omira serves grilled pineapple sliced tableside.  It’s a good palate cleanser that prevents a meaty overload.  Moreover, it’s the very best grilled pineapple I’ve ever had.  Glazed with a combination of butter, brown sugar and Amaretto, it may remind you of the best pineapple upside down cake you’ve ever had without the cake part.  Seriously, this is one addictive pineapple.  Great fortune smiled upon us during our inaugural visit as the talented Sally had just prepared a loaf of pecan bread, a moist, tender and delicious post-prandial treat.  Other  desserts may be offered when you visit.


Pecan Bread

For sheer quality and value Omira Bar & Grill may be unmatched in Santa Fe, but it’s certainly no slouch in the department of deliciousness with something for everyone to love–even if you’re “one of those.”

1005 South St. Francis Drive
Santa Fe, New Mexico
(505) 780-5483
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 06 December 2014
1st VISIT: 15 December 2013
COST: $$-$$$
BEST BET: Panko Encrusted Pork Loin Wrapped in Bacon, German Sausage, Fusion Dolmas, Egg Rolls, Grilled Pineapple, Top Sirloin, Bottom Sirloin, Filet Mignon, Tokyo Style Beef, Mediterranean Chicken Wrapped in Bacon, Picanha, Lamb Kefta

Omira Bar & Grill on Urbanspoon

Jamon’s Frybread Cabana – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

Jamon's Frybread Cabana, Indian Tacos & Brasilian Street Fare on Central Avenue

Jamon’s Frybread Cabana, Indian Tacos & Brasilian Street Fare on Central Avenue

Several years ago when dinosaurs roamed the earth, multi-player gaming meant sitting at a table and playing board and card games with friends actually sitting across the table from you as opposed to the disembodied online kind of ‘friends.” My compadre Brad and I had been trounced several times by our pop culture savvy spouses at Trivial Pursuit, a primitive game contemporaneous with throwing rocks at mastodons.  After four games, we finally had a chance to win one, but it came down to the toughest question Kim and Vicki could muster in a pop culture category which had been our downfall all night.  The question was “Who is called the Marilyn Monroe of South America?”   You could hear a pin drop when I calmly answered “Sonia Braga.”

Shockingly (for me), no one else at the table had even heard of Sonia Braga, a sultry seductress from Brazil…and tragically none of them had seen Gabriela and Flor and Her Two Husbands, two wonderfully spicy movies showcasing the raw voluptuousness of the sexy siren.  As if Sonia’s erotic qualities weren’t sufficiently alluring, in both movies her cooking was as integral to the plot lines as her lovemaking.  A stunning woman who can cook!  It’s no wonder Sonia epitomized the ideal Latin woman to American males in the 80s.  What red-blooded American man wouldn’t be reduced to a quivering mess watching a glistening (women don’t perspire) Sonia in the role of Gabriela as she cooked a sweet rice dessert in a clingy, curve-accentuating dress.

The interior of Jamon’s Frybread Cabana

A carnal association between Sonia Braga and the cuisine of Brazil remains imprinted in the engrams of my memory even today.  Alas, most of my experiences with the cuisine of Brazil have been at Churrascarias, the orgiastic celebrations of meats prepared on a rotisserie.  Watching skewered meats rotate slowly over an open flame is hardly as exciting as watching Sonia slowly stirring sweet rice over a wood oven (and if you don’t think that can be exciting, you need to see Gabriela). 

Rudy Vigil, one of my most trusted sources of information regarding visit-worthy new restaurant openings, recently told me about an exciting and quaintly named Brazilian restaurant which launched in March, 2012 on Route 66 just west of the Rio Grande.  He raved effusively about the food, described the colorful ambiance and even told me about the service but didn’t mention any pulchritudinous Sonia Braga lookalike preparing and serving it.  Drat!  It looks like I’m going to have to visit Brazil for myself.

Churrascos: Carne, Peru con Bacon, Sausage, Abacaxe (pineapple)

Despite the curious appellation, Jamon’s Frybread Cabana is as authentic as the cuisine of Brazil gets in Albuquerque.  The name comes about because owner James Trujillo previously served as the manager of the Pueblo Harvest Cafe, a peerless purveyor of Native American frybread.  A native New Mexican born in Las Cruces, James is also half Brazilian, having lived throughout South America for seven years, including three years in Brazil.  The fusion of  his two culinary loves–New Mexican style Native American cuisine (a prominent component of which is chile) and Brazilian street food–just made sense to him.  After my inaugural visit, it made plenty of sense to me, too.

Among the familiar menu offerings are Indian frybread and Indian tacos as well as red and green chile, pinto beans, taco salads and carne adovada which is used as a filling within a pastel.  In New Mexico the word pastel conjures images of pies and in a sense, pastels in Brazil are a form of a pie though they more closely resemble a sopaipilla.  The restaurant’s pastels are stuffed with such diverse fillings as pizza (pepperoni, mozzarella, Cheddar cheese and marinara sauce), BMT (basil, Mozzarella and tomato), hazelnut chocolate and banana and carne (ground beef seasoned with garlic and onions) as well as the aforementioned carne adovada.

Brazilian style rice, pinto beans and Frango Churrasco (chicken breast)

Brazilian options include several of the familiar churrasco items Duke City diners will recognize if they frequent Tucanos Brazilian Grill, heretofore Albuquerque’s only Brazilian restaurant.  There’s carne churrasco (sirloin tips infused with kosher salt), peru con bacon (grilled turkey breast wrapped with peppered bacon), verduras vinaigrette (grilled seasonal vegetables drizzled in Brazilian vinaigrette and dusted with Parmesan), frango churrasco (grilled chicken breast marinated in Brazilian citrus vinaigrette), sausage and  abacaxe (grilled pineapple slices glazed with a brown sugar and molasses syrup).

From the outside the restaurant still resembles any of a number of previous restaurant occupants, but step inside and the look and feel is most definitely not New Mexican.  Only the blonde bamboo ceiling is monochromatic.  The walls are festooned in bold, lively hues.  Along with Bailey’s on the Beach, it’s as close to a contemporary beachside eatery as you’ll find in landlocked Albuquerque.  Even the slate boards on which menu items are scrawled are colorful.  James will walk you through the ordering process and will describe the menu options if you need, but ordering is really as simple as one, two, three, four. 

Exquisite fry bread and two skewers (peru con bacon and sausage)

Option one is any two skewers, a half frybread and any side.  Option two is a Brazilian taco (fried corn tortillas filled with black bean puree, rice, your choice of ground beef, carne adovada or shredded chicken, lettuce, tomatoes and cheese), a side of red or green salsa and a twenty-ounce beverage.  Option three is any pastel, any side and a Brazilian taco.  Option four is an Indian taco (beef, chicken, carne adovada or vegetarian) and a beverage.  Every one of these combinations is comparably priced to a Big Mac, fries and a Coke (I looked it up) and infinitely better.  A number of a la carte options are also available. 

Murphy (anything that can go wrong will go wrong) accompanied us during our inaugural visit, but the true mark of character is how you handle adversity.  Because of a technical difficulty in the kitchen, the restaurant was unable to prepare fry bread and pastel, the two items we most wanted to try.  Rather than send his guests away hungry, James had his kitchen staff prepare a sumptuous repast of churrasco items along with rice, pinto and black beans, and red and green chile.  He then proceeded to serve us family style. 

Pastel filled with nutella and bananas

The churrasco items were all terrific, better than those at the aforementioned Tucano’s which tends to have heavy hand with the salt shaker.  The Peru con Bacon (grilled turkey breast wrapped with peppered bacon) was easily my favorite, but then almost anything which includes bacon takes its rightful place at the top.  The sausage was equally good and the abacaxe (grilled pineapple slices glazed with a brown sugar and molasses syrup) was excellent.  We missed the visual stimulation of seeing our grilled skewers atop the frybread as they’re usually served, but were very happy with what we did have. 

James’s New Mexican background is apparent in the red and green chile, neither of which utilize cumin, the foul demon despoiler of chile’s purity.  The red and green chile both have a piquant bite, not the perfunctory nibble of some restaurant chile. The red is especially incendiary.  The pinto beans are also very much New Mexican in form and flavor.  Much better than  Spanish rice at any New Mexican restaurant in town is the Brazilian style rice flavored with onion and garlic.  The only thing which could have improved on that rice is watching Sonia Braga prepare it.

My friend Ryan “Break the Chain” Scott and James Trujillo, proprietor of Jamon’s Frybread Cabana

Six weeks after my inaugural visit, my friend Ryan “Break the Chain” Scott convinced me I was already overdue for a return visit to the Frybread Cabana.  During his first visit Ryan had the good fortune not to be joined by the proverbial ill-fated Murphy as I had been.  As such, he became enamored of the frybread which he says is the very best he’s ever had, better even than the frybread served at the New Mexico State Fairgrounds.  He also enjoyed the pastel filled with nutella and banana, one of my favorite combinations in crepes.

In 2012, frybread became even more engrained into America’s culinary fabric than ever before when the FryBread House in Phoenix was one of five honorees for the James Beard Foundation Awards America’s Classics category given to restaurants with timeless appeal and that are beloved for quality food that reflects the character of their community.   During my next visit to Phoenix, I hope to visit the FryBread House to see for myself if it’s as wonderful as the frybread at Albuquerque’s Frybread Cabana which is every bit as good as Ryan described. 

Roughly the size of a discus, the frybread is more reminiscent of a New Mexican buñuelo than it is a sopaipilla though it could be argued that save for their shapes, the three fried bread treats are essentially the same.  At the Cabana, the frybread is better than 95 percent of the sopaipillas in Albuquerque.  Though frybread doesn’t puff up as sopaipillas do, they’re excellent with honey.  Tear into the fresh, right out-of-the-fryer frybread and fragrant steam is released to intoxicate your nostrils with the unmistakable aroma of fried dough.  The flavor delivers on the promise made by the aroma.  These are indeed addictive.

Addictive would also describe the pastel, a deep-fried envelope filled with nutella and banana and eaten directly from your hand.  In Brazil, the pastel is a favorite snack or light lunch.  Pastels are rectangular, roughly the size of a Pop Tart (but it’s an insult to pastels to even mention them in the same sentence) and can be filled with either a sweet or savory filling.  Naturally, they’re served hot right out of the fryer.  Fillings are limited only by the imagination.  The Frybread Cabana offers pastels are filled with imagination and with love.  If the pastel filled with nutella and banana (as good as any crepe in town) is any indication, Albuquerque will love these decadent fried treats.

By the way, the curious appellation “Jamon’s” has nothing to do with ham, the Spanish translation of the word.  James explained that during high school a classmate called him “Jamon” for two years, teasing that “Jamon” was Spanish for “James.”  Duke City diners continue to discover that “Jamon’s” means a culinary adventure with a flavorful surprise in every order.

Jamon’s Frybread Cabana
3915 Central Avenue, S.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 25 May 2012
1st VISIT: 7 April 2012
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Carne Churrasco, Peru con Bacon, Frango Churrasco, Abacaxe, Brazilian style rice, pinto beans, red chile, green chile, Frybread, Pastel with nutella and banana

Jamon's Frybread Cabana on Urbanspoon

Tucanos Brazilian Grill – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Tucano's on the intersection of 1st and Central in the downtown area.

Many New Mexico born Hispanics of my generation grew up watching not only American “shoot ’em up” Westerns featuring rugged cowboys, rowdy rustlers, round-ups and home on the range, but the Mexican equivalent–movies featuring the exploits of charros, the traditional cowboys of central and northern Mexico. My friends and I could only dream about overcoming marauding Indians, desperate rustlers and flooding rivers as we drove our cattle to the stockyards in Abilene just like our white hat wearing heroes. 

It’s conceivable that in Brazil, cinematic exploits glamorized the equivalent to America’s cowboy–the gaucho, a South American cattle herder who tended his herds on the rich, verdant pampas. For generations the pampas is where the very best cattle herds in Brazil have been raised.  Like American cowboys, gauchos had their version of the chuckwagon of the old West in which horses pulled a mobile kitchen from which they were fed during roundups…and similar to cowboys, gauchos became adept at preparing meals over an open fire.  Gaucho rotisseries are renown for the delicious preparation of beef. 

Rotisseries prepare meats

The gaucho style of grilling, called churrasco (roughly the Portuguese equivalent of “barbecue”), is today celebrated from Rio de Janeiro to Albuquerque in Brazilian steakhouses called Churrascarias. In modern Churrascarias, an entertaining and filling “rodizio” style buffet and service are provided.  Servers come to your table with a skewer on which are speared several kinds of meat.  Almost all rodizio courses are served sizzling right off that skewer and are sliced and plated right onto your table. 

Accommodating servers bring one meat after another until you say “nao obrigado”–no, thank you.  Not literally.  Each table includes a wooden “cue” which tells your servers where you stand.  The green side indicates you want more selections brought to your table while the red side of the cue indicates you’re done.

Tucano's salad bar

In 2000, Albuquerque matriculated to the Churrascaria dining craze when Tucanos opened its spacious restaurant on the corner of Central and First (the only other Tucanos restaurant in America can be found in Provo, Utah).  Tucanos churrasco includes assorted breads, fried bananas, an unlimited salad festival and all churrasco offerings.  The salad festival is fresh and abundant with hot and cold items that include stroganoff, mashed potatoes, black beans and rice and various fruits.  

Tucanos churrasco features an assortment of beef, poultry and pork selections sure to please any carnivore.  Other selections include a daily seafood (Frutos do Mar) offering; legumes, seasonal grilled vegetables and grilled pineapple (Abacaxi) which is used as a palate cleanser in between portions.  If memory serves me, for the dinner version of the churrasco, seventeen different items are brought to your table. Not every selection will have you singing the praises of this restaurant.  It’s been our experience that some of the beef sirloin courses tend to be served on the rare side (if you can’t stand the sight of blood, you might not want it dripping onto your plate from a skewer).  Other courses are in dire need of desalinization.

The dessert tray at Tucano's

There are some selections that have absolutely captivated us–the linguica (a lightly spiced Brazilian sausage), the tender (a fresh ham served with pineapple) and some of the barbecue and teriyaki flavored meats are absolutely delicious.  Top off your meal with a Brazilian lemonade–lime and lemon juices prepared with condensed milk to give you a liquefied “key lime pie” sensation. 

Surprisingly, Tucanos charges almost exactly half what you would pay for a similar meal in Las Vegas and while there was an expected degradation in food quality, Tucanos is formidable in its own right.  It’s only in service where Tucanos is sometimes lacking.  The meat carvers are typically Johnny-on-the-spot, however, on busy days, you practically have to chase down the wait staff for drink refills.

Adjacent to the downtown’s Century theater, this restaurant will pack them in for years.

Tucanos Brazilian Grill
110 Central, S.W.
Albuquerque, NM
Web Site

LATEST VISIT: 17 September 2007
COST: $$$
BEST BET:  Sausage, Chicken, Cod With Mango Sauce

Tucanos Brazilian Grill on Urbanspoon

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