Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Year in Food: 2016

2016 Began with an Albuquerque Journal Article on the Friends of Gil.

Tis the season…for year-end retrospectives in which the good, the bad and the ugly; the triumphs and tragedies; the highs and lows and the ups and downs are revisited ad-infinitum by seemingly every print and cyberspace medium in existence. It’s the time of year in which the “in-your-face” media practically forces a reminiscence–either fondly or with disgust–about the year that was. It’s a time for introspection, resolutions and for looking forward with hope to the year to come. The New Mexico culinary landscape had more highs than it did lows in 2015. Here’s my thrilling (and filling) recap.

Hardly a week passed during 2016 in which the world didn’t lose one or more of the biggest names in music, acting, literature and politics.  We celebrate their lives and mourn their passing.  While perhaps not as tragic, 2016 also saw the closure of several beloved restaurants.  Some flashed early potential only to fade quickly.  Others stood the test of time.  Still others closed only to reinvent themselves with new concepts and menus.  One saving grace was the launch of several new independent restaurants which are quickly becoming favorites. 

Your host for three Friends of Gil dinners in 2016

2015 was another banner year for Gil’s Thrilling (and Filling) Blog. There are now more than 8,200 reader comments on 956 reviews, an increase of more than 800 comments and 55 new reviews. I value your comments immensely and appreciate that you thought enough of my blog this year to have voted me, for the fifth time in six years, as one of the city’s five best bloggers in Albuquerque The Magazine’s annual “best of the city” issue.  Contrary to my friend Schuyler’s contention, the Russians didn’t rig the balloting nor did I ever promise to leave the country if I didn’t win. 

From among the 955 reviews published on Gil’s Thrilling…here are the most popular during 2016: (1) Laguna Burger in Albuquerque; (2) The Owl Cafe & Bar in San Antonio; (3) Mary and Tito’s Cafe in Albuquerque; (4) Eli’s Place (Formerly Sophia’s Place) in Albuquerque; (5) Philly’s N Fries in Albuquerque; (6) Red Rock Deli in Albuquerque; (7) K&I Diner in Albuquerque; (8) The Frontier Restaurant in Albuquerque; (9) Bocadillo’s in Albuquerque; and (10) Eclectic Urban Pizzeria and Tap House.  Thank you, New Mexico and beyond, for your contributions to Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Blog. I’ve always bragged about having the most discerning, intelligent and passionate readers of any online presence in the blogosphere.

Caldo de Rez from La Nueva Casita in Las Cruces.  Photo Courtesy of Melodie K.

December, 2016

Whatever your idealogical bent may be, many of us agreed with conservative talking-head Glenn Beck when he said “whoever thought a tiny candy bar should be called fun size was a moron.” There are, of course, exceptions to this. Chocolatiers throughout the fruited plain have proven time after time that even bite-size chocolates can be absolutely delicious. Take, for example, the delicious creations crafted by the Chocolate Lady in historic Old Mesilla’s plaza who creates premier chocolates in the tradition of European candy makers. Her chocolates are so good they’ve captured the notice of MSN Lifestyle which singled the Chocolate Lady in its “Candy Store That Everyone Is Talking About in Your State” feature.

While many of us look to traditional tried-and-true family recipes to sate hungry guests who dine with us over the holidays, others scour online resources for something new and different. So what recipes do New Mexicans search for? According to the Thrillist feature, the most searched for holiday recipes in all fifty states, we Google fudge more than any other holiday recipe. Perhaps if we were in closer proximity to the San Antonio General Store, we wouldn’t need to search online for fudge recipes.

Vanilla Custard with toppings from Caliche’s in Las Cruces. Photo Courtesy of Melodie K.

According to Travel & Leisure, “Albuquerque has always played second fiddle to Santa Fe when it comes to tourism. But now, the vibrant New Mexican city is experiencing a renaissance, thanks to its restaurateurs’ dedication to using healthy, locally sourced food in creative ways.” The Five Restaurants Leading Albuquerque’s Local Food Renaissance are El Pinto whose vegetable garden “gives a new meaning to “local food;” the Golden Crown Panaderia whose “hand-mixed, chemical-free, complex-carbohydrate flours have earned the bakery a serious cult following;” La Merienda at Los Poblanos which claims to have “the most pure field-to-fork menu;” Standard Diner whose menu showcases some local produce, natural meats, and some creative vegetarian alternatives; and the Pueblo Harvest Cafe which uses ingredients from its on-site garden (that uses traditional farming techniques against the backdrop of the Sandia Mountains) and an horno (a traditional beehive-shaped outdoor mud oven) to bake fresh breads daily.

In listing the “Sports Bar in Your State Everyone is Talking About,” Delish spilled “on where sports fans flock for great atmosphere, cold beer and some seriously good grub.” It stands to reason that the Del Charro Saloon, a sports bar affectionately called “Santa Fe’s watering hole” would be tagged as New Mexico’s most talked about sports bar. Adjacent to the Inn of the Governors, one of the city’s most reasonably priced lodgings, Del Charro is so friendly even murmurations of starlings frequent it or at least they frequent the fireside patio which is covered and heated during cold weather. The inviting fragrance of woodsmoke permeates the warm, amiable milieu.

Assorted Pastries From Le Rendezvous Cafe & French Pastry in Las Cruces.  Photo Courtesy of Melodie K.

Stretching some 2,400 miles from Chicago to Los Angeles, Route 66 — which John Steinbeck nicknamed the “Mother Road” in his novel “The Grapes of Wrath” — was one of America’s first highways.” You can get your kicks on remnants of Route 66 as it traverses across California, Arizona, New Mexico, Missouri and Illinois. The Travel Channel’s “Route 66 Weekend Guide” has some helpful recommendations on where you can stay and eat along Route 66. New Mexico eateries on the list were Del’s Restaurant in Tucumcari, the Golden Crown Panaderia in Albuquerque and Earl’s Restaurant in Gallup.

The next time you complain about the hundred dollar bill of fare at a local restaurant, consider yourself lucky.  You could be dining at one of the World’s Most Expensive Restaurants where a per person meal could cost you as much as the monthly mortgage many of us pay.  

Green Chile Cheeseburger from Sparky’s in Hatch. Photo Courtesy of Melodie K.

November, 2016

In each episode of the Food Network’s reality show Chopped, four chefs from throughout the fruited plain compete in a three-round contest, attempting to incorporate unusual combinations of ingredients into appetizer, entree and dessert dishes that are evaluated by a panel of three judges. When Santa Fe chef Fernando Ruiz competed, chefs were asked to incorporate cobia, Crenshaw melon, mezcal and tasso ham into a delicious entree. Chef Ruiz knocked it out of the park as he did with the appetizer and dessert dishes. In doing so, the chef at Santacafe earned the top prize, a whopping $10,000. The episode aired on November 1st. In the show’s 2016 premier which aired on October 13th, Chef Marc Quiñones of El Pinto was eliminated in the entree round.

The Daily Meal posited that “the burrito may be the world’s most perfect food.” Because, the Daily Meal argued, the burrito is “customizable to the extreme,” “all the food groups are covered and best of all, the burrito is handheld.” For the fourth consecutive year, the Daily Meal compiled its list of the 50 Best Burritos in America and the Land of Enchantment was very well represented. Coming in at #47 was Burritos Victoria out of Las Cruces whose “chicharrón and green chile burrito stands out from the crowd.” At #39 is the Duke City’s aptly named Burrito Lady whose burritos “have a habit of not staying exactly closed, and can be beasts to eat.” At Sadie’s Dining Room which placed 14th, the “house specialty is carne adovada, a stew made with cubes of lean pork and plenty of red chile, and the best way to experience it is wrapped up in a fresh flour tortilla.” Breaking into the top ten at #7 is Albuquerque’s Frontier Restaurant whose “red pork stew, the regional specialty known as carne adovada, is perhaps the best item on the entire menu.” Just ahead of Frontier at #6 is Albuquerque’s El Modelo where stand-outs “include the chile relleno burrito and ones filled with carne desebrada (brisket stew) and carne adovada (pork stew), but opt for the chicharrones, deep-fried chunks of pork.” The highest rated among New Mexico’s beautiful, bounteous burritos is the green chile burrito at The Shed in Santa Fe, a “must-visit Santa Fe institution” which “has been spreading the green and red chile gospel since it opened in 1953.”

Kale, Spinach and Blueberry Salad from Rosat’s Cafe in Silver City. Photo Courtesy of Melodie K.

New Mexico tends to rank with Mississippi and Arkansas in virtually every quality of life category tracked by governmental and public entities, but now it seems we can’t even make a decent sandwich. In compiling its list of Where to Get the Best Sandwich in Every State in America, Town & Country decided New Mexico’s best sandwich is the green chile cheeseburger from Rockin BZ’ Burgers in Alamagordo. My trusted colleague Melody K describes this green chile cheeseburger as a “A slammin’ great CUSTOM BURGER, whether with cheese or without,” the operative word being “burger,” not sandwich. If it’s any consolation, Connecticut and Iowa apparently can’t make a decent sandwich either. Perhaps Governor Susana Martinez should send a delegation of New Mexico’s best chefs on a nationwide tour of kitchens where they can learn how to prepare a sandwich worthy of inclusion on the next “best sandwich” list.

With so many restaurants throughout the Land of Enchantment showcasing red and green chile, restaurants featuring a genre outside New Mexican cuisine don’t always receive the acclaim they deserve. That may be especially true of the best French restaurants across the fruited plain which cognoscenti tend to believe are available solely in the country’s megalopolises. Kudos to Travel & Leisure for figuring out that French culinary greatness can be found outside New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and the like. In its Best French Restaurants in the U.S. compilation, Travel & Leisure listed Santa Fe’s Bouche Bistro as the nation’s sixteenth best French restaurant. Here’s what Travel & Leisure’s write-up had to say: “When your local restaurant scene is crowded with fiery chili sauces, steak frites can sound tantalizingly exotic. Enter this cozy bistro, opened in February 2013 by chef Charles Dale, whose résumé includes some James Beard nominations and elbow rubbing with Spain’s Ferran Adrià. While menu items ebb and flow with the seasons, mainstays include charcuterie, roasted chicken, escargots, and black mussels in white wine and red chili lemon mousseline.”

Gordita from Saenz Gorditas in Las Cruces. Photo Courtesy of Melodie K.

The Daily Meal describes donuts as “extremely versatile” and “essentially a blank canvas.” As to prove the versatility of the donut, the online site compiled a list of America’s Most Outrageous Doughnuts and Where to Find Them. You probably didn’t have to give it a second thought to know Albuquerque’s Rebel Donut would make the list. Breaking Bad fans recall Rebel Donut’s “Blue Sky” doughnut which was topped with something resembling blue meth. That’s not even their most outrageous donut. That honor, according to The Daily Meal, would be reserved for the Dough Boy doughnut which “is studded with chocolate chips, drizzled with ample chocolate sauce, and topped with a hefty scoop of chocolate chip cookie dough.”

If someone asked you what New Mexico’s signature food might be, you’d certainly wrangle several choices in your mind, all featuring the Land of Enchantment’s sacrosanct red and green chile. When the Cooking Channel Cooking Channel asked viewers to vote on each state’s favorite/signature food, New Mexicans decided the Signature Food of New Mexico is the green chile cheeseburger (which Town & Country tells us is also our best sandwich). The Cooking Channel didn’t indicate whether our voting constituency included farm animals and deceased residents.

October, 2016

1/4 Rack Ribs Plate from Hitch-N-Post BBQ in Alamagordo. Photo Courtesy of Melodie K.

Courtesy of Melodie K: At the end of another sweetly aromatic chile harvest, Saveur magazine’s appreciation of all things Hatch chile is an opportunity for green chile lovers everywhere to revisit the season. Hatch chile from seed time to harvest, from market to table, it’s all here. Amazing how this single crop from a small village in the southwest corner of New Mexico continues to impact the daily way of life throughout the state and gain new converts around the world. Saveur wraps up with a nod to the farmers and other entrepreneurs who bring New Mexico’s favorite food to market, such as Hatch chile farmer, Preston Mitchell, great-great grandson of Hatch’s very first chile farmer, Joseph Franzoy. And Nate Cotanch, owner of Zia Green Chile Company, who is making sure our friends in Brooklyn can get their fill of New Mexico’s green gold.

My friend Sandy Driscoll reports that Los Angeles Times also spent time in Hatch and elsewhere in the Land of Enchantment eating burgers on New Mexico’s Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail. Wondering “what makes these cheeseburgers worth hoofing it to New Mexico,” it wasn’t long before the Times surmised the difference is the preternatural influence of green chile: “Done right, the chiles are not just cooked but are roasted, resulting in a complex yet mellow heartiness. They pair well with slices of American, the often-disdained cheese that redeems itself with a viscosity that helps mate the chiles with the burger patty.” On the Trail, the Times listed several purveyors of our sacrosanct burger that are not to be missed: Sparky’s in Hatch, the Santa Fe Bite in Santa Fe and two legendary San Antonio burger outposts: The Owl Cafe and the Buckhorn Tavern.

Green Chile Cheeseburger from Rockin’ BZ Burger in Alamagordo. Photo Courtesy of Melodie K.

Every election cycle, America is divided among labels–blue and red states, conservatives and liberals, Democrats and Republicans, left and right. The one platform in which Americans remain united is in our love of burgers. We consume some fifty-billion of them every year. That’s enough burgers to circle the planet more than thirty-two times. Americans love all types of burgers, in part because they’re right-prize for all socioeconomic strata. It’s still possible to find an outstanding value-priced burger across the fruited plain as MSN chronicled in its list of deliciously cheap burgers in all 50 states. Albuquerque’s Papaburgers is one such example. As MSN described: “Known for friendly service as much as “good, old-fashioned burgers,” this Albuquerque spot slings patties for $4.29. The goal here isn’t wild creativity so much as a consistent and nostalgic product based on quality ingredients.”

History is replete with failed marriages, couplings that didn’t work. Perhaps history’s most successful marriage has been between hamburgers and fries. It’s a marriage whose genesis began with the return of American servicemen from Europe at the end of the first war to end all wars. Having been introduced to fries during the American campaign, servicemen had a hankering for the salty deliciousness of fries. Their return coincided with the birth of the modern-day American fast food restaurants. We haven’t stopped talking about fries since then as Delish chronicled in its compilation of the French fries everyone is taking about in every state. In New Mexico, the fries most often discussed come from Holy Cow in Albuquerque.

Half Pepperoni, Half Sausage Pizza from NYP Slice House Pizza in Las Cruces. Photo Courtesy of Melodie K.

Perhaps the most eloquent and certainly the most aptly descriptive quote ever uttered about donuts came from everyman philosopher Homer Simpson who once said “Mmmmmm…doughnuts.” What more needs to be said? Maybe “better than cupcakes, as classic as apple pie.” That’s what BuzzFeed said when introducing a feature listing the best donut shop in every state according to Yelp. Using an algorithm that looked at the number of reviews plus the star rating for every doughnut business listed on Yelp, the best donut in New Mexico was determined to come from Rebel Donut in Albuquerque. That comes as no surprise to Duke City donut aficionados who have been flocking to the premier artisan donut and pastry shop in the Land of Enchantment.

Despite being the world’s largest travel site, TripAdvisor recognizes that not every traveler has the budget to splurge on five-star hotels, indulgent resorts and the finest food. Some of us are more cost-conscious and value oriented. Using an algorithm on its website that took into account the quantity and quality of reviews for the restaurants considered over a 12-month period, TripAdvisor compiled a list of the top restaurants for budget dining across the United States. Making the list is Santa Fe’s own Pantry Restaurant which has garnered a 4.5 out of 5-star rating in more than 1,300 TripAdvisor reviews. The Pantry has served the City Different since 1948 with no surcease to its popularity in sight.

Biscochitos from Mi Abuelita’s Biscochitos in Las Cruces. Photo Courtesy of Melodie K.

“Everyone knows the big cities like New York, San Francisco and Seattle have a plethora of amazing restaurant options for the gourmand, but there are a slew of smaller cities with world-class chefs producing some very creative cuisine.” That’s how Travelocity began its feature on America’s best small cities for foodies. To no surprise, the list includes Santa Fe where “the dining options are as plentiful as they are impressive, rivaling that of larger cities with its innovative creations and overall selection.” Travelocity listed two places not to miss: The Coyote Cafe and The Compound.

While Travelocity may not have listed Geronimo as a restaurant not to be missed, TripAdvisor certainly didn’t, naming the Santa Fe gem one of America’s best fine dining restaurants in the United States. Geronimo ranked seventeenth among the pantheon of hallowed restaurants. With more than 1400 reviews on TripAdvisor with an overwhelming number of them according “excellent” or “very good” ratings, Geronimo has garnered more recognition in recent years than probably every restaurant in New Mexico. The transformative elk tenderloin remains one of the most delicious items you’ll ever have.

Posole from Andele Restaurant in Las Cruces. Photo Courtesy of Melodie K.

Redbook, the online version of the US print magazine “for the woman juggling family, career and her own needs” recognizes that sometimes women need to book a bachelorette or just need a weekend sans husbands/kids, a weekend with her best gal pals. For them, Redbook compiled a list of the 50 best vacation destinations with your BFFs in every state. Best friends of both genders will love the Land of Enchantment’s representative on the list, Taos, which Redbook described as “part whimsical artists’ sanctuary, part ski haven, Taos is all about engaging all of your senses in a city that’s as rich in its cultural heritage as it is in jaw-dropping landscapes. Redbook recommends indulging your sense of taste with the best cream of mushroom soup you’ve ever sipped from Martyr’s Steakhouse in the heart of downtown Taos.

Condé Nast Traveler readers cast more than 100,000 votes for their favorite cities across the fruited plain in the 2016 Readers’ Choice Awards survey. Santa Fe was named one of the best small cities in the United States recognizing cities with populations below 150,000 souls. Traveler readers have long loved Santa Fe, most recently naming it one of the best cities for food lovers. The magazine recommends visitors “dig into African comfort fare at Jambo Café or green chili enchiladas at The Shed.” For a publication so frequently featuring Santa Fe, Conde Naste has yet to learn how to spell “chile.”

Green Chile Enchiladas from the Pepper Pot in Hatch. Photo Courtesy of Melodie K.

What’s the best restaurant in New Mexico? By what criteria could an answer to that question possibly be gleaned? Yelp used an algorithm combining users’ ratings and reviews (and excluding chains) to compile a list naming “50 States: 50 Best Restaurants.” If you’re thinking the best restaurant in New Mexico, by Yelp standards, would be a New Mexican restaurant, you’d be wrong. Nor is Yelp’s highest restaurant a fine-dining establishment. No, dear readers. The best restaurant in the Land of Enchantment according to Yelp is the Asian Pear in Albuquerque. Serving downtown diners since January, 2015, this little Korean gem has earned the gushing word-of-mouth praise from its guests.

You’ve probably noticed the improved photographic quality in this month’s edition of Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Year in Food. Rather than subject you to my usual parade of distorted, out-of-focus photos, October’s professional quality compositions are courtesy of Melodie K., a travel and food writer living in Las Cruces. I’m a huge fan of her writing and photography skills and invite you to visit her delightful site. Melodie does a wonderful job covering Southern New Mexico’s culinary scene.

September, 2016

Hot Dog and Fries from Spinn’s Burger & Beer in Albuquerque

With a panoply of colors, warm days that transition to crisp evenings and the irresistible aroma of roasting chile, autumn is the favorite season for many New Mexicans and visitors to the Land of Enchantment. Naming the Duke City “one of the best Fall escapes in the United States,” National Geographic invites travelers to “take to the skies in Albuquerque” and enjoy the spectacle of the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. National Geographic also praised our “delicious New Mexican cuisine,” recommending the red chile pork ribs at El Pinto and the chile relleno at Mary & Tito’s.

Not even the beloved taco has been excluded from the divisiveness of 2016’s contentious presidential campaign. Latinos for Trump leader Marco Guttierez warned “that without tighter immigration policies…you’re going to have taco trucks on every corner.” While taco trucks may not be parked on every corner, tacos have become a ubiquitous American favorite. No longer are denizens of the fruited plain subjected solely to Taco Bell’s rather piteous version of the taco. You can find outstanding tacos across the country. Just ask BuzzFeed which compiled a list of the most popular taco spot in every state. Popularity was measured using an algorithm considering the number of reviews plus the star rating for every business on Yelp. New Mexico’s most popular taco comes from El Paisa in Albuquerque. One astute devotee commented on Yelp, “The only comparison is the street tacos in downtown Puerto Vallarta, because this is as authentic as it gets.”

The Apple Tree Cafe in Corrales may have a small menu, but it’s a great one

Bustle, an online presence “for and by women who are moving forward as fast as you are” invites its readers to try seven authentic New Mexican eateries to try because “green chile is king.” The writer, who’s actually lived in New Mexico for four years, attests that “New Mexican cuisine is a flavorful, fiery treat for the taste buds.” She recommends the Frontier Restaurant, “one of the most iconic Albuquerque dining destinations;” Casa Azul “in queso emergency” or for “a meal that takes advantage of the freshest ingredients New Mexico has to offer; El Patio, “a cozy, intimate dining destination that has been family owned and operated for three generations;” Sadie’s of New Mexico where it “doesn’t get much more New Mexican;” Mary & Tito’s which offers “James Beard Award-winning New Mexican food in a relaxed, understated setting;” El Pinto, “a New Mexican restaurant that offers anything your heart desires;” and the 66 Diner whose “whimsical retro decor and friendly, uniformed wait staff might make you feel like you’ve stepped into another era.”

On September 12th, 2016, Laguna Burger earned bragging rights at the New Mexico State Fair’s Green Chile Cheeseburger Challenge, ending a two year reign by national chain Fuddrucker‘s. Finishing second in the blind taste test adjudged event was Starr Brothers while judges determined Pasion Latin Fusion‘s green chile cheeseburger was third best. The competition featured ten of the Land of Enchantment’s most prolific purveyors of New Mexico’s sacrosanct burger. As is often the case, the public’s perception of which burger is best differed from the opinion of the judges. Earning the coveted “people’s choice” award was Sparky’s, a Hatch institution.

Homemade Bread from the Loyal Hound Pub in Santa Fe

In the pages of September’s New Mexico Magazine, you’ll find recipes that will help you ‘”cook like a local with harvest-ready dishes” showcasing green chile from the Hatch valley. Descendants of Hatch chile pioneer Joseph Franzoy and other Hatch pepper buffs offer their favorite home-cooking recipes for such standards as green chile stew. You’ll also learn how to prepare such non-traditional dishes as Crepe Olé, green chile pasta, stuffed eggplant with green chile and even Sparky’s Green Chile Milkshake.

When Santa Fe’s scintillating four-time James Beard award-winning author Cheryl Alters Jamison launches a new brand, it doesn’t solely warrant local attention. The culinary community across the fruited plain takes notice. Food & Beverage Magazine sure did, lauding her launch of Excited About Food, a multimedia Web presence where she shares recipes, cookbooks, exotic ingredients, tips, classes, videos and special events all about the excitement of cooking! The indefatigable culinary evangelist also launched Heating It Up!, a riveting program in which she interviews a wide array of experts from chefs and authors to food critics and farmers from across the country. Fittingly, Cheryl’s radio program comes to us courtesy of KVSF 101.5, the Voice of Santa Fe.

Chocolate Nirvana from ChocoGlitz & Cream in Albuquerque

“Foodies. Gourmands. Epicureans. These are the people seeking adventure on a plate.” These are the people who cast their votes for Open Table’s 2016 list of the Best Restaurants for Foodies. The list of honorees was compiled “after analyzing more than five million reviews of more than 20,000 restaurants across the country — all submitted by verified diners.” Alas, only one restaurant in the Land of Enchantment made the list. Widely regarded as the best fine-dining restaurant in New Mexico, Santa Fe’s Geronimo is perpetually the state’s most consistently honored dining establishment.

Is it any wonder September is probably the favorite month for most New Mexicans? With trees adorned in spectacular colors and the aroma of freshly harvested chile perfuming the air, there’s just something magical about September. Magic certainly pervades every September at Santa Fe’s annual green chile cheeseburger smackdown. Chefs from throughout the Land of Enchantment vie for bragging rights every year, the one constant being the starring ingredient: New Mexico’s sacrosanct green chile. Anthony Smith, executive chef at the Inn and Spa at Loretto in Santa Fe laid the smack down on six other competitors, earning the coveted judges’ choice award with The Santa Fe Autumn Roast which celebrates New Mexican ingredients with grass-fed beef, Angel’s Bakery bun, house-made pancetta, Tucumcari Cheddar Cheese, New Mexico Autumn Roast Green Chile and creamy avocado spread. Chef Milton Villarrubia‘s “Plate Lickin’ Cheese Burger” earned “people’s choice honors.

The Stack House, Bodacious Barbecue in the City of Vision Once Again

The Texas Hill Country. Memphis. The Carolinas. Kansas City. These are America’s paragons of low-and-slow supremacy, each asserting credible claims to smoking the best stuff under spacious skies. New Mexico has never been known for its bodacious barbecue, but that may be changing. NFL powerhouse, the Seattle Seahawks are now showcasing Mr. Powdrell‘s house sauce on brisket sandwiches sold at CenturyLink Field. Paul Allen, the billionaire team owner and former denizen of the Duke City apparently acquired quite a fondness for Powdrell’s when he and fellow Microsoft founder Bill Gates lived in Albuquerque.

Contrary to so many coming of age movies about the college experience, the collegiate lifestyle isn’t only fraternities and sororities, binge drinking, toga parties and starving students subsisting solely on ramen. College is also about discovery–the growth experience that comes from uncovering new experiences. Thrillist believes college “students carrying overpriced textbooks while wearing sweatpants” have discovered the 21 best college burgers in America, a likely major contributor to the fabled freshman fifteen. Making the list is the Frontier Restaurant’s signature “Fiesta Burger with green chiles, cheddar, and lettuce, just as the New Mexican forefathers intended.”

Three Sauces Every Chinese Restaurant Should Have Chili, Hoisin and Hot Mustard: from the Dragon House in Albuquerque

Thrillist also refreshed its annual list of the best barbecue restaurants in the United States. For the second consecutive year, the Land of Enchantment’s best purveyor of smoked deliciousness is Danny’s Place in Carlsbad “thanks to the glory that is consistently great barbecue cooked over sweet hardwood for over 40 years. Oh, and don’t worry, because this is New Mexico after all, you can still get a green chile-smothered burrito and the “flip plate” — a flour tortilla buttered and fried on the grill and filled with a hamburger patty, two cheese slices, green chile, onions, and salsa.” By the way, the “local expert” mentioned in the feature is a blogger of some repute whose thrilling and filling reviews you can trust.

Thanks to the Food Network, restaurants have become a water cooler topic (though water coolers themselves have largely gone out of fashion). The point is, restaurants are a popular topic of conversation. Gastronomes no longer have to skulk in dark corners and speak in hushed tones when we discuss our favorite eateries. We can now shout from the rooftops about our favorite foods, including pizza. The pizzeria everyone is obsessed with in New Mexico, according to Delish comes from Farina Pizzeria in Albuquerque. Farina has made char a flavor in New Mexico and for that we’re obsessed.

Glandjila from Frost Gelato in Albuquerque

The Land of Enchantment’s culinary community was feted during the New Mexico Restaurant Association’s 2016 Hospitality Industry Awards banquet. Restaurateur of the Year honors went to Laura Leal of Leal’s Mexican Food Restaurant in Clovis. Pizza 9 earned the Restaurant Neighbor Award for its community involvement. Chef of the Year went to Tatsu Mizayaki of The Restaurant at Sierra Grande in Truth or Consequences while Wayne Moore of St. Clair Winery & Bistro earned Manager of the Year honors. Several other restaurants were recognized for feeding New Mexico’s families for more than forty years.

Saveur Magazine writer Matt Taylor-Gross undertook a hunt for Hatch chiles, a trek that began at the Hatch Chile Festival which he compared to “walking around an O’Keeffe painting.” Though Georgia O’Keefe may not have spent much time in Hatch, she was known to cook with and enjoy chile. On his weekend assignment to the chile capital of the world, Taylor-Gross enjoyed chile in several New Mexican staples as well as in a milkshake from Sparky’s. He also discovered sopaipillas from Church Street Cafe in Albuquerque.

August, 2016

Pepper Lamb from Budai Gourmet (Photo Courtesy of Haley Hamilton)

In August, 2016, Spoon University, the self-proclaimed “everyday food resource for our generation, on a mission to make food make sense” set off on a course to identify the 50 best ice cream desserts in every state,” one from each state in the fruited plain. The Land of Enchantment’s representative was the ice cream taco from Pop Fizz. Spoon University waxed poetic about this ice cream: “We all scream for this ice cream. You can find this bad boy in Albuquerque, NM, and you can choose from several flavors such as cinnamon churro, cookies and cream, and strawberry.”

Is there anything worse than concession nachos, those depressing, over-salted, stale round chips blanketed in gloppy cheese “stuff” pumped from a large jar? If you’ve ever had them, likely at a ball park or movie theater, you’ve probably tried to repress the memories. Thankfully inspired chefs have done a lot to improve nachos, to the point that it’s grossly unfair and inaccurate that the gloppy concession travesties share the name “nachos.” TABELog, a restaurant review blog undertook the enviable task of naming the ten best places to eat nacos in America. It stands to reason that a restaurant whose very name includes the term “Nachos” would make the list, never mind that Albuquerque’s very own Papa Nacho’s was named for the proprietor’s nickname. In naming Papa Nacho’s the seventh best place to eat nachos, TABELog advised “Do not be fooled by this exterior of this spot—it is better than it looks. They serve Mexican dishes rice & beans, tacos, quesadilla, enchiladas and of course nachos. Their signature papa nachos is packed with enough spices and cost only $7.”

Lunch-Size Stromboli from Saggio’s in Albuquerque

In 1982, Bruce Feirstein wrote “Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche, a “bestselling tongue-in-cheek book satirizing stereotypes of masculinity.” Had he written about truck drivers instead, the book’s title would likely have been “Truck Drivers Don’t Eat Salad.” According to the Center for Disease Control, truck drivers top the occupation obesity list, largely due to a diet of fast food and long periods of inactivity. Truck drivers don’t always eat fast food. Truckers know about the hidden gems most of us would discount, little holes-in-the-wall lacking the pristine veneer off the chains. Thrillist enlisted a trio of professional tractor-trailer drivers to deliver a convoy of those hidden gems. In a feature entitled “Truckers Name America’s Greatest Restaurants You’ve Never Heard Of,” that trucking triumvirate listed among the tantalizing ten, a Route 66 gem in Santa Rosa, New Mexico. The Silver Moon Cafe was described as ” “It’s a pretty popular place. They have it all: beef tacos, cheese dip, salsa, fajitas. But the big thing is that it’s all seasoned so well, especially if you like hot stuff.”

Have you ever wondered why so many guides and books employ fatalistic titles imploring readers to see or do something “before you die?” The likely culprit was the 2007 movie “The Bucket List,” whose premise was indeed to “complete a list of things they want to see and do before they die.” The movie inspired many people to compile their own lists and it engendered a number of publications employing “before you die” in their titles. Spoon University published a predictably and unimaginatively named feature titled “The 50 Best Things to Eat in Albuquerque Before You Die.” From burritos at Twister’s to green chile bread from Golden Crown Panaderia, the comprehensive compendium offered no surprises for residents of the Duke City, many of whom have probably sampled everything on the list many times in their lifetimes.

Reina Margherita Pizza from Eclectic Urban Pizzeria and Tap Room in Albuquerque (Photo Courtesy of Kimber Scott)

“Bugs Bunny and Breaking Bad don’t really capture the essence of this largest city in New Mexico. Albuquerque offers art, culture, history, and places of great surprise, if you know where to look beyond the usual tourist haunts.” Offbeat Travel’s feature “10 Favorites Only Locals Know in Albuquerque” listed only one food-related item. In a snippet about the Green Jeans Farmery, Offbeat Travel waxed poetic about Chill’N handcrafted organic ice cream, explaining the ice cream is created by “created by churning the ingredients in blasts of liquid nitrogen. Remember how some of the trendy cooking shows experiment with this new technique? Well, it makes amazing ice cream. The superfast freezing results in richly creamy frozen confection. The nitrogen bubbles away during the process.”

PureWow, an online women’s lifestyle site “dedicated to finding ways to make your life more interesting, beautiful and manageable” compiled a list of “The Most Iconic Restaurant in Every Single U.S. State.” The list of “restaurants (and, OK, fast-food joints) that make America so tasty” did include some of the most iconic eateries in the fruited plain, many of them introduced to America by the Food Channel. New Mexico was well-represented on the list by Santa Fe’s Cafe Pasqual’s. PureWow explained “Since 1979, visitors have lined up outside Café Pasqual’s turquoise door for New Mexican classics with an inventive twist. (Think: green chili burgers and huevos barbacoa.) The colorful restaurant also houses an art gallery on the second floor.” While it’s difficult to dispute the selection of Cafe Pasqual as the Land of Enchantment’s most iconic restaurant, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a “green chili burger” anywhere on the restaurant’s menu.

Ice Cream Sandwich from Rude Boy in Albuquerque

Shame on those of you who would answer the question “where is the best steak in New Mexico to be found” with LongHorn, Black Angus, Golden Corral or The Sizzler. Steak, “a dish that reaches across American diversity, binding us together through a common love of red meat” is never intended for the institutionalized, corporate fast food treatment. MSN partnered with FourSquare to locate the “best steakhouse in every state.” For a change, the Land of Enchantment’s representative didn’t come from Albuquerque or Santa Fe, but from Mesilla, a “suburb” of Las Cruces: “Margaritas and steak? It’s not a typical dining experience, but at Double Eagle in Mesilla, New Mexico, you won’t want to miss out. Try the signature Green Chili Bloody Mary to spice up your evening.”

From the pages of New Mexico Magazine, managing editor Kate Nelson introduces readers to a “renowned Los Ranchos inn” which “serves what it sows, with scrumptious assists by a host of local farmers.” In 2013, Bon Appetit named Los Poblanos Historic Inn “a top ten hotel for food lovers.” At the helm is multi-time James Beard Award nominee chef Jonathan Perno whose “carefully constructed breakfasts and dinners” are veritable “sensory smorgasbords.” Kate spent time with the culinary architect of “true farm-to-table invention that he calls Río Grande Valley Cuisine.” It’s a very compelling read which may just have you planning your next date night outing to one of New Mexico’s most acclaimed dining destinations.

The Classic Pastrami Sandwich from California Pastrami in Albuquerque

Willy Wonka may have had a chocolate factory, but New Mexico has a Pie Town, described by writer Bobby Christian as “the last stop along a road that never reached its full potential…a desert town where fruit pies are a way of life.” Writing for Travel Mindset, an online site “created by experienced travelers who like to explore the world and are looking for life changing and life shaping experiences,” Christian so eloquently described a Pie Town experience poetically: “In a world where reality trumps frivolity, it’s an escape into the possibility of a magical realm, a place where for the brief time of a roadside stop, life can be a whimsical experience.” His article “Meet Pie Town, New Mexico’s Tastiest Stop” chronicles Pie Town: The Film, an Alec Baldwin narrated documentary introducing, but not centering around, Kathy Knapp, Pie Town’s fabled Pie Lady.

A list of the World’s Best Cities for Food would certainly include such paragons of culinary excellence as New York City, Chicago, New Orleans, San Francisco and so on. That’s to be expected. Perhaps not as expected is the inclusion of Santa Fe, New Mexico as one of the top ten cities for food in the United States. Travel & Leisure magazine readers, a savvy, worldly bunch listed the City Different alongside some of the aforementioned cities when it comes to great food. “For a small city,” said one T+L reader about Santa Fe, “the restaurant and food selections are outstanding.” Others raved about the unique, regional dishes like carne adovada: braised pork featuring local meat, dried red New Mexican chilies, and Mexican oregano.”

Double Meat Green Chile Cheeseburger with Fries, an Onion Ring and Vanilla Pudding From Rex’s Hamburgers in Albuquerque

Delish, one the top 10 food-related destinations online, “rounded up the top-rated burger shop in each state.” While similar lists have named such denizens of deliciousness as Santa Fe Bite and LotaBurger as the best the Land of Enchantment has to offer, Delish dared differ from the usual suspects. Delish’s choice is Holy Cow, an Albuquerque burger institution since 2011. Holy Cow’s best bet, according to Delish, are the “Holy Cow, Mushroom & Swiss and Blue Cheese Burgers.” So for those of us who can’t conceive of a great burger being constructed without New Mexico’s sacrosanct green chile, Holy Cow is telling us otherwise.

It was once said that “seventy-percent of the Earth is covered in water, the rest is covered by the Associated Press.” Because I can’t cover the entirety of the Land of Enchantment by myself, I’ve asked Melodie Kenniebrew for help. A New York City transplant to New Mexico now living in Las Cruces, Melodie publishes the delightful blog “Melodie K” in which she chronicles her travel and culinary adventures, employing a very warm and endearing style that makes it obvious she loves her new home. Melodie has agreed to keep her ear to the ground for news-worthy culinary events throughout Southern New Mexico. She’ll be sharing her findings with readers of Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Blog. Her first update (below) explains how a small-town pizzeria has been invited to a prestigious culinary competition involving restaurants from across the country. You can find a link to Melodie’s bog on my blogroll.

Stir-Fried Noodles with Shrimp and Vegetables from Le Bistro Bakery & Vietnamese Cuisine in Albuquerque (Photo Courtesy of Larry McGoldrick)

Forghedaboudit, a Deming restaurant specializing in New York Italian-style food, is off to represent New Mexico this Labor Day weekend at the National Buffalo Wing Festival in ~ where else? ~ Buffalo, New York. Owner and native New Yorker Bob Yacone will be offering both sauced and dry-rub wings in 6 flavors, including red and green chile, to compete with the best of the best in the world for chicken wings. Restaurants attend the festival by-invitation-only and Forghedaboudit is the first in New Mexico to be invited since the festival began in 2002. The annual event regularly draws thousands of chicken wing aficionados from all over the world.

July, 2016

La Gobernadora Burger from Pasion Latin Fusion in Albuquerque

As oft chronicled in monthly “Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Year in Food” updates, the Land of Enchantment receives a lot of praise from national publications. Almost invariably they tout our incomparably delicious red an green chile–usually to the exclusion of all the other wonderful cuisine available in New Mexico. In a riveting piece for New Mexico Magazine, scintillating four-time James Beard award-winning author Cheryl Alters Jamison invites readers to take a “delightful detour from the norm” and “check out some of the savvy immigrant restaurateurs serving the dishes of their homelands in the Land of Enchantment.” Her NM’s Wide World of Forks article showcases dining diversity at such paragons of deliciousness as Albuquerque’s Ajiaco Colombian Bistro, Pad Thai Cafe and Budai Gourmet Chinese. Because international fare and flavors aren’t exclusive to Albuquerque, she also profiled restaurants in Santa Fe, Gallup and Las Cruces.

A Thrillist feature naming the “best food city in every US state” is bound to invite controversy, if not outright civil war. It takes a lot of gumption, for example, to declare San Francisco a better food city than Los Angeles, to pronounce Kansas City cuisine as superior to St. Louis culinary fare and to rank Pittsburgh’s culinary landscape over Philadelphia’s. Thrillist was clearly divided in selecting the Land of Enchantment’s best food city. “It pains us physically, in our hearts and souls, not to choose Albuquerque for this honor,” the writer declared, however, “Santa Fe has just too much good stuff to be ignored, and a lot of it has to do with green chile.” Citing such green chile apotheoses as the Santa Fe Bite and Horseman’s Haven, Thrillist also noted that the City Different boasts also of “standout American cuisine.”

The Provencale Sandwich from La Quiche Parisienne in Albuquerque

From 1994 to 2014, the number of farmers markets across the fruited plain increased almost fivefold making them a viable alternative to the behemoth supermarkets brimming with food from corporate farms. Today, virtually every city or town has a market area where farm fresh isn’t just an ethereal concept. America Unraveled, self-professed as the “best place online to discover the greatest destinations in the USA” ranked its five favorite farmers’ markets across the country. The number one Farmers’ Market in America, according to America Unraveled, is Santa Fe’s Farmers’ Market, but it isn’t regarded as highly because of its products or location, but because of “the philosophy behind the existence of this market.” “The organizers and participants believe that everyone, independent of their economic status, should have access to fresh, locally grown agricultural products that are nutritious and taste better than the goods that are shipped thousands of miles to grocery stores.” It’s number one in our hearts, too.

No one has eaten America and chronicled its culinary landscape better than Jane and Michael Stern, the trusted, trailblazing restaurant guidebook authors who founded the Roadfood franchise. The Sterns recently assembled a roster of must-eat, iconic dishes they’ve discovered throughout their four decades plus of road-tripping. It stands to reason that New Mexico’s sacrosanct green chile cheeseburger would make that list and that Santa Fe Bite (arguably) the state’s best exemplar of that bodacious burger would be listed as the paragon purveyor. The Sterns described it thusly: “It (the green chile cheeseburger) finds its apotheosis at Santa Fe Bite, where 10 ounces of freshly ground chuck and sirloin are cooked to your specs, smothered with vibrant green Mesilla Valley chilies and melted cheese, and piled into a fluffy-crumbed, house-baked bun. It may not adhere to food-pyramid proportions, but this big, ovoid masterpiece delivers bread, meat, vegetable, and dairy in lip-smacking balance.”

Flowers in Bloom at the Golden Crown Panaderia in Albuquerque in Albuquerque

Refinery 29, “the fastest growing independent fashion and style website in the United States” recently told its readers where to go. On vacation that is. Albuquerque was named in a feature listing “10 Up and Coming U.S. Cities to Visit Now.” Predictably, the feature gave a perfunctory nod to Breaking Bad as well as to our legendary red and green chile: “Albuquerque may still be synonymous with Breaking Bad, but it is sorely underrated as a destination on its own terms. Though its culinary reputation is dominated by green and red chiles, Albuquerque is also home to a surprisingly healthy wine and beer scene: It has a higher concentration of breweries per capita than even Portland, Oregon.”

The Exception Magazine, the self-glossed “favorite news source for the world’s most inspiring and innovative people, places and ideas” has identified “10 Popular Restaurants with the Most Creative Chefs of Albuquerque, New Mexico.” Acknowledging that Albuquerque is “stuffed with appetizing restaurants,” Exception listed some of the most exceptional. Anointed restaurants include Magokoro, B2B Bistronomy, Ajiaco Colombian Bistro, The Cellar and Ben Michael‘s, all showcased on this blog.

June, 2016

My good food friends Bruce “Sr Plata” Silver and Larry McGoldrick, the Professor with the Perspicacious Palate at Limonata in Albuquerque

Ruben Hendrickson was my best friend! That’s a claim dozens of Ruben’s friends can make because that’s precisely how Ruben made us all feel. Ruben had the rare gift of being truly present and fully attentive in every conversation he shared with his friends and family. On Friday, June 3rd, we bid our final good byes to my friend–one of the kindest, most humble and giving people I’ve ever been blessed to know. Ruben was taken from us all too soon. He would have turned 59 on August 3rd. Ruben and I were brought together by our shared love of food, but became friends because of our love of family. We traveled the Rio Grande corridor together–from Hatch to Chimayo–in pursuit of the best carne adovada in New Mexico. Carne adovada was just one of his passions (hence the frequent references to my “adovada adoring amigo” on the blog). So were barbecue and craft beer. Ruben didn’t just sit back and passively enjoy the things he loved. He pursued them vigorously and meticulously, becoming an excellent cook (only Mary & Tito’s, his favorite, makes a better carne adovada) and brewer. He lived and loved life with a similar passion…and we sure loved him. Godspeed, my friend.

Shortly after the Breaking Bad episode aired in which a waiter at Garduno’s (great name for a restaurant) kept trying to hawk the restaurant’s table-side guacamole at inopportune times, sales of the guacamole saw a significant increase with some 35-percent of customers ordering it. Most customers cited the episode as the reason for ordering the guacamole. Some tourists visit the restaurant to have their photos taken at the table in which the Whites and Schraeders could have shared in the most awkard guacamole in television history. Perhaps table tensions would have been allayed had they ordered the guacamole which tabelog ranked as the fifth best guacamole in America. According to Tabelog, “Quality ingredients and customer service are the main focus, and this shines through in the guacamole. Prepared table-side and from fresh ingredients, Garduno’s does the classic guacamole in a memorable way.

Sopaipillas and Tortillas from the El Comal Cafe in Santa Fe

At the risk of introducing an irritating earworm, who can ever forget the Dr. Pepper jingle “Dr. Pepper, so misunderstood. It tastes different and millions of people love the difference of Dr. Pepper. So misunderstood.” As with Dr. Pepper, different can be good. So says Thrillist which compiled a list of America’s 13 most misunderstood cities, cities “that are way cooler than anyone gives them credit for.” Topping the list (only because it was in alphabetical order) is Albuquerque, described as “the perfect place to start your meth empire if you’re a science teacher.” Thrillist conceded that the Duke City’s food scene has plenty to offer, citing Los Poblanos as “a tiny reservation/inn worth snagging a scarce reservation. The feature also indicated “you’d also be remiss not to eat some green chile while you’re in town, and El Pinto’s enormous-but-always-full restaurant (get the red chile ribs and one of the strong margaritas) does the trick. And for an evening in extremes, eat dinner at the upscale, seasonal NM-cuisine spot Farm & Table.

Try dining al fresco in Phoenix, Tucson or even El Paso and you risk being as cooked as your meal (or at least feeling that way). For dining in the great outdoors anywhere across the Southwest, you can’t beat Albuquerque whose moderate climates (and especially its cool evenings) make it an ideal milieu for luxuriating under the shade of a tall tree or patio’s canopy. In compiling its list of the 100 best al fresco dining restaurants in America for 2016, Opentable.com considered the opinion of more than five-million restaurant reviews submitted by verified Open Table diners for more than 20,000 restaurants across the fruited plain. Only two restaurants in New Mexico made the list: Farm & Table in Albuquerque and Indigo Crow in Corrales.

Ground Beef Enchiladas from The Frontier in Albuquerque

Travel & Leisure acknowledges that even “fast food chains are hawking the farm-to-table trend” which leaves consumers feeling that “every restaurant is green to some degree.” Still, within the true farm-to-table movement, there are some restaurants which “stand out from the pack by not only creating exciting innovative cuisine with a locally sourced menu, but also by applying that same eco-minded culinary philosophy to every aspect of the operation.” Travel & Leisure consulted with experts across the fruited plain to uncover the best eco-friendly restaurant in every state. New Mexico was well-represented by La Merienda at the Los Poblanos Historic Inn and Organic farm. La Merienda was described as “a green oasis that pays homage to the pioneering farm-to-table roots of pueblo cuisine. Everything on the menu—from the micro greens to the bacon to the honey and jujubes—is sourced on-site.”

In 2008, America was introduced to Dennis Apodaca, the pioneering chef at Eli’s Place (formerly known as Sophia’s Place) when Dennis wowed Food Network Star Guy Fieri during an episode of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. Eight years later, Dennis will make his second Food Network appearance, this time in an episode of Chopped, a program which challenges four chefs to create dishes out of mystery ingredients. The winner gets $10,000, but more importantly, an opportunity to showcase culinary talents across the country. The show will be taped in August and will air later this fall.

Cherry Tart and Almond Tart from Chez Mamou in Santa Fe

The term “underrated” has connotations of being underestimated or being rated or valued too low. Perhaps it’s because the Land of Enchantment tends to rank with Mississippi and Arkansas on the bottom end of many quality-of-life ratings, New Mexicans feel our beloved state is underrated even when we’re ranked near the top. Despite those quality-of-life ratings, we believe we’re number one in everything. In its Lifestyle section, MSN published its list of the most underrated restaurant in every state. “Whether it’s because of the understated appearance, hidden location or lack of publicity, these restaurants serve great food and everyone should know it.” New Mexico’s most underrated restaurant is Albuquerque’s Dog House. According to MSN “ What the Dog House may lack in ambiance they make up for in the taste of their chili dogs. Breaking Bad even used the Dog House as a filming location.” To really understand the Dog, House, you’ve got to read the assessment penned by Bob of the Village of Los Ranchos on my review.

“Land of the Free, Home of the Heavy.” That’s how Thrillist subtitles its feature “The Best States to Get Fat In.” You would think—considering the Land of Enchantment has the best food in the world—that we would top this list, however, perhaps because we’re a fitness-minded citizenry, New Mexico ranked only 31st. According to Thrillist “The greatest trick New Mexico ever pulled was convincing the world that if you douse everything in green chile it basically counts as eating your vegetables, even if said “everything” happens to primarily involve various meats, tortillas, and melted cheeses. For real, it’s a great trick.” There’s no trick to it. Green (and red) chile makes everything taste better!

Pizza Slice Masterpieces from DaVinci’s Gourmet Pizza in Albuquerque

Who can ever forget Homer Simpson’s bucket list? Predictably it consisted of a bucket of fried chicken, a bucket of shrimp, a bucket of tartar sauce, a bucket of chili and a bucket of popcorn all washed down with a bucket of cholesterol medicine. As with most gourmands, Homer’s bucket list was replete with culinary options. Thrillist compiled its Great American Bucket List: 50 Restaurants to Try Before You Die, listing restaurants whose “overall experience — yes, the food, but not just the food — is so spectacular in its singularity that it’s worthy of telling others to seek out before they kick the bucket.” The Land of Enchantment’s sole representative is Bernalillo’s iconic The Range Cafe which Thrillist described thusly: “When it comes to green chile options, this cafe does, in fact, have range. It also has “ranges,” as in the nickname for the vibrant, vintage toy stoves that adorn the walls.”

Purewow.com, an online presence “dedicated to finding ways to make your life more interesting, beautiful and manageable” compiled a list of “the most iconic restaurants in every single U.S. state,” ostensibly the restaurants which “have emerged as the ultimate representation of each and every state.” New Mexico’s representative was Santa Fe’s Cafe Pasqual. Purewow’s synopsis: “Since 1979, visitors have lined up outside Café Pasqual’s turquoise door for New Mexican classics with an inventive twist. (Think: green chili burgers and huevos barbacoa.) The colorful restaurant also houses an art gallery on the second floor.” Green chili burgers? Unless Texans have started dying their “chili” green, there’s no such animal!

May, 2016

Tempura Cheesecake from Naruto in Albuquerque

Brunch–it’s the best of two worlds–not quite breakfast and not quite lunch, but the best of both. It’s a leisurely weekend repast which makes you feel you’re getting away with something, as if you’re defying your mom’s mandate not to have dessert before the main entree. More than five million verified OpenTable diner reviews of more than 20,000 restaurants across the nation were used in the compilation of the 100 Best Brunch Restaurants in America for 2016. Surprisingly the only restaurant in New Mexico making the list is the Duke City’s own Farm & Table. Going strong since 2012, Farm & Table is a veritable oasis of green amidst Albuquerque’s earth-tone and concrete modernity. With an enviable balance of sweet and savory deliciousness, its brunch options are bountiful and beauteous.

Readers of USA Today and 10Best were given the opportunity to select the very best of the best from among so many outstanding green chile cheeseburgers throughout the Land of Enchantment. A panel of experts picked the initial 20 nominees, and the top 10 winners were determined by popular vote. That popular vote determined Blake’s Lotaburger is the best green chile cheeseburger in New Mexico. Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the final results is that the voting was not dominated by purveyors of New Mexico’s sacrosanct burger in Albuquerque and Santa Fe. The Duke City’s sole representative was the Owl Cafe, a presence in San Antonio since the 1940s. The Owl Cafe was runner-up to Lotaburger. Santa Fe was well represented by Santa Fe Bite in eighth place.

A half-pound of brisket from Pepper’s Bar-B-Q & Soul Food in Albuquerque

Travel & Leisure took the pulse of its readers to compile a list of America’s Favorite Cities. Thanks in large part to a vibrant culinary scene, the Duke City was rated sixth. Here’s what Travel & Leisure had to say: “Readers rated Albuquerque especially well for its bakeries, such as Golden Crown Panaderia, where the loaves of the signature New Mexico Green Chile Bread are decorated with howling coyotes. But since man does not live on green-chile bread alone, Albuquerque also scored well for local beer (like the wildflower wheat at downtown’s Marble Brewery) and diners. For the latter, the Standard Diner offers comfort food such as bacon-wrapped meatloaf and country-friend ahi tuna. Readers also applauded the city for feeling like a good value.”

Travel & Leisure didn’t define how it distinguishes between a city and a town, but for Santa Fe it probably wouldn’t matter. The City Different is beloved regardless of classification. In its 2016 compilation of America’s Favorite Towns, Santa Fe ranked third. As is often the case, the city…er, town’s burgeoning culinary scene is just one of many reasons it’s held in such esteem. According to Travel & Leisure, “It also ranked well for history—like its San Miguel Chapel, the nation’s oldest church, and even its restaurants, like Geronimo, set in an adobe home that dates to 1756. Its lounge offers the opportunity to try the city’s most famous local crop in a creative way: the Norteño margarita is made with Hatch-green-chile-infused tequila, then shaken with an orange liqueur. After a few, you might see why the city also got high marks for its peaceful vibes.”

Sauce Katusu from Magokoro in Albuquerque

“Barbecue festival season kicks off in the spring, with celebrations, cook-offs and competitions held all over the USA until late fall. In general, the barbecue teams and cooks that participate in these festivals pay homage to Memphis-, Texas-, St. Louis-, Kansas City- and Carolina-style barbecue, experimenting with spice rubs, slathering meats with thick, sweet sauces, or dressing shredded tendrils of pork with a tart vinegar-based dip.” USA Today included a New Mexico standard among the best cue-fests in the fruited plain: “The Pork & Brew BBQ State Championship is a Kansas City Barbecue Society-sanctioned event in Rio Rancho, N.M. The three-day festival features top barbecue vendors, offerings from local microbreweries, live music and interactive family activities. General admission is $6 for adults and $4 for kids. The winning barbecue teams can go on to participate in larger national competitions.” The Pork & Brew is an annual tradition for me and my friends Larry “the professor with the perspicacious palate” McGoldrick and the Dazzling Deanell, all of us certified Kansas City Barbecue Society (KCBS) judges and barbecue aficionados.

Mental Floss, “the international media brand that gives smart, curious knowledge junkies their fix with upbeat, witty explorations of everything from science to pop culture to tech to history” compiled its list of the best burger in all 50 states. The Land of Enchantment’s representative is no surprise considering it’s graced similar lists for years. Mental Floss lavished praise on San Antonio’s Buckhorn Tavern, saying “Food experts across the country continuously name Buckhorn Tavern’s Green Chile Cheeseburger one of the best burgers in the U.S. The small, family owned Buckhorn Tavern is so popular that many visitors actually plan their trips around this burger hot spot.

Watermelon Shake from The Owl Cafe in Albuquerque

Americans seem to love lists and often seem willing to forgive list-makers when less than completely accurate choices are made. It’s all in good fun save for those of us who want the world to know there’s a difference between the cuisines of Old Mexico and New Mexico. The most recent culprit in committing this geographic faux pas is Tabelog, a “dynamic, interactive environment where users can come together over a shared passion for fine dining.” In its “10 best Mexican Restaurants in America,” Tabelog listed Santa Fe’s The Shed restaurant as America’s second best pantheon for Mexican cuisine, all-the-while indicating “Rooted in Northern New Mexico cuisine and hospitality, The Shed has been around since 1953.” Perhaps the most offensive statement for New Mexicans was “Any true lover of Mexican cuisine must make a point to hit this spot for an amazing experience.” While the experience will certainly be amazing, it won’t be Mexican.

Pardon my gratuitous self aggrandizing here, but I was tickled pink to read Kitson Harvey’s shout-out to “some of my favorite local bloggers, not on Duke City Fix.” Here’s what the brilliant Kitson wrote about your favorite sesquipedalian sybarite. “Gil Garduño @ Gil’s Thrilling (and Filling) Blog. This is THE Albuquerque food blog. This past week he made a return trip to Joe’s Pasta House in Rio Rancho and, along with his new review, includes the text of his past reviews so we can see whether/if his opinions have changed over time. This blog is a major resource for local eaters, and I love his reason for not including wine pairings (check the FAQs for the answer).” Right back atcha, Kitson. I’ve been a huge fan for years.

April, 2016

The Cubano from Alicea’s Bagels & Subs in Rio Rancho

It’s no April Fool’s Day joke. On April 1st, LotaBurger launched its very first Arizona location, expanding its burger empire to three states (in 2004, Lotaburger debuted in El Paso, Texas). Tucson’s burger aficionados will quickly discover why the 2006 edition of National Geographic’s Passport to the Best: The 10 Best of Everything book, declared LotaBurger serves the “Best Green Chile Cheeseburger in the World“. Going strong for well over six decades, LotaBurger was a New Mexico only institution for all but the past 62 years, but not appears poised to conquer new culinary horizons.

It’s been oft said by chefs that “you eat with your eyes first. Although the senses of taste, smell, and vision are distinct, visual stimuli have been shown to alter your perception of those senses. Tabelog, an “online community for foodies by foodies,” compiled a list of America’s 13 most scenic restaurants, eateries boasting of amazing panoramas from every angle. New Mexico’s sole honoree is the High Finance Restaurant at the top of the Sandia Peak Tramway. According to Tabelog, “With enormous views of the Rio Grande Valley and the Land of Enchantment, High Finance Restaurant offers one of the most unique scenic meals in the country.”

Wings with Buffalo Garlic Sauce from Bucket Headz in Albuquerque

Over the years there have been a number of national online presences purporting some level of expertise about New Mexican cuisine. They publish “best of” features that leave locals asking “huh” and “why was this restaurant selected?”. At other times those “best of” features show a level of savvy that surprises locals. Such was the case when Spoon University, “the everyday food resource for our generation, on a mission to make food make sense” selected the cheeseburger from Burger Boy in Cedar Crest as the Land of Enchantment’s best. Spoon University’s “best burger from every state” feature indicated “Although they offer a few different burgers for a cheap price, most choose the classic cheeseburger, which also comes with fries.” Most New Mexicans we know order their burger with green chile.

What type of restaurant might be named to MSN’s 50 best restaurants in America list? You’re probably thinking it’s some posh fine-dining establishment featuring nouveau French cuisine. “Best,” as we all know is a subjective term subject to individual interpretation. MSN’s list showed some out-of-the-box thinking in naming Albuquerque’s Guava Tree Cafe as the 31st best restaurant in the fruited plain. According to MSN, “this little restaurant has great Caribbean and Latin American-inspired food. With many Cuban type sandwiches and avocados in most of their food, this place definitely has the delicious lunch thing down.”

Toritos from Mariscos Mazatlan in Rio Rancho

Innovative chefs ply their trade all across the fruited plain with some of the very best working across the southwest. Dorado, an online magazine which “celebrates the rugged and eclectic spirit of the Four Corners region” compiled a list of “seven Southwest chefs we love.” New Mexican chefs which made the list included Rob Connoley, the James Beard award-nominated forager from Curious Kumquat in Silver City; Ahmed Obo, the Kenya native who fuses traditional Kenyan dishes with Caribbean flavors at Jambo; and Erin Wade, who’s made really big salads really delicious in Vinaigrette which has a presence in Albuquerque and Santa Fe.

Thrillist, the online presence “obsessed with everything that’s worth caring about in food, drink” compiled a “state-by-state ode to the edible (and drinkable!) dynamos that have literally changed the shape of America (because we’re fatter now). In its “Every State’s Most Important Food Innovation” feature, Thrillist declared (what else) green chile as New Mexico’s choice. According to Thrillist, “Chiles only came to the region post-Columbus, and the chiles you so enjoy today are the results of painstaking research in the early 20th century at New Mexico State University meant to isolate varieties that would thrive in the arid climate there.”

Blueberry Muffin from Desert Grows in Los Ranchos de Albuquerque

Perhaps if our options consisted solely of green chile and pinto beans, more of us might endeavor to become vegetarians. Fortunately for vegetarians, there are many other delicious meat-free choices across the Land of Enchantment…so many that CNN Traveler named Santa Fe as one of the “15 best U.S. cities for vegetarians.” Traveler noted that “like the town itself, Santa Fe’s vegetarian-friendly restaurants offer a number of ways to get out of your comfort zone. Try a fix of the famed local staple, green chile, in a tamale at Cafe Pasqual’s or wrapped in a crispy dosa at the innovative South Indian restaurant Paper Dosa.

Although the Cooking Channel doesn’t grace my cable subscription package, I find comfort in knowing Founding Friends of Gil (FOG) member Jim Millington was able to watch the channel’s “Cheap Eats” show when it featured host Ali Khan visiting beautiful, sunny Albuquerque. Jim reports that “the show is pretty much like Rachael Ray’s old Twenty Dollar a Day show except that Ali lacks Rachael’s cuteness and he has $35. His first stop was at the Tia B’s La Waffleria for vegan waffles which he found to be wonderful. Next stop was the Route 66 Pit Stop for the famous green chile cheeseburger which knocked his socks off. Third was Rebel Donuts. He didn’t even get a donut shaped one. It was long, stuffed and topped with bacon. Papa Felipe’s introduced him to the amazement of carne adovada stuffed in a sopaipilla.” Thank you, Jim.

March, 2016

Polish/German Platter from the Red Rock Deli in Albuquerque

Hollywood has discovered one of New Mexico’s most enchanting qualities. It’s the state’s chameleon-like ability to transform itself to virtually any location movie producers wish to portray. Thanks to its preternaturally diverse topography, various locations throughout the Land of Enchantment have been featured in more than 600 productions over the years, touching virtually every corner of the state. In many instances, New Mexico doubles as some far-away exotic locale and not necessarily within the surly bounds of Earth. The filming location for the 2016 movie Whiskey Tango Foxtrot may have been Albuquerque, but it’s a Duke City many of us won’t recognize. Stretching its acting chops, Albuquerque portrayed Afghanistan in the movie. During an appearance on the Tonight Show, starring actress Tina Fay explained “New Mexico looks a lot like Afghanistan, weirdly, but with really good burgers with green chiles.” You won’t find green chile cheeseburgers in Afghanistan.

Speaking of doubling for something else, several years ago Rebel Donut gained tremendous notoriety for creating a donut mimicking the potent crystal blue meth made famous by AMC’s Breaking Bad series. More recently, Rebel Donut was honored on Food Network Magazine as one of a dozen “best in dough,” an honor bestowed upon fun donuts. The honoree is Rebel Donut’s pina colada donut, a vanilla cake donut dipped in coconut rum glaze then raw coconut with buttercream frosting. Unlike the Breaking Bad donut which has no actual blue meth, there is actual real rum in the pina colada donut. It’s one in a small line of adult donuts though it can be made “virgin” as well.

Corn from Delicias Cafe in Albuquerque

There are dozens of annual sweets and dessert festivals across the fruited plain. USA Today honored just a handful of the most popular, inviting readers to “sweets festivals worth traveling to indulge in.” One of the festivals garnering a mention is Albuquerque’s own Southwest Chocolate & Coffee Fest in March. “The festival features both baking and eating contests, welcoming all ages and skill levels.” More than 120 vendors and 17,000 festival-goers attend” the event according to USA Today.

How many times have you heard it said “only in New Mexico.” Frankly, every state has unique features, landmarks, personalities and quirks that set it apart from other states. Recognizing the uniqueness of each state is the goal of OnlyInYourState.com, an online presence which takes a fun, informal approach to helping readers discover things to do in each of the 50 states. Anyone can write about New Mexico’s enchanting enchiladas and bounteous burritos. OnlyInYourState dares to point out “13 Pizza Places in New Mexico So Good Your Mouth May Explode.” Interestingly, you have to go all the way down to number six before a pizza from Albuquerque is even mentioned. According to the writer, the five best pizzas in New Mexico are the Rooftop Pizzeria in Santa Fe, J.C.’s Pizza Department in Las Vegas (with a branch in Albuquerque), The Pizza Barn in Edgewood, Zeffiro Pizzeria Napoletana in Las Cruces and Forghedaboudit in Deming. How many of us even know these pizza places exist?

Chicken Fried Steak from City Lights in Albuquerque

“Santa Fe’s small, intimate and upscale dining scene provides ample restaurants with hushed lighting, tranquil outdoor seating and a unique fold of Southwestern, American and French cuisines.” Foodandwine.com invited its readers to reserve a table or two at the most romantic restaurants in Santa Fe. The list includes Eloisa, the James Beard award-nominated restaurant from chef John Rivera Sedlar; Izanami, the traditional Japanese izakaya restaurant; Luminaria, where lantern-lit courtyard dining awaits; The Anasazi, a rustic-chick restaurant melding Southwestern and Latin influences; and Santacafe, with its Georgia O’Keefe inspired dining room. Romance is definitely in the air at these restaurants.

22 Words, an online presence which purports to be “your source for the crazy, curious, and comical side of the Web” and offers “funny and fascinating viral content as well as more obscure (but equally interesting) pictures, videos and more” put together its list of the “BEST things to Eat in Every State.” It’s a no-brainer to declare the best thing to eat in New Mexico: “When chili peppers are one of the state vegetables, it’s a given that you’re known for producing fresh, hot chili-based sauces that are poured on everything from eggs to burritos to burgers.” Spelling “chile” as our neighbors in Texas do just takes something away from the credibility of this otherwise interesting feature.

Chiles Rellenos from Tenampa in Albuquerque

When it comes to perpetuating a successful franchise, Pizza 9 is a ten. Franchise Business Review named the burgeoning enterprise among its “best of the best,” one of the top 200 franchises in America for 2016. As one of only 38 franchises in the food and beverage segment to be honored, Pizza 9 has experienced substantial growth since launching its inaugural store in 2008. Today, the company boasts of more than 20 locations in the Land of Enchantment and Texas with other locations being planned. While the name on the marquee pegs it as a pizza restaurant, Pizza 9 is also one of only a handful of restaurants throughout the Land of Enchantment to offer Italian beef sandwiches, a Chicago area staple.

Zap2it, an online movie and television information network , interviewed cast and creators of AMC’s “Better Call Saul” to find out what restaurants in the Land of Enchantment they frequent. Bob Odenkirk (Jimmy McGill/Saul Goodman) and Michael Nando (Nacho) enjoy Farina Pizzeria in Albuquerque. Producer Vince Gilligan favors Santa Fe’s Geronimo while Patrick Fabian (Howard Hamlin) is a fan of Los Compadres . Rhea Seehorn (Kim Wexler) enjoys the food and ambiance at Los Poblanos Farms. Interestingly, none mentioned restaurants such as Loyola’s, Sai Gon Sandwich and Taco Sal which have made cameo appearances in the series.

Hass Aslami, founder of franchise powerhouse Pizza 9

On March 22nd, the Travel Channel debuted its Bizarre Foods: Delicious Destinations episode showcasing Albuquerque. Instead of highlighting the weirdly wonderful aspects of dining in the Duke City, the show focused on the unique foods Zimmern believes define Albuquerque. Understandably that means chile, both red and green. At the Church Street Cafe, Zimmern touted the stacked green chile enchiladas. For green chile cheeseburgers, Zimmern visited The Owl Cafe on Eubank, explaining this satellite location uses the recipes and preparation techniques of the San Antonio Owl Cafe which originated green chile cheeseburgers. For the most intense, rich and smoking hot red chile, Zimmern recommended Mary & Tito’s Cafe, a James Beard Award-Winning restaurant where carne adovada is a mainstay. Because not even New Mexicans can live on chile alone, Delicious Destinations visited The Pueblo Harvest Cafe for a Tewa taco and piñon rolls from Buffet’s.

February, 2016

Nutella and Banana Crepe from Boiler Monkey in Albuquerque

In January, Business Insider put together a list showcasing the best restaurant in every state. Paying particular attention to fine-dining establishments, Business Insider declared Santa Fe’s Geronimo as the best the Land of Enchantment has to offer. Less than a month later, restaurant review guide Zagat compiled a line-up called “50 States, 50 Steaks” which honored the definitive slab of succulent beef to be found in every state. New Mexico’s honoree was none other than the Tellicherry-Rubbed Elk Tenderloin at Geronimo. “Served atop roasted garlic fork-mashed potatoes, sugar snap peas, Applewood smoked bacon and creamy brandied-mushroom sauce,” the Elk Tenderloin is indeed divinely inspired, a transformative steak.

Shortly after Zagat’s affirmation of New Mexico’s premier steak, Geronimo’s uber-talented executive chef Eric DiStefano passed away unexpectedly. Tributes to the chef centered not as much on his greatness as a culinary virtuoso, but on what a kind and gentle soul he was. He was a man beloved in the community, a man who touched many lives as well as palates. My friend Billie Frank who knew him well wrote a very touching feature on Chef DiStefano on Santa Fe Travelers. Billie and I agreed that every apron in Santa Fe should be at half-mast. Godspeed Chef.

Fried Pickles from The Fat Squirrel Pub & Grille in Rio Rancho

It speaks to the remarkable consistency with which New Mexico’s very best chefs perform night in and night out that in 2016, the state’s five semifinalists for the James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef Southwest are repeat honorees. To be named a semi-finalist is to be recognized as among the very best from among the elite. The level of competition throughout the Southwest (Arizona, Colorado, Texas and New Mexico) is extremely high. Semifinalists for Best Chef Southwest for 2016 include Jennifer James of Jennifer James 101 in Albuquerque, Martin Rios of Restaurant Martin in Santa Fe, Jonathan Perno of La Mierienda at Los Poblanos in Los Ranchos de Albuquerque and Andrew Cooper of Terra at the Four Seasons Resort Rancho Encantado in Santa Fe. Eloisa, Chef John Sedlar’s tribute to his grandmother, was nominated for Best New Restaurant.

Rancho de Chimayo was announced as one of five recipients of the James Beard Award’s “America’s Classic” honor. A James Beard Award signifies the pinnacle of achievement in the culinary world, the country’s most coveted and prestigious culinary award while the “Americas Classic Award” honors “restaurants with timeless appeal, beloved for quality food that reflects the character of their community, and that have carved out a special place in the American culinary landscape.” Rancho de Chimayo is the true, timeless American classic–beloved in the community with the highest quality food reflecting the character of New Mexico.

Whoo’s Donuts, Homer Simpson’s Favorite Santa Fe Restaurant

No doh about it. Homer Simpson would drool over the Thrillist’s compilation of the best donut shops in America, thirty-three purveyors of confectionery excellence. Only one of the Land of Enchantment’s decorated domiciles of donut deliciousness made the list. Santa Fe’s Whoo’s Donuts were a revelation to Thrillist writers who described the blue-corn donut experience as “like eating a corn muffin that has been put into a culinary witness-protection program and comes out with a totally new identity, but is more delicious.” While the analogy may be a bit lame, Whoo’s Donuts are fantastic.

“Kiss me, I’m drunk.” While that quote may sound as if uttered by Richard Burton or Joe Namath, it’s how Buzzfeed subtitled its “Best Irish Bar in Every State” feature. Regardless of what the subtitle may or may not have implied, the feature acknowledged that “a good Irish bar isn’t just a bar. It’s home.” Buzzfeed consulted the good folks at Yelp for the top-rated Irish spots in every state. The Land of Enchantment is well represented by Albuquerque’s Two Fools Tavern where “the hardest part is deciding if you want the boxty, fish and chips or the bangers and mash.”

For the Love of Meat – Airing in Santa Fe on Wednesday, March 9th at 7PM. (Click Image for More Info)

Best in the country. It’s one thing to give yourself that title, it’s another to earn it. Chef Todzilla’s Mobile Cuisine, a Roswell food truck earned it! In a poll of the best food trucks in the fruited plain, Chef Todzillas garnered almost half the 4,700 votes cast while competing against food trucks in such cosmopolitan behemoths as Dallas and Las Vegas. Chef Todzilla prides itself on using fresh, local, never frozen ingredients and has a burger menu to be envied. The chorizo burger is reputed to be addictive.

On Wednesday, March 9th at 7PM, the Violet Crown Cinema in Santa Fe will screen a documentary on barbecue as it is incomparably prepared in Central Texas. Entitled “For the Love of Meat,” the documentary introduces some of the top barbecue pit-masters in Central Texas. This documentary comes with a warning: It will make you hungry for some brisket. Purchase your tickets here.

January, 2016

High Point Mac (Choice Center-Cut Steak and Green Chile) from The Point in Rio Rancho

Not since Adam and Eve have ribs been as oft-discussed as they are today.  Barbecue restaurants throughout the fruited plain strive for melt-in-your-mouth pork and beef ribs.  Ribs are the most popular of all barbecued meats, caveman cuisine at its very best.   In a program called Top 5 BBQ in America, the Food Network celebrated barbecue ribs in such barbecue hotbeds as Tennessee and North Carolina.  Admittedly Albuquerque isn’t the first place you think of for great ribs, but the Food Network fell in love with the red chile ribs from El Pinto, ranking them third in the country.  “The secret to their mouth-watering spicy ribs is a paste made of dried caribe chiles rubbed onto the meat and allowed to marinate for 24 hours.” 

“From new attractions and massive additions to quirky flavors, big birthdays and booze, 2016 promises to be a good year for the curious traveler.”  CNN compiled a list of 16 things to see and do in the U.S. in 2016.   Arguably the most delicious destination to be enjoyed this year is New Mexico’s very own Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail.  “With nearly 100 spots to sample, the Trail is a tasty way to add a little spice to your life this year.”  Among the purveyors of incomparable green chile cheeseburgers listed were Sparky’s in Hatch and 5 Star Burgers with locations in Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Taos.

My friend Darren contemplates his meal at Magokoro

In December, 2015, you read on this blog that Zagat, a national online and print restaurant review medium, had selected as New Mexico’s very best dessert not something unique to the Land of Enchantment, but a bundt cake you can find at a chain with locations throughout the fruited plain.  Spoon University, the self-professed “everyday food resource for our generation, on a mission to make food make sense” made a lot more sense than Zagat, naming New Mexico’s best dessert as bizcochitos from the Golden Crown Panaderia.  Spoon described them as “sweet, cinnamony cookies” that became the “official state cookie almost 20 years ago” and “deserve to graduate onto the official dessert.” 

Business Insider didn’t limit itself to cookies, naming the best restaurant in every state.  Sifting through their own list of the best restaurants in America, James Beard Award nominations, expert reviews, and local recommendations, paying particular attention to fine-dining establishments, Business Insider declared Santa Fe’s Geronimo as the best in the Land of Enchantment.  “Noted for its impeccable service and complex dishes,” Geronimo “boasts a host of mouthwatering dishes.”

Wonton soup from Asian Pear

With almost twice as many flavor-characteristics discernible by human senses than wine, coffee is next to water, the world’s most popular beverage with 400 billion cups consumed yearly (1.4 billion cups daily) across the globe. The Huffington Post and Foursquare users compiled a list of the best places for coffee in every state across the fruited plain.  With cups touting them as “passionate about coffee,” the Land of Enchantment representative was Satellite Coffee, an Albuquerque presence with eight locations throughout the city. 

“Until recently, Tim Harris, of Albuquerque was the only restaurant owner in the country with Down syndrome. But what drives a restaurateur who has lived for his business to close up shop? A girl he loves more than anything.”  In a very touching report the CBS news show Sunday morning profiled Harris and his decision to close his popular restaurant Tim’s Place to move to Denver where he could be close to the love of his life.  When Tim launches his restaurant in Denver, it’s a sure bet the Mile High City will embrace him as warmly as the Duke City did.

Lobster Tater Tots from the Freight House in Bernalillo

Santa Fe Chef Marc Quiñones who plies his craft at Luminaria competed with four other chefs on the Food Network’s “Cutthroat Kitchen,” a reality cooking show.  Cutthroat Kitchen features four chefs competing in a three-round elimination cooking competition. The contestants face auctions in which they can purchase opportunities to sabotage one another. Each chef is given $25,000 at the start of the show; the winner keeps whatever money he or she has not spent in the auctions.  While the talented chef didn’t win the competition, every guest at Luminaria is a winner when they get to partake of his culinary fare. 

For years, Santa Fe has been regarded as one of the nation’s premier tourist attractions as well as one of America’s best dining destinations.  This culinary Mecca hosted its inaugural Santa Fe Foodie Classic, highlighting classic flavor combinations as well as new techniques demonstrating the future of Southwestern cuisine.   Several events were held in which some of the city’s very best chefs showcased their talents over a three-day period.

2016SouperBowl

For more than 35 years, the Roadrunner Food Bank of New Mexico has been serving the state’s hungry.  As the largest Food Bank in the state, it distributes more than 30 million pounds of food every year to a network of hundreds of partner agencies and four regional food banks.  Through that network, the Food Bank is helping 70,000 hungry people in our state weekly.  That’s the equivalent to feeding a city the size of Santa Fe every single week. Every January, the Food Bank hosts the Souper Bowl, its largest fundraiser, an event in which restaurants across the metropolitan area prepare and serve their tastiest soups to hundreds of people and several hungry judges who get to weigh in on their favorites.  This year’s winners were: 

People’s Choice Winners – Soup
1st Place and Souper Bowl Champion: Artichoke Café for their Butternut Squash and Coffee Soup; 2nd PlaceSoupDog for New Mexico meets New Orleans Gumbo; 3rd Place: Bocadillos Café and Catering for New Mexico Clam Chowder

Critics’ Choice Winners – Soup
1st Place: Zinc Bistro and Wine Bar for Roasted Chicken and Red Chile Dumpling Soup; 2nd Place: Bien Shur at Sandia Resort and Casino for Fire Roasted Poblano Cream Soup with Corn and Crawfish Salsa; 3rd Place: The Ranchers Club of New Mexico for Bison Posole

People’s Choice Winners – Vegetarian Soup
1st Place: Street Food Asia for Malay Curry PPP Chowder; 2nd Place: Il Vicino Wood Oven Pizza for Vegetable Minestrone; 3rd Place: Turtle Mountain Brewing Company for Green Chile Cheddar Ale soup

People’s Choice – Dessert

1st Place: Nothing Bundt Cakes for Bundtinis; 2nd Place: Theobroma Chocolatier for Assorted Chocolates; 3rd Place: Gardunos Restaurants for Biscochito Flan

People’s Choice – Booth Winner: Bien Shur Restaurant

On the same weekend, The Food Depot in Santa Fe holds its own Souper Bowl event. This year more than 1,200 people enjoyed the best soups some 28 restaurant chefs across the City Different had to serve.  Winners of the 2016 event were:

Best Cream: Rio Chama
Best Savory: Four Seasons Resort Rancho Encantado Santa Fe
Best Seafood: Sweetwater Harvest Kitchen
Best Vegetarian: Paper Dosa
Best Overall Soup: Sweetwater Harvest Kitchen 

2016: A Thrilling (And Filling) Year in Food | 2015: A Thrilling (And Filling) Year in Food | 2014:A Thrilling (And Filling) Year in Food | 2013: A Thrilling (And Filling) Year in Food |  2012: A Thrilling (And Filling) Year in Food2011: The Thrilling & Filling Year in Food. |  2010: The Thrilling & Filling Year in Food.

Gil’s “Best of the Best” for 2016

Ahn (left) and Tammie welcome you to SweeTea Bakery Cafe, home of my favorite pastries for 2016

It’s the season for making lists and checking them twice, finding out which restaurants were naughty or nice. The advent of 2017 is nigh. It’s with great fondness and more than a little (blush) salivation that I bid adieu and auld lang syne to my most memorable dishes of 2016. These are the baker’s dozen plus dishes which are most indelibly imprinted on my memory engrams…the first dishes that come to mind when I close my eyes and reflect on the past year in eating.  As with previous yearly compilations, every item on this list was   heretofore unknown to my palate before 2016. Every dish was a delicious discovery.

In the spirit of lagniappe, my “best of the best” list for 2016 lists nineteen fabulous dishes and–for the first time ever–includes memorable meals shared by some of my faithful readers.  It’s my fondest hope that you do more than just read this list.  Please make it your New Year’s resolution to try as many items as your schedule, budget and dietary constraints will allow–then tell me about it.  Let me know if my recommendations and those of contributors met your own high standards.  I promise it will be worth every calorie.  Please note that the list is strictly chronological, not by any other ranking factor.

  • In January,  I predicted the bacon-toffee sundae (cinnamon and brown sugar ice cream topped with bacon, toffee, maple-caramel and fresh whipped cream) from the Point Grill in Rio Rancho would be on my “best of the best” list for 2016.  This is the most delicious self-fulfilling prophecy made all year long.  Don’t let the distance to the Point Grill deter you from possibly the most surprisingly delicious bacon treat you’ll ever have.
  • My friend Larry McGoldrick jokes that I finally shamed him into eating Japanese food by promising me that the eel (unagi donburi) at Albuquerque’s Magokoro Japanese Restaurant is spectacular.  Larry hadn’t eaten Japanese food in over three decades before falling in love with Magokoro’s electrifying eel and with the infinite variety of deliciousness at this magnificent Japanese restaurant.
Sarita: THE best dish I’ve had this year?  Oh, man, that’s hard, kinda like asking me what’s my favorite song or to pick the prettiest rose in a vast rose garden.  I’ll do this:  I’ll tell you about the three meals that I thought about for days and you can pick which one sounds the most appealing to you. 

#1: The green chile stew at Cocina Azul. (The 12th Street location, if that makes any difference.) This was a nice, hearty stew with chunks of steak (*not* hamburger), potatoes and *HOT* green chile.  In fact, that’s why I went there; I knew I could count on the chile having some kick.  Not some kick, but more like martial-artist-kick.  This is the stuff to have for whatever ails you.

#2:  The Ham and Cheese waffle at La Waffleria.  Start out with buttermilk waffle batter.  Mix in chunks of ham and shredded cheddar cheese and onto the waffle iron it goes.  Typically this comes with maple syrup.  I didn’t want that.  Instead I had them substitute it with their browned butter bourbon sauce.  If that’s not enough, there’s a self-serve station with two crock pots, one filled with maple syrup and the other filled with melted butter.  Well, of course butter makes everything better, so…..

#3:  The keema dosa at Curry Leaf.  Although, I suppose this should be 2.5 instead of 3 because I just got a sampling instead of an actual meal.  Anyway, it’s an Indian crepe filled with wonderfully seasoned ground lamb, served with a couple of delicious chutneys.

  • Although there are dozens of Mexican restaurants across the Albuquerque metropolitan area, only Delicias Cafe showcases transformative Chiles Rellenos en Nogada.  Traditionally made in Puebla to celebrate the Mexican Independence Day on September 16, these rellenos are a celebration of culinary inventiveness and the sheer magical combination of complementary ingredients to create a sweet-savory sensation  
  • Situated directly across the street from the San Francisco de Assis church in Ranchos de Taos,  Old Martina’s wasn’t around when Georgia O’Keefe was painting the venerable Catholic church, but she would certainly have found artistry in the menu–especially in the Duck Enchiladas.  Rolled blue corn tortillas engorged with a generous amount of moist, flavorful duck and slathered in your choice of red or green chile (ask for both), these enchiladas are enchanting!
Bruce “Sr Plata Silver: Chicken Fried Steak and Fried Chicken from Mannie’s Family Restaurant. Both dishes have to be grouped together as both are totally Amazing! The fried chicken tastes really ‘Home Made’ and brings back memories of a different time eating ultimate comfort food. The chicken fried steak is thick, juicy and crispy with amazing gravy. Dare I say more!
  • To say the Costillas del Cordero from The Cellar in Albuquerque are good is akin to declaring Sofia Vergara is merely shaped like a girl.  These lolipop lamb chops are superb!  Pert, petite and packed with flavor, these crusty corderos are imbued with a demi-glace enlivened with an attention-grabbing combination of lively flavors.  The only one thing wrong with these luscious lamb chops is that there are only four to an order.
  • When the Poki Poki Cevicheria in Albuquerque launched in May, 2016, it may have heralded the Duke City’s entry into the second decade of the millennium.  Largely influenced by Asian flavors and ingredients, poke can be–and is–made with almost any type of seafood and topped with a vast array of garnishes and sauces.  Poki Poki increases its fusion elements by adding New Mexican Touches.  The spicy bowl was the first of several poki bowls I enjoyed and remains my favorite.
Mary Kroner: That is easy for me: the barbecued pork sandwich (banh mi) at iKrave Cafe on Juan Tabo.  I am a stickler when it comes to good bread, and the warmed roll, lightly buttered, proved the perfect wrapper for the succulent pork and lightly pickled vegetables, plus fresh jalapenos.
  • There are several items at the Pop-Up Dumpling House in Albuquerque worthy of inclusion on this list.  Certainly any one of the dumplings are memorable, but when my mind’s eye reflects on my two meals at this pop-up palace, it’s the hot and sour soup which bubbles to the top.  This is the hot and sour soup the culinary gods envisioned when they created what has all-too-often become a boring and blase soup.
  • Even before the Golden Crown Panaderia in Albuquerque installed its new pizza oven, this Old Town treasure created the very best combination pizza (tasty pepperoni, hearty Italian sausage, black olives, crisp bell  peppers, red onions and mozzarella) we’ve enjoyed in New Mexico.  Naturally, the canvas for this masterpiece is the bakery’s magnus-opus, an artisinal bread dough that elevates pizza to lofty levels.     
Bob of the Village of Los Ranchos: Best Dish of ’16: Sorry, despite some great dishes, e.g. Asparagus Soup (but it’s a soup) at The Cellar, or Carpaccio (but it’s listed amongst Antipasti), none have topped my perennial love of Scalo‘s “Filetto” at $29 (despite the dastardly ravages of ART to Route 66!), to wit: the tenderest, grilled beef tenderloin topped with cambozola cheese and red wine reduction which contrasts/pairs so nicely with a yummy mushroom risotto, and all served with the standard, grilled asparagus by “professional” waitstaff.  “Chow!”
  • New Mexican food with a pedigree!  That’s what you’ll find in Albuquerque’s Pana’s Cafe, a New Mexican eatery which launched in January, 2016, but whose timeless recipes have been beloved by Duke City diners for generations. Pana’s recipes are essentially the same family recipes which have made Padilla’s Mexican Kitchen an institution.  Pana’s just seems to prepare them better.  The combination plate is an exemplar of New Mexican cooking.
  • Despite having lived on the Mississippi Gulf Coast for eight years, my Kim and I can’t recall having a single memorable grits dish down South.  Since moving back to New Mexico in 1995, we’ve uncovered three “best ever” grits dish.  The Cajun-Style Shrimp and Grits from Blades Bistro in Placita are the best of the best.  To paraphrase a famous catchphrase from a 1970s television comedy, you’ll want to “kiss these grits” before enjoying their depth of flavor.
Ryan “Break the Chain” Scott: My favorite was the one we shared with you at Eclectic. I loved the chimichurri skirt steak, the hot wings, the half chicken…pretty much everything. Max and Daniela also have great taste in insurance agents.

A close second was the Oklahoma smash and fries with garlic aioli at Pete’s Frites.

I also tried Korean fried chicken at a place called BonChon in Houston this week…now I understand why Pluto (Sr. Plata) loves these places so much. Outstanding.

  • Since its launch in 2009, no restaurant has introduced me to as many new dishes as has Budai, the transformative  restaurant which elevated Chinese cuisine to gourmet.  Who would have thought a Jellyfish Salad could be so utterly delicious?  Chef Hsia certainly did. This dish is so good, you’ll never give it a second thought that you’re eating jellyfish whose texture and flavor are surprisingly palate pleasing especially when paired with the melange of ingredients the Chef adds.
  • The painful trauma of having lost a tooth to an especially sticky caramel apple kept me away from the delectable autumn treat for several decades.  Then we discovered the English Toffee Caramel Apple at Chocglitz in Albuquerque.  Chocolatier Celeste Davis’s boundless talents in coaxing pure deliciousness from the many ice cream and chocolate treats she creates by hand extend to caramel apples which are absolutely addictive.   
Noe Pacheco: Thanks for the opportunity to contribute to your list.  Wow, that is a tough question.  I’m like you in that I have a hard time coming up with a favorite.  Here are a couple that I could think of…I’d need a whole year to think about it!

1)  Broasted Chicken and Broasted Pork Chop @ Vick’s Vittles – These delicious meals are perfectly prepared in the broaster style (a combination of frying and pressure cooking).  This style imparts great flavor and juiciness to the chicken/pork chops.  Simply put, they are mouth watering and (dare I say?) finger lickin’ good. 🙂

2)  Banh Mi Sandwiches and Spring Rolls @ Banh Mi Coda – These sandwiches are the bomb!  They are simple, but simply amazing at the same time.  The genius is the simplicity of it.  The spring rolls are perfectly rolled and are delicious!  The peanut dipping sauce is so good, I’d drink it up by itself if left to my own devices…

3) Dumplings, Pork Belly Sandwich and Spicy Cucumbers @ The Pop-Up Dumpling House in the Talin Market.  These handmade from scratch dumplings (with spicy sauce of course!) are quite delicious,  The pork belly sandwich is small, but quite satisfying.  A lot of flavor in that little sandwich!  The spicy cucumbers (made with the same spicy sauce as is served with the dumplings) are simply amazing.  They make a nice pallet cleanser, but provide their own delicious contribution to the meal.

4) B.L.A.T. @ The FR8 House in Bernalillo.  This is what a BLT is supposed to be.  The bacon in this BLT is actually a pork belly cut – in other words thick and as flavorful as can be!  A nice selection of micro-brews as well!

  • My inaugural visit to An Hy Quan, Albuquerque’s very best vegetarian restaurant set the tone for future visits.  The very first item these lips sampled at this terrific eatery has turned out to be the best papaya salad I’ve ever had.  Alas, it’s so good that my expectations for the dish at other restaurants might be impossible to meet.  Fresh and invigorating, it’s also very well balanced with flavor combinations that will titillate your taste buds. 
  • Where would you find the best burger in the metropolitan area?  As newspaper magnate Horace Greeley might advice “go west!”…all the way to Rio Rancho’s Toro Burger Bar where you’ll find a burger menu unlike any other.  Twelve burgers adorn the menu with the Mo Better Burger capturing my heart early though future visits will likely uncover an even more delicious option.  If you’re tired of the same trite burger options, you’ll love what the Toro Burger Bar is doing. 
Gil’s Kim:  Unlike my thrilling (yawn) husband who didn’t list anything from Curry Leaf because all he’s had comes from the buffet,  three items made my “best of the best” list:  the unbelievable garlic naan, the wonderful fruit salad and the tandoori chicken.  Like my Gil, Curry Leaf is simply the best!
  • 2016 seems to be the year of the pizza for Gil’s Thrilling…  Three pizzas made this “best of the best” list, but not just for this year.  The three listed herein are the best we’ve had in more than two decades across the Duke City.  Perhaps the most memorable of the three is the Carbonara Pizza from M’Tucci’s Market & Pizzeria in Albuquerque.  This is the pizza which defies all stereotypes and templates.  It’s unique…and uniquely delicious.  
  • Daniela and Maxime Bouneou made their triumphant to the Duke City dining scene with the launch of Eclectic Urban Pizzeria and Tap House which can boast of three of Gil’s favorite dishes for 2016.  First would be the stellar North End Pizza with its bodacious bacony flavor.  Second is my favorite sandwich for the year, the Oyster Po’ Boy, as good as the best we had in New Orleans.  Third is the big dips and dough appetizer which everyone should experience at least once (preferably a hundred times) in their lives.
Sarita: Another place to add to my list is Maya, over on 3rd & Silver.  It’s the latest venture by Dennis Apodaca.  Of course a different menu (Latin fusion) from Eli’s Place, but I enjoyed my meal.  I had the Kobe green chile cheeseburger.  The burger is cooked to order with white cheddar cheese and green chile.  The chile wasn’t particularly hot, but it did have a nice flavor.  The fries were very similar to the delightful fries served at Eli’s Place.  Next time I go I’ll try their more Latin offerings, like the tortas or the tacos.
  •  With a cosmopolitan vibe that belies Albuquerque’s cow town feel, the SweeTea Bakery Cafe is a magnificent milieu for noshing on a crusty, crunchy banh mi or two.  This breath of fresh air bakery offers a plethora of pulchritudinous pastries so beguiling, your New Year’s resolution should be to try them all.  The nutella buns and the not your traditional banana nut bread are beyond delicious.
  • It’s not every purveyor of great sushi that serves dessert, much less one worthy of accolades and laudation.  The Blue Velvet Swirl from Ohana Hut in Albuquerque is the perfect finisher for a sumptuous soiree of sushi.  What, pray tell, is a Blue Velvet Swirl?  Picture a colorful cake with a lemon creme cheese filling topped with kiwi, white chocolate and hazel nuts.  Scratch that.  Picturing it isn’t enough.  You’ve got to taste it to believe it!

Gil’s “Best of the Best”: 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012 |

A Taste of the World in Rio Rancho 

The Santa Ana Star Center Hosted the Sixth Annual Taste of Rio Rancho on Saturday, October 22nd, 2016

While the marquee may have welcomed guests to the sixth annual Taste of Rio Rancho, the mouth-watering event could easily have been called “A Taste of America in Rio Rancho.”  In the six years which have elapsed since the inaugural Taste of Rio Rancho, the city’s culinary diversity has expanded significantly thanks to an influx of new restaurants cutting a wide swath across culinary cultures from throughout the country (and planet).  Not only are Visionaries (my term for residents of the City of Vision) spending more of their disposable income on hometown restaurants, diners from across the metropolitan area are increasingly making their way to Rio Rancho restaurants where it’s not just about serving outstanding food; it’s about providing a great dining experience.

The Type of Voting All Americans Enjoy

Those diverse dining opportunities were showcased during the Taste of Rio Rancho event where guests got to sample some of the unique culinary creations for which the city’s restaurants are renowned.  Moreover, guests had the opportunity to interact with their favorite restaurateurs and staff.  It speaks volumes about the familial climate in the city that many warm embraces and hearty handshakes were exchanged during those interactions.  The ambiance was convivial, fun and filling, an escape from the cares and concerns of current times.  Unlike (as many have expressed) less than desirable choices in the Presidential run, voters in attendance had two dozen delectable choices from which to select a People’s Choice award winner.

Garnering the most votes for the 2016 People’s Choice award was über chef Michael White and The Point Grill at Mariposa.  Although open for only thirteen months (as of this writing), the Point Grill and its chef have acquired quite a following.   Four miles north of the Santa Ana Star Center, the Point Grill offers spectacular east-facing views of four mountain ranges and a spectacular menu that’s surprisingly ambitious considering the restaurant’s smallish space.  The bacon-toffee sundae alone is worth the trek.

Rio Rancho is home to a number of award-winning food trucks.  The aptly named Cheesy Street has elevated the grilled cheese from simple comfort food to creative and innovative grilled cheese you will crave.  Parked frequently at the Westside Marble Brewery  the shamrock-green truck with its smiling crew has become a pied piper of sorts as long queues of hungry diners wait eagerly to place their orders.  Many of us line up for the Dubliner with bacon while others are addicted to the uniquely wonderful caramelized Irish bread pudding.

From Joe’s Pasta House: Victoria, Kassie and Randi

Perhaps no restaurant in Rio Rancho exemplifies the friend and neighbor ideal as much as Joe’s Pasta House, the proverbial restaurant “where everybody knows your name.” Indeed, frequent guests are on a first name basis with the owners, chefs and the very best wait staff in New Mexico. Many of us who call Rio Rancho home can recount examples of acts of kindness performed without fanfare by owners Joe and Kassie Guzzardi, but those kindnesses aren’t performed for publicity or praise.  They’re performed because the Guzzardis are looking out for their friends and neighbors in need.

Hot Tamales’ lives up to its mantra: “Our menu is simple but our food is extraordinary!”  Showcasing red chile blended from pods and fire-roasted green chile, the menu lists about thirty items.  Some Rio Rancho residents have tried them all, while others have a rotation of a handful of favorites such as the Hot Tamale Bowl (a large bowl of posole topped with a pork tamale) or the Tres Colores (red chile beef, green chile chicken and chile con queso rolled enchiladas).   Hot Tamales is the sister restaurant of O’Hare’s Grille & Pub, a long-time favorite in the City of Vision.

With three locations in the Albuquerque metropolitan area, Squeezed Juice Bar is New Mexico’s only locally owned organic raw juice and smoothie bar.  Visit the newest location at 1751 Rio Rancho Blvd. for fresh, healthy, raw foods that nourish the body using organic, locally grown products whenever possible.  If you’re inclined to believe healthy and raw don’t sound very tasty, Squeezed! will make a convert out of you as it did dozens of guests who stopped by for a sample.  Squeezed! is open seven days a week.

Serving the City of Vision since 2008, Fat Squirrel Pub & Grille may be patterned after an upscale English pub, but the 20,000 pennies covering the surface of the bar all sport President Lincoln’s countenance.  Libation loving patrons belly up to the penny bar for their favorite adult beverage.  Diners have a harder time making up their mind because the menu is replete with Irish, English and American  dishes.  The fish and chips are on a short list as best in the metropolitan area.  Burgers, especially the El McGoldrick, are also much sought after.

There’s always something new and exciting going on at Cazuela’s Mexican Grill & Brewery, a restaurant which seems to be reinventing (or more accurately, adding to its repertoire) itself every few years.  The restaurant added mariscos to an already formidable Mexican food menu in 2009.  Three years later the restaurant added a brewery and tap room showcasing several award-winning adult libations then in 2015, pizza (scratch-made dough infused with New Mexico honey) became a dinner-time offering.  We may not know what’s next for this innovative eatery, but we do know it’ll be good.

Can it really be twenty years since O’Hare’s Grille & Pub first opened its doors and extended a hearty Céad míle fáilte (an Irish greeting meaning “a hundred thousand welcomes”) to its guests?  Many of the first guests to visit O’Hare’s return frequently to “gulp, gorge and gather,” the restaurant’s three word “mission statement.”   Continuity is one of the hallmarks at O’Hare’s.  The menu hasn’t changed much over the years, but that’s the way many guests like it.  They especially like Thursdays when the daily special is Dublin Pot Roast in natural jus with roasted potatoes, roasted vegetables and grilled French bread.

In parts of the Midwest, it doesn’t matter how low the thermometer reads, it’s never too cold for custard.  Rio Rancho residents are beginning to understand that obsession.  Vanilla Bean Frozen Custard has introduced us to premium ice cream that’s thick, rich, creamy and made fresh daily.  Vanilla Bean offers vanilla, chocolate and flavor-of-the-day ice cream and if it ever does get too cold for custard, you can also enjoy specialty popcorn, freshly made fudge and candies.

In April, Franchise Business Review named Pizza 9 one of the top 200 franchises in America for 2016.  Several months later, the New Mexico Restaurant Association awarded Pizza 9 the Restaurant Neighbor Award in recognition of its community involvement.  Serving Rio Rancho since 2009, Pizza 9 has converted many residents of “Little New York” to Chicago-style pizza and to Italian beef sandwiches.  Owner Vu Nguyen has expanded his restaurant empire with the 2016 launch of 99 Degrees Seafood Kitchen in Nob Hill.  Rio Rancho residents are already clamoring for him to expand to Rio Rancho.

“Catfish, BBQ, gumbo, po boys, jerk chicken, carne adovada fries & more!”  That’s what the banner in front of K’Lynn’s Southern & Cajun Food reads.  The “carne adovada fries” may have you doing a double-take, but they’ll also have you making repeated visits to the city’s first and only Southern and Cajun food restaurant.  So will the gumbo, rich with Andouille sausage and chicken.  So will the pecan pie covered with a bourbon sauce.  KLynn’s offers not only Southern food, but Southern hospitality.

Since 1983 when Gary West launched the legendary Smokehouse BBQ, 4000 Barbara Loop has practically become a second home to the city’s barbecue aficionados.  Carrying on the low-and-slow smoke tradition is Greg Janke who launched Stack House BBQ in September, 2016.  Greg is a veteran of Rio Rancho’s Pork & Brew, a Kansas City Barbecue Society sanctioned event in which he’s fared very well.  For competition-quality barbecue and for Rio Rancho hometown service, you can’t beat Stack House BBQ.

Left: Tony Otero, Owner of Dairy Queen in Rio Rancho; Right: Matt Geisel, New Mexico’s Incoming Economic Development Secretary

Fifty years after its founding, Rio Rancho has already become New Mexico’s third most populous city.  One of the architects of its growth and success has been Matt Geisel who, for eight years, served the city in various capacities, most recently as Economic Development and Business Relations Manager.   In early October, Matt was selected by Governor Susana Martinez to serve as the state’s Economic Development Secretary, a cabinet post for which he’s imminently qualified.  Matt was instrumental in the growth of the Taste of Rio Rancho and is primed to do great things for the Land of Enchantment.

Friends of Gil (FOG) Dinner: World Peace One Meal at a Time

Friends of Gil stay past closing time again

You’ve probably espied a bumper sticker encouraging everyone to “Visualize Whirled Peas,” an obvious homophone for “Visualize World Peace.” Some have posited that whirled peas might indeed be the way to world peace. Seriously! I’m speaking, of course, about hummus, a ubiquitous Middle Eastern food typically made of mashed (whirled) chickpeas. 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 through hummus.

Waiting for Appetizers

Negotiating world peace over dinner isn’t exactly a novel concept. A New York group named World Peace, One Falafel at a Time aims to bring Jews, Muslims and people of other faiths together over food. The group’s mission statement is clear: Through a shared plate of food we create a common ground that fosters trust and understanding. When people share a simple meal together, boundaries disappear, discussion becomes possible, and healing can begin. We come together not as a meeting of a thousand, but as one hundred meetings of ten.

Will it be pizza or another Piatanzi pièce de résistance?

An article published in the Society page of the New York Times Sunday edition on May 5, 1918 posited that “soap-boxers emitting hatred and trust” may be having trouble with their stomachs which sometimes direct human action more than the mind does.” The writer observed that where there are points of disagreement, a good dinner usually settles them.

The Private Dining Room at Piatanzi was a Magnificent Venue for Dinner

So, where is this diatribe headed? Maybe nowhere. Maybe it’s just my reaction to the increased lack of civility (a vast understatement) among politicians and ideologues (on both sides of the aisle) who can’t concede any merit whatsoever about the opposing viewpoint. It’s not enough to disagree with one another’s opinions or choices, dissenters on both sides seem to have a base need to resort to derisive pejoratives and name-calling. All that without ever sitting down and having a discussion about the issues which divide them, without ever attempting to compromise, without ever acknowledging commonalities…

Next Course Please

Maybe it’s too simple-minded and naive to suggest all the world’s problems can be solved over a good meal, but it would certainly be a good start. Might I suggest these “two sides of the same coin” politicos attend the next Friends of Gil (FOG) dinner in October. FOG dinners are an exemplar of decorum and civility. FOG members come from a variety of backgrounds and have a wide spectrum of political and ideological viewpoints, but for at least a few hours, we put aside any differences we may have and enjoy what makes us most alike–sharing great food, great conversation, great fun and great friendship.

The most recent FOG dinner was held on Friday, July 29th at the Juan Tabo location of Piatanzi, a fantastic Italian restaurant specializing in fabulous small plate Italian creations. Twenty-something FOG members, including several first-timers and “another Gil” (we might have been separated at birth) enjoyed a sumptuous repast, several of us staying past closing time.

Kudos to Jim Millington and his beautiful Child Bride for putting together another terrific FOG evening. Barb White has graciously volunteered to organize our next outing in October. Look for details on this blog.

Friends of Gil (FOG) IX: Where do YOU want to Eat? Cast Your Vote Now!

OK FOGEYS. It’s voting time.
By Jim Millington

FOG IX Organizer Jim Millington: Is it any wonder Bruce and Grayce mistake him for their son-in-law?

We have prepared a list of widely disparate restaurants as worthy candidates for FOG IX in July.  In an exercise of Democracy not controlled by special interest groups, you have the opportunity to vote for the restaurant in which you’d like to dine with the Friends of Gil.  This being New Mexico, we ask that farm animals and dead relatives not vote.

1.  Piatanzi on Juan Tabo has a back room for groups. The food is unique in Albuquerque and wonderful if you like it and not wonderful if you don’t. A disadvantage is that it can get expensive if you aren’t paying attention.

2. Nexus is a Brewpub which is probably better noted for its New Mexicanized (my own made up word) Cajun food than beer (nothing wrong with the beer).

3. El Patron is a very popular New Mexican restaurant with plenty of room and barrel-sized margaritas.

4. Vick’s Vittles is something of a Country Texas/New Mexican cafe with such goodies as healthy high nutrition Chicken Fried Steak, Broasted Chicken and Burritos.

You can exercise your voting rights by responding to this post by midnight, June 30.

Friends of Gil (FOG) Dinner: A Gathering of Gastronomes

Jim Westmoreland and family attend their first FOG Dinner

Next week the Pueblo Harvest Cafe within the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center  will host a number of events during the world-renowned Gathering of Nations, but on Friday, April 22nd at 6:30, the venue belonged to the Friends of Gil (FOG) who  convened for dinner at the spectacular cafe.  This Gathering of Gastronomes included ten first-timers who joined us for an evening of fun, food and friendship.  A good time was had by all.

FOG Members Come From Many Walks of Life

Though we were invited to enjoy music and dancing on the patio after our dinner, several of us lingered in the dining room where we continued to enjoy great conversation and even better people.  This wasn’t the first FOG Dinner in which we closed the restaurant.

Perusing the menu

So what do Friends of Gil talk about?  Being a well-traveled group of gastronomes, several of us swapped tales of travel to Australia.  John and Kay Lucas lived there for eight years while Mary and Mack Kroner just returned from a two-week excursion.  Mary, who did a tremendous job organizing the event, brought back a number of delicious Australian cheeses which she and Mack graciously shared with Kim and me.    First-timers Jim and Sylvia Westmoreland also spent time in the Land Down Under.

At this table, discussion centered around traveling to Australia

Several people enjoyed the Pueblo Harvest’s version of a Tewa taco, a delightful dish featured in a recent airing of the Travel Channel’s Bizarre Foods: Delicious Destinations.  Others enjoyed such culinary delights as lamb chops, blue corn encrusted fried chicken, Jemez-style enchiladas and more.

Blue Corn Encrusted Onion Rings, a Pueblo Harvest Cafe Specialty

Look for more details on the next Friends of Gil dinner, slated for July, on this site.  We hope to see you there.  A great big thank you to Mary for putting together another great FOG evening.

Friends of Gil (FOG) Dinner: Fabulous Food, Fun and Friends

Pulchritudinous Pam and Loquacious Larry enjoy their dinner at Jinja

When Sheri LaVigne was a little girl, her family moved to a small farm in Corrales.  Her mother Kay Lucas bought a Nubian goat they named Mocha which provisioned the family with everything from farmer’s cheese to goat’s milk ice cream. Sheri got up early every morning to help her mom milk Mocha, an experience which helped foster her lifelong love affair with cheese. That love was rekindled when she lived in New York City just around the corner from a cheese shop. A few years later she and her husband relocated to Seattle where, despite a thriving food scene, there wasn’t a cheese shop to be found. Deciding she would be the one to rectify the situation, in 2009 she launched Calf & Kid, an artisan cheese shop. 

You may have seen Sheri on television not that long ago when she was featured on The Layover with Anthony Bourdain, whom it turns out is quite the turophile (a connoisseur of cheese).  He spent an hour tasting various cheeses with Sheri guiding him through a number of the “runny and smelly” cheeses he craved.  Not surprisingly the Calf & Kid has become über popular in Seattle where Sheri has cultivated a vibrant cheese culture showcasing fine cheeses from throughout the Pacific Northwest and beyond.  Her proud mother Kay is understandably very happy that the early morning experiences she shared with her daughter in Corrales proved so inspirational.  

Chow Fun Noodles

Kay no longer gets up early in the morning to milk goats, but she remains one of the Duke City’s most passionate and knowledgeable gastronomes.  Kay and doting husband John are charter members of the Friends of Gil (FOG).  On Friday, January 29th, they organized  the inaugural FOG event for 2016.  Twenty-three savvy diners–including first-timers Mary and Mack Kroner, Barb and Jim White and Bruce and Soozie Terzes–got together at Jinja Bar & Bistro for an evening of fun, food and friendship.

It was a wonderful event enjoyed by one and all.  The only thing missing was YOU.  Barb and Jim White volunteered to organize the next FOG event and you’re invited.  Stay tuned to this blog for more details.

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