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 2014. Here’s my thrilling (and filling) recap.
Combination Plate #4 from Chope’s in La Mesa (Photo Courtesy of Sandy Driscoll)
2014 saw the closure of 24 restaurants reviewed on this blog. We were just getting to know some of them (such as the exotic Rafiki Cafe and Taste of Peru) while others were venerable and beloved institutions we thought would always be open (Dagmar’s Restaurant & Strudel House and the Willard Cantina and Cafe). As some restaurants were shuttering their doors, hardly a week passed without an exciting and promising new restaurant launching. Transitioning to celestial kitchens in 2014 were beloved restaurateurs Leona Medina-Tiede of Leona’s Restaurante de Chimayo and Charlie Elias of Charlie’s Front Door. They will be missed.
2014 was another banner year for Gil’s Thrilling (and Filling) Blog. There are now more than 6,600 reader comments on 844 reviews. Readers haven’t been shy about expressing themselves with passion, humor and one-upmanship. I value your comments immensely and appreciate that you thought enough of my blog this year to have voted me as “best blogger” runner-up in Albuquerque The Magazine’s annual “best of the city” issue. In 2014, Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Blog also earned an entry on Wikipedia and finished the year as the tenth rated blog from among more than 11,000 food blogs ranked by Urbanspoon.
Combination Plate from La Posta De Mesilla (Photo Courtesy of Sandy Driscoll)
From among the 844 reviews published on Gil’s Thrilling…the five most popular reviews (based on the number of reader views) during the year were (1) Down N’ Dirty Seafood Boil; (2) 66 Pit Stop: Home of the Laguna Burger; (3) Wise Pies Pizza; (4) Mekong Ramen House; and (5) Bocadillos Slow-Roasted: A Sandwich Shop. The most prolific commenters were (1) Bob of the Village of Los Ranchos with 226 comments; (2) Bruce Schor with 196 comments; (3) Jim Millington with 141 comments; (4) Foodie Star with 42 comments; and (5) Jen with 31 comments. The post drawing the most comments was Friends of Gil (FOG) Dinner III: Magnificent Mexican Food for Fabulous Foodies with 75 comments. Thank you all!
Jaunted, the “pop culture travel guide for globetrotters, business road dogs, and arm chair travelers who are too harried to sit down with a traditional travel guide, or wait for a monthly travel magazine,” obviously recognizes the popularity of Santa Fe as a travel destination. To make sure travelers don’t get thrown for a loop when asked to declare their preference for “red or green,” Jaunted explained the difference between red and green, “the state’s signature dish:”The difference between the red and green is that red chiles are older and the green younger – think a raisin (red) versus a grape (green).
Chicken Dinner with Deep-Fried Macaroni and Cheese from Mr. Powdrell’s
Jaunted’s contributors shared the foods they’d gladly fly around the world for (and probably already have). After getting your fill of chile and you’re ready to indulge your sweet tooth, Jaunted recommends you make your way to the Kakawa Chocolate House which “makes killer cakes and desserts, but the most popular chocolate fix comes in the form of an “elixir,” which are “essentially, high-end hot chocolate featuring different blends of cocoa and spices.”
Thrillist contends that “US cities drive our national culinary narrative forward. They’re where every significant food trend either begins or hits critical mass. Big cities are eating what the rest of the country soon will be.” Examining and ranking the food scene in every American city with a population close to or greater than 500,000 people, Thrillist’s experts determined Albuquerque ranks only 32nd from among America’s fifty most populous cities. As most “best of” lists tend to do, Thrillist made it sound as if all Albuquerque has going for it are red and green chile.
Specials on the Supper Truck‘s last day of operation, December 20, 2014
The Boston Globe recommends traversing the Turquoise Trail instead of taking I25 from Albuquerque to Santa Fe, reasoning that “the more scenic route requires more time but reveals so much more about this central region of New Mexico and the folks who call it home.” Among the revelations discovered by Globe writers were lunch at The Hollar whose “menu adds a Southern accent to Southwestern cuisine.” After “fried okra with your chicken burrito,” the Globe recommends walking across the street to the Mine Shaft Tavern, “a time-warped watering hole famous for its green chile hamburgers and fabled history dating to 1899.”
In an episode entitled “Close Encounters of the Hungry Kind – New Mexico,” the Cooking Channel’s Pizza Masters show went off the well-eaten, well-beaten path to Las Vegas and Roswell where they explored the culinary scene outside the Rio Grande corridor. First on their agenda was Charlie’s Spic & Span Bakery & Cafe where they learned the secret of New Mexican cooking: red and green chiles. They didn’t meet any aliens in Roswell, but they did discover Chef Toddzilla and his “out of this world Zilla Burger and Cheesecake Bombs.”
In its Destination: Santa Fe feature, Competitor.com, an online site highlighting the latest in training, news and nutrition tells readers not only where to “catch this city’s unique running vibe,” but where to eat and drink. The site recommended athletes in training visit The Santa Fe Baking Company Café which sponsors a number of local races and provides discounts to club runners. The Blue Corn Café was cited as “a Santa Fe Striders favorite, especially for Taco Tuesday after the group’s track workout. The third eatery recommended was “Santa Fe’s Watering Hole,” Del Charro where “nightly specials, mouth-watering burgers and signature margs highlight the menu.”
Few foods evoke all-consuming passion as powerfully as pizza, arguably America’s very favorite food. The list-making folks at Thrillist believe “somewhere, in each state, there’s a truly sublime pie” and to prove the point, they scoured the fruited plain in search of the best pizza in every state. New Mexico’s honoree, for seemingly the umpteenth time, is Albuquerque’s Giovanni’s. Thrillist lauded its pairing with green chile and pepperoni which stud the tops of “their exceptionally good bready, crunch-crusty pizzas.”
The travel section of The Oregonian Web site revealed two New Mexican dining secret mysteries while visiting Tomasita’s in Santa Fe. “The mysteries? Just what is it that makes those sopaipillas so tasty, and what is the difference between green and red chile?” The answer, it turns out, is that there really are no secrets. The article provided no revelations for New Mexicans, but may have helped educate red and green chile starved Oregonians.
You might think that someone who spent time as a chef in a Santa Fe kitchen would understand the culinary traditions of the Land of Enchantment. David Tanis, writer of the New York Times weekly City Kitchen column apparently wasn’t paying attention. Just before Thanksgiving, the New York Times “scoured the nation for recipes that evoke each of the 50 states.” Rather than whet the appetite of New Mexicans, the recipe for “slow-roasted red chile turkey” rankled them. No one with whom I’ve since spoken (or whom KRQE interviewed) had ever prepared (or even heard of) the dish. Worse, the recipe called for ingredients (bay leaf, coriander and cumin) native New Mexicans consider sacrilegious to pair with chile.
The Red Rock Cafe offers the best in Chicago, Polish and Eastern European food and comestibles
Not only was turkey featured in the Thanksgiving recipe credited to New Mexico, the New York Times apparently staffs its editorial staff with turkeys. To wit, here is one of several corrections made after the article was published: “The introduction to the recipe from Arizona, for cranberry sauce and chiles, misstated the origin of Hatch chiles. They are grown in New Mexico, not in Arizona.”
The New York Times did redeem itself just a bit in a feature entitled 36 Hours in Santa Fe. Asserting that winter is the season “when residents effectively reclaim the center, the walkable area from the old plaza to the newer Railyard district,” the article praised several Santa Fe eateries. Kakawa was lauded for its chocolate drinks “based on recipes from ancient Mesoamerica and medieval Europe.” Joseph’s was lauded for a “menu is Santa Fe’s self-image in a nutshell: proud of local ingredients, open to international flavors.” For a “finer diner” the New York Times recommended The Plaza Cafe, “an unpretentious Greek diner.” For the ultimate in casual dining, guests at Izanami “are welcome to shuffle over from the spa in their robes and slippers.” Because “you can’t live in or visit New Mexico without developing an opinion about the best green-chile cheeseburger,” the Times recommends a burger from either the Shake Foundation or Santa Fe Bite.
The New Mexico Book Co-Op which strives to “promote the best in local books,” named as its best cookbook the wonderful The Rancho De Chimayo Cookbook, 50th Anniversary Edition by Bill and Cheryl Jamison, New Mexico’s four-time James Beard award-winning authors. As with the restaurant, the Jamisons are New Mexico classics.
“On a lonely stretch of highway in New Mexico’s high desert, galaxies light years away are more easily found than…lunch.” The sign reading “Pie Town” is no mirage. When CBS News correspondent Bill Geist likened a tray holding four slices of pie to a “poo poo platter of pie,” Kathy Knapp, the famous “Pie Lady of Pie Town” corrected him. It’s “a plethora of pies.” Just down the road, a second pie place, the Good Pie Cafe good-naturedly claims its pies are better. In Pie Town, New Mexico, the two pie shops alternate the days they’re open so there’s always pie available. Good Pie Cafe owner Michael Rawl illuminated “there is a responsibility to have pie here (in Pie Town).
Pan Fried Noodles with Pork from Viet Q in Albuquerque
What is it that makes New Mexico’s official state cookie so delicious? More than likely, it’s the cinnamon and anise-sprinkled goodness combined and a healthy dose of lard. According to Jaunted, the only vegetarian-and kosher-friendly biscochito in Santa Fe can be found in one place, the Chocolate Maven Bakery & Cafe where butter is substituted for lard.
In its October issue, Women’s Day magazine named Albuquerque as home to one of the country’s up-and-coming food scenes. Taking input from Yelp, the magazine evaluated cities with a large proportion and variety of highly rated new restaurants, delis, grocery stores and other purveyors of comestibles. The article didn’t cite the usual suspects in the pantheon of outstanding New Mexican restaurants. Instead, Women’s Day touted a “handful of new Peruvian, Costa Rican and Cuban spots” which have “reenergized local palates.” Three Duke City restaurants were singled out: Pollito Con Papas, Guava Tree Cafe and Pasion Latin Fusion.
The best deal in town: Buy ten, get your next cup of coffee free from Cafe Bella
When people think of great cities for coffee, Seattle and Portland are usually at the top of the list. A Travel & Leisure survey revealed that Albuquerque (yes, Albuquerque) ranks fifth among America’s best coffee cities thanks largely to “its distinctive local flavor.” That local flavor can be found in the New Mexico Piñon Coffee Company’s piñon enhanced blends. The article indicated that the “favorite local coffee drink” among Duke City coffee aficionados is the coffee milkshake from the Golden Crown Panaderia. It’s the very best coffee milkshake in the world.
TripAdvisor’s Flipkey, a terrific resource for travelers believes “pizza is the ultimate equalizer, indicating it ” doesn’t matter if you land in the 1% or have $1 to your name – the way three simple, staple ingredients blend together is enjoyed by all.” The “best part about pizza,” however, is that “wherever you go, there it is.” With that in mind, Tripkey compiled a “definite list of the top pizza joint in each state worth traveling for.” The pizza visitors to the Land of Enchantment’s should travel for is Back Road Pizza in Santa Fe. Back Road Pizza may be the most honored pizzeria in New Mexico with national and local media flocking to the City Different for the Pizza Different (flour crust rolled in cornmeal).
Wagner Homes in Corrales, home of the Apple Tree Cafe, the second leading vote-getter in the New Mexico Breakfast Burrito Byway voting.
The Culture Trip, which purports to provide “the best of art, food, culture and travel for every country” took a stab at listing Albuquerque’s “10 best local restaurants.” The list, compiled by art and culture writer Marcelina Morfin, is perhaps the most diverse (as well as surprising and controversial) such list published in recent years. Only two high-end gourmet restaurants (Jennifer James 101, Elaine’s) made the list. Also among the Duke City’s “best restaurants” were La Salita, Marble Brewery and The Supper Truck.
What is the oldest, continually operating restaurant in New Mexico? Thrillist took a stab at tracking down the oldest eatery in every state. Although New Mexico’s history predates the thirteen colonies, the oldest restaurant in the Land of Enchantment is a virtual newcomer in comparison to New York’s Old 76 House which was founded in 1686. Launched in 1835, Santa Fe’s El Farol has been going strong for nearly two hundred years with a time-tested formula of shareable small plates and nightly flamenco dancing under murals painted by local artists.
With more than 10,000 online votes cast over a 30-day period, the number of competitors at Santa Fe’s second annual Green Chile Cheeseburger Smackdown was winnowed down to eight finalists. In an exciting finale which took place at the Santa Fe Farmer’s market Pavilion, a distinguished panel of judges selected the “Original Alien Burger” (Roswell might have something to say about that) prepared by the Second Street Brewery. The “People’s Choice” winner was the “MadChile Burger” from Madrid’s Mine Shaft Tavern. Burgers were vetted based on appearance, “burgerability/eatability”, quality of ingredients, melding of flavors, and chile flavor/heat.
Readers of the kitchn.com Web site selected their ten favorite timeless cookbooks and New Mexico resident Deborah Madison’s classic Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone made the list. Although not as venerable as other books on the list, its recipes will stand the taste of time. With more than 325,000 copies in print, its 800 recipes may just convince you that meat isn’t needed to prepare deliciousness.
Santa Fe has not been widely regarded as a destination for pizza, but that could be changing. Pizza Today, the self-professed “most powerful marketing tool in the pizza industry” extolled the City Different’s Back Road Pizza for making a connection with pizza aficionados. For the Back Road Pizza folks, national and local recognition is nothing new. In addition to being featured on the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, it’s been heralded on USA Today’s “10 Best of Santa Fe.”
Green chile cheeseburgers are sacrosanct in the Land of Enchantment. They’re also so ubiquitous that even some national chains offer them though savvy diners, for the most part, have been sarcastically dismissive of their efforts. The New Mexico State Fair’s Green Chile Cheeseburger Challenge for 2014 may have changed that perspective. The winning burger was the Fudd 66 burger offered by Fuddrucker’s. The Bisti Grille in Thoreau earned the “People’s Choice” award.
One of New Mexico Magazine‘s most popular recurring features is the “One of Our 50 Is Missing” column in which readers share their experiences by locals with other U.S. citizens who think New Mexico is in Mexico or Arizona. Edible Baja Arizona recognized that Silver City is just three hours east of Tucson and that it has “charm–and cuisine to spare.” In an article celebrating Silver City’s “Taste of Downtown,” Edible noted that the city’s restaurants evoke the “feeling of being invited to someone’s home.”
For the second consecutive year, Albuquerque’s Rebel Donut was invited by the Cooking Channel to participate in an episode of “Donut Showdown.” Although the Duke City’s dominant donut presence was victorious in 2013, it finished as runner-up during the 2014 showdown.
New Mexico’s 2014 Hospitality Industry Awards, hosted by the New Mexico Restaurant Association, honored its best performers for the year. The Association’s highest honor, Restaurateur of the Year, was Pat Hafner, the regional vice president of operations for Outback Steakhouse. The Restaurant Neighbor Award went to Bill Scott and Jon Patten of Dion’s Pizza. Chloe Winters of Artesia’s Adobe Rose restaurant earned “Chef of the Year” honors.
The ABC News Web site has some advice as to where to go when you can’t get a seat at one of Santa Fe’s dining hot spots. They suggest Harry’s Roadhouse, described as “Santa Fe’s upscale version of the roadside diner.” One of the benefits of eating at Harry’s is the potential to be seated on a diner stool next to one of the City Different’s many celebrities.
When New Mexico resident Deborah Madison wrote “Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone,” who knew that the title would end up being so close to prophetic? With more than 400,000 copies in print, her magnus opus opened up a universe of possibilities for those of us who didn’t know vegetables could be so versatile and so delicious. In an interview with the Washington Post Madison discussed her updated version of “Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone,” published in 2014, indicating she “really wanted to make it resonate more in the times that we live in.” If you don’t already have a copy, you owe it to yourselves to make this part of your collection.
If you want to eat like a local, ask a local, preferably someone with major foodie cred. That’s what Yahoo’s associate food editor Rachel Tepper did. When Yahoo’s summer series “Eat Like a Local” published its list of “where to chow down in America’s lesser-known destinations without sticking out like a sore thumb,” they asked Andrea Feucht, author of The Food Lovers’ Guide to Santa Fe, Albuquerque & Taos,” where visitors should eat in the Duke City. She gave them some suggestions from a local’s perspective. Albuquerque’s “best hole-in-the-wall,” according to Andrea is Mary & Tito’s, home of incomparable red chile. “Best dive” honors go to the Monte Carlo Steakhouse while the “best dark and sexy date spot” in town is at Zinc Wine Bar & Bistro. Other local treasures divulged by Andrea include The Grove for “best lunch,” Zendo as the “best coffee shop,” The Shop for having the “best hangover brunch,” and Pho Linh Vietnamese Grill for “best ethnic eats.”
Lamb Chops and Mashed Potatoes with Gravy at Brett’s Bistro in Red River
Thrillist’s enumeration of sixteen regional American burgers showcased the versatility across the fruited plain of America’s sacrosanct burger. New Mexico’s representative on the hallowed list is the green chile cheeseburger. Alas, according to Thrillist, the Land of Enchantment can no longer claim to have exclusive domain over this paragon of deliciousness. Thrillist called the green chile cheeseburger “a staple of both New Mexican and Coloradoan cuisine (although NM claims this particular chile-coated invention).” Perhaps instead of hanging on our coat tails, Colorado should lay claim to a “Rocky Mountain Burger” and leave the green chile cheeseburger to practitioners nonpareil in New Mexico. Thrillist did get it right in listing the Owl Bar & Cafe as a place where you can get some good ones.
“Green chile is a huge deal in New Mexico. Unlike other nominally regional foods like Boston cream pie, people in New Mexico really do eat New Mexican green chile, on everything, all the time.” That’s how Aaron Kagan began his “Definitive Guide to Santa Fe Green Chile” article on Eater.com. Kagan defined Santa Fe’s signature green chile dishes as green chile stew from The Shed, green chile cheeseburger from Santa Fe Bite, enchiladas smothered with green chile from Tomasita’s, green chile chicken tamales from El Merendero, wood-fired cheese pizza with green chile from Dr. Field Goods, handheld breakfast burrito from Cafe Pasqual’s and green chile sauce from the Horseman’s Haven.
Seafood Salad Rolls and Dumplings from Ming Dynasty‘s Dim Sum Menu
It’s about ten hours or 650 miles by interstate from Las Vegas, Nevada to the heart of New Mexico’s green chile country. Because time and distance are so prohibitive, Sin City residents are thrilled to have Carlito’s Burritos, described by the Las Vegas Review Journal as “a delightful hole in the wall” where you can “taste the authentic green and red. The writer John L. Smith declared that “if it doesn’t change your life, it at least will certainly increase your pepper IQ while it opens your sinuses.” He got it wrong! New Mexico red and green chile WILL change your life.
In recent years, almost every “Best Mexican Restaurants in America” list published includes at least one representative from the Land of Enchantment. Invariably, however, the featured restaurants showcase the cuisine of New Mexico, not old Mexico. Such was the case with Thrillist’s 2014 list which named Albuquerque’s El Pinto and Santa Fe’s Maria’s New Mexican Kitchen to their list. Perhaps we can take consolation in knowing that not a single Tex-Mex restaurant made the list.
The grand championship at the 11th annual Pork & Brew
New Orleans, Louisiana has never been known as a hotbed for New Mexican cuisine, but that could be changing if Times-Picayune writer Judy Walker has her way. In an article entitled “late summer’s grilling delight,” Walker touted the green chile cheeseburger…and not just any green chile cheeseburger. She published the recipe from “100 Grill Recipes You Can’t Live Without: A Lifelong Companion,” an outstanding tome from New Mexico’s own four-time James Beard award-winning authors Bill and Cheryl Jamison.
What could be more American than celebrating the Fourth of July with barbecue? During the three-day Independence Day weekend, Rio Rancho hosted the 11th annual Pork & Brew and New Mexico BBQ State Championship. My friend Larry McGoldrick, the professor with the perspicacious palate, the dazzling Deanell Collins and I earned our Kansas City Barbecue Society (KCBS) certification just in time to participate as judges. We sampled and judged some of the very best chicken, ribs, pork and brisket imaginable (someone had to do it). The grand champion was Little Pig Town, a competition barbecue team out of Oklahoma. A number of New Mexico teams including seventh place winner Sweet Peppers gave a great account of themselves.
When it comes to burgers, the Land of Enchantment is no slouch. Compiling reviews and opinions of millions of travelers, TripAdvisor named two New Mexico burger restaurants as among the ten best in the country. Taking into account the quality, quantity and ratio of reviews mentioning burgers as well as overall reviews for each restaurant, TripAdvisor named Sparky’s from Hatch the third best burger joint in America. TripAdvisor noted that “burger enthusiasts can tickle their taste buds as they bite into a green chili cheeseburger made from Hatch’s famous pepper. Guests will also enjoy the joint’s kitschy decor that features a collection of fast-food themed statues.” The eighth highest rated burger joint in America was Big D’s Downtown Dive in Roswell, about which TripAdvisor wrote: “In the Land of Enchantment, owner and chef, Don Nason, uses garden fresh ingredients to grill up burgers that are out of this world.”
New Mexico seems to rank with Mississippi and Arkansas at the very bottom of most quality of life categories. It’s become an embarrassment. Fortunately when it comes to our incomparable cuisine, very few states can compete with the Land of Enchantment…at least in our opinion. The editors of Thrillist took a stab at listing all 50 states in the order in which they would want to eat and drink in for the rest of our their lives if they couldn’t move anywhere else. New Mexico ranked 33rd, just ahead of Arizona and 16 spots behind Colorado. The Thrillist team’s rationale: “We don’t blame you for putting that green chile all over everything: it’s quite tasty, but that’s only going to take you so far, friends.”
Cherry Pie and Green Chile Apple Pie from the Albuquerque Pie Company
Conde Naste Traveler which has long had an affinity for Santa Fe published a list of eight secret restaurants around the world worth finding. The list included restaurants from Madrid (the one in Spain), Berlin, New York City, Seattle, Miami, London and…Albuquerque, New Mexico. Fittingly, our hidden gem is Vernon’s Hidden Valley Steakhouse about which Conde Naste crowed “Once tucked into the corner of a liquor store, this unmarked, now-standalone speakeasy requires diners to knock three times and say a secret password to get past the door. (Before you go checking Yelp to figure out what it is, the code changes on a weekly basis.) Rumor has it the owners may also be plotting to open an even more exclusive VIP lounge with its own conditions.”
Throughout the year, Eater restaurant Editor Bill Addison travels across the fruited plain to chronicle what’s happening in America’s dining scene so he can formulate his list of the essential 38 restaurants in America. In an interim “highlight reel” chronicling three months of his journey, Addison compiled a list of 21 meaty highlights from the road–the best meat dishes he found during his coast-to-coast journey. Making the list were the huevos barbacoa from Cafe Pasqual’s in Santa Fe. Addison described this meatfest as “one meaty morning frontrunner: slow-cooked shredded beef doused in salsa con chile de arbol (a.k.a. “red” in local parlance) with poached eggs, refried beans, and cotija cheese.”
Four Gelato Flavors From Sweet Cravings in Bernalillo: Watermelon, Green Apple, Blood Orange and Lime
The Daily Meal proclaimed the burrito as possibly “the world’s most perfect food,” citing its diverse potential: “a hefty flour tortilla, steamed and pliable, filled with beans, cheese, meat, and vegetables, customizable to the extreme.” In compiling the 35 best burritos across the fruited plain, the Daily Meal listed burritos from such bastions of burrito perfection as Iowa, West Virginia, Louisiana, Oregon and…New Mexico. The third ranked burrito in America comes from Santa Fe’s The Shed where the Daily Meal proclaimed the green chile burrito “one of the best you’ll ever encounter.” The other Land of Enchantment gem to make the list was Albuquerque’s El Modelo whose chicharrones burrito ranked 19th.
Thrillist compiled its annual list of the 33 best burgers in the United States for 2014. The sole representative from the Land of Enchantment was the Santa Fe Bite, a perennial player on any “best burger” list. Thrillist lamented that when “Bobcat Bite was forced to close after a dispute between the restaurant and their landlord, we were extremely sad, and resorted to watching old romantic comedies starring Meg Ryan.” When the Santa Fe Bite reopened, they found solace and comfort in the green chile cheeseburger.
In an episode of “Man Fire Food,” on the Food Channel, Roger Mooking, chef, musician and lover of all things smoky and delicious, went to New Mexico in the episode titled “Mud and Steel in New Mexico.” Mooking hobnobbed with the Backyard Grillers in Valencia County where he learned how to grill on a discada. He then visited the Comida de Campos in Embudo where he helped prepare carnitas in an horno. It’s sad to think that many native New Mexicans don’t know much about discadas and hornos, both traditional New Mexican cooking methods.
Never mind the ability to name all 50 state capitals, Mapquest can tell you where to eat in them, too. Three Santa Fe eateries made the list. The Bull Rink steakhouse was described as “the undisputed king of wining, dining and watching legislators.” At Del Charro, you can “add green chilies to your burger and you’ll be taken for a local.” Huh? Geronimo was cited for featuring “exotic game on its menu and the wonderful sophisticated ambiance that Santa Fe is known for.”
Eater.com observed that “One could crisscross the breadth of New Mexico’s 121,593 square miles for a month and still not consume all the green chile cheeseburgers its restaurants have to offer.” In an article entitled New Mexico’s Phenomenal Green Chile Cheeseburgers, restaurant editor Bill Addison trumpeted just a few Santa Fe area favorites: The Shed, Dr. Field Goods, Santa Fe Bite and Izanami. While Izanami does not have a green chile cheeseburger on its menu, its fabulous wagyu burger is the only savory American item on the menu. To Addison, this “illustrates the depth of the state’s burger adoration.” Addison also visited the Monte Carlo Steakhouse whose green chile cheeseburger he described as “summery and smoky but also hot and rosy.”
The New York Times touted Santa Fe’s Fuze S.W. for getting diners thinking about the region’s rich culinary history through “scholarly seminars (think debates on the roots of the New Mexican red and green chile) alongside lunch trucks, storytelling and classes in papel picado, Mexican paper art centerpieces.” The inaugural event took place in November, 2013 and is set to run annually in September beginning this year, Sept. 12 to 14.
Chiles Rellenos from Tenanpa New Mexican Food on Albuquerque’s West Mesa
In the premier episode of Hotel Hell’s second season irascible contrarian Gordon Ramsey visited Mesilla where his momentous task was to transform the Meson de Mesilla from a struggling operation into profitability, if not respectability. The arduous task involved completely making over a depressing restaurant serving “Tuscan fare” in the heart of green chile Nirvana. Ramsey introduced a poolside menu of local bites, a breakfast menu and a revamped dinner menu, all celebrating the local bounty.
The gregarious and ubiquitous Flo is one of the most omnipresent presences on television. Usually she’s hawking Progressive Insurance, but in May she sponsored “Flo’s Fabulous Food Truck Contest,” a national contest to help food truck owners “soup up” their rides. Chef Toddzilla’s Mobile Cuisine from Roswell finished third in the contest. It wouldn’t be a Roswell food truck if the art work on Chef Toddzilla’s conveyance didn’t include aliens.
The genesis of the breakfast burrito may be in dispute but there’s no disputing how popular they are across the Land of Enchantment. New Mexicans all seem to agree that the best part of waking up is having a breakfast burrito awaiting them. To celebrate the heritage and widespread affection citizens have for this breakfast staple, the New Mexico Tourism launched the New Mexico True Breakfast Burrito Byway. More than four hundred restaurants from throughout the state were nominated for a spot on the final map with the final list being whittled down to fifty based on breakfast burrito fans. Katrinah’s East Mountain Grill in Edgewood garnered the most votes, tallying 2,623 votes while the Apple Tree Cafe in Corrales finished second with 1,907.
Predictably the list of ten dishes which continue to keep James Beard Award-winning chef Tony Maws grounded and inspired includes several tied to his New England roots, but while working in Santa Fe he came across a “dumpy restaurant behind a Texaco station” which “served a beautiful, hot, flavorful green chile stew” he had “on many a hung-over morning.” Maws described the green chile stew at Horseman’s Haven as “flat-out delicious, with ground pork, onions, garlic, crema, lime, cilantro and tortillas on the side….an example of how to correctly use spice.
In celebration of the “rich tapestry of “hand-crafted”, mom-and-pop soda companies out there doing what they’ve been doing for the last hundred years or so — and doing it damn well,” Thrillist put together a list of the iconic soft drink in every state. Contrary to some opinion, the Land of Enchantment’s most iconic soft drink isn’t Pabst Blue Ribbon. It’s Blue Sky, a natural soft drink founded in Santa Fe in 1980. Thrillist “kinda had to pick it due to its inherent Breaking Bad parallels.”
Gustavo Arellano, the sardonically witty author took a stab at ranking the “ten most important burritos in history,” a list he put together in response to America’s ignorance about the burrito’s history and its willingness to embrace “the Chipotle mess.” The only burrito from the Land of Enchantment to make the list was the infamous burrito “that made Jesus appear on a tortilla” in southeastern New Mexico. The tortilla in question was destined for the tortillera’s burrito.
Cakespy.com, a “Dessert Detective Agency” dedicated to seeking sweetness (literally) in everyday life spends a lot of time in New Mexico. As such, its “ultimate guide to the sweets of New Mexico” has a lot of credibility. The guide is an outstanding reference to the cuisine of the Land of Enchantment and its ingredients as well as our sweet specialties such as apple pie with green chile, arroz dulce, atole, biscochitos, blue corn pancakes, buñuelos, capirotada, chile chocolate, flan, horchata and so many others.
Gayot.com, the “guide to the good life,” listed its ten best Mexican restaurants in the United States. As with nearly every single national publication, Gayot sees no distinction between Mexican food and New Mexican food, listing Mary & Tito’s as America’s fifth best Mexican restaurant. Gayot did correctly note that “the exemplary red chile smothers just about everything here, from omelets to tamales to the fresh-tasting chile rellenos; equally famed are the carne adovada, chicharrones and savory stuffed sopapillas with sides of refried beans done right.” At least “chile” was spelled correctly.
Comfort food. We’ve all grown up eating foods that warm the cockles of our hearts and makes us feel loved and at home. Thrillist took a stab at identifying the comfort foods of every state in America. Not surprisingly, the Land of Enchantment’s contribution to the list was green chile stew. Thrillist’s rationale: “The official state question of New Mexico is “red or green?”, referring to the choice between red and green chile — but you should opt for the green kind, because New Mexico does it especially well in stew.” The unofficial comfort food of the state of Colorado was the breakfast burrito, obviously an export from the great state of New Mexico.
On Monday, June 23rd, 2014, Fubelly, an online discovery platform was launched in Albuquerque with the goal of helping Duke City diners achieve fubelly.Fubelly celebrates Albuquerque’s food culture in a medium ideally tailored for story-telling, utilizing videos with a very high production value to showcase some of the Duke City’s very best restaurants, chefs and restaurateurs to help diners engage with food and drink. Through Fubelly you’ll discover places you’ve never been and rediscover places you already love by learning more about them.
New Mexico was not entirely shut out at the 2014 James Beard Foundation awards. The Land of Enchantment’s sole honoree was Deborah Madison whose book Vegetable Literacy earned the Foundation’s book award in the Vegetable Focused and Vegetarian category. The book “shows us how the botany in our gardens can inform and guide our preparation and cooking of meals that will both delight and nourish us all.” Santa Fe brings more than chiles to the table. That’s the premises of a highly favorable piece on USA Today which described the City Different’s food scene as “unlike any in the country.” The feature concedes that “even though Santa Fe is the epicenter of the state’s chile trail, there is a lot more to the food scene here, from fine French to Italian, with plenty of influences from the native Pueblo Indians and neighboring Mexico, which long occupied the territory.” Tomasita’s and the Santa Fe Bite were noted.
Two best friends, a chef and a Hollywood director, hit the road in search of the best comfort food America has to offer, rewarding their favorite dish with a $10,000 prize and a Golden Skillet prize. That’s the premise of the Travel Channel’s Chow Master’s program. An episode entitled “Santa Fe Burritos” pitted three purveyors of burritos in a piquant melee: La Choza and Dr. Field Goods Kitchen in Santa Fe and Hurricane’s Cafe in Albuquerque. Judging was based on creativity and flavor. The ten thousand dollar burrito winner was Dr. Field Goods who wowed the judges with a smoked goat chimichanga in mole.
May is National Hamburger Month. To celebrate the momentous month, Business Weekly “conducted painstaking journalistic research to figure out the very best burger in every state, from mom-and-pop joints to celebrity-chef restaurants and everything in between. The Land of Enchantment’s very best burger was the green chile cheeseburger at the Buckhorn Tavern in San Antonio, New Mexico.
Business Weekly also believes every state should have an official snack food just as Illinois (popcorn) and Utah (jello) have done. To that end, writers took a stab at doing what so many state legislators have failed to do. The official snack food of New Mexico was declared to be the bizcochito (which is New Mexico’s official state cookie), described as a “butter or lard-based cookie that’s flavored with anise and cinnamon…developed by Spanish colonists and is usually eaten in the morning with coffee or milk, or during special celebrations.”
Over the Memorial Day weekend, the Travel Channel revisited 101 more amazing places to chowdown. The first New Mexico restaurant on the list was the Comet II Drive-In in Santa Rosa, a true off-the-beaten-path restaurant noted for its steak ranchero and tacos. “Bringing the heat to nab the countdown’s numero 64 spot” was Santa Fe’s Tomasita’s, an eatery “offering captivating comida that keeps New Mexican locals coming back for mas.” “Whether you’re inhaling enchiladas or tackling tacos, this restaurante has something to satisfy any appetite.” Albuquerque’s Frontier Restaurant made the list at number 52. Described as “a chili lover’s paradise! Their secret ingredient? Frontier serves green chili in just about every item on the menu.” Chili? When did Albuquerque move to Texas? At number 29 was Cowgirl’s, a Santa Fe institution described as “famous for its hot 5 Pepper Diablo Nachos. This Santa Fe restaurant is a top pick among tourists and locals alike.” The highest rated of the four New Mexico restaurants on the hallowed list was Sadie’s in Albuquerque which the Travel Channel’s geniuses said serves a “popular enchilada dish”…known as a sopaipilla.” Hmm, not only is New Mexican cuisine misspelled, now it’s schizophrenic.
Salted Caramel Panna Cotta from The Range in Bernalillo
The Washington Post posited that “the trick to eating well in Santa Fe is to eat low on the food chain.” As if to disprove that notion, its article on “three low key Santa Fe eateries to enchant you” showcased two high-end restaurants: Izanami, the Asian gastropub at the Ten Thousand Waves resort; and The Bar at Four Seasons Resort Rancho Encantado. The third restaurant featured was Santa Fe Bite, purveyor of one of New Mexico’s most famous green chile cheeseburgers. If you’re still not sure what “eating low on the food chain” means, you’re not alone
Thrillist, the popular blog which purports to give its readers “everything worth caring about in food, drink, and travel” compiled a list of the 21 best nachos in America. The Land of Enchantment’s was represented twice on the list. The nachos at El Patron in Las Cruces were described as “legendary” and constructed with slow-cooked brisket and a combination of ingredients that are “out-of-this-world awesome.” The nachos at Cecilia’s Cafe in Albuquerque were described as “bursting with flavorful” ingredients which should be paired with Cecilia’s “famous chicharrones” which Thrillist described as “hunks of stewed pork.” Hmm, apparently all these years I had no idea what chicharrones really were.
Chef Fernando Olea at Santa Fe’s Epazote
Thrillist also took a stab at compiling a list of America’s sixteen best burritos. The only New Mexico restaurant to make the list was Sophia’s Place in Albuquerque. Sophia’s had the only breakfast burrito on the list, an exception granted for “its “Christmas-style” preparation with both red and green chile sauces.” Described as a “divey spot,” chef-proprietor Dennis Apodaca was hailed for “taking a totally DIY approach to Mexican food.”
In a feature entitled “New Mexico: A land enchanted by chile peppers,” USA Today visited some of the state’s very best purveyors of what Buckhorn Tavern proprietor Bobby Olguin described as “like a legal drug.” The article described the Land of Enchantment’s addiction to chile as: chile isn’t just a vegetable. It’s practically a religion. It inspires devotion among worshipers who blend it into everything from to beer to fudge to spa treatments.
Movoto Blog, a blog celebrating the lighter side of real estate, did a seriously great job of naming “15 Albuquerque Restaurants Which Will Blow Your Taste Buds Out Of Your Mouth.” The article did a remarkably good job in listing Duke City restaurants with which critics and the general public would agree–true local favorites such as Mary & Tito’s, the Guava Tree Cafe, Giovanni’s Pizza & Subs, Budai Gourmet Chinese and The Grove Cafe & Market. Reviews on all fifteen restaurants can be found on Gil’s Thrilling & Filling Blog.
Gayot, the “guide to the good life” joins a number of national media sources that don’t know there’s more than a subtle distinction between Mexican and New Mexican food. In its compilation of the “Top 10 Mexican Restaurants in the U.S. for 2014,” Gayot listed Mary & Tito’s Cafe, perhaps the very best New Mexican restaurant in New Mexico (and my very highest rated restaurant of any genre). Gayot did get some things right, declaring that “Tito’s Cafe isn’t merely still going strong — it’s going incendiary. The exemplary red chile smothers just about everything here from omelets to tamales to the fresh-tasting chile rellenos; equally famed are the carne adovada, chicharrones and savory stuffed sopapillas with sides of refrieds done right.
The world-famous K&I Diner, home of the Travis
Santa Fe was the thirteenth (out of twenty) rated city in Conde Nast Traveler‘s annual survey of “the best American cities for foodies.” The synopsis asserted that “an introduction to New Mexican cuisine usually starts with a declaration of allegiance: green chile or red chile?” It recommended sampling both at The Shed. The article also contends that “the Santa Fe experience has grown beyond the chile war to embrace fusion fare at such restaurants as The Compound and Restaurant Martin.
Before the plague-like incursion of Taco Bell across the fruited plain, you would be hard-pressed to find good tacos in every state. Food Network Magazine took a stab at uncovering America’s tastiest tacos for a feature entitled “50 States, Fifty Tacos.” The article pretty much demonstrated just how much the once uncomplicated taco has evolved over the years, pointing out that “chefs will staff anything into a tortilla.” New Mexico’s representative on the list–and rightfully so–is the Navajo taco from Earl’s Family Restaurant in Gallup.
“The Rancho de Chimayó Cookbook offers a beautiful glimpse into the still-vibrant cuisine of New Mexico. With the blending of centuries-old Spanish culture with native and modern American, a unique and delicious cuisine has emerged—one that will inspire journeys to the source and delicious meals from your kitchen.” That was Chef Rick Bayless’s forward to the 50th anniversary edition of the cookbook which exemplifies the traditional cooking of New Mexico. Four-time James Beard award-winning authors Cheryl Alters Jamison and Bill Jamison have another winner here, a cookbook every New Mexican should have.
Slate asked the provocative question “If each state could have only one meat, what would it be?” By meat, Slate discounted turkey, chicken and fish. Only mammals were considered and stews needed not apply. While only four states designate “official state meats,” all fifty steaks have a lot to offer carnivores. According to Slate, the Land of Enchantment would be carne adovada while discounting red chili (SIC) stew as “just pork shoulder braised in an incredible dried chili paste.” Chili paste? Obviously that description was not written by a New Mexican.
My friend Bruce “Sr Plata” Silver enjoys a green chile cheeseburger with a fried egg from Perea’s Tijana Bar
Full Service Restaurants (FSR) magazine named Duke City chef Michael Giese one of 40 chefs under 40 years-old to watch. The magazine scours the entire fruited plain for chefs who distinguish themselves in the full-service restaurant industry. Giese is the executive chef at the Pueblo Harvest within the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center.
When it comes to romance, MSN compiled a list of ten restaurants which will have you feeling the love. The only restaurant in the Land of Enchantment to make the list was Santa Fe’s The Compound. MSN described it thusly: “From the thick white-washed adobe walls adorned with flowers and discreet flashes of bright modernistic color, The Compound is a wonder of design and style. Owner Mark Kiffen’s contribution to the restaurant is a menu that lives up to the elegance of the dining room.”
In recognition of particular strengths in history, music, visual arts, learning, food, theater and science, twenty small towns were singled out by Smithsonian magazine as the “best small towns to visit in 2014.” The only small town in the Land of Enchantment honored was Silver City, described as having “something for everyone.” The town’s culinary culture was well represented on the feature by the Curious Kumquat, “where owner Rob Connoley’s interest in molecular gastronomy mixes delicate foams with local meat and produce.” Connoley was a 2014 semi-finalist for James Beard Best Chef in the Southwest award.
Gustavo Arellano, the hilarious writer of “¡Ask a Mexican!,” a nationally syndicated column in which he answers any and all questions about America’s spiciest and largest minority, has spent quite a bit of time in the Land of Enchantment. That gave a lot of credibility to his observations in a article entitled “15 Signs You Grew Up Eating (New) Mexican Food in New Mexico.” Among his observations: Blake’s Lotaburger is Your Favorite American Food; It’s Not Mexican Food; It’s NEW Mexican Food; and The Smell of Roasted Chiles Means Fall is Coming.
Yahoo Travel took a stab at listing America’s 50 Best Casual Restaurants. Price–can two people fill themselves up and get out for less than $50, excluding alcohol?–was the main deciding factor as to what constitutes “casual,” but other factors such as ambiance and longevity were also considered. The only restaurant from New Mexico to make the list was the Santa Fe Bite, purveyor of incomparable green chile cheeseburgers.
Food Network celebrity Guy Fieri has visited a number of Italian restaurants while hosting Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. Fieri celebrated the very best of the lot in an episode called “Amazing Italians,” ostensibly his very favorite Italian restaurants in the country. Not only did Albuquerque’s fabulous Torinos @ Home make the list, Fieri also named their beef cheek manicotti among his top Italian dishes.
The premise of the Food Network show Restaurant Impossible is that within two days and on a budget of $10,000, Chef Robert Irvine renovates a failing American restaurant with the goal of helping to restore it to profitability and prominence. Savvy diners who’ve eaten at Passion Latin Fusion might have agreed that the ambiance left a lot to be desired, but would not have agreed that Chef Elvis Bencamo’s cuisine needed any improvement. Nonetheless, Irvine revamped the menu and renovated a structure in need of brightness and color.
Santa Fe celebrated its 20th annual Souper Bowl, raising over $60K for the Food Depot. Some 1,400 people cast ballots for their favorites from among 28 soups. The winning soup, a winter squash and chorizo soup garnished with fried sage and maple cream prepared by Andrew Cooper, executive chef at Terra Restaurant in the Four Seasons Resort Rancho Encantado, also earned “best savory soup. Other winners included:
- Best cream soup: spicy potato and bacon cream soup from El Milagro New Mexican Restaurant.
- Best vegetarian soup: roasted poblano pepper piñon and juniper berry soup from Kingston Residence of Santa Fe (a retirement community).
- Best seafood soup: Tom Yum Seafood soup from Nath’s Specialty Catering.
Not to be outdone, the City of Vision held its fourth annual Taste of Rio Rancho competition at the Santa Ana Star Center. Not limited to soups, this competition pitted 26 restaurants against one another in several culinary categories. The “Peoples’ Choice” award was won by O’Hare’s Grille & Pub. The critics choice awards included:
The 2014 James Beard Foundation Restaurant and Chef Award Semifinalists included a number of restaurants and chefs representing New Mexico. Best New Restaurant: Izanami at Ten Thousand Waves, Santa Fe Outstanding Wine, Spirits, or Beer Professional:Ron Cooper, Del Maguey Single Village Mezcal, Ranchos de Taos Best Chef Southwest Region:
- James Campbell Caruso, La Boca, Santa Fe
- Rob Connoley, The Curious Kumquat, Silver City, NM
- Jennifer James, Jennifer James 101, Albuquerque, NM
- Frederick Muller, El Meze, Taos, NM
- Jonathan Perno, Los Poblanos Inn, Los Ranchos de Albuquerque, NM
- Martín Rios, Restaurant Martín, Santa Fe
Only Ron Cooper made the finals.
Green Chile Cheeseburger with Grilled Onions from the Santa Fe Bite
The inaugural Friends of Gil (FOG) dinner was held on Saturday, February 22nd at Joe’s Pasta House in Rio Rancho. The dinner started off as a foodie summit, but would up as a celebration among new friends. it was a night of rich laughter, convivial gaiety and great food. It was a night we ended long after the restaurant’s closing hours and only after we noticed we were the only ones left at the restaurant.
To showcase the regional diversity and history of the humble American donut, Zagat’s selected a single donut that represents each state. Taking a rather liberal interpretation of the term “donut,” the list included several ethic varieties such as Alaskan fry bread, churros from Arizona and beignets from Louisiana. So, you might think New Mexican sopaipillas might be the Land of Enchantment’s representative donut. That wasn’t the case. Instead, the single donut which best represents New Mexico is the Apple Green Chile Fritter at Albuquerque’s Rebel Donut.
Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Blog ranks number 8 worldwide among more than 1,000 food blogs according to Urbanspoon
Over the past several years, I’ve published an year-end retrospective on the Land of Enchantment’s culinary scene, highlighting the recognition–good and bad–New Mexico’s restaurants and cuisine have garnered over the year. Because New Mexico’s restaurants and cuisine achieved such unprecedented acclaim (and some notoriety) over the past six months, rather than wait until year’s end, here’s a synopsis on 2014, the year in food, so far….
Happy New Year! 2014 was only one day old when a New Mexico only institution expanded its operations to the Lone Star State. Blake’s Lotaburger launched its first and, thus far, only restaurant outside the Land of Enchantment when it opened its doors in an El Paso location at precisely 10AM on January 2nd. With around eighty locations throughout New Mexico, Lotaburger was named America’s fourth best burger by National Geographic in 2012 and remains first in the hearts of many New Mexicans.
Jessie Oleson Moore, the cake anthropologist who runs Cakespy, an award-winning dessert blog, drove seven hours total to get to Pie Town, New Mexico. She had envisioned “streets paved with cookie crust, street lamps shaped like apples, and churches with meringue spires,” a vision which turned out to be “turned out to be pie in the sky.” While she didn’t find the pie “life changing, fireworks-inducing,” she acknowledged that “there is something amazing about eating pie in a town which has a rich history attached to the buttery crusted stuff.”
Luscious tiramisu from Joe’s Pasta House in Rio Rancho earned “Best Dessert” Honors in the 2014 Taste of Rio Rancho Event
USA Today proclaimed Santa Fe’s “chocolate trail” “a genuinely sweet experience that may just change the way you enjoy that next nibble of indulgence.” Nothing that “an authentic confectionery scene has emerged” in the City Different courtesy of “a number of artisanal shops” opened in recent years, the daily periodical touted the “distinctive trail” “forged by enterprising chocolatiers committed to local, traditional and cutting-edge ingredients.” Among the chocolatiers highlighted were Kakawa Chocolate House and Todos Santos Chocolates.
The Roadrunner Food Bank’s annual Souper Bowl, held on a brisk January day, is the Food Bank’s largest fund-raising effort every year. The soups seem to get better every year, too. Here are the 2014 winners:
Beef Noodle Soup with Bak Choy from Banana Leaf in Rio Rancho
It’s customary for the mayors of the cities competing for the Superbowl to place a friendly wager, typically betting cuisines representing their respective cities. New Mexicans saw red when the mayor of Denver declared he would be wagering “Colorado’s famous green chile.” Not only that, a spokesperson for the mayor declared “New Mexico and Colorado do share in two major items here–a love of our green chile and a love of the Denver Broncos.” With that declaration she managed to outrage green chile fanatics as well Dallas Cowboys fans (who still outnumber Broncos devotees). Call it green chile karma if you will, but the Seattle Seahawks trounced the Broncos and ostensibly enjoyed their “famous Colorado green chile.”
Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Year in Food: 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010