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

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.

2015: A Thrilling (And Filling) Year in Food

Feasting with the Friends of Gil (FOG) at Mary & Tito’s

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.

2015 was a year of transition for New Mexico’s culinary landscape. By my count, some 25 restaurants shuttered their doors for the last time. Some, such as Tim’s Place, the “world’s friendliest restaurant” had achieved national prominence. Other closures put to rest the dreams of enterprising owners who sadly arrived at the harsh realization of just how brutal the economy and how fickle the business can be. Sill other restaurateurs transitioned to mew adventures, some not in the hospitality industry. We salute those restaurateurs for whom the only failure would have been not to have tried at all.

Look for an upcoming profile on this handsome guy in the Albuquerque Journal

2015 was another banner year for Gil’s Thrilling (and Filling) Blog. There are now more than 7,400 reader comments on 901 reviews, an increase of more than 800 comments and 57 new reviews. I value your comments immensely and appreciate that you thought enough of my blog this year to have voted me, for the fourth time in five years, as one of the city’s five best bloggers in Albuquerque The Magazine’s annual “best of the city” issue. Look for an a profile on this humble blogger in an upcoming Sunday edition of the Albuquerque Journal. Elaine Briseño, the Journal’s brilliant Features reporter dug deep to find something interesting to write about me. From among the 901 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) The Owl Cafe; (4) Philly’s N Fries; and (5) Mary & Tito’s. My reviews for the Down N’ Dirty Seafood Boil and the 66 Pit Stop also finished one and two in 2014. The most prolific commentators for 2015 were: (1) Bob of the Village of Los Ranchos with 152 comments; (2) Jim Millington with 55 comments; (3) Bruce Schor with 49 comments; (4) Noe Pacheco with 26 comments; and (5) Jen with 22 comments. Four of the five top commentators are charter members of the Friends of Gil (FOG). Noe, we’d love to have you.

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.

December, 2015

Salad Nicoise from La Crepe Michel

To whom should you turn for information on the very best restaurants? Open Table, an online restaurant reservation system which connects diners with more than 32,000 restaurants worldwide, believes if you want to know where to dine, you should take the pulse of the people who dine out. Doing just that, Open Table analyzed some 5,000,000 reviews of more than 20,000 restaurants across the country and came up with its 2015 list of America’s 100 best restaurants. These are the exceptional eateries that “get it right every time–where everyone feels like a VIP and each meal is memorable.” Only two New Mexico restaurants made this hallowed list: Santa Fe restaurants Arroyo Vino and Geronimo.

He’s been feeding heroes for decades. Now Robert Vick has himself been declared a hero. Vick, who operates the Thunderbird Dining Hall on Kirtland Air Force Base and Vick’s Vittles in Albuquerque was presented the “Food Fanatics Hero Award” in recognition of his commitment to the community despite many difficulties. Although legally blind, the effusive restaurateur is one of the most energetic and committed people you’ll ever meet. In the seventeen years he’s operated the Thunderbird Inn, it has won the John L. Hennessy Award for best food service in the U.S. Air Force three times. Dine at Vick’s Vittles and you’ll be treated like a hero there, too.

Pork Chop Ranchero with Barbecue Chips from The Freight House in Bernalillo

One advertising campaign that’s apparently not working features a number of black and cows imploring motorists driving past Chick-Fil-A to “Eat More Chickin.” Despite their best self-serving efforts, the beckoning bovines and their beefy brethren are still being consumed by the herd at restaurants throughout the fruited plain. Thrillist took the pulse of savvy steak savants to determine where the best slab of sumptuous beef is to be found at every state in the United States. 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. Despite confusion over it being named for a section of Monaco, Thrillist declared Albuquerque’s Monte Carlo Steakhouse and Liquor Store the very best steakhouse in the Land of Enchantment. According to Thrillist, “And while Guy Fieri was impressed by the ribeye when he visited on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, the main attraction is the baklava.”

If breakfast is the most important meal of the day, shouldn’t it also be the most delicious meal of the day? According to the Statistics Brain Research Institute, only 44 percent of Americans eat breakfast every day. Perhaps more of us would indulge in an eye-opening, get ready to greet the day breakfast if we knew where we could find truly outstanding breakfast offerings. In a feature entitled “50 States, 50 Breakfasts” Food Network Magazine shared its thoughts on the best breakfast at every state. You might think it would be a “no-brainer” for the Land of Enchantment’s best breakfast to showcase our sacrosanct red and green chile. Instead, the Food Network opted for the Atole Piñon Hotcakes from the Tecolote Cafe in Santa Fe, indicating that “Evergreens thrive at Santa Fe’s 7,000 foot elevation, and the Jennison family makes good use of the trees’ plentiful pine nuts.”

Bocadillos, one of several great restaurants at the Green Jeans Farmery in Albuquerque

Whether you celebrate Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa or any combination thereof, food and family play a significant part of the holiday season. Recognizing the holidays are a time for indulgence, the Food Network found five restaurants which “go above and beyond in the spirit of the season.” On a program called “Top Five Restaurants,” hosts Geoffrey Zakarian and Sunny Anderson showcased the “five top restaurants for the holidays.” At number two was Santa Fe’s very own La Choza, a “Mexican spot’ where families gather for their tamale fix. “These beauties feature the traditional dough known as masa, which is punched up with pork drippings and a filling of savory shredded pork mixed with chile pepper sauce. They come topped with Christmas sauce: a flavorful combo of red and green salsas.”

There are more than 61,000 pizzerias across the fruited plain. It’s presumptuous to believe the best pizza in America can be anointed. The Food Network took a stab at naming the best pizza in every state, a feat which itself is rather ambitious. In a feature entitled “50 States, 50 Pizzas,” the Network named the Number 3 pizza from Santa Fe’s Rooftop Pizzeria as the best in the Land of Enchantment. The Number 3, of course, showcases New Mexico green chile on a blue corn crust with piñon, Alfredo sauce and grilled chicken.

French Toast from The Shop in Albuquerque

Few things in life are as dynamic as the restaurant industry. By its very nature, if it doesn’t evolve and change frequently, diners lose interest. Thousands of new restaurants spring up across the fruited plain every year. USA TODAY 10Best readers voted for for their favorite new restaurants in the United States and one Santa Fe restaurant made the list. Described as “one of the most exciting restaurants to open in Santa Fe in years, Radish & Rye is passionate about its support of local farmers and ranchers. The “menu changes with the seasons,” and a passionate chef “can often be found visiting the city’s incredible farmers market.”

You might think that a national publication endeavoring to compile a list of the best of any type of food in any state would consult a local expert and that the selected food would be unique to or best prepared at that state. That’s apparently not what Zagat did in compiling its “50 States, 50 Desserts.” New Mexicans would probably decree our best desserts to be biscochitos, sopaipillas with honey, capirotada or some other postprandial dish we do so well. Instead, Zagat determined our best dessert comes from a franchise with locations throughout the fruited plain. That dessert is the Gingerbread Bundt Cake at Nothing Bundt Cake. While it’s undoubtedly delectable, it’s not uniquely New Mexican.

Key Lime Pie from Latitude 33 in Truth or Consequences

Taking a much more local approach, TripAdvisor’s Flipkey blog named Albuquerque’s Rude Boy Cookies one of America’s “Best Local Bakeries Worth Traveling For.” “There is something to be said for charming, local bakeries where irresistible sweet treats tempt passersby from their display cases and the smell of made-from-scratch baked goods greet visitors at the door. ” That describes the UNM area bakery to a tee. Rude Boy isn’t your conventional cookie shop, featuring everything from salted caramel shortbread cookies to custom ice cream sandwiches wrapped in your choice of cookie. You can also wash down your cookies with shakes and flavored milks at this unique gem.

Even under threat of torture, it would be difficult to limit to five the number of reasons to visit Santa Fe, but somehow the Huffington Post managed to do so. Among the five reasons to make Santa Fe and Northern New Mexico a destination in your very near future is Chef John Sedlar Rivera’s culinary tribute to legendary artist Georgia O’Keeffe. The great chef has put together a tasting menu to honor the artist at Eloisa, his fabulous Santa Fe restaurant. The Post’s assessment: “As fabulous as the O’Keeffe menu is, save room for a final taste: Sedlar’s amazing pastrami tacos. It’s a little bite garnished with ballpark mustard – no doubt something O’Keeffe, who craved a hot dog now and then, would have loved. It will leave you begging to return to Eloisa before you’ve even paid the bill.”

November, 2015

Razor Clams with Basil from Budai Gourmet Chinese

The Los Angeles Times found Albuquerque’s Latino heart and soul in the venerable Barelas neighborhood, a former Spanish colony that dates to 1662 and can boast of homes built decades before California’s first mission was established in 1769 in San Diego. And if the Barelas neighborhood is the heart and soul of Albuquerque, the “heart and soul of Barelas is found at the National Hispanic Cultural Center,” which celebrates its quinceañera this fall. Writer Jay Jones noted that locals “often stand a dozen deep waiting to order lunch at El Modelo,” a Duke City treasure in operation since 1929.

Perhaps only in the Land of Enchantment is the distinction between New Mexican cuisine and Mexican food is important. Chances are New Mexicans are the only ones cognizant of those distinctions. Thrillist, an online site “obsessed with everything that’s worth caring about in food, drink, and travel,” doesn’t seem to care. For the seemingly upteenth time, Thrillist named El Pinto among the very best Mexican restaurants in the United States, rating it 14th in the pantheon of Mexican food greatness. Thrillist described El Pinto as “decked out in colorful kitsch, and set in a beautiful valley away from the city proper, El Pinto is the perfect place to kick back, relax, eat some chile-rubbed ribs, and let the margaritas flow.”

Oyster Po’ Boy from Crab and Draft in Albuquerque’s International District

“When we think of food and Albuquerque, we tend to think of chile — red or green — and not much else, especially when it comes to exporting the culinary offerings of New Mexico beyond the state’s dusty borders.” That’s the assessment of Denver-based Westword when announcing the impending relocation of Tim’s Place, “a darling of New Mexico television” from Albuquerque to Denver. “The world’s friendliest restaurant” will close in Albuquerque on December 20th and will reopen in Denver sometime in 2016. Another Albuquerque staple, Dion’s Pizza opened its second Colorado location in November.

Albuquerque is one of the four original cities to syndicate the Jim Rome Show, a sports talk mainstay on 610 AM for nearly two decades. With a unique lexicon and format, the show now boasts of some 200 radio stations across the United States and Canada. Listeners are fiercely loyal to the show, reveling in a  format which encourages them to be critical of other cities on the syndicate as well as other listeners, including “laying the smack down” on “Albucracky” and its tumbleweed motif. During Rome’s most recent visit, he and his road crew discovered the “blue meth” donuts from Albuquerque’s Rebel Donut. The donuts were much more than a punchline to the jocular crew, all of whom enjoyed every morsel.

Lasagna Bolognese from Il Vicino in Albuquerque

I’ve called him “the professor with the perspicacious palate,” “my brother in blogging” and most recently, the “omniscient octogenarian,” but am most proud to call Larry McGoldrick my friend. On Friday, November 27th, more than seventy of Larry’s friends and family members got together at Torinos @ Home to celebrate his 80th birthday. Larry occasionally sports a tee-shirt which reads “I’ve got a PhD. To save time, let’s assume I’m always right.” As absolutely true as that slogan may be, to know Larry is to recognize the humility, modesty and sense of humor of the man who wears that tee-shirt. While being feted by his friends, he spoke optimistically about living another fifty or sixty years. Though that means many of us who celebrated his 80th birthday might not be around, there’s no doubt Larry will always be surrounded by loyal friends and family who love this tremendous man.

“Always a bridesmaid, never a bride.” That’s how I described the situation to Schuyler, my friend and fellow Air Force alum, after having being named one of Albuquerque’s five best bloggers four out of the past five years in Albuquerque The Magazines annual readers’ poll. Ever the half-full-glass type of guy, “Sky” admonished me to look at the bright side, reminding me that I’d look like Sergeant Schultz in a bridal gown. The ironic thing is that year-after-year, the remaining runners-up are different; the only constant–the perpetual bridesmaid” is Gil’s Thrilling… Thank you for your continued support.

Larry McGoldrick’s Birthday Cake was created by Sabine Basco of Albuquerque’s La Quiche Parisienne Bistro

For many of us, Thanksgiving has come to mean a plump, glistening turkey with all the trimmings. For others, the Thanksgiving meal is so much more. Leave it to chefs across the fruited plain to create dishes which celebrate local specialties along with family traditions. The Food Network‘s Sarah Karnasiewicz (a former Duke City resident) asked chefs across the fruited plain to share some of their favorite Thanksgiving dishes. Chef Martin Rios of Santa Fe’s Restaurant Martin declared his favorite part of the Thanksgiving meal are bourbon-vanilla sweet potatoes on which he uses dried New Mexico red chiles.

October, 2015

New Mexico’s Favorite Color: Autumn

New Mexico may not be blessed with a profusion of Colombian restaurants, but the one we do have is one of the ten best Colombian restaurants in America according to Tabelog, a “dynamic, interactive environment where users can come together over a shared passion for fine dining.” In fact, Albuquerque’ very own Ajiaco Colombian Bistro was ranked eighth.  Tabelog captured the essence of Ajiaco: “Ajaico offers contemporary dishes presented gourmet style, stacked high with creative garnishes and some amazing deserts. Their dining room is minimalist with light wood and exposed light bulbs. Ajaico is set among the boutiques and quaint shops in Nob Hill.”  Ajiaco has come a long way from the days in which it was best known for its charbroiled chicken

It’s not exactly the Hatfields and McCoys waging war over land boundaries, but restaurant rivalries do abound across the fruited plain.  That’s especially true when there’s a local specialty and two “dueling purveyors claim to make the best in town.”  New Mexico’s best example of a food rivalry has persisted for decades in San Antonio where The Owl Cafe and the Buckhorn Tavern vie for green chile cheeseburger supremacy.  Zagat compiled a list of seven regional food rivalries across the United States, noting that “In San Antonio, there are two contenders for the best: Buckhorn Tavern and Owl Bar. Buckhorn gained national attention in 2009 when Bobby Flay featured it on Throwdown!, but Owl Bar is said to have fed cheeseburgers to the Manhattan Project scientists building the atomic bomb during World War II.”  So who do New Mexicans favor in this war of deliciousness? Call it a cop-out if you will, but we love them both.

Torta Al Pastor from Antojitos Lupe in Bernalillo

While “some of the first recorded iterations of the burrito we all know and love date back to before the Spanish colonization of the Mesoamerican region in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries,” it’s also well-established that some of the best burritos across the fruited plain are found in the Land of Enchantment. The Daily Meal Web site ranked two of New Mexico’s best purveyors of bounteous burritos among America’s 35 best burritos. For the second year in a row, Santa Fe’s beloved Shed restaurant made the list with its fabled green chile burrito being ranked fourth best burrito in the country. What makes it so great? According to The Daily Meal, “Its simplicity is what makes it so great: it’s just pinto beans, white Cheddar, and onion rolled in a flour tortilla and topped with their famous green chile sauce.” The other New Mexican burrito on this pantheon of greatness is the Chicharron and Green Chile Burrito at Burritos Victoria in Las Cruces. The Daily Mean unpacked this burrito: “green chiles harvested locally in an area of the country in which premium peppers are grown are paired with crispy fried pig skin and wrapped in a soft blanket of tortilla.”

Foursquare, an online presence which purports to help readers “find the best places to eat, drink, shop, or visit in any city in the world,” took on the enviable challenge of determining the best bakery in each state. Because man and woman cannot live on bread alone, the list included a number of more specialized bakeries such as Albuquerque’s Rebel Donut. Foursquare noted: “From maple bacon to cherry lemonade to chicken and waffle donuts, Albuquerque’s Rebel Donut certainly breaks the mold when it comes to breakfast confections. The shop also gained fame for its signature Breaking Bad-themed “Blue Sky” variety, which was endorsed by the show’s stars themselves.”

Chips and Salsa from California Pastrami

You’ve undoubtedly experienced sticker shock at the cost of dining (and not just at restaurants) in the Duke City. WalletHub certainly has noticed, publishing a list of the country’s most and least affordable foodie cities. Using such criteria as affordability and diversity, and accessibility and quality, WalletHub compared 150 of the most populated cities, taking into consideration such factors as cost of groceries, average beer and wine price, number of food festivals per 100,000 residents and number of craft breweries and wineries. Albuquerque ranked 93rd overall, faring poorly in the diversity (106th) category, but rating higher (28th) in affordability. In helping readers “discover America’s best events, festivals, things to do, restaurants, music, entertainment and nightlife,”

TimeOut United States undertook a delicious quest in ranking the seventeen best pizzas in the country. Number seventeen honors went to Albuquerque’s very own Farina Pizzeria, a Nob Hill staple launched in 2008. TimeOut United States captured the essence of the Farina experience: “their thin-crust pies get their signature char from a two-minute stint in an 800-degree oven,” and “Any Albuquerque restaurant worth a line out the door has to offer green chilies, and Farina is no exception—the spicy local obsession is available as an optional add-on to any of the restaurant’s pizzas.

Tamale Plate from Kap’s in Albuquerque

Not to be outdone, Thrillist came up with its definitive list of the best pizzerias in every corner of this great nation. This optimistic undertaking sought to prove that “somewhere, in each state, there’s a truly sublime pie.” In New Mexico, that sublime pie resides in Albuquerque at Giovanni’s, the venerable San Pedro institution. Thrillist noted “In New Mexico, almost everything is topped with green chile — even the pizza, as is the case at Giovanni’s, which was started by Italian transplants by way of Queens. You can find it studding the tops of their exceptionally good bready, crunchy-crusted pizzas, and you should especially be aware of how well it pairs with pepperoni.

For some restaurants, having a presence in the community means little more than having a brick-and-mortar storefront with an address.  For restaurants which become beloved institutions within their communities, having a presence in the community means being part and parcel of the fabric of the community–being involved on a day-to-day basis in promoting all that is great about a community.  It means not only providing outstanding food and excellent service to guests, but getting to know them and treating them like family.  It means listening to their guests, taking their feedback–good and bad–and using it to continue improving.  It means being a neighbor and friend.  That’s what   Joe’s Pasta House in Rio Rancho has done.  Joe’s isn’t just one of the three or four best Italian restaurants in New Mexico, it’s an exemplar of what it means to be part of a community.  Because of her involvement with the community, Kassie Guzzardi, the pulchritudinous co-owner of Joe’s Pasta House, was selected by Yelp as one of 100 owners of top-rated businesses from the U.S. and Canada.  With that well-deserved honor, she has been invited to Yelp’s “Coast-to-Coast: Coming Together Because We Mean Business,”  a networking opportunity in which Yelp professionals will share marketing techniques.  There’s no doubt Kassie can also teach even Yelp’s marketing experts a thing or two about what it means to be part of the community.

Curry Corn on the Cob from Albuquerque’s Safari Grill

Whoo’s on first! No, this isn’t the famous Abbott and Costello comedy bit redone badly. Whoo’s is first…or at least Santa Fe’s Whoo’s Donuts is first in the hearts, minds and appetites of New Mexicans who love donuts.  Understanding that “everyone is outright obsessed with donuts,” Thrillist compiled a list of the best donuts in all fifty states.  The Land of Enchantment’s best donut was deemed to be Whoo’s Donuts just west of Santa Fe’s famous plaza.  Thrillist noted that “finding a dark chocolate-glazed donut is a non-issue. Maple bacon? Also a cinch. But Whoo’s has both those things on the same donut plus chili brown sugar. There’s no way you’ll find anything like that outside of Santa Fe.”

September, 2015

Fabulous Flan from Canvas Artistry in Albuquerque

“Forget Hatch chiles. It’s time to celebrate the Pueblo chile.” That’s how Westword, a Denver-based free alternative newspaper began a feature on the Colorado State Fair’s celebration of Pueblo chiles. Colorado governor John W. Hickenlooper jumped on the bandwagon, proclaiming forever after, September 5, 2015, as Pueblo Chile Day. Perhaps there will come a day in which an article will be written about Pueblo chile (or chile from anywhere in Colorado) in which Hatch chile isn’t mentioned. That’s not likely any time soon.

What’s the very best thing to eat in New Mexico? According to Thrillist, our definitive best thing to eat is chicken enchiladas, Christmas-style from Santa Fe’s Tune-Up Cafe. Thrillist declared “All due respect to the fantastic and widely praised green chile burger at Santa Fe Bite, but we think the greatest chile-based dish in this state happens to involve chicken enchiladas at Tune-Up Cafe. Also, isn’t the term “Christmas-style” just kind of the greatest of all shorthands? And isn’t it even better that it involves mixing red and green chile?

Stuffed Sopaipilla from El Sabor De Juarez

For the third consecutive year, Santa Fe celebrated another of the Land of Enchantment’s best things to eat. Eight local chefs competed for top honors at the Green Chile Cheeseburger Smackdown with judges declaring Chef Enrique Guerrero’s #2 (on the menu of the Bang Bite food truck) number one. The winning burger was constructed from five kinds of chile, bacon, pepper jack cheese, avocado and roasted green chile mayonnaise. The People’s Choice Award went to Chef Anthony Smith of the Eldorado Hotel’s Agave Lounge.

Ten restaurants from throughout the Land of Enchantment convened at the New Mexico State Fair to compete at the annual Green Chile Cheeseburger Challenge. For the second year in a row, a panel of celebrity judges accorded “best” honors to Fuddrucker’s, a decision which surprised those of us who believe it takes a New Mexican to create a great green chile cheeseburger. Bravo!, yet another chain restaurant (and Italian to boot) took second place honors. As is often the case, the people disagreed with the judges, according the “People’s Choice” award to Sparky’s.

Giandula from Frost Gelato in Albuquerque

The Food Republic “where food, drink and culture unite” acknowledged that other than surrounding states, “much of the rest of the country has no idea what” green chile season in New Mexico “is all about. “For many people, the green chile means a jalapeño, poblano or — even worse in the minds of purists — the impostor chilies sold by companies trying to capitalize on the fame of their beloved New Mexican staple.” For others such as William Stafford, co-owner of Sadie’s of New Mexico, who was quoted in the article, “green chile is life.” Sadie’s uses “around 1,000 pounds per week in its four locations” and has “always used chile from the Hatch region. To use anything else is unimaginable.”

Add “Restaurateur of the Year” to the many accolades Robert Vick has earned during a stellar culinary career. The popularity of Vick’s Vittles, his family-style restaurant, can be attributed not only to hearty, delicious food, but to Vick’s commitment to reasonable prices, personal customer service and large portions. The peripatetic restaurateur meets and greets all his guests to make sure they’re enjoying their dining experience. With a planned expansion that will double Vick’s Vittles, twice as many people will find out why this restaurant is one of the city’s best.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year – chile roasting time, that is.

Did you know that “the trick to getting a proper taste of Santa Fe is learning to balance the tried-and-true chiles and smothered enchiladas with the newer, more adventurous options.” That’s according to Coloradoan, a Fort Collins-based online site which published a “guide to the best food and drink spots for your next weekend getaway in Santa Fe, New Mexico.” Among the restaurants the Coloradoan loved were The Shed, Cafe Pascual’s, La Choza, Tune-Up Cafe and Harry’s Roadhouse.

Instead of the classroom, many of us matriculated at our favorite hamburger hang-outs near the University. It’s part of the American college experience. Recognizing this, Thrillist put together its list of the 21 best college burgers in the fruited plain. It shouldn’t surprise any Lobo (and everyone’s a Lobo, woof, woof, woof) that the Frontier Restaurant‘s Fiesta burger with green chiles, cheddar, and lettuce, made the list. The Frontier which sits “right across from campus, is most newbies’ first experience in the art of New Mexican cooking.” The Fiesta burger will leave a lasting experience.

Deluxe Prime Rib from Slate Street Cafe in Albuquerque

You may have noticed an orange shield on the navigation menu of Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Blog. It’s in recognition of the Surveybee having singled me out as one of 30 interesting and active bloggers who review everything from restaurants to beauty products. Surveybee, by the way, invites you to “make the most out of your free time and make money by taking online surveys.

Doesn’t it just make sense that an FYI Network program calling itself “Big Kitchens” would visit El Pinto, New Mexico’s most commodious restaurant. In an episode entitled “Massive New Mexican,” the program noted that “El Pinto’s massive kitchen can feed up to three thousand people a night.” The program followed twin brothers John and Jim Thomas as they lead their kitchen team as they prepare three tons of food every night.

Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Blog Named One of the Best Review Blogs for 2015

Andrea Lin Retires

For just shy of ten years, Duke City diners have faithfully turned to Andrea Lin for advice on where to eat. Andrea, the Albuquerque Journal’s luminous restaurant critic, posted her final review for the Journal on September 18th and hopes to take her best reviews from the Journal and publish them so they’ll be at the fingertips of anyone without a newspaper subscription. There’s a lot of material for a “best of” Andrea Lin compilation. Before writing for the Journal, she wrote some 50 to 75 reviews for the Duke City Fix. In 9.6 years with the Journal, she wrote about 499 reviews without missing a single week.

Characteristic of Andrea’s incomparable wit and wisdom are her answers to a few questions I posed after she told me of her impending retirement:

Q: How has the Duke City restaurant scene evolved since you started? A: A lot. And, not very much. When I began, Jennifer James was trying to convince people to Graze on her perfectly balanced food. These days I think she’s well-established, but I also know folks who consider her high-falutin’ and would rather go have a burger. Although, her burger is phenomenal… Our New Mexican is still quite good, though a few of my favorites have moved around or reconfigured. You still can’t beat a Frontier breakfast burrito, or a bowl of red from Sadie’s (ask for it with a fried egg on top), or carne adovada from Mary & Tito’s. Farm to table is both an overused buzzy phrase and a real, important thing. Could you imagine paying $14 for a locally-grown meal-sized salad 10 years ago? But now there’s Vinaigrette, and The Grove, and The Shop, all taking from the foundations set by places like Flying Star and building in both creativity and reach. All of these places are to be lauded.

Q: What you’ll miss most about writing about the Albuquerque culinary culture? A: I love the weirdness of Albuquerque’s mashup of cuisine. We have pretty good Chinese but only a few outstanding places. Our Italian and French are pretty lacking (in quantity), but our Thai and Vietnamese are everywhere. We have a fair amount of good Mexican, but of course that must compete with New Mexican and that’s a hard contest, so most of them just serve both. My favorites are the hard-core sticklers like Mary & Tito’s on the New Mexican side, or Antojitos Lupe on the Mexican side. I also have found that very few places in the United States love HEAT as much as we do. Texans might be in the same ballpark, but no one comes close. Not Arizona, or California, or Colorado, or the south from what I can tell. We just love to have our taste buds enflamed and our endorphins racing.

Q: Any last words you’d like to say to your readers? A: Thank you, to everyone. I’ve made many good friends in the food world here in town and in the state. Without readers I wouldn’t have been going for 10 years, of course. My editor at the Journal was wonderful and it has been a good experience.

August, 2015

Orange Peel Chicken with Brown Rice from Fan Tang in Albuquerque

Vacation Idea, the online dream vacation magazine believes “foodies traveling to Santa Fe are in for a treat” because the city’s diverse restaurant offerings “showcase dishes from around the world.” Whether you’re vacationing in Santa Fe or you’re traveling there from within the Land of Enchantment, Vacation Idea has several ideas you might want to heed. Its 21 Must-Try Santa Fe Restaurants list includes some of the city’s best including: Osteria D’Assisi, Izanami, The Ranch House, Atrisco Cafe & Bar and several other highly regarded eateries this blogger will be visiting soon.

Not that long ago, a compilation of the best burritos across the fruited plain would probably have been shortlisted to only a few states, those with significant Hispanic populations: Texas, California, Arizona and of course, New Mexico. Thrillist’s compilation of the 33 best burritos in America includes burritos from such once unlikely states as Georgia, Massachusetts, West Virginia, North Carolina and even Colorado. The only New Mexican restaurant to make the list is Santa Fe’s La Choza. Thrillist recommends you “first order a cup of the green chile stew as an appetizer and then go red, to cover all your taste buds’ bases.”

Orange Beef from Chen’s in Albuquerque

Although it’s been four years (2011) since the New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail was last updated, the Tourism Department initiative continues to garner nationwide recognition. USA Today asked its readers to vote for their favorite from among ten culinary trails across the fruited plain. You can joke that New Mexicans know a thing or two about stuffing the ballot boxes, but it’s unlikely the New Mexico green chile cheeseburger would have earned enough votes without the support of so many visitors who have fallen in love with our sacrosanct sandwich. USA Today acknowledged that “the dish has been served here for decades, and several venerable roadside joints claim to be the original, including the Owl Café in San Antonio and the original Blake’s Lotaburger in Albuquerque, but it hardly matters: you can find delicious examples all across the state.”

Inc., a monthly American publication focused on growing companies doesn’t focus solely on Fortune 500 companies. It’s got a soft spot for the backbone of American business, the traditional mom-and-pop operation. Inc. discovered that “family-owned Pop Fizz is cooling off scorching-hot Albuquerque with its frozen treats — while trying to revitalize the image of its neighborhood.” Pop Fizz, “a popsicle shop, or paleteria, is a beloved part of the South Valley” created by the entrepreneurial Alvarez family in 2013. In a scant two years, its operations have expanded to the Hispanic Heritage Center.

Fried Chicken from Gravy

“Hatch chile is such a commodity.” That’s the misguided opinion of the Whole Foods Market regional produce manager who decided to drop Hatch green chile in favor of Pueblo chiles. That means infecting most of the Rocky Mountain region (including Colorado, Utah and Idaho) with more than 125,000 pounds of the brown…er, green stuff. It’s a good thing Whole Foods Market doesn’t bring Pueblo grown chile to the Land of Enchantment or another war between the states might ensue.While Pueblo chile has gained a foothold in the Rocky Mountain region, the LA Creamery in Los Angeles has come up with “another chile way to cool down.” “For the second year, the ice cream company is making a Hatch green chile ice cream, to be sold exclusively through Bristol Farms stores.” Alas, only 800 pints will be made so they’re sure to go quickly. Creamland, are you reading this?

The Pauley with a side of fruit from the Oak Tree Cafe In Albuquerque

For years Bob of the Village of Los Ranchos has been shouting from the rooftop about how great the red chile ribs at Albuquerque’s El Pinto are. aroundme.com, a popular mobile application that allows users to quickly find nearby points of interest such as restaurants, agrees, declaring that “not only is El Pinto”New Mexico’s most iconic restaurant, it is also one of the best Mexican restaurants in the country.” In an article entitled “21 states and their most iconic restaurants,” aroundme indicated El Pinto is “known for their red chile ribs” and “sure is steps above the rest of the many Mexican restaurants in the state.” Bob, when did you get a job writing for aboutme.com?

July, 2015

Turtle Cheesecake from Sara’s Pastries & Deli

USA Today invited readers to feast on ten great summer cookbooks, “arriving just in time for outdoor grilling, family picnics and making the most of your garden’s goodies.” It wouldn’t be summer without barbecue and for many of us, it’s not barbecue without barbecue sauce. For the sauce lovers among us, The Barbecue Lover’s Big Book of BBQ Sauces by Santa Fe’s own Cheryl and Bill Jamison will surely help us earn our “Kiss the Cook” aprons. July also saw the release of The Restaurant Martin Cookbook, the last collaboration by the Jamisons before Bill’s passing in March.

Zagat, the “go-to guide for those obsessed with exceptional experiences” claims New Mexicans are obsessed with a specific food. Care to guess what it might be? Could it possibly be something red, hot and green? It’s really a no-brainer. New Mexicans are absolutely obsessed with red and green chile, our official state vegetable.

Lemon cheesecake (left) and Turtle cheesecake (right) from New Yorken in Albuquerque

If it’s July, grilling and barbecuing activities are at their peak throughout the Land of Enchantment, but nowhere more than in Rio Rancho which hosted its 12th annual Pork & Brew at the Santa Ana Star Center. Some of the very best competition barbecue teams in the fruited plain competed in the event, including seven of the top 25 teams in America. Though New Mexico was well represented in the competition, none were among the top five finishers. Rio Rancho’s own Rub-N-Wood did earn the Mayor’s Award.

It seems every time a national publication compiles a “best” of any food, the “usual suspects” always seem to represent the Land of Enchantment…and they almost always seem to be from either Santa Fe or Albuquerque. It’s as if new restaurants, especially those outside Santa Fe and Albuquerque, can’t possibly compete with the venerated restaurants which have always made the “best of” lists. Kudos to Pixte.com, a lifestyle and travel site, for uncovering a hidden gem worthy of acclaim, if not adulation. In naming Davido’s of Rio Rancho the “best pizza in New Mexico,” Pixte wrote “great value for money with its monstrous portion sizes, you’ll never leave here hungry. Perfect balance of quality and quantity.”

Veal Saltimbocca from Joe’s Pasta House in Rio Rancho

Travel + Leisure showcased the world’s best cities as voted by readers. Santa Fe was voted the fourth best city in the United States and Canada. “Beyond the turquoise clichés and New Age philosophizing,” Travel + Leisure discovered “the key to Santa Fe” is “in the characters we meet along the way.” Some of those characters were uncovered in Santa Fe’s restaurants, among them Cafe Pasqual‘s, Restaurant Martin and El Parasol.

“With its fresh mountain air, farmer’s-market cuisine and mellow ambiance,” Albuquerque was rated number five for peace and quiet, number ten for wine and number one for picnics in a Travel + Leisure readers’ poll. Locals and visitors are urged to “fill your basket with fresh fruit and plenty of local flavors, like burritos from Java Joe’s or green-chile bacon quiches from New Mexico Pie Company.”

Adana Shish Kabob Combo from Anatolia in Albuquerque

Twenty-one of New Mexico’s finest restaurants were recognized by Wine Spectator magazine for inclusion in the publication’s 2015 Restaurant Awards, which highlight restaurants around the world that offer the best wine selections. Among the Duke City honorees were the Artichoke Cafe and the Ranchers Club. Santa Fe selections included Il Piatta and Luminaria. Blades Bistro from Placitas and Arroyo Seco’s Sabroso were among the seven restaurants to make the list from outside Albuquerque and Santa Fe.

Bakers Royale, Naomi Robinson’s cozy online corner “where baking meets random thoughts and musings,” spent some time in Santa Fe where the writer got “hands-on experience with how to make the red and green chile sauce New Mexico cuisine is known for.” In addition to visiting the Santa Fe School of Cooking, Robinson visited a number of Santa Fe’s most widely acclaimed eateries: The Pantry Restaurant, Tomasita’s, Eloisa and others. She urges visitors to dispense with calorie-counting while visiting Santa Fe and above all not to “be that visitor and ask for skinny, made-to-order portions.” Great advice!

Inside-Out Burger from Central Grill in Albuquerque

Chef John Rivera Sedlar might have read Thomas Wolfe’s book “You Can’t Go Home Again,” but he didn’t follow that advice. After four decades of plying his craft in California, the Santa Fe native returned home to launch Eloisa, a restaurant which both reinterprets and honors New Mexico’s culinary traditions. Located within the Drury Plaza Hotel, Eloisa was named one of Eater Magazine’s 21 best new restaurants in America” for 2015. Calling Eloisa a “command performance,” Eater Magazine proceeded to heap praise on Chef Sedlar’s celebration of “local culture with more modern nuance than any other menu in town.”

The Las Cruces Convention and Visitor’s Bureau launched the Las Cruces “Walk of Flame” Green Chile Trail which invites locals and visitors to “experience a traditional green chile Mexican dish, or go off the beaten path and try one of the specialty plates, such as pecan encrusted green chile strips, green chile-meat lasagna, green chile chicken wontons, green chile hummus, green chile posole, green chile stew, cream of green chile, green chile mashed potatoes, green chile sausage soup and other exclusive dishes.”

Butterup Knife

I’ve longed contended (and this isn’t pandering) that readers of Gil’s Thrilling…are the most discerning and intelligent gastronomes in New Mexico.  Case in point.  I recently received an email from my friend Bruce Schor pointing out that Bob of the Village People shilled for the Butterup knife well before it was featured on August edition of Bon Appetit.  Despite driving a mid-century Pontiac Firebird and a daily spritz (or five) of Old Spice, Bob keeps up with all the pop culture trends.  Compared to Bob, Bruce and I are dinosaurs.

June, 2015

Los Equipales, a magnificent Mexican restaurant, shuttered its doors on June 26th

While trying to get to Las Vegas, Nevada in 1945, Bugs Bunny accidentally wound up in Germany where for the first time he utters the recurring line “I should have made that left turn at Albuquerque.” Realtors across the fruited plain have come to the realization that many people aren’t making any turns when they arrive in the Duke City. They’re here to stay. For them, the Movoto.com blog, the lighter side of real estate, provides “29 things you need to know about Albuquerque before you move there” Among the sagacious tips: Green Chile: Love it or Leave Town; Great Community Food at the Grove Cafe; You may not Know the Mufin Man, but Everyone Knows the Candy Lady; The Perfect Ron Swansonable Steak (from Farm & Table at “rustic Old Town”); All Other Bread Will Pale in Comparison (from the Golden Crown Panaderia); These Donuts, Oh Man, These Donuts (from Rebel Donut); and Your BBQ Search is Over at Mr. Powdrell’s BBQ House.

Every state in the U.S. has a unique flavor. Foursquare’s data science team identified the singular tastes of all 50 states and Washington, D.C., using a mix of data sets (menus, tips, ratings, and more) and normalizing for size against other states. The editorial team then reviewed the data and selected the winning taste that is most special and unique to each state. Dispensing with the statistical jibber-jabber, it’s no surprise that what New Mexicans crave more than any other state–255 percent more, in fact–is sopaipillas. Among the restaurants Foursquare recommends you get them are La Choza. It’s entirely likely that some of our neighbors cross into the Land of Enchantment for the tastes they crave: chile verde in Utah and chili (SIC) rellenos in Colorado.

Judy’s Catsup from Santacafe in Santa Fe

When Westword, the self-professed “first and the last stop of the day for anyone who wants to know what’s going on in Denver” published its “ten best green chiles in Denver for 2015” edition, New Mexican transplants saw red and green. Westword described it as ““fast and furious—mostly furious.” Almost a thousand Facebook posts, mostly from New Mexicans, described in no uncertain terms just what they think of chile in Denver–and it’s not much. Westword conceded that their neighbor to the south has a ” long history of growing chiles and enticing tourists with its pure and flaming version that doesn’t sport even the barest tint of orange.” Obviously the writer has never been to the Land of Enchantment at the tail end of harvest season.

A list of the “25 Best Things to Do in Albuquerque” is sure to evoke at least a little controversy, especially if it doesn’t list a few restaurants in between all those museums, the tramway, Old Town and the like. Vacation Idea, the “dream vacation magazine” tells perspective vacationers they should include Farm & Table, Vinaigrette, Budai Gourmet Chinese, The Grove Cafe & Market, Jennifer James 101 and the Artichoke Cafe among those 25 things all vacationers should do in the Duke City.

Banana Pudding from Vick’s Vittles in Albuquerque

When it comes to most quality of life categories, New Mexico seems to rank perpetually near the very bottom where we compete with such states as Mississippi, Arkansas and Louisiana for lowliness. You might think that the Land of Enchantment wouldn’t fare very well on Thrillist’s “Definitive and Final Ranking of All 50 States,” but that wasn’t the case. New Mexico actually ranked 23rd. The reasons given (no surprise here): “GREEN. CHILE. Also sand. And, like, pretty good skiing.”

Drive Happy. It Comes With the Territory! That’s what Alamo Car Rental has been telling us for years. So with all the driving their clients do, how well does Alamo know a territory near and dear to our heart? In its estimation, Alamo knows the Duke City territory well enough to compile a list of Albuquerque’s best attractions? Those attractions include two restaurants whose “homemade chili sauces are quite popular even outside Albuquerque, which is why they can be found in grocery stores throughout the country.” Chili? Apparently Alamo thinks Albuquerque is in Texas. In the Land of Enchantment, we spell it “chile.” 

Drive to Teofilo’s in Los Lunas and you may just find the food is so good you’ll want to stay there.

Guilty Pleasures.  We all have them.  So do Food Network glitterati who reveal their “best-kept, most-intimate, guilty-pleasure secrets for the first time ever.”  The Food Network’s “Guilty Pleasures” program visits the locations to hobnob with the chefs who “make these crazy ooey-gooey, “I can’t believe I’m eating this” food masterpieces.  Top Chef America star Alex Guarnaschelli lusts after the Frito Pie (and Ribs) plate at Santa Fe’s Cowgirl BBQ, an indulgence she says offers something different in every bite.

May, 2015

Brussels Sprouts Salad from The Shop Breakfast and Lunch in Albuquerque (Photo Courtesy of Hannah Walraven)

One of the most mirthful events during the merry, merry month of May is Cinco De Mayo, a relatively minor holiday in Mexico, but one which has evolved into a celebration of Mexican culture and heritage throughout the fruited plain. Every May, it seems, brings with it a compilation of the “top Mexican restaurants” in America by virtually every online list compiling site. Gayot, “the guide to the good life,” named Mary & Tito’s to it’s top ten Mexican restaurant list, citing it for “exemplary red chile” which “smothers just about everything here from eggs to tamales to the fresh-tasting chile rellenos.”

At least Yahoo Food is honest enough to reveal that Cinco de Mayo has come to be embraced as a celebration of Mexican food, beer, tequila, culture, and more food…even if, like Gayot, it doesn’t know the difference between Mexican food and New Mexican cuisine. Its own compilation of the “best Mexican restaurants” in America included only one restaurant from the Land of Enchantment. Yahoo Food urges visitors to “do what the locals have been doing for the last 65 years: head over to The Pantry and make sure to order the famous huevos rancheros.”

Crawfish Etouffee from N’awlins Mardi Gras Cafe in Albuquerque

Thrillist calls nachos “a combination of pretty much the best foods out there, and yet a truly transcendent plate of them is mysteriously elusive, like the Bigfoot of bar food, except (hopefully) less hairy.” Elusive though they may be, great nachos can be found at “taquerias, bars, and holes-in-the-wall” throughout America. Thrillist put together a list of the 21 best nachos in America. The Brisket Nachos at El Patron in Las Cruces made the list thanks to “smoky, flavorful meat paired with refried beans, tomatoes, lettuce, guacamole, and salsa on top of authentic, house-made tortillas.” Also making the list were the Nachos Grande at Cecilia’s Cafe in Albuquerque, described as “bursting with flavorful ground beef, guac, beans, cheese, and more, all on crispy tostadas.”

Four New Mexican restaurants made it onto MSN‘s its list of America’s 75 best tacos: The Shed topped the list with its taco plate: “two fresh blue corn tortillas with baked chicken topped with green chile, Cheddar cheese, onion, lettuce, and tomato.” “If a great taco requires perfection in all of its elements, then the carne adovada at Mary and Tito’s, heaped into a fresh corn tortilla, is undeniably world-class.” “Only three types of tacos are available (chicken, ground beef, and shredded beef)” at Santa Fe’s El Parasol but “what tacos these are.” For sheer value, you can’t beat the 99-cent tacos at Tacos Mex Y Mariscos in Albuquerque. MSN urges you to “peruse the menu and pick out something a little out of the ordinary, like cabeza (head) or tripas (which are intestines, not tripe), but their al pastor taco is sure to please even the least adventurous eater.”

Italian Sandwich from the Empire Board Game Library in Albuquerque

If you’re dubious about the credibility of all these online lists purporting to rate the best of this or the best of that, Thrillist may have given you even more reason to question the veracity of these lists. In compiling its list of the “Best BBQ in America,” Thrillist reached out to a “verbose restaurant reviewer who can’t write his own name in under 100 words.” (Shameless self-promotion here.) The “best in show was a toss-up between Danny’s and Sparky’s” with Danny’s from Carlsbad getting “our nod because of the gall involved in tearing up a Dairy Queen franchise agreement when they wouldn’t let him add his own smoked meats to the menu.”

“No longer just a side dish, great fries deserve recognition in their own right.” That’s why MSN Food & Drink “consulted expert reviews and local recommendations to find the true standouts from every state.” The Land of Enchantment’s best fries were also “voted best fries in Albuquerque as a part of Alibi’s Best of Burque Restaurants in 2013.” “Holy Cow’s hand-cut fries do not disappoint. They come in regular, sweet potato, and zucchini varieties, and each huge order is enough to split two or three ways — but there’s no guarantee you’ll actually want to.”

Hot buttered tortilla from Duran’s Station in Albuquerque

The aptly named Cheap Tickets blog “scoured North America for bargain-priced, refreshingly creative plates, and found eleven, all ten bucks or under. The Frito Pie Bowl at Santa Fe’s Beestro “may seem pedestrian to some foodies out there, but this match-up is a legendary throwback to the Woolworth’s original and now served with flair and a fun-loving attitude at this super-cute farm-to-table bistro (the owners are sweet on honey bee products and preservation) in downtown Santa Fe. “

Turophiles everywhere across the fruited plain sing “This cheese is your cheese, this cheese is my cheese” for at least fifty different reasons. Cheeserank compiled a list of the fifty best cheese recipes from the “fifty best United States.” All the usual suspects–cheese dip (Arkansas), cheesesteak (Pennsylvania), mac and cheese (Colorado), etc.–made the list. So did New Mexico’s fabled green chile cheeseburger. As Cheeserank explains “You can’t be from New Mexico and not love green chiles (it’s the law).”

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Still much missed, the wonderful Sheepherder’s Cafe

The Food Network’s “Great Food Truck Race” spent a day in Santa Fe Plaza shooting a big food competition segment for the season premiere episode airing later in August, 2015. It’s the second time the Great Food Truck Race has filmed in Santa Fe. One of the factors making Santa Fe so attractive to the food competition is New Mexico’s fabled green chile. Five food truck teams rolled into the City Different and tried their hand at preparing dishes showcasing chile. Show host Tyler Florence and Santa Fe’s multi-time James Beard Award nominee Martin Rios judged their dishes. Stay tuned!

Emage Magazine, renowned internationally for its fashion sense, placed Golden Crown Panaderia‘s dashing and debonair owner-chef Chris Morales on its cover for issue 40. Unlike some previous cover models who doffed most of their clothing, Chris was pictured in his his baker’s whites for the shoot. The publication date will be announced soon.

April, 2015

Scallops from M’Tucci’s Kitchina (Photo Courtesy of Hannah Walraven)

Ponder the simple French fry. It’s not one of those sexy, glamorous foods that easily comes to mind when you’re famished. In fact, most of us don’t think of French fries unless we’re also thinking of burgers. The Daily Meal, perhaps the most prodigious creator of culinary content in the blogosphere, apparently thinks about fries more than most of us do. In compiling its third ever list of America’s fifty best fries, the Daily Meal traversed the length and breadth of the fruited plain. Only one restaurant in the Land of Enchantment made this sacrosanct list, ranking 14th. It’s not surprising that our best fries come from The Santa Fe Bite whose pommes frites were described as combining “the best of Tex-Mex with burgers and fries.”  Tex Mex?  “Their wedge fries are stellar, and if you’re feeling adventurous, ask for the green chile cheese fries. They’re a secret menu item that locals rave about.”

Cowboys & Indians, a Western lifestyle magazine covering Western art, rodeo, cowboys, the cowboy way of life, westerns, music, television, food, and travel gave readers a taste of the West’s culinary pioneers and innovators on their food issue for 2015. You can’t discuss culinary pioneers and innovators without mentioning scintillating four-time James Beard award-winning author Cheryl Alters Jamison. Cheryl, a proud Tesuque resident, shared the recipe for Rancho de Chimayo’s legendary carne adovada. The recipe was excerpted and adapted with permission from The Rancho de Chimayó Cookbook: The Traditional Cooking of New Mexico, 50th Anniversary Edition by Cheryl Jamison and her husband Bill Jamison.

Red Chile Mocha from The Brew on Gold Street in Downtown Albuquerque

To New Mexicans, there is nothing as thoroughly soul-satisfying and utterly delicious as our ubiquitous green chile cheeseburger. We have a fierce pride in that most simplistic, but explosive, flavor-blessed union of a thick, juicy beef patty grilled over an open flame or sizzled on a griddle then blanketed in cheese and topped with taste bud awakening, tongue tingling, olfactory arousing green chile. USA Today honored our ubiquitous green chile cheeseburger by placing the New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail on the pantheon of greatness that is “America’s Most Indulgent Food Trails.” USA admitted “There’s no better way to splurge than with a juicy burger and New Mexico’s Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail is the hottest of its kind, literally.

Homer Simpson, that everyman philosopher posited an essential philosophical question: “Donuts. Is there anything they can’t do.” in recent years, donuts in New Mexico have garnered their share of recognition with both Duke City Donuts and Rebel Donut being singled out for national recognition. Recognizing that donuts are a “full-blown trend now, as artisanal donut shops have risen up like those magical yeasty treats all across America,” Thrillist named the 33 best donuts in America. New Mexico was well represented by Santa Fe’s Whoo’s Donuts, which inspired “one rather chubby act of selfishness” for the Thrillist feature writer.

Tilapia Quesadilla from Papa Nacho’s

Albuquerque took quite a beating from the national media in 2014, but Travel and Leisure was paying attention to the positive aspects in the Duke City. In recognition of its “affable citywide demeanor” Albuquerque was ranked ninth from America’s ten friendliest cities. Though you can pick up “faux crystal-meth candy from The Candy Lady or even the “Blue Sky” donuts at Rebel Donut,” Travel and Leisure cautions not to spoil your appetite because the Duke City has “a large presence on the state’s so-dubbed Breakfast Burrito Byway” where you’ll find “two classic spots…The Frontier and Burrito Lady. “

You’ve got to admire Thrillist and its patriotism for reminding all red-blooded Americans that “it’s your duty — nay, your destiny — to eat as many different varieties of your birthright food as humanly possible.” That birthright food is the quintessential American sandwich. Thrillist compiled a “bucket list of 50 sandwiches across America that you should eat before you die (probably from eating so many sandwiches).” Where this list reigns supreme over similar lists is that it doesn’t cop-out and add a couple burgers to the list. Santa Fe’s Palacio Cafe made the list with its “Taos Style” sandwich, a “mix of roast beef, Provolone, chopped green chile, caramelized onion, and mayo on panini-pressed sourdough.”

Marinated Grilled Tilapia from Jambo Cafe in Santa Fe

There are New Mexicans who even under the threat of water-boarding would never concede that Colorado grows, prepares and serves an edible green chile, much less one that’s delicious. In that respect we differ from Thrillist which ranked the “green chile legends” of Denver. The “one single criterion for ranking them: deliciousness,” which means “zero debates about the Colorado vs. the New Mexico style — because who gives a flying frijole?” Huh? As if to give credence and consolation to New Mexicans who’ll fight to the death over the supremacy of our chile, almost every chile pictured on the article has a brownish patina. So there!

According to Wikipedia, “the traditional etymology for April is from the verb aperire, “to open”, in allusion to its being the season when trees and flowers begin to “open.” Alas, sometimes in April restaurants close, too, including one of only two restaurants (Mary & Tito’s is the other) to earn a rating of “27” on this blog. Epazote, the fabulous milieu serving incomparable world cuisine served its last magnificent meal two weeks before the closure of Bert’s Burger Bowl, a Santa Fe institution for 51 years. Both restaurants were owned and operated by Fernando Olea, a gentle man if ever there was one. The gracious chef is enjoying a well-deserved retirement.

From the Flying Star‘s new menu: Hidden Treasure (Thai coconut red curry sauce, grilled chicken, fresh veggies over your choice of organic Jasmine or brown rice)

THREE FOR MAY: One of the most important things a restaurant can do to ensure longevity in a very dynamic business climate is to listen to its customers. In response to customer feedback and the perception that menu items were too pricey, the Flying Star revamped its menu, offering several lower-priced items in a new “Café Menu.” New desserts were also added. If the Hidden Treasure (pictured above) is any indication, the iconic Flying Star is well on its way to regaining, retaining and attaining guests. *** One person’s bizarre is another person’s delicacy. Albuquerque’s NewsCastic outlet recently published a list of “13 bizarre things on ABQ menus.” Among the baker’s dozen was the caramel catfish at Café Dalat, my highest rated Vietnamese restaurant in New Mexico. While not taking umbrage with the categorization of caramel catfish as “bizarre,” owner James Nguyen confirmed that the dish is absolutely beloved by Vietnamese people and that it’s usually paired with sour soup. Sounds great to me. *** When is the last time you enjoyed “the other red meat” other than on a lamb chop or gyro? The roast leg of lamb burrito from the Atrisco Bar & Café in Santa Fe is so good, you’ll be having lamb more often.

March, 2015

The Milano (Marinara Sauce, Italian Sausage, Prosciuitto, Genoa Salami, Mozzarella, Oregano, Pesto) from Saggio’s

Noting that “America’s coming-of-agecoincided with the rise of the automobile,” and the automobile birthed the ubiquitous drive-in restaurant, Thrillist compiled a list of the best drive-in restaurants in the fruited plain. The Land of Enchantment was well represented thanks to Mac’s Steak in the Rough, an Albuquerque staple for more than six decades. According to Thrillist: “just about everyone in Albuquerque that isn’t a meth-addled Breaking Bad fan has hit up Mac’s Steak in the Rough for everything from taquitos and cheeseburgers, to the semi-eponymous Double Meat Rough.” You can bet even our meth-addled citizenry have hit up Mac’s for that fantastic limeade.

Don’t ever use the tired idiom “Always a bridesmaid, never a bride” to describe the Land of Enchantment’s uber chefs whom, it seems, are perennially named semi-finalists for the James Beard “Best Chef: Southwest” Award, but don’t advance further. To be named a semi-finalist is to be recognized as among the very best of the elite. The level of competition throughout the Southwest (Arizona, Colorado, Texas and New Mexico) is extremely high. Chef Martin Rio’s of the eponymous Restaurant Martin has broken through, being named one of six finalists for the “Oscars of Food.”

Egg Foo Yong and Fried Rice from Lucky Boy

Chope’s Town Café and Bar in La Mesa has been recognized by the New Mexico Historic Preservation Division as the newest entrant on the state’s Register of Cultural Properties. Named for José “Chope” Benavides, the son of original proprietors Longina and Margarito Benavides, the restaurant was established in 1915 when Longina opened her dining room to sell enchiladas to local residents. A century later, visitors from all over the world have discovered Chope’s and pilgrimage to what remains one of the very best restaurants in the Land of Enchantment.

San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, Austin, New Orleans…These are all formidable foodie cities, heralded and acclaimed as trend-setters and culinary destinations nonpariel. Would you believe the Duke City rates above all of these cities, finishing sixth overall, in a Travel & Leisure Magazine ranking of America’s best food cities? As is usually the case, you can attribute that high ranking to New Mexico’s incomparable green chile which Travel & Leisure described as “the patron saint of this Southwestern city’s food scene” indicating it “pops up on the local fry-bread tacos and cheeseburgers (like the classics at Monte Carlo Steakhouse and Liquor Store, or can be made into a sauce at your table at legendary spots like El Pinto.”

Shrimp Sausage Banh Mi from Banh Mi Coda

Take a quaint, old adobe building, some candlelight, and arguably Albuquerque’s best food and you have the making of an amazing romantic experience.” In recent years, Old Town’s iconic Antiquity Restaurant has consistently garnered “most romantic restaurant” honors in several local polls. The secret is out. TABELog has named Antiquity “one of the thirteen most romantic restaurants in America,” and recommends trying the “filet mignon wrapped in bacon.”

On March 24th, a pall of sadness was cast over the Land of Enchantment as we learned of the passing of Bill Jamison. That sadness was punctuated by loving memories of a beautiful man with an infectious joie de vivre. Bill was a man who laughed easily and often and who kept listeners spellbound with his raconteur’s wit and humor. When he circulated among friends, he had the rare gift of making all of them feel special. Modest and self-effacing almost to a fault, you’d never hear him trumpet his many impressive accomplishments—such as partnering with Cheryl, the love of his life and scintillating bride for thirty years, to earn four James Beard Awards for culinary writing. Along with Cheryl, he authored some two dozen travel books and cookbooks, earning the couple the sobriquet “the king and queen of grilling and smoking” from Bon Appetit magazine. Even as we will miss this tremendous soul, we can’t help but smile at having been blessed with his wit and his friendship. Godspeed, Bill.

Thai hot Mussamun Curry with Vegetables from Thai Cuisine II

IN APRIL, MAKE TIME FOR: On Saturday, April 11th from 11AM – 4PM, the Anderson-Abruzzo Albuquerque International Balloon Museum will host the inaugural Great New Mexico Food Truck & Beer Festival. It’s an opportunity to celebrate the Duke City’s food truck and craft beer culture in one place for one truly delicious day. The festival will include 20 gourmet food trucks from the Duke CIty area, serving up a variety of savory and sweet dishes, including fall off the bone BBQ to South American cuisine, gourmet hot dogs and everything in between. General admission tickets cost $5, with children 12 and under free. Food and craft beer are sold separately. For more information and to purchase tickets in advance to avoid lines, please visit: http://www.foodtruckfestivalsofamerica.com.

February

Street Food Blvd was the Clear Favorite Among Judges and Public Alike at The Taste of Rio Rancho

The fifth-annual Taste of Rio Rancho gave 22 of the City of Vision’s best eateries an opportunity to showcase their finest culinary fare to some 800 guests. Shining most brightly was rookie participant Street Food Blvd., a food truck which garnered three of six awards in the “Best of Taste” competition judged by two panels of six judges each. The winners were:

  • Best Appetizer: Street Food Blvd.
  • Best Entree: Street Food Blvd.
  • Best Pizza: Pizza 9
  • Best Sandwich: Pizza 9
  • Best Dessert: Vanilla Bean Frozen Custard and Treatery
  • People’s Choice: Street Food Blvd.

If nothing else the compilation of lists is entertaining. Often controversial and rarely achieving consensus, lists serve as excellent conversation starters. One of America’s foremost compilers of lists is Thrillist which purports to bring “very best food, drink, and fun from across the country and around the world delivered piping hot right to your inbox.” Recognizing that “50 million Americans are served fast food every day,” the good folks at Thrillist compiled a list ranking every state in the fruited plain by its fast food. New Mexico ranked 31st largely on the strength of the 75 LotaBurgers throughout the Land of Enchantment. Special mention was given to Whataburger with the disclaimer that the writer was “running out of other options.”

Pierogies from the Heimat House in Albuquerque

Thrillist “looked to” their “famous chef friends to tell us the best burgers they’ve ever eaten” and where to find them. The best burgers in the country, according to chefs included only one burger from the Land of Enchantment, but it’s a great one indeed. Chef Michael Kornick of Chicago’s celebrated mk is obviously a discerning gentleman with great taste: “My favorite burger would have to be the original Hatch green chile cheeseburger at Santa Fe Bite (formerly The Bobcat Bite), made with a giant hunk of amazing beef and green chile so perfect it renders any additional condiments superfluous.”

New Mexico’s best restaurant. That’s a topic sure to elicit a wide swathe of opinions. In compiling a list of the best restaurants in every state, the Business Insider considered a wide swathe of opinions from credentialed sources (such as the James Beard Foundation) while not discounting local recommendations. Paying particular heed to fine dining establishments, Business Insider named Santa Fe’s Geronimo as New Mexico’s best, citing its “impeccable service and complex dishes” and noting that “Geronimo was named best overall, best ambiance, and best food in New Mexico by OpenTable, among other honors.” Business Insider also indicated Geronimo is the “only New Mexico restaurant to win a AAA Four Diamond award, as well as a Forbes Four Star award.”

Coffee isn’t all Rio Rancho’s Cafe Bella does well: Chocolate Chip and Double Espresso Scones

The Los Angeles Times arrived at a conclusion reached by sojourners along Highway 60 on the west side of the Continental Divide: There are indeed pies in Pie Town, a slice of heaven for travelers. The “queen of the oven” in Pie Town is the effervescent Kathy Knapp, a “pastry pilgrim” with a license plate befitting her status: “PIELADY.” “Visitors from all over the world” come, some “to see if a place named Pie Town is a joke.” Pie Town is no joke. It’s the panacea of pie.

Albuquerque is Where It’s At” according to The Huffington Post which named the Duke City among the “5 American Cities You Should Visit” in 2015. With a nod to “Breaking Bad,” writers encouraged visitors to “go for the insanely good chicken-fried steak fingers at Mac’s Steak in the Rough” and to “stay for the sopaipillas.” An Albuquerque tradition for more than six decades, Mac’s Steak in the Rough may not have the fine-dining cachet of Geronimo, but it’s got the love and admiration of generations of Duke City diners.

Albuquerque’s The Grill is proud of its burgers

New Mexico was well represented in the 2015 James Beard Foundation pantheon of award semifinalists. James Beard awards, the restaurant industry’s equivalent of an Academy Award, have eluded all but a few of the Land of Enchantment’s best restaurants and chefs. Could 2015 be the year Albuquerque’s Jennifer James is finally recognized for Best Chef: Southwest Honors, a distinction for which she’s been nominated numerous times? Her in-state competition in 2015 includes another multi-time nominee in Martin Rios of Santa Fe’s Restaurant Martin as well as Andrew Cooper at Santa Fe’s Terra at the Four Seasons Resort Rancho Encantado and Jonathan Perno of La Merienda at Los Poblanos in Los Ranchos de Albuquerque. Ron Cooper of the Del Maguey Single Village Mezcal in Ranchos de Taos was nominated in the category of Outstanding Wine, Beer or Spirits Professional.

The Daily Meal’s “passionate team canvasses the world to bring you the best food and drink experiences at all levels, around the table, at home or on the road.” In February that passionate team took a stab at naming America’s 50 Best Mexican Restaurants.” Only one Mexican restaurant in the Land of Enchantment made it onto the fabulous fifty, but it’s a restaurant imbued with greatness. Albuquerque’s El Modelo, a Duke City institution since 1929 “still makes rave-worthy tortillas and tamales along with enchiladas, burritos, tostadas and sopaipillas–many of these featuring New Mexico’s signature red and green chiles.”

Panna Cotta from Albuquerque’s Fork & Fig

In an era of openness and transparency in which there seem to be no secrets left, DreamPlanGo which purports to “bring you travel and vacation ideas, insights and inspiration” named Santa Fe as one of “America’s secret 2015 foodie destinations.” One of ten foodie destinations noted, Santa Fe was noted for its chef “blending the flavors they’ve grown up on with influences from Mexico, France and the Mediterranean” resulting in “a delicious collection of Southwest fare prepared in new and innovative ways.” 

Plato once said that “opinion is the medium between knowledge and ignorance.”  In the opinion of The Culturetrip, these are “New Mexico’s ten best restaurants:” Antiquity Restaurant, High Noon Restaurant & Saloon, The Artichoke Cafe, and The Grove Cafe & Market, all in Albuquerque; The Range in Bernalillo;  Geronimo, Luminaria and Cafe Pasqual in Santa Fe; The Curious Kumquat in Silver City and Savoy de Mesilla in Mesilla.  Some will view this list and determine it leans toward knowledge and others will argue that it skews toward ignorance.  At the least, it should inspire conversation.

Salsas from Taqueria El Paisa in Albuquerque

Global Gumshoe Ron Stern of the Communities Digital News (CDN) tells readers that Albuquerque’s cuisine is “anything but ordinary.”  In fact, Stern believes “Albuquerque is blazing a trail of its own on the culinary scene.”  “From hot and spicy New Mexican cuisine to upscale dining,” CDN recommended some of the Duke City’s most popular dining hotspots including: Sadie’s of New Mexico, El Pinto, The Cube, The Pueblo Harvest Cafe and others.

TIME TO REVISIT THESE THREE RESTAURANTS: Bob of the Village of Rio Rancho (BOTVOLR), the most prodigious commentator on Gil’s Thrilling…(and some would say, most prolific palaverist) recently suggested I “might remind readers of three Options to check out over a weekend as many of us are ‘getting of an age’.” If you’re interested in sampling traditional Lenten fare enjoyed by New Mexico’s Catholics for generations, make one of those three Abuelita’s in Bernalillo and order the torta de huevo and quelites. You have only one day left to visit Paul’s Monterrey Inn, an Albuquerque institution which shutters its doors for good on February 28th. It may not quite be a trip to the age of Aquarius, communes, hippies and free love, but Santa Fe’s Counter Culture Cafe may just remind you of a bygone psychedelic era as it delights you with deliciousness.

January

The  Culture Trip, “a one-stop, global website, showcasing the best of art, food, culture and travel for every country in the world” discovered ten great places in Taos for dining out.   It may surprise you to learn that only two–Michael’s Kitchen and Orlando’s Cafe— of the restaurants recognized showcase New Mexican cuisine.  Diversity is the hallmark of the remaining restaurants whose ranks include French and Latin inspired Gutiz and Spanish and Moorish influenced El Meze whose chef Frederick Muller has been nominated several times for the James Beard award as the best chef in the Southwest.

Sushi Rolls from Ahh Sushi in Rio Rancho

Obsessed with everything that’s worth caring about in food, drink, and travel,” the good folks at Thrillist compiled a list of “the most iconic restaurants in every state.”  Admittedly this endeavor required looking up the word “iconic” in the dictionary and to qualify, a restaurant had to have been around for 30 years or more and “still be a crowd favorite.”  As a disclaimer, perhaps, the selected restaurants “may not have the best food or be tourist-free,” but “they’re all famous.”   Thrillist’s selection for New Mexico was El Pinto, a restaurant with  more detractors than supporters, a conclusion at which you might arrive if you read the comments following the list. 

While it may be debated as to whether or not El Pinto is the most iconic restaurant in the Land of Enchantment, you can’t dispute its popularity and propensity for marketing.  The new year saw filming begin for a potential reality show featuring the restaurant.  El Pinto’s owners, the “iconic” Thomas twins desire is that the reality show “offer an authentic portrayal of the restaurant, the Albuquerque community and New Mexico’s food and culture.” 

Mussels from Farina Alto in Albuquerque

In its January, 2015 report Pizza Magazine Quarterly revealed that only four states across the fruited plain love pizza less than New Mexico does  (another quality of life category for which we can be grateful for Mississippi).  With only 1.55 pizza joints per 10,000 residents, the Land of Enchantment ranks 46th in terms of number of pizzerias.   Worse, only 38.4 percent of those pizzerias are independent.  There is one local chain regarded as one of the most successful local chains in the fruited plain.  Dion’s ranked number 37 on the magazine’s list of the top fifty pizza chains in America.  From a monetary perspective, however, the magazine noted that Dion’s makes more money per restaurant than any other pizza chain in the country.

“The Best…Ever!”  That’s a pretty audacious premise, but one the Food Network decided to tackle.  In its inaugural episode which aired on January 5th, celebrity chefs and restaurateurs celebrated the “Best. Pizza. Ever.,” identifying the eleven best pizzas ever.  Who says when it comes to pizza you can’t have the whole enchilada?  Not chef and restaurateur Roger Mooking who made a a case for the chicken green chile and cheese pizza at Santa Fe’s Rooftop Pizzeria being “the best spicy slice ever.” 

Adult Beverage Menu at the Shade Tree Custom & Cafe which was featured on the Food Network’s Restaurant Impossible

If you’ve ever shortchanged New Mexico’s barbecue, you might just give it some respect now that the Food Network’s “Best…Ever!” program airing on January 12th listed a Santa Fe barbecue dish as one of the best barbecue dishes ever in America.  Chef Aaron Sanchez explained why Cowgirl BBQ in Santa Fe is taking nachos to another level, calling them “decadent, gluttonous and fun” with “big flavor.”  He noted that the “best barbecue nachos ever” brings elements of barbecue (brisket), Mexican and Southwestern dishes together. 

Travel Mindset, a site “created by experienced travelers who like to explore the world and are looking for life changing and life shaping experiences” took a stab at dissecting New Mexico’s “signature ingredient: the chile pepper.”  Advising that “if you want to taste one of the hottest—literally—culinary landscapes in the United States, you need to get a few things straight,” Travel Mindset encourages familiarizing yourself with the “red or green” question.  They also championed the New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail, “composed up of local and critic favorites—making it the best of the best.”  The best, in their estimation comes from San Antonio’s fabulous Owl Cafe

Street Food Asia and sister restaurant Street Food Market won second and third place critic’s choice awards at the 2015 Roadrunner Food Bank SouperBowl in Albuquerque

The premise of the Food Network’s Restaurant: Impossible is that within two days and on a budget of $10,000,  host Robert Irvine will transform a failing American restaurant with the goal of helping to restore it to profitability and prominence.  To make the show entertaining, any existing dysfunction or drama in the restaurant’s day-to-day operations is spotlighted in the fashion of all reality shows.  On January 14th, the episode featuring Albuquerque’s Shade Tree Customs & Cafe aired for the first time.  While soap opera-like drama is typical for many reality shows, the Restaurant: Impossible segment was a very effective vehicle for showing the likeability and passion of the Shade Tree ownership and staff.  

When most people think American cuisine, they think pizza, hot dogs and hamburgers.  While these are indeed staples across the country, each state has its own sense of flavor.”  The Huffington Post and Yelp collaborated to determine the “most disproportionately popular cuisine in each state.”  In Louisiana, it was Cajun cuisine while Missouri certainly loves its barbecue.  Interestingly, the most disproportionately popular cuisine in New Mexico was determined to be “Mexican.”  Not “New Mexican,” but Mexican.  Texas garnered more respect as its most disproportionately popular cuisine was deemed to be “Tex-Mex.”  

Santa Fe SouperBowl Winners: 215

If breakfast is truly the most important meal of the day, it seems most of America prefers to start their day off with a richly indulgent cavalcade of calorific sweets such as pancakes, French toast, donuts and sticky buns.  At least that’s what several celebrity chefs on the Food Network’s “Best. Ever. Breakfast” program would have you believe.  California based chef Antonia Lofaso begs to differ, making a case for the breakfast burritos in Santa Fe’s Tia Sophia’s restaurant as the best breakfast burrito ever.    Chef Lofaso recommends getting it “Christmas style.”  

On Saturday, January 17th, 2015, Santa Fe’s The Food Depot hosted its 21st annual Souper Bowl, a fabulous event featuring soup tastings from 29 local restaurants competing for the title of Best Soup in Santa Fe.  

  • In the category of “best savory soup” as well as the overall winner with a King Trumpet Mushroom soup was Dinner For Two.  
  • In the category of “best cream soup,” the winner was Terra at Four Seasons Resort Rancho Encantado with a Creamy Vegetable with Cranberry soup.  
  • The “best seafood soup” category was claimed by The Pantry which wowed judges with a Seafood Butternut Bisque.  
  • “Best vegetarian soup” honors went to Bon Appetite with a wild mushroom soup.

The Ranchers Club of New Mexico won the Critic’s and People’s Choice Awards at the Roadrunner Food Bank’s 2015 SouperBowl in Albuquerque

The Roadrunner Food Bank’s annual Souper Bowl, held on an unseasonably warm January day, is the Food Bank’s largest fund-raising effort every year. The soups seem to get better every year, too.  In my eight years serving as a soup judge, this year’s soups were the very best I’ve had from top to bottom and for the first time in memory, the critic’s  and people’s choice award winners went to the same restaurant.  Here are the 2015 winners:

  • 1st Place and Souper Bowl Champion: Ranchers Club of New Mexico for their Chimayo Red Chile Pork Chowder; 2nd Place: Artichoke Café for their Lobster Bisque; Third Place: Bocadillos New Mexico for their New Mexico Clam Chowder
  • People’s Choice – Vegetarian Soup 1st Place: Bouche for their Cream of New York Portabello; 2nd Place: Forque Kitchen and Bar at the Hyatt Regency for their Pumpkin Red Vegetarian Soup; 3rd Place: StreetFood Market for their Malay Curry Squash Bisque
  • People’s Choice – Desserts 1st Place: Nothing Bundt Cakes; 2nd Place: Theobroma Chocolatier; 3rd Place: Chocolate Cartel
  • People Choice – Best Booth: Ranchers Club of New Mexico
  • Critics’ Choice Winners 1st Place:  The Ranchers Club of New Mexico for their  Chimayo Red Chile Pork Chowder; 2nd Place: StreetFood Asia for their Bangkok Christmas Lobster Bisque; 3rd Place: StreetFood Market for their Malay Curry Squash Bisque

The American diner tradition is alive and well.  To recognize this sacrosanct tradition, the good folks at Thrillist embarked on a trek across the fruited plain to locate America’s 21 best diners.   The only diner in the Land of Enchantment to make it onto this elite list was Santa Fe’s Pantry Restaurant on Cerrillos.  Thrillist observed that “the Pantry was on every single person’s list” when the writer inquired as to where he should eat.  “Around since 1948, it’s 1) damn iconic, 2) a place where you have a decent shot at running into Cormac McCarthy, and 3) serves impeccable New Mexican breakfasts.”

Orange Chicken en Papillote with rice and vegetables from The Model Pharmacy in Albuquerque

Movoto Blog, a blog celebrating the lighter side of real estate, did a seriously great job of naming “15 New Mexico Restaurants Which Will Blow Your Taste Buds Out Of Your Mouth.”  Having previously published a list showcasing Albuquerque restaurants, the list was richly represented by restaurants in Rio Rancho where the  Turtle Mountain Brewing Company, Namaste Restaurant, Rub-N-Wood Barbecue and Joe’s Pasta House received well-deserved praise.  Duke City restaurants noted included Farm & Table, The Grill, Down N Dirty Seafood Boil, Tia Betty Blues, Bocadillos Slow Roasted and the Guava Tree Cafe

Each January, AAA announces restaurants that received the Four Diamond or Five Diamond Rating during their latest evaluation. Restaurants at these rating levels offer an extensive array of amenities and a high degree of hospitality, service and attention to detail. Among the 58,000 AAA Approved and Diamond Rated restaurants visited in 2014, only a very small percentage received the AAA Four Diamond Rating.  Two Santa Fe restaurants–Geronimo and Terra at Encanto–were named to the very exclusive list. 

Chips Con Queso from the Effing Bar in Albuquerque

The Food Network’s Best. Ever. program continued its love affair with Santa Fe restaurants and dishes, going four for four (four episodes, four Santa Fe restaurants) in the month of January.  The beloved Santa Fe Bite was showcased in the Best.Burgers.Ever episode with chef and restaurateur Roger Mooking calling them “a rich, satisfying bite.”  New Mexicans have long acknowledged the Santa Fe Bite and its predecessor, The Bobcat Bite, as living treasures in the Land of Enchantment.

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 2015

Guacamole, Beans and Rice Burrito from Mary & Tito’s

It’s the season for making lists and checking them twice, finding out which restaurants were naughty or nice. The advent of 2016 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 2015. 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.  

It would be oh so easy to compile a “best of the best” list from among  entrees we enjoyed prior to 2015 and from restaurants honored among my best of the best in previous years, but true gastronomes don’t take the easy way out.  We explore new culinary frontiers, seek out new dishes and boldly go where no reviewer has gone before.  More than half of this year’s best come from restaurants we hadn’t visited prior to 2015 and includes more desserts than in any previous year.  

The Best Deal in Town: Buy Ten, Get One Free

If you’re curious, the one item I enjoyed more often than any other in 2015 is the red chili mocha from Cafe Bella in Rio Rancho.  David, Julian, Victoria and the other phenomenal baristas at Cafe Bella may as well serve them to me intravenously.  By year’s end, I will have filled up sixteen “addict” cards (pictured above).  Insofar as more conventional restaurants, my shadow crossed over the threshold of Banh Mi Coda and Joe’s Pasta House more often (four times each) than any other restaurants visited during 2015.  Both could (and probably should) have made this list:

  • It’s probably unfair to name the Non-Vegetarian Dinner Combination Platter from Namaste  as one of the best of the best because each item on the platter–Chicken Tikka Masala, Shrimp Sang, Lamb Curry–could probably have made this list on its own.  With every visit to this transformative Indian restaurant, a new favorite is discovered. 
  • During a 2010 visit to Tucson, we fell in love with the Sonoran Hot Dog, the city’s quintessential and definitive food.  It took a while, but Sonoran Hot Dogs have made their way to the Duke City area where you can find Tucson-worthy versions at SoupDogPop Fizz, Sharky’s Fish & Shrimp and Rio Rancho’s Ice Cream Palace and Hot Dog World
  • Edible art may sound like a trite expression, but every meal coming out of Chef Saul Paniagua’s kitchen at Canvas Artistry is adjudged a masterpiece by the restaurant’s guests.  You’ll shout “encore” after enjoying the Salted Caramel Coconut Flan at this culinary gallery in Albuquerque’s trendy Nob Hill district. 
  • By definition the term “savory” describes food that is salty or non-sweet.  It’s sweetly ironic therefore that Albuquerque’s Savory Fare served us not one, but two of the very best dishes we enjoyed in 2015 and both–the Turtle Bread Pudding and Sour Cherry Pie are desserts.   
  • Santa Fe’s version of the Thomas Hardy novel Return of The Native would describe Chef John Rivera Sedlar’s return to New Mexico after more than three decades setting the culinary world on fire in Los Angeles.  Chef Rivera’s Duck Enfrijolada at Eloisa is the Land of Enchantment’s gain and LA’s loss. 
  • Migas may translate from Spanish to “crumbs” and though originally made with left-over ingredients, not one morsel of the Migas at Cafe Fina in Santa Fe will be left over by the time you finish breakfast or lunch.  Ordering a second portion is probably more copacetic than licking the plate.  
  • Vick’s Vittles may be the least pretentious restaurant in Albuquerque to serve four-star caliber dishes.  That’s how one reader described the Broasted Pork Chop.  Who are we to argue, especially when our mouths are contentedly full every time we visit this country-themed restaurant with a compendium-like menu? 
  • My friends D and J visit Nick & Jimmy’s in Albuquerque so often they could get their mail delivered there.  We considered moving in after indulging in the perfectly prepared Pan-Seared Scallops.  Served as an appetizer, we contemplated ordering two more and dispensing with our entrees.  
  • Take advice from Horace Greeley and go west.  Make that far, far west, all the way to ChocGlitz & Cream, home of raspberry-red chile ice cream and other creative flavors of pure ice cream deliciousness.  You’ll come for the ice cream, but you’ll stay for the chocolate and the bacon caramel corn and the toffee and the… 
  • Teofilo’s Restaurante in Los Lunas is an exemplar in preparing traditional New Mexican dishes, but its inventive takes on tradition are equally wonderful.  Take the chile rellenos (just not mine) for example.  Their unconventionally coarse texture, sharp cheese and piquant chiles place them in rarefied company as some of New Mexico’s very best.
  • Not only is Ajiaco Colombian Bistro Albuquerque’s best (and only) Colombian restaurant, it’s one of the best Colombian restaurants in America according to Tabelog.  Ajiaco’s arroz con pollo is just one reason.  Featuring a medley of vegetables, seasoned rice and moist shredded chicken breast, it’s as beautiful to ogle as it is delicious to eat. 
  • With absolutely no hesitation, my Kim reminded me that one of the best things we enjoyed in 2015 were the Moules Frites L’indienne at La Quiche Parisienne in Albuquerque.  How can you argue with a bakery-bistro proffering the city’s best croissants and French fries? 
  • The New Yorken Cafe had a short life as a restaurant, but its impact as a purveyor of the best cheesecake in New Mexico lives on.  Thankfully you can still order a cheesecake from the industrious Archibald family.

Over the years Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Blog has become a community in which readers freely share their opinions. I invite all my dear readers to share your own “best of the best” restaurants for 2015 by replying to this post with a comment below.

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

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