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The Shop Breakfast & Lunch – Albuquerque, New Mexico

The Shop Breakfast and Lunch on Monte Vista

In the 60s and early 70s, movies and television programs would have you believe all spies were hard-drinking, fast-driving, woman-chasing playboys as good with their fists as they were with a gun. They were worldly, sophisticated and charming, but could just as easily use guile and deception to get the job done. Bob Ayers, who worked in intelligence for 30 years in the U.S. Army and Defense Intelligence Agency counters those stereotypes: “All of that stuff about James Bond, that’s Hollywood. You don’t want anyone standing out in the intelligence business. You want someone nondescript. The ideal spy is 5-foot-6 and kind of dumpy.”

That ideal—nondescript and dumpy—just wouldn’t work in the restaurant business…or would it? Restaurants, especially those which are generously bankrolled by corporate megaliths, tend to have a lot of cash, flash and panache to create the illusion of glamor and allure which brings in customers (and most of us are easily entertained). In addition to all the pristine veneer and effusive, over-the-top flamboyance money can buy, these restaurants tend to have catchy, memorable names which help in the establishment and proliferation of brand identity. They’re capacious, swanky, memorable and largely successful.

Interior of The Shop Breakfast and Lunch

Anyone who thinks this formulaic approach is the recipe for success would be at a loss to explain a restaurant like The Shop Breakfast and Lunch. It has none of the aforementioned characteristics of superficiality that seem to draw in the crowds. Even its name is so ambiguous that unless you know The Shop is a restaurant (the Breakfast and Lunch part is subtitled), you might dismiss it as yet another kitschy university area vintage clothing shop. While not “dumpy,” its ambiance is far from ostentatious. Maybe, that’s part of its charm. Perhaps that’s why The Shop has a faithful following that eschews the artifice and ambiance of the “shiny” restaurants to eat there instead.

Like The Shop itself, its patrons aren’t pretentious. Many of them are students at the University of New Mexico (UNM) which sprawls just across Buena Vista from the restaurant. They appreciate being able to fuel up on great food that isn’t going to break a student’s ramen-in-a-Styrofoam-box budget. You can bet the UNM voting demographic stuffed the Alibi’s ballots in 2014 when The Shop was named the Duke City’s “best new restaurant.”

Kentucky Hot Brown

Those of us who have only been students of life for a while also appreciate the great food…and to be honest, most of us don’t imbibe the “ambiance.” After all, a swanky milieu doesn’t improve the flavor of any food. The Shop’s furnishings are more utilitarian than they are comfortable, but you won’t be thinking about how much more comfortable you’d be in a plush, cozy chair as you’re indulging on an even cozier Kentucky Hot Brown.

Your eyes didn’t just deceive you. You did read “Kentucky Hot Brown,” perhaps the only thing more popular in the Bluegrass State than the University of Kentucky Wildcats basketball team. The Kentucky Hot Brown is to Kentucky what the green chile cheeseburger is to New Mexico. It’s a sacrosanct sandwich beloved throughout the state. Even if you haven’t been to Kentucky, you may have heard about it on the Food Network, Travel Channel, PBS or any number of nationally syndicated stations. At The Shop, it’s far from the only sandwich surprise on the menu.

QBano

Surprises start with the most important meal of the day.  The breakfast menu, served all day long (from 8AM through 3PM) offers hearty options, some of which you can’t find anywhere else in Albuquerque.  The duck hash, biscuits and chorizo gravy, shrimp and grits and of course, the Kentucky Hot Brown are just a few of them.  Lunch offerings are categorized into sandwiches (with your choice of house made chips or side salad), mac and cheese (three scrumptious options) and three creative salads (Kale Caesar anyone?) .

15 April 2015: During the Roaring 20s, the executive chef at the Brown Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky invented a sandwich to help revelers to wind down and sober up.  Today that sandwich, the Kentucky Hot Brown may be more popular (at least in the Louisville area) than the Kentucky Derby.  To say it should be served with an angioplasty may be an understatement.  This is a caloric overachiever constructed from egg-battered pain de mie (a soft-crusted butter- and milk-rich loaf), thick cut ham, white Cheddar mornay sauce (a type of Bechamel), two eggs and bacon.  Because it’s so very rich and creamy, it’s not for everyone, but everyone should try it at least once or twenty times.

Breakfast Sandwich

15 April 2015: Several years ago, former Albuquerque mayor Martin Chavez attempted a commercially-driven re-branding of the city.  Despite his efforts, the sobriquet “The Q” didn’t exactly catch on, not that anyone would believe The Shop’s QBano  is named for the mayor’s folly.   Obviously, the QBano is a Cuban sandwich, one of the very best in “The Q,”…er, the Duke City.  The canvas for this magnificent sandwich is a toasted bolillo roll stuffed and pressed with citrus-brined roasted local pork shoulder, sliced ham, yellow mustard, roasted garlic aioli, Gruyere cheese and housemade pickles.  Just perusing the ingredients will cue you in that there are many elements which make this sandwich so special.  My friend Bill raved about the garlic aioli while the pork shoulder won me over.  This is a sandwich that’s more delicious than the sum of its ingredients! 

15 April 2015: In some cultures (Vietnamese, for example), sandwiches are a breakfast mainstay.  For some reason, however, Americans seem to dismiss the notion of much more than eggs and ham on their breakfast sandwich (Cafe Bella being an exception).  Perhaps acquiescing to American tastes, The Rush’s ubiquitously named Breakfast Sandwich does indeed include eggs and a type of ham (prosciutto) then it gets creative with  tomato, arugula, and basil aioli.  There isn’t enough prosciutto to suit the ham lover in most of us and veggie haters might not like the thick tomatoes or peppery arugula, but most will enjoy the sandwich in its entirety. 

Fried Chicken Sandwich

23 April 2015:The answer-slash-punchline to the trite joke that begins “why did the chicken cross the road?” could well be “to avoid becoming a chicken sandwich.” What chicken in its right mind would want a fate so boring? Despite being so commonplace (operative word, common), the chicken sandwich at one restaurant is more of the same banality as you’ll find at almost every other restaurant. You’d think someone (besides the Stone Face Tavern) could come up with something original to do with chicken. The Shop has! Its fried chicken sandwich is constructed with a buttermilk fried chicken breast, shaved cabbage slaw, a creamy caraway dressing, housemade pickles and just enough hot sauce to create an absolutely delicious interplay with the caraway dressing. The chicken itself is moist and sheathed with a light breading which glistens from the creaminess of the caraway and fiery red of the sauce. The pickles provide a tart, but not lip-pursing foil while the shaved cabbage slaw offers a textural contrast. It’s a chicken sandwich any self-respecting chicken would gladly sacrifice its feathers to be a part of.

23 April 2015: For years I didn’t understand coffee snobs and their haughty, expensive designer mochas, lattes, espressos and cappuccinos. The lure of these trendy and upscale aromatic elixirs escaped me until my first sip of the red chili (SIC) mocha at Café Bella in Rio Rancho. To say it was love at first sip was an understatement, one that opened my eyes to the realization that maybe the coffee snobs were right. Because my daytime proximity to Café Bella has shifted by nearly twenty miles, I’ve searched high and low for a closer proximity version of the soothing, sating, invigorating siren’s call that is red chile mocha. While none have equaled the one at my beloved Café Bella, the Mexican Mocha at The Shop has lessened my pain a bit. It’s an earthy, palate-pleasing beverage which more than hints at piquancy and chocolate, two of the world’s finest taste sensations.

Housemade Granola & Yogurt (Photo Courtesy of Hannah Walraven)

19 May 2015: In the early ’70s, a television commercial for Post Grape-Nuts cereal featured outdoorsman Eull Gibbons asking viewers “Ever eat a pine tree?  Many parts are edible.”  This quote fueled the public’s imagination and made him a celebrity.  Much like Grape Nuts, granola signified the back-to-nature, whole-grain tenor which grew from the American counterculture movement of the 1960s and ’70s.  In fact, to the mainstream, granola was practically synonymous with a hippie lifestyle. 

Like many of the hippies of the ’60s and ’70s, granola has become mainstream.  Inventive restaurateurs have sown their wild oats with granola and have transformed what was once considered a sensible and healthy food concept into a popular and delicious dish.  The Shop’s rendition ranks right up there with the Flying Star‘s magnificent “Morning Sundae” as perhaps the city’s best granola dish.  This hearty housemade bowl of oats, nuts and dried fruits pairs oh so well with a tangy-sour yogurt punctuated with lemon and agave nectar and topped with fresh berries and local honey.

Duck Confit Sandwich (Photo Courtesy of Hannah Walraven)

19 May 2015: In its annual food and wine issue for 2012,  Albuquerque The Magazine named Torinos @ Homeduck confit sandwich one of the yummiest sandwiches in the city.  The Shop’s own duck confit sandwich is in rarefied air with Torinos sacrosanct sandwich as the city’s very best.  A toasted bolillo roll is the canvas for this masterpiece–a moist, delicious creation of confit duck, caramelized onions, lemon aioli, Fontina cheese, arugula and Balsamic vinaigrette.  The tangy tartness of the vinaigrette and lemon aioli complement the sweetness of the caramelized onions and the fatty richness of the duck.  It’s a sandwich that will remain on your mind long after you’ve finished it.

19 May 2015:  As we grow older, most of us no longer crave the indulgences of our childhood: Lucky Charms cereal, Franco-American’s SpaghettiOs (now with a Campbell’s Soup brand) and Smarties Candy, but we never lose our taste for Macaroni and Cheese.  Not only is it a fun food for children of all ages, it’s the epitome of comfort food favorites, each morsel imparting warmth and deliciousness.  Most of us, however, graduate well beyond the gooey, neon-bright Kraft mac and cheese out-of-a-box.  We won’t settle for less than an adult mac and cheese.

Steakhouse Mac (Photo Courtesy of Hannah Walraven)

Fortunately The Shop has us covered and not just with one adult macaroni and cheese offering.  The daily menu showcases three different mac and cheese meals: chorizo mac, bacon mac and steakhouse mac.  The latter is a beauteous bowl brimming with shaved ribeye, caramelized onions, mushrooms and a white Cheddar mornay sauce topped with Parmesan and bread crumbs.  Every forkful is an adventure in great flavors blending together.  It’s possible we may not have appreciated the steakhouse mac as children, but it’s a dish all adults will love.

While The Shop Breakfast and Lunch may be an ugly duckling compared to some of Albuquerque’s “shiny,” flashy restaurants, it’s a beautiful, graceful swan in the kitchen where some of the most creative and delicious dishes in the Nob Hill district are created.

The Shop Breakfast And Lunch
2933 Monte Vista Blvd, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 433-2795
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 19 May 2015
1st VISIT: 15 April 2015
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 22
COST: $$
BEST BET: Qbano, Breakfast Sandwich, Kentucky Hot Brown, Housemade Potato Chips, Fried Chicken Sandwich, Duck Confit Sandwich, Steakhouse Mac, Granola & Yogurt

The Shop Breakfast and Lunch on Urbanspoon

Mick’s Chile Fix – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Mick's Chile Fix on Candelaria

Mick’s Chile Fix on Candelaria

Addicts are all too familiar with the symptoms, especially the insatiable cravings that can only be quelled by a fix.  There’s nothing like the high you get from the addictive mistress that is New Mexican chile.  That’s why we willingly singe our tongues and scald our taste buds to get that fix. What gives chile its intense fire and creates the need for a fix is a chemical called capsaicin, a natural ingredient that stimulates the mouth’s nerve endings, causing a burning sensation. In response to this burning sensation, the brain releases endorphins, natural painkillers that may produce a temporary “high.” So, the more of a fiery chile you eat, the stronger the soothing effect. Even though chile isn’t medically addictive, some chile lovers may be hooked on the high they get…just ask anyone in New Mexico who loves the stuff.

Better still, ask a chile addict who no longer lives in New Mexico and can’t get the stuff everyday.  The withdrawal is painful.  In dreams they are plagued by the unrequited yearning which can be fulfilled only by a satisfying bowl of red or green.  They wake to drool soaked and chewed up pillows. New Mexicans are fortunate indeed in that we can satisfy our lust for chile whenever we want–and we want it for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks in between.  We want it in all foods sweet and savory.  We want it at work and at play.

Lunch Crowd at Mick’s Chile fix

One of the very best new restaurants in Albuquerque in which to get that fix is the aptly named Mick’s Chile Fix.  Mick’s isn’t situated in a bustling, well-trafficked, well eaten area, but in a humble brick stand-alone building in an industrial area off Candelaria.  Open 7AM through 2PM from Monday through Saturday, it’s a locally owned and operated diner in which patrons willingly risk spilling some of the red stuff on their nattily whites or grungy blues.  It’s a classic greasy spoon and in 2006, Mick’s earned a Greasy Spoon award from a local rock station.

The dining room is stark and functional.  It’s not the type of diner in which comfy chairs invite lingering for post-meal conversations.  Come to think of it, the only conversations I recall during our inaugural visit were in between utterances of umm and yum.  Conversations that did take place centered around how good the food is.  A persistent, droning hum from the ice maker could be another reason conversation seemed so sparse.  The menu, on which the letter “i” in chile is painted like a red chile and the “i” in Fix is painted like a green chile features all the New Mexican standards.  Breakfast is served all day long.

Chips and salsa at Mick's Chile Fix

Chips and salsa at Mick’s Chile Fix

Salsa isn’t complementary at Mick’s, a trend that seems to be increasing among Duke City restaurants.  It’s a nice salsa, pureed but not to the point of being liquefied.  It’s got a piquant bite that goes oh so well with the plateful of crisp, low-salt and heated chips. If, like me, you like heat with heat, enjoy a cup of coffee (or six) with the salsa. Hot coffee has the unique ability to enhance the piquancy of chile.

30 October 2007: Two of the more popular entrees at Mick’s are generously endowed combination platters fittingly called the “Hungry Man’s Lunch” and the “Hungry Man’s Breakfast.”  What makes their popularity so surprising is that many of the partakers have to go back to work on what will invariably be an overfull belly. The Hungry Man’s Lunch is bountiful: two beef tacos, one meat and one cheese enchilada, a tamale and two paper-thin tortillas along with the de rigueur beans and rice.  Everything is smothered in your choice of chile (red, green or Christmas style) and a blanket of Cheddar.

The Hungry Man's Lunch

The Hungry Man’s Lunch

30 October 2007: If you’ve ever had a combination plate in which you can’t discern much difference between the enchiladas and the tamale, you’ll appreciate Mick’s version of both. The tamale has the perfect amount of masa with a nice texture. It provides a complementary contrast between the pronounced corn flavored outer “shell” and the chile blessed, shredded meat inside. The enchiladas are substantial with fried, soft corn shells enveloping generous portions of meat and cheese (this is a very cheesy enchilada). Rarely do you find a cheese enchilada as flavorful as Mick’s rendition. The tacos aren’t your garden-variety tacos busting at the seams with lettuce and tomato. Once you get past the greenery (and reddery?) there’s plenty of well seasoned and flavorful beef.

The chile isn’t quite piquant enough for a fire-eater like me (coffee helps), but it’s quite flavorful.  Both the red and green chile are thickened almost to the consistency of cream.  The green chile is almost luminescent and packs a fruity flavor.  The red is a bit more mild than the green.  Still, both  will assuage your fix. There are plenty of options on the menu for folks who don’t necessarily need a fix (tourists mostly).

One UFO sized pancake in each Hungry Man's Breakfast

One UFO sized pancake in each Hungry Man’s Breakfast

30 October 2007: For them, there’s the Hungry Man’s Breakfast which is missing only one thing–an angioplasty.  That’s what you might need after three eggs, hash browns, two strips of bacon, two sausage links, a pancake and toast or tortilla.  This is the type of breakfast that will fill you up for an entire weekend.  The pancake itself is roughly the size of the unidentified conveyance seen flying over Roswell some sixty years ago.  It’s also an excellent pancake, the only room for improvement being warm syrup instead of syrup from a squeeze bottle. 

4 May 2015:  Joey Chestnut, winner of five straight Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Championships (and counting) may just meet his match should he ever try Mick’s “Shocker,” a behemoth burrito that covers an entire plate and gives the servers a workout just by ferrying it over to your table.  The aptly named Shocker is roughly the size of a piece of firewood.  It’s engorged with eggs, hash browns, beans, sausage, bacon and ham smothered with your choice of red or (and) green chile.  The three meats are full-sized, not tiny bits and pieces.  That means, entire slices of bacon, sausage links and thick chunks of ham–and there’s plenty of them all.  The eggs, hash browns and beans are all nicely seasoned, worthy complements to the meats.  There’s also plenty of chile for each spoonful and enough shredded cheese to stuff a grilled cheese sandwich.

The “Shocker”

6 May 2015:  One advantage to dining alone is sitting at “two top” tables in close proximity to other diners eating alone.  Not only can you ask your neighbors for recommendations, you have a vantage point that allows you to see what is delivered to their tables.  During consecutive visits in May, 2015, the dish most often delivered was a green chile cheeseburger about which my neighbors were very effusive.  Citing the “just-up-the-street” proximity to LotaBurger, one neighbor touted Mick’s green chile cheeseburger as far superior to LotaBurger’s increasingly shrinking version. 

If sheer size was the only criteria for judging the quality of a green chile cheeseburger, Mick’s green chile cheeseburger would be at or near the very top. It’s a behemoth burger served “competition style” as my friend Larry McGoldrick likes them. That means buns, beef, green chile and cheese. Lettuce, onion and tomato are served on the side as well as mustard, ketchup and even mayo. You can dress your burger yourself the way you want it.  The beef patty is hand-formed and made from fresh beef prepared to about medium-well.  It’s moist and flavorful.  The green chile has a discernible piquancy, a rarity even in New Mexico where the green chile on far too many burgers is about as incendiary as lettuce. This is a green chile cheeseburger not afraid to emphasize the “chile” part of the name.  It’s a very good one!

Green Chile Cheeseburger with Fries

Chile addicts like me will readily admit to recidivism, relapsing willingly to the allure of our green and red mistress.  Mick’s is a great place to get our fix near Route 66.

Mick’s Chile Fix
2930 Candelaria, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 881-2233
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 6 May 2015
FIRST VISIT: 30 October 2007
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 19
COST: $$
BEST BET: Salsa & Chips, The Hungry Man’s Breakfast, The Hungry Man’s Lunch, Green Chile Cheeseburger, The “Shocker” Breakfast Burrito

Mick's Chile Fix on Urbanspoon

Loyola’s Family Restaurant – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Loyola’s Family Restaurant on Central Avenue just East of Washington

You might think that the etymology of the name Loyola has always been tied to the quality of being loyal and faithful. Instead, the name has its genesis in a Basque term meaning “mud” and only over time did the name come to represent the honorable qualities of loyalty and faithfulness.  When it comes to Loyola’s Family Restaurant on Central Avenue in Albuquerque,  an association with those qualities just makes sense.  Not only are Duke City diners loyal to this expansive restaurant on the eastern fringes of Nob Hill, that loyalty is reciprocated by the restaurant’s staff and ownership.  A framed placard on one wall proclaims “Mi restaurante es su casa” (my restaurant is your home) and the staff will do its darnedest to make you feel that way.

Loyola’s Family Restaurant is an anachronism, a throw-back to the days when Route 66 (now Central Avenue) bisected Albuquerque, then a more intimate, close-knit city. In some ways Loyola’s is a relic because its genuinely friendly service and wholesome food truly elicits return visits and the type of patron loyalty that has all but evaporated with the onslaught of corporate chains. Loyola’s is the type of restaurant where your coffee (Farmer Brothers) is never allowed to cool down too much because faithful servers replenish it at about the time your cup is half full. That’s how attentive the wait staff is, but their secret is being attentive and personable without being intrusive and hovering.

One of Loyola’s Capacious Dining Rooms

The familial feel of Loyola’s Family Restaurant is a tradition established by founding owner Loyola Baca for whom the restaurant is named.  Loyola launched her eponymous home away from home in 1990 and quickly earned a faithful following attributable as much to her buoyant, outgoing nature as to the restaurant’s menu of New Mexican and American comfort foods.  When Loyola passed away just as 2010 was dawning, she left a legacy of happy, satisfied and well-fed guests. 

That legacy and the homey feel she sowed continues to this day courtesy of Loyola’s daughter Sarah Baca.  During a visit in 2015, I asked her what the secret to Loyala’s addictive green chile was.  She answered just as her mom would have, sharing with me the secret to their chile: “love.”  It’s an ingredient Loyola’s uses on all the ambitious menu’s offerings.  The menu has something for everybody–from American comfort foods such as pork chops (delicious), fried chicken and roast beef to hamburgers, sandwiches, New Mexican entrees and wake-you-up breakfast offerings known by faithful throngs to be among the Duke City’s very best.

Chips, salsa and faithfully replenished Farmers’ Brothers Coffee

Loyola’s salsa is a bona fide hot sauce with a sunset red-orange hue, a pleasant piquancy and addictive properties aplenty courtesy of the capsaicin-caused endorphin rush that salsa engenders with every bite.  It’s just a bit on the salty side so you’ll be grateful that the thin, crispy chips are low salt.  Your first portion of chips and salsa are gratis when you order off the New Mexican Favorites menu, but if you don’t order from that menu, it’s worth splurging.

Tom’s special burrito certainly earns its sobriquet. It’s a flour tortilla engorged with roast beef, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, sour cream and topped with Cheddar cheese and red or green chile (get both).  It’s among the best burritos in town. The red chile has a New Mexico sunset red/orange hue and while not particularly piquant has a memorable taste leaving you wanting another dosage. If piquant is what you’re after, a better choice is the breakfast burrito covered generously with a green chile sauce that has an endorphin stimulating heat you’ll love. 

Tom’s Special Burrito

American breakfast favorites include a pork chop and eggs combination that appears to be among the most popular order choices. You can request the eggs any way you want them and invariably, they’re prepared just the way you order them. The pork chops are thinly cut, but meaty and delicious. Loyola’s pancake short-stack is also top tier, among the very best in the city.

An intriguing menu, delicious food, great service–these are the legacy of Loyola Baca and these are the things that make Loyola’s patrons loyal in return.

Loyola’s Family Restaurant
4500 Central, S.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 268-6478
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 04 March 2015
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 19
COST: $$
BEST BET: Tom’s Special Burrito, Pork Chops, Breakfast Burrito, Salsa and Chips, Coffee

Loyola's Family on Urbanspoon