The Range – Bernalillo, New Mexico

The Range in Bernalillo

The Range in Bernalillo

The phoenix of ancient Egyptian mythology was a sacred firebird of beautiful red and gold plumage said to live for centuries. At the end of its life, the phoenix built itself a nest of cinnamon twigs which it then ignited. Both the phoenix and the nest burned fiercely and were reduced to ashes from which a new phoenix arose.  Similarly, the Range Cafe in Bernalillo was claimed by a fiery conflagration only to rise up from the ashes to exceed its former glory to become one of the most popular restaurants in New Mexico.

Like the phoenix, the Range is a rare breed–one of the few locally owned and operated (non-chain) restaurants which at any given time (make that, almost all the time) has diners lining up for a seat. That may be because the Range offers the “familiar” in serving comfort foods and local favorites and serves them in the profuse portion sizes American diners love.

Surrounded by Art as You Dine

The original Range debuted in September, 1992 in Bernalillo’s main street, Camino Del Pueblo. The restaurant was an instant success, quickly becoming more than a local favorite.  Not quite three years later (on May 30, 1995), the Range went up in smoke–a huge conflagration consumed the entire restaurant. The community let it be known that they wanted their favorite restaurant rebuilt and held fund-raising events to help with the process.

Two months after the fire, the Range was back in business, albeit in a temporary location directly across the street from the church, thereby making it unlawful to obtain a beer and wine license. In April, 1996, the Range negotiated to rent a circa 1905 property which once served as the warehouse of the Bernalillo Mercantile. By December of that year, the Range officially re-opened at its present address, 925 Camino del Pueblo in the heart of downtown Bernalillo. Like the majestic phoenix, the Range rose from the ashes and has been going strong ever since.

My friend Karen Baehr and the Range

My friend Karen Baehr stands next to the range at The Range

The Range shares building space with Rose’s Pottery House owned by life-long Bernalillo resident Antoinette Silva. Part museum, part art gallery, it features contemporary and ancient Pueblo pottery and art. It’s a must stop before or after dining at the Range. During its nearly 80 year history, the building, now covering a full city block, served as a general store, movie theater, auto repair shop and permanent home to one of the finest collections of Native American and Hispanic art in New Mexico.

After obtaining a liquor license, the Range opened the Lizard Rodeo Lounge, a welcoming, non-smoking gathering place for locals and visitors alike. The Lounge includes a full-service bar and offers a full service-menu as well as live, free entertainment featuring local New Mexico bands. Every Thursday is open mike night for all aspiring stars. The Range Cafe has since expanded to three locations–one on Menaul and one on Wyoming, both in Albuquerque–but the most popular remains the original restaurant in Bernalillo.

More Ranges

A contemporary Southwestern artsy ambiance enhances your entire dining experience. Everywhere you turn, there’s something to catch your eye. Even the chairs and tables are functional art. While the milieu may seemingly scream “contemporary western,” ergo “home on the range,” the restaurant is actually named for the other kind of range–the one on which you prepare food. Several old stoves as well as stove art festoon the restaurant. Art and ambiance not withstanding, it’s the wonderful food that’s the big attraction. Not only are the portions profuse and most menu items familiar, they are generally delicious and reasonably priced.

The Range is the brainchild of restaurant impresario Matt DiGregory whose other popular restaurant ventures in the Duke City area include the Standard Diner in Albuquerque and the Freight House Kitchen & Tap Room in Bernalllo as well as the now defunct and much missed Gregorio’s Italian Kitchen. The entrepreneurial restaurateur is a visionary innovator whose restaurant concepts defy local stereotypes. His idea to combine fine cooking (such as applying French culinary techniques to the preparation of meatloaf) with comfort food was years before its time. The Range’s motto is “Ordinary Food Done Extraordinarily Well.” The Range lives up to that high standard.

Unique Art

Breakfast

If breakfast is the most important meal of the day, the Range’s eye-opening, belly-busing breakfasts are a fulfilling (and very filling) way to start off the day, but if you’re inclined to get sleepy after a big meal, you might want to split breakfast with someone you love. That’s because the Range’s portions are humongous. The most popular entree on the voluminous Range menu, by the way, is the huevos rancheros. It’s possible the Range sells more huevos rancheros than any other restaurant in New Mexico. Diners come from miles around to partake of these award-winning treasures.

A "short" stack

A “short” stack

The gargantuan breakfast burrito includes three large eggs scrambled with either ham, sausage or grilled veggies, wrapped in a flour tortilla and topped with white cheddar and your choice of red or green chile. It is accompanied by Range fries and pinto beans. Both the red and the green chile at the Range can be about as piquant (or as mild) as you’d get at some New Mexican restaurants, depending on the season and batch. It may open your eyes in the morning.

Stuffed Range Toast

Stuffed Range Toast

2 May 2009: For a week’s worth of calories, try the stuffed Range toast–three brick-sized slices of cinnamon raisin bread with a rich egg batter, grilled and stuffed with strawberries and bananas then topped with homemade apple/peach butter, whipped cream and maple syrup. These are among the most decadent French toast in New Mexico and should be shared. Should you opt instead for pancakes “Short stack” is a misnomer for the two large pancakes (the size of manhole covers) that leave very little of your plate uncovered. These syrupy orbs, like most Range portions, are big enough to share (they could feed a developing country).

Breakfast Tacos

8 January 2017: While many restaurants throughout the Land of Enchantment have long offered breakfast tacos, most of them are just slightly minor variations on tacos you’d eat for lunch or dinner. Leave it to The Range to serve a breakfast version of America’s favorite (although the ubiquitous hamburger might have something to say about that) portable meal. These breakfast tacos are sheathed in two corn tortillas each stuffed with omelette style eggs, chorizo, cotija and pico de gallo with a ramekin of guacamole and side of papitas. Two per order (you’ll want to ask for a third) tacos will sate your appetite with delightful flavors. Especially noteworthy is the chorizo which is impregnated with a mixture of seasonings, including cinnamon. The guacamole has a tinge of piquancy in addition to the buttery richness of avocados at their peak of ripeness.  It’s some of the best guacamole you’ll have anywhere.  The pico de gallo is similarly excellent, a perfect foil for the savory omelet-style eggs.

A trio of salsa, con queso and guacamole with blue corn tortilla chips

The Range trio of guacamole, salsa and con queso with blue corn chips

Appetizers, Soups and Salads

2 April 2008: Lest I forget, one of the best ways to start a meal at the Range is with the trio of guacamole, salsa and con queso with blue corn tortilla chips. The salsa is about medium on the piquancy scale, but it is fresh, rich and delicious. The guacamole is buttery and fresh, the product of excellent ingredients. Unlike so many other guacamole dishes, this one isn’t merely smashed avocados.  This guacamole has got both piquant and citrusy (lime) notes.  Only the con queso, which lacks creaminess, disappoints and only slightly at that. It’s a bit on the thick side and includes no ameliorants to contrast the cheesiness.

Elote

8 January 2017: The Range also offers an excellent alternative to the ubiquitous trio New Mexicans know and love.  It’s called simply Elote, a Spanish word which translates to corn on the cob.  Elote is a very popular street food throughout Mexico.  Easily portable, it is customarily consumed on a stick, or by grasping the husk of the cob that has been pulled down to form a “handle.”  The Range honors the spirit, if not the style of the Mexican Elote.  Corn niblets are scraped off a roasted cob and plated in a creamy chile de arbol lime sauce and cotija cheese with blue and white corn tortilla chips.  It’s consumed similar to chips and salsa; that is, you use the chips to scoop up the corn niblets.  This is a wonderful way to enjoy corn and has become for us, a nice alternative to the chips and salsa with which we often start our meals at The Range.

The Range’s version of green chile chicken stew

28 May 2012: You can’t mention comfort foods without a prominent spot on the list for soups. The soups–especially the cream of mushroom soup and the cream of carrot soup–are among the very best you’ll find in New Mexico. These are the type of soups you love most on a cold winter day, but which are great any time of year. Thick, rich, hearty and replete with fresh ingredients, they’re an elixir for whatever (if anything) ails you. I’m not quite as fond of the Range’s green chile chicken stew, perhaps a misnomer because it’s described on the menu as a “soup that serves like a meal.” It really is a soup, not thick and creamy as most traditional green chile stews tend to be. Within a thin soupy broth, you’ll find blue corn tortilla chips, potatoes, carrots, celery, tendrils of chicken and a barely discernible chile.

Shrimp Scampi Quesadilla

Shrimp Scampi Quesadilla

20 November 2009: The motto of the Range Cafe is “ordinary food done extraordinarily well.” Ordinary doesn’t have to be boring or the “same old thing” everyone else serves. The Range Cafe takes some liberties with New Mexican cuisine and comfort food favorites. Take for example the shrimp scampi quesadilla, sauteed shrimp marinated in tequila, lime and garlic combined with tomatillo, pico de gallo, corn and white Cheddar cheese grilled on a flour tortilla and served with sour cream and guacamole. The shrimp is sweet and succulent, blending in extraordinarily well with the other flavor combinations.

Range Quesadilla

Range Quesadilla

4 April 2014: Vegetarians and Catholics out on a Lenten Friday aren’t left out in the cold when they crave quesadillas. The Range Quesadilla is everything any discerning diner desires in a quesadilla save for a meaty protein. A large, grilled flour tortilla is folded over artichoke hearts, red bell pepper, tomato, green chile and white Cheddar then served with the tasty triumvirate of salsa, guacamole and sour cream. Even avowed carnivores will enjoy this terrific tortilla treat, but if they must have a protein, it’s also available with chicken.

Green Chile Strips

28 May 2012: Another appetizer catering to New Mexican tastes is a plate of green chile strips, breaded whole chiles served with a cool, creamy jalapeño dipping sauce.  Served four to an order, each of the green chile strips is at least six inches of piquancy and deliciousness.  Unlike some chile rellenos, the batter is thin, light and doesn’t fall off the chiles.  The jalapeño dipping sauce is cool heat, a perfect accompaniment for chilephiles who know the only way to improve on a heat-generating food is with even more heat. One of the most redeeming features of the green chile strips is that they’re not greasy.

Asian Salad

Asian Salad

4 April 2014: The Range menu features ten salads ranging from the familiar and traditional (taco salad, Caesar and wedge) to the innovative (Grilled Salmon Berry and Quinoa).  The Asian Salad–fresh spinach and mixed greens with cabbage, carrots, jicama, cucumber, snow peas, sliced almonds and frizzled onions tossed in sesame ginger dressing–probably falls in the latter category.  It’s an exceptional salad highlighted by freshness and diversity of ingredients.  Alas, those ingredients have a similar flavor profile and the salad would probably benefit from a mild cheese.

Entrees

The aforementioned meatloaf, christened Tom’s meatloaf in honor of Range co-founder Tom Fenton, is a comfort food standard served with garlic mashed potatoes and a delicious mushroom gravy. The meatloaf is a substantial brick-sized slab of moist deliciousness. Like most Range entrees, it’s served almost out-of-the-stove hot. The mashed potatoes are made with real potatoes, not the powdery stuff and surprise, surprise…you can actually taste the garlic.

Another comfort food specialty, the chicken fried steak (a fresh beef cube steak breaded and smothered with cream gravy) is as good as you’ll find anywhere in the Land of Enchantment’s Rio Grande valley. Even Texans (for whom chicken fried steak is a religion) enjoy the Range’s Texas-sized version which even has the size (everything’s bigger in Texas) they appreciate. This chicken fried steak is tender enough to be cut with a fork.

Mac and cheese with a unique Range twist, green chile

Mac and cheese with a unique Range twist, green chile

20 November 2009: Recognizing that mac and cheese are everyone’s favorite, the Range makes theirs with a special New Mexico unique twist–green chile. The macaroni is rigatoni, the size of a culvert. The cheese is creamy and delicious with a prominent white Cheddar flavor though it’s entirely possible more than one cheese is used. The entire bowl–and it’s the size of a hub cap–is covered with ground parmesan. The green chile is a bit mild on the piquancy scale, but it’s a delicious chile that complements the mac and cheese very well.

Trout

The Range Trout

2 April 2008: Dinner specials are generally so good you’ll wish they were on the standard menu. One example is the Range’s trout which is topped with capers, artichoke hearts and sun-dried tomatoes in a light white wine sauce. The trout is flaky and grilled to perfection. The natural brininess melds perfectly with the tanginess of the ingredients topping the trout. A lime and cilantro infused Basmati rice makes for excellent accompaniment to this dish.

The Range burger starts with an eight-ounce fresh ground chuck patty flame grilled to order.  It’s topped with shaved ham, green chile strips and melted white cheddar cheese on a fresh, homemade bun.  It is one of six inventive burgers on the menu, the most unique being a Relleno Burger topped with a blue corn chile relleno and green chile sauce.  Obviously these are not boring burgers. The ground chuck patty is what all burgers in the area should aspire to be.

The Rio Grande Gorge

28 May 2012:  An eight-ounce ground chuck patty is also a key component of the Rio Grande Gorge (named for the ravine through which the Rio Grande runs near Taos) in which the patty is served open face on a tortilla, topped with red or green chile sauce, Cheddar, grilled onions, black beans and Range fries with queso. It sounds great–and for the most part it is, save for the queso which tops the Range fries which is of Velveeta quality.

Plato Combinacion Del Norte

8 January 2017:  Why follow Taco Bell’s advice to head for the border when you can go North of the Border for the Range’s interpretation of New Mexican cuisine.  The North of the Border menu includes a number of Land of Enchantment favorites served with arroz verde, pinto beans, white cheddar cheese, your choice of chile and sour cream, guacamole or fried egg for a pittance.  Your best bet is the Plato Combinacion Del Norte: blue corn chile relleno, chicken taco, two rolled beef enchiladas served with arroz verde, pinto beans, white cheddar cheese and your choice of chile.  It’s one of the very best combination plates you’ll find anywhere.  Instead of the usual cheese enchiladas, these are stuffed with beef with plenty of melted white Cheddar covering them.  The blue corn chile relleno is superb as are the pinto beans.

The dessert case is an edible work of art. You'll want to lick the glass.

The dessert case is an edible work of art. You’ll want to lick the glass.

Desserts

Desserts, are so good, they’re almost indecent!  The Range bakes only with real butter, fresh cream, real vanilla, fresh fruits and fine chocolates. Anything can be made a la mode for a pittance.  The Range’s dessert case is one of Bernalillo’s most popular attractions, one that should be displayed on tourist guide books.  Not only is each dessert aesthetically pleasing (drool eliciting), they’re all delicious.

The roadhouse chocolate cake,  a moist, rich chocolate cake layered with thick chocolate fudge frosting is among the most moist cakes you’ll find anywhere while the “Life by Chocolate” cake defines the word decadent. Featuring milk chocolate, bittersweet chocolate, Belgian white chocolate and raspberry mousse layered together and glazed with a rich ganache, this is the type of dessert your dentist warned you about as a child and your dietician cautions against today.

Key Lime Pie at The Range

The dessert case is an edible work of art. You’ll want to lick the glass.

20 November 2009:  If you’re served green key lime pie, there’s a good bet either food coloring was added or the pie mix came out of a box.  In the Florida keys, no restaurant can expect to stay in business for long if it serves green key lime pie.  Key lime pies should always be pale yellow, usually a good indication that actual key lime juice is used.  The Range’s key lime pie is very reminiscent of those we enjoyed so much when traveling through Florida where the key lime pie has been designated by the state legislature as “the official pie of the state of Florida.”  The Range’s version has a tart, but not lip-pursing, flavor.  It’s also very aromatic, another sign of authenticity.

Gooey Pecan Caramel Roll

4 April 2014: When stationed at Keesler Air Force Base, Bobbye Barlow, our department admin and one of the most wonderful people I’ve ever known used to treat us to monkey bread, a pan full of gooey, sweet, decadent, nutty love.  Every time we walk by The Range’s pastry case and espy the Gooey Pecan Caramel Roll, it tugs at my heart strings to remember my special friend.  This rich treat is very reminiscent of Bobbye’s wonderful monkey bread.  Each morsel of this spiral roll is replete with decadent caramel with plenty of pecans which serve as a foil for an otherwise cloying pastry.

Green chile apple pie with piñon streusel in a flaky pie crust

Green chile apple pie a la mode

4 April 2014: In New Mexico, chefs and cooks love showing off the versatility of green chile.  One of the most delicious is in apple pie, an idea which makes good sense considering chile (a member of the nightshade family) is closer related to fruits than it is to vegetables.  The Range’s green chile apple pie with piñon streusel in a flaky pie crust is among the best.  The green chile packs the type of piquant punch that titillates the back of your throat.  For the faint of heart and tongue, this pie should be served a la mode.  The Range, by the way, is perhaps New Mexico’s most generous restaurants when it comes to ice cream.  Scoops are super-sized, twice as large as scoops at most restaurants.

The Range is a restaurant about which seldom a disparaging word is heard. Like the Phoenixes rise from the ashes, it continues to ascend in the estimation of its many patrons.

The Range
264 Camino Pueblo
Bernalillo, New Mexico
(505) 867-1700
Web Site  | Facebook Page


LATEST VISIT: 8 January 2017
# OF VISITS: 25
RATING: 20
COST: $$
BEST BET: Desserts, Meatloaf, Mushroom Soup, Mac and Cheese, Shrimp Scampi Quesadilla, Range Quesadilla,

Range Café Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Delicias Cafe – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Delicias Cafe on San Mateo

There’s no denying the ever-increasing popularity of Mexican food across America, but it may surprise you to learn that in the estimation of some sources, it has supplanted Italian food as the favorite ethnic cuisine in the land.   Marketplace, a nationally syndicated business oriented radio program with more than nine-million listeners a week, says there’s no bones about it, calling Mexican food “the most popular ethnic food in the U.S., bigger than Italian or Chinese.”  Askmen.com confirms only that “Mexican has become one of the three most popular cuisines in the U.S., with nearly 90% of the total population having tasted it.” 

According to Marketplace, there are some 90,000 or so Mexican restaurants across the fruited plain. The loose categorization of “Mexican restaurants” not only includes our incomparable New Mexican cuisine and our neighboring state’s Tex-Mex, but such “Americanized” chains as Chipotle, Taco Bell and others of the ilk. Lest you become agitated that such Mexican “in name only” restaurants would be thrown in along with the authentic Mexican restaurants, the truth is that even among restaurants owned and operated by Mexican immigrants you’ll find pretenders serving less than authentic Mexican cuisine. Sometimes they do so to remain competitive in markets saturated for so long by the aforementioned chains that the local dining public knows no better. In other cases, would be authentic restaurants sacrifice authenticity for convenience when they’re not able to find authentic ingredients at a reasonable price.

One of the most colorful dining rooms in Albuquerque

Several years ago, the proliferation of chefs not properly trained and steeped in the culture behind Japanese cuisine so rankled the ire of Japanese chefs that they formed advocacy groups aimed at protecting their highly traditional and exquisitely artistic form of cooking.  The Mexican government has followed suit, founding the Mexican Restaurant Association (MERA), a trade association chartered to encourage the spread of more authentic cuisine.  More than 1,000 members strong, MERA recognizes that advocacy is just so much empty air without action so it helps members locate and negotiate better prices for authentic ingredients which are often very difficult to find.

It’s indicative of the Land of Enchantment’s famous attitude of acceptance (or perhaps the sheer number of tourists) that Taco Bell has survived for so long in New Mexico. For many of us, however, “run for the border” would never, even under threat of torture, constitute a visit to Taco Bell. We take “run to the border” a bit more literally–as in heading out to our favorite purveyor of magnificent and authentic Mexican food. Fortunately, we’ve long been blessed to have a plethora of irrefutably authentic Mexican restaurants, some so good you might swear you’ve been transported to the Land of Montezuma.

Chips, Salsa and Corn Dish

When my compadre Rico Martinez craves “real Mexican food,” he heads to Delicias Cafe which he considers “better than any Mexican restaurant I’ve tried in Albuquerque.”  Rico has become Delicias unofficial publicist, waxing poetic about his new favorite on Urbanspoon and telling everyone he knows about it.  I wish he had told me sooner.  Delicias is every bit as good as he said, maybe better.  Best of all, it’s got that real south-of-the-border authenticity aficionados like Rico and me crave. 

That authenticity is confirmed by my friend and fellow blogger Steve Coleman of Steve’s Gastronomic Home Page.  Steve is an authority on Mexican food, having traveled extensively throughout our southern neighbor.  For years he also chronicled his visits to Mexican restaurants in El Paso on his very well written blog.  He knows what he’s talking about so when he says “one thing I like about Delicias is its ability to reproduce the same kind of experience that could be found by walking into any restaurant at random in Cuidad Juarez or other cities in the state of Chihuahua, you can take it to the bank.” 

A trio of Sopes: Carne sado, Chile Verde and Beans

When you walk into Delicias Cafe at the Fiesta Del Norte Shopping Center in Albuquerque’s Northeast Heights, there’s no way you’ll mistake it for Perennials Restaurant, its long-time predecessor at the bright, east-facing edifice. Delicias is a panorama of color, a glossy, multi-hued milieu of chairs depicting vibrant symbols of Mexican life. Upper-tier seating on comfortable booths provides a good view of the entire restaurant, but if you want to imbibe the sights and sounds of the bustling exhibition kitchen, you’ll want a seat on the lower level. From either vantage point, you’ll be treated to the inimitable aromas of wonderfully seasoned Mexican food wafting toward you.

The genesis of the aromas which greet you at the door can come from any number of items on the menu, a veritable compendium of Mexican food favorites. Delicias Cafe, which has sister restaurants in Las Cruces and El Paso, is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner though you can have breakfast any time of day. The menu showcases the cuisine of Delicias, a city in Chihuahua some 250 miles from Cuidad Juarez. Delicias translates literally from Spanish to “delights,” a well-earned term for the food at this delightful restaurant. It also sounds a bit like “delicious” which is also fitting. 

Tostada de Mariscos con Pescado

Shortly after you’re seated, a complimentary basket of chips and a bowl of salsa are delivered to your table.  The salsa isn’t especially piquant, but it’s got a very fresh, lively flavor with just a hint of jalapeño and garlic.  The chips are large and thin, but substantial enough to scoop up Gil-sized portions of salsa.  Service is so quick that you probably won’t finish your first bowl of salsa before your appetizers or entrees are delivered.  Be forewarned that chips and salsa are likely not the only “freebies” coming your way. During two visits in March, 2016, we were treated to complimentary small plates of yellow corn in a light sauce of Mexican crema and jalapenos. This is corn from a cob, not from a can. It’s sweet and fresh, enlivened by the piquancy of the jalapenos and the sour tang of the crema.

Depending on what you order, your entree might also include a bowl of Caldo de Res, a beef stew with large pieces of vegetables and rice. This near-entree sized stew is as good as they come with a beef-flavored broth that bespeaks of comfort. The vegetables are perfectly prepared and fresh-flavored while the rice is a pleasant surprise. With seafood dishes, you might see a Caldo De Mariscos, a seafood stew replete with delicacies of the sea. If Delicias generosity is a ploy to entice you back, it’s working.

Queso Fundido con Chorizo

11 February 2012: The Antojitos de Banqueta (appetizers and snacks) menu lists only seven items, perhaps a consequence of portion size–both appetizers and entrees–being almost profligate in size.  Finish your appetizer and you probably won’t finish your entree.  If you don’t order an appetizer to make sure you have room for your entree, you’ll miss out on such terrific starters as sopes, three fried corn masa patties topped with sundry ingredients: asado on one, chile verde on another and beans on the third.  At first glance the sopes resemble small, thick tortillas and in a sense they are.  The sopes are also topped with lettuce, shredded cheese, chopped tomatoes and an acidified cream.

6 March 2016: In March, 2016, Delicias expanded its menu to include a boatful of mariscos (Mexican seafood) dishes. In recent years, mariscos have become increasingly popular in New Mexico, perhaps because our enchantment is landlocked and seafood restaurants are scarce. Delicias’ new menu includes an appetizer portion of tostadas ceviche de pescado, a crispy fried shell atop of which are piled netfuls of fish marinated in citrus juices, chopped tomatoes, green onions, and fresh, ripe avocados. Limes are provided for diners who want their ceviche experience to tingle their lips. For the rest of us, the interplay between tangy citrus juices and the savory, briny fish is an adventure in balancing compatible flavors. The buttery, savory avocados are a nice foil for the tangy citrus influence on surprisingly fresh fish.

Migas con Chorizo

24 December 2016:   Two relics from the 1970s–toga parties and fondue parties–have largely gone the way of the dinosaur.  Today if you want melted cheese, your best bet is a Mexican restaurant where queso fundido remains one of the most popular appetizers available.  Fundido, a Spanish word which translates to “molten” aptly describes one of the most gooey, rich and delicious starters available anywhere.  While cheese alone is wonderful on its own, it becomes double decadent with the addition of chorizo, the unctuous pork sausage.  Delicias Cafe serves one of the best exemplars of queso fundido con chorizo you’ll find.  Served with soft, warm corn tortillas, you’ll need a fork to extract the queso from its bowl and even then, the cheese will stretch for a foot or more before you can cut it.  Queso fundido is best (and more pliable) when warm.

11 February 2012: The first entree to strike my fancy was Enchiladas Suizas, a fabulous dish invented in Mexico City’s Sanborn’s restaurant.  As you’ve probably surmised, “Suiza” means Swiss, a tribute to the fact that this dish uses both cream and cheese.   Delicias Cafe rendition is among the very best I’ve ever had.  Three rolled corn tortillas are engorged with finely shredded white meat chicken then are covered in a sauce of tomatillo, jalapeño and sour cream with shredded cheese in the mix, too.  The enchiladas have a delightfully slightly sour tanginess that impregnates the perfectly prepared poultry.  The enchiladas Suizas are served with beans and rice, but these are hardly standard.  The beans have that prepared in lard flavor while the rice is fluffy with nary a clump.

Chilaquiles con mole

As if the Enchiladas Suizas weren’t enough, my delightful waitress also brought me a bowl of Caldo de Res, a beef stew with large pieces of vegetables and rice.  She told me this hearty, delicious stew came with the enchiladas.  This near-entree sized stew is as good as they come with a beef-flavored broth as comforting as broth comes.  The vegetables are perfectly prepared  and fresh-flavored while the rice is a pleasant surprise.  Note: During our visit on December 24th, we noticed that the Enchiladas Suizas are no longer on the menu.  Apparently not everyone had as high an opinion of this magnificent dish as we did.

12 February 2012: Coincidentally on the date of my inaugural visit, Barbara Trembath, a long-time friend of this blog and another of my most trusted sources of restaurants throughout the fruited plain, visited Delicias Cafe a few hours before I did.  Though she was positively giddy over the entire menu, she was most excited about the fact that the restaurant has four different chilaquiles dishes and described them as “hands-down the best.”   If the chilaquiles con mole are an indication, she’s absolutely correct.  More than most mole, this one has the prominent flavor of chocolate, one of its chief ingredients.  It’s a dark brown mole redolent with complex flavors.  Order it with the shredded chicken which is light, fluffy and moist.  For breakfast, the chilaquiles are served with two eggs, beans and hash browns.

Molletes: open-faced torta bread topped with beans & cheese

Molletes

Belly-busting, belt-loosening, stomach swelling–there are many ways to describe portions at Delicious (not necessarily a Freudian slip) which offers several platters large enough to feed a family. One of the very largest and most delicias (see, they’re synonymous) is the Patron Platter: a jumble of two eggs, diced ham, onions, cubed potatoes, jalapenos, mushrooms and cheese served with a tortilla, two strips of bacon, two sausage patties and a corn chorizo quesadilla.  If that sounds like a bounteous buffet, it may as well be.  Where but on a buffet might you find bacon, sausage and ham together in one plate?  This buffet on a plate is not only prodigious, it’s so good you’ll finish it all.

Shame on me for not having already mentioned just how accommodating and friendly the wait staff is.  Delicias is one of those rare restaurants in which “have it your way” is a reality.  In three visits, each member of the tandem wait staff as well as the manager have visited my table to make sure I had everything needed to enjoy my meal.  It’s a genial wait staff eager to please.  The menu offers seventeen different burritos and if one doesn’t quite have everything you want, just tell your server and the sky’s the limit.  You can smother your burritos in your favorite sauce: green sauce, red sauce, Delicias sauce (tomatillo sauce), mole sauce and even Suizas sauce.  A breakfast burrito with eggs, ham and beans topped with extra Suizas sauce became a favorite after one bite.  That Suizas sauce is absolutely addictive.

Tacos de Alhambre: Ham, bacon, carnitas, shredded cheese on corn tortillas

Tacos de Alambre

Traditional American entrees abound on the menu where in addition to four hamburgers, a club sandwich and French fries, you’ll find oatmeal, omelets, French toast and hot cakes.  The hot cakes are among the best in Albuquerque, better than at many paragons of pancake perfection.  The batter is infused with vanilla, just enough to be discernible but not so much as to make them cloying.  The hot cakes are golden hued and of medium thickness.  They’re served with heated syrup and easily melting butter.

February 24, 2013: Delicia’s is one of a handful of restaurants in the Albuquerque area to serve molletes, a delightfully unique yet simple appetizer.   Molletes are a sort of open-faced sandwich made from tortas bread (similar to French bread) layered generously with refried beans and cheese all toasted on a broiler.  It’s simple in its execution and delivery.  Though satisfying on their own, it’s hard not to contemplate how much better the molletes would be with some New Mexico green chile.  Maybe next time we’ll sneak some in. 

Camarones Mojo De Ajo

26 February 2013: Aficionados of terrific tacos will find several options to assuage their yen.  One taco more common in southern New Mexico than in the northern half of the state are tacos de alambre.  Alambre is a Spanish word for “wire” which sounds like an odd name for these tacos.  The genesis of the name is in dispute with some theories tying the name to the Moors who settled in Spain while others believe the name refers to the way the cheese in the mixture stretches out like thin wire when it sticks to the cook’s spatula while it’s being grilled with pre-marinated and cooked meats.  In this case, the meats are ham, bacon and carnitas served on a plate with steaming corn tortillas on the side.  These are terrific tacos. 

24 December 2016: Migas may translate from Spanish to “crumbs,” there’s absolutely nothing crummy about this popular breakfast dish.  The crumbs in the name is because this dish is made with left-over tortillas or bread.   At Delicias, migas con chorizo have the carb-loaded oomph that elevates scrambled eggs to a sublime waker-upper of a dish.  With pork chorizo, onions and green peppers, there’s deliciousness in every bite.  Better still, the migas are served with refried beans and hash browns.  This is breakfast!

Chiles Rellenos en Nogada

6 March 2016: The mariscos menu includes a number of shrimp (camarones) entrees including camarones mojo de ajo (shrimp marinated in garlic). This is a very interesting dish in that the shrimp are accompanied by two starches—mashed potatoes and white rice. Considering Mexican restaurants prepare baked potatoes (papas asadas) better than anyone, it should come as no surprise that the mashed potatoes are par excellence. If you like gravy with your mashed potatoes, there should be enough of the buttery-minced garlic mix to appease you. Eight butterflied shrimp per serving are sweet and succulent with a snap to each bite that tells you they’re fresh.

6 March 2016: Mexican history recounts that in 1821, Catholic nuns from Pueblo created a dish to honor a visit from a revolutionary general who helped Mexico win its independence from Spain. That dish, chile rellenos en nogada, was the color of the Mexican flag: a green poblano pepper, a white walnut sauce and red pomegranates. The version prepared at Delicias is among the best we’ve found in New Mexico and to my knowledge, the only chiles rellenos of this type in Albuquerque. Two Poblano chiles are stuffed with a picadillo filling, a combination of minced meat, fruits, pinons and spices then topped with a white, creamy walnut sauce garnered with dried cranberries (when pomegranates are not in season). Unlike some chiles rellenos en nogada, these are not battered and fried which will enhance your appreciation for a pepper low in the Scoville scale, but high in flavor.  The well-balanced combination of sweet and savory flavors is palate pleasing and addictive. If you’ve never had this dish, you should run to the border (6601 San Mateo) and order it.

Congreburger

9 March 2016: It’s what I ordered for the second time in a three-day span in order to introduce my friends Larry “the professor with the perspicacious palate” McGoldrick and Dazzling Deanell to what I believe is a very special and unique dish.  Larry put it succinctly—“this is OMG good.”  Deanell wasn’t quite as effusive, her appreciation more evident in spoonful after spoonful of this magic dish.  The chiles rellenos en nogada are served with rice which might otherwise be good, but is elevated to greatness when dragged along the rich walnut sauce.

9 March 2016: What kind of so-called gastronome would dine at a Mexican restaurant and order a hamburger? The answer, of course, is a gastronome already well acquainted with the Mexican food on the menu. The description of the Congreburger had me at “three strips of bacon” and if that isn’t sufficiently enticing, this work of genius also includes two slices of cheese, a single strip of green chile, ham and avocado. Despite featuring double cheese, this behemoth is constructed with only one beef patty, but it’s thicker than three quarter-pounders stacked atop one another. It goes without saying the patty is also juicier and more flavorful. Now, bacon and ham—that’s pure porcine pleasure, an aphrodisiac no red-blooded male can resist. The bacon is thick and smoky while the ham is imbued with sweet, smoky notes. Together, their flavor profile is pure harmony. There’s not much piquancy on the strip of chile, but it pairs well with the unctuous avocadoes. Atop the bottom bun and below the beef patty are layers of julienned carrots and mixed greens, an interesting touch. This burger is so tall you’ll probably envy birds whose double-jointed beaks allow them to open wide. As is, you’ll have to mash the burger down just to be able to bite down on it. Though our server indicated the term “Congre” doesn’t have a literal translation, we suspect it’s a diminutive of “congregar,” the Spanish word for “congregate.” That’s what this burger is—a congregation of great ingredients and flavors.

Pastel Tres Leches

9 March 2016: In the unlikely event you’ll be able to enjoy dessert after polishing off a prodigious platter and all the generous sides, Delicias offers several post-prandial treats: fried ice cream, sopaipillas, flan and pastel tres leches. My Kim called the pastel tres leches the best she’s ever had. It would be hard to argue against that contention. It’s as spongy moist and decadent delicious as any tres leches cake in New Mexico. Press into it with your fork and you’re not only rewarded with magnificent milkiness, but with pudding-like layers of deliciousness. The cake is drizzled with a heavenly strawberry gelée you’ll want on all your morning toast. It’s amazing how the enjoyment of a dish increases exponentially when you introduce someone to it and they enjoy it as much, if not more than you do. Such was the case when my friend Larry McGoldrick and I took Dazzling Deanell to Delicias on her birthday. Never having had tres leches cake before, Deanell was verklempt at just how moist and delicious this cake was. In all her 32 years on Mother Earth, Deanell had never experienced any cake quite as dazzling.

Delicias Cafe lives up to its name.  It is one of the most delightful and delicious Mexican restaurants in the city with a wonderful authenticity aficionados will love.

Cafe Delicias
6001 San Mateo, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
505-830-6561
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 24 December 2016
1st VISIT:  12 February 2012
# OF VISITS: 7
RATING: 22
COST: $$
BEST BET: Sopes, Enchiladas Suizas, Caldo de Res, Salsa and Chips, Chilaquiles con Mole, Patron Platter, Short Stack, Burrito with Suiza Sauce, Tres Leches Cake, Molletes, Tacos de Alhambre, Chiles Rellenos en Nogada, Camarones Mojo de Ajo, Tostadas de Ceviche con Pescado

Delicias Café Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Burritos Alinstante – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Burritos Alinstante on Broadway

A couple of days before my Kim and I were to be married (some three decades plus ago), my mom flew to Chicago to teach her how to prepare some of my favorite dishes (is it any wonder my sisters call me “consentido” (spoiled)?). A quick study, Kim learned how to make tortillas, lasagna, fried chicken, red chile and other favorites just the way mom makes them. Among the wedding presents my mom gave Kim were a cast-iron comal (griddle) and a rodillo (rolling pin) of her own.   In short order Kim began making tortillas as if she’d been making them all her life, in the process contributing significantly to my adulthood struggle with caloric overachievement.

The time-honored, traditional art of making tortillas on a sizzling cast-iron comal is truly one of the defining elements of both New Mexican and Mexican cuisine. Tortillas are a simple, round flatbread partaken with just about every meal in many a New Mexican household. They are a staple available in most New Mexican restaurants and certainly in the Garduño household. With the widespread availability of plastic-wrapped, store-bought pretenders, however, the art of kneading dough and shaping orbs for preparation on a griddle is slowly being lost.

Green Chile Cheeseburger Burrito

That’s truly a shame because store-bought tortillas can’t compare in taste (and certainly not in aroma) with a tortilla just been peeled off of the comal with its robust, lightly crisped outside and soft, chewy center. The store-bought variety tends to be thin, highly processed and tastes like cardboard might.  You need go no further than Duran’s Central Pharmacy in the Old Town area to experience the former.  The latter is, unfortunately, available in far too many New Mexican restaurants.

Shirley Chavez was a tortillera in the traditional sense, a true craftsperson connected in tradition to rich, ancient cultures as far back as the advanced Mesoamerican civilizations. In 1989, she opened a small tortilla factory called Chavez Tortillas and while her product was known to be outstanding, sales were disappointing. It wasn’t until she began preparing burritos with her tortillas that her business took off. Thus was born Burritos Alinstante, a restaurant which now has a presence in Albuquerque as well as in Belen, Bosque Farms and Los Lunas.

Burrito with Chicharrones, Beans, Cheese and Green Chile

Although the tortillas at Burritos Alinstante are no longer made in the old-fashioned ways, food preparation is still an in-house, hand-crafted process. Everything on the menu is made fresh daily from scratch.  Gleaming metal vessels hold the ingredients in readiness until an order is placed.   Place your order and almost in an instant, your burrito will be ready for you.  If that sounds too much like “just add water and your burrito will be ready,” that’s certainly not a case.  The well-practiced hands of the restaurant’s staff are so deft that your wait will be minimal.

The menu offers twelve burrito choices plus a breakfast burrito (available only until noon) and build your own options (pick one meat, red or green chile, shredded or nacho cheese and two more ingredients). You can have your burritos smothered in red or green chile or hand-held with the chile inside. Combination plates include beans (prepared with lard for that wonderfully authentic New Mexican taste) and Spanish rice.  You can also order nachos, Frito pie, tamale bowl and a taco plate.  Several ala carte items such as salsa and chips, guacamole, tacos and tamales are also available.

The chile isn’t particularly piquant–at least for this fire-eater, but it is very tasty.  The number four burrito (chicharrones, beans, cheese and green chile) hand-held is a popular favorite.  It’s a full eight-ounces of flavor-packed deliciousness with chicharrones in every single bite.  Hand-held doesn’t necessarily mean you can drive with one hand and hold your burrito with the other.  The burrito is so crammed with beans, melting shredded cheese and chile that copious spillage is bound to occur no matter how careful you are.  You’ll enjoy the burrito more if you take a seat in the restaurant’s comfortable confines and savor it slowly. 

Comprehensive as it may be, the New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail doesn’t list a single burger that isn’t constructed on conventional burger buns.  Savvy New Mexican restaurateurs long ago figured out green chile cheeseburgers can also be made on tortillas.  Burritos Alinstante doesn’t call their version a “tortilla burger” as some restaurants do.  It’s called a green chile cheeseburger burrito and it’s terrific!  Instead of cutting up a burger patty as some restaurants do, Alinstante’s cooks fill the tortilla with seasoned ground beef then they add traditional green chile cheeseburger ingredients: lettuce, tomatoes, green chile and cheese.  This has become my favorite among the restaurant’s many delicious offerings.

For some inexplicable reason, there was a ten-year gap in between my visits to Burritos Alinstante.  That shameful travesty won’t be repeated.  Burritos Alinstante can become a habit.

Burritos Alinstante
2101 Broadway, S.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 242-0966
Web Site | Facebook Page

LATEST VISIT: 21 December 2016
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 18
COST: $
BEST BET: Chicharones Burrito, Salsa and chips, Guacamole, Green Chile Cheeseburger Burrito

Burritos Alinstante Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Mannie’s Family Restaurant – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Mannie’s Family Restaurant on Central and Girard

The other night I ate at a real nice family restaurant. Every table had an argument going.”
~ George Carlin

In December, 2016 when I introduced my friend Bruce “Sr. Plata” Silver to Mannie’s Family Restaurant, the visit evoked pleasant memories of plentiful visits to similar restaurants in Los Angeles where he grew up.   Flashbacks of humongous portions of delicious comfort food favorites were secondary to nostalgic recollections of happy times spent with his family.  His father, who passed away recently, loved the type of food and prodigious portions served at Mannie’s.  So does his loving son who, as loyal readers of this blog know, could subsist on a diet of chicken fried steak.

Since its launch in 1965, Mannie’s has been creating memories for generations of Duke City diners…and hopefully not in the fashion described in George Carlin’s quote.  Many of us who grew up in the swinging 60s have our own memories of hometown diners with their sizeable menus, friendly waitresses and bottomless cups of coffee.  Every time we hear the tintinnabulation of a silver spoon on a ceramic coffee mug, we’re transported to the days of yore when the fruited plain wasn’t dotted with Golden Arches and mom-and-pop restaurants ruled the road.

Mannie’s Just After the Lunch Rush

Mannie’s is the quintessential 60s family restaurant, some would say an anachronism. Its menu is a veritable compendium of comfort food favorites, stick-to-your-ribs dishes that will remind you that the genesis of the word “restaurant” is the French word restaurer which means to restore.  Mannie’s has been restoring guests to good moods and full bellies from the very beginning. When founder Mannie Gianopoulos launched his eponymous eatery on the western fringes of Nob Hill, mom-and-pop restaurant operations were plenteous along Old Route 66, many of them owned by Greek entrepreneurs.  

In 1985, ownership of Mannie’s transferred to Joe Koury whose family has been a peripatetic presence at the restaurant ever since.  It’s probably cliche to say Mannie’s is one of those restaurants where everybody knows your name, but it wouldn’t be much of a stretch at Mannie’s.  Guests are treated like family and regulars are addressed by name.  The wait staff, among the friendliest in the Metropolitan area, has a lot of experience exchanging banter with guests.  You get the feeling they’d jump through hoops to make sure you have a great experience every time you dine at Mannie’s.

Green Chile Chicken Soup

Mannie’s Web site boasts “its not your momma’s cooking, but it’s the next best thing!” The restaurant’s operating statement, as eloquently expressed on the Web site is one every restaurant should strive to emulate: “Over the many years in operation, we have prided ourselves in serving homemade food made with high quality ingredients at unbeatable prices. We serve fresh homemade food complimented with fast friendly service – all at very reasonable prices. Our restaurant serves breakfast lunch and dinner and features baked from scratch muffins, cinnamon rolls and incredible homemade soup. We serve fresh, hand-made burgers, hand-cut steaks and chicken, and the best chicken fried steak around.

That statement continues: “We also have New Mexican favorites such as huevos rancheros, burritos, and the best green chile chicken soup in town. Mannies Family Restaurant provides guests with different homemade soups everyday. We also offer homemade baked goods and tasty entrees. Using the freshest ingredients in our homemade food offers the best tasting food for everyone to enjoy. This is what we believe separates our restaurant from the rest; we make great food with high quality fresh products everyday. Complemented by great service, we are one of the best values around.”  Is it any wonder Mannie’s is such a beloved Duke City institution?

Pedro’s Gyros

Mannie’s is open seven days a week from 6AM to 9PM. Free wi-fi is available throughout the restaurant. Breakfast is served all day, featuring a wide variety of options ranging from omelettes and pancakes to huevos rancheros and breakfast burritos. Mannie’s even offers beer and wine with meal and caters to all tastes with many vegetarian options available. All good, but does Mannie’s serve the best chicken fried steak in Albuquerque?  That’s what Sr. Plata wanted to know when I waxed poetic about the restaurant’s memory-making menu.

The art on the wall seemed a portend that at least Mannie’s chicken fried steak would be enormous.  Sr. Plata gravitated to a piece of art (a masterpiece in his estimation) in which a wide-eyed girl asks “Did you see the size of his chicken fried steak?”  Not unlike the Frontier Restaurant, another venerable family restaurant, the walls at Mannie’s are festooned with art work, albeit of a different genre.  You’ll want to take in all the unframed dichromatic art emblazoned with clever maxims.  They’re definitely of an other era, but their sentiment is applicable today, too.

For Some Reason My Friend Bruce “Sr Plata” Gravitated Toward This Masterpiece

15 December 2016: Lest I keep you in suspense any longer, Sr. Plata certifies Mannie’s chicken fried steak as the best he’s had in Albuquerque with its prime competition being at Vick’s Vittles.  As with all great chicken fried steak, the portion size is indeed prodigious, but unlike some it’s not pounded into a paper-thin sheet that covers the plate.  This chicken fried steak is thick and tastes like steak, albeit a steak you can cut with a fork.  It’s covered with your choice of cream gravy or if you’re New Mexican, with green chile.  The breakfast version is served with two eggs, hash browns, toast and cream gravy.  It’s a substantial and satisfying plate that put a smile in Sr. Plata’s face.  He recommends asking for your extra crispness on your hash browns.

8 December 2016: Mannie’s chefs seem to have an affinity for chicken.  It’s all over the menu: chicken enchiladas, chicken Caesar salad, crunchy chicken salad, Southwest chicken salad, Greek chicken wrap, chicken club, chicken fried sandwich, fried chicken and several chicken coops full of other chicken dishes.  When the Web site boasts of “the best green chile chicken soup in town” this eight-time judge at the Roadrunner Food Bank’s Souperbowl has no choice but to try it.  It is indeed a wonderful rendition of New Mexico’s ultimate comfort food soup.  It’s got plenty of heat both in terms of temperature and in piquancy.  Well-thickened and rich with bite-sized chicken, it’ll take the sting out of the cold, but will make you happy all year round.

Chicken Fried Steak with Hash Browns and Eggs Over Easy

8 December 2016: My friend Scott McMillan can’t recommend Mannie’s gyros highly enough.  The New Mexican in me gravitates immediately to the Pedro’s Gyros, a New Mexico meets Greece version of the popular Greek staple.  Pedro’s Gyros are described as “seasoned gyros lamb served on pita bread with chopped green chile, feta cheese, and cucumber dressing.”  The green chile has a pleasantly piquant bite that would threaten to overwhelm the lamb were it not so plentiful.  The rich, tangy cucumber dressing provides a nice counterbalance to the fiery green chile.  After one bite I dispensed of the sole large lettuce leaf, but should have done so before snapping the photo.

15 December 2016: One of Mannie’s most popular staples is fried chicken, a whole half bird.   If you’re tired of restaurant chicken the size of a hummingbird, you’ll understand one of the reasons Mannie’s chicken is so popular.  The other reason, of course, is that it’s pretty darned good.  Fried to a golden brown, this comfort food favorite includes a leg, thigh, breast and wing.  These large meaty pieces are served with your choice of whipped potatoes or French fries.  Sr. Plata took home two orders of the fried chicken where he shared them with his darling Dawn and in-laws.  Not surprisingly they loved the pulchritudinous poultry.

Fried Chicken with Mashed Potatoes

15 December 2016: A long time ago, culinary gods must have decreed that all family restaurants, cafes and diners across the fruited plain are required to serve pancakes.  Not just any pancakes.  Those gods created a blueprint for pancakes that are much better than any of us can make at home–gigantic, fluffy, delicious orbs beckoning for butter and signaling for syrup.  Mannie’s has that blueprint down pat!  A short stack of two pancakes (pictured below) is as tall as the Tricentennial Towers on the I-40 corridor outside Old Town.  Two are easily large enough to share while three will make a very filling and satisfying meal for one. 

15 December 2016:  Sr. Plata shares my affinity for good restaurant coffee, not the designer variety whose inherent flavors are obfuscated by fancy roasting techniques, but solid coffee with no bitterness, the type of coffee which defeats the cold.  Mannie’s serves Farmer’s Brothers Coffee, a brand restaurants have trusted for generations.  There’s nothing gourmet or designer about this coffee.  It’s just good stuff that goes well with the variety of deliciousness served at Mannie’s.

Short Stack of Pancakes

Mannie’s has been feeding Albuquerque families since 1965, in the process creating generations of devotees all with their own old or new memories of their visits to a Duke City classic.  Mannie’s isn’t just a family restaurant.  It’s a hometown restaurant for families.

Mannie’s Family Restaurant
2900 Central Avenue, S.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 265-1669
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 15 December 2016
# OF VISITS: 6
RATING: 20
COST: $$
BEST BET:  Pedro’s Gyros, Green Chile Chicken Soup, Fried Chicken, Chicken Fried Steak, Pancakes, Coffee

Mannies Family Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Eli’s Place (formerly Sophia’s Place) – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Dennis and the lovely Sophia at the viewing of the Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives episode featuring his outstanding restaurant

Dennis and his daughter, the lovely Sophia at the viewing of the Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives episode featuring his outstanding restaurant (Photo courtesy of Sandy Driscoll)

Picture yourself as a first-year marketing student assigned by your professor to perform a marketing analysis of Eli’s Place and its enigmatic chef-owner Dennis Apodaca.  Essentially you’ve got to figure out the rhyme and reason behind the restaurant’s success.  “Easy assignment,” you think to yourself, “Eli’s Place is successful because it serves some of the best, most delicious food in Albuquerque.”  Your research quickly reveals, however, that Eli’s Place actually violates many of the time-honored, trusted and fundamental marketing tenets of growing and successful businesses.  From a marketing perspective, it just shouldn’t work as well as it does. 

Any Marketing 101 student can tell you, for example, the importance of brand identity.  A brand is one of the most valuable and important assets of a restaurant. It needs to be carefully cultivated to ensure it properly and authentically reflects the values, attributes and passions of a business.  Eli’s Place received an enormous boost to its brand identity in 2008 when the Food Network came calling.  Being featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives is generally worth a fortune to any restaurant.  So what does Dennis Apodaca do?  In 2015, he renamed his restaurant, eschewing the well-established and nationally known brand name Sophia’s Place in favor of Eli’s Place.

Eli’s Place may not be as visually appealing as other restaurants, but it serves beautiful food

Then there’s the restaurant itself.  From an esthetic perspective, it isn’t nearly as inviting and attractive as those modern venues with their pristine veneer or the effusive, over-the-top flamboyance of the chains.  It’s virtually homely.  Heck, it doesn’t even have a sign telling you you’ve arrived at your destination.  The parking lot can get muddy during inclement weather which can sometimes render the outdoor patio useless.  Step inside the Lilliputian edifice and during peak hours, you’ll be challenged to find a seat.  It just doesn’t make sense that Eli’s Place works as well as it does.

The main reason for its success, of course, is gifted proprietor and chef Dennis Apodaca, an accomplished restaurateur despite (or maybe in spite of) not following a tried-and-true template. Sure, he may be an enigma to any marketing student, but to savvy diners he’s one of the very best chefs in New Mexico.  Dennis has a very impressive pedigree that includes stints at some of the best restaurants in San Francisco and Santa Fe, having worked for several world-famous, cutting-edge chefs in some of America’s most renown restaurants.  Those include Mark Miller, the high priest of modern Southwest cuisine and founder of Santa Fe’s Coyote Cafe and the pioneering Alice Waters, founder of Chez Panisse, the original California cuisine (focusing exclusively on organic, locally produced foods in season) restaurant in Berkeley, California.

The interior of Eli’s Place. Note the poster signed by Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives host Guy Fieri

Apprenticing under luminary chefs may make apparent the genesis of some of his culinary influences, but it’s also obvious that Dennis loves his craft and plies it with enthusiasm and style.  I heard him speak once of his annual pilgrimages to New York and of dining at such restaurants as Katz’s, a Manhattan deli I hold in reverential esteem. Like most great chefs, he is always in pursuit of new ideas and techniques.  Dennis launched the restaurant he named for his then eight-year-old daughter Sophia on December 3rd, 2002 (and which he renamed for Sophia’s own son in 2015).  It’s situated at the former site of the once very popular, but now defunct Fajitaville, a restaurant at which he served as chef before launching his own operation. As popular as it was, you don’t hear many former Fajitaville patrons lament the change. That’s because they’ve been completely won over by Apodaca’s inventive, eclectic and funky menu–a menu that includes a range of sophisticated salads and soups, extraordinary sandwiches and lots of pleasant surprises.

Dennis is also a stickler for using fine ingredients, many of which are flown in and delivered daily to his charming North Valley restaurant. He insists on the preparation of each meal to order; you won’t find anything sitting under a heating lamp here.  You also won’t find a freezer in the premises.  Dennis believes in ultra-fresh. His menu is replete with specials of the day which change frequently, usually crafted from fresh ingredients he procures from the farmer’s markets.  Eli’s also does not have an oven or burners, just two grills, but sheer magic is created on those grills.

Chips and salsa at Eli’s

On August 25th, 2008 the Food Network’s Guy Fieri taped a segment at Sophia’s for his Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives program.  On a signed poster which hangs on one of the restaurant’s walls, Fieri wrote “little place, huge flavors.”  That pretty much says it all, not that Fieri didn’t say quite a bit more about Sophia’s.  After that segment aired on Monday, November 24th, 2008 getting a seat at this fabulous restaurant became even more difficult.  Guy Fieri pegged it correctly when he called him “a hands-on chef who’s doing things his own way.”  That includes touches like making his own butter and crafting all his culinary creations by hand.

24 November 2012: One holdover from Dennis’s days at Fajitaville are some of the best salsas in town.  An order of salsa and chips rewards diners with two salsas–a roasted tomato salsa and a pico de gallo style salsa coupled with housemade chips served warm.  Neither of the salsas are especially piquant, but both are redolent with freshness and flavor.  The chips are lightly salted and oversized for Gil-sized portions of salsa.  Unfortunately you’ll run out of salsa before you run out of chips.

Grilled Sirloin and Green Chile Sandwich on Sage Bakehouse Bakery Bread with Shoestring Fries

Grilled Sirloin and Green Chile Sandwich on Sage Bakehouse Bakery Bread with Shoestring Fries

Breakfast and lunch entrees are served all day which is a great thing because you never know when the urge will hit for a world-class sandwich. Sage Bakehouse bread, a New Mexico treasure, is the foundation upon which those sandwiches are built. Each sandwich is served with your choice of potato salad, green salad or homemade shoestring potatoes (a must-have).  Don’t desecrate those shoestring potatoes with ketchup. Ask instead for a small bowl of Eli’s red chile and dip your fries into that. Some of the best chile and some of the best fries in town–you can’t go wrong with that combination.

Eli’s grilled pastrami sandwich is a poor man’s version of the aforementioned Katz’s in which pastrami is piled on skyscraper high. Even though Eli’s doesn’t lay the pastrami on as thick as at Katz’s, it’s also not apportioned in waifishly thin shreds like the sandwiches the chains proffer. In Albuquerque only California Pastrami serves a better pastrami sandwich (although it dropped just a bit in my estimation when packets of mustard replaced the gourmet mustard once dolloped on the sandwich). Apodaca gets his pastrami flown in from Chicago where this brisket derivative is best made.

Chipotle Chile Bacon Cheeseburger

The green chile cheeseburger at Eli’s

30 August 2008: Also exceptional is the green chile bacon cheeseburger on hard-crusted Sage Bakehouse bread. As the hack comic Banya would tell Jerry Senifeld, “it’s the best, Jerry, the best.” In a city and state in which green chile cheeseburgers are a religion, Dennis Apodaca is a high priest, serving something just a bit different. This cheeseburger is a two-fisted edible piece of art with an explosively delicious taste.  The green chile is not so assertive that it prevents the salty sweetness of the bacon to sneak out. Instead they meld together wonderfully. The texture of the lightly toasted Ciabatta bread is a nice departure from the traditional soft burger buns. The bacon is crispy and thick. There’s no iceberg lettuce in this masterpiece; it’s salad quality mixed greens. The hamburger patty hasn’t seen  the inside of a freezer; it’s hand-formed and thick, prepared to your exacting specifications.

27 September 2016: Burger aficionados will also love Eli’s chipotle cheeseburger, a work of art and absolute beauty.  It’s got the piquancy (maybe even more) of a green chile cheeseburger with the inimitable flavor of chipotle.  If you’re not sure what a chipotle is, it’s merely a smoked, dried jalapeño.  It’s a versatile pepper, adding depth, complexity and a kick to meats, and a savory counterbalance to sweets.  At Eli’s, the chipotle doesn’t come out of a jar.  It’s the real thing, smoked at home and rehydrated to textural perfection.  This chipotle cheeseburger is simple, a thick hamburger patty, molten cheese and chipotle.  That’s it…and that’s enough.

Sophia's Breakfast Burrito

The breakfast burrito, Albuquerque’s very best

The simply named Breakfast Sandwich on (what else) toasted Sage Bakehouse bread is a concordant composition of fried eggs, bacon, cheese and fresh salsa that will help make your day start off on the right foot. It may well be the best breakfast sandwich in Albuquerque, not that there is a plethora of competition in the breakfast sandwich arena.

10 April 2008: Eli’s breakfast burrito has done something I had thought impossible. It supplanted Milton’s breakfast burrito as my favorite breakfast burrito in New Mexico. The primary reason is a wondrous red chile, a deep, earthy, sweet and utterly delicious chile of medium piquancy. This chile is in rarified company with Mary & Tito’s legendary red which I’ve long considered the best in the Duke City area. It’s the type of chile you might want to lick off your plate so as not to leave any of it behind. If Dennis were to offer New Mexican food exclusively, it would probably be the best in the city. Make sure you order your burrito “smothered” so you won’t be lamenting that there isn’t enough chile on your plate. In its September, 2011 edition, the staff of Albuquerque The Magazine undertook the enviable task of selecting the Duke City’s very best breakfast burrito. Eli’s was rated tenth best. To paraphrase the immortal words of former world boxing champion Max Schmeling’s manager Joe Jacobs, “they waz robbed!”

Huevos Mexicanos

There’s only one thing wrong with Eli’s red chile. It’s that the red is so good, many of us may never again order the breakfast burrito “Christmas style” (with both red and green chile). That would be sad because the green chile is outstanding in its own right. It’s a fruity chile with a comal roasted aroma and flavor. The breakfast burrito is crafted from organic eggs, potatoes, cheese and salsa. You can have it with your choice of bacon, pork carnitas, chicken, beef or vegetables.

23 November 2010: The daily specials on Eli’s menu truly earn the accolade “special.” Such is the case with a breakfast enchilada with turkey sausage, Cojita cheese and poblano chile. The melding of these ingredients make for an outstanding breakfast entree that I may have to bide my time to see returned to the menu. Fortunately, there’s always something else intriguing and invariably delicious to mollify my appetite.

Another special special, duck enchiladas with a green chile cream sauce

Duck enchiladas served with a green chile cream sauce

30 August 2008: Another very special special are the duck enchiladas served with a green chile cream sauce (pictured above). Somehow Dennis manages to segregate the least fatty parts of the duck while retaining all its characteristic flavor and he engorges corn tortillas with the delicious canard. A generous dollop of mildly piquant green chile sauce crowns the enchiladas with even more flavor. This special is served with black beans studded with Cojita cheese as well as a mixed greens and mango salad. This is just Dennis and his free spirited whimsy; he loves to play with ingredients and has a knack for making seemingly disparate ingredients meld together in perfect flavor synchronicity.

The Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives taping took place on a day in which the special of the day was another version of duck enchiladas, this time with tomatillo sauce. Watching the step-by-step construction of this entree revealed the depth of Dennis’s talent, but even more so, just what a perfectionist he is. Every preparation step is meticulous and well practiced, obviously the result of extensive experimentation until everything is absolutely to the chef’s exacting standards.

Scallop Tacos with beans, rice and a salad

The duck, which is left in the bone and skin, is seasoned and rendered in duck fat for several hours then is de-boned by hand and seasoned again (lime, cilantro, Mexican red chile, sugar, salt and other ingredients) on the flat top.  Two legs per order of succulent duck meat are then placed on two soft corn tortillas with Asadero cheese then topped with the tomatillo sauce, toasted pumpkin seeds, scallions and queso fresco.  Fieri uttered “really good” three times punctuated with “an explosion of flavors” and “you’ve got it going on with this one.”

10 April 2015: A Washington Post writer recently proclaimed, “Ok so who in the hell doesn’t do a scallop taco?” He obviously hasn’t been around the restaurant scene in Albuquerque where scallop tacos are a novelty. In fact, Dennis is just one of a handful of chefs in the landlocked Land of Enchantment I know of daring to depart from the de rigueur fish taco (which is rarely done well in New Mexico). His version starts with gigantic sea scallops which he tucks into soft, pliable corn tacos then garnishes with a mild salsa, avocado slices and Crème fraîche. There are two scallops per taco, two tacos per order and they’re at least twice as good as the best fish taco I’ve ever had.

Sophia's shoestring fries with red chile

Eli’s shoestring fries with red chile

Eli’s scallop tacos are inspired–an amalgam of flavor combinations which work very well together.  The pearlescent scallops are grilled so they have a nice char on top and at bottom while retaining an opaque clarity that means they’re absolutely perfect.  I’ve tried in vain several times to duplicate Dennis’s wizardry with scallops, but have concluded begrudgingly that my scallop skills are rudimentary compared to the chef. 

The Saturday and Sunday brunch menu features several items not available during weekdays. These weekend specials have made Eli’s an intensely popular dining destination. You might have to wait in line ten to fifteen minutes to place your order then another half hour for your order to reach your table. It’s worth the wait.

Chilaquiles

20 April 2008: One of the best reasons to get up on a weekend are Eli’s Special Pancakes, priced daily and served with fresh fruit and real maple syrup. Those special pancakes might be sour cream and lemon pancakes with a piñon butter topped with blueberries. The tartness of the blueberries and lemon create a palate pleasing harmony with the maple syrup. The sour cream changes the texture of standard pancakes by adding moistness while retaining the fluffiness inherent in great pancakes. 

23 November 2008: Eli’s pancakes will cure the early morning blues (or anything else that ails you).  A large stack (four) of pumpkin pancakes with pinon nut butter topped with assorted berries may be the very best pancakes you’ll ever have.  They’re stick to your ribs pancakes, the panacea for cold mornings.  Cinnamon and pumpkin pie spice emphasize the flavor of pumpkin while the berries provide a tangy contrast.  The syrup brings together the complementary tastes of sweet, tangy and pumpkiny.  Share these with people you love.

Turkey Sausage Enchiladas with Red and Green Chile

One of the things that makes Dennis’s pancakes a panacea is his homemade butter, a culinary rarity that blew even Guy Fieri away. Fieri who has probably seen just about everything on his road tours seemed amazed that Dennis would go to that extent. After sampling Eli’s homemade butter (made from separated heavy cream mixed with toasted pine nuts, dried cherries and honey), Fieri called it “outstanding.” 

4 November 2012: Other brunch favorites include Eli’s version of chilaquiles and a very unique interpretation of Huevos Rancheros called Huevos Mexicanos.  This dish is constructed from corn tortillas topped with two eggs prepared any way you want them then slathered with green chile stew.  The green chile stew is terrific, the type of which you’d appreciate at any time, but especially on a cold wintery day.  The chilaquiles are simplicity itself though its flavors are complex and delicious.  Chilaquiles are a traditional Mexican dish with which Eli’s takes a few liberties, topping the eggs and tortilla chips with red chile instead of the more conventional salsa.

Lemon and sour cream pancakes with blueberries

Sour cream and lemon pancakes with a piñon butter topped with blueberries

You’ve got to experience this gem for yourself to find out what so many diners know–Eli’s Place is one of Albuquerque’s very best restaurants of any genre. Overflow crowds and accolades don’t tell the whole story. That lies in each and every wonderful morsel of pure deliciousness fashioned by the inventive hands of the chef and owner.  Eli’s Place and its superbly talented owner-chef Dennis Apodaca may be an enigma to marketing students, but to those of us who love great food, he’s a luminous star, one of the very best.

Pumpkin pancakes with pinon nut butter

ELI’S PLACE
6313 4th, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 345-3935
LATEST VISIT: 27 September 2016
# OF VISITS: 20
RATING: 25
COST: $$
BEST BET: Grilled Pastrami Sandwich, Breakfast Sandwich, Chipotle Bacon Cheeseburger, Simple Noodles, Breakfast Burrito, Special Pancakes, Scallop Tacos, Chilaquiles, Huevos Mexicanos, Grilled Sirloin Sandwich, Pork Carnitas Tacos,

Eli's Place (New Name for Sophia's Place) Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Plaza Cafe Southside – Santa Fe, New Mexico

The Plaza Cafe Southside

Santa Fe’s oldest restaurant (circa 1918), the Plaza Cafe is so popular that long waits to be seated are commonplace. Compound that with the hassle of trying to find a parking spot that isn’t a marathon’s length to walk to and from the Cafe then having to navigate through throngs of awestruck tourists and it’s a restaurant we don’t visit as often as we’d like.  Our visits might become even more infrequent thanks to the 2003 launch of the Plaza Cafe’s sister restaurant (albeit a sister that’s 84 years younger) on Santa Fe’s south side.

Neon Spangled Interior Festooned with Colorful Art

The Plaza Cafe Southside, situated in San Isidro Plaza on Zafarano Drive, is a welcome respite from the challenges inherent with trying to dine in the teeming tourist traversed Plaza area. It’s one of an increasing number of excellent restaurants situated well outside Santa Fe’s well beaten, well eatin’ Plaza area.  It’s also one of several very good restaurants within easy walking distance of the Regal Cinemas 14.  It’s the Plaza Cafe Southside’s second home.  For its first six years, the Cafe occupied cozy, but cramped confines within a motel off Cerrillos.

You Can’t Help But Smile

The Plaza Cafe Southside is the brainchild of Leonard Razatos who “wanted to bring a little of the old Santa Fe to the new Santa Fe.” A “new” Santa Fe can certainly describe the burgeoning south side which has shown tremendous growth over the past decade. “Old” Santa Fe begins and ends with the famous Santa Fe Plaza, fittingly home to the Plaza Cafe, the city’s oldest restaurant. In 1947, Greek immigrant Dionysi “Danny” Razatos, purchased the restaurant and together with his wife and six children has fed Santa Fe ever since. Leonard upholds the family tradition within the trappings of a modern edifice which might not work well in the architectural restricted plaza area.

Karen Webb, One of Santa Fe’s Most Famous (And Beloved) Waitresses

Where the Cafe’s first digs were cramped and cozy, its new home is capacious and comfortable. Despite the modernity of high ceilings, industrial-style ductwork and steel girders, the Cafe retains the appearance of an old-fashioned diner. Undulating neon festoons the service area where an industrious wait staff delivers and picks up orders. Suspended from the ceiling is a colorful four-sided mural depicting the culture of Santa Fe, not so much in an idyllic fashion, but in a mode which might best describe the things that make it the “City Different.” The bar soffit mural painted by local artist Robb Rael depicts the Zozobra, skeletal images from el Dia de los Muertos, pueblo-style architectural homes and more, all in the artist’s unique interpretive style. It, too, is festooned by 1950s style neon.

The first thing you notice when you walk in to the Plaza Cafe Southside is a dessert case that’s wider than it is tall. Behind glass are some of the most sumptuous, calorie-laden confections ever crafted. It’s a wonder there aren’t tongue trails on the glass because behind it, just waiting for hungry diners, are the Plaza Cafe’s famous cajeta apple pecan pie, served in huge slabs with or without ice cream. There’s also the fabulous coconut cream pie (in a macaroon shell), pastel tres leches and other mouth-watering desserts.

In The Event of An Emergency

Step into the restaurant on a lazy Sunday morning and it’s a good bet you’ll be cheerfully greeted by Karen Webb, one of the city’s most famous and beloved hostesses. Karen gained a modicum of fame on the terrific documentary American Waitresses: New Mexico, a feature film that examines the lives, attitudes, perceptions and experiences of waitresses. Karen came across as the very effusive and warm soul she is. A mainstay at the Plaza Cafe Southside, she greets guests with an endearing “darling” or “baby,” eliciting hearty hugs from many of them. She’s a true ambassador for the Cafe, pointing out the historical photographs on the wall and inviting guests to make themselves at home. When I asked if I could photograph her, she joked with another guest about “posing for a nudie.”

The Dessert Case

Their classic American diner showcases traditional cooking methods and time-honored ingredients that would make many a New Mexican abuelita proud indeed.  In addition to excellent New Mexican  and Mexican food, the restaurant features a few Greek entrees as well as American diner favorites and blue-plate specials.  The menu is a veritable compendium of home-style diner cuisine New Mexico style with something for everyone.  Some time-honored recipes have been “improved upon” with inventive ingredients in exciting combinations.  Other recipes haven’t been “tampered” with and might remind you of the home cooking you got at home as a child. 

Peruse the menu and quality-conscious diners will certainly appreciate reading “A Few Things We’re Proud of.”   “We use local New Mexico heritage ranch, grass-fed, antibiotic-free beef.  We use only cage-free eggs.  We bake all our pastries and desserts from scratch daily using only the highest quality ingredients.  All our breads are from scratch using only the highest quality ingredients.  Our corn and flour tortillas are from a local tortillera and are free of preservatives and artificial ingredients.”  How can you not love that if you care about quality?

Three salsas with red, yellow and blue corn chips

Three salsas with red, yellow and blue corn chips

The Southside Cafe shares most of the same menu with its sister restaurant. There are a few notable exceptions, one being the absence of the elder sibling’s roasted garlic and carnitas quesadillas, an appetizer for which you’d brave the teeming throngs.  Similar to the Plaza Cafe, the Southside Cafe features oversized plastic menus emblazoned with a round image of the heavily trafficked Santa Fe plaza at the height of bustling activity. The menu is several pages long and reads like a great novel; it’s very hard to put down and even harder to make a decision as to what to order.

That menu includes several “aguas frescas,” the refreshing at any time beverages becoming increasingly popular in New Mexico. The Cafe has its own interesting twists on traditional aguas frescas.  That includes a prickly pear lemonade made with tangy prickly pear puree and even prickly pear horchata, an exotic blend of almond, cinnamon and rice water with tangy prickly pear puree. The latter is an interesting departure from what can be a cloying beverage and will amaze you at how well two unique flavors meld together.  For those cold mornings in which your belly needs some anti-freeze, the Ibarra Mexican hot chocolate has your number.  It’s a strong hot chocolate with a rich flavor.

Side salad with citrus vinaigrette dressing

Side salad with citrus vinaigrette dressing

The appetizer section features New Mexican, Mexican, Greek and American options.  If in the mood for something Greek, hummus and pita are available. The hummus, a puree of tahini, lemon, garlic, onion and garbanzo beans is oh so garlicky delicious. This terrific appetizer is served with warm pita bread.  Typical of the surprising inventiveness of the menu is the fried calamari with jalapeños, tender calamari dusted with flour, flash-fried and garnished with salt, pepper and jalapeños then served with a habanero dipping sauce that’s positively piquant.

28 July 2007: If a more traditional Mexican appetizer is what you’re after,  the Cafe’s housemade blue, yellow and red corn tortilla chips and three salsas (Chipotle, tomatillo and pico de gallo) is a terrific triumvirate. All three salsas are sensational and all have capsaicin enriched potency (translation: they bite back). The Chipotle salsa has a wonderfully smoky taste and is perhaps the most piquant of the three. It may also be the most addicting and will probably be the first one you finish. Guacamole and chips are also available as is a mountainous plate of nachos (tortilla chips, beans, chipotle salsa, chile con queso, chorizo, jalapeños, lettuce and tomato).

Cilantro Salmon with Tomato Habanero Lasagna

Cilantro Salmon with Tomato Habanero Lasagna

28 July 2007: The “Specials” section includes several items in which the chef’s artistic interpretations crossed into the realm of non-traditional mixing of cultures. That would apply to the Cilantro Salmon with Tomato-Habañero lasagna.  The salmon filet is entree sized in and of itself. It’s a flame-grilled six-ounce slab of salmon marinated in garlic, cilantro and olive oil. It is fork-tender and surprisingly moist as well as imbued with discernable smokiness courtesy of the grill.  See the word “Habañero” attached to any entree and you’re bound to think incendiary, pain-inducing, eye-watering, mouth-scalding, too hot to handle, torturous pepper.

At the Cafe, the Tomato-Habañero Lasagna is surprisingly scaled down heat-wise. In fact, the hotter-than-Hell pepper’s most discernable quality is the fruitiness with which it imbues the lasagna. It complements the acidic tomatoes and rich ricotta cheese very well. This is an excellent lasagna.  As with other Italian inspired entrees at the Cafe, the tomato sauce is applied lightly so that it ameliorates, not dominates, the flavor profile.  The sauce has a flavor quite like fresh tomatoes seasoned with garlic and basil.  It’s an excellent sauce for lasagna or any other Italian pasta.

New Mexico Meatloaf, a specialty of the house

New Mexico Meatloaf, a specialty of the house

28 July 2007: What best defines comfort food?  Many surveys will tell you it’s meatloaf and that just happens to be the Cafe’s specialty. Appropriately, it used to be found on the menu’s Blue Plate section; now it’s  the special of the day on Tuesdays. This isn’t your mama’s meatloaf, unless you’re from New Mexico. This is New Mexico meatloaf stuffed with vegetables (sweet corn nibblets stand out), cheese and green chile.  Unlike the meatloaf at many a diner, the Cafe’s version doesn’t have that annoying crust you have to cut through to get to the moist part. This is one of the most moist meatloaves you’ll find anywhere…and the green chile, vegetable and cheese combination imbues it with qualities that render it sublime. The meatloaf is served with mashed potatoes and gravy as well as sautéed broccoli and carrots.

23 January 2011: From the blue-plate special comes a spaghetti and meatballs entree which might have you saying “That’s amore!” with every bite.  It’s the Plaza Cafe’s spaghetti with meatballs served with a tomato-marjoram sauce, bacon and Parmesan cheese.  Bacon, as everyone knows, makes everything better and the Cafe’s menu boasts of “Santa Fe’s best bacon.”  You won’t find bacon in every bite, but oh those spoonfuls blessed with bacon are special.  The tomato-marjoram sauce is light and thin, emphasizing the flavor of tomatoes and not some thick tomato paste.  Marjoram, by the way, is a member of the oregano-mint family.  It’s similar to oregano, but somewhat milder.  The spaghetti noodles are perfectly al dente.

Spaghetti & Meatballs with Bacon Tomato Sauce: Meatballs, tomato-marjoram sauce, spaghetti, bacon + parmesan cheese, grilled focaccia

23 January 2011: Yet another blue plate special which takes off where ordinary fish and chips leave off is a spicy rendition made from beer-battered cod served with a habanero tartar sauce and jalapeño malt vinegar.  It’s the type of fish and chips the irascible Captain Quint from the movie Jaws would eat while daring the scholarly Matt Hooper to follow suit.   Just as the two tried to out-macho one another by showing off their “battle” scars, it’s easy to imagine the two dousing their beer-battered cod filets in the jalapeño malt vinegar then chasing them down with the habanero tartar sauce all the while daring the other to spice it up even more.

To be honest, neither the jalapeño malt vinegar nor the habanero tartar sauce are that piquant, but it makes for a good story to tell.  It also makes for a very good, very different fish and chips dish.  The cod filets are light and flaky with a beer-batter that’s light enough to allow the superb malt vinegar to impregnate the filets with a terrific tartness.  The “chips” are red chile fries, actually just fries lightly dusted with red chile.  They’re great fries.  Instead of some insipid salad cream, the slaw is made with an apple cider vinegar-like sauce that makes the slaw lip-pursing tangy.

Spicy Fish & Chips: beer-battered cod fillet with habanero tartar sauce, jalapeño malt vinegar and red chile fries, slaw

28 July 2007: For just a pittance, you can add a dinner salad to any entree. As is the case with every item on the menu, this isn’t a blasé and boring salad. It’s mixed greens, strips of jicama, julienne carrots, wedges of tomato, garbanzo beans and more. Ask for the citrus vinaigrette to enliven the salad even further.  If a satisfying salad is what you crave for your entree, consider the menu’s six salads which include a Greek Chicken Souvlaki salad and an inspired Middle Eastern salad (mixed greens, roasted beets and carrots, red cabbage, toasted almonds, cumin seeds, hummus, falafel, pita bread served with a cumin-lemon vinaigrette).

It may be entirely possible that breakfast, served day and night, is even better than lunch and dinner. The menu lists five early morning themes–eggs & omelets, pancakes & French toast, breakfast specialties, bakeshop offerings and platos nativos–and it will be a challenge to figure out what eye-opening entree to have.  One certainty is the thick-cut, sugar-cured bacon which surely must be the best bacon in Santa Fe.  It’s a must have.

Blue corn enchiladas Christmas style

Blue corn enchiladas Christmas style

5 August 2007: The platos nativos (native plates) section features traditional New Mexican entrees such as blue corn enchiladas. Layers of blue corn tortillas, Cheddar cheese and eggs are slathered with the Plaza Cafe’s dark red chile and served with hashed browns and beans.  Because the red and green chile are equally wonderful, ask for your enchiladas “Christmas” style and each mouthful will be a treat. Neither chile is mild.  Red and green chile are available at medium-hot or extra hot and if you’re not certain as to your tolerance level, ask for a sample or order your chile on the side.  The menu’s disclaimer reads “We cannot be responsible for chile that is too hot.” 

14 August 2016: For some strange reason, my Kim prefers her breakfast burritos “deconstructed,” that is with the tortilla on the side. She prefers folding bits of tortilla into “New Mexican spoons” and loading them up with the burrito’s constituents in the proportions and combinations she wants. Usually that means I inherit at least half the frijoles. Whether served the way New Mexico’s chile gods intended or deconstructed, the Plaza Cafe’s breakfast burritos are the bomb! Credit much of that to the piquancy and deliciousness of the chile. The green chile, in particular, not only bites back but has a fruitiness that’ll open your eyes (and nasal passages).

Breakfast Tacos

A word about the hashed browns–they’re amazing! Most hashed browns look and taste like confetti, but not at the Plaza Cafe. These shredded tubers are prepared with onion and are just slightly crispy. Best of all, they actually taste like potatoes and not some paper derivative. You won’t leave any on your plate. The beans are also terrific.  They’re the type of means your abuelita might have prepared years ago. 

14 August 2016Breakfast tacos are oft-attempted, but rarely imbued with the eye-opening deliciousness you crave first thing in the morning.  Plaza Cafe Southside’s version are the best, by far, we’ve ever had.  Picture two soft corn tortillas engorged with scrambled eggs and calabasitas with your choice of meat (Santa Fe’s best bacon, of course) or veggie sausage as well as avocado, cheese, cilantro, onion, chipotle salsa and a side of pinto beans and hash browns.  Individual ingredients coalesce into a mouth-watering whole with several flavor stand-outs.   Among them are the al dente calabasitas, as fresh and delicious as you’ll find anywhere.  The chipotle salsa is so good we requested a second ramekin which we spooned directly into our eagerly awaiting mouths.   The accompanying frijoles, blanketed by molten white Cheddar, and hash browns are wonderful.

“Deconstructed” Breakfast Burrito

14 August 2016: For some reason my Kim prefers her breakfast burritos “deconstructed,” that is with the tortilla on the side.  She folds pieces of tortilla into “New Mexican spoons” into which she piles on the other ingredients in the proportions and combinations she wants (meaning fewer frijoles).  Whether in the form New Mexico’s culinary gods intended or deconstructed, the Plaza Cafe’s breakfast burrito is a paragon of deliciousness.  Credit much of that to an incendiary chile that’s not only piquant, but oh, so flavorful.  It’s impossible for me to chide her for her non-traditional approach to burritos because I usually inherit most of the beans on her plate.

5 August 2007: If your sweet tooth is acting up in the morning, the lemon ricotta pancakes will take care of it. Topped with fresh blueberries, these magnificent orbs are so sweet you might not even need syrup. An equal pronouncement of tanginess and sweetness make these pancakes dessert-like and absolutely delicious. The pancakes are available in quantities of one or two per order.  The Plaza’s pancake line-up also includes made-from-scratch buttermilk pancakes and blue corn pancakes with orange butter and cinnamon syrup.  It’s a terrific triumvirate.

Lemon ricotta pancakes

Lemon ricotta pancakes

14 August 2016: Perhaps better than the pancakes, amazing as they are, are the restaurant’s signature French toast made from a thick-cut crunchy coated (with Kellog’s Corn Flakes) Challah bread.  Challah bread, a traditional Hebrew bread makes the best French toast, especially when sliced thick.  It has a pillowy-soft texture and an rich, egg enhanced flavor.  Challah bread also absorbs syrup (or honey, if you prefer).  The French toast are served in half (pictured below) or full-sized portions.

Challah Bread French Toast

14 August 2016: No matter how good your entrees might be, you absolutely must save room for desserts.  Make that a lot of room.  The desserts are humongous!  The green chile apple pie with a Cheddar crust, for example, is a huge slab of pie with about seven layers of stacked apples.  The Cheddar crust bottom and the crunchy top crust provide textural and flavor contrasts.  Ask for the pie to be served warm and for a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream on the side, an unbeatable combination.

The other apple pie dish, the one made famous at the original Plaza cafe, is topped with cajeta, a Mexican caramel made from goat’s and cow’s milk.  It’s fully addictive, a far better caramel than the squeeze bottle variety.  The pie, of course, is delicious with sweet-tart apples.  A la mode is the best way to experience it because the Plaza Cafe uses a premium vanilla ice cream in which flecks of vanilla bean are prominent.

Green Chile Apple Pie with a Cheddar Crust

The Plaza Cafe Southside Cafe is so good it should be considered a dining destination in its own right, not a consolation prize for not wanting to face the challenges of eating at the Plaza. A reasonable bill of fare, excellent food, accommodating service and almost as important, easy parking make this an excellent choice at any time.

Plaza Cafe Southside
3466 Zafarano Drive (San Isidro Plaza)
Santa Fe, New Mexico
(505) 424-0755
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 14 August 2016
# OF VISITS: 4
RATING: 23
COST: $$
BEST BET: Salsa & Chips, New Mexico Meatloaf, Cilantro Salmon with Tomato-Habañero Lasagna, Prickly Pear Horchata, Mexican Hot Chocolate, Blue Corn Enchiladas, Lemon Ricotta Pancakes, Challah French Toast, Spaghetti and Meatballs, Spicy Fish & Chips, Breakfast Tacos, Chipotle Salsa, “Deconstructed” Breakfast Burrito

Plaza Cafe Southside Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Limonata Italian Street Food Cafe – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Limonata

While contemplating a name for their second Duke City restaurant venture, Maxime and Daniela Bouneou wanted to convey the feeling of a refreshing and invigorating venue in which their patrons could relax and enjoy themselves. After deliberating several options, they ultimately decided on Limonata, the Italian word for lemonade. When Daniela proudly told her friends in Italy what the new restaurant would be named, they laughed, reminding her that Limonata is an Italian slang term for “French kiss.”

Though Maxime and Daniela may have become a bit more “Americanized” by having lived in the United States for more than a decade, Limonata has the look, feel and most importantly, tastes of a true Italian trattoria. Limonata was launched as the more informal and sassy younger sibling of Torinos @ Home, the sensational Italian ristorante many of the cognoscenti consider one of, if not the Land of Enchantment’s best for Italian cuisine. Limonata’s menu focuses on simple fare–Italian street food–at relatively low prices in a relaxed, family-friendly atmosphere and as the Bouneous envisioned, it’s a refreshing change of pace.

Place your order here and in minutes, deliciousness will be delivered to your table

Limonata is located in Albuquerque’s Nob Hill district, one block south of Central Avenue on Silver. There’s a bit of delicious irony in that its next door neighbor is a French kiss of deliciousness, the second instantiation of P’Tit Louis Bistro.  Limonata is the eastern-most cornerstone in a contiguous complex that includes ‘Tit Louis and Ajiaco Colombian Bistro. Save for the Spanish tiled roof, the wider-than-it-is-deep building is wholly antithetical to the abobe hued stereotype of Duke City architecture. Limonata actually more closely resembles its residential neighbors than it does other area restaurants.

Step inside the welcoming edifice and you’ll be enveloped in a swath of warm colors and the architecture of a bygone era.  You’ll also be welcomed by a very courteous and professional staff, perhaps even Bill and (or) Brenda Ennis who acquired Limonata early in 2015.  With with experience in restaurants and baking, the Ennis family hasn’t skipped a beat.  Standards are still exceedingly high.  The front room, where you place your order invites browsing through the slate board on which the menu is scrawled in chalk. You’ll want to carefully study the glass display cases and their treasures. It’s a wonder there aren’t drool tracks on the glass because the tortas (Italian-style quiches) and pastries are mouth-watering.

My friend Bruce “Sr. Plata” enjoys a large house salad

The best part of waking up may just be breakfast at Limonata which offers cappuccino, espresso, lattes and cioccolata calda all’Italiana (Italian hot chocolate) as well as such breakfast favorites as granola, pastries, waffles and the New Mexican breakfast standard, the breakfast burrito.  Fresh lavender lemonade, fresh-squeezed orange juice and an array of San Pellegrino Italian fruit beverages are also available.  One of the welcome additions brought in by the new owners is an alluring assortment of sweet and savory crepes.  If it sometimes feels as if crepes are priced like gold, you’ll appreciate the reasonable prices of Limonata’s crepes.

Limonata’s goal is twofold–“make you happy” and “make you feel you are in Italy.”  Mission accomplished…or at least as much as it’s possible to do so in the desert Southwest.  A sun-bathed east-facing patio is the perfect venue for meeting up with friends and family for great conversation and (perhaps even better) food.  In the spirit of the true and authentic Italian trattoria, Limonata’s menu focuses on housemade pastas, fresh and locally sourced vegetables and produce, fine cheeses and delicious antipastos.  Because the menu offers such variety and deliciousness, repeat visits are a certainty.

Antipasto Platter

Launched on June 26th, 2012, Limonata–open from 7AM to 5PM Monday through Friday and 8AM to 5PM on Sunday–has something for all tastes, including one of the most vegetarian-friendly menus in town. Best of all, breakfast and lunch are available all day long.   Whether it’s a loaded breakfast burrito, a bowl of granola and yogurt or something as simple as toast and jam, you can’t help but start your day off in a good mood.  You’ll sustain that good mood all day long if you take home as many of Limonata’s macaroons as you can carry.

It’s been my experience (Gutiz comes to mind) that when a restaurant offers an outstanding chocolate croissant (also known as pain au chocolat), you’d better order one before they’re all gone. Don’t wait to decide if you want dessert or not. Order the chocolate croissant and don’t worry about saving the best for last. This is a life-altering chocolate croissant, on par with those at the aforementioned Gutiz. The croissant itself is very delicate and flaky. It’s also buttery, but not overly so. The chocolate is an adult chocolate, not the cloying kid stuff and there’s just enough of it.

Marionberry Pie

During a May, 2016 visit to Limonata, I had the pleasure of meeting up with my good friends Larry “the professor with the perspicacious palate” McGoldrick, the dazzling Deanell  and that culinary bon-vivant Bruce “Sr. Plata” Silver.  It was the inaugural visit for all three of them and the first time Larry and Deanell got to meet Sr. Plata.  It’s been my experience that great food is made even better by great company and sparkling conversation.  That’s an unbeatable combination.  So were the unbeatable combination of dishes we ordered, dishes which quickly won over our little gastronomic group.

31 May 2016: One of the many not-to-be-missed entrees at Limonata is the antipasto platter, a beautifully plated wooden cutting board piled generously with diverse ingredients, each one seemingly titillating different taste buds. The grilled vegetables–red peppers, grilled zucchini and eggplant–are nicely pickled so that their natural flavors are accentuated, not masked. One of the platter’s many highlights are the pickled cipolline onions. Cipolline onions are saucer-shaped Italian pearl onions with a uniquely sweet and mild flavor. They are positively addictive.  So is the goat cheese which Deanell found delightful on or independent of the focaccia, half a loaf of which is served with each antipasto platter.  The meats–mortadella and prosciutto–on the antipasto platter are an excellent foil for the vegetables.  The mortadella, a generously sliced pork sausage, will remind you that to ever equate it to American baloney is an insult.  The thinly-sliced, salt-cured prosciutto is nicely marbled for flavor richness.

31 May 2016:  It’s a given that if a menu features something this gastronome has never previously tried, it’ll be crossing my lips in short order.  Limonata’s dessert case included one such item–marionberry pie which I jokingly referred to as “Marion Barry,” for the disgraced former mayor of Washington, D.C.  Marrionberry is a cross between Chehalem blackberry and Olallieberry blackberry.  If that doesn’t help much, think of it as sweeter and not as tangy as blackberries.  At any regard, it’s a delicious pie, densely packed with berries sandwiched between a flaky crust (alas rendered somewhat flaccid by being microwaved). 

31 May 2016: According to The Kitchn, one of the ten food items which defined the 1970s was salad bars with Green Goddess and Ranch dressings.  We’ve come a long way since the disco era.  Salads are much more diverse and imaginative while retaining many of the healthful properties that have long made salad a dietary staple.  Limonata’s large house salad is a bounty of the garden, a plate brimming with organic baby green mix, grilled zucchini and eggplant, red bell pepper, tomatoes, chicken mix, cipollini onions and a shallot vinaigrette.  It’s a far cry from the relatively plain, iceberg lettuce-laden salads of yesteryear.  Best of all, it’s both good for you and delicious to eat.

Limonata is a fabulous Italian trattoria with an inspired menu served in the European fashion.  Though separated from Route 66 by one mere block, a visit may transport you to Italy.

Limonata Trattoria
3222 Silver Street, S.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 266-0607
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 31 May 2016
1st VISIT: 3 November 2012
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 22
COST: $$
BEST BET:  Chocolate Croissant, Antipasto Platter,  Lavender Lemonade, Large House Salad

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