Bucketheadz – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Bucket Headz Southern and Soul Cooking

“I think it’s easy to dismiss Southern food as nothing but grease and grits.
I happen to like both grease and grits,
And if you call them lardo and polenta, no one would have a problem with it.”
~
John T. Edge

Author John T. Edge acknowledges that negative stereotypes are rampant about Southern food, crediting some of those perceptions to how Southern food is marketed. Instead of Southern food being presented as one of America’s great culinary traditions, all too often it’s presented as bumpkinly and backwater. Instead of focusing on its soul-warming deliciousness and comforting properties, it’s presented as fatty, fried and laden with butter.  It could well be argued that Southern cooking is the Rodney Dangerfield of American cuisine; it gets no respect. Credit media, particularly the aptly named “boob tube” for perpetuating unsavory—and often inaccurate–stereotypes.

If you were a product of the ‘60s and 70s, your perceptions of Southern cuisine were probably gleaned from such television shows as The Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres, The Andy Griffith Show and The Waltons. While these programs were generally family-oriented and depicted homespun values, they often portrayed Southern food in a condescending light. Who, for example, can ever forget the typical Beverly Hillbillies soiree of possum shanks, pickled hog jowls, goat tripe, stewed squirrel, ham hocks and turnip greens, gizzards smothered in gristle, and smoked crawdads? Or Aunt Bee’s homemade pickles on the Andy Griffith Show which were described as tasting “like they’ve been floating in kerosene?”

Bucket Headz Dining Room

It doesn’t get any better in contemporary times where today’s viewers are subjected to a barrage of bizarre and jejune wackery. Though we’ve never made it past the first commercial break on either Honey Boo Boo or Duck Dynasty, two minutes of each was enough to convince us that mealtime scenes were probably as bizarre and annoying as the “stars” of these prime-time reality nightmares. Nor have we endured more than a snippet of Chrisley Knows Best, Atlanta’s equivalent of the Kardashians…at least in terms of both plasticine families being ditzy and unlikeable. We don’t even want to imagine what constitutes a dining experience in their world.

Having lived in the Deep South (the Mississippi Gulf Coast) for nearly eight years, we were fortunate enough to discover what Edge describes as “the cradle of some of our great folk foods,” the traditional foods of a small group of people living in isolated or rural areas. Crawfish is one example of a folk food (and so are quelites (lambs quarters), a spinach-like plant enjoyed throughout northern New Mexico). We also discovered the dichotomy of a fierce pride in Southern culinary traditions and a self-effacing modesty that prevents crowing loudly about those traditions.

Catfish, Fried Pickles, Fried Okra, Cornbread

Southerners may not be prone to braggadocio and self-promotion, no matter how good their cooking is, but they are experts in hospitality. Whether in a restaurant or in a private home, Southern hospitality is more than a turn of phrase; it’s a way of life. Food figures prominently in Southern hospitality with heaping helpings expected at church fellowship suppers and picnics. We hadn’t been in our Ocean Springs home for a day before our neighbor Donna Pace welcomed us with a vinegar pie.  If the food doesn’t win you over, the genuine hospitality and warmth of the citizens of the South most certainly will.

Fond memories of Southern hospitality bubbled up when we drove up to Bucket Headz, a Southern restaurant on Louisiana Blvd which opened its doors in October, 2015. Even without “Southern Home Cooking” subtitled on the marquee,” we knew that a restaurant named Bucket Headz had to be a Southern restaurant. What we didn’t know until walking in was whether or not “Southern home cooking” also meant “soul food.” What’s the difference? San Jose University explains that “While not all Southern food is considered soul food, all soul food is definitely Southern.” Differentiating between the two can be complicated.

Fried Macaroni and Cheese Balls

According to most online definitions, the term “soul food” defines the cuisine associated with African-American culture in the southern United States. In wide use since the 1960s, the term originated and came into heavy use with the rise of the civil rights and black nationalism movements. Though still most widely associated with the African-American culture, over the years “soul food” has become synonymous with basic, down-home cooking, especially of comfort foods…and as Cracked magazine puts it, soul food is “the real reason why white people like Cracker Barrel.”

Bucket Headz is a family-owned and operated business grounded in Southern cooking traditions, described on the restaurant’s Web site as “no fancy frills, just good ol’ down home stick to yo ribs cookin’ just the way our Granny use to make it.” The name Bucket Headz, by the way, is a family nickname—what the family patriarch calls all of his grandkids. Step into the restaurant’s homey confines and you’ll find it readily apparent that the owners are a Godly people. Aphorisms attesting to their faith are splayed on the walls as are kitchen implements hung for decorative purposes.

The Big Boy with Red Beans and Rice

Air Force pride is also on display in signage indicating Bucket Headz is a veteran owned business. Owner Malaika Marks served for four years, while her husband, stationed at nearby Kirtland, has four years to go until he can retire. Malaika’s mother, a delightful “Okie from Muskogee” who helps out at the restaurant, is also an Air Force veteran. During her four-year stint Malaika would bake cakes for General officers, a precursor to her launching Trinity’s Custom Cakes when the family was reassigned to Kirtland. On display in a bakery case is some of her handiwork, including a cake you’d swear is one of Shaquille O’Neal’s size 22 sneakers.

The family’s Southern heritage has its roots in Louisiana, Oklahoma, Florida and…Chicago (where Malaika’s husband is from). Hospitality is part and parcel of your dining experience as you’ll read in the motto “Come in as a customer, leave as family.” You could also reword that motto to read “Come in hungry, leave full and happy.” In addition to such Southern soul favorites as catfish, chicken and andouille sausage gumbo, smothered pork chops, wings and macaroni and cheese served in more ways that you thought possible, Bucket Heads offers daily specials Monday through Friday. Thursday’s ox tail special is reputed to be exceptional.

Gumbo, the very best in Albuquerque

27 February 2016: As you’ve read (perhaps ad-nauseum) on this blog, one of the foods we’ve missed most from our days in the South is catfish. Most of the catfish we’ve had in New Mexico is so desiccated we wonder if it’s been battered in sawdust. Bucket Headz knows how to prepare catfish, serving lightly breaded, golden-hued filets that are moist, tender and absolutely delicious. Your best bet is the two catish and two sides option. Make those sides fried okra and fried pickles, both as good as you’ll find anywhere in Dixie. The catfish is served with a terrific tartar sauce we practically ignored because of the buffalo-garlic sauce served with another entrée we ordered. The accompanying corn bread relies on sweet niblets of corn for its sweet flavor, not on sugar. It’s a moist corn bread baked “hoe cake” style meaning it’s flat (similar to a pancake).

27 February 2016: Described as “the big brother of po’boy,” the Big Boy has nothing to do with a restaurant of that name. The Big Boy is a behemoth sandwich in which two catfish filets are crammed between a sandwich roll where they share space with a handful of shrimp as well as lettuce, tomatoes and pickles. You can apply as much or as little of buffalo-garlic sauce as you’d like. This sauce packs a bite and has enough garlic to ward off a family of vampires (that’s a good thing unless you’re into Twilight). The shrimp are lightly battered and so fresh, they snap when you bite into them. The Big Boy, much like its little brother the po’ boy, bespeaks of the fine sandwich traditions of the South.  Instead of the usual sandwich sides, ask for the red beans and rice, the best we’ve had outside New Orleans, so good you’ll want a second bowlful.

Bucket Burger Stuffed with Mac and Cheese

27 February 2016: During our eight years in Mississippi, we never ran into anyone who didn’t think Kraft’s version of macaroni and cheese was a travesty. Mac and cheese is always homemade south of the Mason-Dixon line and it’s usually much better than you’ll find north of that demarcation. Obviously recognizing that people are passionate about their macaroni and cheese, Bucket Headz serves it in two unique ways. One is a mac and cheese stuffed burger you’ll have to open wide to bite into. The other is Fried Mac n’ Cheese Balls. Served four to an order, these golden-hued orbs are crispy on the outside and ooey-gooey on the inside with lots of cheesy flavor.  These, as a Southerner might say, are to die for. 

30 March 2016:“There is no dish which at the same time so tickles the palate, satisfies the appetite, furnishes the body with nutriment sufficient to carry on the physical requirements, and costs so little as a Creole Gumbo. It is a dinner in itself, being soup, piece de résistance, entremet and vegetable in one.” That’s how author William Coleman described gumbo, the spicy, hearty, flavorful dish enjoyed throughout the Gulf Coast…and now Albuquerque. The version offered at Bucket Headz is better than many we enjoyed in New Orleans. The swimming pool sized bowl (described by my friend Bill as “a vat”) in which the gumbo is served will feed a small family. Brimming with vegetables, chicken and Andouille sausage in an addictively spiced broth atop rice, the steaming hot bowl is amazingly delicious. Every spoonful is a pleasure trip, the type of which you’ll want to repeat frequently. Though there are a number of hot sauces on your table, it’s a true testament to this gumbo’s greatness that you won’t even be tempted to add more heat to this just right elixir.

Oxtail with Rice and Gravy

30 March 2016: My friend Bruce “Sr. Plata” Silver is a believer in the old adage that a picture is worth a thousand words. As he perused the Bucket Headz menu, it was the two photographs of the Bucket Burger that snared his attention. He was intrigued at the notion of a mac and cheese stuffed burger and even more pleased that he could design the burger to his liking with a variety of standard fixin’s and fixin’s for a slight additional charge. Sr. Plata’s masterpiece included lettuce, grilled onions, mushrooms and a fried egg—toppings which increased the girth and volume of this behemoth burger from a half-pound to well over a pound. Not for the faint of heart or calorific underachievers, this burger is as flavorful as it is large. The mac and cheese, stuffed inside hand-formed beef patties, provides the cheese element that makes it a cheeseburger and the element of nostalgia that makes mac-and-cheese a childhood favorite for children of all ages. The mushrooms are fresh, not out of a can. The burger is served with Texas-sized fries about as big as a stick of firewood.

30 March 2016:As she had during my inaugural visit, the delightful Malaika stepped away from her busy kitchen to meet and greet as many diners as time permitted. One of the guests with whom she visited looked very familiar, but it wasn’t until we were leaving that we noticed it was Daniel “Pepper” Morgan, the pitmaster extraordinaire at Pepper’s Bar-B-Q & Soul Food. In that one table at that precise moment, there was more culinary talent than anywhere else in Albuquerque and we were honored to share in conversation with them.

My friend Ryan “Break the Chain” Scott About to Dive Into A Plate of Pork Ribs, Black-eyed Peas and Okra

7 April 2016: Oxtail is to the South what menudo is to New Mexico.  Some people love it and others can’t stomach the notion of eating it (you can probably guess in which camp I stand).  Oxtail is exactly what its name declares it to be: the tail of an ox.  It’s officially classified as offal similar to other organ meats and sweetbreads.  As with other offal, the preparation of oxtail probably arose from the tradition of trying to use every part of every animal butchered.  At Bucket Headz oxtail is available only on Thursdays and if you don’t get there early or pre-order, chances are there won’t be any left.  Served over a bed of rice and a brown gravy, oxtail far from off-putting.  In fact, it’s absolutely delicious, so much so my friend the Dazzling Deanell Collins declared the version at Bucket Headz to be better than oxtail she had in Spain (where amusingly it is known as osso bucco).  It’s better than any oxtail we enjoyed in Mississippi, too. 

15 April 2016: My friend Ryan “Break the Chain” Scott has visited most of the barbecue joints Texas Monthly has anointed as the Lone Star State’s best.  He’s also perfected the low-and-slow smoking techniques used to prepare mouth-watering barbecue at home.  As such, he’s got some serious barbecue creds.  You can’t pull the wool over his eyes.  Within a couple of bites he can tell you exactly how a meat was smoked.  You won’t find a smoker out in back of Bucket Headz, but Ryan quickly discerned the inimitable redolence of low-and-slow smoking on the Flintstonian pork ribs he enjoyed.  An order will bring you three meaty ribs with a lacquered-on sweet and tangy sauce.  The meat isn’t “fall-off-the-bone” tender, but barbecue aficionados know it’s not supposed to be.  Rather, the meat has just a little bit of “give” which means it’s smoked to perfection.

Chicken Fried Steak with Macaroni and Cheese and Sweet Potatoes

15 April 2016: Ryan has been known to tell me “where to go” on several occasions, but that’s only where to go to find great wings.  Only my friend Ralph Guariglio in Ahwatukee, Arizona and maybe an ornithologist or two know as much about wings as Ryan.  About the only thing he can’t tell you is the name of the chickens who gave themselves up so we could enjoy their delicious appendages.  When Ryan raved about the buffalo garlic wings at Bucket Headz, it was a certainty that they’d be superb.  They are!  These wings are huge, obviously coming from chickens who kicked sand in the face of smaller fowl.  Malaika fries them to a golden hued crispiness then slathers on the buffalo garlic sauce which has both the kick of buffalo sauce and the pungent heat of garlic.  The wings are meaty and delicious, as good as wings can be.  On the day Ryan and I visited, a table of six Air Force enlisted men put away some eighty wings.  They made me proud to have served in the world’s finest Air Force.

15 April 2016:  My friend Bruce “Sr. Plata” may never forgive me in that I got to visit Bucket Headz on a day in which chicken fried steak with two sides was the special of the day.  Sr. Plata loves chicken fried steak even more than he loves his truck and that’s a lot of love.  While most chicken fried steak is good, it doesn’t always have a lot of personality and often the personality it does have is gleaned from artery-clogging gravy.  Malaika imbues her chicken fried steak with lots of personality, what might be called “sass” in the South.  The breading she uses is impregnated with Cajun spices which will give you an immediate kick.  The peppery white gravy lends its own sass to the tender breaded cube steak.  The perfect side and a wonderful foil for this personality blessed chicken fried steak is sweet potatoes, the very best I’ve ever had.  They’re buttery, sweet and rich, so good you’ll wish you had a sweet potato pie to go with them.

Cinnamon Rolls

27 February 2016: You won’t find better desserts anywhere unless you go online to Trinity’s Custom Dessert Studio where Malaika’s handiwork is on display.  Her repertoire of postprandial deliciousness includes such Southern favorites as sweet potato pie and red velvet cake, the latter being the best we’ve ever had.  Sinfully rich and sweet, it’s also ogle-worthy (but won’t be for long as you’ll want to dive into it quickly).  The cinnamon rolls are the size of bricks and as tasty as any you’ll find in the Duke City.  The operative word here is “cinnamon” and there’s plenty of it though not nearly as much as there is icing.  The interplay between the two is as harmonious as music performed by Musica Antigua de Albuquerque

Red Velvet Cake

One visit to Bucket Headz probably won’t cure you of any ill perceptions you may have about Southern cuisine, but this is not a restaurant to which one visit will suffice.  Bucket Headz could easily become a habit.

Bucket Headz
600 Louisiana Blvd, S.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 301-1314
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 15 April 2016
1st VISIT: 27 February 2016
# OF VISITS: 4
RATING: 23
COST: $$
BEST BET: Red Velvet Cake, Cinnamon Roll, Catfish, Fried Macaroni and Cheese Balls, Fried Pickles, Fried Okra, Big Boy Sandwich, Red Beans and Rice, Hoe Cakes, Gumbo, Oxtail, Sweet Potatoes, Chicken Fried Steak, Buffalo Garlic Chicken Wings, Pork Ribs, Macaroni and Cheese, Church Punch

Bucket Headz Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Bocadillos Slow Roasted: A Sandwich Shop – Albuquerque, New Mexico

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Bocadillos on Indian School

School cafeteria meals have probably traumatized more youth than John Carpenter’s horror movies. Lunch menus read like fine-dining, promising nutritious, healthy and delicious cuisine. Instead, they deliver what could pass for TV dinner rejects. Reject is an apropos term here. Slop buckets are overfilled with the much feared and cursed vegetable medley (also known as succotash, emphasis on the “suck” part) and the next day with chicken a la king, featuring whatever is left over of the dreaded vegetable medley. It’s no wonder America’s youth seeks sustenance and refuge in the calorie-laden comfort of vended snacks.

Bocadillos, a locally owned and operated, full-service school lunch and catering company is working to change the image of the dreaded school cafeteria meal.  In 2012, Bocadillos prepared as many as 500 meals per day for three charter school clients.  In 2013, those numbers doubled to 1000 meals per day and six charter schools.  Bocadillos doesn’t do things in the tried and failed methods of the past.  The serve children wholesome, balanced meals to support their cognitive development and physical health. All students will likely recognize is that it tastes delicious!

Urban Street Art Festoons Bocadillos West-Side Entrance

Urban Street Art Festoons Bocadillos West-Side Entrance

Launched in 2010, Bocadillos is the brainchild of owner and chef Marie Yniguez, a creative, high-energy dynamo who apparently can’t sit still.  While many people would wind down during the summer lull between one school year and the next, Marie and co-owner Karla Arvizu instead launched a small grab-and-go operation which operates out of  Bocadillos commissary at 1609 Indian School, N.W.  Dubbed Slow Roasted: A Sandwich Shop, it will have the geriatrically advanced among us wonder just how good Bocadillos school lunches must be (not that we’d ever want to return to school to find out). 

Bocadillos is a Spanish term which translates to sandwiches while slow-roasted speaks for itself.  The meats from which Slow Roasted sandwiches are constructed are indeed slow-roasted which makes them tender, moist and delicious.  The menu currently showcases only five sandwiches, including the “Salad Shooter,” a vegetarian sandwich featuring grilled portabello mushrooms, roasted bell peppers and roasted tomatoes.  Each sandwich comes with your choice of four sides: chipotle potato salad, macaroni salad or a small side salad with your choice of house dressing.  In cold weather, soups are an optional side.  Here’s to more cold weather!

The dining room at Bocadillos

The bad news for folks whose dining opportunities are limited to weekends is that at its original location on Indian School, Bocadillos Slow Roasted is open only for lunch and only Monday through Friday from 11AM to 2:30PM.  In December, 2015, Bocadillos expanded its operation, launching a second site at the Green Jeans Farmery,  the community-oriented commercial plaza constructed entirely with repurposed shipping containers as modular, architectural building blocks.  Expansion applies to its hours of operation, too.  You can have your favorite Bocadillos sandwiches well into the evening.

Over time, the Indian School location has also expanded.  When first opened, your best bet for seating was on your motorized conveyance though weather-permitting there was limited outdoor seating.  As of February, 2016, Bocadillos is on its third dining room configuration, the most recent instantiation accommodating three or four times more diners than previously.  Place your order at a counter then saunter over to a picnic table to await being called to pick up your meal.

Guy Fieri visited Bocadillos in September, 2013

Guy Fieri visited Bocadillos in September, 2013

One word of caution about finding Bocadillos–all you have to watch for is the Blakes Lotaburger.  Bocadillos is to the immediate east of the popular burger restaurant.  Go past Bocadillos and you just might end up on Menaul or 12th Street courtesy of a round-about that seems to confuse some drivers (or at least me) looking for Bocadillos.  It doesn’t help that Bocadillos doesn’t resemble a restaurant in the least.  It could easily be mistaken for an industrial complex.

Unmistakable, however, are the intoxicating aromas wafting from the kitchens.  By the time you place your order, you might be drooling as those aromas envelop you like an olfactory-arousing cocoon.  The challenge of deciding what to eat is no less daunting because the menu is limited.  You’ll be hard-pressed to decide what to have.  Make sure you take a friend or loved one when you visit so you can share half a sandwich a piece.  Either that or order two sandwiches.

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Duke City Ruben

29 July 2013: The chef’s choice…the sandwich of which Marie is most proud is the Duke City Ruben.  Quite simply, it may be the very best Reuben sandwich in Albuquerque.  It’s the embodiment of the slow roasting process, taking no less than twelve hours to achieve its tender texture and moistness throughout as well as a sweet caramelization on the surface of each tendril of the corned beef.  The housemade sauerkraut doesn’t have the lip-pursing qualities of some sauerkraut.  It’s made with a red cabbage tinged with the distinctive flavor of caraway seeds.  The Thousand Island dressing, also made on the premises, is terrific, too. 

29 July 2013: One of the consequences of splitting a sandwich with a friend is that one of you will have to share half of a superior sandwich.  That was the case with the Ruben I split with my friend Paul Lilly.  Rarely will you consider the sandwich he ordered (a Philly cheesesteak sandwich) a “Miss Congeniality” of sandwiches, but Bocadillos’ Ruben is just that much better than just about any other sandwich.  Place it on a line-up of the Duke City’s best sandwiches and it might rise to the top. It’s on my list.

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5-0-Philly

That “Miss Congeniality,” the 5-0-Philly is pretty terrific in its own right.  Constructed with slow-roasted beef, Swiss cheese, New Mexico green chile, green and red bell peppers, mushrooms and onions, it’s a coalescence of ingredients and flavors that will delight you.  There is so much going on, however, that the green chile doesn’t express itself quite as much as this New Mexico native would have liked.  What does stand out is the slow roasted beef, as tender, moist and delicious as possible. 

29 January 2014: One-track minded men with their minds in the gutter might do a double-take when they see T n A on the sandwich menu.  T n A in this case stands for “turkey and avocado,” but this sandwich is so much more.  In fact, just about every other turkey sandwich in town is a true turkey compared to this one.  The T n A’s listed ingredients are slow-roasted turkey, avocado, green chile apple chutney, lettuce, tomato and Muenster cheese, but this sandwich isn’t about ingredients.  It’s about the process of putting it together. 

T n A: Slow Roasted Turkey, Avocado, Green Chile Apple Chutney, Lettuce, Tomato and Muenster Cheese

T n A Sandwich and Smoked Sweet Potato-Chipotle Soup

The process starts with real turkey, not a ubiquitous Boar’s Head offering.  First, a dry rub of relatively simple ingredients (crushed peppers, garlic, salt, etc.) is lovingly applied followed by a smear of a housemade honey mustard.  The turkey then goes into the oven for twelve hours at low temperature (250 degrees).  When extricated, the turkey pulls apart easily.  At this point, almost every restaurant would serve, but not so at Bocadillos which nestles a generous amount of this amazing turkey between a hoagie bun, tops it with a magically reduced  green chile-apple chutney, heirloom tomatoes and ripe avocados.  It’s eight-ounces of absolute deliciousness, turkey being all it can be.  The green-chile apple chutney is sweet and tangy but has a bit of fire which will sneak up on you. 

17 February 2015: Not that very long ago you could use the adjective “unique” to describe any non-standard preparation of the ubiquitous Cubano sandwich, but nowadays it seems every sandwich shop has its own unique take on this popular sandwich.  In time, only Cubanos prepared in time-honored, traditional ways will be unique.  That said, Bocadillos take on the Cubano is vastly different (unique) from any other I’ve had.  First, it’s made on a sub roll and not on a pressed panini.   Secondly, the slow-roasted pork is accompanied by bacon instead of ham (like substituting a BMW for a Ford Pinto).  Thirdly, it’s made with homemade sweet pickles, not the dill variety.  It’s also made with Muenster cheese and sweet chile sauce.  Aside from the tender tendrils of pork and smoky ham, the star of this sandwich is the pickles which seem hardly more than freshly canned, crispy cucumbers with a sweet pickling sauce that elevate them to a sublime level.

Cubano

25 February 2016: It’s only natural that there would be one sandwich on the Bocadillos menu I wouldn’t esteem as highly as the others, a fifth place sandwich out of five so to speak.  That sandwich is the 505-Filthy (slow-roasted chicken, green chile, bacon, Asadero cheese, chopotle mayo, lettuce and tomato).   Elsewhere it would probably be the best sandwich on the menu, but at Bocadillos, it’s the one sandwich which wouldn’t be on my sandwich rotation if I believed in such a prosaic notion.  The “Filthy” is constructed with unfailingly fresh ingredients that go well together.  That slow-roasted chicken is moist, tender and delicious.  There’s nothing wrong with this sandwich.  It’s just not (in my honest opinion) as wonderful as others on the menu.

As a young student, I disliked cold weather intensely because it meant summer vacation was over and school was back in session.  As a more seasoned citizen, I’m looking forward to cold weather because it  means Bocadillos is serving soup.  Having served for six years as a judge at the Roadrunner Food Bank’s SouperBowl fund-raising event, I’m well acquainted with Bocadillos soup.  In 2013, Bocadillos earned the Critics Choice Award for its Southwest chicken corn chowder.  In the 2014 soup soiree, Bocadillos green chile chicken corn chowder  earned third place in the Peoples’ Choice category.  In the 2015 SouperBowl, Bocadillos earned third place for its New Mexico Clam Chowder.  Better than both of these is a smoked sweet potato-chipotle soup reminiscent of the phenomenal soups prepared in Santa Fe’s Jambo.  It’s one of the very best soups this veteran soup judge has enjoyed.

The 505-Filthy

It’s highly likely Bocadillos will likely earn quite a few “best of” and “peoples’ choice” awards over the years.  Within months after launching its grab-and-go operation, no less than Food Network glitterati Guy Fieri and the Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives crew came calling. Fieri’s September, 2013 visit caused quite a stir and when the episode showcasing Bocadillos aired on Monday, October 28, 2013, viewers all over the country found out about the small unconventional restaurant which serves one of the world’s best Ruben sandwiches.  Even more remarkable is that the best Ruben in Albuquerque may not even be the best sandwich on the Bocadillos menu.

Bocadillos Slow Roasted: A Sandwich Shop
1609 Indian School Road, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 503-0403
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 25 February 2016
1st VISIT: 29 July 2013
# OF VISITS: 4
RATING: 23
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Duke City Ruben, 5-0-Philly, T n A, Macaroni Salad, Roasted Sweet Potato Chipotle Soup, Green Chile Chicken Corn Chowder, Cubano, 505-Filthy

Bocadillos on Urbanspoon

Red Rock Deli – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Red Rock Deli on Lomas Blvd.

America may be a multicultural melting pot, but thriving within its most populous metropolises are ethnic neighborhoods–pockets of diversity residing in two worlds, retaining many of the cultural and culinary traditions of their motherland while integrating into and pursuing the American dream.  Cities such as Chicago have long realized that these ethnic enclaves offer a treasure trove of cultural and culinary experiences.  Most of these neighborhoods welcome culinary tourism–the opportunity to showcase the cuisine of their homelands. 

One such example is the city of Chicago which boasts of the largest Polish population outside of Warsaw (as many as 183,000 by some estimates) in the world.   Storefronts and restaurants in “Little Poland” on Chicago’s far Northwest side are bedecked in the white and red flag of Poland.  They offer everything from pierogies to kielbasa.  Every Labor Day weekend Chicago celebrates its Polish heritage at the Taste of Polonia festival where Polish cuisine and culture are showcased.

The interior of the Red Rock Deli. Can you tell it was once a Subway Restaurant?

Obviously Albuquerque doesn’t have the population to support a “Chinatown” or a “Little Poland,” but the Duke City does offer multicultural dining diversity.  Although several of the city’s ethnic restaurants are clustered throughout the International District, many others are strewn throughout the metropolitan area where they’ve integrated into the fabric of  neighborhoods which may or may not have an ethnic population base.  

One such restaurant is the Red Rock Deli which opened its doors in October, 2014 in the far Northeast Heights.  Featuring the cuisine of Poland and Eastern Europe, the Red Rock Deli sits on Lomas just west of Tramway.  Situated in a timeworn shopping center, it occupies the easternmost storefront in a complex which also houses the Ali Baba Food Mart.

Ukrainian Borscht

If you’ve ever been blessed with the opportunity to visit Chicago’s Little Poland, the Red Rock Deli will seem very familiar once you step within its doors.  To your immediate right are shelves stocked with comestibles such as red borscht, sauerkraut, jams and so much more.  Make sure to peruse the freezers where savory and sweet pierogies, stuffed cabbage and other items can be purchased.  Other shelves are jam-packed with candy, cookies, beverages and other grocery items not usually found in Duke City stores. 

Owner Mark Toczek spent his formative years in Poland before moving first to Germany then to Chicago (which he visits frequently to stock up on the items which grace his shelves and his deli’s menu).  In 1995, he launched the Red Rock General Store in Blanca, Colorado just outside the Great Sand Dunes National Park about 1.5 hours north of Taos.  The Red Rock General Store has long been TripAdvisor‘s highest rated restaurant in the area. 

Russian Roulette, a mix of six different kinds of pierogi

Mark, who launched the Red Rock Deli in October, 2014, is an effusive and hands-on owner with a high likeability quotient and a welcoming smile for everyone.  In fact, for sheer customer orientation and making all guests feel welcome, he’s in rarefied company with the superb staff at Joe’s Pasta House in Rio Rancho.    Initially he operated the deli with the help of his sweet mother Jadwiga, but she passed away in January, 2015.   

While the walls are papered with imagery depicting New York’s subway system (a remnant from the years in which the store housed a Subway restaurant), the menu is proudly and prominently Chicago and not just the Little Poland section of the Windy City.  Windy City transplants are sure to find several things that will transport them back home to Chicago.

The Polish Polish

Our eyes immediately gravitated on the menu to the Italian Beef sandwich, a Chicago staple.  Also catching our eyes was menudo, a New Mexico favorite among intrepid diners.  The menu has four sections, the first of which lists three Polish sausage options.  Six hot dogs (including Chicago-style and a New Yorker) precede twelve sandwich options (including Angus hamburgers) on the menu.  The “specialties” section of the menu lists the Polish specialties along with the aforementioned menudo as well as blood sausage.

4 April 2015: During our second visit, Mark surprised us with a complimentary bowl of Ukrainian Borscht served piping hot.  The borscht is made by Mark’s talented wife and is as comforting and delicious as any vegetarian soup you’ll find in the Duke City.  A light, savory meatless broth redolent with cabbage and beets (accounting for its reddish hue) includes potatoes, carrots, kidney beans and jut a tinge of salt and pepper.  It’s a wonderful soup!

Pyzy

21 November 2014: It’s not often (if ever) the term Russian Roulette elicits smiles, but at the Red Rock Deli you just might find yourself drooling at the mention.  Russian Roulette is a mix of six different kinds of pierogi (a sweet Russian Roulette option offers six different kinds of pierogi with sweet stuffing) from among the nine variants of savory stuffing available at Red Rock).  For a pittance, you can have the pierogi fried with onions and bacon.  It’s a winning combination. 

21 November 2014: The pierogi are about the size of a Chinese dim sum dumpling or about two bites worth.  They’re served with a generous dollop of sour cream, not that it’s needed when you can scoop them up with crispy bacon and onions fried to a pearlescent sheen.  Among the nine available options with which the pierogi can be stuffed are potato, sauerkraut, ground meat, cabbage and spinach.  All are very good with our very favorite being the spinach stuffing.  In our increasingly cosmopolitan world in which the unusual and unique are embraced, it’s nice to enjoy old-fashioned and traditional pierogi. 

Denuded Chicago-Style Hotdog

4 April 2015:  Pyzy, yet another form of Polish dumplings, may be difficult to pronounce, but they’re delicious to eat.  Unlike the pierogies on the menu whose wrappers could pass for those used on Chinese dumplings, these are most assuredly and unmistakably potato dumplings.  They even look like boiled potatoes with a doughy wrapper made from potatoes and stuffed with meat.  Texturally, they’re soft and pliable as dumpling wrappers tend to be.  The meat stuffing is nicely seasoned and complements the wrappers very well.  Don’t forget to pay the pittance for having them fried with onions and bacon, a combination which improves everything.

21 November 2014: Of the three Polish sausage options, we couldn’t pass up the one anadiplotic name–Polish Polish, a hot dog style sandwich with Polish sausage, brown mustard and pickled jalapeños.  What you’ll notice first about the Polish Polish is the bolillo-style bread which resembles the bread used on Sonoran hot dogs.  Mark procures this bread from Colorado.  It’s so good you’ll want to use it on all your future sausage and hot dogs.  It has a dense and crusty exterior and a soft, pillowy interior.  The Polish sausage nestled within that bread is procured from Chicago and is sliced diagonally.  It’s a coarse, garlicky and smoky sausage with a natural casing that snaps when you bite into it.  The pearlescent onions and pickled jalapeños complement the sausage very well.

Italian Beef

21 November 2014: For my Chicago born-and-bred Kim, only a Chicago-style hot dog would do though by omitting the tomatoes, pickles, jalapeño (normally sport peppers are used) and even the celery salt, you could hardly call it a traditional Chicago hot dog.  Its only claims to Chicago were the neon green relish, mustard and a Vienna Beef hot dog directly from Chicago.  Vienna Beef hot dogs have a natural casing that gives them a discernible snap when you bite into them.   The same delightful buns used on the Polish Polish sheath the hot dog which extends beyond the bun by a good inch on both sides. 

21 November 2014: Among the foods most expatriated Chicagoans tend to miss most–no matter where they may settle–is the uniquely Chicago Italian Beef Sandwich, about which Thrillist wrote “Some cities were built on rock ‘n’ roll, but Chicago was built on big, greasy meat mountains on rolls.”  The Italian Beef sandwich features thinly-sliced, slow-roasted roast beef dripping with homemade Italian gravy on a dense, long Italian-style roll.  There are at least four Duke City eateries now serving Italian Beef sandwiches and (with apologies to Pizza 9)  none of them make a better one than the Red Rock Deli.  Quite simply, it’s got all the elements of an authentic Chicago Italian beef sandwich and can be prepared with your choice of sweet peppers or hot giardiniera (or both). It’s Chicago good!  My friend Larry McGoldrick makes the case that it’s even better than the Italian beef sandwich at Portillo’s.  Who am I to argue?

Lincoln Pork Sandwich

4 April 2015: One of the more interesting items on a very interesting menu has the curious name “Lincoln Pork Sandwich.”  It’s easy for Chicago transplants (and those of us married to them) to assume this sandwich is named for Lincoln Park, a community area in northeast Chicago bordering Lake Michigan.  Instead, Mark will explain, the sandwich has everything to do with the cost of pork.  When pork was a relatively inexpensive meat, he could afford to sell the sandwich for five dollars, the denomination sporting Abe Lincoln’s stoic countenance.  Today the sandwich is priced at just south of eight dollars.  When the rising cost of pork forces a price escalation to ten dollars, the sandwich will be renamed the Hamilton Pork Sandwich.  Alexander Hamilton is the face on the ten dollar bill. 

The Lincoln Pork Sandwich is terrific!  At its essence it’s a breaded pork cutlet nestled on a gilded bun.  If that sounds pretty boring, count on Mark to embellish the sandwich with excitement courtesy of mustard, mayo, pickles, jalapeños and lettuce.  It’s a winning formula.  The pork cutlet is pounded thin and not even Sherlock Holmes would be able to find fat or sinew.  The combination of jalapeños, mustard and mayo provides bold and contrasting flavors while the may adds a touch of richness.  My Kim, who usually has an aversion to breaded anything, enjoyed this delightfully delicious sandwich as much as I did. 

Gyros

4 April 2015:  Chicago’s Greektown district has a distinctive dining and nightlife scene that celebrates the culture and cuisine of the Greek population.  To assume you can find excellent gyros is an understatement.  Some of the very best gyros you’ll ever find in the fruited plain are prepared and served in this area.  Mark imports both the lamb-beef amalgam and the pita bread from Chicago and the quality shows.  That quality is also evident in the thick, sour-tangy Tzatziki with its pronounced yogurt and cucumber flavor profile. The pita is moist and pliable and didn’t dry up and harden as some pita is apt to do.  Just a modicum of hopped onions and tomatoes makes this a sandwich as opposed to a salad with meat.  The gyros is accompanied by baked potato skin chips, my new favorite potato chip.

21 November 2014: Dessert options include the aforementioned sweet pierogi and nalesniki, crepes stuffed with sweet farmer cheese fried in butter and served with sour cream and powdered sugar.  Texturally similar to cottage cheese, farmer cheese is a fresh, dry-curd cheese with a tangy flavor.  Stuffed into crepes topped with powdered sugar, this dessert is rich and delicious without the cloying flavor found on some crepes.

Nalesniki

4 April 2015: The premise of Russian Roulette, a potentially lethal game of chance, is frightening, but at the Red Rock Deli, Russian Roulette may forever change what you think of the term.   Sweet Russian Roulette, a mix of six different types of pierogies stuffed with a sweet filling and topped with sour cream and (usually) powdered sugar is more like a Russian dream.  When available, the sweet pierogies are spritzed with “forest sauce,” a tangy-sweet, light syrupy sauce made from berries which grow in the forest.  The pierogies are stuffed with such delicious fillings as cranberries, plum and farmer’s cheese.  There are few desserts quite as exciting and delicious, especially when forest sauce is drizzled generously.

18 February 2016: It was a given that my friends and fellow gastronomes Larry McGoldrick and Dazzling Deanell Collins would also enjoy the Sweet Russian Roulette as they had its savory counterpart.  What I could not have predicted is that they would introduce savory elements to a dessert entree that needs no amelioration.   Perhaps as a lark,  Larry, the esteemed professor with the perspicacious palate, wondered out loud what the sweet pierogi he described as “OMG delicious” would taste like with the fried bacon and onions used on the savory pierogi.  It turns out the bacon and onion combination goes very well with the sweet pierogi.  Is it any wonder Professor Larry was such an innovative software engineer and oceanographer before sharing his savvy insights online.

Menudo Polish Style

18 February 2016: If there’s one traditional New Mexican dish that has not transcended generations, it’s menudo, the dish constructed from yellowish, spongy, honeycomb-structured “innards” (can you say tripe) and chile.  Young folks (and not just millennials) find the texture, aroma and flavor more than a bit off-putting, a phenomena that generally occurs when you tell them what menudo is a tripe dish.  Even more “seasoned” diners don’t often list menudo as a favorite dish.  We found it very interesting that a Polish restaurant would offer a variation on menudo.  What makes it Polish is the infusion of Hungarian spicy paprika, a seasoning that imparts a pleasantly piquant personality.  Texturally, the tripe is thinner than what you’d find in New Mexican menudo, but it’s just a bit on the chewy side (though not quite rubbery).  This is an interesting variation on a traditional dish not everyone loves.

The Red Rock Deli is a welcome addition to Albuquerque’s increasingly diverse culinary scene. You need not know anything about Polish cuisine. If you love a great hot dog, a terrific sandwich or a Chicago style deli, you’ll be right at home.

Sweet Russian Roulette

Red Rock Deli
13025 Lomas Blvd, N.E., Suite C
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 332-9656 

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LATEST VISIT: 18 February 2016
1st VISIT: 21 November 2014
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 23
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Italian Beef Sandwich, Classic Hotdog, Polish Polish, Nalesniki, Russian Roulette (Sweet and Savory Pierogies), Gyros, Lincoln Pork Sandwich

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