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Chopstix – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Chopstix Chinese Cuisine on the northwest corner of Lomas and San Pedro.

Chopstix Chinese Cuisine on the northwest corner of Lomas and San Pedro.

And I find chopsticks frankly distressing. 
Am I alone in thinking it odd that a people
ingenious enough to invent paper, gunpowder,
kites and any number of other useful objects,
and who have a noble history extending back
3,000 years haven’t yet worked out that a pair
of knitting needles is no way to capture food? 
~Bill Bryson

The precise date in which chopsticks were first used has been lost in time. Archaeological evidence found in burial plots indicates they are at least 3,200 years old though some scholars believe they’ve been around even longer than that. Even the evolution of chopsticks is in debate. Some surmise that chopsticks evolved from the practice of using wooden sticks to stir food as it cooked on large pots over an open fire. Others believe that hasty eaters broke twigs from trees to retrieve food as it cooked. Whenever their origin and whatever its genesis, chopsticks have, for thousands of years, been the main tableware of the Chinese. By the Fifth Century A.D., the use of chopsticks had even spread from China to present day Japan, Korea and Vietnam.

The dualistic philosophies of Yin Yang that seek universal balance and harmony even posit a correct way to use chopsticks so that the user forges a correct ration of sauce to meat. Their fundamental use remains unchanged over time. While many Americans have mastered the etiquette and techniques for using chopsticks properly, in the hands of others (including me), chopsticks become a lethal weapon, the attempted use of which might result in someone’s eye being gouged out.

The Chopstix dining room

Ironically, the only chopsticks you’ll see when you walk into Chopstix Chinese Cuisine are in the hands of deft users. On unoccupied tables, the place settings are spoons, forks, knives and a napkin. What makes this doubly ironic is that Chopstix, despite the Westernization of the name, is, along with the fabulous Budai Gourmet Chinese Restaurant, the most authentically Chinese restaurant we’ve found in Albuquerque.  How authentic?  For the unacculturated, it’s scary authentic with such rare specialties as chicken feet and pickled kohlrabi with pork and chive (both are delicious).

From its launch in 2005 until my inaugural visit, I received more e-mail about Chopstix than any other restaurant not previously reviewed on my blog. None of the e-mail was more passionate or compelling than one from Tom Donelan who described Chopstix as having “really excellent food with amazing and not familiar flavors.” Tom should know, having sampled 50 to 60 menu items.  While it’s not unusual for Chinese restaurants to have more than a hundred items on the menu, what is unusual for many diners is to sample so many of them.  Most diners seem to settle on a handful of select favorites.

Sesame Shaobing (left) and homemade Szechwan Sausage

Sesame Shaobing (left) and homemade Szechwan Sausage

Chopstix is ensconced in a nondescript shopping center on the northwest corner of Lomas and San Pedro. It occupies the space which once held Taeja, a highly regarded and widely popular Korean restaurant which closed in 2004. On its signage, the “x” at the end of the name Chopstix resembles a pair of chopsticks. The bottom end of the chopsticks (the end used for picking up food) is tapered to a blunt end. That, we quickly found out, is where the “Westernization” ends.

The menu at Chopstix is very similar to what you might find in the Chinatown district of a large Cosmopolitan city such as San Francisco or my former hometown of Boston. Every item on the menu is spelled out in English and in Chinese and is accompanied by a photograph. A plethora of healthful options, including several vegetarian dishes makes this menu unique in that it doesn’t specialize in the deep-fried, heavily breaded, candied meat favorites proffered elsewhere. The menu does include several of the “usual suspects” (Kung Pao Chicken, Sweet and Sour Chicken, Orange Beef), but the Chopstix’ version is  better and not nearly as Westernized.

Chinese Fried Bread with Sweetened Condense Milk

Additional dishes (specials) are posted in plastic sleeves on the east-facing wall. Many of these dishes are not to be found anywhere else in Albuquerque and rotate in and out seasonally and as customers request. To my surprise, there were several menu items I hadn’t seen since my days in Boston.  The cuisine is Beijing-style which focuses on poultry and vegetables and relies heavily on spices (though not as extensively as Szechwan style cooking) and breads. This style of cuisine is surprisingly not that common, even in Cosmopolitan cities throughout America.

Most of the dishes are truly authentic, prepared as they would be in Beijing itself, without modification for American tastes. These dishes are prepared from scratch and take meticulous preparation time before they reach your table. When the restaurant is busy, it can mean long waits. While that may tax the patience of some Americans, many of Chopstix’ customers are Chinese who don’t seem to mind the wait. It’s certainly worth it.

The hot and sour soup is really HOT...and thoroughly delicious.

The hot and sour soup is really HOT…and thoroughly delicious.

The appetizer section of the menu lists twelve appetizers including the ubiquitous egg rolls. Appetizers also include sesame shaobing, a layered baked flatbread with sesame on top. In texture, shaobing bears some semblance to naan, the wonderful Indian flatbread.  It’s crispy on the outside and soft on the inside.  Unlike naan, however, shaobing is virtually devoid of flavor, not even salt.  In Taiwan, it’s served for breakfast with soy milk, a combination considered the most iconic breakfast in Taiwan.

The shaobing is accompanied by a standard “pot sticker sauce” (soy sauce, ginger and rice wine vinegar) for dipping, but savvy diners order the shaobing with their meals instead of as an appetizer. Dredging up the sauce on some of the entrees with shaobing is an improved use of a very tasty, very utilitarian bread that you just don’t find in many Albuquerque Chinese restaurants.

Shrimp with garlic sauce, the best we've had in New Mexico.

Shrimp with garlic sauce, the best we’ve had in New Mexico.

20 May 2012: Though New Mexico doesn’t currently have a full-fledged Chinese bakery, a surprisingly wide variety of Chinese bakery goods can be found in Chinese restaurants throughout Albuquerque (the dim sum menu at Ming Dynasty, for example, offers several). Only at Chopstix will you find Chinese fried bread, a deep-fried cruller that’s a Hostess cupcake shade of gold served with sweetened condensed milk which has a “frosting” like effect on the bread. It’s akin to having a Chinese donut. Only a scalding cup of coffee could possibly improve on this Chinese fried bread.

4 August 2007: Another appetizer unique in Albuquerque to Chopstix is Szechwan Sausage. While Szechwan cooking is characterized by spicy and piquant food, the Sausage barely registers on the piquant scale, but is redolent with spices (ginger, star anise, dried red chili and wild pepper), making it a very flavorful appetizer.  Szechwan sausage is made from shredded fresh pork, both lean and fat meat cuts.  You’ll occasionally bite into a sinewy bit, but for the most part, the texture of the sausage is akin to that of many German dry sausages.

Mustard with dried bean curd.

Mustard with dried bean curd.

17 March 2007: There’s a lot of truth in labeling when an asterisk (*) prefaces a dish. That means the dish is hot and spicy. Even the hot and sour soup (one of three soups on the menu) is gunpowder incendiary. It’s also as delicious and comforting as any hot and sour soup we’ve had, with throat and stomach warming properties that move it near the top of my favorite soup list.  There are plenty of woody mushrooms on this soup, a sign of its authenticity.

17 March 2007: Near the very top of my list of outstanding garlic shrimp entrees I’ve ever had is the Chopstix version. Laden with minced garlic and populated with barbed hot peppers, it is intensively flavored and preternaturally delicious. Prepared to absolute perfection were the dish’s vegetables: sweet snow peas, julienne carrots, green peppers, white onions and more. The sauce is incredibly flavorful, a perfect accompaniment to the aforementioned shaobing.

Dong Bo Pork on a Hoison-Soy Sauce

17 March 2007: Chinese physicians tout the healthful properties of mustard seed (which contain lots of protective substances called phytochemicals, which may inhibit the growth of existing cancer cells and help prevent normal cells from turning into cancerous ones), while diners will tout the surprising deliciousness of mustard with dried bean curd. Somewhat resembling, in both taste and appearance, the mustard greens so popular in Southern cooking, this dish doesn’t have the intense flavoring of the garlic shrimp, but it may be the most surprisingly good version of “greens” I’ve ever had. 

20 May 2012: If the Chinese dish of mustard with dried bean curd resembles the mustard greens of the Deep South, Chopstix’ rendition of Seafood Noodles has only a passing resemblance to the Caldo de Siete Mares served in many Mexican mariscos restaurants.  It more closely resembles a Vietnamese pho with a rich broth redolent with the flavors of the bounty of the sea–shrimp, crab, squid and fish.  The baby bak choy lends a slightly bitter flavor profile while the thick rice noodles provide one of life’s best pleasures, that of slurping perfectly prepared, almost buttery noodles.

Vinegar and sugar ribs

Vinegar and sugar ribs

4 August 2007: Pork entrees include Vinegar and Sugar Ribs in which pork ribs are stewed with soy sauce, Chinese vinegar, various seasonings and what is likely brown sugar. Not everyone appreciates a sweet and savory combination, and even if you do, this may be too much of a good thing–as in not enough taste contrasts for you to continue enjoying it with the same gusto as you had when gnawing the meat off the first few bones. 

20 May 2012: In recent years, perhaps as an offshoot of bacon’s popularity, one of America’s favorite gourmet cravings has been for pork belly.  The Chinese version is called Dong Bo Pork and it’s fabulous.  On the bowl in which it’s served, it bears an almost off-putting resemblance to fatty pork served in ink or tar.  The sauce in which it is served is a Hoisin-soy sauce mix that’s wholly unnecessary, but quite good.  This half-lean meat and half-fat pork belly dish is a wonderful study in textural contrasts, but if you like pork regardless of texture, it’s a dish you’ll love.

Chicken with Ginger

2 October 2015:  Little chili icons next to specific items on the menu denote levels of spiciness.  Several items are rated one chili, but only one item has two chili icons next to it.  That’s the chicken with ginger, a unique dish unlike any we’ve had in Albuquerque.  Lightly breaded chicken usually means tender and moist, but not on this dish.  Texturally the chicken is chewy and crisp with not as much moistness as you might expect.  Piquancy is courtesy of finely chopped bird peppers as well as stir-fried ginger strips.  It’s not the type of piquancy which should intimidate most New Mexicans, but it’ll make most of us happy.

Several entrees are accompanied by steamed white rice, but for a pittance you can also have fried rice, with or without pork. Chopstix’ version of fried rice isn’t as soy sauce salty as most fried rice you’ll find in Americanized Chinese restaurants. It lets other flavors speak out for themselves.

Seafood Noodles (Baby Bak Choy, Shrimp, Crab, Squid, Fish)

You should never visit Chopstix alone because while every item might be good, you miss out on the fun and adventure of sharing and even a good thing (like the Vinegar and Sugar Ribs) might be too much of a good thing. There is much to like and much to be explored at Chopstix, a restaurant which may have a Westernized spelling, but which serves some of the best, most authentic dishes of any Chinese restaurant in New Mexico. This one will remain highly placed on my rating list!

6001 Lomas Blvd, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Web Site

LATEST VISIT: 2 October 2015
COST: $$
BEST BET: Mustard With Dried Bean Curd, Shrimp With Garlic Sauce, Sesame Shaobing, Hot & Sour Soup, Seafood Noodles, Chicken with Ginger, Vinegar and Sugar Ribs, Dong Bo Pork, Chinese Fried Bread with Sweetened Condense Milk

Chopstix on Urbanspoon

The Luna Mansion Landmark Steakhouse – Los Lunas, New Mexico

The Luna Mansion Landmark Steakhouse for the best in fine dining in Los Lunas

New Mexico is truly a dichotomous land, a state in which seemingly contrasting qualities exist in symbiotic harmony with each other. While most of those contrasts exist spectacularly in nature, the Land of Enchantment’s architecture is no stranger to contradictions. One such example is the Luna Mansion, a stately manor built in the Southern Colonial architectural style, but whose basic construction material is adobe. The Luna Mansion was built in 1880 by the Santa Fe Railroad Company in exchange for right-of-way through lands owned by the Luna family. In the 1920s, the Luna-Otero family added to the grandeur of the Los Lunas showcase by building a front portico and grand solarium. White Grecian columns bid all visitors welcome.

In the 1970s, the Luna Mansion was transformed into a restaurant, perhaps rankling the ire of Josefita Otero, one of the original family members to dwell in the Mansion. Her apparition, attired in 1920s regalia, began to appear. Several other apparitions, including Cruz, a groundskeeper, are said to haunt the restaurant while others have been seen or felt on the grounds of the estate. Perhaps they continue to visit the Luna Mansion for the food.

One of the first floor dining rooms

While Auld Lang Syne faded with the dawning of 2009, the Luna Mansion was put up for sale by Earl Whittemore who had owned the property for more than three decades. It wasn’t for sale for long. Fittingly, the Mansion was purchased by Pete and Hortencia Torres, longtime owners of the Wittwer House, another historic property converted to a restaurant (the award-winning Teofilo’s Restaurante). Moreover, the Torres family has a restaurant pedigree in Valencia County that goes back more than six decades. Pete’s parents opened the eponymous Pete’s Cafe in 1948. Teofilo’s is directly across Main Street from the Luna Mansion, now a registered national historic landmark.

Under the auspices of the Torres family, the Luna Mansion remains a monument to the way good food used to be served in bygone days before America became a fast food nation, back when hearty portions of delicious cuisine could be enjoyed in a relaxing milieu. Though not by design, the restaurant brings to mind the clean, elegant Harvey House restaurants which introduced a touch of refinement and civility to an untamed frontier while serving good food at reasonable prices throughout the Old West. There’s a Harvey House a few miles south in Belen though it no longer serves food.

Sourdough bread

The Luna Mansion name is now appended by “Landmark Steakhouse,” a recognition of its historic place in the community as well as the Torres family commitment to providing a memorable fine dining experience for their patrons. As the name implies, the specialty of the house is USDA prime beef aged 21 days for flavor and tenderness and hand-carved by local butchers exclusively for the Luna Mansion. The menu also offers fresh fish, seafood and poultry. Several menu items popularized during the tenure of previous owners have been retained (including one of my favorite desserts) while New Mexican chile inspired items no longer have a place on the daily menu.

The nattily attired and attentive Luna Mansion wait staff is as energetic as any in the Duke City area, but with a small town neighborliness you don’t often find in the big city. They’ll be happy to engage you in small talk or discuss the history of the Mansion if you wish, but they’re also professional enough to leave you alone if that be your preference. Best of all, they’re always on-the-spot with hard-crusted sourdough bread and soft butter as well as ice water or your beverage of choice. The sourdough isn’t baked on the premises, but it’s served warm and is replenished faithfully.

The Maytag Wedge: Crisp iceberg lettuce layered with bleu cheese dressing, crumbled Maytag bleu cheese, chopped tomato and crisp bacon

This appetizer menu includes some traditional (some might say anachronistic) steakhouse starters such as shrimp cocktail, Oysters Rockefeller and calamari, but throws in shrimp wontons as a surprising change of pace. These wontons aren’t your typical desiccated dumplings fried to a crackling, crunchy and empty shell. These are roughly the size of a beverage coaster and stuffed with a generous bounty of cream cheese, green onion and shrimp. Best of all, they’re served with a jalapeño sweet and sour sauce that packs a punch. The calamari are small ringlets of squid goodness–not too chewy or too thickly coated. The accompanying cocktail sauce is packed with a potent horseradish.

31 May 2012: The menu also offers a Maytag Wedge constructed from crisp iceberg lettuce layered with bleu cheese dressing, crumbled Maytag bleu (sic) cheese, chopped tomato and crisp bacon. As a bleu (or blue) cheese aficionado who routinely asks servers to bring me as much bleu cheese as they can carry, it does my heart good (only figuratively) to see the generous dollops of my favorite salad dressing. Maytag blue cheese has been hand-formed and cave-aged since 1941 and is one of the most flavorful of all bleu (or blue) cheeses. The other salad components are quite good, but it’s the pungent cheese that stars here.

A 24-ounce Porterhouse steak (21 day aged beef hand-carved by local butchers exclusively for the Luna Mansion

You might not consider Los Lunas (or anywhere in landlocked New Mexico) a destination for seafood, but the Luna Mansion might just change your mind. Daily offerings include two lobster tails, tipping the scales at about a pound, at market price. There’s also a pound or pound and a half of sweet, juicy Alaskan King Crab also at market price. A long-time restaurant favorite is the Mansion Steak, a six ounce filet smothered by crab meat and Béarnaise sauce. Both the filet and the crab are good in their own right, but don’t necessarily combine all their best qualities when paired together.

31 May 2012: The purity of beefy deliciousness is best exemplified by the 24-ounce Porterhouse steak, as good a prime cut of beef as we’ve had in the Albuquerque area. It is prepared to your exacting specifications (at medium, it’s got that pinkish center that ensures juiciness and flavor) and is seasoned with exactly the right amount of sea salt, pepper and garlic. This beauteous beef has marbling for flavor, but not much of the excess fat you cut out and leave on your plate. As with other entrees, steaks are accompanied by your choice of potato (a fully loaded baked potato, French fries or whipped Yukon Gold potatoes). The baked potato is perfectly cooked all the way through and is roughly the size of a child’s football.

Lamb chops with creamed spinach in the background

31 May 2012: Another spectacular plate features four lollipop (what lamb rib chops are called when they’re “Frenched” (when the meat is cut away from the end of a rib or chop, so that part of the bone is exposed)) lamb chops served with mint sauce. Lamb chops essentially come with a built-in “handle” which makes them easy to pick up and eat (yes, even at a fine dining restaurant). Each lamb chop is pert and petite, but it’s packed with flavor and is very tender. When asked the degree of “doneness” for your chops, it’s best to leave it to the chef’s discretion. Most chefs prepare lamb chops by broiling, grilling or pan-searing them for only a few minutes on each side. At medium, the Luna Mansion lamb chops are moist and delicious.

19 July 2015: The Luna Mansion set the bar very high, hosting the inaugural brunch venture for the discerning and culinary savvy Friends of Gil (FOG).  Ten of us convened at the historical gem to enjoy a sumptuous repast that included a prime rib breakfast burrito.  Engorged with scrambled eggs and grilled prime rib topped with red chile, it’s a Cadillac of breakfast burritos in a neighborhood of Chevys.  This burrito was served with French fries, a surprising departure from the usual hash browns.

Prime Rib Burrito

The menu offers several “sides including creamed spinach, steamed asparagus, sauteed garlic spinach, whipped Yukon Gold potatoes, sauteed mushrooms, baked potato and French fries. The creamed spinach is a winner thanks to the infusion of intensely garlicky heavy cream playing off the natural acerbic qualities of the spinach. The cream is a bit on the watery side, but is good enough to sop up with the restaurant’s sourdough bread.

19 July 2015: It’s not every brunch that allows guests to also select from the dinner menu.  The only concession at Luna Mansion is that baked potatoes aren’t available until after five.  If you’re having the pasta, you don’t need another carb anyway.  You might not even miss out on the Mansion’s magnificent meats.  That is if the fettuccine with a red chile cream sauce and sirloin tips is on the menu.  First, the pasta is perfectly prepared if your ideal is neither mushy nor al dente.  The red chile cream sauce is rich and delicious with just enough piquancy to be discernible, but not so much that it tastes like another New Mexican dish showcasing our enchanting chile (great as it is).  The sirloin tips are a highlight, a reminder that the Luna Mansion serves some of the very best steak in the area.

Fettuccine with Red Chile Cream Sauce and Sirloin Tips

31 May 2012: Only three desserts–the Mansion Mud Pie, classic cheesecake and housemade key lime pie–grace the menu, but savvy diners look no further than the Mansion Mud Pie, one of my favorite desserts in the area. The foundation for the pie is a thick Oreo crust which is topped with about two inches of mocha flavored ice cream, a chocolate ganache and whipped cream garnished with almond slivers. This is a pie for the ages, a pie I might haunt the Luna Mansion for someday.

The Mansion Mud Pie, a Luna Mansion specialty

The Luna Mansion has long been one of Valencia county’s culinary crown jewels, but it’s good enough to warrant mention among the most highly regarded fine dining establishments in the metropolitan Duke City area.

The Luna Mansion Landmark Steakhouse
Highway 6 & Highway 85
Los Lunas, New Mexico
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 19 July 2015
COST: $$$ – $$$$
BEST BET: Mud Pie, Shrimp Wontons, The Maytag Wedge, Porterhouse, Lamb Chops

Luna Mansion on Urbanspoon

Sara’s Pastries and Deli – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Sara's Pastries & Deli

Sara’s Pastries & Deli

Creator!  You who give life to all things and who has made men that they may live happy and multiply.
Multiply also the fruits of the earth, the potatoes and other food that you have
That men may not suffer from hunger and misery.
~Traditional Incan Prayer

As recently as 2010, Albuquerque–which rightfully takes great pride in its acceptance of cultural and culinary diversity–did not have a single Peruvian restaurant. Fast forward three years to March, 2013 and there are three restaurants showcasing to Duke City diners just a modicum of the tremendous diversity and deliciousness offered by Peruvian cuisine. Every one of the three is unique, each highlighting only a segment of the culinary offerings that make Peruvian cuisine one of the great cuisines of the world.  

More than perhaps any of the world’s great cuisines, Peruvian food is impossible to pigeonhole or stereotype. It is the original fusion cuisine, having absorbed culinary influences from streams of immigrants encompassing every great culinary culture and melding them with indigenous ingredients and dishes, many with Incan roots. As a result of this cultural and culinary fusion, the Guinness Book of Records recognizes Peru as the nation with the most local plates, some 491 officially registered dishes in all.

Under glass are some of the most sumptuous pastries, sandwiches and tamales in town

Under glass are some of the most sumptuous pastries, sandwiches and tamales in town

With nearly five-hundred official dishes in the Peruvian culinary repertoire, the comparatively limited menus at Albuquerque’s three Peruvian restaurants barely scratch the surface in offering the cuisine The Wall Street Journal called “the next big thing” in 2012.  It’s a fact not lost on peripatetic gastronomes about whom Frommers Travel Guide’s observed  “travel all the way to Peru just to eat.” 

Although most Duke City diners probably won’t travel to Peru to indulge in gastronomic greatness, most are just a few miles away from one of the city’s three Peruvian treasures.  The antecedent for hopefully several other Peruvian restaurants is the highly acclaimed Pollito Con Papas which, thanks to the best rotisserie chicken in Albuquerque, had to triple its real-estate within a year of its 2011 launch.   Eastsiders might argue that the best rotisserie chicken comes from Taste of Peru, a March, 2013 entry into the local culinary scene.

Roasted Pork Sandwich

Roasted Pork Sandwich

The most centrally-located of Albuquerque’s three Peruvian restaurants is Sara’s Pastries & Deli, ensconced in the increasingly familiar Journal Center Market Place, a strip mall quickly becoming a very popular dining destination. Sara’s neighbors include the nonpareil Torinos @ Home, El Pollo Picante, Twisters Burgers & Burritos and other restaurants. Launched in February, 2013, Sara’s Pastries & Deli fills a niche in offering the delectable and decadent dessert offerings of Peru.

There’s a venerable saying in Peru that translates to something like “Peruvians have two stomachs—one for food and another for dessert.” That idiom illustrates the passion with which Peruvians approach desserts, which, ironically were virtually unknown prior to the arrival of the Spanish. As with the entirety of Peruvian cuisine, desserts are heavily influenced by the streams of immigrants which settled in the country. The resultant cultural and culinary mix is why you shouldn’t be surprised if you see arroz con leche, pastel tres leches or even tiramisu on the dessert menu of a Peruvian restaurant.


Tripled Sandwich with Miss Vickie’s Smoked BBQ Chips and Inca Kola

You’ll find those sumptuous delicacies and so much more in the pastry case at Sara’s Pastries & Deli. Under glass, in fact, are some of the most artistic quality pastries you’ll ever see. Perhaps not coincidentally, the walls of the restaurant are festooned with large framed photographs of those pastries. Every pastry is a made-from-scratch masterpiece. So, too, are the alfajores showcased under a domed glass tray. Perhaps the most popular cookie in Peru, alfajores are butter cookies filled with dulce de leche and sprinkled with powdered sugar. They are absolutely addictive! 

Owner Sara Correa, originally from Peru, is the petite whirling dervish in the kitchen responsible for the beautiful deliciousness in her eponymous operation. Visit on a weekend and you might be served by her dainty daughter or her two mesomorphic sons, both of whom can probably bench press the pastry case.  All three are as personable and charming as can be with the ambassadorial qualities every restaurateur wants for the “front of the house.”  You would never guess this is the first restaurant operation for this delightful family.

Peruvian Red Tamale

Peruvian Red Tamale

It would be so easy to bypass the deli offerings and dig right into the desserts, but to do so would mean missing out on some pretty terrific sandwich options.  It did my heart good not to see “proudly offering Boar’s Head products” displayed anywhere.  There’s nothing wrong with Boar’s Head products, but because they’re so ubiquitous, there aren’t as many sandwich surprises in the Duke City as there otherwise might be with a greater variety of (or better still, homemade) cold cuts, cheeses and condiments.

31 March 2013: Sara’s doesn’t rely on a megalithic corporate purveyor of meats for their sandwich offerings.  The meats proffered at Sara’s are homemade fresh daily.  It makes an amazing difference, one easily discernible on the roasted pork sandwich.  The canvas for this towering meatfest is homemade French bread that has a nice crusty exterior and soft innards.  A generous pile of tender and absolutely delicious pork is joined between bread by red onions and habanero peppers with your choice of a signature sauce (habanero, jalapeño or green chile). The piquant peppers lend qualities other than heat, all of them complementary.  The sandwich is served with a side of Miss Vickie’s chips.


Peruvian Green Tamale

31 March 2013: If, like me, you find egg salad sandwiches boring, you’ll be made a convert by the Triple (pronounced “treep-lay”) Sandwich.  Four simple, but healthy ingredients: avocados, tomatoes, olive oil and hard-boiled eggs are layered between  multi-grain bread (there’s an extra slice in the middle) with just a smear of mayonnaise.  It’s a surprisingly moist and surprisingly delicious sandwich, layered in such a manner as to bring three times the joy to the hungry diner.  The Triple Sandwich may sound unsophisticated, but it’s not a sandwich this worldly gastronome would ever turn down.

31 March 2013: New Mexicans perusing the menu will likely become excited upon seeing Peruvian red tamales and Peruvian green tamales on the menu.  Alas, red and green don’t mean the same thing in Peru as they mean in the Land of Enchantment.  Red tamales are a traditional Peruvian dish enjoyed most often for Sunday breakfast.  Sara’s rendition is very traditional, fashioned with steamed red Peruvian chile (very different from Hatch or Chimayo red chile) corn masa stuffed with chicken and black olives.  The tamales are surprisingly moist, slightly piquant and imbued with an exotic flavor imparted by the banana leaves in which they are steamed

Peruvian Empanada

Peruvian Empanada

31 March 2013: The Peruvian green tamales are made from steamed cilantro corn masa stuffed with chicken, black olives and Peruvian chile steamed in corn husks.  The cilantro imparts an exotic quality to the corn masa while the Peruvian chile lends just enough piquancy to be noticed.  Very noticeable is the sheer deliciousness of these tamales.  Both the green and red tamales are served with a side of red onions laced with finely chopped habanero peppers.  If you’re missing piquancy with your tamales, this is where you can get it. 

14 July 2015: Most turkey sandwiches in Albuquerque don’t need tryptophan to make diners sleepy.  Not only do most of them sport the ridiculous sobriquet of “Albuquerque Turkey,” most are made with thin, tasteless sliced turkey, the type of which is a true turkey in the most derogatory sense of the term.  At Sara’s the turkey is the regal bird founding father Benjamin Franklin proposed as America’s symbol.  It’s majestic, a blend of white and dark meat roasted on the premises served with lettuce, red onions, habanero and Sara’s signature sauce on a French bread canvas.  The sandwich packs a piquant punch though not so much that it obfuscates the flavor of house roasted turkey.  Fittingly, it’s served with your choice of fruit or Miss Vickie’s jalapeño chips.

Gourmet Turkey Sandwich with Jalapeño Chips

31 March 2013: Also quite dissimilar to the same named offering in New Mexico are Peruvian empanadas.  Sara’s empanadas are baked in pastry dough stuffed with ground beef, onions, raisins and spices and sprinkled with powdered sugar.  They’re mostly savory but are tinged with sweetness imparted by the raisins and powdered sugar.  Your taste buds, however, will gravitate toward the exotic Peruvian spices which really give these empanadas their unique and wonderful flavor.

The dessert menu (nuestros dulces) is a tempting array of delicious treats that will have you making frequent return trips to Sara’s where you’ll find Black Forest Cake, Fruit Napoleon, Classic Peach Cake, Classic Strawberry Cake, Chocolate Mousse, New York Supreme Cheesecake and Tiramisu to name just a few as well as  tarts, cookies and truffles. 

Tres Leches "My Way"

Tres Leches “My Way”

31 March 2013: If the Tres Leches “My Way” is any indication, you’re in for a serious treat–as in some of the best in New Mexico treat.  The tres leches cake, sponge cake soaked in a milk syrup made of three different kinds of milk: sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk and whole milk (or cream) and topped with Italian meringue and sprinkled cinnamon, is in my Kim’s words, “the best I’ve ever had.” Who am I  to argue, especially with my mouth full. 

14 July 2015:   My first sighting of Sara’s caramel cone brought to mind the horn of plenty, also known as a cornucopia, which is represented by a hollow horn filled with the inexhaustible gifts of celebratory fruits.  Sara’s caramel cone is a horn-shaped pastry stuffed with plenty of dulce de leche, a sweet, rich treat similar in taste, texture and consistency to a thick caramel sauce.  Dulce de leche is ubiquitous in Peru where it’s used primarily as a spread or as a filling for pastries.  The caramel cone is a delicious way to enjoy perhaps the best dulce de leche you’ll find in Albuquerque.

Caramel Cone

Sara’s Pastries & Deli is open for breakfast and lunch Monday through Friday from 7:00AM to 4:30PM.  Sara’s is a restaurant which does Peru proud!  Among savvy diners, Sara’s has ascended the ranks to the rarefied air of one of Albuquerque’s very best dining and dessert destinations.

Sara’s Pastries & Deli
7600 Jefferson N.E., Suite C
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 385-8247
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LATEST VISIT: 14 July 2015
1st VISIT: 31 March 2013
COST: $$
BEST BET:Roasted Pork Sandwich, Tripled Sandwich, Green Tamale, Red Tamale, Empanada, Tres Leches “My Way”, Alfajores, Gourmet Turkey Sandwich, Caramel Cones,

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