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

Poki Poki Cevicheria – Albuquerque, New. Mexico

Poki Poki Cevicheria on Central Avenue in the UNM area

Having settled comfortably into middle age, my favorite participatory sports of basketball and tennis have been replaced by more sedentary, safe and slothful pursuits.  Instead of getting my shot rejected almost as often as the cheerleaders in Peñasco spurned my offers of a burger at Victor’s Drive-in, I now delight in catching every grammatical faux pas, malapropism and inaccuracy uttered by the media–not a difficult challenge since the legendary and near infallible anchor Dick Knipfing retired.  

Instead of double-faulting on my serve eighteen times in a row, it’s answering questions which stump Jeopardy contestants that now gets my adrenaline pumping.  Alas, as a fogey who believes music died in the 70s and could not care less about Hollywood heartthrob Ryan Gosling but count among my closest friends, the Albuquerque Adonis, Ryan “Break the Chain”  Scott, pop culture questions are my downfall. Case in point, “Barney the Purple Dinosaur” was my answer to a recent question about a video game franchise from Japan.  The correct answer, of course, was Pokemon.  Pokemon?  I could have answered nearly all there is to know about Poke, the Hawaiian culinary craze that’s sweeping the mainland, but had absolutely no clue about this Pokemon creature.

Place your order and in a few minutes, your Poke adventure begins

Now let me tell you about Poke. Poke (sometimes spelled “poki” and always pronounced poh-kay) refers to a “chunked” marinated or seasoned raw fish dish that’s been served primarily as an appetizer in Hawaii for centuries. In fact, the Hawaiian term “poke” simply means to “chunk” or to “cut crosswise into pieces,” both aptly descriptive terms for the salad-like preparation of seafood that has been cut into small chunks and marinated. Largely influenced by Asian flavors and ingredients, poke can be–and is–made with almost any type of seafood and topped with a vast array of garnishes and sauces. As with sushi, the chef’s imagination often determines the composition and diversity of poke.

In Hawaii, poke is a ubiquitous comfort food, served in venues ranging from surf shacks to gourmet restaurants. The advent of poke’s popularity across the fruited plain can be attributed to our shrinking world and the popularity of Hawaii as a travel (and increasingly, a dining) destination. It’s only natural that enterprising chefs who fall in love with poke during forays to the island paradise would want to share this pescetarian phenomenon with their own customers. It may be an overstatement to say these chefs have reshaped the American mainland’s culinary culture, but it’s safe to say they may have introduced its most exciting new food trend in recent memory. Sushi hotbeds such as Los Angeles and San Francisco were among the first to embrace poke, but even landlocked destinations in the heartlands now boast of poke restaurants.

Spicy Bowl

In a recent discussion about food trends, my friend David, an accomplished chef and barista, lamented how often the Duke City is slow to embrace culinary trends that have captured seemingly every other major metropolitan market. He’s very happy to hear Albuquerque isn’t late to the poke party. On May 18th, Burque celebrated the official grand opening of Poki Poki Cevicheria, an Asian-Latin fusion restaurant specializing in Hawaiian poke bowls with Latin flair and influence. Poki Poki is a family owned enterprise which allows intrepid diners to assemble their own poke bowls in a fashion similar to Chipotle’s assembly line process. Poki Poki Cevicheria is located on Central Avenue in the Brickyard District just across the street from the University of New Mexico.

If you’re a true foodie, two items on the preceding paragraph probably caught your eye. The first is the inclusion of the term “Cevicheria” on the restaurant’s name. The second is the term “Asian-Latin” fusion. Poki Poki actually takes a creative departure from the standard poke restaurant template by incorporating “Latin” ingredients and flavors with ingredients and flavors rooted in Hawaii. In Albuquerque, when Latin flavors are discussed, it’s often hand-in-hand with the name Elvis Bencomo, the brilliant chef-owner of Passion Latin Fusion. Elvis collaborated on the development of the restaurant’s sauces and chips (more on them later).

Hawaiian Bowl

Though not a true “cevicheria” as you might find throughout Latin America, Poki Poki, it can be said, is a sushi-meets-ceviche-meets-donburi (Japanese rice bowl dish) restaurant, the first, best and only of its kind in Albuquerque. It was difficult to contain my excitement when introducing my friends Larry McGoldrick and Dazzling Deanell to Poki Poki. Larry, the professor with the perspicacious palate, told me he’d “been looking for a restaurant like this for a long time.” Deanell,a culinary bon-vivant who’s probably smarter than Larry and I combined, marveled at how the flavors just popped.

The build-your-own poke bowl concept has five distinct steps: (1) select your bowl (regular, large or unlimited and base (white rice, salad or chips); (2) Go fishing. Choose from albacore tuna, ahi tuna, spicy tuna, salmon or octopus. A regular bowl rewards you with three ounces of your choice, a large bowl with five ounces and an unlimited bowl with seven ounces. (3) Sauce it up. Choose from the house sauce, roasted jalapeno, passion fruit, red pepper, poki sauce, tosa-mi or fusion mayo. Heat ratings for the sauces range from mild to hot. (4) Toppings. With a regular bowl, you can select three toppings; with a large bowl, it’s five toppings and with an unlimited bowl, you can top the bowl until it’s full. (5) Finish it! Elevate its deliciousness with chipotle mayo, spicy mayo, teriyaki sauce, chimichurri or Sriracha.

Latin Bowl

15 May 2016: Unless or until you understand the flavors resultant from combining ingredients and sauces, you’re probably better off ordering one of Poki Poki’s “Special Bowls,” composed poke bowls ostensibly constructed by restaurant staffers after much delicious trial and effort.  Knowing my own gluttonous tendency to overstuff  salads with favorite ingredients, often to the detriment of flavor optimization, I opted for the Spicy Bowl during my inaugural visit.  With a base that’s half rice and half garlic chips;  spicy tuna and salmon; passion fruit; crab, avocado, cucumber, jalapeño, lime, green onion, pico de gallo and furikake (a Japanese seasoning) as toppings with chipotle mayo and Sriracha for sauces, this “better than any sushi roll” poke is an adventure in complementary flavors and textures, an addictively delicious bowl of stuff you probably never thought would be so good together.  The fresh, invigorating flavors will imprint themselves on your taste buds and for a while, all you’ll be able to think about is your next poke bowl.

17 May 2016: That next poke bowl transpired two days after my inaugural visit with the Hawaiian Bowl gracing my table.  This beauteous, bounteous bowl with a salad base; salmon, albacore and octopus; fusion mayo; a boatload of toppings (crab, avocado, seaweed salad, cucumber, pineapple, mango salsa, edamame, masago, ginger, sesame seeds and furikaki) and a teriyaki sauce is the antithesis of the Spicy Bowl.  Sweet notes are the prominent flavor profile though the sweetness of the teriyaki and the fructose tanginess of the mango salsa and pineapple are tempered by savory ingredients.  Because New Mexicans like their heat, ask the accommodating staff for some spicy mayo to give this bowl a hint of piquancy that marries well with other flavors. 

A Build-Your-Own Masterpiece

19 May 2016: The promised fusion qualities are best experienced in the Latin Bowl (white rice, octopus and albacore tuna, roasted jalapeño and red pepper sauce, avocado, jalapeño, plantain chips, lime, pico de gallo, green onion, cilantro and sesame seeds with a chimichurri dressing).  All too often in New Mexico, Latin fusion means an insistence in using New Mexican green chile.  Wonderful as it is, green chile isn’t missed on the Latin Bowl which has plenty of other delicious heat generating ingredients.   With lime slices, you’re free to impart citrusy flavors to the albacore and octopus a la ceviche mixto, the popular Mexican restaurant offering.  The plantain chips as with the restaurant’s yam chips and garlic chips provide a textural contrast and delightful flavor complement to other ingredients.

29 July 2016: Since introducing my friend Bill Resnik to Poki Poki, it’s become a regular lunch destination for him.  He long ago graduated from ordering the prefab bowls and has been masterfully concocting his own creations.  A mathematician who graduated from the New Mexico Institute of Technology, Bill has an engineer’s mind with a mad scientist’s whimsy.  To see him point out ingredient combinations is to watch mad science or abstract art in action.  It’s not just “give me some of this and some of that.”  In his mind’s eye, he can actually taste what the intricate flavor combinations will be.  That’s why when we celebrated his birthday at Poki Poki, my instructions to our server were “just give me exactly what he’s having.”   Essentially, it was a melange of vegetables, seafood and sauces in complementary proportion to each other.  Alas, I probably wouldn’t be able to duplicate his masterpiece precisely, but should be able to create deliciousness on my own.  So can you!

The Poki Poki Cevicheria is so good, so radically different, so welcome that you just may do the Hokey Poki dance to celebrate finishing your first poke bowl even as you anxiously await your next.

Poki Poki Cevicheria
2300B Central Avenue, S.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 503-1077
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 29 July 2016
1st VISIT: 15 May 2016
# OF VISITS: 4
RATING: 23
COST: $$
BEST BET: Spicy Bowl, Hawaiian Bowl, Latin Bowl, Make-Your-Own Bowl

Poki Poki Cevicheria Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

IKrave Cafe – Albuquerque, New Mexico

iKrave Cafe for Albuquerque’s very best Vietnamese Sandwiches

Please say it isn’t so!  According to Nations Restaurant News, a highly respected trade publication “a new crop of restaurant chain entrepreneurs” believes “American diners will soon embrace the Vietnamese bánh mì sandwich as the next burrito or taco.”  The notion of corporate chain megaliths setting their sights on the humble banh mi should send shudders down the spine of everyone who frequents the mom-and-pop nature of the banh mi restaurants we’ve come to know and love. Imagine a phalanx of Subway-like sandwich shops creating and selling banh mi. The notion isn’t as far-fetched as you might think.

One of the first chains vying to expand the presence of banh mi in the mainstream is Chipotle whose Asian-themed offshoot “ShopHouse Southeast Asian Kitchen” features banh mi as the menu’s cornerstone. If Chipotle does for the banh mi what it did for burritos and what Olive Garden did for Italian food, there will be generations of American diners who may never experience the real thing–an authentic banh mi prepared in the traditional manner by Vietnamese weaned on banh mi. Worse, slick Madison Avenue advertisers might convince them they prefer the faux food.

iKrave’s energetic, customer oriented owner Hien

It’s a small consolation that it will probably take a while before the heavily bankrolled chain interlopers reach Albuquerque (think about how long it took before Chipotle invaded).  That gives the Duke City’s  three established independent purveyors of peerless banh mi the opportunity to win over even more converts.  It should take only one visit!

Until just a few years ago, you had to visit larger cosmopolitan areas such as San Francisco to find banh mi.  Eventually such banh mi pioneers as May Café, May Hong and Cafe Dalat, all full-service Vietnamese restaurants, began offering “Vietnamese Sandwiches” on their appetizer menus.  Before long, almost every other Vietnamese restaurant in the Duke City followed suit.  In 2010, Banh Mi Coda became the Duke City’s first full-fledged banh mi shop.  It took three more years before Sai Gon Sandwich launched, becoming the second restaurant in Albuquerque dedicated solely to banh mi.

#4 Grilled Pork Banh Mi

The third banh mi restaurant–the one about which you may not yet have heard–is called iKrave.  The name means exactly what it sounds it should mean as in “I crave” banh mi. iKrave opened its doors in August, 2014. Being ensconced in a rather nondescript strip mall on Juan Tabo (just north of Constitution) and without a prominent eye-catching storefront, much of its business has come from the Vietnamese community and nearby residents. You wouldn’t blame them if they wanted to keep secret what is one of New Mexico’s best sandwich shops of any genre. Indeed, much of the restaurant’s traffic comes from word-of-mouth. That’s truly the best advertising you can get.

iKrave exemplifies the axioms “big things come in small packages” and “small place, huge flavors.” This Lilliputian lair has room for only a couple of small tables, a free-standing beverage refrigerator and a bamboo counter where you place your order. The man behind the counter is owner-chef Hien who not only constructs the banh mi (it’s a thing of beauty), he cures, marinades, cuts and otherwise imparts preternatural deliciousness on all the meats which grace the banh me he serves. He also slices, dices and juliennes all the fresh vegetables adorning each banh mi.

Grilled Chicken Banh Mi

To say the banh mi is a sacrosanct sandwich is an understatement. So is calling it merely delicious or utterly wonderful. During a 2009 visit to Vietnam for his award-winning “No Reservations” show, Anthony Bourdain described banh mi as “a symphony in a sandwich.” It’s an apt description for the effect this superb sandwich has on your taste buds. You can almost picture all ten-thousand taste buds dancing, enrapt in the melodious harmony of flavors

Bourdain elaborated further: “The baguette alone is something of a miracle. How do they stay so crunchy, crisp and fresh on the outside, so airy, so perfect on the inside?” In truth, this statement is much more applicable to the baguettes in Vietnam than the bread used by banh mi purveyors throughout the Duke City. Hien procures his baguettes from a local baker whose classic preparation techniques are very close to those used in Vietnam. Unlike American sandwiches whose bread can lull taste buds to sleep, Vietnamese baguettes are really the vessel that coalesces all the flavors of the banh mi.

#1 Special Combination Banh Mi

With your first bite, you’ll notice the difference and with each subsequent bite, your appreciation will grow for this delicious duality of light and airy, crisp and soft, fresh and flavorful bread. It’s the perfect canvass for any one of the eight sandwiches on the iKrave banh mi menu.  Before he creates your sandwich, Hien brushes the baguette with a rather expensive French butter then heats it.  It’s one of several touches he employs to ensure the most moist and meticulously crafted banh mi in town.  It’s sandwich artistry at its finest and most delicious.

16 April 2015: Combination #1 is the mother lode, the bahn mi with the most. It’s an unheated sandwich (the Vietnamese version of a “cold cut” sandwich, but infinitely better) constructed with barbecue pork, pork roll and cured pork pate along with the classic banh mi condiments: Vietnamese mayo (cut with butter for moistness and nuttiness), fresh herbs (cilantro, scallions), pickled (julienne daikon and carrots) and unpickled vegetables (jalapeños).  Note: For the fire-eaters among you, ask Hien to replace the jalapeños with Thai bird peppers which are far more incendiary and delicious.   The sandwich is further moistened by sauce Hien uses on the barbecue pork.  Every element in this sandwich is as fresh and delicious as it can be. Together they coalesce to create my very favorite banh mi in New Mexico.

Grilled Chicken and Pork Banh Mi

23 July 2016: if your preference is for a heated sandwich, iKrave has several wonderful options.  Savvy diners who frequent Vietnamese restaurants are familiar with grilled pork, porcine perfection marinated with the sweet spices of anise and cinnamon to create an olfactory treasure that dances on your taste buds.  Imagine a banh mi created with this incomparably delicious pork.  It’s better than your imagination.  So is the grilled chicken banh mi.  If you can’t make up your mind between grilled pork and grilled chicken, the ever-accommodating Hien will build a combination grilled pork and chicken banh mi for you.  It’s my new favorite among the grilled banh mi.

16 April 2015: You’ll want to wash down your banh mi with sugar cane juice made on the premises by Hien himself.  Take a gander at the beverage refrigerator where you’ll see bundles of sugar cane stalks from which Hien extracts the juice.  Organic Lifestyle Magazine lists sugar cane juice  (which has a relatively low glycemic index of 43), as a healthy alternative to table sugar when used in moderation. It contains fructose and glucose, which, unlike sucrose-based sugars, do not require insulin for metabolism.  Moreover, it’s absolutely delicious! Alternatively, iKrave serves what Hien believes to be some of the strongest iced coffee in town.  It’s excellent!  

Sugar Cane Juice

One of the most  common, albeit more than a little bit Americanized, nicknames for Vietnam is “Nam,” obviously a diminutive of its full name.  In honor of the banh mi, perhaps its nickname should be “num num.”  iKrave is home to banh mi which will have you uttering “num num” and more.

iKrave Cafe
1331 Juan Tabo Blvd, N.E., Suite 1P
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 275-6625
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 19 April 2015
1st VISIT: 16 April 2015
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 23
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Special Combination Banh Mi, Sugar Cane Juice, Coconut Macaroons, Grilled Pork Banh Mi, Grilled Chicken Banh Mi

Ikrave Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Pop-Up Dumpling House – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Pop-Up Dumpling House Within the Talin Market

 “And her dumplings were so light they would float in the air and you’d have to catch ’em to eat ’em.”
~Author: Fannie Flagg

Think you know dumplings? Believe you’ve tried almost every type of dumpling there is? That’s what I thought until discovering a Wikipedia page called “List of dumplings” which essentially opened up a large world of ne’er sampled dumplings. For the glass-is-half-full types among us, this list is a challenge…an opportunity to broaden our dumpling horizons. Alas, such a horizon (and waist) broadening experience will mean crossing many borders.  Not surprisingly, not every dumpling type is to be found in the Duke City, although you just might be surprised at just how many types of dumplings you can find within our little slice of heaven on Earth.

Your veritable “around the world in fifty dumplings” tour should start at Ming Dynasty where the dim sum menu showcases such Chinese dumpling treasures as crab Rangoon, har gow (shrimp dumplings), shumai (steamed dumplings stuffed with prawns), sausage buns, steamed barbecue pork buns, shrimp stuffed bean curd and several others prepared so authentically and so well you might swear you’re in Hong Kong. For a dumpling tour of Japan you need go no further than Magokoro where some of the best gyoza (a mix of chicken and pork potstickers) is to be found. For the best dumplings in the exotic Indian sub-continent, track down the Karibu Cafe’s mobile kitchen where the samosas are sumptuous. Better yet, visit the Cafe on Eubank. There’s no need to meet in the mountains of Nepal to enjoy momos, steamed or fried vegetable and meat dumplings with flavors as impressive as Mount Everest.   Visit Namaste for these momentous momos.  One of the Duke City’s best kept secrets is the Arirang Oriental Market where you’ll find the best Mandu (Korean potstickers) in New Mexico

Susan Creates some of the Best Dumplings in New Mexico

Enthusiasm in Europe runs high for dumplings. At the Red Rock Deli, you’ll want to play Russian roulette with the restaurant’s incomparable sweet and savory pierogi and nalesniki. Even if you can’t pronounce them, you’ll also want to order pyzy, grated Polish potato dumplings. For the best fruit filled empanadas (blueberry is the bomb) in town, a trip to the Golden Crown Panaderia is in order while savory empanadas are made incomparably well at Passion Latin Fusion.  If you’re one of the few Duke City diners who hasn’t visited El Modelo for their fabulous tamales, your around-the-world tour should be reason enough to drop everything you’re doing.  These are arguably the best tamales in New Mexico.  Several metropolitan restaurants offer delicious versions of Italian dumplings, one exemplar being Joe’s Pasta House in Rio Rancho where you can enjoy mouth-watering gnocchi, ravioli and tortellini. If Southern-style chicken and dumplings are more your style, Bucket Headz is your hook-up.

“”What’s this?” you ask. “Empanadas and tamales are a type of dumpling?” “Ravioli, too?” According to Wikipedia and several dictionaries, the answer is a resounding “yes.” Not only are empanadas, tamales and ravioli a type of dumpling, but so are matzo balls, wontons and even Yorkshire pudding. Most dictionaries are rather noncommittal in firming up a definition for the term “dumpling,” though most seem to agree dumplings include a portion of dough or batter that is usually steamed or boiled…though they can be baked or fried. The Kitchen Project goes a bit further: “It can be a batter or dough rolled out that is cooked by itself or filled with anything from meat to fruit. It can be a main dish, side dish or dessert.”

Hot and Sour Soup

The term “dumpling” is even used as a descriptor for people and animals, the context being “something soft and rounded like a dumpling, especially a short fat person or animal.” Thankfully at 6’1” that sobriquet probably won’t ever be used to describe me. With such versatility and universality, we can probably agree that the dumpling is practically a food group in itself. There isn’t a culture on planet Earth that doesn’t enjoy dumplings in one form or another, finding extraordinary satisfaction in biting into a filled or unfilled, crescent-shaped or not, fried, steamed, boiled, sweet or savory, main course or dessert…culinary conundrum.

Unless you consider Chef Boyardee’s “Raviolios” a type of dumpling, my sole experience with dumplings was with empanadas and tamales–until the Air Force sent me to Massachusetts.  There this unacculturated, bumpkinly hayseed from Peñasco discovered Italian dumplings at such paragons of dumpling deliciousness as Mario’s Italian Restaurant in Lexington.  Later when my friends frequented the “Combat Zone,” Boston’s notorious red light district, for adult “entertainment,” I walked the streets of Chinatown in pursuit of dumplings in the area’s dumpling houses.  Despite the name, dumplings weren’t the exclusive offering at these dens of dumpling deliciousness; they also offered an extensive array of Chinese delicacies.

Hot and Spicy Cucumbers

Albuquerque’s very first dumpling house launched in September, 2014 within the sprawling confines of the Talin Market.  The curious appellation Pop-Up Dumpling House implies it’s a mini-restaurant not tied to one brick-and-mortar edifice that doesn’t function as a full-time restaurant.  True enough this Pop-Up enterprise is open only on Fridays and Saturdays in Albuquerque and on Mondays in Santa Fe.  Step into Albuquerque’s commodious Talin Market and the aromas emanating from the dumpling house don’t just pop up; they lure you in like an irresistible siren’s call.  It’s a delicious detour you’ll want to repeat over and over again.

A small menu belies the huge flavors you’ll encounter at the Pop-Up Dumpling House.  Aside from dumplings, the menu offers a number of noodle dishes including an addictive beef noodle soup, beef chow fun and dan dan noodles.  Two mini sandwiches–a “duckwich” and a braised pork belly sandwich–what many of us would consider “finger foods” are also available as are appetizer sized bowls of spicy steamed eggplant and hot and spicy cucumbers.  As at sushi restaurants everywhere, you place your order on a paper menu you can mark up with your lunch or dinner choices.  Your meal will be delivered minutes later with the dumplings likely being the last item you receive as they’re prepared to order.  That’s right!  They don’t sit under some heat lamp until someone orders them.

Beef Noodle Soup

True to the name on the marquee (if the pop-up restaurant had one), the big draw at this Pop-Up is dumplings–delicious, delectable, overstuffed delights–which are handmade by a friendly Sichuan family. Watching Susan at work is a real treat. She handcrafts each and every dumpling, paying meticulous attention to her work. The dumplings are engorged (not an exaggeration) with your choice of lamb, rib eye, shrimp, traditional (pork), vegetarian, wild coho salmon and (on occasion) lobster. Eight plump dumplings comprise an order (or you can split an order into four dumplings of two different types) along with your choice of hot and sour or egg drop soup. Your choice from among three dipping sauces–traditional, spicy or Sichuan-style–completes your order and frankly, that may be more than enough.

15 July 2016: During our first two visits we’ve enjoyed three different dumplings: traditional pork, rib eye and lobster.  These dumplings aren’t exactly standard in size or shape, but the telltale hand-pinched seal that keeps the filling in place is readily apparent.  It’s a Tupperware-like seal that prevents the filling from spilling out while the dumplings are immersed in a boiling bath which renders them soft, but chewy.  Bite into them and you expose the minced protein with which the dumplings are stuffed.  Tiny bits of carrot and scallions punctuate the pork and lamb.  Though most familiar to anyone who frequents Chinese restaurants, the traditional pork dumplings may be the most satisfying.  From the lamb-filled dumplings, we just didn’t get much of the gaminess that characterizes lamb.  With the sweet, briny flavor of lobster, the lobster dumplings transported us to the coast of Maine where even locals would enjoy them immensely.

Pork Dumplings

Though the dumplings need absolutely no amelioration, the dipping sauces provide an additional level of flavor and interest.  For New Mexicans used to piquant flavors, neither the spicy or even spicier Sichuan-style sauces will be much of a challenge, but they do boost the flavor profile.  Both the spicy sauce and the Sichuan-style sauce are redolent with aromatic, herbaceous notes  inherent from a unique peppercorn-like spice we’ve experienced at a few Asian restaurants.  In any case, with or without sauces, the dumplings warrant a return visit on their own.

15 July 2016: Hot and sour soup and egg drop soup have become such de rigueur options at Chinese restaurants that it’s a surprise when something else is offered.  It’s even a greater surprise when either soup is more than just passable.  The Pop-Up Dumpling House’s hot and sour soup borders on greatness.  No!  Make that this hot and sour soup is great!…as in among the very best in the city great.  This intensely flavored elixir actually lives up to its name, imparting a vinegar sweetness and Sichuan and black pepper heat.  It’s also served hot.  The steamy, nasal-clearing heat rises up to cure whatever may be ailing you.

Beef Chow Fun

9 July 2016: You can easily fill up with even a half order (four) of dumplings and a bowl of hot and sour soup.  Don’t let that sway you against ordering yet another outstanding soup.  The beef noodle soup, a swimming pool-sized bowl redolent with the olfactory-arousing aroma of star anise and rich with mildly astringent bak choy is fabulous!  Long, thick noodles swim in the coffee-colored broth where larger than bite-sized chunks of beef are submerged.  This is the type of soup which tastes just as good, if not better, the next day.  It’s not likely you’ll finish it during your visit unless you forego having dumplings and that would be a shame.

9 July 2016: Hot and spicy cucumbers are a perfect foil for the beef noodle soup, providing the type of contrast which goes oh so well with the rich, sweet-savory broth.  Thin-sliced cucumbers cut diagonally are seasoned with oil, red chile flakes and Sichuan pepper, rendering them deliciously piquant and reminiscent of the cucumber pickles often served at Korean restaurants with banchan (side dishes) offerings.  The hot and spicy cucumbers are delightfully crunchy and positively addictive and if you like the hot and spicy flavor profile, the hot and spicy soup is a palate-pleasing pairing.

Duckwich

9 July 2016:  When she was a young child, one of my nieces referred to Beef Chow Fun as “fun chow.” From the mouth of babes oft emanates great wisdom. Beef Chow Fun can indeed be fun chow. The term “Chow Fun” applies to both a type of noodle and a popular stir-fried dish with meat and vegetables. Only very wide noodles, usually made from ground rice, qualify as chow fun. At a minimum, they’re usually about an inch-wide and can range in length from six to twelve inches. At the Pop-Up Dumpling restaurant, the noodles are stir-fried with bak choy, carrots, white onions and celery. While the addition of vegetables may sound healthy, chow fun shouldn’t be considered a health food as it’s fairly oily and calorific though so delicious, it’s hard to show much restraint.

15 July 2016: If you’ve got just a little room left after polishing off an order of dumplings and soup, one of the two sandwiches on the menu may be a nice option. Neither sandwich comes close to breaking the bank, each setting you back south of four dollars. The duckwich is a thing of great beauty—tender tendrils of moist, cold duck, thin slices of green apple and a smear of Hoison nestled in the same dough from which dumplings are made. Providing only five or six bites, let’s face it, this is finger food, but it’s duck and it’s delicious. The contrast of rich duck and tangy green apple slices is particularly pleasing. If duck isn’t what your heart desires, there’s also a braised pork belly sandwich with the inimitable flavor of smoked bacon with a fatty texture.

My friend Bruce “Sr Plata” Silver Enjoys the Eggplant

15 July 2016: One of the most irrefutable truths in the Albuquerque culinary world is that no restaurant prepares eggplant quite as well as Joe’s Pasta House in Rio Rancho. It’s eggplant the way the culinary gods intended eggplant to be made. Despite his undying devotion to Joe’s stuffed eggplant, my friend Sr. Plata isn’t eggplant monogamous. He’ll try eggplant anywhere and any way its prepared. The Pop-Up Dumpling House’s version, spicy steamed eggplant is the antithesis of Joe’s in that it’s assertive and piquant, very reminiscent to a version you might have at a Korean restaurant. Silky eggplant is made hot and spicy courtesy of chili and Sichuan sauces. Much like tofu, eggplant absorbs and complements flavors very well. It’s an excellent canvas for the piquant pepper based sauce.

Popping in to the Pop-Up Dumpling House will enhance your appreciation for the humble and incomparably delicious dumpling.  It’s a great place to start your own “around the world in 50 dumplings” tour.

Pop-Up Dumpling House
Talin World Food Market
88 Louisiana Blvd, S.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 268-0206
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 15 July 2016
1st VISIT: 9 July 2016
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 23
COST: $$
BEST BET: Beef Noodle Soup, Pork Dumplings, Ribeye Dumplings, Hot & Sour Soup, Beef Chow Fun, Hot & Spicy Cucumbers

Pop-Up Dumpling House Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Pana’s Cafe – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Pana’s Cafe for Excellent New Mexican Food

The term “red or green” has connotations beyond New Mexico’s sacrosanct chile.  For restaurateurs across the Duke City, red or green can spell the difference between a good or bad reputation and even success or failure.  All food service establishments across the city must display the results of the most recent restaurant inspection conducted by the Albuquerque Environmental Health Department.  Those results are displayed on a “current grade” sticker in a visible inspection, typically the front door.  Savvy diners look for a green sticker which signifies that a food establishment received a passing grade at their most recent inspection.  It means the restaurant staff has demonstrated skills and knowledge that create a safe and sanitary food service environment. 

A red sticker, on the other hand, means the food service establishment has been downgraded for non-compliance with the Food Sanitation Ordinance. The dreaded red sticker can be the proverbial kiss of death. Although food service establishments are given the opportunity to correct critical violations, sometimes the damage to reputation is done. For years, the “red or green report” was a weekly staple of KOAT Action 7 News with appropriate dramatic emphasis accorded restaurants earning red stickers. As with inspections of any type, restaurateurs who strive consciously to maintain a safe and sanitary food service environment look forward to proving their mettle.

Pana’s Dining Room

Despite my years of reviewing restaurants I’d never actually witnessed a restaurant inspection until my inaugural visit at Pana’s Cafe.  It was the cafe’s first inspection.  Inspector Rosanna Trujillo was the consummate professional, providing constructive feedback, dispensing praise, imparting training and providing helpful tips as warranted.  She was the antithesis of any negative perception about restaurant inspectors you may have.  When she completed her inspection–no violations–owners Joe and Michelle Repichowski were so proud they immediately posted a photo of the inspection results on their Facebook page.  That’s not something you see many restaurants do.  Then again, Pana’s Cafe isn’t like many other restaurants.

Pana’s Cafe is ensconced in the space which previously housed Patricia’s Café and before that Choroni Café. The café is set back from heavily trafficked San Mateo and doesn’t especially stand out visually among the multitude of stores and shops with which it shares space in a timeworn shopping center. Where Pana’s Café does stand out is with the New Mexican fare it serves. It’s New Mexican food with a pedigree. The restaurant is named for Michelle’s mother whose sister Mary has owned and operated the immensely popular Padilla’s Mexican Kitchen for decades. Joe admits Pana’s recipes are essentially the same family recipes which have made Padilla’s beloved in the Duke City.

Salsa and Chips

Unlike the venerable Padilla’s, Pana’s Café isn’t serving to overflow crowds—at least not yet. As with many relatively new mom-and-pop restaurants, sometimes word is slow to get around. Pana’s launched in January, 2016, exactly four days after Patricia’s Café shuttered its doors. Remnants of its previous tenant remain on the walls where the north wall is painted with a mural depicting the Santuario de Chimayo. On the south wall are painted three other murals, each with a New Mexico theme. Pana’s Café is fairly small in an intimate sort of way. The menu is somewhat abbreviated, too, but it’s got many of the traditional New Mexican favorites. Cumin is added only to the carne adovada.

Pana’s is currently open for breakfast and lunch Tuesday through Saturday. Breakfast is served from 8AM through 11AM and lunch is served from 11AM through 3PM. Among the smattering of breakfast items are pancakes, huevos rancheros and breakfast burritos. Lunch plates–which include beans, rice and two sopaipillas—feature such traditional New Mexican favorites as tamales, chile rellenos, enchiladas, tacos, burritos and a phalanx of ala carte items. “This and that” are available in the form of guacamole and chips, salsa and chips, a Frito pie or a hamburger with fries. As you peruse the menu, a bowl of salsa and basket of chips are ferried to your table. The chips are crispy and thick, ready to scoop up as much salsa as you’re able to lay on them. Alas, the salsa is a bit on the thin side and is better for dipping than for scooping.

Blue Corn Enchiladas with Red and Green Chile

16 June 2016: You can have your enchiladas constructed with cheese, ground beef, chicken or carne adovada and on either blue- or yellow-corn tortillas. Regardless of filling you choose, make it an early Christmas and ask for both red and green chile. For good measure ask for at least one fried egg (over easy) on top. The chile is hot! For a fire-eater, it’s not necessarily piquant, but it’s served piping hot, not lukewarm. It’s a very good, earthy chile, unadorned with seasonings that don’t belong on New Mexican food. Both the red and green are about even on the piquancy scale and both are absolutely delicious. The accompanying beans will remind you of those prepared by your abuelita while the Spanish rice is…well, it’s Spanish rice.

8 July 2016: What do you do when a combination plate asks you to select three items from among four choices?  You pay a little bit extra for the forth item, of course.  Pana’s combination plate offers three choices from among four equally delicious items: a cheese enchilada, tamale, chile relleno and ground beef taco.  That’s akin to ask you to pick three of your children to the exclusion of the fourth.   You just can’t do it!  All four items are exemplars of how they should be prepared.  The taco, a crescent-shaped corn tortilla housing well-seasoned ground beef, shredded cheese, lettuce and tomato is excellent, the likely first item you’ll finish.  The tamale features features a nice balance between corn masa and chile marinated pork topped with shredded cheese and more of Pana’s addictive chile.  Puncture the chile relleno with your fork and it practically oozes molten cheese.  Cheese enchiladas are usually pretty boring to me, but not so at Pana’s where the red and green chile enliven the dish.  The chile is memorable!

Combination Plate

Complimentary sopaipillas are becoming increasingly rare in New Mexican restaurants. Lunch plates at Pana’s include not one, but two of them. They’re large, puffy and fresh with deep pockets beckoning for honey to be poured in. If you’re so inclined, you might also want to stuff your savory entrée into those deep pockets, a sort of stuffed sopaipilla in miniature.

Sopaipillas

Joe and Michelle are the consummate hosts. Their customer-orientation became apparent when, despite having an inspector performing a white-glove routine on their café, they were timely to take my order, quick to replenish my beverage and ever present to ensure my dining experience was a good one.   Pana’s Café is the type of restaurant you pull for to succeed and not only because of its culinary lineage. It’s a very good New Mexican restaurant.

Pana’s Cafe
3120 San Mateo Blvd, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505)884-4260
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 8 July 2016
1st VISIT: 16 June 2016
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 23
COST: $$
BEST BET: Chips and Salsa, Sopaipillas, Blue Corn Enchiladas with Ground Beef and Beans Christmas Style, Combination Plate (Ground Beef Taco, Cheese Enchilada, Tamale, Chile Relleno)

Pana's Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Le Troquet Bistro – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Bistro Le Troquet on 3rd and Central

Pope Gregory the Great was a prolific writer canonized as a saint and recognized as a “doctor of the church.” Among musicians, singers, students and teachers, he is revered as a patron saint, a heavenly advocate who intercedes on their behalf. Among gluttons of the Middle Ages, however, the supreme pontiff was reviled. In his treatise Morals on the Book of Job, Pope Gregory essentially condemned them to Hell, a denouncement reflecting the strict austerity of the times. For gluttons, the unpardonable sin was in deriving too much pleasure from eating. Eating, or more precisely the pleasurable overindulgence in food, was viewed as an ungodly preoccupation with temporal and corporeal pleasures at the expense of spirituality.

Church leaders of the Middle Ages didn’t just denounce the derivation of pleasure from eating in a general sense. They listed five specific ways in which gluttony was a sin: eating too soon, eating too expensively, eating too much, eating too eagerly, eating too daintily and eating wildly. By Middle Age standards, many Americans are gluttons and would be condemned to an eternity in Hell for our enjoyment of food. Fortunately the provincial dogma regarding the enjoyment of food has been replaced by more “one dimensional” thinking that focuses on the sin of the inordinate desire to eat too much when there are needy going without food.

Very European Dining Room

In The Science of Sin, Dr. Simon Laham posited that “If Pope Gregory the Great had it right, the French are going straight to Hell.” It’s a declaration that doesn’t sit well with the French who in 2003 petitioned Pope John Paul II to remove gourmandise (gluttony in English) from the list of seven deadly sins. For the proud French, gourmandise reflects shared pleasure and generosity—sharing food as a social activity. Gourmandise respects moderation and portion control and is wholly contrary to the priggish conformity to propriety that describes gourmets. Rather than a cardinal vice, the French argue that gourmandise is a theological virtue.

Alas, it’s not a virtue practiced often or well (or maybe not at all) in America where lunches tend to be hurried gobble-and-go affairs spent more attuned to the latest cat video on YouTube than on what we’re eating or with whom we’re sharing our meal. Contrast that with the gourmandise experience—a leisurely, three course, two-hour lunch spent in conversation with friends. Gourmandise is more akin to a marathon while the American dining experience has devolved into a sprint.

Mushroom Soup

In Albuquerque, no one has been more instrumental in introducing the spirit of gourmandise or in providing fine French alternatives to the ubiquitous chile-laden cuisine that seems to define the city than chef Jean-Pierre Gozard. Chef Gozard started it all in 1975 with the launch of La Crepe Michel, a hugely popular restaurant that’s still going strong nearly four decades later. In 1979 he opened Le Marmiton, one of the four or five restaurants I’ve missed most from among all those which have closed since we returned to Albuquerque. From 1987 through 1995, Chef Gozard plied his talents in Casa Vieja, a Corrales landmark.

After leaving Casa Vieja, it looked for a while as if Albuquerque had seen the last of the über chef, but in 2008 he turned up at La Crepe Pierre, a highly regarded restaurant which eventually evolved into Chez Bob, another excellent French restaurant. By year’s end, Chef Gozard had launched Cafe Jean-Pierre, within easy walking distance of the Century 24 theater. At the close of 2015 and advent of the new year, Chef Gozard closed his eponymous restaurant to focus on Le Troquet Bistro on the intersection of 3rd and Gold in the downtown area.

Frog Legs

Le Troquet occupies the charming space which served as home to P’Tit Louis Bistro for years. Fashioned like a turn-of-the-century Parisian bistro, the art-deco ambiance includes hardwood floors and furnishings with masculine black accents bespeaking of period authenticity and precise craftsmanship which is also apparent in the artisan construction of the hand-crafted art nouveau bar and other decorous touches.  It’s a setting which just may inspire the spirit of gourmandise even among the most rushed diners.

The interior is cozy with fewer than a dozen tiny tables in personal space proximity to one another. The tables are obviously intended for dishes to be delivered in sequence, not for several dishes to be delivered at one time. Each table is adorned with linen tablecloths and napkins. A soundtrack featuring the soothing stylings of Edith Piaf and other French singers of decades past lend to a dining experience in which time seems to have stopped nearly a century ago

Jambon Beurre with Fruit

The menu is more timeless and surprisingly ambitious considering the relatively small and very intimate confines of the restaurant. One side of the two-page menu is dedicated to more informal “lunch-type” items. It lists soups, salads, hors d’oeuvres, sandwiches and quiches, warm plates and desserts. The other page lists nine dinner entrees and two appetizers. Those dinner entrees include several of the magnificent dishes which made Café Jean-Pierre one of Albuquerque’s finest restaurants of any genre. It’s a list of lavish deliciousness, each entrée making it impossible not to derive great pleasure from the indulgence of eating.

4 March 2016: Quite possibly the best soup on the menu is a soup du jour offering of cream of mushroom. If your benchmark for cream of mushroom comes from a red-labeled can, you’ll curse having wasted your life at your very first bite of Le Troquet’s soul-satisfying rendition. Rich, creamy and steaming hot, it is the essence of French comfort, replete with the flavor of heady, earthy mushrooms tinged with a nuanced hint of white wine. It’s the type of soup which will inspire diners to close their eyes and luxuriate in swoon-worthy deliciousness. Not surprisingly, this version is as good (if not better) than the cream of mushroom soup served at Café Jean-Pierre.

Veal Scallopine Normande

4 March 2016: With centuries of enmity between England and France, it stands to reason that name-calling would ensue as we learned during our three years in England. Whenever English citizens spoke of the French, the term “Frogs” was bandied about, the sobriquet “Frogs” apparently derived from the French propensity for enjoying frog legs. Frog legs are a delicacy not often found in restaurants across the Land of Enchantment, but Le Troquet has them. These mild-flavored gams are coated with a combination of garlic, herbs, fresh tomatoes and white wine…and no, they don’t taste like chicken (though there is a textural resemblance). Frog legs, in fact, don’t have much flavor at all. They’re rather bland and nondescript, hence the tendency for restaurants to sauce them or coat them in other ingredients.

4 March 2016: Though blessed with the wide availability of sandwiches dressed with every conceivable condiment, sometimes only the simplicity of a relatively unadorned sandwich will do. During our time in Europe, we were surprised at how much we enjoyed simple sandwiches constructed with no more than three or four ingredients. Nostalgia filled our hearts with every bite of the Jamon Beurre, a simple sandwich made with ham of Paris and butter on a baguette. That’s it! Three ingredients, no more. The rich creaminess of butter on a soft, moist baguette is the perfect repository for salty, savory, smoky ham. Though Dagwood might not appreciate its sparsity, we loved it.

Chicken Cordon Bleu

4 March 2016: While veal scallopini is a traditional Italian offering, French influences can be added to produce a superb dish you’d be proud to serve and even happier to eat. Le Troquet’s Veal Scallopini Normande will please the most discerning palates. Thin, delicate veal medallions of veal are lightly floured and sautéed then deglazed with apple brandy and served with roasted apples (ostensibly from the apple orchards of Normandy, for centuries producers of Europe’s best apples). The veal is so tender you can cut it with a fork and so good, it may be lust, another of the seven sins, you’ll experience as you consume it with wonton alacrity. The veal is served with sweet, tender carrots and fresh haricot verts. 

6 July 2016: My first experience with chicken cordon bleu was on a flight to London way back in 1979.  The quality of airplane food back then was probably on par with the quality of food at most high school cafeterias.  To say the dish didn’t impress me in the least is an understatement.  While chicken cordon bleu was all the rage in French restaurants across the fruited plain back then, I don’t recall ever ordering it at any restaurant.  That’s more than three decades of denying myself, all courtesy of a poor-performing airplane galley.  Had Chef Jean-Pierre catered for the airplane, I might today count chicken cordon bleu as one of my favorite French foods.  Le Troquet’s version, pulchritudinous poultry stuffed with ham and Gruyere cheese and topped with a sumptuous sauce made with caramelized onions, is easily the best I’ve had.  Considering a small sample size, that’s not saying much about chicken cordon bleu, so let’s qualify the degree of my affinity for the dish by declaring it’s now one of my favorite French dishes.

Beignets with Apricot Marmalade

4 March 2016: There are five desserts on the menu including the patisserie du jour (or pastry of the day). St. Gregory the Great would have frowned had he been presented with the option of beignets as he would certainly have succumbed to temptation. Four warm beignets heavily dusted with confectioners’ sugar and served with an apricot marmalade would have driven even Job to temptation. Surprisingly dense yet remarkably light, each beignet is a puffed-up piece of goodness. The apricot marmalade packs just enough of a fruity tang to serve as a foil for the beignets.

If it’s a sin to eat at Le Troquet Bistro where profound enjoyment is assured with every bite, Albuquerque has plenty of transgressors who prefer to think of themselves as enjoying the Lord’s bounty.

Le Troquet Bistro
228 Gold Avenue, S.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 508-1166
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 6 July 2016
1st VISIT: 4 March 2016
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 23
COST: $$ – $$$
BEST BET: Mushroom Soup, Veal Scallopini Normande, Jambon Beurre, Beignets, Frog Legs

Le Troquet Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Bucketheadz – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Bucket Headz in its new home on San Pedro just north of Gibson

“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.  NOTE: In June, 2016, Bucket Headz relocated to 1218 San Pedro, N.E., just south of Gibson in the former home of Talking Drums.   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 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

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