Philly Steaks – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Philly Steaks on Juan Tabo Opened Its Doors in February, 2018

I love the dignity in the name Philadelphia, but at heart, we’re Philly.”
~Lisa Scottoline
New York Times Best-Selling Author

There are a couple of things you should know about Philadelphia,” my friend  Vladimir “Speedy” Gonzalez told me before my first visit to the City of Brotherly Love.  “First, Philadelphians are not rude.  We may be blunt and direct, but that’s just passion.”   Passion?  I always thought he was a grouch.   “Second,” he added, “you’ve got to know the process for ordering a Philly cheesesteak when you visit Pat’s King of Steaks.  If you don’t, you’ll be sent to the end of the line.”  Sure enough, the Pat’s counterman didn’t appreciate my typical twenty questions ordering approach and sent me back to the end of the line, halfway around the block. 

Apparently what Vladimir called passion is pretty pervasive in Philadelphia.  There are dozens of examples of that passion in sporting events, including a notorious 1968 event in which Eagles fans booed and pelted Santa Claus with snowballs.   There are also plenty of non-sporting examples.  In 1998, the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, which oversees taxis, mandated etiquette classes for the city’s cab drivers. Cynics called it “cabbie charm school” and derided it as “a class to teach class.” More recently, a 2012 project called “Twitter heat map” scanned 462 locations in the United States for the phrases “Good morning” and “F–k you.” The project revealed that Philadelphia registered the highest concentration of “f-bombs,” but also the highest concentration of “Good morning.”

The Interior of Philly Steaks

So, how do you reconcile that dichotomy?   “Good morning” is not only a salutation, it’s a wish and a blessing, a life-affirming declaration.  It’s hardly a rude or impolite.  Could it be that denizens of the City of Brotherly Love are morning people?  That the rigors and vicissitudes of the day weigh so heavily that they’re transformed into rude and grumpy people?  Could it be, as Vladimir explained, all about passion?  My friend “8,” who matriculated at an institution of higher learning in Philadelphia explained the notion of the grumpy Pat’s King of Steaks waitstaff this way: “It’s kind of a self fulfilling prophecy much akin to the grumpy counterman at Zabar’s or the attitude of the waiter at Peter Luger when a patron asks for a menu, or any Jewish deli man charged with slicing the pastrami.  It is part of the charm if that’s the way to express the curmudgeonly quality of the service.  I would expect no less when ordering.”  Extrapolate that charm, that attitude, that passion across an entire city and you’ve got Philadelphia, take it or leave it.

I’ll take it, especially if it means incomparable cheesesteaks, peerless pretzels, craveable cannoli, bountiful broccoli rabe and roast pork sandwiches, sumptuous square pizza, terrific tomato pie and scrumptious scrapple.  We were ecstatic to learn about the February, 2018 launch of Philly Steaks, an authentic purveyor of Philadelphia cheesesteak sandwiches owned and operated by veteran restaurateurs who plied their trade in the mean streets of the Cradle of Liberty.  We knew we’d love the sandwiches, were hopeful the portions would be more Philadelphia than Albuquerque, and wondered if the famous Philadelphia passion would be part and parcel of our experience.

Green Chile Fries

Philly’s Steaks is owned and operated by Jim and Joe Lelii, twin brothers with a passion for Italian style cooking.  The brothers launched their first restaurant at only 21 years of age and over the years, opened several successful Italian restaurants and sandwich shops across the Philadelphia metropolitan area.    Recently, however, they relocated to the Land of Enchantment where they launched Philly’s Steaks.  They’ve got the pedigree and the passion to do it right.  In rare lulls in grill activity, we shared good conversation and laughs with the affable Joe, a larger-than-life personality who doesn’t perpetuate the stereotype of the grumpy counterman.  He was as as friendly as could be. Look at his Popeye-like forearms and it’s obvious Joe has spent much of his life chopping rib eye on the grill, a melodic percussion of metal on metal as he slices the rib eye into thin, small pieces.

Philly Steaks is a veritable  shrine to the City of Brotherly Love, both its heroes and its anti-heroes.  Walls are festooned with framed photos of iconic Philadelphia sports icons–real (Smoking Joe Frazier, for example) and cinematic (Rocky Balboa anyone), singers, actors (such as Al Martino) and so much more.  One wall is dedicated to Joe’s family.  He waxes nostalgic when he points out the photos of his grandfather’s deli and other family enterprises in South Philadelphia.  Philly Steaks, he told us, is configured very similarly to similar restaurants he previously owned.  He has high hopes that Duke City diners will embrace his sandwich shop. Every indications–crowded tables with satisfied patrons–is that Albuquerque is already in love with Philly Steaks.

Onion Rings

3 March 2018: Seeing “French Fries” on any menu typically inspires a well-deserved yawn.  At Philly Steaks, it inspires contemplation–a deep, thoughtful deliberation as to how you want your fries.  Sure, you can save the thick, seasoned fries for ketchup, but how boring is that–especially when you can have your fries with Cheese Whiz, Crab, Crab and Cheese, Buffalo chicken and cheese, green chile and cheese, and Philly cheesesteak?  Available in two sizes, regular and bucket, either portion size will sate a family of four.  Don’t be wary about ordering your fries with green chile and cheese.  It’s as if a native New Mexican prepared the green chile.  It’s got both piquancy and the distinctive roasted flavor we love. 

14 March 2018:  On his one “cheat day” a week, my friend Bruce “Sr. Plata” allows himself just a few more carbs than usual.  One of his favorite indulgences is onion rings–what Sesame Street’s Cookie Monster calls “vegetable donuts.”  Philly Steak’s rendition are battered a bit on the thick side with a panko-like breading.  Bite into each of the succulent orbs and the flavor of sweet, juicy onions greets you.  Be careful, though, as these onion rings could burn your mouth.

My Friend Bruce “Sr Plata” Holds A Cheesesteak

If you’ve ever lamented the chintzy meat portions in sandwiches crafted throughout the Duke City, you’ll be pleasantly surprised (maybe amazed) at how generous portion sizes are at Philly Steaks.  Half a Philly Steaks cheesesteak is as big, if not bigger, than any other Philly cheesesteak in Albuquerque.   You’d think there is more livestock in Pennsylvania than there is in New Mexico where sheep and cattle outnumber our citizenry.  And, if you remember the lawsuit a few years ago against Subway for selling twelve-inch and foot-long sandwiches that were allegedly less than twelve-inches long, you’ll be happy to see elongated, torpedo-sized rolls that probably exceed twelve inches at Philly Steaks.  This is the sandwich size Duke City diners deserved and perhaps thought they’d never find in the city. 

3 March 2018: One look at the Philly Cheesesteak and we knew there’s no way my Kim and I would be able to finish it in one sitting.  It was humongous.  Moreover, it was bursting with flavor.  As at the aforementioned Pat’s King of Steaks, there’s a process for ordering your Philly Cheesesteak.  First you select your protein: beef (fresh-cut rib-eye) or chicken (fresh-cut boneless chicken breast) then your choice of cheese (white, American, Provolone, Cheese Whiz) then the type of cheesesteak you want: pizza steak, mushroom cheesesteak, bell pepper cheesesteak, chicken cheesesteak, Buffalo chicken cheesesteak or green chile cheesesteak.  While the ordering process may be similar to that of Pat’s, the “attitude” is not.   Instead of sass and ‘tood, you’ll be greeted with cheer and friendliness.

Philly Cheesesteak “Whiz Wit”

If our choice (bell pepper cheesesteak with Provolone) is any indication, you can’t go wrong with any one of them.  The grilled rib eye is superbly seasoned, tender and delicious.  The hoagie roll is perhaps the best we’ve had in Albuquerque.  The portion size–it’s what Duke City sandwich lovers have wanted for years.  Of course, one of the most difficult decisions to make when ordering a cheesesteak is what type of cheese to request.  We’ve had our share of cheesesteaks with the fabled Cheese Whiz as well as with Provolone and American cheeses, but our favorite has been the white cheese with its salty, pungent notes.  It melts well and integrates beautifully with the steak. 

14 March 2018:  Like me, my friend Bruce “Sr. Plata” Silver has long lamented the dearth of sizeable sandwiches in the Duke City.  Having grown up in Los Angeles, he was used to sandwiches as big as footballs.  In Philly’s Steaks, he’s finally found a sandwich comparable in size to those with which he was raised.  Moreover, the cheesesteak he ordered (mushrooms, red peppers, grilled onions and Provolone) was as delicious as any sandwich he’s had anywhere.  My sandwich was exactly the same as his save for ordering Cheese Whiz instead of Provolone.  Perhaps traumatized by my inaugural visit to Pat’s King of Steaks, I didn’t order mine “Whiz Wit,” local vernacular for ordering a cheesesteak with Whiz and grilled onions.  Maybe next time.  At any regard, we both enjoyed our sandwiches very much and thoroughly enjoyed our visit with Joe.

Italian Special

3 March 2018: Freshly sliced hoagies, all served with lettuce, tomato, onion, oil, oregano, hot or sweet peppers, salt and pepper and mayo on request, are an excellent alternative to a cheesesteak (if you can pry yourself away from the sandwich which made Philadelphia famous).  There are ten sandwiches in the freshly sliced hoagies portion of the menu.  Among them is a sandwich almost as elusive as Forrest Fenn’s treasure, a truly transformative Italian Special (ham, capicola, Genoa salami, Provolone, pepper ham).  It’s roughly the size of two, maybe three, similarly named and priced Italian sub sandwiches at any Albuquerque restaurant. 

Most ordinary humans won’t be able to consume an entire sandwich in one seating (that turns out to be a blessing because the sandwich tastes even better for breakfast the following day).  Most of us (exempting politicians) won’t be able to get the sandwich in our mouths.  It is seriously thick and crammed with meats and condiments.  The meats (Boar’s Head) work very well with the condiments, the more of them the better.  With its sweet and mild notes, Provolone lets other ingredients shine as well as being a great foil for the sweet, tangy peppers.  Oh, and the hoagie rolls are fantastic, reminiscent of Amoroso’s, the legendary Philadelphia hearth-baked bread.  Joe told us the dough is shipped from Philadelphia and baked on the premises.  It’s outstanding bread and the way it’s sliced, there’s not so much bread that it dominates the sandwich and leaves little room for other ingredients.

Crab Soup

3 March 2018: Because of its proximity to Maryland, it’s only natural that the menu of a Philadelphia themed restaurant would include dishes showcasing crab Maryland style.  Befitting Philadelphia’s “passion,”  a little tchotchke about the staff’s “crabbiness” hangs behind the counter where you place your order.  The menu offers “craby” fries, “craby” cheese fries and on the day of our inaugural visit both Maryland style crab cakes and a crab soup.  It’s a thick elixir served hot in a large portion cup.  Creamy and rich, it’s replete with chunks of sweet crab, potatoes, red peppers and seasonings.  As with every item on the menu, portion size is Philadelphia not Albuquerque.

3 March 2018: When my Kim was studying the small dessert case, Joe came up to her and suggested she try the cheesecake which is imported directly from the City of Brotherly Love.  It makes great sense that the city famous for its eponymous cream cheese would make a superb cheesecake.  Indeed it does.  Moreover, food historian Gil (great name) Marks notes that Philadelphia boasted of a tavern called “Cheesecake House” in the 18th century.  So, Philadelphians have been enjoying cheesecake for years.  You’ll enjoy this one.  It’s dense, creamy, buttery and not overly sweet on a Graham crust.  Even better, it’s served slab-sized so it’s big enough to share.  Take my word for it, if you eat even half a sandwich, you’ll only have room enough left for half a slice of cheesecake.

Cheesecake

If you’ve ever experienced the stereotyped seedy side of Philadelphia manners as well as the authenticity and deliciousness of the Philadelphia cheesecake, you’ll love Philly Steaks where you can experience the latter without the “passion” for which Philadelphians are known.   Philly Steaks has elevated the sandwich scene in Albuquerque.

Philly Steaks
2520 Juan Tabo, N.E., Suite C
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 582-2527
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 14 March 2018
1st VISIT: 3 March 2018
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 23
COST: $$
BEST BET: Philly Cheesesteak, Cheesecake, Italian Special, Crab Soup, Green Chile Fries
REVIEW #1029

Philly Steaks Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Big D’s Downtown Dive – Roswell, New Mexico

Big D’s Downtown Dive in Roswell, New Mexico

During a March, 2012 trip to Roswell, New Mexico President Barack Obama made the following opening remarks to his speech. “We had landed in Roswell. I announced to people when I landed that I had come in peace. (Laughter) Let me tell you – there are more nine and ten year old boys around the country when I meet them – they ask me, “Have you been to Roswell and is it true what they say? And I tell them, ‘If I told you I would have to kill you.’ So their eyes get all big…so…we’re going to keep our secrets here.”  To many, his comment was just an innocent joke, but to passionate conspiracy theorists, Obama’s remarks were further proof of a government cover-up of the extraterrestrial crash landing which supposedly occurred outside Roswell in 1947.

Ufologists like to point out that in the seventy years since that extraterrestrial crash, there has been a quantum leap in technology, a leap unprecedented in all human history.  Believers will tell you humankind had help in making those advances and that the help came in the form of technology found in the downed alien spacecraft recovered in a pasture northwest of Roswell.  Among the advances borrowed or developed from recovered alien craft are night-vision goggles, lasers, fiber optics and chips.  Through reverse engineering, scientists also significant advances in weaponry and military aircraft.  Ufologists have even coined the term “Roswellian” to describe technology  so advanced that it must have been derived from the reverse engineering of crashed or captured alien spacecraft.

A very busy dining room at 2PM

One advancement for which the “Roswell incident” isn’t given sufficient credit is the improvement of burgers.  Locals will tell you the burgers in Roswell have made a quantum leap in deliciousness over the past few years.  They don’t necessarily credit little green men for imparting advanced burger grilling techniques, but with all the saucer-eyed  alien statues in front of several local restaurants, you have to wonder.  For skeptics who accept truth only if presented with quantitative data, consider that in both 2016 and 2017, Chef Toddzilla’s Mobile Cuisine, a purveyor of gourmet burgers nonpareil, was named Food Truck Burger of the Year.  That’s not just best food truck burger in Roswell.  That’s best food truck burger across the fruited plain.

Chef Toddzilla isn’t the sole Roswell burger emporium to achieve national acclaim.  In 2014, TripAdvisor, a travel review site scoured through millions of user reviews and comments to compile their list of the 10 best burger joints in the U.S.  Two bastions of behemoth burgers from the Land of Enchantment made the list.  Placing third was Sparky’s in Hatch which is fronted by iconic fiberglass and concrete statues, some of whom have an alien appearance.  The other New Mexico eatery on the hallowed list was Big D’s Downtown Dive in Roswell which placed eighth.  TripAdvisor noted: In the Land of Enchantment, owner and chef, Don Nason, uses garden fresh ingredients to grill up burgers that are out of this world.”

Thanksgiving Fries

National and state recognition are nothing new for Big D’s.  In 2013, the kitschy eatery was featured on Rand McNally’s 2013 “best of the road” which showcases America’s Most Beautiful, Most Fun, Friendliest, Most Patriotic and Best for Food small towns.  Rand McNally raved “The owner promises that “nothing we make comes from a tin can or sits months on end on a shelf somewhere,” the first indication that this casual, down-home burger joint is a good bet.”  Big D’s was one of twenty-six restaurants highlighted in the March-April, 2017 edition of New Mexico Journey, the magazine for AAA members.  In the cover story, “Cheap Eats,”  a guide, or “sampler platter” through some of the state’s “wallet-friendly eateries,” Big D’s cheesesteak sandwich and turkey cordon bleu burger were given high marks.

Located in the heart of downtown Roswell just a few blocks north of the International UFO Museum and Research Center, Big D’s is well worth a detour whether you measure distance in miles or parsecs.  You might visit Roswell to look for alien life, but you’ll come back for Big D’s menu.  Before you get to the menu, you’ll encounter one of the most fun and funky, cool and kitschy ambiances in the Land of Enchantment.   The ambiance is automotive garage meets diner.  The tailgate of a Chevrolet truck hangs on one wall, hub caps on another and the counter prefacing the kitchen is festooned in license plates.  Motorists will enjoy perusing the maps under glass on each table, but not as much as they’ll enjoy studying the menu.

The Big Kahuna

It’s a menu which makes it immediately obvious it was designed by an inventive chef.  Snacks, what other restaurants might call appetizers, aren’t de rigueur standards.  They include crab cakes, stuffed avocados, Southwest chicken wontons and more.  The Soup and Greens section of the menu lists several tempting items such as a Hard Apple salad (aged Cheddar cheese, honey-roasted peanuts, arugula, gala apples, craisins and a peanut cider dressing).  Specialties include the aforementioned turkey cordon bleu as well as a number of sandwiches.  It’s the “Burger Machine” page to which my eyes quickly gravitated.  There are eight burgers on the menu, including a breakfast burger (about as rare in these parts as a UFO crash landing).  “Happy Endings” is what Big D’s calls its desserts.

10 March 2017: Though all seven “snacks” would tempt Job, we opted for the Thanksgiving Fries (sweet potato fries, sweet whiskey butter, cinnamon and pecan smoked bacon).  My Kim called them the best fries she’s ever had.  She got no argument from me.  The combination of savory and sweet elements in perfect proportion to each other is an absolute winner.  So is the pecan-smoked bacon which picks up just a bit of sweetness from the sweet whiskey butter and cinnamon while retaining smoky-salty properties.  Every single fry is drizzled with both as if someone in the kitchen had meticulously applied them.  Almost exactly one year from our introduction to these terrific tubers, we returned to the Downtown Dive to see if the magic could be recreated.  If anything, the Thanksgiving fries were even better the second time around.  These truly are fries for which you’ll be giving thanks.

Gyro

10 March 2017: Two burgers are adorned with autumn roast green chile, usually a magnet for this green chile cheeseburger aficionado.  Not this time courtesy of the “Big Kahuna” (teriyaki-glazed grilled pineapple, Spam, white cheese and cilantro with a spicy jalapeño dressing).  Constructed from six-ounces of freshly ground chuck seasoned and served medium well, it’s a terrific burger with flavor components that seemingly come at your taste buds from all sides.  It’s a burger with complementary elements befitting its name.  Several weeks ago, the President of Iceland president of Iceland casually joked that pizza topped with pineapple should be outlawed, an absurdity which set off a debate of international (and viral) proportions.  The President of Iceland might be the only person who wouldn’t enjoy this burger. 

10 March 2017: Rather than ordering one of the burgers, my Kim opted for a Gyro (marinated lamb, tomato, red onions, roasted garlic tzaziki on pita).  The marinated lamb isn’t shaved from a vertical broiler on a spit as some gyros tend to be.  Instead, the lamb more closely resembles finely cut shawarma meat.  It’s a very moist and very well seasoned lamb that’s enlivened by the roasted garlic tzaziki.  With enough garlic to ward off a family of vampires and the pleasant flavors of yogurt, dill and cucumber, the sauce is quite good. 

The Green

9 March 2018:  Any of us from the northern half of the state who believe our green chile cheeseburgers are the be all and end all, the apotheosis of burger perfection should take an occasional trek way down south where such restaurants as Alamogordo’s Rockin’ BZ Burgers, Hatch’s Sparky’s and Roswell’s Big D’s Downtown Dive prove themselves every bit as good, if not better, than their northern counterparts.  Big D’s rendition, The Green (autumn-roasted green chile, yellow cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, mustard and pickled cucumbers) is superb, one of the five or six very best burgers in New Mexico.  It’s a “takes two hands to handle” behemoth with flavors as large as the six-ounce fresh ground chuck beef patty.  Two elements stand out.  Not surprisingly, one is the autumn-roasted green chile which has a wonderful roasted flavor and a nice bite.  The other is the  pickled cucumbers which are several orders of magnitude better than bottled pickles. 

9 March 2018: My good friend, the late and much-missed Ruben had one complaint about Cuban sandwiches.  Most of them, he complained, were smooshed down in panini presses which seemed to impart a sandpaper-like quality to the bread that tore into the roof of his mouth.  He would have loved Big D’s Cuban (pulled Pork, smoked ham, white cheese, pickled cucumber, stone-ground mustard dressing on a hoagie roll).   This Cuban isn’t prepared on a panini press.  The hoagie roll is soft and tender.  Moreover, this is a sandwich you’ll never describe as parsimonious in its portions.  There’s a ton of roast  beef, sheets of ham, lots of cheese and whoa, those pickled cucumbers are among the best we’ve ever had. 

The Cuban

If another alien craft crash lands in the Roswell area, there’s a good chance its GPS (galactic positioning system) missed its target–Big D’s Downtown Dive.  It’ where all savvy diners from throughout the solar system and beyond should dine when in the Roswell area.

Big D’s Downtown Dive
505 North Main Street
Roswell, New Mexico
(575) 627-0776
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 9 March 2018
1st VISIT: 10 March 2017
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 23
COST: $$
BEST BET: Thanksgiving Fries, The Big Kahuna, Gyro, The Green, Cuban Sandwich

Big D's Downtown Dive Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Stack House BBQ – Rio Rancho, New Mexico

Stack House Barbecue in Rio Rancho

One of my Psychology professors cautioned students about the danger of “amateur diagnosis,” the practice of assigning specific psychoses and neuroses to people we meet solely on the basis of our cursory familiarity with the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.  He explained that it often takes an experienced practicing psychiatrist several sessions to arrive at a diagnosis and many more sessions before treatment proves effective.  His point–a little knowledge can be dangerous–applies in virtually every arena of knowledge in practicum.  Reflecting back on all the times my rudimentary conclusions were ultimately proven incorrect, it’s a point well driven. 

When my friends Larry “the professor with the perspicacious palate” McGoldrick, Dazzling Deanell and Beauteous Barb decided to pursue Kansas City Barbecue Society (KCBS) certification, the words of my Psychology professor resonated in my memory.  Sure, we’d all been eating barbecue most of our lives, but how much did we really know about passing judgement on barbecue?  Not much, it turned out.  Over the course of several hours, our KCBS instructor imparted sage knowledge and proven techniques to help us understand thee three most important and very nuanced elements of competitive judging: taste, texture and appearance.   Much like getting a Psychology degree, obtaining KCBS certification gave us a modicum of knowledge.  Applying what we learned in such competitions as Rio Rancho’s annual Pork & Brew built upon that knowledge.

Long lines queue up for terrific ‘cue

Recently when Larry and Deanell rhapsodized poetic about the barbecue at the Stack House BBQ in Rio Rancho, my first questions were “how would that barbecue rate in a KCBS barbecue competition?” Larry gave it nines in taste, texture and appearance. Deanell one-upped Larry, indicating the Stack House BBQ’s ‘cue warranted all tens (and she knows what it is to be a ten). They invited me to discover for myself whether their ratings were hyperbole or justified.  Alas, during my inaugural visit, I was suffering the ravages of a bad cold which rendered my taste buds untrustworthy and enfeebled my olfactory senses.  You can’t judge barbecue if you can’t imbibe its aromas and taste its subtle flavor qualities. 

Having a bad cold tends to exacerbate my desire for chile, the more piquant the better.  In the throes of even the most egregious colds, I’ve been known to drive to Santa Fe for some of the Horseman’s Haven‘s combustible chile.  The Haven’s Level II chile, affectionately known as “El Diablo” is about the only thing that can quell the stuffiness of a head cold.  While the Stack House doesn’t offer anything quite as incendiary as El Diablo, the menu does include two pepper-infused items: Frito pie and jalapeño sausage.  From what my compromised palate could surmise, both were probably quite good though it would take a return visit or ten to know for sure. 

Pit Master Extraordinaire Greg Janke Slices Brisket with Surgical Precision

My return visit transpired exactly one week after my inaugural visit, so eager were my Kim and I to experience the bodacious barbecue about which Larry and Deanell had raved.  We had the great fortune to spend time discussing all things barbecue with proprietor-pit master Greg Janke.  Like me, Greg is an Intel alum, having toiled at the technology giant for 23 years, five years longer than I.  Not one to let grass grow under his feet, Greg left Intel in April, 2016 and five months later–on Friday, September 23rd–he launched Stack House BBQ. 

Greg’s transition from technologist to restaurateur wasn’t as challenging as one might think.  In fact, Greg admits, working at Intel prepared him very well to own and operate a restaurant.  Even in such technically demanding areas as Automation where he rose through the ranks, Intel employees have the opportunity to hone their business and customer orientation skills (not to mention the discipline to work long hours).  There is, of course, nothing in the semi-conductor arena which translates directly to the mastery of smoking meats in the low-and-slow manner.  Greg began smoking meats at home several years ago, eventually earning praise from friends and the confidence to enter the arena of competition.

Half Rack of Baby Back Ribs

In each of the past two years, Greg has competed at Rio Rancho’s Pork & Brew, a Kansas City Barbecue Society sanctioned event.  In 2016, he finished seventeenth overall in a field of thirty-one, faring especially well in the pork category where he placed eleventh.  As much as the judges in the blind taste foodfest may have enjoyed his barbecue, it was event-goers who convinced him to launch his own barbecue restaurant.  In each of the event’s two days, he sold out–every morsel of magnificent meat–well before day’s end.   Moreover, many of them lavished praise and encouragement, essentially convincing Greg that he belonged in the barbecue restaurant arena.

Just seven months previously, Rub-N-Wood had shuttered its doors, leaving the City of Vision without a barbecue restaurant.  Now, Rio Rancho without barbecue is akin to Hillary not wearing a pantsuit.  It just doesn’t and shouldn’t happen.  Barbecue became a Rio Rancho tradition in 1983 when the great Gary West launched Smokehouse BBQ  at 4000 Barbara Loop, a location which would henceforth become synonymous with great barbecue. He owned and operated the stately home of seductive smoke for nearly a quarter-century before moving on. With Roger Bell at the helm, Rub-N-Wood moved in and pleased palates for nearly three years.  The hazy smoke plumes which had so long emanated from 4000 Barbara Loop resumed on a lazy, late September day when Greg assumed the role as Rio Rancho’s proprietor of the pit.  It was a day warranting celebration.

Half Chicken

As had transpired during the Pork & Brew, Greg sold out his first few days of operation.  Barbecue aficionados quickly embraced his Memphis meets Texas approach to smoking meats.  What’s not to love!  Greg uses a combination of oak and cherry woods to impart a unique flavor to his barbecue.  He developed a rub that includes some twelve ingredients that penetrate deeply into the meats and imbue them with flavor-boosting, crust-forming properties.  Not only that, the Stack House BBQ restaurant is an inviting milieu for meat lovers.  It may well be the most pristine barbecue restaurant in which you’ve ever set foot.  If cleanliness is indeed next to godliness, Greg is probably being fitted for a halo as you read this.  In addition to the immaculate nature of the premises, service is friendly and attentive (another Rio Rancho tradition exemplified by the terrific staff at Joe’s Pasta House among others).

The Stack House menu is rather limited.  Meats–brisket, chicken or pulled pork–are available by the half or full pound.  Also available are sausage, jalapeño sausage, half-a-chicken and baby back ribs (available in quantities of three, half a rack or a full rack).  You can also opt to have your meats on a sandwich.  Then there’s the aforementioned Frito pie.  Sides are pretty much what you’d expect at a barbecue joint: potato salad, cole slaw, green beans, corn on the cob, chile, beans, mac and cheese and fries (including chile cheese fries).  A baked potato, with or without meat, can also be had.  Limited applies solely to the number of items on the menu board, not to how great they taste.

Sides: Green Beans and Potato Salad

7 October 2016: You won’t mind getting your hands dirty handling the baby back ribs on which Greg’s magical rub is liberally applied.  These ribs are messy and they’re magnificent, each meaty morsel pried away easily from the bone.  They’re not fall-off-the-bone tender, having just the right amount of give that signifies the perfect degree of doneness.  Make no bones about it, these baby back ribs are (as Larry would say) competition-worthy, needing neither sauce nor amelioration to improve upon them.   The sauce, by the way, is terrific, a sweet and tangy complement to the richly satisfying smokiness of the ribs.

7 October 2016: With the emphasis on pork and brisket, chicken is often a sorry afterthought at some barbecue establishments.  Not so at the Stack House where the full-flavored half-chicken is a main-event item.  Quite simply, it’s fantastic, some of the very best we’ve had in New Mexico!  Peel back the blackened skin (delicious in its own right) and you’ll be rewarded with moist, juicy and delicious white and dark meat chicken…and there’s plenty of it.  A nice-sized half-chicken (breast, thigh and leg) won’t leave much for sharing–not that you’ll want to.  Update: Because the half-chicken didn’t always sell out, Greg decided to offer chicken thighs instead.  Aside from being the most moist part of the chicken, chicken thighs don’t have to spend as much time on the smoker as half chickens.

Frito Pie

In November 2016, Stackhouse began offering daily specials from Wednesday through Sunday. Wednesday’s child is a pulled pork sandwich.  On Thursday, it’s a chicken sandwich.  Friday features beef back ribs (a whole pound) though you’re well advised to get them early.  When we attempted to order beef back ribs on December 2nd, 2016, Greg apprised us that on that very date, my friend Sr. Plata ordered two portions for lunch and took home another for dinner.  Sr. Plata enjoys the Stackhouse’s beef ribs so much, he may move in…at least on Fridays.  But I digress.  Saturday’s special is three baby back ribs while Sunday, it’s Frito pie.  All daily specials are value priced.

2 December 2016: New Mexico’s contribution to Health.com’s “50 Fattiest Foods,” a state-by-state hall of infamy, was our ubiquitous Frito pie. The version low-lighted in the article contained a pants-popping 46 grams of fat and 14 grams of saturated fat. Still, it’s hard to resist the Land of Enchantment’s most egregious fat-offender, especially since it sometimes looks like a healthy lettuce and onion salad when prepared by some restaurants. Underneath the lettuce and chopped onions, however, is a mound of ground beef covered in chile and cheese surrounded by Frito’s corn chips.  At the Stack House, Greg dispenses with all the offending lettuce, tomatoes and onions.  Instead, this Frito Pie is constructed with only the good parts–lots of Fritos corn chips, ground beef, chile and a generous sprinkling of shredded cheese.   The chile has a nice bite, just enough to get your notice.  This is a fat-fest all New Mexicans will enjoy.

Three Meat Platter: Brisket, Chicken Thighs and Pork

2 December 2016: For a veritable meatfest, your best bet is a three meat platter (pictured above).  Kim, my carnivorous better-half will vouch for the brisket, chicken thighs and pulled pork.  Though a half chicken would be her preference, the chicken thighs make for a good consolation prize.  They’re moist, tender and delicious with a light smokiness.  The best of the three may well be the brisket which is shredded and pulls apart easily.  As with brisket in Central Texas, the cradle of Southwest barbecue, this isn’t the most lean of brisket.  It’s got just enough fat for flavor.  Tender tendrils of deliciousness define the shredded pork, a tangle of white and dark meat.  All three meats are lightly smoked and are perfect vehicles for the Stack House barbecue sauce.

2 December 2016: My Kim has often threatened to take away my man card, especially when we prepare steak at home or order it at a restaurant.  While she immediately–and with great zest–attacks the steak, my focal point is usually a loaded baked potato with plenty of melting butter, sour cream and shredded cheese.  The Stack House does one better than local steak houses.  First, the baked potatoes are smoked–lightly impregnated with hickory-cherry smoky goodness.  Secondly, you can load them up with the aforementioned baked potato suspects and with your choice of smoked meat.  The pulled pork is a magnificent choice for the smoked baked potato.  You’ll wish all your baked potatoes were similar endowed.

Smoked Baked Potato with Pulled Pork

7 October 2016: Great barbecue restaurants know that to provide an excellent full-meal experience, smoked meats must be accompanied by worthy sides.  Stack House has a two-tiered pricing model for its sides, the most expensive being three dollars.  Sides are served on Styrofoam vessels and are generously portioned.  The potato salad may evoke memories of picnic meals long gone.  It’s a mayonnaise-based potato salad with a pleasant mustardy-vinegary tang.  Alas, the green beans could use a few bits and pieces of smoked meats and maybe a pinch of salt.  Much better is the cherry cobbler, replete with whole cherries and a crumbly and delicious crust. 

18 February 2018:  One of the best kept secrets in the Albuquerque metropolitan area may be just how good the Stack House breakfast burritos are.  My Kim who prefers hand-held breakfast burritos to the more ubiquitous smothered burritos believes these are the very best in New Mexico.   The Stack House’s basic breakfast burrito is stuffed with hash browns, eggs and cheese.   You can then add bacon, sausage, brisket or pulled pork (the brisket reigns!).  Of course, you’ll want either (or both) red or green chile.  While my own loyalties tend to lie with the more complex nuances of red chile, Greg’s green chile is in rarefied air as some of the very best in the area.  It’s magnificent!  Too piquant for my Kim, it titillates my taste buds–doubly so when I squeeze in some of the Stack House’s peppery, sweet, tangy barbecue sauce.  Folgers got it wrong.  These are the best reason to get up in the morning.

Breakfast Burrito

18 February 2018:  America’s ideological divide dominates the airwaves when what we really should be deliberating is hard-shell or soft tacos.  Though I’d never kick any taco off my table, count me among the aficionados of the latter.  The Stack House’s breakfast soft tacos (egg and cheese on a soft flour tortilla) are among the main reasons why.  As with the burritos, you can add bacon, sausage, pulled pork or brisket along with red and (or) green chile.  It goes without saying that the green chile will leave all others envious and the brisket is such a complementary flavor it may awaken your taste buds.   Once available only Saturday and Sunday, the Stack House’s breakfast is so popular, it’s now available Wednesday through Sunday from 8AM through noon.

If you live in the Albuquerque metropolitan area and your cable or satellite package doesn’t include the Cooking Channel, you’d be forgiven if you shed a few tears on Thursday, November 9, 2017 when you missed the Stack House BBQ being showcased.  In an episode entitled Carnival Eats, Greg created Stack House’s mountainous triple stack sandwich (brisket, pork and jalpeño sausage topped with slaw and barbecue sauce on a hoagie roll).  Sadly because the show is still being aired on reruns, it’s not yet available online.  Not even Greg himself has seen the program for want of the Cooking Channel.  If you haven’t discovered for yourself why television food and cooking shows are visiting Rio Rancho, you owe it to yourself to see why the Stack House is a star.

Breakfast Soft Taco

Stack House BBQ may ultimately become yet another destination restaurant in Rio Rancho, a port-of-call for barbecue aficionados from throughout the metropolitan area, if not the entire Land of Enchantment.  With its September launch, all is right in Rio Rancho once again.

Stack House BBQ
4000 Barbara Loop, S.E.
Rio Rancho, New Mexico
(505) 903-7516
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 18 February 2018
1ST VISIT: 29 September 2016
# OF VISITS: 4
RATING: 23
COST: $$
BEST BET: Baby Back Ribs, Half Chicken, Cherry Cobbler, Apple Cobbler, Brisket, Pulled Pork, Chicken Thighs, Frito Pie, Smoked Baked Potato, Breakfast Burrito, Breakfast Taco

Stack House BBQ Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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