El Taco Tote – Albuquerque, New Mexico

El Taco Tote on Central Avenue

As we perused the colorful menu hanging on the wall at El Taco Tote, my friends Captain Tuttle, Bob of the Village Of Los Ranchos and I pondered the veracity of images depicting gargantuan tacos brimming with glistening meat and sundry toppings. Could these super-sized behemoths possibly be as large as pictured? Perhaps, as in “objects in the mirror may appear closer than they are,” these tacos only appear large in photos. Captain Tuttle, a semi-regular at Taco Tote, confirmed that the truth is somewhere between the perfectly posed tacos portrayed on the menu and those actually served. He recalled from previous visits, being served tacos with as much as four ounces of meat. That’s as much as McDonald’s vaunted Quarter-Pounder.

Considering most taquerias nowadays tend to prefer (and proffer) small tacos, we wondered if Taco Tote’s largesse was an accommodation to denizens of the fruited plain who crave and expect Brobdingnagian portions. We’re not the only ones who’ve pondered this Jack Handy level deep thought. In an April, 2010 edition of “Ask A Mexican,” a reader asked columnist Gustavo Arellano “why do those tiny little Mexican tacos exist? Does anyone prefer getting 3 tiny tacos instead of 1 good sized one?”  Arellano clarified “It’s in the United States where the taco has been super-sized. In Mexico, and in Mexican communities in los Estados Unidos , tacos continue to be best appreciated small–four bites maximum. A taco is meant to be a snack, a bit, not a full meal. If we wanted something bigger, we’d order a plate or a bowl–or, better yet, order a plate/bowl make our own impromptu tacos.” So there!

Taco Tote Doesn’t Build A Better Taco…You do!

Alas, smaller tacos don’t necessarily translate to smaller prices.  In fact, Arellano has observed that “restaurants always overprice tacos, even when they’re substantially bigger than the small tortillas.”    He laments further that one of his favorite taquerias commits the “cardinal sin of charging more than a dollar for a taco. I don’t care how great or big a taco is–a taco is not worth more than a dollar ever”.  Much has changed–including the hyper-inflated cost of food–since 2010 when he made that declaration.  The price of Taco Tote’s offerings might just send him into sticker shock.  My initial assessment was that the price of tacos is nearing that of burgers, then I remembered just how expensive burgers have become.

With signage boasting “We don’t build a better taco…You do!,” Taco Tote’ operating model differs from that of many of its competitors where tacos are constructed for you.  You truly can have it your way at Taco Tote!  Your way starts with the filling of your choice: sirloin, arrachera (skirt steak), grilled chicken, bistek (inside round beef), barbacoa (cheek meat), fish, adobada pork (pork marinated in traditional Mexican dried chilies and spices), adobada chicken, shrimp, al pastor, carne asada, tripitas (small intestines) and brocheta (sirloin sautéed with green chilies and onions.  There’s only one vegetarian offering, a mushroom and veggie medley sautéed with soy sauce and “special spices.” 

The famous Bob of the Village of Los Ranchos Stands by the Salsa Bar

El Taco Tote celebrates the Mexican tradition of “street food,” a term which usually conjures up images of simple street stands serving up steamy, fresh corn or flour tortillas enveloping seared meats, veggies or seafood topped with sundry condiments and salsas.  As with street stands throughout Mexico, El Taco Tote doesn’t offer a New Mexican style taco with ground beef, lettuce and tomatoes.  These are tacos as authentic as you’ll find in their birthplace of Juarez, Mexico.  Founded in 1988, Taco Tote quickly opened its first branch restaurant in El Paso before expanding to the Duke City.  Today two dozen restaurants grace Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and Mexico.

Place your order then saunter over to the condiment bar which is where your taco becomes a “tote” (Mexican slang for large) as you cram it with onions, cucumber, cilantro, grilled hot peppers and more.  Six salsas, all of which pack a potent punch, are also available, but be forewarned, a couple of them might require a fire extinguisher.  The pequin chile talamada isn’t quite hot enough to remove the enamel from your teeth, but it might burn your tongue a bit.  Even the guacamole salsa has a bit of a bite.  You’ll be impressed by the fresh quality of the condiment bar where everything appeared to be homemade.

Chiles Rellenos with Beans and Rice

During our inaugural venture in 2006, my Kim and I fell in love with the pickled red onions which went especially well with the fish tacos.  El Taco Tote’s fish tacos are  akin to those you might find in the landlocked regions of Mexico where the fish is fried then nestled into warm corn tortillas.  It’s then up to you to dress those tacos with the condiments of your choice.  With fish tacos, you have to exercise some caution because unlike some meats, not everything goes well with fish.  Bob enjoyed his inaugural foray into the fish taco arena undressed.  No, not him.  His fish taco.  That’s the beauty of Taco Tote.  You’re free to create…or not to. 

21 November 2017: Despite the promise of titanic tacos, Captain Tuttle and I fell prey to Taco Tote’s clever of point-of-sale-marketing ploy.  When we got to the cash register, we espied a poster touting Taco Tote’s latest offering, Hatch chiles rellenos with refried beans and Spanish rice.  We just had to see for ourselves if these rellenos were as appetizing as the poster was appealing.  We should have stuck to tacos.  The rellenos were more than a bit on the mushy side, a result of having been fried in grease that just wasn’t hot enough.  Your intrepid blogger could barely finish one of the two rellenos on the plate.  Thankfully the tortillas and beans were quite good.

Unadorned Fish Taco

El Taco Tote’s corn and flour tortillas are made by hand, ostensibly the way they’ve been made in Mexico for hundreds of years. You can even watch these magical orbs being crafted thanks to the restaurant’s open kitchen design. Refried beans have a slight aftertaste of lard which also holds true to Mexican tradition. The Spanish rice is a bit on the dry side, but as regular readers know, Spanish rice rarely receives praise on this blog. Three aguas frescas–horchata, jamaica and melon) are available to wash down your victuals.

El Taco Tote describes itself as an “all fresh” restaurant, everything–from tortillas to its distinctive salsa bar–is made fresh every day, with no preservatives and with the best quality in produce, meats and ingredients.  In that salsa bar you’ll find everything you need to create your tacos your way.

El Taco Tote
4701 Central, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 265-5188
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 21 November 2017
1ST VISIT: 2 June 2006
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 18
COST: $$
BEST BET: Fish Tacos, Horchata, Tacos Al Pastor

El Taco Tote Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Los Compadres Restaurant – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Los Compadres on Central Avenue

In the vernacular and tradition of Hispanic Northern New Mexico, few–if any–titles were held in such esteem and reverence by elder generations as “compadre” (male) and “comadre” (female).  In his Dictionary of New Mexico & Southern Colorado Spanish, Ruben Cobos defines a compadre as a “ritual co-parent; a term by which godparents address the father of their godchild and by which the child’s parents address the godfather.” With the societal dissolution of the family entity, the term compadre doesn’t hold the same bonding connotation as it once did–at least in terms of raising one another’s families should the need arise.  Today the term compadre is frequently used almost interchangeably with “paiser,” a derivative of “paisano” or countryman. Paiser is a Northern New Mexican word addressing a person from one’s hometown or county.

When Janice and Roberto Martinez launched Los Compadres in March, 1997, they must have had in mind a homey, family-oriented restaurant in which compadres could gather for delicious Mexican and New Mexican cuisine the way it’s been prepared for generations.  Their mission statement as expressed so familially on their Facebook page bespeaks of concepts very important to New Mexicans: “The goal is to serve the best food in New Mexico and make customers feel happy and at home. So come in, get comfortable, and enjoy a nice meal with friends and family here at Los Compadres Restaurant LLC where Mi Casa Es Su Casa.”  

A rare sight–Los Compadres Isn’t Packed

When Brian Maestas a paisano from el Norte recommended Los Compadres Restaurant, he didn’t just tell me it serves great food, he asserted “they have the best Mexican/New Mexican in the state.” He cemented this audacious contention with bona fide credentials you can respect. Brian used to work at El Bruno and grew up in Cuba, New Mexico. El Bruno’s (the one in Cuba) is one of the ten best New Mexican restaurants in the state, so any comparison to its greatness has to be investigated. Besides, any restaurant with a name like “Los Compadres” has got to be good.

We’d driven by Los Compadres at its Isleta location on several occasions and despite the fact that its parking lot was always packed, we never stopped, usually because we were on our way to Kathy’s for one of the best burgers in town. Our loss!  Los Compadres signage belied the fact that the restaurant may once have served as a family residence, no doubt with a sala in which compadres got together to talk about family.  After fifteen years at the familiar Isleta location, the Martinez family relocated to the Northeast Heights, launching Los Compadres in the venue which has been the home to such restaurants as the Heimat House and Beer Garden and the Independence Grill.  The original home of Los Compadres, by the way, lives on today as Lollie’s New Mexican Food.

Salsa and Chips

In 2004, Los Compadres relocated again, this time to a Central Avenue venue just east of Route 66’s crossing of the Rio Grande.  Now situated at the former site of a Village Inn, Los Compadres remains a very popular eatery, especially on weekends where short waits aren’t uncommon.  There are several reasons beyond good food that friends and family pack the restaurant. Start with the welcoming family atmosphere and friendly and attentive service and you have a formula for success. Add generous portions of delicious food, piping hot coffee that’s replenished faithfully, prices reminiscent of the halcyon days of Route 66 and you’ve got a restaurant that draws patrons from throughout the city.

Los Compadres straddles that sometimes ambiguous line of demarcation between New Mexican food and Mexican food and in fact, serves cuisine unique to and shared by both (often the sole distinction being the degree of piquancy). The fiery salsa, by far the most piquant item on the menu, is some of the very best on Route 66. Its piquancy comes from incendiary jalapenos, but its essence is in the way those jalapenos meld with the tangy acidity of tomatoes and the refreshing fragrance of cilantro.  Make sure to have coffee with the salsa and chips.  The heat (temperature) of the coffee exaggerates the heat (piquancy) of the salsa even more.  It’s a practice fire-eaters enjoy.

Combination plate with enchilada, chile relleno and taco (not pictured)

Combination plate with enchilada, chile relleno and taco (not pictured)

14 June 2008: Only a few entrees include a papa asada (Mexican baked potato), but you can ask for one on the side if you wish. Not even the English pubs we frequented can bake a potato as well as a Mexican restaurant and the papa asada at Los Compadres is no different, save for the fact that it’s about twice as large as most baked potatoes you’ll find at many Mexican restaurants.  This papa asada is baked to absolute perfection–tender and moist on the inside with no desiccation or hardened crust on the outside. A few pats of butter and sour cream and you’re in potato paradise.

14 June 2008: One of the entrees with which the papa asada comes standard is the bistec a la plancha plate. A la plancha refers to meat or fish grilled on a cast iron skillet. It’s a great way to prepare a steak and seems to imbue it with heightened flavor, tenderness and juiciness. The restaurant’s version is a bone-in sirloin steak, not the finest cut of meat you can find, but one with a lot of flavor if prepared right. Los Compadres does it right! At about eight-ounces, it’s not sinewy or fatty as low-priced steak is apt to be. It’s better, in fact, than some steak for which you’ll pay twice the price.  In addition to the papa asada, the plate includes a generous serving of refried beans topped with a sheen of yellow and white cheeses. The beans are delicious, albeit just a bit too salty.

Bistec a la plancha

Bistec a la plancha

14 June 2008: The menu offers two different combination plates. The number twelve combo, pictured below, is comprised of a crispy beef and papas taco, a cheese stuffed enchilada with red chile and a green chile relleno.  There are several New Mexican restaurants in the Duke City (including a former honoree of Hispanic magazine’s Top 50 Hispanic Restaurants in America) that add potato flakes to their tacos, perhaps hoping to “stretch” the paltry amount of ground beef they add to their tacos. Los Compadres makes no pretense about their tacos. The menu will tell you up front the tacos include papas (not potato flakes), not something you see on many tacos, but quite good when not used as a filler.

The chile relleno is a tepid Anaheim with just a tad more piquancy than a bell pepper. It is topped with green chile which doesn’t pack much of a punch either, but it isn’t needed to make this a flavorful offering.  Lightly battered, it is engorged with cheese which just oozes out as you cut into the chile. Better is the cheese enchilada topped with a red chile that makes the green chile seem incendiary by comparison. The red chile has a lot of earthy flavor and sweetness, but very, very little piquancy. The only disappointment and one I can reiterate about almost every version I’ve had in Albuquerque is the Spanish rice. Los Compadres rendition isn’t desiccated as you’ll find at many restaurants. Instead, it’s nearly overwhelmed with tomato sauce leaning toward the sweet side.

Breakfast Enchiladas with Two Eggs

17 November 2017: My return visit to Los Compadres transpired some nine years after our inaugural visit, but that wasn’t by design.  We tried several times to return–always on weekends–but we couldn’t find a parking place.  That’s a testament to just how very popular this family-oriented gem is.  Breakfast enchiladas (two stacked enchiladas with red and green chile topped with two fried eggs over easy with sides of papitas and refried beans) were my Douglas McArthur (I shall return) choice.  Save for the overly salted refried beans, the behemoth breakfast place is a terrific option, one that will ensure you won’t be hungry the rest of the day.

Los Compadres is a restaurant to which you should bring your compadres, paisanos and paisers. It’s a restaurant you should visit by yourself if you have to. Just visit!

Los Compadres Restaurant
2434 Central Avenue, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 452-8091
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 17 November 2017
1st VISIT: 14 June 2008
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 18
COST: $$
BEST BET: Salsa and Chips, Carne Asada, Cheese Enchilada, Papa Asada, Breakfast Enchiladas, Coffee

Los compadres Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

El Cotorro – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Taqueria Y Heladeria El Cotorro in Albuquerque’s Nob Hill

There’s a scene in the 2006 lucha libre (Mexican professional wrestling) comedy film Nacho Libre in which Nacho’s ectomorphic tag team partner Esqueleto (“the skeleton”) orders two grilled, buttered and chile-dusted elotes (corn-on-the-cob) from a street vendor. Esqueleto graciously attempts to hand one to Nacho who rebuffs the offer, knocks the elotes to the ground and bellows “get that corn out of my face!” That antagonistic act so enraged Esqueleto that he leaped on Nacho’s back and attempted to throw his corpulent partner to the ground. The sight of the two golden elotes tinged with red chile on the ground was funny at the time, however, after consuming the elotes at El Cotorro, we would consider knocking elotes to the ground an act of sacrilege and sheer madness.  It’s no wonder Esqueleto was so upset.

Sure we’ve had elotes elsewhere…plenty of elotes at a plethora of elsewheres, in fact, but only at El Cotorro have elotes made us swoon in appreciation. El Cotorro, which translates to “the parrot” in English is not what you might expect from a Mexican restaurant of that name. It’s not a restaurant named for the stereotypical squawking “Polly wants a cracker” parrot mascot some kitschy restaurant might employ. To understand the moniker El Cotorro, it helps to understand that the restaurant is actually named for Mexico’s lottery.

El Cotorro Dining Room

Similar to Powerball and Mega Millions in the United States, the Mexican lottery (loteria) is a game of chance, but instead of plain numbers adorning ping pong balls, a number is assigned to 54 images on a deck of cards.   The game begins with the caller randomly selecting a card from the deck and announcing it to the players.  Players with a matching pictogram on their board mark it off just as they would a Bingo card.  The first player to complete a previously specified pattern or who fills their board  shouts ¡Lotería!” and is declared the winner.

Often, instead of calling out a number, the caller will use a riddle.  For the card sporting the number 24, for example, the caller would recite “Cotorro cotorro saca la pata, y empiézame a platicar” which translates from Spanish to “Parrot, parrot, stick our your claw and begin to chat with me.”  A large depiction of a parrot on the number 24 loteria deck sits on the roof just above the entrance to the Taqueria Y Heladeria El Cotorro on Carlisle.  It’s indeed indicative that you’ve won the lottery in the form of some of the very best tacos, gelato and elote north of the border.

Mango-Apricot Agua Fresca, Chips and Salsa

During the contentious 2016 Presidential run ending with Donald Trump’s election, Latinos for Trump leader Marco Guttierez warned “that without tighter immigration policies…you’re going to have taco trucks on every corner.” While taco trucks may not yet be parked on every corner across the fruited plain, there are now two corners in the Nob Hill district in which taqueria storefronts welcome teeming masses.  The first,  Zacatecas Tacos & Tequila opened its doors in January, 2012.  Some four-and-a-half years later (in July, 2016), restaurant impresario Daniel Boardman launched El Cotorro which is patterned after taquerias and heladerias in Southern Mexico. El Cotorro is located about a block south of Central on Carlisle at the former site of Rodeo Furniture which moved next door.

As with Boardman’s two other Duke City eateries, Tia Betty Blue’s and Tia B’s La Waffleria, expect El Cotorro to garner significant acclaim.  We first learned of it from Kristin Saterlee’s glowing review on Unfussy Epicure, her wonderful blog.  Kristen effusively predicted El Cotorro is “quickly going to become a favorite Albuquerque stop for dinner, snacks, and dessert.”  Her prognostication gained even more traction when El Cotorro expanded its hours of operation.  Initially open only during dinner hours (5-9), on January 9th, 2017, El Cotorro is now open Monday through Saturday: 11:30AM to 8PM and Sunday, 5PM to 8PM.  

Elote

Okay, so Albuquerque has another taqueria.  If you’re not excited by that prospect, it could be you haven’t the experienced the revolutionary-evolutionary diversity of tacos.  Today’s tacos aren’t your mother’s tacos nor are they the tacos proffered to this day at many New Mexican restaurants.  You know the type–hard-shelled, greasy, fried corn tortillas stuffed with ground beef topped with sundry and predictable ingredients: grated cheese, shredded iceberg lettuce and chopped tomatoes with salsa on the side.  One bite and these tacos fall apart, exploding onto your plate or shirtfront.  Of course we can derive pleasure from these messy, hand-held treasures, but there’s oh, so much more to the tacos of contemporary America.

It turns out the tacos with which Americans have become so enamored are, in many cases, the tacos proffered across Old Mexico for years. No longer are hoity-toity Americans turning up our noses at the “peasant” ingredients (huitlacoche, barbacoa, lengua, buche, tripas, etc.) which used to make all but the most culinarily intrepid among us cower in revulsion. Americans have arrived at the realization that there’s deliciousness to be found in these strange, exotic ingredients. Daniel Boardman, who fears no ingredient, fell in love with the variety of tacos and ice creams available in taquerias and heladerias (ice cream parlors) throughout Mexico and patterned El Cotorro’s menu after dishes he enjoyed from Mexico City to the Yucatan.  

Cobia Fish, Shrimp and Chard & Papitas Guisado (Veggie) Tacos

El Cotorro’s 1,650 square-foot edifice is divided in two–one section for the dining room, the other for the bustling, hustling kitchen, a maelstrom of activity. As you make your way through the queue, you’ll espy menus suspended from the ceiling above the beverage counter. Scrawled above the exhibition kitchen is the inviting suggestion “Vamos A Echarnos Unos Tacos” (let’s have some tacos). In October, 2017, El Cotorro relocated its heladeria operation next door to a venue now entirely dedicated to Mexican frozen deliciousness.  Step into Heladeria El Cotorro and you’ll  be mesmirized by freezer cases in which a panoply of colorful ice cream flavors is displayed, each as tempting as Eve’s apple.

Much like taquerias across Mexico, the menu isn’t overly large or complicated. One menu board lists tacos and their respective meats: al pastor, pork carnitas, braised oxtail, carne asada, chicken tinga and smoked lamb’s leg barbacos. The next lists seafood tacos: shrimp and cobia fish, as well as vegetarian tacos: nopales and chard-and-papitas guisado. On the third menu board, you’ll find the glorious sides: elotes, frijoles churros, chips and salsa bar, chips and guacamole and ceviche. You’ll also find a kid’s menu and a section for drinks: iced tea, aguas frescas and Mexican hot chocolate. Look for daily specials by the counter where you place your order.

Al Pastor and Pork Carnitas Tacos

21 January 2017: You’ll certainly want to order the chips and salsa bar with your choice of flour or corn chips made fresh to order. Six steel trays in the dining room display a variety of salsas along with recommendations as to which salsa goes well with each of the tacos. You’ll ladle your choices onto small steel vessels and ferry them to your table to await the made-to-order chips. These are no ordinary chips. The flour chips, for example, are made from flour tortillas cut into triangular shapes which are lightly dusted with red chile. There’s only one thing wrong with those chips—there’s not enough of them. Each of the three salsa vessels we filled were still half full when we ran out of chips. The salsas are terrific! They’re Mexican salsas with the fiery personality of Montezuma.

21 January 2017: If you don’t order the elotes, El Esqueleto would be justified in jumping on your back. This is quite simply the very best corn-on-the-cob we’ve ever had…and I grew up on a farm where we raised and grilled our own sweet corn. Not only is the flame-grilled corn-on-the-cob sweet and moist, it’s seasoned with a lime aioli, chile powder and cotija cheese. While that makes for a very messy proposition, you’ll enjoy licking any delicious residue off your fingers. You’ll also need a couple napkins to wipe your mouth afterwards. The lime aioli, chile powder and cotija cheese are in such perfect proportion to one another that no one flavor dominates. Instead, this tasty triumvirate combines to give your taste buds a hearty, happy experience. 

Buy Three Tacos Get One Free: Top–Chard and Papitas Guisada and Al Pastor; Bottom–Nopales and Fried Avocado

21 January 2017: Landlubbers and sea-farers alike will enjoy the tacos. Interestingly, the meat-filled and vegetarian tacos are served on corn tortillas while the seafood are served on flour tortillas though you may substitute on request. Authenticity is readily apparent even as you’re placing your order. You’ll espy a vertical spit on which sliced, marinated pork is impaled onto a steel rod just as it’s done in Mexico. Above the glistening pork are slices of fresh pineapple whose flavor drips onto the pork, imbuing it with a tangy sweetness as both cook slowly. Order the al pastor taco and you’ll be rewarded with thinly-sliced pork served with white onions and cilantro sprouts. You won’t find a better al pastor taco anywhere. To my liking, pork carnitas tacos are about as boring as a taco can get, but not at El Cotorro where pork carnitas means slow-cooked pork shoulder, sweet corn pico de gallo, lime crema and cilantro sprouts. Harmonious flavors, thy name is pork carnitas! Wow!

21 January 2017: The seafood lover in you will love what El Cotorro’s kitchen staff does with the bounty of the sea. Picture flame-kissed shrimp sautéed in garlic and joining pipian salsa, arugula, avocado and pumpkin seeds on a flour tortilla. A light squeeze of lime and flavors galore will explode in your mouth. The textural contrast of the shrimp and pumpkin seeds is especially notable. It used to be you couldn’t find a decent fish taco in the Duke City. El Cotorro joins a number of restaurants now serving exemplary fish tacos with a cobia fish taco (blackened Panamanian cobia on jicama-jalapeno slaw topped with diced mango) as great as you’ll find in San Diego. Unlike so many other fish tacos, the coleslaw isn’t overly creamy and has very nice notes of piquancy courtesy of the jalapeno. Counterbalancing the smoky brininess of the shrimp are diced, sweet mangoes. There’s a lot going on here. Similarly, there are a wealth of flavor notes on the chard and papitas guisado (veggie) taco constructed with a mix of sautéed onion, garlic, rainbow chard and purslane (depending on availability) de-glazed with salsa roja and topped with papitas and cilantro sprouts. Surprisingly, this one turned out to be our favorite.

Shrimp and Pineapple Ceviche with Mixed Chips

13 July 2017: Taco Tuesday isn’t just some clever marketing ploy designed to lure hungry patrons to their favorite purveyor of tacos.  Taco Tuesday has become part of American vernacular and culture.  Like Pavlog’s dogs, some of us have become conditioned to start drooling right around lunch time on Tuesdays.  Let El Cotorro hook you up.  On Taco Tuesdays, the incomparable al pastor tacos and the vegan guisado tacos are just two bucks each.  An equally enticing deal offers “buy three tacos, get one free.”  How can you possibly pass that up?  You can’t–especially if one of the four is the fried avocado taco (fried avocado, black beans, sweet corn, pico de gallo and lime crema on a fried flour tortilla)  the very best vegan taco I’ve ever had.  The buttery avocado loses none of its richness when it’s fried while the combination of black beans and lime crema would, on their own, make for a great taco.  Another superb vegetarian taco showcases the briny-slightly tart flavor of nopales (crunchy, fried cactus on asadero cheese topped with crispy green onions. 

13 October 2017: Since introducing my “work-wife” and good friend Elaine to El Cotorro, she’s visited it more often than I have, including three times in one week. She’s enamored of the tacos, particularly those of the vegetarian persuasion.  It goes without saying that she’s besotted with the gelato, too.  Call it showing off if you will, but I’ve delighted in introducing her to dishes she might not know about or otherwise wouldn’t order.  Asking nicely, we got the chef to prepare two fried avocado tacos which Elaine loved.  They’re now on her two-to-three tacos per visit rotation.  Another new to her but instantly a favorite is El Cotorro’s shrimp and pineapple ceviche served with both corn and flour tortilla chips.  This paragon of deliciousness is as invigorating as any Mexican-style ceviche we’ve had with a pronounced citrus freshness permeating every bite.  Micro-greens, red onion and shrimp sliced small impregnated with lime make this a must-have.

Chocolate and Orange-Clove Gelatos

21 January 2017: Since 2013, Frost Gelato in Albuquerque’s Uptown district has redefined, revitalized and refreshed the ice cream experience across the Duke City. Gelato, the Italian word for ice cream, is creamier, smoother and silkier than its American counterpart. It’s also denser yet more elastic than ice cream. Gelato is made with far less cream than conventional ice cream which means less butterfat and a lighter, less airy composition with a better “mouth feel.” Consider it heretical if you will, but after our inaugural experience at El Cotorro, we believe Mexican gelato to be far more bold and brash than its Italian counterpart–more intensely flavored and constructed of ingredients with lots of (and multiple) personality. 

21 January 2017: The ice cream station features a daily rotation of vibrant flavors in kaleidoscopic colors. You’ll may do a double-take at the brassiness and alchemy of the flavor combinations—fruits with savory seasonings, ice creams flavored with adult libations and herbaceous ingredients, creativity blessed with audacity. Who wants vanilla when you can have tarragon grapefruit? The ginger gelato will help you relive the palate-cleansing experience of a sushi meal coupled with the refreshing coolness of ice cream on a summer day. Not surprisingly, the infusion of ginger’s punch also makes it an ideal finish to a piquant meal. The notion of chocolate and caramel gelato may seem as exciting as a Reese’s peanut butter cup commercial, but with the intensity of Mexican chocolate and bravado of Mexican caramel, this gelato has as much personality as some salsas. 

Hawaiian Pizza and Chocolate Banana

21 January 2017: Because deciding what gelato flavors to order will certainly be a challenge, avail yourself of the opportunity to sample several flavors. You’ll be surprised at how much you’ll discern with one spoonful. That’s all it took to convince me one of my two scoops would be orange-clove. Ben, the craftsman behind the gelatos, was concerned that this combination might be too strong, but it was just about perfect for this coveter of clove and inamorato of orange. My other flavor choice—chocolate—may not have the sheer bravado of other gelatos, but then Mexican chocolate is so much bolder and expressive than mere mortal chocolate. We loved every not-so-subtle nuance in the four flavors we ordered, but won’t allow ourselves to fall so much in love that we don’t order other flavors. 

21 October 2017: In January, 2017, the President of Iceland placed himself on the pantheon of terrible world leaders with his declaration that he hates Hawaiian pizza so much that he’d ban pineapple on pizza if he was able to make and pass laws on his own.  Predictably, the backlash was instantaneous. Calls for impeachment and worse were widespread.  Undoubtedly the Icelandic imbecile would hate the Hawaiian Pizza gelato at Heladeria El Cotorro.  Another exemplar of creativity (basil, tomato, prosciutto and pineapple), this gelato is certainly not for everybody, but it is for those of us who like bold, “different” gelato flavor combinations.  More traditional is a chocolate-banana gelato which pairs two flavor profiles which go so well together.  It’s terrific!

If you still think of tacos as a delivery system for ground beef, lettuce and cheese on a hard shell, you owe it to yourself to visit Taqueria Y Heladeria El Cotorro and soon!  Similarly, if you’re bored with timid ice cream flavors, El Cotorro will rock your world with Mexican gelato that is bold and brash.  This is a taqueria for the 21st Century courtesy of traditional Mexican flavors.

Taqueria Y Heladeria El Cotorro
111 Carlisle, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 503-6202
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 13 October 2017
1st VISIT: 21 January 2017
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 22
COST: $$
BEST BET: Elotes, Carnitas Taco, Al Pastor Taco, Cobia Fish Taco, Shrimp Taco, Chard & Papitas Guisado Taco, Fried Avocado Taco, Nopales Taco, Chips and Salsa, Chocolate Gelato, Orange-Clove Gelato, Ginger Gelato, Caramel-Chocolate Gelato, Pineapple and Shrimp Ceviche, Hawaiian Pizza Gelato, Chocolate Banana Gelato

El Cotorro Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Maya – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Maya for the Finest in MesoAmerican Fusion Cuisine From Chef-Genius Dennis Apodaca

My precocious niece doesn’t miss a beat. Ever attentive to adult conversation, she often stumps my brother and me with her surprisingly deep and thought-provoking questions. Case in point, when she overheard me telling my brother Mario about the Mesoamerican-inspired cuisine at Maya, she asked what I have against Americans. Perplexed by her assertion, I gently asked what she was talking about. “First you said Americans are ugly (obviously remembering a discussion Mario and I once had about the “ugly American syndrome”) and now you’re calling them messy, too.” From the mouth of babes…

Her comment got me thinking about the last time we saw a great chef who wasn’t a bit on the “messy” side. No, not like the Charlie Brown character Pig Pen, but with a light dusting of flour or a splash of sauce bespattered on their white coats or aprons. Hands-on chefs–those who not only conceptualize their menus, they prepare everything themselves—don’t always embody the axiom that cleanliness is next to godliness. These do-it-all chefs are veritable whirling dervishes in the kitchen—chopping, shredding, grating, slicing, dicing, mincing, broiling, boiling, simmering, frying, sautéing, plating… It’s inevitable that a smattering of sauce or a sprinkling of crumbs will land on those immaculate whites.

Chef Dennis Apodaca and Partner Cecilia Schmider

Practicing chefs wear those little stains like edible badges of honor, emblematic of the noble profession. When Chef Dennis Apodaca stepped out from the kitchen at Maya, it made us happy to see a small chile stain on the sleeves of his jacket. It meant he was in the kitchen preparing meals for his guests. Cooking, as savvy Duke City diners know, is something Dennis does better than just about anybody else in New Mexico. Even though having been featured on the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives program has made him more of a public persona, it’s in the kitchen where he’s most comfortable. It’s where he plies his craft with incomparable skill and dedication.

My friend Carlos once described Dennis as “a five-star chef in a one-star kitchen.” That’s an apt description for how Dennis has been able to coax incredible flavors at Eli’s Place (formerly Sophia’s), a timeworn, ramshackle eatery with no freezer, oven or even burners. Not surprisingly, “five-star chef” was also the term used by Cecilia Schmider in describing her partner in Maya, the downtown venture that promises to blow the lid off the Duke City dining scene. If you loved Dennis’s culinary skills at Eli’s Place, you’ll be blown away by what he’s doing in the more expansive digs at Maya.

Salsa and Chips with a Side of Guacamole

Cecilia explained that the name Maya was inspired by the bright, vibrant cuisine prepared by the dynastic Mesoamerican civilization and their descendants. Bright, vibrant and colorful are apropos terms for Maya, but so are inviting and homey. While Dennis conceptualized the menu—a fusion of New Mexican, Mexican and neo Latin cuisine–Cecilia took the reins in designing the 1,500 square-foot milieu. The restaurant environs are a perfect home for Dennis’s inspired cuisine. Surprisingly, this is Cecilia’s inaugural foray into the restaurant world, having previously worked in retail jewelry and before that as a speech pathologist.

Maya is situated on the first floor of the commodious Imperial Building on Second and Silver. You might recognize the mixed-use Imperial Building as the home of the Silver Street Market, Downtown Albuquerque’s only grocery store. Immediately next door and in partnership with Maya is The Monk’s Corner which features libations brewed at the Monastery of Christ in the Desert in Abiquiu. A reciprocal arrangement between The Monk’s Corner and Maya means guests of either may partake of both—Maya’s diners can enjoy their cuisine with libations from The Monk’s Corner and vice-versa.

Burrito Ahogado

Maya’s menu is hung on framed slate boards on the wall behind the counter where you place your order. It’s an uncomplicated menu devoid of the overly descriptive ingredient lists which seem to characterize contemporary menus. Weekly specials for each day of the week are listed first then appetizers. On the second slate board you’ll find ensaladas, a section called “Nuevo Mexico” which showcases culinary fare from the Land of Enchantment (prepared in the inimitable Dennis Apodaca manner, of course) and finally sides such as papas, fries and slaw. Tortas with salsa headlines the third slate board along with tacos. Three smaller slate boards are dedicated to desserts, “to warm you up,” and specials. It’s not a huge menu, but you’ll have a hard time deciding just which of the beguiling dishes to order.

2 January 2017: Long-timers among us fondly remember Dennis’s stint as chef at the long defunct Fajitaville where he got us addicted to chips and salsa so unlike those offered by New Mexican restaurants. He’s still at it. Chips and salsa are always a good bet at one of his restaurants, but you’ll want to make it a threesome with guacamole. One of the salsas is akin to a pico de gallo with fresh, chopped tomatoes, red onions and jalapeno. The other is a smoky fire-roasted salsa with a terrific flavor. Neither is especially piquant, but both are addictive. The guacamole is thick, creamy and redolent with the freshness of avocados in-season.

Guajillo-Pecan Mole Chilaquiles

2 January 2017: As we mulled what entrees to order (knowing they would all be fabulous), we asked Dennis for advice. He recommended either of the specials. Both sounded so good we couldn’t select just one. First to hit our table was a Burrito Ahogado which translates to smothered or drowned burrito. It’s unlike any burrito we’ve had at any of Dennis’s other restaurants. Though vegetarian, it’s a burrito carnivores will love, too. The burrito is engorged with collard greens and corn swimming in a spicy tomato broth with a garnish of pickled carrots and red onions and a sprinkling of cobija cheese. My Kim, who’s never been a fan of collard greens, absolutely loved these. The spicy tomato broth will tantalize your taste buds with a pleasant piquancy and nice acidity. This is one special which should be on the daily menu.

2 January 2017: Of course that could be said about the other daily special, Guajillo-Pecan Mole Chilaquiles. When Dennis makes mole, you’re well advised to order it. His mole has a profound earthiness and a discernible depth of complex flavors working together very harmoniously. The use of guajillo bespeaks of the authenticity he pursues in his cooking. Guajillo, the dried form of the mirasol chile, is a mild, slightly sweet chile with notes of berries and tea. It’s an excellent basis for mole with which he covers tortilla chips. As you enjoy the mole, you’ll find it’s been garnished with finely chopped pineapple, cobija cheese, shaved radishes and more, all of which combine to give you different flavor profiles in every bite. This mole dish is served with papitas and the best refried black beans we’ve had. This is a mole worthy of Oaxaca.

Duck Cubano

2 January 2017: While there isn’t a protein Dennis can’t make interpret into its self-actualized best, one of his favorites has long been duck. Duck enchiladas, you might recall, is one of the dishes with which he wowed Food Network glitterati Guy Fierri. When my Kim saw Duck Cubano on the Tortas menu, she couldn’t wait to see what delicious liberties Dennis would take with the traditional Cuban sandwich. True to form, the pressed sandwich was stuffed with roast beef, ham and cheese but it also had bacon and instead of yellow mustard, it was constructed with pickled mustard seeds and spicy mayo. To say it’s one of the tastiest Cubanos we’ve ever had is an understatement. There’s deliciousness in every morsel.  The duck is plentiful, rich and delicious with nary a hint of sinew or excess fat. The Cubano is served with a side of housemade chips and a tangy tomatillo-avocado dressing. 

5 January 2017:  A former Intel colleague from Las Cruces used to chide me about being a “Norteño,” a term she used to label Hispanics who grew up in Albuquerque or north thereof.   She insisted that other than me (and she thought me weird), she’d never met a Norteño who liked mole, perhaps the most Mexican of all dishes.  While it’s true that very few Norteños grew up eating mole, Mexico’s legendary multi-ingredient sauce with its nuanced complexity and deep flavor profile, I was sure her contention was ill-founded and absolutely fallacious.  Unfortunately aside from myself, I couldn’t think of a single born-and-bred Norteño who enjoyed mole.  To this day, only a handful of my Norteño friends, all of whom have red and green chile running in their veins, admit to enjoying mole.

Kale & Collard Greens Enchiladas

While not a Norteño by ethnicity, my friend Ryan “Break the Chain” Scott grew up in the Duke City where he was weaned on red and green chile, attended Albuquerque High and counts several Norteños among his many friends.  Although I knew he didn’t like mole, I thought surely he’d like Dennis’s mole.  Alas, he’s more Norteño than I’d thought (an maybe I’m just a little bit weird).  To his credit, he did sample a forkful of the special of the day, kale and collard greens with guajillo chile mole, and didn’t spit it outt or disparage my taste buds (which are besotted with the guajillo chile mole which manages to make even kale (never did jump on that kale bandwagon) palatable). 

5 January 2017:  Ryan did like the Caramelized Onion and Poblano Raja Queso, another special of the day.   This is a wonderful departure from the de rigueur con queso served in many New Mexican restaurants.  It has a perfect degree of meltedness.  It scoops easily and there are no foot-long cheese strings to get passed before you can eat it.  The chips are thick, crispy and have a just-right amount of salt.  This would make an excellent party dip.

Fried Snapper and Fried Broccoli on Sweet Corn Rice with Mole

7 September 2017:  The genius of Dennis Apodaca is such that he can coax deliciousness out of ingredient combinations perhaps no one else would consider.  Inventiveness has always been one of the many traits he’s always exemplified.  So, when you see something on the Maya menu that doesn’t immediately whet your appetite, try it anyway.  You might happen upon a surprisingly wonderful hodgepodge of ingredients that work very well together.  Such was the case when my friend Bill Resnik and I enjoyed yet another Apodaca original: fried snapper and fried broccoli on sweet corn rice with mole lightly sprinkled with cotija cheese.  Though my preference would be for enough of Dennis’s mole in which to to swim, he served just enough of the enchanting elixir to allow the other ingredients to display their own deliciousness.  The fried snapper and fried broccoli are coated in a light batter and are perfectly prepared, the broccoli a crisp al dente.  The sweet corn rice would be a star on its own.

7 September 2017:  When two fellow gastronomes whose opinions on food I trus, st explicitly rave about Maya’s Wagyu beef green chili (SIC) cheeseburger, the question isn’t “when are you going to try it?,” but “why haven’t you tried it already?”  First, the sage epicure Sarita listed it as one of the best dishes she enjoyed in 2016.  Then Larry McGoldrick, the professor with the perspicacious palate, ranked it sixth best among New Mexico’s green chile cheeseburgers.  In all honesty, wagyu beef burgers have never done much for me, but that’s probably because it takes a chef of Dennis’s caliber to coax optimum deliciousness out of the mouth-coating unctuousness and nearly obscene richness of this beef.  Prepared to your exacting degree of doneness and served virtually naked save for white Cheddar and green chile, this is a magnificent burger which emphasizes all the delicious qualities of beef paired with a flavorful (but not piquant) chile.  There’s no mustard, tomatoes, onions or other miscellany to impede your enjoyment.  If you love beef, you’ll love this burger.

Wagyu Beef Green Chili (SIC) Cheeseburger

2 January 2017: There are only four desserts on the menu, all of which would tempt Job. My Kim, who’s got the sweet tooth in the family (which stands to reason considering she’s so much sweeter than me) wanted the cinnamon doughnuts which are served with a chocolate ganache and a crushed cherry compote. Because the ganache wasn’t ready, we were given cajeta (sweetened caramelized goat’s milk caramel) instead. What a great stroke of fortune! The cajeta proved magnificent, absolutely delicious with the slight sour component found in goat’s milk complementing the sweetness of the caramel. The cherry compote provided a tangy component which cut the sweetness of the doughnuts. In all, this is an excellent dessert. 

5 January 2017:  Maya is open seven days a week.  From Monday through Saturday doors open at 11AM and close at 10PM.  Featured fare on Sundays (10AM – 2PM) is brunch, long a staple of Eli’s Place…and if you’ve frequented Dennis’s flagship restaurant, your mouth is probably salivating at the prospect of pancakes.  No one in New Mexico makes pancakes quite as good as Dennis’s masterpiece orbs.  Whether it’s blue corn, lemon-ricotta or pumpkin, he’s a true griddle master.  It surprised me to hear that in the three months Maya has been open, only a couple orders of pancakes have sold.  Dennis will soon be introducing Dutch Boy-style pancakes (though they’ll have a more apropos name).  The sample he gave us was terrific with a sprinkling of confectioner’s sugar and a tangy cherry compote on top.

Cinnamon Doughnut with Cherry and Cajeta

Our inaugural visit transpired on a national holiday when only one other couple was at the restaurant at the time. As they walked out, Gil and Julia Clarke introduced themselves, indicating they are long-time readers of Gil’s Thrilling… They were as nice as could be. Gil kidded that one of the drawbacks of me getting to be well known is having to eat cold food. Meeting readers has always been a huge—and humbling—privilege for me. It is a thrill to hear from you—whether it be in public at a restaurant or through your comments on this blog.

The next time you visit Maya, check Dennis’s whites for the chef’s badge of honor and relish the opportunity to enjoy the magic and creativity of one of New Mexico’s very best hands-on chefs. Maya is a find!

Maya
205 Silver, S.W., Unit F
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 938-6292
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 7 September 2017
1st VISIT: 2 January 2016
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 24
COST: $$
BEST BET: Guajillo-Pecan Mole Chilaquiles, Cinnamon Doughnuts, Chips and Salsa, Guacamole, Duck Cubano Torta, Burrito Ahogado,  Caramelized Onion and Poblano Raja Queso, Kale & Collard Greens Enchiladas, Wagyu Green Chili Cheeseburger

Maya Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Taco Fundación – Santa Fe, New Mexico

Taco Fundación in Santa Fe

Consider it sacrilege if you will, but some pundits believe the taco is poised to become the most ubiquitous and popular dish in the fruited plain. One such heretic is eater.com’s Nick Solares who made the audacious prediction that the taco will replace the hamburger as the American national dish within fifty years. He makes a great case for his conjecture, citing such factors as the rising Hispanic immigrant population, America’s hipster culture, and people in general embracing the taco as a budget alternative to American fast foods. New York City-based chef Alex Stupak is similarly inclined. In recent years, he points out that largely because of the rising cost of beef, chicken has supplanted it as the most consumed protein in America and he believes pork is poised to make a run at beef, too.

Tacos have a way to go before catching up with burgers…a long way.  According to a 2012 PBS Newshour feature, Americans eat an average of three hamburgers a week.  That’s a whopping total of nearly 50-billion burgers per year.  By comparison, that same year Americans consumed 4.5 billion tacos, inexplicably including 554-million Jack in the Box tacos (a taco described by one source as a “wet envelope of cat food).   When it comes to availability and diversity, the City of Angels is peerless.  In Los Angeles, there are 5,575 places to buy tacos which means you can eat tacos three times a day and never visit the same place for five years.  You want diversity?  Los Angeles is the birthplace of the Korean taco, an exemplar of which you can enjoy at Albuquerque’s Soo Bak Foods.

The Fun-Loving Crew at Taco Fundación

As much as denizens of the Duke City may believe we’re prolific consumers of tacos, one scientific analysis ranked Albuquerque 38th in a listing of “America’s most/least taco-crazed cities.” From among the 50 largest cities across the fruited plain, five Texas cities–Arlington, Fort Worth, Austin, Dallas and San Antonio in that order–ranked one through five and Houston ranked ninth. Even El Paso ranked above Albuquerque, finishing fifteenth.  For those of us who don’t believe New Mexico should rank behind Texas in anything, that’s pretty hard to take.

Do these scientific findings mean La Tierra Encantada can’t prepare tacos encantados?  Hardly!  My friend Schuyler, a proud New Mexican temporarily exiled in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, will tell you that New Mexicans spread their love among the multitude of outstanding foods available across our enchanted state.  We’re not as taco-crazed as other states (especially Texas) in which no other foods warrant affection.  He tells me two purveyors of tacos–El Cotorro and B2B Tap Room-— recently showcased on Gil’s Thrilling… are probably better than any tacos you’ll find in the Lone Star state.

Al Pastor

Texans and New Mexicans alike will go crazy for Santa Fe’s Taco Fundacion which opened its doors in late April, 2017. Taco Fundacion sits in the revered Guadalupe Street location which for 61 years housed Bert’s Burger Bowl, a capital city institution. Scant months after the Burger Bowl’s closure (on April 29, 2015, a day which will live in infamy) restaurant impresario Brian Knox announced he would be launching a taco restaurant at that former home of hallowed hamburgers. It took almost exactly two years for his plans to reach fruition.

For nearly three decades, the name Brian Knox was synonymous in Santa Fe with fine-dining, having earned his stripes in such highly regarded restaurants as Escalera and the Coyote Cafe. He also owned and operated Aqua Santa, a contemporary American restaurant which helped pioneer the city’s slow-food movement. Wanting for several years to make high-quality burgers widely accessible and affordable in a fun and welcoming venue, he launched The Shake Foundation in 2014. Now, Knox hopes to duplicate his success with the Shake Foundation by offering “classic” tacos constructed with organic ingredients.

Oyster

From all outward appearances, not much has changed at the familiar site—not even a fresh coat of stucco. That’s certainly a nostalgic boon. As with Bert’s (and the Shake Foundation), you’ll walk up to a counter, scan the overhead menu and place your order then wait to be called. Once your order is ready, you can pick up napkins and douse your tacos with bottled pepper and tomatillo sauce (not that they’re needed at all). Alas, your only seating options are shielded outdoor patios—or your motorized conveyance. Expect the Taco Fundacion to do a booming take-out business.

As of our inaugural visit in August, 2017, the Taco Fundacion was one shy of a dozen different tacos including three vegetarian (verduras) tacos and three with seafood (oyster, shrimp and fish).  Other than tacos, the menu offers salsa and chips, a side of Moriarty pinto beans and guacamole.  You can quench your thirst with Mexican Coke and Jaritos brand beverages.  Perhaps a portend of more deliciousness to come, the marquee in front of the restaurant also reads “burritos” and “bowls,” though the fun-loving guys at the counter didn’t have any details.

Bison

For my Kim, the taco most appealing is always al pastor (roasted marinated pork, pineapple, onion and cilantro), the famous tacos in the style of the shepherd.  Believed to have developed in Mexico because of the influence of Lebanese immigrants to Mexico, tacos al pastor offer a balance of savory, sweet and tangy flavors.  Unlike on some Hawaiian pizzas, pineapple is much more judiciously used so that its tanginess is more hinted at than a dominant flavor.  Two corn tortillas per taco provide a nice savory, intensely corn-flavored contrast to the marinated pork.

Since its launch, one of my favorite offerings at the Shake Foundation has been the fried oyster sandwich with red chile mayo so it stands to reason the Taco Fundacion’s oyster taco (chipotle mayo and cabbage) would also strike my fancy.  It did.  There are never enough oysters to sate this oyster-lover, but what oysters there were, were quite good.  The chipotle mayo packs a barely discernible kick which means it doesn’t take anything away from the unique flavor profile of the oysters.

Chicken Mole

Bison meat is similar to beef, but those of us with discerning palates believe it has a slightly different flavor and texture. It also has more health benefits than beef: lower fat, more lean, low in cholesterol, and high in protein.  At Taco Fundacion you need to know is that it makes a delicious filling for a taco.  The bison taco (creamed corn, Oaxaca cheese, avocado crema) stands out as much for the bison as for the sweet corn niblets and an addictive avocado crema. 

The one taco we found most boring is the chicken mole taco (crema and sesame seeds) which lacked the complexity of flavors and punch of true Mexican moles.  Moreover, it was more than a bit dry.  A much better version can be found at Albuquerque’s Taqueria El Paisa.

In Santa Fe, tacos have already replaced burgers–at least in one location.  Whether or not the popularity of tacos supplanting that of burgers will ever transpire remains to be seen, but if they do you can credit great taquerias such as the Taco Fundacion for leading that charge.

Taco Fundación
235 North Guadalupe
Santa Fe, New Mexico
(505) 982-8286
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 11 August 2017
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Al Pastor, Chicken Mole, Oyster, Bison

Taco Fundacion Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Gabriel’s – Santa Fe, New Mexico

Entrance to Gabriel’s

Located fifteen miles north of Santa Fe, just south of Pojoaque and within minutes of two garish native American casinos, Gabriel’s is a culinary oasis back-dropped by nearby cedar, cottonwood and pine tree-laden hills and the Santa Fe mountains further to the southeast.  Gabriel’s entrance is flanked by unpeeled latillas, a “coyote fence” precursor to one of the best restaurant settings in the Santa Fe area.  In the early spring and fall, weather permitting, the sprawling dining room and its Spanish colonial theme are often rebuffed in favor of an outdoor dining experience. 

For al fresco dining, there are few options to compare with Gabriel’s, a restaurant perhaps more renowned for its experiential qualities than it is for its cuisine.  You won’t read a single review from a credentialed critic which doesn’t sing the praises of the restaurant’s ambiance.  You will, however, read scathing indictments of Gabriel’s cuisine.  Alex Heard of the Santa Fe New Mexican, for example, was brutally honest in his assessment: “my takeaway has been that it serves average food and not much more, closer to chain-restaurant quality than what you’re promised in its advertisements.”

Al Fresco Dining at Gabriel’s

England’s The Guardian, on the other hand, put Gabriel’s on its list of the “top ten restaurants and cafes in Santa Fe.”  That assessment was made by a Denver-based travel journalist who regularly visits family in Santa Fe.  None of the locals with whom I’ve discussed Gabriel’s share the writer’s opinion though all of them rave about the capacious patio and the pine scented air.   Most concede that the margaritas are quite good and that the combination of several margaritas and the fresh, salubrious air somehow improves the food. 

Gabriel’s purports to serve the foods of the great Southwest and of Old Mexico.  The restaurant’s Web site describes it as “an  authentic mix of modern and classic Mexican and Southwestern dishes and seasonal specials,” also indicating that “The personal attention to service and food is what makes Gabriel’s special:a place where little touches enhance your whole dining experience.”  Indeed, the predominantly Mexican wait staff, attired in black trousers and white shirts, is unfailingly polite and formal if not always there when you need a refill.

The Dog Friendly Patio

Gabriel’s has three distinct menus: lunch, brunch and dinner with the latter offering the most options from among the three.  Aperitivos (appetizers) include a number of fairly standard options along with some unique offerings such as crab taquitos, bbq skewer and vegetarian quesadillas.  Six vegetarian entrees, all of which will appeal to the omnivores among us, are available as are soups and salads.  Other sections of the menu are titled A La Mexicana, Southwest Platters, Combinaciones, Mesquite Grill Platters, Sizzling Fajitas and Desserts.  The menu indicates  Gabriel’s uses free-range chicken, all chiles are mesquite roasted and cooking oil is high grade cholesterol-free. 

Very popular is the pricey thrill of having your server prepare guacamole at your table.  If you’re counting your pennies, the Guacamole Especial is an eleven-dollar plus thrill you might want to do without even though the guacamole is a real treat–meaty ripe avocados, fresh lime, cilantro, minced garlic, chopped tomatoes, salt and jalapeño mashed to a creamy consistency on a molcajete before your very eyes.  Two entire avocados are used.  Though fresh and creamy, the guacamole could use just a bit more jalapeño and lime, the two ingredients which really give guacamole its personality and without which, guacamole would just be mashed avocados.

One of two Interior dining rooms

The flavorful and piquant jalapeno based salsa is served in a generous faux molcajete (unfortunately, bureaucrats decided the authentic molcajete made from lava rock pose health risks) with plenty of lightly salted chips boasting of a pronounced corn flavor.  The salsa packs plenty of cilantro and garlic, but it’s the jalapenos that will impress themselves upon your taste buds.  Friends swear they were unable to taste anything else after having their taste buds seared by salsa they considered “too good to stop eating” delicious, but tongue-scorching. 

Chips and Salsa

5 August 2017: The Combinacione appetizer plate is a popular starter option, one which offers variety and an opportunity to sample a diverse range of dishes for two: nachos, quesadillas, taquitos and of course, Gabriel’s famous guacamole.  The nachos are covered in a “ranchero sauce” and melted cheese along with chopped tomatoes, shredded lettuce, scallions and sliced (though somewhat anemic) jalapeños.   The cheese quesadillas are indeed melty and cheesy on housemade flour tortillas, but don’t have much personality unless you top them with salsa, sour cream or guacamole.  If the blue-corn tortilla taquitos were stuffed, it was in such a chintzy amount that neither of us were able to discern much.

Combinacione

5 August 2017: From the Southwest Platters section of the menu, you’ll find such regional favorites as San Diego fish tacos, Arizona chimichanga, rellenos de Santa Fe, Taos combination and Lone Star ribs.  The latter are wholly unlike any ribs we’ve ever had in the Lone Star state.  Described on the menu as “fresh baby-back ribs baked until tender and then mesquite-smoked and basted with our own barbecue sauce,” the ribs are absolutely fall-off-the-bone tender, but that’s not necessarily a good thing.  The best ribs have just a little “give” to them.  These baby back ribs also don’t have the low-and-slow smokiness that characterizes competition-worthy ribs.  It’s pretty obvious that they’ve been baked, likely after being slathered with the “special” sauce and perhaps a rub.  The sauce is very much on the sweet side with hints of citrus.  Served on the side is a bowl of whole charro beans and French fry logs, both of which are rather unremarkable.

Lone Star Ribs

5 August 2017: Another Texas treat, tender skirt steak fajitas arrive sizzling at your table after leaving a steamy trail which invariably draws the eyes and nostrils of all other patrons.  Supplementing the thinly sliced  marinated skirt steak are a pico de gallo as colorful (with red, green and yellow peppers and sweet white onions) as it is delicious; more of the unctuous guacamole and lime slices.  My Kim asked for an extra helping of grilled red and white onions–grilled not to the point of caramelization, but to a crispy, fresh consistency.  If mariscos are more to your liking, seafood fajitas (tender scallops, tiger prawns and red snapper) are also available and equally delicious.  Both corn and flour tortillas are made on the premises and are first-rate.

Beef Fajitas

5 August 2017: A few days before starting my freshman year at Peñasco High School, my friends and I each devoured about a half-dozen or so corns-on-the-cob picked from our garden and grilled on my mom’s antique stove.  It preceded a very painful ruptured appendix.  Though an avaricious appetite for grilled corn was hardly the cause of my burst appendix, I didn’t eat grille corn for years.  Gabriel’s elotes, a grilled corn  topped with a chipotle mayo and queso blanco, reminded me of how good roasted corn can be.  It also reminded me that roasting corn with friends is a great way to pass the time.

Elote

5 August 2017: For dessert, there are three options: flan, banana Vallarta and a tres leches cake you’ll be besotted by.  Topped by a chocolate frosting, it’s one of the most moist and rich tres leches cakes we’ve had.  Press your fork into it and the three milks from which it is made ooze out.  My Kim said she’d drive the 75 miles from Albuquerque just for a slice.

Tres Leches Cake

The Gabriel’s experience is memorable even if not all your meal may be.  You may visit for the food, but you’ll stay–and you’ll return–for the views and that enrapturing piñon scented ambiance.

Gabriel’s
U.S. 285/84
Santa Fe, New Mexico
(505) 455-7000
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 5 August 2017
# OF VISITS: 5
RATING: 17
COST: $$$
BEST BET: Guacamole, Salsa, Tres Leches Cake

Gabriel's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

B2B Tap Room – Albuquerque, New Mexico

B2B Tap Room: Brewers to Beers

I’m a uniter, not a divider.
~ George W. Bush, Governor of the Great State of Texas
No one wants to listen to politicians, but everyone wants to eat tacos. Tacos are the great uniter.”
~ John Fetterman, Candidate for U.S. Senate from Pennsylvania

Ideologically and politically, denizens of the land of the free and home of the brave seem incapable of agreeing on virtually anything, but turn the topic to tacos and there’s almost consensus. Americans love tacos! We love them to the depth and breadth and height our appetites can reach…and our appetites can reach bottomless depths, expansive breadths, dizzying heights and tremendous distances.  In 2012, we loved tacos to the tune of 4.5 billion tacos consumed across the fruited plain. That’s the equivalent weight in tacos of two Empire State Buildings (775-million pounds). Our appetites surmounted the equivalent of 490,000 miles of tacos, enough–as Frank Sinatra might croon–to fly you to the moon and back.

No one, it seems, loves tacos more than professional gurgitator (scientific word for “power-eater”) Joey Chestnut, who in May, 2017, set a new taco eating world record by downing 126 tacos in eight minutes. His nearest competitor was only able to polish off a mere 103 tacos (the wimp!). Chestnut, whom you might recognize as the nine-time winner of Nathan’s Famous hot dog eating contest in Coney Island, also holds records for having consumed 54 brain tacos, 30 fish tacos and perhaps most impressively, 53 soft beef tacos from Taco Bell (most people I know won’t admit to choking down even one).

Basic Taco Construction Recipe on the Wall

We love tacos every day of the week, but more so on Tuesday. The Moody Blues, a British rock band, even wrote a song in which they extolled the “beauty of Taco Tuesday afternoon.” Okay, okay, maybe the song didn’t mention tacos, but what else (other than the fact that it’s not Monday) could make Tuesday so beautiful? There’s even a holiday, albeit with no corresponding paid time off, dedicated to tacos. National Taco Day falls on October 4th each year. In 2016, National Taco Day fell on Tuesday as if we needed more reasons to love and eat tacos.

Other than Joey Chestnut, perhaps no one loves tacos more than New Mexicans. In the July, 2017 edition of New Mexico Magazine, the Land of Enchantment’s scintillating four-time James Beard Award winning author Cheryl Alters Jamison penned a feature entitled “Tacos, New Mexican Style.” The feature explored “how a quintessentially Mexican street food jumped the border and gained official red-or-green cred.” Cheryl debunked the myth that Taco Bell invented the hard-shelled taco, recounting that in a 1949 cookbook entitled The Good Life, Fabiola Cabeza de Baca Gilbert “was the first to include a recipe that featured crispy hard-shell tacos.”

Tequila Lime Guacamole, Blue Corn Chips and Pineapple Pico De Gallo

Until rather recently, independent mom-and-pop restaurants specializing in tacos—or at least including tacos on their marquees–were few and far between across the Duke City. More often than not, tacos were just one item listed in compendium-like menus at Mexican and New Mexican restaurants. Today, several eateries include the term “taco” or “taqueria” on their marquees, among them: Casa Taco, El Taco Tote, Tacos Mex Y Mariscos, Taqueria El Paisa, Zacatecas Tacos & Tequila, Taco Sal and Taco Shel.  In its Fall Food and Wine Issue for 2016, Albuquerque The Magazine (ATM) indicated Albuquerque has “nearly 170 restaurants that create and serve some of the tastiest tacos of every ilk–from New Mexican to gourmet; seafood to veggie.”

These are not your mama’s tacos! These are tacos the likes of which Margaret C de Baca Martinez (author of the first New Mexican cookbook which referred to tacos) would not recognize. When it comes to today’s tacos, it’s catch-as-catch-can. There are no limits to the diversity and inventiveness of the ubiquitous taco. In January, 2016, a new player in the burgeoning taco market entered the fray, poised to enrapt Duke City diners and imbibers with its own take on gourmet tacos. Owned and operated by the same team which brought us B2B (Burgers to Beer) Bistronomy in Nob Hill, the B2B (Brewers to Beers) Tap Room in the chain-riddled Uptown area, has the pedigree to succeed.

Fried Chicharrones with Cilantro Crema and Ranchero Sauce

With tacos constructed from New Mexico sourced products–beef from Farm Fresh, pork products from Talus Wind Ranch, and even the blue, red and yellow corn (used to prepare hand-made tortillas) from Sunny State Products of San Jon–the B2B Tap Room has earned the right to use the tagline “New Mexico True.” New Mexico True holds true for its beers, too–54 taps, all from local breweries. Your  heart may not swell with state pride when you set foot in the 1,600-foot restaurant, but you should take comfort that the menu promises tacos which are “localicious, tacolicious and delicious.”

The menu lists only two starters–blue corn tortilla chips with your choice of guacamole or salsa and fried chicharrones with cilantro, lime, crema and ranchero sauce.  There are ten tacos on the menu constructed with some sort of protein: fresca chicken, braised mole, braised pork carnitas, red chile adovada, house-made chorizo, fried tilapia, sauteed shrimp, lamb barbacoa, beer-braised short rib and steak mojo de ajo.  Three vegetarian tacos–chile relleno, squash blossom and nopales–also grace the menu.  You’ll wish you had half of Joey’s Chestnut’s appetite so you could eat more than the handful most of us can eat in one seating.

Three Vegetarian Tacos: Squash Blossoms, Nopales and Chile Relleno

The tequila lime guacamole is thick and obviously made with fresh avocados, but like most guacamole in Albuquerque would benefit from a bit of salsa to cut the richness of the “alligator pear.”  We didn’t discern much tequila, but did notice the citrusy tang of the lime sneaking through every once in a while.  The pineapple pico de gallo is terrific, a sweet-savory blend that pairs red and white onions with small pineapple chunks.  If we could offer just one criticism, it’s that both the guacamole and salsa are served in tiny plastic cups about the size of medicine cups in which pills are dispensed.  Not only is it difficult to extricate salsa from such a tiny cup, you can fit only so much salsa in such a small vessel.  Other salsa options on the menu are green chile tomatillo, habanero salsa, salsa de arbol and pico de gallo.

The term “chicharrones” has different connotations, all based on where you’re from.  In New Mexico, chicharrones are almost universally deep-fried pork cracklings.  Occasionally and in Texas, you’ll find restaurants serving something labeled “chicharrones” but which New Mexicans might call “cueritos” (a tripe-like pork strips marinated in vinegar).  You’ll also see pork rinds (puffy, crispy fried skin) called chicharrones.  The third type is what is served as an appetizer at the Tap House.  A cilantro-lime crema and ranchero sauce is drizzled on top of the pork rinds.  As pork rinds go, these are pretty good, but if you’re craving New Mexican style chicharrones, you’ll have to go elsewhere.

Chile Relleno Taco and Braised Mole Taco

Consider it heretical if you will, but we found the vegetarian tacos–Squash Blossoms, Nopales and Chile Relleno–even tastier than the meat-based tacos.  All tacos are served with pickled carrots, onions, jicama and radishes.  Of the three vegetarian offerings, the chile relleno taco has the most piquancy and it’s the only vegetarian taco which also includes corn niblets.   Squash blossoms, the edible flowers of the squash plant, make a wonderful taco filling.  Even fried, they’re soft and delicate with a flavor reminiscent of squash itself.  Noptalitos (prickly pear cactus pads cut into slivers) impart a tangy-sour flavor.  The blue corn tortillas, made fresh daily, are not only delicious, but good for you.

The braised chicken mole taco (Cotija cheese, roasted corn, frizzled garlic) is terrific.  The mole has the type of complexity indicative of a lengthy preparation process while the chicken is tender and shredded.  The mole is sweet, spicy and bright.  It makes the other ingredients sing.  One word of advice–don’t squeeze any lime onto this taco.  The tangy citrus of even a little lime tends to obfuscate some of the other flavor notes of the mole. 

Life would be just a bit more pleasant and certainly much more delicious if we all lived every day as if it was Taco Tuesday.  Now Taco Tuesday–that’s something we can all agree on.

B2B Taproom
2201 Louisiana, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 508-4406
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT:
1st VISIT: 13 June 2017
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 20
COST: $$
BEST BET: Chile Relleno Taco, Lamb Barbacoa Taco, Squash Blossoms Taco, Nopales Taco

B2B Taproom Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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