El Agave – Rio Rancho, New Mexico

El Agave Mexican Restaurant in Rio Rancho’s Lujan Plaza

“Why, this here sauce is made in New York City!”
“New York City? Git a rope!”

No matter how broad-minded we may perceive ourselves to be, most of us are burdened by covert biases and prejudices that reveal themselves at inopportune times.  One of mine was divulged during my inaugural visit to El Agave Mexican Restaurant in Rio Rancho.  After being greeted warmly by effusive hostess Lilly Venegas (who could not possibly have been nicer), I began my usual “twenty questions” routine to learn everything I could about the restaurant.  Beaming with pride, she told me her brother-in-law had owned and operated two Mexican restaurants for more than twenty years in Raleigh, North Carolina. 

North Carolina!  North Carolina!  My mind raced to the circa 1980s Pace Picante Sauce commercial in which several hungry cowboys threatened to string up the cook for serving a “foreign” salsa (translation: not made in Texas).  To be fair, my ridiculous notion that good Mexican food couldn’t possibly be prepared in North Carolina was based on having lived and traveled in the Deep South for eight years.  During those octennial years of Mexican food deprivation, we found only one restaurant in Dixie which served good Mexican food.  We didn’t find any good Mexican food in New Orleans, Atlanta or Nashville.  We should have visited Raleigh!

Chipotle Salsa and Chips, both Housemade

For nearly two decades, Hector Venegas and his family owned and operated Los Tres Magueyes, winning over Raleigh with their delightful array of authentic Mexican dishes.  The Venegas family didn’t “dumb” down their Mexican food as so many restaurants in the Deep South tended to do when we dwelled in Dixie.  Confident that the more savvy citizenry of New Mexico would love the authenticity and deliciousness of their fare, they left the menu completely intact–even retaining the leather-bound menu cover emblazoned with the name of their restaurants in North Carolina.

As in Raleigh, the Venegas family owns and operates two Mexican restaurants.  Both are christened El Agave.  The original operates in Santa Fe in the famous Burro Alley.  It’s been pleasing palates since 2015 and is owned by elder scion Hector Vinegas.  His brother Carlos and lovely bride Lilly launched the second instantiation of El Agave in Rio Rancho in October, 2017.  My friend Bruce “Sr Plata” Silver was there three days later and loved it.  He was confident I would, too.

Left: Mole Ranchero | Right: Camarones A La Crema

If you haven’t seen El Agave during your travels through the City of Vision, it’s probably because its storefront doesn’t face heavily trafficked Rio Rancho Boulevard. Instead, it’s set back on the northeast corner of the timeworn Lujan Plaza shopping center which also houses Namaste and Stack House Barbecue. The same obfuscated corner where El Agave is situated was once home to such short-lived eateries as immediate predecessor El Maguey in addition to Ahh Sushi, Relish (although the original in Albuquerque remains a city favorite), Pastrami & Things and other restaurants. It’s a tough location in which to succeed.

Carlos and Lilly are in it for the long haul.  They recognize the challenges of operating a restaurant just a bit off the well beaten-and-eaten path.  Moreover, they realize they have to cultivate customer loyalty one guest at a time, that they have to prove themselves with every  single dish they prepare and serve.  With a menu featuring virtually every familiar Mexican dish as well as some unique specialties, El Agave has a great chance to succeed.  All it needs is to be discovered.  Visit once and it’s a certainty you’ll return time and again.

Refried Beans and Spanish Rice with Corn Tortillas

As you peruse the menu, Lilly will ferry over a basket of chips and plastic molcajete of salsa to your table.  Both are made on the premises first thing in the morning as are the terrific corn tortillas accompanying many entrees.  The chips and salsa are first rate, among the very best in the metro.  What distinguishes this salsa from so many others is that it’s made with chipotles, the smoky dried jalapeño.  With a depth of flavor and kick of piquancy, this salsa is addictive–and it’s as good as the exemplar chipotle-based salsa served at the Plaza Cafe South Side in Santa Fe. To think Raleigh had such a delightful salsa before Rio Rancho did gave me hope the rest of the menu would deliver, too.

Unable to decide between the Mole Ranchero and Camarones A La Crema, I asked Lilly to surprise me.  The surprise was the Carlos was willing to prepare a half portion of both.  Now that’s the type of service that cultivates loyalty.  This pleasurable combination was served with refried beans topped with melted white cheese, Spanish rice and four hot corn tortillas.   The Mole Ranchero, reputedly one of the easiest moles to prepare (though still very complex) with fewer ingredients than other moles, was a delicious and pleasant surprise in that it wasn’t overly sweet as some mole tends to be.  That mole covered a moist, tender sliced chicken breast. 

Even better than the Mole Ranchero was the Camarones A La Crema (grilled shrimp topped with a savory cream sauce concocted from chipotles, sour cream and spices).  The grilled shrimp had a snap of freshness with a delicate flavor tinged with the smokiness of the grilling process.  It’s a perfect foil for the rich cream sauce with its faint smokiness and sour-savory notes.  You’ll be grateful for the steamy corn tortillas with which you’ll sop up every bit of that delicious sauce. 

If like me, your initial inclination is to dismiss a Mexican food restaurant that came from North Carolina, El Agave will quickly change your mind.  It’s a very good, very authentic and absolutely delightful little hole-in-the-wall restaurant that’s as Mexican as a Mexican restaurant can be.

El Agave Mexican Restaurant
1520 Deborah Road
Rio Rancho, New Mexico
(505) 896-8006
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 22 January 2018
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
BEST BET: Camarones A La Crema, Horchata, Chipotle Salsa and Chips, Mole Ranchero

El Agave Mexican Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Taqueria El Paisa – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Taqueria El Paisa, Maybe New Mexico’s Very Best and Most Authentic Mexican Taqueria

The immediacy of a taco, handed to you hot from grill and comal, can’t be equaled. 
You can stand there and eat yourself silly with one taco after another,
each made fresh for you and consumed within seconds. 
A great taco rocks with distinct tastes that roll on and on,
like a little party on your tongue, with layers of flavor and textures:
juicy, delicious fillings, perfectly seasoned; the taste of the soft corn tortilla;
a morsel of salty cheese and finally, best of all,
the bright explosion of a freshly-made salsa that suddenly ignites and unites everything on your palate.
At the end of our two or three-bite taco you just want to repeat the experience until you are sated.”
~Deborah Schneider, 1000 Tacos | Mexico, One Bite At A Time

If you’re wondering why such a heartfelt expression of sheer appreciation and unfettered love has been so eloquently conveyed about something as humble and–some would say pedestrian–as the taco, perhaps you’ve haven’t heard about the taco evolution-slash-revolution taking America by storm. And no, I’m not talking about Taco Bell’s Doritos Locos Taco Supreme (that’s a mutation, not an evolution). Nor am I talking about artisan cooks exploiting the limitless possibilities of what is essentially a rather simple concept–a corn or flour tortilla stuffed with sundry and delicious ingredients.

The small dining room at Taqueria El Paisa

To be sure, a paean could be written about the creative use of multi-ethnic ingredients in constructing tacos bursting with flavor profiles heretofore unexplored. Judges and guests alike certainly waxed poetic about the fusion evolution vividly on display at the 2015 Taste of Rio Rancho where Street Food Blvd earned three first place awards (best appetizer, best entree and People’s Choice) by showcasing its unique tacos. Over the years we’ve also been enthralled by temptingly toothsome tacos at such exemplars of cutting edge cooking as Pasion Latin Fusion, Sophia’s Place and others, but none of them exemplify the taco evolution/revolution of which I write.  

No, my friends, the taco evolution/revolution of which I write is the widespread availability of the humble Mexican taquerias which have exploded across the culinary landscape over the past two decades or so. Though not nearly as ubiquitous as Taco Bell (which Anthony Bourdain would probably say is as widespread as herpes), the number of quality Mexican taquerias across the fruited plain might surprise you. These taquerias have introduced teeming masses yearning to eat well to the concept that sometimes simple, fresh and relatively unadorned is best. Most of these taquerias are the antithesis of fancy, but they’re paragons of deliciousness.

The exterior patio (now enclosed) at Taqueria El Paisa

For many savvy taco aficionados across the Duke City, the taco trek begins and ends on the west side of Bridge Boulevard scant yards from where it crosses the Rio Grande. That’s where you’ll find Taqueria El Paisa, a delicious little slice of Mexico in the Land of Enchantment. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week, El Paisa maintains an operating schedule that would exhaust many of us. It opens its doors when some of us are still sleeping (7AM) and closes at midnight, long after we’ve gone to bed.

Despite its diminutive digs, El Paisa is heavily trafficked, its Lilliputian dining room accommodating only a few diners while a sprawling covered porch handles the overflow crowds. And they do overflow! Just how good is this taqueria?

  • According to an article entitled “15 Restaurants in New Mexico That Will Blow Your Mind” published in the Movoto Insider blog it’s so good, it “will ruin all other Mexican food for you.” That’s an audacious claim considering the surfeit of superb Mexican restaurants across the Land of Enchantment, but some devotees won’t go anywhere else for their tacos.
  • In 2017, Business Insider teamed up with Yelp to “find out which restaurants, trucks, and food stands are serving up the very best tacos in America.” Ranked 43rd was Albuquerque’s El Paisa where even a trencherman can eat well for a few pesos. 
  • in 2016, BuzzFeed compiled its own list of the most popular taco spot in every state. Popularity was measured using an algorithm considering the number of reviews plus the star rating for every business on Yelp. New Mexico’s most popular taco comes from El Paisa in Albuquerque. One astute devotee commented on Yelp, “The only comparison is the street tacos in downtown Puerto Vallarta, because this is as authentic as it gets.”

Aguas Frescas: Pina and Melon

While it bears the name “Paisa,” a diminutive of “Paisano” which translates from Spanish to “countryman,” diners of all stripes and colors are welcome here. It’s a friendly milieu in which it may help to know a little Spanish, but it’s not absolutely requisite. You and the servers at the counter can make yourselves mutually understood even if it means pointing at the menu (which is also in Spanish). That menu hangs to the right of the counter where you place your order and you’ll espy it the second you walk in.

At first glance, the menu may appear to be rather limited. Its offerings are categorized into burritos, gorditas, tacos, tortas and aguas frescas. The variety increases exponentially because you’re able to have your tacos, burritos, gorditas and tortas constructed from the same basic ingredients (al pastor, buche, barbacoa, carne asada, etc.). For example, not only can you have a taco al pastor, you can order a burrito stuffed with the same al pastor pork. If the menu doesn’t make you drool, the “cheap eats” pricing structure just might. Two can eat rather well (and probably take some home) for around twenty dollars.

Three Tacos: El Pastor, Carnitas and Carne Asada

1 February 2015: In addition to eating well, you can drink merrily. Not only does El Paisa offer Mexican Coke in a bottle (which is sweetened with real sugar and not the high-fructose corn syrup used in America), you’ll find some of the very best aguas frescas in town.  Served from large barrel-shaped containers, these refreshing beverages actually taste like the fruits (or almond milk and cinnamon in the case of horchata) from which they’re derived.  The melon, platano (banana), sandia (watermelon) and piña (pineapple) are absolutely amazing!  The accommodating wait staff may even acquiesce if you ask them nicely to give you a mix of any two.  Banana and pineapple make a wonderful combination.  Simply amazing!

1 February 2015: So are the tacos although the more appropriate descriptor would be “muy ricos,” the Mexican term used for food items which are “very delicious.”   The quality of riquisimo (even more delicious) begins with the soft corn tortillas in which all other ingredients are nestled.  A pronounced corn flavor coupled with an inherently pliable texture make them the perfect vessel for the ingredients of your choice, topped if you desire with chopped onions and cilantro.  

Chile Verde con Puerco Burrito

1 February 2015: Four different salsas of varying piquancy are also available, but the more incendiary among them will serve more to obfuscate other flavors than to ameliorate them.  The salsa offering perhaps the most refreshingly pleasant and just right heat level may be the tomatillo-jalpeño salsa which you might be tempted to chug.  It’s very good!  You won’t want anything masking the glorious flavor of the meats, especially the al pastor.   That the al pastor is so delicious was no surprise, but its just slightly crispy texture (not quite chicharron-like, but in the vicinity) was a pleasant surprise.  The other meats (carne asada and carnitas) we sampled had similar qualities and were equally enjoyable.  

1 February 2015: Burritos are of the hand-held variety and are about seven inches in length.  Each tightly-wrapped flour tortilla plays host to some of the very best burritos in Albuquerque.  You’ll exclaim “Holy Mole” at your first bite of the mole burrito, love-me-tender tendrils of pork prepared in a complex and numerous blend of ingredients, some with a discernible sweetness and all coalescing to provide a back-of-the-throat heat you’ll enjoy.  It’s an amazing mole made even more impressive by its low price.  It’s not every Mexican restaurant which serves a chile relleno burrito so if you see it on the menu, you’re well advised to try it.  In contrast to the mole which is dominated by sweet notes, the chile relleno burrito has a pleasant bite. It won’t water your eyes, but your tongue and the back of your throat will feel its bite.

Ceviche

19 June 2015: There are so many Mexican restaurants in Albuquerque offering ceviche that sometimes the only thing distinguishing one from another isn’t the freshness and flavor of the seafood, but the influence of citrus.  Some border on an almost lip-pursing lime-infused flavor while others have a much lesser presence of citrus juices.  There’s comfort in the consistency of getting what you’re expecting at virtually every Mexican restaurant.  El Paisa’s rendition of Ceviche is the first to surprise me in months.  At first glance, it resembles every other ceviche and in composition, it has all the standard ingredients: fish, chopped tomatoes, onions, cilantro and avocado slices atop a crispy corn tortilla.  What distinguishes this one is the tomatoes which are wholly unlike the artificially ripened, flavorless variety so prevalent everywhere.  These tomatoes have a flavor profile very much like a sweet tomato jam.  It’s a pleasant departure from the usual.

19 June 2015: When pining for a delicious sandwich, the notion of finding one at a Mexican restaurant doesn’t always jump to the surface.  Perhaps it should, especially if you’ve become budget conscious and tired of parting with your Alexander Hamiltons.  In Mexico, just as in the United States, the sandwich has become a ubiquitous staple.  What it hasn’t become is unaffordable.  For just about what you’d pay for half a sub at one of those abysmal chains, you can get a torta stuffed with sundry ingredients and you’ll wonder why you sunk your children’s inheritance at Subway.  El Paisa offers a phalanx of tantalizing tortas,  Among them is the torta de jamon, a savory, crusty bolillo engorged with two slices of fried jamon, a thin Mexican ham; lettuce; tomatoes; cheese and avocadoes.  It’s moist, delicious and flavorful.  Frankly, it’s got everything you crave in a sandwich and so much more.

Torta Al Pastor

10 June 2015:  Gorditas which translate from Spanish to “fatties” are a popular street food in Mexico and have gained a foothold in the culinary culture of its bordering states.  Loosely described as “flat bread sandwiches,” gorditas are constructed from masa (corn or flour) and are about the size of the corn tortillas used for tacos only much thicker.  They’re usually split open and stuffed with sundry ingredients.  El Paisa’s gorditas are terrific and they can be stuffed with any of the wondrous ingredients with which you can stuff a burrito or sandwich.  The al pastor is my early favorite. 

20 April 2016: When my friends and frequent dining companions Larry “the professor with the perspicacious palate” McGoldrick and the Dazzling Deanell met me for lunch at El Paisa I welcomed them with “Bienvenidos a Mexico.”  It isn’t far from the truth.  Both recognize that El Paisa is as authentically Mexico as you’ll find in the Land of Enchantment.  Among the buffet table of items we shared (for a ridiculously low price), was a quesadilla for which we requested an al pastor filling.  Larry called it the very best quesadilla he’s ever had while Deanell was surprised at just how good a quesadilla can be.  Stuffed with queso (naturally), beans and al pastor, this quesadilla is indeed an adventure in delicious, perhaps equal to the quesadilla synchronizada  at La Familiar as Albuquerque’s very best.  This tortilla treasure is accompanied by cheesy and delicious beans and a rich guacamole.

Quesadilla Al Pastor with Beans and Guacamole

Taqueria El Paisa is the real thing–as authentic a taqueria as you’ll find in Old Mexico without pretentions or compromise.  It’s the home of riquisimo!  

Taqueria El Paisa
820 Bridge Blvd, S.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 452-8997
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 15 January 2018
1st VISIT: 1 February 2015
# OF VISITS: 6
RATING: 22
COST: $
BEST BET: Mole Burrito, Chile Relleno Burrito, Al Pastor Burrito, Verde en Puerco Burrito, Carne Asada Tacos, Al Pastor Tacos, Carnitas Taco, Gordita de Al Pastor, Torta De Jamon, Tostada De Ceviche

El Paisa Restaurante Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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

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