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Chicharroneria Orozco – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Chicharroneria Orozco on Bridge Boulevard

On a dark desert highway, cool wind in my hair
Warm smell of colitas rising up through the air
~Hotel California – The Eagles

Among the many alluring olfactory temptations emanating from dilapidated and timeworn food stalls and colorful restaurant storefronts throughout Mexico is the warm smell of colitas.  They beckon passers-by to experience the aromas, sights, sounds and flavors of one of the Land of Montezuma’s most intriguing and unique dishes, one which will require timorous diners to renounce the heinous malefaction of consuming artery-clogging and fatty foods.  For many Americans, colitas have a major “ick” factor so they stick with the “safe” foods: tacos, tortas, tostadas and tamales (the “T” food group)…and wisely, they don’t drink the water.

To intrepid gastronomes intimate with Mexican food, “the warm smell of colitas rising up through the air” has a different meaning than the colitas about which The Eagles sang. Though often interpreted as sexual slang (colitas translates to “little tails”) or a reference to marijuana (cannabis buds), band member Don Felder once explained the  colitas referenced in the song are “a plant that grows in the desert that blooms at night, and it has this kind of pungent, almost funky smell.”

Pork by the pound is the specialty here

The carnitas which delight diners throughout Mexico are indeed “little tails.”  More precisely, they’re turkey tails (colitas de pavo), they’re a delicacy and you’ll never convince aficionados of these crunchy, fatty, meaty treats that the immortal Eagles lyrics weren’t written about them.  Their first and most logical argument, of course, is the warm smell rising up through the air.  It’s a smell you can find in the Duke City only at Chicharroneria Orozco just north and west of the Barelas neighborhood. 

Though only a few blocks south of downtown, the area just over the bridge that crosses the Rio Grande on Bridge Boulevard may remind you of crossing into Juarez.  The flesh-rending razor wire fence atop the walls and roofs of nearby businesses will certainly tell you this isn’t the kinder, gentler side of Albuquerque.  Don’t let that scare you.  Most of the visitors to Chicharroneria Orozco are young immigrant families jonesing (or would that be martinezing) for a taste of home.

Celebrating the charro

There’s a lot to see, hear and smell when you step into the restaurant.  The cynosure is most definitely an island of deliciousness–a glass case displaying fried goodness in all shapes and sizes.  Save for the colitas de pavo and higado ensebollado (beef liver and onions), featured fare is of the porcine variety: tripitas (intestines), buche (stomach), carnitas, carne al pastor and costillas de puerco (pork ribs).  For an insanely low price, one pound of the meat of your choice includes a stack of fresh, steaming corn tortillas and a bowl brimming with chopped cilantro, onions and limes.

On one corner of the restaurant is a celebration of the charro, the Mexican horseman of legend and lore.  Atop stacked hay bales is a colorful Mexican blanket, a saddle and a lariat.  The walls immediately behind the hay bale “horse” include other accoutrements of the charro.  An adjacent dining room includes an automated teller machine (ATM) so you can settle your bill of fare.  Take a gander at the refrigerator in which a number of Mexican and American beverages brewed in Mexico (you haven’t lived until you’ve had a Cherry Pepsi bottled in Mexico and made with pure cane sugar) are available.

Salsa and Chips

As you await delivery of your meal, chips and salsa are delivered to your table.  The salsa is uniquely Mexican. It’s not made with either onions or tomatoes as most New Mexican salsas tend to be.  The salsa, a rich red chile punctuated with cilantro and salt will still win you over.  It’s not especially piquant and it’s almost watery in its consistency, but it’s got a great flavor.  Because it is so thin, the thick, crisp chips will function more efficiently if you dip them instead of trying to scoop Gil-sized portions of salsa. 

If you’re averse to fried pork, the Carne Al Pastor is an excellent choice.  Al pastor, which translates to “in the style of the shepherd” is a ubiquitous street food option in Mexico where al pastor means thin cuts of marinated pork whittled away from a cone of sizzling pork gyrating on a spit similar to an gyro.  At the Chicharonneria Orozco, the carne al pastor arrives at your table in cubed form, a bright red reminiscent of tandoori meats in its splendorous patina.

Al Pastor with Onions, Limes and Cilantro

The corn masa taco shells are about four-inches around and remain hot to the touch during your entire meal even though they’re not presented in a warmer of any sorts.  A few spoonfuls of carne al pastor, some freshly chopped onions and cilantro followed by a squeeze of lime and you’ve got a taco which may transport you to the streets of Mexico.  The marinated pork includes some sinewy and fatty bits, but that should be expected considering the price.  You’ll have enough carne al pastor to share and still have some left over for the following day. 

In Mexico, carnitas are the undisputed king of the taco cart as well as of cholesterol.  Every region has its own version of deep-fried pig.  Sometimes shredded like pulled pork and sometimes cubed into small pieces, carnitas should always be moist, juicy and redolent with porcine flavor.  The Chicharroneria Orozco’s version of carnitas is very typical.  One pound of these smoky golden-hued beauties may permanently imprint a smile on your face.

One pound of carnitas with corn tortillas

Where many couples might celebrate a wedding anniversary at an upscale eatery, my Kim and I couldn’t resist the warm smell of colitas and celebrated our momentous day at Chicharroneria Orozco.  She told me we could return any time.

Chicharroneria Orozco
709 Bridge S.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 873-4806
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 7 September 2014
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Carnitas, Al Pastor

Chicharroneria Orozco on Urbanspoon

El Norteño – Albuquerque, New Mexico

El Norteño's Second Albuquerque Location: On Montgomery and Wyoming

El Norteño On Montgomery and Wyoming

No Mexican restaurant in Albuquerque has a pedigree that approaches that of El Norteño, a venerable elder statesperson in the Duke City’s burgeoning and constantly evolving Mexican restaurant scene.  El Norteño has been pleasing local diners for more than a quarter of a century as evinced by its perennial selection as the city’s “Best Mexican” restaurant. Respondents to the Alibi’s annual “best of” poll accorded El Norteño that coveted accolade against increasingly more formidable competition every year for seven consecutive years.

Launched in 1986 by Leo and Martha Nuñez, El Norteño is an Albuquerque institution, a Mexican restaurant which can’t be pigeonholed for serving the cuisine of one Mexican state or another.  That’s because El Norteño offers traditional Mexican specialties while staying true to the Land of Enchantment, using only peppers grown in New Mexico.  In 1993, Monica Manoochehri and her husband Kamran took over the restaurant, maintaining the exceptional standards established by her parents.

A trio of salsas

Three salsas and chips at El Norteno

As consistently excellent as it has been, El Norteño became one of those restaurants even its most loyal patrons may have begun to take for granted.  We all knew it was in a class by itself with incomparable cuisine; warm, friendly service and a homey ambiance in which all guests felt welcome.  We thought it would always be there, but in July, 2008, an early morning conflagration caused extensive damage to this treasure which at the time of the fire was situated at 6416 Zuni, S.E..  With its closure, a little piece of all of us was tragically, seemingly irreplacaebly gone.

In December, 2008, El Norteño reopened at 1431 Wyoming, N.E., (just north of Constitution) the former site of Cafe Miche, one of the city’s very best French restaurants. Cafe Miche’s elegant French appointments were replaced by more colorful, thematically Mexican trappings including the art of Diego Rivera and other Mexican artists. Just as in its former home, El Norteño treats all diners like welcome guests.  Just as in its former home, Monica performed culinary magic as only she can.

Queso Fundido with Chorizo

Queso Fundido with Chorizo

As elegant as its new digs were, frequent guests will tell you they just didn’t seem as welcoming and warm as the original, more humble and more homey Zuni location generations had come to love.  Even  Monica will tell you she felt much more comfortable in her original restaurant home than in the more spacious, more ostentatious strip mall setting her restaurant occupied. 

In November, 2012 Monica launched a second instantiation of El Norteño on Wyoming and Montgomery just a few miles north of its Wyoming and Constitution location which closed when its lease elapsed.  The restaurant is situated in the corner space once occupied by Yen Ching, a popular Chinese eatery coincidentally also consumed by fire.   Monica’s new restaurant includes an expansive banqueting room (which hosted Friends of Gil III) and a panaderia in which such popular Mexican and New Mexican pastries as biscochitos, empanadas, conchas and even sopaipillas will be available for dessert or take-home.

Tostadas de Ceviche

Tostadas de Ceviche

While El Norteño holds a firm grasp on the hearts and appetites of Duke City diners, it’s not just locals who traverse to this family-owned and operated gem.  As an unabashed ambassador for New Mexico’s restaurants, I’m often surprised that Land of Enchantment residents don’t always grasp just how highly regarded our restaurants are across the country.  Restaurants such as El Norteño paved the way for the pantheon of restaurant gems which have recently earned acclaim from the Food Network.

In the year 2000, Michael and Jane Stern conceived Roadfood.com as a Web site devoted to finding the most memorable local eateries along the highways and back roads of America. One of their favorites for years has been El Norteño which they visit during their frequent sojourns to the Land of Enchantment.  In rating El Norteño’s horchata among the very best in the country for their terrific tome, 500 Things To Eat Before It’s Too Late, the Sterns called El Norteño “Albuquerque’s home of meals that are true Mex, not Tex-Mex or New Mex.”

Carne Asada

Carne Asada

When Chile Pepper magazine published a “best of zest” feature, a mainstay for years was El Norteño which the magazine rated as one of the very best Mexican restaurants in the country. According to Kamran, his wife’s restaurant was even named “best authentic Mexican restaurant in America” in 1999 by no less than Gourmet Magazine.

Both the culinary unadventurous and the “epicurious” diners will find something to their liking at El Norteño. Until 2005, El Norteno offered a daily lunch buffet, a repast for the rapacious, but not necessarily adventurous, diner. The lunch buffet offered pretty standard fare prepared exceptionally well–some of the best beans in the city, terrific rice, lively enchiladas and the most tender carne adovada imaginable–as well as some departures into the realm of culinary audacity such as menudo and chipotle sauced chicken.

Some of the best horchata in America

Some of the best horchata in America

True epicureans, however, will always order off the menu because we recognize that El Norteño is probably the one restaurant in Albuquerque where the distinction between the cuisines of New Mexico and Old Mexico is most discernible. You can get enchiladas, burritos and tacos anywhere. Give us barbacoa (meat from a cow’s cheek), lengua (tongue), cabrito (young goat) and nopalitos (nopal leaves).

El Norteño is most appreciated by discerning diners who understand and crave authentic Mexican food as it would be prepared at the region in which it originated. Unlike many other Mexican restaurants in the city, El Norteño doesn’t specialize in the cuisine of solely one of Mexico’s diverse regions; it celebrates Mexican cuisine from throughout the many states of Mexico. Authenticity is certainly a hallmark at El Norteño!

Cabrito al Horno Estilo Birria

Cabrito al Horno Estilo Birria

The charming Monica is the heart and soul of the restaurant, managing the kitchen, yet seemingly always finding time to check in on her guests.  The charming and beauteous Monica is a real treat to converse with.  She is personable, intelligent and possesses a smile that will light up a room.  The wait staff reflects her customer orientation and is generally on-the-spot and friendly.  Dining at El Norteño is always a treat!

The salsas are also a treat. A guacamole based salsa ameliorated with jalapeño is only mildly piquant but rich in the buttery smooth flavor of well-ripened avocados. El Norteño also specializes in a couple of salsas rarely seen in New Mexico, but common in the state of Puebla. They’re peanut-based salsas, including the salsa de cacahuates con Guajillo, a peanut salsa with chile Guajillo. None of the peanut salsas are as cloying as the peanut sauces so prevalent in Thai foods.

Tamales at El Norteno

Tamales at El Norteno

El Norteño’s appetizer selection includes many standard favorites such as queso fundido served in various ways, but it also offers a fairly unique starter you don’t often find in Albuquerque–ensalada de nopalitos, a refreshing salad made from tender nopal (a member of the cactus family sometimes referred to as a prickly pear) simmered in vinaigrette and served with tomato, onion, minced chiles and corn tortillas. It has a tangy flavor that salad savants will love. 

6 January 2013: Not on the appetizer menu, but on the mariscos (Mexican seafood) menu, is another excellent starter, tostadas de ceviche.  In all good ceviche, the briny-savory flavors of seafood should never be obfuscated by citrus juices or by the chopped tomato-cilantro-jalapeño-onion accompaniment.  In other words, shrimp and fish should taste like shrimp and fish and not a seafood and lime Popsicle.  El Norteño accomplishes this very well, but also gives you several limes to add more citrus if you so desire.

Monica and Leo, the heart and soul of El Norteno.  The tres leches cake in Monica's hands is destined for our table.

Monica and Kamran, the owners of El Norteño

Where El Norteño truly excels is in the art of preparing porcine perfection. Every pork-based entree is unbelievably tender (thanks in part to an overnight marinade in a mixture of lemon juice and olive oil) and uniquely delicious:

  • 8 August 2009: Utilizing ancient Mayan techniques, El Norteño prepares the very best Cochinita Pibil we’ve ever had. Citrus and spice marinated shredded pork is wrapped in banana leaves and steamed until tender. The pork literally melts in your mouth, imparting with it as it goes, a lively aftertaste of complementary spices and citrus juices that may elicit tears of joy.

  • Monturas are a specialty at El Norteño. From all appearances, this appears to be a very simple dish–medallions of pork topped with melted Monterrey Jack cheese and a rich, flavorful green chile–but appearances can be deceiving. You can masticate this pork with your gums; that’s how tender it is. It is one of the very best pork chop-like dishes in the city.
  • If pork chops are what you crave, the Guisado Norteño will assuage your cravings. Two hearty pork chops are topped with a wild tomato sauce that enlivens them with flavor. Need I say the pork is unbelievably tender.
Cochinito Pibil, the very best in New Mexico

Cochinito Pibil, the very best in New Mexico

It also goes without saying that the carne adovada is exceptionally tender and delicious (even though it includes a modicum of cumin) as is the al pastor which derives its flavor from as many as 13 different spices. I could rhapsodize for several pages on how wonderful the pork is, but that would be an injustice to the other terrific items on the menu which aren’t pork based.  Pork isn’t the sole treasure at El Norteño where it’s quite possible there is no ordinary entree.  Every dish is extraordinary or better, if possible.

6 January 2013: The cabrito (meat from very young, milk fed kids between 4 and 8 weeks of age) al Horno Estilo Birria (a style of Mexican barbecue) is absolutely wonderful, some of the best non-barbecued cabrito I’ve had in the past 25 years (maybe even better than the cabrito at Santa Fe’s fabled Los Potrillos). Oven roasted, marinated in chile and its own juices then served shredded, it oozes the pungent flavors of a classic Mexican entree. The cabrito is served with a pico de gallo and corn tortillas, perfect for crafting scrumptious tacos.

Chicken Mole with Beans and Rice

7August 2014:  The best mole recipes tend to be very closely guarded.  Monica will concede that the mole served at El Norteño includes seeds, chocolate, nuts and chilies and while they combine to form a greater whole, they’re not always discernible as individual ingredients.  Mole is so rich and complex that each bite is an adventure in flavor and though chilies are part and parcel of mole, piquancy is rarely a prominent feature.  El Norteño’s mole is smooth and creamy with a very slight hint of chocolate flavor.  It permeates the shredded chicken, imbuing it with a delicious richness.  The shredded cheese tempers the sweetness and provides a welcome contrast.

7August 2014:  Some New Mexican and Mexican restaurants make a big deal out of their presentation of fajitas, parading them from the kitchen with a vapor trail which would make jet aircraft envious.  The procession resembles a phalanx of models walking the runway with tortillas, shredded cheeses, sour cream and pico de gallo plated separately.  At El Norteño, there isn’t much fanfare in the presentation of the fajitas.  In fact, these fajitas are simplicity itself: grilled skirt steak, onions, green peppers and pico de gallo share a plate with beans and rice.  Only the tortillas are served separately. The grilled steak is moist, tender and seasoned nicely, a perfect complement to the grilled onions and green peppers.

Fajitas with Beans and Rice

7 August 2014: Dessert at El Norteño is a heavenly experience. The pastel de tres leches is unique in that the cake itself is cut up into small cubes which swim in a huge goblet filled with three types of rich, sweet milks then is dolloped with sweet cream and strawberries. It is sinfully decadent and delicious. Sweet and tangy flavors also combine like a concordant concert in your mouth in a dessert of frescas con crema (sweet strawberries blended with cream). 

6 January 2013: The glass pastry case at the Montgomery location is so enticing, I’d like one in my man cave–provided it’s stocked with the luscious pastries at El Norteño.  The biscochitos, the official cookie of the state of New Mexico, are wonderful with an abundance of anise and cinnamon flavor on perfect shortbread cookies.  Three varieties of empanada fillings–apple, crema and cherry–are available as are a number of other Mexican pastries.  When Monica launches her panaderia, expect even more deliciousness from the oven.

Biscochitos and Cherry Empanadas from the Pastry Case

Biscochitos and Cherry Empanadas from the Pastry Case

Mexican restaurants come and go in Albuquerque.  El Norteño has staying power because it continues to deliver great value, terrific service and fantastic food to its loyal patrons.

El Norteno
1431 Wyoming, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 299-2882
Web Site

LATEST VISIT: 7 August 2014
# OF VISITS: 10
RATING: 23
COST: $$
BEST BET: Cochinita pibil, Queso Fundido con Chorizo, Tostadas De Ceviche, Horchata, Tres Leches, Guisado Norteño, Cabrito al Horno Estilo Birria, Fajitas, Chicken Mole, Bischochitos, Empanadas


View El Norteno on LetsDineLocal.com »

El Norteño on Urbanspoon

El Norteño
4410 Wyoming Blvd, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 508-4372
LATEST VISIT: 6 January 2013
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: *
COST: $$
BEST BET: Tostadas de Ceviche, Chips and Salsa, Queso Fundido with Chorizo, Cabrito al Horno Estilo Birria, Horchata

El Norteño on Urbanspoon

Panaderia El Dorado – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Panaderia El Dorado on the intersection of Broadway and Gibson

Over the Mountains of the Moon, down the Valley of the Shadow, ride, boldly ride…if you seek for El Dorado.”
~
Edgar Allan Poe

In the 16th century when the Spaniards reached South America, natives regaled them with tales about a tribe with profligate wealth living high in the Andes.  According to raconteurs, when a new chieftain ascended to the throne, he was covered in gold dust.  Gold and precious jewels were then tossed into a lake to appease a god who lived underwater.  The Spaniards called this golden chief “El Dorado” which translates to “the gilded one.”  Legends of El Dorado fueled the Spaniards insatiable lust for gold, an effort they pursued for more than two centuries.  Though they found great wealth, they never did find El Dorado nor were they ever sated. 

Duke City diners don’t have to go far to find El Dorado where treasures untold can be found.  Panaderia El Dorado is located at the terminus of Gibson Boulevard where it intersects with Broadway. Essentially where Gibson ends, the Panaderia’s parking lot begins.  Long-timers remember this site as having housed everything from Chinese restaurants to failed Mexican restaurants.  With more than six years of pleasing its patrons, Panaderia El Dorado has outlived several previous tenants.

Some of the luscious baked goods available at El Dorado

While it’s only natural to suspect this humble Panaderia is named for the golden treasures prepared on the old-fashioned Mexican oven, the bakery actually takes its name from the Dorado family: proprietors Daniel, Juan and Roberto.  In 2008, the Panaderia was showcased in a community development conference held in Albuquerque as an example of what drive, initiative and a good product can accomplish when given a little opportunity and help with a little start-up capital. 

The instant you open the door and step into the venerable edifice, you’re enveloped in a fragrant bouquet of  pastry goods wafting toward you.  The source of these olfactory-arousing siren’s call is a pastry case jam-packed with pastries and breads of all shapes, colors and descriptions.  It’s a veritable treasure trove of gold and jewel-colored deliciousness, so inviting and attractive you might suffer involuntary (and embarrassing) salivation as you contemplate which one (or four) you’ll have. 

The old-fashioned Mexican horno in which baked goods are created

These baked treasures are prepared on an horno-like oven you’ll espy as you place your order.  It’s an old-fashioned and very traditional Mexican oven, the type of which are used throughout the Land of Montezuma.  A long wooden bakery paddle is used to insert and extricate baked goods from the oven.  In addition to the wondrous pastries, Panaderia El Dorado bakes bread and dozens of flour tortillas every day–and not the artificially tasting machine-made variety.  The griddle-made gems are absolutely delicious. 

These tortillas may be purchased by the dozen or you can enjoy them on at a time in the form of behemoth burritos.  A small menu on the wall offers six burritos: picadillo, chicharrones, rajas con queso, rojo, verde and almuerzo.  At well south of four dollars (as of this writing), they’re much less expensive than most restaurant burritos and better than most.  While cumin isn’t used on either the red or green chile, it is used on the pork inside the rojo burrito.  The chicharrones aren’t the deep-fried crackling pork nuggets New Mexicans love, but the tripe-like strips served in Mexico.   The menu also offers menudo in small or large sizes.  The only beverage available is Coke.

The Almerzo Burrito with ham, bacon, sausage and chorizo smothered in green chile

In terms of ambiance, Panaderia El Dorado offers an interesting melange of Catholic iconography and perhaps the city’s largest collection of framed black and white photos and posters of General Francisco “Pancho” Villa.  Seating is more functional than it is comfortable.  The most uncomfortable aspect of dining at the Panaderia, however, is the stifling heat.  If you visit on a sweltering summer day, the lack of air conditioning will certainly be noticeable.

During our inaugural visit, two terms often used in Mexico could be used to describe how my friend Bill Resnik and I ordered.  Those two words are machismo and bravado.  Assuming such inexpensive burritos would also be small, we ordered two apiece.  One burrito would feed a small family, especially if smothered with the chile rojo (red) or chile verde (green).  This Panaderia doesn’t scrimp in stuffing its burritos.

The Almuerzo Burrito Smothered with Chile Rojo and Queso

The best bet for meat lovers is the Almuerzo burrito with potatoes, eggs, cheese and your choice of ham, bacon, sausage and chorizo–or better still, enjoy all four meats.  Almuerzo, a Spanish term for lunch, is a bit of a misnomer since the four aforementioned meats are just as good during desayuno (breakfast).  Your immediate impression is “wow, this huge.”  Your next utterance will be “wow, this is good!”  The green chile has a very pleasant piquancy, more bite than chile used at most New Mexican restaurants.  It’s also very flavorful with sweet-savory flavorful reminders that chile is more fruit than vegetable.  The four meats are plentiful, all perfectly prepared with the characteristic smokiness of bacon taking center stage, but it may have been the potatoes with which we were most impressed.  These are not blandish potatoes which have sat around for a while before being served.  They have a fresh flavor with the occasional crispy caramelized bits.

Another burrito which surprised us is the burrito with rajas and queso.  Rajas translates to “strips,” but are actually sliced Poblano peppers.  Queso, of course, is cheese.  Poblano peppers warrant 1,500 – 2,500 units on the Scoville chile pepper heat index which means they’re actually more piquant than New Mexico and Big Jim chiles.  It isn’t piquancy you’ll notice, but how nicely roasted and sweet they are.  They’re also surprisingly delicious as in “can’t wait til the next bite” delicious.  The queso is a Mexican queso blanco (white cheese) which proves a perfect complement to the chile.  This is a burrito you probably shouldn’t have smothered because the roasted Poblano flavor profile needs no amelioration.

Two of the magnificent pastries

The pastry case is never far from view or out of mind so even those of you with iron willpower will succumb to its lure.  Bring a friend and share whatever pastries you decide on.  Frankly, every aspect of Panaderia El Dorado is meant to be shared.  It’s a great place to share with friends and family who have a passion for wonderful Mexican pastries and some of the very best burritos in Albuquerque.

Panaderia El Dorado
2125 Broadway, S.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 247-2979
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 24 June 2014
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Almerzo Burrito with ham, bacon, sausage and chorizo; Rajas con Queso Burrito; Almuerzo Burrito with sausage and green chile; Baked goods

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