Andele’s Dog House – Mesilla, New Mexico

Andele’s Dog House on the Northern Outskirts of the Old Mesilla Plaza

Put a savvy foodie from Las Cruces and a gastronome from Albuquerque in the same room (preferably not a kitchen well stocked with knives) and you’re bound to start a culinary civil war.  Such was the case when I worked at Intel with a colleague who was born-and-bred in the City of Crosses.  We were both adamant that the cuisine in our half of the state (mine being the upper half) was far superior to cuisine in the other (lower in her case) half.  We debated every nuance that made our preferred cuisine distinctive from the other.  We argued about the prominence of Mexican and Native American culinary influences, the preferred degree of piquancy in each region, whether or not cumin has any place in New Mexican cuisine, even whether the biscochito can truly be New Mexico’s official state cookie if it’s not as common in Southern New Mexico.

Rather than squabbling like the prickly, contentious British Parliament, we could have spared ourselves hours of rancor by breaking sopaipillas together at restaurants in both Northern and Southern New Mexico.  With detente based on a shared meal, we might even have become friends.   Think of the missed opportunities to compare the best of the north against its southern counterpart:   Rancho de Chimayo in the north and La Posta De Mesilla in the south; Albuquerque’s beloved institution Mary & Tito’s and Las Cruces legend Nellie’s Cafe; and Santa Fe’s James Beard award-winning The Shed with Chope’s of La Mesa.  Surely there would have been no winners or losers, just two very satisfied New Mexicans enjoying the best our beloved state has to offer.

Al Fresco Dining

The truth is, the two cuisines probably don’t differ enough to warrant a heated debate. There is as much to love in New Mexican cuisine in the North as there is in the South. Moreover, the distinction between the two isn’t usually determined broadly by geographical location, but at a more finite level–by kitchen. In every kitchen across the Land of Enchantment, New Mexicans prepare our beloved cuisine differently…just as they have for generations.  Discerning diners should shout “Viva La Differencia” with mucho gusto.  What could be more fun than exploring the subtleties of New Mexican cuisine prepared with just a delicate gradation of difference?  Why, you could create a blog dedicated to such a delicious quest.

Since January, 1996, Andele Restaurant, located in the heart of historic Mesilla just south of Las Cruces, has been luring hungry guests with fragrant bouquets that waft like a siren’s call across the length and breadth of the L-shaped complex that encompasses the  suites at 1950 Calle del Norte.  Andele is on every short list of “best restaurant” listings you’ll find for the Las Cruces area.  As if lovingly tending to more than 10,000 square feet and offering an immensely popular restaurant isn’t enough, the Andele brand includes  catering, take-out, banquet service, a mercado and tortillaria and the production and distribution of award-winning specialty salsas (both the  traditional Andele brand and Ol’ Gringo have won earned “best in New Mexico” distinction on multiple occasions at the New Mexico State Fair).

Chips and Salsas

The most recent addition to the Andele Restaurant family is Andele’s Dog House across the street from its sprawling sibling.  Andele’s Dog House shares much of its elder sibling’s menu with a spattering of new favorites such as Mexican hot dogs.  The Dog House has a relaxed cantina-like vibe, making it the perfect venue for eating dogs in the company of your own four-legged children.   It isn’t just a fall-back when lines snake around Andele Restaurant.   Al fresco dining is a popular draw as is the enclosed patio where several flat screen televisions are tuned to sporting events.  Andele’s Dog House was named one of the Land of Enchantment’s ten best hot dog joints by “Best of New Mexico,” a very entertaining site dedicated to the greatness that is our state. 

If you’re not already acquainted with the menu at the main restaurant, you’re well advised to peruse it at length before your visit to the Dog House. It’s a multi-page menu that warrants your rapt attention lest a post-prandial review reveals something you should have ordered.  Section headings include burritos, soups and salads, a la carte and sides, appetizers, house specialties, combination plates, Platos Mexicanos, Steak and Chicken, Burgers and Sandwiches, Drinks, Desserts and of course, Hot Dogs.  The house specialty, by the way, is the Tacos Al Carbon (white corn tortillas topped with flame-broiled beef, pork or chicken with sundry ingredients).

Chile Con Queso

In her fabulous review of Andele, my blogging buddy Melody K. practically had us drooling at her description of Andele’s complimentary salsa bar.  We finished off two bucketfuls of chips by the time we were done, enjoying the not so subtle properties of each incendiary salsa: chipotle, traditional, chile de árbol, and a tomatillo and jalapeño salsa.  My Kim advised me to include a disclaimer every time I indicate a salsa isn’t especially piquant.  She reminded me that my assessment of piquancy is at the level of calling molten lava merely warm.  Her personal Scoville scale indicated the chile de árbol salsa was tongue-searing, eye-watering and nose-clearing.  Piquancy not withstanding, all the salsas are excellent.  My favorite is the chipotle with its distinctively smoky flavor.

Ordinarily most diners wouldn’t order chile con queso when a complimentary salsa bar is available, but the con queso in Southern New Mexico’s restaurants is superior to the con queso in Northern New Mexico.  Yes, it pains me to admit as such and I’ll blame a virus should my nemesis ever read this.  One of the main differences between con queso in the South and con queso in the North has everything to do with the operative word – chile (and shame on New Mexican restaurants in the North who don’t use it on their con queso).  The other is the creamy blend of cheeses (none of which taste like Velveeta) used in the South.  Andele’s chile con queso should be served in a vat.  It’s simply outstanding!

One-Half Rotisserie Chicken

In fitful acts of desperation, most of us will admit to picking up a rotisserie chicken from our neighborhood grocery store.  Never mind that it’s probably sat out as long as a hot dog at an all-night quickie mart.  After vigorously interrogating our server, my Kim decided Andele’s rotisserie chicken was probably unlike what she’d find at a grocery store.  Andele seals in pure deliciousness by marinating the chicken in their fabulous (no cumin) red chile.  The result is one of the very best rotisserie chickens we’ve ever had.  Not only does the incomparable flavor of the red chile penetrate deeply into the chicken, the rotisserie process somehow manages to keep the chicken moist and tender.  Rotisserie chicken is available in half or quarter chicken sizes served with corn tortillas and garnished with wedges of avocado and tomato. 

In recent years, the Sonoran Hot dog has gone from being the definitive food of Tucson, Arizona to being a popular offering in the Land of Enchantment.  While the Dog House menu calls their version a Mexican Dog, it doesn’t differ much from the kennel full of Sonoran hot dogs we’ve had in Tucson.  What is a Mexican hot dog.  I’ll let the Dog House menu describe it: “Well, it’s not a Chihuahua standing in the sun! This is unlike any hot dog you’ve ever had. We start with a grilled, bacon-wrapped all-beef frank, serve it in a specially baked bun, and then top it with pinto beans, grilled onions, diced onions and tomatoes, plus jalapeno mayonnaise, mustard,ketchup, jalapeno salsa.” By any name, this is a superb hot dog, albeit just a bit tough to eat if you can’t crane your mouth like a baby bird being fed. One Mexican hot dog is roughly the size of two Tucson-sized Sonoran hot dogs and nearly as delicious.

Mexican Dog

I’ve long contended that no one prepares baked potatoes as well as Mexican restaurants.  The Dog House’s baked potato, adorned simply with a couple dollops of sour cream and slathered generously with melting butter, is a great accompaniment for any entree.  The potato is soft without being mushy and about the size of a softball. It’s the type of potato prepared so well that you’ll even finish off the skin (which some claim is really the most nutritious part of a potato anyway).

Had my Southern New Mexico nemesis taken me to Andele’s Dog House, I would certainly have conceded that this magnificent milieu in Mesilla is one of the very best New Mexican-Mexican restaurants in the Land of Enchantment.  Not just Southern New Mexico!  The entire state!

Andele’s Dog House
1983 Calle del Norte
Mesilla, New Mexico
(575) 526-1271
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 12 March 2017
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Mexican Hot Dog, Rotisserie Chicken, Chips and Salsa, Chile con Queso, Baked Potato

Andele's Dog House 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 and 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.

Vamos Echarnos Unos Tacos (Let’s Have Some Tacos)

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, ice cream 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). There are actually two queues—one for ordering ice cream and one for ordering your meal. In either case, you’ll walk by the freezer case 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

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.

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. 

Ginger and Caramel-Chocolate Gelatos

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!

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.

Chocolate and Orange-Clove Gelatos

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. 

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. 

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.

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: 21 January 2017
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Elotes, Carnitas Taco, Al Pastor Taco, Cobia Fish Taco, Shrimp Taco, Chard & Papitas Guisado Taco, Chips and Salsa, Chocolate Gelato, Orange-Clove Gelato, Ginger Gelato, Caramel-Chocolate Gelato,

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

Señor Tortas – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Señor Tortas for Super Tortas on Louisiana South of Central

In Albuquerque’s panoply of Mexican fast foods, the torta–despite all its heartiness and versatility–is the “Rodney Dangerfield” of cheap eats. It garners no respect, warranting nary a mention in annual paeans to the “best of” virtually everything else Alibi and Albuquerque The Magazine readers care to celebrate. Long overshadowed and under-appreciated, the humble torta presents a glaring contrast to its culinary cousin, king taco. While the taco has become a pop culture diva, the torta has been relegated to a homely afterthought. It’s become cool to consume tacos, but tortas are the porn of fast food–usually kept wrapped until it’s time to enjoy them. 

Could it be that there are still people who don’t know what a torta is? That may well be because the name “torta” is often confused for some sort of cake. One wonders if its popularity would have exploded if “Torta Bell” franchises had spread across the fruited plain instead of Taco Bell. Whatever the reason for its relative anonymity, tortas are long overdue recognition and adulation from the mainstream masses in the Duke City.  While the culinary cultures in such cosmopolitan and urbane cities such as Los Angeles and Denver have embraced the torta, Albuquerque languishes behind.

The colorful interior of Señor Tortas

While a number of Mexican restaurants in the Duke City offer tortas, only one diminutive diner contains the term “tortas” on its name and signage.  That restaurant is Señor Tortas which follows “recipes made in Heaven” according to its Web site.  Your can find this purveyor of divine deliciousness on Louisiana Blvd. about a mile south of Central Avenue.  One of the most interesting aspects of its signage (and its Web site) is the mustachioed chef sporting a toque who looks suspiciously like the chef on old Italian stock photos.  The restaurant’s walls are even more interesting, showcasing numerous posters, including one of Cantinflas, a pioneer of Mexican cinema.  There’s also a reference to a “Grumpy Gringo Burger,” a remnant from one of the restaurant’s previous incarnations, a burger joint called (what else) the Grumpy Gringo Restaurant.

The Castillo family which owns and operates Señor Tortas has more than fifteen years in the food services industry and runs two food trucks also sporting the Señor Plata appellation.  Although the restaurant’s marquee touts its “super tortas,” the menu offers other Mexican food standards such as tacos, burritos, enchiladas and a number of beef plates.  Try those some other time.  Your first visit should be reserved for one of the ten tortas on the menu.  Compared to the ubiquitous sandwich chains, ten may not seem like a slew of sandwich options, but all it takes to hook you is one sandwich.

The Hawaiana  with French Fries

22 June 2015: “Hawaiana” sounds more like a pizza than a torta and some of its components are indeed featured on “Hawaiian” pizzas, but this is no pizza.  The canvas for this sumptuous sandwich is a French-bread inspired telera roll which is topped by beans, avocados and jalapeños in addition to “Hawaiian” constituents: pineapple, quesillo (an Oaxacan string cheese), jamon (ham) and chuleta (pork chop).  It’s a terrific sandwich with a diverse porcine-centric flavor profile forged by complementary and contrasting ingredients.  Mexican ham is more smoky and thicker than most American hams and the pork chop is much thinner than the half-inch chops we enjoy.  Together they form the basis for a very enjoyable sandwich.

12 January 2017: You may have noticed on the photo below that there’s a bit of “glistening” on the Chrindonga (carne asada, salchicha, jamon) torta. Unfortunately, this torta is quite greasy which might be off-putting to some diners.  To offset the greasiness, ask for additional japaneños.  A small bowl of pickled jalapeños, onions and carrots might not make the carne asada and salchicha (sausage) less greasy, but they’ll liven up the flavor profile a bit.  The pickled jalapeños aren’t so piquant that an asbestos-lined tongue would be necessary, but they do complement the other ingredients.  Had this torta been “degreased” it would have been quite good.

The Chirindonga

If you ponder the matter, you may conclude that the torta supplants the taco in portability, mass, value and dare I say, even deliciousness.  Señor Tortas is at the forefront of giving the humble, but hearty paragon of sandwich greatness, its well-deserved just dues.

Señor Tortas
532 Louisiana Blvd, S.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 265-5896
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 12 January 2017
1st VISIT: 22 June 2015
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 17
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Hawaiana Torta, French Fries, Lift Apple Soda, The Chirindonga

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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.

Caramelized Onion and Poblano Raja Queso

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. 

Cinnamon Doughnut with Cherry and Cajeta

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.

Dutch Boy-style Pancakes with Cherry Compote

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: 5 January 2016
1st VISIT: 2 January 2016
# OF VISITS: 2
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

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

Delicias Cafe – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Delicias Cafe on San Mateo

There’s no denying the ever-increasing popularity of Mexican food across America, but it may surprise you to learn that in the estimation of some sources, it has supplanted Italian food as the favorite ethnic cuisine in the land.   Marketplace, a nationally syndicated business oriented radio program with more than nine-million listeners a week, says there’s no bones about it, calling Mexican food “the most popular ethnic food in the U.S., bigger than Italian or Chinese.”  Askmen.com confirms only that “Mexican has become one of the three most popular cuisines in the U.S., with nearly 90% of the total population having tasted it.” 

According to Marketplace, there are some 90,000 or so Mexican restaurants across the fruited plain. The loose categorization of “Mexican restaurants” not only includes our incomparable New Mexican cuisine and our neighboring state’s Tex-Mex, but such “Americanized” chains as Chipotle, Taco Bell and others of the ilk. Lest you become agitated that such Mexican “in name only” restaurants would be thrown in along with the authentic Mexican restaurants, the truth is that even among restaurants owned and operated by Mexican immigrants you’ll find pretenders serving less than authentic Mexican cuisine. Sometimes they do so to remain competitive in markets saturated for so long by the aforementioned chains that the local dining public knows no better. In other cases, would be authentic restaurants sacrifice authenticity for convenience when they’re not able to find authentic ingredients at a reasonable price.

One of the most colorful dining rooms in Albuquerque

Several years ago, the proliferation of chefs not properly trained and steeped in the culture behind Japanese cuisine so rankled the ire of Japanese chefs that they formed advocacy groups aimed at protecting their highly traditional and exquisitely artistic form of cooking.  The Mexican government has followed suit, founding the Mexican Restaurant Association (MERA), a trade association chartered to encourage the spread of more authentic cuisine.  More than 1,000 members strong, MERA recognizes that advocacy is just so much empty air without action so it helps members locate and negotiate better prices for authentic ingredients which are often very difficult to find.

It’s indicative of the Land of Enchantment’s famous attitude of acceptance (or perhaps the sheer number of tourists) that Taco Bell has survived for so long in New Mexico. For many of us, however, “run for the border” would never, even under threat of torture, constitute a visit to Taco Bell. We take “run to the border” a bit more literally–as in heading out to our favorite purveyor of magnificent and authentic Mexican food. Fortunately, we’ve long been blessed to have a plethora of irrefutably authentic Mexican restaurants, some so good you might swear you’ve been transported to the Land of Montezuma.

Chips, Salsa and Corn Dish

When my compadre Rico Martinez craves “real Mexican food,” he heads to Delicias Cafe which he considers “better than any Mexican restaurant I’ve tried in Albuquerque.”  Rico has become Delicias unofficial publicist, waxing poetic about his new favorite on Urbanspoon and telling everyone he knows about it.  I wish he had told me sooner.  Delicias is every bit as good as he said, maybe better.  Best of all, it’s got that real south-of-the-border authenticity aficionados like Rico and me crave. 

That authenticity is confirmed by my friend and fellow blogger Steve Coleman of Steve’s Gastronomic Home Page.  Steve is an authority on Mexican food, having traveled extensively throughout our southern neighbor.  For years he also chronicled his visits to Mexican restaurants in El Paso on his very well written blog.  He knows what he’s talking about so when he says “one thing I like about Delicias is its ability to reproduce the same kind of experience that could be found by walking into any restaurant at random in Cuidad Juarez or other cities in the state of Chihuahua, you can take it to the bank.” 

A trio of Sopes: Carne sado, Chile Verde and Beans

When you walk into Delicias Cafe at the Fiesta Del Norte Shopping Center in Albuquerque’s Northeast Heights, there’s no way you’ll mistake it for Perennials Restaurant, its long-time predecessor at the bright, east-facing edifice. Delicias is a panorama of color, a glossy, multi-hued milieu of chairs depicting vibrant symbols of Mexican life. Upper-tier seating on comfortable booths provides a good view of the entire restaurant, but if you want to imbibe the sights and sounds of the bustling exhibition kitchen, you’ll want a seat on the lower level. From either vantage point, you’ll be treated to the inimitable aromas of wonderfully seasoned Mexican food wafting toward you.

The genesis of the aromas which greet you at the door can come from any number of items on the menu, a veritable compendium of Mexican food favorites. Delicias Cafe, which has sister restaurants in Las Cruces and El Paso, is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner though you can have breakfast any time of day. The menu showcases the cuisine of Delicias, a city in Chihuahua some 250 miles from Cuidad Juarez. Delicias translates literally from Spanish to “delights,” a well-earned term for the food at this delightful restaurant. It also sounds a bit like “delicious” which is also fitting. 

Tostada de Mariscos con Pescado

Shortly after you’re seated, a complimentary basket of chips and a bowl of salsa are delivered to your table.  The salsa isn’t especially piquant, but it’s got a very fresh, lively flavor with just a hint of jalapeño and garlic.  The chips are large and thin, but substantial enough to scoop up Gil-sized portions of salsa.  Service is so quick that you probably won’t finish your first bowl of salsa before your appetizers or entrees are delivered.  Be forewarned that chips and salsa are likely not the only “freebies” coming your way. During two visits in March, 2016, we were treated to complimentary small plates of yellow corn in a light sauce of Mexican crema and jalapenos. This is corn from a cob, not from a can. It’s sweet and fresh, enlivened by the piquancy of the jalapenos and the sour tang of the crema.

Depending on what you order, your entree might also include a bowl of Caldo de Res, a beef stew with large pieces of vegetables and rice. This near-entree sized stew is as good as they come with a beef-flavored broth that bespeaks of comfort. The vegetables are perfectly prepared and fresh-flavored while the rice is a pleasant surprise. With seafood dishes, you might see a Caldo De Mariscos, a seafood stew replete with delicacies of the sea. If Delicias generosity is a ploy to entice you back, it’s working.

Queso Fundido con Chorizo

11 February 2012: The Antojitos de Banqueta (appetizers and snacks) menu lists only seven items, perhaps a consequence of portion size–both appetizers and entrees–being almost profligate in size.  Finish your appetizer and you probably won’t finish your entree.  If you don’t order an appetizer to make sure you have room for your entree, you’ll miss out on such terrific starters as sopes, three fried corn masa patties topped with sundry ingredients: asado on one, chile verde on another and beans on the third.  At first glance the sopes resemble small, thick tortillas and in a sense they are.  The sopes are also topped with lettuce, shredded cheese, chopped tomatoes and an acidified cream.

6 March 2016: In March, 2016, Delicias expanded its menu to include a boatful of mariscos (Mexican seafood) dishes. In recent years, mariscos have become increasingly popular in New Mexico, perhaps because our enchantment is landlocked and seafood restaurants are scarce. Delicias’ new menu includes an appetizer portion of tostadas ceviche de pescado, a crispy fried shell atop of which are piled netfuls of fish marinated in citrus juices, chopped tomatoes, green onions, and fresh, ripe avocados. Limes are provided for diners who want their ceviche experience to tingle their lips. For the rest of us, the interplay between tangy citrus juices and the savory, briny fish is an adventure in balancing compatible flavors. The buttery, savory avocados are a nice foil for the tangy citrus influence on surprisingly fresh fish.

Migas con Chorizo

24 December 2016:   Two relics from the 1970s–toga parties and fondue parties–have largely gone the way of the dinosaur.  Today if you want melted cheese, your best bet is a Mexican restaurant where queso fundido remains one of the most popular appetizers available.  Fundido, a Spanish word which translates to “molten” aptly describes one of the most gooey, rich and delicious starters available anywhere.  While cheese alone is wonderful on its own, it becomes double decadent with the addition of chorizo, the unctuous pork sausage.  Delicias Cafe serves one of the best exemplars of queso fundido con chorizo you’ll find.  Served with soft, warm corn tortillas, you’ll need a fork to extract the queso from its bowl and even then, the cheese will stretch for a foot or more before you can cut it.  Queso fundido is best (and more pliable) when warm.

11 February 2012: The first entree to strike my fancy was Enchiladas Suizas, a fabulous dish invented in Mexico City’s Sanborn’s restaurant.  As you’ve probably surmised, “Suiza” means Swiss, a tribute to the fact that this dish uses both cream and cheese.   Delicias Cafe rendition is among the very best I’ve ever had.  Three rolled corn tortillas are engorged with finely shredded white meat chicken then are covered in a sauce of tomatillo, jalapeño and sour cream with shredded cheese in the mix, too.  The enchiladas have a delightfully slightly sour tanginess that impregnates the perfectly prepared poultry.  The enchiladas Suizas are served with beans and rice, but these are hardly standard.  The beans have that prepared in lard flavor while the rice is fluffy with nary a clump.

Chilaquiles con mole

As if the Enchiladas Suizas weren’t enough, my delightful waitress also brought me a bowl of Caldo de Res, a beef stew with large pieces of vegetables and rice.  She told me this hearty, delicious stew came with the enchiladas.  This near-entree sized stew is as good as they come with a beef-flavored broth as comforting as broth comes.  The vegetables are perfectly prepared  and fresh-flavored while the rice is a pleasant surprise.  Note: During our visit on December 24th, we noticed that the Enchiladas Suizas are no longer on the menu.  Apparently not everyone had as high an opinion of this magnificent dish as we did.

12 February 2012: Coincidentally on the date of my inaugural visit, Barbara Trembath, a long-time friend of this blog and another of my most trusted sources of restaurants throughout the fruited plain, visited Delicias Cafe a few hours before I did.  Though she was positively giddy over the entire menu, she was most excited about the fact that the restaurant has four different chilaquiles dishes and described them as “hands-down the best.”   If the chilaquiles con mole are an indication, she’s absolutely correct.  More than most mole, this one has the prominent flavor of chocolate, one of its chief ingredients.  It’s a dark brown mole redolent with complex flavors.  Order it with the shredded chicken which is light, fluffy and moist.  For breakfast, the chilaquiles are served with two eggs, beans and hash browns.

Molletes: open-faced torta bread topped with beans & cheese

Molletes

Belly-busting, belt-loosening, stomach swelling–there are many ways to describe portions at Delicious (not necessarily a Freudian slip) which offers several platters large enough to feed a family. One of the very largest and most delicias (see, they’re synonymous) is the Patron Platter: a jumble of two eggs, diced ham, onions, cubed potatoes, jalapenos, mushrooms and cheese served with a tortilla, two strips of bacon, two sausage patties and a corn chorizo quesadilla.  If that sounds like a bounteous buffet, it may as well be.  Where but on a buffet might you find bacon, sausage and ham together in one plate?  This buffet on a plate is not only prodigious, it’s so good you’ll finish it all.

Shame on me for not having already mentioned just how accommodating and friendly the wait staff is.  Delicias is one of those rare restaurants in which “have it your way” is a reality.  In three visits, each member of the tandem wait staff as well as the manager have visited my table to make sure I had everything needed to enjoy my meal.  It’s a genial wait staff eager to please.  The menu offers seventeen different burritos and if one doesn’t quite have everything you want, just tell your server and the sky’s the limit.  You can smother your burritos in your favorite sauce: green sauce, red sauce, Delicias sauce (tomatillo sauce), mole sauce and even Suizas sauce.  A breakfast burrito with eggs, ham and beans topped with extra Suizas sauce became a favorite after one bite.  That Suizas sauce is absolutely addictive.

Tacos de Alhambre: Ham, bacon, carnitas, shredded cheese on corn tortillas

Tacos de Alambre

Traditional American entrees abound on the menu where in addition to four hamburgers, a club sandwich and French fries, you’ll find oatmeal, omelets, French toast and hot cakes.  The hot cakes are among the best in Albuquerque, better than at many paragons of pancake perfection.  The batter is infused with vanilla, just enough to be discernible but not so much as to make them cloying.  The hot cakes are golden hued and of medium thickness.  They’re served with heated syrup and easily melting butter.

February 24, 2013: Delicia’s is one of a handful of restaurants in the Albuquerque area to serve molletes, a delightfully unique yet simple appetizer.   Molletes are a sort of open-faced sandwich made from tortas bread (similar to French bread) layered generously with refried beans and cheese all toasted on a broiler.  It’s simple in its execution and delivery.  Though satisfying on their own, it’s hard not to contemplate how much better the molletes would be with some New Mexico green chile.  Maybe next time we’ll sneak some in. 

Camarones Mojo De Ajo

26 February 2013: Aficionados of terrific tacos will find several options to assuage their yen.  One taco more common in southern New Mexico than in the northern half of the state are tacos de alambre.  Alambre is a Spanish word for “wire” which sounds like an odd name for these tacos.  The genesis of the name is in dispute with some theories tying the name to the Moors who settled in Spain while others believe the name refers to the way the cheese in the mixture stretches out like thin wire when it sticks to the cook’s spatula while it’s being grilled with pre-marinated and cooked meats.  In this case, the meats are ham, bacon and carnitas served on a plate with steaming corn tortillas on the side.  These are terrific tacos. 

24 December 2016: Migas may translate from Spanish to “crumbs,” there’s absolutely nothing crummy about this popular breakfast dish.  The crumbs in the name is because this dish is made with left-over tortillas or bread.   At Delicias, migas con chorizo have the carb-loaded oomph that elevates scrambled eggs to a sublime waker-upper of a dish.  With pork chorizo, onions and green peppers, there’s deliciousness in every bite.  Better still, the migas are served with refried beans and hash browns.  This is breakfast!

Chiles Rellenos en Nogada

6 March 2016: The mariscos menu includes a number of shrimp (camarones) entrees including camarones mojo de ajo (shrimp marinated in garlic). This is a very interesting dish in that the shrimp are accompanied by two starches—mashed potatoes and white rice. Considering Mexican restaurants prepare baked potatoes (papas asadas) better than anyone, it should come as no surprise that the mashed potatoes are par excellence. If you like gravy with your mashed potatoes, there should be enough of the buttery-minced garlic mix to appease you. Eight butterflied shrimp per serving are sweet and succulent with a snap to each bite that tells you they’re fresh.

6 March 2016: Mexican history recounts that in 1821, Catholic nuns from Pueblo created a dish to honor a visit from a revolutionary general who helped Mexico win its independence from Spain. That dish, chile rellenos en nogada, was the color of the Mexican flag: a green poblano pepper, a white walnut sauce and red pomegranates. The version prepared at Delicias is among the best we’ve found in New Mexico and to my knowledge, the only chiles rellenos of this type in Albuquerque. Two Poblano chiles are stuffed with a picadillo filling, a combination of minced meat, fruits, pinons and spices then topped with a white, creamy walnut sauce garnered with dried cranberries (when pomegranates are not in season). Unlike some chiles rellenos en nogada, these are not battered and fried which will enhance your appreciation for a pepper low in the Scoville scale, but high in flavor.  The well-balanced combination of sweet and savory flavors is palate pleasing and addictive. If you’ve never had this dish, you should run to the border (6601 San Mateo) and order it.

Congreburger

9 March 2016: It’s what I ordered for the second time in a three-day span in order to introduce my friends Larry “the professor with the perspicacious palate” McGoldrick and Dazzling Deanell to what I believe is a very special and unique dish.  Larry put it succinctly—“this is OMG good.”  Deanell wasn’t quite as effusive, her appreciation more evident in spoonful after spoonful of this magic dish.  The chiles rellenos en nogada are served with rice which might otherwise be good, but is elevated to greatness when dragged along the rich walnut sauce.

9 March 2016: What kind of so-called gastronome would dine at a Mexican restaurant and order a hamburger? The answer, of course, is a gastronome already well acquainted with the Mexican food on the menu. The description of the Congreburger had me at “three strips of bacon” and if that isn’t sufficiently enticing, this work of genius also includes two slices of cheese, a single strip of green chile, ham and avocado. Despite featuring double cheese, this behemoth is constructed with only one beef patty, but it’s thicker than three quarter-pounders stacked atop one another. It goes without saying the patty is also juicier and more flavorful. Now, bacon and ham—that’s pure porcine pleasure, an aphrodisiac no red-blooded male can resist. The bacon is thick and smoky while the ham is imbued with sweet, smoky notes. Together, their flavor profile is pure harmony. There’s not much piquancy on the strip of chile, but it pairs well with the unctuous avocadoes. Atop the bottom bun and below the beef patty are layers of julienned carrots and mixed greens, an interesting touch. This burger is so tall you’ll probably envy birds whose double-jointed beaks allow them to open wide. As is, you’ll have to mash the burger down just to be able to bite down on it. Though our server indicated the term “Congre” doesn’t have a literal translation, we suspect it’s a diminutive of “congregar,” the Spanish word for “congregate.” That’s what this burger is—a congregation of great ingredients and flavors.

Pastel Tres Leches

9 March 2016: In the unlikely event you’ll be able to enjoy dessert after polishing off a prodigious platter and all the generous sides, Delicias offers several post-prandial treats: fried ice cream, sopaipillas, flan and pastel tres leches. My Kim called the pastel tres leches the best she’s ever had. It would be hard to argue against that contention. It’s as spongy moist and decadent delicious as any tres leches cake in New Mexico. Press into it with your fork and you’re not only rewarded with magnificent milkiness, but with pudding-like layers of deliciousness. The cake is drizzled with a heavenly strawberry gelée you’ll want on all your morning toast. It’s amazing how the enjoyment of a dish increases exponentially when you introduce someone to it and they enjoy it as much, if not more than you do. Such was the case when my friend Larry McGoldrick and I took Dazzling Deanell to Delicias on her birthday. Never having had tres leches cake before, Deanell was verklempt at just how moist and delicious this cake was. In all her 32 years on Mother Earth, Deanell had never experienced any cake quite as dazzling.

Delicias Cafe lives up to its name.  It is one of the most delightful and delicious Mexican restaurants in the city with a wonderful authenticity aficionados will love.

Cafe Delicias
6001 San Mateo, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
505-830-6561
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 24 December 2016
1st VISIT:  12 February 2012
# OF VISITS: 7
RATING: 22
COST: $$
BEST BET: Sopes, Enchiladas Suizas, Caldo de Res, Salsa and Chips, Chilaquiles con Mole, Patron Platter, Short Stack, Burrito with Suiza Sauce, Tres Leches Cake, Molletes, Tacos de Alhambre, Chiles Rellenos en Nogada, Camarones Mojo de Ajo, Tostadas de Ceviche con Pescado

Delicias Café Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Casa Diaz – Bernalillo, New Mexico

Casa Diaz on Camino Del Pueblo in Bernalillo

The siren song of a small town living has always appealed to Irma Rodriguez who just can’t see herself in the big city.  Having grown up in Gallup, New Mexico, she appreciates the sense of community–the extended family feeling of really getting to know her neighbors.  It’s an attitude she imparts to guests at Casa Diaz Mexican and American Grill, the Bernalillo restaurant she and husband Jesus launched in August, 2016.  For her, the term “locally owned and operated” is deeply rooted, a reflection of her upbringing in and around family owned and operated restaurants in Gallup. 

Irma’s grandmother served for decades as the tortillera at the legendary Jerry’s Cafe in Gallup.  Later when Irma herself worked at Jerry’s, she assimilated the day-to-day nuances of running the most popular independent restaurant in the Heart of Navajo Country.  In particular, she observed as the restaurant’s staff inculcated a customer-oriented attitude.  The lessons she learned are inscribed in her restaurant’s operational model on the Web site’s “About Us” page: “We strive to give you a fresh meal that’s similar to being home cooked. When you are at Casa Diaz we treat you like family because that’s what you are to us. We want to give you the best experience and provide the highest quality of service.”  Treat you like family, best experience, highest quality of service…those are small town values you’ll find at Casa Diaz.

Casa Diaz Dining Room

If you’ve ever been to Jerry’s Cafe, you’ve not only experienced great service, but some of the very best New Mexican cuisine in the Land of Enchantment.  Irma admits that when she’s stuck for a recipe or a dish is missing a little something, she’ll call her friends at Jerry’s and they help her out.  Having a strong service foundation and a little help from Jerry’s–that’s a good formula for keeping her guests happy.  It also helps that Casa Diaz has an inviting and homey look and feel.  Seating, on chairs imprinted with the sunburst symbol, is comfortable.  A kiva fireplace lends warmth even when it’s not in use.  Walls are festooned with artwork courtesy of the Rio Rancho Art Association

Casa Diaz is located on heavily trafficked Camino Del Pueblo in a space previously occupied by long-time Bernalillo favorite La Casita Cafe.  When La Casita shuttered its doors in 2013 after more than thirty years of feeding Bernalillo, it left a significant void.  Bellies still rumble when former patrons drove by the empty location.  As with Casa Diaz, La Casita was a family-owned and operated restaurant which treated its guests like family.  That’s just how things are in small towns such as Bernalillo.  That’s why Casa Diaz is already becoming a local favorite.

Empanadas

The concept of a Mexican and American grill is an interesting and ambitious undertaking, but if our inaugural visit is any indication, Irma and her culinary crew are up to the task.  As is our practice, we asked whether or not the chile is prepared with cumin.  Interestingly the green chile is made with cumin as is the fire-roasted tomato salsa, but the red chile is not (usually it’s the other way around).  Neither is the terrific tomatillo salsa (more on that later).  No matter what you order, make sure to wash it down with either the horchata or the Jamaica agua fresca.

Mexican and American dishes are not always the mix-and-match dichotomy they’re painted to be, especially when grilled.  They actually go very well together.  The breakfast menu includes a number of Mexican and New Mexican favorites such as huevos rancheros and breakfast burritos, but it’s also got French toast, pancakes (with bananas or strawberries) and a ham-and-egg breakfast sandwich.    While the menu may tell you breakfast is served only until 11AM, if you use the “my watch stopped” excuse and ask nicely, the ever-accommodating wait staff might let you order a breakfast entree even at 1:30PM.

Eggs & Nopoalitos

Casa Diaz doesn’t offer distinctive lunch and dinner menus which means you can have any of the twelve starters any time after 11AM.  The starters menu offers quite a bit of diversity: coctel de camaron and queso con carne as well as fried pickles and buffalo wings.  Soups and salads are available as well as menudo (Saturday and Sunday only).  Four burgers will tempt the burgerphiles among us.  Entrees range from ribeye and salmon to enchiladas and shrimp fajitas.  Kids meals include cheese pizza and grilled cheese.  There’s bound to be something for everyone, including vegetarians.

Casa Diaz may shatter any preconceptions about empanadas you’ve ever had.  Almost every other empanada we’ve ever had has been made with a bread-type dough, sometimes flaky.  At Casa Diaz, the empanadas are made with flattened sopaipillas.  It’s a winning idea!  The empanadas are engorged with ground beef, green peppers and tomatoes and topped with a crema fresca.  Excellent on their own, the empanadas are made exceptional when you spoon on the accompanying tomatillo salsa, as good as any tomatillo salsa we’ve found in the area.  The tomatillo salsa imparts bright, tangy, sour-sweet and piquant flavor notes.

Torta

There are several breakfast items you’ll certainly want to try.  One of those is eggs and nopalitos, two eggs scrambled with nopalitos, tomatoes and onions, served side of Casa potatoes and charro beans with two corn tortillas.  Don’t let the fact that nopalitos are the edible young pads of the prickly pear cactus dissuade you from enjoying a truly tasty dish.  Yesa, the pesky, prickly cactus spines are removed and no, nopalitos don’t taste like chicken.  Nopalitos have a distinctive herbaceous-sour flavor and a better flavor than so many other “vegetables.”  The accompanying charro beans are magnificent, among the best we’ve ever had.  Perfectly prepared pintos with pieces of hot dog and bacon, those charros are championship caliber.   

If you still think a torta is just some sort of cake, you haven’t spent much time in Mexican restaurants throughout the Duke City where tortas are making significant inroads.  Instead of ordering tacos which are far less substantial and quite a bit more expensive for what you get, savvy diners are ordering tortas, the quintessential, generously endowed Mexican sandwich.  Sometimes called “lonche” because they’re often eaten for lunch, tortas are good any time of day.  Anyone who loves sandwiches will love tortas.  Casa Diaz’ rendition is served on sourdough bread with lettuce, tomato, avocado, pepperjack cheese, roasted jalapeno on the side and your choice of protein.  The ham, a thick, smoky slice is especially good.

Adovada Pork Chops

When New Mexicans hear the term “adovada”  we tend to think tender chunks of New Mexico pork braised in wondrous New Mexico red chile.  Indeed, throughout the Land of Enchantment, when you see carne adovada on the menu, that’s almost invariably how you’re going to get it.  There are exceptions (Orlando’s in Taos comes to mind), but they’re few and far between.  Add Casa Diaz to the proud few restaurants for whim the term “adovada” doesn’t always subscribe to expectations.  As at Orlando’s, adovada at Casa Diaz means grilled, quarter-inch thick marinated pork chops marinated in chile.  The adovada pork chops are better than the waifishly thin breakfast pork chops area restaurants tend to serve courtesy of a red chile which, not especially piquant, has a nice flavor.  The adovada pork chops are served with calabasitas and papitas.

There was only one item on the menu we didn’t enjoy, the cherry cobbler.  After going two-for-two with outstanding cobbler dishes at The County Line Restaurant and Eclectic Urban Pizzeria and Tap House, we thought a trifecta might be possible. Twas not meant to be.  We managed to locate only one cherry in the cobbler, a gelatinous pectin-packed mess topped by a very good crust and a generous scoop of vanilla ice cream.  Since the theme of this review seems to be small town, we can only hope there are cherry trees in Bernalillo.  Casa Diaz is too good a restaurant to serve cherries from a can.

Cherry Cobbler

If you appreciate small town values and good food, you’ll like Casa Diaz Mexican American Grill, soon to be another Bernalillo dining destination restaurant.

Casa Diaz Mexican American Grill
567 South Camino Del Pueblo
Bernalillo, New Mexico
(505) 688-3589
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 3 September 2016
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Empanadas, Adovada Pork Chop, Ham Torta, Eggs & Nopalitos

Casa Diaz Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Pop Fizz – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Pop Fizz on the National Hispanic Cultural Center

The geriatrically advanced among us who grew up during the golden age (1950s through the 1970s) of the “jingle” were constantly bombarded with earworm-inducing singing commercials, those catchy and memorable short tunes used to convey advertising slogans.  We couldn’t help but sing along, often to the annoyance of our parents.  When, for example, the Garduño family visited the big city (Taos), the kids would belt out the familiar jingle “Let’s all go to A&W.  Food’s more fun at A&W. Have a mug of root beer, or maybe two or three.”  Our dissonant din rarely persuaded our parents to take us to A&W.  More often than not, we were ferried back to Peñasco for a home-cooked meal.

Researchers suggest that women may be even more susceptible to earworms than men.  That research was borne out when I suggested to my Kim that we visit Pop Fizz for lunch.  Instead of asking what kind of food Pop Fizz serves as she usually does when I suggest a heretofore untried restaurant, she began singing “plop, plop, fizz, fizz, oh what a relief it is.”  That jingle, as we seasoned citizens all recognize, once touted the heartburn healing properties of Alka Seltzer, an effervescent antacid still in use today.

The colorful ambiance of a delightful eatery

The name “Pop Fizz” obviously has nothing to do with effervescence or with Alka Seltzer.  The “Pop” portion of the name is short for “Popsicle” while “Fizz” represents the sound made when you open the carbonated beverages available on the premises.  Learning the reason for the name did nothing to mitigate my Kim’s singing of the jingle (now I know how my parents felt), but our inaugural visit went a long way toward helping us understand just why Pop Fizz has become such a phenomenon. 

Some of my more entrepreneurial readers probably never heard about Pop Fizz until it was featured in Inc ., a monthly American publication focused on growing companies.  Inc. doesn’t focus solely on Fortune 500 companies. It’s got a soft spot for the backbone of American business, the traditional mom-and-pop operation such as Pop Fizz, a humble homegrown, family owned and operated gem which has been winning over savvy Duke City diners since day one.

Sonoran Hot Dog with what is left of Agua Fresca de Sandia (Watermelon Fresh Water)

Day one transpired on a balmy summer day in 2013 when brothers Lorenzo and Carlos Alvarez and their father Rafael launched their own version of relief, in this case relief from hot, sunny summer days in the Duke City.  Relief came in the form of homemade paletas (popsicles) made from all-natural, real fruits and cream as well as organic cane sugar (absolutely no high fructose corn syrup).  Also available were popular Mexican favorites such as aguas frescas, ice cream and a delicious innovation they called ice cream tacos. Duke City denizens clamoring for relief converged upon the Lilliputian storefront on Bridge Boulevard. 

The Alvarado family didn’t let grass grow under their feet before relocating their operation to the National Hispanic Cultural Center not quite two years later.  Their new digs are more capacious and include an uncovered patio with picnic tables.  With more spacious accommodations and an expansive industrial kitchen, the family has also been able to expand their menu, now offering a number of savory dishes such as Frito pie, several hot sandwiches and even a Sonoran hot dog.

Frito Pie

4 September 2015: The Sonoran hot dog has been referred to as the “quintessential food of Tucson.”  While it has achieved cult status throughout Arizona, it has only recently begun making significant inroads in the Land of Enchantment.  There are even more versions of this savory, smoky treat than it has ingredients.  The version at Pop Fizz is constructed from an all-beef hot dog, avocado, onion, chipotle mayo, cheese, bacon and salsa verde nestled in a bolillo bun.  It’s as delicious as it is messy with spillage guaranteed.  The bolillo bun is pillowy soft and slightly sweet, a nice complement to the smokiness of the hot dog and the piquancy of the salsa verde.

16 August 2016: In her song Infinity, pop sensation Mariah Carey intoned the lyrics “Boy, you actin’ so corny like Fritos.”  On far too many Frito pies, the corn-infused flavor of Fritos corn chips is lost neath a mountain of lettuce and avalanche of chopped tomatoes.  Unfortunately, the chile is also often obfuscated by a salad’s worth of lettuce and tomatoes.  Upon seeing the Frito Pie at Pop Fizz for the first time my first inclination was “oh no, not another Fritos salad.”  Then the chile kicked in.  Finally, a Frito Pie in which the chile actually has a bite, an endorphin-laden, tongue-tingling, taste bud pleasing bite.  Chile, not lettuce and tomato, is the prevalent flavor…but it’s not solely piquant.  It’s a delicious, rich red chile.  The Fritos provide a salty counterbalance and crunchy textural foil to the shredded beef.  This top-tier Frito pie evinces the kitchen skills of ice cream makers who can actually cook, too.

Mint Chip Ice Cream Taco

5 September 2015: Tacos are an excellent accompaniment to the Sonoran hot dog, but not the savory, meat-filled tacos of which you might be thinking.  Ice cream tacos, a Pop Fizz specialty are the perfect sweet contrast to the savory-smokiness of the hot dog.  The taco “shell” is a thin waffle shaped very much like a taco.  It is stuffed with dense, sweet, delicious ice cream and topped with chocolate.  We can vouch for the deliciousness of the mint chip, pecan and chocolate ice cream tacos.  The ice cream isn’t soft, creamy and custard-like, but dense and full-bodied.  The mint chip is especially addictive. 

In August, 2016, Spoon University, the self-proclaimed “everyday food resource for our generation, on a mission to make food make sense” set off on a course to identify the 50 best ice cream desserts in every state,” one from each state in the fruited plain.  The Land of Enchantment’s representative was the aforementioned ice cream taco.  Spoon University waxed poetic about this ice cream: “We all scream for this ice cream. You can find this bad boy in Albuquerque, NM, and you can choose from several flavors such as cinnamon churro, cookies and cream, and strawberry.”

Paleta de Pina Y Habanero (Pineapple and Habanero)

5 September 2015: While it’s often advised that in Mexico one should not drink the water, you’re also well advised to partake of as many paletas as you can.  Paletas are premium frozen delicacies made with real fruit and cream.  Typically proffered by street vendors with pushcarts, paletas offer a refreshing respite from sweltering summer days, but they’re wonderful any time of year.  Paletas are available in an amazing range of flavors including such exotic offering as pina and Habanero (pineapple and Habanero), a paleta that packs a punch.  It’s got more piquancy than the chile at far too many New Mexican restaurants, but it’s even more delicious than it is piquant. 

While Pop Fizz may have started as a neighborhood eatery, it’s garnered a reputation that far exceeds its South Valley home.  Savvy diners trek from far and wide to partake of cold treats that will warm your heart.

Pop Fizz
1701 4th Street, S.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 695-1180
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 16 August 2016
1st VISIT: 4 September 2015
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 23
COST: $
BEST BET: Paleta de Pina Y Habanero, Agua Fresca de Sandia, Sonoran Hot Dog, Mint Chip Taco, Pecan Taco, Chocolate Taco, Watermelon Paleta, Raspberry Paleta, Frito Pie

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