Gil's Thrilling (And Filling) Blog

Follow the Culinary Ruminations of New Mexico's Sesquipedalian Sybarite. 791 Restaurant Reviews, More Than 5700 Visitor Comments…And Counting!

EPAZOTE ON THE HILLSIDE – Santa Fe, New Mexico

Epazote01

Epazote, one of the most unique and special dining experiences in New Mexico

Epazote.  That’s a word that can make an intrepid chef’s toque blanche resemble the white flag of surrender.  If you’re a culinary savant and haven’t heard of epazote, it’s probably because the chefs at restaurants you frequent might just be afraid to use it.  Would you want to use an ingredient also known as “skunkweed” and “wormseed”…a word derived from a Nahuatl term for an animal with a rank odor…an ingredient perhaps best known for reducing the after-effects of eating beans?

When Chef Fernando Olea chose to name his fabulous new world restaurant Epazote, it signaled a bold  departure from the stereotype too many diners have of Mexican restaurants.  In the Chef’s inimitably gentle manner, he was declaring his passion for the cuisine of the pre-Columbian peoples of Mexico, signaling his embrace of historically authentic ingredients and preparation styles.  At Epazote, he marries Mexico’s indigenous culinary traditions with those of New Mexico, especially its agricultural bounty.  Oh, and he’s daring and talented enough to incorporate epazote into several recipes.

Epazote02

The very unique interior housing Epazote

Originally from Mexico City, Chef Olea has been enthralling savvy diners in Santa Fe since 1991 with his sophisticated interpretations of contemporary Mexican cuisine.  In nearly a quarter-century, the Chef has become a veritable institution in the city, perhaps a larger institution than Bert’s Burger Bowl, the popular 50-year plus old drive-up eatery he purchased in the early 90s.  Perpetually sporting his familiar cowboy hat, Chef Olea modestly deflects well-deserved compliments, especially the word “genius.”  He will, however, and only if you insist, acquiesce to being called an artist.

Just as every artist must work in a venue which actualizes creativity, a Chef should work in a milieu which galvanizes his or her vision.  For Chef Olea, the perfect backdrop for executing the concepts of inspired new world cuisine is Hillside, a uniquely whimsical and organic environment which showcases eclectic treasures created by Santa Fe artisans.  Epazote occupies Hillside’s greenhouse which is bathed by natural light and surrounded by locally created art.  The ambiance is like no other in Santa Fe, creating an experience you will long remember. 

Epazote06

Chef Fernando Olea (in a rare pose in that he’s not wearing his hat) and the horno in which magic is created

Because there’s so very much to see at every turn, making your way to the restaurant can be a slow go.   Make sure to allocate plenty of time on the way out to peruse every nook and cranny of this most unique art space.  There’s no surcease to artisinal inspiration when you step into the awe-inspiring greenhouse turned restaurant.   To your immediate left as you step in is an exposed kitchen, the cynosure of which is a flaming horno for baking bread.  The ambiance, which includes bi-level seating, is zen-like, transporting you instantly to a better, more tranquil self.  From an experiential standpoint, the restaurant seems more Asian than Mexican. Oh, and one of the most attractive sights at Hillside is owner Tisha Sjosfrand whose warm smile and buoyant personality greet you as you enter the restaurant.

Epazote is a wonder of zen and flair with a menu worthy of the dining room’s whimsical elegance. Fittingly, the restaurant opened its doors on Valentine’s Day 2014.  Billie Frank, the wonderful freelance travel and food writer whose work graces the Santa Fe Travelers blog, was there on opening week.  She calls Epazote “a love letter to food.”  That is about as accurate a description for Chef Olea’s masterful menu as you’ll find anywhere.

Epazote04

Jars of Dried Chiles

A love letter to food composed by Chef Olea would certainly express his deeply personal feelings toward mole, perhaps the one dish which has most cemented Chef Olea’s legacy over the years.  The Chef considers mole the most evocative of fine Mexican cuisine in terms of mystery, history and tradition.  An array of delightfully aromatic, richly complex and absolutely mouthwatering moles graces the menu at Epazote where they’re paired with everything from rack of lamb to duck breast to halibut.  Chef Olea emphasizes that contrary to misconceptions, the paramount ingredient on mole is not the chocolate, but chiles.  His approach to using chile is emphasize its other qualities, not just its piquancy.

In 2009 Chef Olea committed to creating a special mole to commemorate Santa Fe’s 400-year anniversary.  The resulting New Mexico mole is the result of skill and serendipity.  The skill part is obvious.  Chef Olea is one of the most accomplished mole chefs in the world.  The serendipity–luck that takes the form of finding valuable or pleasant things–flowed as the deadline was closing in.  While traveling throughout the state about a week before the deadline, the discovery of pecans grown in Socorro started a deluge of inspiration for the inventive chef.  At an Indian Pueblo, he espied apricots and decided they would be the next ingredient for the mole.

Epazote03

A painting of the ingredients used to create Chef Fernando Olea’s New Mexican Mole

Determined to create a mole crafted showcasing uniquely New Mexican ingredients, it made sense to Chef Olea to include New Mexican roasted piñons and, of course, the one ingredient which most says New Mexico: red chile from Chimayo.  He contemplated using green chile, but quickly dismissed the notion because green chile doesn’t pair as well with other foods (the green chile cheeseburgers at Bert’s Burger Bowl are an exception, he reminded us).  Other ingredients include white chocolate, Mexican cinnamon, sesame seeds, cumin seeds and more.  The ingredients used to construct the New Mexico mole are highlighted on a large bright painting hanging on the north wall.

The most aptly descriptive part of Epazote’s “inspired new world cuisine” approach is definitely inspiration, but visionary, innovative and spectacular would also fit.  At first browse the menu appears small, but when you consider the diversity of flavor profiles and potential combinations, there are options a plenty.  To the greatest extent possible, Chef Olea utilizes fresh and local ingredients and lets those ingredients speak for themselves.  When you’ve got great ingredients, he explains, a little bit of salt and pepper is all you need.

Epazote05

Ensalada De Queso Azul

The menu is divided into five distinctive sections: Botanas (Appetizers), Especialidades (Specialties), Ensalada (Salads), Sopas (Soups) and Platos Fuerte (Main Courses).  Unlike the bygone ordering convention at Chinese restaurants where you picked “one from column A and one from column B,” you’re free to order any item on the menu in any order you desire.  You can also order as you go; the wait staff won’t rush you.  Service is attentive and professional.  Shortly after you’re seated, your server will bring you small samples of the aguas frescas del dia (the horchata is terrific).  Make sure to ask for samples of the wonderful moles of the day.

16 March 2014: The Ensalada section of the menu lists three salads, all of which you’ll welcome on your table.  These aren’t  slapped-together composed salads, the type of which will lull your taste buds to sleep.  These are exciting salads constructed from the freshest, most creative and high quality ingredients available.  The Ensalada De Queso Azul translates literally to blue cheese salad, but it’s so much more.  The blue cheese has characteristic blue veins running throughout each crumbly morsel, indicative of its pungency and sharpness.  There’s just enough blue cheese to serve as a foil for the other ingredients: craisins (dried cranberries), caramelized spicy pecans and mixed greens surrounded by a thin moat of chocolate vinaigrette.  When is the last time you had a chocolate vinaigrette?  It’s fantastic!

Epazote07

Horno Baked Bread and Corn Tortillas

16 March 2014: New Mexicans, both the scions of Cortez and indigenous peoples, have been baking on hornos for centuries.  A beehive-shaped oven typically made of mud, an horno seems to infuse bread with preternatural deliciousness.  If you’ve ever had horno-baked bread at a Pueblo, you know of which I speak.  The inside of an horno has a stone base to retain heat, as high as 600-degrees.  It’s the perfect vessel for baking bread, a dense yet yeasty individual-sized roll great on its own or slathered with butter.  The wood-fired horno-baked bread at Epazote is as good as has been made for generations in New Mexico.

Although botanas translate from Spanish to snack or appetizer, the menu describes them as “heart’s delight,” essentially synonymous with Chinese dim sum or “touch the heart.”    The Botanas section of the menu lists some six proteins: carne (angus beef tenderloin), cordero (rack of lamb), lechon (marinated pork loin), pato (Muscovy duck breast, camaron (Meridian shrimp) and wild Pacific salmon.  The proteins you select arrive raw. In a participatory experience reminiscent of some Japanese restaurants, you are your own chef, preparing the botanas on a polished river rock which has been heated on the horno.

Epazote08

Cordero (rack of lamb) and Lechon (Marinated Pork Loin)

16 March 2014: The proteins are served with small corn tortillas and four housemade infused aiolis with flavor profiles ranging from attention-grabbing piquancy (a guacamole aioli) to a more mellow chimichurri.  A bit less than two minutes per side on the rock and your proteins are done.  Cooking them is a unique and fun experience not to be missed.  The quality of the two proteins we enjoyed immensely–cordero (rack of lamb) and lechon (marinated pork loin)–is better than prime.  The lamb is nicely marbled and tender, as good a rack of lamb as can be had in Santa Fe.

Our server recommended one-and-a-half to two botanas per person.  That, along with one (or four) bread rolls and splitting a salad, should leave enough room for a plato fuerte (main course).  You definitely want to save room for one of the four available options: Mole, the chef’s signature dish; Popocatepetl, a black pepper-encrusted Angus beef tenderloin; Atun, seared yellow fin tuna; or Calabasitas, sauteed zucchini.

Epazote09

Lamb chops and New Mexico Mole with Mashed Sweet Potatoes

16 March 2014: Being an unabashedly proud New Mexican (and especially after having sampled the three moles of the day), it was a no-brainer as to what my plato fuerte would be.  Chef Olea’s New Mexico Mole is quite simply one of the very best moles to ever cross my lips…and while the recipe can actually be found on the Chicago Tribune Web site, it would be foolhardy of me to believe I could hope to duplicate the Chef’s artistry and magic touch. As with all classically prepared moles, the New Mexico Mole is more than the sum of all its ingredients.  It incorporates the heart and soul of the chef who created it.  

The New Mexico Mole is richly complex, a crowning achievement of sheer genius (even though Chef Olea doesn’t like the term used on him) with remarkable depth of unique flavors coalescing into saucy perfection.  It’s a sumptuously simmered sauce perfumed with spices, nuts, chocolates and Chimayo chile.  It’s the stuff of legend and it has besotted me.  As if the mole isn’t enough, Chef Olea serves it with three lollipop lamb chops (or another protein should you desire) prepared at medium-rare and seasoned solely with salt and pepper.  The lamb chops are exquisite, some of the very best we’ve had.

Epazote10

Popocatepetl (Black Pepper Crusted Angus Beef Tenderloin) with a cabbage and snow pea slaw

16 March 2014: My passion for the New Mexico mole was matched by my Kim’s infectious ardor for the Popocatepetl, a twelve-ounce black pepper-crusted Angus beef tenderloin served with a cabbage and snow pea slaw.  Popocatepetl, by the way, is the name of an active volcano south of Mexico City.  It’s a fitting name for one of the most delicious steaks we’ve had.  The black pepper is finely crushed, much moreso than the loosely cracked pepper corns used on steak au poivre, a French dish.  It is no less flavorful.  More surprising than its flavor was the nearly fork tenderness of the tenderloin cut.  Prepared at a perfect medium, it’s a premium steak with prime flavor.  The Popocatepetl is served with a cabbage and snow pea slaw which sounds simple, but possesses surprising complexity and flavor.

16 March 2014: Alan Koehler, author of the Madison Avenue Cook Book, posited “dessert should close the meal gently and not in a pyrotechnic blaze of glory.”  Chef Olea’s desserts, such as the trio of flan, are a perfect example.  The flans aren’t an assemblage of flamboyant ingredients presented spectacularly to evoke a loud, celebratory utterance.  Instead, they’re crafted from a few basic ingredients presented beautifully to elicit an almost reverent murmur.  The trio of flan–vanilla topped with shaved almonds, chocolate topped with a single raspberry and golden tomato topped with piñon–is memorable, a symphony of quiet concordance like a symphony for your taste buds.  When Chef Olea conceived of the golden tomato flan his adoring wife and chief taster was skeptical until she tasted it.  Now she loves it as you will.

Epazote11

Flan Trio

Chef’s Tasting Menu

A restaurant as great as Epazote presided over by a chef as talented as Chef Olea is an invitation to degustation, a culinary term meaning “a careful, appreciative tasting of various foods.”  Degustation focuses on four aspects of dining: the gustatory system, the sensual experience, the artistry of the chef and of course, great company.  Epazote offers a chef’s tasting menu which introduces diners to sample small portions of the great chef’s signature creations in one sitting.

20 March 2014: The great company component of my inaugural chef’s tasting menu was in the delightful form of three culinarily adventurous friends: Franzi, the beauteous barrister who won’t let me photograph her; the exotic and vivacious Nikko; and Beckett, a fellow bon-vivant.  The well-traveled Beckett isn’t prone to hyperbole, so when he uttered the superlative “fabulous” after nearly every course, it signaled a very successful chef’s tasting menu.  Chef Olea personally delivered every course to our table, engaging us with his witty repartee and charm.  By meal’s end at least three people at our table wanted to propose marriage to him.

Epazote15

Top Left: Huitlacoche Taco; Top Right: Chapulines Taco; Bottom: Bone Marrow

20 March 2014: Before our first course, our palates were teased by a fabulous amuse-bouche, a tiny tidbit  not part of the multi-course menu and which is presented by the chef himself.  Amuse-bouche are intended to keep you happy while you await your first course.   Mission accomplished!  Our amuse-bouche was a salmon pate on a single chip.  Punctuated by barely discernible tinges of lemon and dill, this pate focused on the freshness of the salmon in a surprisingly ethereal form similar to a mousse.

20 March 2014: When proposing a dining adventure at Epazote, there were two items I wanted to introduce my friends to: chapulines and huitlacoche.  Franzi is an absolutely fearless epicurean, once joining me in what was literally the snout to tail consumption of a whole hog: eyes, tail, cheeks and more.  Chapulines and huitlacoche are something else.  Both have been known to scare away all but the most intrepid of diners while simultaneously being considered delicacies among other cultures.

Epazote16

Abalone

20 March 2014:  Chapulines–the leaf-eating grasshoppers responsible for ravaging vast farmlands–are not only the bane of farmers everywhere, they have a high “yuck” factor as food or otherwise.  They’re also a delicacy and dietary staple for the people of Oaxaca in Mexico.  High in protein and low in fat, they can be delicious if prepared by a master chef.  At Epazote, the smallish chapulines are sauteed then tucked into soft corn tortillas topped with guacamole and Mole Negro de Oaxaca.  The chapulines themselves  have a nutty, crunch flavor which pairs well with the pleasant piquancy of the Mole and the richness of the guacamole.  Only one person at our table declined to partake (which meant one more for me).

If chapulines have a high “yuck” factor, huitlacoche has the disadvantage of being a fungus and it’s called “smut.”  More specifically, it’s accurately called corn smut.  Worse, its name translates from Nahuatl, the ancient language of the Aztecs, to raven shi…er, excrement.  Despite all it has going against it, huitlacoche has a flavor profile unlike any other, a unique musty earthiness somehow reminiscent, but wholly different than the flavors of truffles or mushrooms.  One of the ways in which Chef Olea uses huitlacoche is on some of the most sublime tacos you’ll ever have.  The third in a triumvirate of high “yuck” factor foods was roasted, rich, buttery and delicious bone marrow with a depth of flavor few items achieve. It inherits a beef-broth flavor from its host animal and has a  gelatinous texture some may find a bit off-putting.  That just means there’s more for those of us who love it.  Everyone at our table loved it!  

Epazote17

Poblano Soup

20 March 2014: A once-endangered, greatly over-fished mollusk now carefully farmed and harvested, abalone has been described as having a flavor “like an oyster crossed with a scallop with a twist of snail.”  Texturally, it’s been likened to an eraser.  Requiring quite a bit of tenderizing to make it palatable, abalone is a challenge for many chefs.  At the hands of Chef Olea, abalone becomes one of those transformative dishes you might remember for a long time.  Sliced diagonally to about an eighth of an inch, it’s served with a light chipotle  sauce tinged with juices from the abalone itself.  Somewhat reminiscent of sashimi (at least in appearance), it’s light, mild and delicate in flavor.  It’s what ambrosia might taste like.

20 March 2014: It’s rare to find a dish that moves you to near tears of joy.  The poblano soup at Epazote had that effect on all of us.  It is quite simply one of the very best soups I’ve ever had anywhere, a rarefied elixir so perfect it’s impossible to conceive of anything better.  Submerged beneath an amaretto foam dusted with cocoa and cinnamon are tiny pieces of shrimp–not shrimp cut in half or even quarters, but torn into unevenly sized (perfectly sized) tiny pieces.  The piquancy of the poblano was a surprise, providing a back-of-the-throat warmth courtesy of a capsaicin-rich pepper.  There is so much going on with this soup that we stopped contemplating it and focused on eyes closed, moan uttering enjoyment.  Thankfully the soup is served with a small spoon for slow sipping or we might have dug in face-first.

Epazote19

Mole Poblano with Muscovy Duck (guava)

20 March 2014: The most complex mole Chef Olea prepares is the Mole Poblano, constructed from some thirty-four ingredients.  Mole Poblano is Mexico’s national dish, a mole steeped in legend and beloved by the masses.  It’s a very rich, very thick, very sweet chocolate-tinged sauce with just a hint of heat. It pairs with almost everything.  At Epazote, the Mole Poblano is served with sliced Muscovy duck breast and a sweet potato mash.  The tender duck is served medium-rare and laced with a crisp fat (synonymous with flavor) layer. The duck is seasoned solely with salt and pepper, but you’ll probably be using it to dredge up the mole.  The sweet potato mash is sweeter even than the mole.  The plate on which this dish is served is circumnavigated by a thin line of sweet, tangy guava.

20 March 2014:  Perhaps the biggest compliment one chef can pay another is to pick up a plate, excuse himself (or herself) and lick the plate clean.  This unconventional feat was accomplished by none other than restaurant impresario Paul Fleming (the PF from PF Chang’s) when he finished one of the most amazing desserts on the planet.  When Chef Olea brought it to our table, he described in alchemic terms, very clearly and accurately, just where the elements of the dessert would hit us–from the tongue to the back of the throat and even to the spine.  He also challenged us to identify (visually before we tasted the dessert) all the ingredients in this glorious dessert.  While we fared well in that exercise, we could not have described its effects on us nearly as accurately as Chef Olea did.  This dessert of magical properties starts with an avocado ice cream on a lagoon of ginger paired with a beet foam and piñon.  These were the visible elements.  The jalapeño which paired with the ginger to create back-of-the-throat pleasures is hidden somewhere.  Quite simply, it’s one of the most amazing desserts I’ve ever had.  It’s a marvel of ingenious deliciousness.

Epazote18

Avocado ice cream tinged with jalapeño, beet foam, ginger, piñon

From both an experiential perspective as well as for outstanding cuisine, Epazote is far and away one of the best restaurants I have ever experienced. Chef Olea is not only a chef of nonpareil talent, he is the consummate host, a true gentleman with the emphasis on the word “gentle.” Epazote on the Hillside must be experienced to comprehend true greatness–a greatness that isn’t shouted loudly, but in a manner as gentle as a burbling stream or soft breeze.

EPAZOTE ON THE HILLSIDE
86 Old Las Vegas Highway
Santa Fe, New Mexico
(505) 982-9944
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 20 March 2014
1st VISIT: 16 March 2014
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 27
COST: $$$$
BEST BET: Flan Trio, New Mexican Mole, Lamb Chops, Popocatepetl, Rack of Lamb, Lechon, Ensalada de Queso Azul, Horno Baked Bread, Huitloacoche Taco, Chapulines Taco, Bone Marrow, Abalone, Mole Poblano with Muscovy Duck, Poblano Soup,

Epazote on Urbanspoon

Panchito’s Restaurant & Bakery – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Panchitos01

Panchito’s Restaurant & Bakery

“Let’s get one thing straight:
Mexican food takes a certain amount of time to cook.
If you don’t have the time, don’t cook it.
You can rush a Mexican meal, but you will pay in some way.
You can buy so-called Mexican food at too many restaurants
that say they cook Mexican food.
But the real food, the most savory food, is prepared with time and love and at home.
So, give up the illusion that you can throw Mexican food together.
Just understand that you are going to have to make and take the time.”
~
Denise Chavez, A Taco Testimony

Despite the title of her book, A Taco Testimony isn’t a celebration of the folded, hand-held treasures of diverse deliciousness enveloping meats, vegetables and condiments.  Nor is it a compilation of recipes detailing precisely how to create these homespun, rustic snacks as generations of families have enjoyed them.  At a surface level,  author Denise Chavez, a Las Cruces resident, writes about the familial and cultural experiences and dramas of growing up in Southern New Mexico.   From an allegorical perspective, the underlying message of A Taco Testimony is that if you understand a people’s food, you can understand their culture and beliefs.

So, what can be gleaned about Mexican people from the foods they prepare and enjoy?  If my Kim’s friend Luz Garcia is any indication, you’ll gain an appreciation for a hard-working, family oriented people who live life to its fullest.  Despite a stressful eight-to-five job in a challenging judicial field, Luz gets up at five o’clock every morning to make tortillas for her family.  She prepares all family meals and salsas from scratch and derives her greatest satisfaction from being surrounded by her husband and children for dinner every night.  Dinner is a family event shared at the kitchen table, not in front of the television.

Panchitos02

The counter where you place your order

Every once in a while you’re fortunate enough to visit a Mexican restaurant in which it’s evident that significant time, care and love have been taken in the preparation of your meal.  In fact, the only element missing from Denise Chavez’s  Taco Testimony quote is “home” though with these restaurant gems, it’s easy to imagine a cook lovingly preparing such meals for his or her family as Luz Garcia does.  One such restaurant is Panchito’s Restaurant & Bakery on Fourth Street.

Panchito’s is one of those restaurants you might drive by–perhaps on your way to another restaurant–without giving it a second thought. That is, if you notice it at all.  Fortunately my loyal readers not only notice new and interesting restaurants, they try them out then tell me about them, often with great enthusiasm.  Brecken Mallette (is there a cooler name in all of Albuquerque) was so enthusiastic after her first visit to Panchito’s, I immediately bumped several other restaurants on my list to visit it.  She raved about the tacos al pastor, huarache, carne guisada burrito and salsa bar.  Frankly she had me at tacos al pastor.

Panchitos03

The salsa bar

Made well tacos al pastor (which translates from Spanish to tacos in the style of the shepherd) are the quintessential Mexican taco, so good you’ll swear off ground beef tacos (which many self-respecting Mexicans would never eat).  Tacos al pastor are a perfect combination of sweet and heat, savory and tangy.  Panchito’s version of tacos al pastor showcases cubed pork which has been marinated in a red chile adobo seasoned with savory and sweet spices (we discerned cinnamon and cloves) and prepared with small pineapple cubes.   A generous amount of the pork is nestled within two freshly made corn tortillas.  It’s up to you as to whether you add onions and cilantro or maybe a salsa.  These tacos need no amelioration.  They’re superb as is.

If you do want to add a salsa to your tacos al pastor, you’ve got a lavish salsa bar replete with piquant, rich and savory options from which to choose.  From pico de gallo to a mayonnaise-based guacamole, the salsa bar is one of the Duke City’s best.  It also includes sliced limes, chopped onions, shakers of red pepper and so much more.  The salsa bar is complimentary and includes a basketful of thin, low-in-salt chips.  Most of the salsas are fairly light so they’re of the “dipping” variety, not of the “scooping” genre.

Panchitos05

Tacos al Pastor plate

Panchito’s Restaurant & Bakery serves both Mexican and Colombian food though it doesn’t showcase some of the uniquely Colombian dishes you’ll find at El Pollo Real Colombiana, the Duke City’s only other Colombian restaurant.  Instead, most of the menu will be familiar to diners who frequent the city’s varied Mexican eateries.  Panchito’s serves breakfast all day long with a menu which, in its entirety, lists only sixteen items.  From the counter at which you place your order, you can peer into the kitchen to watch your meal being prepared to order.  Better still, you can interact with the delightful family which owns and operates the restaurant.  To say they aim to please is a vast understatement.

You might think that with only sixteen items on the menu it would be easy to decide what you’re having.  Nothing could be further from the truth  You’ll want to order everything, especially on weekends when menudo and pollo a la Barbacoa (chicken barbecue) are added to the menu.  One thing for certain is you’ve got to order tacos al pastor, whether one or six.  They’re terrific.  You’ll also want to order one of the aguas de fruta (fruit waters).  The agua de melon is both thirst-quenching and delicious.  There are six items on the dessert menu though it’s unlikely you’ll have room for them.

Panchitos06

Huarache

In the 1960s, the American counterculture in its rejection of the “codifications of modernism” embraced the Mexican huarache, a traditional woven leather sandal.  Having worn a pair or two back in the day, it always amuses me to see huaraches on a menu at a Mexican restaurant.  The name fits.  Huaraches are shaped roughly like a human foot, and just as a human foot needs covering, the thick corn tortilla which serves as the base for this delicious dish needs toppings.  Indented by hand so that it has “borders” to hold its component ingredients, the Huarache Panchitos is topped with carne asada (grilled meat), beans, queso fresco, pico de gallo, nopales (cactus strips) and a savory-sour crema.  Panchito’s version of the Huarache is among the very best you’ll ever have.  Despite all the ingredients and their unique flavors, the pronounced corn flavor of the huarache still shines as do the fresh, perfectly prepared nopales.

There’s a pronounced corn flavor to the tamales, too.  Both red and green tamales are available, but red and green, in this case, doesn’t mean New Mexico’s fabled red and green chiles.  Worse, the red chile is made with cumin.  The green chile is more akin to a salsa and while it doesn’t have much bite, it does have a nice flavor.  Sprinkled generously atop the tamale is queso fresco which lends a mild, milky, fresh flavor with a sour-salty kick.  Tamales, like other dishes on the menu, are available a la carte and in your desired quantity.

Panchitos07

Green tamale

My friend and frequent dining companion Bill Resnik enjoyed a torta, the flatbread sandwich the Huffington Post calls “the best (expletive deleted) sandwich ever.”  At Panchitos, the torta is a crusty bolillo bread masterpiece which you can stuff with your choice of meat: carne asada, al pastor, barbecue pork, chicken or ham.  It’s then topped with lettuce, onions, avocado, mayonnaise, mustard, cream, chili (sic) or hash browns.  This overstuffed beauty is one of those run-down-your-arms-good compositions you won’t mind wearing on your beard or clothing.  Bill enjoyed his torta with al pastor. 

Panchito’s is a thoroughly enjoyable little mom-and-pop restaurant which prepares delicious meals you’d be happy and proud to serve at home to people you love.

Panchito’s
4501 Fourth Street, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 341-0977
LATEST VISIT: 22 November 2013
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: *
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Tacos Al Pastor, Huarache, Green Tamale, Agua Fresca de Melon, Salsa Bar


View Panchito’s Restaurant & Bakery on LetsDineLocal.com »

Panchito's on Urbanspoon

Lindo Mexico Grill & Seafood – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Lindo Mexico, one of the most capacious and beautiful Mexican restaurants in the Duke City

Lindo Mexico, one of the most capacious and beautiful Mexican restaurants in the Duke City

In the entire world, there may not be a national anthem that inspires as much heart-felt pride as the Mexican ballad Mexico Lindo Y Querido.  It is a hauntingly stirring proclamation of the balladeer’s profound love for his native land–a love so intense that even his guitar awakens in the morning inspired to sing with alacrity about that land he loves.  The song speaks to the country’s volcanoes, prairies and flowers serving as talismans for the love of his loves, the country of Mexico itself.

While the country of Mexico is indeed blessed with awe-inspiring wonders, its greatest beauty lies in the soul and character of its people.  From the downtrodden descendents of its indigenous peoples to the scions of Cortez, most Mexicans remain God fearing, finding His presence in the simplicity of nature and glorifying His name in the way they approach life.  There is also much simplicity in the daily bounty they receive with sincere reverence and gratitude.  That simplicity is most often evident in the ingredients used to prepare Mexican food–corn, flour, peppers and beans being but a few staples.

Chips, Salsa and Con Queso

Chips, Salsa and Con Queso

Lindo Mexico (literally Beautiful Mexico), a restaurant which launched in 2005, celebrates the culinary heritage of Mexico.  Its menu features many of the grilled Mexican food standards  diners have come to know and love as well as mariscos (seafood) entrees.  Initially situated on San Pedro in a building formerly occupied a once popular Chinese restaurant, Lindo Mexico now occupies a much more commodious, much more attractive edifice on Central Avenue, moving into its new digs in December, 2012.

While colorful Mexican blankets and sombreros festooned the walls of the original location, the new restaurant is much more smartly appointed, though no less vibrant.  Personal space proximity seating is on equipales, the seats crafted from fibrous materials removed from maguey cactus and fixed with leather bands.  The wait staff maintains a frenetic pace to keep up with the throngs of families waiting to be served.

Tostada de ceviche con camarones

Tostada de ceviche con camarones

A favorable first impression was quickly made by the restaurant’s horchata which would be among the best we’ve had in the Duke City were it not served at just above room temperature (even with ice cubes, it just isn’t that cold).  The flavor and aroma of ground cinnamon made this refreshing rice beverage truly memorable.  The aguas frescas menu also includes melon, pineapple and more.

Also inspiring instant affection is an appetizer sized Tostada de Ceviche, a crispy corn tostado smeared with a layer of guacamole then topped with diced shrimp, lettuce, white cheese, tomato and splashed with lime juice.  There is just too much lettuce and tomato on the tostada to let the seafood taste really come through, but it’s not bad Ceviche by Albuquerque standards.  Much better is Lindo Mexico’s salsa which, in its September, 2012 edition, Albuquerque The Magazine named the third best in Albuquerque from among 130 salsas sampled throughout the city.  The salsa is superb with a nice level of piquancy.

Parrillada

Parrillada

We were elated to find parrillada de carne asada (marinated, grilled beef) on Lindo Mexico’s menu and even happier to find that it was pretty good.  The waifishly thin cut of beef is more than a bit tough and more than slightly stringy (fairly typical in Mexican restaurants), but there is no mistaking the wonderful tastes and intoxicating aromas of well-seasoned beef.  Served in a platter for two, the parrillada platter includes warm tortillas (flour, corn or both) just off the comal, sliced sausages, a bowl of queso fundido, two fried jalapenos and two baked potatoes, all of which were quite delicious.  Also quite wonderful is a plate of charro beans, well-flavored with sausage and tripe.

By the way, if you’ve never had a baked potato Mexican style, you’re in for a treat.  Mexican baked potatoes are wrapped in tin foil and baked until perfectly soft (not mushy and overdone) and served with a heaping portion of melting butter.  These terrific tubers are surprisingly moist and an excellent side dish.  The queso fundido complements everything well, but is a bit too elastic for chips.  You may need to slice off a hunk or three.

Papa Asada and Queso Fundido

Papa Asada and Queso Fundido

Our sole departure into the nautical realm (the mariscos side of the menu) resulted in an anomalous entree–desiccated seafood.  More specifically, the camarones a la fiesta (shrimp a la fiesta) was among the driest seafood entrees we can remember ever experiencing.  At Mexico Lindo, this entree is a large shrimp stuffed with cheese and jalapeno then wrapped in bacon, an entree that is hit and miss at most Mexican restaurants.  If the bacon isn’t too salty and overdone, the complementary surf and turf tastes are wonderful.  Alas, at Mexico Lindo, the bacon is salty and crispy, completely overwhelming the shrimp. 

The dessert menu includes such traditional Mexican favorites as flan and tres leches cake, but also features a couple of delicious departures from the standards. The dulce de leche cheesecake is befitting of its name which translates literally to “candy of milk,” but which is meant to describe the caramelization of sweetened milk by heating it slowly. Dulce de leche has many uses though cheesecake was a new one for us. The cheesecake was rich, creamy and delicious atop a Graham cracker crust. At the other end of the flavor profile spectrum is a volcano lava cake, a flourless cake with a molten inner core of chocolate ganache served with vanilla ice cream. Perhaps a better name for this cake would be chocolate overdose because it’s as rich as chocolate cakes come. It’s so good you’ll finish it, but the richness will challenge you to do so.

Volcano Lava Cake and Dulce De Leche Cheesecake

Volcano Lava Cake and Dulce De Leche Cheesecake

Lindo Mexico is such a beautiful restaurant that it just might inspire a ballad to be sung in its honor. It’s one of the most beloved Mexican restaurants in Albuquerque with near capacity crowds for lunch and dinner.

Lindo Mexico
7209 Central Avenue, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 266-2999
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 10 November 2013
# OF VISITS: 4
RATING: 18
COST: $$
BEST BET: Parrillada de Carne Asada; Horchata; Tostada de Ceviche, Volcano Lava Cake, Dulce De Leche Cheesecake, Salsa and Chips


View Lindo Mexico on LetsDineLocal.com »