Lindy’s Diner – Albuquerque, New Mexico

My friend Bruce “Sr Plata” Silver stands in front of Lindy’s Diner, one of the Duke City’s oldest restaurants

Get your kicks on Route 66” is the mantra of nostalgic motorists who have lobbied for generations to preserve the heritage that is America’s “mother road”, the 2,448 mile highway commissioned in 1926 and decommissioned in 1985 and which traversed eight states between Chicago, Illinois and Santa Monica, California. Though Route 66 generally traces the state’s traditional east-west transportation corridor through the center of the state, its initial route when commissioned in 1926 resembled a giant S-shaped detour.  It ran northwest from Santa Rosa to Santa Fe then south (through Bernalillo and Albuquerque) to Los Lunas. At that point, the road resumed its northwesterly route toward Laguna Pueblo, where it finally resumed its western direction.

Route 66’s original Albuquerque route basically followed 4th Street.  One block west–on the corner of Central Avenue and 5th Street–a storied eatery opened in 1929.  Now Albuquerque’s longest continually operating restaurant with a nearly 90-year run, this landmark institution began serving the Duke City as the Coney Island Cafe.  In 1937, the Coney Island Cafe would begin casting its shadow on Route 66 when the fabled highway was rerouted through the center of the state, traversing the length and breadth of Albuquerque’s Central Avenue. 

Lindy’s on Route 66 resonates with the past

In the 1960s, the homey hot dog haven was purchased by Narke Vatoseow who renamed it Lindy’s Coffee Shop. Remnants of its past include walls festooned with nostalgic bric-a-brac and a long lunch counter at which long-time patrons congregate to catch up.  Gone, however, are the red vinyl booths that you stuck to on hot summer days.  Today, Lindy’s Diner remains a popular dining destination, an anachronism for which there will always be a place. Situated on historic Route 66, it may serve as a living reminder of Albuquerque’s nostalgic past, but has assured its future by serving hearty, homestyle meals for decades.

In 1999, Gourmet magazine feted Lindy’s in a feature called “Sentimental Journey Through America’s Main Streets.” In 2002, Jane and Michael Stern celebrated Lindy’s on their Roadfood Web site. Despite such national recognition and its longevity, many Duke City residents (especially the young whipper-snappers) have never heard of this unassuming historical treasure–and it’s likely the folks at Lindy’s like it that way. It allows them to maintain the personal touch and comfortable pace its clientele has come to love.  After a nine-year absence (from 2008 through 2017), I returned to Lindy’s with my friend Bruce “Sr Plata” Silver who appreciates nostalgia almost as much as he loves chicken fried steak.  Lindy’s offers both.

Sour Cream Enchiladas

9 November 2017:  Breakfast is served all day long and during breakfast hours you can order anything off the menu. American comfort food favorites, bounteous sandwiches, salads and New Mexican entrees hold prominence on the menu, but you can also order Mediterranean specialties. It’s a safe bet everything on the menu is somebody’s favorite.  My favorite after three visits is the sour cream enchiladas, three flat cheese enchiladas served Christmas style (both red and green). The green chile is slightly more piquant than the red chile and while neither will singe your tongue, they’re both very flavorful.  Most sour cream enchiladas seem to incorporate both chicken and cream of chicken soup, but at Lindy’s you can also have this entree with beef.  Another difference is that a huge dollop of sour cream is added after the rest of the entree is baked.  It imparts a mild and not too tart flavor that complements the chile very well.

Better chile is slathered on the Frito pie which includes a generous tossing of Frito corn chips garnished with a mountain of lettuce, tomato, onions and Cheddar cheese. Scale down that garnish and you’ll uncover one of the best Frito pies in the city.  In its annual food and wine issue for 2013, Albuquerque The Magazine‘s staff sampled “every dish of nachos in the city” and selected Lindy’s nachos as the ninth best in the city.  The magazine described these nachos as having been “sent by the Greek gods themselves.”

Cowboy Breakfast

Breakfast favorites include a traditional American breakfast of bacon, fried potatoes and eggs. The eggs are prepared to your specifications.  The potatoes are small, delicately cubed and well-salted spuds reminiscent of very good French fries with a soft texture inside.  The star of this triumvirate, however, is the bacon.  It’s the type of bacon only old-fashioned American diners seem to serve best–three six-inch strips of porcine perfection fried perfectly.  if you’re tired of bacon as stiff and dry as jerky, you’ll love the pliability of this bacon.  It’s crisp on the edges and beautifully bendable elsewhere with just the right amount of fattiness for flavor.

9 November 2017: For my friend Sr Plata, the epitome of comfort food greatness spells chicken fried steak, also a favorite of his sainted parents.  For two dollars shy of a ten-spot, he found some of the very best in Albuquerque in a plate called the Cowboy Breakfast.   You’d better arrive hungry if you’re thinking of ordering this behemoth breakfast which includes a chicken fried steak smothered in green chile and cheese with two eggs, beans, hash browns and two slies of toast.  In addition to the green chile and cheese, Sr. Plata asked for and was brought a cupful of white gravy sans meat (Lindy’s has many vegetarian guests).  He poured the white gravy on top of the green chile, making a rich dish even more calorific and delicious.  The chicken fried steak is fork tender and delicious, as good as you’ll find anywhere along Route 66.

Short Stack of Pancakes

9 November 2017:  You can add a short stack of fluffy, golden brown pancakes with syrup to any breakfast for a pittance. The syrup comes unheated, but you ask for it to be nuked for a steamy syrupy treat.  Even better–and this is the way Sr. Plata loves his pancakes–is with heated butter.  When the two golden orbs arrive at your table they’re glistening from the butyraceous touch.  The pancakes, by the way, nearly cover the plate and are dusted with white confectioner’s sugar.  If Route 66 has a food mascot, it would have to be pancakes.  Lindy’s pancakes are among the best along the Mother Road.

In 2003, the Vatoseows launched Lindy’s American Cafe in a Northeast Heights former location of JB’s. Larger accommodations (seating for 140 patrons) than the downtown restaurant allowed for a more expansive menu, but the new cafe lasted just about a year. It must be true that there’s only one Lindy’s.

Lindy’s
500 Central, S.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 242-2588
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 9 November 2017
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 19
COST: $$
BEST BET: Sour Cream Enchiladas; Frito Pie; Pork Chops; Pancakes; Bacon; Cowboy Breakfast

Lindy's Diner Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

MARY & TITO’S CAFE – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Mary & Tito's may serve the very best red chile in Albuquerque

Mary & Tito’s, THE very best New Mexican restaurant in the world!

Old-timers whose opinions I respect consistently rate Mary & Tito’s as Albuquerque’s best restaurant for New Mexican food, a restaurant that has been pleasing the most savvy and unindoctrinated palates alike since 1963.  It takes a lot to impress some of those old-timers, none of whom see much substance in the flash and panache of the nouveau restaurants and their pristine veneer and effusive, over-the-top flamboyance.  These guys and gals are impressed only by New Mexican food the way their abuelitas prepared it–unadorned, authentic and absolutely wonderful.  If you want to evoke their ire, take them to one of the chains.  Worse, try sneaking some cumin into their chile.

Just how good is Mary & Tito’s?  In an October, 2009 span of two days, three people whose opinion on food I value weighed in, prompting me to ponder that question and not just take for granted that it’s “one of” the very best restaurants in New Mexico. World-travelers Randy and Bonnie Lake experienced an epiphany during their most recent visit, marveling at just how much better Mary & Tito’s legendary red is than other red chile they’ve ever had.  Bill Resnik who’s authored a cookbook on New Mexican cuisine was more to-the-point, asking why it hasn’t been accorded a “30” rating–the epitome of perfection in my rating system and a rating I have not bestowed upon any restaurant anywhere.

Mary Ann Gonzales for whom the restaurant is named passed away on Tuesday, September 17, 2013. She was a great and wonderful lady! Photo courtesy of Sandy Driscoll.

A dining experience at such an ideal would have to be absolutely flawless with uncompromising standards and an obvious commitment on the restaurant’s part to providing a dining experience I would want to repeat over and over again.  Obviously the food would have to be more than good; it would have to tantalize, titillate, enrapt my taste buds with every morsel.  Every facet of the meal would have to be like a well synchronized and beautiful ballet in which each course is a prelude to the next and leaves me absolutely lusting for the next bite.

There have been times (many, in fact) in which a magical endorphin high from Mary & Tito’s red chile made my taste buds so unbelievably, deliriously happy that I’ve sworn nothing quite as good has ever crossed my lips.  Immediately after each meal at Mary & Tito’s, I want to repeat it, usually right then and there.  It is simply my very favorite restaurant in New Mexico, my highest rated restaurant of any genre in the Land of Enchantment and one of the highest rated across the fruited plain.

Mary & Tito’s legendary carne adovada. Photo courtesy of Sandy Driscoll.

I’m not the only patron this loyal to Mary & Tito’s.  In truth, the restaurant’s walls could probably be covered with framed certificates and accolades feting it as the “best” in one category or another. Instead, you’ll find family photo montages along with photos of some of their loyal customers. For ambiance, this homey restaurant might not win any awards, but for outstanding New Mexican cuisine, it has secured a place in the hearts and appetites of their many guests.

Although the legendary Tito passed away in 1990 and his devoted wife Mary Ann Gonzales left us in 2013, their effervescent daughter Antoinette and sons Jordan and Travis continue to provide the hospitality for which Mary & Tito’s is renowned. Better yet, they oversee an operation that serves what is arguably the best New Mexican food in New Mexico (ergo the entire universe)–and unequivocally the very best red chile anywhere.  Interestingly, Mary & Tito’s continues to win over lifelong New Mexicans who never heard of the restaurant until it was featured on the Travel Channel’s Bizarre Foods Dining Destinations program.

Mary & Tito's green chile burrito stuffed with guacamole and rice--one of the very best burritos in the universe!

A rare sight–green chile on a burrito at Mary & Tito’s where red is best!

The red chile has culled a legendary reputation among aficionados. Slathered generously on your entrees, it is a rich red color. At first impression it tastes great, but the more you eat more of it, the more the piquant heat builds up. Oh, the wonderful burn!  Beads of perspiration glistened on my dearly departed friend Ruben Hendrickson’s forehead with every bite, but he persevered through that endorphin generating heat with what can only be described as a lusty fervor.  Even when the particular crop of chile isn’t particularly piquant, Mary & Tito’s red chile is always wonderful, so good some frequent guests have no idea what the green chile tastes like.  It’s been so long since I’ve had the green chile that I no longer remember what it’s like.  The red chile is available meatless for diners of the vegetarian persuasion.

Ask the vivacious Antoinette what makes Mary & Tito’s red chile so uniquely wonderful and she’ll tell you that the chile starts off like the chile at most New Mexican restaurants. The difference is in what is done with it.  Mary & Tito’s chile has been purchased from one Hatch grower for years and it’s ground from pods, not made from powder. Beyond that, the restaurant doesn’t adulterate the chile with other than salt and garlic (absolutely no cumin–contrary to what the Travel Channel’s Andrew Zimmern once reported on Bizarre Foods: Dining Destinations). There is magic in this purity.  There’s also purity in its almost mesmerizing red-orange color and if you look at the edges of your plate, you won’t see the tell-tale signs of the excessive use of a thickening agent such as corn starch.  There’s none of that in this red chile!

A guacamole, beans and rice burrito with red chile. Photo courtesy of Sandy Driscoll.

The green chile (as I remember it) isn’t quite as piquant, but it is very tasty and generously applied to your entrees. For the best of both, ask for your entree to be served “Christmas” style so you can taste both the chile rojo (red) and chile verde (green). Vegetarians can also ask for it without meat.  My friend Lesley King, the wonderful writer whose monthly “King of the Road” column used to grace New Mexico Magazine, visited Mary & Tito’s for the first time in May, 2010 and recognized immediately that at this legendary restaurant, it’s all about the chile, finding both red and green as good as could possibly be made.

My dear friend Ruben Hendrickson, who for more than a year was engaged in a Holy Grail type quest to find the best carne adovada in the Albuquerque area, was absolutely besotted with Mary & Tito’s rendition. It’s carne adovada the way it’s supposed to be with tender tendrils of moist, delicious pork ameliorated with the best red chile in the metropolitan area.  Cheryl Jamison, the scintillating four-time James Beard Award-winning author, calls the carne adovada “absolutely spectacular.”   The Santa Fe Travelers Billie Frank and Steve Collins called it “the best carne adovada we’ve ever had.”  As with most entrees, it’s served with beans and rice, both of which are quite good.

A large combination plate: taco, tamale, cheese enchilada, beans and rice

In New Mexico Magazine‘s “Best Eats” issue for 2011, Mary & Tito’s was recognized as having the best carne adovada in the Land of Enchantment.  As one of the seven culinary experts who selected and wrote about New Mexico’s best, it was the choice with which I most agreed.  Though every other honoree is worthy of “best eats” selection, Mary & Tito’s carne adovada stood out, the best of the best!

The enchiladas are certainly among the best in town and I appreciate the fact that you can have them rolled or stacked (my preference with three corn tortillas), the way they’re served throughout Northern New Mexico. Natives and newcomers alike ask for a fried egg on top of the enchiladas, a flavor-enhancer that improves on a New Mexican entree that doesn’t really need any improvement. An “extra beef” option means enchiladas with even more fantastically well seasoned beef.  With red chile, they will make your taste buds ecstatic.

Two Tacos

Burritos are nearly a foot long and served overstuffed. One of the very best burritos anywhere features guacamole, beans and rice along with the aforementioned red or green chile. It is more than half a pound of New Mexican food greatness, especially when the guacamole practically erupts when you press your fork into the burrito.  It’s become the only dish capable of prying me away from the carne adovada–except when I have the combination plate, stuffed sopaipilla, chiles rellenos… I love it all!

With chips, that guacamole is simplicity itself (avocados in their prime, garlic, lime juice, salt), but it is some of the best guacamole in town. The freshness of guacamole made daily from the best avocados is evident.

Chile relleno covered in red.

Chile relleno covered in red.

The chile rellenos are also among the best I’ve ever had, far superior to their world-famous brethren served at Mesilla’s fabled La Posta restaurant. A thin, crispy batter envelops a piquant pepper stuffed with a sharp Cheddar cheese. Each bite produces an endorphin rush and taste explosion.  The rellenos are available on the combination platter as well as a la carte.  As with other entrees at Mary & Tito’s, they’re best smothered with that miraculous red chile.

My friend Sr. Plata had the privilege of first-time visits to both Chope’s and Mary & Tito’s within two weeks of each other.  In his estimation, the chile relleno at Mary & Tito’s is far superior to Chope’s version (which is often considered THE standard-bearer for the genre in the Land of Enchantment).  New Mexicans from the southern half of the state, in particular, might consider it sacrilege, but Sr. Plata reasons that Mary & Tito’s superior red chile is the difference-maker.  He’s calls it the essence of purity and deliciousness.

A huskless tamale smothered in red chile

You won’t find sopaipillas with honey at Mary & Tito’s, but you will find a “Mexican turnover‘ resembling an overgrown empanada or Italian calzone. It’s made from sopaipilla dough stuffed with meat, beans, rice and chile then deep fried. It’s Mary & Tito’s version of stuffed sopaipillas and it’s (not surprisingly) among the very best in the city.  The Mexican turnover is the most popular item at the restaurant, surpassing even the nonpareil carne adovada.

Entrees include some of the best refried beans anywhere…and I mean anywhere in the country. They have that “prepared with lard” taste all good refrieds have. Spanish rice also comes with every entree as does a tomato and lettuce garnish. Garnish is one of those plate decorations many people discard. With Mary & Tito’s fabulous red chile, it’s just something else with which to sop up every bit of that chile rojo.

Enchiladas with a fried egg and red chile

Enchiladas with a fried egg and red chile

Your first bowl of salsa is complimentary and it’s so good you’ll certainly finish it off quickly and order another. The chips, like the salsa, are lightly salted and crisp, the perfect size and texture to complement the tomato rich salsa.  The salsa has a nice piquancy but other than tomatoes and chile, there are no discernible additives such as garlic and onion.

Only the con queso gets a less than outstanding mark at Mary & Tito’s. The cheese has that “melted Velveeta” feel and taste and is somewhat gloppy.  Authenticity and utter deliciousness,however, aren’t spared on the chicharrones which compete with those at Cecilia’s Cafe for best in the city.  Chicharrones are Pieces of pork crackling cooked until crunchy and most of the fat is rendered out.  A plateful of chicharrones and a bowl of that legendary red are a great way to start any meal.

Carne Adovada Omelet

Carne Adovada Omelet

Another excellent entree unique to Mary & Tito’s is a carne adovada omelet.  Yes, you did read that correctly.  It’s a multi-egg omelet folded over that outstanding carne adovada then covered in the red chile of my dreams.  There’s no need for any of the usual omelet ingredients when you’ve got carne adovada.

Compliment Antoinette on an outstanding meal and she’ll invariably credit “the guys in the kitchen.” Those guys, the Arguello brothers–Patricio and Louis–are following Tito’s recipes and keeping his culinary legacy alive.  They’ve been working at Mary & Tito’s since they were but teenagers, schooled under the watchful eye of Tito himself.  They’re well versed at their craft. Antoinette will, however, take credit for the terrific dessert (that’s singular, but when you serve a dessert as wonderful as the New Mexican wedding cake, who needs anything else) available at Mary & Tito’s.

Salsa and Chips

18 August 2017: It took me 45 visits to sample everything on the menu at Mary & Tito’s, the very last item being a Mexican Pizza.  Described on the menu as “fry bread, refried beans and cheese,” it’s so much more than that.  It’ll remind you most of the fry bread tacos served at Indian Pow Wows and on reservations.  The canvas for this unique pizza is a deep-fried sopaipilla similar to the one used on the Mexican turnover.  The sopaipilla is topped with lots of refried beans, red chile, sprinkled with cheese and lined with lettuce and tomato.  Unlike Indian-style fry bread tacos, the fry bread at Mary & Tito’s is crisp and crunchy, not soft and pliable.  It doesn’t make the top ten list of items I’ve had at Mary & Tito’s, but you could put that red chile on a leather boot and it would be delicious.

7 December 2017: A deeper perusal of the menu (which by now I should have memorized considering the number of times visited) revealed one other heretofore untried item. That would be the flautas de carne adovada with beans and guacamole.  Mary & Tito’s might be the only restaurant in New Mexico to stuff flautas with carne adovada.  Surprisingly despite the deep-frying, the adovada retains its moistness and tenderness.  Use the flautas to scoop up some of the rich, creamy guacamole for a wonderful combination of flavors.

Chicharones, Mary & Tito’s style. Photo courtesy of Sandy Driscoll.

For dessert, an absolute “must have” is Mary & Tito’s take on traditional New Mexican wedding cake, a yellow cake made with walnuts and pineapple and topped with a cream cheese frosting is spectacular.  Antoinette has been making this cake for better than 30 years (though she doesn’t look much older than 30 herself) and says she’s made it thousands of times.  You won’t find any better in New Mexico.  You won’t find anything close.  My friend Bill Resnik calls it “one of the ten best things I’ve ever put in my mouth.”  In its February, 2013 edition  Albuquerque The Magazine  celebrated the Duke City’s best desserts. The fabulous Mexican wedding cake was recognized as the “to die for dessert to remember.”  I’m not too sure what that means, but if it means the Mexican wedding cake is unforgettable, the honor is certainly well deserved.  It’s certainly one of the very best desserts in New Mexico

While writing an article entitled “Ode to the Chile Pepper” for the September, 2011 edition of New Mexico Magazine, I had the privilege, pleasure and honor to interview the owner of the Hatch chile farm which supplies Mary & Tito’s with their fabulous chile. Leticia Carrasco is justifiably proud of the Sandia chile her farm provisions to a James Beard award-winning restaurant. She could not have been nicer–a great person supplying great chile to a great family. How fitting is that?

Carne Adovada Flautas

29 April 2013: In January, 2013 Food & Wine Magazine compiled a list of the nation’s “best taco spots.”  The only New Mexico taco spot recognized was Mary & Tito’s Cafe”for which Food & Wine acknowledged the “famed secret weapon of this mother-daughter-run operation is its fiery red chile sauce–killer with succulent braised pork in the New Mexico classic carne adovada, or drizzled over beef tacos in crispy corn tortilla shells.”  New Mexico’s best tacos at Mary & Tito’s?  Why not?  They’re fantastic!

The cast and crew of This Old House, a Boston-based home-improvement and remodeling television show spent two days at Mary & Tito’s in April, 2013.  While filming a segment in Hatch, purveyors of New Mexico’s best chile told the crew that the very best example of chile is served at Mary & Tito’s.  The cast and crew proceeded to enjoy every item on the menu.  More converts! 

Mary & Tito’s fabulous New Mexican Wedding Cake. Photo courtesy of Sandy Driscoll.

“The inside of Mary and Tito’s Restaurant on Albuquerque’s 4th Street doesn’t look like much: vinyl tablecloths, walls plastered with family photos. But the kitchen produces some of New Mexico’s best chile—not the meaty stew, spelled chili, served across the border in Texas, but the pepper-based sauce that holds pride of place in New Mexican cuisine.” That’s how the Wall Street Journal began its feature “Why Doubling Down on the Chile is the Way to Go.” The feature boasted “New Mexico’s red and green chile sauces are so good, why not opt for both at once?” Red and green chile are precisely why the Land of Enchantment celebrates Christmas all year long. No one does it better than Mary & Tito’s.

In January, 2010, Mary & Tito’s was announced as the 2010 recipient of the James Beard Award’s “America’s Classic” honor. A James Beard Award signifies the pinnacle of achievement in the culinary world, the country’s most coveted and prestigious culinary award while the “Americas Classic Award” honors “restaurants with timeless appeal, beloved for quality food that reflects the character of their community, and that have carved out a special place in the American culinary landscape.” Mary & Tito’s is the true, timeless American classic–beloved in the community with the highest quality food reflecting the character of New Mexico.

The James Beard Award of Excellence. Photo courtesy of Sandy Driscoll.

Mary and Antoinette received the award at a ceremonial dinner on May 3, 2010 at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall in New York City.  Governor Bill Richardson celebrated the honor by proclaiming May 12th “Mary & Tito’s Day” in New Mexico, a well-deserved honor for an exemplary restaurant.

Mary & Tito’s is one of those restaurants that elicits a craving only it can sate. It is the essence of red chile Nirvana.

MARY & TITO’S CAFE
2711 4th Street, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
505-344-6266
Mary & Tito’s Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 13 December 2017
# OF VISITS: 46
RATING: 27
COST: $$
BEST BET
: Enchiladas, Chile Relleno, Taco, Natillas, Guacamole Burrito, Carne Adovada Burrito, Chicharrones,  Mexican Wedding Cake, Carne Adovada Omelet, Carne Adovada, Combination Plate, Mexican Pizza, Mexican Turnover, Salsa & Chips, Carne Adovada Flautas

Mary & Tito's Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Duran’s Central Pharmacy – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Duran Central Pharmacy on the Fringes of Old Town Albuquerque

In an early episode of the Andy Griffith Show, while contemplating a job offer in South America, Andy tried to assuage his son Opie’s concerns about leaving Mayberry. Instead, he wound up confusing Opie by explaining that people in South America ate something called tortillas. Opie wondered aloud why anyone would eat spiders (tarantulas).  Had Opie ever tasted the delicious, piping hot, just off the comal 16-inch buttered orbs at Duran’s Central Pharmacy, it’s unlikely he would ever confuse those grilled spheres with any arachnid.

That’s because Duran’s features some of the very best tortillas of any restaurant in New Mexico. These are not the flavorless, paper-thin, production-line, machine-fashioned orbs you find at some restaurants (can you say Frontier Restaurant). Duran’s tortillas are made to order on a real comal and shaped by a skilled practitioner using a well-practiced rolling pin.  It’s the way abuelitas in New Mexico have done it for generations, a time-honored tradition Duran’s honors–with one exception.  No lard is used on these tortillas; they’re strictly vegetarian.   You can tell and appreciate the difference.  In its annual Food & Wine issue for 2012, Albuquerque The Magazine awarded Duran Central Pharmacy a Hot Plate Award signifying the selection of its hot-off-the-griddle tortillas as one of the “most interesting, special and tasty dishes around.”  Considering the thousands of potential selections, to be singled out is quite an honor.

Duran’s Dining Room

The tortillas are thick and have a pinto pony blend of char and white. While it may seem the wait staff brushes on butter in parsimonious amounts, you’re almost guaranteed to have some butter drip onto your clothing. These tortillas arrive at your table piping hot and absolutely delicious–a wonderful precursor to a great meal!  Invariably you’ll want to take some home.  Heat them on a griddle, slather on butter (or Kraft sandwich spread–trust me) and you’ve got a fantastically filling snack.  Dorado Magazine which celebrates the rugged and eclectic spirit of the Four Corners, describes them as “thick and fluffy with the perfect blend of darkened char spots and bright white floury goodness.”

True to its name, Duran’s Central Pharmacy is an old-fashioned apothecary in which prescription medicines and over-the-counter drugs are dispensed. The dining area is nestled in the southern portion of the pharmacy and you absolutely have to navigate the aisles of the drug store to get there.  For some, it’s a slow walk as they gawk at meticulously arranged shelves brimming with products you won’t find anywhere else.  Although Duran’s Central Pharmacy has been around since the 1940s, it wasn’t until 1965 that Robert Ghattas, a trained pharmacist, and his family assumed ownership from Pete Duran.  At the time, Duran’s operated as a pharmacy with a soda fountain where you could grab a sandwich and a “malted.”  The Ghattas family decided to retain the name, but because soda fountains were no longer in vogue, they changed the restaurant concept to showcase New Mexican cuisine.

A Very Comfortable Enclosed Patio

In addition to the typical prescription and nonprescription pharmaceuticals found at any drug store, you’ll also find groceries, greeting cards and under glass near the cash registers, a section of fine chocolates that you might want for dessert after your meal of great New Mexican food.  On the dividing wall immediately before the restaurant is a section of books, mostly about New Mexico and by New Mexico authors. Some, like Pulitzer Award finalist River of Traps are absolute gems and must-reads for anyone who loves the Land of Enchantment. The pharmacy is also reputed to carry an excellent selection of perfumes, but perhaps no artificial fragrance compares to the aroma wafting from the kitchen.

The restaurant portion of Duran’s consists of a dozen tables, a small covered patio and a sit-down counter from which you can watch the industrious kitchen and wait staff (some members of whom provide service with a sweet sass) assiduously keeping up with the intense breakfast and lunch crowds.  A banal comment such as “that was fast” might receive a response like, “I’m sorry.  I’ll try to be slower next time.”  I also overheard one waitress tell a frequent guest that if he wanted a drink, he could get one from the small fountain on the patio.   How can you not love that?

Buttered Tortilla Hot Off The Comal

Despite the unusual restaurant setting, Duran’s has long been regarded as one of the best New Mexican restaurants in the Albuquerque area and it’s been regarded as such since 1965 when New Mexican cuisine became featured fare. Within easy walking distance of Old Town and just a short drive from downtown, it is, to the detriment of some local area residents, no longer a well-guarded secret.  With increasing frequency tourists have also discovered Duran’s–a more authentic (translation: not dumbed down for tourist tastes) and delicious alternative to Old Town Plaza restaurants.

Duran’s reputation is built on what has long been considered some of the best red and green chile anywhere in New Mexico.  The red chile lacks the cumin influence  so prevalent in the chile served in many misdirected New Mexican restaurants. The only ameliorant to that chile (in addition to salt) is usually a touch of garlic.  It’s a chile which has garnered many accolades over the years.   In the Alibi’s annual “Best of Burque” restaurant poll for 2005, Duran’s Central Pharmacy earned accolades for serving the “best huevos rancheros” in Albuquerque. In 2006, it was the red chile which earned “Best of Burque” honors. In 2007, Alibi readers accorded “best of” honors to Duran’s chile relleno, red chile and enchiladas. In 2008, it was the huevos rancheros and red chile which took home top honors. Annual awards are nothing new for Duran’s.

Salsa and Chips

The bowl of chile, perhaps the restaurant’s most popular entree, is a Chamber of Commerce exemplar of what this dish should be. It’s heart-warming New Mexico comfort food, especially warm and nurturing on the most bleak and dreary of days.  You certainly can’t get that mother’s love level of comfort from a burger with fries.  Though not strictly a green chile stew, it is certainly “stew-like,” a bowl of red or green chile with beans and seasoned ground beef.  The green chile is neon green in color and about medium on the piquancy scale.  The beans are perfectly prepared while the ground beef is seasoned well.  It’s a concordant marriage of wonderful ingredients that envelop you in a cocoon of warmth and comfort. 

In its June, 2010 edition, New Mexico Magazine celebrated New Mexico’s Best Eats, eight of the best dishes served in restaurants throughout the Land of Enchantment. Two versions of each dish–a down-home version and uptown version were selected. The magazine accorded the honor of New Mexico’s very best down-home green chile stew  to the Duran’s Central Pharmacy.  It’s a well-deserved honor few would dispute. I wrote the article about that stew which required lots of research on my part; it was a delicious assignment.

Blue Corn Cheese Enchiladas

Daily specials include a stuffed sopaipilla platter on Wednesdays and Fridays and on Thursdays carne adovada, some of the very best in the city.  The award-winning orange-red chile used on other entrees is ameliorated with aromatic Mexican oregano and chile pequin, a fiery, dried red chile used judiciously (something which should be practiced with the garlic).  The chile is made from ground chile pods, not from powder.  That chile covers bite sized cubes of porcine perfection so tender and delicious they will make your taste buds smile.  My great and dearly departed friend Ruben Hendrickson, a devotee of carne adovada nonpareil, ranks Duran’s rendition on par with the adovada at Mary & Tito’s.

The carne adovada is served with pinto beans, boiled potatoes (perhaps the only item on the menu that’s unremarkable) and a simple lettuce and tomato salad with French dressing.  The only thing wrong with this platter (besides the papas) is that it’s not all carne adovada, as in the entire plate covered with it.  Fortunately you can purchase a pint of this phenomenal adovada to take home and if you don’t want to wait until the next Thursday, carne adovada is also available for breakfast on Saturdays.

Pork Tamales With Beans

25 July 2017:  A 2013 Huffington Post article entitled “25 Food Things Only A New Mexican Would Understand” describes New Mexican cuisine as living “somewhere between traditional Mexican food and Tex Mex food, in a place where there is a lot more cheese.”  Hmm, more cheese?  Does that mean there’s more cheese in New Mexican food than in its Mexican and Tex Mex counterparts?  That certainly isn’t the case should you order the blue corn cheese enchilada plate (three blue corn cheese enchiladas, green and (or) red chile, beans and onions) from Duran’s Central Pharmacy.  The cheese is discernible, but it’s certainly not a dominant element.  It’s a team player, not a star.  There is no star in this enchilada plate.  Rather it’s a combination of several elements working very well together to create an exemplar of enchilada excellence.

25 July 2017: Aficionados will tell you the best burgers have a perfect meat to bun to ingredients ratio.  Similarly, tamales should have an optimum pork to masa to chile ratio.  Not all burgers achieve the desired ratio.  Neither do tamales.  At Duran’s, you get as close as possible to the perfect ratio, a balance of ingredients that coalesce int a delicious whole.  The pork tamale plate features two generously stuffed tamales topped with Duran’s famous red chile with beans on the side.  This is a delicious dish.

Blueberry pie a la mode

25 July 2017: Lest I forget, Duran’s salsa and chips rarely receive the rants and raves they deserve.  Quite simply, the salsa is some of the very best in the city.  It has the freshness of just made salsa, not salsa made three or even two hours ago.  The salsa, made with chopped tomatoes, cilantro, onion and green chile is thick and chunky so it doesn’t run off your chips.  It’s by far the most piquant item on the menu, on par with the incendiary heat of Sadie’s salsa.  That salsa, as well as green and red chile, is available for purchase on Duran’s Web site.

Duran’s is a neighborhood institution in which neighbors congregate to catch up and enjoy a belly pleasing meal. That neighborhood expanded to the Northeast Heights in 2006 with the launch of Duran’s Station at 4201 Menaul, N.E.   Duran’s Station is situated in the former Fire Station #8 and is owned by Marcel Ghattas, scion of Robert (the founder) and Mona (the current owner of Duran’s Central Pharmacy). It retains some vestiges of its days as a fire station, including the original alarm bell.  The engine bay was converted into the dining room while the bunkhouse is now the kitchen.  Duran’s Station includes all of your favorite Pharmacy favorites.  Similarities don’t stop with the menu.  The restaurant also includes an exposed prep kitchen and a comal for making those addictive tortillas (there may be none better in Albuquerque).  Best of all, it stays open for dinner.

A bowl of green chile with beans and seasoned ground beef. It's the very best in Albuquerque!

A bowl of green chile with beans and seasoned ground beef. It’s the very best in Albuquerque!

If you just can’t get enough of Duran’s fabulous chile, the Slate Street Cafe just north of Lomas in the downtown district, offers it as well. Red chile runs in the family. Slate Street Cafe is owned by Myra Ghattas, Mona and Marcel’s sister.  Every New Mexican restaurant should have chile this good, preferably with the best tortillas in Albuquerque, too.

Duran’s Central Pharmacy
1815 Central, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 247-4141
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 25 July 2017
# OF VISITS: 12
RATING: 20
COST: $$
BEST BET: Buttered Tortillas, Carne Adovada, Salsa and Chips, Green Chile, Blue Corn Cheese Enchiladas, Pork Tamales

Duran Central Pharmacy Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

The Owl Cafe & Bar – San Antonio, New Mexico

The World Famous Owl Cafe in San Antonio, New Mexico

7 March 2017Over the past five years, the Owl Cafe in San Antonio, New Mexico has been the most frequently launched review on Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Blog.  From January 1st through April 7th, 2017, the review of the Owl has been launched more often than any other review on 37 occasions.  It’s been among the top five most frequently launched reviews 95 times (out of 98 days) since January 1st.  The Owl review is the third most frequently launched review (behind the Buckhorn Tavern and Mary & Tito’s of all time.  What accounts for the Owl’s popularity?  It truly is a timeless institution beloved for its consistently excellent burgers.
San Antonio may be but a blip on the map, but its storied and pioneering history make this sparsely populated agricultural community arguably one of New Mexico’s most important towns.

In 1629, San Antonio was the site on which Franciscan friars planted the first vineyard (for sacramental wine) in New Mexico (in defiance of Spanish law prohibiting the growing of grapes for wine in the new world.) San Antonio was the birthplace of Conrad Hilton, founder of the ubiquitous Hilton Hotels and more importantly, one of New Mexico’s original legislators after statehood was granted in 1912. San Antonio was also the gateway to the Trinity Site in which the first atomic bomb was detonated in 1945. While these events are historically significant, they are also inextricably bound by one common element–the uncommonly ordinary facade that houses the extraordinary, world-famous Owl Cafe.

owl05

The Owl Cafe and Bar

Conrad Hilton’s father once owned the saloon in which the bar (pictured below) in the Owl Cafe once held prominence and presumably sold the fruit of the vine whose progenitors may have been among New Mexico’s original grape stocks. According to local lore, the fathers of the nuclear age spent much of their free time cavorting at the Owl Cafe where original owner Jose Miera installed a grill and started crafting the green chile cheeseburgers that would ultimately achieve unprecedented acclaim.

Ostensibly, the restaurant was named the Owl because legal gambling was conducted at all hours of the night in the back of the restaurant, ergo by “night owls.” Today feathered fowl are still important to San Antonio’s local economy as thousands of bird watchers flock to the nearby Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge to crane their necks for a glimpse of geese, ducks and cranes. The Owl Cafe offers welcome respite from the pleasures of bird-watching.

The long bar from the original Hilton hotel

The long bar from the original Hilton hotel

Rowena Baca, a descendent of the Owl Cafe’s founder and current proprietor of the Owl Cafe, holds on to tradition, preparing the world-famous green chile cheeseburger in much the same way as her grandfather did. The meat is ground on the premises, patties are hand-formed and the ingredients (mayo, lettuce, tomato, pickles, onion cheese and green chile) are unfailingly fresh. On a double meat burger, the succulent meat and melted cheese bulge out beyond the buns. The meat positively breaks apart (the consequences of not using filler and an optimum fat to lean ratio) and its juices make consuming one a lip-smacking, multi-napkin affair.

The green chile is as near to green chile nirvana as you’ll find on any burger in New Mexico. Non-natives might find it a bit hot, but locals think it’s just right. Ironically, it’s not green chile grown within easy walking distance in San Antonio’s famous Sichler Farms, but a special blend of chile from the Albuquerque Tortilla Company. The reason given is that the Albuquerque Tortilla Company’s Chile is already roasted, peeled, chopped and sealed for freshness. Somehow it makes sense.

Double meat, double cheese green chile cheeseburger, one of the very best in New Mexico (ergo, the universe)

Another Owl tradition you can’t help but notice is all the dollar bills tacked on the restaurant’s walls. Patrons leave messages or write their names on dollar bills then tack them on any available free space. Once a year, the money is collected and given to charity with more than $20,000 donated thus far.

On an average summer day, the Owl Cafe will serve an average of six to seven hundred burgers. The population of San Antonio rivals that of a larger city during lunch and dinner hours when the Owl’s several parking lots are overflowing with hungry diners. The front dining room will accommodate only a few of them. Fortunately the restaurant has several dining rooms; you’ve got to go through one to get to another.

What the Owl Cafe does with all the dollar bills tacked to its walls

What the Owl Cafe does with all the dollar bills tacked to its walls

In 2003, Jane and Michael Stern, rated the Owl Cafe’s green chile cheeseburger on Epicurious.Com as one of the top ten burgers in America–lavish praise indeed for one of New Mexico’s historic gems. It has garnered similar acclaim by other notable critics, having transcended the generations by sticking to a time-tested formula of providing great food at reasonable prices. Disputably there may be better green chile cheeseburgers out there, but there are none more famous.

For more than a quarter century, award-winning journalist Charles Kuralt hit the road on a motor home, crisscrossing the fruited plains where waving fields of wheat passed in review and snow-capped mountains reached for cobalt colored skies. Kuralt loved the cuisine of the Land of Enchantment. In his book America, he declared the Own Cafe in San Antonio, New Mexico “one of the best food tips” he’d ever gotten.

The hamburger steak dinner

The hamburger steak dinner

In his celebration of America’s favorite dish, filmmaker George Motz traversed the fruited plain in search of some of the country’s most unique burgers for his 54-minute film Hamburger America which made it to the airwaves in 2004. In 2008, he followed up his award-winning documentary with a state-by-state tome listing what he considers the best burgers throughout the fruited plain. Motz loved The Owl calling it “a friendly place, a family saloon with an excellent burger on the menu.”

The menu isn’t limited to burgers. Savvy diners will order the hamburger steak dinner, a bounteous platter that will fill you up for just over ten dollars. This platter includes a juicy hamburger patty (no charring anywhere), a small mountain of hand-cut French fries, a salad with your choice of dressing (including a pretty good blue cheese dressing), Texas toast and bowls of green chile and beans. Make sure you get the grilled onions atop that hamburger steak. It’s an unbeatable combination.

A bowl of green chile and a bowl of beans--sheer pleasure!

A bowl of green chile and a bowl of beans–sheer pleasure!

The other “must have” in addition to an outstanding green chile cheeseburger is a bowl or side of beans with green chile. The aroma of steaming green chile wafts through the dining room as your waitress approaches and you’re the envy of any diner who may not have ordered this favorite of New Mexican comfort foods. The beans are frijoles, whole pinto beans, not refried or black beans you’ll find elsewhere. Ironically, as proud of New Mexicans are to claim green chile as our official state vegetable, we’re often hesitant to admit frijoles share official state honors with green chile. The frijoles at the Owl Cafe will remind you why real New Mexicans love and are proud of their precious pintos.

The Owl Cafe has several other menu items, but rarely do you see anyone foolhardy enough to order say, a hot dog or nachos. It is entirely forgivable, however, to order a patty melt (pictured below), one of the very best of its kind anywhere. One of the reasons this patty melt is oh, so good is obvious. The same wondrous beef patty used on the Owl’s world-famous green chile cheeseburgers is used to create this pulchritudinous patty melt. Two slices of American cheese drape over grilled sweet onions complete the masterpiece sandwiched between two slices of light rye. It’s a fantastic alternative to green chile cheeseburgers.

Patty melt at the Owl Cafe

7 March 2017:  The Owl’s French fries are terrific.  They’re not the homogeneous, flavorless out-of-a-bag travesty, but are hand-cut and fried to a golden-brownish hue.  Texturally, they’re about as perfect as fries can get.  They’re crispy and firm on the outside and light and fluffy on the inside.  Don’t ever make the mistake of ordering these fries with cheese.  Conceptually cheese fries might sound like a good idea, but when the cheese is the gloppy out-of-a-can variety (typically found in ballpark nachos), it’s just blanketing very good fries with cheese glop that’s not worthy to be on the same plate.

Skip the dessert at the Owl and head next door to the San Antonio General Store where Anne Lund serves some of the very best homemade fudge anywhere as well as ice cream (Dreyers), drinks, snacks and sandwiches. Lund actually bought the General Store from Rowena Baca’s daughter and spent about a year perfecting the wonderful fudge (which is made with real butter and cream). Perfect is the operative word for fudge in which you can taste the quality and a whole lot of love from a confectionery artist. 

Chile Cheese Fries

The Owl Cafe is open Monday through Saturday from 8AM to 9PM and is closed on Sundays.

The Owl Cafe & Bar
State Hwy. 1 and U.S. 380
San Antonio, New Mexico
(575) 835-9946
Facebook Page

LATEST VISIT: 7 March 2017
# OF VISITS: 7
RATING: 23
COST: $$
BEST BET: Green Chile Cheeseburger; French Fries, Beans and Green Chile, Hamburger Steak Dinner, Patty Melt

Owl Bar & Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Casa de Benavidez – Los Ranchos de Albuquerque, New Mexico

Casa de Benavidez, nestled under the pines on Fourth Street

There are restaurants throughout the Duke City that have seemingly always been “there.”  They’re  as much a part of the fabric of the city as the neighborhoods they serve.  Casa de Benavidez is one of those restaurants, a familiar part of the landscape on North Fourth Street, some would say an institution.  Despite the notion of permanence, this venerable treasure has, in fact, been around only since 1984–at least under its current name.

Before there was a Casa de Benavidez, there was, just a mile or so away, a tiny little eatery with only three tables and a bustling take-out business.   There was also a dream, the shared ambition of Paul and Rita Benavidez  to serve their hometown with the food they loved and prepared so well.  At El Mexicano, a diminutive eatery they operated with their children, that dream began the transformation from monochromatic to technicolor with every one of their trademarked sopaipilla burgers sold.

Salsa and Chips

While the family was selling more and more sopaipilla burgers, they were also stockpiling used restaurant equipment in hope and anticipation of an expansion that would allow them to more fully realize their dreams.  Not far from their diminutive digs, Paul found a nearly 100-year-old two-story territorial style adobe home with a half-finished waterfall just south of the structure.  Quickly consummating the sale of the home, the Benavidez family moved out of their old location into the sprawling edifice in just one day.  The rest, as the proverbial “they” say, is history.

Over time, the carryout business at the back of the home became so successful that the family expanded their operation to include a full-service restaurant in the front of the house.  The restaurant was rechristened “Casa de Benavidez,” and the dream culminated with a commodious restaurant offering an expansive menu featuring traditional New Mexican and Mexican food in elegantly appointed interior dining rooms and exterior surroundings that include lush gardens, a koi pond teeming with life and strolling mariachis.

Combination No. 1 Tamale, Cheese Enchilada, Chile Relleno and Taco Served With Beans, Rice, Special Rib and Sopaipilla

On the marquee, subtitled directly below the restaurant’s name, are the words “Home of the Sopaipilla Burger.”  That’s a recognition of the role played in the restaurant’s early and current successes by its unique rendition of New Mexico’s ubiquitous green chile cheeseburger.  Several other restaurants offer their own take on a sopaipilla burger, but Casa de Benavidez’s version was the very first and it remains first in the heart of its loyal patrons, some of whom order the “jumbo” sized half-pound version.

Repeat after me (to the tune of the old Big Mac jingle) — one all-beef patty, refried beans, lettuce, cheese, tomato and chile  (red, green or both) on two sopaipilla “buns.”  That’s the sopaipilla burger, still one of the most popular and celebrated items on the menu.  The sopaipillas are more dense than the puffed-up sopaipillas on which New Mexicans love honey.  They’re formidable enough not to fall apart at the moistness of other ingredients, but if the chile is ladled on a bit too generously, expect your hands to be covered in the red or green stuff.

Carne Adovada Plate

Casa de Benavidez was one of the first restaurants we visited after moving back to Albuquerque in 1996. It didn’t surprise us when this casa was the 1996 winner of KOB TV’s “Salsa Challenge.” The salsa is about medium on the piquancy scale  and has a garlicky flavor aficionados love while the chips (served warm) are unfailingly crisp and fresh. Alas, sometimes because of overflow crowds your empty salsa dish isn’t replenished as faithfully as at other New Mexican restaurants. That’s about the only short-coming in the service which tends to be friendly and attentive.  That salsa, by the way, was named Albuquerque’s fifth best salsa by Albuquerque The Magazine from among a sampling size of 130 different restaurant salsas reviewed in the September, 2012 issue.

The menu features many New Mexican standards, but it also includes “foreign” items such as  chimichangas (Tucson) and fajitas (Texas).  Breakfast is served Friday, Saturday and Sunday with lunch and dinner (same menu) served every day of the week.  Lunch specials are a more economical dining option than dinners. To say Casa Benavidez is one of the more pricey New Mexican restaurants  might be an understatement.  You might experience a bit of sticker shock at seeing some items approaching the nine dollar price point–and that’s just the appetizers.  The entrees are all priced in double-figures.

Sopaipillas and Tortilla

3 January 2017: Perhaps the best way to experience the restaurant’s culinary wizardry is by ordering one of the four combination plates.   Combos are served with beans, rice, one very special rib and sopaipillas.  Combination plate number one features a cheesy enchilada, a taco, a crunchy chile relleno and a tamale. Of these, the real stand-out is the crunchy chile relleno whose sweet, battered texture is unlike any other we’ve had in Albuquerque.  The special pork rib is unique to Casa Benavidez.  It’s a real treat.  Be forewarned that combination plates are humongous–large enough for two.

One of the restaurant’s very best, albeit most unconventional entrees are the succulent pork short ribs: four meaty ribs on which is slathered a semi-sweet and smoky homemade sauce.  These are multi-napkin ribs, the type of which will leave a red beard on any clean-shaven face.  They’re better ribs than you’ll find at several of the Duke City’s barbecue restaurants.  That goes for the sauce, too.  You’ll find yourself dredging up excess sauce with the accompanying fries (or you can have rice).

Natillas

3 January 2017: My Kim tells me it’s a woman’s prerogative to change her mind.  She does so frequently, but rarely when ordering at a New Mexican restaurant.  Almost invariably, she’ll order the carne adovada plate though only with the chile in which the carne has been marinated, no extra.   Casa de Benavidez serves some of her favorite adovada.  Tender tendrils of easily pulled apart pork marinated in a rich, hearty red chile make her happy and when she’s happy, Gil’s happy.  The carne adovada plate is served with Spanish rice and beans (which she passes over to me). 

3 January 2017: Casa de Benavidez offers a number of desserts: German chocolate cake, carrot cake, fried ice cream, flan, natillas, brownies and a sweet roll.  The natillas are topped with a very generous dollop or ten of whipped cream.  When scraped off, not much of the natillas actually remain.  That’s too bad because these natillas are cinnamon rich, creamy and delicious.

On Fourth Street, facing east Casa de Benavidez is at the forefront of the Sandia Mountains.  Both seem to have an air of distinction and permanence.  Because of its longevity and community standing, the Casa de Benavidez is on the New Mexico Tourism Department’s “Culinary Treasures trail,” an initiative which honors those rare and precious family-owned-and-operated gems operating continuously since at least December 31st, 1969.  As with all the restaurants on the list, the Casa is an independent mom-and-pop restaurant which has stood the test of time to become beloved institutions in their neighborhoods and beyond.

Casa de Benavidez
8032 Fourth Street, N.W.
Los Ranchos de Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 893-3311
Web Site | Facebook Page

LATEST VISIT: 3 January 2017
# OF VISITS: 9
RATING: 18
COST: $$
BEST BET: Sopaipilla Burger, Pork Ribs, Chile Relleno, Salsa and Chips, Combination Plate #1, Sopaipilla

Casa de Benavidez Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Western View Diner & Steakhouse – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Neon Spangled Route 66 Sign

Since the 1930s, neon signage has been a prominent and vital part of Route 66 as it meanders through Albuquerque. From the foothills of the Sandias in the east to the parched desert expanse of the west, Route 66 is festooned with vibrant neon signage that cuts a luminous swath through the city. The nocturnal spectacle of glowing neon might be the siren’s call that has drawn generations of “cruisers” to Central Avenue.

One of Albuquerque’s most prominent neon spangled signs celebrates Route 66 as it spans across all four lanes of Central Avenue near its intersection with Coors Boulevard Southwest.  Literally at the shadow of that span is the Western View Diner & Steakhouse which has been pleasing weary travelers and hungry locals since 1941 thanks to generous portions of reasonably priced and delicious comfort food with a homemade taste that comes from years of plying its culinary craft.

The Western View Steak House and Coffee Shop

To say the Western View Diner & Steakhouse was at Albuquerque’s western fringes back when it launched seven decades ago is an understatement.  Aside from sagebrush and vast expanses of horizon, there wasn’t much in the city this far west.  The Western View is one of the very few surviving restaurants which predate the tremendous expansion that has seen the city’s population skyrocket from just over 36,000 in 1941 to over half a million in 2010.

Because of its longevity, this venerable Albuquerque institution was, in 2010, named to the New Mexico Tourism Department’s “Culinary Treasures Trail,” an initiative which honors those rare and precious family-owned-and-operated gems operating continuously since at least December 31st, 1969.  As with all the restaurants on the list, the Western View Diner & Steakhouse is an independent mom-and-pop restaurant which has stood the test of time to become beloved institutions in its neighborhoods and beyond.

The Western View Dining Room

The menu primarily features American standards with New Mexican and Greek entrees thrown in for good measure. The diner has been owned by three successive Greek proprietors, the most recent being Stavros Anagnostakos.  Like many august diners, the Western Diner’s character is in its austerity, its staff and its clientele. One wall features vintage black and white photographs of the stars of yesteryear. Frequent diners prefer to sit at a stool along the counter. That gives them the best vantage point for the dessert tray and better access to the chatty and accommodating wait staff.

Yes, this venerable restaurant has character to spare despite lacking the over-the-top flamboyance of the anointed local favorites and cookie-cutter chains. It’s informal and inexpensive, unpretentious and welcoming…a genuine anachronism. It’s no wonder its parking lots are always full. Look around the dining room. What you’ll see is generations of families, many of whom grew up visiting the restaurant. This is a neighborhood institution which has been doing the right things right for its faithful patrons.

Biscuits with Butter and Jam

The Western View Diner serves breakfast all day long. There’s something almost musical in the clanking of spoons as they stir coffee at all hours of the day. There may also be nothing more arousing (to both genders, but particularly men) at 3PM than the sizzle of crisp bacon on the frying pan and its accompanying aromas as they waft throughout the dining room. That’s what we experienced during our inaugural mid-afternoon visit when at least half the dining patrons were partaking of breakfast.

5 December 2010: Although the diner is renown for its fluffy, house-made biscuits and gravy, an excellent alternative are the pancakes. A short stack means two fluffy orbs that nearly cover the entire plate. A dollop or two of creamy butter, a ladle of syrup and you’re in carbohydrate heaven. It’s been our experience that long-established diners serve the very best pancakes and the Western Diner is no exception. The Western View is also quite accomplished at American breakfast standards. Regardless of what you order–breakfast or lunch–a biscuit or ten is a must.  These biscuits have a rare “biscuit integrity” in that they don’t crumble and fall apart when you attempt to slather on some butter and jam.  Moreover, they’re very tasty and are excellent for sopping up gravy.

New York steak with mashed potatoes and gravy.

New York steak with mashed potatoes and gravy.

17 June 2007: One of the entrees for which this restaurant is known is steak (hence the “Steak House” on the marquee). For just about a dollar an ounce, you can treat yourself to a fresh-cut New York steak that’s heavy on flavor and surprisingly light on the gristle and fat you might expect for an inexpensive cut of beef. Grilled to your exacting specifications (we like salt, pepper and garlic on both sides), it’s a carnivore’s dream. The New York cut is much better than we’ve had at many an Albuquerque steak restaurant, especially at the price.

17 June 2007: The steak is served with your choice of potato–baked potato after 5 PM, mashed potatoes and French fries before then. The mashed potatoes are among the best we’ve had in this city–far better than the de rigeur garlic mashed potatoes served seemingly everywhere. These are real potatoes with a buttery creaminess that reminds us of home. A thick piece of buttered Texas toast fills what little room is left on the plate. It, too, is so much better (and bigger) than Texas toast we’ve had elsewhere.

Chicken Fried Steak

3 April 2016: My friend Bruce “Sr. Plata” would like the next New Mexico Tourism Department’s culinary initiative to be a “New Mexico Chicken Fried Steak Trail” patterned after its Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail.  Though chicken fried steak is more the domain of Texas than it is of New Mexico, there are several potential chicken fried steaks in the Land of Enchantment that could grace such a Trail.  One would be the chicken fried steak at the Western View.  It’s a thin, pounded, lightly breaded steak covered with a rich, creamy gravy served with two eggs and home fries.  The gravy is ladled on rather generously which is a good thing if you love gravy…and this is a gravy you’ll probably love.  If not, refer back to my suggestion that you order one (or ten) biscuits.

3 April 2016: For my Kim, the quintessential breakfast to remind her of home in Chicago is a breakfast of pork chops. At the “Hog Butcher for the World” (a nickname for Chicago), you’re likely to get inch-thick pork chops even early in the morning. In Albuquerque, an order of two pork chops stacked atop one another wouldn’t equal an inch.  Though thin and about the diameter of a hamburger patty, the Western View’s pork chops are seasoned nicely (salt, pepper, garlic) and grilled well.  They’re served with two eggs and home fries.

Pork Chops and Eggs for Breakfast

17 June 2007: The Western Diner’s comfort food ensemble will warm the cockles of your heart as it sates your appetite. For those of my generation, it will bring back memories of home-cooked meals in which steamy plates of meatloaf, mashed potatoes ladled with brown gravy and corn were a Sunday tradition. The meatloaf, by the way, is in the best traditions of American diners–moist and served thick. Cut into it and steam wafts upward, an indication this dish is served hot, the way it should be. The gravy is thick with flecks of ground pepper swimming in the murky liquid. 

Western View’s diner has a rather extensive, multi-page menu that showcases New Mexican favorites–everything from tacos and burritos to combination plates brimming with food.  The combination plates are served with a fiery salsa that goes well on everything.  Alas, the chile is adulterated with cumin so we never order the restaurant’s New Mexican food.  Because seating is in fairly close proximity, we have noticed that diners who do order chile-laden items seem satisfied with their meals.

An old-fashioned chocolate milkshake with whipped cream

5 December 2010: Another old-fashioned standard reminiscent of bygone days in which malt shops were the hang-out of teenagers are milk shakes.  These are served in old-fogyish hard plastic glasses, the type of which probably predate most of you reading this review.  Made with real ice cream, the milk shakes are served thick and cold, easier to drink up with a spoon than with a straw.  They’re also served with a thick dollop of real whipped cream topped with a single cherry, another time-honored tradition.

5 December 2010: Of course, nothing goes better with shakes than the marriage made in malt shop heaven, a vintage cheeseburger and a mound of French fries. The deluxe burger is an ten-ounce beefy behemoth grilled to about medium well, topped with a single slice of American cheese and served on toasted buns. On the side are a plastic cup of green chile, a single tomato, four dill pickles, a slice of raw onion and shredded lettuce. This is an excellent burger, as good or better than several on the New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail despite being as simple as a burger can be.

An old-fashioned cheeseburger with French fries

Order a burger and you might not be asked to what degree of doneness you’d like for it to be prepared, but the results are flavorful nonetheless.  The beef patty has a nice grilled flavor reminiscent of a burger prepared outdoors.  The neon green chile has a piquant bite that complements the other fresh ingredients.  Alas, the sesame seed buns have a hard time holding in all the ingredients.  The French fries are nothing special, pretty much boilerplate.

17 June 2007: For dessert, an absolute must-have is the chocolate cake. A thick slab is easily big enough for two and is as delicious as any chocolate cake you’ve ever had anywhere. The frosting is thick yet not at all cloying as are the frosting in those hideous store-bought Plaster of Paris designer cakes. It’s diet devastating delicious. Other dessert options include baklava and several fresh house-made pies.  3 April 2016:  Among the luscious cakes masterfully created by the pastry chef is a lemon cake topped with lemon “salt.”  It’s rich, creamy and absolutely delicious with just enough lemony flavor to tickle your tongue.

Lemon Cake

There’s a reason the Western diner has survived more than sixty years. It leaves enticement to its food and not its facade. That’s the way it should be!

Western View Diner & Steakhouse
6411 Central, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 836-2200
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LATEST VISIT: 03 April 2016
# OF VISITS: 6
RATING: 18
COST: $$
BEST BET: New York Steak, Mashed Potatoes, Texas Toast, Pancakes, Meatloaf, Guacamole, Deluxe Burger, Chocolate Milk Shake, Chicken Fried Steak, Lemon Cake, Pork Chops

Western View Diner & Steak House on Urbanspoon

K&I Diner – Albuquerque, New Mexico

The famous K&I Diner, Serving Albuquerque Since 1960

In 1960, Albuquerque’s population reached 201,189, more than doubling the city’s tally from the 1950 census. The start of a new decade began an era of expansion, a construction boom in which the burgeoning city began experiencing unprecedented growth. A proliferation of shopping centers was built to serve new neighborhoods.  Albuquerque was not yet overrun by horrendous, copycat chain restaurants; family owned and operated mom-and-pop dining establishments–like the K&I Diner–were (and still are) your best bet for a great meal.

1960 (March 2nd to be exact) was also the year in which Irene Warner opened Grandma’s K&I Diner (named for her daughter Kay Hess and herself) in the heart of Albuquerque’s industrial district in the far South Valley. She ran the eatery with her family for 39 years until her death at age 82 in 1999.  The matronly Irene was a fixture at her restaurant, a kind and gentle woman who made everyone welcome at her restaurant home. With a pronounced Southern drawl, she and her family kept things lively, often addressing their faithful patrons by “honey” or “sugar.”

The ghostly image in the background isn't Travis, the mysterious customer for whom the K&I Diner's most famous entree is named. It's Bill Resnik, the artist who painted this masterpiece displayed in the front dining room of the K&I.

The ghostly image in the background isn’t Travis, the mysterious customer for whom the K&I Diner’s most famous entree is named. It’s Bill Resnik, the artist who painted this masterpiece displayed in the front dining room of the K&I.

The restaurant has undergone several ownership changes since Grandma Warner passed away, but other than  some polish and veneer, pretty much left everything the same. For that Albuquerque diners are grateful.  The decor features antique brickerbrack donated by customers. Old stoves, a Pepsi dispenser (from back when a bottle of cold Pepsi cost ten cents), tube-operated radios and more eye-catching antiques will keep your interest while some placards may surprise you at how ribald humor was fifty or sixty years ago. One placard reads “big busted women float better.”

Ask anyone who’s been in Albuquerque for a few years and they can all recount their favorite memories of dining at the K&I. Most of them probably involve the “Travis,” a bean and seasoned beef burrito topped with cheese and chile then piled high with French fries. It’s an unlikely combination, but also a uniquely New Mexican one. The Travis is available in five sizes, the descriptions below of which are taken from the menu:

This behemoth is a quarter Travis.

This behemoth is a quarter Travis.

    • Travis on A Silver Platter – You’d better bring lots of friends to attempt this. Of course, if you can eat it by yourself in an hour or less and we mean ALL of it, it’s free.  It weighs over eight pounds and has been surmounted by only two people in the 40 years plus that it’s been available.
    • Full TravisEven the biggest of appetites would have a hard time finishing this one.
    • Half TravisIt can be done, but you’d better be happy.
    • Quarter TravisThis is the most popular size (pictured above), but some still need a to-go box.
    • Wimp TravisFor those who just don’t feel up to the challenge.

The Travis on a Silver Platter is a full six pounds and the platter on which it is served is big enough for the Thanksgiving turkey. A Wimp Travis is big enough for most people, but most men will order at least a quarter Travis or they risk being drummed out of the XY chromosome club.  As it approaches your table, your first inclination will be to wonder where the burrito is.  The mountain of fries covers every other component on the dish.  Like a treasure-hunter, you’ll have to get through several layers of fries before you get to the burrito.  The fries are excellent.

A half Travis

When he traveled to Albuquerque for a taping of the Travel Channel’s Man vs Food Nation (which aired for the first time on June 22nd, 2011) a stop at Grandma Warner’s K&I Diner was a must for host Adam Richman.  No longer an active competitor in man’s quest to eat ridiculous amounts of food, Richman recruited three Albuquerque residents–all named Travis–to test their gurgitator’s mettle against the Travis on a Silver Platter:  three flour tortillas, beef and beans, sausage-infused red chile and shredded Cheddar.  Once folded over, the burrito is covered over with green chile, cheese and a lettuce-tomato garnish  topped with a mountain of French fries.  Richman called the challenge an “indomitable feat of manhood,” and “maybe the hardest challenge we’ve ever shown.”

Given an hour to consume the entire platter’s worth of food, the three Travises (a student at UNM, a meteorologist for a local television station and a professional bull rider) were unable to surmount the challenge despite the urging of the crowd (which included UNM cheerleaders and Lobo Louie) and Richman’s encouragement.

Bert’s Mess

My own personal memories of the K&I Diner also involve the Travis. While stationed at Kirtland in the early 1980s, we used to take the dreaded Inspector General (IG) staff to the K&I and challenge them to finish a full Travis. Our hopes were that the IG staffers would get so full that drowsiness would set in after lunch and they wouldn’t be quite as nit-picky in their assessments. This usually worked with new staffers, but veteran IG members ultimately figured out our ploy. Still, they all enjoyed the K&I Diner as much as we did and made it a regular stop during their inspection tours of Kirtland.

Today, Air Force personnel (and no doubt, the infamous IG) still frequent the K&I Diner which despite four separate dining areas is usually packed for both breakfast and lunch. Newcomers with the gumption to try still think they have the mettle to consume an entire Travis, but invariably fail miserably (coincidentally miserable is the gastronomic state of anyone who succeeds).

The Leo

Elise Hunnicutt, a Del Norte High graduate now residing in deepest, darkest Westchester, New York shares one of her favorite K&I and Travis memories from the winter of 1982.  “The K&I was a favorite lunchtime stop for me when I worked for the Pepsi bottler in Albuquerque. I took two co-workers there one chilly day and instructed them on the fine points of ordering the Travis special. At the time, you didn’t use the word “Travis” when ordering, instead just proclaiming “Quarter” or “Half!” Your waitress would then call out the orders to the guys doing the cooking behind the counter. On this particular trip, I ordered my usual quarter. The first of my colleagues, obviously not embracing my guidance, slammed his fist on the table and demanded a Half. My other companion had no interest in the Travis and asked instead for a cheeseburger. Our waitress turned quickly toward the kitchen and said, “Quarter and a Half! And would someone please go down to Blake’s and get this idiot a cheeseburger?”

My friend Bill Resnik recalls the time he goaded a “Travis virgin” into ordering a full Travis. The behemoth platter arrived minutes later with a Dum Dum sucker on top. The acid tongue (but with a heart of gold) waitress presented it with “here you go, sucker!” Another time he asked the waitress how the meatloaf was that particular day.  The waitress’s retort, “I wouldn’t have it if I were you.  Grandma made it.”  Grandma was notorious for putting any leftover she could find into the lasagna–including lime jello.  After about three visits, the wait staff got to know you and treated you like a sibling.

Chicken Fried Steak, Two Eggs and Hashed Browns

The days of verbal jousting with the waitresses are long past and some of the restaurant’s personality left with Irene’s family and staff, but the K&I is and always will be, a memorable restaurant. Several local restaurants (Hurricane’s and Twisters come to mind) have attempted to duplicate the Travis and while some claim the pretenders are just as good, K&I veterans will vehemently defend the Travis as an incomparable original. In 1980, the Travis was trademarked, but that hasn’t stopped the pretenders.

According to local legend, the Travis was born when a frequent visitor (in true Western fashion, embellishments say it was a mysterious stranger) to the K&I asked for a burrito with everything on it but the kitchen sink. That’s what he got! The K&I Diner serves more than the Travis. Breakfast and lunch portions can best be described as “heaping” with daily specials available every day of the week. Over the years, the diner has added several other unique entrees in which piles of French fries are the topper, but none have approached the legendary status of the Travis. 

Chiles Rellenos with Fries

2 March 2011: “Bert’s Mess” is a pile of hot, crisp French fries topped with chunks of ham, bacon and sausage  (the triumvirate of porcine perfection) then smothered with red or green chile and topped with two eggs, any style.  The chile, as chile is apt to do, varies in piquancy almost from day-to-day.  There are days in which the chile has the bite of a bell pepper.  Fortunately each table has several heat-generating condiments such as Cholula Hot Sauce and Tabasco Sauce.  Even if you consider it sacrilege to desecrate New Mexico green or red chile by adulterating it with other hot sauces, both Cholula and Tabasco go very well with the fries.  Forget the ketchup.

28 April 2007: The “Leo,” ostensibly named for another loyal customer is a plate piled high with French fries and topped with seasoned beef, cheese and your choice of red or green chile.  About the only thing missing from these calorie overachiever’s dream is an angioplasty.  It should come standard.  The cheese is like a molten melted blanket which covers the entirety of the other ingredients with only a few fries rearing their delicious tops.  French Canadians have their poutine; New Mexicans would rather have The Leo.  Fries and cheese can’t be bested.

Seven year old Stevie Sunday attempts to put a dent on a K&I pancake

12 February 2016: Being a Catholic eating at K&I Diner on a Lenten Friday means having to abstain from meat.  Few things in life are as torturous as watching your dining companion indulge on a Half Travis (which is replete with delicious seasoned beef) when you can’t have one.  Sure the K&I Diner has plenty of entrees sans carne, but when you’ve got your heart set on a Travis, nothing else will do.  Not even the K&I’s chile rellenos, two housemade chile rellenos smothered with your choice of red or green chile and served with beans and fries with a tortilla on the side.  Admittedly, my longing for a Travis would have been minimized had the green chile been at least a little piquant, but it was so wimpy I had to add several shakes of Tabasco sauce to wake it up (and you should never have to adulterate green chile).  Note to self: don’t visit the K&I during Lent.

2 March 2011: The K&I Diner’s chicken fried steak breakfast is one of the best of its kind found this side of Texas.  The chicken fried steak is at least half an inch thick, not some thinly-pounded, boot leather-tough slab as you’re apt to find in other Albuquerque eateries.  It’s covered in a peppered white gravy and is served with two eggs, a pile of hashed browns and sourdough bread toast on the side.  It’s a prodigious breakfast not for the faint of heart.  The chicken fried steak cuts easily, a very good sign and it’s not breaded so thickly that you have to send out a search party to find the actual beef.  Best of all, it’s very good.

For more than 55 years, the K&I Diner’s formula of atmosphere, quick and friendly service and hearty portions has proven successful. It has stood the test of time and is an American classic in the finest sense.

K&I Diner
2500 Broadway, S.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 243-1881
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 12 February 2016
# OF VISITS: 11
RATING: 18
COST: $$
BEST BET: The Travis, The Leo, Bert’s Mess, Pancakes, Chicken Fried Steak, Chiles Rellenos

K & I Diner Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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