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Cafe Caribe – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Cafe Caribe on Fourth Street Just North of Central

When you’re on one of the Caribbean islands, sometimes it’s hard to picture
how they fit in with the rest, but when you see them all joined together
like a necklace from space, you see the natural geographic connectedness of them all.
~Chris Hadfield

In virtually every sense, the Caribbean is a “melting pot.” It’s an amalgam, a hodgepodge, mishmash…a potpourri.  It’s a gallimaufry, a  confused jumble or medley of things.  It’s a blend of African, Amerindian, European, East Indian, Arab and Chinese influences.  Attitudinally, it’s  festive and vibrant, bold and beautiful, fun and exciting.  It inspires a joie de vivre.  So does the diverse and delicious cuisine prepared throughout the island nations. 

If you’re wondering how you may have missed out on such exciting culinary fare, chances are you haven’t. Every time you’ve visited one of Albuquerque’s Cuban restaurants, you’ve indulged in the cuisine of one of the many Caribbean’s island nations. You may have even visited the short-lived Jamaican restaurant that plied its wares on Central Avenue…and if you’ve ever visited the fabulous Talking Drums restaurant, you’ve experienced not only the most sumptuous African cuisine, but some of the very best food the Caribbean has to offer.

The colorful interior of Cafe Caribe

In recent years, the diversity of the island cuisine has been broached, though not featured exclusively, in such heralded eateries as the Guava Tree Cafe and Pasion Latin Fusion, both of whom were singled out by Woman’s Day Magazine for having “reenergized local palates.” The reception Duke City diners has given these Pan-Latin fusion eateries seems to indicate Albuquerque is ready for much more. We’re ready to embrace Caribbean cuisine in all its splendor.

In no way does that constitute my endorsement for the Bahama Breeze restaurant chain, an interloper now found in nearly forty cities across the fruited plain. Bahama Breeze claims to “bring you the feeling of a Caribbean escape, offering the food, drink and atmosphere you’d find in the islands.” While some members of the “chain gang” will enjoy the faux island ambiance and facsimile food, for the rest of us, er…let’s put it this way…Bahama Breeze is to Caribbean cuisine what the Outback Steakhouse is to Australian culinary fare.

Mango-Lemonade and Passion Fruit-Lemonade

With the January, 2015 launch of Café Caribe, adventurous Duke City diners need look no further than Fourth Street, just north of Central for an authentic Caribbean look and feel (not to mention taste and smell) that will transport you to the clear, azure waters of the Caribbean. Café Caribe specializes in the types of dishes you’d find in Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Cuba. These dishes are all made with tradition and authenticity in mind.

At the helm is veteran chef Alejandro Arteaga whose previous restaurant stints were in Los Angeles and New York City. Over his two decades plus as a chef, Alejandro has cut a wide swath across various cuisines, ranging from Mexican to Italian, Argentinian to Spanish. He surmised that a menu of Cuban and other Latin-Caribbean specialties would go over big in Albuquerque which has a reputation as a pretty open-minded hub of culinary diversity.

Empanadas Trio

You’ll know you’re getting close to Café Caribe well before you get there. Two telltale signs serve as precursors to your visit. One is the festive, up-tempo music emanating from the restaurant’s speakers. It’s feel-good music with a beat even the rhythmically-challenged among us will enjoy. Even more inviting than the music are the evocative aromas coming from the kitchen. They may affect you in much the way the tintinnabulation of bells affected Pavlov’s dogs. 

By the time you espy the slogan “Grab it.  Bite It.  Love It,” below the restaurant’s marquee, the pangs of hunger will have struck.  Savvy diners won’t even wait for the menu.  As soon as your server approaches, order the empanadas trio.  Now, if you’ve lived in New Mexico for a while, there’s a very good chance you’ve had an empanada or a thousand.  New Mexican abuelitas have been proudly making and serving these “turnovers” for generations and they won’t concede that anyone can make an empanada as well as they can.  With apologies to my own grandmothers, the empanadas at Cafe Caribe are pretty darned good.

Ensalada con Piña Y Pollo / Pineapple and Chicken Salad

The empanadas trio offers your choice of Chicken Sofrito, Beef Picadillo or Four Cheese.  You’ll want to try at least one of each.  You’ll also want to visit on Mondays between 4 and 6 because every Monday is “empanada night” and you can have as many one dollar empanadas as your heart desires.  These gilded, crescent-shaped treasures are art on a plate, each addictively delicious.  The chicken sofrito (the Spanish trinity of chopped onion, garlic and bell pepper) and the Beef Picadillo (a melange of ingredients)  empanadas are stuffed deliciousness while the four cheese empanada exemplifies gooey, cheesy goodness.  The trio is served with a pleasantly piquant sauce that enlivened the empanadas even further. 

Cafe Caribe has the answer to any questions you might have about how to cool down on a balmy summer day. The answer, of course, is lemonade and not just any lemonade. Wash down your meal with an organic lemonade, limeade or mint lemonade. Better still, indulge in a fruit lemonade made with your choice of strawberry, guava, coconut, mango, mixed berries or passion fruit.  The tropical fruit flavors seem a natural complement to the tangy lemonade.

Pernil Asado (Roasted Pork)

Cafe Caribe’s salad menu lists four innovative and inviting salads.  The golden pineapple chicken salad may be the most “tropical” of the lot, a beautifully plated arrangement of mixed mesclun (a salad mix of assorted small, young salad green leaves), pineapple, dried cranberries, toasted almonds and grilled chicken.  There’s not much (if any) dressing on this salad which means the other ingredients had better be able to stand out on their own.  They do–and very well.  Texturally, the toasted almonds and dried cranberries provide a nice contrast to the crisp greens, juicy pineapple and perfectly grilled chicken all of which together create a very good flavor profile. 

With all due respect to the salad and even the empanadas, we visited Cafe Caribe for the pernil asaldo or Caribbean roasted pork.  The pernil is marinated in a myriad of Latin spices that imbue it with garlicky and citrus notes, a flavor profile made possible only through slow, meticulous preparation.  The roasted pork more closely resembles the pulled pork of Southern barbecue than it does cochinita pibil, the luscious shredded pork dish prepared so wondrously at El Norteño.  The shredded pork, served in a plentiful portion, is fluffy and moist, tempered with pickled red onions and served with a yellow rice.

Arroz Con Pollo with Pinto Beans

Perhaps even better than the pernil asado (which is excellent) is the arroz con pollo, a chicken and rice dish made with saffron rice, shredded chicken, sofrito, peas and carrots.  My Kim called it the best arroz con pollo she’s ever had while I’d be challenged to choose between Cafe Caribe’s version or the one served at Ajiaco Colombian Bistro.  It’s amazing how moist and delicious a rice dish can be made (if only someone could teach New Mexicans how to make it).  It’s so good you may want to finish it all in one serving, but so plentiful, you could have a second meal.

Just because peaches aren’t native to the Caribbean doesn’t mean enterprising chefs can’t incorporate them into delicious desserts.  Appropriately, one of the best ice cream-based desserts anywhere in Albuquerque, is called the Peach Paradise.  It’s easy to taste why.  A large goblet is hard-pressed to contain the generous scoops of French vanilla ice cream with its characteristically richer and deeper flavor notes than regular ice cream along with whipped cream, a cherry sauce and sliced peach halves.  It’s an excellent dessert with refreshing qualities and the superb flavors of fresh peaches and rich French vanilla.

Peach Paradise

As if you need any more reasons to visit, Cafe Caribe provides live music every Friday.  They offer vegetarian dishes and gluten-free options every day.  It’s a family-owned and operated restaurant with an experienced chef who aims to please.

Cafe Caribe
102 4th Streeet, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 242-2378
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 28 March 2015
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$ – $$$
BEST BET: Peach Paradise, Arroz Con Pollo, Roasted Pork/Pernil, Empanada Trio, Ensalada Con Piña Y Pollo

Cafe Caribe a B Q on Urbanspoon

Pasion Latin Fusion – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Pasion Latin Fusion Cuisine on Lomas

Pasion Latin Fusion Cuisine on Lomas

In my experience, food and passion always intertwine.
Passion is food for the soul’s mood at any particular time.”
Tammy Mollai

Robert Irvine, host of the Food Network’s Restaurant: Impossible show has some nerve!  In an episode which first aired in March, 2014, the tough-talking British mesomorph had the audacity to tell America that Pasion Latin Fusion wasn’t the beautiful, graceful swan with which many of us had fallen in love.  Although he didn’t directly call Pasion an ugly duckling paddling about aimlessly, Irvine certainly intimated that things at Pasion weren’t as rosy as some of us may have thought. 

The premise of Restaurant: Impossible is that within two days and on a budget of $10,000,  Irvine will transform a failing American restaurant with the goal of helping to restore it to profitability and prominence.  To make the show entertaining, any existing dysfunction or drama in the restaurant’s day-to-day operations is spotlighted in the fashion of all reality shows.  If you’ve ever been to Pasion Latin Fusion, words like failure, dysfunction and drama won’t ever come to mind.  Since its launch in 2011, reviews have been overwhelmingly positive, much moreso than reviews for other “failing” restaurants featured on Restaurant: Impossible.

Chef Elvis Bencomo shows off some of the design work completed by the Food Network's Restaurant: Impossible show

Chef Elvis Bencomo shows off some of the design work completed by the Food Network’s Restaurant: Impossible show

While the Food Network’s preview synopsized the issues at Pasion as “tension between Monica and their main investor, Elvis’s brother, and a menu that’s leaving customers confused and frustrated,” the most obvious revelation when the episode aired is that Elvis, Monica and Orlando Bencomo are extremely likeable and extraordinarily passionate about their restaurant.  If the Food Network came to Pasion expecting the dysfunction and drama of a soap opera, they instead got a true feel good story accentuating the love of a beautiful family. 

Robert Irvine’s renovation of Pasion was much more than cosmetic though that’s what visitors will notice first.  The interior has been wholly transformed from a milieu of dark jumbled gracelessness into a bright, airy and intimate two-level dining room.  The menu has also been revamped, both in content and in style.  All menu items are now clearly described so there’s no room for confusion.  Some eighteen items make up the “bocaditos” section of the menu.  Described as “Latin Street Food, served as it’s prepared,” bocaditos are appetizers  prepared in the inevitable Chef Elvis manner.  There are only six Platos Principales or main courses, but they’re so varied and good you won’t need more.

The redesigned interior of Pasion Latin Fusion

The redesigned interior of Pasion Latin Fusion

Pasion Latin Fusion is the brainchild of  Elvis  and Monica Bencomo, a husband and wife duo with (dare I say it again) passion for the melding of diverse and dynamic Latin flavors.  The third in the family triumvirate who own and operate Pasion is Orlando Bencomo, Elvis’s brother and main investor in the restaurant.  Orlando, a veteran of Afghanistan, runs the front of the house.  If the Food Network exposure gave any of them a big head, you certainly can’t tell.

Elvis is originally from Chihuahua and to say he’s a culinary genius may be a vast understatement. He’s a classically trained chef, but that’s a starting point. The genesis of his culinary creations is his creativity, imagination and willingness to experiment with ingredient and flavor combinations. He’s a true student of the craft, constantly reading and researching what it takes to create the foods that reflect his passion. It’s unlikely he ever studied Peruvian Ceviche 101 at his culinary alma mater, but one bite of his ceviche of the day and you might swear you’re in Peru. His arepas are reminiscent of those prepared in Venezuela, his chimicchuri as good as you’ll find in Argentina.  Get the picture?

Fire and Ice Tostada Tuna | Coconut | Habanero | Passion Fruit Sorbet

Fire and Ice Tostada Tuna

Monica, the statuesque occasional hostess with the radiant smile is originally from Chicago, but admits to growing up culinarily unadventurous, preferring a diet of burgers and fries to some of the legendary foods of the City of Big Shoulders. Today she’s happy to have broken the chain (my friend Ryan Scott was so proud when he interviewed her on his wonderful radio program) and loves to try new and different dishes. Elvis is more than happy to oblige with a menu unlike any in Albuquerque–one in fact that’s reminiscent of Peruvian and Latin fusion restaurants we’ve visited in San Francisco and Las Vegas.

Together Monica and Elvis have not only made beautiful food together, they actually enjoyed working together when Monica ran the front of the house. When I asked them to pose for a photograph and my camera stalled, Elvis commented that he didn’t mind, he could hold Monica forever. How’s that for passion? When we asked about the high quality of the grapes served with one dessert, they smiled broadly and admitted to have upped their consumption of grapes (along with wine and cheese) after having seen the animated movie Ratatouille. How can you not love that?

Pasión Fruit Salsa

Pasión Fruit Salsa

Pasion is situated in the Lomas edifice which once housed Capo’s, a long time Albuquerque Italian food fixture. Few remnants of its predecessor remain especially now that Pasion has been renovated.  It is at once both festive and romantic, the former bolstered by upbeat salsa music and the latter facilitated by low light. Appropriately the exterior signage includes a single red rose, a symbol for romantic passion. A sole fireplace suspended from the ceiling is both attractive and functional, adding the promise of a crackling flame on a blustery evening.  Two tiered seating includes both booths and tables.

The menu is an eye-opening melange of Latin fusion with elements of Cuban, Haitian, Mexican, Peruvian, Venezuelan, Spanish, Mariscos, Argentinian and even New Mexican ingredients used in sundry and creative ways. As with true fusion, menu items have combined those elements–Argentinian chimichurri with Nicaraguan grilled steak, for example. It wouldn’t be a true fusion restaurant if diverse, sometimes disparate culinary traditions, elements and ingredients didn’t form an entirely unique genre. Pasion is a true fusion restaurant, not one which offers menu items from several Latin speaking nations.

Duck Taquitos Green and Yellow Chile | Pickled Vegetables | Mexican Cotija Cheese

Duck Taquitos

Start your Pasion experience with the agua fresca of the day. Many Mexican restaurants throughout the Duke City offer a pretty standard line-up of aguas frescas, typically horchata, limonada, sandia and melon. Many are not made in-house. At Pasion, the agua fresca of the day is not likely going to be the same old, same old you can find elsewhere. Instead Chef Elvis might surprise you with a virgin margarita agua fresca, complete with a salted rim, or he might combine several seemingly disparate flavors to create something uniquely wonderful.

29 March 2014: Bocaditos (appetizers) are similarly non-standard fare, an impressive assemblage of innovative deliciousness. You can make a meal out of the bocaditos.  Three per person is what our server advised.  One of those bocaditos should be the pasion fruit salsa with chips.  In New Mexico, chips and salsa are pretty de rigueur, so much so that it’s a rare salsa which can distinguish itself.  The pasion fruit salsa is unique, a combination of piquancy, tropical fragrance and tanginess.  It’s a welcome respite from the usual with chips.  Now, if you like your salsa to provide the flavor element of pain, this salsa won’t do it, but it does pack enough heat to titillate your tongue.

Quesadilla Cubano Braised Pulled Pork | Shaved Ham | Swiss Cheese | Dill Pickle | Grain Mustard

Quesadilla Cubano

29 March 2014: Thanks to visits to Peruvian restaurants in San Francisco, Mexican style ceviche (typically made from raw fish marinated in citrus juices and paired with cilantro, onions and chopped tomatoes) has been a source of ho hum for me. In Pasion, my passion for ceviche has been rekindled. The menu offers two standard ceviche offerings. They start off much like other ceviche–as seafood (tuna) marinated in lime, lemon and orange juices. Then the Chef’s creativity takes over, adding jalapeños, ceviche and plenty of oomph. The Fire and Ice, for example, is a ceviche made with tuna, habanero-coconut sauce and passion fruit sorbet served with tortilla chips.  The habanero-coconut sauce most assuredly has a pleasantly piquant bite coupled with the tropical sweetness of coconut.  The passion fruit sorbet is crystallized so it doesn’t melt messily over the ceviche.  Instead, it imparts a refreshing coolness that complements the other ingredients.  This is genius!

29 March 2014: In the 1980s, restaurants such as Santa Fe’s Coyote Cafe and the West Beach Cafe in Venice, California started a trend still going strong today when they introduced duck tacos.  Being a trend doesn’t equate to being good, however.   Unlike so many others, the duck taquitos at Pasion are worth the build-up and hype.  They’re, in fact, sensational!  There’s only one thing wrong with the three rolled taquitos engorged with pickled vegetables and slow-simmered duck meat seasoned with Caribbean spices topped with yellow and green chile sprinkled with Mexican Cojita cheese.  If there are two of you, splitting that third taqito could end up in the type of drama the Food Network would appreciate.

Caribbean Chicken Adobo Rub | White Rice | Mashed Ripe Plantain | Bacon

Caribbean Chicken Adobo Rub

29 March 2014: Pasion’s delicious tribute to the island nation of Cuba is in the form of a Quesadilla Cubano, the sandwich which has become an almost de rigueur offering at restaurants which proffer sandwiches.  Most Cubanos have become so similar as to be almost as blasé  as the plain ham and cheese on which they are loosely based.  At Pasion, the Cubano is an elegant sandwich brimming with delicious ingredients: slow braised pork, ham, Swiss cheese, pickles and whole grain mustard pressed in a hybrid corn-flour tortilla.  Bruce Schor, a long-time friend of this blog and erudite epicure gave it the ultimate compliment: “The Cubano for me was very close to the Cubanos I learned to love in Union City NJ, the second largest Cuban expat community after Miami.”  

29 March 2014: Absent from the revamped menu are several favorites, but my sense of loss is mitigated by the addition of Caribbean Chicken, the very best I’ve ever had.  Caribbean chicken isn’t synonymous with jerk chicken.  In fact, Pasion’s Caribbean chicken doesn’t have a piquant punch.  Its flavor profile is derived from non-jerk Caribbean adobo spices and from having been wrapped and roasted in banana leaves which seal in freshness and flavor.  This is outrageously good chicken–two thighs and two legs.  The chicken is served with a white rice and mashed ripe plantain mound, a surprisingly good combination.

Pasión Platano Cake Banana Custard Cake| Cinnamon and Vanilla | Passion Fruit Mousse

Pasión Platano Cake

18 September 2011: The postres (desserts) menu is a continuation of the menu’s creativity, four items of pure, unbridled temptation. The pastel de queso, a goat cheese style cheesecake with mango caramel, may be the best of the lot. It’s a better goat cheese cheesecake than was ever conjured at Rosemary’s Restaurant in Las Vegas (one of my highest rated restaurants in America before it closed). When it arrives at your table, your first inclination might be to believe the kitchen sent out something else, perhaps a scoop of ice cream drizzled over by Gerber baby food. That “scoop” is a large roundish mound of sweet and savory goat cheese, as good as any chevre dessert you’ll ever have. There’s very little crust to get in the way here. It’s mostly goat cheese cheesecake the way it should be.

18 September 2011: The other of my two passions (aside from green chile cheeseburgers) is bread pudding, a dessert some consider an anachronism. Pasion offers an Aztec Bread Pudding con Cajeta (a reduced goat’s milk caramel) with a hint of red chile that will convert even the most ardent of bread pudding protagonists. This is one of the richest, densest, most flavorful bread puddings in New Mexico, ranking number eight on Larry McGoldrick‘s top ten best bread puddings in New Mexico. What elevates this bread pudding above the rest is the red chile which imparts just a bit of that back-of-your-throat heat great chiles have. It’s not a piquant heat, but that heat is certainly noticeable. The cajeta is the only thing that can and should top this bread pudding.

Pastel De Queso: Goat cheese style cheesecake with mango caramel

29 March 2014: Yet a third dessert that might never achieve the sure to be fame and popularity of the aforementioned duo is the Pasion Platano Cake, a banana custard cake topped with passion fruit mousse.  It’s rich, sweet and tangy in every bite.  The lip-pursing tartness isn’t quite lemon-like, but it’ll excite your mouth more than a handful of pop rocks.  Notes of cinnamon and vanilla occasionally sneak the tanginess of the passion fruit and the gentle sweetness of the banana.  If it sounds as if there’s a lot going on in this dessert, that’s because there is.  There’s a taste adventure in every bite.  

Every once in a while, the city’s burgeoning and exciting culinary scene needs an infusion of passion.  That’s what you’ll find in Pasion, one of the most creative and  unique restaurants to grace the Duke City dining scene in years.  It’s the type of restaurant the citizenry should promote to visitors who believe those ill-conceived stereotypes about our cuisine.

Azteca Bread Pudding Con Cajeta: with a hint of red chile and a milk caramel sauce

Restaurant critics realize that their influence only goes so far in their own hometowns.  For years, critics from the Albuquerque Journal, Alibi, Local IQ, Larry’s Albuquerque Food Musings and of course, Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Blog have been raving about how great Pasion Latin Cuisine is.  Over the years, Pasion has earned accolades and honors galore: “Top 5 Chefs of Albuquerque”, “Best Fusion Restaurant”, “Best New Restaurant” and “Best Kid Friendly Restaurant.”  Despite all these honors and accolades, Duke City diners haven’t been beating down the doors as they should for a restaurant of this caliber.   Robert Irvine’s visit will hopefully bring in new visitors.  After one visit, they’ll certainly be back.

Pasion Latin Fusion Restaurant
722 Lomas Blvd, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 503-7880
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 29 March 2014
1st VISIT: 18 September 2011
# OF VISITS: 4
RATING: 24
COST: $$
BEST BET:  Pastel de Queso, Azteca Bread Pudding con Cajeta, Quesadilla Cubano, Caribbean Chicken, Pasion Platano Cake, Duck Taquitos, Pasion Fruit Salsa

Pasion Latin Fusion on Urbanspoon

Guava Tree Cafe – Albuquerque, New Mexico

The Guava Tree Cafe on Yale Boulevard just south of the University of New Mexico

A few years ago, my friend Bill Hanson, a gastronome of the first order, was hosting several of his Costa Rican employees  at Intel’s Ocotillo plant.  Like me, Bill delights in introducing his friends to new culinary adventures.  Unfortunately, not all our colleagues are similarly inclined (despite one of our corporate values being “risk-taking”).  One of them convinced the “Ticos” that the restaurant they should not miss for a “true American dining experience” was Claim Jumper, a regional chain and slight upgrade from Chili’s (coincidentally soon to be introduced to the Duke City).

Ever the gracious host, Bill acquiesced to the Ticos’ request.  I’ll let him describe the rest (from his gastronomic blog The Tao of Chow): “As each dish was produced and delivered to the table I sank further into my chair as the American decadence of over indulging was displayed in glorious Sysco provided plates heaping with food. Each dish could have easily have served three people as I sat and wondered how much food was actually consumed versus how much went into the dumpsters out back.”

Two hungry patrons waiting to order

If the Ticos were disappointed in any way with the cavalcade of calorie-laden comestibles brought to the table, you’d never know it.  To break bread (or arepas) with a Tico is to experience Pura Vida, the vibrant joie de vivre that is not only the national phrase of Costa Rica, it’s the national attitude.  Pura Vida translates literally to “pure life,” but the actual meaning is more akin to “life is good!”  Ticos live life to the fullest.

Pura vida is the attitude Diego and Mari Barbosa have infused into the Guava Tree Cafe, a Latin American restaurant on Yale Boulevard just south of the University of New Mexico.  Though neither are from Costa Rica (Diego is from Colombia and Mari is from El Salvador), they met in and lived in the scintillating Central American tropical paradise for eight years. Their philosophy is that “food is art and food is life.”   Their vision is for the Cafe to be a neighborhood gathering space in which their guests can enjoy each others’ company in the spirit of pura vida while enjoying slow-cooked home-style food, the best kind.  They invite guests to make this space their own and promise to have something good to eat whenever you visit.

Left: OJ & Mango and Milk Right: Mango

Left: OJ & Mango and Milk
Right: Mango

The Guava Tree Cafe opened in November, 2010 in a converted old home.  An ADA friendly ramp takes you past a small porch and into a brightly colored, multi-hued cafe which seems to resonate a welcoming attitude.  Immediately as you walk in to your left you’ll find Diego manning the counter where you’ll place your order. Diego is an accomplished barista, brandishing his brewing skills while taking orders. The menu is scrawled on two black slate boards which flank the counter.  A glass pastry case displays decadent post-prandial deliciousness such as cheesecakes.  Though they would tempt Job, you probably won’t have room for dessert after your meal.

The dining area consists of only a few tables in personal space proximity to one another.  A thickly-cushioned crimson couch will keep you comfortable if you have to wait for a table to come available.  Lively Latin music plays in the background, not too loud for conversation and not loud enough for dancing should the spirit of pura vida overcome you.  Once you place your order, expect a bit of a wait.  The Guava Tree prepares food to order.  You won’t find food sitting under a heat lamp here!

Cubano: House‐roasted pork,sweet ham, Swiss cheese, pickles and yellow mustard,warm‐pressed on 8.5"Cuban bread

Cubano

20 May 2011: While you wait, you’ll want to luxuriate in a cafe con leche (Spanish for “coffee with milk”), a strong coffee mixed with scalded milk.  Sometimes called Cuban coffee, it’s the type of coffee which will envelop you warmly as you contemplate how strong coffee can be so mellow.  Usually sweetened to taste, it’s the type of coffee which goes well with Latin American cuisine and the pura vida attitude.  14 December 2013: At the opposite end of the spectrum are the tropical fruit blends called “juice en leche” on the menu.  En leche means with milk.  The OJ & Mango and Milk, served chilled and thick but not overly sweet is one of the very best smoothie type beverages I’ve ever had. The catalyst is the sweetened condensed milk which counterbalances to the perfect extent, the citrusy flavors of the mango and orange juices. Equally good is the mango juice sans milk.

20 May 2011: The menu is segmented into three sections: sandwiches, arepas and tamales, and soups and salads.  Sandwiches are described as “8-inches full of flavor.”  They’re crafted on fresh bread pressed panini-style and wrapped in thin butcher paper.  The bread, a Puerto Rican bread known as “pan de agua” is baked specially for the Guava Tree Cafe by Albuquerque’s Fano Bread Company.  The specialty of the house is the Cuban Sandwich, Miami-style heaven.  It’s crafted with home-roasted pork shoulder which has been marinated for several days until “it’s all happy” (which the chef can tell by it’s singing of the “Tico Tico” in the fridge).  The pork is sliced thickly and combined with sweet or “bolo” ham, Swiss cheese and pickles on the flat, crunchy bread.

Pernil:  slow roasted Caribbean‐rubbed pork with Swiss cheese, caramelized onions and home‐made garlic sauce

Pernil

The Cuban Sandwich so enamored Larry McGoldrick that Albuquerque’s premier contributor to Urbanspoon described it as “the absolute best that I have ever had anyplace in this universe or its parallels.”  That’s high praise indeed from a well-traveled bon vivant who’s not often given to hyperbole.  If anything, Larry may have undersold this Cuban Sandwich.  It is one of the very best sandwiches of any kind in the Duke City.

The roast pork, in particular, is superb, more than several orders of magnitude better than the pre-sliced variety offered on many sandwiches throughout the Duke City.  The bolo ham is cured and sweet, a complete antithesis the overly-salted hams which seem to be in favor among sandwich purveyors.  The crusty exterior and soft inside texture provide a delicious home for outstanding ingredients prepared exceptionally well.  The  Cuban Sandwich is truly a little piece of Miami heaven Duke City diners will love.

Ajiaco: Traditional chicken, corn and potato chowder,with authentic Guasca herb topped with avocado, corn on the cob and shredded chicken, and served with a side of cream and capers

Ajiaco

20 May 2011: Vegetarians who may feel left out by the dearth of sandwiches crafted with them in mind will love the Luciano, a plancha-pressed beauty on wheat bread.  Layers of flavor is an apt description for this panini piece of art.  A generous smear of chimichirri (a flavor-packed green sauce made from finely chopped parsley, minced garlic and a host of other seasonings) starts the flavor parade which is ameliorated by grilled provolone cheese and house-roasted red peppers.

20 May 2011: I’ve often lamented the dessication of dishes showcasing chicken.  With few exceptions, show me a sandwich, pizza or pasta dish in which chicken is used and I’ll show you a dry and dull dish.  It’s as if some chefs are out to prove chicken is not an aquatic fowl.  Guava Tree’s El Guava Pollito sandwich proves chicken doesn’t have to be desert-dry.  The shredded chicken breast is moist and succulent, obviously the product of the chef’s attentiveness and mastery over temperature and time.  The chicken is absolutely bursting with flavor and would be good on its own, but its greatness shines when melded with Swiss cheese, caramelized onions, mushrooms, greens and tomatoes.

Guava Tree Salad: House roasted mushrooms, caramelized onions,roasted peppers black olives and queso fresco dressed with  house‐made vinaigrette

Guava Tree Salad

14 December 2013:  It’s well acknowledged that a true Cubano is an ode to pernil (roast pork shoulder), and while the Cubano showcases the versatility of pernil, there are many ways to enjoy it.  The Guava Tree offers the Pernil, a panini constructed with irresistible slow-roasted Carribean-rubbed pork, Swiss cheese, caramelized onions and homemade garlic sauce.  The garlic sauce is the perfect foil for the sweet caramelized onions and both pay tribute to the magnificence of the pork.  Then, of course, there’s the magical pan de agua, likely the best canvas for panini-style sandwiches in the Duke City.

20 May 2011: The vast diversity of the countries and cultures comprising Latin America means there are so many things to explore and learn about the cuisine.  Even among nations bordering one other, the same dishes are often prepared in vastly different but always delicious ways.  New Mexicans might be surprised at tamales the way they’re prepared throughout Latin America.  It’s not corn husks which sheath the masa-covered ingredients but banana leaves which impart a delicious herbal flavor and uncommon moistness to food prepared within them.  Within the masa of Guava Tree’s tamales are the incomparable roast pork, a vegetable medley and sweet peppers.

Plantains

Among the most ubiquitous of dishes served throughout Latin America are the tasty triumvirate of black beans, rice and sweet plantains, all three of which are prepared well at the Guava Tree.  My Puerto Rican friends in the Air Force could subsist on this tasty trio, but American tastes which are more accustomed to heavily seasoned flavor profiles might not be as enamored. Perhaps that’s one reason the three are served as sides and not as main entrees. 

14 December 2013: Ajiaco, a type of Colombian soup, may be the quintessential soul-warming soup, a true exemplar of the term “comfort food.”  It’s nurturing and warm with a unique deliciousness.  The ingredients on this traditional corn and potato chowder include shredded chicken, Guasca (a herbaceous plant often called the potato weed), avocado and corn-on-the-cob served with a side of cream and capers.  This jumble of ingredients melds into an absolutely delicious concoction though New Mexicans might, like me, wonder what it would taste like with a little green chile.  The corn-on-the-cob is a wonderful surprise as is the unctuous avocado.

Pastel Tres Leche

Tres Leches

14 December 2013: If you’re tired of salads in which ingredients are obfuscated by strong dressings, the Guava Tree Salad is your huckleberry.  This is a salad which emphasizes its constituents with only a lightly drizzled housemade vinaigrette, not some overly sweet or tangy masking agent.  The ingredients which are allowed to shine on their own are house-roasted mushrooms, caramelized onions, roasted red peppers, black olives, queso fresco and a tangle of crisp, fresh greens.  It’s a salad in which freshness stands out.  

14 December 2013: Desserts are easily a worthy equal to the savory portion of your meal.  You owe it to yourself to save room and splurge on the tres leches, prepared Costa Rican style.  Can I have a “pura vida” here?  At its essence, a tres leches cake is made from three milks: sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk (or regular milk) and heavy cream, making it one of the most rich, moist and decadent desserts you can have.   The Guava Tree version is served in an aluminum foil muffin cup and is topped with a frothy whipped cream.  Below the whipped cream is pure, calorie-laden deliciousness, a tres leches cake as good as any you’ll ever have.

Pastelillo de Guayaba

Pastelillo de Guayaba

14 December 2013: Another must-have dessert is the Pastelillo de Guayaba, a Cuba pastry very much resembling an empanada.  Its light, flaky, multi-layered crust gives way to a wonderful mixture of guava and cream cheese.  The interplay of flavors and textures–the rich and dense cream cheese, the savory, puffy crust and the sweet tartness of the guava–is a terrific combination.  Purchase a half dozen to take home and it’s not likely they’ll make it there.  This is an addictively delicious and memorable pastry.

The Guava Tree Cafe invites you to partake of a piece of la pura vida as well as some of the most delicious sandwiches and sumptuous surprises in the Duke City. 

Guava Tree Cafe
216 Yale Blvd, S.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 990-2599
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 14 December 2013
1st VISIT: 20 May 2011
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 22
COST: $$
BEST BET: Latin Tamale, Plantains, Cuban Sandwich, El Guava Pollito, The Luciano, The Pernil, Ajiaco, Guava Tree Salad, Pastel Tres Leche, Pastelillo de Guayaba


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