Pasion Latin Fusion – Albuquerque, New Mexico

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 fourteen items make up the “Latin tapas” section of the menu with another five entrees on the “Platos Principales (main courses) menu, but they’re so varied and good you won’t need more.

The Redesigned Interior of Pasion Latin Fusion Cuisine

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: Latino tapas are similarly non-standard fare, an impressive assemblage of innovative deliciousness. You can make a meal out of the tapas.  Three per person is what our server advised, but he probably based that on my “svelte” physique.  One of those tapas (if it’s on the menu) 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.

Carnitas Tacos

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

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.” 

22 October 2015: For many New Mexicans the term “chicharron” conjures images of deep-fried cubes of crispy pork cracklings.  We enjoy them in much the way other people eat popcorn.  In parts of Texas and Mexico, chicharrones are more akin to menudo or strips of wiggly, squiggly pork tripe.  Only in Peruvian restaurants in San Francisco and Las Vegas had we previously seen chicharrones fashioned from seafood (mariscos).  Leave it to Elvis to introduce Albuquerque to this uniquely delicious entree.  The combination of crispy mixed seafood (African white fish and calamari), pickled vegetables and small mango cubes is a winner, elevated to rarefied air with a habanero tartar sauce so good and so bold and assertive, you may just ask for a second ramekin.

Chicharron de Mariscos

16 July 2016: Absent from the revamped menu are several favorites, but my sense of loss is mitigated by the addition of Caribbean Chicken, among 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.

16 July 2016: 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, savory and sour 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.

Pastel de Queso: Goat Cheese Style Cheesecake Drizzled with Mango Caramel

16 July 2016: 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 ten 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 though a scoop of vanilla ice cream may help quell the heat for visitors who may not be used to it.

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.  

Aztec Bread Pudding Con Cajeta with a hint of Red Chile and a Milk Caramel Sauce

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. 

Note:  Because Pasion Fusion Restaurant changes its menu with some regularity, some of the items described on this review may not be available when you visit.  No matter what’s on the menu, if Elvis is in the building, your meal will be great.

Pasion Latin Fusion Restaurant
722 Lomas Blvd, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 503-7880
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 16 July 2016
1st VISIT: 18 September 2011
# OF VISITS: 7
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, Chicharron De Mariscos

Pasión Latin Fusion Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Poki Poki Cevicheria – Albuquerque, New. Mexico

Poki Poki Cevicheria on Central Avenue in the UNM area

Having settled comfortably into middle age, my favorite participatory sports of basketball and tennis have been replaced by more sedentary, safe and slothful pursuits.  Instead of getting my shot rejected almost as often as the cheerleaders in Peñasco spurned my offers of a burger at Victor’s Drive-in, I now delight in catching every grammatical faux pas, malapropism and inaccuracy uttered by the media–not a difficult challenge since the legendary and near infallible anchor Dick Knipfing retired.  

Instead of double-faulting on my serve eighteen times in a row, it’s answering questions which stump Jeopardy contestants that now gets my adrenaline pumping.  Alas, as a fogey who believes music died in the 70s and couldn’t tell you the difference between Hollywood heartthrob Ryan Gosling and my friend, the Albuquerque Adonis, Ryan “Break the Chain”  Scott, pop culture questions are my downfall. Case in point, “Barney the Purple Dinosaur” was my answer to a recent question about a video game franchise from Japan.  The correct answer, of course, was Pokemon.  Pokemon?  I could have answered nearly all there is to know about Poke, the Hawaiian culinary craze that’s sweeping the mainland, but had absolutely no clue about this Pokemon creature.

Place your order and in a few minutes, your Poke adventure begins

Now let me tell you about Poke. Poke (sometimes spelled “poki” and always pronounced poh-kay) refers to a “chunked” marinated or seasoned raw fish dish that’s been served primarily as an appetizer in Hawaii for centuries. In fact, the Hawaiian term “poke” simply means to “chunk” or to “cut crosswise into pieces,” both aptly descriptive terms for the salad-like preparation of seafood that has been cut into small chunks and marinated. Largely influenced by Asian flavors and ingredients, poke can be–and is–made with almost any type of seafood and topped with a vast array of garnishes and sauces. As with sushi, the chef’s imagination often determines the composition and diversity of poke.

In Hawaii, poke is a ubiquitous comfort food, served in venues ranging from surf shacks to gourmet restaurants. The advent of poke’s popularity across the fruited plain can be attributed to our shrinking world and the popularity of Hawaii as a travel (and increasingly, a dining) destination. It’s only natural that enterprising chefs who fall in love with poke during forays to the island paradise would want to share this pescetarian phenomenon with their own customers. It may be an overstatement to say these chefs have reshaped the American mainland’s culinary culture, but it’s safe to say they may have introduced its most exciting new food trend in recent memory. Sushi hotbeds such as Los Angeles and San Francisco were among the first to embrace poke, but even landlocked destinations in the heartlands now boast of poke restaurants.

Spicy Bowl

In a recent discussion about food trends, my friend David, an accomplished chef and barista, lamented how often the Duke City is slow to embrace culinary trends that have captured seemingly every other major metropolitan market. He’s very happy to hear Albuquerque isn’t late to the poke party. On May 18th, Burque celebrated the official grand opening of Poki Poki Cevicheria, an Asian-Latin fusion restaurant specializing in Hawaiian poke bowls with Latin flair and influence. Poki Poki is a family owned enterprise which allows intrepid diners to assemble their own poke bowls in a fashion similar to Chipotle’s assembly line process. Poki Poki Cevicheria is located on Central Avenue in the Brickyard District just across the street from the University of New Mexico.

If you’re a true foodie, two items on the preceding paragraph probably caught your eye. The first is the inclusion of the term “Cevicheria” on the restaurant’s name. The second is the term “Asian-Latin” fusion. Poki Poki actually takes a creative departure from the standard poke restaurant template by incorporating “Latin” ingredients and flavors with ingredients and flavors rooted in Hawaii. In Albuquerque, when Latin flavors are discussed, it’s often hand-in-hand with the name Elvis Bencomo, the brilliant chef-owner of Passion Latin Fusion. Elvis collaborated on the development of the restaurant’s sauces and chips (more on them later).

Hawaiian Bowl

Though not a true “cevicheria” as you might find throughout Latin America, Poki Poki, it can be said, is a sushi-meets-ceviche-meets-donburi (Japanese rice bowl dish) restaurant, the first, best and only of its kind in Albuquerque. It was difficult to contain my excitement when introducing my friends Larry McGoldrick and Dazzling Deanell Collins to Poki Poki. Larry, the professor with the perspicacious palate, told me he’d “been looking for a restaurant like this for a long time.” Deanell,a culinary bon-vivant who’s probably smarter than Larry and I combined, marveled at how the flavors just popped.

The build-your-own poke bowl concept has five distinct steps: (1) select your bowl (regular, large or unlimited and base (white rice, salad or chips); (2) Go fishing. Choose from albacore tuna, ahi tuna, spicy tuna, salmon or octopus. A regular bowl rewards you with three ounces of your choice, a large bowl with five ounces and an unlimited bowl with seven ounces. (3) Sauce it up. Choose from the house sauce, roasted jalapeno, passion fruit, red pepper, poki sauce, tosa-mi or fusion mayo. Heat ratings for the sauces range from mild to hot. (4) Toppings. With a regular bowl, you can select three toppings; with a large bowl, it’s five toppings and with an unlimited bowl, you can top the bowl until it’s full. (5) Finish it! Elevate its deliciousness with chipotle mayo, spicy mayo, teriyaki sauce, chimichurri or Sriracha.

Latin Bowl

15 May 2016: Unless or until you understand the flavors resultant from combining ingredients and sauces, you’re probably better off ordering one of Poki Poki’s “Special Bowls,” composed poke bowls ostensibly constructed by restaurant staffers after much delicious trial and effort.  Knowing my own gluttonous tendency to overstuff  salads with favorite ingredients, often to the detriment of flavor optimization, I opted for the Spicy Bowl during my inaugural visit.  With a base that’s half rice and half garlic chips;  spicy tuna and salmon; passion fruit; crab, avocado, cucumber, jalapeño, lime, green onion, pico de gallo and furikake (a Japanese seasoning) as toppings with chipotle mayo and Sriracha for sauces, this “better than any sushi roll” poke is an adventure in complementary flavors and textures, an addictively delicious bowl of stuff you probably never thought would be so good together.  The fresh, invigorating flavors will imprint themselves on your taste buds and for a while, all you’ll be able to think about is your next poke bowl.

17 May 2016: That next poke bowl transpired two days after my inaugural visit with the Hawaiian Bowl gracing my table.  This beauteous, bounteous bowl with a salad base; salmon, albacore and octopus; fusion mayo; a boatload of toppings (crab, avocado, seaweed salad, cucumber, pineapple, mango salsa, edamame, masago, ginger, sesame seeds and furikaki) and a teriyaki sauce is the antithesis of the Spicy Bowl.  Sweet notes are the prominent flavor profile though the sweetness of the teriyaki and the fructose tanginess of the mango salsa and pineapple are tempered by savory ingredients.  Because New Mexicans like their heat, ask the accommodating staff for some spicy mayo to give this bowl a hint of piquancy that marries well with other flavors. 

19 May 2016: The promised fusion qualities are best experienced in the Latin Bowl (white rice, octopus and albacore tuna, roasted jalapeño and red pepper sauce, avocado, jalapeño, plantain chips, lime, pico de gallo, green onion, cilantro and sesame seeds with a chimichurri dressing).  All too often in New Mexico, Latin fusion means an insistence in using New Mexican green chile.  Wonderful as it is, green chile isn’t missed on the Latin Bowl which has plenty of other delicious heat generating ingredients.   With lime slices, you’re free to impart citrusy flavors to the albacore and octopus a la ceviche mixto, the popular Mexican restaurant offering.  The plantain chips as with the restaurant’s yam chips and garlic chips provide a textural contrast and delightful flavor complement to other ingredients.

The Poki Poki Cevicheria is so good, so radically different, so welcome that you just may do the Hokey Poki dance to celebrate finishing your first poke bowl even as you anxiously await your next.

Poki Poki Cevicheria
2300B Central Avenue, S.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 503-1077
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 19 May 2016
1st VISIT: 15 May 2016
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 23
COST: $$
BEST BET: Spicy Bowl, Hawaiian Bowl

Poki Poki Cevicheria Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Guava Tree Cafe – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Guava Tree Cafe on Richmond in the Nob Hill District

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 (Arizona) plant.  Like me, Bill delights in introducing his friends to new culinary adventures.  Unfortunately, not all our colleagues were similarly inclined (despite one of Intel’s 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).

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 the way they eat–to the fullest.

Pura vida is the attitude Diego and Mari Barbosa have infused into the Guava Tree Cafe, a Latin American restaurant on Richmond Drive just south of Central Avenue in the Nob Hill district.  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: Orange Juice-Mango-Milk; Right: Orange Juice-Passion Fruit-Milk

The Guava Tree Cafe opened in November, 2010 in a converted old home on Yale Boulevard before moving five years later to its current location in a more heavily-trafficked area.    Though situated in a larger two-story edifice, the Cafe seems even more crowded.  You may find yourself paraphrasing the old western cliche “this hallway’s not big enough for the two of us” as you make your way to the counter at which you place your order.  It’s not uncommon for the queue to start just outside the restaurant and end at that counter.

The dining area consists of only a few tables in personal space proximity to one another.    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!  All these factors were considered in MSN’s decision to name The Guava Tree one of the 50 best restaurants in America list.  In naming Guava Tree as the 31st best restaurant in the fruited plain, MSN indicated “this little restaurant has great Caribbean and Latin American-inspired food. With many Cuban type sandwiches and avocados in most of their food, this place definitely has the delicious lunch thing down.” 

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

Cubano

In January, 2015, the Movoto Blog, a blog celebrating the lighter side of real estate, did a seriously great job of naming “15 New Mexico Restaurants Which Will Blow Your Taste Buds Out Of Your Mouth.”   According to Movoto “You’ll never find a better balance of Caribbean spices in New Mexico then you will at Guava Tree Café.  With cuisine heavily influenced by Latin America and island life, menu items like the stuffed arepas and the Cuban sandwich will leave you craving more.  Just make sure you don’t leave without trying the yucca fries.” 

In its October, 2014 issue, Women’s Day magazine named Albuquerque as home to one of the country’s up-and-coming food scenes. Taking input from Yelp, the magazine evaluated cities with a large proportion and variety of highly rated new restaurants, delis, grocery stores and other purveyors of comestibles. The article didn’t cite the usual suspects in the pantheon of outstanding New Mexican restaurants. Instead, Women’s Day touted a “handful of new Peruvian, Costa Rican and Cuban spots” which have “reenergized local palates.” Three Duke City restaurants were singled out: Pollito Con Papas, Guava Tree Cafe and Pasion Latin Fusion.

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

Pernil

1 May 2016: 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.

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: 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.

The Cuban Sandwich so enamored Larry McGoldrick that the professor with the perspicacious palate 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.

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

Guava Tree Salad

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.

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.

Plantains

20 May 2011: I’ve often lamented the desiccation 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.

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.  If you’re tired of panini that tears up the roof of your mouth, you’ll appreciate the loving tenderness of The Guava Tree’s cloud-like panini.

Pastel Tres Leche

Tres Leches

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.

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. 

Pastelito de Guayaba

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.

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.

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 | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 1 May 2016
1st VISIT: 20 May 2011
# OF VISITS: 3
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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