Loyola’s Family Restaurant – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Loyola’s Family Restaurant on Central Avenue just East of Washington

You might think that the etymology of the name Loyola has always been tied to the quality of being loyal and faithful. Instead, the name has its genesis in a Basque term meaning “mud” and only over time did the name come to represent the honorable qualities of loyalty and faithfulness.  When it comes to Loyola’s Family Restaurant on Central Avenue in Albuquerque,  an association with those qualities just makes sense.  Not only are Duke City diners loyal to this expansive restaurant on the eastern fringes of Nob Hill, that loyalty is reciprocated by the restaurant’s staff and ownership.  A framed placard on one wall proclaims “Mi restaurante es su casa” (my restaurant is your home) and the staff will do its darnedest to make you feel that way.

Loyola’s Family Restaurant is an anachronism, a throw-back to the days when Route 66 (now Central Avenue) bisected Albuquerque, then a more intimate, close-knit city. In some ways Loyola’s is a relic because its genuinely friendly service and wholesome food truly elicits return visits and the type of patron loyalty that has all but evaporated with the onslaught of corporate chains. Loyola’s is the type of restaurant where your coffee (Farmer Brothers) is never allowed to cool down too much because faithful servers replenish it at about the time your cup is half full. That’s how attentive the wait staff is, but their secret is being attentive and personable without being intrusive and hovering.

One of Loyola’s Capacious Dining Rooms

The familial feel of Loyola’s Family Restaurant is a tradition established by founding owner Loyola Baca for whom the restaurant is named.  Loyola launched her eponymous home away from home in 1990 and quickly earned a faithful following attributable as much to her buoyant, outgoing nature as to the restaurant’s menu of New Mexican and American comfort foods.  When Loyola passed away just as 2010 was dawning, she left a legacy of happy, satisfied and well-fed guests. 

That legacy and the homey feel she sowed continues to this day courtesy of Loyola’s daughter Sarah Baca.  During a visit in 2015, I asked her what the secret to Loyala’s addictive green chile was.  She answered just as her mom would have, sharing with me the secret to their chile: “love.”  It’s an ingredient Loyola’s uses on all the ambitious menu’s offerings.  The menu has something for everybody–from American comfort foods such as pork chops (delicious), fried chicken and roast beef to hamburgers, sandwiches, New Mexican entrees and wake-you-up breakfast offerings known by faithful throngs to be among the Duke City’s very best.

Chips, salsa and faithfully replenished Farmers’ Brothers Coffee

04 March 2015: Loyola’s salsa is a bona fide hot sauce with a sunset red-orange hue, a pleasant piquancy and addictive properties aplenty courtesy of the capsaicin-caused endorphin rush that salsa engenders with every bite.  It’s just a bit on the salty side so you’ll be grateful that the thin, crispy chips are low salt.  Your first portion of chips and salsa are gratis when you order off the New Mexican Favorites menu, but if you don’t order from that menu, it’s worth splurging.

04 March 2015: Tom’s special burrito certainly earns its sobriquet. It’s a flour tortilla engorged with roast beef, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, sour cream and topped with Cheddar cheese and red or green chile (get both).  It’s among the best burritos in town. The red chile has a New Mexico sunset red/orange hue and while not particularly piquant has a memorable taste leaving you wanting another dosage. If piquant is what you’re after, a better choice is the breakfast burrito covered generously with a green chile sauce that has an endorphin stimulating heat you’ll love. 

Tom’s Special Burrito

American breakfast favorites include a pork chop and eggs combination that appears to be among the most popular order choices. You can request the eggs any way you want them and invariably, they’re prepared just the way you order them. The pork chops are thinly cut, but meaty and delicious. Loyola’s pancake short-stack is also top tier, among the very best in the city.   For my friend Sr. Plata who loves chicken fried steak almost as much as NFL analyst Jimmy Johnson loves hairspray, the challenge is whether to have the lunch version or the breakfast portion, both of which are enormous. 

1 December 2015:  The breakfast version of chicken fried steak includes a mound of hashed browns, two eggs and a single pancake the size of a manhole cover.  The chicken fried steak is available with either brown beef-based gravy or a pork-based white gravy.  Loyola’s rendition may just be the most tender in the city.  It’s not just fork tender, it’s spoon tender.  It’s also quite tasty.  You can have the eggs any way you want them and the pancake is a golden orb that covers the plate, leaving little room for syrup. 

Chicken Fried Steak with Brown Gravy, Hashed Browns, Two Eggs and a Pancake

1 December 2015:  If you’ve ever wondered what the difference is between flautas and taquitos, the answer is usually “very little” or “none at all.”  Flautas (little flutes) and taquitos (little tacos) are often used interchangeably depending on location.  According to a 1917 publication Preliminary Glossary of New Mexico Spanish, the taquito is a “Mexicanism” used in New Mexico. No matter the genesis of the term taquito, it’s a beloved dish many of us enjoy.

When offered as a daily special at Loyola’s, my friend Sr. Plata and I decided to split four taquitos as our appetizer.  Despite being deep-fried to a brownish-golden hue, the chicken inside retained juiciness and flavor.  In fact, the chicken was about as moist as stewed chicken.  The taquitos were served with both guacamole and salsa, both of which made for excellent dipping sauces and added to our enjoyment.  My taquito preference will always be for beef-based taquitos the way they’re made in Española, but these will do in a pinch.

Taquitos

An intriguing menu, delicious food, great service–these are the legacy of Loyola Baca and these are the things that make Loyola’s patrons loyal in return.

Loyola’s Family Restaurant
4500 Central, S.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 268-6478
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 01 December 2015
# OF VISITS: 4
RATING: 19
COST: $$
BEST BET: Tom’s Special Burrito, Pork Chops, Breakfast Burrito, Salsa and Chips, Coffee, Chicken Fried Steak, Chicken Taquitos

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Perea’s New Mexican Restaurant – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Perea’s New Mexican Restaurant on Juan Tabo

Note:  In the twenty years or so in which Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Blog has worked hard to earn your trust, I’ve shared with you my impression of many different dishes.  One that hadn’t crossed my lips until rather recently is a rather foul-tasting, hard-to-swallow dish called crow, an odious carrion that no chef can transform into a palatable dish.  

Several years ago on my review of Perea’s New Mexican Restaurant, I whined with my usual rancor about the foul demon spice cumin on the restaurant’s red chile.   Suffering from severe nasal congestion at the time, my usually trustworthy olfactory palate thought it had discerned the repellent cumin.  It was a false read that led to a denouncement of Perea’s red chile.  For that I apologize to the Perea family and any readers who may have held off in ordering what is actually a very good, very pure red chile…– Gil

Chips and Salsa

Tourists visiting San Francisco who wish to partake of the city’s most “authentic” Chinese food might be in for a surprise if they select their dining destination based on the number of indigenous diners they can see from a restaurant’s windows. It’s widely reputed that in San Francisco such “window dressing” is at the least, a facade and at the worst, a bait and switch tactic.  Instead of authenticity, tourists might actually be in for a meal of Americanized Chinese food of which they’ll partake in an upstairs dining room not visible from the street and crowded with other tourists.

If the criteria for authenticity and quality includes the number of indigenous diners at an ethnic restaurant, Perea’s New Mexican Restaurant is one of the Duke City’s most authentic practitioners of New Mexican cuisine The signage “Perea’s Authentic New Mexican Restaurant” even tells you you’re in for authenticity, but the proof, as always, is in the eating, not just in the number of native New Mexicans seated at the restaurant.

A breakfast burrito stuffed with chorizo, potatoes and egg.

A breakfast burrito stuffed with chorizo, potatoes and egg.

Perea’s is one of Albuquerque’s most popular dining destinations regardless of genre.  Open seven days a week from 8AM through 2PM, it is usually crowded with repeat customers making up a significant portion of the restaurant’s guests.  How do you know they’re repeat customers?  The staff greets so many of them by name that you might think they’re family.  Over its 35 years of serving Albuquerque, Perea’s has moved numerous times.  It’s currently situated in a facade that previously housed a Long John Silvers restaurant.

There’s nothing especially remarkable about the restaurant’s interior design though you might never even pay attention to the artwork on the walls as you watch plates brimming with deliciousness being delivered to other tables and take in the aromas of sopaipillas in the fryer. There’s also something almost musical in the clanking of spoons as they stir coffee all day long and it’s certainly comforting to know you can get breakfast at any time of day.

A carne adovada platter.

A carne adovada platter.

Perea’s breakfast and lunch menu features American and New Mexican treasures, all of which are prepared very well.  Most diners seem to eschew burgers and sandwiches and focus their appetites on New Mexican comfort food favorites–essentially anything with red or green chile.  Both the red and green chile include ground beef (vegans are forewarned on the menu). Burritos are one such comfort food favorite.  Perea’s burritos start with the best foundation possible–thick homemade flour tortillas.  You can pretty much pick what you’d like those tortillas stuffed with and can’t go wrong whether it’s ham, bacon, sausage or chorizo.

21 April 2007: The chorizo at Perea’s is redolent with Mexican oregano and other olfactory-arousing spices.  Fold into your tortilla, chorizo, eggs and potatoes and you’ve got one of the best any time of day burritos in New Mexico, one which is made even better when served Christmas style (with both red and green chile). By the way, you can purchase either fresh or day-old tortillas at Perea’s, but good luck in trying to craft a burrito nearly as good.

Perea's pancakes are outstanding!

Perea’s pancakes are outstanding!

21 April 2007: The Carne adovada (cubes of pork that have been marinated and cooked in red chile) is another Perea’s specialty.  This carne adovada is laced with garlic and oregano with fork-tender tendrils of porcine perfection.   The carne adovada is one of the restaurant’s most popular dishes as Yelp contributors will attest (as will my adovada adoring Kim).

Perea’s has some outstanding green chile offerings including one of the two or three best chile rellenos in Albuquerque.  The relleno is creamy and cheesy, a combination we’ve found more often in the Las Cruces area than in the metropolitan area.  The green chile, by the way, was named Albuquerque’s very best by Alibi readers in the 2014 “Best of Burque” poll.

Stuffed Sopaipilla with Green Chile and Whole Beans

There are a couple of additions every diner should request.  One is the restaurant’s incomparable refried beans which have that cooked with lard taste that seems to set apart the very best refried beans. The other is a bowl of the green chile, which is fabulous.  It is more piquant than the chile served at three quarters of the New Mexican restaurants in Albuquerque, but not overly piquant to real chile fanatics.

2 March 2008: Hungry diners may want to try their hand at the large combination plate: a taco, chile relleno, enchilada and burrito along with beans and rice.  It is a prodigious platter replete with New Mexico treasures. Unlike other New Mexican restaurants, Perea’s gives you tremendous latitude in crafting this combo plate to your exacting specifications.  That means beef, chicken or carne adovada on your burrito, enchilada and taco–your choice.  For me, it will no longer be “Christmas style” on this combo platter.  It’s green all the way!

A large combination plate

A large combination plate

Perea’s salsa is somewhat thin, not so much that it all runs off the chip, but enough that some spillage is inevitable.  It’s got a very pleasant piquancy and the chips are lightly salted.  Even better, the chips are thick enough for Gil-sized portions of salsa in each scoop.  This is the type of salsa and chip combination of which you’ll want a second portion.

21 April 2007:  Inexplicably, Albuquerque diners which serve the best breakfast burritos (Milton’s and Murphy’s Mule Barn come to mind) also serve some of the very best pancakes in the city.  That holds true as well for Perea’s where a “short stack” is a must. The batter for these golden orbs includes a bit of cinnamon as well as vanilla.  The taste of both coalesce to form some of the very best pancakes in town.  They would be even better if served with hot syrup instead of syrup from a squeeze jar.

Sopaipilla

Perea’s New Mexican Restaurant is indeed a genuine treasure serving authentic New Mexican cuisine.

Perea’s New Mexican Restaurant
9901 Central Avenue, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 232-9442
Facebook Page

LATEST VISIT: 8 June 2015
# OF VISITS: 4
RATING: 20
COST: $$
BEST BET: Salsa & Chips, Pancakes, Chile Relleno, Stuffed Sopaipilla, Sopaipilla

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The Grove Cafe & Market – Albuquerque, New Mexico

The Grove on Central Avenue in Nob Hill

The Grove on Central Avenue in Nob Hill

Voracious readers*, avid aficionados of art and those aflame with a musical ardor know that great books, art and music are imbued with the power to transport them to another time and place.  A recent influx of contemporary restaurants in Albuquerque also has that power.

If you think about it, having a meal at most Duke City restaurants–transcendent though some may be–is just so…Albuquerque.  There’s an almost boring consistency and sameness about many local restaurants.  Their sole distinctiveness comes from the foods they serve.  It’s very difficult, for example, to picture yourself on the beaches at Cabo San Lucas while sipping on a margarita at Garduño‘s. Noshing on mussels at the Indigo Crow just doesn’t feel like a leisurely repast on a sidewalk cafe in Paris.

Does this look like a typical Albuquerque dining establishment?

Does this look like a typical Albuquerque dining establishment?

A new dining trend has emerged in Albuquerque that has something to do with the type of cuisine, but perhaps even more to do with the “look and feel” of the dining experience.  New restaurants have emerged that can transport you from the dour sameness of Duke City dining.  Restaurants such as the Slate Street Cafe, Standard Diner and most recently the Grove Cafe & Market are so un-Albuquerque that you just may feel as if you’re dining at a more sophisticated and cosmopolitan city.  This trendy pattern is especially prevalent in the revitalized, reinvigorated downtown district and more so in the East Downtown (EDO) area, a burgeoning residential and business district regarded by real estate experts as one of the “top five up-and-coming areas in the nation.”

The EDO is considered an urban evolution of sorts as historic buildings are reclaimed from veritable scrapheaps and transmogrified into vibrant and thriving neighborhoods in which residents can work, live, shop and play.  The EDO is where you’ll find the Grove Cafe & Market which launched its unique restaurant concept in June, 2006.  Functionally and esthetically, it’s got the look and feel of a market restaurant in Portland, Oregon or maybe even San Francisco, California.  It’s got the look and feel of a market restaurant that’s going places.

A unique take on a breakfast burrito....so un-ALbuquerque!

A unique take on a breakfast burrito….so un-ALbuquerque!

The expansive interior, which Albuquerque Journal food critic Andrea Lin says is “somewhere between industrial-loft and trendy restaurant” is bustling and inviting despite cold concrete floors, exposed ductwork and steel beams.  Moreover, it is a fun place that will certainly invoke the feeling of deja vu (if ever you’ve dined in Portland) or the feeling that you’re dining in an oasis of sophistication. 

You might also feel as if you’re dining in a tightly-enclosed sound chamber of sorts.  There’s a perpetual noisy din in the restaurant, the byproduct of diners enjoying themselves.  Weather permitting, it’s somewhat quieter on the patio, situated on the restaurant’s west side near the parking area.  The only drawback might be the cacophonous commotion from Central Avenue.

"The Beef"

“The Beef”

True to its name, there is a market, but it’s not to be mistaken for the type of market at which you can pick up all your comestibles.  The market portion of the complex has a nice selection of gourmet specialty items such as chocolate, cheeses, crackers, olive oils, pastas and more.  The menu isn’t quite fine-dining and it certainly isn’t fast food fare.  Call it fast-casual fare for everyday dining.  A large slate board lists every item on the menu save for the day’s specials.  You order at a counter and are given not a number, but a placard touting a market product provided by a local vendor.  Somehow the wait staff will manage to find you.

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 as  state’s very best down-home use of local, seasonal ingredients to The Grove’s farmers salad.  It’s a well-deserved honor few would dispute.  The farmers salad is constructed of mixed greens with roasted golden beets, asparagus, yellow peppers, tomato, marcona almonds and goat cheese, all tossed with a lemon-basil vinaigrette studded with shallots and garlic.  It’s a winner in every way.  New Mexico Magazine‘s amazing associate editor Ashley Biggers also listed the Grove as one of the 50 reasons to love Albuquerque in the magazine’s April, 2012 issue.

Winter Fig & Prosciutto Salad: Quercia Prosciutto, Marinated Figs, Spiced Pecans, Old Windmill Goat Cheese, Pomegranate Seeds, Mixed Greens, Orange-Poppy Seed Vinaigrette

Given an opportunity to select the ingredients to craft the salad I’d enjoy most and it would very much resemble the Winter Fig and Prosciutto Salad at The Grove.  This salad starts with a bed of mixed greens atop of which lies a tangle of artisan cured prosciutto from La Quercia, an award-winning Iowa-based charcuterie a James Beard Foundation executive extolled as “the best prosciutto you can get in America hands down;” marinated figs; spiced pecans; Old Windmill goat cheese from New Mexico; pomegranate seeds and an orange-poppy seed vinaigrette.  This is a salad in which ingredients contrast and complement one another exceptionally well–the tanginess of the pomegranate seeds and orange-poppy seed vinaigrette, the rich pungency of the goat cheese, the salty porcine perfection of the prosciutto and the freshness of the greens.

Local, seasonal ingredients are an essential component of The Grove’s operational philosophy.  Executive chef Jason Green and his wife Lauren are passionate about using ingredients of the highest quality and employing artisan methods.  Their focus on local products and produce is core to the restaurant’s success.  Most of the vegetables used on the menu are acquired within a 40-mile radius of the restaurant.  Other high-quality ingredients are procured out-of-state because those ingredients are the best to be found anywhere.

Piquillo Pepper Soup: 100 percent vegetarian and 100 percent delicious!

It was in recognition of The Grove’s commitment to the local food movement that it was singled out by the Huffington Post in a feature celebrating the “ten best US cities for local food.”  Albuquerque was ranked number eight on the list though only two restaurants were mentioned–the Flying Star and the Grove about which the Post wrote, “the Grove uses green produce along with artisan meats and cheeses.”

Greenopia, recognized experts on green living, gave The Grove four and a half stars out of five meaning it meets 90 percent of its stringent criteria for meats, poultry, eggs, seafood, dairy products, prepared foods and even personal care products, all of which are verified to be certified organic and/or locally grown or raised without chemical treatment, fertilizers, hormones and antibiotics.

Aged Salami with olive tapanade, arugula and aged provolone

Large, steaming vats of coffee are conveniently situated in close proximity to the order counter.  This is fresh-roasted coffee from Chicago’s Intelligencsa Coffee, the basis for some of the best cafe au lait I’ve had in Albuquerque.   Andrea raves about this stuff with the same fervor with which I speak of The Grove’s strawberry-rosemary lemonade.  It’s an intensely flavored lemonade, neither too sweet nor too tangy and punctuated by the freshness of the rosemary. The Grove is open six days a week (closed Mondays) with workday hours being 7AM to 4PM.  On Sundays the Grove opens from 8AM to 3PM.  Breakfast is served all day long and lunch starts promptly at 11AM.  A small (in item size only) brunch menu is also available on Sundays.

4 September 2007: The quintessential New Mexican breakfast seems to be defined in our uniquely wonderful breakfast burritos.  The Grove has a very interesting take on this ubiquitous morning indulgence that’s good any time of the day.  Like all breakfast burritos, it starts with scrambled eggs which the Grove somehow manages to serve sheet-like.  They also include goat cheese with a pronounced creamy and earthy flavor; housemade green chile which smells and tastes housemade, not canned; and hearty chunks of Tully’s sausage.

EDO’s Best BLT with butter lettuce, grove guacamole, applewood smoked bacon

Unlike traditional New Mexican breakfast burritos, the Grove tops their version not with red or green chile, but with a roasted tomato jalapeno salsa served cold.  Normally I would balk at eating cold salsa on a warm burrito, but have nothing but praise for the salsa.  It is only mildly piquant, but explodes with flavor though not so much that it obfuscates other flavors on this magnificent breakfast burrito.  In its September, 2011 edition, the staff of Albuquerque the Magazine rated the breakfast burrito at the Grove Cafe & Market the third best breakfast burrito in the Albuquerque area.  Considering the number and quality of the competition, that’s a significant honor. 

25 March 2012: The Grove’s Sunday brunch menu is posted on the restaurant’s Web site’s “Feature of the Day” section.  Not surprisingly, this section is kept up-to-date, a lesson other restaurants should learn.  The brunch menu doesn’t introduce a large number of items not normally found on the day-to-day menu, normally two entrees.  If the sunchoke hash is any indication, some of those brunch items should become menu standards.  Sunchokes are a real treat!  Also called Jerusalem artichokes, they taste a bit like a cross between potato and artichoke heart.  The Grove’s hash showcases this edible tuber, serving it with spinach, garlic onions, local feta cheese and Benton’s bacon topped by two eggs over-easy.  The pairing of sunchokes and the bacon are especially noteworthy.  No ordinary bacon is Benton’s, a hickory-smoked, full-flavored bacon cut lardon thick.  It may well be the best bacon to ever cross into New Mexico.

Croque Monsieur: Black Forest Ham, Tomato, Whole Grain Mustard, Gruyere Cheese, Open-Faced and Warm on Rustic Farm Loaf

25 March 2012: For breakfast or lunch, few entrees are as satisfying as the Croque Monsieur.  At its most elemental level, it’s essentially a hot ham and cheese sandwich, but being French, it’s got a storied background more interesting than some fiction.  The Croque Monsier has been around for more than a century and it’s literal translation is “crunch mister” based on the verb “croquer” (to crunch) and the word monsieur (mister).  The Grove’s rendition starts with a rustic farm loaf topped with black forest ham and tomato both covered in a rich Gruyere cheese.  It’s served open-faced with whole grain mustard on the side.  It’s a very good sandwich.

4 September 2007: For lunch the menu has a selection of warm, pressed sandwiches as well as several cool sandwiches, the word “cool” having dual meanings involving temperature as well as fashionability.  Sandwiches, made with Sage Bakehouse artisan bread, are served with fresh fruit and sweet pickles (a welcome respite from the all-too-common dill variety). One of the coolest sandwiches we’ve had in a while is called simply “The Beef.”  The Beef starts with a canvas of fresh sourdough bread which is then topped with thin sliced housemade roasted sirloin, caramelized onion, butter lettuce, whole grain mustard and havarti.  This is no boring roast beef sandwich! The Beef is served in the proportions he-men like, but is crafted with high-quality ingredients women appreciate.  It is a two-fisted sandwich as good as any you’ll find anywhere in Albuquerque.

Sunchoke Hash: Roasted Sunchoke, Spinach, garlic, Onions, Benton’s Bacon, Local Feta and Two Eggs Over-Easy

10 August 2013:  The Beef’s porcine counterpart is called simply The Pork.  It’s every bit as good, if not better, than its beefy sibling.  What makes it such a great sandwich is the superb quality of the ingredients from which it’s constructed and the creativity to put such complementary ingredients together.  Chief among those ingredients is house-roasted Berkshire pork loin.  Berkshire pork has been called pork’s equivalent of Kobe beef.  It’s an exquisite pork renowned for its juiciness and tenderness as well as its slightly sweet flavor and nice marbling.   The canvas for the sandwich–which also includes Romesco sauce, fennel, arugula, lemon aioli and an over-easy egg–is a toasted brioche bun.

26 June 2010: Another spectacular pressed sandwich (sometimes referred to elsewhere as panini sandwiches) is called simply “Aged Salami” and it’s constructed of aged salami, olive tapenade, arugula and aged provolone on sourdough bread.  The  lightly toasted and buttery sourdough bread is a terrific canvas for ingredients which work very well together.   The aged salami isn’t too heavily salted or garlicky as aged salami tends to be; instead spices are well balanced for optimum flavor.  The aged provolone has a light, creamy flavor and the tapenade complements the other ingredients very well.

The Pork

The Pork

26 June 2010: EDO’s Best BLT isn’t just some audacious claim.  The Grove’s rendition of the not-so-humble BLT is one of the very best in Albuquerque, ranking with the BLT at Gecko’s Bar & Tapas.  At the Grove, this descendant of Victorian tea sandwiches, is crafted with butter lettuce, the Grove’s guacamole, tomatoes and applewood smoked bacon.  There are two stand-outs in this sandwich–several strips of crispy bacon (the type of which only restaurants seem to be able to acquire) and the Grove’s creamy, rich guacamole.  Though it’s generally made with whole wheat bread, ask for it to be crafted on the restaurant’s homemade English muffin which, unlike some English muffins, isn’t crumbly.  Still another sandwich, the Mozzarella was named one of the city’s 12 yummiest sandwiches for 2012 by Albuquerque The Magazine in its annual food and wine issue for 2012. 

19 May 2014:  On paper (or at least on the menu board), the Pork Belly BLT looks at least as good as the aforementioned EDO’s Best BLT.  How, after all, could you go wrong with a BLT constructed with heirloom lettuce, tomato, kimchi hot sauce, sorghum mustard, pickled veggies and a sunny side egg on toasted brioche?  This BLT is unfortunately the product of “too much of too many good things”…too many ingredients competing for the rapt attention of your taste buds.  Because there is so much going on in this sandwich, the unctuous flavors of the pork belly were virtually unnoticeable.  In some ways the Pork Belly BLT was like eating a veggie sandwich with a fried egg atop.

Pork Belly BLT

Pork Belly BLT

4 September 2007: Beethoven once said, “Only the pure of heart can make good soup.”   If that’s true, the Grove’s soup makers are as chaste as ice and as pure as snow, creating an impressive array of homemade soups of the day.  One of the best is piquillo pepper soup.  Piquillo translates from Spanish to “little beak,” and have a rich, spicy-sweet flavor.  As if the flavor profile of the tiny piquillo isn’t enough, The Grove adds garlic, harissa, celery and smoked paprika then tops the concoction with creme fraiche.  Though it looks like tomato soup, its flavors are much more concentrated and intense.  It is an amazing soup!

Antipasto Board

Antipasto Board

10 August 2013: It shouldn’t have come as such a surprise to us that The Grove has one of the very best antipasto boards in Albuquerque.  Emphasizing freshness and complementary flavors, it’s a treasure trove of some of the most delicious bite-sized treats you’ll find anywhere.  Artisan cheeses included a creamy brie, a hard parmesan and a soft, delicate mozzarella.  You can pair those cheeses with the board’s meats, a whisper-thin sliced salami and prosciutto shards.   Sweet pickles, a grainy mustard, cherry tomatoes and Marcona almonds complement both meats and cheeses.  To assuage the sweet tooth, the antipasto included sweet pickles, raspberry jelly and some of the best chutneys we’ve had outside of England.  The antipasto board is easily big enough for three to share.

10 August 2013:  For those of us who enjoy sandwiches for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks in between, the  Grove offers three breakfast sandwiches.  None are so heavy that you’ll want to crawl back under the covers.  The Smoked Salmon is a masterpiece of concordant ingredients: cream cheese, red onion, capers, lemon peel, creme fraiche, and chives served on a housemade English muffin.  The salmon is as fresh as you’ll find it in Albuquerque without compromising the native pungency of salmon.  The triumvirate of cream cheese, creme fraiche and capers add an unexpected moistness and flavor punch.

Smoked Salmon: cream cheese, red onion, capers, lemon, creme fraiche, chives with green side salad served on housemade English muffin

Smoked Salmon: cream cheese, red onion, capers, lemon, creme fraiche, chives with green side salad served on housemade English muffin

4 September 2007: Nowhere in Albuquerque will you find cupcakes comparable to The Grove. That’s the findings of a Duke City Fix taste test. How can you dispute those findings when you’re enjoying such unique concoctions as red velvet and coconut cupcakes. These are outstanding! Ernestine Ulmer stated something very obvious and wise when she said “Life is uncertain. Eat dessert first.” It’s an aphorism to which visitors to The Grove should subscribe, especially when the counter at which you order showcases cookie jars with such treats as chocolate chip and ginger cookies and cookies constructed with chocolate, walnut and sea salt. These cookies are fabulous! 

Chocolate Chip and Ginger Cookie (right) and Chocolate, Walnut and Sea Salt Cookie (left)

19 May 2014:  The term “macaroon” has come to mean different things to different people.  In the United States and England, macaroons are typically made with coconut.  Visit a Patisserie (French bakery) and macaroons are a delicate, airy meringue typically found among the petit-fours.  The Nibble describes French macaroons as spectacularly colored and flavored meringue “sandwiches.”  That’s the type of macaroon for which the Grove has become famous locally.  There’s a good reason for that.  These macaroons are delicious.  Alas, they’re available only Friday through Sunday until sold out.  Get there early to make sure you don’t miss out.

Three large “trasteros” as white as a stereotypical picket fence, showcase a variety of dry goods: shelves of chocolates, vinegars, teas, candy and more. Two other standing displays include mustards, cookies, gourmet dried pastas and more while a small refrigerator displays fine cheeses. This is the market portion of The Grove, an integral component of a swanky place to be.

Assorted Macaroon, a Grove specialty

*Voracious readers, the type of which I mention at the start of this essay, should make sure their reading list includes La Bajada Lawyer, a spell-binding mystery by Albuquerque attorney Jonathan Miller. Miller made a couple of observations about the Grove which will warrant many happy returns. He wrote that “The Grove hired the most beautiful waitresses in town,” and “the place is a “chick restaurant” at lunch.” If my male readers needed a reason to visit The Grove, perhaps Miller’s writing will inspire that visit.

A wonderful quadrumvirate of cupcakes including coconut and red velvet.

Albuquerque is as close to perfect as any city in America, but it’s good to know that if you want to, you can get away quickly and easily simply by driving to the Grove Market & Cafe where in an instant you can be transported elsewhere–a better, more delicious Duke City.

The Grove Cafe & Market
600 Central Avenue, S.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
505-248-9800
Web Site

LATEST VISIT: 17 May 2014
1st VISIT: 4 September 2007
# OF VISITS: 5
RATING: 23
COST: $$
BEST BET: The Burrito, The Beef, Signature Cupcakes, EDO’s Best BLT, Croque Monsieur, Cookies, Piquillo Pepper Soup, Sunchoke Hash, Winter Fig & Prosciutto Salad, The Pork, Smoked Salmon, Antipasto Board, French Macaroons

Grove Café & Market on Urbanspoon

Taco Sal New Mexican Restaurant – Albuquerque, New Mexico

The venerable Taco Sal, an Albuquerque institution on Menaul since 1961

Rachael Ray, the hyper-bubbly kitchen diva recently divulged that casinos pipe in the fragrance of cumin because it causes gamblers to lose their inhibitions and gamble without guilt.  Cigarette smoke and cumin…that doesn’t sound like an olfactory arousing aroma combination to me, much less one which would lure anyone to a purlieu of poker and slots.  Now, if casinos figured out how to pipe in the intoxicating aroma of chile being roasted, New Mexicans might never leave.

Marcia Nordyke, the Public Relations Director for the Hatch Chile Festival believes the aroma of chile being roasted would make a wonderful air freshener.  My friend Bill Resnik says it would make a great aftershave, albeit one which would leave anyone within range perpetually hungry.  There’s no disputing the incomparable fragrance of of roasting chile is absolutely intoxicating, a veritable aphrodisiac to chile lovers everywhere.  Why hasn’t the state legislature it adopted it as New Mexico’s official state fragrance?

A menu from June 29, 1961, one year after Taco Sal first opened for business

Alas, only in autumn is the Land of Enchantment’s clear, salubrious air perfumed by the wondrous wafting of chile being roasted.  It’s the essence of enchantment for our nostrils–coming to a roadside stand or parking lot near you from late August through mid-October.  For the remaining nine months in which we’re deprived of this rapturous redolence, the only aroma which approximates roasting chile is that of chile simmering over a stove.

That’s the aroma which greeted me during my first visit to Taco Sal’s in nearly a decade.  Taco Sal’s is one of Albuquerque’s elder restaurants, a veritable institution serving Albuquerque since June 29, 1961.  To survive fifty years in a tough market is an incredible feat indeed, warranting Taco Sal’s inclusion on the New Mexico Culinary Treasures Trail, a celebration of independent mom-and-pop restaurants which have stood the test of time to become beloved institutions in their neighborhoods and beyond.

Con Queso

Taco Sal’s is named for Sally “Sal” Gabaldon, who along with her doting husband Felix opened the restaurant in what was then a relatively new shopping center in the city’s east side which was just beginning to sprawl toward the Sandias.  Sal become a beloved institution for her trademark greeting of “Hi, doll” as well as for a menu of traditional New Mexican dishes prepared very well.  Taco Sal’s has changed hands several times since Sal’s halcyon days.  Now in her mid-80s, she still visits the restaurant regularly.

Taco Sal’s is no longer owned by the Gabaldon family, but new owners seem to  have continued Sal’s tradition of hospitality (though, unfortunately not the price structure depicted in the menu above).   Not only does the terrific aroma of simmering green chile greet you as you step through the front door, you might even get a “hi, doll” greeting from one of the friendly wait staff.  Taco Sal’s is a restaurant frequented by regulars, some of whom have been visiting for decades.  The friendliness is just one of the reasons.

Salsa and Chips

Salsa and Chips

9 June 2011: Another reason is the con queso which is served in a bowl constructed of the same corn from which the chips are made which means its edible, too.  Although the con queso looks like the gloppy processed cheese served at sporting arenas, it’s much better both in consistency and especially in flavor.  The con queso packs a discernible punch–maybe not enough to water your eyes, but enough for you to know there’s chile in there.  The chips are relatively low in salt and are formidable enough for large scoops of con queso or salsa. 

24 December 2013: It seems to be an unspoken rule that the most piquant item on the menu at most New Mexican restaurants is salsa.  If the salsa doesn’t much of a bite, it’s likely the New Mexican cuisine will be insipid.  The salsa at Taco Sal’s doesn’t bite back in the least, not even as much as some salsas made in New York City.  It’s got good flavor and freshness, but not much viscosity and piquancy.  The chips are light, crispy and low-in-salt.

Two Chiles Rellenos Plate: Two chile rellenos topped with green chile and a fried egg served with refried beans and Spanish rice

9 June 2011: During my General Douglas McArthur “I have returned” visit to Taco Sal’s, I spent as much time watching what was delivered to other tables as I did perusing the menu.  The entree of choice seemed to be the two chile relleno plate, two chile rellenos topped with green chile and served with your choice of refried beans, Spanish rice or papitas.  After seeing it delivered to two tables in a row, several of us, all in separate tables in close proximity to one another, followed suit.  It was an excellent choice. 

9 June 2011: Two Hatch chiles are stuffed with Cheddar cheese then deep-fried to a crispy consistency and topped with your choice of red or green chile.  Green chile on green chile is a good choice.  Top it with a fried egg for good measure and a nice contrast between piquancy and the richness of a perfectly fried egg over easy.  The chile is about medium on the piquancy scale which is pretty good considering the chile at some restaurants barely registers on the taste buds.  It’s a flavorful chile with an even better fragrance.  The refried beans and Spanish rice are both good.

Two stuffed sopaipillas: one stuffed with carne adovada and one with ground beef

Two stuffed sopaipillas: one stuffed with carne adovada and one with ground beef

24 December 2013: To my point on the lack of piquancy on the salsa, not all batches of chile, both red and green, are created equally piquant–even from the same crop, same vendor and same degree of heat.  It’s a strange phenomena with which all New Mexicans are familiar.  Unless you buy nothing but “hot” chile you’re almost always guaranteed that your “medium” chile will sometimes lean toward “mild.”  That was the case with the two stuffed sopaipilla plate pictured above.  One sopaipilla was stuffed with ground beef and one with carne adovada.  One was topped with green chile and the other with red.  There was plenty of delicious to go around, but not much bite.

Sopaipillas are complimentary with many entrees.  These are sopaipillas which merit a child’s name for them–sofa pillows.  Tear open into these golden, puffy treasures and steam escapes, a perfect invitation for honey to be introduced into the welcoming cavity.  You’ll want to order another one (or four).

No need for dessert when you’ve got sopaipillas with honey

It won’t be another decade before my next visit to Taco Sal’s which has recaptured some of the charm of Sal’s days.  More importantly, a meal at Taco Sal’s is reminiscent of Taco Sal’s when it was one of Albuquerque’s very best New Mexican restaurants.

Taco Sal New Mexican Restaurant
9621 Menaul Blvd, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 298-2210
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 24 December 2013
1st VISIT: 9 June 2011
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 17
COST: $$
BEST BET: Con queso, Two Chile Relleno Plate, Sopaipilla, Stuffed Sopaipilla, Salsa and Chips

Taco Sal Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

 

Rebel Donut – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Rebel Donut on Wyoming Just North of Menaul

Many years ago if someone proposed a wager of “dollars to donuts,” you might have been well advised to take it.  The phrase “dollars to donuts” essentially meant the person proposing the wager thought he or she had  a sure thing, that he or she was willing to to risk a dollar to win a dollar’s worth of donuts.  Donuts weren’t worth much at the time (and they weren’t very good either) so winning a bet might result in being paid off by a baker’s dozen or so donuts.  Today, if someone offers a “dollars to donuts” wager, the counter to a five dollar bet might be two donuts and the donuts would likely be terrific.  

Visit a donut shop today and sticker shock might set in.  Donuts aren’t cheap anymore, not that it stops Americans from spending our dollars for donuts to the tune of about $3.6 billion dollars per year.  Americans consume some ten billion donuts a year. That’s 33 donuts per man, woman and child per year.  The demographic which loves donuts most is middle-income men ages 25 to 49 (now you know what accounts for the “middle-age spread”).

Donut deliciousness in a glass case

As with burgers, donuts are one of those rare foods which have proven to be recession proof.  Despite the  economic malaise of the past few years, the number of donut shops, amount of donuts consumed and profitability per donut shop has continued to increase every year (save for a short lapse when the nutrition police made donuts non grata).  The reason most attributed is that donuts are a tasty and inexpensive comfort food.  Similar to the gourmet burger craze which has taken America by storm, consumers don’t mind splurging on donuts that are more costly.

The June 11th, 2012 launch of Rebel Donut (singular) will certainly give consumers an opportunity to splurge. Only the Li’l Rebel (mini donuts) and the classic donuts (glazed raised, chocolate glazed, the rebel, strawberry, coffee glazed, cookies and cream, maple, etc.)  are under a dollar though you can buy a dozen for ten dollars.  Fancy Donuts and premium donuts will cost you more than a dollar as will cinnamon rolls.  Rebel Donut donuts, however, are far from ordinary donuts.

Nutella-Chocolate, 3X chocolate, Powdered Sugar Vanilla , Old-Fashioned Coconut

As might be expected for a donut shop bearing the appellation “Rebel,” Rebel Donut is expanding the boundaries of donut conventionality.  Even the shop’s logo, a donut with wings, bespeaks of nonconformity, risk-taking, daring to be different.  Rebel Donut is taking donuts to the extreme, helping them be all they can be…self-actualizing donuts.  Unique flavors include red velvet, chocolate salted pretzel, chocolate mint, peanut butter and apple, peanut butter and Sriracha, carrot cake, watermelon and blueberry pancake and those are tame compared to other donuts on the ever-changing menu.  

You’d expect no less than imagination and inventiveness from Rebel Donut owners Carrie Mettling and Tina Winn.  Carrie was the founder and creative force behind Cupcake Fetish which she opened in March, 2006 and which began a bit of a cupcake boom in the Duke City.  The Rebel owners have hired a like-minded staff and given them the latitude to be visionary.  Then, as if the Rebel team wasn’t already taking donut innovation to new heights, they gave Facebook followers an opportunity to suggest new donut ideas.  The ideas were so clever that many, if not all, will be implemented.    That’s donuts by the people, for the people and by the people.

Top: Mocha Chocolate, 3X Chocolate Muffin, Key Line Pie
Bottom: Dreamsicle, Apple peanut butter, Smores

Striving to be Albuquerque’s premier artisan donut and pastry shop, Rebel Donut showcases more than thirty donut flavors per day with new and different surprises every day.  One unexpected surprise for us is the presence of kolaches (Czech and Slovak pastries with a dollop of fruit inside), but not exactly the type of which we experienced in Chicago.  Purists will argue that Rebel Donut’s line-up kolaches (sausage and cheese; sausage, jalapeño and cheese; and veggie sausage, green chile and cheese) are not kolaches, but Klobasnek.  Call them what you will, but you will call them delicious.

If you have any inkling that these donuts sound like so much fluff and style, one bite will assure you’re there’s plenty of substance beyond the round hole in the middle.  These donuts taste like very good renditions of their named ingredients.  The Dreamsicle donut tastes like a sweet and tangy orange.  The mocha chocolate tastes like a creamy, chocolatey coffee.  Then there’s the donuts in which seemingly disparate ingredients (peanut butter and Sriracha, for example) are combined.  These, too, as if by some feat of enchantment, are at the very least interesting, but more often than not, quite good.

Maple Bacon

If your idea of a radical donut is chocolate with sprinkles, Rebel Donut will rock your world.  Who but a Rebel would create a donut topped with candy resembling blue sky meth, the vice of choice on Breaking Bad, a popular television drama filmed in Albuquerque?  Who but a Rebel would launch a second shop at a seemingly cursed location on Albuquerque’s west side, a location which has seen a number of restaurants and even another donut shop?  Who but a Rebel would open a satellite shop in Albuquerque’s fledgling downtown area? 

In 2013, Rebel Donut was  selected to compete on a new Food Network show called “Donut Showdown” which premiered April 2nd on the Food Network in Canada.  The show made its United States debut on Wednesday, July 3rd on the Cooking Channel.  Carrie competed with two other donut-makers for a $10,000 prize.  The theme of the show was “Carnival.” 

The Rebel Donut location on Albuquerque's west side (9311 Coors Blvd NW)

The Rebel Donut location on Albuquerque’s west side

Apple Corporation recognizes the value of rebels: “Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”  Rebel Donuts is changing Albuquerque one donut at a time.

Rebel Donut
2435 Wyoming Blvd, N.E. 
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 293-0553
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 8 September 2013
1st VISIT: 28 July 2012
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 19
COST: $
BEST BET: Maple Bacon, 3X Chocolate, 3X Chocolate Muffin, Key Lime Pie, Mocha Chocolate, Old Fashioned Coconut, Nutella Chocolate

Rebel Donut Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Sai Gon Sandwich – Albuquerque, New Mexico

SaigonSandwich01

Saigon Sandwich, home to some of the best banh mi in Albuquerque

If ever there was a culinary Kobayashi Maru (for the non-Trekkies among you, that’s a no-win scenario), it might well be naming the best sandwich (or best food of any kind) in the world. Imagine the challenge. There are potentially hundreds of thousands of delicious candidates, many worthy of acclaim as the very best in their block, city, state or province…but the world’s an awfully big place. A lifetime might not be enough to sample but a few thousand sandwiches. Any sandwich you select would undoubtedly be disputed vehemently.

Surely, you say, no authoritative source exists which would possibly have the temerity, much less breadth of knowledge, to name just one sandwich as the very best in the planet. Such hubris would invite derision and debate. Perhaps then it’s appropriate that the most recent source to declare one sandwich as definitively the best in the world comes from the island nation in which was born the man (the Earl of Sandwich) for whom the ubiquitous sandwich is named. That source is The Guardian, one of the most respected periodicals in the United Kingdom (even though it doesn’t feature “Page 3” girls).

Place your order at the counter and your meal will be ready in minutes

Place your order at the counter and your meal will be ready in minutes

According to The Guardian, the “world’s best sandwich isn’t found in Rome, Copenhagen or even New York City, but on the streets of Vietnam.” The Guardian’s choice as best sandwich in the world is the banh mi, otherwise known as the Vietnamese sandwich. It’s almost ironic that perhaps no sandwich anywhere has such a humble origin and that unlike skyscraper-high Dagwood sandwiches, the banh mi tends to be modest in girth and sparse in its ingredients. Where the banh mi isn’t sparse is in its utter deliciousness.

Quite simply, a banh mi packs a lot of flavor into a relatively small (by American standards) package. Unlike its American counterpart, the banh mi focuses not on the profligate piling on cold-cuts and condiments, but on a balance of ingredients and flavors including pickled vegetables (daikon, shredded carrots), jalapeños, cilantro and thinner meats than adorn American sandwiches. The canvas for the ingredients is a long, thin baguette with its own balance of textures–a pillowy inside and crusty outside.

Vietnamese spring rolls with shrimp and pork

Vietnamese spring rolls with shrimp and pork; served with a peanut-chili sauce

It’s well known that pho is the most popular breakfast food in Vietnam, but according to my friend Huu Vu who grew up there, not all Vietnamese families could afford pho. With great fondness, he recalls having banh mi for breakfast on many mornings. Banh mi remains among his very favorite meals, but they’re not just for breakfast any more.  Nor are they exclusively popular among Vietnamese expats.  The New York Times indicates “the Vietnamese banh mi sandwich has taken New York by storm, elevating the once humble pork and pickled vegetable sandwich to heights of gastronomic chic.”  Gambit, a New Orleans news magazine, calls the banh mi “New Orleans’ po-boy for the 21st century.”

It’s taken a bit longer for the banh mi to become mainstream in Albuquerque.  While several Vietnamese restaurants throughout the Duke City have offered banh mi for years, the sandwich has yet to achieve the acclaim due “the best sandwich in the world.”  Albuquerque The Magazine did list the banh mi at Banh Mi Coda as  “one of the city’s “12 yummiest sandwiches” in its annual Food & Wine issue for 2012.  My friend Ryan “Break The Chain” Scott would argue that Albuquerque’s banh mi comes from May Hong.  The point is, the banh mi is starting to break through.

Banh Mi Cha Lua - Jambon, Pork Roll, Pate

Banh Mi Cha Lua – Jambon, Pork Roll, Pate

In early 2013, the Duke City saw the launch of the city’s second banh mi shop when Sai Gon Sandwich opened in Franklin Plaza, a timeworn shopping center on the northeast corner of Juan Tabo and Central.  The menu at the combination bakery, deli and tofu house befits the diminutive three-table restaurant, but as with other diminutive diners, Sai Gon Sandwich embodies an aphorism used by Food Network glitterati Guy Fieri: “little place, big flavors.”  Besides, the restaurant does a brisk take-out business and delivers throughout the neighborhood.

Those big flavors can be found in ten different banh mi (including a vegetarian option) and oversized spring rolls.  In a willpower-defeating refrigerator, you’ll find various Vietnamese desserts and snack foods (including tapioca puddings, sesame balls, rice puddings, rice cakes), Vietnamese coffees and so much more.  All of the restaurant’s deli meats are homemade and can be purchased by the pound so you can make your own banh mi at home.  Tofu and organic soy milk are also homemade.  It goes without saying that the bread is fresh baked and homemade, too.

SaigonSandwich05

Banh Mi Heo Nuong – Grilled Pork

At two per order, the spring rolls are impressive not only for their girth, but for their flavor.  Each spring roll comes with lettuce, cucumbers, mint and vermicelli noodles wrapped inside a translucent rice paper served with a peanut-chili sauce.  The shrimp and pork spring roll is a must have.  The thinly sliced pork is visible through the top layer of the rice paper, but the shrimp are embedded deeply among the condiments.  The combination is terrific.  So is the peanut sauce  though the chili could be just a bit more piquant.

Each banh mi comes with pickled carrots and daikon, cucumbers, sliced jalapeños, cilantro and Vietnamese mayo on some of the best freshly baked baguettes in town.  Each sandwich is just over nine-inches in length, but as the photos accompanying this essay show, they hardly resemble the overstuffed American sub sandwich.  In Vietnamese, “banh mi” translates both as “bread” and the sandwich using that bread.  It’s a great bread with a crusty, but not crumbly exterior and a soft, but not doughy interior.  The balance of ingredients with bread which make for a great banh mi is as spot-on as a tightrope walker.

SaigonSandwich06

Banh Mi Dac Biet – Jambon, Headcheese, Pork Roll, Pate

During our inaugural visit, my Kim and I ordered three hand-crafted banh mi, consuming half of each one at the restaurant and taking the remaining halves home for later.  Each banh mi is absolutely delicious, replete with a wondrous interplay of pickled vegetables, cured meats, condiments and aromatic herbs. Jalapeños are sparsely used, another example of how the sandwich emphasizes balance over heat.  Expertise in the fine art of charcuterie is evident in each savory and sumptuous meat. 

I don’t personally have the audacious nature to declare the banh mi as the Duke City’s best sandwich, but it’s certainly among a select few in that elite ballpark. Sai Gon Sandwich is a paragon of perfection when it comes to a sandwich that’s slowly, but inevitably taking America by storm.

Sai Gon Sandwich
162 Juan Tabo, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 275-4922
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 16 March 2013
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: *
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Spring Rolls, Banh Mi

Sai Gon Sandwich on Urbanspoon

Garduño’s of Mexico – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Gardunos01

Garduños  on restaurant row near the Cottonwood Mall

All too often faulty premises are based on a lack of information or experience. Take for example, British author Simon Majumdar, a recurring judge on the Food Network’s Next Iron Chef competition who once declared “given how abysmal Mexican food is in London, I always thought that it was a cuisine made up of remains from the back of the fridge.” It wasn’t until Majumdar experienced tacos de tripa at a restaurant in Guadalajara, Mexico that he achieved an epiphany and fell in love with Mexican food. He called it a meal that changed his life.  

Similarly, many of my colleagues from Arizona perceived Mexican food as lacking personality–a misconception borne from their culinary experiences with Phoenix area Mexican food. When business travel brought them to Albuquerque, we exposed them to New Mexican and Mexican food the way it’s done in the Land of Enchantment. It was love at first taste. The addictive properties of capsaicin-blessed New Mexico chile ensnared their affections and haven’t let them go to this date. The very favorite restaurant of many of them became Garduño’s of Mexico.

The festive, fun ambiance at Garduños

The festive, fun ambiance at Garduños

Over the years, Garduño’s has become the favorite of many of its guests—New Mexicans and visitors alike. When the familiar Garduño’s of Mexico jingle declared “nobody serves up Mexico like Garduno’s,” it wasn’t rhapsodizing solely about the restaurant’s culinary fare. From the day Garduño’s first launched in 1981—fittingly on the intersection of Fourth and Garduño Streets—it became a popular draw, as much for its lively and fun ambiance as for the generous portions of Mexican and New Mexican favorites–all washed down, of course, with one of the cantina’s popular margaritas crafted with premium tequilas. 

Despite the name on the marquee, Garduño’s has always straddled the fine line between New Mexican and Mexican food, serving both cuisines on a menu that reads like a compendium of local favorites. Detractors (and there aren’t nearly as many of them as there are devotees) decried Garduño’s as a “tourist trap” and questioned its authenticity. The latter point of contention is likely because they weren’t familiar with the vast diversity of culinary offerings throughout Mexico’s 31 states and one Federal District.

Chips and Salsa

Chips and Salsa

At the height of its popularity, there were six Garduño’s locations in the Land of Enchantment alone, served by more than 500 employees. Garduño’s had a presence in nearly every section of the Duke City including a capacious presence in Albuquerque’s Sunport where departing locals often stopped for their last fix of New Mexican food before leaving the Duke City. Those bound for the Phoenix and Las Vegas areas could find a Garduño’s there, too. There were even conversations with developers about expanding the Garduño’s enterprise to such potential sites as Disney World.

In 2010, three of the five Garduño’s restaurants closed, including the original Garduño’s on Fourth Street. Only the Winrock and Cottonwood locations remain in operation, both under a new ownership group which assumed the helm at the local empire in 2011. From outward appearances, the new ownership group seems to know better than to tamper with a tried and proven formula that made Garduño’s the highest volume Mexican restaurant across the fruited plain and a local favorite which earned several awards and accolades from both the New Mexico Restaurant Association and various Peoples’ Choice mediums.

Tacos Al Pastor

Tacos Al Pastor

Garduño’s remains a sensory experience (some might say sensory bombardment) that involves all five of your senses. It is one of the most visually stimulating and interesting milieus in which to dine with eye-catching features in front, in back and even above you.  From the moment you walk in, you’ll be enveloped by the aroma of Mexican food being prepared on the premises.  The ambiance can be raucous, but that’s because the venue inspires guests to have a good time and enjoy themselves.

The expansive menu includes many popular favorites.  Alas, both red and green chile based entrees are prepared with cumin, proving the name Garduño can be associated with the use of cumin (long-time readers of this blog have been exposed ad infinitum to my diatribes about the use of that foul demon spice on chile).  Fortunately the menu also includes several items made without chile.

Green Chile Cheeseburger

Green Chile Cheeseburger

Rich, red salsa is complimentary.  It’s a jalapeño-based, fire-roasted salsa with a pleasant piquancy New Mexicans can handle easily, but which might have tourists sputtering and reaching for water.  The salsa has a nice viscosity for scooping up large qualities of salsa on each chip.  Thankfully the triangular-shaped chips are formidable enough to hold up against Gil-sized scoops.  You’ll easily go through three ramekins of salsa before and with your meal. 

There are twelve appetizers on the menu in addition to ensaladas y sopas (salads and soups).  One of the most popular is the tacos al pastor, six mini tortillas filled with seasoned pork slowly braised with Axiote (also spelled Achiote) paste, cilantro, onion and pineapple served with a side of tomatillo salsa.  The tacos are quite good thanks to the melding of earthy achiote and tangy-sweet pineapples tinged with the freshness of cilantro and the incendiary tomatillo salsa.  The only thing wrong with these tacos is that six just aren’t enough if you’re sharing.  Maybe six per person will do.

Sizzling beef fajitas

Sizzling beef fajitas

The “Carnes” (meats) menu includes a de rigueur Hatch green chile cheeseburger, an eight-ounce USDA Angus beef patty topped with chopped green chile and Cheddar cheese with lettuce, tomatoes, onions and pickles on the side.  The thick patty exceeds the circumference of the bun and it’s probably a half inch high.  The green chile, unfortunately, is rather insipid, not much more potent than a bell pepper.  The burger is served with papitas, tiny cubed potatoes.  

One entree for which Garduño’s has long been popular is fajitas, which can be constructed from your choice of steak, chicken, shrimp or a unique garden-fresh vegetarian specialty with your choice of flour or corn tortillas.  All eyes will train on your server ferrying these fajitas to your table. More specifically, all eyes and ears will follow the trail of sizzling, aromatic smokiness.  The fajitas are served with sizzling onions, tomatoes, red and green peppers, shredded cheese and sides of guacamole and pico de gallo.  All fajitas can be ordered in half-pound or full-pound sizes.  A half-pound will sate even the most prolific of appetites. The steak is of very high quality and is prepared perfectly for a flour tortilla repository.

Sopaipillas

Sopaipillas

Sopaipillas are another long-time staple of Garduño’s.  Few New Mexican restaurants do sopaipillas like Garduño’s.  The sopaipillas are large golden, deep-fried deliciousness served fresh and hot.  Don’t wait to break open a sopaipilla and cut off a piece while it’s still hot.  The sensation of steamy puffs wafting upwards is an experience not to be missed.  The sopaipillas beckon for the cooling effect of sweet honey to be drizzled onto them.  Unfortunately, the restaurant serves a honey-flavored syrup, a poor pretender that just doesn’t cut it. 

Whether Garduño’s ever reclaims its once lofty position among the Land of Enchantment’s New Mexican restaurant scene remains to be seen.  One thing is for certain, it will remain the favorite restaurant of many of its guests, including my colleagues from Arizona. 

DISCLAIMER:  I’m frequently asked if I’m related to the Garduño family which owned and operated their eponymous restaurant for more than three decades.  Perhaps generations ago our families descended from the same lineage, but our family trees diverged a long time ago.  Even if we were related, I wouldn’t accept special food or treatment.  

Garduño’s of Mexico
10031 Coors Blvd., N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 890-7000
Web Site

LATEST VISIT: 1 February 2013
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: *
COST: $$
BEST BET: Sopaipillas, Fajitas, Chips and Salsa, Tacos Al Pastor

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