Rex’s Hamburgers – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Rex’s Hamburgers, An Albuquerque Institution

From 1988 through 2005, Rex’s Hamburgers stood practically alone in offering Duke City consumers an alternative to the homogeneous gobble-and-go offerings of deep-pocketed fast-food chains like McDonald’s, Burger King and Wendy’s. Rex’s earned and retained the hearts of Albuquerque diners for nearly 20 years. During its halcyon days, it garnered the long defunct’s Abq magazine’s “Best of Albuquerque” honors for several consecutive years.

The reason Duke City patrons were so loyal to Rex’s was because Rex’s was at the diametric extreme opposite of the chain restaurants. Whether ensconced in a strip mall or housed in a single tenant edifice, Rex’s offered real sit-down service at a relaxed and reasonable pace. Moreover, it served hamburgers the way they are intended to be prepared.  That means they started with real meat, never frozen, formed into a ball and flattened on the griddle with a spatula then allowed to cook slowly to retain the beef’s natural juiciness. Unlike at the Golden Arches, you never had to wonder what filler was used in Rex’s all-beef patty. It was always 85 percent lean and 15 percent fat, the time-tested optimum balance for optimum flavor. It was always served hot and with only the freshest of ingredients.

A double-meat green chile cheeseburger, one of the best in town

When Rex’s closed the last of its restaurants in 2005, the Duke City should have flown the city flag at half mast. Rex’s was one of the last of the independents, a true locally owned and operated mom-and-pop restaurant. The brainchild of Rex Thompson and his family, Rex’s had carved a niche in the burger market and a spot in the heart of discerning Duke City diners. As of the summer of 2008, our period of mourning can now cease. Rex’s is back, initially with a new moniker–Bubsters The Original Rex Burger Grill–but later to embrace its roots as Rex’s Hamburgers.

Also back are some of the recognized Rex’s touches–the golden oldies piped through the restaurant’s sound system, the familiar turquoise and mauve paint, posters of 50s icons and walls dedicated to the University of New Mexico Lobos.  Rex’s is located at the former site of the 505 Southwestern which operated a chile factory and restaurant at the site for years. The space is cavernous with the front portion of the restaurant providing comfortable seating and the back part dedicated to video gaming.  Even the way you order is familiar. A large menu showcasing all that Rex’s has to offer backdrops the counter at which you place your order. Take your seat and within minutes, a tray of deliciousness is bound for your table.

Rex’s famous onion rings

The menu includes all the Rex’s favorites which means not only hamburgers, but sandwiches, hot dogs, tacos, burritos, green chile stew and for the Texans among us, even chili con carne. Sandwich and burger platters include an order of french fries, an onion ring and Rex’s familiar applesauce. You can substitute onion rings for the fries if you’re so inclined.  The burger platters are a bit steeper in price today than they were when Rex’s cornered the sit-down burger market, but then, so is everything else. Besides, what’s a few extra cents when you’re talking freshness and burgers done right–when we’re talking Rex’s reborn!

The burgers are still adulation worthy with perfectly seasoned beef served to your exacting specifications. At medium with just a hint of pink, they are absolutely delicious. The double-meat burgers are still two-fisted behemoths bursting with flavor and moistness. These are still three or four napkin burgers replete with the great ingredients for which Rex’s was always known. The green chile actually registers on the piquancy scale and it’s got a nice, fresh-roasted flavor.  With a more piquant chile, it might be one of the two or three best green chile cheeseburgers in the metropolitan area instead of being merely among the top five or six.

Two tacos

There is one item for which Rex’s is nonpareil and that’s chocolate milkshakes.  Made with Dreyer’s premium ice cream and served bone-chilling cold, the chocolate milk is very chocolatey.  It’s an adult chocolate not something which will decay your teeth on the spot.  Other shake flavors include vanilla, strawberry, Oreo, cherry and we’ve even had a Caramel shake there once.

10 October 2015: Should you ever succeed in prying yourself from ordering one of Rex’s addictive green chile cheeseburgers, a phalanx of alternatives are available.  The “Southwestern” menu, for example, includes such New Mexican favorites as tacos, burritos, chile cheese fries, Frito pie, green chile stew and red chile with beans.  Burritos are engorged with your choice of beans, beef or both and topped with your choice of red or green chile.  As is often the case, many diners opt for “Christmas” style with both red and green adorning the burrito.  A combination burrito platter includes French fries, lettuce and tomato.  The seasoned fries are crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside.  The shredded cheese blanketed burrito is quite good with both red and green shining.

Burrito Platter

On Sunday, February 6, 2017, The Travel Channel aired a program showcasing some of the best fair foods in the nation for its Food Paradise series. The Land of Enchantment has hosted a fair since 1881–32 years before becoming a state. A mainstay for nearly five decades has been Rex’s Hamburgers. Rex Thompson demonstrated for Food Paradise how to construct a bacon-wrapped deep-fried green chile cheeseburger (fresh, handmade burger, topped with green chile and American cheese, wrapped in bacon and deep-fried to a crispy, brown perfection). Rex explained that his burgers are prepared “low and slow” seasoned with only salt and pepper. Rex’s bacon-topped green chile nachos were also showcased. If you haven’t been to the New Mexico State Fair in a while, maybe it’s time to make your way back.

Whether it’s known as Rex’s or Bubsters, there’s no mistaking the quality and freshness of a great meal at an Albuquerque favorite. There’s just something better about the world with Rex’s back in town.

Rex’s Hamburgers
5555 Montgomery, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
505-837-2827
Facebook Page

LATEST VISIT: 6 February 2017
1st VISIT:  28 July 2008
# OF VISITS: 9
RATING: 21
COST: $$
BEST BET: Green Chile Cheeseburger, Double Hamburger, Onion Rings, Tacos, French Fries, Apple Sauce, Chocolate Milkshake, Burrito

Bubsters - Rex's Hamburgers Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

El Pinto – Albuquerque, New Mexico

El Pinto, one of the most capacious restaurants in New Mexico

For almost any other restaurant in New Mexico (or anywhere else for that matter), 2015 would be considered a banner year, an auspicious annum, the type of year for which every restaurateur aspires.  For Albuquerque’s El Pinto, however, 2015 could be considered just another year in which praise and recognition–local and national–seem to be heaped on in abundance.  It’s probably safe to say El Pinto is the most heralded and acclaimed dining establishment in the Land of Enchantment. Terms such as “institution,” “paragon” and “iconic” have been used to describe the sprawling restaurant at the terminus of 4th Street.  El Pinto, in fact, started 2015 off by being declared New Mexico’s “most iconic restaurant.”

That distinction was accorded by Thrillist, an online presence “obsessed with everything that’s worth caring about in food, drink.”   Thrillist is unabashed about its love of El Pinto, also naming it one of the “best Mexican restaurants in America.”  2015 also saw filming begin for a potential reality show featuring the restaurant and its energetic owners, the “iconic” Thomas twins who want the reality show to “be a platform for the “authentic portrayal of the restaurant, the Albuquerque community and New Mexico’s food and culture.”  El Pinto was also in the national spotlight in September when the FYI Network aired a program called “Big Kitchens.”  In an episode entitled “Massive New Mexican,” the program noted that El Pinto’s “massive kitchen can feed up to three thousand people a night” and anointed El Pinto as “the most popular chile restaurant in America.” The program followed twin brothers John and Jim Thomas as they lead their kitchen team as they prepare three tons of food every night.

El Pinto’s verdant patio on an unseasonably warm October

El Pinto’s fame has long extended far beyond the Land of Enchantment and its credibility as a purveyor of New Mexico chile is well-established. It’s the site at which the competing teams squaring off in the New Mexico Bowl hold a chile cooking competition. It’s a wonderful venue for such events, not only because of its capacious space, but its expertise in the hospitality arena. Frankly no one does it better. El Pinto has also long been a favorite host of corporate team-building, both formal and informal. Large tables of nattily attired corporate executives entertaining their clients at El Pinto is commonplace.

El Pinto also seems to be the de facto restaurant of choice for New Mexican and Mexican food related television programming. In a 2006 Food Network program called “The Secret Life of Fiery Foods,” host Jim O’Connor noted El Pinto as “a restaurant famous for its fiery foods” as he reveled in sampling various dishes with New Mexico’s Dave DeWitt, publisher of Fiery Foods magazine and renown chile expert. More recently, in 2010 “everyman” host Bobby Bognar and a History Channel crew visited El Pinto to film an episode on Mexican food for the cable network’s Food Tech show.

The bar and lounge area

In February, 2006, The Wall Street Journal embarked on a quest for the perfect nachos.  Taking recommendations from several highly credentialed chefs and other chile cognoscenti, the Journal visited restaurants anointed by those sages and compiled an exclusive list showcasing the fifteen best nachos in America.  El Pinto’s nachos were among them.  The Journal described El Pinto’s nachos as “built like lasagna, one layer at a time, so no chip is cheeseless: first chips, then cheese (Cheddar and Monterrey Jack), until there’s a pyramid topped with sour cream, guacamole, lettuce, tomato, chicken (or beef or pork) and green chili sauce.”

Alas, no “good deed” goes unpunished.  El Pinto and its celebrated nachos became fodder for the Albuquerque Journal‘s brilliant (sadly now retired) columnist Leslie Linthicum when she compiled her hilarious “Cowchip Awards” for 2006.   The Cowchip Awards, a compilation of the foibles and foul-ups which make the news during the course of a year, tend to skew heavily toward politicians and criminals (not necessarily mutually exclusive).  El Pinto’s transgression was touting its nachos (as the menu still does as of October, 2015)  as the best in America because they were listed first among the honorees.  It turns out the nachos were listed in alphabetical order.  As Leslie noted it “pays to start with an “E.””

El Pinto's famous nachos, the best in America according to the Wall Street Journal.

El Pinto’s famous nachos, some of the very best in America according to the Wall Street Journal.

6 April 2007: Not mentioned in the Journal’s review is the sheer physical magnitude of the nachos.  The nachos are served in a platter big enough for the Thanksgiving turkey and they’re stacked mountain high: tostadas topped with Cheddar and  Monterrey Jack cheese, pinto beans, guacamole, sour cream, El Pinto’s green chile and fresh-cut jalapenos (you can also add beef, chicken or pork for a fee).  According to the menu, the nacho platter serves four, but even four Lobo football players might cry “no mas” after lustily consuming their fill.  Perhaps the only thing at El Pinto’s nearly as sizable as the nachos is the restaurant itself.

Not only is El Pinto arguably New Mexico’s most famous restaurant, it’s the body-building behemoth in a sandbox of 98-pound weaklings–easily the most commodious restaurants in New Mexico with seating for over 1,000 diners in several dining rooms as well as an expansive hacienda-style patio area for seasonal dining.  With all the ground they have to cover, rarely do the strolling mariachis ever make it to the same dining room twice an evening (especially if the tipping at one dining room is generous).  Despite its expanse, the restaurant operates with seemingly synchronized efficiency, the wait staff well practiced in serving large crowds.  Long waits are virtually non-existent.

Chips and Salsa

Nestled among centuries-old cottonwood trees, El Pinto also has one of the most attractive restaurant settings in the state.  The rambling walled garden is shaded by stately trees and trumpet vines and is adorned with roses. Murmurations of intrepid starlings take refuge among the trees but as soon as a patio table is vacated, they leave their lofty perches and scavenge for left-overs.  Once sated, they slake their thirsts out of the continuously recirculating multi-level fountains.  It’s feathered entertainment while you dine. (Just in case the environmental department reads this, we’re not talking Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds here, just a few starlings.)

The restaurant’s interior is also impressive with waterfalls cascading down impressive rockscapes, rivulets creating a relaxing cadence. The lounge and the restaurant’s garden room are akin to an oasis in the desert with lush foliage and hanging plants helping to create a relaxing verdant milieu.  Traditional trappings abound in nearly every corner and walls are adorned with beautiful art pieces.  Framed photographs of the glitterati who have dined at El Pinto can be seen on walls throughout the restaurant, in many cases glad-handing with the restaurant’s affable owners (local celebrities themselves).

The Green Chile Queso Burger with a side of fries and ramekin of guacamole

El Pinto was launched by Hatch, New Mexico natives Jack and Consuelo Thomas in 1962 using recipes perfected by Connie’s grandmother Josephina Chavez-Griggs.   The Griggs restaurant legacy spans much of the Rio Grande corridor with family members owning or having owned and operated restaurants in El Paso and the Las Cruces area (including the world-famous La Posta de Mesilla). In 1989, twin brothers John and Jim Thomas bought El Pinto from their parents, expanding it as their customer base grew.

Today, El Pinto’s customer base includes both political dignitaries (including “Dubya,” Sarah Palin and Barack Obama) and Hollywood glitterati (including Pamela Anderson and Mel Gibson), but it’s the local patrons who remain steadfastly loyal.  Serving more than a quarter of a million diners a year, El Pinto’s kitchen is 5,000 square-feet of grills and kitchen space with a staff of a hundred preparing one ton of food a night.  When they want to impress out-of-town guests, locals invariably bring them to El Pinto and wow them with the ambiance.  Locals also know that anything more piquant than Chef Boyardee sauce is beyond the heat tolerance of most out-of-towners and El Pinto’s serves chile some locals consider “anglicized,” meaning it doesn’t pack enough heat to intimidate true New Mexicans.

Carne Asada Skillet, a brunch option

The Food Tech program highlighted the painstaking process of making and bottling salsa, showcasing El Pinto’s famous brand.  The restaurant’s salsa, while not the most piquant salsa in town, is among the Duke City’s most flavorful and best of all, it’s available at just about every grocery store in the Albuquerque area.  During ESPN Sports Center’s “50 States in 50 Days” visit to El Pinto in August, 2005, anchor extraordinaire Linda Cohn called El Pinto’s salsa “the best in the nation.” That salsa, and in fact, several items on the El Pinto menu, are held in especially high esteem by readers of Albuquerque The Magazine.  In its September, 2012 edition, Albuquerque The Magazine named the salsa at El Pinto the eighth best in Albuquerque from among 130 salsas sampled throughout the city.

In its annual “best of the city” awards issue for 2010, the magazine’s readers indicated the city’s best green chile and guacamole emanate from El Pinto.  The green chile is a “heritage crop version of an archived seed.”  El Pinto handles that chile from “farm to plate,” going through a whopping 300-400 tons of chile per year (or about 4,000 cases a day).  The guacamole is made from California-grown Haas avocados at their prime of buttery ripeness.  It’s a simple guacamole crafted with salt, fresh onion, and the restaurant’s salsa.

Green Chile Sausage Croissant

Albuquerque The Magazine readers have selected El Pinto as the Duke City’s very best New Mexican restaurant on several occasions.  In 2010, it was a runner-up in that category as were the restaurant’s chips and salsa, red chile, tacos, sopaipillas and wait staff.  Not surprisingly, El Pinto was also voted Albuquerque’s best restaurant for patio dining.  No slouch in the adult beverages department, its margaritas were also a runner-up for best of the city honors.  Lots of love was also imparted to El Pinto by readers of The Alibi during that publication’s 2010 “best of” edition.  The Alibi‘s readers gave El Pinto the nod in the categories of “best place to take out-of-town guests,” “best atmosphere,” and “best outdoor dining, but the restaurant was only bridesmaid in a few categories actually related to food.

As the feedback section for this review attests, readers of Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Blog seem to have a different opinion of El Pinto than the teeming masses who congregate frequently at the “peoples’ choice” restaurant.  Years have proven my readers to be a discerning lot not prone to hyperbole (mine or anyone else’s) or popular opinion.  My own opinion of El Pinto is in the camp of those discriminating dissenters who read my reviews.  Multitudinous visits over the years haven’t won me over.  Despite the festive and fun atmosphere, for me it’s all about the food and that’s where El Pinto doesn’t quite measure up to so many other New Mexican favorites.

Sopaipillas

Attribute some of that to me being a purist weaned on chile piquant enough to put whiskers on a toddler’s face.  I have tremendous respect for the meticulous attention to detail paid by El Pinto to its time-honored and traditional heritage and I marvel at the efficiency of its operation, but have been, time after time, underwhelmed by the restaurant’s culinary offerings–and it’s not just the piquancy factor.  During a recent visit, a corporate event, an otherwise potentially very good green chile was plated with boiled tomatoes that wholly detracted from the chile’s native sweetness.  The con queso was thickened by either flour or corn starch to the point that the queso and chile were secondary in the dish’s flavor profile.

1 November 2011: My favorite entree on El Pinto’s menu is the green chile queso burger.   When I order green chile cheeseburgers instead of New Mexican food at a New Mexican restaurant, it’s not necessarily an indication that the green chile cheeseburger is that good.  More than likely, it’s an indication that I’m tired of being disappointed by more conventional New Mexican entrees.  In the case of the green chile queso burger, it actually is pretty good–a charbroiled eight-ounce ground chuck patty smothered with blended queso, “hot” green chile, sweet onion pickled relish, bibbed lettuce and tomato served with a wheat or white bun.

Levante

What’s not to like about that burger? Well, if you’re prone to Felix Unger standards of cleanliness, you might not like the fact that this is a messy burger with the unctuous, oozing queso dripping  copiously onto your hands.  Otherwise, it’s quite good.  The charbroiled beef, prepared at medium-well unless otherwise requested, is excellent and the marriage of green chile and sweet onion pickled relish establishes a unique flavor profile that accentuates both the sweetness and the piquancy (slight, despite the menu’s claim that “hot” chile is used on this burger) of the chile.  This is a burger I’ll order again…and again.

Red chile ribs are considered El Pinto’s signature dish on the strength of selling more than 25,000 plates (40,000 pounds of pork) of them per year.  Five-hundred buckets of marinade per year are extracted from chile every year just for these succulent pork ribs.  The ribs are seared to impart a smoky flavor, seasoned lightly then smothered in the red chile marinade and cooked in an oven for about six hours.  Dave DeWitt calls them “the best ribs in the world!” while founding Friends of Gil (FOG) member Bob of the Village of Los Ranchos is campaigning to become their official publicist (check out his comments below).

18 October 2015: Then there’s the dessert tray which includes flan, an empanada with ice cream and other sweet tooth treats sure to please anyone.  The restaurant’s most popular dessert is a post-prandial offering called the Levante (homemade biscochitos soaked in Patron XO Cafe, Kahlua brandy and coffee layered with mascarpone cheese, a light whipped cream and topped with shaved chocolate spiked with red chile).  It’s essentially a New Mexican tiramisu.  El Pinto sells more than 10,000 Levantes per year, a number made doubly impressive considering each sweet slab serves two to four people.  My verdict–cloying, rich and in need of more emboldening chile.

In its annual Food & Wine issue for 2012, Albuquerque The Magazine awarded El Pinto a Hot Plate Award signifying the selection of its blue corn blueberry pancakes as one of the “most interesting, special and tasty dishes around.”  Considering the thousands of potential selections, to be singled out is quite an honor.  Alas, the blue corn blueberry pancakes are available for less than four hours a week (10:30AM to 2PM on Sunday).  If something sweet won’t sate you on a Sunday morning, the brunch menu has a number of items with a more piquant flavor profile.

18 October 2015: Among the more interesting is a green chile sausage croissant, a lightly-browned croissant served with homemade green chile sausage, fresh scrambled organic Taos eggs and spicy ghost pepper Jack cheese served with papitas.  On paper there are two potentially incendiary ingredients on this dish–the green chile sausage and the ghost pepper Jack cheese, but because the cheese is melted on the sausage, we suspect the intense heat comes from the cheese.  When it comes to Scoville units, ghost peppers have among the most potent piquancy of any pepper in the world.  Because it’s not polite to use a fire extinguisher, those of us with delicate constitutions will have to hope the slightly sweet croissant and savory scrambled eggs can quell the heat enough for us to finish this entree. 

18 October 2015:  Skillet dishes have been a de rigueur brunch offering since at least the 1970s.  El Pinto’s brunch menu offers its own take on this popular dish, a carne asada skillet plate (papitas, peppers and onions with sliced, marinated and grilled strip steak served with red or green chile and two Taos Farms all-natural free-range eggs any style) with a flour tortilla on the side. By and large, my Kim whose carnivorous inclinations far surpass mine, enjoyed the carne asada save for prominent fatty ends.  The peppers and onions are grilled nicely and the papitas border on the “almost too salty” quality that defines the best papitas.

El Pinto is on the New Mexico Tourism Department’s “Culinary Treasures Trail,” an initiative which honors those rare and precious family-owned-and-operated gems operating continuously since at least December 31st, 1969.  As with all the restaurants on the list, El Pinto is an independent mom-and-pop restaurant which has stood the test of time to become beloved institutions in their neighborhoods and beyond.  In El Pinto’s case, that’s far beyond!

El Pinto
10500 4th Street, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 898-1771
Web Site

LATEST VISIT: 18 October 2015
# OF VISITS: 13
RATING: 15
COST: $$
BEST BET: Green Chile Queso Burger, Nachos, Salsa & Chips, Sopaipillas, Levante

El Pinto Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Maria’s New Mexican Kitchen – Santa Fe, New Mexico

Maria’s New Mexican Kitchen on Cordova Road in New Mexico

In 1712, the provincial governor for the kingdom of New Mexico decreed that henceforth, an annual reenactment of Diego De Vargas’ triumphant reentry into Santa Fe would be celebrated every year. Santa Feans have dutifully obeyed the proclamation ever since, making the Fiesta de Santa Fe the oldest civic celebration of its kind in North America.  Approaching its 400th year, the Fiesta is renown not only for its pageantry and pomp, but for its respectful reflection on a significant historical event.

By 1951, however, the Fiesta as we know it today, had degenerated into a parody of its former self, a victim of crass commercialism which Santa Fe’s Pulitzer Prize winning writer Oliver La Farge called “a shabby commercial carnival.”  Incensed that the Fiesta was overrun by concessionaires who turned the Fiesta into “a hot dog and popcorn affair,” La Farge recruited a contingent of Santa Fe’s movers and shakers in the business, religious and arts communities to restore dignity to the Fiestas.  Both the Museum of New Mexico and the Catholic Church sided with La Farge’s group.

The tortillera at Maria’s shows how it’s done

It took the ouster of several Fiesta Council members who had fostered the circus-like atmosphere wrought by deep pocketed concessionaires before the Church, the Museum and Santa Fe’s business community would once again lend their support to the Fiesta. Together they sought to make the 1952 Santa Fe Fiesta the very best ever. It can be disputed as to whether or not this admirable goal was or was not accomplished, but one thing is indisputable–dignity was returned to the Fiesta.

The Santa Fe Fiesta in 1952 was significant for another reason–the intoxicating aromas and delicious flavors emanating from a modest take-out kitchen on Cordova Road.  This was Santa Fe’s introduction to the cooking of Maria Lopez.  Belying its relatively small digs, the kitchen produced an ambitious menu of popular New Mexican favorites including the tortilla burger which Maria herself claims to have invented.

Salsa and Chips

In short order, Maria’s traditional Northern New Mexican cooking became so popular that her husband Gilbert built a patio, alas on a rare year in which rains were relentless.  Covering the patio with the vigas and roof that are still in place today, the humble kitchen would grow into a restaurant which has since become a Santa Fe landmark and one of the city’s most popular dining destinations.

The Lopez family sold Maria’s to Don Hammond, then Chief of the New Mexico State Police.  Maria’s would pass hands several more times–from Chief Hammond to his bartender Charlie Lopez, then to Peter Gould and Priscilla Hoback (daughter of Rosalea Hoback, founder of Santa Fe’s iconic Pink Adobe) and finally to Santa Fe native Al Lucero and his wife Laurie who owned Maria’s from 1985 through 2013 when they sold to restaurant impresario Gerald Peters’ Santa Fe Dining group.

Green Chile Egg Rolls

The venerable Maria’s retains vestiges of its age, but it wears them well.  The original take-out kitchen and patio were in the area which today houses Maria’s bar and modern kitchen.  As you walk into the main dining room, the host station is what may once have been a colonial dresser atop of which pitchers of tea and ice water are perched.  The distressed wood planked floors are timeworn and uneven. White-washed walls are festooned with Western art.  Carved wood beams painted white support blond planks.  Suspended from the ceiling are wagon wheels which have been converted into light fixtures, some spangled in neon.

At one corner of the main dining room is a small (maybe 10X10) room bisected by glass and tile.  A solitary figure, a tortillera, works behind the glass, assiduously kneading dough into small balls then rolling them into flat disks about a foot in diameter.  The tortillera then places the raw tortillas on a preheated cast iron plate, turning them frequently to ensure they are cooked evenly.  The tortilla is ready when it begins to puff up with air pockets and becomes the color of a pinto pony.  Making flour tortillas is a time-honored process that requires experience and expertise.  Maria’s tortilleras know what they’re doing.

Margaritas from Maria’s: Peach at right, mango at left

As you peruse the menu, a basket of chips and a bowl of salsa are brought to your table.  The chips are a bit over-salted, perhaps an inducement to order a margarita or five (more on margaritas later), but they’re crispy and delicious.  The salsa is fiery, easily the most piquant item on the menu.  It appears to be made from dried chiles, seeds and all.  Owner Al Lucero is a renown expert on salsa, having served as judge for New Mexico Magazine‘s second annual salsa contest.

On the foreword to The Great Margarita Book, Robert Redford wrote, “When people have asked of a place to eat in Santa Fe, I find myself referring them to Maria’s. Is the food good? Yes. But the margaritas they are the best. When you read this book, you’ll know why.”  The Great Margarita Book is Al Lucero’s magnus-opus, one of a number of books on the subject he has written.  Lucero has made Maria’s THE place for margaritas, earning “best of the city” honors for more than a decade.

Carne Adovada with Rice (Soupy Beans not pictured)

The menu explains why Maria’s margaritas are so special: “At Maria’s, we have over 100 REAL Margaritas from which to choose!  But, what is a “real” Margarita? Simple. It’s one that’s made with “REAL” tequila, “REAL” triple-sec and “REAL” lemon or lime juice (we use fresh-squeezed lemon juice instead of lime, because of it’s year-round consistency). Real Tequila is a liquor made ONLY in Mexico, which has been distilled from the sugary juices extracted from the cooked heart of the Weber blue agave plant. To be considered true tequila, it must contain at least 51% of this agave juice (sugar). Most off-brands or “cheap” tequilas sold in the USA do not contain the required 51% agave sugar and by regulation, are not considered tequila.”

Maria’s menu includes many traditional Northern New Mexico entrees as well as some unique surprises such as the Santa Fe meets Philadelphia green chile Philly, thinly sliced Philly steak sauteed with new Mexico green chile and onions topped with melted Monterrey jack served in a folded homemade tortilla.  There may be no bigger surprise than the green chile egg rolls, two per order egg rolls stuffed with pork, shredded cabbage and carrots and green chile.  They’re served with a green chile dipping sauce.   If I’ve made the point recently that the worse egg rolls are those served in Chinese restaurants, Maria’s egg rolls emphasize that point.  These are fabulous!  My only complaint is that an order should include six to eight egg rolls.

Maria’s Stuffed Cheddar Burger

Among the New Mexican entrees, you can’t go wrong with carne adovada, fork-tender pork marinated in red chile and served with rice, beans (either refried or soupy) and a tortilla or sopaipilla (you should request both).  The pork shreds easily, a sign it’s been marinated slowly at low temperatures.  The chile is mild, but quite flavorful.  Use the tortilla as a “spoon” to scoop up the carne as native New Mexicans have been doing for generations.  The rice and soupy beans are both quite good, too.

Two bars on the same street in South Minneapolis became famous for serving a burger known regionally as the “Juicy Lucy.”  The Juicy Lucy is a cheeseburger in which the cheese melts inside the meat patty rather than on top of it.  The resultant molten core of cheese tends to erupt in volcano-like fashion when you first bite into it and has a tendency to scald the tongue and mouth.  Maria’s one-ups the Juicy Lucy with a burger called the Stuffed Cheddar Burger.

Sopaipillas

A large beef patty is stuffed with sharp Cheddar cheese, chopped sweet onion and New Mexican green chile then is charbroiled to your specification. It’s not only an adventurous burger, it’s a delicious one though the green chile could have been a bit more piquant. The beef patty is so thick, it takes a thick hamburger bun to hold it all together and true to Juicy Lucy tradition, the Cheddar erupts at first bite. If you love Cheddar, this is the burger for you!  It should be noted that Al Lucero was one of the two judges in the Green Chile Throwdown in which the Buckhorn Tavern‘s Bobby Olguin vanquished Food Network celebrity chef Bobby Flay.  Olguin knows green chile cheeseburgers very well and his restaurant’s unique rendition is quite good.

Many diners opt to have sopaipillas with honey for dessert.  The piping hot puffed treats are complimentary with several entrees, but additional sopaipillas can be purchased for a pittance.  Maria’s serves them with real honey.  Before you decide on having only sopaipillas for dessert, make sure to peruse the menu.  You might not want to pass up the homemade flan, traditional New Mexican natillas or homemade Mexican chocolate mousse.  The natillas are served in a goblet ringed with a wholly unnecessary whipped cream.  Get past the whipped cream and you’ll thoroughly enjoy the thin custard dish with a generous sprinkling of cinnamon.

Natillas

Maria’s New Mexican Kitchen is usually packed, a testament to how highly regarded it is among locals and tourists alike.  At nearly sixty years of age, like the Santa Fe Fiesta, it is still going strong with no surcease to its popularity in sight.

Maria’s New Mexican Kitchen
555 West Cordova Road
Santa Fe, New Mexico
(505) 983-7929
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 04 July 2011
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 18
COST: $$
BEST BET: Green Chile Stew, Sopaipillas, Carne Adovada, Maria’s Stuffed Cheddar Burger, Natillas, Tortillas

Maria's New Mexican Kitchen Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato