Kaktus Brewery Tap @ Nob Hill – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

Kaktus Brewery Tap @ Nob Hill Launched in January, 2016

Most of us have known a wine snob or two. You know the type. They refer to themselves as oenophiles, a fancy way of saying “connoisseur or lover of wines.” They believe themselves to possess refined palates and won’t drink a wine that isn’t as cultured as they are. Even then, they first have to check the color and opacity of the wine. Then they twirl their glass for ten minutes or so before sticking their nose into the glass (like anteaters at an ant hole) and sniffing the wine noisily. They then proudly proclaim the wine has notes of oak, berries or butter. Their next step is to gargle with the wine, sloshing it between their cheeks and gums before finally imbibing of its delicate flavors and proclaiming it worthy.

In recent years, another adult beverage snob has arisen to give oenophiles some competition in the haughtiness department. They’re called “cerevisaphiles,” a term that refers to beer enthusiasts. Cerevisaphiles turn their nose up at Pabst Blue Ribbon and other “pedestrian swill.” As with their oenophile counterparts, the cerevisaphiles pride themselves on their discerning palates. They will drink no beer before or after its time and are careful to note its appearance (color, head density) and aroma before sipping (yes, sipping) it and contemplating its worthiness. Where the snobbiest and most well-heeled of oenophiles pride themselves on wine cellars, cerevisaphiles (like my friend Ruben) take pride in brewing their own.

The dining room at Kaktus Brewing Company in Nob Hill

That, my dear readers, is this gastronome’s feeble attempt to use humor and stereotypes to exploit the misconceptions behind the much maligned, much misunderstood talents and passions of oenophiles and cerevisaphiles. Most oenophiles and cerevisaphiles I know (including some of my best friends) are actually very down-to-earth and uncommonly modest. They’re justifiably proud of their bona fide gifts and abilities to discern and appreciate wine and beer in ways plebeians like me aren’t fully capable of doing. Where I’m mildly jealous is that sometimes their gifts and abilities extend to the culinary realm. With their enhanced taste buds and olfactory senses, they can discern nuances and subtleties in foods better than I can. For all I know, they even have better vocabularies, too.

Dana Koller is one such person. Born into a family which included talented chefs, Dana couldn’t help but develop a passion for quality foods. He parlayed his passions and precocious experiences in the food and beverage industries toward entrepreneurial channels, founding a marketing platform for local restaurants, bars, breweries and wineries throughout central and northern New Mexico. He also launched indulgenm.com, a Web site celebrating the Land of Enchantment’s wines. Although wine is his true passion, Dana’s refined palate also appreciates good beer.

Meat Sampler

Seeing an untapped opportunity in Bernalillo, Dana partnered with brew master Mike Waddy to launch Kaktus Brewing Company in October, 2013. In the vernacular of the brewing industry, Kaktus is a nano-brewery in that it brews only about 500 total barrels a year. Kaktus, named for the German spelling of the word “cactus,” is also unique in that all beer is brewed on steel, flat-bottomed German-made equipment which allows for lighter style lagers without compromising on the quality of other beers. This Lilliputian brewery uses all natural and organic ingredients in its beer. As you enter Kaktus, you can take a self-guided-tour of the brewery.

Though primarily a brewery in which patrons can gather together leisurely and enjoy high quality craft beer, Kaktus didn’t neglected the gustatory needs of its guests. From the onset, it offered a small, but very intriguing menu of surprisingly high quality options, all prepared without the luxury of a true kitchen. Initially Kaktus offered only Frito pie and a number of superb build-your-own hot dogs and brats, the least adventurous of which was an all-natural beef dog. Intrepid diners opted instead for Buffalo Chile Dog; Elk, Cheddar and Jalapeno Brat; All-Natural Beef Dog; Duck and Cilantro Game Sausage; and Wild Boar Game Sausage. Over time, Dana added salads and gourmet pizza to the menu. Andrea Lin, erstwhile critic for the Albuquerque Journal, gave Kaktus a three-star rating.

Dana’s Dog Bites

In part because of public demand, Dana entered Albuquerque’s burgeoning brewery fray in January, 2016, opening the first Kaktus taproom at the space which previously housed Amore Neapolitan Pizzeria and before that Bailey’s on the Beach. That location, on the western fringes of Nob Hill and eastern extremities of the University of New Mexico, is situated in an area already bustling with taprooms. Thanks to its family-friendly atmosphere and a menu sure to capture hearts, minds and appetites, Kaktus will do just fine. Half of the 2,400-square-foot space is, in fact, dedicated to dining while the other half includes a bar you can belly up to. Then there’s an expansive rooftop patio that offers exquisite city views as well as spectacular sunset panoramas.

Knowing what to expect from having visited Kaktus several times at its Bernalillo location, it thrilled me  to see the reactions of my friend Bill and his colleagues Tisha and Jeff as they indulged in their first game meat hot dogs. Jeff, in particular, was practically verklempt with joy at every bite of his elk, Cheddar and jalapeno brat. It’s the same reaction my friend Sr. Plata had when introduced to the duck and cilantro game sausage in Bernalillo. It’s the same reaction I had while reveling in the splendorous glory of the meat sampler, links of duck, elk, jalapeno, wild boar and natural beef served on a bed of sauerkraut and accompanied by dipping mustard and house-made curry sauce. This magnificent meatfest will sate carnivores of all stripes, enrapturing their taste buds with well-seasoned sausages heightened in flavor by the mustard and curry sauce. Each sausage has its own distinct flavor profile and all are addictive.

BBQ Piggie Pizza

There’s a warning on the Kaktus menu which cautions guests “if you don’t like our food, your taste buds may be stressed from the week and need another beer.” While it may be true of other eateries that the level of your enjoyment of the food directly correlates with how much you’ve had to drink, you don’t need to be “four sheets to the wind” to enjoy even the most basic of appetizers at Kaktus. That would be Dana’s Dog Bites, two-to-three bite-sized all-beef dog bites wrapped in a crispy pastry dough served with dipping mustard. This is the adult version of the little Smokies wrapped in biscuit dough you may have enjoyed in your youth. Though they probably won’t make you nostalgic for the “good old days,” Dana’s Dog Bites will make you thankful you can partake of adult indulgences.

The pizza menu lists three specialty pies, four gourmet pizzas, three veggie pizzas, three “simple” pizzas and a build-a-pie option. Just as he didn’t want to offer standard (translation: boring) bar-quality hot dogs, in designing the pizza menu, Dana wanted to construct pizzas different from what other restaurants offer. He wanted to put the pizza in pizzazz. Mission accomplished! Kaktus’s pizza menu is unlike that of any gourmet pizza restaurant in the area. He imports 51-percent whole grain crust from Arizona for the pies. The crust is firm, but has the right amount of “give” when ingredients are heaped on. The BBQ Piggie Pizza, constructed with curry, BBQ sauce, red onions, lots of bacon and Vermont cheese is an eye-opener, the antithesis of all too many pizzas in which barbecue sauce is candy sweet. This barbecue sauce pairs with the curry to give this pizza a more savory punch that complements the bacon very well.

Red Pumpkin Pizza

For sheer uniqueness, you can’t beat the Red Pumpkin Pizza (thinly sliced pumpkin squash, sprinkled pine nuts, goat cheese and drizzled red chili sauce with bacon crumbles). Not only is the squash sliced waifishly thin, its texture is more akin to a dehydrated fruit than what you’d think would be “squashy.” While all ingredients work very well together, it’s the goat cheese and pine nut combination of which you’ll certainly take heed. The pine nuts provide a sweet, roasted flavor with a subtle hint of pine while the goat cheese lends a tangy, slightly sour flavor. The chili sauce adds just a little piquancy to the mix while the bacon provides a porcine presence, the inclination to enjoy of which is imprinted in the DNA of most carnivores.

The vibe in the Nob Hill version of Kaktus is a veritable world of difference from the vibe in Bernalillo. It’s not solely “a little bit rock and roll” compared with “a little bit country.” The Nob Hill location is more fast-paced and rollicking. The Bernalillo milieu is more laid back and sedate. What they both have in common is a great brewery serving great good.

Kaktus Brewery Tap @ Nob Hill
2929 Monte Vista, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 23 January 2016
1st VISIT: 22 January 2016
COST: $$
BEST BET: Meat Sampler, Red Pumpkin Pizza, BBQ Piggie Pizza, Dana’s Dog Bites

Kaktus Brewing Company @ Nob Hill Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Sara’s Pastries and Deli – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

Sara’s Pastries & Deli in the Journal Center Marketplace

Creator!  You who give life to all things and who has made men that they may live happy and multiply.
Multiply also the fruits of the earth, the potatoes and other food that you have
That men may not suffer from hunger and misery.
~Traditional Incan Prayer

As recently as 2010, Albuquerque–which rightfully takes great pride in its acceptance of cultural and culinary diversity–did not have a single Peruvian restaurant. Fast forward three years to March, 2013 and there are three restaurants showcasing to Duke City diners just a modicum of the tremendous diversity and deliciousness offered by Peruvian cuisine. Every one of the three is unique, each highlighting only a segment of the culinary offerings that make Peruvian cuisine one of the great cuisines of the world.  

More than perhaps any of the world’s great cuisines, Peruvian food is impossible to pigeonhole or stereotype. It is the original fusion cuisine, having absorbed culinary influences from streams of immigrants encompassing every great culinary culture and melding them with indigenous ingredients and dishes, many with Incan roots. As a result of this cultural and culinary fusion, the Guinness Book of Records recognizes Peru as the nation with the most local plates, some 491 officially registered dishes in all.

Under glass are some of the most sumptuous pastries, sandwiches and tamales in town

Under glass are some of the most sumptuous pastries, sandwiches and tamales in town

With nearly five-hundred official dishes in the Peruvian culinary repertoire, the comparatively limited menus at Albuquerque’s three Peruvian restaurants barely scratch the surface in offering the cuisine The Wall Street Journal called “the next big thing” in 2012.  It’s a fact not lost on peripatetic gastronomes about whom Frommers Travel Guide’s observed  “travel all the way to Peru just to eat.” 

Although most Duke City diners probably won’t travel to Peru to indulge in gastronomic greatness, most are just a few miles away from one of the city’s three Peruvian treasures.  The antecedent for hopefully several other Peruvian restaurants is the highly acclaimed Pollito Con Papas which, thanks to the best rotisserie chicken in Albuquerque, had to triple its real-estate within a year of its 2011 launch.   Eastsiders might argue that the best rotisserie chicken comes from Taste of Peru, a March, 2013 entry into the local culinary scene.

Roasted Pork Sandwich

Roasted Pork Sandwich

The most centrally-located of Albuquerque’s three Peruvian restaurants is Sara’s Pastries & Deli, ensconced in the increasingly familiar Journal Center Market Place, a strip mall quickly becoming a very popular dining destination. Sara’s neighbors include the nonpareil Torinos @ Home, El Pollo Picante, Twisters Burgers & Burritos and other restaurants. Launched in February, 2013, Sara’s Pastries & Deli fills a niche in offering the delectable and decadent dessert offerings of Peru.

There’s a venerable saying in Peru that translates to something like “Peruvians have two stomachs—one for food and another for dessert.” That idiom illustrates the passion with which Peruvians approach desserts, which, ironically were virtually unknown prior to the arrival of the Spanish. As with the entirety of Peruvian cuisine, desserts are heavily influenced by the streams of immigrants which settled in the country. The resultant cultural and culinary mix is why you shouldn’t be surprised if you see arroz con leche, pastel tres leches or even tiramisu on the dessert menu of a Peruvian restaurant.


Tripled Sandwich with Miss Vickie’s Smoked BBQ Chips and Inca Kola

You’ll find those sumptuous delicacies and so much more in the pastry case at Sara’s Pastries & Deli. Under glass, in fact, are some of the most artistic quality pastries you’ll ever see. Perhaps not coincidentally, the walls of the restaurant are festooned with large framed photographs of those pastries. Every pastry is a made-from-scratch masterpiece. So, too, are the alfajores showcased under a domed glass tray. Perhaps the most popular cookie in Peru, alfajores are butter cookies filled with dulce de leche and sprinkled with powdered sugar. They are absolutely addictive! 

Owner Sara Correa, originally from Peru, is the petite whirling dervish in the kitchen responsible for the beautiful deliciousness in her eponymous operation. Visit on a weekend and you might be served by her dainty daughter or her two mesomorphic sons, both of whom can probably bench press the pastry case.  All three are as personable and charming as can be with the ambassadorial qualities every restaurateur wants for the “front of the house.”  You would never guess this is the first restaurant operation for this delightful family.

Peruvian Red Tamale

Peruvian Red Tamale

It would be so easy to bypass the deli offerings and dig right into the desserts, but to do so would mean missing out on some pretty terrific sandwich options.  It did my heart good not to see “proudly offering Boar’s Head products” displayed anywhere.  There’s nothing wrong with Boar’s Head products, but because they’re so ubiquitous, there aren’t as many sandwich surprises in the Duke City as there otherwise might be with a greater variety of (or better still, homemade) cold cuts, cheeses and condiments.

31 March 2013: Sara’s doesn’t rely on a megalithic corporate purveyor of meats for their sandwich offerings.  The meats proffered at Sara’s are homemade fresh daily.  It makes an amazing difference, one easily discernible on the roasted pork sandwich.  The canvas for this towering meatfest is homemade French bread that has a nice crusty exterior and soft innards.  A generous pile of tender and absolutely delicious pork is joined between bread by red onions and habanero peppers with your choice of a signature sauce (habanero, jalapeño or green chile). The piquant peppers lend qualities other than heat, all of them complementary.  The sandwich is served with a side of Miss Vickie’s chips.


Peruvian Green Tamale

31 March 2013: If, like me, you find egg salad sandwiches boring, you’ll be made a convert by the Triple (pronounced “treep-lay”) Sandwich.  Four simple, but healthy ingredients: avocados, tomatoes, olive oil and hard-boiled eggs are layered between  multi-grain bread (there’s an extra slice in the middle) with just a smear of mayonnaise.  It’s a surprisingly moist and surprisingly delicious sandwich, layered in such a manner as to bring three times the joy to the hungry diner.  The Triple Sandwich may sound unsophisticated, but it’s not a sandwich this worldly gastronome would ever turn down.

31 March 2013: New Mexicans perusing the menu will likely become excited upon seeing Peruvian red tamales and Peruvian green tamales on the menu.  Alas, red and green don’t mean the same thing in Peru as they mean in the Land of Enchantment.  Red tamales are a traditional Peruvian dish enjoyed most often for Sunday breakfast.  Sara’s rendition is very traditional, fashioned with steamed red Peruvian chile (very different from Hatch or Chimayo red chile) corn masa stuffed with chicken and black olives.  The tamales are surprisingly moist, slightly piquant and imbued with an exotic flavor imparted by the banana leaves in which they are steamed

Peruvian Empanada

Peruvian Empanada

31 March 2013: The Peruvian green tamales are made from steamed cilantro corn masa stuffed with chicken, black olives and Peruvian chile steamed in corn husks.  The cilantro imparts an exotic quality to the corn masa while the Peruvian chile lends just enough piquancy to be noticed.  Very noticeable is the sheer deliciousness of these tamales.  Both the green and red tamales are served with a side of red onions laced with finely chopped habanero peppers.  If you’re missing piquancy with your tamales, this is where you can get it. 

14 July 2015: Most turkey sandwiches in Albuquerque don’t need tryptophan to make diners sleepy.  Not only do most of them sport the ridiculous sobriquet of “Albuquerque Turkey,” most are made with thin, tasteless sliced turkey, the type of which is a true turkey in the most derogatory sense of the term.  At Sara’s the turkey is the regal bird founding father Benjamin Franklin proposed as America’s symbol.  It’s majestic, a blend of white and dark meat roasted on the premises served with lettuce, red onions, habanero and Sara’s signature sauce on a French bread canvas.  The sandwich packs a piquant punch though not so much that it obfuscates the flavor of house roasted turkey.  Fittingly, it’s served with your choice of fruit or Miss Vickie’s jalapeño chips.

Gourmet Turkey Sandwich with Jalapeño Chips

31 March 2013: Also quite dissimilar to the same named offering in New Mexico are Peruvian empanadas.  Sara’s empanadas are baked in pastry dough stuffed with ground beef, onions, raisins and spices and sprinkled with powdered sugar.  They’re mostly savory but are tinged with sweetness imparted by the raisins and powdered sugar.  Your taste buds, however, will gravitate toward the exotic Peruvian spices which really give these empanadas their unique and wonderful flavor.

The dessert menu (nuestros dulces) is a tempting array of delicious treats that will have you making frequent return trips to Sara’s where you’ll find Black Forest Cake, Fruit Napoleon, Classic Peach Cake, Classic Strawberry Cake, Chocolate Mousse, New York Supreme Cheesecake and Tiramisu to name just a few as well as  tarts, cookies and truffles. 

Tres Leches "My Way"

Tres Leches “My Way”

31 March 2013: If the Tres Leches “My Way” is any indication, you’re in for a serious treat–as in some of the best in New Mexico treat.  The tres leches cake, sponge cake soaked in a milk syrup made of three different kinds of milk: sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk and whole milk (or cream) and topped with Italian meringue and sprinkled cinnamon, is in my Kim’s words, “the best I’ve ever had.” Who am I  to argue, especially with my mouth full. 

14 July 2015:   My first sighting of Sara’s caramel cone brought to mind the horn of plenty, also known as a cornucopia, which is represented by a hollow horn filled with the inexhaustible gifts of celebratory fruits.  Sara’s caramel cone is a horn-shaped pastry stuffed with plenty of dulce de leche, a sweet, rich treat similar in taste, texture and consistency to a thick caramel sauce.  Dulce de leche is ubiquitous in Peru where it’s used primarily as a spread or as a filling for pastries.  The caramel cone is a delicious way to enjoy perhaps the best dulce de leche you’ll find in Albuquerque.

Caramel Cone

Sara’s Pastries & Deli is open for breakfast and lunch Monday through Friday from 7:00AM to 4:30PM.  Sara’s is a restaurant which does Peru proud!  Among savvy diners, Sara’s has ascended the ranks to the rarefied air of one of Albuquerque’s very best dining and dessert destinations.

Sara’s Pastries & Deli
7600 Jefferson N.E., Suite C
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 14 July 2015
1st VISIT: 31 March 2013
COST: $$
BEST BET:Roasted Pork Sandwich, Tripled Sandwich, Green Tamale, Red Tamale, Empanada, Tres Leches “My Way”, Alfajores, Gourmet Turkey Sandwich, Caramel Cones,

Sara's Pastries and Deli Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Firenze Pizzeria – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)


Firenze Pizzeria at 900 Park Avenue, S.W., near Central Avenue and 8th Street adjacent to Robinson Park

We’ve got a wood-burning pizza oven in the garden
– a luxury, I know, but it’s one of the best investments I’ve ever made.”
~Gwyneth Paltrow

There really is a lot of veracity in the axiom that “your eyes are the mirror to your soul” because eyes truly do provide visual clues as to what we’re thinking. Some psychologists would have you believe that your choice of pizza toppings is also a window to your soul. So what do your favorite pizza toppings say about your personality and behavior?

One psychologist and longtime pizza lover would have you believe people who adorn their pies with pepperoni are “good team players, prepared to sacrifice their personal interests to those of the majority.” Another purports that people who prefer pepperoni have “been shown to “forget” obligations on occasion and miss out on opportunities at work and home.” Hmmm, contradictory assessments by two so-called experts. Perhaps such assessments say more about their creators than they do about the personality traits of subjects they claim to understand so well.


The interior of Firenze Pizzeria

Extending the premise that an accurate personality assessment could be discerned from your choice of toppings, why not a personality assessment based on your preference for slices instead of a whole pie? What does it say about you if you’d rather have a thick Brobdingnagian pizza over a thin wisp of a pie? Somewhere out there, an analyst is creating a profile of diners who prefer pizza from a mobile conveyance (food truck, if you will) over pizza from a pizzeria.

For those of us who love the Italian wood-fired pizzas from Firenze Mobile Wood Fired Pizza and the Italian wood-fired pizzas from the Firenze Pizzeria equally, the personality assessment would probably read something like “indecisive, timid and easily manipulated, fearful of offending others” and other such psycho-babble. From a pizza preference standpoint alone, it’s impossible to decide which is better–dining al fresco on a pizza from the Firenze mobile oven or dining under climate-controlled comfort in the pizzeria.


The unique pizza oven in which your pie is prepared

If you didn’t know the good folks who brought us Firenze pizza on wheels have expanded their operation and given Duke City pizza lovers another option for enjoying their pizza, you’re probably not alone. The Firenze Pizzeria opened its doors in May, 2013. Now, however, if you didn’t know of Firenze Mobile Wood Fired Pizza, you might not be attuned to the Duke City’s burgeoning food cart scene. Albuquerque has become a cosmopolitan cow town, joining such cities as Portland, Los Angeles and Austin as a haven for (take your pick) food trucks, food carts, mobile canteens, catering trucks and mobile kitchens. Just don’t call them roach coaches.

Firenze may well be the first of the Duke City’s mobile eateries to diversify its offerings by launching a brick and mortar operation. It wasn’t solely the success of the mobile operation that precipitated the move. Felicia and Steve Meyer matriculated into the food service world with the intention of determining whether or not they would enjoy the challenge and all the work entailed without going broke. Purchasing an Italian-made oven was less expensive than renting a storefront. Long story short, the Meyers found out they not only enjoyed making pizzas for hungry patrons, they were pretty darned good at it. Firenze quickly made it to every diner’s short list, leaving us pining for the next time we happened upon the location in which the magnificent mobile oven was parked.


The Don Corleone Pizza

Being booked every weekend for nearly two years for special events, catering and a semi-permanent gig at the Downtown Growers’ Market at Robinson Park facilitated the decision to seek a permanent venue. They found the perfect spot at 900 Park Avenue, S.W., virtually adjacent to Robinson Park. The two-story edifice Firenze now calls home has plenty of character and personality, previously having housed an art gallery and before that, El Hispano News.

The pizzeria’s cynosure is an inlaid brick oven imported from Italy. It’s not an exact replica of the mobile oven, but works similarly. Firenze burns locally sourced elm, a soft wood which isn’t especially good for smoking meats, but imparts a nice flavor to pizza dough. The oven generates temperatures of up to 800 degrees. That doesn’t portend getting your pizza quickly. Expect your order to take up to fifteen minutes to be filled as the Firenze pizzaioli stretch the dough by hand and meticulously apply the ingredients for your pie.


​Quattro Formaggio: Garlic Oil, Mozzarella, Ricotta, Feta, Pecorino Romano, Roasted Garlic & Parsley

Firenze pizzas are individually sized at eleven-inches–perfect for one. The pizza isn’t exactly thin crust and not exactly New York style, but somewhere in between. The dough is made on the premises and is hand-stretched. Firenze touts its use of “only the freshest, most organic ingredients” sourced locally as much as possible. “Market specials” are made with ingredients from local farmers and purveyors. Firenze also offers a ten-inch gluten-free crust and gluten-free salad options. All pizza crusts are dairy-free and if you ask, any pizza can be made without cheese. Signature teas are housemade daily and lightly sweetened with pure cane sugar. No fountain drinks or artificially flavored beverages are served.

8 June 2013: The Pizzeria’s menu lists three “classics:” the Margherita (the pizza which started it all), a cheese pizza and a pepperoni pizza (don’t expect the Meyers to conduct a personality assessment should you order this one). The real showcase of the important Italian oven is in its preparation of eleven artisan pizzas, some of which are very inventive. For her inaugural taste of Firenze, my Kim opted for the Quattro Formaggi, a turophile’s delight made with four cheeses: mozzarella, ricotta, feta and Pecorino Romano as well as garlic oil, roasted garlic and parsley. It’s amazing how the four cheeses complement and contrast one another: the pungent sharpness of the feta against the delicate richness of the ricotta; the familiar creaminess of the mozzarella with the hearty sheep’s milk undertones. Fromage fanatics, this one’s for you!


The Firenze mobile pizza oven

8 June 2013: Sign up for the Firenze newsletter and you’ll receive periodic updates and news. That’s how we found out about the Don Corleone special, a pizza available only to newsletter subscribers. If ever a pizza was worthy of being considered the “Godfather” of pizzas, this would be it. Picture on a slightly charred dough canvas: tomato sauce, mozzarella, Italian sausage from Keller’s Farm, pepperoni, green olives and Copocollo ham. This is a magnificent pizza, so good I eschewed my usual practice of saving three slices for later…so good I wanted a couple more slices…so good it made it to my short list of best pizzas in New Mexico.

What makes the Don Corleone so good? Farina fanatics might find it blasphemous to learn that not everyone believes char should be part of a pizza’s flavor profile. The pies at Firenze have a light char, just enough so that you might catch a hint of it on a bite or two; it’s not the taste of “burnt” some diners complain about at Farina. The ingredients are top notch and are apportioned just a bit on the parsimonious side which lets you glean a good appreciation for the well-seasoned tomato sauce and magnificent crust. Your pie isn’t weighed down with excess which makes eating it a challenge. Moreover, it is a delicious, uncomplicated pie.

The Godfather

3 January 2015: In its January, 2015 report Pizza Magazine Quarterly revealed that only four states across the fruited plain love pizza less than New Mexico does  (another quality of life category for which we can be grateful for Mississippi).  With only 1.55 pizza joints per 10,000 residents, the Land of Enchantment ranks 46th in terms of number of pizzerias.   Worse, only 38.4 percent of those pizzerias are independent.  Perhaps if more pizzerias in New Mexico offered a pizza as good as The Godfather, our ranking would be much higher.  The Godfather (tomato sauce, mozzarella, Keller’s Farm Italian sausage, pepperoni, mushrooms and Kalamata olives) is a beautiful pie that arrives at your table steaming hot with the mozzarella burbling to a tempting sheen.  The high-quality toppings are strewn atop a golden dough canvas in the manner worthy of Michelangelo with each bite rewarding you with pleasurable deliciousness.

3 January 2015: With a name like “Picante,” you might expect a pie pulsating with piquancy.  Instead, the “wow” factor on this pizza comes from a melange of ingredients (tomato sauce, mozzarella, Capocollo ham, rosemary pineapple and fresh sliced jalapeños) that go very well together.  The jalapeños are baked with the pizza which renders them nearly caramelized and tame.  With pineapple and Capocollo ham, the Firenze folks could have paid tribute to the Aloha state in naming this pie, but unlike far too many “Hawaiian” pizzas, this one isn’t nearly as fruity and sweet as others.  It’s got just enough sweetness from the pineapple to meld magnificently with the saltiness of the ham and the slight heat of the jalapeños.

The Picante

The menu also includes three salads: house salad (Romaine, cherry tomato, cucumber, Pecorino Romano, house vinaigrette), creamy pesto salad (Romaine, Parmesan, cracked black pepper, croutons and a creamy pesto dressing) and the one which most piqued our interest, the Gorgonzola salad (mixed greens, Gorgonzola cheese, walnuts and Balsamic vinaigrette). Wash down your meal with Firenze’s basil mint iced tea, a black tea infused with basil and mint or with a lavender lemonade, an herbal bend of lavender tea, Italian lemon juice and pure cane sugar. You won’t miss Coke or Pepsi in the least.

Whether or not you buy into the notion that your choice of pizza ingredients says a lot about your personality, you’ll probably join the soon to be legions of pizza aficionados headed for the Robinson Park neighborhood for one of the best pies in town–a wonderful pizza whether you get it from the oven on wheels or the venerable two-story building.

Firenze Pizzeria
900 Park Avenue, S.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 3 January 2015
1st VISIT: 8 June 2013
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Don Corleone, Quattro Formaggio, Lavender Lemonade

Firenze Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Korean Barbecue House – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

The Korean B.B.Q. House on Central Avenue.

The Korean B.B.Q. House on Central Avenue.

For dining patrons in the know, the 2002 closure of the Fu Shou House was one of the most heartrending moves in the Duke City restaurant scene. In the Korean B.B.Q. House, Fu Shou was reborn.

While the Fu Shou proprietors don’t own the Korean B.B.Q. House, they did hold court in the kitchen for a while after the restaurant’s launch crafting the delicious entrees for which they were renown. Another chef now stewards the kitchen, but has maintained the high standards of his predecessors.

Initially serving both Korean and Chinese food, this Central Avenue restaurant now focuses exclusively on Korean food and has already captured quite a loyal following–for good reason.

The bulgogi is spicy, sweet, tangy and absolutely delicious. Ditto for the bulkalbi which thankfully was also meaty and relatively free of fat. Unlike bulgogi and bulkalbi served at some other Duke City restaurants (primarily Japanese and Chinese restaurants), the Korean B.B.Q. House version was made of high quality meat, not the sinewy, fatty stuff which should be saved for the house pets. Both the bulgogi and bulkalbi are served with five side dishes, including one of the spiciest kimchees in town. An accompanying egg drop soup was also quite good.

As an appetizer you might want to try the beef kimbob, a sort of Korean sushi served with a soy sauce heavy dipping sauce, but which was nonetheless delicious. Our sole appetizer complaint is about the vegetable egg rolls which were of the quality served at many buffet restaurants (in other words, not very good).

Korean Barbecue House
3200 Central, S.E.
Albuquerque, NM

LATEST VISIT: 7 February 2004
COST: $$
BEST BET: Bulgogi, Bulkalbi, Kimchee