The Keg Steakhouse – Chandler, Arizona

A Canadian steakhouse in the silicon desert city of Chandler, Arizona? You bet! In fact Canada’s most renown steakhouse has made expansive forays into the United States with restaurants in Arizona, Colorado, Oregon, Texas and Washington among its more than 80 restaurants in North America.

Founded in 1971 in Vancouver, the Keg Steakhouse is a cut above many American dining establishments, particularly in terms of service. You won’t find stereotypical Canadian ambiance at the Chandler location, much of whose walls look as if they had been built by Chacoan stone masons. What you will find is a casual and relaxing atmosphere and some of the most attentive and knowledgeable wait staff around. In fact, if rated solely on the attentiveness of the wait staff and management, the Keg would be a top tier restaurant.

Because our wait exceeded the 20-minute wait promised, my dining companion Bill Resnik and I were each treated to a complementary appetizer during our inaugural visit. My choice was baked goat cheese which was coated in crushed almonds and served with a savory tomato basil salsa and toasted bread. We both had a lettuce wedge which we asked be doused with as much bleu cheese dressing as our waitress could carry. The dressing was above average but didn’t have the sharpness that makes true bleu cheese one of the world’s best salad accompaniments.

True to my tradition of ordering the menu’s most unique sounding entree, I ordered the bleu cheese filet, a 10-ounce filet grilled then covered in a bleu cheese crust which was served golden brown and sprinkled with roasted garlic cloves. Alas, while the filet was tender, juicy and grilled to my exact specifications, the bleu cheese crush served only to detract from its flavor. During a subsequent visit I had a lunch-sized New York strip loin seasoned with the Keg’s spices. It was better than the dinner portion steaks served in many American steakhouses.

Ultimately, the deciding factors weighing against this better than average restaurant were (perhaps unfair) comparisons to the now defunct Albuquerque’s Great American Steakhouse and that bleu cheese filet which might be an anomaly better forgotten and forgiven.

The Keg Steakhouse
3065 Chandler Boulevard
Chandler, Arizona
(480) 899-7500

LATEST VISIT: 25 March 2004
COST: $$$$
BEST BET: Outstanding service

Nopalito Mexican Restaurant – Las Cruces, New Mexico

One of two Nopalito Mexican Restaurants in Las Cruces

Enter the front room of this converted Baptist church and you’re greeted by white washed walls on which are inscribed significant dates in the history of Las Cruces. One notable date is July 1st, 1964, the date in which the Gallegos family launched their first restaurant venture–Nopalito’s.

So popular did that restaurant become that it moved to a larger location, the aforementioned site of a former church. It also expanded to another site. I first became acquainted with Nopalito’s when my sisters attended New Mexico State University in the late 70s and early 80s, but hadn’t been back since 1987. At first glance, not much had changed.

A history of Las Cruces on the foyer wall at Nopalito

The salsa isn’t as liquefied as many salsas in southern New Mexico seem to be, but was flecked with bits of onion, bell pepper and jalapeno. It is good, albeit lacking in bite.

During a visit home from college in the late 70s, my sisters introduced their Norteño family to sour cream enchiladas, a rarity in our part of the state. In honor of that introduction, that’s what I ordered at Nopalito’s. While highly tasty, the accompanying red chile was benign. I should have remembered that my sister Jean’s preference for chile is with as low a Scoville unit count as possible.

Nopalito’s pork chops are well seasoned but just a bit dry.

Nopalito’s doesn’t appear to be considered among the city’s top tier New Mexican restaurants, but it holds fond memories for me, the food is delicious and the wait staff treats you like royalty. Those are three good reasons to return.

310 South Mesquite
Las Cruces, NM

LATEST VISIT: 7 March 2004
COST: $$
BEST BET: Pork Chops, Sour Cream Enchiladas

Outpost Bar & Grill – Carrizozo, New Mexico (CLOSED)

Much of the seemingly desolate 60 miles of desert topography separating San Antonio, New Mexico and Carrizozo, New Mexico is steeped in history–more specifically the history of “the bomb.” The Trinity site on which was tested America’s first atom bomb lies somewhere between the two relatively nondescript Old West towns.

It stands to reason, therefore, that the brilliant scientists who built the forerunner of the nuclear age at least occasionally found recreation and sustenance in or near those towns. True enough, San Antonio’s tie to fame is the Owl Cafe, claimant of the most famous green chile cheeseburger in the world. Detractors downplay the Owl’s hype, often touting other restaurants’ green chile cheeseburger, sometimes with vehemence.

Among the competitors for New Mexico’s (and therefore, the world’s) best green chile cheeseburger is the Outpost Bar and Grill on the eastern corridor of the aforementioned 60 mile stretch of barren terrain. There are (gasp at the irreverence) those who say the Outpost outdistances the Owl for green chile cheeseburger supremacy. Count me among them.

You won’t be impressed by the restaurant’s (if you can call it that) ambience–wood planked ceilings, wooden floors, and paneled walls on which are mounted what a New Mexico safari might yield–a brown bear, deer, antelope, ibex, mountain goat, javelina, buffalo and even a non-native blue marlin. Thankfully none of those are on the menu, a lighted marquee hung just above the kitchen’s order window.

The menu features burgers, steaks, a bowl of red chile and not much more. After having the green chile cheeseburger and fries, I see no reason to add anything to the menu. It was one of the top two or three green chile cheeseburgers I’ve ever had, prompting me to (gasp again) downgrade the Owl’s rating significantly. That’s how much better the Outpost’s version is. Hand-formed patties, fresh roasted chile and great ingredients combine to inspire mouth watering utterances of yum and wow. A small order of fries was more than we could handle.

America’s scientists terminated our war with the Japanese. It’s likely the Outpost’s burgers terminated their hunger as it does for hungry patrons today.

Outpost Bar & Grill
415 Central
Carrizozo, NM
LATEST VISIT: 7 March 2004
BEST BET: Green Chile Cheeseburger, French Fries