Quizno’s – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Just as owning a BMW might diminish your appreciation of any other car you’ll ever have (unless it’s another BMW), eating sub sandwiches in New England will devalue your estimation of any sub sandwich you’ll ever have anywhere else. From Maine to Delaware, sub sandwiches in all their sobriquets (grinders, torpedoes, heroes, etc.) are so far superior to sandwiches served anywhere else in the country that you’ll invariably find yourself making unfair comparisons. Nothing else quite fills the bill.

After moving to Denver, New York native James Lambatos wanted Mile High City residents to experience an Italian sub similar to what he experienced growing up in the Big Apple. He founded Quizno’s in 1981 as an upscale version of Subway but with the intention of duplicating the New York sub sandwich experience.

At its worse, Quizno’s does provide a better product than the ubiquitous industry leader, but it still pales in comparison to the sandwiches you’ll find throughout the East Coast. Quizno’s motto is “Deliziosa e rinfrescante–delicious and refreshingly good! Quizno’s oven toasted sandwiches do taste better–a fact that wasn’t lost on franchise leader Subway who in 2005 began its own toasted sub campaign.

A burgeoning franchise, Quizno’s appeared poised to make a run at the big boys as evidenced by its marketing campaign which kicked off during 2002 Superbowl. I don’t know if they made many inroads into an already glutted sandwich market, but their commercials were certainly clever and its product definitely upscale compared to Subway.

Unlike assembly line sandwich competitors, each Quizno’s sub is made to order and each is toasted. Size doesn’t necessarily matter if the product is big on taste. Quizno’s makes big sandwiches in which the ingredients are not pre-packaged and scrimped on, but they aren’t particularly memorable, albeit better than Subway.

My early favorite is the Angus, a well seasoned roast beef sandwich with a tangy sauce. Quizno’s toasted tuna sandwich is also pretty good unless you make the mistake of taking it home and “nuking” it. Another nice sandwich, the chicken carbonara sandwich didn’t do well enough during its short run to stick to the daily menu, but there are enough good alternatives to make this one of my sub choices in the Duke City. That last statement in itself decries the woeful state of sub sandwich restaurants in the Duke City.

6421 Montgomery, N.E.
Albuquerque, NM

LATEST VISIT: 31 May 2005
BEST BET: Angus Roast Beef Sandwich; Tuna Sandwich

Asia Restaurant – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

Proprietor Nan Nguyen and his wife launched Asia Restaurant in April, 2002 and have experienced steady, if not spectacular customer traffic.  Repeat business from faithful patrons in a small, intimate setting with only 12 tables give the Nguyens the opportunity to get to know their clients.

Although both from a small village in South Vietnam, Nan worked for years in a Chinese restaurant, hence a menu offering both Vietnamese and Chinese food.  Our inaugural visit was shortly after the restaurant’s grand opening and typical of Albuquerque, the restaurant was packed with curiosity seekers.

We were the only diners during our second visit and had a splendid time discussing the nuances of Vietnamese cuisine.  After learning of my affection for durian, the Nguyens concluded I must have been Vietnamese in a previous life and told me that durian rinds were placed under beds in poor households to keep roaches and bugs away.  They contend that 99.9% of Americans won’t even try durian.  So much for convincing Kim that durian is delicious once you get past its malodorous emanations.

The menu has changed considerably since our first visit.  For example, the Asian golden crispy dragon bone featuring chicken enveloped by a crispy crust and served with delicious fish sauce is no longer on the menu.  It was uniquely wonderful.

An expansive menu features pages of options including several family dinners for two or more.  The family dinner we ordered included two Asia triangle egg rolls with fish sauce, two crab Rangoon pot stickers and to steamed pork baos, all of which were quite good.  The uniquely shaped and not quite flat triangle egg rolls were surprisingly generously endowed with vegetables and shrimp.  The family dinner also included soup–wonton soup for Kim and a meatball soup for me.  Of the two, the meatball soup stood out for its savory broth laced with green onions.

Alas, our entrees were not quite as wonderful as their precedents–probably because we ordered Chinese entrees instead of Vietnamese.  The sesame chicken wasn’t nearly as cloying as served at other Albuquerque Chinese establishments (a good thing) but it didn’t have the “grab you” properties the same entree would have at the Ming Dynasty.  Similarly, the Szechwan orange beef lacked the sweetness so common with that entree at other restaurants, but was instead bequeathed with the sharper flavors of ginger and orange rind.  It was much better than the sesame chicken.

During our first visit we ordered Vietnamese entrees and will do so during future visits.  The steamed vermicelli with grilled beef and shrimp might be on our list, courtesy of some of the best grilling we’ve had in Albuquerque.  The rice noodle with grilled pork and egg rolls was also delicious.  Asia Restaurant is a very good Asian restaurant in a city blessed with outstanding Vietnamese and Thai restaurants.

Asia Restaurant
4200 Wyoming, N.E.
Albuquerque, NM
LATEST VISIT: 21 May 2005
COST: $$
BEST BET: Asian Golden Crispy Dragon Bone

Conway’s Red Top – Pueblo Colorado

Bigger may not always be better, but it can be pretty darn good. The gargantuan world famous hamburgers at Conway’s Red Top earn their “one’s a meal” reputation, but fell short in my estimation as one of the best hamburgers in America. A “people’s choice” mainstay in local newspapers, those humongous burgers earned acclaim as among the best hamburgers in America by no less than Michael and Jane Stern’s, America’s preeminent Roadfood experts.

These burgers of legendary proportion have–similarly to patrons who can actually finish them–grown larger over the years. A giant hamburger is an eight ounce ground beef patty prepared to order with lettuce, tomatoes and onions on a six-inch bun baked locally in Pueblo. It’s a no frills monstrosity that can be ordered in whole or half sizes with the half sized burger being as big as the largest burger on many restaurant menus.

Despite its prodigious patty, the gigantic burger and all its accoutrements is surprisingly thin. It does take two hands to handle it, but that’s in part to keep it from falling apart. As with Kincaid’s, another “top ten” burger, green chile would have crowned the burger better than the pepper jack, Swiss, Cheddar, Velveeta, American or Mozzarella offered.

Burgers aren’t the only thing on the menu, but they’re what the restaurant is known for. We didn’t see anyone order any of Grandma’s homemade soup, stew or chili, but we did see quite a few patrons down the old-fashioned shakes and malts. Conway’s Red Top has been a family owned and operated business since 1961 and until recent years could be found only in Colorado Springs. There are six locations in the Pike’s Peak area and all offer take-out or dine-in service. The Pueblo location is the most recent addition to the Conway’s restaurant family and has seen turn-away crowds since its launch.

Conway’s Red Top
112 West 2nd
Pueblo, CO
Web Site

LATEST VISIT: 6 May 2005
COST: $$
BEST BET: Giant Cheeseburger, Chocolate Malt