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Mick’s Chile Fix – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Mick's Chile Fix on Candelaria

Mick's Chile Fix on Candelaria

Addicts are all too familiar with the symptoms, especially the insatiable cravings that can only be quelled by a fix.  There’s nothing like the high you get from the addictive mistress that is New Mexican chile.  That’s why we willingly singe our tongues and scald our taste buds to get that fix.

What gives chile its intense fire and creates the need for a fix is a chemical called capsaicin, a natural ingredient that stimulates the mouth’s nerve endings, causing a burning sensation. In response to this burning sensation, the brain releases endorphins, natural painkillers that may produce a temporary “high.”

So, the more of a fiery chile you eat, the stronger the soothing effect. Even though chile isn’t medically addictive, some chile lovers may be hooked on the high they get…just ask anyone in New Mexico who loves the stuff.

Better still, ask a chile addict who no longer lives in New Mexico and can’t get the stuff everyday.  The withdrawal is painful.  In dreams they are plagued by the unrequited yearning which can be fulfilled only by a satisfying bowl of red or green.  They wake to drool soaked and chewed up pillows.

New Mexicans are fortunate indeed in that we can satisfy our lust for chile whenever we want–and we want it for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks in between.  We want it in all foods sweet and savory.  We want it at work and at play.

Chips and salsa at Mick's Chile Fix

Chips and salsa at Mick's Chile Fix

One of the very best new restaurants in Albuquerque in which to get that fix is the aptly named Mick’s Chile Fix.  Mick’s isn’t situated in a bustling, well-trafficked, well eaten area, but in a humble brick stand-alone building in an industrial area off Candelaria.

Open 7AM through 2PM from Monday through Saturday, it’s a locally owned and operated diner in which patrons willingly risk spilling some of the red stuff on their nattily whites or grungy blues.  It’s a classic greasy spoon and in 2006, Mick’s earned a Greasy Spoon award from a local rock station.

The dining room is stark and functional.  It’s not the type of diner in which comfy chairs invite lingering for post-meal conversations.  Come to think of it, the only conversations I recall during our inaugural visit were in between utterances of umm and yum.  Conversations that did take place centered around how good the food is.  A persistent, droning hum from the ice maker could be another reason conversation seemed so sparse.

The menu, on which the letter “i” in chile is painted like a red chile and the “i” in Fix is painted like a green chile features all the New Mexican standards.  Breakfast is served all day long.

The Hungry Man's Lunch

The Hungry Man's Lunch

Salsa isn’t complementary at Mick’s, a trend that seems to be increasing among Duke City restaurants.  It’s a nice salsa, pureed but not to the point of being liquefied.  It’s got a piquant bite that goes oh so well with the plateful of crisp, low-salt and heated chips.

Two of the more popular entrees at Mick’s are generously endowed combination platters fittingly called the “Hungry Man’s Lunch” and the “Hungry Man’s Breakfast.”  What makes their popularity so surprising is that many of the partakers have to go back to work on what will invariably be an overfull belly.

The Hungry Man’s Lunch is bountiful: two beef tacos, one meat and one cheese enchilada, a tamale and two paper-thin tortillas along with the de rigueur beans and rice.  Everything is smothered in your choice of chile (red, green or Christmas style) and a blanket of Cheddar.

If you’ve ever had a combination plate in which you can’t discern much difference between the enchiladas and the tamale, you’ll appreciate Mick’s version of both.

One UFO sized pancake in each Hungry Man's Breakfast

One UFO sized pancake in each Hungry Man's Breakfast

The tamale has the perfect amount of masa with a nice texture.  It provides a complementary contrast between the pronounced corn flavored outer “shell” and the chile blessed, shredded meat inside.

The enchiladas are substantial with fried, soft corn shells enveloping generous portions of meat and cheese.  Rarely do you find a cheese enchilada as flavorful as Mick’s rendition.

The tacos aren’t your garden-variety tacos busting at the seams with lettuce and tomato.  Once you get past the greenery (and reddery?) there’s plenty of well seasoned and flavorful beef.

The chile isn’t quite piquant enough for a fire-eater like me, but it’s quite flavorful.  The red chile isn’t quite the color of Day-Glo, but seems to run almost as orange as it is red.  The green chile is almost luminescent and packs a fruity flavor.  Both will assuage your fix.

There are plenty of options on the menu for folks who don’t necessarily need a fix (unindoctrinated tourists mostly).

For them, there’s the Hungry Man’s Breakfast which is missing only one thing–an angioplasty.  That’s what you might need after three eggs, hash browns, two strips of bacon, two sausage links, a pancake and toast or tortilla.  This is the type of breakfast that will fill you up for an entire weekend.  The pancake itself is roughly the size of the saucer seen flying over Roswell some sixty years ago.  It’s also an excellent pancake, the only room for improvement being warm syrup instead of syrup from a squeeze bottle.

I’m not quite ready to proclaim “get your kicks on Route 66 and your chile at Mick’s Chile Fix,” but it is a great option when you’ve just got to have it.

Mick’s Chile Fix
2930 Candelaria, N.E.
Albuquerque, NM
(505) 881-2233

LATEST VISIT: 30 October 2007
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: *
COST: $$
BEST BET: Salsa & Chips, The Hungry Man’s Breakfast, The Hungry Man’s Lunch

Mick's Chile Fix on Urbanspoon

Garcia’s Kitchen – Albuquerque, New Mexico

The Original Garcia's on Juan Tabo, N.E.

The Original Garcia's on Juan Tabo, N.E.

According to the Population Division of the U.S. Census Bureau, the most common surname in America is (not surprisingly) Smith, a name shared by over two and a half million people. Contrary to popular belief Jones is not the second most common surname.  With only one and a half million citizens, Jones is the fourth most common surname in the census.  The Jones are trying to keep up with the Johnsons (two million) and Williams (1.7 million).

The most common Hispanic surname in America is Garcia.  With more than 630 thousand citizens bearing the name, it is the eighteenth most common surname in the fruited plain followed by Martinez with 581 thousand plus bearers.

In Albuquerque one of the most common restaurants is The Original Garcia’s Kitchen with seven locations throughout the metropolitan area.  Common does not necessarily connote average or ordinary.  In this case it speaks to the sheer number of instantiations bearing the name of one of the city’s most popular dining establishments.

The caricature of Andy Garcia can be found throughout the restaurant

The caricature of Andy Garcia can be found throughout the restaurant

The Original also does not mean the first one of the seven Garcia’s Kitchen restaurants.  Each of the seven restaurants is called The Original Garcia’s Kitchen.  I surmise it might have something to do with a short-lived interloper named Garcia’s of Scottsdale which opened and closed in the early 1980s in the uptown area.

The Original Garcia’s Kitchen has been serving Albuquerque diners since 1973.  That’s nearly 35 years of people pleasing that says it’s doing many things right.

Garcia’s is a restaurant with a personality, albeit in the form of a caricature of Andy Garcia, the restaurant’s owner.  That caricature depicts a sombrero wearing Andy with a cherubic smile holding a plateful of tacos on one hand and a towel on the other.  It is prevalent throughout his restaurants; you can find it on colorful paintings, the menus and even on napkins.

Every one of the seven restaurants is brightly and festively decorated with an ambiance tailored to the specific neighborhood it is serving.  Garcia’s Web site offers several Betty Boop themed novelties that seem to go hand-in-hand with the Andy caricature.

One of the things that makes Garcia’s so popular is its breakfast at any time option.  There’s a separate section called “Gringo Breakfast” if you prefer not to have any chile laden entrees.

Chips and salsa

Chips and salsa

Make that “chili” or at least that’s the way it’s spelled on the menu.  It’s one of several menu malapropisms the purist in me finds hard to accept as cutesy.  Other liberties taken on the menu include “Karnita’s” and the listing of fajitas under the New Mexican food.

Yeah, I know.  What do I want–good grammar or good taste?  Obviously there’s nothing as important as great tasting New Mexican food and that’s where Garcia’s has won over legions of fans.  Alas, you can’t count me among them.

I receive more e-mail asking me to review Garcia’s than just about any other restaurant in the Duke City.  There are several reasons Garcia’s isn’t on my list of favorite New Mexican restaurants and every one of them was confirmed during my most recent visit (October, 2007).

The first reason is the saltiness of the chips.  Modern technology has made possible the desalinization of ocean water.  It shouldn’t be that difficult to desalinate chips.  It’s too bad such overly salted chips are served with an excellent, rich red salsa with the piquant bite purists crave.  With better chips, it’s a two bowl pre-meal salsa.

Enchilada plate with a fried egg atop

Enchilada plate with a fried egg atop

The second reason is that I’ve never had a plate from Garcia’s served at more than lukewarm.  To me it’s a near criminal offense not to serve New Mexican food piping hot.  Other restaurants (La Esquina comes to mind) don’t seem to have a problem serving hot food.  I, for one, appreciate the warning, “be careful, the plate’s hot.”

The third reason has to do with the papas (along with rice, beans or French Fries being the sides you can have with your entrees) which might be good if they didn’t consistently look as if scraped from the bottom of the frying pan.

Garcia’s chile is a bit on the insipid side, barely registering on the piquant scale.  It’s the type of chile (I can’t bring myself to spell it “chili”) you would serve visitors from the Midwest who aren’t used to highly spiced, piquant food.

On the plus side there are some things I do appreciate about Garcia’s.  The service is always first-rate with an attentive, highly skilled wait staff.

Sopaipillas

Sopaipillas

The Karnitas, despite that atrocious spelling, are tender and delicious–like carne adovada without chile.

Garcia’s sopaipillas are also quite good–and they are served steamy hot.  They’re not quite pillowy as at other restaurants, but they always feel and taste freshly made and delicious.

Garcia’s also serves excellent biscochitos.  The official New Mexico state cookie, the best biscochitos are topped with plenty of anise for sweetness and flavor.  These are some of the best!

Garcia’s does its very best to live up to its motto “Stamp Out Gringo Food.”  With a loyal fan base and seven restaurants throughout the Duke City, it certainly puts a dent on it.

Garcia’s Kitchen
3601 Juan Tabo, N.E.
Albuquerque, NM
275-5812
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 20 October 2007
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 17
COST: $$
BEST BET: Biscochitos, Salsa

Garcia's Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Painted Horse Coffeehouse – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

The Painted Horse Cafe, an oasis of great food on Albuquerque's West side.

The Painted Horse Cafe, an oasis of great food on Albuquerque's West side.

In the summer of 2000, prominent artists throughout the Southwest resoundingly answered the call to submit their design ideas for painting on an unconventional medium–a horse cast in a durable resin blend.

This particular canvas was chosen to commemorate the introduction to North America of the horse. More than five centuries ago, Spanish Conquistadores explored New Mexico astride the noble beast.

The painted ponies were intended to promote artistic excellence and for about a year, the “trail of painted ponies” led art aficionados to various galleries throughout the state where the equine masterpieces were on display. In the fall of 2001, the ponies were sold and garnered over half a million dollars for altruistic causes.

Fast forward to March, 2006 when culinary pioneers Debbie and Jud Lewis-Mahon, blazed their own trail on painted ponies of their own, albeit gleaming metal steeds with considerably more horsepower than the Conquistadores’ horses.

That’s when they launched the Painted Horse Coffeehouse in the Paseo del Norte Shopping Center on Albuquerque’s far Northwest corner. Like the Spanish explorers, the Lewis-Mahons have had to surmount vast expanses of wasteland–in this case, a plethora of chain restaurant mediocrity. The Painted Horse Coffeehouse is a rarity in this part of the Duke City, a true mom and pop restaurant.

Sean Padgett (left) and Jud Lewis-Mahon deliver breakfast to a lucky table.

Sean Padgett (left) and Jud Lewis-Mahon deliver breakfast to a lucky table.

The Painted Horse occupies the space once held by the Gourmet Bagel and Coffee Co. and has actually captured many of its predecessor’s loyal patrons…and not solely because they sell fourteen varieties of bagels. Initially the bagels were acquired from Wolfe’s Bagels, a locally owned, family operated favorite, but now they are made in-house and are just as good, if not better.

Despite its shopping center storefront facade, the Painted Horse isn’t your conventional humdrum coffeehouse. It has a distinct upscale avant garde feel to it, a sort of neighborly Santa Fe type place in which you can kick back in comfort, bask in the morning sunlight and imbibe the aromas of steaming coffee and delectable pastries. Bistro tables and comfy chairs beckon.

Operating hours are also somewhat unconventional for a coffee house. Dinner hours vary by day, but most nine-to-fivers on the West side should be able to make it to the Painted Horse for dinner Monday through Saturday. Don’t miss out on the monthly slam (a form of performance poetry that occurs within a competitive poetry event) and open mike event held the third Friday of every month at 6PM.

Eclectic art–whether it’s watercolor paintings of age-worn Northern New Mexico casitas or smiling gargoyles–will catch your attention, but what will hold it are the pastries under a glass case. This is dessert art at its most appetizing, a bevy of calorie laden confections crafted in-house by Jud himself, the visionary instrumental in developing many of the restaurant’s offerings in addition to baking all breads, pastries and desserts.

The Chiptle Chicken Sandwich and a bowl of steaming Sherry Onion Soup

The Chipotle Chicken Sandwich and a bowl of steaming Sherry Onion Soup

The menu, scrawled in different colors on a chalkboard high above the ordering counter, is a veritable treasure trove of chic panini sandwiches, wondrous pastries, exotic coffees, Italian sodas, a salubrious and savory soup of the day and much more. The breakfast menu features the aforementioned bagels and New Mexico’s ubiquitous breakfast burritos.

Gourmet panini sandwiches begin with substantial slices of artisan breads which are engorged with fresh vegetables, meats and condiments. You’ll be challenged to make a selection from among the inventive toasted and non-toasted sandwich choices on the menu.

You can’t go wrong with the Chipotle Chicken sandwich served cold. It features a thinly sliced, unbreaded chicken breast festooned with a sweet chipotle mayo, a sweet and buttery havarti cheese, lettuce and tomato on soft focaccia bread. The melding of ingredients is both creative and delicious.

The Painted Horse's breakfast burrito served Christmas style.

The Painted Horse's breakfast burrito served Christmas style.

The menu also includes New Orleans’ favorite sandwich, the muffaletta. In reality, it’s more akin to a fancy ham sandwich in that it features thinly sliced ham, provolone cheese and a Balsamic pesto spread. If you’re a stickler for authenticity, this sandwich won’t provide it, but if a great tasting sandwich is what you’re after, this one will fit the bill.

A steaming bowl of the soup of the day will warm the cockles of your heart and make you ready to face the most daunting of New Mexico winter days. The Painted Horse’s flavorful Sherry Onion Soup may be the most subtle French onion soup I’ve ever sampled in that it isn’t dominated by saltiness. You can really discern the individual tastes of savory beef broth, sweet caramelized onions and melted cheese.

If you manage to bypass the Meryl apple pie, the dessert case is bound to have your favorite pastry dessert, whatever it might be. A popular favorite is the bumbleberry pie.

Since there’s no such thing as a bumbleberry, pastry chefs typically use in-season berries. The Painted Horse’s version, during a December visit was made with blueberries, blackberries and raspberries. It showcased the delicious tanginess of three distinct berries in a flaky crust.

The "Big Breakfast"

The "Big Breakfast"

New Mexicans might opt for the piñon brownie which features one of the state’s best natural treasures–piñon. This is a rich dark chocolate brownie drizzled with white chocolate glaze and replete with delicious crunchiness. It’s so good you might not want to share it. Nor will you want to give up any of the bourbon pecan pie, as good as any you’ll find in the deep South.

Maxwell House had it all wrong. The best part of getting up isn’t a steamy cup of coffee, it’s an outstanding breakfast burrito served Christmas style (both red and green chile), especially if the person taking your order is co-owner Debbie (she of the luminous smile and effervescent personality).

The Painted Horse’s version of the quintessential New Mexico breakfast entree is wonderful. Moreover, it’s a testament to the talent of the owners who certainly didn’t grow up eating chile in Vancouver. They’re now as addicted to chile as any native and prepare it as well, too.

That breakfast burrito can be had smothered in either red or green (or both) or as a hand-held burrito. It is engorged with home fries, bacon and eggs.

Challah Bread French Toast---Wow!

Challah Bread French Toast---Wow!

The “Big Breakfast” is aptly named–home fries, two eggs, two pieces of bacon, a bagel or your choice of toasted bread and tomato slices. The home fries are crispy on the outside and tender inside, the antithesis of similar offerings at other restaurants.

If you start out your mornings craving something sweet, the answer to your yen is the Painted Horse’s French toast crafted from homemade Challah bread lightly dusted with cinnamon and sugar. This is tree thick slices of utter deliciousness, some of the best French toast in the city.

For smaller breakfast fare, you can’t go wrong with the Painted Horse bagels–fourteen varieties in all, ranging from chocolate to garlic to green chile and so much more. These bagels are chewy and dense with a doughy interior and perfectly browned exterior. You can have them toasted or untoasted and with butter, peanut butter or cream cheese (four housemade varieties, including green chile).

In 2006 the McDonald’s Corporation honored Herb Peterson with a Lifetime Achievement Award for his creation of the Egg McMuffin, McDonald’s popular breakfast sandwich. The Egg McMuffin consists of a slice of Canadian bacon, a grill-cooked egg and a slice of cheese on a buttered, toasted English muffin. A sausage patty may also be selected in place of the Canadian bacon.

The Painted Horse's wondrous breakfast sandwich. Who needs the Egg McMuffin?

The Painted Horse Coffeehouse has its own breakfast sandwich that rivals (and may even exceed) the heralded Egg McMuffin in terms of flavor. This rendition consists of any bagel (try the green chile bagel) with a savory scrambled egg, Cheddar cheese and crispy bacon. It is a delicious waker-upper. Even better, try this sandwich on a buttery croissant.

The Painted Horse is a horse of a different color from all the tired, mangy corporate chain nags on the Northwest side. It’s streamlined and built for comfort and deliciousness! It’s the type of restaurant Albuquerque patrons should muster all their horsepower to get to soon and often.

Painted Horse Coffehouse
9311 Coors Blvd, N.W.
Albuquerque, NM
LATEST VISIT: 14 October 2007
# OF VISITS: 4
RATING: 20
COST: $
BEST BET: Chipotle Chicken Sandwich, Bourbon Pecan Pie, Bumbleberry Pie, Pinon Brownie, Sherry Onion Soup, Challah Bread French Toast, Breakfast Burrito Christmas Style