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Luigi’s Ristorante & Pizzeria – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Luigi's, a mainstay on Fourth Street for nearly fifteen years

Braciole became a part of American pop culture when Debra, Ray Barone’s long-suffering wife on television sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond, prepared a braciole dish everyone in the family liked too much. A notoriously bad cook who may have unintentionally ruined her husband’s taste buds, her braciole was better even than the version prepared by her competitive mother-in-law Marie, the bona fide chef in the family.   Quite naturally Marie didn’t share the ardor the  men in the family felt toward Debra’s culinary masterpiece.  That meant all-out war.

Luigi’s is one of the few (perhaps only) restaurants in town to serve braciole, a traditional Southern Italian dish featuring savory rolls of stuffed lean meat braised in a tomato sauce.  At least two other  Duke City restaurants serve Involtini, a Northern Italian version of the dish while Dagmar’s Restaurant & Strudel House prepares Rouladen, the closest thing to a German equivalent.  The point is Luigi’s serves a number of dishes you won’t find at other Albuquerque Italian restaurants.  In fact, its menu is a veritable compendium of Italian dishes.

The artistic interior of Luigi's

Luigi’s is the eponymous brainchild of Luigi Napolitano whose very last name translates to citizen of Naples, the city from which his mother Tina emigrated more than four decades ago. Tina is the bread-baking, pasta-making dynamo in the kitchen and is also responsible for many of the restaurant’s homey touches.  Tina painstakingly hand-sewed the delicate lace covering over each lamp as well as the curtains over each booth.  Other homey touches include viney plants hanging from pillars throughout the restaurant and a framed picture of the Mona Lisa hanging above the buffet.

The most eye-catching aspect of the restaurant isn’t the well-provisioned buffet, but the charcoal murals on the wall, most of which depict Roman life in the days of gladiators, spas, arcades and colonnades.  Seemingly out-of-place is  the section of the mural depicting the archangel Michael doing battle with Lucifer.  Despite Tina’s homey touches and the intriguing mural work, Luigi’s does show signs of being timeworn, but in a comfortable sort of way.   The only signage directing you to the restaurant is just off the street; there is no signage on the building itself.


Practically from its inception in 1996, Luigi’s has drawn in teeming masses for its weekday lunch buffet and its Friday night seafood buffet. Now, an Italian restaurant couldn’t possibly be good if it offers a dinner buffet, right? After experiencing Luigi’s rendition of a buffet, you might change your mind. That seems to be especially true of the Friday night seafood buffet which is extremely popular. Having lived near the water in Massachusetts and Mississippi, the seafood buffet isn’t something I’ll frequent, but it was worth trying once.

Luigi’s bountiful seafood buffet includes mussels, crab claws, baby clams, fried calamari, boiled shrimp, fried shrimp and other fruits of the sea. None of the crustacean offerings are as sizable as you might find at a casino buffet, but they’re well prepared and seasoned. The calamari is onion ring sized and chewy, not top tier but not bad either. Luigi’s clam chowder is better than you might prepare out of a can, but not of New England quality (in New Mexico, what is?). Had the cocktail sauce not been recently frozen, we might have enjoyed it on the seafood more.

Two slices of fresh, warm, yeasty bread

Two of the buffet highlights are Luigi’s bread offered with a garlic butter that  spreads easily and a salad bar with plenteous ingredients, some–such as beets, boiled eggs, pepperoncinis–not typically served on Duke City salad bar.  Several salad dressings are available to adorn your salad, including a passable blue cheese.  Interestingly, the salad bar also includes chocolate pudding which seems to be a staple at Chinese restaurant buffets, too.  Even if you don’t order the buffet, for a relative pittance you can have the restaurant’s all-you-can-eat soup and salad bar.  Two soups, usually a minestrone and a chowder are also available.

One of the other atypical Italian offerings on Luigi’s menu is a carne adovada pizza.  Pizza has become a virtual canvas on which pizza artisans paint with a broad brush, the more creative the ingredients, the better.  There is virtually no sacred cow, no time-honored traditions left.  When it comes to pizza, anything goes.  Still, carne adovada pizza is one of those things that will have you doing a double-take.  Even as you’re eating it and proclaiming it delicious, you’ll be questioning the propriety of this unique pizza…and it is a delicious pizza.

An all-you-can-eat salad option is available with Luigi's dinner plates

The crust, in particular, is wonderful with a very out-of-the-oven, yeasty bread aroma and texture.  It has just a hint of char on a crispy crust replete in its outside edges with those airy holes that seem part and parcel of most good, thick pizzas.  The carne adovada itself has a chile marinated flavor with just a hint of piquancy.  It’s strewn across the pizza in small shredded pieces then topped with a cheese blend from which bits of the carne peek out.  If carne adovada is too outlandish for your pizza, the menu has several other options, including gluten-free pizza.

While the seafood buffet may not have possessed the boatload of deliciousness I crave from seafood, the Frutta Di Mare, does.  A mixed seafood (shrimp, crab claws, clams, mussels and squid) medley over linguine with your choice of a red or white sauce, the name of this dish translates to “fruit of the sea.”  That’s an appropriate name considering not only the bounty of sea-birthed ingredients, but the way they’re prepared.  The seafood is sweet and succulent, a perfect foil for the red sauce.

A rarity even in Albuquerque--Carne Adovada Pizza

Luigi’s offers several seafood selections including one sure to appeal to New Mexicans who believe pain is a flavor and who like our food to bite back.  It’s the Shrimp Fra Diavalo, shrimp in a spicy garlic sauce served over a bed of linguine.  The menu describes it as “HOT!”  The term “Fra Diavalo” translates to “Brother Devil” in recognition of its tomato-based sauce which employs hot peppers (maybe Cayenne) in its flavor profile.  It’s one of those dishes that red or green chile wouldn’t improve; they’re not the type of pepper which makes this entree good.

If you do want green chile on your entree, it’s available in the green chile chicken lasagna.  Alas, the green chile is almost decorative, or more appropriately garnish-like, for its lack of piquancy.  Come on, this is New Mexico!  The layers of pasta, rich bechamel sauce and molten cheese blanketing the lasagna are quite good, but the entire dish would have been much more flavorful with a fennel-kissed Italian sausage or even ground beef.  Chicken, even well-prepared breast meat, is one of the most boring meat additives to any entree.  Sure it might make you feel good about not eating a more fattening meat, but there’s not much you can do to improve its blandish flavor profile

Green Chile Chicken Lasagna with a Bechemel Sauce

As for the braciole,it’s rolled in herbs, marinated in marinara sauce and served with a side of penne.  It’s also tied with a string to hold in the delicious stuffing.  I’m not sure it’s quite as good as Debra Barone’s rendition, but it’s quite good.  If you’re not tired of pop culture references, check out the movies A Bronx Tale and Raging Bull where braciole is used as a slang reference to the male reproductive organ.

Other pasta entrees are available with a variety of sauces: marinara, pesto, meat, Alfredo, mushroom, carbonara and even a rich broccoli cream sauce maybe even George W. Bush would like (he of the quote “I do not like broccoli and I haven’t liked it since I was a little kid and my mother made me eat it.  And I’m President of the United States and I’m not going to eat any more broccoli.”)  A number of hot and cold sandwiches are available as is a varied selection of domestic and imported beers as well as margaritas and wine.


A panacea of Italian dessert favorites is available for diners with a sweet, but not too sweet, tooth.  That means tiramisu that doesn’t taste like a cloying pudding.  The tiramisu, served in a small bowl, is made with ladyfingers and is redolent with espresso, not quite enough for me, but sure to please most coffee lovers.  Cannoli, the wonderful Sicilian tube-shaped shells of fried pastry dough stuffed with a sweet, creamy Ricotta cheese-based filling are also available, including a chocolate cannoli.  Lightly dusted with confectioner’s sugar, the cannoli is quite good.

Earlier in this essay, I mentioned the homey touches of the restaurant’s decor.  Homey would also describe the service at Luigi’s.  The wait staff is personable and attentive without hovering over you while you’re trying to eat.  Our waiter should have worn a big red letter “S” on his chest for the way he simultaneously took care of several tables–professional service with a smile, too.

Chocolate Cannoli

Luigi’s Ristorante & Pizzeria is still going strong after nearly a decade and a half in a relatively inconspicuous facade on Fourth Street.  Good portions, reasonable prices, excellent service and a diverse menu are the reason.

Luigi’s Ristorante & Pizzeria
225 4th St NW
Albuquerque, NM
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 24 September 2010
COST: $$
BEST BET: Clam Chowder, Chocolate Cannoli, Tiramisu, Carne Adovada Pizza

Luigi's Ristorante & Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

The Grill – Albuquerque, New Mexico

The Grill on Menaul serves one of the best burgers in Albuquerque

I’m not telling you, ‘Never eat a hamburger.’ Just eat the good ones with real beef, you know,
like the ones from that mom-and-pop diner down the street, …
And it’s so good that when you take a bite out of that burger,
you just know somewhere in the world a vegan is crying
Homer Simpson

America’s favorite everyman philosopher may have had The Grill in mind when uttering that pithy pearl.  What, after all, is a burger if not the celebration of meat, a pulchritudinous beef patty sandwiched between glorious golden orbs and festooned with ingredients intended to bring out flavor combinations that dance on your taste buds?  Made properly–personalized for taste to your exacting degree of doneness and with your  unique choice of ingredients–a burger can elicit tears of rapturous joy among burgerphiles.

Though the corporate  chains offer convenience and consistency, few would argue that their copycat burgers could elicit raw delirium when bitten into.  Some, like me, would argue that they’re not even made with real meat, USDA definitions for meat be damned.  No, my friends, it’s solely the bounteous burgers at your local mom-and-pop diners down the street that elicit the carnal cravings and libidinous lust that make you want to rush over to visit your preferred profferer of  meaty happiness with great regularity.

Phil Chavez tends to his unique mesquite-fired grill (Photo courtesy of Bill “Roastmaster” Resnik)

For Duke City diners one of the best the mom-and-pop diners down the street has a burger which just might elicit swoons of joy as it quells the most rapacious of appetites.  It’s a burger that had Rudy Paul Vigil waxing poetic when he told me about it.  An advocate of homemade tastes, Rudy is the guy who introduced me to Lumpy’s Burgers shortly after it opened so he’s got plenty of down-the-street burger cred with me.  In describing The Grill, he expounded about a unique wood-firing contraption that imbues each burger with enchantment.

The Grill is the brainchild of veteran restaurateur Phillip Chavez, a man who knows and likes burgers as much as he likes bussing, or at least that’s the impression you might get in reading the menu’s claim of “food so good, you’ll wanna kiss the cook!”  Before opening The Grill, Chavez operated grill-oriented family restaurants in Gallup as well as Shiprock and Farmington.

Salsa and chips are on the house at Grandpa’s Grill (Photo courtesy of Bill “Roastmaster” Resnik)

The Grill launched initially on the western fringes of the Duke City just east of 98th Street and was then called “Grandpa’s Grill.”  From the restaurants east-facing windows you were treated to some of the very best views of the Sandia Mountains and downtown Albuquerque.  At night, the panoramic view of the city lights were absolutely inspirational.  In July, 2011, Grandpa’s Grill moved to Menaul (next door to Jennifer James 101) and rechristened itself “The Grill.”

Interior walls are festooned with period pieces–mostly kitchen related bricabrac, much of it donated by patrons of the popular restaurant. Old-fashioned coffee makers, blenders and other appliances make for interesting reminiscences among us seasoned diners and for strange curiosities among the Y-generation crowd. The most interesting period piece, however, is the restaurant’s signature grill. White hot and throbbing red embers of mesquite coals lay on a steel tray atop of which sits a metal grated grill which Chavez raises and descends via a hand-crank. He’s mastered the art of temperature control to prepare your burgers or steaks to the level of doneness you specify.

An eight-ounce Papa Burger with green chile and Cheddar cheese

The dining room is very much a protypical example of 1960s diner decor.  Red leatherette booths and belly-up to the counter stools provide comfortable and functional seating. An old-fashioned burger fixings bar, complete with sneeze guard, hosts sliced tomatoes, pickles, mustard, ketchup, lettuce and onions which means you truly can have your burger your way.  A deep metal serving tray holds salsa which you can ladle onto plastic ramekins.  Another holds crisp, homemade (but slightly salty) chips, both free with each order.

The salsa is exceptional–as in so good it should be bottled good. It’s so good that properly pureed, it would make an excellent bloody Mary mix. It’s so good, it would make the the key component of a great gazpacho. It’s so good, you’ll eschew ketchup and dunk your fries in it. It’s so good, you’ll finish two or three trays of chips before your order is up. Seriously, this is good salsa. Its components are rather typical–tomatoes, onions, jalapenos, garlic, salt–but Chavez mixes each batch up in perfect proportions. The salsa is pleasantly piquant, not so incendiary you won’t be able to taste anything else.

Chile cheese dog with fries (Photo courtesy of Bill “Roastmaster” Resnik)

You will want to taste the burgers!  Prolific eaters will opt for the Grandpa Burger, a whopping sixteen-ounces, but Rudy Vigil assured me the eight-ounce Papa Burger will be more than enough for most ordinary eaters.  A six-ounce Mama Burger and a four-ounce Little Rascal Burger are also available.  The beef patties are hand-formed and thick.  You can top them with green chile and your choice of Cheddar, American or Swiss cheese.  The buns are lightly toasted.  All burgers are available in combination with a drink and Fries.

The menu also includes two steaks–a sixteen-ounce Ribeye and a ten-ounce New York cut–both served with your choice of fries or beans and tortilla. Also available are a chicken breast platter, a chicken sandwich, a Southwest chicken sandwich (with green chile and cheese wrapped in a tortilla) and chicken strips with fries. Hot dogs, in either jumbo or regular sizes, with or without chile and cheese, can also be ordered. Deep-fried sides include French fries, fried zucchini, fried mushrooms and onion rings.

A sixteen-ounce Ribeye Steak with a side of beans

The Papa Burger with green chile is terrific, a true compliment to the grill master and his deft manipulation of temperature!  The beef patty is imbued with the kiss of mesquite heat, but not so much that the usually acerbic grilling wood imparts its characteristic bitter aftertaste.   The green chile is a bit on the mild side, but the other ingredients from the fixings bar are all fresh and delicious.  Fries aren’t much to write home about, but they’re much improved when you dip them into the salsa instead of ketchup.

A value-priced 16-ounce Ribeye steak prepared at medium is too good to pass up. Ribeye tends to be a well-marbled and tender cut of beef that is well-suited to dry-heat preparation style. That means Grandpa’s unique mesquite grill brings out the optimal flavor profile in this steak. Not quite fork-tender, the Ribeye cuts easily, juices flowing not quite copiously but enough. The only seasoning discernible is salt and pepper, but sometimes that can be enough. It is in this case. Value-priced means sixteen-ounces of steak for under a dollar an ounce, a good deal by any standard.

Red Velvet Cake

The steak is accompanied by your choice of French fries or beans and a tortilla.  At first glance, the beans look inviting, a hearty portion topped with shredded cheese, but as they approached our table, a malodorous emanation  wafted toward us.  It was the foul demon spice cumin, the bane of real Northern New Mexican cuisine.   As usual, I complained, urging our attentive waitress and Phil Chavez himself to take the beans and dispose of them at a nuclear waste dump site.  Phil indicated 99-percent of his customers appreciate the beans, some even asking for the recipe.

The chile cheese dog is only so-so. The wiener is just slightly thicker than a human thumb, not an oversized meat-tube that dominates the flavor profile. Alas, the chile had a canned taste which includes enough cumin to be noticeable, but not so much that it kills the taste. Hot dogs are also served with French fries.

The west-facing wall at Grandpa’s Grill on old Route 66

On the counter gracing your visage as you walk in is a domed cake platter holding the delicious cake of the day.  Fortune was with us during my second visit because the cake under glass on that day was a gorgeous red velvet cake. Red velvet cakes have been popular since the 1920s, experiencing a resurgence in the 1990s, but it’s never really gone out of style.  Essentially not much more than a chocolate cake with a dark red-brown color and layered with a creamy white icing, it is beautiful to look at and generally delicious to consume.  This decadent dessert isn’t prepared in-house, but you will want to take a piece home with you.

Grandpa’s Grill is an anachronism–a throw-back to the 1960s with prompt, courteous, unobtrusive service and a genuine spirit of welcome from the owner.  Ask Phillip Chavez for a tour of the kitchen and he’ll gladly show off his unique grill, the contraption which makes some of the very tastiest burgers in Albuquerque.  Somewhere on old Route 66, a vegan is crying.  That’s how good these burgers are!

The Grill
4615 Menaul Blvd, N.E. Map.994afc2
Albuquerque, New Mexico

(505) 872-9772
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 20 September 2010
1st VISIT:  17 August 2010
COST: $$
BEST BET: Papa Burger with Fries, Chile Cheese Dog, Salsa and Chips, Ribeye Steak, Onion Rings, Red Velvet Cake

Grandpa's Grill on Route 66 on Urbanspoon

Mama Lisa’s Ghost Town Kitchen – Madrid, New Mexico

Mama Lisa's Ghost Town Kitchen (aka No Pity Cafe)

Steeped in rich history dating from the early 1800s, Madrid has been transformed from a hard- and soft-coal mining town with shafts as deep as 2500 feet down into a distinctive artist’s community. In the 1970s, artists and craftspeople converted old company stores and houses into shops, galleries and services. In doing so, they transformed what might otherwise have become yet another storied New Mexico ghost town into a popular tourist destination. Situated on the storied Turquoise Trail, Madrid is today a beautiful Bohemian escape city dwellers like me really enjoy.

Madrid’s unique charm and slow pace of life are infectious. It’s easy to imagine a carefree life away from the maddening crowds and hustle and bustle of modern metropolitan existence. The folly of modern existence is captured brilliantly in the wooden sign above the door to Mama Lisa’s Ghost Town Kitchen’s. The sign depicts a corpulent matron ladling soup into her mouth from an Indian pot while a sombrero and huarache wearing skeleton on bended knee begs for sustenance. It’s certainly Madrid’s citizens who represent the fatted woman while those of us envying that way of life are the skeletal beings.

The sign above the restaurant's door.

The sign above the restaurant's door.

Had the skeleton depicted on the sign been allowed to eat regularly at Mama Lisa’s kitchen, he, too, might have been endomorphic like much of American society. That’s because Mama Lisa’s serves hefty portions of delicious, maybe even extraordinary victuals…and yes, there is a Mama Lisa.  She’s a transplant from Chicago who’s been feeding visitors and locals in Madrid for more than two decades.  She and her tiny restaurant are very highly regarded by locals, but surprisingly unknown, despite the restaurant’s longevity, outside Madrid.

The signage might lead you to believe this is a restaurant with a multiple personality.  Most people know it as Mama Lisa’s, but its full name is Mama Lisa’s Ghost Town Kitchen, the “Ghost Town” portion an obvious reference to what Madrid almost became.  The “No Pity Cafe” subtitle came yeas later when the restaurant’s staff called a Santa Fe radio station on a frequent basis to request a song bemoaning “a town with no pity.”  Mama Lisa, a compassionate woman, has a heart of gold, giving a hand-up to many of the town’s poor residents who might not otherwise get much to eat.

Hummus pita with feta and harissa

Hummus pita with feta and harissa

As with many seasonal travel destinations, Madrid’s peak tourist season is in the warm summer months.  As such, it’s probably best to call ahead just to make sure the restaurant is open.  Save for in summer, hours are inconsistent and the restaurant is actually closed from January through March when the town reverts from a bustling hubbub of activity to a veritable ghost town.  When it is open, you’re in for a real treat.  Mama Lisa’s Ghost Town is a jewel, one of the two or three very best restaurants along the Turquoise Trail.

Mama Lisa’s menu is eclectic and everything is made from scratch. Organic ingredients are used to the greatest extent possible. The menu changes frequently and is posted on a slate board just inside the restaurant as well as on the front porch, weather permitting.  The restaurant is situated in the confines of a former two-story home located near the center of Madrid, just east of the fictional Maggie’s Cafe built for the Disney movie Wild Hogs.  Though the restaurant is as homey as possible, its restroom is a porta-potty behind the restaurant by a llama pen–all part of its charm.

Curried Acorn Squash and Orange Soup

Mama Lisa’s eclectic menu is a departure from the mundane. It’s a treat to read the slateboard and a challenge to pick what to order. Everything just sounds so good and you can always be assured of the highest quality of fresh, homemade food possible…just like a mama would make if she could cook nearly as well. As good a cook as my mom is, she never prepared curried acorn squash and orange soup for me, but Mama Lisa has. This is a fabulous, soul-warming soup. Beautiful to look at and absolutely delicious, it melds the surprising combination of acorn squash and orange into an elixir for whatever ails you.

If it’s on the menu, it would be hard to pass up the hummus pita with feta and harissa (a paste of chilies and garlic used to enhance food in North Africa). This Mediterranean inspired entree also includes a fresh assorted greens garden salad and cucumbers (use the harissa as a salad dressing). It’s entirely meatless and absolutely delicious.  While hummus has seemingly become a de rigueur offering at just about every restaurant, very infrequently does it make an impression on me.  Mama Lisa’s rendition does.  It is rich and garlicky, spiced just right.

Green Chile Cheeseburger

During our inaugural visit, we lucked upon the “Schwarzneggar,” an aptly named Sunday special consisting of a three-quarter inch pork chop smothered with rich cream gravy and served with red cabbage imbued with caraway seeds and dried cranberries. Rarely have we had a better pork chop, especially in New Mexico.  An accompanying flax seed bread roll was out-of-the-oven warm and absolutely delicious. Mama Lisa (who rarely seems to venture out of the kitchen) bakes great bread when she finds the time.

Great bread, an airy and hearty housemade ciabatta bun, is the foundation of an excellent green chile cheeseburger.  Lightly toasted, the ciabatta provides a solid foundation to hold all the ingredients for the burger together.  A hand-formed all-beef patty extends beyond the bread on all sides.  It’s a thick beef patty topped with an excellent green chile blanketed by a molten white Cheddar.  The green chile barely registers on my piquancy scale, but rates highly on my roasted green chile flavor meter.  Toppings include julienne carrots, red onions, lettuce, pickles and squash.  The burger is accompanied by a warm potato salad.

The "Sloppy Jose"

The "Sloppy Jose"

A barbecue brisket sandwich with chipotle barbecue sauce is nearly as good as the green chile cheeseburger. The brisket is as tender as a bird’s heart and so scrumptious, no sauce is required (although the chipotle barbecue sauce is dynamite).   The brisket is thinly sliced with a faint smokiness and no discernible fat or gristle.  The chipotle barbecue sauce combines the best aspects of barbecue and chipotle, meaning a nice degree of heat and flavor.  This sandwich may have been served on a paper plate (thankfully with real silverware) but it was of three star quality.

The theme of “good food that’s good for you” applies seemingly to all sandwiches on the menu. Mama Lisa’s “Sloppy Jose,” for example, is made with organic ground beef and is served with dill pickles, a fresh tomato slice and mixed greens all on a ciabatta roll (a specialty of the house). The spicy ground beef practically oozes out of the buns as you squeeze them into your hands. Sandwich plates may include Kettle potato chips which are all natural, extra crispy and delicious–a perfect sandwich accompaniment

Enchilada Heaven

Enchilada Heaven

At most restaurants, especially in New Mexico, calling an entree “Enchilada Heaven” might be an audacious claim, but Mama Lisa’s interpretation of this quintessential New Mexican dish lives up to its name. The three ingredients which make this entree special are pork carnitas (adovada style and unbelievably tender), cremini (a small Portobello) mushrooms and a deeply rich red chile tinged with just a hint of cinnamon and a barely discernable bit of cumin. Perfectly prepared pinto beans and cheese add to the flavor parade.

The parade of surprises at Mama Lisa’s is endless.  You might believe you know what you’re in for if you see penne pasta with meatballs and sausage on the menu, but not so at the hands of a wonderfully inventive chef.  We discerned a real difference in the first taste of the sauce.  Sure the usual suspects–garlic, oregano, etc.–were obviously in the flavor profile, but there was also something deliciously different.  The sauce included a basil-enhanced pesto sauce that provided an enlivening zing that made me want a whole bowl of the sauce.

By the way, the rest of the penne pasta dish is perfectly executed, too.  The pasta is perfectly prepared, neither al dente nor overdone and mushy.  Dollops of melted mozzarella decorate the dish and provide a mellow cheese contrast.  The meatballs, near perfect orbs of seasoned ground beef, are plentiful and excellent.  The sausage, sliced diagonally and buried under the pasta, is fennel-kissed and delicious.  Mama Lisa’s prowess with Italian inspired dishes should be of no surprise considering her international repertoire.

Penne Pasta with Meatballs and Sausage

Beverage selections may include a refreshing Tamarindo Refresco, loosely patterned after a Mexican agua fresca. If you’ve never had tamarind, you’re in for a treat. Tamarind is a fruity, sour, fleshy pulp which Mama Lisa squeezes into a lip puckering cup of deliciousness.  During another visit, the Mexican inspired libation was housemade limeade.  Not too tart, not to sweet, it proved a thirst-quenching beverage on a hot Madrid day.

Mama Lisa’s portions are waist expanding, but no matter how full you might be, you have to save room for dessert. Either that or shop for a couple of hours then come back just for dessert.

Tres Leches cake, one of the best we've had in New Mexico

Tres Leches cake, one of the best we've had in New Mexico

One of her specialties is a red chile chocolate cake. Velvety smooth and moist, it’s a delicious marriage of chocolate and chile. Montezuma and the Aztecs believed this combination possessed aphrodisiac qualities and it turns out, there is a physiological basis for this belief.  As all New Mexicans know, chile is considered an aphrodisiac because of its ability to heighten the pulse rate. Chocolate is imbued with phenyl-ethylamine, a substance that stimulates the same bodily reaction as falling in love.  The bitter-sweetness of chocolate and the smoky heat of the chile form an absolutely delicious combination! It’s made even better with Mama Lisa’s homemade ice cream.

One of the very best homemade ice cream treats we’ve ever experienced is Mama Lisa’s honey flavored ice cream, a dollop of which graced a fabulous “nectarine blue crisp” dessert served warm.  First, the nectarine blue crisp.  It’s a cobbler made with blueberries and nectarine (a fuzz-less relative of the peach) slices.  The blueberry and nectarine combination is a study in how well contrasting flavors can go together.  Now for the honey-vanilla ice cream.  Unlike so many housemade ice creams we’ve sampled, this one has a creamy, velvety texture, but it’s the prominent sweet honey flavor that’s the true foil which makes this dessert memorable.


Nectarine Blue Crisp with Housemade Honey Ice Cream

Another outstanding dessert is Mama Lisa’s interpretation of the Mexican favorite tres leches cake. Taking just a bit of liberty, she tops the cake with caramel, homemade ice cream and adds strawberries to the cavalcade of flavors. It’s not quite spongy moist, but the press of each spoonful is made easy thanks to the sweet, delicious three milks combination.

The chocolate walnut strudel is light, flaky, moist and delicious. It is topped with a redolent bitter-sweet chocolate and imbued throughout with walnuts.  It’s one of the few things at Mama Lisa’s you can top.

This is an outstanding restaurant not on everybody’s radar!  If you want to impress friends and family, bring them to Mama Lisa’s and you’ll be hailed a pioneer, maybe a savant.  Please note that because of the frequency with which the menu changes, some (perhaps none) of the items described in this review might be available when you visit.  That would be fine, too, because no matter what’s on the menu is bound to be an adventure in deliciousness.

Mama Lisa’s Ghost Town Kitchen (aka No Pity Cafe)
2859 Highway 14
Madrid, New Mexico
(505) 471-5769

LATEST VISIT: 18 September 2010
COST: $$
BEST BET: Red Chile Chocolate Cake, Barbecue Brisket, the Schwarzeneggar, Hummus Pita With Feta & Harissa, Enchilada Heaven, Organic Ground Beef Sloppy Jose, Chocolate Walnut Strudel, Tres Leches Cake, Nectarine Blue Crisp, Green Chile Cheeseburger, Penne Pasta with Meatballs and Sausage, Curried Acorn Squash and Orange Soup

Mama Lisa's Ghost Town Kitchen on Urbanspoon