Hakata Asian Cuisine & Grill – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

Hakata Asian Cuisine & Grill

“Grrr!  What’s wrong with those Vietnamese?”  That’s not a bad bowl of  pho prompting a xenophobic rant on my part.  Those were the words of my friend Huu Vu when I told him a new Vietnamese restaurant by the name Hakata Asian Grill had opened up on Albuquerque’s west side.  A proud native of Vietnam, Huu wasn’t upset at the launch of  another restaurant showcasing the cuisine of his homeland.  He was unhappy about the name.

Hakata Asian Cuisine & Grill is the third restaurant featuring Vietnamese food to open in  the seven month period  which ended in  April, 2011.  That’s  great news for all adventurous Duke City Diners, and you would  certainly think my pho fanatic friend would be ecstatic.  The problem, Huu pointed out is that if you’re looking for Vietnamese cuisine, you might never visit the Asian Grill, Kim Long Asian Cuisine or now Hakata Asian Cuisine & Grill.  The first two hint of fusion cuisine  (certainly not Vietnamese) while Hakata is most assuredly a Japanese name.

Does this look like a Burger King?

In truth, both the Asian Grill and Kim Long Asian Cuisine serve more than Vietnamese food…but just barely.  The predominant cuisine showcased at both is Vietnamese.  You can count the number of “other” Asian dishes on one hand.  Hakata, on the other hand, has an entire page dedicated to Yakitori, a Japanese grilling technique showcasing  skewers of  marinated beef, seafood, poultry, lamb and vegetables.  Another seven pages are dedicated to Vietnamese cuisine.

So, why  name a restaurant Hakata when only one of seven menu pages actually serves food from the port city in western Japan?  It turns out one of the owners lived in Hakata for a time.  Hakata is one of Japan’s renown “Yakitori towns.” Locals love the fragrance of charcoal grilled, moist, delicious Yakitori.  You’ll love that fragrance, too.  It envelops you from the moment you walk in to the charming restaurant.

A true grill master

Hakata Asian Cuisine & Grill is located in an edifice which initially housed a Burger King restaurant and  which has since been the home of everything from a mariscos restaurant to a Burritos Alinstante.  It is situated just north of the Cottonwood Mall on a sprawling shopping center complex which resembles a ghost town.  If very good food is a predictor of future success, Hakata should break the long string of failed restaurants in the immediate area.

You have to look closely to find any vestiges of Burger King nor of any of its successors within the restaurant’s  interior.  Hakata bespeaks of subdued Japanese elegance.  Walls are relatively stark and seating is more functional than it is stylish.  The cynosure of this much metamorphosed restaurant is the modest grill in which a grill master deftly plies his trade in much the manner of a sushi chef performing feats of prestidigitation with knives.  The main difference is the scintillating aromas of sizzling meats and vegetables.

Two Skewers of Grilled Corn, Two Skewers of Yakitori (grilled chicken) and One Skewer of Beef

The yakitori menu is a veritable cornucopia of seasoned meats, seafood and vegetables,  eighteen items in all. Featured vegetables include asparagus, okra, Enoki mushrooms, green beans, green onions and sweet corn.  Meat skewers include chicken (meatball, wings, breast, spicy wings), beef, lamb, pork and juicy pork belly.  On the seafood arena, you’ll find shrimp, scallop, salmon and squid.  The commonality is perfect grilling, succulent seasoning and the intoxicating arena of meats, seafood and vegetables infused with the flavor of smoldering charcoal.

It’s that charcoal-infused flavor that elevates Hakata’s yakitori to some of, if not the best I’ve had in New Mexico.  If your standard for yakitori is the Terikayi Chicken Bowl chain, you’re in for a wonderful surprise.  The sweet corn is brushed lightly with teriyaki sauce which enhances the sweetness of the corn, each kernel of which is grilled to perfection.  The lamb is as good as you’ll find at many Mediterranean restaurants which specialize in grilled lamb.  You can easily imagine yourself eating it between pita.  The pork is juicy and delicious with nary a hint of annoying sinew.  Solely by virtue of Hakata’s yakitori, my friend Huu should forgive the restaurant’s nomen faux pas.

Summer Rolls with Fish Sauce

Most Vietnamese restaurants offer a version of Gỏi cuốn, which is often translated to either fresh roll, spring roll or summer roll.  Hakata is the first restaurant I’ve seen which offers both a spring roll and a summer roll and prepares them in distinctly different ways.  Though both are served at room temperature and crafted from translucent rice paper wraps, herbs and rice, the spring rolls are engorged with cold shrimp while the summer rolls are stuffed with crispy grilled pork.   Hakata’s summer rolls are a wonderful revelation, as delicious as any Gỏi cuốn (by any name) in Albuquerque.  Served two per order with a terrific peanut sauce, these rolls are a must-have.

The definitive Vietnamese food for my friend Huu is pho, the classic quick meal in Vietnam.  Served in bowls the size of small swimming pools, pho is crafted with fresh rice noodles and topped with your choice of beef slices (rare steak, well-done flank, brisket, tendon, tripe and beef-ball) and crowned with chopped green onion, cilantro leaves and sliced onion.  Hakata has a nice selection of beef and chicken noodle soups including some made with seafood (shrimp, squid, imitation crab or fish cake). My early favorite is the Sate Beef Noodle Soup, a lemongrass beef noodle soup made with herbs and spices designed to bring out a spicy flavor and an absolutely intoxicating fragrance.  It is redolent with crushed red chile flakes and garlic as well as the unmistakable lemon-minty aroma of lemongrass.

Sate Beef Noodle Soup (Special Spices and Lemon Grass Beef Noodle Soup)

Regular readers of my blog are probably tired of my lamenting the absence of great Southern-style catfish in New Mexico.  Only in Vietnamese restaurants is my yen for catfish sated.  Some Vietnamese restaurants prepare catfish so well it could make a Southerner pine for home.  Hakata’s rendition of crispy whole catfish is among the best in Albuquerque.  In fact it’s better than some catfish I’ve had in Mississippi, America’s catfish capital.  Alas, “whole” catfish doesn’t seem to translate to “head included” as pictured below.  Nonetheless, this is one succulent catfish.  It’s fleshy and moist with a subtle flavor profile.  At Hakata, the crispy catfish is served with a ginger sauce on the side.  This ginger sauce is wholly unlike the Day-Glo colored sauce often used on catfish in other  Duke City Vietnamese restaurants.  In fact, it’s little more than fish sauce with a week’s worth of ginger.  Perhaps out of habit, my druthers would have been for Tabasco sauce or nothing at all.

As many Japanese restaurants do, Hakata offers sake, the rice wine with such a versatile flavor profile.  Dessert options include green tea ice cream, a Japanese dessert favorite made from matcha, a specific tea used in the Japanese tea ceremony.  The green tea ice cream is served with a conical wafer.  Better is a dessert of tapioca and mangoes though out of season, mangoes don’t have the refreshing sweetness and juiciness characteristic of this Asian fruit favorite.

Crispy Whole Catfish with Ginger Sauce on the side

Hakata is a little bit of Japan and a lot of Vietnam.  It’s also a lot of flavors coalescing with inviting aromas on dishes sure to become diner pleasing favorites–even if my friend Huu doesn’t like the restaurant’s name.

Hakata Asian Cuisine & Grill
10131 Coors, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 29 April 2011
1st VISIT: 27 April 2011
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 20
COST: $$
BEST BET: Sate Beef Noodle Soup, Fresh Summer Rolls, Sweet Corn Skewers, Chicken Skewers, Beef Skewers

Hakata Asian Cuisine & Grill on Urbanspoon

Doc & Eddy’s – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

Doc & Eddy’s in Albuquerque’s Northeast Heights

Making your way in the world today takes everything you’ve got.
Taking a break from all your worries, sure would help a lot.
Wouldn’t you like to get away?
Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name,
and they’re always glad you came.
You wanna be where you can see,
our troubles are all the same
You wanna be where everybody knows
Your name.
Cheers Lyrics

America has become increasingly homogenized as corporate chains have used catchy jingles, universal name recognition and multi-million dollar media budgets to spread their tentacles across the fruited plain and entice gullible  customers into their  copycat restaurants.  Despite the boring sameness perpetuated by corporate chains, Americans still crave a familiar, comfortable and welcoming gathering spot where “everybody knows your name.”  More than ever, American diners want to support restaurants that are part of the community, especially those which showcase local fare and local ingredients.

Local restaurants–mom-and-pops–the type of which will be celebrated by Ryan Scott’s compelling radio program “Break the Chain” also inspire loyalty because they’re owned and operated by our friends and neighbors, people like us who are invested in the community and share our passion for the Land of Enchantment.  That loyalty was very much in evidence as a four-person panel of culinary experts–me included–reviewed all nominations for the New Mexico Tourism Department’s update to the highly successful culinary initiative, the New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail.

The bar area at Doc & Eddy’s

Nearly two-hundred different purveyors of New Mexico’s iconic green chile cheeseburger were nominated for inclusion on the Trail with tens of thousands of votes being cast by burgerphiles throughout the Land of Enchantment.  Not surprisingly, the list of nominees  garnering the most votes included some of the state’s most famous and popular bastions of burgers par excellence such as Blake’s Lotaburger,  the Buckhorn Tavern, the Owl Cafe and the Bobcat Bite.   What was surprising was the sheer number of restaurants not nominated in the previous celebration of New Mexico’s green chile cheeseburger.  It was obvious no one wanted to be left out in 2011.

One such establishment amassing a significant number of votes is Doc & Eddy’s which our learned panel recognized as a sports bar with a phalanx of pool tables.  None of us knew enough about this sports bar  to believe it could offer an edible green chile cheeseburger, much less one so obviously very highly regarded by its loyal patrons.  Similarly, in 2009 we were surprised at the outpouring of loyalty for the 300 Club Bar & Grill which none of our experts had known much about.  That, my dear readers is why we ask for New Mexico’s diverse citizenry to tell us which burgers are Trail worthy.

The Lobo Burger – green chile, mushrooms, bacon and cheese; a cup of green chile stew on the side

Doc & Eddy’s is indeed a sports bar and it does proffer a green chile cheeseburger though you won’t find a burger by that  specific name anywhere on the menu.  Instead you’ll find burgers with such  clever appellations as the  Buckeye Burger, the Rio Grande Burger, the Lobo Burger and the Aggie Burger (perhaps the only place in town in which a Lobo and an Aggie can be found in amicable proximity to one another).  Green chile is an ingredient in several of the sports bar’s burgers.

As with an increasing number of sports bars, Doc & Eddie’s pays close attention to its guests’  holistic experience–ambiance, libations and food, but similar to its beverage dispensing brethren, it subscribes to the template which seems to demand beer banners draped from the ceiling, posters of scantily-clad pulchritude and sports memorabilia.   The sport of choice for many  guests is pool; nearly twenty tables are available for a little action, but you can also engage in darts.  There are two distinct dining areas, the sunken south-facing dining area sitting behind glass.  Flat screen televisions are positioned strategically throughout the dining areas which are packed sardine-tight on nights in which Ultimate Fighting Championship pay-per-view events are broadcast.  Doc & Eddy’s does not have a cover charge for viewing these events.

Another view of the Lobo Burger

A fairly expansive, laminated two-page menu of New Mexico bar food favorites is a welcome surprise.  Burgers are referred to as “Heavenly Half-Pounders,” an audacious claim New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail voters have bought into.  The menu also offers more than a dozen appetizers and not just the usual New Mexico suspects (salsa, guacamole, con queso).  You can also have quesadillas, hot buffalo wings and more.  Calorie-counters will find seven salads, all topped with cheese and tomatoes and served with your choice of dressing and fresh breadsticks.  Six pizzas and a “man-sized” calzone are also available as are a number of Southwest Specialties and Deli-Style Sandwiches.  It’s an ambitious menu.

During my inaugural visit, I scanned the entire menu but focused primarily on the heavenly half-pounders, my objective to discover just what makes these bountiful burgers so beloved.  Being asked to what degree of “doneness” you want your burger grilled is always welcomed, but seldom do restaurants execute to the specificity you desire.  Doc & Eddy’s does.  At medium, the Lobo Burger is juicy, a perfectly charred grey-brown exterior and a nice pinkish hue in the middle.  An eight ounce patty is topped with bacon, mushrooms and green chile draped over by molten white Monterrey Jack cheese.  You’re free to add lettuce, tomato, white onions and pickles as you please.

The Scorpion Burger: Extra bacon, guacamole, grilled onions, mushrooms and three cheeses

The best burgers are only as good as their individual components and Doc & Eddy’s Lobo Burger is made with fresh ingredients prepared very well.  The bacon is crisp without being dry and stiff.  The green chile has a pleasant flavor with just a hint of piquancy (not quite incendiary enough for me) though there is no indication it’s been roasted.  The mushrooms (probably canned) are thin-sliced, but fleshy with just a hint of must. When done adding other toppings, this burger is a handful of moist deliciousness, a surprisingly good burger which has rightfully earned the adulation of its many voting fans.

Green chile is one of those rare ingredients which improves everything it touches and its absence is more than conspicuous in foods  on which it belongs (such as cheeseburgers).  The Scorpion Burger (extra bacon, guacamole, grilled onions, mushrooms and three cheeses) is one of those foods which would be better with green chile.  Much better!  Now, there are some nice aspects to this burger–the perfectly fried bacon, the unctuous guacamole, the sweet grilled onions…but a little chile goes such a long way.

All sandwiches and burgers are served with your choice of steak fries (skin on), onion rings, cup of soup, cottage cheese, or a side salad with your choice of dressing. The fries are Texas-sized with potato skins left intact. The onion rings are battered and large. Save for their size, both fries and rings are fairly typical of burger accompaniment. Given my druthers, it’s the green chile stew for me.

A “big, generous bowl” of green chile stew served with a tortilla and fry bread is but one of seven items on the Southwestern Specialties section of the menu.  Also available in cup-size, the green chile stew is much more piquant than the green chile on the burgers.  Attribute that to large bits of green chile and the fact that this dish is served steaming hot to accentuate its piquancy.  This green chile stew also includes potatoes, tomatoes, onions and more pork than I can remember having on any stew of its kind.

Doc & Eddy’s wait staff is very friendly and accommodating.  It was apparent they knew many of the patrons by name.  The burgers may be the reason diners visit this sports bar when they’re hungry, but taking a break from all their worries is why they return.

Doc & Eddy’s
6040 Brentwood Lane, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 25 April 2011
1st VISIT:  24 April 2011
# of VISITS: 2
RATING: 18
COST: $$
BEST BET: Lobo Burger, Green Chile Stew, Scorpion Burger, Onion Rings & Fries

Doc & Eddy's on Urbanspoon

Acapulco Tacos & Burritos – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Acapulco Tacos & Burritos

Acapulco Tacos & Burritos on San Mateo

Acapulco–just the name evokes images of pristine sandy beaches, translucent blue waters, a comfortable climate, luxury hotels, and world-class gourmet cuisine. There are many reasons Acapulco has earned its nickname of the “Mexican Riviera,” after the famous French resort area.

It’s unlikely Albuquerque’s three Acapulco Tacos & Burritos restaurants will ever be mistaken for one of Acapulco’s pricey and sometimes pretentious three- and four-star restaurants. There’s absolutely nothing pretentious about Acapulco Tacos & Burritos. To the contrary, these humble denizens of deliciousness seem to symbolize the wonderful simplicity of Mexican peasant food in the finest and most complimentary sense of the term.

An extensive menu of burritos and tacos...

An extensive menu of burritos and tacos…

Okay, maybe the crossed palm trees and bright sun painted on the restaurant’s colorful facade might be a bit over the top, but that’s the extent of its veneer and polish. These restaurants are little more than food stands specializing in take-out orders. Tiny picnic tables is where hungry patrons park themselves and wait for their orders to be filled.

The restaurant truly lives up to its name with an extensive menu of homemade burritos and tacos. Wood signage boasts “our famous homemade burritos built our business!” It’s a business that’s been going strong for more than a quarter century. The original restaurant location in the Southeast Heights has long been a popular dining destination for Air Force personnel stationed at nearby Kirtland Air Force Base.

One of the reasons is that money goes a long way at Acapulco Tacos & Burritos. Some burritos sell for under two dollars with the most expensive dinner plate costing less than five dollars. The price certainly belies the quality of the product. The basis for the burritos is a moist, delicious tortilla with an enticing “just off the comal” aroma and flavor. Each tortilla is beautifully flecked with spots of char. Although there are several breakfast burritos on the menu, you can order any burrito at any time of the day. It’s a beautiful thing!

The #6 burrito.

The #6 burrito.

For the hungriest patrons only “El Burrote” will do. Order El Burrote with the respective tone of voice it deserves. After all, it’s earned respect. Weighing in at about one pound, El Burrote is roughly the size of a triple burrito. It’s engorged with meat, beans, rice, lettuce, tomato and red or green chile. It takes two hands to handle this beauty which is big enough to share, not that you’ll want to because it’s so good.

Aside from the absolutely beguiling aroma of tortillas being warmed on the comal, the other prevalent aroma is that of New Mexican green chile. To most New Mexicans, that aroma is intoxicating; it’s like an irresistible siren’s call. The green regular burrito is the quintessential combination of outstanding ingredients prepared exceptionally well: an aromatically invigorating green chile, cheese, beans and tender, chunky meat.

Tacos

It’s a messy combination that you dare not try to eat while driving as it will make a mess of your clothing. Here’s betting you won’t follow that advice. You can always change clothes later, but you can’t always have a burrito as good as this one at its peak of flavor.  Alas, the green chile’s olfactory-arousing properties are betrayed by a lack of piquancy; the chile has a nice flavor, but virtually no bite.

The first product name on the marquee is Tacos though they’re not available in the number or variety of the burritos.  These tacos showcase seasoned shredded beef, shredded cheese, lettuce and chopped tomatoes on a hard-shell.  The shredded beef is moist and delicious, tender tendrils of machaca-style beef.  The tacos are served with salsa which is easily the most piquant offering at Acapulco.

A few years ago, Sarah Karnasiewicz who would go on to later become senior editor of Saveur magazine told me Acapulco Tacos and Burritos is a place she dreams of nightly in her chile deprived home of New York City.  For me the dream is of a green chile more piquant to truly bring out the flavors of what has long been one of my favorite burrito joints in New Mexico.

Acapulco Tacos & Burritos
840 San Mateo Blvd, S.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 268-9865

LATEST VISIT: 23 April 2011
# OF VISITS: 9
RATING: 21
COST: $
BEST BET: Green Regular Burrito, Chorizo Burrito, El Burrote, Tacos

Acapulco Tacos & Burritos on Urbanspoon

Bob’s Burgers – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Bob's Burgers

Bob’s Burgers

“Bob.” Advertisers (as well as television and movie producers) realize there probably isn’t a better example of an “every man” name, typically portraying Bob as the average wage-earning man about town.  Few would argue that Bob, a diminutive of Robert, isn’t a very vanilla and common name.  In fact, it ranked 266th (from among 1,220 first names) in the 1990 U.S. Census of the most popular names for males.  Despite that popularity, advertisers seem to prefer naming the metrosexual males they portray something like Brad or Troy.

While advertisers may not think there’s anything memorable about the name Bob, New Mexico diners have known for generations that Bob’s Burgers stands out among its brethren as a unique franchise which doesn’t shy away from proffering hot chile. That chili (sic), or more precisely chili sauce (a pureed blend of green chili, tomatoes, onions) provides a potently pungent and heady sensation with every bite of the Ranchero burger, the restaurant’s specialty. The meat patty is thin and there’s nothing especially noteworthy about the bun, but chili chile sauce is certainly memorable (at least to your singed taste buds).

The famous Ranchero Supreme Burger with double meat, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes and green chile

Locals can handle the degree of heat in Bob’s featured fare pretty easily, but out-of-towners might consider it cruel and unusual punishment to consume the Ranchero burger or any of the other chili laden items on the menu.  Unlike the green chile used on many green chile cheeseburgers throughout the Land of Enchantment, Bob’s chili warrants a  sweaty brow, scalded tongue salute (despite the fact that it’s spelled like the stuff they serve in Texas). There are two Ranchero Burgers on the menu, a Supreme (green chili, lettuce, tomato, cheese) and the standard Ranchero (green chili only) and they’re available in small or large sizes.

Bob’s menu offers a couple of variations on the Ranchero burger, including a tortilla burger in which a tortilla is substituted for the Ranchero burger’s buns and a taco burger in which a hard-shelled taco shell replaces the buns. If you’ve never seen a hamburger patty nested in a taco shell, you might be surprised the first time you see this. The fact that it doesn’t take like a taco even though the meat component is essentially the same. Bob’s is one of few restaurants to also offer a red chili burger (which Alibi voters selected as the second best in the city behind only the Little Red Hamburger Hut.)

The Tortilla Burger for under two dollars

Bob’s Frito pie is a perennial Reader’s Choice award winner during the Alibi’s annual restaurant poll. By no accounts is it as wonderful as the Woolworth’s version that started it all in Santa Fe more than fifty years ago, but as cheap Frito pies go, it’s pretty good. A small cardboard container overflows with crispy Fritos, piquant chili, cheese and a salad’s bounty of lettuce and tomatoes.

Bob’s menu of New Mexican foods includes red or green chili cheese fries (which has also earned an Alibi Reader’s Choice on several occasions). The red chili has a pretty heavy dousing in cumin (which I consider cruel and unusual punishment) and the fries are pretty standard out-of-the-bag fries. Shredded cheese blankets the Frito pie. Given my druthers, I’d opt for the green chili as the cumin isn’t quite as overwhelming.

Rolled Tacos with salsa

Rolled Tacos with salsa

I’ve always contended that Española restaurants make the very best rolled tacos (sometimes called taquitos) in New Mexico. In fact, not many restaurants outside of Española even seem to offer rolled tacos. Bob’s does and while they’re not quite as wonderful as their northern counterpart, they’re better than the warehouse store version.

In its September, 2012 edition, Albuquerque The Magazine named the salsa at Bob’s Burgers the eleventh best in Albuquerque from among 130 salsas sampled throughout the city.  The magazine’s synopsis: “This may be a burger joint, but watch out for the hot salsa and some of the best chips (which are actual taco shells broken up) then twice-fried as you order them.”

Chile Cheese Fries

Chile Cheese Fries

This prominent local chain now has seven Albuquerque locations as well as one in Las Cruces, one in Rio Rancho and one in Los Lunas, all of which are poised to give your taste buds something uniquely New Mexico, something that is certainly not “every restaurant” worthy.

Bob’s Burgers
6628 Caminito Coors, N.W.
Albuquerque, NM
792-2001

LATEST VISIT: 20 April 2011
# OF VISITS: 8
RATING: 17
COST: $
BEST BET: Tortilla Burger; Frito Pie; Rolled Tacos, The Ranchero

Bob's Burgers on Urbanspoon

The Cracker Barrel Old Country Store – Albuquerque, New Mexico

The Cracker Barrel Restaurant on San Antonio

Your eyes aren’t deceiving you. This really is Gil’s Thrilling (and Filling) Blog and you really are reading a review of  a (gasp) chain restaurant. It would be easy (a cop-out) to say my visit to the Cracker Barrel Old Country Store was the result of brow-beating, cajoling, bribery or even torture, but the truth is I wanted to spend time with my friends Esther Ferguson and Henry Gabaldon who swear by Cracker Barrel’s Thursday special of turkey n’ dressing with your choice of two vegetables. Esther and Henry are quite aware of my chain-averse attitude, but were hoping the Cracker Barrel would win me over. With my every reference to the “Chancre Barrel” on the drive to the restaurant, they quickly realized it was a hopeless cause.

After eight years of living in the Deep South, the Cracker Barrel didn’t stand a chance.  For the most part, Southern cooking in the Land of Enchantment (or frankly, anywhere outside of Dixie) is about as good as New Mexican food being interpreted  in Mississippi.  It just doesn’t pass muster.  We’ve learned if we want Southern food as we enjoyed it in Dixie, we have to visit The Hollar in Madrid where chef-owner Josh Novak has elevated Southern food to the level of cuisine. The Hollar, by the way, was one of three restaurants showcased in the May, 2011 edition of New Mexico Magazine’s breakfast, lunch and dinner feature.

Nostalgic treats abound at the Cracker Barrel Store

My friend Bill “Roasmaster” Resnik, who also coined the “Chancre Barrel” term  likes to joke that the wait staff  at Cracker Barrel can’t figure out your bill if you don’t have a senior citizen discount. Though we didn’t see any hay wagons or tractors in the parking lot as Bill predicted we would, a quick scan of the parking lot revealed a cavalcade of Cadillacs, a bounty of Buicks and a lot of Lincolns, all of the super-sized variety preferred by some seasoned citizens (yeah, that’s a stereotype, but so is everything about the Cracker Barrel).    The truth is, the Cracker Barrel Old Country Store is as popular with young families as it is with geriatric generations. Portions are bountiful and the environment shouts fun in a subdued Disney Country Bear Jamboree sort of way.

The Cracker Barrel’s template does bespeak (rather loudly) of Southern stereotypes.  The facade resembles that of an old country store with a corrugated tin roof and a porch extending the entire length of the restaurant’s frontage.  As at some country stores (which tend to be the cultural and social hub of small communities) in the Deep South  the porch is  the center of  hospitality with dozens of sturdy oaken rocking chairs of all sizes lined up for neighborly visits.  Veterans will appreciate the rocking chairs in which the seals of the different branches of the armed forces are embedded onto the top slat.  The porch, by the way, provides a perfect western-facing vantage point for one of our amazing New Mexico sunsets.

The main dining room at the Cracker Barrel

It’s the Old Country Store portion of the sprawling edifice that even cynics like me will enjoy most.  Though the store is capacious, it seems quite crowded because  from floor-to-ceiling and wall-to-wall there is just so much to see. You’ll have plenty of time to check out the racks of tee-shirts, shelves brimming with kitchen towels, tables crowded with crafts, rag-stuffed animals, gaggles of greeting cards, kitchen accouterments, old photographs, vintage advertising signs and even farming equipment.  That’s because waits are almost invariable.

Nostalgia abounds for those of us beset by our own advancing geriatric progression.  For foodies, the area pulling most gently at the heart strings is the area showcasing the sweets of our youth, especially the candy we ate as kids.  Shelves are replete with Mallo Cups, Goo Goo Clusters, Moon Pies, Zero Bars and even Nik-L-Nips, the tiny wax bottles filled with flavored syrup.  About the only things missing were the little candy cigarettes (which are surprisingly still made and sold) and the wax orange harmonicas sold around Halloween time.

A plateful of corn muffins and biscuits

The country theme continues onto the Cracker Barrel’s dining rooms where walls abound in sundry brick-a-brac.  Vintage  sepia-toned photographs of mostly unsmiling (perhaps the photos were taken after a meal) countenances survey the room.  A large brick fireplace with a heavy oaken mantle is the cynosure of one dining room.  The handiwork of a taxidermist is on display on some walls with the deer smiling more broadly than the stoic faces on the vintage photographs.  The dining rooms are expansive though some seating is of personal space proximity.

Cracker Barrel purports to offer “homestyle meals, prepared from scratch in our kitchens.”  Breakfast, described on the menu as providing “stick-to-the-ribs satisfaction” is served all day long and features such traditional country cooking favorites as hickory smoked country ham, grits, homemade buttermilk biscuits and sawmill gravy.  The lunch and dinner menu touts such old favorites as meatloaf, chicken n’ dumplins, roast beef and country vegetables.  It’s a veritable compendium of what many would consider a Southern menu.

Spicy Grilled Catfish Two farm raised Catfish fillets served with your choice of three sides. (0 net carbs – plus carbs in side items)

Most lunch and dinner entrees are served with your choice of one, two or three “country vegetables.”  In the Cracker Barrel’s vision of the south, that means turnip greens, coleslaw, steak fries, mashed potatoes, breaded fried okra, hashbrown casserole, dumplins, whole kernel corn, country green beans, sweet whole baby carrots, fried apples, macaroni n’ cheese, apple sauce and pinto beans. There is absolutely NO green or red chile anywhere on the menu nor are the “country vegetables” strictly vegetarian.  Meals are also accompanied by made from scratch buttermilk biscuits or corn muffins and real butter (in those real annoying little tubs).

Deciding on what to order at a chain restaurant is an arduous process for me and no matter what I ultimately end up with, my very low expectations about liking what I order invariably wind up ending in a self-fulfilling prophecy.  With few exceptions, I order the “lesser of all evils,” generally something out of Home Economics 101, a dish any beginning cook can make edible (if lucky, made to taste good).  For my first visit to the Cracker Barrel since a team-building activity nearly a decade ago, the lesser of all evils would be spicy grilled catfish.

Country Fried Steak: USDA Choice Steak breaded and deep fried then topped with Sawmill Gravy.

Our years in Mississippi were bereft of red and green chile, but we did have the best catfish in America everywhere we turned.  With few exceptions, catfish in New Mexico tastes as if the restaurants serving it want to remind diners that catfish are a bottom-feeding, mud-dwelling fish.  The fact that the Cracker Barrel’s spicy catfish entree is featured on the “Low Carb” section of the menu gave me hope that it wouldn’t be coated in batter the consistency of sawdust  (which might taste better) as most catfish served in New Mexico restaurants  tend to be.

Arriving at our table with a prominent char, the catfish had the blackened sheen of New Orleans style blackened fish.  Alas, it had none of the personality of blackened fish.  In fact, it wasn’t “spicy” in the least until I doused it liberally with Louisiana hot sauce.  The hot sauce wouldn’t have been necessary had the catfish been tasty.  It not only lacked spiciness, it lacked flavor.  My two country vegetables–whole kernel corn and mashed potatoes with gravy–were a bigger disappointment.  The mashed potatoes lacked any creaminess whatsoever.  These mashed potatoes weren’t lumpy; they were clumpy.  They weren’t of the stick-to-your-ribs variety; they stuck to the spoon.  The gravy was even worse–thick and tasteless.  The whole kernel corn, though fresh and tasty, was unseasoned and would have benefited from some butter.

Turkey n' Dressing with cranberry sauce and sweet potatoes (two portions for my friend Henry).

The Country Fried Steak, a USDA choice steak breaded and deep-fried then topped with sawmill gravy was as much a let-down as the catfish.  Country fried steak is popular throughout Dixie because country cooks know the secrets to country fried steak is pound the cut of beef until it’s tender and juicy then bread it lightly so that when done, the exterior is crispy but the inside is still tender.  Cracker Barrel’s version is desiccated and tough. The sawmill gravy is gloppy and flavorless.  Try feeding this dish to a Southerner and you just might reignite the Civil War.

Cracker Barrel one-ups a lot of restaurants by not only offering Stewart’s sodas, but cranberry, grapefruit and orange juices and not just for breakfast.  The coffee is replenished faithfully and the wait staff is friendly and accommodating.

Cracker Barrel
5200 San Antonio, N.E.
Albuquerque, NM
821-8777
Web Site

LATEST VISIT: 14 April 2011
# OF VISITS: 4
RATING: 13
COST: $$
BEST BET: Stewart’s Orange Cream Soda

Cracker Barrel Old Country Store on Urbanspoon

Amici – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

Amici: Pizza, Pasta, Salad and More

Amici: Pizza, Pasta, Salad and More

There are two laws of the universe — gravity, and everyone likes Italian food.”
Neil Simon, American playwright and screenwriter

A 2007 Harris Poll declared Italian food the most popular ethnic food in America, revealing that when Americans eat out, the cuisine of choice for nearly a quarter of them is Italian food.  Among the youngest group of respondents, those aged 18-30, the percentage is even higher.  Famous oenophile and food writer Dino Romano believes Italian food is so popular because humans are genetically predisposed to eat as many things that are good for us as possible.  Romano believes Italian cuisine lends itself to an anthropological need to eat a large variety of foods in many ways.

Perhaps the operative word here should be “large.”  When it comes to Italian food, most of us believe the only thing wrong with Italian food is described in the adage, “the problem with Italian food is two days later you’re hungry again.”  We like our pasta in profuse portions (lotsa pasta), our pizzas to be prolific, our cannoli to be colossal, our antipasti to be ample.  You get the picture.  When it comes to dieting, there are many other things we’d rather give up.

The colorful interior at Amici

The colorful interior at Amici

Compared to Italians, Americans are veritable lightweights in the consumption of pasta, eating about twenty pounds per person per year compared to a whopping sixty pounds of pasta per person per year among Italians.  It’s no wonder the number of Italian restaurants opening up across the fruited plain outstrips the number of new start-ups among any other ethnic cuisine.

The launch of a new Italian restaurant is a cause celebre, a time to break out a nice bottle of Chianti.  In late December, 2009, Duke City Diners in the know had good cause to celebrate with the launch of Amici in Granada Square off Montgomery Boulevard.  Situated at the former site of short-lived Iron Skillet and before that Gruet Grille, it sits in an area heavily populated by professional offices and apartment complexes.  There is some semblance to previous restaurant tenants, but a $25,000 make-over imbued the 3,800 square-foot restaurant with a more colorful and buoyant, clearly Italian personality.

Dinner salad with Ranch dressing

As if the launch of a new Italian restaurant isn’t reason enough to celebrate, Amici returned, for a short while at least, to the Albuquerque dining scene one of the most genial people to grace a Duke City restaurant.  That would be Rosetta Richietti Stewart who ran the Pantry Cafe and McGilvray’s for nearly two decades in the burgeoning downtown area before selling them both in 2005.  Her partners at Amici were former State Representative Dan Silva and his wife Angie who bought out Rosetta and assumed sole ownership of the restaurant.

Rosetta and the Silvas named their new restaurant venture Amici because it means “friends” in Italian.  The restaurant staff will indeed make you feel welcome at this bright and open restaurant.  Amici lives up to its name, which by-the-way is subtitled “Pizza * Pasta * Salad,” the three mainstays on a rather abbreviated menu that tries not to be a compendium of all things Italian, but a select number of dishes prepared well.  In February, 2010, Amici obtained a beer and wine license.

Housemade Italian Bread

Housemade Italian Bread

Amici is an advocate of Dino Romano’s approach to healthy Italian food, even employing olive oil (one of the key components of the Mediterranean diet) on the pizza dough and placing a decanter of it on each table.  It  is also a proponent of fresh ingredients and uncompromising quality.  In this case, quality does not translate to expensive.  Prices and portion sizes are reasonable.

The first item on the menu is pizza which is available in three sizes: small (12-inches), medium (14-inches) and large (16-inches).  Six designer gourmet pizzas, all named for Italian locations as they would be spelled on an Italian map (Napoli, Roma, Firenze, Venice, Sicily and Milano), are offered or you can have a cheese pizza topped with any of sixteen toppings.

Oven-fresh baked breads are the canvas on which Amici’s panini sandwiches are served.  Eight panini sandwiches, all with Italian names, are available.  They are served with a side salad.  Larger appetites will gravitate toward one of the seven calzones on the menu.

Green chile and potato soup

Green chile and potato soup

The pasta menu lists only six entrees–Lasagna Bolognese (with ground beef), Lasagna Bolognese (meatless), Fettuccini Alfredo with green chile, Penne Pasta topped with marinara sauce, hand-made Cheese Ravioli Alfredo, hand-made Cheese Ravioli topped with marinara sauce.  Also on the menu are chicken wings served twelve per order with the restaurant’s in-house Ranch dressing.  Five salads and a Zuppe del Giorno (soup of the day) complete the menu, again not a large menu, but one in which quality is emphasized over sheer numbers.  Spaghetti with meatballs, by the way, is a featured special of the day every day though it’s not on the menu.

Shortly after you’re seated, a plate of sliced bread is delivered to your table.  It’s Italian bread baked in-house and as crusty and airy delicious as any Italian bread in town.  Though olive oil is to be found on each table, you’ll have to ask for butter if you want it.  Don’t bother asking for Balsamic vinegar because you’ll get the restaurant’s Balsamic based salad dressing, a far cry from restaurant quality Balsamic vinegar.

The Zuppe del Giorno is not limited to a perfunctory minestrone or pasta fagioli.  Our inaugural visit was on a bleak and dreary gray day in which the only soup which would have hit the spot was exactly what Amici was offering, a creamy green chile and potato soup.  This elixir for cold weather blues is of medium thickness with tiny slices of perfectly boiled potatoes and a green chile piquant enough to get your attention.  This is comfort food soup that would be good on any day.

Lasagna Bolognese with beef

Lasagna Bolognese with beef

Garfield, the famous persnickety cartoon cat once said, “when the lasagna content in my blood gets low, I get mean.”  There are times I can empathize with him, times when only the sweet succor of luscious lasagna can quell my cravings.  When you lust for lasagna, Amici is a good option, offering not one, but two different Lasagna Bolognese options, a meatless option and one with ground beef.

The meatless option is layered pasta with bell peppers, onions, mushroom, spinach and a triumvirate of cheeses (ricotta, parmesan and mozzarella) blanketed with marinara sauce.  The meaty option is composed of layered pasta, ground beef, onions, mushrooms and two terrific cheeses, ricotta and mozzarella covered in marinara sauce.

Amici’s lasagna reminds me very much of the lasagna of my youth in Massachusetts when I practically lived in mom and pop restaurants specializing in “red sauce.”  At first glance, it resembles a pasta loaf swimming in an island of marinara sauce.  It’s a thick slab of deliciousness, a concordant marriage of perfectly prepared pasta layered with well-seasoned ground beef, rich mozzarella and a marinara sauce emphasizing the sweetness of the tomato.  The sauce has a slightly chunky texture, but it’s the sweetness of the tomato foundation which we liked best.

Roma pizza: Smoked Ham, Fresh Tomato, Mozzarella Cheese, Roasted Garlic, Marinara Sauce

Roma pizza: Smoked Ham, Fresh Tomato, Mozzarella Cheese, Roasted Garlic, Marinara Sauce

A large segment of the popularity of Italian cuisine can be attributed to pizza which Americans eat at the rate of approximately 100 acres daily, or about 350 slices per second.  By itself, pizza is a $30 billion dollar per year industry with more than 69,000 pizzerias churning out about three-billion pizzas each year in the UnitedStates.  Representing 17 percent of all restaurants, pizza accounts for more than ten percent of all food service sales.

Amici’s six gourmet pizzas are fashioned with ingredient combinations designed to complement each another.  The amenable wait staff will even swap one or two of the ingredients if you so desire.  On the Roma, a pulchritudinous pie constructed with eggplant, fresh tomato, mozzarella cheese, roasted garlic and mozzarella sauce, we asked for smoked ham instead of eggplant and got it.

If the Roma is any indication, Amici’s pies are thin-crusted–not the waifishly thin crust you can nearly see through, but stout enough to hold up against the volume of generous ingredient toppings.  It has just a hint of char, not the pinto pony speckled char that sometimes denotes burnt, and its outside edges are heavily populated with the airy holes that seem to define good pizza.  The crust is soft, but perfectly baked through and through and as with the restaurant’s other bread-based products, it has a fresh baked bread flavor which means biting into it will welcome you with the wafting steam unique to the staff of life.

The Danielo, a panini made with hard Salami, smoked ham, pepperoni, mozzarella cheese, red onion, tomato, romaine lettuce, with a house vinaigrette

Our modified Roma was  delicious, a sixteen-inch, hand-crafted beauty resplendent with premium ingredients.  The smoked ham is discernibly different from the Canadian bacon offered at many pizzerias.  Real tomatoes with their slightly acidic bite complement the sweetness of the marinara sauce, a two-punch tomato combination that helps make this a special pizza.

It’s possible Italians from the old country wouldn’t recognize the large pressed sandwiches Americans call panini.  In Italy, panini is a small bread roll, not some super-sized ciabatta or Italian country bread behemoth.  By any name, Americans have been embracing those toasted, pressed sandwiches for years.  Amici’s rendition of the trendy panini is just a bit different in that the sandwich isn’t pressed.  In fact, the sandwich is at least twice as thick as most pressed paninis.  The Danielo is engorged with hard salami, smoked ham, pepperoni, mozzarella cheese, red onion, tomato, romaine lettuce with a house vinaigrette dressing.  It’s a nice sandwich though the salami lacked personality and other than with its saltiness, didn’t distinguish itself.

About the only thing that isn’t made in-house are desserts.  The tiramisu is nonetheless a very good dessert with a strong espresso flavor and a melt-in-your-mouth texture.  As with the rest of the menu, the number of available desserts is rather limited with chocolate cannoli available on occasion.

Tiramisu

Tiramisu

Amici exemplifies many of the things Americans love about Italian food and with the Silvas at the helm, a promising future seems imminent.

Amici
4243 Montgomery, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 11 April 2011
1st VISIT: 14 March 2010
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 17
COST: $$
BEST BET: Lasagna Bolognese, The Roma (Pizza), Tiramisu, Green Chile Potato Soup

Amici on Urbanspoon

Atrisco Cafe & Bar – Santa Fe, New Mexico

The Atrisco Cafe & Bar in Santa Fe

From the snow-capped mountains to the coral shores
You’re the only one my heart adores
You’ve only got three competitors
Tacos, enchiladas and beans

From the Mississippi to the Amazon
There’s not much we don’t agree upon
Wish we could get together on
Tacos, enchiladas and beans

Love ’em, dozens of ’em
I consume them by the score
And when I’m through, what do I do
I stamp and holler for more

You can have the fourth position on my list
Must admit your kisses would be missed
But how in the world could I exist
Without tacos, enchiladas and beans

Doris Day

Huge flavors belie the relatively cramped quarters

In the dark ages when I was growing up in the high mountain community of Peñasco, the world wasn’t nearly as connected as it is today.  My siblings and I thought we were deprived by being subjected to  such unsophisticated foods as tacos, enchiladas and beans. We didn’t know any better.   The three television stations (KOB, KOAT and KGGM) which piped  seventeen hours  of programming per day (7AM through 12AM) through our rooftop antenna into the  static-prone black-and-white television in our den depicted only families who ate such elegant food as pot roast, fried chicken and mashed potatoes.   When they weren’t eating these formal meals at the dining room table, television families were eating burgers from Vip’s Big Boy or A&W.  While Peñasco kids were taking green chile on tortilla sandwiches to school in brown paper bags, the kids on television toted Wonder bread sandwiches in their Archies or Batman lunchboxes.

My mom often sang a little ditty extolling the virtues of tacos, enchiladas and beans.  We assumed it was a song she made up in response to our whining about not having Wonder bread sandwiches like those kids on television.  She finally told me her little ditty was actually a song recorded by legendary actress and singer Doris Day way back in 1944 when dinosaurs roamed the Earth.   If rich, sophisticated actresses thought tacos, enchiladas and beans were pretty cool, my brothers, sisters and I finally decided we were eating pretty well, too.

Tres Amigos: Guacamole, Salsa, and Chips

The notion that the descendants of the Conquistadors who settled New Mexico had any sort of exclusivity in the preparation and appreciation for tacos, enchiladas and beans is admittedly pretty silly and naive.  For generations, some of the very best New Mexican food throughout the Land of Enchantment has been served by families whose descendants fished the azure waters of the Aegean Sea and dined on a diet rich in olive oil, yogurt, feta cheese, lamb, herbs and vegetables.  Greek restaurateurs have held such a prominent place in New Mexico’s culinary culture that they were honored in the 2006 edition of the New Mexico Blue Book.

In February, 2011, my friend Cheryl Jamison, the four-time James Beard award-winning author, delivered a scintillating presentation on some of New Mexico’s oldest and most iconic family-owned culinary treasures to a standing-room only crowd at the New Mexico History Museum Auditorium. Her lecture corroborated that Greek immigrants  expanded their own culinary traditions by incorporating the foods of their adopted homeland into their restaurants.  She outlined a number of restaurants owned by Greeks which prepare New Mexican food as delicious as it can be made  and in the time-honored, traditional ways of which my own abuelitas would approve.

Two house-made biscuits

The intersection of Central Avenue and Atrisco Drive in Albuquerque was the genesis for one Greek family’s culinary journey, one which began in the 1940s.  That’s where then recently widowed Sophia Mariol opened the Central Cafe to support her four children, all of whom developed a love of chile as prepared in the Atrisco neighborhood and who would go on to launch their own restaurants in Santa Fe.  Son Jim Mariol founded Tia Sophia’s, a veritable institution in the historic Santa Fe Plaza area and claimant to having invented the breakfast burrito.   Son Richard  established the Horseman’s Cafe which proffers some of the most potent and piquant chile in New Mexico. Daughter Georgia Mariol launched Tomasita’s, another critically acclaimed and beloved Santa Fe fixture.  Other family restaurants which have come and gone include the Mayflower Cafe, Richard’s Horseman’s Haven and Diego’s.

With the 2009 launch of the Atrisco Cafe and Bar, George Gundrey, a third-generation restaurateur proudly traces his restaurant’s lineage to the Atrisco neighborhood and his grandmother Sophia who operated the Central Cafe into the 1970s.  George is Georgia’s son, but his pedigree goes beyond working in a family restaurant.  As former director of the world-famous Santa Fe Farmers Market, he cultivated a wide network of local sources who  today provide the organic produce and meats used in his restaurant.  Quick to credit simple recipes, quality ingredients and friendly services as the hallmark of his family’s restaurants, Gundrey is a peripatetic presence at the Atrisco Cafe.  With ambassadorial aplomb, he frequently checks up on his guests to ensure they are enjoying their dining experience.

Roast Leg of Lamb Burrito: Locally grown leg of lamb from Talus Wind Ranch, roasted to perfection and thinly sliced; served with red and green chile

The Atrisco Cafe & Bar is located on the south side of the DeVargas Center in the space previously occupied by Diego’s.  Its exterior facade is neo-Southwestern with a terracotta stucco storefront and pink stag on the right flank of equally pink signage.  Taos blue vigas provide a uniquely New Mexican pergola over the bar.  Both booth and table seating are available in the restaurant which is wide, but not very deep.  Seating is in fairly close proximity to neighboring tables.  From the perspective that you get to see what others are ordering, that’s a big positive.

The lunch and dinner menu is replete with Northern New Mexico favorites…and not just enchiladas, tacos and beans.  House specials include Central Cafe Meat Loaf “Albuquerque style” featuring New Mexico raised beef, jalapeño mashed potatoes and the vegetable of the day.  Then there’s Yia Yia (a Greek term for grandmother) Sophia’s Greek Salad, one of the few menu items showcasing Greek food.  Burgers, salads and a few items sans chile are also available as is an enviable dessert menu that includes banana cream pie and natillas. Breakfast is served Saturday and Sunday from 8AM through 1PM.

Green Chile Cheeseburger with French Fries

A taste bud awakening way to start your meal as you contemplate the rest of the menu is with Tres Amigos, the tasty triumvirate of guacamole, salsa and chips.  The guacamole is unctuous–avocados ripened to a buttery perfection, fresh onions and tomatoes, a bit of garlic and salt.  The salsa melds rich, red tomatoes, finely chopped onions, and fiery jalapeños in competition for the rapt attention of your taste buds.  The salsa is of medium piquancy, just  hot enough to get your attention, but not enough to singe them.  Make it Quatro Amigos and enjoy a mug of steaming coffee with the salsa.  The hot coffee accentuates the piquancy of the salsa.

Biscuits are among several breakfast must-haves.  These are biscuits the way they should be made–light and flaky yet moist.  Any Southern cook would be proud to serve these.  Although we weren’t offered jam with these cloud-soft gems, the red and green chile we sopped up with them more than made up for the absence of any jam.

Carne Adovada and Eggs: Two eggs cooked any style with carne adovada covered with cheese, served with Spanish rice and a tortilla.

What prompted my inaugural (and very long overdue) visit to Atrisco Cafe & Bar was a delicious discussion with Cheryl Jamison and Kate Manchester, the brilliant publisher of Edible Santa Fe.  While compiling the 2011 edition of the New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail, we quite naturally got to talking about many of the Land of Enchantment’s culinary treasures and some of our favorite New Mexican specialties.  Kate practically had me drooling with her description of Atrisco’s Roast Leg of Lamb Burrito which showcases locally grown leg of lamb from Talus Wind Ranch (near Galisteo), roasted to perfection and thinly sliced.

Quite simply, this is one of the very best burritos I have ever had anywhere!  The thinly sliced lamb is tender and delicious with nary a hint of the gaminess for which lamb is often lambasted.  There is nothing else wrapped in the flour tortilla–just layers of luscious lamb.  The burrito is topped with shredded cheese and your choice of red or green chile (or both).  Because New Mexico is both a red and a green state, it’s only fitting to have both topping your burrito.  The green chile is superb!  It’s not especially piquant, but it positively radiates the flavor complexities of green chile, especially its fruitiness.  It’s a chile with qualities of both having been roasted very well then being simmered for hours.  The red chile is also rich and complex with quite a bit more piquancy than the green chile.  This is Christmas the way it should be celebrated in New Mexico’s cocinas.

Shortly after the 2009 launch of the New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail, Cheryl Jamison was asked by Serious Eats to put together a list of Santa Fe’s very best green chile cheeseburgers. Number three on the list she and husband Bill compiled was the burger at the Atrisco Cafe.  Made with grass-fed beef raised in the Land of Enchantment, it’s prepared to your exacting specifications  and is served with lettuce, onion and tomato on the side as well as your choice of American, Swiss or Cheddar cheese.  The molten cheese drapes over the too mild green chile.  Though my burger was perfectly prepared at medium with plenty of pink in the middle, the sesame seed topped wheat bread buns were overly toasted and desiccated and that chile was conspicuous only by its lack of bite.

The carne adovada and eggs breakfast entree more than made up for what may well be an uncharacteristically off day for the burger meister.  Save for our skies and sunsets, few things in New Mexico are as spectacular as a plate brimming with two eggs cooked any style with carne adovada covered with cheese served with Spanish rice and a tortilla.  Few things are quite as delicious as the carne adovada at Atrisco.  The adovada is tender tendrils of moist, delicious pork simmered with terrific red chile.  Spoon it up with your tortillas and you’ve got a New Mexico style bite-size sandwich.

That we liked the Atrisco Cafe & Bar is no surprise.  What surprised us most is that we enjoyed it more than we have other restaurants founded by Yia Yia Sophia’s descendants.  An even bigger surprise is just how good the roast leg of lamb burrito is.

Atrisco Cafe & Bar
193 Paseo de Peralta
Santa Fe, New Mexico
(505) 983-7401
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 10 April 2011
# of VISITS: 1
RATING: *
COST: $$
BEST BET:  Roasted Leg of Lamb Burrito, Carne Adovada and Eggs, Green Chile Cheeseburger, House-made Biscuits, Tres Amigos (Guacamole, Salsa and Chips)

Atrisco Cafe & Bar on Urbanspoon

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