Lucha libre, a Spanish phrase loosely translated into English as “free-style fighting,” is not just a genre of professional wrestling, it is the poor man’s theater in Mexico. For a mere pittance, the common man can treat his entire family to an incredible world in which classic battles of good versus evil are waged by stalwart heroes (los technicos) and compelling villains (los rudos).
Throngs of frenetic fans suspend their disbelief as muscular luchadores perform spectacular high-flying moves and execute joint-wrenching holds in the squared circle. Lucha libre’s theatrics are enhanced by the presence of wrestlers whose identities are protected by colorful masks designed to evoke archetypal images of animals, heroes and gods. The luchadores take on the persona represented by their masks.
On any given day, on a Central Avenue median between the Bandido Hideout restaurant and the University of New Mexico, you can spot a masked luchador sporting a sandwich board advertising “1/2 Rotisserie Chicken.” You’ve got to wonder what persona his mask represents–El Taco Technico, Guacamole Guapo, Señor Salsa… The staff at Bandido Hideout confirms that like the mail carrier, neither rain, nor sleet nor Albuquerque’s winds will stay this luchador from the entertaining completion of his appointed route on Central Avenue.
The truth is, that now famous masked wrestler has been steering first-time patrons into the Bandido Hideout for several years. The second time, those diners return on their own to a very good restaurant that’s as colorful as many of Mexico’s favorite masked luchadores. The Bandido Hideout is a sensory overload for your senses with multi-hued sponge painted walls, murals depicting Aztec life and on Fridays and Sundays, music by Mariachi Tenampa, perhaps New Mexico’s premier professional mariachi group.
On many a weekend, the Bandido Hideout has also been the salvation for revelers experiencing “la cruda” (a hangover). Who needs “hair of the dog” when you’ve got menudo, a long recognized cure for what ails you after a long night (or six) of imbibing adult beverages? For less than the cost of a quart of Mad Dog, diners can consume as much menudo as they’d like at the Bandido. Since menudo is an acquired taste, many non-drinkers just “settle” for good Mexican food.
Three salsas and a basket of chips reach your table shortly after you do. The salsa de arbol is the most piquant, but some of its sting is remediated by the infusion of lime. The guacamole based salsa is only mildly piquant but rich in the buttery smooth flavor of well-ripened avocados. The third salsa is rarely seen in New Mexico, but is common in the state of Puebla. It’s salsa de cacahuates con Guajillo, a peanut salsa with chile Guajillo. It may remind you of the peanut sauces so prevalent in Thai foods without the sometimes tooth-decaying sweetness.
While just about everything at the Hideout will please your palate, if you’re looking for something incendiary, you might not find it, but just in case you happen upon a particularly piquant chile vein, you can wash it down with some of the best cinnamon-dusted horchata in town. The limonada is also quite refreshing as are the other aguas frescas: melon and sandia (watermelon). The aguas frescas are served in gigantic goblets which are faithfully replenished almost as quickly as you drain them.
Tacos and tortas are but two of the specialties at the Bandido Hideout and for less than $5, you can sample three of a kind or mix and match from among several excellent taco options. The tacos al pastor, a Mexican mainstay comprised of spiced pork garnished with chopped cilantro, onion and pineapple will remind you of the folded treasures sold in Mexico’s taquerias. Another favorite is the chile relleno taco in which a wedge of Mexican queso is jammed inside a stringy green chile then placed on a steaming corn tortilla.
Most of the ingredients that fill your tacos are also available on tortas, Mexican sandwiches on warm bolillo bread. The torta de hamon is a smart choice thanks to a generous smear of savory guacamole, beans and sour cream sharing bun space with some of the best Mexican ham you’ll find north of the border.
A seascape on the restaurant’s far southern wall might just inspire you to try some of the menu’s mariscos, an early favorite of which are the Camarones Costa Azul (literally shrimp from the Blue Coast). Eight California shrimp are stuffed with queso Mexicana then enrobed in crispy bacon for a taste you’ll risk shark-infested waters to obtain. A citrus-mustard dipping sauce is provided but to dip the shrimp into anything but your mouth would be desecration.
In Camarones Tropical, the shrimp are prepared in a white wine and orange sauce then served with grilled pineapple slices and grapes for a combination of fruity and briny tastes sure to please any palate. It’s not all seafood dishes which combine well with citrus flavors, but this is one which does.
No matter where you travel in Latin America, you’ll find grilled meat (carne asada) on the menu. Restaurants called parrillas which specialize in grilled foods also grill seafood (mariscos) and poultry. Particularly popular in Argentina and Colombia, the mixed grill called Parrillada Mixta (or just parrillada) can be any combination of grilled meats, poultry and seafood. Bandido Hideout offers a parillada entree for three called Parillada con Corona, the “Corona” referring to three bottles of Corona, a popular Mexican beer. Alas, the parillada at Bandido Hideout is replete with tough, sinewy and fatty shards of beef and chicken. The grilled onions, tomatoes and jalapeños are the highlight of a relatively expensive entree in which too much of the grilled meats have to be discarded for their toughness.
The masked luchador prowling the median bisecting Central Avenue by the Bandido Hideout doesn’t need to body slam you or twist your most vulnerable appendages to get you to try this gem of a restaurant. All he’s got to do is point you in the right direction the first time. After that, you’ll find it on your own–perhaps even repeatedly.
2128 Central, S.E.
LATEST VISIT: 30 May 2011
# OF VISITS: 5
BEST BET: Tacos Al Pastor, Salsa de cacahuates con Guajillo, Camarones Costa Azul, Horchata, Aguas Frescas