Tomato Cafe – Albuquerque, New Mexico

The Tomato Cafe on Academy

The Tomato Cafe at its former site on Academy

You like potato and I like potahto, You like tomato and I like tomahto
Potato, potahto, Tomato, tomahto, Let’s call the whole thing off
Ira & George Gershwin

Let’s call the whole thing off.  If the Roman Catholic Church in the 16th century had had its way, the tomato might not be a ubiquitous ingredient in the cooking of many cultures today.  So, just what is it about the seemingly innocuous tomato that once earned it a scurrilous reputation in the Church, the type of reputation which made it the  Paris Hilton of the nightshade family?  Brought to Europe by the Spanish conquistadors, it was initially viewed with apprehension, thought not to be edible but purely decorative–and poisonous.  Leave it to the French to change that perception by ascribing aphrodisiac properties to what they called pomme d’amour or love apple.  This prompted the Roman Catholic Church of the time to declare the tomato the “fruit of the devil,” a sinful indulgence. 

The scandalous tomato, its sensuous red color and sweet-tangy flesh spurting with red juiciness, was even thought to be the fruit Eve offered to Adam.  Because of its role in original sin, the Church believed the tomato to have been cast off to the furthest reaches of man, where it could no longer be the tempting source of transgression.  More disconcerting to the Church fathers was that the tomato was deemed a symbol of tempting, bewitching femininity, a threat to the patriarchal boy’s club of the age.  Worse, the hermaphroditic tomato plant self-pollinated, needing not the seed of man. 

The exhibition kitchen at the Tomato Cafe on Montano and Coors

For nearly a century and a half after being brought from the new world, the forbidden fruit was avoided throughout Italy.  Its use was eventually spurred on by the poor in Naples who cared more about filling empty bellies than subscribing to the wrongful notions of the Church.  It was in Naples that in 1889, the tomato became forever entrenched in culinary history when an Italian pizzaiolo crafted a pizza whose colors reflected the red (marinara sauce), white (mozzarella cheese) and green (fresh basil colors of the Italian Sabauda flag.  He named the pizza the Margherita, for his queen.  

Today the once scandalized tomato is as revered as it once was reviled.  The notion of Italian food without tomatoes is nearly impossible to conceive–like a day without sunshine.  Can you imagine salsa–America’s favorite condiment–made without tomatoes?  Without tomatoes, there would be no Bloody Mary, no Caprese salad, no BLT sandwich, no ketchup and no gazpacho.  Soups, barbecue sauces, stews, ceviches, meat loaf–they would all be forever different without the ubiquitous, nutritious, delicious tomato.  To say tomatoes are the fabulous foundation of many a meal is a vast understatement. 

Slice of vegetarian pizza, ravioli (available only for dinner and Sunday lunch) and meatballs

In 1993, Deborah Gagnon and Don Watroba founded an upscale, all-you-can-eat Italian buffet restaurant named Mama Lena’s.  Within a year, the restaurant changed its name to the Tomato Cafe, but by any name, this award-winning treasure can’t be mistaken for anything but a unique restaurant concept that provides great value while serving generally very good Italian favorites.  The Tomato Cafe’s mission statement is to “Provide our guests with delicious, high quality food, friendly service in a pleasant atmosphere at a good value.”  Mission Accomplished!  The restaurant has earned a gaggle of accolades, consistently winning or placing high on the Alibi’s coveted “best all-you-can-eat restaurant” category in its annual restaurant poll.  In 2002, manager Deborah Gagnon was named “restaurateur of the year” by the New Mexico Restaurant Association, a tribute to this restaurant’s success.

For me, however, the endorsement I trust most comes from my esteemed friend Jacob Muller, the most precocious fourteen year old I know, who considers the Tomato Cafe his favorite restaurant.  Considering he already knows more about dinosaurs than I’ll ever learn, I put a lot of stock on his opinion.  Like Jacob, I’ve never tried any of the salad ingredients, so eager am I to dig into the main event–five handcrafted pizzas, two homemade soups, three types of pasta, breadsticks, polenta, garlic green beans, fresh broccoli, six sauces, meatballs, ravioli and ice cream with toppings included.

Gourmet pizza

Gourmet pizza

An exhibition kitchen gives you the opportunity to watch as pizza pies are deftly tossed into the air and fashioned into thin crusted orbs of deliciousness.  If a specific type of pizza isn’t available on the buffet line, one of the accommodating pizzaioli artisans can craft it for you.  The gourmet pizza is sometimes ameliorated by non-traditional pizza ingredients–feta cheese, barbecue sauce, piñon nuts, and other savory offerings.  You’ll only find thin-crusted pizza here, but it’s substantial enough to hold the great ingredients that adorn each pizza.  My very favorite is the barbecue chicken pizza in which the barbecue sauce has just the right amount of tang to make it interesting.  The chicken is applied parsimoniously, but what lands on the pizza is moist and delicious.    Also quite good is any pizza in which New Mexico green chile is added. 

Two types of soup–a vegetarian posole and a tomato basil–are positioned next to the salad ingredients in the family-style buffet line-up.  The roasted tomato basil soup is one of those comforting home-style soups which will give you pause to contemplate the greatness that is the tomato.  This flavor-rich elixir for whatever ails you is redolent with the aromas of fresh vegetables and Italian seasonings in perfect proportions.

Meatballs and penne pasta with green chile Alfredo sauce

Meatballs and penne pasta with green chile Alfredo sauce

Six sauces such as roasted tomato garlic, white clam, green chili Alfredo, sausage and Bolognese will embellish your choice of pasta.  The white and red clam sauces actually reminds me of my halcyon days in Massachusetts when my palate (and waistline) began to expand as I experienced theretofore foods outside my New Mexican comfort zone.  There’s nothing better on a cold winter day than a bowl of pasta with a generous amount of deliciously chewy clams and a tangy tomato sauce.

New Mexicans might prefer the tasty green chile Alfredo sauce (pictured above) as a pasta topper.  This sauce has a surprisingly piquant taste chile aficionados appreciate.  Next to the pizza, the favorite fare for children of all ages just might be the meatballs.  A tray of meatballs swimming in a tangy tomato sauce is frequently replenished as it seems most diners load their plates with these delicious orbs.  Other patrons prefer the ravioli (available only for dinner and Sunday lunch) which is nearly as big as a Big Chief tablet.

Tomato Basil Soup

After fifteen years at its original location on Academy, the Tomato Cafe moved to the Holly Place Center at Paseo del Norte and San Pedro.  In 2010, the restaurant expanded, adding a second store in the Montano Plaza (Coors and Montano).  Since 2002, the Tomato Cafe has donated all unused food to feed the homeless, the type of civic mindedness which endears this terrific restaurant to its patrons almost as much as the food does.

Tomato Cafe
5920 Holly Avenue, N.E.
Albuquerque, NM
Web Site

LATEST VISIT: 25 September 2011
COST: $$
BEST BET: Gourmet Pizza, Ravioli with Green Chile Alfredo Sauce, Red Clam Sauce, Meatballs

Tomato Cafe All-You-Can-Eat Gourmet Italian Food Bar on Urbanspoon

Sahara Middle Eastern Eatery – Albuquerque, New Mexico

The Sahara Middle Eastern Eatery on Central Avenue in Albuquerque

History has shown that cultures which thrived and advanced most rapidly are those which settled in arable areas rife with  natural resources.  The “Cradle of Civilization” where many of the earliest human civilizations evolved is in a seemingly unlikely region of the Middle East in which most of the land is too dry for farming.  In this largely desolate region lies a narrow strip of land known as  the “Fertile Crescent” because of its fecund soil and life-giving waters. 

The Fertile Crescent lies in the ancient area stretching in an arc from the Nile to the Tigris and Euphrates, an area the Greeks of Biblical times called Mesopotamia which means “between the rivers.”  This historical region, which includes some of the very best farmlands in the world, includes parts of or the entirety of the modern day nations of Iraq, Syria, Israel, Lebanon and Jordan.  The Bible–from Genesis to the Gospels–overflows with references to the foods of the time as grown in this region.

Omar Neshewat, Sahara's friendly owner

In Biblical times the most common and important foods were bread (the staff of life), olive oil (used instead of butter), milk and cheese from flocks of goats and sheep, vegetables (the most common of which were lentils and beans) from gardens and fruits (usually grapes, figs and pomegranates) from orchards.  Those living close to waters would enjoy fish and only on very special occasions might a family partake of meat.  Because there was no sugar, honey was the only sweetener available. 

Many of these foods remain staples of the region today and thanks to the ever-shrinking world, the cuisine of the Middle East can be enjoyed throughout the world–nearly as good and as fresh as if consumed in the ancient environs.  The Duke City is home to several very good to excellent restaurants showcasing the foods of the Fertile Crescent.  Best of all these restaurants are wholly authentic, featuring foods prepared in the time-honored, traditional manner, not dumbed down for the American palate.  The owners of these restaurants are emigrees,  usually no more than one generation removed from the land of their birth.

Shish Kabob Combo (Includes Basmati Rice, Falafel, Hummous, Pickles, Fattoush Salad, Dolmas, Fresh Pita)

Among them are Manny and Helen Neshewat who emigrated from Jordan in their youth to begin lives anew in America.  The Neshewat family owned Robbie’s, a series of delis in the suburbs of New York City.  When Manny decided to retire, he considered Florida and Arizona, but fell in love with New Mexico and its moderate climate.  Retirement was not to be.  After decades of working virtually sun-up to sun-down, he couldn’t make himself sleep in past six.  Three years after moving to Albuquerque, he and Helen returned to the business they love–launching the Times Square Deli Mart, a combination deli and convenience store they opened in 2007 near the University of New Mexico (UNM). 

Within a year, they also launched the Sahara Middle Eastern Eatery about a mile east of the Times Square Deli Mart.  Manny and Helen are still very much involved in the two restaurants–as well as a satellite of the Sahara at the UNM Student Union Building (SUB), a satellite of the Times Square Deli Mart at the UNM Hospital and a supermarket in Belen–but the day-to-day management is now in the hands of their progeny.  Tony Neshewat manages the Times Square Deli Mart while Omar manages the Sahara operation.

Beef and Lamb Shawarmah Combo Plate

A commonality among the sibling restaurants is the hospitality with which diners are treated.  The amiable Neshewats treat one and all as welcome guests whose visits is valued.  It’s a philosophy that cultivates repeat visits and customer loyalty.  The graciousness of the Neshewats is a genuine and refreshing change from restaurants in which customers are treated as faceless, nameless entities.  The food at both the Times Square Deli Mart and the Sahara Middle Eastern Eatery is a bonus. 

The Sahara is actually the family’s first venture into preparing and serving the cuisine of their motherland.  It was a venture into the unknown, both from the standpoint that the deli business was what they knew best and from not knowing whether or not Middle Eastern cuisine would be well accepted in the UNM area.  From the onset, the Sahara has done very well, garnering rave reviews from critics and diners alike.  Save for the pita (which is procured from California), every item on the menu is homemade and prepared authentically from recipes handed down through the generations as well as recipes acquired from restaurants in Jordan. 

Pistachio Baklava

Beef, lamb and chicken are sliced specially for the restaurant from Adam’s Nice and Fresh, the family’s supermarket in Belen.  The quality shows.  The thinly sliced shawarmah is marinated for anywhere from 24 to 36 hours in a seven spice marinade which includes cardamom, allspice, cloves, vinegar and a host of other ingredients.  The marinade penetrates deeply, imbuing the beef and lamb amalgam with mouth-watering flavors.  The shish-kabob, a charbroiled skewer of fresh cuts of lamb, might be even more delicious, each moist and tender bite-sized portion as good as it can be. 

For the big eaters among us, the best bet is a combo platter (otherwise known as the “Break the Chain” special because host Ryan Scott loves it) which is brimming with your choice of beef and lamb shawarma, chicken shawarma, chicken tika, kafta kabob, shish kabob, falafel or Greek gyro and basmati rice, falafel, hummous, pickles, fattoush salad, dolmas and fresh pita.  This veritable family-sized feast will set you back less than twelve dollars.  In today’s austere economic times, you’ve got to appreciate that value. 

Basmati rice is not typically associated with Middle Eastern food, but that didn’t stop Omar Neshewat from wanting to serve it at the Sahara.  He tried a number of different types of rice, but determined Basmati, a long-grain rice grown in India, to have the properties of moistness, fragrance and delicateness he wanted.  Sahara’s Basmati rice is fluffy, moist and delicious, seasoned with tumeric and saffron.  It’s among the very best rice you’ll find anywhere in the city. 

The fattoush salad, a mixed green garden salad with toasted pita croutons drizzled with a simple lemon and olive oil dressing, is also quite good, but it’s the hummous with which Omar takes more pride.  Sahara uses hundreds of pounds of chickpeas per week to create their hummous, rehydrating the chickpeas for twelve hours on a custom-made machine whose express purpose is hummous. 

Helen, the affable matriarch of the Neshewat family, creates the desserts for Sahara from scratch.  The pistachio baklava is over-the-top, a paragon of deliciousness and among the very best I’ve ever had.  Each diamond-shaped slice is unadulterated bliss.  Helen uses ghee (clarified butter) to give the baklava its moistness.  Though soaked with honey syrup, this baklava is not cloying as some Greek renditions tend to be.  Another popular dessert is the homemade rice pudding which is made with rosewater. 

Biblical scholars believe the typical worker’s midday repast was a simple meal of bread with onions.  In contemporary times, it’s great to know that terrific Middle Eastern cuisine in profligate portions can be found in the Sahara Eatery where you’ll be treated like a welcome guest.

Sahara Middle Eastern Eatery
2622-A Central Avenue, S.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 255-5400
LATEST VISIT: 24 September 2011
1st VISIT: 15 May 2008
COST: $$
BEST BET: Pistachio Baklava, Shish Kabob Combination Plate, Shawarmah Combination Plalte

Sahara Middle Eastern Eatery on Urbanspoon

Vernon’s Speakeasy – Los Ranchos De Albuquerque, New Mexico

The door to Vernon's Hidden Valley Steakhouse. Make sure you know the secret password.

The door to Vernon’s Speakeasy. Make sure you know the secret password.

After one year from the ratification of this article the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited.

The Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution ushered in the era of Prohibition in the United States, an era was to last from 1920 through 1933.  Only liquors used for religious purposes were excluded.  Because alcohol was declared illegal by the Congress, bootleggers and distributors of illicit alcohol thrived.  There was no shortage of enthusiastic scofflaws willing to run afoul of the law in order to enjoy intoxicating beverages.  One of the most popular milieus in which alcohol was served was the speakeasy.

A speakeasy was generally either a restaurant or a bar to which patrons gained admission by knocking on a door and uttering a secret password.  Once inside, patrons were treated very well in a swanky ambiance that may have included elaborate floor shows, fine dining and live entertainment.  Speakeasies flourished throughout the United States.

The elegant trappings of Vernon's Hidden Valley Steakhouse

The elegant trappings of Vernon’s Speakeasy (Courtesy of Sergio Salvador)

Vernon’s Speakeasy (formerly known as Vernon’s Hidden Valley Steakhouse), no longer one of the Albuquerque area’s best kept secrets, celebrates the spirit of the speakeasy.  Located in the 19,000 square-food Village Shops at Los Ranchos, there is absolutely no visible sign  that Vernon’s  even exists.  You enter Vernon’s through a heavy steel door.  Knock three times on that door and a sliding peephole opens.  Speak a secret password and you’ll be greeted by a doorman attired in a pinstripe suit delivering heavily accented gangster schtick (more reminiscent of the pitchman for Godfather’s Pizza than Don Vito Corleone of the Godfather movies)  before granting you admission to a surprising world reminiscent of the Prohibition Era speakeasy.

Vernon’s Speakeasy is named for Vernon Garcia who along with his wife Angel founded the restaurant in January, 2007.  Despite a lack of mainstream publicity in its infancy, Vernon’s gradually established itself as a popular dining destination among those in the know and has continued to grow in popularity.  In 2009, entrepreneur Michael Baird purchased the speakeasy-themed steakhouse along with the adjacent package store and the Calico Cantina & Cafe, a popular eatery specializing in American comfort foods with a twist.  Under Baird’s direction, the entire complex has undergone a significant transformation.  Gone is the Calico, replaced by Prime, a high-end delicatessen and specialty food shop.  Additionally, Vernon’s has made the speakeasy experience even more authentic with secret passageways, a new private dining room, a cigar patio and a VIP club.

The minute you enter Vernon’s, the cares of the day melt will away.  True to its speakeasy theme, the entire restaurant is intended to be hidden away from prying eyes.  Black curtains prevent the incursion of any errant sunlight. Passers-by who stride along the sidewalk have absolutely no idea there’s a fashionable, high-end restaurant behind those curtains.  The walls of the entire restaurant are highly buffed to a black diamond finish.  Only the rich red planked ceilings from which muted lighting is parsimoniously meted out offer a surcease to the enveloping darkness. A relaxed mood is further established by a pianist with an endless repertoire of music for all tastes.

The ambiance at Vernon's, though dark, inspires hush tones and relaxation.

The ambiance at Vernon’s, though dark, inspires hush tones and relaxation. (Courtesy of Bill Resnik)

The high-end menu includes the type of cuisine on which Al Capone himself might have dined in a Chicago speakeasy: chops, steak and seafood.  While it might not take a well-heeled outlaw’s ill-gotten gains to eat at Vernon’s, entrees are somewhat pricy (as in the potential for a $200 meal without alcohol).  A 20-ounce USDA prime, center-cut, bone-in ribeye with a port demi-glace reduction and savory chervil butter (called the Los Ranchos Star), for example, goes for $64 (as of this writing).   Entrees are served with the chef’s vegetable du jour and one complimentary accompaniment: white truffle infused Yukon mashed potatoes, herbed new potato hash, wasabi mashed potatoes, Basmati rice, baked potato, loaded mashed potatoes or roasted pepper and onion mashed potatoes.  The wasabi mashed potatoes have a discernible bite and are very good.

With a couple exceptions, the beef is Newport Prime, noted for its high quality, trim standards, yield, appearance and most importantly, taste.  Newport’s cattle are raised on mother’s milk, introduced to and raised on pasture grass then finished with a protein and corn rich diet.  The boneless ribeye and prime rib (twenty-one day, wet aged beef) are all-natural New Mexico raised beef.  Seafood entrees include seasonal salmon and halibut as well as Australian cold water lobster tail.  Petaluma free-range chicken, beef tenderloin medallions, marinated pork loin and New Zealand lamb shank round out the entrees menu.

Appetizers are surprisingly unimaginative for such a high-end dining establishment: blue corn cakes, bruschetta, crab stuffed mushrooms, orange cured salmon gravlox and scallops.  That doesn’t mean they’re not very good.  The bruschetta, for example, is quite good.  Toasted French  Parmesan baguettes are studded with Balsamic marinated tomatoes topped with melted mozzarella.  The crab stuffed mushrooms (lump crab meat, spices and stuffed into mushroom caps) are another popular pre-prandial treat that will fly off the table.  This isn’t faux crab; it’s the real thing and it’s really delicious. Soups and salads provide an alternative to the appetizers.  All are excellent precursors of things to come.

A succulent steak with baked potato and all the trimmings (Courtesy of Sergio Salvador)

A succulent steak with baked potato and all the trimmings (Courtesy of Sergio Salvador)

The butter poached lobster salad (fresh arugula, shaved fennel, bell peppers, cucumbers, grape tomatoes and citrus vinaigrette) includes several elements which work well together as well as contrasting flavor profiles that surprised me.  The zesty, peppery flavor of the arugula and the slight bitterness of the bell peppers, for example, could have overwhelmed the delicately sweet butter poached lobster, but they don”t.  The offsetting element may well be the citrus vinaigrette which seems to put it all together for this salad.   The lobster, of course, will leave you wanting more.

Though an excellent entree, the Steak Au Poivre (a Newport USDA prime center-cut New York strip steak) may not be for you if you savor your steak with the grill-influenced taste some aficionados crave.  Steak Au Poivre is pan-broiled and served with a brandy and butter sauce.  At Vernon’s, the Steak Au Poivre isn’t redolent (translation: overwhelmed) with the crushed peppercorns that typify this entree.  It is as tender as any non-Kobe beef you’ll find anywhere, a ten- to twelve-ounce slab of flame kissed beef prepared to your exacting specifications.  Ask for medium if you relish the juiciness of a great steak perfectly prepared.

The New York Strip, a twelve ounce slab perfectly prepared to your exacting specifications might be a better choice for aficionados of unadulterated beef.  It is Newport USDA prime center-cut steak made even better if you ask for salt, pepper and garlic on both sides.  You won’t find any trace of sinew, gristle or fat on this buttery tender steak.  My best bet choice is the aforementioned Los Ranchos Star, the USDA prime center cut 20-ounce bone-in slab of pure deliciousness.  This melt-in-your mouth beef hunkiness is big enough to share though you probably won’t want to.  You’ll want every morsel of this steak for yourself.  Ask for the wild mushroom Bordelaise, the only way you can possibly improve on this magnificent meaty perfection.

A ten-ounce filet served medium rare.

A ten-ounce filet served medium rare. (Courtesy of Bill Resnik)

If the sides aren’t enough, you can also order from among several ala carte items including an adult mac and cheese, braised collard greens, and grilled asparagus with Hollandaise sauce.  The adult mac and cheese is sinfully rich and utterly delicious, thanks in no small measure to an infusion of Gouda cheese and sugar-cured ham.  Who needs Kraft dinner when adult mac and cheese is so wonderful.

The dessert tray abounds with delicious options sure to please the discerning diner.  Rave reviews are sure to follow if you opt for the Chocolate silk, a shortbread pecan cookie crust topped with a rich, frothy chocolate custard and sweet cream cheese.  This is a dessert for which you absolutely have to make room.  It’s one of my very favorite desserts, one I enjoy so much, I employ the “it’ll all go to your hips so you shouldn’t have any” ploy on my loving bride of 26 years. Invariably it never works and I have to share it with her.

In January, 2010, Vernon’s Speakeasy was selected by AOL’s Web site as one of “Twenty Romantic Restaurants We Love Across the Country.”  According to the feature: “This speakeasy-style restaurant is still a bit of a secret to most of the locals. If you didn’t know there was a restaurant behind a hidden door in Los Ranchos Liquors, you’d probably never learn how romantic an underground spot can be. The atmosphere is cozy and warm – a good place to cuddle up with your number one guy or gal.”

A close-up of Vernon's filet served medium rare.

A close-up of Vernon’s filet served medium rare. (Courtesy of Bill Resnik)

Shortly before Valentine’s Day in 2010, Open Table, Inc., which provides a free online restaurant reservation service, named its fifty “most romantic restaurants,” a list gleaned from more than seven million reviews submitted by Open Table diners on more than 12,000 restaurants across the fruited plain. Vernon’s Speakeasy was the sole honoree from the Land of Enchantment. 

Only from Zagat will you find a disparaging word.  Zagat wrote of “trends that may once have seemed fresh and innovative that have simply worn out their welcome.”  Near the top of that list is prohibition-era restaurants which are “getting a little tired at this point.” That, of course is an opinion and Albuquerque diners clearly dissent.  Duke City diners have certainly not grown tired of Vernon’s Speakeasy.  If anything, it continues to increase in popularity.  It’s especially favored for special occasions and celebrations.  If the doorman is to be believed, Vernon’s is frequented by Hollywood glitterati whom he cautions should be allowed to enjoy their repast in peace.

Chocolate Silk, one of the best desserts in Albuquerque…maybe the world 

Vernon’s may no longer be the well-kept secret it once was, but it remains an excellent dinner option when only steak will do and you want to impress a special someone.

Vernon’s Speakeasy
6855 4th Street, N.W.
Los Ranchos de Albuquerque, NM
Web Site

LATEST VISIT: 7 September 2011
COST: $$$$
BEST BET: Steak Au Poivre, Bruschetta, Chocolate Silk Pie

Vernon's Hidden Valley Steaks on Urbanspoon

Counter Culture Cafe – Santa Fe, New Mexico

The Counter Culture Cafe in Santa Fe

The Counter Culture Cafe in Santa Fe

Counterculture.  Growing up in Taos County four decades ago, I don’t know how many of us understood that the cultural and political upheaval of the big cities had moved into our isolated corner of the world.  All we knew was that these unkempt and unwashed interlopers preaching free love and practicing it in communes had invaded our idyllic agrarian communities and shocked our quiet, small town sensibilities.

They rode around in psychedelic school buses and wore multi-colored smocks.  The men among them wore their hair as long as their women.    More shocking was how these strangers walked around unabashedly nude in the confines of the communes they christened with such colorful names as the Hog Farm, New Buffalo and Lama.  There were even rumors of rampant drug use.  The Taos News referred to it as “The Hippie Problem.”  Weekly letters to the editor referred to them as “smelly, crazy-eyed pot and LSD ridden draft dodgers” and worse.

Humongous cinnamon roll at Counter Culture

Humongous cinnamon roll at Counter Culture

Considering the rancor between the locals and the scores of hippies which invaded Taos County in the late 1960s, some might consider it ironic–maybe even more than a bit hypocritical–that Taos, New Mexico designated the summer of 2009 as the “Summer of Love.”  The summer-long celebration marked the 40th anniversary of the iconic counterculture movie “Easy Rider,” some of which was filmed in the area.  It also celebrates the influx of the hippie counterculture Taos County actively combated and tried to eliminate.

Much has transpired in the past four decades.  Taos County (and America as a whole) has evolved into a kinder, gentler, more accepting society.  The strange outsiders of the late 60s are well integrated into the fabric of the communities which initially were so unwelcoming toward them.  Some live in the suburbs they eschewed, work in businesses they once denounced and some even vote Republican.  Others remain steadfast to their dreams of a Utopian American society.

Middle Eastern Plate

Middle Eastern Plate

Today no one thinks twice when encountering the Bohemian influences and remnants of the 60s.  The symbols of counterculture once reviled throughout New Mexico are today even celebrated in such stanchions of the “establishment” as El Palacio, the quarterly publication of the Museum of New Mexico.  Vestiges of counterculture-influenced restaurants are prevalent in Taos (Taos Pizza Out Back among others) and Santa Fe, including one whose very name honors the movement: the Counter Culture Cafe on Baca Street.

The Counter Culture Cafe may remind long-timers of Joe’s Place, the first “alternative” restaurant on Bent Street in Taos which became the center of hippie culture throughout the county.  The Counter Culture Cafe just has that laissez-faire attitude and like the long defunct Joe’s Place, serves generally excellent food at very reasonable prices.

Counter Culture Burger with Green Chile on the Side

Counter Culture Burger with Green Chile on the Side

The Counter Culture Cafe is located only a couple miles west of the tourist-laden plaza and is frequented primarily by locals in-the-know.  It is ensconced in a “rough around the edges” fashionable artists’ haven away from the more well-known denizens of Southwest art.  The restaurant’s setting has been described as “post-modern, industrial warehouse,” an apt description.  Storefront parking is rather limited, but there is a spacious parking lot across the street.

Two outdoor dining areas–one by the parking lot up front and an enclosed area out back–are very popular, but strictly seasonal.  The indoor dining area is a hub of activity.  When you walk in, you’ll place your order at a counter above which are slate boards on which breakfast and lunch menus are scrawled in chalk.  After you place your order, you’ll be given a number to take to your table.  Then you’ll pick up your silverware, napkins and water (if that’s your beverage of choice) and take them to your table.  If you order wine, it will be served in a juice glass.  Your order will be delivered to your table promptly and professionally.

Proscuitto Egg Sandwich on a Hoagie with Swiss Cheese and Roasted Red Peppers

Proscuitto Egg Sandwich on a Hoagie with Swiss Cheese and Roasted Red Peppers

Seating, more functional than comfortable, is on communal tables, the type of which are used for church-sponsored bingo games.  Make sure you have cash on hand as the restaurant does not accept credit cards (though a local check will suffice).  The restaurant has free Wi-Fi for those of us who have to remain connected at all times.  Minimalist decor includes walls festooned with portraits taken by local photographer Anne Sweeney.

It’s almost unfair that stationed under glass at the top of the counter are baked goods so tempting you’ll eschew any diet no matter how faithful you’ve been to it.  The chocolate cake is reputed to be among the very best in town while the cinnamon rolls are ridiculously large, like frosted bricks.  Those cinnamon rolls are so good, Santa Fean food writer John Vollertsen put them on his “bucket list,” a collection of must try dishes he would plan to devour before “kicking the bucket.”  Vollertsen wrote, “you gotta love a sweet roll that hangs over the edge of a dinner plate, pull-apart tender and dripping with sugar glaze.  Plop this monster in the middle of a table of friends and demolish.”  Counter Culture’s French toast are made from these cinnamon rolls which are sliced horizontally then battered in an egg wash and prepared as any French toast would be.  Just writing about them added to my waistline.

Thai Coconut Salmon Soup

The menu is an eclectic East meets West meets Southwest mix of Asian, European, New Mexican and American gourmet favorites.  The simple sandwich is transformed into a gastronomic masterpiece in the kitchen.  Soup is sublime, especially, according to, the chicken tom yum which the “life in the west” magazine mentioned as one of “five great bowls of soup in Santa Fe.”  Sunset stated the “chicken tom yum warms the belly and ends in a spicy kick: Lemon grass and lime leaves enliven broth filled with chicken, rice noodles and chile.”  Thai inspired soups are standard menu offerings.  If the Thai Coconut Salmon Soup is any indication, that inspiration runs deep.  Pungent curry, as good as made at local Thai restaurants, is punctuated with the sweetness of coconut and the freshness of salmon wholly devoid of any off-putting piscine qualities.  Served hot, it’s as comforting as any soup.

A number of salads large enough to feed entire families are available including a Greek salad (cucumbers, tomatoes, Kalamata olives, feta cheese, red onions and pepperoncini with a red wine vinaigrette).  Better still, order the Middle Eastern platter which includes the aforementioned Greek salad as well as spanikopita, hummus, Kalamata olives and pita bread.  The spanikopita–a Greek appetizer made with pre-cooked spinach, butter, olive oil, feta cheese, green onions and egg in a phyllo dough pastry–is baked to perfection, a flaky and savory warm treat.  Alas, the hummus could use a bit more garlic and lemon.

Fall Salad: Roasted Beets, Red Chile Dusted Pecans, Wilted Greens, Blue Cheese and Balsamic Vinegarette

One of the most popular items on the lunch and dinner menu is the grilled burger, a hamburger prepared to your exacting specifications with grilled red onions on foccacia with haystax fries.  This is simply one of the very best burgers in Santa Fe, a burger on par with what you might find at a high-priced steakhouse and the fries are uniquely wonderful.  The enormous hand-formed beef patty is juicy and flavorful while the foccacia canvas is lightly toasted and a refreshing difference from the boring buns served nearly everywhere else.

Ask for green chile for your burger and you’ll be given a small bowl of neon green chile as piquant and flavorful as just about any you’ll find in the City Different.  By piquant, I mean this chile will actually have you reaching for water.  Piquancy isn’t its sole redeeming quality; it’s a fantastic chile.  Condiments, which you’ll have to bus to your table yourself, include Grey Poupon mustard, the gourmet choice.  The haystax fries are about as thin as a spaghetti noodle, or more appropriately shoestring potatoes.  They are perfectly salty, delicious and fun to eat.

Frittata: Pan Fried Eggs, Potatoes, Roasted Red Peppers, Feta Cheese

Breakfast is served until 5PM every day.  That means at all hours you can enjoy the fabulous proscuitto egg sandwich on a hoagie roll with Swiss cheese and roasted red peppers.  It’s better, if possible, than the American favorite, the ubiquitous bacon and egg sandwich.  The prosciutto has the flavor of a smoked, dry ham while the red peppers are imbued with the slight sweetness that comes from expertly roasting strong, acidic vegetables.  A prosciutto sandwich (grilled prosciutto, provolone cheese, Dijon mustard, roasted peppers with lettuce and tomato on a hoagie roll) is available for lunch, but you’ll miss the egg. 

Breakfast’s answer to the pizza and the quiche is the Frittata, a dish real men will eat (a reference to a 1982, not a sexist remark).  Frittata is a type of Italian omelet in which cheese and other ingredients are mixed into the eggs and cooked together.  The Counter Culture’s frittata is made with pan-fried eggs, silver dollar potatoes, roasted red peppers and feta cheese. It’s an excellent frittata, second only to the frittata at Torinos @ Home as the best I’ve had in New Mexico.  The eggs are fluffy and delicious.  The fillings are in perfect proportion for a balance of flavors.

The Counter Culture Cafe is a throwback to the 60s with a communal feel to it courtesy of having to share your table with strangers (make that people you have yet to meet), busing your table and cleaning up after yourself when you’re done.  There are no interlopers here, only hungry people whose appetites will be sated by some of the best food in town in an atmosphere that feels like the summer of love all year long.

Counter Culture Cafe
930 Baca Street
Santa Fe, New Mexico
(505) 995-1105
LATEST VISIT: 4 September 2011
1st VISIT:  28 November 2009
RATING:   21
COST:  $$
BEST BET:  Prosciutto Egg Sandwich, Grilled Burger, Middle Eastern Platter, Cinnamon Roll

Counter Culture on Urbanspoon

Blue Ribbon Bar & Grill – Estancia, New Mexico

The Blue Ribbon Bar & Grill in Estancia

Unlike diners throughout New Mexico, bears in the Sandias and Manzanos  have found food in their mountain habitats very scarce, forcing them to forage populated areas for their fill.  As of August 25th, 2011, the New Mexico Game and Fish Department had received 141 reports of bear sightings from Placitas to Belen, communities west of the mountains.  In 2010, food shortages resulted in 467 reports of bear sightings in the Sandias and Manzanos, 251 of them west of the mountains.

Visit Estancia, New Mexico and you’re likely to encounter more Bears in one hour than residents along the Sandias and Manzanos will see in an entire year. So many, in fact, that you’d think they own the town.  Bears walk around brazenly, proudly sporting seasonal reddish hues.  They stride into restaurants and shops where they’re welcomed like the old friends and neighbors they are.  That’s what life in a small community is like.

The bar area at the Blue Ribbon Bar & Grill

The Estancia Bears varsity sports teams are the only game in town and every resident of this close-knit community about half an hour east of Albuquerque’s Big I interchange is a fan.  Local businesses carry Estancia Bears merchandise–shirts, baseball caps, beverage cups, coasters and more.  Bears schedules and posters adorn the walls at businesses and decals are common on car and truck bumpers.  Residents proudly sport Bears shirts and baseball caps.  The Bears are the talk of the town, most conversations centering around the most recent game.  Wins are attributed to skill and athleticism, losses to poor officiating.  

While Bears sporting events are decided on the courts, stadiums, fields and diamonds of competition, it can be an entirely different matter for politics in Estancia. In 2008, a town trustee election was decided by a hand of five-card stud poker in accordance with a law decreeing that local elections resulting in a tie are settled by a card draw.  This garnered national news, but it’s hardly the most unique event in Estancia’s colorful history.  For a community of some 1,500 citizens, Estancia has seen its share of firsts, lasts and onlys.

The dining room at the Blue Ribbon Bar & Grill

Estancia was the site of New Mexico’s last hanging in 1922.  It’s a community whose population once rivaled that of Albuquerque and one which survived severe drought which made ghost towns of similar communities throughout the west.  While the prominence of New Mexico’s chile farming communities is well known, it’s not common knowledge that the Estancia valley produces more beans than any other region in the state with some 120,000 acres dedicated to growing our beloved frijole. Savvy New Mexicans who pilgrimage to Hatch for their chile drive to Estancia for their beans, too.

If ancient earthen edifices could talk, the Blue Ribbon Bar & Grill would keep you spellbound with interesting stories about life in Estancia.  The Blue Ribbon was established in 1903, making it the oldest building in a community in which venerable structures exist with modernity.  This centenarian was founded as the Valley Hotel and reputedly once housed a brothel, too.  The Blue Ribbon has been a bar since prohibition, boasting of a beautiful wooden bar salvaged from a saloon in Colorado which was devastated by fire.

Green Chile Cheeseburger - on the 2011 New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail

The Blue Ribbon Bar & Grill has been owned and operated by various members of the Ortiz family since 1974.  It is currently owned by Danny and Ana Ortiz who added a restaurant in 2011 and quickly earned a reputation for serving the very best green chile cheeseburger in the county (the restaurant’s Web site goes further, boasting of the best green chili cheeseburger (sic) in the state).  It’s a green chile cheeseburger worthy enough to be recognized on the New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail for 2011.  A large poster signifying its place on the Trail hangs on one wall.

The Blue Ribbon is a sprawling edifice with telltale signs of its perdurability melding comfortably with modern touches and, of course, the requisite Estancia Bears memorabilia.  The dining room is built for functionality over comfort, fittingly tailored for a menu with no pretensions to fine dining.  Luminescence generated by beer lights probably outshines the wagon wheel light fixtures suspended from wooden planked ceilings, but Bud Light signage is hardly as charming.  Large wooden support beams are affixed with wooden pegs (ostensibly for hanging coats).  Two televisions add to the casual feel.

Taquitos and an order of hand-cut fries

The ancient wooden bar, complete with bolted-on stools, is the cynosure of a charming bar area.  It’s easy to imagine every stool occupied by Bears supporters even though the Blue Ribbon sold its full liquor license in 2007 and today serves only beer and wine.  An outdoor patio includes horseshoe pits, the game of choice for Bears who no longer compete in varsity events.  An adjacent room includes pool tables.

The grill portion of the complex is relatively small and includes a counter at which you place your order.  The whirling dervish taking your order and delivering your food will be Ana Ortiz who also prepares your food.  The menu, posted high on a wall to the right of the counter lists only a few items, mostly of the fast food variety: green chile cheeseburgers, hamburgers, taquitos, Frito pie, hot dogs, grilled cheese sandwich, onion rings, shaved ice, ice cream, shakes and floats.  Everything is prepared to order; there are no heat lamps at the Blue Ribbon.

Well garnished hot dog

The green chile cheeseburger is about six ounces of beef perfectly prepared at about medium well and covered by chile of medium piquancy draped over by molten American cheese.  From there it’s up to you.  A toppings bar replete with fresh chopped onions, sliced tomatoes, pickles, mustard, ketchup, relish and more is available for you to dress your burger your way.  It’s a very good burger, well worthy of its inclusion on the New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail.    If there was an official New Mexico French Fry Trail, the Blue Ribbon’s fries would be on it.  The fries are made from handcut potatoes fried to a golden hue.  They are perfect accompaniment to the burger. 

Other items on the small menu include hot dogs at one dollar each.  The same hot dogs would easily go for two or three times as much in the city.  Sam’s Warehouse variety taquitos go for two for a dollar, but only the homemade salsa is noteworthy.  It’s a fresh salsa, the type with which you would want a basketful or two of chips.  Chocolate shakes are handmade with fresh milk and ice cream.  They’re served cold and are quite good. 

One group which might not feel welcome at Estancia is MUFON (the Mutual UFO Network).  That’s because things that fly through the air are well identified.  Every year Estancia hosts a Pumpkinfest in which Bears and former Bears participate in a “Punkin Chunkin” event.  This is quintessential small Americana, a day-long festival with food booths, carnival rides, arts and crafts and something for everyone.  Something for everyone–that might pretty well sum up Estancia, a small town New Mexico gem.

Blue Ribbon Bar & Grill
315 South 5th Street
Estancia, New Mexico
(505) 384-2938
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 3 September 2011
BEST BET: Green Chile Cheeseburger, French Fries, Taquitos, Hot Dog

Blue Ribbon Bar & Grill on Urbanspoon

Duran’s Central Pharmacy – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Duran's Central Pharmacy

Duran's Central Pharmacy

In an early episode of the Andy Griffith Show, while contemplating a job offer in South America, Andy tried to assuage his son Opie’s concerns about leaving Mayberry. Instead, he wound up confusing Opie by explaining that people in South America ate something called tortillas. Opie wondered aloud why anyone would eat spiders (tarantulas).  Had Opie ever tasted the delicious, piping hot, just off the comal 16-inch buttered orbs at Duran’s Central Pharmacy, it’s unlikely he would ever confuse those grilled spheres with any arachnid.

That’s because Duran’s features some of the very best tortillas of any restaurant in New Mexico. These are not the flavorless, paper-thin, production-line, machine-fashioned orbs you find at some restaurants (can you say Frontier Restaurant). Duran’s tortillas are made to order on a real comal and shaped by a skilled practitioner using a well-practiced rolling pin.  It’s the way abuelitas in New Mexico have done it for generations, a time-honored tradition Duran’s honors. You can tell and appreciate the difference.  In its annual Food & Wine issue for 2012, Albuquerque The Magazine awarded Duran Central Pharmacy a Hot Plate Award signifying the selection of its hot-off-the-griddle tortillas as one of the “most interesting, special and tasty dishes around.”  Considering the thousands of potential selections, to be singled out is quite an honor.

Making tortillas at Duran's Central Pharmacy

Making tortillas at Duran's Central Pharmacy (Courtesy of Sergio Salvador; click on photo for more.)

The tortillas are thick and have a pinto pony blend of char and white. While it may seem the wait staff brushes on butter in parsimonious amounts, you’re almost guaranteed to have some butter drip onto your clothing. These tortillas arrive at your table piping hot and absolutely delicious–a wonderful precursor to a great meal!  Invariably you’ll want to take some home.  Heat them on a griddle, slather on butter (or Kraft sandwich spread) and you’ve got a fantastically filling snack.

True to its name, Duran’s Central Pharmacy is an old-fashioned apothecary in which prescription medicines and over-the-counter drugs are dispensed. The dining area is nestled in the southern portion of the pharmacy and you absolutely have to navigate the aisles of the drug store to get there.  For some, it’s a slow walk as they gawk at meticulously arranged shelves brimming with products you won’t find anywhere else.

Maybe the very best tortillas in town.  Note the melting butter dripping down the just-off-the-comal tortilla.

Maybe the very best tortillas in town. Note the melting butter dripping down the just-off-the-comal tortilla.

In addition to the typical prescription and nonprescription pharmaceuticals found at any drug store, you’ll also find groceries, greeting cards and under glass near the cash registers, a section of fine chocolates that you might want for dessert after your meal of great New Mexican food.  On the dividing wall immediately before the restaurant is a section of books, mostly about New Mexico and by New Mexico authors. Some, like Pulitzer Award finalist River of Traps are absolute gems and must-reads for anyone who loves the Land of Enchantment. The pharmacy is also reputed to carry an excellent selection of perfumes, but perhaps no artificial fragrance compares to the aroma wafting from the kitchen.

The restaurant portion of Duran’s consists of a dozen tables, a small covered patio and a sit-down counter from which you can watch the industrious kitchen and wait staff (some members of whom provide service with a sweet sass) assiduously keeping up with the intense breakfast and lunch crowds.  A banal comment such as “that was fast” might receive a response like, “I’m sorry.  I’ll try to be slower next time.”  How can you not love that?

Lunch and a tortilla at Duran's Central Pharmacy

Lunch and a tortilla at Duran's Central Pharmacy (Courtesy of Sergio Salvador; click on photo for more.)

Despite the unusual restaurant setting, Duran’s has long been regarded as one of the best New Mexican restaurants in the Albuquerque area and it’s been regarded as such since 1942. Within easy walking distance of Old Town and just a short drive from downtown, it is, to the detriment of some local area residents, no longer a well-guarded secret.  With increasing frequency tourists have also discovered Duran’s–a more authentic (translation: not dumbed down for tourist tastes) and delicious alternative to Old Town Plaza restaurants.

Duran’s reputation is built on what has long been considered some of the best red and green chile anywhere in New Mexico.  The red chile lacks the cumin influence (corruption) so prevalent in the chile served in many misdirected New Mexican restaurants. The only ameliorant to that chile is usually a touch of garlic.  Alas, during a visit in September, 2011, the flavor of both the red and green chile were completely dominated by garlic–enough to ward off a family of vampires.  Worse, the garlic lacked freshness, tasting like garlic in a jar past its expiration date.  Even worse, Murphy reared his ugly head as accompanying me during this visit were my friends Bill, Esther and Henry.  All my bragging about the greatness that is Duran’s was as empty as a politician’s campaign promises.

The huevos rancheros served Christmas style with red and green chile.

The huevos rancheros served Christmas style with red and green chile.

Now, the chile has been great in the past.  That has been validated many times.  Our September, 2011 visit may have been an anomaly (perhaps the cook dropped a jar (or six) of garlic into the chile).   In the Alibi’s annual “Best of Burque” restaurant poll for 2005, Duran’s Central Pharmacy earned accolades for serving the “best huevos rancheros” in Albuquerque. In 2006, it was the red chile which earned “Best of Burque” honors. In 2007, Alibi readers accorded “best of” honors to Duran’s chile relleno, red chile and enchiladas. In 2008, it was the huevos rancheros and red chile which took home top honors. Annual awards are nothing new for Duran’s.

The bowl of chile, perhaps the restaurant’s most popular entree, is a Chamber of Commerce exemplar of what this dish should be. It’s heart-warming New Mexico comfort food, especially warm and nurturing on the most bleak and dreary of days.  You certainly can’t get that mother’s love level of comfort from a burger with fries.  Though not strictly a green chile stew, it is certainly “stew-like,” a bowl of red or green chile with beans and seasoned ground beef.  The green chile is neon green in color and about medium on the piquancy scale.  The beans are perfectly prepared while the ground beef is seasoned well.  It’s a concordant marriage of wonderful ingredients that envelop you in a cocoon of warmth and comfort.

Blue corn enchiladas with green chile (and too much garlic)

In its June, 2010 edition, New Mexico Magazine celebrated New Mexico’s Best Eats, eight of the best dishes served in restaurants throughout the Land of Enchantment. Two versions of each dish–a down-home version and uptown version were selected. The magazine accorded the honor as  state’s very best down-home green chile stew  to the Duran’s Central Pharmacy.  It’s a well-deserved honor few would dispute. I wrote the article about that stew which required lots of research on my part; it was a delicious assignment.

Daily specials include a stuffed sopaipilla platter on Wednesdays and Fridays and on Thursdays carne adovada, some of the very best in the city.  The award-winning orange-red chile used on other entrees is ameliorated with aromatic Mexican oregano and chile pequin, a fiery, dried red chile used judiciously (something which should be practiced with the garlic).  The chile is made from ground chile pods, not from powder.  That chile covers bite sized cubes of porcine perfection so tender and delicious they will make your taste buds smile.  My good friend Ruben, a devotee of carne adovada nonpareil, ranks Duran’s rendition on par with the adovada at Mary & Tito’s.

Carne Adovada plate at Duran's

Carne Adovada plate at Duran's

The carne adovada is served with pinto beans, boiled potatoes (perhaps the only item on the menu that’s unremarkable) and a simple lettuce and tomato salad with French dressing.  The only thing wrong with this platter (besides the papas) is that it’s not all carne adovada, as in the entire plate covered with it.  Fortunately you can purchase a pint of this phenomenal adovada to take home and if you don’t want to wait until the next Thursday, carne adovada is also available for breakfast on Saturdays.

Lest I forget, Duran’s salsa and chips rarely receive the rants and raves they deserve.  Quite simply, the salsa is some of the very best in the city.  It has the freshness of just made salsa, not salsa made three or even two hours ago.  The salsa, made with chopped tomatoes, cilantro, onion and green chile is thick and chunky so it doesn’t run off your chips.

Blueberry pie a la mode

During that ill-fated September, 2011, three of us ordered blueberry pie for dessert–partially in hopes it would take away the persistent garlic aftertaste.  The consensus was that the blueberry flavored filling came out of a can.  Flavored filling is the operative term here because none of us tasted an actual blueberry (at least it didn’t have a garlicky flavor).  The crust was flaky and buttery, worthy of better filling.  Duran’s also offers apple pie as well as empanadas.

Duran’s is a neighborhood institution in which neighbors congregate to catch up and enjoy a belly pleasing meal. That neighborhood expanded to the Northeast Heights in 2006 with the launch of Duran’s Station at 4201 Menaul, N.E.   Duran’s Station is situated in the former Fire Station #8 and is owned by Marcel Ghattas. It retains some vestiges of its days as a fire station, including the original alarm bell.  The engine bay was converted into the dining room while the bunkhouse is now the kitchen.

Salsa and chips at Duran's

Salsa and chips at Duran's

Duran’s Station includes all of your favorite Pharmacy favorites.  Similarities don’t stop with the menu.  The restaurant also includes an exposed prep kitchen and a comal for making those addictive tortillas (there may be none better in Albuquerque).  Best of all, it stays open for dinner.

If you just can’t get enough of Duran’s fabulous chile, the Slate Street Cafe just north of Lomas in the downtown district, offers it as well. Red chile runs in the family. Slate Street Cafe is owned by Myra Ghattas, Marcel’s sister. Their father Robert Ghattas has owned the Duran Central Pharmacy for more than a quarter century.

A bowl of green chile with beans and seasoned ground beef.  It's the very best in Albuquerque!

A bowl of green chile with beans and seasoned ground beef. It's the very best in Albuquerque!

In the corporate world, any previous years’ accomplishments–significant though they may be–are not a consideration during employee reviews. Managers take a “what have you done for me lately” attitude toward employee reviews. That’s the stance I take when reviewing and rating restaurants. Reviews are based on a snapshot in time, the experience on the latest visit. Duran’s has shown me greatness many times in the past, but not so in my last visit.  My rating dropped precipitously–from 23 (signifying my recognition of it being one of New Mexico’s best) to 18.  Here’s hoping it will reclaim its rightful spot in my heart and in my ratings during future visits.

Duran’s Central Pharmacy
1815 Central, N.W.
Albuquerque, NM

LATEST VISIT: 1 September 2011
COST: $$
BEST BET: Buttered Tortillas, Carne Adovada, Salsa and Chips, Green Chile

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