2011: The Thrilling & Filling Year in Food

Friends who Feast: Paul Lilly, Bill Resnik, Gil Garduno and Bruce “Sr. Plata” Silver

Tis the season…for year-end retrospectives in which the good, the bad and the ugly; the triumphs and tragedies; the highs and lows and the ups and downs are revisited ad-infinitum by seemingly every print and cyberspace medium in existence.  It’s the time of year in which the “in-your-face” media practically forces a reminiscence–either fondly or with disgust–about the year that was.  It’s a time for introspection, resolutions and for looking forward with hope to the year to come.  The New Mexico culinary landscape had more highs than it did lows in 2010. Here’s my thrilling (and filling) recap.

From Budai, Albuquerque’s best Chinese restaurant–Crispy Duck Stuffed with a Taro Root Paste

In January, Bon Appetit magazine named Tomasita’s of Santa Fe, one of America’s “best chili spots.” Alas, it was the exclusive “chile” named in the company of purveyors of “chili” in such hot beds of pepper piquancy and cumin contamination as Seattle, Washington; Washington, D.C., Cincinatti, Ohio; Springfield, Illinois and New York City. Bon Appetit declared, “This is one of the best places to try stew-like New Mexican green chili (named after its green Hatch chiles), filled with your choice of pinto beans, posole, beef, chicken, or cheese. A crispy sopaipilla (puffy fry bread) comes on the side.”

In January, Roadrunner Food Bank’s Souper Bowl,  Albuquerque’s foremost tasting competition–featured more than thirty of the Duke City’s finest restaurants showcasing their very best soups and desserts.  The event serves as the Food Bank’s premier annual fund-raising event.  The Souper Bowl winner (critic’s choice) for 2011 was the cream of mushroom soup with bacon from the Cold Water Fusion Restaurant.  The grilled butternut squash soup from the Santa Ana Cafe finished second.

Chicken Curry Stew with Mixed Vegetables from Cafe Dalat

Shortly before Valentine’s Day, 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 Hidden Valley Steakhouse on Albuquerque’s restaurant alley, Fourth Street, was the sole honoree from the Land of Enchantment.

In February, TheWondrous.Com Web site named Santa Fe one of “America’s top ten cities for food lovers.” The article seemed as impressed with the fact that Santa Fe has two Whole Foods stores as it was with “New Mexican’s twist on Mexican fare using blue-corn tortillas and locally grown chiles.”

Green Chile Philly with Fries from Itsa Italian Ice

In February, the Daily Beast asked the provocative question, “if America is fast-food nation, which city should be crowned capital?”  Alarmingly, over a five year period ending in 2010, the United States saw a five percent increase in the number of chain restaurants, accounting for more than 15,000 chains.  Meanwhile, there was a one-percent decline in the number of independent restaurants.  Evaluating the thirty largest chains in nearly 500 cities, each with a population of at least 200,000 citizens, the online site determined that Albuquerque ranked 31st per capita in the number of fast food and chain restaurants.  The Duke City has more than 300 fast-food and chain restaurants–56.7 per 100,000 residents.  The chain with the largest presence in Albuquerque is Subway.

For the second year in a row, Albuquerque’s über chef Jennifer James was nominated and was a semi-finalist for the James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef: Southwest.  Also nominated was Santa Fe’s Martin Rios, thus far the only chef to have participated on the Food Network’s Iron Chef America competition.  New Mexico was not shut out from the most prestigious awards in the culinary world.   Edible Santa Fe, an edition of the Edible Communities food network, won the James Beard award as the 2011 Publication of the Year.  The quarterly publication promotes and celebrates the abundance of local foods in North Central New Mexico.

One of the Turtle Mountain’s inventive pizzas: Prime rib, A1 steak sauce, blue cheese dressing, mushrooms and onions

In April, Poor Taste Magazine took a stab at naming the 100 best spots in America for brunch.   Two Santa Fe institutions made the list.  Harry’s Roadhouse was touted as “a green-certified southwestern gem that takes to heart the notion of blending quirky comfort and hearty square meals.”  The Pantry Restaurant was highlighted for its unique omelets which are “crammed full of chile relleno and covered in more chile and cheese, served with a side of carne adovada.”  Only one New Mexico restaurant made the magazine’s list of America’s 100 greatest “cult” restaurants which are defined as “restaurants having a highly devoted customer base and which appeal to both locals and tourists.”  The lone honoree was Albuquerque’s El Pinto.

I  had the privilege and pleasure to be one of five bloggers selected by Frommer’s Budget Travel Magazine to contribute to an article called “America’s Best Food Regions” published in its May, 2011 issue. Each of us was given 500 words to explain why the cuisine of our respective regions reigns supreme over other the cuisine of other culinary regions.  If you’re interested, the other regions showcased were the New Orleans area Cajun Country, Austin, Texas’s barbecue, Portland, Oregon’s fresh foods and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania’s Old World cuisine.  The “Chile Country” region truly does stand out!

Flan from Mariscos Altamar

The 2011 edition of the New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail was announced during a press conference on May 26th.  The thirty purveyors of New Mexico’s iconic burger receiving the most votes were automatically placed on the trail along with an additional 36 choices selected by a committee of culinary experts.  Receiving the most popular votes was LotaBurger, a long-time Land of Enchantment institution.  The other top five vote-getters were Bobcat Bite, Taco Box, Owl Cafe and the Buckhorn Tavern.

In June, 2011, New Mexico Magazine published its second annual “Best Eats” issue. The magazine showcased dishes ranging from fine-dining to New Mexican “soul food.” They came from some of New Mexico’s most popular restaurants as well as from tiny, off-the-beaten path gems which have become dining destinations in their own right. Seven culinary experts weighed in on New Mexico’s best green chile cheeseburger, New Mexican soul food, fine-dining meal, enchiladas, vegetarian New Mexican food, road food, local seasonal ingredients, contemporary Native American food, chocolate and carne adovada.

Beauty and the Beasts? Break the Chain host Ryan Scott and Bill Resnik flank Antoinette Knight, owner of Mary & Tito’s

On May 14th, the charismatic and personable Ryan Scott made the dialogue about food in the Duke City more interactive by launching a revolutionary radio program called “Break The Chain.”  Break The Chain wasn’t about breaking or bankrupting heavily bankrolled chain restaurants. It’s about breaking the chain “habit,” the inclination many have to visit the ubiquitous and convenient chains. Break The Chain was a celebration of local mom-and-pop restaurants, aiming to show the many outstanding alternatives to the familiar chains.  The show had a home on 1550 KIVA AM until November 15th.  During its six month run, Break the Chain introduced listeners to many of the movers and shakers in the dining scene.

When he traveled to Albuquerque for a taping of the Travel Channel’s Man vs Food Nation (which aired for the first time on June 22nd, 2011) a stop at Grandma Warner’s K&I Diner was a must for host Adam Richman.  No longer an active competitor in man’s quest to eat ridiculous amounts of food, Richman recruited three Albuquerque residents–all named Travis–to test their gurgitator’s mettle against the Travis on a Silver Platter:  three flour tortillas, beef and beans, sausage-infused red chile and shredded Cheddar.  Man vs Food Nation also visited two other purveyors of prodigious platters–The Frontier Restaurant and Sadie’s Dining Room.

A double-meat green chile cheeseburger from Perea’s Tijuana Bar in Corrales

June saw the launch of an outstanding new food blog called Larry’s Albuquerque Food Musings.  Written by Larry McGoldrick, the professor with the perspicacious palate, the blog not only showcases some of New Mexico’s best restaurants in very well-written reviews, it provides information on a variety of food-related topics.  Larry’s reviews are brutally honest and they’re based on years of studying and understanding cuisine of all genres–its provenance, its traditions, its components.  New food blogs–most very poorly written and soon to be abandoned–seem to crop up weekly, but Larry’s has got staying power because he knows what he’s talking about.

The July edition of Sunset Magazine invited readers to start their cars and bring their appetites for a journey to the “absolutely best places to eat along Western highways.” The magazine rated the “top 41 road food spots in the West, giving the Land of Enchantment plenty of love.  Both of San Antonio’s famous purveyors of green chile cheeseburgers nonpareil, the Owl Cafe and the Buckhorn Tavern were among the five burgers selected as best in the west.  Also showcased was the great road food route which starts just outside Santa Fe at the San Marcos Cafe then proceeds along the Turquoise Trail to the Mine Shift Tavern to a delicious terminus at Cedar Crest’s Greenside Cafe.

Sophia’s regular pancakes and blue corn pancakes (Photo courtesy of Bruce “Señor Plata) Silver

In the season premier of the Sundance Channel’s Ludo Bites America show which first aired on July 19th, nomadic chef Ludo LeFebvre transformed Santa Fe’s Tecolote Cafe into Ludo Bites Tecolote.  The premise of the show is that the eccentric chef travels across the country and creates a “pop-up” restaurant on an existing restaurant premises.  Only New Mexico’s piquant peppers were a match for Ludo’s temper in this entertaining half hour.

In its July-August, 2011 issue, National Geographic Traveler showcased Albuquerque’s Golden Crown Panderia’s biscochitos. An article entitled “five American desserts worth the trip” described them as “fragrant, infused with anise, this flaky shortbread coated with cinnamon.” A more succinct way to describe them is absolutely wonderful!  It was a huge year for the Duke City’s most famous bakery whose turkey bread sculpture was featured in a November 22nd article on BBC Travel Magazine

My friend Sandy Driscoll enjoys a green chile cheeseburger from Bobcat Bite in Santa Fe

A study released by Business Insider in July confirmed that Albuquerque loves its chain restaurants, particularly those specializing in fast food. The report rated the Duke City as 68th from among the largest 100 cities in America in terms of fast-food spending. Using a consumer data service called Bundle, the study analyzed spending data to see where consumers spend the most and eat most often at the most prominent fast food denizens: McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s,KFC, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and Arby’s.

The August, 2010 edition of the Food Network Magazine named the “best pizza” in each state. The Land of Enchantment’s representative on this list was a pizza named the “Santa Fe” and fittingly, it can only be found in our state capital’s Rooftop Pizzeria.  This award-winning pizza, available by the slice or whole pizza, is crafted with grilled chicken, Alfredo sauce, piñon nuts and green chile on a blue cornmeal crust.

From Pasion, one of Albuquerque’s most exciting new restaurants–a fruit ceviche: pineapple, apple slices, grapes, bananas and creme fraiche

The Food Network’s popular “The Best Thing I Ever Ate” program gave New Mexico just a modicum of love. The premise of this show is that restaurateurs and chefs know where to eat. It answers the question “where do food stars and chefs eat in their free time–when they’re paying.”  The three New Mexico restaurants showcased were the Pie Town Cafe which pastry chef extraordinaire Duff Goldman declared serves America’s best pie (a green chile apple pie); Santa Fe’s Pink Adobe, purveyor of the amazing Steak Dunigan which chef Rahm Fama declared as “better than mine”; and Santa Fe’s Cafe Pasqual’s.  In an episode entitled “Eggstraordinary,” chef Chris Santos declared the Huevos Barbacoa the best egg dish he’s ever eaten.  Chef Fama returned to his hometown of Santa Fe for a “Best Thing” episode entitled “Childhood Favorites.”  In the episode, he recalled the joys of noshing on Frito pie from the original Five & Dime General Store.

Santa Fe’s incendiary cuisine was the sole focus of “Heat Seekers,” another Food Network show which aired in August, 2011. Hosts Aaron Sanchez and Roger Mooking tested their masochistic mettle by sampling some of the city’s most incendiary cuisine. They started by sampling the mouth-watering, eye-watering carne adovada at Tomasita’s then proceeded to Kakawa for hot, hot, hot chile truffles and chocolate-chile elixirs.  The most piquant plate on their visit was a pulled pork sandwich from Cowgirl BBQ & Western Grill ostensibly so hot even locals couldn’t take it. 

Two flavors of the Chocolate Cartel’s incomparable gelato served at Nicky V’s Neighborhood Pizzeria

Gridskipper, an online service providing maps and news for urban travelers wrote in September that “despite what AMC’s Breaking Bad would have you believe, Albuquerque, New Mexico isn’t all meth cookery and fried chicken franchises. Instead, the city’s most sought after vice is undeniably the vaunted green chile cheeseburger, so popular in the state that it has its own government-funded trail (of tears, depending on how emotional you get about food).  The site listed some eight purveyors of green chile cheeseburger perfection throughout the Duke City.

In October, the New York Times Travel Magazine spent 36 hours in Albuquerque.  From the article’s inauspicious beginning (FREE association with “Albuquerque” used to yield “Bugs Bunny” and “that airport you go through to get to Santa Fe.”), you had to know the article had nowhere to go but up (as in very favorable toward the Duke City).  It wouldn’t be a good visit without sampling some of the city’s best dining.  The Magazine raved about the double-shot espresso milkshake and baked goods at the Golden Crown Panaderia.  It called carne adovada the “lifeblood” of Mary & Tito‘s and praised the “bowling alley location, farm to table produce and a chef-owner with Chez Panisse credentials” at Ezra’s Place as adding “up  to hipster overload” anywhere but Albuquerque.  As with many national publications, no visit to the Duke City would be complete without a meal (or several) at the Frontier Restaurant where you can get “a killer cinnamon roll dripping with molten cinnamon goo.” 

In November, Andrew Zimmern, host of the Travel Channel’s Bizarre Foods visited New Mexico to test the mettle of his iron cast stomach against some of the Land of Enchantment’s unique foods.  Though the show is really about investigating culture through food, most people tune in to see if Zimmern can eat the unique local foods.  He proved up to the task, enjoying blood pudding (morcillas) at a matanza in Valencia county and buffalo kidneys, testicles, liver and heart at the Bonanza Creek Ranch near Santa Fe.  Zimmern also sampled prairie dog at the Zia Pueblo.  It wasn’t all adventure eating, however.  He also filled up on green chile cheeseburgers at the Bobcat Bite. 

Moules Curry at P’tit Louis Bistro on Gold Street

Geronimo, widely regarded as the best restaurant in the state, was the only New Mexico restaurant recognized by the Forbes Travel Guide (formerly the Mobil Travel Guide) as a four-star restaurant.  The travel guide names four- and five-star restaurants and spas.  Only 25 restaurants across the country achieved a five-star designation.

In the December, 2011 edition of New Mexico Magazine Cheryl Alters Jamison was introduced as contributing editor for all things culinary. Cheryl, who along with her husband Bill, is a four-time James Beard award-winning author is an authority on New Mexican food. She has served as the New Mexico Tourism Department’s culinary tourism liaison for three years, conceiving and implementing such initiatives as the New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail and the New Mexico Culinary Treasures Trail. In December, Cheryl launched the Tasting New Mexico blog, a scintillating read.

Monica and Rene Coronado, proprietors of Pollito Con Papas, one of the very best new restaurants launched in 2011

In December, James Beard award-winning blog Serious Eats created a list depicting “29 touristy spots in America that are actually good,” “tried and true tourist destinations that are actually worth your time and effort.”  Only one New Mexico restaurant–Tomasita’s in Santa Fe–made this list.  To Tomasita’s credit, it’s as popular with locals as it is with tourists.

Several restaurants fell victim to the worldwide economic malaise.  Closing their doors for the final time after years of enthralling diners were such favorites as the Cajun Kitchen which served Albuquerque for 24 years and Leona’s Restaurante de Chimayo, a northern New Mexico staple for nearly two decades.  Also closing were restaurants with a national profile such as La Fonda Del Bosque which garnered recognition from Hispanic magazine as one of the 50 best Hispanic restaurants in the United States in 2003 and 2004–a remarkable achievement that came within three years of its launch.

White chocolate and cherry bread pudding from the Dragonfly Cafe & Bakery in Taos

2011 was another banner year for readers of Gil’s Thrilling (and Filling) Blog who aren’t at all shy about expressing themselves with passion, humor and one-upmanship. Faithful readers Bob of the Village of Los Ranchos and Larry McGoldrick both achieved the 100 comments milestone.  There are now more than 3,300 reader comments on my reviews.  I value your comments immensely and appreciate that you thought enough of my blog this year to have voted me as one of the Duke City’s five best bloggers for 2010 in Albuquerque The Magazine’s annual “best of the city” issue.

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Tomme – Santa Fe, New Mexico (CLOSED)

Tomme: 229 Galisteo Street at West Alameda in Santa Fe

As the end of an year draws near, the inclination to reflect on the closing year seems natural.  Auld lang syne practically resonates from the pages of most  periodicals as they reflect on the year that was with writers providing their year-end retrospectives.  Quite naturally my favorite reflections are of New Mexico’s continuously evolving, culturally vibrant and deliciously diverse culinary scene.  Several of my favorite writers–and readers–provided an year-end snapshot of the very best dishes they had during 2011.  You can read the latter starting here.

There’s generally a wide diversity of opinion among restaurant critics and diners as to what constitutes the “best dishes,” so it behooves us all to pay attention when consensus or near consensus is achieved by any one dish at a restaurant.   Most of my astute readers who contributed their top ten dishes of the year agree on the greatness of Blade’s Bistro, Mary & Tito’s, Budai Gourmet Chinese, Torinos @ Home, San Pedro Middle East Restaurant and Jennifer James 101.  These are all easily among my favorite restaurants and shouldn’t be missed.

The interior at Tomme

When two of my very favorite food writers in New Mexico (or anywhere else, for that matter) waxed poetic about the best dishes they had during 2011, my interest was more than piqued because two of their anointed dishes came from a relatively new restaurant in Santa Fe.  Because those writers are so highly credentialed and have national profiles, their opinions warranted not only my attention, but a visit to the restaurants they declared as having some of the very best dishes they sampled during 2011. 

My friend, the scintillating author and four-time James Beard award-winner Cheryl Jamison reflected on her favorite dishes in the Tasting NM blog she debuted in November, 2011.  One of her favorite dishes for 2011 was the “pozole” at Tomme in Santa Fe, a late-comer to the Santa Fe dining scene which launched in September, 2011.  She lauded the “mini-souffle of hominy in a light sauce sparked by red chile and topped with a tangle of pulled pork,” rhapsodizing on how Chef Brian Rood “took a beloved everyday dish and delighted diners with a witty new play on it.”

Slow Braised Short Rib Gougeres: Point Reyes Blue Cheese, apricot gremoulata

In the December, 2011 – January, 2012 edition of Local Flavor Magazine, renowned chef and writer Johnny Vee put together his list of dishes which wowed him during the year.  One of them was the fried chicken with braised greens, potato croquette and brown gravy at Tomme (pronounced Tum).  He described the “down-home classic” as “anything but rustic with impossibly crunchy poultry.”  He had me at fried chicken.  Any fried chicken sufficiently worthy of making it to such an acclaimed writer’s “best of” list is a fried chicken we had to try.  Not even in the Deep South (which we called home for eight years) did we encounter fried chicken worthy of such an accolade.

Tomme, named for a fairly generic class of cheeses produced in France, is anything but generic.  It’s a modern bistro offering a melange of sophisticated dishes at very reasonable prices.  It’s high-end quality with affordable prices.  The menu is relatively small–a handful of appetizers plus a soup of the day, fewer than a dozen entrees and a small number of desserts.  One promised constant is the restaurant’s playful take on Southern fried chicken.  Situated on the southeast corner of Galisteo and West Alameda, scant blocks away from the famed Santa Fe Plaza, Tomme is attractive in a sort of minimalist way with nothing to distract you from the cuisine.  That’s the way it should be.

Southern Fried Chicken: Hand mashed potatoes, bacon braised kale

With your focus squarely on the menu and not on a distracting milieu, contemplating your dining options is sheer pleasure.  You may ponder how, or if, a restaurant can successfully execute such a mishmash of upscale and fusty dishes or how the moderate price point will translate in terms of quality.  Mostly, however, you’ll probably deliberate the place of fried chicken on other than a fast food menu.  Despite the small number of options on the menu, you’ll be hard-pressed to decide which to have and which to hold off until a future visit.  Our decision not to have pozole during our inaugural visit was based on the fact that we were all “posoled” out from the Christmas season, but we look forward to sample it next time.

Our inaugural appetizer choice was slow-braised short rib gougeres (a French style of savory pastry made from choux pastry and some type of cheese).  The cheese used is Point Reyes blue cheese, a creamy, pungent, full-flavored blue cheese.  The short ribs are shredded into tender tendrils of moist, thoroughly delicious beef.  The shredded beef is sandwiched in between the  choux pastry puffs and topped with an apricot gremolata, a sweet-tangy garnish.  Served three per order, the gougeres may resemble roast beef sliders, but one bite confirms this is an elegant and sophisticated starter.  The melding of strong blue cheese and unctuous shredded short ribs is particularly notable.

Steak Frites: Pan seared strip loin, pommes frites, haricot verts, house made tamarind sauce

The Southern fried chicken also manages a surprising level of sophistication and not just because the comforting crunch has its genesis in a wondrous panko breading though that’s a refreshing difference.   Tomme serves a three-piece boneless, all white  array of pulchritudinous poultry truly befitting of consideration for anyone’s top ten list.  It’s juicy and tender without being greasy.  Reflective of an evolving menu, our chicken was served not with a potato croquette as was Johnny Vee’s, but with hand-mashed potatoes and bacon-braised kale.  The kale is not nearly as “iron” bitter tasting as some kale.  Attribute that to the transformative nature of bacon which improves everything with which it comes into contact.  The mashed potatoes are creamy.

A more conventional bistro offering, steak frites, is very well executed, a pan-seared strip loin served with pommes frites (French fries), haricot verts and a housemade tamarind sauce.   Prepared at a perfect medium, the strip loin is tender, juicy and tasty.  The housemade tamarind sauce proves a perfect complement for the steak, blending the sweet-tangy-sour flavors of tamarind with the savoriness of a great steak sauce.  The haricot verts (very small and slender green beans) are crispy and fresh.  The pommes frites are among the very best in New Mexico with a twice-fried texture and perfect level of saltiness.  Ketchup need not rear its presence anywhere near these fries.

Poached Pear: Smoked chevre ice cream, orange chutney, tarragon syrup

Though the fried chicken may not make my top ten list, there is one item on the Tomme menu which just might supplant one of my choices.  It’s the poached pear dessert pairing a smoked chevre (goat cheese) ice cream atop an orange chutney with sliced pears over a tarragon syrup.  The pears are poached in wine and honey, a combination which bring out the natural sweetness of the pears while imbuing them with richness and sophistication.  The chevre ice cream lends a savory tanginess to the sweetness of the vanilla while the orange chutney adds a punchy zest. 

Tomme is an exciting change of pace from the highly regarded, high-end genre which dominates the Santa Fe dining scene.  With its whimsical menu touches and working class prices, it promises to go far–undoubtedly to many more top ten lists.

229 Galisteo Street at West Alameda
Santa Fe, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 27 December 2011
COST: $$
BEST BET: Slow Braised Short Rib Gougeres, Southern Fried Chicken, Steak Frites, Poached Pear

Tomme on Urbanspoon

Bumble Bee’s Baja Grill – Santa Fe, New Mexico

The original Bumble Bee's in Santa Fe

Fittingly for a restaurant whose “mascot” is a rotund, sombrero-wearing bee with a smile on his face and maracas in each hand, almost every review you’ll find of the Bumble Bee’s Baja Grill in Santa Fe since it launched in 2004 employed a clever bee-related play on words to describe it.  “What’s all the buzz about in Santa Fe?”  “This new “beestro” offers a refreshing twist on fast food.”  The Bumble Bee opened to such tremendous acclaim that it quickly expanded to two Santa Fe locations and served Albuquerque diners for six years (2005 through 2011) with the same casual dining experiences heretofore available only to residents of the state’s capital.  Those experiences resulted in readers of the Santa Fe Reporter naming it the “best new restaurant in Santa Fe” two consecutive years against formidable competition.

Bumble Bee’s Baja Grill is the brainchild of Bob and BJ Weil.  Bob, an avuncular septuagenarian, has been a peripatetic presence at the restaurant since it launched,  seemingly serving simultaneously as greeter, cashier, waiter and busboy, but mostly as the restaurant’s genial ambassador.  If he’s at the restaurant on the day of your visit, you can expect him to stop by your table to make sure you’re enjoying your food and dining experience.  Your experience is of Mexican Baja style cuisine, characterized by uncompromisingly fresh ingredients melded together in gustatory exciting ways then apportioned generously to ensure no diner ever leaves hungry.   Seafood ingredients abound in “just caught” freshness, no easy feat in landlocked New Mexico.  Meats and poultry are char-grilled to exacting temperatures that ensure each bite is succulent and juicy.  Bumble Bee’s salsas will awaken your taste buds with just enough bite to complement your entrees without dominating them.

A trio of sensational salsas

One of the restaurant’s instant draws was a complimentary salsa bar which included a quadrumvirate of sensational salsas.  To keep prices low, Bumble Bee’s discontinued the free salsa bar, offering salsas and chips as a low cost option.  It’s an option savvy diners opt for.  The fire roasted salsa has a distinctive smoky flavor and barely registers on any piquancy scale.  Ditto for the pico de gallo.  In Spanish, pico de gallo means “rooster’s bite,” but there isn’t much bite in this condiment of chopped tomato, fresh cilantro, onion and lime juice.  Diners craving piquancy in their salsa can get it from Bumble Bee’s jalapeno-laced tomatillo salsa which will get your attention.  Flame eaters will opt for the habanero salsa though by most standards, it’s fairly tame compared to some habanero based salsas in the Land of Enchantment.  The salsa bar also includes cilantro and chopped onion.

The menu touts “ordering as easy as uno, dos, tres…(1) choose your meat: chicken fish, shrimp, steak or lamb; (2) choose your meal (tacos or burritos, etc.); and (3) It’s fresh and healthy – Enjoy!.”  Easier said than done.  The menu is replete with so many terrific choices that you’ll be challenged to order quickly.   Of course, “uno, dos, tres” can also represent the number of tacos you want to eat.  You’ll find that un taco certainly isn’t enough.

Ceviche at Bumblebee's Baja Grill

Ceviche at Bumblebee's Baja Grill

If tacos and burritos don’t thrill you enough, the menu includes a bevy of treasures sure to please the discerning diner.  The menu section entitled “Favorites” includes a trout filet, quesadilla, nachos and a beans and rice bowl.  Another section of the menu called “El Pollo” features chicken entrees, each marinated overnight in a chile rub and roasted over an open flame rotisserie.  There are several items designed with vegetarians in mind and the entire menu is MSG and lard free.  Salads are also available.

Surprises abound at Bumble Bee’s.  During two visits, the intended object of my appetite were fish tacos, however, my eyes and taste buds wandered toward the specials of the day, neither of which disappointed.  New additions (as of 2009) include aguas frescas (horchata and sandia) and ceviche.  The ceviche is served in a goblet and unlike most ceviche, features large, whole shrimp, onion, cilantro, tomato and a slaw of jicama and cabbage.

Goat cheese and chicken burrito

Goat cheese and chicken burrito

“Baja style tacos” start off with fresh, soft corn tortillas.  Each taco’s bounty is so plentiful that it takes three tortillas to envelop and retain its ingredients so they’re not spilling all over your clothing.  Fish (char-grilled wild Pacific mahi-mahi) and shrimp (char-grilled farm-raised) tacos are made with sliced avocado, cabbage, pico de gallo and Bumble Bee’s secret non-dairy sauce.  The fish tacos are easily among the very best I’ve ever had in New Mexico, and that’s not just an indictment of other restaurants in the Land of Enchantment which endeavor to serve them.

The char-grilled wild Pacific mahi-mahi is nestled in three, warm, steamy corn tortillas where fabulous fish shares accommodations with a heaping slice of avocado, shredded cabbage and Bumblebee’s “special sauce.”  The special sauce is nothing like McDonald’s rendition.  It is creamy, tart, sweet and absolutely delicious, the perfect flavor complement to the mahi mahi.  I dare say the sauce is the closest I’ve experienced to the sauce served with fish tacos in San Diego, perhaps the nation’s most prolific consumer of fish tacos.

Fajita burrito at Bumblebee's Baja Grill

Fajita burrito at Bumblebee's Baja Grill

Meat (char-grilled specialty spiced “fajita” skirt steak, marinated chicken breast and even slow-simmered lamb) tacos are topped with chopped onion, cilantro and a smoky roasted salsa.  If all these delicious offerings challenge you to order just the right one, fret not because they’re all wonderful.  Better still, create your own “chef’s sampler” which would include one of each–fish, shrimp, beef and chicken.  This platter should come with black or pinto beans (according to the menu, grown in high-mountain valleys) prepared with onions, garlic, tomatoes and spices; cilantro-lime rice; homemade corn chips and freshly prepared salsa from the fabulous complementary salsa bar.

The smoky roasted salsa makes its presence felt on the burrito grande, a burrito encasing grilled peppers and onions, melted Jack and Cheddar cheese, beans, rice and sour cream.  This is a two-fisted, five-napkin burrito tipping the scales at nearly a full pound.  It is a thing of beauty to behold and a pleasure to consume. Of comparable pulchritude is one of the aforementioned daily specials called tostada de pollo rostiso, a roasted chicken tostada with a treasure trove of ingredients including roasted chicken, pumpkin seeds (pepitas), pico de gallo and goat cheese.  This special featured two twin tostados each formidably stacked with ingredients and bursting with flavor.  The pepitas are lightly roasted and delicious, an excellent addition to any Mexican inspired entree.

Santa Fe's only Sonoran Hot Dog

Bumble Bee’s daily special entrees often include goat cheese, a pungent and tangy cheese that is an excellent alternative to the gloppy Cheddar cheese often used in New Mexican style burritos.  The goat cheese and chicken burrito on a whole wheat or white tortilla is an inventive alternative good enough to hopefully make the daily menu.  This burrito is engorged with moist, fresh chicken, diced onion, chopped tomatoes, avocado and of course, a tasty smear of warm goat cheese.

Just as owner Bob Weil discerned a niche opportunity for healthy Mexican food, in 2011 he discerned the national premium hamburger craze would go over well in New Mexico, too.  Early indications are that his gamble will pay off.  Rather than launch his burger concept in a new location, Weil added the premium burger menu concept to the Cerillos rendition of his restaurant. Bumble Bee’s Baja Grill and Burgers also offers hot dogs (National Hebrew all-beef), shakes, malts, French fries, onion rings, bee-stings (battered, sliced jalapeños and onions), grilled cheese sandwich and a bee-L.T. 

Inspired by a hot dog graze in Tucson, Arizona, in 2011 the innovative entrepreneur introduced Sonoran hot dogs to his restaurant   In Tucson, more than one-hundred vendors ply the Sonoran-style hot dog trade while no restaurant serves them in Santa Fe.  Throughout Tucson, you’ll find a surprising number of inventive variations on the Sonoran hot dog.  Where none deviate is in wrapping bacon barbershop pole style around a wiener then griddling or grilling it until the bacon has practically caramelized into the wiener.  A phalanx of garnishes and toppings are then stuffed into a bolillo style Mexican bread that resembles a hot dog bun that hasn’t been completely split length-wise. 

The Bumble Bee interpretation of the Sonoran Hot dog bears some resemblance to the iconic hot dogs served at Tucson’s El Guero Canelo with the most notable exception being the bolillo bread.  At El Guero Canelo, the bolillo is pillowy soft, but still formidable enough to hold in the sundry ingredients.  Bumble Bee’s bolillo (spelled “Boleo” on the menu) is somewhat reminiscent of pretzel bread in that it’s chewy and firm.  Within the “boleo” bread is a Hebrew National hot dog (Bob jokes that the hot dog is half Jewish because of the kosher style hot dog) wrapped in bacon, fresh chopped onions and pico de gallo smothered in pinto beans and Jack and Cheddar cheese.  It’s garnished with mustard, mayo and sliced, pickled jalapeños.

In keeping with its inventive menu, Bumble Bee’s ambiance practically shouts colorful and fun.  Formica counters and loud colors dominate.  Bumble Bee piñatas are suspended from high, industrial looking ceilings with exposed ductwork while ceramic masks adorn the wall immediately above the salsa bar.  Seating is comfortable, albeit in fairly close proximity to other diners.

The original Bumble Bee’s Baja Grill is the only downtown Santa Fe sit-down restaurant with drive-through service.

Bumble Bee’s Baja Grill
301 Jefferson Street
Santa Fe, NM
Web Site

LATEST VISIT: 27 December 2011
COST: $$
BEST BET: Fish Tacos; Shrimp Tacos, Goat Cheese and Chicken Burrito, Ceviche, Salsa and Chips, Sonoran Hot Dog

Bumble Bee's Baja Grill on Urbanspoon

Cosmo Tapas – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

Cosmo Tapas, a Nob Hill gem

Some of the world’s most elegant and refined cuisine has its genesis in very humble circumstances.  Today, Spanish tapas are widely regarded as sophisticated and exotic, but they didn’t start off that way.  In fact, Spanish tapas are an excellent embodiment of the axiom that when life hands you lemons, you should make lemonade.  The words “tapa” (singular) or “tapas” (plural) are derived from the Spanish word “tapar,” which means “to cover.”  In Spanish, a tapa is also the literal term for a “lid.”  How the word “tapas” became the term used to describe a popular epicurean craze is an interesting tale.

It’s well established that in Spain, it’s traditional for many people to take an afternoon respite from the rigors of their daily lives and jobs to visit the local tavern or inn for snacks and refreshment.  In Old Spain, snacks and refreshment are inseparable, a tradition dating back to the Castilian king Alfonso the Wise who decreed that no wine was to be served in any inn throughout Castile unless accompanied by something to eat.  This precaution was to counteract the adverse effects of alcohol on an empty stomach.

Dining Room at Cosmo Tapas

Observing that glasses of wine or sherry served to patrons attracted fruit flies, bartenders began covering the top of the glass with a piece of bread to prevent the pesky insects from doing the breaststroke in the wine.  In time, each tavern concocted its own signature toppings for the bread.  For the most part, the covers or “tapas” were relatively simple–ham or anchovies, for example, but eventually, those simple glass covers evolved into such creative and sophisticated dishes that what is essentially Spanish bar food now rivals any of the world’s most renowned cuisines. 

In modern day Spain, tapas are not only a gastronomic custom, they are a social or communal event.  Taverns are clustered in close proximity to one another, making it easy for patrons to hop from bar to bar sampling the specialty of the house at each.  In America, tapas have become popular as a meal option–eating a number of appetizer-sized plates to constitute an entire meal.  As in Spain, American tapas restaurants and bars attract groups who, by sharing dishes, can sample a wide variety of foods for a relative pittance.

Spanish Charcuterie Plate: Spicy chorizo,  Serrano ham, lomo embuchado, olives, pickled onions and baguette

The concept of tapas made its way to the United States several decades ago to some (mostly local) acclaim.  In some American cities, an announcement of the launch of a new tapas bar was often mistaken as yet another “topless bar” opening up.   Ultimately it took the culinary and marketing genius of Jose Andres to launch the country’s first widely heralded and highly successful tapas restaurant, Jaleo in Washington, D.C.  Since Jaleo’s opening in 1993, tapas bars and restaurants have taken off throughout the fruited plain.

In the Land of Enchantment, Santa Fe, which has long embraced its Spanish heritage, has long been home to two restaurants which offer tapas–the venerable El Farol and relative newcomer (fifteen years) El Meson.  That dynamic duo became a terrific triumvirate in 2006 with the launch of La Boca.  The Duke City’s first notable entry into the tapas arena was probably Gecko’s Bar & Tapas under the auspices of chef Jay Wulf.  Since then a number of restaurants have offered, sometimes rather loosely, an interpretation of tapas.

Baked Beef Empanada: Chilean empanada packed with beef, onions, hard boiled eggs, raisins and olives

July, 2009 saw the introduction of Cosmo Tapas, fittingly making its home in what many consider to be the Duke City’s cultural and social hub, the Nob Hill District.  Situated in the venue that previously housed the Martini Grille, Cosmo Tapas is, as its name implies, a cosmopolitan and hip urban experience–ironically with a storefront facing the historical mother road, Route 66. Its launch was greeted excitedly by critics and diners alike, many hailing it as a much needed change of pace for the city.  When she told me about her first visit to Cosmo shortly after it opened, Melissa Watrin gushed, “you have GOT to go to Cosmo Tapas.  The best meal I’ve had in a really long time.” Despite her effusive praise, it would be a while before my inaugural visit.

Look overhead as you enter and you’ll espy one of the most unique “chandeliers” you’ll ever see.  Instead of crystalline composition, the chandelier is crafted from silverware–spoons, forks and knives dangling above you.  The dining room’s walls are festooned with still-life, near photo-quality paintings depicting decanters of oil and vinegar and other restaurant necessities.  Undulating mesh fabric drapes from the ceiling.  Linen tablecloth drapes over each table with folded napkins nattily in place.  The best seat in the house on a cold winter day is the table nearest the fireplace and with a view of Central Avenue.

Grilled Choke: Grilled marinated artichoke with goat cheese and orange zest

Add the term “family-friendly” to the restaurant’s family owned and family operated modus vivendi.  That’s family-friendly both from the sense that diners of all ages will all feel welcome at the restaurant and that the family which owns the restaurant is as friendly as any restaurateurs in the Duke City.   As Melissa told me they would, both Guillermo Loubriel and his wife-partner Cecilia Kido visited our table to ensure our dining experience was as good as it could be.  Their son Leo was even more attentive, personally delivering every item we ordered. 

When they conceived the idea of Cosmo Tapas, Guillermo and Cecilia determined to showcase a menu which would reflect their  veritable melting pot of cultures and not necessarily subscribe to a true Spanish tapas template.  Guillermo is Puerto Rican while Cecilia, a native Chilean is half-Japanese and part Spanish and French.  The menu, a magnificent mishmash of culturally diverse dishes, succeeds wildly.  Moreover, the shared dining experience succeeds wildly.  Diners have embraced the concept of ordering a number of dishes and sharing them.

Stuffed Dates: Medjool dates stuffed with feta cheese and wrapped in bacon

The tapas menu actually begins with three Spanish sampler platters–a Spanish cheese platter, a Spanish charcuterie plate and a Jamon Iberico plate.  The latter is one of those every-once-or-twice-in-a-lifetime indulgences to which you should treat yourself just because you’re worth it.  Jamon Iberico, often considered the gold standard of gourmet ham, is to ham what Kobe beef is to steak. The pigs from which Jamon Iberico is culled are a very exclusive breed, ergo the pampering they receive.  The highest quality Jamon Iberico comes from pigs whose diet is limited to acorns once their slaughtering time approaches.  Hams from the slaughtered pigs are cured for anywhere from twelve months to 48 months.  The word “platter” may be a bit of a misnomer because the portion size you receive is only about two-ounces, but the memorable melt-in-your-mouth quality of the ham makes this a worthwhile indulgence.

It would be hard to consider the Spanish Charcuterie Plate a “consolation prize because it’s quite excellent, but oh that Jamon Iberico.  If you can’t order the Jamon Iberico, the Charcuterie Plate is a very good alternative.  Charcuterie is a French term which refers to the products made and sold in a delicatessen-style shop, also called a charcuterie.  The operative word here is “made” as in butchering, cutting, salting, curing, slicing, storing and preparing such meat products such as bacon, sausage, ham, pates, and more.  Cosmos Tapas’ charcuterie plate features spicy chorizo, Serrano ham, lomo embuchado, olives, pickled onions and baguettes.

Lollipop Lamb Chops: Served with olive/feta tapenade, sauteed spinach, garlic aioli and flatbread

The thinly cut Serrano ham is wonderfully marbled dry-cured ham with a salty flavor.  It’s fairly standard in American tapas bars, but is always welcome for its fine flavor.  The spicy chorizo, made from coarsely chopped pork and pork fat, is also a fairly common tapas menu offering.  The chorizo is seasoned with smoked and piquant Spanish paprika and salt.  The lomo embuchado, sometimes considered the “prince of dry cured sausages in Spain,” inherits the flavors of sea salt, smoked paprika and garlic from its 90-day curing process.  One of the biggest surprises in the Charcuterie Plate actually has nothing to do with meats.  It’s the pickled onions which are brined in a solution that includes jalapeños, imbuing them with a pleasantly piquant taste.

A couple of decades ago, Cecilia Kido owned and operated the long defunct Empanadas House which offered some thirty types of empanadas.  Considered the national dish of Chile, empanadas are a natural fit for the Cosmo Tapas menu where at least three are available. If the baked beef empanada packed with beef, onions, hard-boiled eggs, raisins and olives is any indication, empanadas are an absolute must-have.  The melange of flavors makes for a very exciting treat which challenges you to discern the individual components.  The crust enveloping the ingredients is light and flaky, but formidable enough to keep them all in.  This empanada is served with pebre, a Chilean “salsa” with a piquant, refreshing bite.

Ceviche:  fresh barrimundi marinated in citrus juice with onion, cilantro, & jalapeno vinaigrette

Melissa’s favorite tapa, one she described as a beautiful dish with vibrant flavors, is the “Choke,” grilled marinated artichoke with goat cheese and orange zest.  The artichokes are splayed out in an almost floral arrangement with a dewy goat cheese sheen on each petal and the redolence of orange zest.  The Choke is grilled to an absolute perfection and can be consumed in its entirety as you might a piece of nigiri sushi or by the petal if you’re able to show such restraint.  In either case, this is a superb tapa, one of several offerings on the Vegetable Tapas section of the menu.

The most popular tapa on the menu is stuffed dates, a tiny plate brimming with six Medjool dates stuffed with feta cheese and wrapped in applewood smoked bacon.  It’s akin to indulging in sweet, savory and smoky meat and cheese candy.  Each bite rewards you with taste explosions that are best tempered with a palate cleanser (such as taking a bite from another tapa before resuming with the next stuffed date.

Homemade Churros: Berries, Dulce de Leche and Hazelnut Chocolate

Another very popular tapa is the Lollipop Lamb chops, four succulent and meaty chops atop a bed of sauteed spinach with a garlic aioli and an olive-feta tapenade. At medium-rare, the lamb chops are tender and juicy, wholly capable of excelling on their own. The tapenade and aioli elevate the chops to a higher level, imparting complementary flavors which bring out the best qualities of the chops.

From the seafood tapas section of the menu, one sure to be a favorite is the Peruvian-style Ceviche, fresh barrimundi marinated in citrus juice with onion, cilantro and a housemade jalapeño vinaigrette.  The ceviche is unlike the ceviche served in Mexican restaurants throughout New Mexico in that it does not contain a single chopped tomato.  The jalapeño vinaigrette enlivens the barrimundi and complements the citrus with a pleasant piquancy.  Served in a concave glass over ice, this ceviche is comparable to that served in great Peruvian restaurants.

Membrillo & Manchego Cheese: Imported sweet quince paste with fresh Manchego cheese

Dessert tapas are a specialty of the house.  Seven of them are available including churros, the threaded fried dough pastry sometimes referred to as a Spanish doughnut.  The churros are stuffed with an assortment of sweet goodness: hazelnut chocolate, dulce de leche or berries.  You can mix and match the four churros per order.  The dulce de leche is especially good  for my sweet tooth.  You might appreciate another flavor even more. 

In the Tasting NM section of its January, 2012 collectors’ edition celebrating New Mexico’s centennial, New Mexico Magazine showcased quince, a fruit high in pectin with a strong “perfume.”  My friend, the scintillating author Cheryl Alters Jamison, provided a wonderful recipe for quince butter.  Her recipe in mind inspired me to order a dessert tapa called Membrillo and Manchego Cheese, imported quince paste with fresh Manchego cheese.  The Manchego proved a perfect foil for the ultra-sweet quince paste made even better with a leaf of basil. 

The menu at Cosmo Tapas even includes an “Entrees” section listing six full-sized dinners, one of which is Spanish paella (made-to-order with chicken, tiger prawns, clams, mussels, scallops, calamari, crawfish, Spanish chorizo, vegetables and Valenciana saffron rice). It’s easy to imagine a tapa or two for an appetizer followed by paella or another of the entree items.

One of the reasons it took me so long to visit Cosmo Tapas is because every critic and publication in town reviewed it within weeks of its opening. Acclaim was pretty much universal. Now that Cosmo Tapas has been open for almost two and a half years, the time was right for me to visit and see for myself whether or not the acclaim was justified. If anything, some of the high praise may be understated. Tapas is at or near the top of Spanish restaurants I’ve visited. Best of all, each visit will be a new adventure thanks to the wide variety of tapas offered.

Cosmo Tapas
4200 Central Avenue, S.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 23 December 2011
COST: $$$ – $$$$
BEST BET: Spanish Charcuterie Plate, Baked Beef Empanada, Grilled Choke, Stuffed Dates, Lollipop Lamb Chops, Ceviche, Membrillo & Manchego Cheese, Churros

Cosmo Tapas on Urbanspoon

Mr. Tokyo – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Mr. Tokyo in Albuquerque's far Northeast Heights

In a 2011 interview, Green Bay Packers Superbowl winning quarterback Aaron Rodgers revealed that during the National Football League season, the comments he hears most often from fans and the questions they ask him most have to do with Fantasy Football: “Is Jermichael (Finley) playing this week?” “Who’s starting at running back?”

Until rather recently, the questions most frequently asked this humble blogger were “what’s your favorite (restaurant or food)?” and “what restaurant would you recommend for a (birthday, anniversary or special event)?”  Those questions have  been supplanted by curiosity about Bob of the Village of Los Ranchos (BOTVOLR), the most prolific (126 comments as of this writing) commentator to this blog.  “What’s Bob like?”  “Where does Bob get his ideas?” “What are Bob’s favorite foods?”

Miso Soup

Bob’s comments are not only insightful and entertaining, they often reflect his civic-mindedness.  He’s an unabashed promoter of his adopted hometown of Albuquerque, greeting visitors to our fair city as an ambassador for the Albuquerque Convention and Visitors Bureau.  Although he’s quite fearless when it comes to trying new restaurants and food trends, some of his favorites include the old standards which have graced the area for decades: The Monte Carlo Steakhouse, The Dog House Drive In, Paul’s Monterrey Inn and one he’s recommended to me for years, Mr. Tokyo.

Bob tells me, “I’ve been eating their Shrimp Tempura for 8 years by driving up from down in the North Valley per the under $10 price for miso soup, rice, 5 shrimp and a half dozen variety of veggies always cooked and presented just right in a peaceful setting by courteous staff. Not to mislead, I have sampled other dishes and give them a thumbs up too, it’s just their Tempura has a hold on me!”  Despite his rousing endorsement, it took a wistful moment of reflecting on the greatness of Noda’s Japanese Cuisine‘s tempura for me to accede to Bob’s recommendation.

Shrimp and mixed vegetable tempura

Mr. Tokyo is tightly ensconced in the fairly nondescript El Dorado Square Shopping Center at Montgomery and Juan Tabo in the far Northeast Heights.  From Montgomery, Mr. Tokyo’s storefront is obfuscated by the ubiquitous Walgreen’s and the restaurant is too tiny to be visible from Juan Tabo.  In fact, if you’re not looking for it, you’ll probably pass it by and that would be a loss.  After my inaugural visit, I found it easy to see why Bob of the Village of Los Ranchos appreciates this paragon of terrific tempura and teriyaki so much.

Mr. Tokyo has two distinct, albeit diminutive dining rooms with perhaps a dozen tables or so.  Its wasabi-green colored walls are sparsely adorned with only a few pieces of Asian artwork on display.  A perfunctory array of Japanese paper lanterns hang from the ceiling while paper screens cover the windows.  Service is not only prompt and attentive, it’s very cute if you’re waited on by the owner’s ten-year-old daughter, a half-pint whirling dervish who seems to know all the regulars.  Though she didn’t wait on me, her Air Force bound brother was quite pleasant and helpful.

New York Steak Teriyaki (on the grill, served with stir-fried vegetables and steamed rice)

Mr. Tokyo has served the Duke City since 1994.  It has no pretensions to offering gourmet cuisine or to performing knife wielding feats of prestidigitation as some teppanyaki restaurants do, but by no stretch is it a shopping mall quality purveyor of Japanese fast-food.  Think of it as a family owned and operated restaurant offering great value and very high quality food in a pleasant milieu.  Think of it as a restaurant in which you’ll be treated to teppanyaki quality beef, chicken or seafood without the high prices and excessive showiness.   Think of it as a little gem.

The menu is hardly a compendium, offering some eight appetizers.  Save for the sushi and sashimi section of the menu, no category–tempura, hibachi, combinations, grilled udon, soup, fried rice or specials–on the menu even approaches a dozen items.  Among the eight tempura items–vegetable, chicken, beef, shrimp, scallops, salmon, red snapper and seafood–are Bob’s long-time favorite, the shrimp tempura with mixed vegetables.  It would behoove me to discover the dish which has ensnared Bob all these many years. 

Though I ordered the shrimp tempura on the menu, what was brought to my table was hardly the bounty–five shrimp and a half dozen variety of veggies–Bob had described.  My order consisted of two shrimp and a tangled nest of tempura battered, deep-fried vegetables, none easily discernible from the other.  The large shrimp (an oxymoron) were quite good, an antithesis of the mushy, greasy tempura you’ll find at bad Japanese restaurants.  The tempura is lightly battered and crisp with nary a hint of greasiness.  Best of all, you can actually taste sweet, succulent shrimp neath the tempura.  The tangle of vegetables is a tease which left me wanting the tempura-battered onions, carrots, sweet potatoes and green peppers Bob enjoys so much. 

My entree, New York steak teriyaki prepared on a hibachi was excellent.  Served with a stir-fry vegetable medley (julienned zucchini, onions, bean sprouts) and steamed rice, the portion size is an easy cure for a robust appetite.  The steak, prepared at medium and cut the way a mother would, is resplendent in a sheen of teriyaki sauce.  The sauce is more savory than it is sweet, quite unlike the thick, syrupy sauces some restaurants offer.  Each piece of steak is tender and juicy with no fat or sinew anywhere.  The stir-fried vegetables are a surprising treat while the rice is perfectly prepared and delicious.

Lest I forget (though it would be entirely understandable), entrees are accompanied by a bowl of miso soup, the only item not particularly noteworthy.  Most miso soup served at restaurants is ready-made so it’s rarely more than edible.  Often what distinguishes one restaurant’s miso soup from another’s is the temperature at which it is served.  Mr. Tokyo’s arrived at my table barely tepid.

Great food, friendly service, good value, the opportunity to perhaps meet Bob of the Village of Los Ranchos.  There are many reasons to visit Mr. Tokyo.  My only regret is that it took me so long to do so.

Mr. Tokyo
11200 Montgomery, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 22 December 2011
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Shrimp Tempura, New York Steak Teriyaki

Mr. Tokyo on Urbanspoon

Luminaria – Santa Fe, New Mexico

Luminaria’s patio is one of Santa Fe’s best for dining al fresco

 Her sunrise could bring light into a blind man.
Her sunset could put tears there in his eyes.
Her colors are laying there in brush strokes.
Underneath those peote skies
The Bellamy Brothers

Santa Fe’s preternatural beauty is so captivating that even the plethora of writers, artists and musicians who pilgrimage to this jewel of the Southwest are at a loss for adjectives to adequately describe it. Perhaps because of their scarcity of synonyms, some of them refer to it as “Fanta Se” as in fantasy, a city so singularly soul-stirring that its mystical qualities seems to transcend reality.

Santa Fe’s cuisine is also lavished with laudation. Critics and patrons alike lionize Fanta Se’s restaurants and the world class chefs which preside over traditional earthen ovens, ultra-modern steely stoves and Spanish style tapas grills to prepare the mouth-watering marriage of traditional and contemporary cuisine that has made Santa Fe one of the country’s foremost dining destinations.

Chef Matt Ostrander, the charismatic chef luminary at Luminaria

Every once in a while Santa Fe’s ethereal beauty and a magical dining experience converge to form the type of perfect syzygy planetary alignments would envy.  Such was the case during our inaugural visit to Luminaria, the resplendent shining star restaurant at the Inn and Spa at Loretto.  This was not one of those Chamber of Commerce nights in which Santa Fe’s inky-black skies, illuminated only by a canopy of stars, is prefaced by a picture-perfect brush-stroked sunset.

Instead, it was a dark, starless night, the promise of earth-nourishing precipitation foreshadowed by the rumble of distant thunder in the horizon.  The petrichor of approaching rain coupled with the clean, sweet fragrance of sage and piñon to arouse our olfactory-senses.  A celestial display of lightning punctuated the night sky.  The cool air portended an early fall.  So did the romantic crackling of nature-incensed woods in the fireplace.

Trio of Breads: French baguette, blue cheese muffins, red chile biscotti with pumpkin seeds; served with Parmesan-garlic butter

There may be no more fitting milieu in Santa Fe to spend an al fresco late summer evening than Luminaria whose expansive patio and covered ramada provide cover from spitting rains and shade from the sweltering sun. The patio is situated neath the shadows of the Loretto Chapel.  It’s surrounded by towering locust trees whose melodic rustling at the mere hint of winds placate the soul while trumpet vines, beautiful flowers and sprawling shrubs compete for your rapt attention with the ramada’s elegant drapes, decorous chandeliers and a soothing entrance fountain.

The restaurant’s interior is contemporary and stylish, a swanky refuge from the harshness of Santa Fe’s winters. From the moment you step into this oasis and are welcomed warmly at the hostess station, you’ll feel right at home. The wait staff is extraordinary in its attentiveness and ambassadorial in its knowledge of menu offerings and wine pairings. Our charming and witty waitress Erin demonstrated the rare ability to make all guests feel as if they’re her sole focus while simultaneously attending to several tables.

Amuse bouche of scallop ceviche

Presiding over this posh palace is charismatic executive chef Matt Ostrander, an 18-year veteran of Santa Fe’s culinary scene.  Before assuming the helm at Luminaria, Chef Ostrander worked at some of Santa Fe’s most highly esteemed restaurants: Geronimo, The Compound, Bistro 315, Il Piatto and others.  His influences are wide and varied, but his style is all his own, a product of his unique experiences, training and education.  The result is a holistic dining experience unlike any in Santa Fe.  He calls it “conscious cuisine,” but you’ll call it fabulous.

Conscious cuisine incorporates the use of sustainable, locally-sourced (fresh fruits and vegetables from local farmers and prime grades of meat from regional ranchers) and organic products with ayurvedic principles to create balanced, healthful foods that stimulate the senses through flavor, aroma, texture and presentation.  The seasonally rotating menu does not shy away from low-calorie and heart-healthy dining options.  Chef Ostrander is also increasingly introducing seriously playful elements of molecular gastronomy to a menu which can’t be pigeonholed into any one category.  You may recognize nuances of French, Southwestern and contemporary American approaches, all well executed to an edible art form.   

Caprese Sundae: Mozarella, Roma tomato, Basil ice cream, roasted garlic, fried capers, and 18-year old Balsamic vinegar

Your introduction to Luminaria’s edible art will be in the form of an amuse-bouche, essentially a single, bite-sized hors d’oeuvre, not something you order, but something presented by the chef to dining patrons.  Not all fine-dining restaurants subscribe to this practice.  The best ones do it very well.  On the night of our inaugural meal at Luminaria, the amuse-bouche was a single tablespoon brimming with scallop ceviche, as fresh and delicious as if the scallops had just been plucked from out of the sea.

A triumvirate of terrific breads served warm in a wire basket arrives next. Blue corn muffins and red chile biscotti specked with toasted pumpkin seeds are baked in-house while French baguettes are brought in from the Sage Bakehouse, a Santa Fe treasure. Whether you crown these breads with a flavorful Parmesan-garlic butter, or you enjoy them denuded, you’ll enjoy them immensely. Each bread has a personality all its own in terms of flavor profile and texture, rendering each both interesting and delicious.

Local award-winning tortilla soup: Pollo Real organic chicken, avocado, corn, cilantro

Among the appetizers are several unique offerings which could be conceived only by the brilliant mind of a very creative chef.  When discussing these preprandial surprises with Marilyn Litton, the restaurant’s charming supervisor, we both shook our heads in amusement and awe at the inventiveness of ingredient combinations neither of us could have dreamed up in several lifetimes.  That’s why I’m writing about these starters and Chef Ostrander is turning his culinary dreams into delicious realities.

Where other restaurants may have been satisfied to offer a Caprese salad and most diners would have happily relished every morsel, Luminaria frequenters have come to expect much more from Chef Ostrander–for good reason. The chef’s take on the fashionable Caprese salad showcases the basic elements of the salad reconstructed in heretofore undreamt of ways.  Think savory mozzarella ice cream, Roma tomato sorbet, and basil ice cream scooped into a sundae dish then topped with roasted garlic foam and drizzled with a rich 18-year old Balsamic vinegar reduction.  Fried capers and Hawaiian sea salt add flavor and texture contrasts.  I may not be clever enough to dream this up, but I sure will dream about it.  The Caprese Sundae is an outstanding starter!

Seared all-natural mallard duck breast, mascarpone-chipotle palenta, cherry demi, basil oil

The local award-winning tortilla soup is almost as fun to see being served as it is delicious to eat.  First a concave bowl is presented at your table–its contents: unctuous, buttery avocado chunks and crispy red and yellow corn tortilla chips.  Then a pitcher of steaming soup is poured over the top–chopped cilantro, fresh corn niblets and diced organic chicken in tow.  The soup is the color of comforting tomato soup, but it contains no tomato.  Its crimson hue is derived from chile powder, but it’s not piquancy you’ll notice.  It’s the soul-satisfying earthiness only chile can impart.  In a city which prides itself on outstanding tortilla soups, this may be the very best.

I’ve often considered appetizers the “foreplay” of dining–meant to whet the appetite and prepare your palate for a main course which should surpass its predecessor. It would take some doing for any entrees anywhere to surpass Luminaria’s stellar appetizers. Chef Ostrander and his crew are up to the task and then some.

Grilled New York Strip Loin, baby vegetables, 18-year old Madera Balsamic vinaigrette

More than proving its mettle is the seared all-natural mallard duck breast served with a mascarpone-chipotle polenta.  The duck–several medium-sized slices of breast and a full leg–is perfectly seared to a rich pink hued medium-rare on the inside and a crispy char on the outside, a textural combination that makes duck my favorite poultry (or game, as it were).  The duck, rich and delicious, is further enlivened by a cherry demi which highlights the natural flavors of the duck.  It does not render the duck fruity and sweet as demi glace oft does.

In deciding what entree to order, I solicited the advice of the gracious Erin, asking which of two options–the duck or a pork roulade–she would prefer for her own dinner.  She demured that those two were her favorites and that the deciding factor as which of the two she would order is the mascarpone-chipotle polenta.  All too often polenta is poorly prepared and more closely resembles its poor cousin grits than it does the refined cornmeal dish gourmet restaurants love to serve.  Luminaria’s rendition is the best polenta I’ve ever had.  The mascarpone renders the dish smooth, creamy and rich while the chipotle imbues it with a faint smokiness and discernible heat.  It’s a most worthy accompaniment to the duck.

Red Chile Creme Caramel, Tequila Orange, Sliced Oranges, Caramel Powder

If you subscribe to the notion that great steaks can only be found in credentialed chop houses and that only in thick slabs of succulent beef can your carnivorous cravings be sated, Luminaria’s  grilled New York strip loin will make a convert out of you.  What the strip’s twelve ounces lack in sheer intimidating beefiness, it more than makes up in pure deliciousness, its only ameliorants being a Balsamic vinaigrette, salt and pepper.  Perfectly prepared at medium, this steak is tender and juicy, oozing with flavor.  It is served with baby vegetables, the stand-outs being fingerling potatoes (including pulchritudinous Peruvian purple potatoes). 

If appetizers are foreplay for the taste buds, great desserts are the romantic cuddling afterwards.  Pastry chef Andrea Clover swaths her desserts not in silk satin sheets, but in sweet medleys that titillate the senses.  In 2010, Chef Clover earned first place in the “Best Taste-Most Artistic” category at the 18th annual Chocolate Fantasy Chocolatier Competition, a fundraiser for the New Mexico Museum of Natural History Foundation.  Quite conspicuous in the lobby is a large silver color recognizing Chef Clover as winner of the dessert competition in the Santa Fe Community Foundation’s “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? celebration.

Raspberry, Elder Flower Liqueur Mousse; Carob Ice Cream on Chocolate “Earth” (Crumbled Brownies) and Chocolate fenentine (Chocolate-Rice Crunchy Praline)

One exemplar in confectionery creativity is a red chile creme caramel plated with a sliced orange topped with a refreshing orange sorbet.  The red chile creme caramel may be the very best flan to ever cross my lips.  It rests easily on a pool of tequila-orange sauce.  My initial inclination was that the flan was a tad too sweet (as is almost everything but dark chocolate), then the red chile sneaked up–not with piquancy, but with that wonderful back-of-the-throat warming some chiles impart.  Being topped by the sorbet chilled the orange slice and changed its texture.  As with so many menu items at Luminaria, what sets this dessert apart is the wonderful contrasts in flavors, textures and even colors. 

A special (as in not among the six desserts normally offered) dessert on our special night featured two desserts on a plate.  The first was a raspberry-elder flower liqueur mousse, not as light or ethereal as some mousses tend to be, but much more rich and full-flavored.  The second showcased carob (a chocolate substitute derived from a flowering evergreen shrub or tree) ice cream on chocolate “earth” (crumbled brownies) and chocolate fenentine (a crunchy chocolate-rice praline).  Erin aptly described the fenentine as “like a Nestles Crunch bar but much better.”  It was much better, too, than any other dessert I’ve had this year.

Dark Chocolate Box: red chile creme caramel, pear nectar coulis, pineapple foam sugar

While inferior restaurants provide complimentary mints after your dinner, Luminaria gives each dinner a dark chocolate box with a red chile creme caramel, pear nectar coulis inside and pineapple foam sugar on top.  It’s the dessert for which Chef Clover earned the silver spoon award prominently displayed by the hostess station.  

Luminaria for Brunch

There are many fine dining restaurants–particularly those housed in posh hotel complexes–who are strictly one-trick ponies.  They shine most brightly when dinner is served and reservations have been filled.  Many such restaurants offer a perfunctory breakfast, brunch or lunch menu primarily for the benefit of guests who prefer not to have to wander out in search of alternative options.  Locals don’t often frequent these pantheons of fine dining.  Some of my sage Santa Fe sources frequent Luminaria for brunch, a portend of deliciousness warranting a visit.

House Made Doughnuts for Brunch at Luminaria

The brunch menu changes with the seasons, a practice which facilitates the use of the freshest ingredients available when they are at their best.  Brunch is served from 11AM through 2PM, offering enough of a variety of both breakfast and lunch items to allow you a delineated difference or to mix-and-match breakfast and lunch items as you wish.  Our inaugural brunch visit occurred a week before Christmas with a storm looming over the western horizon.  The menu offered the type of warm, comforting dishes you want just before a storm. 

An online Mafia Nickname Generator insists my “made” guy sobriquet would be “Joey Bag of Donuts.”  Perhaps that’s why Luminaria’s house made doughnuts called more loudly than the market fresh fruit plate my waistline would have appreciated more.  Instead of a true bag of doughnuts, a half dozen donuts wrapped in parchment paper arrived at our table.  You could argue these were classic doughnut holes and not true doughnuts, but who cares about semantics when there are golden puffs of dough covered in brown sugar and cinnamon goodness and they’re hot to the touch.  Wisps of steam escape into the air as you bite into them and you might even burn your mouth a bit, an example of pain being a delicious flavor.  These are wonderful donuts!

Risotto: Roasted Butternut Squash, Gouda Cheese, Jumbo Asparagus Tips

With a peak season lasting from late summer well into winter, butternut squash is widely regarded as a winter squash even though with today’s cool storage capabilities, you can find butternut squash year-round.  That’s a boon to lovers of this silken textured, deep-orange fleshed squash with a sweet, light butterscotch flavor and little of the annoying stringiness of other squashes.  Luminaria’s risotto showcases roasted butternut squash by marrying it with pungent, salty Gouda cheese and earthy jumbo asparagus tips.   The chef isn’t shy in using the three chief ingredients, each of which is discernible on its own as well as in combination with its partner ingredients.  The timbale-shaped risotto is a wonderful canvas with its perfectly prepared long-grained rice. 

If your preference is for something perhaps more traditional yet no less comforting, Luminaria’s brunch menu offers a number of  breakfast plates–a three egg omelet with several topping options, eggs Benedict (available with smoked salmon or Canadian bacon) and an “American” breakfast.  The latter includes two fresh farm eggs any way you want them; your choice of ham, bacon or sausage; breakfast potatoes, toast made from your choice of breads, juice and coffee.  All are of very high quality and quite delicious.

American Breakfast: Two Farm Fresh Farm Eggs, Ham, Bacon or Sausage, Breakfast Potatoes, Toast, Juice, Coffee

As its name implies, Luminaria is a bright shining star in a city resplendent with luminous restaurants.  Even if you don’t dine there on a perfect Chamber of Commerce Santa Fe evening, a meal at Luminaria will help you create your own Fanta Se fantasy.

211 Old Santa Fe Trail
Santa Fe, New Mexico
(505) 984-7915
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 18 December 2011
1st VISIT:  30 July 2011
COST: $$$$
BEST BET: Caprese Soup, Local award-winning Tortilla Soup, Mallard Duck Breast, Grilled New York Strip Loin, Any Dessert made by Chef Clover, American Breakfast, House Made Doughnuts, Butternut Squash Risotto

Luminaria on Urbanspoon

Quesadilla Grille – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Quesadilla Grille in Albuquerque's Old Town

 Grandma: “Tonight, me and your aunt are gonna go visit some friends
and we’re not gonna be back till tomorrow.
We’re gettin’ a little low on steak,
so I got Lyle comin’ over tomorrow to take care of it
Napoleon: “Well, what’s there to eat?”
Grandma: “Knock it off, Napoleon. Make yourself a dang quesadilla!”
Napoleon: “Fine!”

Gosh!”  It took a cult movie about a high school misfit lacking all the skills girls like–such as nunchaku skills, bow hunting skills and computer hacking skills–for the humble quesadilla to became a pop culture meme. Described by movie critic Roger Ebert as “the kind of nerd other nerds avoid,” Napoleon Dynamite was the quintessential dorky loser, a carrot-topped dweeb who lived with his grandmother and subsisted on a diet consisting largely of steak and tater tots.

Napoleon’s grandmother not only dissed the quesadilla with the inference that this beloved treat is a dang second rate  afterthought, she had the effrontery to pronounce it “kay-saw-dill-aw,”  a pronunciation waiters and waitresses throughout New Mexico hear every day from visitors not necessarily from Napoleon’s home state of Idaho.  Because of Napoleon’s grandmother, Urban Dictionary now defines the quesadilla as “Something you want to make when you’re low on steak and there’s nothing else around to eat.”

One of two dining rooms at the Quesadilla Grille

Had the exchange between Napoleon and his grandmother not been so freakin’ funny, the citizenry of the Land of Enchantment might have taken collective umbrage at the tawdry treatment of our tasty tortilla treat.  Perhaps in Preston, Idaho quesadillas are constructed from boring half-moon shaped tortillas of dubious origin stuffed with gooey, gloppy, flavorless cheese, but in New Mexico quesadillas are a magnificent mainstay crafted with inspiration and love.  The quesadilla may have been invented in Mexico, but it’s been perfected in New Mexico!

Here the quesadilla can be served as a snack, appetizer, entree, sandwich and even dessert.  Often the tortillas are griddled on cast iron stoves and the sundry ingredients with which they are stuffed are limited only by the imagination of the cook preparing them.  It’s not just cheese that fills our quesadillas though a quality queso is integral.  More often than not, our quesadillas include New Mexico grown chile, an addictive additive which improves the flavor of anything with which it comes in contact.

A bit of history

In 2010, a new restaurant was launched which celebrates the versatility and deliciousness of the quesadilla.  Fittingly it’s in Albuquerque’s Old Town and it is owned and operated by a direct descendent of one of the original families which founded Albuquerque.  In 1706, a number of families left Spain to avoid the Spanish Inquisition, eventually to settle in the Old Town area.  Among those families, the De Garcia family became one of the most prominent landowners in the area, ultimately laying claim to much of the town which would become Albuquerque.  

Today all that is left of the De Garcia family estate is situated in the Old Town area.  The Garcias remain one of the last remaining original families left in Old Town that continue to own and operate at least some of their original property.  Shawn Mondragon, a descendent of the original De Garcia settlers is the proud owner of the Quesadilla Grille, a charming eatery ensconced in the Poco A Poco (Little by Little) Patio off one of those quaint side streets that give Old Town so much character.  Mondragon, by the way, is not only a very genial guy who treats diners like welcome guests, he’s one of the Duke City’s best known personalities, going by the name Chaz Malibu on 98.5 of your FM radio dial.

Chips and salsa

The restaurant is housed in a home built by Nick Garcia in the 1900s.  Several homey familial touches remain including trasteros in which family treasures are proudly displayed.  Spanish architectural touches abound including deep nichos in which santos are honored.  Stately vigas lend an air of stability belied by the creaky floors overhead on the second floor.  Brick flooring on the front dining room lends period authenticity while faux wood laminate flooring with a distressed wood look and feel in the back dining room could fool non-experts like me.

True to the restaurant’s name, quesadillas are featured fare, but these aren’t dang quesadillas to be eaten only when you run out of steak.  Shawn Mondragon has concocted an inventive menu in which the quesadilla is all it can be.  There are a lucky thirteen different quesadillas on the menu with variations available on several of them.  Perhaps in recognition that in modern America a quesadilla alone might not make a meal, all quesadillas are accompanied by a trip to the “fry bar” and a drink unless you prefer an a la carte quesadilla.

Fresh-cut fries in a wire basket: available with your choice of condiments from the "Interactive Fry Bar Topping Station"

On its own, the fry bar is worth a visit to the Quesadilla Grille.  A wire basket brimming with fresh-cut fries arrives at your table steaming hot.  The fries are thick cut, not to the Texas fry level, but much thicker than the fast food tuber variety.  The fries are perfectly prepared, neither too flaccid nor too stiff.  They are magnificent, some of the very best in the Duke City.  The “bar” portion of your order is a trip to an “interactive topping station” where you can fill paper ramekins with your choice of several sauces: a fiery, smoky chipotle; standard garden-variety ketchup; a sweet onion sauce; cheese sauce and more.  The sweet onion sauce is especially good though it might be a bit cloying for some.

Alternatively, you can opt for chips and salsa instead of the fry bar (or better yet, dine with a friend and order one of each).  The chips are freshly made and served hot to the touch.  They’re relatively low in salt and are large and thick enough for Gil-sized scoops of salsa.  The salsa is pureed, nearly water thin which makes scooping a challenge.  Dipping the chips is more appropriate.  For a pittance more, you can “make ’em nachos” by adding cheese sauce from the fry bar and having the chips served with your choice of meat and jalapeños.

Philly Cheesesteak Quesadilla with Green Chile

The quesadilla menu is at the very least an interesting and inventive assembly of tortilla wedges engorged with fillings you certainly won’t find in Preston, Idaho (or anywhere else, for that matter) .  They’re made to order and arrive at your table hot and fresh.  During my inaugural visit, the Philly Cheesesteak Quesadilla, was a no-brainer choice.  Crispy, buttery tortillas cut pizza style into four triangular slices are engorged with grilled shredded steak, mayo, onions, bell peppers, Cheddar-Jack and provolone cheeses (with a green chile chaser).  Take these toppings and nestle them into a hoagie roll and you’d have a Chile Philly Cheesesteak second in Albuquerque only to the one at Itsa Italian Ice.

We weren’t quite as enamored of the Malibu Meal quesadilla (grilled ham and pineapple quesadilla with honey and red chile powder).  The ingredient composition had us hoping for something akin to Hawaiian-style pizza in which the salty savoriness of ham complements the tangy sweetness of pineapple.  Instead, the honey dominates the flavor profile with its cloying sweetness.  Not even a generous sprinkling of red chile comes across.  Worse, the honey is lightly smeared atop the quesadilla and it transfers onto your hands.  Had we treated this as a dessert quesadilla, we might well have enjoyed it more.

Malibu Meal (Grilled ham and pineapple quesadilla with honey and red chili powder)

A better option is an Italian Meatball Quesadilla (Meatballs, Marinara Sauce, Mozzarella) which is more reminiscent of a pizza in both taste and texture than it is a meatball sub.  Understandably, because they’ve got to fit in between tortillas, the meatballs are relatively small, but they’re seasoned well and complemented by a marinara sauce you could actually enjoy on spaghetti.  Even though guacamole would probably go well, ask for a side of marinara sauce for dipping.

There are several dessert “quesadillas” on the menu.  They’re called “dulcedillas” and there’s no queso involved.  Fillings include peanut butter and banana with chocolate syrup, apples and cinnamon with caramel syrup and cherries and pineapple.  Quesadillas are accompanied by your choice of three condiments: salsa, guacamole or sour cream.  The guacamole is buttery and delicious. 

Italian Meatball Quesadilla: Meatballs, Marinara Sauce, Mozzarella with a side of Marinara Sauce for Dipping

I would be remiss if I didn’t relate my own Napoleon Dynamite type personal anecdote on this review.  One of my good friends and colleagues, a fellow gastronome, named Alfredo Q. Guzman wouldn’t tell us what the “Q” stands for, so we started calling him “Alfredo Quesadilla Guzman.” We’ll have to bring him to the restaurant bearing his middle name.

The Quesadilla Grille claims to be “the only restaurant in the world which specializes in quesadillas.”   It’s an idea whose time has come.  It’s a treat long overdue for respect and recognition.

Quesadilla Grille
328 San Felipe Street, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
505 242-2921
LATEST VISIT: 8 December 2011
1st VISIT:  27 August 2011
COST: $$
BEST BET: Fry Bar, Chips and Salsa, Philly Cheesesteak Quesadilla, Italian Meatball Quesadilla

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