Marcello’s Chophouse – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

Marcello's Chophouse in Albuquerque's Uptown

Marcello’s Chophouse in Albuquerque’s Uptown

Steak–even the word conjures stereotypes of power brokers in suits and ties. There’s just something about sizzling, flame-kissed beef that seems to appeal to the wheelers and dealers and movers and shakers among us. Steak may just be the ultimate power food!  That power is also wielded in the ultimate thumbing of the nose at vegetarians when carnivores emphasize that they didn’t claw their way to the top of the food ladder only to eat vegetables.

Vegetarians may retort that steak is antithetical to a healthful lifestyle. To carnivores, however, it’s not as important that steak may not be good for you as it is that steak is oh so good. Meat lovers emphasize that there is nothing like a perfectly prepared steak!

The Wine Lockers at Marcello's Chophouse

The Wine Lockers at Marcello’s Chophouse

As a 1995 episode of Seinfeld illustrated, steak is also not just a guy thing anymore. When Jerry took a blind date to the Old Homestead Steakhouse, he admitted “I’m not really that much of a meat eater” to which his date replied “You don’t eat meat? Are you one of those…” Questions about his masculinity persisted when she ordered a porterhouse medium rare and Jerry had a salad.

Some of our neighbors take their steak more seriously, by far, than we do. Witness the 1998 suit of Oprah Winfrey under Texas’s “False Disparagement of Perishable Food Products” statute.  America’s multiple-Emmy Award winning host of the highest rated talk show in television history was accused, in essence, of defaming a product fattened for slaughter in the feedlots outside of Amarillo, Texas then served up at the Big Texan Steak Ranch.

Sacrilege! Audrey Hepburn, a paragon of virtue, looks on innocently where only men should dare to tread

Alas, until recent years, the only potential steak related lawsuit contemplated in Albuquerque would have been by Duke City diners forced to choke down the artery-clogging, gristly, weakly flavored mediocrity that passes as steak at a plethora of chain steak restaurants.  Until the past decade or so, Albuquerque’s carnivores didn’t have many options when it came to velvety, buttery textured, nearly sweet, perfectly aged, optimally marbled steak.

Today, our fair city can boast of several steak houses that aren’t just good by Albuquerque standards. Some of the Duke City’s steakhouses would be competitive in larger markets where steak has been king for a long time. The November, 2006 launch of Marcello’s Chophouse may have signaled that this Duke City steakhouse is confidently throwing down the gauntlet and will vie for accolades not just with the locals, but with some of America’s best steak restaurants.

Lobster bisque

Lobster bisque

The appellation “Chophouse” in and of itself means more than just another steakhouse. In cities like Chicago, chophouses are where you find the best prepared slabs of USDA prime bone-in steaks, chops and seafood served in elegant milieus with attentive tableside service amidst classy decor. We’re talking selected, hand-cut on the premises prime steaks served charred and bursting with prime-aged flavor.

Marcello’s Chophouse is the fifth Albuquerque restaurant launched by Frank Marcello, a restaurant impresario responsible for bringing to the Duke City Copeland’s of New Orleans, Zea Rotisserie & Grill, Gruet Grille and the Gruet Steakhouse. Marcello’s Chophouse is the most lavish and upscale of his impressive array of restaurants. At nearly 7,000 square-feet, this swanky anchor tenant of the ABQ Uptown, has already earned several accolades, including an award of excellence from Wine Spectator.  Many Duke City oenophiles (wine aficionados) have even purchased their own wine lockers (pictured above) at Marcello’s. Every time they visit the restaurant, their favorite wines await them at optimum temperature.

Lobster Mac-n-Cheese - a blend of lobster cream, cheese & Maine lobster pieces in a cast iron skillet

Lobster Mac-n-Cheese – a blend of lobster cream, cheese & Maine lobster pieces in a cast iron skillet

The dinner menu is replete with chophouse steaks, bone-in specialties, chops, seafood and so much more. The lunch menu is abbreviated in both menu selections and prices. In fact, only two steaks grace the lunch menu, a seven-ounce petite filet mignon and a four-ounce steak Diane. Not everything on Marcello’s menu is exorbitantly priced. In fact, there are many items on the dinner menu within the easy reach of most price-conscious diners.

The lunch menu features many reasonably priced entrees that–although portioned somewhat smaller than dinner menu entrees–will let you feel like a million bucks without having to spend nearly that much. One dish available on both menus is the extraordinary lobster bisque, a soup which hearkens back to another Seinfeld episode in which Elaine recounts her date with a lawyer. “Yeah, I met this lawyer and we went to dinner. I had the lobster bisque, we went back to my place, yada, yada, yada, I never heard from him again.”Jerry rejoined with “but you yada yada’d over the best part” to which Elaine responded “No, I mentioned the bisque.”

Petite Filet Mignon

Petite Filet Mignon

You will never yada yada the lobster bisque at Marcello’s! It is simply one of the most sublime soups in Albuquerque. The soup, a rich and creamy bowl of deliciousness, circumnavigates a solitary reddish-hued lobster claw while other lobster bits are submerged beneath a steamy broth. The soup is ameliorated with brandied Crème fraîche, a high in fat content cream that improves the flavor of anything in which it is used. The lobster is sweet and delicious. Close your eyes and you might think you’re in America’s Northeast where this transcendent decapod swims from cold Atlantic waters practically onto your table.

If the lobster bisque doesn’t sate your lust for lobster, there’s always Marcello’s Lobster Mac-n-Cheese, a blend of lobster cream, cheese and Maine lobster pieces in a cast iron skillet.  This is a rich, adult macaroni and cheese but perhaps too heavily dusted with parmesan, leaving it a bit desiccated. Save for the lobster bits, it’s not quite as good as the Ultimate Mac & Cheese at Chef Jim White’s restaurant (now defunct). Mind you, it’s still very, very good.

Chilled “Really Big” Shrimp with green chile & red chile cocktail sauce

Marcello’s brines its steaks for 24 hours then flash fries them to order at very high temperatures, a technique mastered by few. Have the Lilliputian petite filet for lunch and you’ll be thinking about the “Chophouse Cut,” a 22-ounce bone-in rib eye cut from a slow-roasted prime rib, for dinner.  At three times the size of the petite filet, the bone-in rib eye cut will have to go a ways to match the flavor of its smaller brethren.

The petite filet mignon, a mere seven-ounces, takes a back seat to no steak. Order it prepared at medium and it will arrive to your exacting specifications. That means a crusty exterior redolent with herbs and spices and seared to perfection. It means a slightly pinkish and moist interior replete with flavor.  A great steak requires little or no help other than salt, pepper and garlic, but Marcello’s seasonings are extraordinarily flavorful. They seem to bring out the meat’s inherent flavors and heighten their impact on your taste buds.

Housemade pastrami on sourdough

The petite filet is served with a dinner salad crafted from a mix of greens and very lightly drizzled with a dressing that seems to heighten the greens’ native freshness. You might think a loaf of ciabbata bread might be more appropriate for an Italian restaurant, but somehow it works at Marcello’s. This crispy, fragrant herbaceous loaf is a welcome change from the de rigueur hard crusted breads at other high-end restaurants.

Marcello’s manages to incorporate New Mexico’s official state vegetable in a manner heretofore not seen at other restaurants throughout the Duke City.  I’ve long contended that chile can improve everything it touches (including some desserts) and Marcello’s substantiates this by offering green chile and red chile cocktail sauce with its chilled “Really Big Shrimp” appetizer.  Six jumbo shrimp (an oxymoron if there ever was one) looking more like miniature lobsters are offered with the chile offerings.  The red chile cocktail sauce is especially good with a combination of horseradish bite and red chile piquancy.  The shrimp are fresh with a nice snap to them and none of the mealiness you sometimes find in shrimp cocktails.

New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger with Chophouse Creamed Spinach

Not on Marcello’s daily menu, but perhaps it should be is a housemade pastrami sandwich.  A half-pound of nicely marbled, just smoky enough and perfectly seasoned pastrami is served on thick, lightly toasted sourdough.  The bread is slathered with a Dijonnaise (Dijon mustard blended with mayonnaise) sauce, lettuce and pickles.  Though rye and mustard is normally my preference, this is a surprisingly good sandwich courtesy of the melt-in-your-mouth pastrami sliced into thin ribbons of deliciousness.

One of the challenges in selecting New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail worthy burgers is that many restaurants (even Lotaburger) offer green chile as a side and don’t necessarily have a green chile cheeseburger on their menus.  Marcello’s leaves nothing to chance, calling its offering the New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger.  It’s a beefy half-pound behemoth topped with New Mexico green chiles, caramelized onions and a three cheese blend (white Cheddar, Fontina, Monterey Jack).  The green chile is fairly mild, but the three chile blend is terrific.  Normally served with fries, ask for the Chophouse Creamed Spinach instead.  While some creamed spinach dishes have an acerbic aftertaste, this one is rather sweet, the result of a generous sprinkling of anisette and nutmeg.

Frank's Favorite "Bananas for Sundae"

Frank’s Favorite “Bananas for Sundae”

A stunning selection of desserts completes the package. Perhaps in tribute to his Louisiana heritage, Marcello adds his name to only one–Frank’s Favorite “Bananas for Sundae,” a take-off on Bananas Foster. Frank’s favorite just might become your favorite. This dessert features a vertically split banana caramelized with cajeta (a Mexican confection made from goat’s milk) surrounding scoops of chocolate, vanilla and dulce de leche ice creams which are topped with a fresh raspberry compote, chocolate ganache and housemade whipped cream. This is a “died and went to heaven” dessert–sinfully rich, unbelievably delicious and totally terrific. It’s no wonder it’s Frank’s favorite!

One caution about another of Marcello’s dessert offerings–if you’re going to order the chef’s selection of cheesecake, ask for spoons instead of forks because if you’re sharing this postprandial treat, you might stab your companion, so enthusiastic will you be for the next bite.  The cheesecake selections are seasonal.  Summer is apparently the season for milk chocolate cheesecake on a Graham cracker crust paired with white chocolate cheesecake on an Oreo crust drizzled with a dark chocolate ganache.  Shaped more like flan than cheesecake, this delicious duo will leave a memorable impression on your taste buds.

Chef’s Selection of Cheesecake: Milk Chocolate on Graham Cracker Crust and White Chocolate on Oreo Crust Drizzled with Chocolate Ganache.

There’s a strong chance Marcello’s Chophouse may become your favorite steakhouse in Albuquerque. It’s got the pedigree to be successful and the arsenal of deliciousness to win over even the most staunch of critics. It’s steak at its best and oh so much more.

Marcello’s Chophouse
2201 Q Street N.E., Suite 9B
Albuquerque, New Mexico

LATEST VISIT: 30 June 2012
1st VISIT: 11 April 2008
COST: $$$$
BEST BET: Lobster Mac-n-Cheese, Petite Filet Mignon, Lobster Bisque, New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger, Pastrami Sandwich, Chilled “Really Big Shrimp,” Chef’s Selection of Cheesecake, Frank’s Favorite Bananas for Sundae

Marcello's Chophouse Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Timbuctu Bistro – Rio Rancho, New Mexico (CLOSED)

The Timbuctu Bistro is on the southeast corner of the Mariposa Information Center

Growing up in bucolic Peñasco back when fires were still started by rubbing two sticks together and mastodons roamed the Earth, I distinctly remember hearing playmates uttering the term “going all the way to Timbuktu.”  Considering we all thought Albuquerque was a million miles away, we couldn’t imagine just how far away Timbuktu must be.  Some of us reasoned it  existed only as a figment of the imagination similar to Oz, Neverland and Atlantis (Hogwarts, Narnia and Jurassic Park for you Generation Yers).  Even adult teachers whom we asked dismissed it as a distant land in deepest, darkest Africa though it was obvious they weren’t quite sure where it actually was…or if it existed at all.

Though seemingly synonymous with “some far away place,” Timbuktu does exist and imaginative children of all ages do visit it on occasion.   Timbuktu is a city of some 50,000 citizens–the most remote city, in fact, in the country of Mali, the crown jewel of West Africa.  It’s located between the southern edge of the mighty Sahara and the great bend of the Niger River.  Not only is it far away, it is difficult to get there, the only reliable route in or out being by chartered aircraft.

Restaurant impresario and Timbuctu Bistro owner Nico Ortiz (far right) discusses the daily menu

When you visit the Timbuctu Bistro in Rio Rancho, it’s pretty obvious how the restaurant got its name.   It’s about four miles north of the Santa Ana Star Center which even most of Rio Rancho’s citizenry erroneously believe is as far northwest as you can go and still be in the City of Vision.  There’s a vast expanse of sage and sand as far as the eyes can see on both sides of the two lane Unser Boulevard on the way to Mariposa, the environmentally-responsible master-planned community in which the Bistro is located. The Bistro is housed in complex which was previously home to the much-missed Outlook Cafe.

Its perceived distance will likely make the Timbuctu Bistro a true destination restaurant, an  exclusive enclave far away from the bustling well-beaten and well-eaten path that defines the Rio Rancho’s dining scene. In truth, however, from the intersection of Rio Rancho’s Unser and Southern Boulevards, the Timbuctu Bistro is almost equidistant to the Cottonwood Mall. There are far fewer traffic lights, no traffic snarls and once you’re past the turnoff to Northern, virtually no other traffic and only a couple of residential neighborhoods.

French Toast: two slices of locally-made Challah bread battered with a spiced orange liqueur, grilled golden brown and topped with vanilla whipped cream and fresh berries; served with warm syrup

There’s another reason for the name Timbuctu Bistro.  The charming restaurant which opened in May, 2012, is owned by Rio Rancho restaurant impresario Niko Ortiz, proprietor of the Turtle Mountain Brewing Company and the Fat Squirrel Pub & Grille.  The first letters of each word in Turtle Mountain Brewing Company (TMBC) are virtually an acronym for Timbuctu, ergo the name.  The Bistro is ensconced in a 1,200 square-foot corner space in the capacious two-story business center, a modern edifice with plenty of glass to take advantage of wondrous panoramic views.  From the ground-level cafe, your views are of the Sandia, Sangre de Cristo, Manzano and Ortiz Mountains, views which seem even more spectacular from the patio.

The Bistro has a beer and wine license, but for those of us who appreciate other adult beverages, there’s  Villa Myriam Specialty Coffee, a start-up franchise owned and operated by Juan and David Certain.  The hand-picked Colombian Arabica bean is hand-roasted in Albuquerque.  It’s an excellent coffee, best described on the Villa Myriam Web site: “A very intense fragrance and aroma with an exotic flavor and a medium to heavy body, very balanced cup with a strong character and very pleasant after taste. With nutty cacao and hints of caramel smokiness notes. With the richness and flavor that makes Colombian coffee famous.”   Only at Cafe Bella have I had a better Cafe Au Lait in New Mexico.

Crab Cake Benedict: Two green chile crab cakes topped with poached eggs smothered in house-made Hollandaise and served with hash browns

The Timbuctu Bistro is open for lunch Tuesday through Friday from 11AM to 3PM and for dinner Tuesday through Sunday starting at 5PM.  Brunch is served Saturdays and Sundays from 9AM to 3PM.  The menu is surprisingly ambitious considering the Bistro’s tiny confines, though it’s not an especially large menu (four appetizers, three salads, seven lunch entrees, six dinner entrees and eight brunch entrees).  It’s a menu wholly unlike that at either of Niko Ortiz’s other restaurant ventures and it has a distinct New Mexican influence.  Burgers and sandwiches dominate the lunch menu while more sophisticated offerings (including a red chile bourbon glazed salmon) are available for dinner.  Aside from the salads, the most vegetarian-friendly items on the menu are a quesadilla (flour tortilla with Monterey Jack, tri-colored bell pepper-onion mix served with guacamole and sour cream) and a hummus cups (red chile hummus piled into crisp cucumber cups, each garnished with diced tomato, a pita chip and fresh basil) appetizer.

Brunch is the best of two worlds–not quite breakfast and not quite lunch, but the best of both. It’s a leisurely weekend repast which makes you feel you’re getting away with something, as if you’re defying your mom’s mandate not to have dessert before the main entree.  The Timbuctu Bistro has some of the standard New Mexico brunch favorites such as a breakfast burrito and French toast, but some are distinct enough not to be classified as the “same old, same old.”   Take the French Toast, for example.  Two slices of locally-made Challah bread are battered with a spiced orange liqueur then grilled golden brown and topped with vanilla whipped cream and fresh berries.  The spiced orange liqueur adds a nice citrusy touch and it’s hard to dispute that Challah bread makes the very best French toast.

Classic Breakfast: Two fried eggs over easy, two slices of bacon, a tortilla and yogurt with fresh fruit

For a uniquely New Mexico twist on a traditional favorite, you can’t beat the Bistro’s Crab Cake Benedict, two green chile crab cakes topped with poached eggs smothered in house-made Hollandaise and served with hash browns.  My friend  Larry McGoldrick, the professor with the perspicacious palate, contends “green chile is strictly forbidden” on crab cakes, but I believe these would make a convert out of him.  The crab cakes are fashioned from jumbo lump crab meat which is impregnated with the incomparable flavor of New Mexico roasted green chile–only enough to be discernible, not to dominate.  For good measure, the house-made Hollandaise is lightly dusted with red chile.  Only at the Gold Street Caffe will you find a comparable Southwest influenced Eggs Benedict dish.

If you’re not in an adventurous mood, the Bistro offers a Classic Breakfast option (two eggs any style with your choice of bacon, house-made chorizo (cumin added) or Canadian bacon served with hash browns and sourdough toast).  You can also substitute a tortilla and yogurt with fresh fruit for the hash browns and sourdough toast.  The yogurt is sweetened with honey, a nice contrast to the tangy, fresh berries and the creamy, pleasantly sour flavor of yogurt. 

The Piña Burger: Half-Pound Beef Patty topped with a tequila pineapple salsa, Canadian bacon, Provolone and Teriyaki served on ciabatta

Lunch options include three intriguing gourmet burgers, all of which start with a half-pound beef patty on ciabatta.  One of the burgers, the Piña burger, answers the question as to what a burger version of a Hawaiian pizza might look and taste like.  The beef toppings include a tequila pineapple salsa, Canadian bacon, Provolone and teriyaki sauce.  The saltiness of the Canadian bacon (which not even Ree Drummond, the Pioneer Woman can distinguish from ham) is a nice foil for the sweet-tart flavors of the finely chopped pineapple and the nuttiness of the Provolone.  The ciabatta is toasted so the edges are crisp and the insides are soft.

You can also substitute a marinated portabello mushroom cap or eight-ounce chicken breast on any burger for no additional charge.  Better still, if you’re on a no- or low-carb diet, substitute the ciabatta for two large portobello buns. My friend Paul “Boomer” Lilly swears by this on “The Green Machine,” Timbuctu’s rendition of a green chile cheeseburger which also includes applewood smoked bacon, green chile, Cheddar, spicy chipotle mayo and a fried egg.  All burgers and sandwiches come with your choice of tri-color rotini pasta salad or classic potato salad, but you can substitute a side salad or classic potato salad for a dollar more.

The Green Machine: half-pound beef patty (normally served on ciabatta, but pictured above with two portabello mushrooms in lieu of buns) topped with applewood smoked bacon, green chile, Cheddar, spicy chipotle mayo and a fried egg.

Aside from the burgers, the lunch menu offers a quesadilla, five sandwiches and a Pasta Al Fresco entree (angel hair pasta tossed in garlic white wine sauce with capers, grape tomatoes and basil chiffonade served with garlic toast points and your choice (for a cost) of a four-ounce chicken breast, four-ounce salmon, spicy Italian sausage or citrus-marinated shrimp.  It’s a surprisingly sophisticated entree with a richness of flavors.  The Italian sausage has a nice kick to complement the buttery silkiness of the fine pasta. 

Dinner at Timbuctu is a more upscale event with a smattering of New Mexican and Southwest inspired entrees (Southwest Alfredo, Red Chile Bourbon-Glazed Salmon, Fajitas and Carne Adovada) among a chops menu some steak houses would envy.  The veal chop and herb-crusted rack of lamb are knocking on the forty dollar price point, but if they taste nearly as good as they’re described on the menu, they’ll be worth the price.  Burgerphiles can also have The Green Machine if they’re so inclined.

Pasta Al Fresco: Angel hair pasta tossed in garlic white wine sauce with capers, grape tomatoes and basil chiffonade served with garlic toast points and spicy Italian sausage

Timbuktu has long had the connotation of a place so distant that going any farther is inconceivable.  The Timbuctu Bistro may someday be known not for being the furthest away (at least from the city’s population center) of Rio Rancho’s restaurants, but for being a viable, delicious dining option worth the drive from anywhere in the area.

Timbuctu Bistro
2500 Parkway Avenue Map.13c819a
Rio Rancho, New Mexico
: 26 June 2012
1st VISIT:  12 May 2012
COST: $$
BEST BET: Crab Cake Benedict, Classic Breakfast, French Toast, Coffee Au Lait, Piña Burger, The Green Machine

Timbuctu Bistro on Urbanspoon

The Frontier Restaurant – Albuquerque, New Mexico

The Frontier Restaurant, a UNM area institution, but is it the “quintessential New Mexican restaurant.”

Most college and university areas have at least one restaurant that transcends the “student hang-out” label to become a popular dining destination among all demographics, whether or not the diners matriculated at the nearby institution of higher learning. In Albuquerque that dining destination is the Frontier Restaurant. In its forty plus years of serving the Duke City, the Frontier has gone beyond providing the quintessential college eatery experience. Some contend it may well be the quintessential New Mexican restaurant.

Serving Albuquerque since February, 1971, the commodious, barn-like Frontier Restaurant occupies half a city block (quite remarkable considering it started out as a small, one room eatery), seats more than 300 patrons and features an impressive gallery quality art collection which includes several portraits of John Wayne, a favorite of the owners (for whom the University of New Mexico School of Architecture and Planning has named a gallery). The Frontier is a place to see and be seen. Everyone from UNM students to celebrities (in Albuquerque this is primarily the local television news media) and Lobo athletes frequents the Frontier.

Long lines typify dining at the Frontier Restaurant.

Long lines typify dining at the Frontier Restaurant.

The Frontier is the brainchild of Larry and Dorothy Rainosek, transplants from Austin, Texas, who have become among Albuquerque’s most altruistic citizens, contributing to a variety of causes (such as the University of New Mexico, New Mexico Symphony Orchestra and The Albuquerque Museum). The Rainoseks, who also own the city’s four Golden Pride restaurants, didn’t really know about New Mexico’s red and green chile when they moved to the Land of Enchantment, but they learned quickly. Larry’s brother owns Gil’s Broiler (nice name), San Marco’s oldest restaurant which serves something called the “Manske Roll,” a butter-drenched sweet roll that inspired the Frontier Restaurant’s own fabled roll.

The Frontier is a restaurant in which memories are made and long held onto. Just as citizens of my generation remember precisely where they were and what they were doing when John F. Kennedy was assassinated, practically everyone in Albuquerque remembers their very first visit to the Frontier. It’s wholly unlike any other restaurant in the Duke City–an institution, a Route 66 landmark on historic Central Avenue and a bastion of inexpensive, but good food (it’s not hoity toity enough to be called cuisine).

The Frontier's western art collection features several paintings of John Wayne.

The Frontier’s western art collection features several paintings of John Wayne.

The Frontier has long been a refuge for UNM students, generations of which have studied long into the night in relative quiet (compared to a dorm room) and safety. For nearly two decades, it served studious or hungry patrons 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. In October, 2006, operating hours were scaled down because fighting often ensued among drunken revelers who got the munchies after their favorite watering holes closed down.

They also keep diners well fed–feeding some 4,000 people on weekend mornings (200 to 300 “covers” per hour). The Frontier is staffed by some 170 employees, all of whom are in constant motion to keep up with the lines of hungry diners. Those diners queue five or six deep from the entrance to the long order counters, but the staff keeps things moving smoothly (Disney could learn a thing or two). The menu lists fifty-some items, mainly New Mexican food, burgers and sandwiches.

The world famous Frontier Roll

The world famous Frontier Roll

In July, 2009, USA Today published an article entitled “Ten Great Places to Eat Regionally, Eat Well.” Author Michael Stern who co-wrote the definitive 500 Things To Eat Before It’s Too Late listed his ten favorite restaurants. On that list was the Frontier Restaurant. Considering Stern has dined at tens of thousands of restaurants, to be singled out as one of his ten favorite is a lofty accolade indeed.

On the 500 Things… tome, the Frontier Restaurant’s carne adovada was listed as the third best carne adovada in America. Calling it “the great bargain carne adovada–no less delicious for its $1.99 price–is a burrito at the Frontier in Albuquerque,” it was described as having “just enough chile-infused meat intense enough to turn the tortilla that wraps it the color of sunset.” The book also named the Frontier’s huevos rancheros as the second best among the genre throughout the Southwest.

Green chile stew at the Frontier Restaurant (Courtesy of Sergio Salvador)

Green chile stew at the Frontier Restaurant (Courtesy of Sergio Salvador)

When he traveled through Albuquerque for a taping of the Travel Channel’s Man vs Food Nation (which aired for the first time on June 22nd, 2011) Adam Richman stopped at the Frontier for the Bonanza Burger, the Frontier’s version of a green chile cheeseburger crafted from two quarter-pound patties, Cheddar cheese and bacon topped with New Mexico’s favorite fruit-vegetable–our beloved green chile. He called the Frontier “the go-to place for green chile smothered grub.” While the Bonanza Burger did not garner enough votes to make the New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail in 2011, its nationwide exposure may put it over the top on the next trail.

In honor of Richman’s visit, the Frontier created the “Adam Bonanza” burger named for the affable Man Vs. Food Nation host. This burger behemoth is constructed from two quarter-pound grilled beef patties, double cheese, double green chile and double bacon. It’s one of my very favorite burgers (top five) in Albuquerque. Though Richman contended that the Bonanza burger “kicks and burns you with its chile,” the chile is rather mild though very flavorful with fine roasted qualities. Richman was spot-on when he said “it’s an excellent quality bacon cheeseburger, but the green chile takes it to a whole other level.” The beef is prepared at medium-well, but still manages to be juicy and delicious with a smoky grilled flavor that marries wonderfully with the bacon.

The Adam Bonanza (named for Man Vs. Food Nation host Adam Richman): double meat, double American cheese, double green chile, double bacon

As popular and famous as the Frontier has become among visitors to our fair state, no one has as high a regard for the Frontier as the generations of locals who have frequented it for four decades plus. Readers of Local IQ, Albuquerque’s Intelligent Alternative, have voted it the Duke City’s best for “late night eats,” “best cheap eats,” “best green chile” and “best breakfast burrito.”

On one local even called the Frontier “the quintessential New Mexican” restaurant. It’s a sentiment echoed by callers during Ryan Scott’s pioneering and much-missed Break the Chain radio program. To detractors (and there aren’t as many of those as there are aficionados) that’s akin to saying Pace’s Picante sauce is New Mexico’s quintessential salsa. I’m of the mind that from an experiential perspective it is definitely the quintessential university area restaurant in the Duke City, but won’t go any further.

Labeling piquant goodness out of a cauldron onto a bounteous Frontier burrito

It’s not just Local IQ and Chowhound readers who esteem the Frontier’s breakfast burrito so highly. In its September, 2011 issue the Albuquerque The Magazine staff undertook the ambitious challenge of finding the very best breakfast burrito in the Duke City. The winner of the “Breakfast Burrito Brawl” turned out to be the Frontier Restaurant which on a typical Saturday or Sunday can serve as many as 800 of these tortilla-encased treasures.

It’s no mystery that another “local” held the Frontier in very high regard. In fact, legendary award-winning mystery author Tony Hillerman more than once made the restaurant a setting in his Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee mystery novels. Hillerman also wrote unabashedly about his love for the Frontier in the November, 2005 edition of New Mexico Magazine.”

Enchiladas with the Frontier's chopped green chile and red chile

Enchiladas with the Frontier’s chopped green chile and red chile

Aside from the aforementioned carne adovada, huevos rancheros and now the Bonanza Burger, there are several entrees for which the Frontier is known, but the item most frequently mentioned as a favorite seems to be the fabled Frontier rolls. Served hot, buttery and gooey with a cinnamon sugar glaze, they pack a day’s worth of teeth-decaying, waist-expanding calories, the kind you enjoy consuming. They’re among the very best cinnamon rolls in the Land of Enchantment.

Pundits and first-timers also agree on the green chile stew–it’s easily among the most popular in town. Served from a steaming cauldron, it has a piquant bite locals appreciate. Alas, the green chile stew is served with paper thin tortillas prepared production line fashion before your eyes by a machine. Considering the quantities of tortillas served daily at The Frontier, it’s certainly more efficient than using the more tradition methods employed by New Mexican abuelitas for generations. No assembly line contraption, however, can match the aroma or taste of hand-formed tortillas off-the-comal.

Pancakes with syrup

Pancakes with syrup

If you order enchiladas or burritos, you’re asked if you’d like them with the green chile stew, but you can also have them with the restaurant’s chopped green chile or better yet, Christmas style. The Frontier’s version of “Christmas style” doesn’t necessarily mean a demarcation in which a clear boundary is established between the red and the green chile. As shown in the image above, you can’t tell where the red chile ends and the green chile stops. Trust me, that’s not a bad thing. The amalgam makes for an interesting flavor combination of medium piquancy.

The menu is segmented into breakfast, platters, hamburgers, sandwiches, New Mexican food and bulk items (like six-packs of the aforementioned Frontier rolls). There literally is something for everyone. The fresh squeezed orange juice is some of the best I’ve had anywhere–wholly unlike the doctored, pulpy and cloying stuff you buy in grocery stores. Orange after Florida sunshine nourished orange is squeezed into a refreshing juicy goodness. The Frontier’s hot chocolate simply makes you wish it was winter year round. Breakfast is served all day long–and a day’s worth of carbs and calories is what you might have if you order even a short stack of pancakes. These are thick, fluffy orbs made golden brown and just beckoning for butter and syrup.

A BLT on a tortilla

Whether or not the Frontier Restaurant is Albuquerque’s “quintessential New Mexican restaurant,” can certainly be debated. I would suggest doing so over an Adam Bonanza burger and a Frontier roll chased down by fresh-squeezed orange juice.

The Frontier Restaurant
2400 Central, S.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 262-1848
LATEST VISIT: 23 June 2012
COST: $$
BEST BET: Frontier Rolls, Green Chile Stew, Orange Juice, Hot Chocolate, Adam Bonanza

Frontier Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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