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Old Town Pizza Parlor – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Old Town Pizza Parlor

Old Town Pizza Parlor

Although it seems Albuquerque’s population experiences an unprecedented population growth every decade, perhaps the ten-year period which most transformed the Duke City from an expansive frontier cow town to a modern metropolitan city was the 1950s.  At the start of the decade, the city’s population was 96,815, but bolstered by a post-World War II boom, the population more than doubled to 201,189 by 1960.  No successive decade has seen such growth.

With J.C. Penney’s, Sears and Montgomery Wards (as well as Woolworth’s) all located on Route 66, downtown was the the economic heart of the community.  Consumers reveled in the availability of products and clothing heretofore available only through catalogs.  To show off the high fashion available at those department stores and especially at Kistler-Collister (ironically situated near the city’s eastern outskirts) as well as the city’s hubs of haberdashery, fun-seekers headed for the Old Town Society Hall in the vicinity of Rio Grande and Central for spirited dancing.

One of the dining rooms at the Old Town Pizza Parlor

One of the dining rooms at the Old Town Pizza Parlor

Route 66 was festooned with vibrant neon signage that cut a luminous swath through the city.  Only the historic Old Town district was spared the nocturnal spectacle of glowing and flashing neon.  Savvy diners still managed to find their way to the Old Town Chile Parlor where John P. and Frances Apodaca owned and operated one of the city’s most popular restaurants in the same location (opposite the Old Town Society Hall) for over 40 years.  The restaurant was housed in a hacienda that is more than 150 years old today.

That hacienda has been in Mike Tafoya’s family for nearly three quarters of a century, but it’s been a long time since it’s been used as a family home.  After the Old Town Chile Parlor closed down, the edifice was home to Smiroll’s International Cuisine from 1974 to 2000.  After Smiroll’s came Ambrozia and its contemporary global cuisine.  Tafoya was a partner and chef in that enterprise.

Garlic Herb Bites

Garlic Herb Bites

With a heritage that includes a prominent historical restaurateur and a background as a chef at several fine-dining establishments in the Duke City, it’s only natural that Tafoya would continue the family tradition by launching a restaurant in the location that’s been in his family for nearly eight decades.  That restaurant, the Old Town Pizza Parlor, is named in tribute to Tafoya’s grandparents and the restaurant lineage he inherited.  

He also honors his grandparents with a vintage photograph of them beside an “In Loving Memory” placard under glass on the porch facing Rio Grande Avenue.  It’s just one of the aspects of the restaurant which honors the history and tradition of the Duke City in the 1950s.  Route 66 signage and memorabilia hang on the walls while under glass on every table you’ll find thematic imagery of that storied era.

OTP White Nachos: Corn chips piled high with signature white sauce, crumbled meatballs, smokey bacon bits, green chile, black olives, Roma tomatoes and fresh jalapenos

One table recognizes the music of the beat generation with images of 45RPM (that’s revolutions per minute) phonograph records and pictures of music stars of the day.  One table honors the sport teams prominent in the 1950s.  Under glass in one table are post cards showcasing the memorabilia of the nifty fifties.  There’s something to look at on each table, but it’s not overdone in the gaudy, kitschy style of many self-styled 50s restaurants.

The very first thing you see when you walk into the Old Town Pizza Parlor is the counter where you place your order.  There’s an oversized menu behind the counter listing all the restaurant’s offerings, many of which are unique and intriguing.  The menu starts with pizza which is available as a build it yourself option with sixteen different ingredient options as well as four sauce types: traditional–made with sweet tomatoes, garlic, extra virgin olive oil and spices; hot & spicy–traditional sauce with extra garlic and spicy chile peppers; white–creamy parmesan and roasted garlic.; and basil pesto with fresh local basil, pine nuts and grated Parmesan cheese.  That’s having pizza your way, but you can also order one of the menu’s eight specialty pizzas.

The "Stampede"

The “Stampede”

Colossal calzones served with your choice of pizza sauce and garlic dip are next on the menu.  The starting point for each calzone is ricotta and mozzarella which you can top with any three items from the available toppings.  Extras include garlic herb bites (homemade pizza crust topped with garlic butter and sprinkled with a herb blend), pepperoni roll (baked dough wrapped around pepperoni and mozzarella and baked until golden) and meatball sliders (homemade meatballs topped with mozzarella and sandwiched between mini buns).

Pasta entrees feature over one pound of pasta and are served with parmesan garlic bread.  The menu also includes crisp salads and hot soup (including mamma’s tomato soup (made with sweet tomatoes, roasted garlic and cream served with a grilled cheese sandwich).  Eight-inch submarine sandwiches prepared deli style and served with chips and a pickle spear crown a menu that is quickly becoming an Old Town attraction in its own right.  The restaurant also offers an all-you-can-eat pizza, pasta and salad buffet for lunch seven days a week.

Design your own pizza with ham, pineapple and roasted garlic

If you like garlic strong enough to ward off Count Dracula and wreck your breath for days, the garlic herb bites might not do it.  The garlic is discernible, but not overwhelming.  In fact, it’s just one of several herbs well balanced for flavor harmony on a soft, cheesy crust served on a ten-inch tin plate.  The cheesy bread is delicious, so good you probably won’t use much of the accompanying marinara sauce. 

Nachos are not a dish most of us would associate with Italian or pizza restaurants, but the Old Town Pizza Parlor actually offers a nachos-based appetizer similar to the one offered at Mario’s Pizza & Ristorante.  The OTP White Nachos features a mountain of corn chips piled high with the restaurant’s signature white sauce, crumbled meatballs, smokey bacon bits, green chile, black olives, Roma tomatoes and fresh jalapenos.  These are not the gloppy cheese nachos sold at ball parks.  The smokey bacon bits and white sauce were a highlight, but the entire plate (large enough for a family of four) is a good starter.

Green Chile Alfredo

Green Chile Alfredo

Interestingly the menu indicates the garlic herb bites are made on the restaurant’s “homemade pizza crust,” but the crust served on the pizza is quite different than the garlic herb bite crust.  On the pizza, that crust is very thin and very firm.  There are no pretensions to New York style pizza crust here (if you expect pizza dough with a nice char on the bottom and bubbles on top, you’ll be disappointed).  In fact, the crust is so firm it may not be possible to fold it vertically the way New Yorkers prefer their pie.  Even the outer edges are thin, not much thicker than the pie itself.

Despite being waifishly thin, the crust is formidable enough to hold the generous ingredient pile-up the chef arranges on each pie.  It’s formidable enough not to droop and sag beneath the sauce’s thickness and moistness.  Not everyone will like this crust and if it sounds like it’s more serviceable than flavorful, that’s not my intent.  It’s a sweet crust some people will like while others won’t.

Meatball Baked Ziti: Homemade meatballs, marinara, ziti and ricotta. Topped with mozzarella

The “Stampede” we had during our inaugural visit is a carnivore’s dream–Italian sausage, pepperoni, mini meatballs, smoked ham and ground beef–all good enough to convert vegetarians.  Ingredients are locally procured and are unfailingly fresh and delicious.  Bite into a piece of ham or sausage and you won’t get that “frozen, out-of-the-bag” taste you get from some meat ingredients on chain pizza restaurants.  The sauce is lathered on thickly, but it’s a good sauce.  It’s a blend of sweet tomatoes, garlic and that EVOO (extra virgin olive oil) chef Tafoya does so well.

When Matt Herman recommended the Old Town Pizza Parlor, he told me, “without a doubt it is the best pizza in town, bar none, and the pasta is even better. We’ve been there five or six times and it just gets better.”  It’s been my experience that pizzerias don’t often do a good job with pasta (most of them drown the pasta with marinara sauce), but with Tafoya’s pedigree and Matt’s endorsement, pasta was a must.

The pasta dish beckoning most invitingly during our inaugural visit was the green chile Alfredo (fetuccini pasta topped with green chile parmesan cream sauce).  True Alfredo sauce is rich with butter and melted Parmigiana-Reggiano and is light, silky and refined.  You won’t find cream (especially heavy cream) on authentic Alfredo sauce, the way it was first created.  You also won’t find true Alfredo sauce in Albuquerque (at least we haven’t), but the Old Town Pizza Parlor’s rendition is quite good nonetheless.  It’s not overly rich or heavy like cream-laden Alfredo tends to be.  It is a very flavorful sauce with just enough green chile to grab your attention without detracting from the Parmesan.  The fettucini noodles are ribbon-like, perfectly prepared and have a melt-in-your-mouth quality.  Add oven-roasted chicken to this entree for a pittance and instead of the desiccated foul served with many pasta entrees elsewhere, you’ll be treated to impossibly small cubes of juicy, delicious chicken.  This is a very nice pasta dish! 

Alas, as much as we enjoyed the green chile Alfredo, we found the meatball baked ziti (homemade meatballs, marinara, ziti and ricotta topped with mozzarella) during our second dish quite disappointing.  My sauce of choice was the hot & spicy (traditional sauce with extra garlic and spicy chile peppers).  The top layer in which the mozzarella was melted nicely atop the ziti noodles was a good introduction, but at the bottom of the bowl, a watery layer of sauce greeted us.  It can be a challenge to create a pasta dish in which the sauce has a perfect viscosity top to bottom.  It’s a challenge not surmounted on this dish.

The Old Town Pizza Parlor is a nice addition to Albuquerque’s Old Town area.  Chef Tafoya honors Old Town tradition and his restaurant lineage while providing a pizza option for the 21st century.

Old Town Pizza Parlor
108 Rio Grande, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 999-1949
Web Site
Latest Visit: 29 July 2012
1st Visit: 25 April 2009
# of Visits: 2
Rating: 17
Cost: $$
Best Bet: Green Chile Alfredo, The “Stampede,” Garlic Herb Bites, OTP White Nachos

Old Town Pizza Parlor on Urbanspoon

Orchid Thai Cuisine – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Orchid Thai Cuisine

Sydney, Australia has “Thai Tanic” and “Thai to Remember.” In Manila, The Philippines, it’s “Thai Kingdom Come.” Arlington, Virginia boasts of “ThaiPhoon.” “Thai One On” is a Salt Lake City favorite. San Francisco diners frequent “Thai Me Up,” while in Mildenhall, England “En-Thai-Sing” is all the rage. Then there’s “Beau Thai” in Portland, Oregon; “Bow Thai” in Margate, Florida; and “Once Upon a Thai” in Chicago, Illinois. When it comes to Thai restaurants throughout the English-speaking world, it’s a wordplay wonderland.

Urbanspoon lists some eighteen Thai or Asian fusion restaurants in Albuquerque specializing in or which include Thai food, none of which evoked once a pun a name.  Now operating for more than ten years (it launched on May 10, 2012), Orchid Thai Cuisine is seemingly all-of-a-sudden an elder statesman among Thai restaurants, one of four in the Duke City with more than a decade of continuous operation.  It doesn’t seem that long ago Orchid Thai Cuisine was a newcomer creating quite a buzz in Nob Hill.

Colorful mural on Orchid Thai’s east wall

In its decade plus, Orchid Thai has garnered perhaps more acclaim and accolades than any other Thai restaurant in town.  As you enter the restaurant, you’ll espy an “I love me” wall postered with “best of” and “readers’ choice” awards from Albuquerque The Magazine, The Alibi and Local IQ.  Naysayers will attribute much of that love to the Nob Hill proximal demographic which “tends to stuff the ballots for area restaurants” while frequent visitors (and there are many of them) will tell you Orchid Thai earns all the recognition it receives.

If awards and accolades were dispensed for colorful murals, Orchid Thai would compete with Saggio’s for best and most in the city in that category, too.  Three of its four exterior walls are festooned in colorful murals depicting various aspects of life in Thailand.  Not every interior wall is similarly adorned, but one particularly interesting eastern wall portrays Thai kick boxing in all its glory.  There’s something to see everywhere you turn in and outside Orchid Thai and the art of presentation continues onto your meal.

Taud Manpla (Thai Fish Cakes)

Orchid Thai was founded by Seng and Bounnome (Nome for short) Limary, who previously managed the now defunct Hawaiian Restaurant on Louisiana.  A native of Laos, Nome has been cooking in New Mexico since 1981 and has extensive experience preparing Chinese and Japanese cuisine, too, but Thai cuisine is his passion.  He studied every aspect of Thai cooking–from selecting ingredients to cooking and presentation–from a highly regarded Thai master chef and applies his studies daily in preparing award-winning cuisine.

The menu is a virtual compendium of Thai favorites with more vegetarian options than most restaurants tend to offer.  Beef, chicken (extra for all white meat), pork, shrimp and tofu can be added to many entrees, including soups.  Some of the popular Thai soups can be made with or without coconut milk.  Most entrees are served with steamed rice, but you can pay extra for brown or sticky rice and even more for fried rice.  A chili icon denotes dishes which are hot and spicy, but milder versions are available upon request.  Lunch specials and lunch combinations are available Monday through Friday.

Chicken Satay (charbroiled chicken on skewers marinated in Thai spices and served with a Thai peanut curry sauce and a sweet cucumber sauce)

At the risk of sounding like one of those Russian judges of Olympics past, in three visits to Orchid Thai, my chief complaint has been the lack of balance of flavors.  The underlying foundation of Thai cuisine, going back to Chinese influences as early as the 10th century, is to achieve a satisfying and exciting taste experience through the relationship between five fundamental tastes: sweet, salty, spicy, sour and bitter.  Properly balancing these flavors is the true essence of Thai cooking.

Each Thai dish generally has three or four of these flavors harmoniously interplaying with one another in a way that is not only delicious, but balanced.  In most dishes, one flavor predominates with the other flavors being complementary.  At Orchid Thai, dishes we’ve sampled tend to be somewhat overwhelmed by near cloying sweetness.  Call it an Americanization of Thai cuisine, perhaps a realization that many Americans prefer their Thai food rather sweet (maybe so it resembles the candied Chinese foods they like, too).  It’s the reason our visits have been infrequent.

Sesame Duck (crispy duck seasoned and roasted with spices and topped with sesame seeds and the chef’s special sauce)

One example of the lack of balance sticklers look for is in the taud manpla (Thai fish cakes).  The fish cakes themselves are pungently aromatic and delicious courtesy of a red curry influence.  Texturally they’re pleasantly chewy, wholly unlike crab cakes, and are fairly moist despite the deep-frying preparation process.  These fritter-like cakes are generally served with a tangy chili sauce.  Orchid Thai’s sauce is dessert sweet.  Not even the finely chopped peanuts floating atop the sauce can lend a savory influence.  The cloying sauce also obfuscates any piquancy there may be.

Similarly the Chicken Satay (charbroiled chicken on skewers marinated in Thai spices) is served with two very sweet sauces–a Thai peanut curry sauce and a sweet cucumber sauce.  The chicken is marinated in a sauce redolent with turmeric (which also imports its characteristic yellowish hue) and is moist and tasty, deserving of sauces which don’t make them taste like chicken satay lollipops.  The Thai peanut curry sauce would have been quite good had the sweetness been cut in half.

Pineapple Curry with Chicken (chicken with pineapple, potatoes, onions and sweet basil in a red coconut curry sauce) served in a hollowed out pineapple

Because we’ve known the unbridled ecstasy of crispy duck at Lotus of Siam, the very best Thai restaurant in America, my Kim tends to order crispy duck whenever she sees it on the menu of any Thai restaurant in hopes it approximates the swoon-eliciting crispy duck we love so much.  Orchid Thai’s version, Sesame Duck (crispy duck seasoned and roasted with spices and topped with sesame seeds and the chef’s special sauce) falls woefully short, but then so does every other duck we’ve had everywhere else.  At the risk of repeating myself, the chef’s special sauce was very much on the sweet side.

One of the most beautifully plated dishes we’ve seen in Albuquerque and the pride of Orchid Thai is a pineapple curry dish served on a hollowed out pineapple half.  Swimming in a red coconut curry sauce are chunks of pineapple, potatoes, onions and sweet basil.  Our server promised the dish wouldn’t be overly sweet and the chef delivered on the promise.  Either that or the Thai hot degree of heat rendered the sweetness impotent.  This is a curry dish that’s good from more than an experiential aspect.  More than any dish we’ve had at Orchid Thai, it does strike a good balance of flavors.

Mangoes with sticky rice

The one dish we expected to be sweet didn’t disappoint.  The mangoes with sticky rice were ameliorated with sweet coconut milk which marries so well with the dense, wonderfully juicy fruit.  We mourn when mangoes are out of season because when served with sticky rice prepared well, there are few desserts quite as refreshing and delicious.

Orchid Thai Cuisine is consistently crowded and most of its patrons seem satisfied, if not delighted with their food and their dining experience.  There certainly are many aspects of a visit to this colorful restaurant even surly curmudgeons like me will enjoy.

Orchid Thai Cuisine
4300 Central Avenue, S.E. Map.66ef55d
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 265-4047
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 28 July 2012
COST: $$
BEST BET: Taud Manpla, Chicken Satay, Mangoes with Sticky Rice, Pineapple Curry

Orchid Thai on Urbanspoon

The Turquoise Room – Winslow, Arizona

The fabulous La Posada

The fabulous La Posada

The concept of “fast food” had a far different connotation during the Southwest’s Frontier days than it does today. This is especially true if one traveled via railroad through hundreds of miles of desolate, open country. In the more densely populated and genteel east there were often several cities between most destinations. This allowed for frequent rest and refreshment stops. Passengers rode in relative comfort in Pullman cars with dining cars.

In the wide open west, only twenty minutes were allowed during each of the infrequent stops. Further, the food was as miserable as the travel conditions. According to Keith L. Bryant’s History of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway, “meat was greasy and usually fried, beans were canned, bacon rancid and coffee was fresh once a week.” No doubt it was gastronomic distress that prompted the following ditty documented on the book Hear the Lonesome Whistle Blow by Dee Brown: “The tea tasted as though it was made from the leaves of sagebrush. The biscuit was made without soda, but with plenty of alkali, harmonizing with the great quantity of alkali dust we had already swallowed.”

The welcoming interior of the Turquoise Room

One man, an English emigrant named Fred Harvey was determined to change the deplorable railroad travel conditions in the west. With a background as a restaurateur and later as a railroad employee, he brought good food at reasonable places served in clean, elegant restaurants to the traveling public throughout the Wild West. Historians agree that he also introduced civility and dignity. The Fred Harvey Company’s expansion included hotels, restaurants and lunchrooms throughout the Southwest (Arizona, California and New Mexico) as well as Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and eventually anywhere the Santa Fe railroad system had major terminals including Chicago and Saint Louis.  By the late 1880s a Fred Harvey dining facility existed every 100 miles along the Santa Fe line. Meals at a Harvey establishment epitomized the highest standards for cleanliness and fastidiousness. Fine China, crystal, Irish linens, sumptuous portions and great value were hallmarks of a meal at a Harvey facility.

In the 1920s, the Harvey Company decided to build a major hotel in Winslow, the Arizona headquarters for the Santa Fe Railway. Being centrally located, Winslow was thought to be ideally situated for a resort hotel. No expense was spared. Construction costs for grounds and furnishings have been estimated at $2 million or about $40 million in today’s dollars. La Posada, the resting place, was the finest hotel in the Southwest during the railroad era. Today it remains not so much a re-creation of the great railway era, but an accumulation of memories and treasures in the form of exquisite art, history and beauty. Its opulent flow includes arched doorways, hand-painted glass windows, glittering tin chandeliers, Southwestern hand-hewn furniture and whimsical art. It is a magnificent complex, one of the finest hotels in the entire West.

Heirloom Squash Blossoms

Heirloom Squash Blossoms

It is only fitting that a hotel with the grandeur and splendor of La Posada have an elegant area set aside for the finest in dining. That would be the Turquoise room which has been recreated to reflect the ultimate in stylish railroad dining. The Turquoise Room is indeed a fabulous restaurant, viewed by experts as one of the very best in the Four Corners region. The braintrust behind the restaurant is chef and owner John Sharpe, an Englishman like Fred Harvey with a similar commitment to outstanding food and impeccable service.  That commitment was  recognized in 2011 when Sharpe was nominated by the James Beard Foundation as the best chef in the southwest.

Sharpe is committed to using only the finest and freshest ingredients possible, many of them grown locally. An avid gardener, he also grows heirloom vegetables and herbs for the restaurant, including the giant squash blossoms that appear on his menu on occasion. Every once in a while Sharpe also pays tribute to the great days of the Fred Harvey Company with retro dishes from the great railway era, but for the most part his cuisine might best be labeled as regional contemporary Southwestern. An even better label would be fabulous!  Several items are menu mainstays: roast prime rib, grilled steaks, fresh fish, pasta, elk, quail, pork, chicken, lamb and a vegetable platter. Desserts are made in-house on a daily basis.

Porterhouse Steak

The Engineer’s Porterhouse Steak

Sharpe’s giant squash blossoms are things of beauty! Piped into each beer battered squash flower is a tamale-like concoction of corn meal and two types of cheeses topped with a corn salsa and drizzled with fresh cream. You will savor each bite and mourn the last one. It is one of the best appetizers we’ve had in any Arizona restaurant. An excellent pairing with many Turquoise Room entrees is the Don Juan Sangria cocktail made with red wine, port, sherry, brandy, triple sec and citrus juices served over ice. Sliced oranges, lemons and limes float on the sangria and add to its full-bodied, hearty flavor.

If you’ve ever lamented the lack of game gracing menus at restaurants throughout the Southwest, you’ll be thrilled to see several game favorites featured at the Turquoise Room. Better still, some entrees include more than one game favorite. One sure to please entree for the gaming gastronome is the Native Cassoulet with Churro Lamb, Duck Leg and Elk Sausage. Cassoulets are generally rich, slow-cooked bean casseroles containing meats (typically pork, sausage, mutton or goose), but Sharpe takes some liberties with that definition.

Prime Rib au jus

Prime Rib au jus

Sharpe’s version starts with Tohono O’odham (a Native American tribe formerly known as the Papago who reside primarily in the Sonoran Desert of the Southwest United States and Northwest Mexico) grown tepary (a drought-resistant bean grown in the Southwest) beans cooked with locally raised Churro lamb, chilies and spices. The Turquoise Room’s Churro lamb chop is fork tender and absolutely delicious with nary a hint of gaminess or fat. In fact, the meat is very distinctive for lamb with a subtle wild flavor likely resultant from the Churro breed’s diet of shrubs and herbs in the sparse deserts of the Southwest. This is some of the best lamb I’ve had anywhere!  The duck leg confit is similarly wonderful–a duck leg seasoned and slowly cooked in duck fat. The Turquoise Room’s rendition is sinfully tender and moist with a crispy and golden brown skin.  The spicy smoked elk sausage may surprise you because it actually lives up to its billing. The sausage’s pronounced smokiness quickly gives way to a spiciness that will play a concordant tune on your taste buds. It is slightly coarse as sausage goes, but is tender, moist and delicious.

Another dinner entree featuring game is aptly named the Wild-Wild-Wild-West Sampler Platter. This entree features grilled quail with prickly pear jalapeno glaze, seared elk medallion with blackcurrant sauce and a cup of chunky venison, buffalo, wild boar and scarlet runner bean chili served with sweet corn tamale and fresh vegetables. Every item on this entree is stellar in its own right, but together they put to shame just about every combination meat platter you can think of.  The seared elk with blackcurrant sauce edges out the grilled quail with prickly pear jalapeno glaze as the best of the lot, but not by much. Both are absolutely delicious, prepared to absolute perfection.

Cream of corn and smooth black bean soup

Cream of corn and smooth black bean soup

If you’re of a carnivorous bent but don’t necessarily desire an entree with multiple meats, the purist in you might prefer The Engineer’s Porterhouse Steak. This is a one-pound Sterling Silver center-cut Porterhouse you can cut with a dinner knife. That’s how tender it is. It is served with a spicy (perhaps chipotle infused) steak sauce that is actually worth using on this slab of meat.  Prepared to your exacting specifications (medium is my recommendation), it is juicy and delicious on both the larger short loin side and the more tender and flavorful tenderloin side. Some restaurants call this cut of meat the T-Bone, but by any name, it is often a challenge to prepare correctly because of the uneven temperature distribution in preparation. The Turquoise Room obviously has mastered the art of preparing this delicious cut.

Another fine meat option is the Premium Angus Prime Rib Roast Au Jus served with horseradish cream, a medley of fresh vegetables and a choice of baked potato or red caboose mashed potatoes. This cut is available in an eight-ounce or fourteen-ounce cut. Prime rib is not for the faint of heart. For optimum flavor, it’s best served at about medium rare, a degree of “doneness” which may give the appearance of bloodiness that turns off the queasy diner. Preparing prime rib at anything above medium is sacrilege and detracts from this flavorful slab of meat.  Needless to say, the Turquoise Room knows how to prepare prime rib. Cut into it and the succulent juices (albeit a bit red) flow onto your plate. Bite into it and you’re in heaven. A little bit of marbling goes a long way on this cut of beef and that’s what you’ll get–that and a whole lot of flavor. If you’re an aficionado of prime rib, this one will please you.  You might not be as pleased with the baked potatoes which are on the small side and may not be completely heated all the way through. While most of the potato is tender, some is just a bit tough, an indication of inconsistent baking. Still, you add a little butter and a little sour cream and you’ve got a nice dinner accompaniment.

Double Chocolate Grand Marnier Souffle for Two

Double Chocolate Grand Marnier Souffle for Two

All dinners include your choice of Caesar salad or the restaurant’s signature soup, a cream of corn and smooth black bean soup served side-by-side in one bowl and topped with a red chile signature. As impossible as it may sound, the chef actually managed to keep separate on a bowl two very distinct yet very complementary soups as warming and comforting as the definition “comfort” soup itself. The Caesar salad is magnificent! It includes roasted red peppers, pumpkin seeds and Parmesan crusted tepee of the restaurant’s red chile cracker bread.

The restaurant’s desserts are decadent and delightful, none quite as much as the Double Chocolate Grand Marnier Soufflé for Two. It takes 25 minutes to bake this extravagant treat, but it’s worth the wait. A rich dark chocolate soufflé is baked to order and served with whipped cream, dark chocolate Grand Marnier sauce (poured into a cavity atop the soufflé) and whipped cream. It’s a nice way to finish a meal.

Arizona Green Chile Eggs

Arizona Green Chile Eggs

Portion sizes at the Turquoise Room are generous but you’ll still be tempted to lick your plate so as not to waste a morsel or dribble of your entree or dessert. Fortunately dinner is followed by breakfast only a few hours away and breakfast, though not quite the equal of dinner, is an extraordinary event at this terrific restaurant.

One of the breakfast entrees that makes it so are the Baked Beef Machaca Chilaquiles–shredded beef machaca with tomatoes, peppers, onions and spices, scrambled with two eggs, smoky red chile tomato sauce, crispy red and blue corn tortilla chips and jalapeno jack cheese. This entree is topped with crema fresca and roasted corn salsa and served with black beans. What a wonderful wake-up call. For most New Mexicans the smoky red chile tomato sauce would barely register on the piquant scale, but that’s okay because this breakfast entree is so replete with flavors competing for the rapt attention of your taste buds. Every ingredient plays on its partner ingredient and the resultant tune is a masterpiece.

Baked Beef Machaca Chilaquiles

Baked Beef Machaca Chilaquiles

The best part of waking up, however, just might be Arizona Green Chile Eggs– creamy polenta in a pool of green chile, tomatillo sauce topped with two eggs, covered in melted jalapeno jack cheese and garnished with roasted corn salsa and diced fresh tomatoes, black beans and served with warm corn tortillas.  I’m somewhat loathe to credit anything in Arizona that includes salsa or chile, but the Arizona Green Chile Eggs have me issuing an apology to the Grand Canyon State’s use of ingredients New Mexico restaurants do best. This is an outstanding breakfast entree!

Traditionalists might instead order something like the Silver Dollar pancake entree which includes two eggs, three pancakes and your choice of bacon, sausage or ham with spicy green chile breakfast potatoes. Rather than have your pancakes with maple or blueberry syrup, douse them liberally with prickly pear syrup. Prickly pear syrup has a higher fruit to sugar ratio than most syrups which is something you’ve got to appreciate if you don’t want a major sugar rush first thing in the morning.

Piki Bread with Hopi Hummus: Two Piki breads made by Joyce Saufkie of Second Mesa, served with Chef Sharpe’s version of Bad- dap – suki, a hummus made with reservation grown tepary beans pit roasted corn, corn and sunflower oils. Garnished with sunflower seeds

The lunch menu includes one of the most unique dishes I’ve seen on a restaurant menu anywhere, piki bread with hopi hummus.  It’s a dish you might order for the experience of eating something so authentically Native American and uniquely different, but probaly not because someone has told you it’s a great tasting dish.  The most unique aspect of this entree is the piki bread, finely ground blue corn blended with burnt juniper berry ash.  Ash, in fact, is texturally what the bread resembles.  This bread is crumbly (as in blow away light) and won’t stand up to the lightest portion of the bad-dap-suki, the “Hopi hummus” with which it is served.  Hopi hummus is also unique, but its greatest resemblance to hummus is textural. 

Much more traditional is the crispy pork carnitas platter, large pieces of crispy pork with red and green salsas, white tortillas, black beans and sweet corn tamale.  The carnitas are tender tendrils of pork perfectly made for the smallish corn tortillas.  Add a bit of the red or green salsa and you’ve got very good tacos.  The sweet corn tamale is essentially two scoops of a sweetened corn masa without any of the pork.

Crispy Pork Carnitas Platter: Large pieces of crispy pork Carnitas, with red and green salsas, white tortillas, black beans and sweet corn tamale

Breakfast, lunch or dinner, one of my favorite items at the Turquoise Room is the Late for the Train Coffee, an organic Turquoise Room blend.  It’s a mellow, rich coffee with a delicate roasted flavor.  Since our first visit to the Turquoise Room nearly seven years ago, it’s the coffee we’ve had at home.

Fred Harvey would undoubtedly be very proud of the La Posada Hotel and the Turquoise Room, its fine, fine-dining restaurant.

The Turqouise Room
303 East 2nd Street (Rte 66)
Winslow, Arizona
(928) 289-4366
Web Site

LATEST VISIT: 22 July 2012
COST: $$$ – $$$$
BEST BET: Silver Dollar Pancakes, Baked Beef Machaca Chilaquiles, Arizona Green Chile Eggs, Native Cassoulet with Churro Lamb, Duck Leg and Elk Sausage, Double Chocolate Grand Marnier Soufflé for Two, Crispy Pork Carnitas Platter

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