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Tune-up Café – Santa Fe, New Mexico

The Tune-Up Cafe, already a neighborhood standard

The Tune-Up Cafe, already a neighborhood standard

Dave Who? From 1981 until its closing in 2008, the converted residence at 1115 Hickox Street was the home of Dave’s Not Here, a quaint and quirky neighborhood favorite loyalist locals described as “unforgettable.” Perhaps “memorable” would have been more appropriate, because as the Eagles reminded us in their 1976 hit song New Kid In Town, “they will never forget you ‘til somebody new comes along.” That somebody new…the new kid in town… the usurper who made many of us forget about Dave’s Not Here is the Tune-Up Café.

When it first launched, the Tune-Up Café was always mentioned in the same breath as its beloved predecessor. Over time, however, the equally funky Tune-Up Café has carved out its own identity and it’s no longer just “that restaurant which replaced Dave’s Not Here.” Vestiges of Dave’s Not Here remain if you look closely, but for the most part, it can truly be said that Dave’s now truly gone. The shoulder-to-shoulder personal space proximity dining room hasn’t grown up any, but a small covered patio has been added. Not even a mirror on the dining room’s west-facing wall can make the Tune-Up Café any larger.

Dave Was Here Burger with Green Chile

Dave Was Here Burger with Green Chile

The Tune-Up Café is the brainchild of Jesús and Charlotte Rivera, both veterans of the Santa Fe restaurant scene. Jesús is originally from El Salvador while Charlotte’s roots are in Northern Louisiana. They’re co-conspirators in developing a menu interesting enough to intrigue the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives program which showcased the restaurant in an episode called “Neighborhood Favorites.”  Host Guy Fieri called the Tune-Up Cafe “a perfect example of what we’re looking for on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” meaning “they scratch-cook just about everything, the place is full of character and the neighborhood totally digs it.”

Not surprisingly, the Food Network worthy menu features some Salvadoran specialties as well as Mexican and New Mexican entrees with a smattering of American favorites, too. Open for breakfast, lunch, dinner and brunch on weekends,  the Tune-Up Cafe can no longer be categorized as just a “neighborhood favorite.”  Fans of the Food Network’s “Triple D” show from throughout the fruited plain have made pilgrimages to the restaurant, too.  Many of them have returned.

The Cubano

The Cubano

The menu once paid a playful mark of respect to its predecessor tenant with a burger named “Dave Was Here,” but that burger has been rechristened the Tune-Up Burger. It’s one of three burgers on the menu, including a vegan made burger–the brown rice nut burger (a housemade patty served on a brioche bun). The similarities between the Tune-Up Burger and the burgers served by Dave’s Not Here start with the sheer size and volume of these behemoth burgers. Dave’s was famous for its 9-ounce beef patty and the Tune-Up Burger has got to approximate that prodigious size. There are similar burger toppings, too, like the green chile, grilled onions and sautéed mushrooms, but the Tune-Up Café also offers Cheddar, Jack, Blue, Manchego and Provolone cheeses.

While Dave’s Not Here obtained its beef from a local market, the Tune-Up Café grinds its beef daily. One of the biggest differences in the burgers is in the bun. The Tune-Up Café uses a sesame seed covered brioche bun instead of the standard, run-of-the-mill bun. The Tune-Up burger comes standard with homemade mayo, lettuce, tomato and a pickle spear. The rest is up to you. The green chile warrants a “gringo” rating in the piquancy scale, but it’s got a nice roasted flavor.

Salvadoran Pupusas

Salvadoran Pupusas

The brioche bun is hard-crusted and formidable. That means that unlike so many standard burger buns, it won’t wilt and wither under the weight and moistness of the ingredients you may choose to pile on. It also means the bun may be a bit chewy, but on the Tune-Up Burger, that’s a good thing. You’ll have to open up as wide as you do for your dentist with this two-fisted masterpiece. It’s a gigantic burger with a lot of flavor. All burgers and sandwiches are served with hand-cut French fries.

The Tune-Up Café serves up its own rendition of the seemingly de rigueur Cuban sandwich. Where many Cuban sandwiches in the area seem to be waifishly thin with parsimoniously portioned ingredients, the Cubano is thick and generously engorged with its ingredient melange. The canvass for the Cubano is a ciabatta roll which is dressed with a citrus and garlic marinated pork loin, cured ham and Swiss cheese. The menu indicates this sandwich is pressed, but you wouldn’t know it the way the ingredients bulge. In any case, the restaurant’s panini grill must be super-sized to accommodate this Cubano. It’s an excellent sandwich, one which can easily be shared. It’s one of three sandwiches on the menu, the most intriguing being a Ginger Chicken Sandwich on ciabatta with Provolone and basil aioli.

Cinnamon Roll

Cinnamon Roll

In New Mexico’s melting pot of cultural cuisine, one cuisine which has captured the fancy of culinarily intrepid diners is Salvadoran cuisine.  New Mexican diners who have embraced Salvadoran cuisine have one-up on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives host Guy Fieri who had never even had a pupusa until his visit to the Tune-Up Cafe.  He called it “crazy good,” effusively praising the “crispy, crunchy masa on the outside with the corn and the cheese oozing out of it.”  It warranted a high-five for the chef along with the comment, “you have completely train wrecked me, man.”

The pupusa is the national snack of El Salvador; it’s a thick, hand-made corn tortilla stuffed with sundry ingredients. Unlike New Mexican tortillas, Salvadoran tortillas are made with no baking powder and very little (if any) salt. They’re made with a maize masa. Of all the pupusas we’ve ever had, none have the pronounced corn taste of the pupusas at the Tune-Up Café. None are any bigger. Where the standard pupusa seems to be about four-inches in diameter, these are roughly the size of a pancake. Two different pupusas, served two per order, adorn the menu. Our favorite of the two is stuffed with flank steak, chile pasado and queso fresco.

Huevos Salvadorenos

Huevos Salvadorenos

Accompanying each order of pupusas is a Salvadoran cabbage salad somewhat resembling the pinkish pickled relishes served at some Mexican restaurants. Curtido is made with pickled cabbage, onions and just a hint of red pepper. The Tune-Up Cafe makes the best curtido I’ve ever had, so good it will postpone enjoying the pupusa itself. 

Another delightful Salvadoran entree is the Huevos El Salvadorenos, scrambled eggs with scallions and tomatoes, refried beans, pan-fried banana, crema and corn tortillas.  It’s not exactly a novel concept with similar offerings–the Huevos Motuluenos at Cafe Pasqual and Huevos Yucatecos at Tecolote Cafe–being familiar to Santa Fe diners.  The Tune-Up Cafe’s huevos would be much improved with chile, but with both red and green tinged with cumin, we opted against it.  The highlight of this dish is the melding of sweet, caramelized pan-fried bananas and the slightly sour-savory crema.  The huevos themselves are perfectly prepared.

Banana Pancake with real syrup

Banana Pancake with real syrup

Sweet-toothed diners who look for a high carb morning pick-up will enjoy the cinnamon rolls, spiral-shaped beauties large enough to share.  The cinnamon rolls are redolent with cinnamon and are iced generously.  The Tune-Up Cafe’s buttermilk pancakes are among the very best in town.  Best of all, they’re served with real syrup and can be topped with blueberries, bananas or chocolate chips.

In time we may forget what life was like without the Tune-Up Café.  It may already have supplanted its predecessor for local loyalty, a funky ambiance and a menu replete with deliciousness.

Tune-up Café
1115 Hickox Street
Santa Fe, New Mexico
(505) 983-7060
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 27 January 2013
1st VISIT: 10 May 2008
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 19
COST: $$
BEST BET: El Salvadoran Pupusas, Dave Was Here Burger, Cubano, Hand-cut French Fries


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Chez Bob – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

Chez Bob, one of Albuquerque's very best French restaurants

Chez Bob, one of Albuquerque’s very best French restaurants

Even if you’ve never had the pleasure of a meal there, it’s hard not to like a restaurant named Chez Bob. Much as poetic French words are apt to do, the term “chez” seems to impart instant credibility, authenticity and just a touch of haughtiness to any restaurant sporting that appellation–even though “chez” is just a preposition which means “at the home of.” So, Chez Lucien is essentially “at the home of Lucien.”  On restaurants, the term “chez” usually prefaces the name of the chef or owner, as in Chez Pierre or Chez Emile. 

The ordinary nature of the “Bob” portion of the name Chez Bob counterbalances the haughtiness of the term “chez” because Bob is one of those “every man names” we all trust. It doesn’t have those intimidating metrosexual qualities of Hollywood names such as Troy and Brad or the perceived hauteur of a French name. Bob is a vanilla name, a name your friends and neighbors might have. You would probably feel more welcome at a restaurant named “Chez Bob” than you would at one named “Chez Arnaud” which sounds more than a bit pretentious and expensive.

Simple elegance at Chez Bob

Simple elegance at Chez Bob

The Bob in Chez Bob is Robert “Bob” Maw. Bob’s vision is for Chez Bob to be the type of restaurant with which he grew up in New York, the type of restaurant which emphasizes great food, great service and a great experience for all patrons. He means it when emphasizing service, teaching his staff that it’s much easier to remake an entree than to make a new customer. His goal is to exceed the expectations of each and every guest. Chez Bob is well on its way to doing just that with a young, but very talented kitchen staff that includes chefs Jason Sanchez and Stephen Wood and baker-sous chef Rebecca Rodriguez who prepares the restaurant’s desserts, quiches and pear tart.

Before there was a Chez Bob, there was La Crepe Pierre, a charming little eatery in the plaza at Candelaria and San Pedro.  An year had barely elapsed when the restaurant moved to the far Northeast Heights and was rechristened Chez Bob for its owner.  The restaurant is ensconced in a sprawling shopping center, part of an urban infill effort on the northeast corner of Paseo del Norte and Wyoming.  Its de rigueur stuccoed facade is somewhat obfuscated from traffic and its signage, even though incorporating the Eiffel Tower, is subdued.  Being away from the well-beaten, well-eaten path in an out-of-the-way shopping center have made it a destination restaurant, one which diners from outside the neighborhood have in mind when they set out for a great meal.  My three visits have validated that Chez Bob is a special restaurant, one discerning diners should visit even if it may be a bit out of the way.

French bread at Chez Bob

French bread at Chez Bob

Chez Bob’s interior is as charming as the exterior facade is blase. Industrial style ductwork on the ceiling is barely noticeable considering everything pleasant to look at–from the colorful portraiture festooning the walls to the tile and cabinetry. The center part of the restaurant is lined with small tables in close, neighborly, proximity to one another, while comfortable booths brace against the north and south walls.  Linen tablecloths and napkins  adorn each table as does a full place-setting.  It’s a welcoming and cheery milieu with a casual elegance.

Service at Chez Bob isn’t haughty in the least.  It’s friendly and attentive without the wait staff hovering over you at every turn. The staff is trained well enough to understand that a casual glance here and then is enough to know when customers’ glasses needs refilling or more bread is needed at the table.  Bread is one of the few items not prepared on the premises.  Chez Bob showcases the freshest, wild-caught seafood and premium steaks with everything on the Continental cuisine menu prepared to order.  All sauces are freshly made from the highest quality ingredients.  Instead of sticker shock, your face will register surprise at the reasonable bill of fare.

French Onion Soup and Cream of Potato and Ham Soup

French Onion Soup and Cream of Potato and Ham Soup

The menu is an impressive array of mostly French entrees with a smattering of Italian cuisine for good measure.  All entrees are served with a side salad, starch of the day and fresh vegetables.  The “On the Hoof” section of the menu features only two items–Beef Wellington and Rib Eye Steak–but they’re better than steakhouse quality.  The “Wet and Wild Caught” menu includes seafood delicacies such as Diver Scallops prepared with your choice of three sauces: Provencal, St. Jaques, or Buerre Blanc.  Poultry offerings such as Duck a l’Orange adorn the Winged Creatures menu.  Diners also have their choice from among six savory or sweet crepes or from an impressive selection of Italian pasta dishes.

A thinly sliced loaf of French bread with chilled butter is a French restaurant staple and Chez Bob doesn’t disappoint. It is hard-crusted, airy French bread served with creamy French butter.  Diet be damned, you’ve got to have a few slices of the staff of life with your every meal here–some with butter and some saved so you can sop up the soups or sauces. 

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Cheese Plate: Gruyere, Fontina, Goat Cheese and Brie with Strawberries, Grapes and Crostini

The soups at Chez Bob are magnificent, none better than the traditional French Onion Soup. This heart-warming elixir is made from rich Chablis (a dry white wine) enhanced beef-based stock with caramelized onions served with a toasted gratin with bubbly Swiss cheese.  It’s not as aesthetically appealing as some soup crocks on which the golden, melting cheese blankets the entire top, but it is beefy, rich and fragrant and as delicious as soup gets.  Almost as good is a soup du jour offering of cream of potato and ham soup, a thick, creamy soul-warming bowl of sheer deliciousness. 

An Artisanal Cheese Plate appetizer showcases a variety of cheeses and fresh fruits with toasted crostini.  The cheese platter is a quadrumvirate of terrific cheeses any turophile will enjoy.  Good fortune will smile upon you if the four cheeses are Gruyere, Fontina, Goat Cheese and Brie, cheeses with varying flavor profiles, but not as much textural contrast (no hard cheeses, for example) as some would enjoy.  The chevre (goat cheese) is especially flavorful, whether you spread it on the toasted crostini or enjoy it by itself.  The fruits are seasonally fresh and delicious.  They make for an effective palate cleanser in between noshing on the cheeses or for a terrific sweet contrast afterwards.

Green Chili Chicken Alfedo Lasagna

Green Chili Chicken Alfedo Lasagna

The “Pasta de la Casa” section of the dinner menu features five Italian pasta dishes including one in which New Mexico green chile meets Italian chicken Alfredo lasagna. It’s a delicious melding of flavors: fresh pulled chicken with a fromage triumvirate of rich ricotta, mozzarella and parmesan layered and finished with a green chili (SIC) Alfredo sauce. If you’re tired of being beaten over the head with puddles of thick, red marinara sauce and spicy sausage, you’ll luxuriate in the elegance and richness of Alfredo sauce and a complementary cheese trio. The pasta is light and delicate despite being just a bit thicker than some lasagna noodles. This is a creamy, delicious entree served slab-sized.

Accompanying the lasagna is a vegetable medley of sweet carrots and green beans, both reminiscent of the freshness you might experience at a market in Provence. The carrots in particular are sweet and perfectly prepared so there’s just a slight snap when you bite into them–not quite al dente, but in no way mushy. The beans are similarly fresh-tasting and delicious.

Seafood Crepe  Large sea scallops, shrimp and mushrooms in rich lobster cream sauce

Seafood Crepe Large sea scallops, shrimp and mushrooms in rich lobster cream sauce

The pasta menu also features a more conventional New York style lasagna which showcases a house-spiced sweet fennel sausage in a slow-cooked real marinara sauce with three cheeses.  Bob Maw told me once that if his customers want something that’s not on the menu and the restaurant has the ingredients to prepare it, Chez Bob will do so.  His staff didn’t bat an eye when we asked for a couple slices of sausage.  We were brought two huge patties of sweet New York style sausage, blessedly kissed by fennel.  It’s a good sausage, the type of which you might enjoy several hunks of during a meal.

Savory crepes are a specialty of the house.  Prepared on real Krampouz creperies which are renown for their uniform temperature control, these are among the very best crepes in town.  The crepe de resistance is probably the seafood crepe: large sea scallops,shrimp and mushrooms in a rich lobster cream sauce.  The golden crepe is literally bursting at its seams with ingredients, all perfectly prepared and as fresh as if brought to the kitchen from a fishing boat.  The mushrooms explode with a uniquely robust and woodsy flavor.  The scallops and shrimp are sweet and succulent.

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Beef Wellington with Yukon Gold truffle mashed potatoes and haricot verts

There are five other crepes on the menu: Crepe Florentine (spinach in a garlic cream with Bechamel and Swiss cheese), Chicken and Mushroom Crepe, Beef Bourguignon, Salmon and Asparagus Crepe and Ratatouille, a traditional French vegetable stew popularized by an animated feature film by that name. It’s an impressive assemblage of savory crepes, but savory crepes tell only part of the menu’s story. Dessert crepes are among the very best way to cap a meal anywhere.

The menu describes the Beef Wellington as “soon to be famous.”  This is one elegant entree which deserves fame and acclaim.  It’s an excellent alternative to steak though it does feature a nine-ounce select beef tenderloin and house-made, rich mushroom duxelle (sauteed and finely chopped mushrooms) wrapped in puff pastry then topped with a brandy peppercorn cream sauce.  In both taste and aroma, the hemisphere of golden puff pastry is reminiscent of the thin crust which tops freshly baked bread.  The tenderloin is prepared to your exacting specifications, but any more than medium and you’ll lose some of the beef’s inherent juiciness.  Chez Bob’s recreation of a Beef Wellington pays a loving and faithful tribute to a timeless classic.

Diver Scallops with a Buerre Blanc Sauce

Diver Scallops with a Buerre Blanc Sauce

Even among people who aren’t especially fond of fish and who think shellfish stinks, you’ll rarely hear a disparaging word about scallops.  The delicately mild-sweet, oceany but not overly briny flavor of scallops and their soft, fleshy texture are oh so endearing.   Chez Bob offers fresh, wild-caught divers scallops seared in butter and served with your choice of three sauces: Provencal, St. Jaques, or Buerre Blanc.  The scallops are plump and delicious, so fresh they nearly melted at the press of a fork.   Buerre Blanc, a rich French sauce made from an acidic reduction whisked together with chunks of fresh butter.  It adds a complex, rich layer of flavor and unctuousness to the scallops.

The luscious home made desserts menu is replete with the types of indulgences with which we should all treat ourselves once in a while.  Though they’re likely heavenly, skip the Creme Brulee and bread pudding and head over to the dessert crepes.  There are six on the menu, all tempting, all juggernauts of flavor if the ones we had are any indication.  It’s ironic that crepes are the quintessential street food of Paris where trained artisans prepare them to perfection considering that in America, crepes are the decadent denizens of fine French restaurants.

Three Cream Lemon Crepe

Three Cream Lemon Crepe

The sweet and delicate Nutella Crepe was showcased in “100+ Things To Eat Before You Die,” a popular list which has been making the rounds throughout the blogosphere for years.  It’s a crepe I’d put near the top of that list  In 2005, Chez Bob earned a “Hot Plate” award from Albuquerque The Magazine for this delicious beauty which the magazine called “a literal taste of France.”  Nutella, a thick, smooth paste made from chocolate and hazelnuts is one of those decadent sweet things you don’t mind smeared all over your face as you lap it up.  It’s that good!  Topped with whipped cream and strawberries then drizzled with confectioners sugar, it is fabulous.  Cut into it with your fork and the sweet succulence oozes out in utter deliciousness.  Oh so good!

At the opposite side of the spectrum, at least in terms of sweetness, is the tart and delicious three cream lemon crepe.  Engorged with lemon curd and cream cheese, this crepe isn’t so tart that it purses your lips, but it will grab your attention and capture your taste buds with explosions of deliciousness.  This is an overstuffed crepe redolent with flavor and freshness.

Nutella Crepe

Nutella Crepe

Though it may not (yet) have earned a Hot Plate award, the favorite dessert of Chef Sanchez is the pear tart made with real almond paste imported from France.  This is a very rich, very buttery dessert you might need to share because it is just that rich.  Thankfully sliced strawberries lend a tangy contrast to the near cloying sweetness of the almond paste.  The golden-brown, buttery pastry shell is light and delicate and the fresh poached pears are glorious.  There are many elements in this dessert to like, but if your sweet tooth isn’t what it used to be, tread lightly.  This is one rich, rich dessert.

As of this writing, Chez Bob is proceeding with its expansion to the Nob hill space once occupied by the former Vivace at 3118 Central, S.E.  The Nob Hill location will be offering breakfast and lunch and should be open in late February or early March.  Dinner will eventually follow.

Pear Tart

Pear Tart

Chez Bob has the commitment of a service-oriented and passionate owner coupled with an energetic and talented kitchen staff now thought of more in terms of excellence than youth. It’s a restaurant at which you’ll feel right at home.

Chez Bob
7610 Carmel, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 23 January 2013
1st VISIT: 7 November 2009
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 23
COST: $$ – $$$
BEST BET:  Prosciutto and melone, Green Chili Chicken Lasagna, Seafood Crepe, Nutella Crepe, Three Cream Lemon Crepe

Chez Bob on Urbanspoon

Sandia Chile Grill – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Sandia Chile Grille, a popular Northeast Heights dining destination.

Sandia Chile Grille, a popular Northeast Heights dining destination.

Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries.  Jessica Simpson and Tony Romo.  Rihanna and Chris Brown.  These are  pairings so unnatural that there’s seemingly no way they’d ever work together…similar to good food and convenience stores.   The notion of convenience store food conjures images of salty, cylindrically shaped dry meat snacks with the texture of sawdust and air-filled bags of Cool Ranch Doritos.  This is stereotypical convenience store fare, as unappetizing as donut holes.

Now mention New Mexican food and gas station in the same sentence and the likely image conjured would make all the sophomoric six year-olds among us giggle, the notion of “gas” not having anything to do with petroleum.  Visionary entrepreneur Mick Coker had the confidence in his New Mexico food products to launch his business at a convenience store-gas station in the Northeast Heights. The rest, as they say, is history. The Sandia Chile Grill’s inaugural location launched in 2004 at the Winner’s Circle gas station at Harper and Barstow. A second location on Montgomery just east of I-25 followed shortly thereafter.

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Order your New Mexican food at this counter then watch it be prepared

From its onset the Sandia Chile Grill’s made-to-order burrito concept elevated gas station dining from a fast food grab and gobble experience to a uniquely sublime New Mexico dining extravaganza, albeit one without on-site seating. The aroma of tortillas on the grill quickly had patrons making a bee-line to the little grill that could at the back of the convenience store portion of the gas station. While relatively little space is required to operate what is essentially a to-go diner, Coker saw his business grow to the extent–as much as 4,000 meals in a busy month–that a real restaurant storefront was in order. He launched the Sandia Chile Grill restaurant at the Del Norte Shopping Center, essentially moving from the Winner’s Circle gas station not that far away.

A native New Mexican (born in Belen), Coker saw two obvious reasons for the name Sandia Chile Grill, the first being Sandia chile which grows in the Mesilla Valley. Sandia chile ranges from four to six-inches long and dries to a deep burgundy color.  It’s one of the most delicious of all red chiles and is served at such fabled New Mexican food treasures as Mary & Tito’s.   Sandia is also the name of the mountain range backdropping the city of Albuquerque.

Unique chips and salsa

Unique chips and salsa

At the restaurant, the staff has the room to operate and customers have comfortable seating in which to dine. Though much of the restaurant’s business remains carry-out, it’s nice to have an alternative when you want it. As at the service station, burritos dominate the menu: breakfast burritos, steak burritos, steak and chicken burritos, chicken burritos, pork burritos and even veggie burritos. Some burritos are named for professional wrestlers (Ultimate Warrior, Undertaker, Junkyard Dog, Mankind and the Macho Man). There are also burritos named for Mexican western characters: El Matidor (sic), Bandito, Caballero and El Jeffe. The menu also includes stuffed sopaipillas, enchiladas, tamales, rellenos and tacos–the New Mexican food essentials which can’t be prepared at the gas station sites.

One word of advice–study the menu on the Web site before you visit. There are a lot of choices! Even though the friendly counter staff won’t rush you in the least, you might not want the person standing behind you glowering impatiently and tapping her toes incessantly (as happened to me during my inaugural visit). You also can’t go wrong with a recommendation from the staff, especially if Mick Coker himself is taking your order.  Alternatively, you can take an easy (and delicious) route and order all-you-can-eat green chile chicken stew for under five dollars.  You can also eat contently in the knowledge that cumin has no place anywhere on the menu.  Nor does Mick buy and reheat any products from Sysco or Shamrock.  The only product not prepared in-house are the tortillas which are procured from the same folks who provision Little Anita’s.

Mick's Pick

Mick’s Pick

If you haven’t been to the Sandia Chile Grill in a while, you’ll quickly note several changes.  In 2009, the facility was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to can all its chiles and sauces for nationwide distribution.  In 2012, the Cokers opened a brewery–and an award-winning brewery at that.  Within months after launching, they entered seven items in a New Mexico State Fair competition, earning five medals including a “best of show” in the professional division.  The blue and red-ribbons are on display in the restaurant.  The menu also features several gluten-free items (nachos, green chile chicken stew, chicken quesadillas, chicken enchiladas, steak tacos and more).

Another gluten-free option is the Sandia Chile Grill’s unique big chips and salsa. The “chips” are fresh-cooked corn tortillas the size of 45RPM (that’s revolutions per minute for your Generation Yers) records (analog storage mediums on flat discs). The salsa is excellent with a pleasantly piquant bite courtesy of jalapeños and red chile (you’d be surprised at how infrequently New Mexican restaurants actually use chile on their salsa).  The chips are formidable enough for Gil-sized scoops of salsa.  They’re also left unsalted so you can salt to taste.

The Ultimate Warrior:  Steak, Bacon, Chorizo, Ham, Potato, Salsa and Cheese with Red and Green Chile

The Ultimate Warrior: Steak, Bacon, Chorizo, Ham, Potato, Salsa and Cheese with Red and Green Chile

Aside from the standard New Mexico restaurant offerings of red and green chile, the Sandia Chile Grill also features a “Milanesa” sauce, a white, cheesy sauce similar to the Alfredo sauce so popular in Italian cuisine. One of the burritos adorned with Milanesa sauce is Mick’s Pick, ostensibly one of the owner’s favorites. Weighing in at more than one pound, Mick’s Pick features a tortilla of medium thickness enveloping a double portion of chicken, bacon, Milanesa sauce, cheese and red or green chile (or both). The chicken is cut into very small cubes and appears to be mostly white meat; I didn’t find any sinewy pieces in the entire burrito. The Milanesa sauce complements red and green chile well, but is a stand-out on its own. 

One of the burritos named for a professional wrestler is the Ultimate Warrior, the sobriquet of a grappler considered “the ultimate archetype of strength and intensity.”  Fittingly, the Ultimate Warrior is one intensely delicious burrito, especially if it is “smothered” in red and green chile, both of which have a nice bite.  The Ultimate Warrior is engorged with chopped steak, bacon, chorizo (made on the premises), potatoes, salsa and cheese.  It’s a behemoth of a burrito, weighing in at more than a pound which means you’ll probably be taking some home.  My Kim, who used to agree with Albuquerque The Magazine‘s selection of Lotaburger‘s burrito as the city’s second best (Frontier‘s was named best) now believes The Ultimate Warrior is better.

The Big Chief: Milanesa Sauce, Steak, Cheese, Potatoes

The Big Chief: Milanesa Sauce, Steak, Cheese, Potatoes

Five different taco options are available on the menu. Even though the tacos are made with Taco Bell style hard-shelled tortillas, that’s the only comparison. The tacos at the Sandia Chile Grill are excellent. At first glance, it may appear the tacos are mostly lettuce, but beneath that lettuce is some wonderfully seasoned hamburger meat and shredded Cheddar cheese. A small plastic tub of salsa accompanies an order of tacos and it is terrific salsa at that. 

Mick Coker and his son Clinton are immensely proud of their New Mexican heritage and like most proud New Mexicans, know one of the day’s most difficult decisions is whether to have red or green chile…or both.   They help make that decision easier for their guests by offering excellent New Mexican cuisine showcasing both.

Sandia Chile Grill
7120 Wyoming Blvd, N.E.,
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 798-1970
Web Site

LATEST VISIT: 22 January 2013
1st VISIT:  18 August 2007
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 21
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Mick’s Pick, Tacos, The Big Chief, The Ultimate Warrior, Chips and Salsa


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Sandia Chile Grill on Urbanspoon