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Delicias Cafe – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Cafe Delicias Cocina Mexicana in Albuquerque’s Northeast Heights

There’s no denying the ever-increasing popularity of Mexican food across America, but it may surprise you to learn that in the estimation of some sources, it has supplanted Italian food as the favorite ethnic cuisine in the land.   Marketplace, a nationally syndicated business oriented radio program with more than nine-million listeners a week, says there’s no bones about it, calling Mexican food “the most popular ethnic food in the U.S., bigger than Italian or Chinese.”  Askmen.com confirms only that “Mexican has become one of the three most popular cuisines in the U.S., with nearly 90% of the total population having tasted it.” 

According to Marketplace, there are some 90,000 or so Mexican restaurants across the fruited plain.  The loose categorization of “Mexican restaurants” not only includes our incomparable New Mexican cuisine and our neighboring state’s Tex-Mex, but such chains as Chevy’s, Chipotle, El Torrito, Taco Bell and others of the ilk.  Lest you become agitated that such Mexican “in name only” restaurants would make a sacrosanct list, the truth is that even among restaurants owned and operated by Mexican immigrants you’ll find pretenders serving less than authentic Mexican cuisine.  Sometimes they do so to remain competitive in markets saturated for so long by the aforementioned chains that the local dining public knows no better.  In other cases, would be authentic restaurants sacrifice authenticity for convenience when they’re not able to find key ingredients at a reasonable price.

Cafe Delicias is not the stereotypical Mexican restaurant

Several years ago, the proliferation of chefs not properly trained and steeped in the culture behind Japanese cuisine so rankled the ire of Japanese chefs that they formed advocacy groups aimed at protecting their highly traditional and exquisitely artistic form of cooking.  The Mexican government has followed suit, founding the Mexican Restaurant Association (MERA), a trade association chartered to encourage the spread of more authentic cuisine.  More than 1,000 members strong, MERA recognizes that advocacy is just so much empty air without action so it helps members locate and negotiate better prices for authentic ingredients which are often very difficult to find.

It’s indicative of our famous attitude of acceptance (or perhaps the sheer number of tourists) that Taco Bell has survived for so long in New Mexico.  For most of us, however, “run for the border” is a much more literal term–as in head out to our favorite purveyor of magnificent and authentic Mexican food.  Fortunately, the Land of Enchantment has long been blessed to have a plethora of irrefutably authentic Mexican restaurants, some so good you might swear you’ve been transported to the Land of Montezuma.

Chips and salsa at Cafe Delicias

When my compadre Rico Martinez craves “real Mexican food,” he heads to Delicias Cafe which he considers “better than any Mexican restaurant I’ve tried in Albuquerque.”  Rico has become Delicias unofficial publicist, waxing poetic about his new favorite on Urbanspoon and telling everyone he knows about it.  I wish he had told me sooner.  Delicias is every bit as good as he said, maybe better.  Best of all, it’s got that real south-of-the-border authenticity aficionados like Rico and me crave. 

That authenticity is confirmed by my friend and fellow blogger Steve Coleman of Steve’s Gastronomic Home Page.  Steve is an authority on Mexican food, having traveled extensively throughout our southern neighbor.  For years he also chronicled his visits to Mexican restaurants in El Paso on his very well written blog.  He knows what he’s talking about so when he says “one thing I like about Delicias is its ability to reproduce the same kind of experience that could be found by walking into any restaurant at random in Cuidad Juarez or other cities in the state of Chihuahua, you can take it to the bank.”

A trio of Sopes: Carne sado, Chile Verde and Beans

Ironically when you walk into Delicias Cafe at the Fiesta Del Norte Shopping Center in Albuquerque’s Northeast Heights, it would be a stretch to imagine yourself at a Mexican restaurant in the Mexican state of Chihuahua.  That is, until the inimitable aromas of wonderfully seasoned Mexican food waft toward you.  In terms of ambiance, you have to look closely to find any of the stereotypical decorative touches of a Mexican restaurant, particularly those of the faux Mexican restaurants.  In fact  Delicias Cafe doesn’t seem to have changed much of the ambiance of Perennials Restaurant, its predecessor at this bright, east-facing restaurant.

The genesis of the aromas which greet you at the door can come from any number of items on the menu, a veritable compendium of Mexican food favorites.  Delicias Cafe, which has three sister restaurants in Las Cruces and one in El Paso, is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner though you can have breakfast any time of day.  The menu showcases the cuisine of Delicias, a city in Chihuahua some 250 miles from Cuidad Juarez.  Delicias translates literally from Spanish to “delights,” a well-earned term for the food at this delightful restaurant.  It also sounds a bit like “delicious” which is also fitting.

Caldo de Res (Beef stew with large pieces of vegetables)

Shortly after you’re seated, a complimentary basket of chips and a bowl of salsa are delivered to your table.  The salsa isn’t especially piquant, but it’s got a very fresh, lively flavor with just a hint of jalapeño and garlic.  The chips are large and thin, but substantial enough to scoop up Gil-sized portions of salsa.  Service is so quick that you probably won’t finish your first bowl of salsa before your appetizers or entrees are delivered.

The Antojitos de Banqueta (appetizers and snacks) menu lists only seven items, perhaps a consequence of portion size–both appetizers and entrees–being almost profligate in size.  Finish your appetizer and you probably won’t finish your entree.  If you don’t order an appetizer to make sure you have room for your entree, you’ll miss out on such terrific starters as sopes, three fried corn masa patties topped with sundry ingredients: asado on one, chile verde on another and beans on the third.  At first glance the sopes resemble small, thick tortillas and in a sense they are.  The sopes are also topped with lettuce, shredded cheese, chopped tomatoes and an acidified cream.

Enchiladas Suizas: three rolled enchiladas stuffed with chicken and dipped in Suiza sauce (tomatillo, jalapeno and sour cream)

The first entree to strike my fancy was Enchiladas Suizas, a fabulous dish invented in Mexico City’s Sanborn’s restaurant.  As you’ve probably surmised, “Suiza” means Swiss, a tribute to the fact that this dish uses both cream and cheese.   Delicias Cafe rendition is among the very best I’ve ever had.  Three rolled corn tortillas are engorged with finely shredded white meat chicken then are covered in a sauce of tomatillo, jalapeño and sour cream with shredded cheese in the mix, too.  The enchiladas have a delightfully slightly sour tanginess that impregnates the perfectly prepared poultry.  The enchiladas Suizas are served with beans and rice, but these are hardly standard.  The beans have that prepared in lard flavor while the rice is fluffy with nary a clump.

As if the Enchiladas Suizas weren’t enough, my delightful waitress also brought me a bowl of Caldo de Res, a beef stew with large pieces of vegetables and rice.  She told me this hearty, delicious stew came with the enchiladas.  This near-entree sized stew is as good as they come with a beef-flavored broth as comforting as broth comes.  The vegetables are perfectly prepared  and fresh-flavored while the rice is a pleasant surprise.

Chilaquiles con mole (served with chicken, eggs, hash browns and beans)

Coincidentally on the date of my inaugural visit, Barbara Trembath, a long-time friend of this blog and another of my most trusted sources of restaurants throughout the fruited plain, visited Delicias Cafe a few hours before I did.  Though she was positively giddy over the entire menu, she was most excited about the fact that the restaurant has four different chilaquiles dishes and described them as “hands-down the best.”   If the chilaquiles con mole are an indication, she’s absolutely correct.  More than most mole, this one has the prominent flavor of chocolate, one of its chief ingredients.  It’s a dark brown mole redolent with complex flavors.  Order it with the shredded chicken which is light, fluffy and moist.  For breakfast, the chilaquiles are served with two eggs, beans and hash browns.

Belly-busting, belt-loosening, stomach swelling–there are many ways to describe portions at Delicious (not necessarily a Freudian slip) which offers several platters large enough to feed a family. One of the very largest and most delicias (see, they’re synonymous) is the Patron Platter: a jumble of two eggs, diced ham, onions, cubed potatoes, jalapenos, mushrooms and cheese served with a tortilla, two strips of bacon, two sausage patties and a corn chorizo quesadilla.  If that sounds like a bounteous buffet, it may as well be.  Where but on a buffet might you find bacon, sausage and ham together in one plate?  This buffet on a plate is not only prodigious, it’s so good you’ll finish it all.

Molletes: open-faced torta bread topped with beans & cheese

Molletes: open-faced torta bread topped with beans & cheese

Shame on me for not having already mentioned just how accommodating and friendly the wait staff is.  Delicias is one of those rare restaurants in which “have it your way” is a reality.  In three visits, each member of the tandem wait staff as well as the manager have visited my table to make sure I had everything needed to enjoy my meal.  It’s a genial wait staff eager to please.  The menu offers seventeen different burritos and if one doesn’t quite have everything you want, just tell your server and the sky’s the limit.  You can smother your burritos in your favorite sauce: green sauce, red sauce, Delicias sauce (tomatillo sauce), mole sauce and even Suizas sauce.  A breakfast burrito with eggs, ham and beans topped with extra Suizas sauce became a favorite after one bite.  That Suizas sauce is absolutely addictive.

Traditional American entrees abound on the menu where in addition to four hamburgers, a club sandwich and French fries, you’ll find oatmeal, omelets, French toast and hot cakes.  The hot cakes are among the best in Albuquerque, better than at many paragons of pancake perfection.  The batter is infused with vanilla, just enough to be discernible but not so much as to make them cloying.  The hot cakes are golden hued and of medium thickness.  They’re served with heated syrup and easily melting butter.

Tacos de Alhambre: Ham, bacon, carnitas, shredded cheese on corn tortillas

Tacos de Alambre: Ham, bacon, carnitas, shredded cheese on corn tortillas

In the unlikely event you’ll be able to enjoy dessert after polishing off a prodigious platter of food, Delicias offers several post-prandial treats: fried ice cream, sopaipillas, flan and pastel tres leches.  My Kim called the pastel tres leches the best she’s ever had.  It would be hard to argue against it.  It’s as spongy moist and decadent delicious as any tres leches cake in New Mexico.  Press into it with your fork and you’re not only rewarded with magnificent milkiness, but with pudding-like layers of deliciousness.  The tres leches cake is drizzled with chocolate and topped with whipped cream.

February 24, 2013: Delicia’s is one of a handful of restaurants in the Albuquerque area to serve molletes, a delightfully unique yet simple appetizer.   Molletes are a sort of open-faced sandwich made from tortas bread (similar to French bread) layered generously with refried beans and cheese all toasted on a broiler.  It’s simple in its execution and delivery.  Though satisfying on their own, it’s hard not to contemplate how much better the molletes would be with some New Mexico green chile.  Maybe next time we’ll sneak some in.

Pastel Tres Leches

Aficionados of terrific tacos will find several options to assuage their yen.  One taco more common in southern New Mexico than in the northern half of the state are tacos de alambre.  Alambre is a Spanish word for “wire” which sounds like an odd name for these tacos.  The genesis of the name is in dispute with some theories tying the name to the Moors who settled in Spain while others believe the name refers to the way the cheese in the mixture stretches out like thin wire when it sticks to the cook’s spatula while it’s being grilled with pre-marinated and cooked meats.  In this case, the meats are ham, bacon and carnitas served on a plate with steaming corn tortillas on the side.  These are terrific tacos.

Delicias Cafe lives up to its name.  It is one of the most delightful and delicious Mexican restaurants in the city with a wonderful authenticity aficionados will love.

Cafe Delicias
6001 San Mateo, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
505-830-6561
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 24 February 2013
1st VISIT:  12 February 2012
# OF VISITS: 4
RATING: 22
COST: $$
BEST BET: Sopes, Enchiladas Suizas, Caldo de Res, Salsa and Chips, Chilaquiles con Mole, Patron Platter, Short Stack, Burrito with Suiza Sauce, Tres Leches Cake, Molletes, Tacos de Alhambre

Delicia's Cafe on Urbanspoon

Tacos Mex Y Mariscos – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Taco Mex Y Mariscos on Fourth Street

Taco Mex Y Mariscos on Fourth Street

The taco landscape across the Duke City may well be a tale of two tacos. At one extreme we have Zacatecas Tacos & Tequila, the upscale, gourmet taco eatery situated in fashionable Nob Hill. In February, 2013, Zacatecas Tacos was named a semi-finalist for the James Beard Foundation‘s “best new restaurant” in America honor. Zacatecas Tacos represents the “self-actualization” of tacos…tacos which are all they can be…tacos which have been elevated to the nth degree of creativity and deliciousness…tacos at a price point heretofore not achieved in Albuquerque by what is essentially a street food favorite.

The antithesis of Zacatecas Tacos & Tequila may well be Tacos Mex Y Mariscos, a timeworn restaurant on heavily trafficked Fourth Street.  Situated in an edifice which previously housed everything from a Thai restaurant to a sandwich shop, Tacos Mex Y Mariscos is as humble as Zacatecas Tacos is ostentatious.  It’s as much a “cheap eat” as Zacatecas is pricy.  The menu at Tacos Mex is simple and unsophisticated compared to the complex and urbane menu at Zacatecas.  From all conceivable appearances, Tacos Mex Y Mariscos is the pauper to Zacatecas’ prince.

TacoMex02

A busy Saturday afternoon at Taco Mex Y Mariscos

There’s even a socioeconomic dichotomy between the customers who habituate these two contradistinctive taquerias.  Zacatecas Tacos is frequented by a decidedly chic and urban crowd while Tacos Mex is  beloved by entire families, many of whom are immigrants more comfortable speaking in Spanish.  The one commonality between guests at both taquerias is a love for terrific tacos and they can get them at both Zacatecas Tacos and Tacos Mex.

The kicker is that one purveyor of terrific tacos isn’t any more authentic or more Mexican than the other.  Both honor Mexican culinary traditions and do so very well.   If there’s one word which best  distinguishes the tacos at Tacos Mex from the tacos at Zacatecas, it would be “campesino,” a word for a peasant or farmer.  The tacos proffered at Tacos Mex subscribe to the timeless campesino practice of using whatever ingredients were available at the time to feed the family, often through times of abject poverty and hardship.

TacoMex03

Tostadas de Ceviche Mixto

To less-than-intrepid diners, those ingredients might constitute adventure eating.  To aficionados of authentic Mexican food, those ingredients signal an invitation to deliciousness.  Among the “adventurous” ingredients are lengua (beef tongue), cabeza (head), buche (pork stomach),  tripas (intestines), longonisa (sausage) and birria (goat meat).  The menu also includes tacos crafted with more familiar ingredients: carnitas (cubed pork), al pastor (spit-roasted pork), chorizo (spiced pork sausage), carne asada (grilled beef) and shrimp.

The value-priced tacos are terrific, some of the very best in town.  Two corn tortillas are engorged with the ingredients of your choosing as as well as onions and cilantro if you want.   Then you can mosey on over to the salsa bar for pico de gallo, a guacamole-salsa, a tomatillo salsa or a fire-roasted tomato salsa, not that they’re needed.  It’s hard to say one taco is better than the next because they’re all so very, very good.  With each successive taco you eat, you’ll likely discover a new favorite.  For now…and probably because it was the last one sampled, my favorite is the al pastor.  Weather permitting, on weekends Tacos Mex will set up the spit grill outdoors.  It’s like a sweet Mexican smoke signal beckoning the hungry masses.

TacoMex04

Tacos: Carnitas, Al Pastor, Chorizo, Longonisa

The mariscos menu includes a number of Mexican seafood favorites including tostadas de ceviche–one made with camarones (shrimp) and one a mix (mixto) of seafood: shrimp, fish and squid.  A generous smear of mayo tops the tostada, both as a “binder” to hold the seafood ingredients and as a contrast to the briny seafood flavors. Unlike some ceviche, this one is light on the citrus flavor which is perfectly fine because you can squeeze on as many limes as you’d like.  The shrimp is whole, not chopped.  In addition to seafood, the tostada is topped with slices of ripe avocado and finely chopped tomatoes, cilanto and onion.

As if tacos and mariscos aren’t enough, the menu offers a wonderful array of caldos (soups): posole, caldo de siete mares (seafood stew), menudo and caldo de res, the Mexican comfort food favorite.  Caldo de res will warm you up, fill your belly and make you feel good all over when it’s made well.  Tacos Mex prepares a very good caldo de res.  Swimming in a large bowl of light beef broth are perfectly prepared vegetable favorites such as potatoes, carrots, zucchini, cabbage and corn-on-the-cob as well as very flavorful shank bones and their meat.  Garnish the caldo with onions and cilantro and you’ve got a soup as nurturing and comfortable as a Vietnamese pho.

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Tacos: Longonisa, Lengua, Brisket, Pollo

Tacos Mex Y Mariscos offers a number of aguas frescas (literally fresh waters) to wash down all the rich, delicious food you’ll enjoy.  The horchata is as sweet as milk left over from a bowl of Captain Crunch cereal and it doesn’t have the “powdery” aftertaste of some horchata.  Also available are a number of Mexican carbonated beverages, including Mexican Coke a Cola. 

TacoMex05

Caldo de Res

Tacos Mex Y Mariscos is located on my well-beaten-path to Mary & Tito’s Cafe.  Because Mary & Tito’s is nonpareil in its excellence, I drove by Tacos Mex with hardly ever giving it a second thought.  My mistake!  Tacos Mex is a destination restaurant in its own right, a taqueria good enough to be mentioned in the same breath as a Duke City restaurant nominated as one of America’s best new eateries for 2013.

Tacos Mex Y Mariscos
5201 4th Street, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 344-1456
LATEST VISIT: 17 May 2013
1st VISIT: 23 February 2013
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 18
COST: $$
BEST BET: Horchata, Caldo de Res, Tostadas de Ceviche Mixto, Tacos: Al Pastor, Carnitas, Longoniza, Chorizo


View Tacos Mex Y Mariscos on LetsDineLocal.com »

Tacos Mex & Mariscos on Urbanspoon

Fox’s Pizza Den – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Fox's Pizza Den in Albuquerque's West Side

Fox’s Pizza Den in Albuquerque’s West Side

There may have been no more amusing (or, tragically, accurate) depiction of the “meat market” that was the dating scene in the 1970s than a recurring Saturday Night Live skit about two wild and crazy guys named George and Yortuk Festrunk. The Czech brothers, portrayed brilliantly by Steve Martin and Dan Akroyd, dressed in tight pants and loud, unbuttoned polyester shirts with medallions singing over their chests. They lived for “swinging” in their bachelor pad.  The hedonistic Festrunk brothers especially loved to cruise the fox bar in pursuit of swinging foxes who might just have the hots-on for them and who might let them hold on to their big American breasts. In their minds, there was no other pair of Czech brothers who cruised and swung as successfully in their tight slacks which gave them great bulges.

It’s hard to believe that in the 70s, “foxes” was a term not used exclusively to describe a carnivorous animal. It was also used as a not always endearing and almost always sexist term for very attractive women. Though I don’t keep up with contemporary vernacular, I believe the modern day equivalent is “hottie.” Alas, at my age, “cruising for foxes” now has an entirely different meaning–as in driving my “sensible” married and adult car over to Fox’s Pizza Den for lunch or dinner (so long as it’s well before my 10PM bedtime).

White Garlic Pizza

White Garlic Pizza

Fox’s Pizza is an example of the American entrepreneurial spirit gone right. Founded in the Pittsburgh area in March, 1971, Fox’s was voted 1993’s “best pizza franchise” by the National Pizza and Pasta Association and is consistently ranked as one of America’s “best pizza and sandwich franchises” by Entrepreneur and Pizza Today magazines. It’s the sixth largest pizza franchise in the United States.  So why haven’t you ever heard of Fox’s Pizza? That’s probably because Albuquerque’s sole franchise is ensconced in a small shopping center on a road less traveled. Unless you live in Albuquerque’s far west side and Golf Course and Irving are part of your daily commute, you’ve probably never seen or heard of it. There are several apartment complexes in the area and many of their residents certainly know about this burgeoning chain.

Chain. Yes, I admit to having broken my own personal edict about not eating at chain restaurants, most of whom I consider a blight (or carbuncle if you prefer) on the landscape. My first visit was by accident (thinking it was a local restaurant), but subsequent visits have been by design. I generally will visit chain restaurants only if they offer a “niche” product, something you can’t find anywhere else. Fox’s pizza does this. Not only that, the product on the marquee is pretty darn good–far better than Pizza Hut, Dominos, Papa John’s and the like.

An Italian Wedgie

At its most elemental form, pizza is about bread, sauce and sundry ingredients which top the crusty canvas. Despite being slightly stiff (it’s not the type of pizza you fold vertically as you would in New York), Fox’s pizza crust is chewy, buttery and delicious. It’s so good you might even devour the crust at the top which many people don’t ever eat. The crust is neither too thin nor too thick and it has just a slight char. Fox’s uses 100 percent real Mozzarella with no preservatives added. It makes a huge difference in the taste. The sauce has fresh, herbaceous qualities and is seasoned very well. It’s wholly unlike the bland and boring sauce used by competitors. Ingredients are fresh and plentiful.

The menu includes a vast array of options from pizza to wings, hoagies, stromboli and salads to an impressive number of sides. In the pizza department, you can have a traditional pie topped your way or you can opt instead for one of the gourmet pizza offerings. Pizzas range in size from small to extra large. From among the gourmet pizza menu, Fox’s offers a white garlic pizza, the likes of which are commonplace in the East Coast. This is pizza without tomato sauce and there’s no doubt, the recipe for Fox’s rendition had its genesis in America’s East. On this pizza, the crusty canvas is adorned with a rich garlic butter sauce and plenty of Parmesan and olfactory arousing oregano plus any other ingredients you might deem necessary to add. Great as it is, you won’t miss the traditional pizza sauce.

Beef, Bacon and Cheddar Wedgie: Roast beef, bacon, and cheddar cheese topped with lettuce, tomato and mayo.

Roast Beef Wedgie

The “niche” I mentioned previously is a wonderful sandwich offering called a “Wedgie,” a term which in the 70s represented a demeaning prank in which a victim’s underpants were pulled up sharply from behind in order to wedge the underpants uncomfortably between the victim’s buttocks ( worse was the atomic wedgie in which the rear waistband was hoisted up and over the recipient’s head).  Thankfully Fox’s Wedgie has nothing to do with cruel wardrobe malfunctions. Wedgies are essentially sandwiches served on a pizza crust instead of a bun. Most pizza crust can’t pull this off, but Fox’s pizza crust can. The Wedgies are very good sandwiches made on nine inches of pizza crust.

My early favorite is the Italian Wedgie–ham, hard salami, cotta salami, melted provolone and mozzarella, green peppers, onions, lettuce, tomato and a gourmet Italian dressing. You can probably find a sandwich in Albuquerque with the same ingredients, but what makes Fox’s version special is that pizza crust. It’s hard-crusted yet soft and pliable enough to really make this unique sandwich work without dominating the sandwich.

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Steak Wedgie

There are twelve Wedgies on the menu including a poetic Veggie Wedgie.  The ingredients for each would probably go well on a standard hoagie or sub roll, but probably wouldn’t taste quite as good.  One intriguing option is the Steak Wedgie constructed with several of the ingredients which come standard on many a Philadelphia cheesesteak sandwich: choice sirloin steak, melted Provolone and Mozzarella, sweet peppers, onions, mushrooms, lettuce, tomato and mayo.  Wedgies are cut in half so you can share them.

In time perhaps more Fox’s Pizza Den restaurants will launch in the Duke City. For now, however, if you’re in Albuquerque’s Northwest side and hankering for pizza, cruise on over to Fox’s.

Fox’s Pizza Den
9221 Coors Blvd, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 899-8444
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 21 February 2013
# OF VISITS: 5
RATING: 17
COST: $$
BEST BET: White Garlic Pizza, Italian Wedgie

Fox's Pizza Den on Urbanspoon