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.


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.


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.


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.


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. 


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
COST: $$
BEST BET: Horchata, Caldo de Res, Tostadas de Ceviche Mixto, Tacos: Al Pastor, Carnitas, Longoniza, Chorizo

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.


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
COST: $$
BEST BET: White Garlic Pizza, Italian Wedgie

Fox's Pizza Den on Urbanspoon

Paddy Rawal’s OM- Fine Indian Dining – Los Ranchos de Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

Behind the glass, Paddy Rawal’s OM – Fine Indian Dining Restaurant

It wasn’t New Mexico’s Chamber of Commerce winter weather that enticed Chef Pramad “Paddy” Rawal to remain in the Land of Enchantment. In fact, when he first landed at Albuquerque’s International Sunport, he wondered if he had gotten on the correct flight. Albuquerque was as frigid as his home in Michigan which he had left just hours prior. Attired in clothing more appropriate for a balmy spring day, Paddy had certainly not anticipated the winter snap that kept New Mexicans indoors for several days on that uncommonly cold December in 2010.

Paddy was in New Mexico to visit his artist friends Dick and Jane in Santa Fe. Michigan transplants themselves, his friends had long tried to influence Paddy to leave the Wolverine State and open up a restaurant in Santa Fe. They wined and dined their guest and did their best to point out the charms of the capital city, but Mother Nature would not cooperate. Then they took him to a couple of New Mexico’s most highly regarded Indian restaurants. That’s when he came to the conclusion that what passes for good Indian food in New Mexico wasn’t good enough for his friends. Four months later, Paddy opened up Raaga Fine Indian Dining in Santa Fe.

The interior of Paddy Rawal’s OM Fine Indian Dining Restaurant in Albuquerque

From day one Raaga has been a huge critical success in The City Different, beloved not only by a very grateful Dick and Jane, but by Santa Fe’s savvy, well-traveled dining public. The feeling is very much mutual. Paddy has fallen in love with Santa Fe and sees himself as potentially retiring in New Mexico. Considering the well-traveled Paddy has worked as a chef in India, Egypt, Dubai, Australia and Michigan, that’s quite a testament to enchantment and to much better weather than what first welcomed him to the state.

With the November 1st, 2012 launch of Paddy Rawal’s OM Fine Indian Dining Restaurant, Duke City diners have begun to experience for themselves what Santa Fe diners now know and what East Lansing diners have been missing since Paddy closed his two Michigan eateries. OM may be in a class of its own in New Mexico when it comes to fine Indian dining! A number of infatuated patrons, including Larry McGoldrick, the professor with the perspicacious palate, have already become confirmed habitues. In short order, OM will have legions of pleased patrons.

Chef Paddy Rawal brings Ancho Amchur Crusted Tandoori Chicken to our Table

The main reason, of course, is the cuisine. Boasting of rich, intricately flavored dishes prepared with the finest spices, freshest herbs and highest quality ingredients, OM takes Northern Indian fare to new heights, even incorporating local Southwest elements as well as Chinese dishes to create imaginative and sophisticated fusions of deliciousness.   There are two aspects of Indian cuisine at which OM exceeds.  One is in the use of spices, the true legacy of India’s culinary heritage.  While the primary function of spices is to enhance the flavor of food, it is experience and tradition which determine their optimal use, whether it be to season food, enhance its texture or introduce color.  The other aspect is in the preparation of sauces, each one designed to bring out the finest qualities of the ingredients on which they’re used.  

The other reason OM will, in short order, become a Duke City favorite is Paddy Rawal himself. A peripatetic presence, Paddy is the consummate host and a veritable whirling dervish who is seemingly everywhere at once. He wears the stains of spilled sauces on his chef’s coat as a badge of honor, evidence that he himself is preparing the incomparable cuisine himself. Expect him to check up on you frequently to ensure your dining experience is as good as it can be. Paddy is a very engaging, charming and modest fellow, quick to turn compliments about his cooking into something praiseworthy he noticed about you. Interacting with satisfied customers is imperative to him.

Stuffed Dried Fruit Naan and Chana Chaat with Mango Lasi

The OM menu offers an exciting culinary journey into superior taste and flavor, into subtle nuances and exotic complexity, into delicate spice blends and rich, creamy sauces.   All dishes can be ordered mild, medium, hot, hell or any variation thereof (medium plus for example). A daily lunch buffet–at a ridiculously low price considering the quality–features various vegetarian, vegan and meat dishes as well as rice, salad, naan and dessert.  Now if you’re sniggering at the seemingly contradictory notion of a fine dining restaurant offering a buffet, you’ll salute Paddy’s prowess at making all-you-can-eat a sublime offering.  With a menu that showcases vegetarian and vegan options as well as seafood and meat entrees, there truly is something for everyone at OM.

12 November 2012:  Thus far, Albuquerque’s favorite OM appetizer is chana chaat, one of the most popular of Indian street foods and not only because it can be served as a side dish, snack or salad. OM’s rendition combines chickpeas, cucumber, blueberries, whole wheat crisps, tomatoes, mint chutney and sweetened yoghurt. It’s a refreshing adventure in bright and lively flavors and textures, an absolute delight because so many flavors coalesce on your taste buds.  Those flavors are both contrasting and complementary, flavors that play off each other.

Ancho Amchur Crusted Tandoori Chicken (Bone-In Chicken, a Thigh and a Breast)

My mom, a tortillera in the most traditional sense  may disown me for this, but I’ve come to prefer naan to tortillas, even those she prepares with love on her seasoned comal.  OM offers nine varieties of naan, a flat, leavened bread made of white flour and baked in a tandoor; and roti, its wheat counterpart which is cooked on  a flat griddle. Now, three baskets of naan is far too many for a meal for two, but when you can’t make up your minds, order to your hearts’ content because you’ll have wonderful naan for later. Three distinctive varieties with which we fell in love are the rosemary-olive oil naan, stuffed cheese naan and stuffed dried fruit naan.  Each has its unique flavor profile with the commonality being a pinto pony-like char and a light burnishing with clarified butter (ghee).  Whether you nosh on the naan, dip it into a chutney or use it to sop up a superb sauce, you’ll savor every bite.

While Ancho and Amchur in combination may sound like a suppressed sneeze, they’re actually spices which Paddy employs.  New Mexicans are more familiar with Ancho, a powder made from a type of chile that lends a rich, subtle piquancy to foods.  Amchur, a greenish-yellowish powder of dried mangoes, lends the quality of fruity-sweetness, but not to a cloying degree.  The qualities of these two complementary spices are well in evidence on the Ancho-Amchur Crusted Tandoori Chicken.  The spices penetrate deeply into the bone-in thigh and breast, imparting a slight piquancy and tanginess to the tandoor grilling.  As if the moist, tender, delicious chicken isn’t wonderful enough, OM includes a sauce which also utilizes those spices.  It makes a terrific dipping sauce for the chicken or for the naan.

Seafood Korma (Scallops, Shrimp, Mahi Mahi, Cashew Cream Sauce)

Korma Sutra might be an appropriate descriptor for the Seafood Korma which just may have a foodgasm effect on your taste buds. Korma, a Northern Indian specialty, is a mild and creamy curry sauce with a distinctively rich, almost silky flavor.  The basis for Korma is a mixture of yoghurt, cream and pureed cashews blended with toasted spices.  OM prepares it to your specified level of piquancy, however, ask for any potency beyond  medium and you risk degrading the rich, complex flavors of the spice and sauce meld.  The seafood–scallops, shrimp and mahi mahi–is slowly simmered in the sauce so it’s infused with flavor.  This may well be the most memorable Korma dish I’ve had, besting my previous favorite from an Indian restaurant in London.  The portion size is generous so you’ll be taking some home.  You’ll luxuriate in the aromas that fill your kitchen.

Desserts, if you manage to save room for them, are outstanding!  The carrot pudding (halwa), a wonderfully unique dessert composed of grated carrots and ground nuts prepared in butter and boiled milk then lightly sweetened with raisins, is my early favorite.  Served warm, it showcases the natural sweetness of carrots while removing any residual bitterness.  At the other end of the spectrum texturally is mango kulfi, an Indian ice cream that is more dense and “more frozen” than American ice creams.  Besides mango, the most pronounced flavor comes from sweetened condensed milk complemented with cardamom.

Carrot Pudding and Mango “Kulfi” (House-made ice cream)

18 February 2013: Paddy pays tribute to the Land of Enchantment with a stuffed Poblano, a New Mexican-Indian fusion appetizer served with a side of mint-coriander chutney.  You’ll recognize the “innards” as the contents with which Indian Samosas are stuffed: spiced mashed potatoes and peas.  The Poblano barely registers on the Scoville Scale of piquancy, but the chutney seems to bring out whatever heat is inherent with the pepper.  While this is a nice dish, my native pride would have preferred a nicely roasted New Mexico Hatch green chile. 

As noted above, OM specializes in naan, the wonderful Indian flat bread prepared in a tandoor.  Roti is the whole wheat alternative, a wedge-shaped bread often found in Malaysian restaurants, too.  OM’s roti is quite good though not as moist and buttery as the naan.  Still, it’s not a bread any diner would kick off their plate.  As with naan, the roti goes very well with chutneys, especially the tamarind.

Stuffed Poblano with Mint-Coriander Chutney

Stuffed Poblano with Mint-Coriander Chutney

OM’s menu includes a number of Indian-Chinese fusion dishes.  Ask Paddy why he would combine the flavors of two ancient culinary traditions and he will remind you he’s a chef–not a chef who specializes in Indian food, but a chef formally trained in more than ten different cuisines.  He hopes someday to launch, perhaps in San Francisco, a restaurant showcasing a fusion of Italian and Indian food.  Paddy has already conceptualized several dishes he hopes to introduce to intrepid diners. 

You don’t have to be an adventurous diner to appreciate OM’s Chilli (SIC) Chicken, boneless chicken sauteed and cooked with ginger and garlic then finished in a tomato-based Szechuan sauce.  Appearances can be very deceptive.  At first glance you might think the crimson sauce will be as cloying as most Chinese sweet and sour sauces, but that’s certainly not the case.  The sauce has a savory-tart flavor profile, emphasizing the sour (but not overly so) aspects of sweet and sour.  The all white meat boneless chicken is tender and moist.  Vegetables–red and green peppers, onions–are perfectly prepared. 

Chilli Chicken

Chilli Chicken

Diners who enjoy Thai curry, but who don’t necessarily appreciate the qualities of Indian curry will almost certainly enjoy OM’s Chicken Madras, perhaps the one dish most responsible for winning over converts to Indian cuisine.  Named for the city of Madras, it’s a dish as varied as the hundreds of recipes from which it’s prepared.  This hearty tomato-based curry is redolent with the spices of curry leaves, ginger, mustard, coconut milk and peppercorn.  It can be prepared to the degree of heat you desire, but too much piquancy and you might not appreciate the richness and sophistication of the flavors.  Chicken Madras may be the perfect winter entree, as heart-warming an entree as your favorite winter soup. 

OM, by the way, is not an abbreviation.  It represents a mystical Sanskrit sound of Hindu origin, a sacred chant considered the “primordial seed” of the universe.  Om is considered the “root mantra” from which all other mantras emerge.  Ancient sages believed that through chanting om, one can experience the infinite within themselves. 

Chicken Madras

Chicken Madras

In 2012, Raaga was selected as one of the best new restaurants in America by Kunda Eats, the only restaurant in New Mexico honored. It will surprise absolutely no one if OM garners a similar accolade in 2013.  Duke City diners will beat a path to this restaurant, already one of the best in the city in any genre–and the path is familiar, too.  OM is located at the former site of Annapurna Ayurvedic Cuisine.

Paddy Rawal’s OM – Fine Indian Dining
7520 4th Street, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 18 February 2013
1st VISIT: 12 November 2012
COST: $$ – $$$
BEST BET: Chana Chaat, Ancho Amchur Crusted Tandoori Chicken, Seafood Korma, Carrot Pudding, Mango Kulfi, Mango Lassi,

Paddy Rawal's 'OM'- Fine Indian Dining on Urbanspoon

Dandy Burger – Española, New Mexico

Dandy's in Espanola

Dandy’s in the heart of the beautiful Espanola valley

Back in my halcyon youth as a multi-sport athlete at Peñasco High School (when I could consume half a million calories a meal at no detriment to my then svelte physique), Dandy Burger in beautiful downtown Española was a frequent dining destination–particularly after the then “not so mighty” Peñasco Panthers suffered a loss (and there were many of them).

On the rare occasion in which we actually won a game, our coaches would “treat us” to chicken fried steak at some “fancy” restaurant. We didn’t have the heart to tell them we preferred Dandy Burger.  Frankly, I still do.  It’s hard to resist stopping for a green chile cheeseburger and a bit of nostalgia every time we drive through Española.

The smiling burger marquee at Dandy’s Burgers (Photo by Nancy Heins-Glaser)

The food at Dandy Burger was never quite good enough to lessen the pain of a loss then and is even less capable of doing so today when the losses I experience are more costly (as in a poor performing 401K…or is that now 4.1K). Still, I always have a contented sense of nostalgia when I see the familiar anthropomorphic burger that symbolizes this popular neighborhood hangout.

Dandy Burger’s “mascot” is a cartoonish, tuxedo- and top hat-wearing, cane-wielding, burger-headed anthropomorph resembling Jeeves the butler on the restaurant’s signage. The burger’s entire countenance (resembling the ubiquitous smiley face) occupies the top half of the bun. It’ll put a smile on your face, especially if it portends a meal.

The friendly staff at Dandy’s (Photo by Nancy Heins-Glaser)

Most of those memories are of the standard “Dandy Burger” or the more prodigious “Big Jim Dandy” with double meat, two very good burgers, particularly if ameliorated with green chile. These burgers are dressed with unfailingly crisp onion, lettuce, pickle and mustard but you can pretty much have them any way you want. The meat patties are obviously not hand-formed and fresh ground, but they’re charbroiled to perfection.

The green chile is neon green and only of medium piquancy. All other ingredients are fresh and delicious though at times I’ve wished for salad dressing, so profuse is the lettuce on each burger.  If you want piquancy on your burger, ask for a couple of plastic tubs of salsa.  Dandy Burger’s salsa is the most piquant item offered by the restaurant.  It’ll enliven your burger.

Tacos from Dandy Burger

Tacos from Dandy Burger

Rio Arriba county, and in particular Española, are home to some of the best green chile cheeseburgers in New Mexico. Dandy Burger’s offerings compete with both the Stop and Eat burgers less than a quarter mile away or the LotaBurger about a mile north. All three can quell hunger far better than the Peñasco Panthers defense of days gone by could stymie their opponents.

Even better than Dandy Burger’s burgers are the standard hard-shelled tacos, sloppy (cheese, lettuce, chopped tomato) concoctions which include a beans and meat mixture with a piquant bite. You don’t necessarily need the plastic tubs of hot sauce to heat up these beauties; they’ve got some bite on their own. My Kim has long contended that these tacos are among the very best in Rio Arriba county.

A gigantic double meat green chile cheeseburger

A gigantic double meat green chile cheeseburger–good enough to have been placed on the New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail

Chicharrones are one of the favorite “condiments” in Northern New Mexico where these pork crackling cubes are used on almost everything but dessert.  They’re especially good on burritos.  Perhaps nowhere in the Land of Enchantment will you find a burrito quite as engorged with chicharrones as at Dandy Burger where each tortilla encased treasure is packed with them.  Alas, some of the chicharrones are more fatty than they are meaty, but that’s pretty much par for the course.

Chicharron Burrito

Chicharron Burrito

Dandy Burger’s shakes are always cold, a wonderful blessing on a sweltering summer day when Española’s pavement is baking everything on the road.

Dandy Burger
215 San Pedro Plaza
Espanola, New Mexico
(575) 753-4234
LATEST VISIT: 17 February 2013
BEST BET: Green Chile Cheeseburger, Taquitos, Tacos, Milk Shakes, Frito Pie, Chicharron Burrito

Dandy Burgers on Urbanspoon

The Yeller Sub – Albuquerque, New Mexico

The Yeller Sub on Montgomery has been Serving Albuquerque Since 1979

In the town where I was born…
Lived a man who sailed to sea…
And he told us of his life…
In the land of submarines…
The Beatles: Yellow Submarine

The phantasmagorical 1966 Beatles song Yellow Submarine may or may not have been the inspiration for Albuquerque’s venerable Yeller Sub, but one thing’s for certain.  Since it launched in 1979, the Yeller Sub has been the Duke City’s land of  oversized sub and torpedo sandwiches. Long-time residents will remember that the Yeller Sub was first located on Juan Tabo not too far from Manzano High School. Today it resides in the Louisiana Plaza Shopping Center off Montgomery.  Its current corner storefront has remained a popular dining destination for more than two decades.

The restaurant’s familiar marquee includes a cartoonish Beatles style yellow submarine sliced in half with piled high sandwich ingredients forming the “body” of the submarine.   Original Beatles “action figures” (my Star Wars loving friend Ken gets upset if they’re called figurines or dolls), some featuring the famous yellow submarine, can be seen on the counters.  Many of them were gifts from faithful customers and remain in their original wrapped boxes.

Six-Inch Meatball Sub (homemade meatballs smothered in Marinara sauce and topped with melted Provolone cheese.

In many ways, Yeller Sub is the antithesis of the ubiquitous sub sandwich chain leader.  All sandwiches are made-to-order.  They’re not crafted from hermetically sealed packages of  pre-wrapped and carefully measured portion sizes of meats with mountains of shredded lettuce forming most of the sandwich’s filler.  All sandwiches are made on Yeller Sub’s housemade fresh-baked French or whole wheat rolls.  Available in six- and twelve-inch sizes, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to find that each is longer than advertised.

Throughout the fruited plain, sandwiches crafted from long rolls of Italian or French breads split lengthwise and stuffed with meats, cheeses, vegetables, sauces and seasonings are known by many names, most based on regional variations.  There are submarine sandwiches, hero sandwiches, Italian sandwiches, hoagies, grinders, torpedoes, subs and more.  Yeller Sub offers both subs and torpedoes and though they’re crafted from the same breads, they’re not synonymous.

Six-Inch Tuna Torpedo

Torpedoes, which can be served cold or hot, are garnished with shredded lettuce, sliced tomato, onions and Yeller Sub’s own special blend of Italian dressing which is made daily.  There are eleven sandwiches on the torpedoes menu and nine sandwiches on the subs menu.  Subs, designed to be served hot, are crafted without garnish though garnishes are available for an additional charge. Yeller Sub also offers a variety of extra toppings such as green chile, mushrooms, jalapeños, grilled onions, omelet-style eggs, sliced cucumbers and more. 

The Yeller Sub menu isn’t limited to sandwiches.  In fact, one of the best reasons to visit is for ice cream and desserts featuring Dreyer’s grand ice cream.  All ice cream scoops are generously portioned to a full quarter-pound per scoop.  Banana splits–three scoops of your favorite flavors–easily serve two.  Other dessert options include a banana royale, shakes and malts and a “fudge-nutty” brownie sundae.  My favorite Yeller Sub sweet treat, when it’s available, is a double-scoop waffle cone with Whoppers malted milk balls.  It’s terrific!

Super Yeller Torpedo (Ham, Coto Salami, Bologna, American Cheese with lettuce, tomatoes, onions and Italian dressing)

Side orders include seasoned criss-cut fries, onion rings, macaroni salad, potato salad, fresh baked cookies and more.  The onion rings are excellent.  They’re  crispy, crunchy, and  breaded just right to a light gold hue.  When you bite through the crunchy breading, an intact sweet, juicy onion greets you.   Four salads are also available including a tossed vegetable salad with no meats.  Yeller Sub also offers party trays and party subs, each serving approximately five to six guests per foot.  Box lunches can also be requested.

August 31, 2012: The meatball sub is special–a generous portion of housemade meatballs smothered in Marinara sauce and topped with melted Provolone cheese.  The meatballs include just enough filler to bind them together so that what you’re tasting is very well seasoned and utterly delicious meatballs.  The Marinara sauce is also nicely seasoned. One of the first things you’ll notice about the bread at Yeller sub is how chewy (a sign of just how fresh it is), moist and delicious it is. It’s a better bread than you’ll find at Dion’s.

Onion Rings

Since leaving Boston in 1979, it’s been my one of life’s quests to find a pastrami sandwich and a tuna sub to compare with those with which I fell in love in the east coast.  Finding an outstanding tuna sub is the greater challenge of the two since there’s no way you’ll ever find fresh, out-of-the-boat tuna anywhere near Albuquerque.  Yeller Sub’s tuna torpedo didn’t give me much hope that I’d find a good tuna sandwich there because one of its components is eggs (along with mayonnaise, celery, pickles and spices topped with a garnish of onions, tomatoes and lettuce).  The tuna torpedo, it turns out, is a terrific sandwich, albeit not as engorged with fresh tuna as at my favorite Boston haunts.  It’s not only “good for New Mexico;” it’s just plain good!

Most sandwich shops seem to have a specialty sandwich crafted from an assortment of different meats, a combo sandwich so to speak.  Yeller Sub’s “combination” torpedo is the Super Yeller Torpedo, a skyscraper high amalgam of ham, coto salami, bologna and American cheese with lettuce, tomatoes, onions and Italian dressing.  The only other topping which could possibly make this sandwich any better is green chile, a “hot” variety with a great flavor.  The green chile is an excellent foil for the tangy-sweet Italian dressing.  Kudos to Yeller Sub for recognizing that some people actually love bologna, a “Rodney Dangerfield” type ingredient not often offered in sandwich shops. 

Burger Torpedo with Green Chile

Burger Torpedo with Green Chile

16 February 2013: It’s been pretty well established in recent years that New Mexico’s foray into the nationwide discussion as to the best burgers in the fruited plain stops and ends with the green chile cheeseburger.  Enterprising restaurateurs throughout the Land of Enchantment have created their own unique takes on this ubiquitous classic, most commonly replacing burger buns with tortillas or sopaipillas.  At the Yeller Sub, you won’t find tortillas or sopaipillas, but you will find a burger on a sub sandwich bun.  You’ll want green chile on the Burger Torpedo and you’ll want the full twelve-inch size (which is closer to 15 inches than it is to 12).  The Burger Torpedo is made from 100% ground patties made on-site to fit the sandwich rolls.  It’s topped with lettuce, tomatoes, onions and the special Italian dressing which prevents a tangy counterpoint to the piquancy of the green chile. 

Even the most ardent of Arby’s aficionados will find Yeller Sub’s Roast Beef Torpedo several orders of magnitude better than the chain sandwich shop’s mediocre offering.  Yeller Sub adorns this torpedo with thin slices of top-round roast beef cooked medium well then topped with lettuce, tomatoes, onions and the signature Italian dressing.  Order the foot long and you’ll have half a sandwich left over for later.  The roast beef torpedo is as good cold as it is warm.


Roast Beef Torpedo with Swiss Cheese

The Yeller Sub is staffed with an enthusiastic and friendly crew who will make you feel like a welcome guest.  From providing sandwich recommendations to refilling your drinks, they’re as attentive a staff as you’ll find at a five-star restaurant.  The wonderful staff is just another reason Yeller Sub truly is the land of submarines in Albuquerque.

The Yeller Sub
7200 Montgomery Blvd, N.E. Map.e44f0f4
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 888-9784
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 16 February 2013
BEST BET: Onion Rings, Super Yeller Torpedo, Tuna Torpedo, Meatball Sub, Burger Torpedo, Whopper Malted Milk Balls Ice Cream on a Waffle Cone, Chocolate Malt

Yeller Sub Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Pho Bar – Rio Rancho, New Mexico

Cafe Trang’s Pho Bar in Rio Rancho

In food, as in death, we feel the essential brotherhood of man
Vietnamese Proverb

Western sensitivities cause even those among us who consider ourselves gustatorily open-minded to utter an “ick” or two at what is culinarily acceptable–even considered delicious–in other cultures. Some of us would recoil in disgust at the notion of eating grilled dog, roasted cat, grain-fed mice, beating cobra heart, soft-boiled fetal duck or silk caterpillars, but these are dishes an official Vietnam culture site considers “something special” when skilfully cooked. What the watered down American palate often considers disgusting may, in fact, have deep cultural underpinnings, some of the aforementioned “delicacies” even gracing the tables of royalty. Oftentimes things Americans consider inedible creepy crawlies are eaten for the sake of survival.

The diversity of our planet is such that what is delicious, disgusting, edible or delicious often has powerful cultural, socioeconomic and religious connotations, all of which evoke visceral reactions. Among Hindus who regard cows as sacred creatures, the ubiquitous American hamburger can be very offensive. Many Hindus are very careful to avoid the meat aisle where the “dead animals” are kept. Until rather recently, many Chinese nationals wouldn’t dream of consuming cheese, the thought of fetid fromage being beyond comprehension. Many world cultures cringe at the notion of eating anything that isn’t organic, fresh, pure and natural. Heaven forbid the common American practice of growth hormone injections into farm animals.

There’s much more to the commodious Pho Bar than is captured in this photo

While some dining taboos will forever be imprinted throughout world cultures, our ever-shrinking planet has become less xenophobic and more accepting of the foods of other cultures. One cuisine which has made significant inroads in the world culinary stage is Vietnamese food. The advent of its popularity in American began with the Vietnamese diaspora of the 1970s which saw large numbers of expats seeking refuge from the war who found solace in the land of the fruited plain.

My first experience with the mysteriously exotic cuisine of Vietnam occurred in 1977 when the Air Force sent me to Massachusetts. Having been raised on a diet of northern New Mexican staples such as chile, beans and farm-raised vegetables and being bumpkinly naive, Massachusetts awakened my taste buds to an electrifying new world of cuisine. Like the proverbial kid in the candy store, I wanted to sample it all. Fortunately my boss was married to a lovely Vietnamese woman who created spicy, herbaceous magic in every dish. An invitation to her kitchen was an invitation to intoxicating fragrances which enveloped me like a warm hug. I practically wanted to be adopted.

The Janet Salad

Vietnamese restaurants have had a presence in the Duke City since at least 1987 when Saigon Far East opened, but they really didn’t start to gain prominence and popularity until the Nguyen family launched the May Cafe. By 1995, the May Cafe was regarded as one of Albuquerque’s very best restaurants of any genre by no less than the long defunct Abq Monthly magazine. In its annual food issue for 1995, the magazine selected its ten best restaurants in the city then honored several restaurants warranting consideration. The May Cafe was among those Miss Congeniality choices.

The number of Vietnamese restaurants in Albuquerque has grown, seemingly exponentially. According to Larry McGoldrick, the professor of the perspicacious palate, there were two dozen of them strewn throughout the Duke City as of October, 2010. Several more have been added since. There are more Vietnamese restaurants in Albuquerque than there are Thai restaurants. Among Asian restaurants, only those specializing in Chinese food and sushi have a larger presence.

 Banh Mi with double meat

Banh Mi with double meat

Since 2005, Viet Rice had been the only option for residents of the City of Vision who didn’t want to drive to the Duke City to assuage their Vietnamese food fix. That changed in August, 2011 with the launch of Cafe Trang’s Pho Bar. Yes, that Cafe Trang–one of Albuquerque’s most highly regarded Vietnamese restaurants. Proprietors Trang and Phong Nguyen expanded to Rio Rancho, opening their second restaurant at the former site of the Black Olive Wine Bar & Grill. It’s situated in the Country Club Center on Southern Boulevard, the shopping center in which Albertson’s is the largest anchor tenant and in which you’ll find Joe’s Pasta Cafe, the best Italian restaurant on the west side.

Cafe Trang’s Pho Bar rivals its elder sibling as the most capacious Vietnamese restaurant in the Duke City area. In fact, it’s almost cavernous. In time it will hopefully seem less so as it continues to establish a loyal following. The cynosure of the yawning restaurant is a massive bar above which are hung large flat screen high-definition televisions. Both booth and table seating are available as is seating by he bar. The walls are a mishmash of earth-tone and raspberry colors.

Boneless stuffed chicken wings

Pho Bar’s menu is a veritable compendium of Vietnamese deliciousness, 86 menu items in all. Included are eight banh mi, the incomparable Vietnamese sandwich. Best of all, the foundation for these banh mi are fresh-baked twelve-inch French baguettes from the olfactory-arousing ovens at Banh Mi Coda, the peerless purveyor of scrumptious sandwiches. Each banh mi is topped with pickled daikon radish, carrots, cilantro, sliced jalapeño, cucumber and Vietnamese mayo, all perfect counterpoints to such unique banh mi fillings as sliced shrimp sausage. While American sandwich preferences lean toward overstuffed, banh mi are somewhat parsimonious in terms of sheer volume. They more than make up for quantity with flavor combinations that are positively addictive. Still, it’s nice to know Pho Bar offers a double-meat option.

Appetizers include eight different spring rolls, each stuffed with lettuce, cucumber and vermicelli noodles wrapped inside clear rice paper. They are served with a peanut sauce though you can request fish sauce if you so desire. Trust me, you’ll desire that fish sauce. It’s some of the very best in the metropolitan area. More than most, it’s got a tangy piquancy New Mexicans will appreciate. Boneless stuffed chicken wings are another option, two large wings generously engorged with a delicious filling of ground pork and mushrooms served with fish sauce.

Grilled beef ribs (Korean style), rice with a fried egg, noddles, tofu egg roll

One sure fire way to draw the interest of a culinary explorer who likes to try new and different menu items each visit is to give a dish a clever and intriguing name. At the Pho Bar, the name “Janet Salad” jumps right out at you, probably the reason so many visitors order it. Ostensibly, the salad was named for a regular visit to Cafe Trang who ordered her salad crafted a unique way. Today that salad graces the menu at both Cafe Trang and its younger sibling. The Janet is constructed of fresh lettuce with lotus root, daikon radish, cucumber, mint leaves and tomato topped with golden calamari strips served with chopped peanuts, fried onions and fish sauce. It’s a light and terrific salad with the calamari proving an excellent foil for the fresh ingredients.

The Janet Salad is one example of the Cafe Trang-Pho Bar restaurant family’s willingness to go the extra mile to accommodate their patrons. My friend Señor Plata tested the limits of those accommodations with a special request that essentially combined elements of three menu items. His order was cheerfully delivered to his exacting specifications, truly an example of letting him have it his way. His order was comprised of grilled beef ribs Korean style, both fried rice and noodles, a fried egg (over hard) and a tofu egg roll. Korean style grilled beef ribs does not mean bulgalbi as in the manner of grilled beef ribs served in Korean restaurants, at least in terms of the lacquered-on sauce. The ribs are nonetheless meaty and juicy and there are eight of them per order.

Spicy Beef Lemongrass Soup (Hot): Spicy beef lemongrass broth over round vermicelli rice noodles topped with thinly sliced beef shank, sliced pork and ham hock (pig’s knuckle). Topped with chopped green onions, sliced white onions and cilantro. Served with a plate of bean sprouts, basil, cilantro, sliced jalapeño and limes.

True to the name on the marquee, pho (beef noodle soup, the national dish of Vietnam) has a prominent place on the menu. If you want a pho which offers it all, try the spicy beef lemongrass Huế style. Even a medium-sized bowl is the size of a swimming pool, one brimming with spicy beef lemongrass broth over round vermicelli rice noodles topped with thinly sliced beef shank, sliced pork, ham hock (pig’s knuckle), and Huế ham topped with chopped green onions, sliced white onions and cilantro and served with a plate of bean sprouts, basil, cilantro, sliced jalapeño and lime. It’s not nearly as spicy as its name might imply, but it’s quite good. It’s what one might imagine Vietnamese comfort food to be like. 

Interestingly, there’s one soup on the menu which should resonate comfort, but falls surprisingly short.  That’s the chicken noodle soup, the traditional boon of mothers for generations.  We found the chicken broth lacking in poultry intensity–very light on chicken flavor, almost watered down.  The broth can be poured over your choice of noodles (Udon, egg, thin noodles, thick-wide-flat noodles) and topped with your choice of meat or seafood along with chopped green onions, cilantro, Chinese celery, Nira (garlic chives) and fried onion garlic crisp.   The seafood option includes shrimp, sliced pork and a crab claw.  Save for the chicken broth, every ingredient is perfectly prepared and thoroughly delicious.

    Chicken Noodle Soup Vietnamese Style

Chicken Noodle Soup Vietnamese Style

The Pho Bar brings yet another delicious reason Rio Rancho residents are staying at home in droves. It’s a dining destination for which people from the “other side of the river” might soon venture to the west.

Pho Bar
3301 Southern Blvd., Suite 502
Rio Rancho, New Mexico
(505 994-9150
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 14 February 2013
1st VISIT: 6 September 2011
COST: $$
BEST BET: Shrimp Sausage Banh Mi, The Janet Salad, Stuffed Chicken Wings, Spicy Beef Lemongrass Soup, Grilled Beef Ribs (Korean Style)

Pho Bar on Urbanspoon

La Plazuela at La Fonda – Santa Fe, New Mexico

La Plazuela's fabulous dining room

La Plazuela’s fabulous sun-lit dining room

History and Hollywood have glamorized the Colt 45 revolver as the “gun that tamed the West.” Known as the “Peacemaker,” the .45 caliber pistol was used by all the famous lawmen and cowboy heroes of the old West. Wyatt Earp used the Colt 45. So did Wild Bill Hickok and Buffalo Bill Cody. It was often the deciding factor in the unrelenting battle of good and evil, the means by which law and order were established in a frontier in which chaos reigned.

Many aficionados of the Wild West would never list a genteel English emigrant named Fred Harvey in the company of Earp, Cody and the other rugged gun-toting legends. Recent history, however, has begun to recognize his contributions to the civilization of the frontier West. Harvey was, by no means, a man who (in the vernacular of Hollywood) “let his gun do his talking for him.” He was a restaurateur by trade and his contributions were in bringing good food at reasonable prices to the Old West. He served it in clean, elegant restaurants, introducing a touch of refinement and civility to an untamed frontier.

Chips and Salsa

Chips and Salsa

As the Santa Fe railroad moved across the west, Harvey Houses opened every hundred miles or so. One of Harvey’s crown jewels was Santa Fe’s La Fonda, considered to this day, the “grande dame” of Santa Fe’s hotels.  La Fonda opened in 1929 and like many hotels in the Harvey system, it quickly established itself as a social center. La Fonda not only served the great food characteristic of all Harvey hotels, it had a romantic and upscale ambiance and was centered in the Plaza, the heart of the dusty city of Santa Fe.

Journalist Ernie Pyle, an Albuquerque resident at the time of his death, wrote that “life among the upper crust centered by daytime in the La Fonda Hotel. You could go there any time of day and see a few artists in the bar” and that “you never met anyone anywhere except at the La Fonda.”  Pyle also observed with his great humor that “La Fonda is Spanish for “The Hotel,” but people don’t pay much attention to that. They just go on saying The-the-Hotel-hotel.” New Mexicans today are similarly amused by the anglicized “Rio Grande River,” another malapropism in that it is an exercise in redundancy.

Organic  Turkey Quesadillas

Organic Turkey Quesadillas

Within the elegant and storied La Fonda is one of the city’s most beautiful dining rooms, La Plazuela, a sun brightened enclosed courtyard restaurant. La Plazuela is a visually stimulating venue in which to dine with much to see at every turn. It can also be an extremely busy place with long lines of diners waiting to be seated at peak times.  Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, La Plazuela features a creative menu of mostly Mexican and New Mexican favorites. Fresh, locally grown New Mexico ingredients are the basis for many of those entrees.  Menus are seasonal so some of the dishes described below might not be available when you visit.

You won’t be seated for long before a bowl of salsa and a basket of chips are brought to your table. The salsa is refreshing and tangy with a nice bite to it. A rich red color, it is flecked with chopped cilantro, one of several discernible ingredients.  The tomatoes have a sweet, fire-roasted flavor with pronounced freshness.  The chips are thick and crispy, a fitting canvass for the salsa. These are among the best chips we’ve seen in any restaurant, a perfect complement to an outstanding salsa.  You’ll request a refill or three of this salsa.


Butternut Squash Bisque

Entremeses, Ensaladas and Caldos (appetizers, salads and soups) are creative and tempting–a precursor of the entire meal’s excellence.  There are several Santa Fe restaurants which serve duck quesadillas, always a nice way to start a meal. La Plazuela’s quesadilla de pato is a grilled flour tortilla cut into triangles and engorged with duck confit, roasted poblano chiles and Asadero cheese then served with a prickly-pear Tecate barbecue sauce.  There is a lot going on in this appetizer–a melding of piquant, tangy, savory and sweet flavors that will please your palate.  The barbecue sauce is wholly unnecessary (though it’s quite good). 

Great as the duck quesadillas are, they might not even be the best quesadillas on the menu.  That honor just might belong to the organic turkey quesadillas, your choice of flour or whole wheat tortillas engorged with roasted turkey breast, poblano rajas (slices) and Chihuahua cheese served with guacamole and a smoky chipotle sour cream.  Every element of these quesadillas, from the pinto pony charred tortillas to the roasted poblano rojas, is perfectly prepared.  It’s not often you can call quesadillas “melt-in-your-mouth” good, but these are.

Carne Asada

Carne Asada, Pollo Asado and Al Pastor Tacos

Ask your friends what the signs of winter in New Mexico include and they’ll likely respond with such answers as unpredictable weather, cold nights and short days.  Ask a foodie and the response might well be butternut squash bisque.  It’s what this gastronome looks forward to most about the brumal season.  La Plazuela’s version will make me miss winter.  It’s a piping hot, flavorful bisque replete with flavor.  The spice level, texture and the balance of ingredients–stock, cream and squash–are absolutely spot-on.  Served with a red pepper creme fraiche and punctuated with toasted pumpkin seeds, it’s one of the very best of its genre.

One word of warning about the lunch menu–if you order the restaurant’s carne asada, you might never want to order any other entree. Many restaurants offer carne asada, but you never know what you’re going to get. By definition, carne asada is grilled meat, but at lesser dining establishments, this could mean a belt-tough slab of meat of unknown origin (maybe an emaciated cow) cut into strips.  La Plazuela’s carne asada is among the best we’ve ever had. That’s because it’s a char-grilled New York strip steak as tender and juicy as you’ll find at any steak restaurant. A half-inch thick and as pure as the driven snow (no sinew or excess fat), it is also well seasoned and thoroughly delicious. The carne asada is served with frijoles refritos, a Chihuahua cheese enchilada with roasted tomato salsa, jalapeño-onion rajas, guacamole and pico de gallo, all of which are absolutely delicious. The guacamole and pico are enrobed in a large leaf of lettuce while the rajas sit atop the carne asada.

Green Chile Meatloaf

Green Chile Meatloaf

Northern New Mexico specialties occupy their own section of the lunch menu. Fajitas have been served in New Mexico for so long that this Texas born entree made it to this section of the menu.  A trail of eyes follow the wait staff as they deliver the Fajitas a La Plancha (grilled on a metal plate) to your table. That’s because these babies are sizzling and leaving a trail of steam in their wake.  You can choose from marinated strips of chicken or beef grilled with Spanish onions and bell peppers. The fajitas are served with either fresh corn or flour tortillas, pico de gallo, guacamole and sour cream.  The fajita marinade is subtle, but delicious, allowing the inherent flavor of the beef to shine. The beef is as tender as a bird’s heart and there’s plenty of it on the sizzling plate. 

Meatloaf, the ubiquitous American comfort food favorite, is given a unique La Plazuela treatment, too.  It’s a green chile meatloaf crafted from ground sirloin with a chipotle ketchup glaze and it’s served with smoked Cheddar-roasted garlic mashed potatoes and fresh seasonal vegetables.   All meatloaf should be this good!  The meatloaf itself is moist and tender even without the generous dousing in chipotle ketchup.  Coupled with flecks of New Mexican green chile, the chipotle ketchup gives the meatloaf a pleasant piquancy.  It’s not on the level of chile which will water your eyes, but it will get your attention.  The Cheddar-roasted garlic mashed potatoes are a perfect complement with the chipotle ketchup serving as a gravy if you wish.

Chicken Pot Pie

Chicken Pot Pie

Another comfort food favorite which will embrace you in familiar flavors and warmth is La Plazuela’s unique take on chicken pot pie.  A light pastry crust seals in an oval dish brimming with creamy organic free-range chicken breast, sweet peas, sweet onions, carrots, Guajillo chile and fresh cilantro.  If you’re of the school that chicken pot pie is boring, this one will change your mind.  Bite-sized chunks of chicken are wonderfully tender and delicious.  The vegetables are farm-fresh.  The pastry crust is light, buttery and flaky. 

If you can’t decide whether to have tamales or chile rellenos, you can have both on the La Plazuela Combination which features a red chile pork tamale, chile relleno and a Mexican cheese enchilada topped with your choice of local Hatch red, green or Christmas style chile.  As with all New Mexican entrees, the combination plate is served with your choice of pinto or black beans, pork posole, pico de gallo, guacamole, sour cream, shredded lettuce and sopaipillas.  You’ll clean this plate!  The posole is an exemplar of what posole should taste like.  Ditto for the tamale which has the perfect amount of corn masa and tender and red chile marinated pork.  The pork is reminiscent of an excellent carne adovada.  The chile relleno and cheese enchilada are quite good, too, but that tamale is memorable.

La Plazuela Combo Plate: Tamale, Chile Relleno, Cheese Enchilada, Beans and Posole

La Plazuela Combo Plate: Tamale, Chile Relleno, Cheese Enchilada, Beans and Posole

The sopaipillas are served steaming hot and have deep air pockets beckoning for honey and La Plazuela uses the real stuff, not the honey-flavored syrup. New Mexico claims credit for having invented the sopaipilla and it can be said that La Plazuela perfected it.

In the lobby on your way out, you might notice a placard reading “Thank you for your patience in WAITING while members of our Armed Forces are being served” with Fred Harvey’s distinct signature directly below. During World War II, Harvey Houses throughout the West provided respite and meals to troop trains loaded with America’s fighting men on their way to wartime postings. It’s a part of the Harvey heritage I most appreciate and one of the many reasons La Plazuela has earned my loyalty and business.

La Plazuela at La Fonda
100 E. San Francisco Street
Santa Fe, New Mexico
(505) 982-5511
LATEST VISIT: 3 February 2013
1st VISIT:  30 December 2007
COST: $$$
BEST BET: Quesadilla de Pato, Organic Turkey Quesadilla, Salsa & Chips, Guacamole, Carne Asada, Fajitas a La Planch, Green Chile Meatloaf, Combination Plate, Chicken Pot Pie, Butternut Squash Bisque

La Plazuela on Urbanspoon

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