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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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

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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

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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
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 24
COST: $$ – $$$
BEST BET: Chana Chaat, Ancho Amchur Crusted Tandoori Chicken, Seafood Korma, Carrot Pudding, Mango Kulfi, Mango Lassi,

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