Village Pizza – Corrales, New Mexico

Village Pizza in Corrales

Research has proven that taste buds are dulled by high altitude and cabin pressure, so as an aircraft climbs, our sense of taste diminishes by as much as 30 percent. That explains why many passengers praise airline food on flights in which meals are actually served.  It’s probably not that the food is good; it’s more likely that their sense of taste is diminished.  Alas, it’s not solely high altitude and cabin pressure which can diminish the sense of taste.  On this blog I’ve catalogued some of those factors: the use of spices (i.e., cumin) that mask the purity, earthiness and richness of red chile; the use of inferior ingredients that can’t mask the lack of quality; the impairing effects of alcohol on the senses of smell and taste; improper preparation time and so forth.  One factor I have not touched upon is “too much of a good thing.”

At Village Pizza, the pizza buffet is so inviting, so tempting, so alluring that you’re bound to consume more than you should.  In all its glory and splendor, the pizza buffet is as enticing as the sirens of Greek mythology who lured nearby sailors with their enchanting music and voices.   Willpower will wane.  Diet be damned.  Resistance is futile!  You can’t help but make repeat visits to this paragon of pizza perfection with occasional and frequent detours to the salad bar or to the tureen of green chile chicken stew, a magical elixir. The Village Pizza is a bit of a paradox–luring patrons with so much (maybe too much) of a good thing while daily demonstrating that willpower is not enough.

The sprawling dog-friendly patio

18 July 2009:  If you’ve ever lamented the dearth of ingredients (particularly meats) on restaurant pizza, you’re overdue for a visit to Village Pizza, the antithesis of the “where’s the ingredients” pizzas throughout the Duke City area.  It would be easier to locate Forrest Fenn’s fabled treasure than to locate more than a handful of pepperonis on many pizzas.  At the opposite extreme of these chintzy, cheap pies is the Village combo , described on the menu as “a real combo piled with smoked ham, pepperoni, mushrooms, black olives, hot or mild green chile, bell peppers, red onions, ground beef and hot or mild sausage,” the emphasis should be on “piled.”

When we first undertook the monumental task of finishing the Village Combo, our initial impressions were that moderation might be in order.  It’s the first time my Kim and I were ever intimidated by a pizza.  The ingredients on this baked behemoth were stacked so high we didn’t know whether to eat them, make a salad out of them or organize an expedition to climb them.  Perhaps only Joey Chestnut, the renowned greatest eater in history could have polished off this prodigious pie in one sitting.  Over time, we’ve come to appreciate that the Village Pizza strives to provide its loyal guests not only with great food and portions, but with great value.

The pizza buffet is a very popular draw

Geographically, the Village Pizza lies pretty close to the heart of the village, but villagers might argue that it actually is the heart of the village.  It’s where families congregate to share food, fun and fellowship.  Village Pizza has probably hosted more anniversaries and parties than any other venue in the village.  Cognizant of its location and of environmental concerns, Village Pizza gives discounts to diners who ride their bike or horse to eat at this converted home.  Exterior signage reads “Human Only Patio?  No!  Bring Your Lovable Canine Pal.”  That’s what we do and our debonair dachshund The Dude (he abides) couldn’t be happier.

The restaurant has two large dining rooms as well as a capacious outdoor patio.  During buffet hours, all three can be quite crowded and at times rather “festive.”  Towering assiduous trees provide sun-shielding shade, but our favorite spot is beneath the covered portal where our backdrop is the preternatural photography of Kim Jew, a Corrales resident widely regarded as one of the Land of Enchantment’s most talented photographers.  Just as the Land of Enchantment provides the most beautiful subject matter for Jew’s photographs, the Village Pizza’s dough is the canvas upon which beautiful ingredients are heaped.

The Village Pizza, A Pie So Large It May Take a Village to Finish

In Corrales it may be said that if it takes a village to bake a great pizza, that village is the Village Pizza and if pizza dough is the canvass on which great pizza is made, Village Pizza creates the canvass on which masterpiece pizzas are made.  The dough–conventional or whole wheat–is made on the premises.  Thin, regular or “thick” varieties shaped into 12″, 14″ and 16″ sizes (three sizes, three thicknesses) are available for appetites of varying capacities.  Each pizza is hand-tossed and baked in slate ovens.  Fresh ingredients and real cheese are a standard as is the generosity of ingredients.  An array of exotic ingredients such as eggplant, artichoke hearts, feta and roasted pine nuts are available for pizza aficionados who don’t want a conventional pizza.  Village Pizza even offers a “take and bake” option so you can bake the pie at home.

The homemade sauce is very good, obviously made from rich tomatoes at the peak of freshness.  It is seasoned very well with basil, garlic and other complementary ingredients.  If you prefer pizza sans tomato sauce, the restaurant can accommodate you there, too.  In addition to the original red sauce, you can have a wonderful bianco (garlic and ricotta) sauce or pesto if you please.  There’s even a “gourmet” sauce option where you can choose two from the sauce triumvirate of tomato, bianco or pesto.

Two Slices from the Pizza Buffet

An all-you-can-eat buffet is available every day from 11AM – 2PM and Monday and Tuesday nights from 5PM until closing.  The buffet, which includes pizza, soup, salad and breadsticks, is one of the biggest draws to this Corrales institution.  Whether you order off the menu or opt for the buffet, your portions will be profligate.  Village Pizza is not a restaurant you visit if when you want a small meal.  Though we often eschew buffets, this is one we enjoy–even when having to share a dining room with a passel of party-goers. 

Several types of pizza are available on a large silver table spotlighted by heating lamps.  You needn’t worry about the pizza growing stale or cold because it doesn’t spend much time on the table.  A procession of hungry diners forms quickly after the pizza is replenished.  The buffet features many of the most popular pizzas–pies adorned with green chile, pepperoni, cheese and more.  The Hawaiian-style pizza (pineapple, Canadian bacon) is quite good, showcasing the contrast of tangy-sweet pineapple and salty-savory Canadian bacon.  Alas, the green chile would barely register on the Scoville scale.  It’s got virtually no heat and that’s a mortal sin in New Mexico.

Green Chile Stew from the Buffet

The salad bar allows you to indulge your creativity with a melange of fresh ingredients.  The foundation for your salad starts with either a conventional iceberg lettuce or spinach base.  Trays of ingredients include discs of pepperoni, sliced mushrooms, sliced black olives, chopped green peppers, flower seeds and some of the largest, most juicy pepperoncini (which packs more punch than the chile) in the area.  Salad dressings include all the usual suspects and a raspberry vinaigrette we enjoyed for dipping the bread sticks. 

Soup of the day is a celebrated event when the featured fare is green chile chicken stew.  A large crock of piping hot green chile chicken stew has its own place separate from the buffet as well as its own legion of admirers who queue up to ladle it onto their bowls.  This is a good green chile stew even though we were hard-pressed to glean any piquancy or smokiness.  What is discernible, however, is finely cut chicken and a thick broth.  We love that this stew is served hot, a much welcome respite from the chill of winter.

Calzone at Village Pizza in Corrales

Calzone at Village Pizza in Corrales

As someone for whom Spanish was the first and only language I knew until starting school, the word “calzone” has always amused me.  In Spanish and in Italian, a calzone is a trouser, so the first time I saw “calzone” on the menu of an Italian restaurant, confusion and humor abounded.  After having consumed one, it could have been called ropa interior (underwear in Spanish) and it wouldn’t have mattered.  This wondrous Italian turnover crafted from pizza dough baked golden brown and stuffed with rich Ricotta absolutely captivated me.

Village Pizza’s rendition, the Corrales Calzone, is much like those calzones with which I fell in love in Massachusetts.  It’s made from hand-formed dough whose outer borders are formed into bread knots you can tear off and dip into the accompanying red sauce.  The golden brown bread is heavenly, very much reminiscent of bread right out of the oven.  The calzone is about the size of a flattened football so there’s plenty of room in which to stuff it with mozzarella and Ricotta cheeses.  It’s brushed with pesto after it’s baked.  As with the pizza, you can have your calzone with additional ingredients.  Spicy sausage is a good choice here.

Tequila Lime Chicken Wings with Pico de Gallo and Sour Cream

Tequila Lime Chicken Wings with Pico de Gallo and Sour Cream

The menu features four appetizers: breadsticks, nachos (yes, nachos), chicken wings and a veggie plate.  The chicken wings are available in two varieties, a tangy honey barbecue sauce and tequila lime.  The tequila lime chicken wings are served with blue and yellow corn chips, sour cream and pico de gallo.  Unlike what most fried foul fanatics fantasize about, these are not deep-fried and therefore, don’t have a crispy texture.   The skin has a bit of an unappetizing “elastic” feel as you bite into it.  Discard the skin and you’ll find the tequila lime flavors do penetrate into the delicious, albeit chintzy chicken meat. 

There aren’t many dessert options on the menu, but it’s unlikely unless their to-go boxes are full, many diners will have room left over for dessert.   One option is a parfait-like dessert, a frothy chocolate mousse topped with whipped cream, piñon and two cherries.  It’s available in three sizes up to 16-ounces which means it’s big enough to share.

A chocolate mousse parfait at Village Pizza

A chocolate mousse parfait at Village Pizza

In January, 2014, Village Pizza branched out to the southwest corner of Griegos and Rio Grande which served for years as the home of Geezamboni, a popular barbecue restaurant.

Village Pizza
4266 Corrales Road
Corrales, New Mexico
(505) 898-0045
Web Site | Facebook Page

LATEST VISIT: 30 July 2017
# OF VISITS: 7
RATING: 19
COST: $$
BEST BET: Tequila Lime Wings, Village Combo Pizza, Chocolate Mousse Parfait, Salad Bar, Green Chile Chicken Stew

Village Pizza Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Scalo Northern Italian Grill – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Scalo, one of the crown jewels of the Nob Hill area.

When we moved back to New Mexico on May 15, 1995, our first priority wasn’t where to live, but where to eat.  Having been away for the better part of 18 years, there were so many old favorites with which to reacquaint ourselves and so many exciting new prospects we just had to try.  By year’s end, we had visited 75 different restaurants (no chains).  One of our favorite sources on where to eat was Albuquerque Monthly, a very well written publication which celebrated the Duke City’s culinary scene with an Annual Restaurant Guide and a “Best of Albuquerque” edition. 

On its tenth anniversary, the magazine created a “Best Of” Hall of Fame, listing the ten establishments–restaurants, bars, card stores, clothing stores, computer stores, galleries and more–which had received more “best of” votes during the decade than anyone else.  The first establishment listed was Scalo Northern Italian Grill, which was also perennial selection on the magazine’s annual listing of the city’s top ten fine-dining restaurants (other mainstays still serving the city include the Artichoke Cafe, Prairie Star and the Rancher’s Club).

The main dining room at Scalo

Call it heretical if you will, but it took a while before Scalo earned my affections.  One song described perfectly my first three experiences at Scalo, long regarded by many as an Italian restaurant in a class of its own–the pinnacle of Italian dining in the Duke City.  That song, a 1960’s baby boomer tune by Polly J. Harvey asked the question, “Is that all there is? If that’s all there is, my friends, then let’s keep dancing. Let’s break out the booze and have a ball if that’s all there is.”  After every meal at Scalo, I asked myself the same question: Is that all there is?…but I didn’t come away dancing (although the pricey tab usually made me want to take up drinking.)

Bread with Olive Oil and Balsamic Vinegar

Because it was one of Albuquerque’s most popular, highly acclaimed and revered restaurants, I expected Scalo to completely blow me away. Instead, my every dining experience was a humdrum event that left me perplexed as to what I was missing.  That changed on Saturday, May 5th, 2005 when like a sudden, powerful and almost spiritual realization hit me–an eating epiphany of sorts. That epiphany came with the second or third bite of the spinach salad (yes, a salad!) with blue cheese, honeyed walnuts and strawberries. Almost ethereal in its lightness, this salad married ingredients that just shouldn’t work that well together, but nonetheless coalesce to create a memorable taste sensation.  The sharpness of the blue cheese, the tartness of the just in season strawberries and the salty sweetness of the honeyed walnuts were like the signature masterpiece of a culinary artist, easily one of the best salads we’ve had in New Mexico.

Great Northern White Bean Soup

Great Northern White Bean Soup

Perhaps not coincidentally, just a few weeks before that transformative visit Scalo’s ownership changed hands with entrepreneur Steve Paternoster assuming the helm.  Paternoster is one of Albuquerque’s most successful restaurant impresarios, having had a hand on several successful start-ups including La Brasserie Provence and Ptit Louis Bistro.  He is also one of the city’s most active philanthropists, garnering the New Mexico Restaurant Association’s (NMRA) Cornerstone Humanitarian of the Year for New Mexico in 2010.  That same year Scalo and Brasserie La Provence shared the NMRA’s “Restaurant Neighbor Award” for their ongoing contributions to many civic organizations, schools and churches. 

Carpaccio

It would be presumptuous to believe one person, no matter how influential or dynamic, could be solely responsible for my sudden change of heart about a restaurant.  After all Scalo has been serving Albuquerque since December, 1986 and during its quarter-century of operation has always been regarded as one of the city’s premier destination restaurants. In 2007, it was bestowed a Wine Spectator award of excellence for its outstanding selection of premium wines.  In 1998, it was featured in Gourmet Magazine.  After nearly three decades, it continues to garner accolades.  During his much missed very entertaining and interesting weekly radio show, Steve Paternoster often gave all the credit to Scalo’s success to the restaurant’s staff, most of whom have been with the restaurant for years.  It’s a good staff, as accommodating and friendly as they come in the Duke City, but Paternoster’s leadership and commitment to keeping his restaurant at the top is inspiring.

The Scalo experience is much more than excellent wines and quality Northern Italian cuisine. Its allure also includes a bright, airy interior bustling with the cacophonous din of constant activity from an open kitchen and an enthusiastic wait staff flitting from patron to patron, seemingly never skipping a beat or screwing up an order.  Weather permitting, al fresco dining is available in a capacious, covered, temperature-controlled patio replete with white linen table cloths and fine silverware.  It’s a patio our debonair dachshund The Dude (he abides) enjoys very much.

Baked cavatelli

Baked cavatelli

7 October 2007: Scalo’s menu is influenced by seasonal harvests and it prides itself on using locally grown organic produce. The quality shows in some of the most inventive salads and soups anywhere in town.  The Great Northern White Bean Soup is one such soup–a brimming bowl of great ingredients melded together creatively. Those ingredients include shaved Parmesan cheese, a spicy-sweet pancetta, an invigorating Italian pesto pasta and hard-crusted Ciabatta croutons. This is the perfect autumn soup a comforting elixir that will cure what ails you. 

29 July 2017: If you find the notion of raw beef a bit primitive, you probably would never consider eating steak tartare (top-quality raw beef chopped and served with onion, capers, parsley, mustard, and egg yolk).  Instead, you might want to try Carpaccio.  Named for an Italian painter famed for his use of red pigments resembling raw meat, Carpaccio is often sliced so thin that you can almost see right through it.   Scalo’s Carpaccio (shaved beef tenderloin, Parmesan, arugula, local greens, extra-virgin olive oil) isn’t transparent, but it’s sliced so thin you practically have to scrape it off the plate as spearing it with a fork won’t cut it.  The marriage of shaved Parmesan and that whisper-thin beef tenderloin is especially memorable and the light olive oil touch with a sprinkling of cracked pepper brings it all together.  If you love carpaccio, you also owe it to yourself to try the superb lime beef at Cafe Dalat.  It’s carpaccio made the Vietnamese way and it’s a winner.

Gnocchi Scalo style is an adventure in flavor.

Gnocchi Scalo style is an adventure in flavor.

A meal at Scalo includes complimentary bread baked by the Swiss Alps Bakery which has been serving the Duke City for more than a decade. It’s a hearty, hard-crusted, airy bread just perfect for sopping up Scalo’s savory sauces. The bread is served with an olive oil and Balsamic vinegar mix. Alternatively, you can request butter which is soft and easy to spread.

7 October 2007: The Baked Cavatelli starts with a corkscrew shaped pasta baked al dente then topped with a fennel-rich housemade pork sausage, mushrooms, roasted garlic, ricotta, Parmesan and a pine nut gremolata in a marinara cream sauce.  There are a lot of things going on with this entree, but it’s not one of those dishes in which all the ingredients seem to be competing for the rapt attention of your taste buds. Instead the ingredients work well together in a concordant, complementary fashion.  You may want to isolate the flavors to focus on specific tastes (for example, the richness of the ricotta or the tangy, piquant bite of the sausage), but this is an entree in which the flavors are truly best in combination with each other.

chocolate semi freddo

chocolate semi freddo

7 October 2007: The sautéed gnocchi employs even more flavor combinations–a Gorgonzola cream sauce, toasted walnuts, balsamic currants and chives. There’s the pungent richness and sharpness of the Gorgonzola, the fruity tanginess of the currants and the flagrant effervescence of the chives. This gnocchi is rich and delicious. Gnocchi, which is much more than just Italian potato or semolina dumplings, should be light in texture with almost a melt-in-your-mouth quality. That’s what Scalo’s rendition of this taken-for-granted entree is–ethereally light and wholly enjoyable.

The lunch menu includes several wood-fired gourmet pizzas, most crafted with fairly standard, albeit high-quality ingredients.  On occasion, the pizze (sic) menu also includes pizza crafted with ingredients you might not see elsewhere in New Mexico on a pizza. Creativity seems to be a hallmark of all Scalo entrees. One pizza we enjoyed immensely but which isn’t on the standard pizze menu showcased fig preserve, prosciutto, Gorgonzola, mozzarella and arugula. At first browse, these ingredients seem somewhat disparate, yet Scalo made them work in a taste bud pleasing fashion. Scalo’s pizza is a semi-round pie served slightly crispy and waifishly thin. It’s not likely you’ll have any leftovers save for the impressions left  on your olfactory memories and taste buds.

Budino Di Pane

5 February 2012: Dessert (the “dolce” menu) is a celebratory event at Scalo where seven sensational sweet treats will challenge you to select the right one to finish off your meal.  As with the antipasti, insalati, pizze, panini, carne e pesce and fresh pasta menus, desserts are not permanent fixtures as Scalo changes things up frequently to keep things interesting and delicious.  You can generally expect to find homemade gelato on the menu and usually a “sampler’ which introduces you to three desserts at one fixed price.  During our inaugural brunch visit, we rejoiced at finding a Budino Di Pane, an Italian bread pudding topped with warm caramel and served with vanilla gelato.  It’s a dessert which in 1995 could well have been another epiphanic dish.

7 October 2007: If you fancy chocolate–and not the dairy chocolate variety tailored for children–you’ll love Scalo’s chocolate semi freddo Genoise cake with a pistachio bark in a warm pool of dark chocolate sauce.  This is not a fork-tender chocolate confection. In fact, it’s darn hard to cut into the cake, but once it’s in your mouth, it practically melts there. This is a dark, rich chocolate that should come with an “R” rating for adults only.

Ostrichi al Forno

Brunch 

Scalo was a relative late-comer to the brunch bunch, serving the traditional Sunday repast from 11AM to 2:30PM with a Bloody Mary bar starting at noon.  The brunch menu includes five items on the antipasti y insalate menu, four pizzas and a ten-item Primi Y Secondi menu.  In Italy, the traditional meal progression begins with an antipasto followed by a primi (usually soup, pasta or risotto) then a secondi (main course) and finally dolce or formaggi (a cheese course).  Portions in Italy tend to be much smaller than in America so that progression makes sense.  Scalo’s portions are somewhat more substantial and you might not follow the traditional progression.

5 February 2012: You would not, however, want to pass on an antipasti as terrific as the ostrichi al forno, four oysters on the half-shell baked with artichoke, aioli, Reggiano and truffle oil.  It’s a wonderful variation on Oysters Rockefeller and much better, too.  The greenish hue of the artichoke-infused, Reggiano blessed oyster appetizer is intriguing, but it’s the flavor of the dish–the brininess of the oysters, the fresh “greeness” of the artichokes, the sharp nuttiness of the Reggiano–that will ensnare your affections. You’ll want a dozen of these beauties.

Costletto alla Milanese Mostarda

5 February 2012: The Costletto alla Milanese Mostarda, a pounded bone-in crispy pork chop with an onion, bacon, capers and grain mustard cream  is somewhat reminiscent of a German weinerschnitzel though much more lightly breaded.  The mustard cream is more akin to a French Hollandaise sauce than to a pungent, tangy German mustard.  This prodigious hunk of porcine heaven is as substantial in flavor as it is in portion-size.  The pork chop is nearly fork tender and is terrific with or without the mustard cream.

5 February 2012: A more “breakfasty” brunch offering is the Polenta y Salsiccia, creamy polenta, grilled sausage, poached eggs, roasted peppers and mushrooms.  Polenta (not necessarily synonymous with grits) serves as the base for this dish–literally.  Piled atop the polenta are two sausages, one spicy and one sweet and frothy poached eggs.  The objective of this dish is to spread the runny yokes throughout the dish, making it a melange of flavors.  It may not be as aesthetically pleasing, but the combination of ingredients works very well.

Polenta y Salsiccia

29 July 2017:  My Kim likes to joke that her weird husband doesn’t like spaghetti, but loves all of Sergio Leone’s spaghetti western. She, on the other hand, dislikes the Clint Eastwood shoot-em-ups and loves spaghetti.  Not finding spaghetti on Scalo’s brunch menu, she opted for the next best thing, a Scalo’s only entree called Spaghettini Olio e Aglio con Gamberetti (sauteed shrimp, olive oil, chili, garlic, sun-dried tomato, peas, parsley, lemon and white wine butter).  It’s a dish that will address different areas of your taste buds with flavor profiles that are alternatively piquant, savory, tart, briny and even a bit sweet.  The shrimp is fresh and snaps when you bite into it.  My favorite elements were the fresh green peas and sun-dried tomatoes.

Spaghettini Olio e Aglio con Gamberetti

29 July 2017:  One of the highlights of visiting my mom in Peñasco is enjoying organic farm-fresh eggs for breakfast.  Online debates rage as to whether there’s a discernible difference between farm-fresh eggs and their store-bought counterparts.  Having been raised on the former, I’m a stickler for farm-fresh eggs.  That said, the three eggs on Scalo’s Pizza Colazione (sunny side up egg, speech ham, Fontina, Gorgonzola, fresh rosemary, aged balsamic) reminded me of the eggs we gathered every morning from my grandmother’s chicken coop.  This is a terrific pizza, my only nit being that the eggs shouldn’t have been congregated so closely so as to better distribute the unctuous yolk.  The cornicione, an Italian term for the “lip” or puffy outer edge of the pizza is soft and chewy with a pronounced flavor of oven-baked bread.  In combination, the Fontina and Gorgonzola provide a wondrous cheesy flavor that goes very well with the salty ham.  In my pantheon of New Mexico’s very best pizzas, this one certainly deserves a high spot.  It’s outstanding!

Pizza Colazione

For several years my friend Bob of the Village of Los Ranchos has been extolling the greatness of Scalo’s Filetto (grilled beef tender loin, mushroom risotto, grilled asparagus, cambozola cheese, red wine reduction), a dish which certainly sounds worthy of much praise.  Alas, our visits to Scalo seem to occur most often on weekends during brunch.  One of these days we’ll have to join Bob for dinner.  That’s likely the day my rating for this Duke City institution is likely to climb.

Scalo Northern Italian Grill
3500 Central, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
505 255-8782
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 29 July 2017
# OF VISITS: 8
RATING: 22
COST: $$$
BEST BET: Spinach Salad; Penne with Tomato Cream Sauce; Pizza; Costletto alla Milanese Mostarda; Ostrichi al forno; Baked Cavatelli; Chocolate semi freddo; Carpaccio, Pizza Colazione, Spaghettini Olio e Aglio con Gamberetti

Scalo Northern Italian Grill Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Duran’s Central Pharmacy – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Duran Central Pharmacy on the Fringes of Old Town Albuquerque

In an early episode of the Andy Griffith Show, while contemplating a job offer in South America, Andy tried to assuage his son Opie’s concerns about leaving Mayberry. Instead, he wound up confusing Opie by explaining that people in South America ate something called tortillas. Opie wondered aloud why anyone would eat spiders (tarantulas).  Had Opie ever tasted the delicious, piping hot, just off the comal 16-inch buttered orbs at Duran’s Central Pharmacy, it’s unlikely he would ever confuse those grilled spheres with any arachnid.

That’s because Duran’s features some of the very best tortillas of any restaurant in New Mexico. These are not the flavorless, paper-thin, production-line, machine-fashioned orbs you find at some restaurants (can you say Frontier Restaurant). Duran’s tortillas are made to order on a real comal and shaped by a skilled practitioner using a well-practiced rolling pin.  It’s the way abuelitas in New Mexico have done it for generations, a time-honored tradition Duran’s honors–with one exception.  No lard is used on these tortillas; they’re strictly vegetarian.   You can tell and appreciate the difference.  In its annual Food & Wine issue for 2012, Albuquerque The Magazine awarded Duran Central Pharmacy a Hot Plate Award signifying the selection of its hot-off-the-griddle tortillas as one of the “most interesting, special and tasty dishes around.”  Considering the thousands of potential selections, to be singled out is quite an honor.

Duran’s Dining Room

The tortillas are thick and have a pinto pony blend of char and white. While it may seem the wait staff brushes on butter in parsimonious amounts, you’re almost guaranteed to have some butter drip onto your clothing. These tortillas arrive at your table piping hot and absolutely delicious–a wonderful precursor to a great meal!  Invariably you’ll want to take some home.  Heat them on a griddle, slather on butter (or Kraft sandwich spread–trust me) and you’ve got a fantastically filling snack.  Dorado Magazine which celebrates the rugged and eclectic spirit of the Four Corners, describes them as “thick and fluffy with the perfect blend of darkened char spots and bright white floury goodness.”

True to its name, Duran’s Central Pharmacy is an old-fashioned apothecary in which prescription medicines and over-the-counter drugs are dispensed. The dining area is nestled in the southern portion of the pharmacy and you absolutely have to navigate the aisles of the drug store to get there.  For some, it’s a slow walk as they gawk at meticulously arranged shelves brimming with products you won’t find anywhere else.  Although Duran’s Central Pharmacy has been around since the 1940s, it wasn’t until 1965 that Robert Ghattas, a trained pharmacist, and his family assumed ownership from Pete Duran.  At the time, Duran’s operated as a pharmacy with a soda fountain where you could grab a sandwich and a “malted.”  The Ghattas family decided to retain the name, but because soda fountains were no longer in vogue, they changed the restaurant concept to showcase New Mexican cuisine.

A Very Comfortable Enclosed Patio

In addition to the typical prescription and nonprescription pharmaceuticals found at any drug store, you’ll also find groceries, greeting cards and under glass near the cash registers, a section of fine chocolates that you might want for dessert after your meal of great New Mexican food.  On the dividing wall immediately before the restaurant is a section of books, mostly about New Mexico and by New Mexico authors. Some, like Pulitzer Award finalist River of Traps are absolute gems and must-reads for anyone who loves the Land of Enchantment. The pharmacy is also reputed to carry an excellent selection of perfumes, but perhaps no artificial fragrance compares to the aroma wafting from the kitchen.

The restaurant portion of Duran’s consists of a dozen tables, a small covered patio and a sit-down counter from which you can watch the industrious kitchen and wait staff (some members of whom provide service with a sweet sass) assiduously keeping up with the intense breakfast and lunch crowds.  A banal comment such as “that was fast” might receive a response like, “I’m sorry.  I’ll try to be slower next time.”  I also overheard one waitress tell a frequent guest that if he wanted a drink, he could get one from the small fountain on the patio.   How can you not love that?

Buttered Tortilla Hot Off The Comal

Despite the unusual restaurant setting, Duran’s has long been regarded as one of the best New Mexican restaurants in the Albuquerque area and it’s been regarded as such since 1965 when New Mexican cuisine became featured fare. Within easy walking distance of Old Town and just a short drive from downtown, it is, to the detriment of some local area residents, no longer a well-guarded secret.  With increasing frequency tourists have also discovered Duran’s–a more authentic (translation: not dumbed down for tourist tastes) and delicious alternative to Old Town Plaza restaurants.

Duran’s reputation is built on what has long been considered some of the best red and green chile anywhere in New Mexico.  The red chile lacks the cumin influence  so prevalent in the chile served in many misdirected New Mexican restaurants. The only ameliorant to that chile (in addition to salt) is usually a touch of garlic.  It’s a chile which has garnered many accolades over the years.   In the Alibi’s annual “Best of Burque” restaurant poll for 2005, Duran’s Central Pharmacy earned accolades for serving the “best huevos rancheros” in Albuquerque. In 2006, it was the red chile which earned “Best of Burque” honors. In 2007, Alibi readers accorded “best of” honors to Duran’s chile relleno, red chile and enchiladas. In 2008, it was the huevos rancheros and red chile which took home top honors. Annual awards are nothing new for Duran’s.

Salsa and Chips

The bowl of chile, perhaps the restaurant’s most popular entree, is a Chamber of Commerce exemplar of what this dish should be. It’s heart-warming New Mexico comfort food, especially warm and nurturing on the most bleak and dreary of days.  You certainly can’t get that mother’s love level of comfort from a burger with fries.  Though not strictly a green chile stew, it is certainly “stew-like,” a bowl of red or green chile with beans and seasoned ground beef.  The green chile is neon green in color and about medium on the piquancy scale.  The beans are perfectly prepared while the ground beef is seasoned well.  It’s a concordant marriage of wonderful ingredients that envelop you in a cocoon of warmth and comfort. 

In its June, 2010 edition, New Mexico Magazine celebrated New Mexico’s Best Eats, eight of the best dishes served in restaurants throughout the Land of Enchantment. Two versions of each dish–a down-home version and uptown version were selected. The magazine accorded the honor of New Mexico’s very best down-home green chile stew  to the Duran’s Central Pharmacy.  It’s a well-deserved honor few would dispute. I wrote the article about that stew which required lots of research on my part; it was a delicious assignment.

Blue Corn Cheese Enchiladas

Daily specials include a stuffed sopaipilla platter on Wednesdays and Fridays and on Thursdays carne adovada, some of the very best in the city.  The award-winning orange-red chile used on other entrees is ameliorated with aromatic Mexican oregano and chile pequin, a fiery, dried red chile used judiciously (something which should be practiced with the garlic).  The chile is made from ground chile pods, not from powder.  That chile covers bite sized cubes of porcine perfection so tender and delicious they will make your taste buds smile.  My great and dearly departed friend Ruben Hendrickson, a devotee of carne adovada nonpareil, ranks Duran’s rendition on par with the adovada at Mary & Tito’s.

The carne adovada is served with pinto beans, boiled potatoes (perhaps the only item on the menu that’s unremarkable) and a simple lettuce and tomato salad with French dressing.  The only thing wrong with this platter (besides the papas) is that it’s not all carne adovada, as in the entire plate covered with it.  Fortunately you can purchase a pint of this phenomenal adovada to take home and if you don’t want to wait until the next Thursday, carne adovada is also available for breakfast on Saturdays.

Pork Tamales With Beans

25 July 2017:  A 2013 Huffington Post article entitled “25 Food Things Only A New Mexican Would Understand” describes New Mexican cuisine as living “somewhere between traditional Mexican food and Tex Mex food, in a place where there is a lot more cheese.”  Hmm, more cheese?  Does that mean there’s more cheese in New Mexican food than in its Mexican and Tex Mex counterparts?  That certainly isn’t the case should you order the blue corn cheese enchilada plate (three blue corn cheese enchiladas, green and (or) red chile, beans and onions) from Duran’s Central Pharmacy.  The cheese is discernible, but it’s certainly not a dominant element.  It’s a team player, not a star.  There is no star in this enchilada plate.  Rather it’s a combination of several elements working very well together to create an exemplar of enchilada excellence.

25 July 2017: Aficionados will tell you the best burgers have a perfect meat to bun to ingredients ratio.  Similarly, tamales should have an optimum pork to masa to chile ratio.  Not all burgers achieve the desired ratio.  Neither do tamales.  At Duran’s, you get as close as possible to the perfect ratio, a balance of ingredients that coalesce int a delicious whole.  The pork tamale plate features two generously stuffed tamales topped with Duran’s famous red chile with beans on the side.  This is a delicious dish.

Blueberry pie a la mode

25 July 2017: Lest I forget, Duran’s salsa and chips rarely receive the rants and raves they deserve.  Quite simply, the salsa is some of the very best in the city.  It has the freshness of just made salsa, not salsa made three or even two hours ago.  The salsa, made with chopped tomatoes, cilantro, onion and green chile is thick and chunky so it doesn’t run off your chips.  It’s by far the most piquant item on the menu, on par with the incendiary heat of Sadie’s salsa.  That salsa, as well as green and red chile, is available for purchase on Duran’s Web site.

Duran’s is a neighborhood institution in which neighbors congregate to catch up and enjoy a belly pleasing meal. That neighborhood expanded to the Northeast Heights in 2006 with the launch of Duran’s Station at 4201 Menaul, N.E.   Duran’s Station is situated in the former Fire Station #8 and is owned by Marcel Ghattas, scion of Robert (the founder) and Mona (the current owner of Duran’s Central Pharmacy). It retains some vestiges of its days as a fire station, including the original alarm bell.  The engine bay was converted into the dining room while the bunkhouse is now the kitchen.  Duran’s Station includes all of your favorite Pharmacy favorites.  Similarities don’t stop with the menu.  The restaurant also includes an exposed prep kitchen and a comal for making those addictive tortillas (there may be none better in Albuquerque).  Best of all, it stays open for dinner.

A bowl of green chile with beans and seasoned ground beef. It's the very best in Albuquerque!

A bowl of green chile with beans and seasoned ground beef. It’s the very best in Albuquerque!

If you just can’t get enough of Duran’s fabulous chile, the Slate Street Cafe just north of Lomas in the downtown district, offers it as well. Red chile runs in the family. Slate Street Cafe is owned by Myra Ghattas, Mona and Marcel’s sister.  Every New Mexican restaurant should have chile this good, preferably with the best tortillas in Albuquerque, too.

Duran’s Central Pharmacy
1815 Central, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 247-4141
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 25 July 2017
# OF VISITS: 12
RATING: 20
COST: $$
BEST BET: Buttered Tortillas, Carne Adovada, Salsa and Chips, Green Chile, Blue Corn Cheese Enchiladas, Pork Tamales

Duran Central Pharmacy Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Lollie’s New Mexican Food – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Lollie’s

In the frontier wilderness of New Mexico–long before the advent of culinary schools and home economics classes–a cook’s credentials weren’t bestowed by some accredited institution of higher learning.   Instruction in the culinary arts was most often imparted lovingly by mothers.  Recipes were passed on from one generation to another, using ingredients often grown in the family farm and livestock raised locally.  “Credentials” were earned by reputation and the word of mouth of satisfied diners (most often family members, neighbors and visitors).  A good cook was known about far and wide.

Lollie Padilla can relate to the New Mexican culinary traditions of yore, having worked next to her mother (to whom the restaurant is dedicated) in learning to cook homemade, wholesome New Mexican dishes at a very young age.  On April 3rd, 2013, Lollie launched the eponymous Lollie’s New Mexican Food restaurant in the Barelas-South Valley area in which she was raised as were generations of her family.  Two things are immediately obvious: Lollie was a very good student and her mother was a very good cook.

Chips and Salsa

Don’t let the restaurant’s motto “Proudly Serving The Southwest” confuse you. There are no pretenses to food being influenced by a mixed bag of Spanish, Mexican Native American, French and California genres as “Southwest cuisine” is defined in some upscale Santa Fe restaurants. Lollie’s serves New Mexican food the way it’s been served for generations. The “Southwest” portion of the motto refers to Albuquerque’s southwest quadrant where the restaurant is located. It’s off the well-beaten (and eaten) path just a few blocks north of popularly anointed restaurants on Route 66.

If you’re driving south on Isleta, you might miss Lollie’s which, despite a street-facing storefront, is a bit obfuscated from view. Just remember it’s directly across the street from Dairy Queen about half a mile from where Avenida Cesar Chavez turns southward to Isleta and you’ll get there. The nearly almost always full parking lot evinces that a lot of hungry diners have found it. Lollie’s is open only for breakfast (starting at 8AM sharp) and lunch seven days a week. On weekdays it closes at 2PM and on weekends at 3PM.

Guacamole and salsa

Lollie is a peripatetic presence at her colorful restaurant, meeting and greeting regulars and those who will become regulars (it should take only one visit). She’s a very engaging and friendly person with a broad, warm smile after every compliment she receives–and she receives many. During our inaugural visit we were so touched by the authenticity and homey familiarity of her cooking that we thanked her for keeping it real. For Lollie, keeping it real means chile with piquancy and absolutely no cumin. It’s the way her mother taught her.

The restaurant is comprised of three distinct dining rooms.  The front room includes a view not only of the cashier’s station, but of the counter at which servers pick up orders to be delivered to lucky guests.  Seating is more functional than it is attractive.  The wait staff is cheerful and attentive, working as a cohesive unit to make sure your beverages are replenished and everything is to your satisfaction. The servers rank up there with Joe Guzzardi’s team at Joe’s Pasta House in Rio Rancho in terms of friendliness and professionalism.

Beef and Bean Tostada

You won’t be seated long before a basket of chips and ramekin of salsa are delivered to your table.  The first order is complementary.  You’ll have to pay a pittance for the second order.  Trust me, you’ll ask for a second helping.  My friend Bill “Foodie Star” Resnik was thoroughly besotted by the salsa, a pleasantly piquant blend in which red chile is discernible (surprisingly not many New Mexican restaurants use red chile on their salsa).  It’s fresh and piquant, the type of salsa which pairs very well with hot coffee which accentuates its piquancy oh so well.

5 June 2017: The qualities most in evidence in Lollie’s guacamole salad are freshness and flavor.  Mashed from fresh avocados at their prime of ripeness, the rich, meaty avocados are the most prevalent flavor component.  Alas, if you’re wary of guacamole being succeeded by “salad,” you probably won’t like all the lettuce on the plate.  Purists don’t want lettuce getting in the way of their guacamole.  This is a very good guacamole which should be liberated from its lettuce bed.

Ground Beef Taco with Salsa

The menu includes daily specials for every day but Monday (and if ever a day needed something special, it’s Monday).  It’s a comprehensive menu offering all New Mexican food favorites as well as burgers.  “Southwest Lunches” are served with beans and papas and your choice of red or green chile as well as tortillas.  Ask your server for a recommendation and chicharrones will invariably be mentioned (for good reason). 

2 June 2014: Appetizers include quesadillas, chile con queso, chile cheese fries with your choice of red or green chile, Rio Grande nachos, the aforementioned guacamole salad and a side of chicharrones with red or green chile.  Another good bet from the a la carte menu are the tostadas (including one topped with carne adovada).  A simple beef and bean tostada is everything New Mexicans love about this very simple–and very delicious–snack or starter. The fried tortilla shell is too delicate and the toppings too generous for you to pick everything up intact, but a fork will do just fine. Immediately obvious is the fact that the ground beef hasn’t been refried, a nefarious practice in which almost every other New Mexican restaurant engages. Fresh ground beef, shredded cheese, lettuce and chopped tomatoes in good proportion topped with salsa–for what more can you ask.

Carne Adovada with two fried eggs

2 June 2014: If you prefer your crispy corn tortillas to remain intact, you can order the taco plate (three tacos), a single ground beef taco from the a la carte menu or a combination plate.  Some may say a taco is basically a tostada folded like a sandwich, but it’s so much more than that.  A taco is hand-held comfort, the perfect snack whether mobile or stationary.  As with the tostada, the ground beef is freshly prepared and lightly seasoned.  Despite being deep-fried, it’s not greasy at all.   Apply Lollie’s salsa liberally for best results.

2 June 2014: Saturday’s special is a carne adovada breakfast–two fried eggs, carne adovada and a tortilla.  You’ll never again crave Captain Crunch or other breakfast cereals of that ilk.  Carne adovada is the perfect morning wake-up food.  Unlike some New Mexican dishes which might shock you awake with piquancy, carne adovada wakes you up with the loving caress of porcine perfection, tender tendrils of cubed pork marinated in a rich, delicious red chile.  This is a chile my adovada-adoring friend Ruben Hendrickson needs to try.  Good as it is, there isn’t as much of it as you’ll want…not enough of a good thing.

Stuffed Sopaipillas with Red and Green Chile (Refried Beans and Papitas on the side)

2 June 2014: When Spanish conquistadors risked life and limb in pursuit of gold, had they known about chicharrones they would have stopped there.   Chicharrones, small, fatty cubes of deep-fried pork, are a New Mexico treasure worth their weight in gold.  New Mexicans in quest of wonderful chicharrones need not go further than Lollie’s where these crispy pork cube are available on burritos and sopaipillas.  A chicharron stuffed sopaipilla is an excellent way to sample them.  “Stuffed” should be prefaced with “generously” because you’ll find plenty of golden-brownish porcine nuggets within each sopaipilla.  The stuffed sopaipilla plate includes two sopaipillas, the perfect vehicles for both red and green chile.  Lollie’s chile has a pleasant piquancy with the green having more bite than the red.  Both are delicious.  Refried beans and cubed papitas are also excellent.

5 June 2014: The menu includes two combination plates.  Both include a ground beef taco and a cheese enchilada, but one comes with a chile relleno and the other with a homemade tamale.  The tamale, one of the very few things not made on the premises, is not to be missed.  Lollie’s tamale maker should be knighted for creating one of the very best tamales in Albuquerque.  The proportion of corn masa to pork is absolutely perfect with the flavor of each complementing the other very well.  The cheese enchilada is excellent.  Being a combination plate, you should combine both red and green chile with this terrific plate.

Combination Plate

20 July 2017: Several years ago, my Intel colleagues hosted a team luncheon at Macayo’s Mexican Table, a very popular Arizona-style Mexican restaurant.  The New Mexicans among us took to calling it “Mocoso’s,” a Spanish term used to describe a snotty brat.  None of us liked it (to put it mildly).  Ask most New Mexicans and few of us would ever concede that anything edible has ever been invented in Arizona except for maybe the chimichanga.  In 1922, Monica Flin, founder of the Tucson restaurant El Charro accidentally dropped a burrito into the deep-fat fryer.  Thus was born the chimichanga. 

We’ve had a chimichanga at El Charro and we’ve had them in New Mexico where our sacrosanct red and (or) green chile transform the dish into a masterpiece.  One of the very best we’ve had across the Land of Enchantment is Lollie’s version, Friday’s special of the day.  What distinguishes this chimichanga from most is that it’s lightly fried.  It’s not sheathed in a thick, hard-to-cut tortilla.  You can cut into it with a spoon where you’ll extricate seasoned ground beef.  The chimichanga is topped with melted, shredded cheese and covered with your choice of red or green (go Christmas here) chile.  If I didn’t previously mention how good the refried beans are, let me take the opportunity here to tout them as some of the very best in town.  So is the chimichanga, the Arizona mistake that it takes New Mexicans to perfect.

Chimichanga Burrito

Lollie’s embodies the heart and soul of Albuquerque’s South Valley, showcasing the type of New Mexican cooking generations of mothers have passed on to their children.  Every neighborhood should be so lucky as to have such a homey, tradition-oriented restaurant in its midst.

Lollie’s New Mexican Kitchen
424 Isleta Blvd, S.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 452-9096
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 20 July 2017
1st VISIT: 31 May 2014
# OF VISITS: 4
RATING: 21
COST: $$
BEST BET: Stuffed Sopaipilla, Carne Adovada, Ground Beef Taco, Beef and Bean Tostado, Combination Plate,

Lollies New Mexican Food Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Papaburgers – Los Ranchos De Albuquerque, New Mexico

Papaburger, an El Paso institution now open in Albuquerque

Back in the 1960s, A&W’s Papa Burger was a rite of passage for me.  By age nine, I had surmounted the phased progression through A&Ws burger family–Baby Burger, Mama Burger and Teen Burger–and was ready to prove my mettle with the largest of A&Ws burger family, one beefy behemoth only my dad, a paragon of masculinity, had ever ordered.  Earning the right to order one was acknowledgement that I was growing into a man.  Polishing one off brought newfound respect from my younger brothers, both of whom longed for the day  my dad would order a Papa Burger for them.

In the 1960s, A&W’s burger family signified a formidable line-up of burgers served in more than 2,000 A&W restaurants throughout the fruited plain and Canada.  Each member of the burger family was represented by cartoonish fiberglass statues, the largest of which was the Papa Burger, a bald, vested gentleman holding a large frosted mug on one hand and a gigantic burger on the other.  Papa Burger stood eight and a half feet tall and the frothy mug of root beer was three feet tall.

 Bright and colorful interior at Papaburgers

Bright and colorful interior at Papaburgers

Driving on Chavez Avenue just west of Fourth Street and espying a restaurant called Papaburgers brought a nostalgic pang to my heart. That nostalgia made me hopeful that A&W was preparing to mount a challenge to the Big Three (McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Burger King) and would no longer be relegated to sharing space with abhorrent chains.  Though I disdain chains, A&W still represents growing up to me.  The name on the marquee dashed those hopes quickly.  It read “Papaburgers” not Papa Burgers.  No, this was an A&W offshoot.

Papaburgers has its roots in El Paso, Texas where in 2008, entrepreneur Eric Zubia launched the first instantiation of what has become one of the Sun City’s most popular burger joints.  As of this writing, ninety percent of visitors to El Paso’s Zomato Papaburgers page indicate they like it with some being effusive in their praise.  Sadly, as of this writing, I’d venture to say fifty percent of Albuquerque diners still have no idea about this terrific burger restaurant (unless they read Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Blog), of course.

My friend Bruce "Sr. Plata" enjoys a double meat burger with avocado and green chile

My friend Bruce “Sr. Plata” enjoys a double meat burger with avocado and green chile

That’s not entirely their fault.  Albuquerque’s Papaburgers, open only since November, 2009 is ensconced in a nondescript shopping center where it’s barely visible from heavily trafficked Fourth Street.  Get the word out!  This is a very good burger joint, one that is rapidly becoming an Albuquerque favorite.  In El Paso, customers queue early and often to get their burger fix in a restaurant with limited seating.  In Albuquerque, you can still walk up to the counter, place your order and sit where you want.

Finding a seat  is no problem in the Los Ranchos Papaburgers, a sprawling corner edifice which doubled its space within two years of opening to accommodate all the diners who discovered this unique bastion of burgers.  In three years, the ambiance has gone from prosaic to rather busy with a lot to see everywhere you turn.  The menu is sparse, about a dozen items, but there are always specials on the board.  A jukebox and an old-fashioned video gaming console make the expanded dining room just a bit noisy at times.

The Andre Burger Fresh ground beef with onions, lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, chili, weenies, American cheese and mustard with Butter-Garlic Fries

When Eric Zubia mentioned possibly expanding into the Albuquerque area, his Rio Rancho-based uncle Silver and aunt Adriana Zubia leapt at the opportunity.  As with the original Papaburgers, the freshness of ingredients is a strong point of emphasis.  Each burger is made to order on a flattop grill from freshly ground beef in which finely chopped onions are integrated right into the meat.  The burgers are adorned with lettuce, tomato, pickles, more onions and your choice of mustard or mayo.  The restaurant’s eponymous Papaburger can be topped with American or Swiss cheese. 

Your table haul should also includes plenty of green chile sauce which you can add to your burgers, fries, hot dogs or onion rings.  The green chile is mild by any piquancy scale, but it’s got a garlicky kick potent enough to ward off a family of vampires.  Papaburgers’ version of a green chile cheeseburger is called the Chiara Burger (named for Eric Zubia’s goddaughter).  Instead of finely chopped chile, the burger is crafted with long green chile.  It’s lacking in the piquancy New Mexicans love.

Frito Pie

Frito Pie

During our inaugural visit back in 2009, my friend and frequent dining companion Bill Resnik took one bite of the Papacheeseburger and declared “it’s just like Lotaburger.”  Considering his devotion for Lotaburger (which he considers New Mexican comfort food), that’s a high compliment.  As with Lotaburger, the ingredients are extremely fresh–crisp lettuce, juicy tomatoes, lip-puckering pickles, eye-watering onions.  The biggest difference is the onions incorporated right into the beef.  Bill’s sole complaint is that the beef was slightly overdone, sometimes a problem with thin beef patties. 

17 July 2017: You can request double meat with any burger or you can try something entirely different–the Andre Burger (named for Eric Zunia’s godson).  Hamburger meets hot dog in this unique offering–fresh ground beef with onions, lettuce, tomato, pickles, chili, weenies, American cheese and mustard.  As if weenies isn’t unique enough, the chili also includes beans.  It’s not a burger for everyone, but if you have a penchant for the slightly different, this is a burger you will absolutely love.

Jalapeño Fries

Jalapeño Fries

You’ll love it as a composite of terrific ingredients and you’ll love the interplay among those ingredients.  The chili is mild, but has a nice garlicky flavor that almost completely obfuscates the hint of cumin.  The weenies are of the thin-sliced variety, not those flavorless two-inch in circumference meat tubes that seem to be in fashion today.  I liked them so much, my second visit order was a Papadog.  Papadogs are described as a “round hot dog” and are served on hamburger buns.  The buns are toasted and sandwich between them, weenies sliced in half then topped with pinto beans and chili with ground beef.  A smear of mustard and several sliced pickles adorn the bottom bun.  Though somewhat unconventional, this is a good hot dog that warrants return visits. 

Papaburgers is no one-trick pony.  The menu, though limited, also includes a grilled chicken sandwich basket, chicken nuggets and a grilled Papacheese Green Chile sandwich.  Sides include French fries, onion rings and chili cheese fries.  The fries and onion rings are out of a bag, but are quite good when doused in the green chili on each table.   Perhaps the most intimidating item on the menu is an all-beef Chili Cheese Foot Long Coney from Nathan’s.  Bob of the Village People who’s consumed over 550 feet of hot dog from The Dog House Drive In won’t have to consume quite as many to get to 550 feet.  It’s a beefy behemoth.

More Than A Foot Long of Nathan's Hot Dog

More Than A Foot Long of Nathan’s Hot Dog

Papaburgers may have nothing to do with the A&W of my youth, but it’s a rite of passage in its own way–as Food Network star Guy Fieri might say, “a passage to flavortown.”  These are seriously good burgers!

Papaburgers
6601 4th Street, Suite P.
Los Ranchos de Albuquerque, New Mexico
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 17 July 2017
1st VISIT: 25 February 2010
# OF VISITS: 4
RATING: 19
COST:  $ – $$
BEST BET: Andre Burger, Papacheesebasket, French Fries, Onion Rings, Papadog

Papaburgers Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Thai Boran – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Thai Boran at Village @ La Orilla on Albuquerque’s West Side

Many of us with a puerile sense of humor can probably recall giggling like silly school kids the first time we visited a Thai restaurant and perused a menu.  We went straight into the gutter the first time we came across such foods as phat prik and fuktong curry.  Even after learning that “phat prik” is actually a stir-fried chili dish and “fuktong curry” is a pumpkin curry, the sophomoric among us couldn’t order these dishes with a straight face.  It gets even worse when we actually learned how to pronounce the names of Thai dishes.  Not even Bob Newhart could order “cow pod guy” (chicken fried rice) or “cow pod moo” (pork fried rice) with his usual deadpan delivery.  That’s probably why so many of us will place our order by number instead of endeavoring to pronounce words we find a bit salacious or humorous. 

Let’s face it, denizens of the fruited plain tend to find the names of some Thai dishes humorous because the way they’re spelled or pronounced is similar to English sexual references or swear words.  Perhaps that’s why Thai restaurateurs tend to use clever word play, typically puns,  to name their eateries.  Instead of christening an eatery for an honored grandmother or treasured daughter whose name is “Porn,” it’s less offensive (or funny) to name a restaurant something like “Thai Tanic,” “Thairanosaurus” or “Thai and Stop Me.”  Instead of naming a restaurant for a beloved son named Poo, wouldn’t it be more inviting to name a restaurant something like “Eye of the Thai-ger” or “Beau Thai?”

Interior of Thai Boran. Photo Courtesy of Larry McGoldrick, the Professor With the Perspicacious Palate

Indulge me for one more paragraph of pithy covfefes.  Song titles and lyrics in particular seem to lend themselves to clever wordplay using Thai names.  From the Beatles, you’ve got “All You Need is Larb” and “Can’t Buy Me Larb.”   Who can every forget Andy Williams’ immortal “Thai to Remember?”  Or Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons singing “Big Girls Don’t Thai?”  Then there’s Hank Williams “I’m So Lonesome I could Thai.”  How about The Temptations “Curry Tomorrow?”  Okay, by now you’re probably thinking “that (Thai word for chili) is probably going to hell for his politically incorrectness.”  What’s the point anyway?

My point is Thai restaurant in the Duke City tend to have rather boring and straight-forward names: Thai Curry, Thai Heritage, Thai, Orchid Thai, Pad Thai, Thai Kitchen, Thai Tip.   Zzz!  The most cleverly named Thai restaurant in town is probably “Hot Pink Thai” and even that’s pretty parochial.  Give me a “Thai Me Up,” “Been There, Thai’d That” or “Tongue Thai’d” anytime.  My friend Schuyler is no doubt paraphrasing a Winston cigarette commercial of the 1970s, “what do you want good punnery or good taste?”  My retort is why can’t we have both?

Thai Toast

Upon learning of a new Thai restaurant launching at Village @ La Orilla, we dared hope a clever pun would grace its marquee.  Alas, the name “Thai Boran” may as well be “Thai Boring” to the punsters among us.  At least I had to look up “Boran” to learn it translates from Thai to “old, ancient or historic.”  Thai Boran is owned by restaurant impresario Kathy Punya, a native of Thailand who’s amassed quite a portfolio of restaurants, among them five Sushi Kings, Crazy Fish, Noodle King and Asian Street Food.   It’s located next door to Albuquerque’s first cinema eatery, the not-so-cleverly-named Flix.

Thai Boran is somewhat on the small side and contrary to any notion of “Thai Boring” I may have had, it’s got a very exciting menu featuring some items heretofore unavailable in the Duke City.  Among the eight uncommon to Albuquerque appetizers are Mee Krob, Sheldon Cooper’s favorite Thai dish and Thai toast.  There are six salads on the menu along with five soups.  Five one-of-a-kind specialty dishes adorn the Chef’s Collection section of the menu.  These include a Thai Boran Beef Steak, grilled and sliced marinated beef steak served with a spicy tomato sauce. Other sections of the menu are dedicated to curry, rice, pan-fried noodles, noodle soups and entrees.  All total there are 53 items on the menu.

Duck Curry

Sometime around 2010, toast become the latest artisanal food craze.  Yes, toast, the most popular of which is probably avocado toast (available at Cafe Bella in Rio Rancho).   The Washington Post believes in fact that “avocado toast has come to define what makes food trends this decade: It’s healthy and yet ever-so-slightly indulgent.”  Thai Toast may be Thailand’s answer to avocado toast, all indications being it’s a relatively new dish.  It’s certainly not a dish you find in other Thai restaurants across the Duke City.  Four small slices sans crust of egg-dipped white bread topped with ground pork, green onions, then deep fried are served with a cucumber salad.  At the very least, it’s a very interesting dish–not as good as other Thai appetizers, but good enough to try more than once. 

The curry section of the menu includes three curry dishes not all that common in Albuquerque: eggplant curry, pineapple curry and duck curry.  Duck curry (red curry, cherry tomato, grapes, bell pepper, basil, and coconut milk) has been among my very favorite curry dishes since first enjoying it at the transformative Lotus of Siam in Las Vegas, Nevada.   Thai Boran’s version is quite good showcasing tender slices of slow-cooked duck breast with enough fat for rich, unctuous flavor.  The combination of acidic cherry tomatoes and sweet grapes is especially intriguing, but what brings it all together is a rich red curry prepared at Thai hot (not for the faint of heart).  This dish is served with your choice of steamed Jasmine rice or brown rice. 

There aren’t many Thai restaurants in Albuquerque’s burgeoning west side.  Thai Boran is within a mile or so of Thai Cuisine, a long-time favorite.  Boring names not withstanding, both are among the city’s very best restaurants for Thai cuisine.

Thai Boran
3236 La Orilla Road, N.W., Suite B
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 492-2244
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 7 July 2017
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING:  N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Duck Curry, Thai Toast

Thai Boran Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Fareast Fuzion – Albuquerque, New Mexico

On July 5, 2017, Fareast Fuzion Celebrated its Six Year Anniversary Serving Albuquerque

A Journal of Consumer Research study published in 2012 revealed that consumers equate eating meat with their concept of masculinity. To the dismay of spinach-lovers like Popeye, respondents indicated meat has a more masculine quality than vegetables. Study participants considered male carnivores to be more masculine than their vegetarian counterparts (ostensibly Bill Clinton was more masculine when he scarfed up Big Macs than he is now that he’s a vegetarian). “To the strong, traditional, macho, bicep-flexing, all-American male, red meat is a strong, traditional, macho, bicep-flexing, All-American food,” wrote the researchers. “Soy is not. To eat it, they would have to give up a food they saw as strong and powerful like themselves for a food they saw as weak and wimpy.” Researchers acknowledged that with a diet rich in manly meats, equally manly health conditions such as heart attacks are inevitable.

So, if we shouldn’t eat meat, what should we paragons of masculinity eat?  Certainly not quiche or kale!  Bruce Feirstein told us in 1982 that “Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche.” Sure, that title was a tongue-in-cheek satire of masculine stereotypes, but could there be a grain of truth there somewhere?  More recently, an author who goes by the very macho nom de plume Manly M. Mann declared “kale is the new quiche and manly men don’t eat that crap.” He also revealed two things you’ll never hear a manly man utter: “Tossed salad, please” and “hold the bacon.” On a more personal level, Mr. Mann emphasized that brunch has no place in a real man’s routine. As an avowed brunch lover, does that mean I’ll have to turn in my man card?

The 300-Gallon Aquarium Behind the Sushi Bar

There’s been internet chatter lately declaring that real men shouldn’t eat sushi, especially when it’s prepared maki style. Maki sushi, more commonly known as sushi rolls, is the most popular type of sushi across the fruited plain—proof manly men might say that the “Oprahization” of America is alive and well. Those masculine detractors of dainty deliciousness wouldn’t eat maki rolls if they were soaked in beer and wrapped in beef jerky. Canned sardines on crackers yes, but pretty sushi rolls resembling stained glass windows, frack no! Never mind that the Japanese sushi chef is considered heir to the samurai tradition. Only if Chuck Norris himself told the so-called real men that sushi rolls are what make him the apotheosis of manliness would real men reach for a California roll.

Fortunately my Kim considers it extremely manly that I love sushi rolls (and that I’m willing to carry her weighty purse when she’s tired). For her, 2017 has become the year of the sushi roll. After several years of eschewing sushi for the pleasures of seared animal flesh, she’s developed a craving for sushi (and no, she’s not with child). Instead of her usual “whatever you want” when I ask what she’d like to have, she’s asked for sushi on three occasions this year. The challenge with fulfilling her request is that Albuquerque has very few al fresco sushi opportunities where we can spend time with our debonair dachshund The Dude (he abides). Thus far, we’ve found only two—Sumo Sushi and Ohana Hut, both of which quelled her cravings.

Left: Egg Drop Soup; Right: Miso Soup

Make it three. After unsuccessfully scouring my geriatrically advanced memories for other sushi bars with dog-friendly patios, Google revealed a heretofore untried purveyor of not only sushi, but Thai and other Asian cuisines. My search revealed that Fareast Fuzion is the first sushi restaurant listed on Yelp’s listing of the best ten sushi bars in Albuquerque. Another site, threebestrated.com named Fareast Fuzion as one of the three best rated sushi restaurants in the Duke City—and, if the site is to be believed, their ratings are based on a 50-point inspection which considers everything from checking reputation, history, complaints, reviews, satisfaction, trust and cost to the general excellence.

On July 5, 2017, Fareast Fuzion celebrated its six-year anniversary serving Albuquerque in the familiar location on Central which for many years was the home of Bangkok Café, one of the first Thai restaurants in the Duke City. Long-timers might remember that back in the mid-1990s when Thai cuisine was oh-so-exotic for Albuquerque, Bangkok Café was named one of the city’s twelve best restaurants by the Albuquerque Journal. With more than fifteen years’ experience as a sushi chef and nearly as many years experience preparing Thai food, chef and owner Kham Seme and his family are gracious hosts. Their warmth and hospitality offset the painful route–through a maze of orange barrels and deeply pocked detours–it took to get there as motorists deal with the light-rail folly only politicians seem to want. My Kim quipped that it would have actually been easier to drive to Thailand.

Chicken Satay with Peanut Sauce and Cucumber Salad

The restaurant’s cynosure is a 300-gallon saltwater aquarium behind the chef’s sushi station. Brightly illuminated to accentuate the water’s bluish tint, the aquarium is replete with several species of exotic saltwater fish, including a small shark which shirks attention (or perhaps it fears being sliced up into sushi). On the ceiling just in front of the sushi bar hangs a very impressive black kite somewhat resembling a Klingon bird-of-prey. A coyote fence separates the capacious patio from Central Avenue and hordes of frustrated drivers. Rivulets of water cascade down an exterior fountain, producing a soothing white noise effect. Our Dude relaxed in the shade as he took in the tranquil surroundings.

The menu is primarily Thai with a smattering of Chinese and non-sushi Japanese dishes as well. It’s a rather impressive, though not especially original menu grouped into related categories: soups, salads, noodle soups, Thai curry dishes, bento boxes, teriyaki bowls, fried rice, noodle dishes, stir-fried dishes and a kids’ menu. Appetizers are primarily Thai or Japanese. As you peruse the compendium-like menu, you may want to indulge in Thai iced coffee or one of the three teas: green, Jasmine or ginger. The former is a rather strong coffee offset somewhat by sweetened condensed milk. My Kim enjoyed the bite of the ginger tea.

Colorful Sushi

Shortly after ordering our chicken satay appetizer, our effusive server ferried over our soups of choice. For my Kim, it was a bowl of egg drop soup served hot to the touch. For me, only a bowl of miso soup should ever precede a meal of sushi. As usual, Kim’s choice was better (not that the miso soup wasn’t good). Egg drop soup Egg is made by “dropping” the whisked eggs very slowly into to boiling stock and stirring rapidly in one direction. The result is thin, wispy strands of silken egg. Rare (at least in Albuquerque) is the pronounced yellowish hue of this enchanting elixir. The miso soup, on the other hand, is on par with miso soup served throughout the city.

We found the chicken satay (four skewers) a bit on the chewy side and a challenge to extricate from the skewer. Displaying a nice grilled char, the chicken’s toughness made it more important that the accompanying sauces offset textural liabilities. The peanut sauce, ameliorated with coconut milk and red curry, has the characteristic sweetness of most Thai sauces and is very good, while the cucumber salad is probably the very best in the city. All too often cucumber salad tends to border on cloying, but this one had a delightful piquancy courtesy of very finely ground Thai chili peppers. We would have enjoyed the cucumber salad on shoe leather (but enough about the chicken).

Some of the Largest Sushi Rolls in Albuquerque

The sushi menu includes nigiri (slice of raw fish over pressed vinegared rice), sashimi (slices of very fresh fish served raw) and maki, the bane of real men. Sushi combos and sushi “happy” boats are also available. My Kim’s preferences lean more toward deep-fried fish than the raw fish real men might consider “bait.” Among the boatload of sushi we ordered (enough for her to enjoy over a period of three meals) were a “Super Crunchy Roll” (cream cheese, crab, avocado, white fish, deep-fried) and a “Crunchy Roll” (spicy tuna, scallop, tempura flakes on top, eel sauce). While their names might hint at similarity, they’re quite different. We found the Super Crunch roll to be too much of a good thing—good, but just a bit too much crunch, too much deep-fried texture.

As usual, we needed a “Japan meets New Mexico” fix which means green chile on a sushi roll. We found it in the Sandia Roll (salmon, tuna, yellow tail, shrimp, spicy mayo, tobiko and green chile) and the ABQ Roll (salmon, crab, avocado, special sauce and masago). In honor of visits to Maine, we also ordered (BOTVOLR will appreciate this) a lobster roll (lobster, cucumber, avocado, tobiko on top). As expected, it bore absolutely no resemblance to its New England counterpart. One commonality among most of the sushi rolls at Fareast Fusion is their size. Quite simply, these are the biggest sushi rolls you’ll find in Albuquerque. Our server told us some diners complain that they can’t devour them in one bite, but most sushi aficionados do believe bigger is better.

Super Crunch Roll

Fareast Fuzion is a restaurant where real men can get quell their carnivorous cravings with piquant curries which will test their manly mettles while the rest of us can sate our yen for sushi.  The staff is more than attentive and friendly and the ambiance is hard to beat.

Fareast Fuzion Sushi Bar & Lounge
5901 Central Avenue, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 255-2910
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 16 July 2017
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$-$$$
BEST BET: Chicken Satay, Thai Iced Coffee, Lobster Roll, Crunchy Roll, Super Crunchy Roll, Yummy Yummy Roll, Sandia Roll, ABQ Roll, Lady in Red Roll

Fareast Fuzion sushi bar & lounge Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

1 2