2017: A Thrilling (And Filling) Year in Food

Hot Brown Sandwich from Dragonfly Restaurant in Las Cruces. Photo Courtesy of Melodie K.

Tis the season…for year-end retrospectives in which the good, the bad and the ugly; the triumphs and tragedies; the highs and lows and the ups and downs are revisited ad-infinitum by seemingly every print and cyberspace medium in existence. It’s the time of year in which the “in-your-face” media practically forces a reminiscence–either fondly or with disgust–about the year that was. It’s a time for introspection, resolutions and for looking forward with hope to the year to come. The New Mexico culinary landscape had more highs than it did lows in 2017. Here’s my thrilling (and filling) recap.

2017 saw the closure of several beloved restaurants–28 by my count. Some closures, such as Eclectic Urban Pizzeria came as a surprise, if not a shock. Included among our losses were two restaurants which garnered recognition from the Food Network: Eli’s Place (formerly Sophia’s) showcased on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives and Pasion Latin Fusion which was featured on Restaurant Impossible. Others, such as Murphy’s Mule Barn had stood the test of time. One saving grace was the launch of several new independent restaurants which are quickly becoming favorites.

Paleo Lunch from Salud! de Mesilla. Photo Courtesy of Melodie K.

2015 was another banner year for Gil’s Thrilling (and Filling) Blog. There are now 8,997 reader comments on 1016 reviews, an increase of 797 comments and 60 new reviews. Thank you for all words of kindness and criticism. I appreciate the diversity of opinion. On 18 September, the 1000th review was published on Gil’s Thrilling… In the years I’ve been writing my missives, dozens of Duke City food bloggers have come and gone (it’s not so easy, is it?). The longevity of this blog is rare. For the first time in seven years, I wasn’t voted one of city’s five best bloggers in Albuquerque The Magazine’s annual “best of the city” issue, but I was nominated for Edible Santa Fe’s Local Hero Award, for which results will be announced in the February/March 2018 issue.

From among the 1013 reviews published on Gil’s Thrilling…here are the most popular during 2017: (1) Laguna Burger; (2)The Burrito Lady; (3) The Owl Cafe & Bar; (4) Mary & Tito’s Cafe; (5) Lime Vietnamese Restaurant; (6) Eli’s Place; (7) Bocadillo’s; (8) Maya; (9) Eclectic Urban Pizzeria; and (10) El Cotorro. In the event you’re curious, the most popular restaurant review of all time was Buckhorn in San Antonio.

December, 2017

A flight of barbecue sauces from the TFK Smokehouse

24/7 Wall St., a financial news and opinion company who delivers content over the Internet compiled a list of the most expensive restaurants in every state. Denizens of the Land of Enchantment may be happy to learn that in America’s largest cities, a meal for two can cost more than a thousand dollars. That’s a mortgage payment–or at least a student loan payment–for some of us. 24/7 used a formula which considers the average price of an entrée and the most expensive entrée on the menu of more than 130 U.S. restaurants touted by various media outlets. That formula determined the most expensive restaurant in the fruited plain to be New York City’s Masa where a meal for two will set you back $1300. By comparison, the most expensive restaurant in the Land of Enchantment was deemed to be Santa Fe’s The Anasazi with an average entree price of $38.14 and the most expensive entree costing a mere $45.00.

Does the fact that hamburgers and hot dogs are served on some type of bread or bun qualify them as a sandwich? Apparently by definition, both burgers and hot dogs are indeed sandwiches. Some of us would argue that the burger has transcended the categorization “sandwich,” that it’s so much more. That’s not true of Orbitz which compiled it list of the most iconic sandwich in every state. As with just about every such list, Orbitz declared our sacrosanct green chile cheeseburger as the Land of Enchantment’s most iconic “sandwich.” The only other states in which a burger was deemed “best sandwich” were Montana (elk burger), Oklahoma (onion burger), North Carolina (North Carolina style burger), Utah (pastrami burger) and Wyoming (bison burger).

Pizza Today Shares Forghedaboudit‘s Recipe for Carbonara (Photo Courtesy of Bob Yacone)

In the past twelve months, perhaps no restaurant across the Land of Enchantment has garnered as much acclaim or brought as much gold to the Land of Enchantment as Deming’s transcendent Forghedaboudit, a fabulous dining destination to which all wise men and women should pilgrimage. When Pizza Today, a highly respected trade publication considered entrees worthy of being honored in its 2018 menu guide of Italian food favorites, Bob Yacone’s incomparable carbonara was a no-brainer. Your humble blogger had the great fortune of enjoying this paragon of rich deliciousness (which you’ll see listed among Gil’s “best of the best” dishes for 2017). Visiting Forghedaboudit should be every serious diner’s New Year’s resolution. You may want to move to Deming after one visit.

All that legal marijuana in Colorado translates to an increase in the munchies across the Centennial State. Increasingly denizens of Denver and the people of Pueblo are sating the munchies with a New Mexican cure-all: red and green chile. “Christmas Means Red and Green Chile,” a recent feature on Westwood extolled the deliciousness of New Mexican cuisine in the Denver area. Little Anita’s, a Duke City staple for forty years was among the restaurants touted. Here’s how the article described Little Anita’s red chile: “The red is just a little smoky and bitter from sun-dried red chiles, and the green is simple and chunky with diced Anaheims; combined, they’re the essence of New Mexico, imported right up I-25.”

Blue Cheese, Chives and Truffle Oil Fries from the Urban Hot Dog Company in Albuquerque

Author George Rosenbaum described a bagel as “a doughnut with the sin removed.” He obviously hasn’t seen what some of us top our bagels with. My friend Bill Resnik uses a trowel to spread green chile cream cheese schmear on his bagels. For my Kim, there isn’t enough butter in the house for her bagel. If you’re lamenting the absence of east coast quality bagels, doesn’t it make sense that a city often called “Little New York” would serve the best bagels in the Land of Enchantment? Delish published its list of the 50 best bagel shops in America and its choice for New Mexico was my choice, too. Alicea’s NY Bagels & Subs in Rio Rancho not only knows its way around bagels, its subs are superb.

Hillary Clinton may not have stayed home to bake cookies and have teas, but hours of baking honed Kristin Dowling’s cookie-baking skills to a championship level. Those skills were on display for all of the fruited plain to see when Kristin, co-owner of Albuquerque’s Rude Boy Cookies won the Food Network’s Christmas Cookie Challenge. Staying true and proud to her New Mexico roots, she blew the judges away in the first round with the Land of Enchantment’s official state cookie, the biscochito. In the second round, contestants were asked to bake a Christmas-themed cookie. Her creation was a gingerbread gift box with cookies shaped as pajamas. It didn’t take much deliberation for judges to acclaim Kristen as the winner of the $10,000 prize.

November, 2017

Pitmaster Extraordinaire Greg Janke Slices Brisket with Surgical Precision at Stack House BBQ in Rio Rancho

If you live in the Albuquerque metropolitan area and your cable or satellite package doesn’t include the Cooking Channel, you’d be forgiven if you shed a few tears on Thursday, November 9, 2017 when you missed Rio Rancho’s Stack House BBQ being showcased. You can catch Pitmaster-owner Greg Janke on the Food Network sometime in 2018 when he’ll create Stack House’s triple stack sandwich (brisket, pork and jalpeño sausage topped with slaw and barbecue sauce on a hoagie roll) for a program called Carnival Eats. If you haven’t discovered for yourself why television food and cooking shows are visiting Rio Rancho, you owe it to yourself to see why the Stack House is a star.

There’s a widely held perception that the Land of Enchantment is a one-trick-pony in terms of our culinary profile. The national media seems to believe that other than dishes featuring red and green chile, our restaurants don’t serve anything worth noting. In a feature entitled Best States in the US for Food, Thrillist ranked each state in the fruited plain by its food. Unlike so many quality of life polls in which New Mexico competes with Mississippi and Arkansas for the lowest ranking, our state was ranked 26th for food. Thrillist noted “We don’t blame you for putting that green chile all over everything — it’s quite tasty, but that’s only going to take you so far.”

Cupcakes from Smallcakes in Albuquerque

In an episode showcasing hotel hot spots that excel at excellent eats, the Travel Channel explained that travel broadens the soul and the food at its featured restaurants would broaden everything else. “If you’ve had reservations about hotel dining, cancel them because one bit at these hotel hot spots and you’ll never want to leave.” Only one hotel restaurant from the Land of Enchantment was featured, but it’s a great one. The Travel Channel advised ” when the beat of your own drummer takes you through the Southwest, you’ve got to stay at La Fonda at the Santa Fe Plaza. If La Fonda is the heart of Santa Fe, its heartbeat is La Plazuela.” La Plazuela’s signature dish is a unique green chile meatloaf which pairs the sweetness of white raisins, the heat of green chile and the freshness of New Mexican piñon. It’s some of the very best meatloaf you’ll ever have.

In 1835–twenty-six years before the American Civil War and eight-seven years before New Mexico joined the union— La Cantina del Cañon, a saloon dispensing liquor and food, opened its doors on Canyon Road. Instead of the fashionable destination art district it is today, back then Canyon Road was a hard-packed dirt trail flanked by old adobe homes. The cantina was owned and operated by the Vigil family well into the mid-twentieth century then in 1963, it was sold and rechristened El Farol. Perhaps because of the continuity of having a restaurant at the same spot, El Farol has long billed itself as the oldest restaurant in New Mexico. Delish certainly has bought in, naming El Farol as the Land of Enchantment’s representative in its compilation of the oldest restaurants in America.

Pad Thai from Thai Kitchen in Albuquerque

Ten-Four Good Buddy. October 4th is National Taco Day. Every Tuesday has become Taco Tuesday. Tacos have certainly come a long way. Business Insider teamed up with Yelp to “find out which restaurants, trucks, and food stands are serving up the very best tacos in America.” The Land of Enchantment was well represented. Ranked 43rd is Albuquerque’s El Paisa where even a trencherman can eat well for a few pesos. El Callejon Taqueria and Grill in Santa Fe was ranked 35th. Some of us find it hard to believe such states as Hawaii, Massachusetts, Tennessee and Virginia can have higher rated tacos.

It’s not intuitively obvious as to why October 4th is National Taco Day, but it’s glaringly apparent that March 14th is Pi(e) Day. Well, actually every day is Pie Day if you know where to find it. In its Facebook page, Tasting Table asked readers to share their state’s most amazing pie. It should come as absolutely no surprise that Pie-O-Neer Pies‘ pies were named the best pie in New Mexico. Tasting Table explained it very well: “It’s extremely important you know this: There is an entire town named after pie, and you can pay homage with a signature slice of New Mexico apple with green chiles and pine nuts. Pie Town still celebrates its namesake with a yearly festival, but it’s a party every day at this spirited shop, located on Pieway 60. You just can’t make this stuff up.”

Daniela and Maxime Bouneou in Better Times at Eclectic Urban Pizzeria Which Closed Its Doors in November

Time Out, the online city guide that glosses itself as the “worldwide guide to art and entertainment, food and drink, film, travel and more,”compiled a list of the seventeen best pizzerias in America. Only one pizzeria across the Land of Enchantment made the list–and at 17th at that. Albuquerque’s Farina Pizzeria & Wine Bar has been a revered Duke City institution since its launch in 2011 and now America knows about it. Here’s what Time Out had to say: “Any Albuquerque restaurant worth a line out the door has to offer green chilies, and Farina is no exception—the spicy local obsession is available as an optional add-on to any of the restaurant’s pizzas. They’re particularly welcome on the Salsiccia, with tomato sauce, sweet fennel sausage, roasted onion, mozzarella and provolone or the Formaggio di Capra, with goat cheese, pancetta, leeks and scallions.”

It’s apparently the dream of Purewow to “live in Italy and eat nothing but red wine pasta for the rest of our lives. But since that probably isn’t happening any time soon, we’re scouring the country for the best pizza, pasta and tiramisu the U.S. has to offer, with help from our friends at Yelp. Named the best Italian restaurant in the Land of Enchantment was Albuquerque’s Fresh Bistro which really doesn’t bill itself as an Italian restaurant. Of course when you make the best crab ravioli in town, does it really matter that you’re not strictly Italian?

Don’t forget to vote

Tis the season for eating and giving and what better gift is there than food. Thrillist compiled a list of top edible delights you can acquire from all 50 states, perfect for bestowing upon a friend or hoarding all to yourself. Apparently Santa knows his way to Hatch where Thrillist recommends gift-giving in the color green: “You can buy these spicy beauties fresh, roasted, or already broken down into a convenient sauce on your behalf. And if you’re REALLY jones-ing on a regular basis, they offer monthly subscriptions.”

Celebrity chef and restaurant impresario Bobby Flay knows a thing or two about food and restaurants. He shared some of his insight with Food and Wine, touting New Mexico as “the hottest food destination in America right now.” Flay expressed that “Mexico had its moment like 25 years ago, when Southwestern food was just becoming an important thing in this country, and now it’s having a comeback.” He named Santa Fe and Albuquerque as two of the state’s most interesting food cities, but didn’t discount other parts of the state. “I think the outer regions of New Mexico are important, too. Don’t forget there’s so much Native American culture there, and it doesn’t get played out in our cuisine very often. Nobody uses the red and green chiles of this country anywhere else in their food, and it’s such an important part of what we do in this country.”

October, 2017

Italian Beef from AK Deli

Not that very long ago you couldn’t find a decent burrito outside of a few states populated with large concentrations of Hispanic people. During my years in New England and the Gulf Coast, I could count on one hand the number of purveyors of just “passable” burritos we visited. Today purveyors of inventive and delicious burritos abound across the fruited plain. In its annual compilation of the best burritos in America, Thrillist listed burritos from states you wouldn’t have associated with great burritos just a decade ago: Massachusetts, Georgia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and New York City (New York City! Get a rope.) The list included only one from the Land of Enchantment: La Choza in Santa Fe. Who can argue with a capital city paragon for outstanding New Mexican food? Here’s what Thrillist has to say: “New Mexico is a big breakfast burrito state, so picking a burrito without a hint of egg in it is no mean feat. But La Choza makes it easy with its Burrito Grande entree, which, importantly, comes smothered in green or red chile. We hate to tell you to pick just one, so first order a cup of the green chile stew as an appetizer and then go red, to cover all your taste buds’ bases.”

Though Thrillist named only one burrito among the best 33 burritos across the fruited plain, at least it’s savvy enough to understand that “there’s incredible diversity within the regional cuisines of Mexico and the different directions they’ve taken as they’ve crossed the border and mingled with American palates.” Thrillist’s compilation of the 31 best Mexican restaurants in America named two of the Land of Enchantment’s very best. One, Santa Fe’s La Choza is a perennial fixture on many “best of” lists. Thrillist described La Choza thusly: “Spanish for “shed” — a nod to its iconic sister restaurant in Santa Fe Plaza, The Shed — adobe-style La Choza specializes in the New Mexican take on Mexican cuisine. There are homey enchiladas, burritos, chile rellenos, carne adovada, and the like, served with whole pinto beans and hominy. A deluge of green or red chilies can (and should!) be applied to practically any dish, and if you refuse to choose a camp you can always give yourself the gift of Christmas-style.” A first-timer on the list and deservedly so is Albuquerque’s Zacatecas about whom Thrillist writes: “From decorated Albuquerque chef Mark Kiffin, Zacatecas is named for one of the central states in Mexico, where influences from different surrounding regions frequently intermingle. His taqueria definitely isn’t afraid to explore with its tacos (which come wrapped in impossibly soft corn tortillas, four to an order), with selections like Mazatlan shrimp tacos, seared in molido chile and topped with Napa cabbage tossed in a bright vinaigrette.”

Duck Enchiladas from Maya

Every year, Pizza Today, a highly respected trade publication, surveys independent pizzerias across the fruited plain and compiles the results to put together a Hot 100 list–a ranking of the 100 largest (based on sales) independent pizza operations in America. While mom-and-pop pizzerias may not compete with behemoth national chains (paragons of mediocrity) in terms of profitability, they offer a far superior product and (certainly the pizzerias on the Hot 100 list) aren’t impoverished by any means. With annual profits of more than $10-million dollars, Albuquerque’s Il Vicino ranked fourteenth on the list. Mario’s Pizza, another Albuquerque pizza giant, made the list at 27th with reported annual sales of $6.9-million. Raking in annual sales of $4 million, Giovanni’s of Albuquerque has been a fixture on this list for years. Conspicuous by its absence is Albuquerque favorite Dion’s.

Mark Twain once wrote “you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did.” One of my profound regrets is not having made the time to meet Billie Frank, who along with Steve, Collins her doting husband and partner of 44 years, were the Santa Fe Travelers. Together Billie and Steve owned and operated a trip-planning and tours business specializing in creating authentic Santa Fe experiences based on individual interests. Billie passed away on October 11th. Over the years Billie and I shared a lot of restaurant and travel intelligence. We frequently commiserated that we never met in person and made tentative plans to remedy that situation only for life to get in the way. Billie loved the Land of Enchantment and was one of its most prolific promoters. She was an indomitable spirit with a great sense of adventure. She’ll be greatly missed.

The high-tech menu at Brixens in Albuquerque

With more than 535 million reviews and opinions covering the world’s largest selection of travel listings worldwide–over 7 million accommodations, airlines, attractions, and restaurants–TripAdvisor, the world’s largest travel site, provides travelers with the wisdom of the crowds to help them decide where to stay, how to fly, what to do and where to eat. TripAdvisor recently compiled a list of the best fine dining restaurants in the United States. Ranking seventh among the best in the best in the fruited plain is Santa Fe gem Geronimo. Here’s what TripAdvisor had to say about the Land of Enchantment’s best: “A perfect match of setting and food, Geronimo is an elegant 18th-century hacienda serving a “global eclectic” menu that changes with the seasons. Chef Sllin Cruz inherited and has burnished Geronimo’s reputation as New Mexico’s best. “Geronimo is not a place you go to in Santa Fe, it’s the reason you go to Santa Fe,” a TripAdvisor reviewer enthused. “Delicious food, fantastic service, great atmosphere and warm hospitality.”

This is the city, Los Angeles, California. On a recent foodie Friday, two mobile food kitchens (that’s food trucks to you, Sr. Plata) rolled into La La Land for a heated competition pitting celebrated restaurateur Susan Fenninger against badass burger maven Erica Coins with roasted Hatch green chile from Albuquerque’s own 505 Southwestern as the showcased ingredient. Eight other mobile food kitchens joined the fray, adding green chile to a variety of dishes. Most of the dishes were very rudimentary—essentially just add green chile. A panel of celebrity judges and online voters used such adjectives as “awesomeness and “tantalizing” to describe the chile-laden fare. Ultimately, a tie was declared, but the real winners are Los Angeles area diners who have been introduced to Hatch green chile.

September, 2017

Kim and Bob Yacone of Forghedaboudit in Deming Bring More Gold Home to New Mexico.

In the Christmas classic It’s A Wonderful Life, we learned that every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings. Unfortunately for the angels, the most heavenly wings aren’t of celestial origin. The best wings can only be found on Planet Earth at Forghedaboudit in Deming, New Mexico. For the second consecutive year, Bob and Kim Yacone spent their Labor Day weekend in Buffalo, New York where they competed in Wingfest 2017, the 17th annual national buffalo wing festival. Considered the premier competition in the chicken wing arena, it pitted some forty restaurateurs from across the globe in a heated (and delicious) competition. The Yacones earned first place in the “Dry Rub” category for their magical maple-bacon dry rub and third place in “XHot.” The maple-bacon dry rub was improved version of the same maple bacon rub that placed second in last year’s competition (and which Gil can attest is the best he’s ever had). PMQ Pizza Magazine, an online community dedicated to pizza gave Bob the sobriquet “king of the wings.” NOTE: Melodie K. of the fabulous blog Melodie K.com collaborated with Gil on this post.

September proved an auspicious month for the Yacones. Shortly after returning from Buffalo, Viceland channel’s The Pizza Show kicked off its second season by showcasing the International Pizza Expo in Las Vegas. While the Pizza Show chose to focus more on the gimmicky freestyle acrobatic dough tossing competition, if you paid close attention you may have seen Kim’s name atop the leaderboard in the traditional pizza category. As chronicled on this blog, Bob and Kim—competing against pizzaioli from all over the world—eared “Best Traditional Pizza” honors in the Southwest Region (California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, Colorado, Oklahoma and Texas). They also placed second in the United States and fourth in the entire world. In the past two years, no one has brought as much gold home to New Mexico as Bob and Kim have. Isn’t it time for the state to declare a “Forghedaboudit Day” in their honor? How about it, Governor Martinez?

Green Chile Ranch Dressing from Dion’s

Most dating sites are based on compatibility, matching couples on the basis of shared lifestyle preferences. Hater, which launched in February, is approaching compatibility from an entirely different perspective, matching people with others who hate the same things. Hater’s premise is that “mutual dislikes can bring people closer than their shared interests.” The Hater app allows users to express their level of hate on about three-thousand topics. Based on data collected, Hater put together a map showing the most hated food in each state. It turns out that what denizens of the Land of Enchantment hate most is chicken nuggets (though we would probably love them with green chile). Our neighbors in Colorado hate flaming hot Cheetos while Arizonans hate kombucha and Texans loathe steak cooked well done.

The sixth time proved the charm for Sparky’s Burgers, BBQ & Espresso which finally won the New Mexico State Fair Green Chile Cheeseburger Challenge after years of trying. In previous competitions, Sparky’s earned second-place and a people’s choice award, but top honors proved elusive. The chile Sparky’s used on their burgers was grown in Hatch, hometown to the very popular destination restaurant. It was picked and processed two days before the competition. Second place was earned by Fuddrucker’s, a two-time winner of the competition. The Oak Tree Café earned third place while the Oso Grill in Capital took home the people’s choice award. Twelve restaurants competed for “best burger” honors in this annual event.

Arrachera & Eggs from Salud! de Mesilla. Photo Courtesy of Melodie K.

Reigning supreme in Santa Fe’s 2017 Green Chile Cheeseburger Smackdown, a truly chile-licious event, was Chef Rocky Durham of Blue Heron at the Sunrise Springs Spa in La Cienega. David Sellers of Street Food Institute earned the people’s choice award. Eight competitors entered the fray, showcasing a variety of different ways to prepare and serve New Mexico’s sacrosanct burger. The winning burger, christened “The Life Changer” featured Brisket, rib eye, vintage cheddar, Acalde green chile, and housemade pickles. Alas, it’s available only for lunch and brunch at Blue Heron. Other contenders included Chefs Marc Quinones of Mas Tapas Y Vino at Hotel Andaluz in Albuquerque, Jeffrey Kaplan of Rowley Farmhouse Ales in Santa Fe, Matt Schnooberger of the Freight House Kitchen in Bernalillo and five other esteemed competitors.

Chef Marc Quinones of Mas Tapas Y Vino at Hotel Andaluz in Albuquerque was named “Chef of the Year” for 2017 at the Hospitality Industry Awards banquet sponsored by the New Mexico Restaurant Association. The award signifies “leadership, creativity and culinary excellence in addition to demonstrating outstanding guest service and mentorship inside and outside the kitchen.” Previous honors for Chef Quinones include a third-place-finish in the Great American Seafood Cook-off, a national competition held in New Orleans back in July. Restaurateur of the Year, the Association’s highest honor, went to Brian Baily from Domino’s for leading his team on a number of community involvement activities. The Restaurant Neighbor Award went to Larry and Dorothy Rainosek from Frontier Restaurant and Golden Pride. The Rainoseks are exemplars of giving back to the community.

Cinnamon Roll from Limonata in Albuquerque

Thrillist, the online media brand which covers food, drink, travel and entertainment listed Santa Fe as one of “Nine Surprisingly Great U.S. Food Cities You Have to Visit.” For those of us who follow culinary trends, the biggest surprise is that it’s a surprise to anyone that Santa Fe is a great food city. It’s been a great food city for decades, in fact. Thrillist summed it up succinctly: “Pretty much everything you love, done the best it can be done.” Noting that “Every day in Santa Fe can be Christmas: Red chile sauce and green chile sauce slathered side-by-side on your enchilada, burrito, or chile relleno like a piquant Yuletide fiesta,” Thrillist named Maria’s New Mexican Kitchen as a peerless purveyor of margaritas. If, however, you can only have one meal in Santa Fe, Thrillist recommends it be from Eloisa which “eschews the standard Santa Fe palette of purples and pinks for a sleek black-and-white space inside the Drury Plaza Hotel.”

With more than 214-million users in the United States and 1.8 billion active monthly users, Facebook is the most popular social network in the planet. It stands to reason, therefore, that Facebook recommendations carry a lot of weight. USA Today polled Facebook as to what restaurants its users recommend across the fruited plain. In a feature entitled “Each state’s most recommended restaurant on Facebook,” data revealed that New Mexico’s most recommended restaurant on Facebook is El Pinto in Albuquerque. In the seven years “Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Year in Food” has been gracing this blog, no restaurant has garnered as much acclaim as the capacious El Pinto. Though it has its detractors, it’s widely beloved, too.

Green Chile Cheeseburger and Fries from Dick’s Cafe in Las Cruces. Photo Courtesy of Melodie K.

“The inside of Mary and Tito’s Restaurant on Albuquerque’s 4th Street doesn’t look like much: vinyl tablecloths, walls plastered with family photos. But the kitchen produces some of New Mexico’s best chile—not the meaty stew, spelled chili, served across the border in Texas, but the pepper-based sauce that holds pride of place in New Mexican cuisine.” That’s how the Wall Street Journal began its feature “Why Doubling Down on the Chile is the Way to Go.” The feature boasted “New Mexico’s red and green chile sauces are so good, why not opt for both at once?” Red and green chile are precisely why the Land of Enchantment celebrates Christmas all year long.

Datafiniti, which purports to provide instant access to web data, explored which parts of the country offer the most for Mexican food aficionados. More precisely, Datafiniti sought answers to the questions: “Which city has the most Mexican restaurants?” and “Are there preferences for tacos or burritos?” The results indicate Albuquerque ranks eighteenth—behind such cities as Seattle, Atlanta, San Francisco and Tucson—among cities with the most Mexican restaurants. According to the list, the Duke City boasts of some 67 restaurants, but there’s no indication as to whether New Mexican restaurants figured into the equation, but Albuquerque did fare better among cities with the “most authentic (non-chain) Mexican restaurants.” Albuquerque ranked sixteenth in that category with some 57 “authentic” Mexican restaurants. Do your Math and what that statistic tells you is that there are ten chain Mexican restaurants in town. Insofar as the taco-burrito comparison, the ratio of tacos and burritos on restaurant menus, Albuquerque finished tenth. Apparently 61-percent of the city’s restaurants offer tacos on the menu and 39-percent offer burritos.

August, 2017

Sugar Nymphs in Peñasco Offers New Mexico’s Very Best Organic Carrot Cake

If you wanted to watch a cooking show some two and a half decades ago, you had very few options available to you. The most prominent was PBS where such culinary pioneers as Julia Child, Graham Kerr and Justin Wilson entertained and educated viewers on the nuances of the cooking arts. Since the launch of the Food Channel in 1993, cooking and food shows of all types have become a standard at many networks. Delish.com, one of the top 10 food-related online destinations, used Google Trends to determine the most popular food program in every state. Analytics revealed that New Mexico’s very favorite food program is the Food Network’s Giada at Home in which the doe-eyed beauty shows off her love for California-style cuisine, party-planning and cooking for family and friends.

Thirteen of the nation’s top chefs battled for prestigious title of King of American Seafood at the 14th annual Great American Seafood Cook-Off, held in New Orleans, Louisiana. Now, if you believe New Mexico, home of landlocked enchantment, couldn’t possibly compete in such a competition, you don’t know Albuquerque’s uber chef Marc Quiñones who wowed the judges with his spice duck-fat-fried oysters with Hatch green chile and chorizo BBQ spread. Chef Quiñones, currently plying his craft at Mas, finished third in the competition.

Korean BBQ Beef and Spicy Pork Tacos From Soo Bak Foods

You might expect that a magazine named Southern Living and which “celebrates the best of Southern life” would know a thing or two about barbecue. Indeed it does. Expanding its boundaries beyond Dixie, Southern Living published The Great American Barbecue Bucket List, “fifty spots worth road-tripping for.” For the best in bodacious barbecue, the magazine recommended Sparky’s Burgers, Barbecue & Espresso, describing the barbecue hot spot as: “A campy, convivial spot that always has a line out of the door, Hatch green chiles are elevated to hero status at this Hatch mainstay. Sure, you could order their celebrated Green Chile Cheeseburger, but our vote is for the succulent Pulled Pork Tacos, which are decked out with cheddar cheese. As live music pulses, stay for a little longer and recharge with one of their espresso drinks off of their long list of iced or hot elixirs.”

Howie “The Duke of Duke City” Kaibel, the charismatic Albuquerque Community Manager for Yelp probably does more for mom-and-pop businesses in Albuquerque than anyone else. During a recent corporate get-together, Yelp singled out Howie for one of its most prestigious accolades, one that personally means a lot to him. Yelp’s community managers named him recipient of the Collen Burns award for Authenticity, one of Yelp’s five core values. If you’ve ever spent any time with Howie, authenticity is certainly a quality you’ll ascribe to him. It comes across very well in his creative, non-formulaic writing. His reviews are a pleasure to read.

Prestigious Award Earned By Albuquerque’s Yelp Community Manager Howie Kaibel

Mobile food kitchens, known also as “food trucks” have come a long way, baby. Once synonymous with “roach coaches,” today’s mobile food kitchens can compete with many brick-and-mortar restaurants when it comes to deliciousness. According to one trade publication, mobile food kitchens have become a billion dollar business. Spoon University ate its way across the fruited plain in finding the best food trucks in every state. The Land of Enchantment’s best, according to Spoon, is the Supper Truck which prowls the mean streets of Albuquerque. Spoon University had this to say: “In Albuquerque, The Supper Truck is a combo of Mexican, Vietnamese, and Southern food. Sounds amazing right? Try one of their tacos, banh mi sandwiches, or grits.”

If it seems as if Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Blog expends a lot of words discussing tacos, that’s only because tacos are hot–literally and figuratively. Business Insider, a publication normally concerned with the business of tacos than it is the deliciousness of tacos, partnered with Yelp to “find out which restaurants, trucks, and food stands are serving up the very best taco joints in America.” Ranking at number 43 is Albuquerque’s El Paisa, a rating my friend Ryan “Break the Chain” Scott will tell you is much too low. Eight spots higher is Santa Fe’s El Callejon Taqueria and Grille, which has earned a 4.5 star rating from Yelp.

Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Blog: Named One of the World’s Best

There are literally tens of thousands of gastronomy blogs across the blogosphere. Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Blog has been named one of the Top 50 Gastronomy Blogs in the planet. Okay, so the blog is currently rated thirteenth, but it’s a lucky thirteen. Four criteria were used in determining the elite fifty: Google reputation and Google search ranking; influence and popularity on Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites; quality and consistency of posts; and an editorial team and expert review. Considering Gil’s Thrilling…has virtually no presence on social media, this is quite a coup.

In a rare departure from its seemingly ad-nauseum coverage of political shenanigans, Time Magazine compiled its list of the “best restaurants in America.” Criteria used to determine this list sifting through Business Insider’s list of the best restaurants in America, the James Beard award nominations, expert reviews, and local recommendations, paying particular attention to fine-dining establishments. To no surprise, Santa Fe’s Geronimo was declared New Mexico’s best. Time had this to say about the Canyon Road institution: “Noted for its impeccable service and complex dishes, Geronimo was named as one of the best restaurants in the US by OpenTable last year. The setting is formal to match its intricate and elegantly put-together dishes. The menu boasts a host of mouthwatering dishes, including grilled Maine lobster tails served with Thai basil pasta in a creamy garlic chile sauce.”

Golf Teams Needed to Support Roadrunner Food Bank

On 2 October 2017 at the Tanoan Country Club, National Distributing is hosting its third annual golf tournament and is seeking golf teams to fill it. The tournament will benefit the Roadrunner Food Bank along with two additional charities. If you’re a golfer or know golfers, please invite them to register a team.

As much time as the Food Network has spent in New Mexico, you would think its program hosts would know better than to refer to our official state vegetable as “chili sauce” and that sub-text wouldn’t commit the grammatical faux pas of spelling it “chili.” In the premier of her eponymous Food Network show “I Hart Food,” host Hannah Hart recommended peanut butter and jelly sandwiches as a way to quell the burn you get after eating hot chile. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches? That’s a new one for me and I’ve spent most of my life in New Mexico. On the positive side, Hannah displayed proper reverence and awe when partaking of the huevos Yucatecos at the Tecolote Cafe. She learned about the history of chocolate and its mingling with chile at Kakawa and thoroughly enjoyed the best green chile cheeseburger in the universe at Santa Fe Bite.

Vegetarian Pizza from Golden Crown Panaderia

Much more familiar with the Land of Enchantment is Food Network glitterati Guy Fieri who’s starring alongside his family in a new series called Guy’s Family Road Trip. One of the family’s stops on their RV trek from their California home to the Florida coast was at Albuquerque’s Pueblo Harvest Cafe in the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center. The Fieris joined Executive Chef David Ruiz to discuss the restaurant’s fresh local ingredients, innovative New Native American Cuisine, and classic dishes such as the award-winning Tewa Taco (recipe for which can be found on the Food Network site).

Lady Gaga once described herself thusly: “I‘m not a sandwich store that only sells turkey sandwiches. I sell a lot of different things.” All across the fruited plain, there are sandwich shops which sell only one product–some of the most sumptuous, mouth-watering sandwiches in creation. Thrillist believes “we’re currently in a sandwich renaissance, with greatness increasingly popping up between buns (or Texas toast or kaiser rolls or other carb creations) across the country.” In a feature honoring the best sandwiches and sandwich shops in every state, Thrillist singled out the Palacio Cafe and its “fantastic Taos Style panini, with beef, provolone, caramelized onions, and NM’s signature green chiles packed into sourdough then pressed until it’s all melted together into one beautiful cacophony of deliciousness that will have you wondering why the Tex-Mex model of putting green chiles on everything isn’t a mandatory offering for any sandwich… peanut butter included.” Tex-Mex model? What an insult!

White Chicken Chili from the Tre Rosat Cafe in Silver City. Photo Courtesy of Melodie K.

AARP, which purports to “make life better for today’s 50-plus population and generations that follow,” published a list of 6 great U.S. getaways for good lovers. Explaining that “long gone are the days when Americans needed a passport to experience truly spine-tingling cuisine,” AARP listed a “bumper crop of newcomers has set up shop in second-tier cities and are offering the old-timers a run for their money.” One of the cities making the list was Albuquerque which has “evolved very recently into a tantalizing mixture of Native American, Latin and European food traditions for which there is no shortage of purveyors. The “three sisters” of Native American cuisine — corn, beans and squash — are everywhere, as is the venerable fire-roasted green chili, which can be found in everything from tacos and cheeseburgers to cocktails. New-Mex classics include places such as Sadie’s of New Mexico and El Pinto, which have been joined by award-winning newcomers such as Frenchish and Los Poblanos Historic Inn & Organic Farm.”

Remember college? Yeah, we don’t either. But amid fuzzy memories of late-night contemplations on Nietzsche and later-night sticky basement floors, there’s one thing that stands out: the food we loved the most.” That’s how the Tasting Table began its feature on the best college town food in every state. Perhaps because of proximity, the Land of Enchantment’s best college town food was deemed to be the Frontier Restaurant just across Central Avenue from the University of New Mexico. Here’s what Tasting Table had to say about the famous Frontier: “The sweet roll at this campus-adjacent icon is an irresistible plate-sized spiral of sugar, cinnamon and joy. But since one cannot live on dessert perfection alone, there are house-made tortillas (which you can buy to go) and plenty of dishes that use green chile, the hallmark of regional New Mexican cuisine.”

Smoked Salmon Salad from Roswell’s Big D’s Downtown Dive. Photo Courtesy of Melodie K.

Route 66, America’s highway, meandered across 2,448 miles of the fruited plain, crossing three time zones and eight states, from Chicago to Los Angeles. Although Route 66 has all but disappeared, been renamed (as in Albuquerque’s Central Avenue) or left for nature to reclaim, the spirit of the roadside diner continues to thrive in neon spangled restaurants such as Albuquerque’s 66 Diner. In an episode celebrating great eats across Route 66, Travel Channel’s Food Paradise program stopped at the 66 Diner for a Route 66 “pile-up,” an “everything but the kitchen sink” heaping helping of New Mexico deliciousness. The program also showcased the 66 Diner’s frosty milk shakes, an integral part of the diner experience. Luxury models such as the “Pink Cadillac” (strawberry ice cream, crushed cookies) are a specialty of the nostalgia restaurant.

The show also stopped at a “mystical mashup of art, culture and Southwestern scenic splendor, the capital of the Land of Enchantment, Santa Fe.” There, they visited Sazon, the highly regarded new world restaurant owned and operated by uber-chef Fernando Olea who the show christened the “king of moles.” Chef Olea demonstrated his preternatural preparation of New Mexico mole with a rack of lamb. He also created a work-of-art seafood enchilada so appealing you might be tempted to rush to your television and lick the screen. Sazon is one of the very best restaurants in New Mexico and on Route 66 (yes, the mother road traversed through Santa Fe).

July, 2017

Vegetarian Dumplings from the Pop-Up Dumpling House in Albuquerque

If it seems as though every conceivable television food show concept has been tried, sometimes ad-nauseum, you might want to check out FYI television’s new culinary series. Called SCRAPS, it features Chef Joel Gamoran traveling across the fruited plain creating incredible feasts in unexpected places, using the most out-of-the-box ingredients – food waste and scraps. In the seventh episode of its inaugural season, SCRAPS visited Santa Fe where Chef Gamoran partners up with local chef Jonathan Perno, executive chef at Los Poblanos Historic Inn and a multi-time James Beard “Best Chef Southwest” semi-finalist. The two learn how to make the traditional blue corn tortilla, and give local scraps a makeover by using stale tortillas, rejected chiles, zucchini blossoms, and overripe avocados to create a delicious dinner menu.

With 620,807 restaurants (give or take a few) across the fruited plain as of Fall, 2016, you have to be very special to stand out. You have to be extraordinary to make it to a list titled “50 Essential Restaurants Every American Should Visit.” Only one restaurant in the Land of Enchantment was deemed worthy of inclusion on the list published by Thrillist, a leading men’s digital lifestyle brand. That anointed restaurant is The Range Café in Bernalillo and Albuquerque. It’s on the pantheon of deified dining in part because of the “open-faced Rio Grande Gorge burger, topped with white cheddar, grilled onions, and gelatinous green chiles on a tortilla alongside cheesy potatoes.” Thrillist closed its write-up with the confusing missive: “May the green chile sauce flow as strongly as the Rio Grande and your supply of antacids be bountiful as stucco housing.”

Village Pizza in Corrales Where Friendly Dogs Are Always Welcome

Buzzfeed, which was described on NYMag as “a hyper­active amalgam: simultaneously a journalism website, a purveyor of funny lists, and a perpetual pop-culture” consulted Yelp to find the “best ice cream sandwiches in America.” Coming in at number nineteen (out of thirty-five) is the Ice Cream Taco from Albuquerque’s Pop Fizz, an oft discussed purveyor of fantastic frozen treats as well as New Mexican food. Buzzfeed described the Ice Cream Taco as “like your favorite store-bought choco taco, but so. much. better. Choose from a bunch of ice cream flavors, which are stuffed in a waffle cone taco shell and topped with chocolate.”

My blogging buddy Melodie K. whose photographs frequently grace the “Thrilling (And Filling) Year in Food” feature passed along this gem: It’s “O”-fficial. O, the Oprah Magazine has declared San Antonio’s Owl Bar & Cafe‘s green chile as “the best thing you can eat in New Mexico.” The 72-year old restaurant’s winning ways with green chile over fries and its legendary green chile cheeseburger made it the statewide stand-out in an article singling out the “Best Thing to Eat in All 50 States.” Melodie recently made the trek to The Owl and shared the photograph you’ll find in the June edition of “Year in Food.”

Farm Fresh Mobile Farmer’s Market in Las Cruces. Photo Courtesy of Melodie K.

Would fast food taste as good if we didn’t feel guilty about eating it? If we didn’t feel as though we’re getting away with something? It’s only fitting that a “no judgements food site” which calls itself Guilty Eats would celebrate life’s guilty pleasures. Recognizing that fast food is ingrained in our American fabric, Guilty Eats took a “trip to find the best fast food joint in all 50 states of the wide swath of land we call Murica’! In what is probably as close as a “no-brainer” as you’ll ever see, the Land of Enchantment’s selection was Blake’s Lotaburger. Guilty Eats tells us “While you can get it (the green chile cheeseburger) at the local Whataburger, the best place to get these bad boys is at Blake’s Lotaburger, which is recognized as one of the best regional fast food chains in the country. Not only are their burgers simply the bomb, the rest of the menu is also tasty and fresh.”

Unlike most culinary industry recognition which is “based on subjective standards and opaque criteria,” Good Food 100 Restaurants™ inaugurated a new accolade based on “percentage of total food purchases ($) spent to support local/state, regional and national Good Food producers and purveyors vs. same category restaurants in the same region.” In other words, Good Food 100 celebrates restaurants where “truly good food is good for every link in the food chain,” where “sustainability and transparency” are making a positive impact. New Mexico’s sole representative on the “Good Food 100 Restaurants” list for 2017 is Albuquerque’s The Grove Café & Market. “For over 10 years, The Grove Cafe & Market has offered local, organic, antibiotic and preservative-free foods, promising to source and serve the best to our guests. We think it is imperative to spread awareness and continue to educate the public as to why Good Food is the best food.”

June, 2017

Squash Blossom Taco from the B2B Tap Room in Albuquerque

Cosmopolitan, the world’s most successful magazine for young women aged 18-34, isn’t as widely known for its restaurant recommendations as it is for empowering women. Cosmo recently took a stab at naming the “best 24-hour restaurant in your state,” an endeavor to sate late-night cravings. Using Yelp data, Cosmo listed diners, burger joints and restaurants which “serve amazing food to customers around the clock (at least one day per week).” Considering the Duke City recently made the ignominious list as being ranked among the worst cities for late night food, it’s a given Albuquerque didn’t make Cosmo’s list. Instead the Land of Enchantment’s best 24-hour restaurant comes from Belen where Penny’s Diner, an airstream trailer style diner keeps hungry patrons happy every day of the week.

A quarter-century has elapsed since the Golden Girls, four geriatrically advanced Miami housewives, graced the air. While devotees loved the comedy’s zany plots, what many of us found most endearing were the intimate scenes in which the four friends sat around the kitchen table sharing a cheesecake and commiserating into the night. Cheesecake may not be the panacea that cures all that ails us, but it certainly makes life more delicious. Delish invites readers to have their taste buds branch out beyond chains for a slice (or five) of the rich, creamy, fluffy dessert loved by the Golden Girls. In a feature entitled “This is the Best Cheesecake in Your State,” Delish used Yelp data to compile a list of the best cheesecakes in the fruited plain. The best cheesecake in the Land of Enchantment comes from Vinaigrette in Albuquerque. Yelp contributor Amy R. noted “This beautiful restaurant is full of pops of color, and guests love finishing their meals with flavor-packed desserts like their lemon cheesecake, made with fresh lemon and topped with raspberry coulis.”

“Good Old Reliable” burger with sweet potato fries from Big D’s Downtown in Roswell. Photo Courtesy of Melodie K.

Denizens of the Land of Enchantment know the best green chile cheeseburgers in the universe can only be found within our state’s borders. We esteem our green chile cheeseburgers with such high regard that our state’s Department of Tourism promotes a trail listing purveyors who prepare them best. Most of us couldn’t fathom of a burger without green chile, but the rest of the fruited plain isn’t quite as lucky. Perhaps recognizing this, Delish evaluated Yelp reviews and published a list of the “Best Bacon Burger in Every State.” New Mexico’s best bacon burger, the “Southwest Burger” comes from Hall of Flame Burgers in Ruidoso. According to Yelper Christy M., “the big draw is tons of avocado and bacon.”  Avocado? Fret not, friends. Hall of Flame Burgers is on the New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail so you’ll certainly be able to improve the state’s best bacon burger with the addition of our sacrosanct green chile.

You may have noticed that in the past three months, most of our dining excursions have been to dog-friendly restaurants throughout the Land of Enchantment. In the June-July edition of “Denver’s Quintessential Dog Magazine” “Mile High Dog,” the staff took its own dog-friendly sojourn. Mile High Dog noted that “As Saint Francis is the patron saint of animals, what could be better when traveling with pets than going to the place named for that saintly friar, Santa Fe.” The magazine staff spent time dining with their four-legged friends at some of the City Different’s dog-friendly restaurant patios including Cowgirl, La Choza, Gabriel’s, The Shed, The Teahouse and TerraCotta Wine Bistro. You can find even more dog-friendly Santa Fe restaurants on Bring Fido.

Green Chile Cheeseburger from The Owl Cafe in San Antonio, New Mexico. Photo Courtesy of Melodie K.

If you read my recent review of La Lecheria, you already know it’s been named the Land of Enchantment’s selection for “The Best Ice Cream Shop in Every State” feature on Thrillist. Hopefully by now you’ve made your way to Santa Fe for some of La Lecheria’s fabled popcorn or green chile ice cream. Thrillist noted: “Local chef Joel Coleman fell in love with ice cream making while running his popular Santa Fe restaurant Fire & Hops. The love was so deep, in fact, that he launched a separate ice cream business in 2016, and New Mexicans have had a valuable weapon against the heat ever since. Well, hold that thought — this being New Mexico, you better believe there are chilis occasionally involved, as brown sugar red chili and (of course) green chile both figure into the seasonal flavor rotation alongside menu stalwarts like sea salt chocolate. So it’s possible your palate will be feeling a little heat, but it’ll be so blissfully pleased you won’t mind a bit.”

Could there be a better name for a Web site dedicated to culinary news than “Eater?” Could there ever be a bigger head-shaking statement than this one from Eater: “ New Mexican green chile peppers are special, with a strong vegetal taste that approaches artichoke territory.”? That’s how the Eater staff began a feature entitled “7 Must-Visit Spots in Santa Fe to Eat Green Chile.” New Mexicans will argue that in no way should green chile (unless it’s that stuff from Colorado) and artichoke ever be mentioned in the same sentence. Despite that grievous faux pas, Eater’s seven must visit spots reflect most popular opinion from natives who know: The Shed, Café Pasqual’s, Santa Fe Bite, Tomasita’s, Dr. Field Goods, Posa’s El Merendo and Horseman’s Haven.

Chocolate Cheesecake Gelato From Sam Steel Cafe on the NMSU campus in Las Cruces. Photo Courtesy of Melodie K.

2017’s domestic travel trends should include Santa Fe, according to the Travel Channel which compiled a list of trending U.S. cities you should add to your wish list. The Travel Channel’s criteria for compiling its diverse group includes emerging food scenes. About Santa Fe’s “emerging” food scene, the Travel Channel observes: “Santa Fe’s food scene has been steadily moving beyond conventional Southwestern fare. Recent restaurant additions include Milad Persian Bistro, the city’s first Persian; Sabor Peruano, the city’s first Peruvian; and The Root Cellar, a speakeasy pub beneath The Hive Market gift shop. La Lecheria is another newcomer, specializing in artisan ice cream; try locally inspired flavors such as green chile. However, Santa Fe is also elevating Southwestern food. Try some of the best at Eloisa, a James Beard semifinalist for best new restaurant in 2016. Eloisa is also among a handful of local restaurants incorporating Native American ingredients into their menus, which looks like it’s becoming a bigger trend.”

If, as the proverbial “they” say, “the third time’s a charm,” consider this. You’ve read about La Lecheria twice in this synopsis. Here’s the third mention, the one which should push you over the edge of your couch and into your car for a drive to the City Different’s best purveyor of ice cream. The Tasting Table has the scoop (or two or three) on the “Flavor of Love” and it’s delicious. The Tasting Table took it upon themselves to “seek out the very best flavors this summer has to offer, so that you can make the most of ice cream season this year.” One of the flavors of love they discovered is the Banana Leaf Candy Ginger from La Lecheria. The Tasting Table tells us “When you need to wash down all those green chiles, head to this little shop where chef Joel Coleman of Santa Fe restaurant Fire & Hops specializes in stabilizer- and preservative-free exotic flavors, like miso brown sugar. This season, look out for the banana leaf candy ginger, which combines some of our favorite Asian flavors into a perfectly balanced scoop.”

Combination Plate from Mandarin Chinese in Albuquerque

Departures, a luxury magazine specializing in travel and leisure as well as food and wine, raved about its “Tour of Santa Fe’s Food Scene,” introducing readers to “five restaurants to know now—and what dishes to order.” Offering a fusion of “incredible Native American, Spanish, Mexican, New Mexican, red chile, green chile, poblano and serrano flavors—one plate at a time”—Santa Fe’s anointed five (restaurants and dishes) were the Santacafe for its green chile cheeseburger, Whoo’s Donuts at the Farmers’ Market for its lavender blue corn doughnut, Sazon for its crunchy chapuline (dried grasshopper) tacos, Eloisa for its fabulous tortillas florals cooked with pansies and rose petals, and Tia Sophia’s for its breakfast burrito.

Santa Fe isn’t solely a dining destination. Visitors have long been lured to the state capital by its history, art and culture, too. Most recently, Santa Fe earned acclaim from National Geographic as one of “America’s 20 Best Mountain Bike Towns,” noting, in fact, that the City Different has “what is arguably the best food scene of any bike town.”

May, 2017

Turtle Blonde Sundae and Caramelo Sundae from Albuquerque’s Flying Star

Much like the electoral college, OpenTable’s 100 Best Brunch Restaurants in America 2017 is slanted toward more populous states. The elite brunch 100 list reflects the combined opinions of more than 10 million restaurant reviews submitted by verified OpenTable diners for more than 24,000 restaurants in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The complete list features winning restaurants in 36 states and Washington, D.C., but only one restaurant from the Land of Enchantment earned a place. New Mexico’s best brunch comes from Albuquerque’s Farm & Table on 4th Street.

Santa Fe Chef Martin Rios became a two-time finalist for the James Beard Foundation Awards in The Best Chef Southwest category, coming oh-so-close in 2015 and 2017. One of New Mexico’s most heralded chefs, Rios may not have taken home the culinary world’s equivalent of an Oscar, but he continues to enthrall New Mexico diners with his innovative Progressive American cuisine at his eponymous Restaurant Martin. Since launching his restaurant, Rios has earned eight James Beard award nominations.

Ahi Poke Salad from the Pecan Grill in Las Cruces (Photo Courtesy of Melodie K)

It’s not every state under the spacious skies which can boast of more than one city which can even be considered the best, most essential, go-to food city in that state. In New Mexico, both Santa Fe and Albuquerque vie for that honor. Fortunately it was Thrillist and not me who endeavored to name the better of the two. It wasn’t an easy decision: “It pains us physically, in our hearts and souls, not to choose Albuquerque for this honor. We sung its praises in a story on food cities for Thrillist previously. We also shouted, “It’s misunderstood!” from the internet rooftops. While its food scene is certainly noteworthy (Los Poblanos is a game-changer), Santa Fe has just too much good stuff to be ignored, and a lot of it has to do with green chile. So it bears mentioning the green chile cheeseburgers at Santa Fe Bite, the green chile enchiladas at Horseman’s Haven, and the green chile-rubbed pulled pork sandwich at Dr Field Goods Kitchen. If Southwestern food isn’t your thing, you’re wrong, but there’s still standout American cuisine at Restaurant Martin and Joseph’s, and a restaurant with food so fresh, nourishing, and delicious that senior staff writer Lee Breslouer once visited three times in 48 hours: Sweetwater.

When you think about it, “Burgers are the most democratic of foods. The best burger in any one city might be in the dankest of dive bars, or in the fanciest of restaurants.” That’s an observation made by Thrillist in its quest to name and rank the 100 best burgers in America. Coming in at number 29 is New Mexico’s sacrosanct green chile cheeseburger as it’s prepared at Santa Fe’s revered Santa Fe Bite. Thrillist declared “The cream rising to the top of the New Mexico green chile burger scene, Bite consistently puts out a burger that might make this list even if the green chiles weren’t there to help push it with subtle heat and acid.”

Superbowl Breakfast From The Bean in Mesilla. (Photo Courtesy of Melodie K.)

It wouldn’t be a stretch to say vehicles rented by Enterprise have boldly gone where no man or woman have gone before. Enterprise recently visited Hatch to glean an answer to New Mexico’s burning question: green or red chiles. As Enterprise noted “when you visit Hatch itself — the Chile Capital of the World — you’re greeted by pepper pride of intense proportions, even during the offseason. This tiny village is powered by peppers.” The one “can’t miss culinary destination,” “a brand of quirkiness that could only exist in a village with one major export” is Sparky’s where owners Josie and Teako Nunn had the audacity to call their green chile cheeseburgers “world famous” even before that burger started winning awards. Enterprise also noted that “And they do add chiles to everything in New Mexico. In Albuquerque, you can get them on pizza at local favorite Amore Pizzeria or add them to your eggs at scenic brunch spot Farm & Table.”

Breaking Bad tourists will find that Albuquerque is more than a pop culture trip.” That’s the observation made by the Lexington (Kentucky) Herald Leader who sent a travel writer to check out the Duke City. No stranger to Albuquerque, she waxed nostalgic for her childhood when recalling a stop at La Placita Dining Rooms in Old Town. Years later, she marveled at the city’s “800 works of public art; a vibrant mix of neighborhoods; and a burgeoning brewery industry.” Then, of course, there’s the matter of Albuquerque “being the setting for two of television’s most acclaimed series, ‘Breaking Bad’ and its prequel ‘Better Call Saul’.” It wouldn’t have been a fruitful trip without indulging in our chile laden cuisine. She took in Los Poblanos and Zacatecas Tacos & Tequila where she found that even her margarita had red chile in it.

Cultured Canines Dine at Santa Fe’s Teahouse

Thrillist put it best: “Nachos — they’re a combination of pretty much the best foods out there, and yet a truly transcendent plate of them is mysteriously elusive, like the Bigfoot of bar food, except (hopefully) less hairy.” In contemporary America, you’re no longer likely to find nachos constructed solely from gloppy canned cheese and stale jalapeños. You certainly won’t find anything so boring on Thrillist’s list of the 21 best nachos in America. What you’ll find are paragons of deliciousness on tortilla chips–nachos such as the Nachos Grande from Albuquerque’s El Patron. Thrillist described these nachos as “Tasty and authentic, these New Mexican nachos are bursting with flavorful ground beef, guac, beans, cheese, and more, all on crispy tostadas. After you scarf those down, you might as well go for some more traditional NM fare, so order their famous chicharones, which are hunks of stewed pork tucked into a warm tortilla with cheese and green chile sauce.”

The Cooking Channel’s “Big Bad Barbecue Brawl” show pitted Albuquerque pitmaster extraordinaire Daniel Morgan against Brooklyn pitmaster Shannon Ambrosio who travels the fruited plain to see if he can measure up against the best pit masters in the south. Ambrosio had won their previous seven competitions before running into the talented owner of Pepper’s Barbecue on San Pedro. Chef Morgan’s winning dishes incorporated such New Mexico staples as pinon and green chile. How can anyone hope to compete with that?

Fried Cheesecake from Mix Pacific Rim in Las Cruces (Photo Courtesy of Melodie K)

For those among us who aren’t endowed with athletic ability or cerebral capabilities, there are still many opportunities to engage in competition. Competitive eating has become a rather popular “sport” with every state in the fruited plain boasting of its own insane food challenges. Chowhound published a feature called “50 States, 50 Insane Food Challenges” that highlighted them. The Land of Enchantment’s most insane food challenge was deemed to be the “Gila Monster,” a sandwich served at “Melissa” (Melissa?) Valley BBQ Company in Las Cruces. The Gila monster is “filled with pulled pork, brisket, chopped chicken, spicy sauce and cole slaw” and “if you can put this monster away in under 45 minutes, it’ll run you just $1. New Mexico Magazine might want to look at the URL for the page in which the Gila Monster is showcased. The last part of the URL reads “mexico-gila-monster.” Apparently New Mexico is missing once again.

Chowhound also decided to compile a list of “the best burger (or darn close to it) in your state.” According to Chowhound, the Land of Enchantment’s very best burger comes from the Santa Fe Bite (which, if the URL (is to be believed is in Mexico). Here’s what Chowhound has to say about the Bite: Obviously the New Mexico choice is going to involve green chiles. The richness of the cheese and the beef (a blend of sirloin and chuck) offsets the heat of the chile … but not too much. It’s a good intro to this state’s edible emerald.

April, 2017

Championship Wings From Forghedaboudit in Deming. Photo Courtesy of Robert Yacone

Americans love chicken wings, gobbling them up by the semi-load with more than 27 billion eaten in 2013 and 1.23 billion wings consumed during Super Bowl weekend alone. That’s over 100-million pounds of wings. Laid out end to end, all these wings would circle the perimeter of the Earth twice. Delish ranked the very best chicken wings across the fruited plain–based on review volume and ratings from Yelp–and named the best wing spots in every state. New Mexico’s best wings didn’t need Yelp reviews to certify them as the very best. Deming’s magnificent Forghedaboudit restaurant earned its chicken wing creds at the National Buffalo Wing Fest where the transformative maple bacon variety earned a second place finish in America’s premier chicken wings competition. Take my word for it–these are life-altering wings, the best we’ve ever had!

First We Feast, an online presence which “views food as an illuminating lens into pop culture, music, travel, and more” recognizes that there’s a lot of great pizza across the fruited plain. To make it easy for us to find great pizza during our travels, they compiled “The United States of Pizza: The Best Pizza From Each of the 50 States.” The Land of Enchantment’s best was deemed to come from Santa Fe’s Dr. Field Good’s Kitchen. Here’s what First We Feast had to say: “At his casual, farm-to-table restaurant Dr. Field Goods Kitchen, chef Josh Gerwin uses a wood-fired, New Mexico horno-shaped oven to make a flat, crispy “pizza de gallo”—his version of a New Mexican Margherita. This is one of those pies that offers the contrast of a hot pie topped with cool or room temperature ingredients. In this case, that means fresh New Mexican gremolata gets scattered over the diced tomatoes, onion, garlic, and jalapeños, which briefly get scorched with the dough while it blisters and the smoked mozzarella melts. ”

Brunch Burger from Chala’s Wood Fired Grill in Mesilla. Photo Courtesy of Melodie K.

National Geographic quipped “Albuquerque may be known for its International Balloon Fiesta and the hit series Breaking Bad, but breaking bread here is becoming a major reason to visit as well.” Well, not only bread, but sopaipillas, pita, papadum, tortillas, lavosh, naan, chapati, roti, arepa and even injera. “Albuquerque’s blend of indigenous, Spanish, and American cultures pairs well with new influences,” as National Geographic discovered in its profile Sights and Bites: Albuquerque, New Mexico. The online presence learned that “for every unique neighbourhood in Albuquerque, there’s a restaurant to match.” Old Town, for example, boasts of Monica’s El Portal, High Noon Restaurant & Saloon and Duran’s Central Pharmacy. Other areas of the city profiled were Downtown, Nob Hill, North Valley, South Valley and the Northeast Heights.

On June 16, 2017, the Albuquerque Isotopes will officially change their names for the day in honor of New Mexico’s sacrosanct green chile cheeseburger. On that day, the Isotopes will become the Albuquerque Green Chile Cheeseburgers and will sport a custom uniform adorned with a special green chile roaster patch on the left sleeve , a New Mexico state flag with a toothpick for a pole on the right sleeve and a black hat with a burger. It promises to be the hottest promotion in the history of the franchise. You can rock the (hot or mild) stuff here.

The great folks at Albuquerque’s Roadrunner Food Bank (RRFB) are gearing up for the Stamp Out Hunger food drive on Saturday, May 13 and they need YOUR help. Letter carriers, the US Postal Service and so many other national and local partners come together to collect non-perishable food in 10,000 communities across the country to help hunger-relief organizations including food banks, food pantries, soup kitchens, and others. If you or someone you know can volunteer at one of eleven metro area post offices, please sign up ASAP via AnnaMarie Maez. Volunteers will be unloading food from letter carrier vehicles and sort food at post offices. It can be a bit physical so you’re advised to dress comfortably and wear close-toed shoes. More information is available on the Roadrunner Food Bank’s Web site.

Food and Wine celebrated “Santa Fe’s small, intimate and upscale dining scene” which “provides ample restaurants with hushed lighting, tranquil outdoor seating and a unique fold of Southwestern, American and French cuisines.” In compiling a list of the most romantic restaurants in Santa Fe, Food and Wine urged locals and visitors to “reserve a table for two at these romantic spots.” They include Bouche, Eloisa, Geronimo, The Compound Restaurant, Terra, Izanami, Luminaria, Joseph’s, The Anasazi Restaurant and Santacafe.

March, 2017

Robert and Kimberly Yacone of Forghedaboudit Pizza in Deming with Their 2017 “Best Traditional Pizza” Award at the International Pizza Expo in Las Vegas, Nevada.  Photo Courtesy of Robert Yacone

Most of the accolades signifying New Mexico’s “best” foods or restaurants as chronicled on Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Year in Food monthly updates are determined by either culinary critics-cognoscenti or by popular acclaim. While both methods are valid and should never be discounted, some restaurateurs are so confident in their culinary specialty that they literally need to prove their mettle in the field of culinary competition. That would be an apt description for the approach taken by Robert and Kimberly Yacone, owners of Forghedaboudit Pizza in Deming. In 2016, the duo earned second place in the dry rub category at the National Buffalo Wing Festival. On Wednesday, March 29th, Forghedaboudit won the Southwest region’s “best traditional pizza” competition at the International Pizza Expo, the largest gathering of pizza professionals in the world. Competing against sixty other pizzaioli from California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, Colorado, Oklahoma and Texas, Forghedaboudit’s pepperoni and mushroom pie bested all regional competition. The pizza also earned a very respectable fourth place overall in the worldwide competition. Who says you can’t get outstanding pizza in the Land of Enchantment?

Chef Martin Rios, one of New Mexico’s most heralded chefs has been named a finalist for the James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef – Southwest award. A semi-finalist on several occasions and runner-up in 2011, Rios owns the eponymous Restaurant Martin in Santa Fe where award-winning progressive American cuisine is showcased. The two-time Chef of the Year for New Mexico award-winner is in contention with five other chefs from the region for the culinary world’s “Oscar.” James Beard Award winners will be announced on May 1st. The event will be hosted by another New Mexican, actor Jesse Tyler Ferguson. Will this be the year Santa Fe chef Martin Rios finally breaks through? Stay tuned.

Rancho de Chimayo’s Florence Jaramillo and New Mexico Restaurant Association President Carol Wright (Photo Courtesy of Gerges Scott)

In conjunction with National Women’s History Month, the New Mexico Restaurant Association (NMRA) and the New Mexico Kitchen Cabinet (NMKC) named Florence Jaramillo, owner of historic Rancho de Chimayó, winner of the first annual Women’s Restaurant Award. The award was created to recognize women who have made outstanding contributions to the New Mexico Restaurant industry. Fittingly, the award will henceforth be named for Mrs Jaramillo. In 2016, her legendary restaurant earned the James Beard Foundation’s “America’s Classic” honor signifying “restaurants with timeless appeal, beloved for quality food that reflects the character of their community, and that have carved out a special place in the American culinary landscape.” Florence was New Mexico Restaurateur of the Year in 1987, served on the New Mexico and National Restaurant Associations boards and won the top honor from the National Restaurant Association – The Lifetime Achievement Award.

Cooking With Kids has been named Gourmand World Cookbook’s 2017 winner in the “Children” category. Written by Lynn Walters and Jane Stacey, with Gabrielle Gonzales, the Cooking with Kids Cookbook includes “most enthusiastically kid-tested dishes, along with tips for engaging with children in the kitchen and in the garden.” Featuring more than 65 recipes focused on tasty, nutritious meals and snacks, the Cookbook is designed to teach children how to help plan, prepare and cook meals. The Cookbook will now compete with winners from other countries for the honor “Best in the World.” Cooking With Kids has been cultivating positive experiences with healthy foods for Santa Fe’s children since 1995.

Santa Fe High School’s Pro-Start Award-Winning Team with Chef Fernando Olea (Photo Courtesy of Gerges Scott)

More than 100 top culinary students from across the Land of Enchantment demonstrated their mastery of restaurant leadership skills — culinary and management — in a fast-paced competition to win their share of $3.2 million in scholarships at the Santa Fe Convention Center. A culinary team from Santa Fe High and a management team from Cloudcroft High were crowned state champions and will represent New Mexico at the National ProStart Invitational, the country’s premier high school competition focused on restaurant management and culinary arts. The culinary competition highlighted the creative abilities of each team through the preparation of a three-course meal in 60 minutes using only two butane burners. Management teams developed a proposal for an original restaurant concept and applied critical thinking skills to challenges restaurant managers face in day-to-day operations. The performance of teams in both the culinary and management events were observed and rated by expert judges from industry and academia. Taos High and Atrisco Heritage High took second and third in the culinary competition. Taos High and Sandia High took second and third in the management competition.

As illustrated in humorous anecdotes published in New Mexico Magazine’s monthly “One of Our Fifty is Missing” feature, there are still a lot of people who don’t recognize that New Mexico is a state. Sadly, some believe a passport is needed to cross into the Land of Enchantment’s borders. Others believe New Mexico is part of Arizona. Some (including a couple of respondents to a recent poll on Gil’s Thrilling…) think New Mexicans eat “chili.” Not only are these misconceptions a sad indictment of America’s educational system, they demonstrate the New Mexico Tourism Department’s challenge in touting all that is great about our state. To help, Thrillist compiled a list of “the very best thing in each and every of these United States.” To no surprise (except the spelling challenged people who insist on the spelling “chili”), the best thing about New Mexico is green chile which got the nod over blue meth, science and aliens.

Green Chile Cheeseburger from Dick’s Cafe in Las Cruces. Image Courtesy of Melodie K.

Because “you want a perfectly prepared steak without so much as a shred of effort on your part,” Thrillist compiled a list of the best steakhouse in every state. According to Thrillist, the Land of Enchantment’s best hunk of bodacious beef comes from the Monte Carlo Steakhouse and Liquor Store in Albuquerque. “Founded by Greek immigrants who pride themselves on serving not only the best steaks, but the best authentic Greek cuisine in New Mexico, this place is kinda like a Greek restaurant inside a steakhouse inside a liquor store, and it’s all named after a section of Monaco. So very confusing. And while Guy Fieri was impressed by the rib-eye when he visited on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, the main attraction is the baklava.” Frankly, if you’ve got room for baklava after polishing off a steak at the Monte Carlo, you’re quite the trencherman.

For generations we’ve been told breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Thankfully the Land of Enchantment is blessed with many wonderful options which allow us to skip cream of wheat, Captain Crunch and other such options that give us little reason to get up in the morning. Delish compiled a list of the breakfast spots everyone is talking about in each of the fifty states. According to Delish, New Mexico’s best breakfast comes from Flying Star, a Duke City mainstay for three decades. That’s not the first time Flying Star has earned such an accolade. Bon Appetit once named it one of the “ten favorite places for breakfast in America.” Flying Star is renowned for prodigious portions of high quality dishes as well as inventive takes on comfort foods.

French Dip (Beef Au Jus) from St. Clair Winery & Bistro in Las Cruces. Image Courtesy of Melodie K.

Delish.com, one of the top ten food-related online destinations, knows that buffets are often perceived as “minimal hotel breakfasts and cheesy resort restaurants.” Rather than waste bytes denouncing these denizens of dreariness, Delish celebrated the highest-rated restaurant buffets according to Foursquare City Guide. In its feature “The Buffet Everyone is Talking About in Your State,” Delish certainly picked a great one from New Mexico, selecting Joe’s Pasta House in Rio Rancho as purveyor of the very best buffet in the Land of Enchantment. Joe’s buffet is the apotheosis of deliciousness, a sumptuous array of favorites that will leave you drooling. Although Joe’s spectacular buffet is available only for lunch, the dinner menu is even better.

State fairs across the fruited plain are renowned for fried indulgences (including fried beer) and foods which make you feel like a neanderthal as you eat them sans utensils (turkey legs). The Travel Channel recently compiled a list of some of the best fair foods in the nation for its Food Paradise series. Two foods from the New Mexico State Fair, both long-standing concessions made the list–Rex’s Makin’ Bacon (fresh, handmade burger, topped with green chile and American cheese, wrapped in bacon and deep-fried to a crispy, brown perfection) and Casa Dog (a foot long all-beef hot dog, wrapped in a New Mexico corn tortilla, then stuffed with thick smoked bacon and cheese, and smothered in green chile).

Breakfast Enchiladas from The Shed in Las Cruces. Image Courtesy of Melodie K.

BuzzFeed, “the leading independent digital media company delivering news and entertainment to hundreds of millions of people around the world” employed its global, cross-platform network to compile “the best bakery in every state, according to Yelp.” The most popular bakery in every state was determined using an algorithm that considered the number of reviews plus the star rating for every bakery on Yelp. It will probably surprise, shock and awe some of you to read that New Mexico’s best bakery is Albuquerque’s Trifecta Coffee Company. Yelper comments indicated “they have the best scones, coffee cakes, muffins and quiche on a daily basis. The food is outstanding and the coffee is some of the best I’ve had!”

Comedian Rob Riggle jokes that his favorite food is “flapjacks, followed closely by hotcakes. After that, crepes. Y’know, like, pancake-thick.” Now there’s a pancake obsessed man. Riggle is the type of pancake aficionado who’ll take a cross-country trip just to try each and every one of the best pancake houses in every US state (and D.C.). Fortunately MSN compiled that list for paramours of prodigious pancakes such as Riggle. According to MSN, the Land of Enchantment’s best pancake house is Albuquerque’s Grove Café & Market, described as “Albuquerque’s favorite breakfast spot.” MSN noted “You can order breakfast any time of day, with the French-style pancakes topped with fresh fruit, creme fruit, local honey and real maple syrup always a winner.

Kimberly Yacone shows off two of ForghedaboutIt’s Traditional Award-Winning Pizzas.  Photo Courtesy of Robert Yacone

At a more micro level, theChive, an entertainment digital media presence, used Foursquare data to rank the best pie in each state according to reviews, comments and tips. While not naming a specific pie, theChive did indicate the best pie in New Mexico comes from Albuquerque’s Flying Star Café. With a tempting array of handmade bakery desserts prepared fresh daily, the Flying Star has been a Duke City favorite since 1987. A quick perusal of the café’s bakery desserts menu lists such favorites as Dutch Apple Crumb, Cherry, Key Lime, Strawberry Rhubarb and Rio Grande Mud Pie.

“Every state has specific dishes and ingredients that its residents are particularly fond of — Idahoans love their potatoes, and Virginians can’t get enough sweet tea, but when it comes to online food searches, Americans become less predictable.” Delish published its intel on “the most-searched foods in every state.” While Arizonans were searching for chiles and Coloradoans scoured the internet for carnitas, New Mexicans want to know how to make empanadas.

February, 2017

Praline Bread Pudding from St. Clair Winery & Bistro in Las Cruces. Image Courtesy of Melodie K.

When you pit some of the Land of Enchantment’s best chefs against kitchen luminaries from throughout the fruited plain, you quickly come to the realization that our chefs can compete against the very best from anywhere. One recent showcase for New Mexico chefs has been the Food Network’s reality-based cooking television game show series Chopped. In an episode first airing on January 31st, Chef Carrie Eagle of Albuquerque’s Farm & Table showed her culinary mettle in besting three other competitors. The show’s theme was “game day party” and required each chef to prepare an appetizer, entree and dessert for a chance to win $10,000.

Marie Yniguez, chef and owner of Bocadillo’s was first introduced across the fruited plain in September, 2013 when her sandwich emporium was featured on the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives program. Beguiled by her charm, wit and talent, the Food Network asked her back, this time as a competing chef on Chopped. In an episode which first aired on February 28th, Marie competed against three other chefs in a episode entitled “Raw Deal” which required that each chef create an appetizer from a deconstructed sushi burger which she converted to a tuna and pork taco with logan berries and wasabi pico de gallo, followed in the entree round by a grilled buffalo steak with porcini mushroom hash. Her dessert, a butter-braised polenta cake with bechamel ganache, proved to be the difference-maker, earning her the title of Chopped Champion.

Tacos Al Pastor from Andele Restaurante in Las Cruces. Image Courtesy of Melodie K.

Valentine’s Day doesn’t necessarily celebrate love at first bite as much as it does romantic love, but some restaurants have mastered the art of presenting food you’ll love sharing with someone you love. One such restaurant is Santa Fe’s Santacafe which Delish.com named the most romantic restaurant in New Mexico. Delish noted “The Southwestern bistro is tucked inside a 19th century adobe house, and features four candlelit dining rooms with fireplaces, as well as an outdoor patio. Menu standouts include crispy calamari, roasted poblano chile relleno, and blue corn chicken enchiladas.”

“Setting the table for romance involves an array of ingredients: scrumptious food, alluring ambience, and bespoke service.” OpenTable diners had their say in declaring the 100 most romantic restaurants in America for 2017, honoring the seductive spots at which couples are creating connections and savoring delicious memories. “Based on an analysis of 10,000,000+ reviews of more than 24,000 restaurants across the country — all submitted by verified diners,” the list included only one restaurant from the Land of Enchantment–perennial honoree Vernon’s Speakeasy in Los Ranchos de Albuquerque. Vernon’s also earned a similar distinction from Albuquerque The Magazine.

Cinnamon chipotle chocolate cake truffles from The Chocolate Affair in Las Cruces. Image Courtesy of Melodie K.

22 Words, “a premier viral publisher, serving up funny, cute, heartwarming, and fascinating stories to over 40 million readers a month across its network” published a list celebrating the United States of Weird or Intriguing Food Facts. Thankfully the list didn’t name eating menudo or carne adovada (see the January, 2017 version of “Year in Food”) as the weirdest food fact about the Land of Enchantment. Instead, our weirdest food fact is that it’s illegal to carry a lunchbox down main street. 22 Words wonders “what happened that made this law go on the books. Did someone just go ape crap crazy and start swinging around a metal lunchbox like a major league baseball player?” New Mexicans know. This law was enacted thanks to the will of all the farm animals and cemetery-dwellers who cast votes in Las Cruces (and throughout New Mexico) elections.

Every year the American Automobile Association (AAA) reviews more than 31,000 restaurants, rating them based on a combination of the overall food, service, décor and ambiance offered by the establishment. Only 2.1 percent make the AAA Four Diamond list, a distinction assigned exclusively to establishments that meet and uphold AAA’s rigorous approval standards for distinctive fine-dining using criteria that considers creative preparations, skillfully served, often with wine steward, amid upscale ambience. New Mexico had two AAA Four Diamond Restaurants in 2017, both in Santa Fe. Both are perennial AAA Four Diamond honorees: Geronimo (since 2004) and Terra at Rancho Encantado (since 2009).

Panang Curry at Renoo’s Thai Delight in Las Cruces. Image Courtesy of Melodie K.

Thrillist compiled a list of the best chicken wings in the United States, “all guaranteed to leave you with dirty fingers and a very happy belly.” According to Thrillist, the Land of Enchantment’s best wings aren’t appendages on our state bird, the roadrunner. Our best wings, at least according to Thrillist, come from Santa Fe’s Cowgirl BBQ. Thrillist described them as “the honkin’ wings, which contain a light smoke, crispy skin, and a hell of a lot of heat, even if you get the straight-up house style. You can also go jerk, but come on. Cowgirl up and go with the Wings of Fire, which are tossed in a fiery habanero-based salsa diablo that might be manageable for the weak of heart(burn) were they not so friggin’ big.”

Three of the Land of Enchantment’s best chefs have been named semifinalists in 2017’s prestigious James Beard Foundation Awards, the culinary world’s equivalent of the Oscar. Two of them–Chef Jonathan Perno of Los Poblanos and Martín Rios of Restaurant Martín in Santa Fe–who have been nominated several times are up for “Best Chef-Southwest” honors. The third, Colin Shane, of Santa Fe’s Arroyo Vino is a semifinalist in the “Rising Star” category. In 2015 Chef Shane was the first chef from New Mexico selected to compete at Chaine des Rotisseurs, a competition of young chefs from the Far West, where he earned bronze.

Green Chile Bañado Plate from Nellie’s Cafe in Las Cruces. Image Courtesy of Melodie K.

“Obsessed with everything that’s worth caring about in food, drink, and travel,” the good folks at Thrillist compiled a list of “the most iconic restaurants in every state.” To qualify, a restaurant had to have been around for 30 years or more and “still be a crowd favorite.” As a disclaimer, perhaps, the selected restaurants “may not have the best food or be tourist-free,” but “they’re all famous.” Thrillist’s selection for New Mexico–for the second consecutive year–was El Pinto, a restaurant Thrillist declared is “also one of the best Mexican spots in the country. The red chile ribs are reason enough to schedule a visit soon, but it’s also one of the largest restaurants you’ve ever been in, period. It’s like how big your rich friend’s house seemed when you were a kid: rooms open up into other rooms.”

Parade Magazine, the popular insert in many newspapers, describes comfort food as “like a hug on a plate,” indicating that “comfort food is what folks turn to to sooth their souls when the weather, the world or life in general isn’t going well.” Parade’s list of comfort food from coast-to-coast listed the favorite comfort food in each of the fifty states. New Mexico’s favorite comfort food, according to Parade is the ubiquitous breakfast burrito: “The Land of Enchantment is the birthplace of this morning spin on a Southwest favorite filled with scrambled eggs, hash browns, cheddar and green chiles. (When you visit, you can even eat along the Breakfast Burrito Byway.) Other Faves: green chile cheeseburgers, green chile stew, posole, “Christmas-style” enchiladas (that’s with green and red sauce).” Interestingly, Colorado’s favorite comfort food was deemed to be chile verde: “bowls of this stew made with tender, slow-cooked pork shoulder, tangy tomatillos and local green chiles. Other Faves: chiles rellenos and Navajo tacos (tacos on Indian fry bread).”

French Onion Soup from the RendezvousCafe and French Pastry Shop in Las Cruces.  Image Courtesy of Melodie K.

Founded in 1952, Blake’s Lotaburger shows no sign of slowing down. As it celebrates its 65th birthday, the bastion of behemoth burgers continues its burgeoning. Once exclusive to the Land of Enchantment, Lotaburger now boasts of 74 locations across New Mexico, Texas and Arizona with a third location in the works for Tucson and a new restaurant launching soon in Gilbert, its first in the Phoenix metro area. Dion’s, another New Mexico chain too good not to share with the rest of the world is also expanding, recently launching its 22nd store, this one in the Reunion Metro District of Commerce City (Denver). Here’s betting Denver-area pizza aficionados will love Dion’s famous Ranch dressing as much as New Mexicans do.

On a number of blog posts, I’ve half joked about votes being cast by dead people and farm animals in New Mexico’s elections. If recent events have any veracity, perhaps it would also be apropos to blame (or credit) our election results on Russian hacking. One thing is for certain–New Mexicans take elections and the privilege of voting seriously…maybe too seriously. To help make voting a more fun process, Bob of the Village of Los Ranchos (BOTVOLR), the unofficial publicist for Gil’s Thrilling…, suggested a quick poll question feature. You can find the quick poll question on the blog’s right-hand-side navigation. Bob also provided the inaugural question for the poll. If you’d like to submit a poll question, please email me at thriller@nmgastronome.com.

Quick Poll Questions Now on Gil’s Thrilling…

House Bill 118, a measure which will make our sacrosanct green chile cheeseburger the state of New Mexico’s official state burger passed the House 57-8. Introduced by Representative Matthew McQueen of Galisteo, the green chile cheeseburger will join join the state cookie (bizcochito), state question (red or green?) and “red and green” or “Christmas” (state answer) as official state symbols. In 2015, the New Mexico True Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail was named the nations number one food trail by USA Today’s 10 Best Readers’ Choice Awards.

January, 2017

Beef Tender Bistro with Waffle Fries from Grill 49 in Tularosa.  Image Courtesy of Melodie K.

As an essayist of the New Mexico culinary scene, it often baffles me to read national print and online publications attempting to speak for New Mexicans in naming our best this or best that.  It’s often as if the writers have never set foot in the Land of Enchantment and instead tossed a dart at a target listing sundry foods.  Take for example, Delish.com’s recent compilation of compilation of The 50 Most Wanted Game Day Food in Your State.  Using findings from DirecTV which ostensibly combed through Instagram to determine which snacks people were scarfing down before cheering on the home team, Delish.com named onion rings as the fried snack of choice here.  Onion rings!!!   In years of having attended Lobo football and basketball games, I don’t recall any tailgaters noshing on onion rings.  Perhps they devour onion rings at home before heading to the University Stadium or Wise Guys Arena.

According to an online survey from the National Coffee Association, 83-percent of adults crave their caffeine jolt.  A separate survey from Zagat revealed about half of respondents get their coffee fix at a nationally owned chain or local coffee shop.  When it comes to finding a great cup of coffee, not every city is created equal.  Yelp data was evaluated to determine America’s fifty caffeine capitals.  With a caffeine score of 86.27, Albuquerque ranks as America’s second most caffeinated city.  Coffee lovers convene for their favorite cup at one of the city’s 124 coffee shops which earned an average Yelp rating of 3.9 (on a scale of one to five) with 80 of them earning ratings of four to five on Yelp reviews.

Chicken and Waffles (with Bacon) from Salud! de Mesilla.  Image Courtesy of Melodie K.

“Love may be a many-splendored thing, but however you cut it, “splendor” is the operative word.  Cities that bring the beauty almost always crank up the heat, which is why there’s no mistaking a romantic city when you encounter it. Thrillist compiled a rundown of US cities where the scenery doubles as an aphrodisiac, for use as you and boo see fit.”   Not surprisingly, Santa Fe was named one of the most beautiful cities in the US for romantic getaways.  According to Thrillist, the City Different’s most romantic restaurant-bar is the Pink Adobe adding that “the neighborhood’s wonderful collection of bars and restaurants, from the Palace to Secreto Lounge to Tia Sophia’s, is integral to the area’s sultry charm.”

Santa Fe is also home to one of America’s 39 most historic restaurants as named by MSN.  The venerable El Farol on artsy-chic Canyon Road is the city’s oldest restaurant.  MSN wrote: “Serving Spanish tapas this delightful restaurant has been offering “warmth” and “light” (the English translation) since 1835, alongside sharing plates well before they became a trend and nightly entertainment.  El Farol is one of the forerunners of the tapas movement, the sharing of small portions of delectable foods served in groupings.  History meets entertainment at El Farol which features live entertainment seven days a week.

Cannoli from NYP Pizza House in Las Cruces.  Image Courtesy of Melodie K.

Just in time for the advent of 2017, Travel Squire,  a digital magazine and travel therapist in one combined, written and edited by destination specialists. organized its picks for the top 28 destinations for the upcoming year in travel.  The list includes every continent with something for every travel style.  “New on Your Radar” destinations providing a variety of cultural and culinary experiences include the Land of Enchantment.  New Mexico is the only state that is home to three UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Chaco Canyon, Taos Pueblo and Carlsbad Caverns.  It’s also unmatched in terms of culinary experiences.  Travel Squire noted: “Enticing culinary trails like the Breakfast Burrito Byway and the Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail will introduce you to New Mexico’s culinary staple—the spicy chile. There are also numerous opportunities to experience the Native American culture from a pueblo cooking class at Okhay Owingeh to sampling pueblo cuisine, exploring Gallup’s Native art and Native-influenced spa treatments.”

While many New Mexicans might have named our official state cookie–the sacrosanct biscochito–as our most delicious cookie, Good Housekeeping made a rather surprising choice.  In naming a dark chocolate chili cookie as New Mexico’s very best cookie in its list of the 50 most delicious cookies by state, Good Housekeeping actually found a cookie that really doesn’t have much New Mexico in it.  Study the recipe and you’ll quickly note its ingredients include a hint of cinnamon, cayenne pepper, and chunks of dark chocolate chili chocolate.  Sure, we love cayenne pepper with Cajun food, but it doesn’t grace our recipes for New Mexican food.   As for the “chili” in this cookie, it actually comes from a  Lindt chili excellence bar.  It’s unlikely any New Mexican chile farmers would allow their product to be spelled “chili” so there’s no telling where it comes from.

Menudo from Bravas Cafe in Las Cruces.  Image Courtesy of Melodie K.

During our three years in England, we spent many a lazy day on the banks of the serene River Windrush  luxuriating with a cup of tea coupled with a combination of scones, clotted cream, and jam.  It’s not something we can hope to duplicate on the banks of the murky Rio Grande, but scant miles away, we can experience the genteel pleasure of sipping tea at The St. James Tearroom.  The Huffington Post calls an experience at the St. James Tearoom “the lost art of connection,” indicating that the tearoom “offers its patrons an experience that creates connection and intimacy for those who choose to leave the rushed and stressful day to day duties of work to take time out and connect. It is a place to relax and be fully present to those around you and tea is the magical thread that weaves this experience together.” 

What one person considers delicious, another may deem entirely unpleasant.  Thrillist realizes that “each state has foods that might look unappetizing or downright disgusting to an outsider — but to homegrown kids, they’re a little slice of home.”  Most native New Mexicans will consider it heretical that in a Thrillist feature entitled “Every State’s Grossest Food (That People Actually Love),” declares that our beloved carne adovada “resembles a plate of wet dog food in marinara sauce.”  Hard to believe as New Mexicans will find it, carne adovada was deemed our “grossest food.”  Where do you find this paragon of loathsomeness?  Thrillist recommends Mary & Tito’s Cafe where “you get it paired with a plate of perfectly cooked sunny-side eggs and hash browns.”

Croissant from Belle Sucre in Las Cruces.  Image Courtesy of Melodie K.

Ludwig van Beethoven once declared “only the pure in heart can make a good soup.”  Restaurants throughout Albuquerque and Santa Fe are obviously staffed with pure-hearted chefs and cooks who show off their formidable culinary skills every year at each city’s annual Souper Bowl, the most delicious fund-raising events in the state.  Santa Fe’s Souper Bowl benefits The Food Depot, “Northern New Mexico’s Food Bank.”  Approximately one-thousand soup lovers attended the twenty-third annual event where they sipped soup to their heart’s content.  Sweetwater Harvest Kitchen earned both  best overall soup and best savory soup with a Thai Cambodian Coconut Chicken soup.  Other category winners included Terra at the Four Seasons at Rancho Encantado in the best cream category; Kingston Residence of Santa Fe in the best seafood category; and The Palace in the best vegetarian category.

More than twelve-hundred guests enjoyed scrumptious soups and delectable desserts from nearly forty area Albuquerque restaurants in the Roadrunner Food Bank’s Souper Bowl 2017.  Awards were presented in two categories: Critic’s Choice and People’s Choice with attendees casting their ballots for their favorite soup and dessert.  Drum roll please…the 2017 Souper Bowl award winners were:

People’s Choice – Overall Soup Winners
1st Place and Souper Bowl Champion: Bocadillos Café and Catering
2nd Place: Chumly’s Southwestern
3rd Place: Daily Grind

People’s Choice – Vegetarian Soup Winners
1st Place: Turtle Mountain Brewing Co.
2nd Place: 99 Degrees Seafood
3rd Place: Corn Maiden at the Hyatt

People’s Choice – Dessert Winners
1st Place: Nothing Bundt Cakes
2nd Place: Theombroma Chocolatier
3rd Place: Vic’s Daily Cafe

Critic’s Choice Awards were chosen by a panel of six judges (including yours truly) who rated each soup based on appearance, aroma, texture, spice blend, flavor and overall impression.  

Critics’ Choice Winners
1st Place: Chumly’s Southwestern
2nd Place: Sandia Golf Club
3rd Place: Zacateca Tacos + Tequila

Quiche Lorraine from The Shed in Las Cruces.  Image Courtesy of Melodie K.

What’s the hottest trending topic in the world of comfort cuisine.  According to The Travel Channel, it’s Mexican food.  With flavors so bold, brash and satisfying, it’s no surprise.  Leaving no tortilla unturned in its search for America’s eight best places to “enjoy maximum Mexican food enjoyment,” it’s also no surprise The Travel Channel would wind up in New Mexico where Albuquerque’s legendary El Pinto ranked number four in the list of Best Mex.  John and Jim Thomas, the famous “Salsa Twins” were featured along with the meaty splendor that is El Pinto’s red chile ribs.  The process of preparing the best ribs since Adam shared one with Eve was showcased along with calabasitas and a 24-ounce bone-in tomahawk steak.

The Travel Channel also counted down eight restaurants known for serving up the best version of a city’s signature dish.  In an episode of Food Paradise entitled “Iconic Eats,” Santa Fe’s Maria’s New Mexican Kitchen was lauded for its blue corn enchiladas, a main player in its menu for more than fifty years.  Another dish on the epic list are Maria’s epic chile rellenos which are stuffed with a pepperjack cheese.  It’s too bad modern technology has not yet developed smell-o-vision or better still, taste-o-vision because both dishes truly represent New Mexico on a plate.  It’s Christmas every day at Maria’s.

2017:  A Thrilling (And Filling Year in Food) | 2016: A Thrilling (And Filling) Year in Food | 2015: A Thrilling (And Filling) Year in Food | 2014:A Thrilling (And Filling) Year in Food | 2013: A Thrilling (And Filling) Year in Food | 2012: A Thrilling (And Filling) Year in Food | 2011: The Thrilling & Filling Year in Food. | 2010: The Thrilling & Filling Year in Food.

Gil’s Best of the Best for 2017

Forghedaboudit Carbonara, So Good It Was Featured on Pizza Today

Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens.”  Sound of Music fans will recognize that these are a few of Julie Andrews favorite things.   It’s with great fondness and more than a little (blush) salivation that I bid adieu and auld lang syne to my my favorite things–the dishes I enjoyed most across the Land of Enchantment in 2017. These are the baker’s dozen plus dishes which are most indelibly imprinted on my memory engrams…the first dishes that come to mind when I close my eyes and reflect on the past year in eating.  As with previous yearly compilations, every item on this list was heretofore unknown to my palate before 2017. Every dish was a delicious discovery.  In chronological order, my “best of the best” are:

  • Singapore Noodles may be a Cantonese (Chinese) dish, but no one (except perhaps the May Cafe) prepares them as well as Pho Linh, one of the Duke City’s very best Vietnamese restaurants.  Sweet, savory, pungent and absolutely delicious, it’s a dish with which every new year should start.
  • The three meat platter from Danny’s Place in Carlsbad is my favorite threesome of 2017, a terrific triumvirate of ham, pulled pork and turkey along with some of the best sides to be found at any barbecue joint anywhere.  Is it any wonder Thrillist named this bodacious bastion of barbecue the best in New Mexico each of the past two years?
  • It wouldn’t be a great year if at least one green chile cheeseburger didn’t make my “best of” list.  This year, my best find came from Alamogordo where Rockin’ BZ Burgers absolutely blew me away–just as it did the esteemed judges at the 2012 New Mexico State Fair.

Green Chile Cheeseburger from Rockin’ BZ Burgers in Alamogordo

  • Not even the sagacious Solomon would be able to single out just one “best” dish from Forghedaboudit in Deming.  The pepperoni and sausage pizza was rated fourth best in the world during the 2017 International Pizza Expo.  The maple bacon chicken wings earned gold at Wingfest 2017.  The carbonara was featured in Pizza Today.  As absolutely outstanding as these transformative dishes may be, my favorite Forghedaboudit dish may have been the meatballs.  Go figure.
  • Never mind trying to pronounce Yam Nuea Nam Tok correctly.  Just point to it on the menu or ask for the grilled beef salad at the Pad Thai Cafe in Albuquerque.   Its actual translation is waterfall beef or beef waterfall, but by any name it’s one of the most delicious Thai dishes you’ve never tried if your benchmark for Thai dishes is pad thai (the dish, not this fabulous restaurant).
  • Mobile food kitchens (that’s food truck to you, Bob) continue to garner accolades and win over skeptics.  It’s no wonder with such deliciousness as the BBQ Beef Tacos from Soo Bak Foods in Albuquerque.  With a grilled flavor reminiscent of Mexican carbon cooking and a smokiness that will bring a smile to your face, these exemplars of New Mexico meets Korea are addictive. 
  • Perhaps the very best reason to head downtown is the Roasted Mushroom Manicotti from Zullo’s Bistro in Albuquerque.  The green chile marinara elevates an already fabulous dish to rarefied air as one of the city’s best Italian dishes.

Roasted Mushroom Manicotti with Green Chile Marinara from Zullo’s Bistro

  • In November, Purewow named Fresh Bistro as New Mexico’s best Italian restaurant.  That’s quite an honor considering Fresh doesn’t bill itself as an Italian restaurant.  Chef Jon Young’s cuisine is so good, it defies categorization–or you can just place it in the category of “among New Mexico’s best.”  Try the Green Chile Chicken Frenchiladas and Housemade Red Chile Barbecue Pulled Pork and you’ll agree.
  • Another Chef whose cooking defies categorization is Dennis Apodaca who saw the closure of the legendary flagship Eli’s Place in 2017 just as he was opening Maya.  On the Burrito Ahogado, Dennis unleashes the unfettered deliciousness of collard greens and corn swimming in a spicy tomato broth with a garnish of pickled carrots and red onions and a sprinkling of cobija cheese.  Montezuma would have loved it! 
  • It may not be listed as a green chile cheeseburger on the menu, but that’s easily remedied–or you can enjoy the Counter Culture Burger from Culture Culture in Santa Fe without chile.  A burger sans chile!  That’s almost sacrilege in New Mexico, but this is one burger which can stand alone.  It’s quite simply one of the very best burgers anywhere. 
  • When we need an escape from the rigors of our stress-filled workdays, my friend Elaine and I head to  El Cotorro where you’ll find the very best ice cream in New Mexico.  Other purveyors of frozen treats may win all the awards, but El Cotorro is better than all of them.  Because you can’t single out just one, the chocolate banana ice cream and the apple pie ice cream on biscochito cones are my favorites, but that’ll likely change the next time Elaine and I visit El Cotorro.  

Mushroom Stuffed Pork Tenderloin from M’Tucci’s Market & Pizzeria

  • Only a handful of chefs have earned my trust to the extent that I’ll be happy with anything they create for me.  At  M’Tucci’s Market & Pizzeria all you ever need to order is “Chef Roulette” and place yourself in the hands of uber-chefs Cory Gray and  Shawn Cronin and they’ll do the rest.  The Mushroom Stuffed Pork Tenderloin was just one of three Roulette dishes which could have made this year’s list. 
  • The second mobile food kitchen to earn “best of the best” distinction–and one of the highest ratings accorded any restaurant in New Mexico is the fabulous Malagueña’s Latin Tapas.   The Lomo Burrito and Choripan are just two of the outstanding dishes, any of which could have made this list.  We’ve never had a bad bite at this five star quality kitchen in a mobile conveyance. 
  • If Teofilo’s Restaurante in Los Lunas was any closer, I might live there.  Not in Los Lunas, but in Teofilo’s dining room.  Teofilo’s is simply one of the three or four best New Mexican restaurants in the Land of Enchantment with such tempting delicacies as enchiladas stuffed with quelites (lambs quarters) and smothered in mushroom green chile

Please share your own “best of the best” New Mexico dining choices for 2017 by commenting to this post.  Who knows?  Maybe next year they’ll make it to my list, too.

Gil’s “Best of the Best”: 2017 | 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012 |

Spencer’s Restaurant – Palm Springs, California

Spencer’s Restaurant in Palm Springs

Dean Beck: What do you have against preachers?
Clay Spencer: It’s what they preach against I’m against.
Dean Beck: I’m afraid I don’t understand?
Clay Spencer: They’re against everything I’m for.
They don’t allow drinkin’ or smokin’, card playin’, pool shootin’, dancin’, cussin’ –
or huggin’, kissin’ and lovin’. And mister, I’m for all of them things.
~Spencer’s Mountain

In the family-centric 1963 movie Spencer’s Mountain, hard-drinkin’, hard-lovin’ Clay Spencer (brilliantly portrayed by Henry Fonda) dreamed of building his wife Olivia (the stunning Maureen O’Hara) a beautiful home on a piece of land he inherited on Spencer’s Mountain.  My dream was a bit less ambitious.  My dream was to take my Kim to Spencer’s Restaurant at the Mountain, “one of the all-time great restaurants in the city” according to The Infatuation, an online recommendation service.  To be named an “all-time great” bespeaks of Spencer’s longevity and to the sustained love the Palm Springs dining public has for this treasure set in the historic Palm Springs Tennis Club area at the base of the San Jacinto Mountains just a few blocks west of downtown Palm Springs.

The dog-friendly patio in which The Dude held court

Named after the owner’s dog (an award-winning 110-pound Siberian husky), it stands to reason that Spencer’s would be dog-friendly and indeed it is.  In Palm Springs, our “dog-friendly” experience has come to mean friendly diners making a fuss over our debonair dachshund The Dude.  He could probably run for mayor and win (it would help that he’s almost the same height as Sonny Bono, a former Palm Springs mayor).  No candidate would ever kiss as many babies (or adults) or garner as much bipartisan support (plus, his honesty is refreshingly impeccable).  Two patios–one enclosed by glass but no roof–provide an outdoorsy feel with towering ficus and fig trees providing shade and natural beauty.  Even without our Dude, there’d be no better place to dine at Spencer’s.

Though categorized as a fine-dining restaurant, Spencer’s is synonymous with stylish elegance and comfortable informality, self-described as “Featuring Four Star American Cuisine with a French – Pacific Rim Influence in a Casually Elegant Atmosphere.”  Locals have recognized Spencer’s for having Palm Springs’ Best Sunday Brunch, Best Outdoor Dining, Best Power Lunch, Best Wine List, Best Chef, Best Caterer and Most Romantic.  They’ll tell you “Spencer’s is Palm Springs’ “it” place for any occasion.”  On an average week, Spencer’s draws more than 2,000 guests.

Spencer’s Hot Appetizer Sampler

Lest, I be remiss, Spencer’s serves the very best cup of coffee we’ve ever had at a restaurant, a fragrant blend of pure indulgence and sinful pleasure.  Brewed by Douwe Egberts out of the Netherlands, it’s a combination of strong Robusta beans and aromatic Arabica beans which come together in a symphony of flavor that swaddles you in a cloud of aromatic delight.  Two carafes weren’t nearly enough.  Though Douwe Egberts is available online, we were apprised that Spencer’s has a special (translation: expensive) brewing machine which makes the perfect cup every time.

With  appetizers ranging in price from $12 to $32, Spencer’s Hot Appetizer Sampler is practically a steal–three appetizers for thirty dollars (as of the date of our visit).  We’re not talking about bottom-shelf stuff, here.  This is a winning troika: Chinese Style Kung Pao Calamari tossed with a cilantro sweet and spicy chili sauce, Sauteed Crab Cakes (Maryland blue crab meat with heirloom tomato, lemon butter sauce, capers and tiny greens) and Coconut Shrimp.  Never have we had calamari as tender and fresh.  It was wholly devoid of the rubbery quality some calamari has.  Only one thing was wrong with the sauteed crab cakes and that was that there were only two of them.  Only in Corrales at the home of Larry McGoldrick, the professor with the perspicacious palate, will you find crab cakes this good.  The coconut shrimp was a bit on the unremarkable side, but the same could be said about virtually all coconut shrimp.

Wild Mushroom Risotto

Long-time readers of Gil’s Thrilling…are probably tired of my ad-nauseum whining about the scarcity of life-altering risotto, the type of risotto which elicited a carnal response from one of George Costanza’s girlfriends.  Most risotto is passable at best, but more often than not, it’s as boring as an Al Gore speech.  Spencer’s gluten-free wild mushroom risotto (Aborio rice with sautéed wild mushrooms and Parmesan cheese) with grilled shrimp is the best risotto we’ve ever had that didn’t include lobster or some other ocean-based protein.  When prepared well, risotto has a rich, creamy and slightly chewy texture, with each individual grain of arborio rice standing out clearly and having a hint of a bite, rather than being soft or mushy.  Perhaps because preparing risotto can be a complicated process requiring painstaking monitoring, not many restaurants prepare it well.  Spencer’s version is terrific!

For me, “any other white meat” is preferable to a steak.  That’s especially true of pork chops.  Deciding whether to order Spencer’s honey-brined center-cut pork chops or the wild mushroom risotto was a delicious dilemma.  Fortunately, my Kim preempted me by ordering the pork chops which meant that with sufficient pleading, she’d share a bite or six.  Considering she declared this one “the best pork chop I’ve ever had,” she was surprisingly generous in sharing an inch-thick chopped sitting on a pool of red wine demi-grace and topped with a pineapple-mango chutney all served with  mashed potatoes and asparagus.  Where to begin?  The pork chop was moist, tender and devoid of sinew and fat.   I would gladly shampoo my hair in the red wine demi-glace just so its aromas would linger.  The pineapple-mango chutney prevented me from just grabbing the chop by its “handle” and devouring it like a troglodyte (or Philadelphia Eagle).

Honey Brine Center Cut Pork Chop

Spencer’s Restaurant on the mountain certainly earns its billing as an all-time great restaurant.  From an experiential standpoint as well as a culinary revelation, it’s a restaurant we’ll long remember and one to which we hope to return.

Spencer’s Restaurant
701 West Baristo Road
Palm Springs, California
(760) 327-3446
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 26 December 2017
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$$ – $$$$
BEST BET: Chinese Style Kung Pao Calamari, Sautéed Crab Cakes, Coconut Shrimp, Wild Mushroom Risotto, Honey Brine Center Cut Pork Chop

Spencer's Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Cheeky’s – Palm Springs, California

Cheeky’s, the most popular breakfast restaurant in Palm Springs

Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw is widely credited with the aphorism “England and the United States are two nations divided by a common language.”  My Kim and I had no idea just how different the Queen’s English is from the English spoken by the colonists until we were assigned to Royal Air Force Fairford.  As part of the newcomers orientation, we were required to attend a course in which those vast differences were explained.  Many of those differences were rather comedic, but we were warned, “if Yanks aren’t careful, we could perpetuate the dreaded “ugly American” stereotype widely held in some parts of Europe.”

We learned, for example, that if an American serviceman walks up to an English lady and introduces himself with “Hi, I’m Randy,” he’s likely to get slapped in the face.  Randy has an entirely different connotation in England where it means “frisky.”  Similarly, we were instructed that if we were to hear an English citizen declare “I’m going to suck on a fag,” we shouldn’t take offense or feign being shocked.  It actually means he or she is going to smoke a cigarette.   For us, the term “shag” described a cheesy carpet found in the back of a van.  In England, shag is a verb which (as Austin Powers later taught us) meant “to  have sex with someone you don’t know.

Our server shows off his “cheeky” shirt

As we discovered over time, a one-hour course isn’t going to cover everything.  For example, a  friend of mine coaching a youth soccer team once told the English mother of a promising player “your son has a lot of spunk,” a statement she found extremely offensive.  My friend couldn’t understand her agitation until someone explained that in England “spunk” actually means er, uh…you’d better look it up.  I experienced a more harmless misinterpretation after asking a grocer where I could find napkins (for wiping hands and face) and was directed to the feminine products aisle.

Two of the terms we found perplexing (until we figured them out–long before Michael Myers introduced the terms on Saturday Night Live) were “cheeky” and “cheeky monkey.”  Cheeky means “disrespectful in speech or behavior” and a “cheeky monkey” is someone who acts in a way which shows they don’t take a situation seriously; they’re monkeying around.”  We had thought cheeky was an adjective to describe the posterior (derriere, buttocks or booty, if you prefer) and wondered why mothers would refer to their children as “cheeky monkeys.”

A flight of bacon

When restaurant impresario Tara Lazar was asked why she would name her uptown Palm Springs restaurant “Cheeky’s,” she replied “obviously, because I’m a smart-ass.”  That irreverence is only one of the reasons Cheeky’s is widely considered the very best restaurant for brunch in the Palm Springs area.  It’s reflected in an avant-garde menu so unlike the menu at other area restaurants which have held on to the past seemingly because to do otherwise would be to tarnish the era of Frank Sinatra, Cary Grant and other denizens of the desert.  It’s even reflected on the shirts in which wait staff are attired–shirts which depict monkeys monkeying around, doing what monkeys do.

Cheeky’s has a no reservations policy.  It’s strictly first-come, first-served.  Place your name on a list and wait.  For fifty-minutes in our case.  We generally don’t want more than ten minutes, but any restaurant for which hungry patrons queue up in uncharacteristically cold sixty-eight degree weather at nine in the morning, bears exploring.  Our debonair dachshund The Dude didn’t mind.  He held court for his many admirers, some of whom had come even further than we had to partake of this unique brunch restaurant.  Others were locals who regaled us with their gushing tales of Cheeky’s unbelievable brunch entrees.

Duck Confit Hash

Cheeky’s is open from Wednesday through Monday and only from 8AM to 2PM, serving breakfast all day and lunch after 11:30AM.  The menu is changed weekly which might mean if you fall in love with a dish, it may not be available the next time you visit.  The breakfast menu is a bit irreverent, too.  Departures from the conventional aren’t wholesale (no deep fried chicken feet parmigiana, for example (thank you, “8”)), but you will find many of the “usual suspects” aren’t prepared the way you’re used to having them.  Buttermilk and fresh corn pancakes, for example.

One “must have” item according to the coterie of Colorado travelers we befriended on line was the flight of bacon.  It’s similar to a “beer flight” in which a number of small beer glasses are presented to cerevisaphiles, each holding a different beer.  A flight of bacon is worthy of an Erica Jong novel as it would cure any fear of bacon you might have.  Our flight–five strips of beauteous bacon–consisted of Beeler Apple Cinnamon (Rachael Ray’s favorite), Eggnog (it was Christmas season, after all), Buttered Rum (ditto), Jalapeño (with a pronounced bite) and Nodines smoked (from Connecticut).  All were quite good, but for our money, the honey-chile glazed bacon from Albuquerque’s Gold Street Caffe remains the undisputed, undefeated champion bacon of the world.

Custard Cheesy Scrambled Eggs

Our server’s most enthusiastic recommendation was for Cheeky’s duck confit hash with white Tillamook Cheddar, mushrooms, potatoes and two poached eggs.  The duck confit (cooking the meat at low temperature in its own fat) alone made this hash different.  What made it special was the mellifluous melding of ingredients.  This wasn’t a thrown-together jumble of stuff.  It was a contrived attempt to put together several items that go well together, very much reminiscent of French preparation.  Success!  This was easily the best hash dish we’ve ever experienced though the little devil over my right shoulder persisted “if only it had a bit of green chile.”

My Kim isn’t always as willing to take as wide a departure from her favorites as her mad scientist of a husband.  There’s no way, I thought, she won’t send back scrambled eggs that aren’t crispy on the bottom–despite the menu forewarning of “custard” scrambled eggs.  Custard scrambled eggs are much more “creamy” and soft than conventional scrambled eggs.  To the uninitiated they may even appear underdone.  Call these eggs decadent, absolutely delicious and addictive with cheesy notes reminiscent of Southern cheese grits.  The custard cheesy scrambled eggs are served with maple sausage (or three slices of bacon) and Deb’s cheddar scone.  The scone is magnificent–light and flaky yet substantial and beckoning for the housemade strawberry jam.

Buttermilk and Fresh Corn Pancakes

Though we both ordered an entree, there was no way we could pass up sharing the buttermilk and fresh corn pancakes, the type of savory and sweet entree we love.  On reflection, we agreed the combination is a natural.  Corn may be a vegetable, but it’s got glorious sweet notes that should marry well with pancakes and the Vermont maple syrup on our table.  The corn didn’t make just a perfunctory appearance on the pancakes.  It was plentiful and it complemented the syrupy, buttery buttermilk pancakes very well.  My friend Bruce “Sr Plata” Silver would love these pancakes, easily some of the best we’ve ever had. 

England and the United States are indeed two nations divided by a common language, but Cheeky’s is a great unifier, bringing together breakfast and lunch items together in a spectacular manner.  Cheeky’s is a wonderfully irreverent restaurant.

Cheeky’s
622 North Palm Canyon Drive
Palm Springs, California
(760) 327-7595
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 28 December 2017
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Buttermilk and Fresh Corn Pancakes, Duck Confit Hash, Flight of Bacon, Custard Cheesy Scrambled Eggs

Cheeky's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Sherman’s Deli & Bakery – Palm Springs, California

Sherman’s Delicatessen and Bakery, a Palm Springs Mainstay

Not everyone appreciated my friend Bob’s stark honesty as much as I did.  For nearly twelve years, Bob was my most trusted source for information on the Santa Fe dining scene.  He was also a huge advocate for my writing, even when his reaction to one of my particularly “long way around” missives was “what?.”  From a style perspective, he was a “get to the point” guy while your humble blogger sometimes (okay, okay, always) takes a circuitous, raconteur’s route to get somewhere.   Bob often chided me for not liking cumin on New Mexican food, once telling me “when you fault a place for cumin it immediately moves up on my list of places to try.”  Perhaps because of the scarcity of just-off-the-boat seafood in our landlocked state, he frequented Pappadeaux which I told him for my tastes should be renamed “pappa don’t.”  For years I tried getting Bob to submit comments to the blog (“to elevate the dialogue” I pleaded), but he preferred our one-on-one conversations.

Our differences of opinion extended far beyond restaurants.  A former executive at Universal Studios, Bob couldn’t understand my high regard for the irreverent comedy Blazing Saddles.  His tastes were far more artistic and less sophomoric.  We didn’t always agree on which candidates for political office were the lesser evils, but concurred that the lesser of two evils is still evil.  One thing upon which we always agreed was the dearth of real New York style delis in the Land of Enchantment.  It’s a subject about which we commiserated frequently.  Having lived in both Los Angeles and New York, Bob missed the piled high pastrami and behemoth brisket sandwiches offered by delis at both conurbations.   When we last broke bread together (he finally talked me into joining him at Pappadeaux), he confided his desire to escape Santa Fe’s winters and move to Palm Springs which he told me had a number of authentic delis, the type of which he loved and knew I would, too.  

The Perpetually Busy Main Dining Room

My friend Bob made it to Palm Springs six months before I did.  He passed away in June, 2017.  When we stepped into Sherman’s Deli & Bakery, I told my Kim “Bob is here and he’s happy that we’re here, too.”  I missed my friend and wished we were enjoying the pastrami together…although it’s a given we would have disagreed on something, perhaps whether or not caraway seeds have a place on rye bread (I’ll take the pro to his con).  Despite our differences of opinion, Bob and I were both, in his words, “your mileage may vary” guys.  We liked and respected one another so much that our differences just made for more interesting conversation.  

It’s unlikely we’d get much conversation in at Sherman’s. For one thing, it’s a very loud, very crowded restaurant. Both the interior dining room and outdoor, dog-friendly patio are rather on the noisy side. Besides, who wants to talk much when you’ve got a mountainous meal in front of you?  Were I able to get a word in, I would probably have mentioned that a framed photograph of him should have been hanging on the walls beside the numerous glitterati (Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope, Barry Manilow, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Rita Hayworth, Red Skelton, Marilyn Monroe and countless other celebrities) who have frequented Sherman’s. His retort would probably have been to remind me that his role wasn’t “star,” but “star-maker.”

Homemade Sweet & Sour Cabbage With Beef

Sherman’s is an old-fashioned kosher-style Jewish deli to which savvy patrons pilgrimage from all over the world.  Sherman Harris launched his eponymous restaurant in 1963 when Palm Springs was the playground for Hollywood icons.  Harris himself became a Palm Springs institution for his restaurant and philanthropic endeavors, earning a star on Palm Springs’ Walk of Stars on Palm Canyon Drive.  Today, Sherman’s is owned and operated by his children Sam Harris and Janet Harris who have carried on the famous Sherman’s legacy of great food and great customer service.  While Bob, an old friend, was the first to tell me about Sherman’s several years ago, confirmation on its greatness came from Loren Silver, big brother to my friend Sr. Plata.  Loren raved about the freshly baked breads and breakfasts.

When Food Network celebrity Guy Fieri roared into Palm Desert in his signature red hot Camaro for a taping of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives (the episode first aired on May 12, 2017), one of his three area destinations was Sherman’s Deli & Bakery, albeit not the original, but a satellite just a few miles from the flagship.  In an episode entitled “Turkey, Taters and Dogs,” “Triple D” showcased Sherman’s turkey pastrami and latkes (more on these treasures below).  Fieri raved about Sherman’s delicious rye bread, up to 100 loaves a day baked  in-house.  He also helped prepare the turkey pastrami, a two day process (24 hours of brining followed by 24 hours wrapped up in spices, followed by it’s final destination: the smoker).

Corned Beef, Pastrami, and Turkey with Cole Slaw and 1000 Island Dressing

Having been privileged to serve as a judge for the Roadrunner Food Bank’s Souperbowl (the next event will be held on Saturday, January 27th, 2018  from 11 am to 2 pm.) on eight occasions, I’ve enjoyed some of the very best soups prepared and served by many of the Duke City area’s very best restaurateurs.  One soup never served to our esteemed panel has been sweet and sour cabbage with beef, a Jewish staple for generations.  It’s long been one of my favorite soups though I didn’t have a bubbie to prepare it for me.  Sherman’s sublime version is served hot and in plentiful portions.  Shards of beef, tender white cabbage, pearlescent onions and endless delicious define this elixir about which Sherman’s says “this outstanding soup is one that has made our reputation what it is today.”

Another soup not yet featured at the Souperbowl is an old-fashioned matzo ball soup, often considered the quintessential Jewish comfort food.  Made with chicken stock and matzo balls, a type of dumpling made by mixing chicken fat, matzo meal, water, and spices to taste, it’s a popular choice for Passover, but some of us like it all year-long.  Sherman’s matzo ball soup is served in a swimming pool-sized bowl and arrives at your table steaming hot.  It’s a soup so good you’d order it on one of Palm Springs’ many sweltering summer days.

Corned Beef, Pastrami & Swiss on Light Rye

You might think there’s a shortage of beef across the Land of Enchantment considering the parsimonious portions of meats with which New Mexico’s restaurants adorn their sandwiches.  Clara Beller’s “where’s the beef” lament should be the battle cry of diners who have got to feel cheated by meats folded over so as to give the appearance of more meat.  A typical sandwich at Sherman’s has several times more meat than most sandwiches in Albuquerque.  The #17 (corned beef, pastrami and turkey with cole slaw and Thousand Island dressing on buttery, grilled light rye), for example, is a skyscraper-sized behemoth with perhaps as much as three-quarters of a pound of each of the three meats.  It’s really three sandwiches in one.  Understandably, my favorite was the pastrami which is sliced thin and brined beautifully with caramelized edges. 

My Kim’s choice, another wonderful sandwich was constructed with pastrami and corned beef with cole slaw on grilled rye bread.  Sans turkey, this sandwich better showcased the sweet tanginess of the cole slaw, a moist, creamy version.  It also gave us the opportunity to better appreciate the light rye with the caraway seeds my friend Becky Mercuri appreciates on New York rye.  Sherman’s rye comes unadorned, but you have your choice of mustard–either Beaver brand deli mustard or honey mustard.  Both are terrific.  Because Sherman’s sandwiches are so large, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to open your mouth wide enough to enjoy them as you would other sandwiches.  These are best enjoyed with knife and fork or deconstructed.  That pastrami is heavenly…where my friend Bob is now enjoying his.

Latka with Sour Cream and Applesauce

If the term “latka” conjures images of the television sitcom character Latka Gravas, you need to visit an authentic Jewish kosher-style deli…and soon!  Latka (more commonly spelled “latke”), traditional Jewish potato pancakes often served during Hanukkah, are a specialty of Sherman’s (which graciously shows how they’re made on this video).  Sherman’s latkas are the very best we’ve ever had!  Served with apple sauce and sour cream, the latkas are absolutely addictive, so good you won’t want to share them.  They’re crispy (almost caramelized) on the outside and fluffy and light on the inside.  Sherman’s thinks so highly of their latka that they offer a specialty sandwich in which a generous serving of Corned Beef or Pastrami is made into a sandwich with two homemade potato latkes in place of bread.  We had our latka on the side, but could easily see the appeal of latkes in place of bread.

My Kim jokes that my favorite part of “adultery” (her wordplay for adulthood) is not having to wait until after a meal to have dessert.  Indeed, it’s not uncommon for me to have dessert before enjoying any savory fare.  The temptation to do so was certainly rife at Sherman’s which has one of the most alluring dessert cases we’ve ever seen with slabs of beauteously frosted cakes, pulchritudinous pies, craveable cookies and sumptuous specialty items such as bobka, cannoli, sticky buns, cinnamon rolls and Boston Cream pie (which I blame for my “freshman fifteen” after having lived in the Boston area for two years right out of high school).  Sherman’s rendition is as good as many decadent cake slices I enjoyed in Boston.  Layered with custard and topped with chocolate ganache, the Boston cream pie is as moist and tender as any in the Bay State.

Boston Cream Pie

Sherman’s Deli & Bakery is an old-fashioned kosher-style deli, the type of which my friend Bob and I would wander in the desert for forty years to visit.  It’s an outstanding deli and bakery.

Sherman’s Deli & Bakery
401 East Tahquitz Canyon Way
Palm Springs, California
(760) 325-1199
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 27 December 2017
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$ – $$$
BEST BET: Corned Beef, Pastrami, and Turkey Sandwich; Corned Beef, Pastrami & Swiss on Light Rye; Latka; Homemade Sweet & Sour Cabbage With Beef; Boston Cream Pie

Sherman's Deli & Bakery Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Lulu California Bistro – Palm Springs, California

Lulu California Bistro in Palm Springs, California

How many times have you heard a transplant to the Land of Enchantment say it just doesn’t feel like Christmas without snow?  Some of you expats dream of a white Christmas, just like the ones you used to know back when you lived in Siberia, the North Pole, Greenland and other similarly snowed-in states that aren’t as beautifully balmy in winter as is New Mexico.   It’s not enough for you that winter temperatures across the Land of Enchantment occasionally drop into the forties and you sometimes have to wear long pants outdoors.  You hardy, masochistic northerners are accustomed to mountains of snow being one of the defining elements of the Christmas season.  You want to wash your hands, your face and hair with snow, snow, snow

In the immortal words of Thor, the Norse god of thunder, “I say thee nay!”  Any more than the one- or two-inches it takes for the city of Albuquerque to declare a “snow day” is too much snow.  Who needs it!  My dear friend Becky Mercuri who lives just south of Buffalo in the lake-effect-snow-belt traumatizes me with reports of storms dumping two- to three-feet of snow at a time.  The Buffalo area averages some 94-inches of snow a year.  That’s 94 glorious snow days (no work or school) for those of us in Albuquerque, but for Becky it means digging herself out from under snow drifts taller than she is in temperatures twenty degrees colder than her freezer.

Site of our 2017 Christmas dinner

The more geriatrically advanced my Kim and I get, the more our blood thins.  We’re avowed wimps who don’t like driving in snow, walking in snow or even thinking about snow.  Brrrr!  So, why such antipathy for snow?  Well, my Kim grew up in Chicago whose lake-effect snows are legendary.  I grew up in Peñasco where I once walked six miles in two feet of snow to return a penny after being undercharged for a Snickers candy bar.  Yes, we’ve shoveled snow.  We’ve felt snow’s insidious presence and have shivered at its icy touch.  Snow is no friend of ours.

In past years, the threat of some malevolent snowstorm potentially ruining our travel plans has kept us home over the Christmas holidays.  All our favorite “get away from snow” travel destinations require traveling through potential snow magnets such as Flagstaff to reach the warm climes of our dreams.  Then came 2017.  With consistent 50-degree forecasts between Christmas and New Years, 2018 (thank you, Kristen Currie), we decided to give each other a shared Christmas present and spend a week in Palm Springs, California.  Yes, that Palm Springs–the one where you can swim outdoors in December and snow is just ground-up Styrofoam used in movies.

Carrot Curry Soup

For the first time since we lived in Mississippi, we were able to enjoy al fresco dining, albeit on an “unseasonably cool” Palm Springs day when temperatures dropped to 72-degrees.  Never once did we complain “it doesn’t feel like Christmas.”  Never once did we lament about how much we missed doing the dishes.  Our host was Lulu’s, a downtown eatery often described online in such glowing terms as  “Palm Springs hippest restaurant,” “funky and modern,” and “vibe that embodies the spirit of Palm Springs.”  OpenTable has named Lulu’s one of the “Top 100 Dining Hot Spots in the U.S.” and has repeatedly  honored  Lulu  with  their “Diners Choice Award.” Next to the hostess station, you’ll espy a veritable tower of plaques naming Lulu the “best” in the valley in virtually every conceivable category–from best breakfast, Sunday brunch and outdoor dining to best margarita and martini (to name a few). 

The uniquely architected restaurant boasts of two floors of indoor seating and the best people-watching-patio in the city.  That patio is where we spent Christmas, 2017 with our debonair dachshund The Dude.  Imprinted on the sidewalk next to our table were several stars honoring the many Hollywood luminaries who have lived, loved and played in this beautiful desert oasis.”  You’d think The Dude was the biggest celebrity of them all considering all the attention he garnered.  Everyone, it seemed, wanted to pet our little boy.  Hmm, wasn’t this the way Marilyn Monroe was discovered?

Wild Mushroom Soup

The 2017 Christmas menu featured four courses of palate pleasing choices we would have enjoyed any time of year.  As with Christmas feasts at home, an after-lunch comatose state was assured.  The first course was our choice from four superb soups: curry carrot soup, classic corn chowder, wild mushroom soup and minestrone.  Predictably, my choice was the curry carrot soup, the best I’ve ever had.  Served hot so that its fragrant emanations wafted upward to my very happy nostrils, this pureed elixir is rich, creamy and satisfying, a perfect blend of sweet, earthy carrots and floral curry.

January is national soup month.  While that makes sense for most of the fruited plain, we wondered if perhaps cold soups would be a better bet for places such as Palm Springs and Phoenix where January feels like May almost everywhere else.  That notion was quickly dismissed when we reviewed the soup options.  Hot soup is wonderful all year long!  For my Kim, the gluten-free wild mushroom soup beckoned.   It’s a rich and hearty blend with a pronounced earthiness and an invigorating freshness you don’t find with domesticated mushroom soups, especially those from a can.

Sonoma Mixed Greens

Our second course was salad with my choice being Sonoma Mixed Greens (with toasted walnuts, raspberry vinaigrette and goat cheese).  It’s long been our experience that salad greens just taste better and fresher in California than anywhere else.  They seem to have a recently picked freshness and flavor (not the out-of-a-bag staleness of some salads).  Such was the case with these mixed greens lightly drizzled with a raspberry vinaigrette.  Predictably, we split the single wedge of mild goat cheese instead of crumbling it onto the salad.

For my Kim who turned up her nose at the notion of blue cheese just twenty years ago, the petite iceberg wedge (with hickory-smoked bacon, red onions, tomato slices and Roquefort cheese dressing) is indicative of how far she’s come.  Roquefort cheese is sour, strong, ripe, sharp, pungent and absolutely delicious who love our fromage as fetid as it can be.  This blue-veiny cheese goes so well with the hickory-smoked bacon, the best Palm Springs pairing since Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis, Jr.

Petite Iceberg Wedge

Perhaps because technically it’s a roast, not a steak, prime rib is one of my very favorite cuts of beef.  In the past few years, my Kim and I have eschewed more traditional Christmas dinners in favor of prime rib, cut into a slab Fred Flintstone would appreciate.  While not cut as thick as either Fred or I like, Lulu’s version was a good fourteen-ounces of rich, juicy prime rib prepared at medium rare.  An accompanying horseradish cream provided a great counterbalance, imparting an eye-watering contrast to the beef.  Horseradish on prime rib isn’t for everyone, but it is for me.  Red skin potatoes, baby carrots and beans are nice sides, but it’s the prime rib that steals the show.

12-Ounce Prime Rib

My Kim is much more of a traditionalist in every way.  Plus she’s from the Midwest which means she was weaned on meat and potatoes.  For her, Christmas (and Thanksgiving, Halloween, Independence Day, Mothers’ Day and of course Guy Fawkes Day) is all about oven-roasted turkey and all the trimmings.  Ironically, she doesn’t like one of those trimmings and always shovels the stuffing into my plate.  This was some of the very best chestnut stuffing I’ve ever had.  Chestnuts have a very distinctive flavor (plus Northerners use them to warm their hands) and they’re so much better on stuffing than boring old cornbread.  A generous amount of turkey with cranberry sauce and sweet potatoes were terrific, too.

Oven Roasted Turkey

Legend has it that a fourth “wise man” brought the gift of fruitcake to the infant Jesus.  Had it been more warmly received by the Holy Family, perhaps it would be more beloved today.  As it is, the best fruitcake takes a distant backseat to warm bread pudding, a timeless dessert and very much a Christmas favorite.  Lulu’s version is rich, sweet and decadent–three characteristics which make it such an endearing and beloved dessert.  If I may offer a small criticism, it’s that the lightest touch of salt would have made it even better.

Warm Bread Pudding

Lulu California Bistro was a holiday haven for us, a home away from home.  It’s about as far away from snow as we could find, but even in warm weather, this is a happening place to which we hope very much to return.

Lulu California Bistro
200 South Palm Canyon Drive
Palm Springs, California
(760) 327-5858
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 25 December 2017
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$$ – $$$$
BEST BET: Prime Rib, Roasted Turkey, Apple Crisp, Warm Bread Pudding, Carrot Curry Soup, Wild Mushroom Soup, Sonoma Mixed Greens, Petite Iceberg Wedge

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

Jake’s – Palm Springs, California

Jake’s of Palm Springs

Now i lay me down to sleep
And pray the Lord my soul to keep
If i die before i wake, feed Jake
He’s been a good dog
My best friend right through it all
If i die before i wake, feed Jake.”
~Pirates of the Mississippi

On one hand,” my Kim tells me, “you’d make a great politician.”  “You maintain a perfect deadpan expression while telling the biggest whoppers.”  She had just watched me convince a gullible millennial that the Jeff Bridges character in the movie The Big Lebowski was named for our debonair dachshund The Dude.  Never mind that our Dude was born sixteen years after the 1998 comedy hit.  “On the other hand,” she corrected herself, “you’re much too honest to ever run for office.”  Only a few people, my Kim being one of them, can recognize when I’m using my “gift” of mirthful mendacity.  It’s a gift I employ only to lighten the mood, not to exploit gullibility.

The Dog-Friendly Patio, an Excellent Brunch Milieu on Christmas Eve When It’s Only 75-Degrees

We were standing in line in front of Jake’s, one of the most famous and popular restaurants in Palm Springs, when the opportunity for my duplicitous act presented itself.  The Dude, as usual, was the center of attention.  Virtually everyone in line with us stopped to coo at our little boy, commenting on how soft his fur is and what a handsome (he takes after his dad), well-behaved little guy he is.  Of course, everyone wanted to know what our paragon of puppyhood (or is it puppyness) was named.  They all concurred that “The Dude” name fits very well.

It was fitting that my canine caper transpired at Jake’s, a classic American bistro named for a West Highland Terrier who crossed the rainbow bridge in February, 2016, a month before we lost our beloved Tim.  Regulars with whom we made small talk told us all about Jake, a peripatetic and much loved presence at the restaurant named for him.  If it’s possible for the spirit of a dearly departed dog to infuse a locale he loved, you could certainly feel Jake’s presence.  That’s especially true near the restroom where walls are festooned with his smiling countenance.

Hangar Steak and Eggs Sandwich

Smiles come with the territory when you dine at Jake’s which has been recognized as one of the top “100 Best Al Fresco Dining Restaurants in America,” and by eater.com as  “one of the top seventeen Palm Springs restaurants for 2017.”  More importantly, it earned a perfect five bones rating from BringFido, the trusted online dog travel directory.  “Bone apetit” commented several reviewers.  Aside from its dog-friendly ambiance, Jake’s is renowned for its amiable servers, decadent desserts and for its weekend brunch.  The brunch menu is wholly unlike the seemingly standard brunch template of pancakes, omelets and similar fare.  The Christmas Eve brunch had some of those, but it also had some of the most tempting sandwiches and salads we’ve seen.

As usual, my Kim ordered a sandwich superior to the one I ordered–a hangar steak and eggs sandwich, a stellar lunch meets breakfast which exemplifies why brunch is so beloved.  A ciabatta roll is the canvas for one of the most delicious breakfast sandwiches we’ve ever had, a sandwich which will kick any McMuffin in the teeth.  Picture two eggs over medium, sliced hangar steak prepared at about medium, Gorgonzola cheese, pico de gallo, avocado slices and chipotle aioli.  My Kim tells me I pay more attention to the nuanced elements of the most complicated sandwiches than to their star ingredients.  In this case, my attention (and affection) centered on the chipotle aioli, a smoky, piquant smear that made this sandwich coalesce into a delicious whole, not jumble of ingredients.  Sure, the hangar steak was as tender as the murmur of a spring drizzle (and would make wondrous fajitas), but that aioli made it.

Lobster Roll

My own choice, the lobster roll (tail meat lobster, Old Bay remoulade, preserved lemon, heirloom tomato and Romaine lettuce on a long brioche roll) wasn’t quite as satisfying.  My preference has always been for knuckle and claw meat, not meat from the tail, but still I ordered this because, well…it’s a lobster roll.  Sure, it wasn’t constructed on a split top roll as were the boatloads of lobster rolls I enjoyed while living in Massachusetts, but, well…it’s a lobster roll.  At minimum, that means it’s a great sandwich.  The degree of greatness of Jake’s lobster roll may not be as high as the greatness you’d ascribe a lobster roll from Maine, but this was a lobster roll.  That means it’s pretty great.

Take the term “great” and multiply it by an infinite order of magnitude and you’ve got the citrus cake, an incomparable brick-sized slab of absolute deliciousness my Kim described as the “best cake ever!”  As our server toted it over to our table, she attributed the size of his formidable, rock-hard “guns” (seething with jealousy here) to having to carry such weighty desserts all day.  Size was far from its most definable quality.  This colorful beauty is three layers of fresh, natural citrus flavors demarcated by a date buttercream frosting.  Each layer of citrus–sweet Meyer lemon, tangy lemon and bright orange–is replete with the flavors of freshly picked citrus fruits, not some artificial flavor.  We thought there would be no way we could finish it all, but finish it all we did…and we’d do it all over again.

Citrus Cake, the best we’ve ever had…ever!!!

Jake’s lives up to its billing.  It’s truly one of the very best restaurants in Palm Springs, but how could it not be.  It’s not just a dog-friendly restaurant.  It’s a restaurant named for a four-legged family member.  Those tend to be the best!

Jake’s
664 North Palm Canyon Drive
Palm Springs, California
(760) 327-4400
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 24 December 2017
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$ – $$$
BEST BET: Citrus Cake, Lobster Roll, Hangar Steak and Eggs Sandwich

Jake's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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