Until my friend and frequent dining companion Señor Plata started hanging out with me, he thought Albuquerque was a culinary wasteland compared to his beloved hometown of Los Angeles. Thinking there was nothing comparable to his hometown’s cuisine to be found in the Duke City area, he became a “Kool Aid drinker,” a phenomenon which occurs when diners are so mesmerized by clever Madison Avenue jingles and glitzy print ads that they frequent chain restaurants almost exclusively.
“Deprogramming” my friend would be a joyous undertaking because it meant introducing him to culinary choices he otherwise would not have considered. Because his allegiance to the cult…er, chains was so deeply ingrained, we started slowly, introducing him to the green chile Philly at Rocco’s Pizzeria in Rio Rancho. It only took a few bites for him to declare Rocco’s Philly the very best he’s ever had (an opinion he’s since changed after we introduced him to Itsa Italian Ice).
Our intervention has proven very successful. Señor Plata has seen the light and broken the chain, now happily frequenting mom-and-pop restaurants with a gusto heretofore unwarranted when he filled his belly with the unsatisfying copycat foods proffered by the chains. He’s the fifth most prolific provider of feedback to Gil’s Thrilling (and Filling) Blog, lavishing praise in his inimitable style upon his favorite independently owned restaurants, including several whose foods (among them the coffee shake from Golden Crown Panaderia) he rates more highly than their counterparts in Los Angeles.
When Bill “Roastmaster” Resnik, another member of my culinary cabal, and I first heard of L.A. Subs, our first inclination was to dismiss it as a chain interloper from the City of Angels. Our second thought was for our friend Señor Plata who would be thrilled to know of a restaurant named for his hometown. Chain or not, it would make our friend happy to see the initials “L.A.” once again.
It turns out those initials don’t represent Señor Plata’s hometown, but rather the first names of owner Linda (L) and her mother Ann (A). It also turns out L.A. Subs is no chain restaurant, but a true mom-and-pop shop–the best kind, the type Señor Plata loves. Linda launched L.A. Subs in March, 2011 in a nondescript strip shopping center on Golf Course Road in Rio Rancho. It’s not easily visible from the street and only simply signage will even tell you it exists.
L.A. Subs has not advertised its presence. It has no Web site and doesn’t do any marketing. It’s wasn’t even listed on Urbanspoon until months had elapsed after its opening. Visitors learned about it solely through word of mouth from satisfied customers. You’ll get the impression that’s the way Linda wants it. Her menu, scrawled by marker on a white board, is hardly a compendium of every sub sandwich and side conceivable, listing only a handful of subs, sandwiches and salads. Specials of the day are listed on a smaller white board behind the counter at which you place your order. Suspended behind that counter is a gigantic neoprene sub sandwich, a depiction so accurate it may make your mouth water.
Linda is as personable as any restaurateur in the Duke City area. She’s proud of her small restaurant and the high quality of the meats and cheeses she procures for it. She’s justifiably proud of the daily specials and especially her bread pudding (more on that later). Her specialty is a Cuban sandwich, the type of which she served when she owned two sub sandwich restaurants in Florida before moving to New Mexico. She prepares the roasted pork herself.
Subs are available in two sizes: large and small. They’re made with lettuce, onions, tomatoes, pickles, peppers, cheese and an Italian dressing Linda makes herself. They’re also accompanied by thick kettle chips, a single pickle spear and a mint. The most meaty sub is the Italian which is made with ham, salami and roast beef. The combo sub is made with ham, salami and cheese. Unlike so many other sub sandwiches in the Duke City area, the meats aren’t served flat, but folded, the way you might make them at home. It makes the meats somehow tastier.
During my inaugural visit to any sub shop, my first sub is almost always a tuna sub, a remnant of my youth when I ate tuna subs by the boatload at Steve’s House of Pizza in Bedford and Lena’s Subs in Lowell, both in Massachusetts. The tuna sub at L.A. Subs is about as good as any tuna sub you’ll find in landlocked New Mexico, but nothing really compares to just off the boat tuna. L.A. Subs rendition is also the first tuna sub I’ve had which includes Italian dressing, a nice touch.
If the Friday special at L.A. Subs is the Cuban sandwich, my friend Bill would swim the Straits of Florida to get to it. It’s a Cuban sandwich made the way Linda learned how to make them in Florida where large communities of Cubans frequented her sandwich shops for a taste of home. She roasts the pork herself so that it’s tender and flavorful then she piles it on high along with a good quarter inch or more of ham. The panini is smeared with a good yellow mustard and topped with a creamy provolone. She also sautees onions and places a thin layer of them beneath the roast pork. That’s a touch many purveyors of Cubanos either don’t know about or forget to do.
L.A. Subs’ bread pudding is thick, buttery and delicious. The bread pudding is topped with brown sugar and walnuts which provide a savory contrast to the rich, gooey, buttery sweetness. I don’t know if it would make Larry McGoldrick’s bread pudding hall of fame, but I’m betting he’d like it. Make sure you ask Linda to heat it up for you and to top it with a pad of butter for a sweet-salty contrast you’ll enjoy.
My friend Señor Plata visited L.A. Subs the second time I did and he enjoyed the experience immediately. He’ll tell you it’s so much better than the chains he frequented when he drank the Kool Aid.
1009 Golf Course Road
Rio Rancho, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 12 October 2012
1st VISIT: 4 August 2011
# OF VISITS: 2
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Combo Sub, Tuna Sub, Bread Pudding, Cuban Sandwich