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Delicias Cafe – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Cafe Delicias Cocina Mexicana in Albuquerque’s Northeast Heights

There’s no denying the ever-increasing popularity of Mexican food across America, but it may surprise you to learn that in the estimation of some sources, it has supplanted Italian food as the favorite ethnic cuisine in the land.   Marketplace, a nationally syndicated business oriented radio program with more than nine-million listeners a week, says there’s no bones about it, calling Mexican food “the most popular ethnic food in the U.S., bigger than Italian or Chinese.”  Askmen.com confirms only that “Mexican has become one of the three most popular cuisines in the U.S., with nearly 90% of the total population having tasted it.” 

According to Marketplace, there are some 90,000 or so Mexican restaurants across the fruited plain.  The loose categorization of “Mexican restaurants” not only includes our incomparable New Mexican cuisine and our neighboring state’s Tex-Mex, but such chains as Chevy’s, Chipotle, El Torrito, Taco Bell and others of the ilk.  Lest you become agitated that such Mexican “in name only” restaurants would make a sacrosanct list, the truth is that even among restaurants owned and operated by Mexican immigrants you’ll find pretenders serving less than authentic Mexican cuisine.  Sometimes they do so to remain competitive in markets saturated for so long by the aforementioned chains that the local dining public knows no better.  In other cases, would be authentic restaurants sacrifice authenticity for convenience when they’re not able to find key ingredients at a reasonable price.

Cafe Delicias is not the stereotypical Mexican restaurant

Several years ago, the proliferation of chefs not properly trained and steeped in the culture behind Japanese cuisine so rankled the ire of Japanese chefs that they formed advocacy groups aimed at protecting their highly traditional and exquisitely artistic form of cooking.  The Mexican government has followed suit, founding the Mexican Restaurant Association (MERA), a trade association chartered to encourage the spread of more authentic cuisine.  More than 1,000 members strong, MERA recognizes that advocacy is just so much empty air without action so it helps members locate and negotiate better prices for authentic ingredients which are often very difficult to find.

It’s indicative of our famous attitude of acceptance (or perhaps the sheer number of tourists) that Taco Bell has survived for so long in New Mexico.  For most of us, however, “run for the border” is a much more literal term–as in head out to our favorite purveyor of magnificent and authentic Mexican food.  Fortunately, the Land of Enchantment has long been blessed to have a plethora of irrefutably authentic Mexican restaurants, some so good you might swear you’ve been transported to the Land of Montezuma.

Chips and salsa at Cafe Delicias

When my compadre Rico Martinez craves “real Mexican food,” he heads to Delicias Cafe which he considers “better than any Mexican restaurant I’ve tried in Albuquerque.”  Rico has become Delicias unofficial publicist, waxing poetic about his new favorite on Urbanspoon and telling everyone he knows about it.  I wish he had told me sooner.  Delicias is every bit as good as he said, maybe better.  Best of all, it’s got that real south-of-the-border authenticity aficionados like Rico and me crave. 

That authenticity is confirmed by my friend and fellow blogger Steve Coleman of Steve’s Gastronomic Home Page.  Steve is an authority on Mexican food, having traveled extensively throughout our southern neighbor.  For years he also chronicled his visits to Mexican restaurants in El Paso on his very well written blog.  He knows what he’s talking about so when he says “one thing I like about Delicias is its ability to reproduce the same kind of experience that could be found by walking into any restaurant at random in Cuidad Juarez or other cities in the state of Chihuahua, you can take it to the bank.”

A trio of Sopes: Carne sado, Chile Verde and Beans

Ironically when you walk into Delicias Cafe at the Fiesta Del Norte Shopping Center in Albuquerque’s Northeast Heights, it would be a stretch to imagine yourself at a Mexican restaurant in the Mexican state of Chihuahua.  That is, until the inimitable aromas of wonderfully seasoned Mexican food waft toward you.  In terms of ambiance, you have to look closely to find any of the stereotypical decorative touches of a Mexican restaurant, particularly those of the faux Mexican restaurants.  In fact  Delicias Cafe doesn’t seem to have changed much of the ambiance of Perennials Restaurant, its predecessor at this bright, east-facing restaurant.

The genesis of the aromas which greet you at the door can come from any number of items on the menu, a veritable compendium of Mexican food favorites.  Delicias Cafe, which has three sister restaurants in Las Cruces and one in El Paso, is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner though you can have breakfast any time of day.  The menu showcases the cuisine of Delicias, a city in Chihuahua some 250 miles from Cuidad Juarez.  Delicias translates literally from Spanish to “delights,” a well-earned term for the food at this delightful restaurant.  It also sounds a bit like “delicious” which is also fitting.

Caldo de Res (Beef stew with large pieces of vegetables)

Shortly after you’re seated, a complimentary basket of chips and a bowl of salsa are delivered to your table.  The salsa isn’t especially piquant, but it’s got a very fresh, lively flavor with just a hint of jalapeño and garlic.  The chips are large and thin, but substantial enough to scoop up Gil-sized portions of salsa.  Service is so quick that you probably won’t finish your first bowl of salsa before your appetizers or entrees are delivered.

The Antojitos de Banqueta (appetizers and snacks) menu lists only seven items, perhaps a consequence of portion size–both appetizers and entrees–being almost profligate in size.  Finish your appetizer and you probably won’t finish your entree.  If you don’t order an appetizer to make sure you have room for your entree, you’ll miss out on such terrific starters as sopes, three fried corn masa patties topped with sundry ingredients: asado on one, chile verde on another and beans on the third.  At first glance the sopes resemble small, thick tortillas and in a sense they are.  The sopes are also topped with lettuce, shredded cheese, chopped tomatoes and an acidified cream.

Enchiladas Suizas: three rolled enchiladas stuffed with chicken and dipped in Suiza sauce (tomatillo, jalapeno and sour cream)

The first entree to strike my fancy was Enchiladas Suizas, a fabulous dish invented in Mexico City’s Sanborn’s restaurant.  As you’ve probably surmised, “Suiza” means Swiss, a tribute to the fact that this dish uses both cream and cheese.   Delicias Cafe rendition is among the very best I’ve ever had.  Three rolled corn tortillas are engorged with finely shredded white meat chicken then are covered in a sauce of tomatillo, jalapeño and sour cream with shredded cheese in the mix, too.  The enchiladas have a delightfully slightly sour tanginess that impregnates the perfectly prepared poultry.  The enchiladas Suizas are served with beans and rice, but these are hardly standard.  The beans have that prepared in lard flavor while the rice is fluffy with nary a clump.

As if the Enchiladas Suizas weren’t enough, my delightful waitress also brought me a bowl of Caldo de Res, a beef stew with large pieces of vegetables and rice.  She told me this hearty, delicious stew came with the enchiladas.  This near-entree sized stew is as good as they come with a beef-flavored broth as comforting as broth comes.  The vegetables are perfectly prepared  and fresh-flavored while the rice is a pleasant surprise.

Chilaquiles con mole (served with chicken, eggs, hash browns and beans)

Coincidentally on the date of my inaugural visit, Barbara Trembath, a long-time friend of this blog and another of my most trusted sources of restaurants throughout the fruited plain, visited Delicias Cafe a few hours before I did.  Though she was positively giddy over the entire menu, she was most excited about the fact that the restaurant has four different chilaquiles dishes and described them as “hands-down the best.”   If the chilaquiles con mole are an indication, she’s absolutely correct.  More than most mole, this one has the prominent flavor of chocolate, one of its chief ingredients.  It’s a dark brown mole redolent with complex flavors.  Order it with the shredded chicken which is light, fluffy and moist.  For breakfast, the chilaquiles are served with two eggs, beans and hash browns.

Belly-busting, belt-loosening, stomach swelling–there are many ways to describe portions at Delicious (not necessarily a Freudian slip) which offers several platters large enough to feed a family. One of the very largest and most delicias (see, they’re synonymous) is the Patron Platter: a jumble of two eggs, diced ham, onions, cubed potatoes, jalapenos, mushrooms and cheese served with a tortilla, two strips of bacon, two sausage patties and a corn chorizo quesadilla.  If that sounds like a bounteous buffet, it may as well be.  Where but on a buffet might you find bacon, sausage and ham together in one plate?  This buffet on a plate is not only prodigious, it’s so good you’ll finish it all.

Molletes: open-faced torta bread topped with beans & cheese

Molletes: open-faced torta bread topped with beans & cheese

Shame on me for not having already mentioned just how accommodating and friendly the wait staff is.  Delicias is one of those rare restaurants in which “have it your way” is a reality.  In three visits, each member of the tandem wait staff as well as the manager have visited my table to make sure I had everything needed to enjoy my meal.  It’s a genial wait staff eager to please.  The menu offers seventeen different burritos and if one doesn’t quite have everything you want, just tell your server and the sky’s the limit.  You can smother your burritos in your favorite sauce: green sauce, red sauce, Delicias sauce (tomatillo sauce), mole sauce and even Suizas sauce.  A breakfast burrito with eggs, ham and beans topped with extra Suizas sauce became a favorite after one bite.  That Suizas sauce is absolutely addictive.

Traditional American entrees abound on the menu where in addition to four hamburgers, a club sandwich and French fries, you’ll find oatmeal, omelets, French toast and hot cakes.  The hot cakes are among the best in Albuquerque, better than at many paragons of pancake perfection.  The batter is infused with vanilla, just enough to be discernible but not so much as to make them cloying.  The hot cakes are golden hued and of medium thickness.  They’re served with heated syrup and easily melting butter.

Tacos de Alhambre: Ham, bacon, carnitas, shredded cheese on corn tortillas

Tacos de Alambre: Ham, bacon, carnitas, shredded cheese on corn tortillas

In the unlikely event you’ll be able to enjoy dessert after polishing off a prodigious platter of food, Delicias offers several post-prandial treats: fried ice cream, sopaipillas, flan and pastel tres leches.  My Kim called the pastel tres leches the best she’s ever had.  It would be hard to argue against it.  It’s as spongy moist and decadent delicious as any tres leches cake in New Mexico.  Press into it with your fork and you’re not only rewarded with magnificent milkiness, but with pudding-like layers of deliciousness.  The tres leches cake is drizzled with chocolate and topped with whipped cream.

February 24, 2013: Delicia’s is one of a handful of restaurants in the Albuquerque area to serve molletes, a delightfully unique yet simple appetizer.   Molletes are a sort of open-faced sandwich made from tortas bread (similar to French bread) layered generously with refried beans and cheese all toasted on a broiler.  It’s simple in its execution and delivery.  Though satisfying on their own, it’s hard not to contemplate how much better the molletes would be with some New Mexico green chile.  Maybe next time we’ll sneak some in.

Pastel Tres Leches

Aficionados of terrific tacos will find several options to assuage their yen.  One taco more common in southern New Mexico than in the northern half of the state are tacos de alambre.  Alambre is a Spanish word for “wire” which sounds like an odd name for these tacos.  The genesis of the name is in dispute with some theories tying the name to the Moors who settled in Spain while others believe the name refers to the way the cheese in the mixture stretches out like thin wire when it sticks to the cook’s spatula while it’s being grilled with pre-marinated and cooked meats.  In this case, the meats are ham, bacon and carnitas served on a plate with steaming corn tortillas on the side.  These are terrific tacos.

Delicias Cafe lives up to its name.  It is one of the most delightful and delicious Mexican restaurants in the city with a wonderful authenticity aficionados will love.

Cafe Delicias
6001 San Mateo, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
505-830-6561
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 24 February 2013
1st VISIT:  12 February 2012
# OF VISITS: 4
RATING: 22
COST: $$
BEST BET: Sopes, Enchiladas Suizas, Caldo de Res, Salsa and Chips, Chilaquiles con Mole, Patron Platter, Short Stack, Burrito with Suiza Sauce, Tres Leches Cake, Molletes, Tacos de Alhambre

Delicia's Cafe on Urbanspoon

  • Barbara says:

    I got a distinct flavor of something fruity in the mole. I had the red sauce ( kind of a smoky chipotley-ish ranchero ) but we asked for a taste of the mole.

    Breakfast was excellent, my kids even loved it ( one had oatmeal which was very cinnamony and the other had some kind of pancake, egg, bacon and sausage combo that was cheap and looked great ) as did my parents.

    Cannot wait to go back for lunch and dinner.

    February 15, 2012 at 6:30 PM
  • ElVal says:

    FANTASTIC!!!!!!!! I don’t know what I did to deserve the arrival of Delicias in ABQ but Who Cares!!!!! Lots of time spent among the Cruces locals and the ICE agents that clog the lot in Cruces Norte to eat amazing mexican comfort food. Is there a Latino Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives?
    I base my reviews of SW comfort food by the refritos. Delicias is there with it; creamy smooth and lardy. Mmmmmmm. Their breakfasts will be your one-meal-a-day, they’re so huge. They brought me my 2 eggs OM, beans, papas & torts………then they brought the platter of verde sauced chicharrones. I at maybe a 1/3 of it all and had no way to transport the leftovers, BIG LOSS.
    True mexican restaurants are few in Northern NM. Let’s share the real estate. There’s so many foodie transients here. We embrace all latino flavors. Welcome!!!

    February 15, 2012 at 7:36 PM
  • Jim Millington says:

    Wow! I got a little lost and confused. It is 6001 San Mateo NE not 6601.

    February 26, 2012 at 7:41 PM
    • Gil Garduno says:

      Forgive me, Jim. Bob of the Village People actually pointed out my SNAFU last week and I forgot to update the address. Hopefully you managed to find it despite my numerically challenged typing and pitiful memory. Oh, and Bob also pointed out the chicharonnes aren’t the small crispy pork cracklings found in New Mexican restaurants.

      February 26, 2012 at 7:48 PM
  • Andrea says:

    Is this the same place or origins as Delicia’s Diner on Central? I think that place is now closed, but the name of the owner was Delicia, not necessarily a reference to a Mexico location. Hmm.

    Delicia’s Diner was featured in the Tamale roundup article in the Journal about 2 years ago.

    February 27, 2012 at 4:19 PM
    • Gil Garduno says:

      Delicias Cafe is not related to the late Delicia’s Diner which closed after ten years of operating at its Central Avenue location. According to New Mexico Business Weekly, the new tenant at that location will be Jamon’s Frybread Cabana, an enterprise specializing in Indian Tacos and Brasilian Street Fare.

      February 27, 2012 at 9:04 PM
  • John L says:

    Tried Cafe Delicias. Found the food unremarkable. The chicken mole had a reasonable flavor but I was put off by the fact that the chicken was schreded. We’ll stick with El Norteno. John L

    March 3, 2012 at 12:50 AM
  • John Granato says:

    This place is great. I love the food and the atmosphere. The food was freshly made and presented perfectly. The flavor of the food was perfect. Not too spicy, not too bland. Their Flan is by far the best I have tasted in the city. Add all of that to a friendly wait staff you have a 5 out of 5 stars in my book.

    March 8, 2012 at 8:04 PM
  • Jim Millington says:

    After returning from Grants on our previous search we made it by Cafe Delicias last night. I had the Mole Poblano which was sweet and wonderful, nearly as wonderful as the sun dried prune Mole I had at El Agave in San Diego last month. As we had never eaten there before the Child Bride had trouble ordering. She normally just orders whatever she had last time even if she didn’t like it because she ate it once and didn’t die. I got tired of waiting and ordered the Asado Delicias for her. She was very happy and once again demonstrated why she is not a fat pig like me because the soup had nearly filled her up. Her leftovers made a great breakfast for two this morning.

    By the way, your typing and memory are both great compared to mine. I actually proof everything slowly and carefully before I submit it but, unfortunately, what I read is usually exactly what I intended to type. Reading it again the next day I am usually shocked to realize that I must be a third grade dropout.

    March 19, 2012 at 11:36 AM
  • Michael says:

    I had the Gordita’s plate which came with a bowl of Caldo. Good Gordita’s are hard to find in NM and this place isn’t it. The Csldo de res was good as were the beans and the rice was nondescript. Salsa and chips came with it and were decent. The plate came with three Gordita’s that were less than three inches in diameter and were overcooked to a dark brown. They were stuffed with ground beef, cheese, lettuce and tomatoes. Not the worst I’ve had but far from the best.

    November 29, 2012 at 12:27 PM
  • Uncle Jess says:

    Seems like the kitchen is uneven. My enchiladas were lukewarm, the cheese on top seemed right out of the fridge, not to mention not melted. Reading all the good words here, I’ll try again with my fingers crossed.

    February 26, 2013 at 10:50 PM

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