The Range – Bernalillo, New Mexico
The phoenix of ancient Egyptian mythology was a sacred firebird of beautiful red and gold plumage said to live for centuries. At the end of its life, the phoenix built itself a nest of cinnamon twigs which it then ignited. Both the phoenix and the nest burned fiercely and were reduced to ashes from which a new phoenix arose. Similarly, the Range Cafe in Bernalillo was claimed by a fiery conflagration only to rise up from the ashes to exceed its former glory to become one of the most popular restaurants in New Mexico.
Like the phoenix, the Range is a rare breed–one of the few locally owned and operated (non-chain) restaurants which at any given time (make that, almost all the time) has diners lining up for a seat. That may be because the Range offers the “familiar” in serving comfort foods and local favorites and serves them in the profuse portion sizes American diners love.
The original Range debuted in September, 1992 in Bernalillo’s main street, Camino Del Pueblo. The restaurant was an instant success, quickly becoming more than a local favorite. Not quite three years later (on May 30, 1995), the Range went up in smoke–a huge conflagration consumed the entire restaurant. The community let it be known that they wanted their favorite restaurant rebuilt and held fund-raising events to help with the process.
Two months after the fire, the Range was back in business, albeit in a temporary location directly across the street from the church, thereby making it unlawful to obtain a beer and wine license. In April, 1996, the Range negotiated to rent a circa 1905 property which once served as the warehouse of the Bernalillo Mercantile. By December of that year, the Range officially re-opened at its present address, 925 Camino del Pueblo in the heart of downtown Bernalillo. Like the majestic phoenix, the Range rose from the ashes and has been going strong ever since.
The Range shares building space with Rose’s Pottery House owned by life-long Bernalillo resident Antoinette Silva. Part museum, part art gallery, it features contemporary and ancient Pueblo pottery and art. It’s a must stop before or after dining at the Range. During its nearly 80 year history, the building, now covering a full city block, served as a general store, movie theater, auto repair shop and permanent home to one of the finest collections of Native American and Hispanic art in New Mexico.
After obtaining a liquor license, the Range opened the Lizard Rodeo Lounge, a welcoming, non-smoking gathering place for locals and visitors alike. The Lounge includes a full-service bar and offers a full service-menu as well as live, free entertainment featuring local New Mexico bands. Every Thursday is open mike night for all aspiring stars. The Range Cafe has since expanded to three locations–one on Menaul and one on Wyoming, both in Albuquerque–but the most popular remains the original restaurant in Bernalillo.
A contemporary Southwestern artsy ambiance enhances your entire dining experience. Everywhere you turn, there’s something to catch your eye. Even the chairs and tables are functional art. While the milieu may seemingly scream “contemporary western,” ergo “home on the range,” the restaurant is actually named for the other kind of range–the one on which you prepare food. Several old stoves as well as stove art festoon the restaurant. Art and ambiance not withstanding, it’s the wonderful food that’s the big attraction. Not only are the portions profuse and most menu items familiar, they are generally delicious and reasonably priced.
The Range is the brainchild of restaurant impresario Matt DiGregory whose other popular restaurant ventures in the Duke City area include the Standard Diner in Albuquerque and the Freight House Kitchen & Tap Room in Bernalllo as well as the now defunct and much missed Gregorio’s Italian Kitchen. The entrepreneurial restaurateur is a visionary innovator whose restaurant concepts defy local stereotypes. His idea to combine fine cooking (such as applying French culinary techniques to the preparation of meatloaf) with comfort food was years before its time. The Range’s motto is “Ordinary Food Done Extraordinarily Well.” The Range lives up to that high standard.
If breakfast is the most important meal of the day, the Range’s eye-opening, belly-busing breakfasts are a fulfilling (and very filling) way to start off the day, but if you’re inclined to get sleepy after a big meal, you might want to split breakfast with someone you love. That’s because the Range’s portions are humongous. The most popular entree on the voluminous Range menu, by the way, is the huevos rancheros. It’s possible the Range sells more huevos rancheros than any other restaurant in New Mexico. Diners come from miles around to partake of these award-winning treasures.
The gargantuan breakfast burrito includes three large eggs scrambled with either ham, sausage or grilled veggies, wrapped in a flour tortilla and topped with white cheddar and your choice of red or green chile. It is accompanied by Range fries and pinto beans. Both the red and the green chile at the Range can be about as piquant (or as mild) as you’d get at some New Mexican restaurants, depending on the season and batch. It may open your eyes in the morning.
29 April 2017: A smile crossed over our server’s face when we ordered the Range Roundup, a behemoth breakfast offering she gleefully described as “the best thing on the menu.” If not the best, it’s certainly one of the biggest. It’s large enough to feed two adults or maybe one trencherman (someone who eats heartily, not someone who works in a trench). Imagine a housemade buttermilk biscuit as large as a frisbee and covered with crumbled bacon, sausage, two fresh eggs, white Cheddar and your choice of chile (the green is terrific) with pinto beans and Range fries smothered with con queso. If you love big, fluffy, moist biscuits, you’ll love this one. It serves as a magnificent canvas for the aforementioned toppings, but it’s the green chile that brings it all together. The Range fries with con queso are also quite good.
29 April 2017: One of the most perplexing mysteries of the human condition is that we get up early to have breakfast only to consume portions so profuse that we’re immediately placed in a semi-comatose state and can’t wait to get back to bed. It’s sleep-inducement in its most delicious form. One of the Range’s most sleep-inducing breakfasts is called the Wagon Train (two fresh eggs, two sausage links, two strips of bacon, white Cheddar, pinto beans, Range fries and a short stack of pancakes). The pancakes alone are the size of manhole covers. Range fries, cubed porcine perfection with a goodly amount of salt, are the star here. They’re classic papitas as good as you’ll find anywhere.
2 May 2009: For a week’s worth of calories, try the stuffed Range toast–three brick-sized slices of cinnamon raisin bread with a rich egg batter, grilled and stuffed with strawberries and bananas then topped with homemade apple/peach butter, whipped cream and maple syrup. These are among the most decadent French toast in New Mexico and should be shared. Should you opt instead for pancakes “Short stack” is a misnomer for the two large pancakes (the size of manhole covers) that leave very little of your plate uncovered. These syrupy orbs, like most Range portions, are big enough to share (they could feed a developing country).
8 January 2017: While many restaurants throughout the Land of Enchantment have long offered breakfast tacos, most of them are just slightly minor variations on tacos you’d eat for lunch or dinner. Leave it to The Range to serve a breakfast version of America’s favorite (although the ubiquitous hamburger might have something to say about that) portable meal. These breakfast tacos are sheathed in two corn tortillas each stuffed with omelette style eggs, chorizo, cotija and pico de gallo with a ramekin of guacamole and side of papitas. Two per order (you’ll want to ask for a third) tacos will sate your appetite with delightful flavors. Especially noteworthy is the chorizo which is impregnated with a mixture of seasonings, including cinnamon. The guacamole has a tinge of piquancy in addition to the buttery richness of avocados at their peak of ripeness. It’s some of the best guacamole you’ll have anywhere. The pico de gallo is similarly excellent, a perfect foil for the savory omelet-style eggs.
Appetizers, Soups and Salads
2 April 2008: Lest I forget, one of the best ways to start a meal at the Range is with the trio of guacamole, salsa and con queso with blue corn tortilla chips. The salsa is about medium on the piquancy scale, but it is fresh, rich and delicious. The guacamole is buttery and fresh, the product of excellent ingredients. Unlike so many other guacamole dishes, this one isn’t merely smashed avocados. This guacamole has got both piquant and citrusy (lime) notes. Only the con queso, which lacks creaminess, disappoints and only slightly at that. It’s a bit on the thick side and includes no ameliorants to contrast the cheesiness.
8 January 2017: The Range also offers an excellent alternative to the ubiquitous trio New Mexicans know and love. It’s called simply Elote, a Spanish word which translates to corn on the cob. Elote is a very popular street food throughout Mexico. Easily portable, it is customarily consumed on a stick, or by grasping the husk of the cob that has been pulled down to form a “handle.” The Range honors the spirit, if not the style of the Mexican Elote. Corn niblets are scraped off a roasted cob and plated in a creamy chile de arbol lime sauce and cotija cheese with blue and white corn tortilla chips. It’s consumed similar to chips and salsa; that is, you use the chips to scoop up the corn niblets. This is a wonderful way to enjoy corn and has become for us, a nice alternative to the chips and salsa with which we often start our meals at The Range.
28 May 2012: You can’t mention comfort foods without a prominent spot on the list for soups. The soups–especially the cream of mushroom soup and the cream of carrot soup–are among the very best you’ll find in New Mexico. These are the type of soups you love most on a cold winter day, but which are great any time of year. Thick, rich, hearty and replete with fresh ingredients, they’re an elixir for whatever (if anything) ails you. I’m not quite as fond of the Range’s green chile chicken stew, perhaps a misnomer because it’s described on the menu as a “soup that serves like a meal.” It really is a soup, not thick and creamy as most traditional green chile stews tend to be. Within a thin soupy broth, you’ll find blue corn tortilla chips, potatoes, carrots, celery, tendrils of chicken and a barely discernible chile.
20 November 2009: The motto of the Range Cafe is “ordinary food done extraordinarily well.” Ordinary doesn’t have to be boring or the “same old thing” everyone else serves. The Range Cafe takes some liberties with New Mexican cuisine and comfort food favorites. Take for example the shrimp scampi quesadilla, sauteed shrimp marinated in tequila, lime and garlic combined with tomatillo, pico de gallo, corn and white Cheddar cheese grilled on a flour tortilla and served with sour cream and guacamole. The shrimp is sweet and succulent, blending in extraordinarily well with the other flavor combinations.
4 April 2014: Vegetarians and Catholics out on a Lenten Friday aren’t left out in the cold when they crave quesadillas. The Range Quesadilla is everything any discerning diner desires in a quesadilla save for a meaty protein. A large, grilled flour tortilla is folded over artichoke hearts, red bell pepper, tomato, green chile and white Cheddar then served with the tasty triumvirate of salsa, guacamole and sour cream. Even avowed carnivores will enjoy this terrific tortilla treat, but if they must have a protein, it’s also available with chicken.
28 May 2012: Another appetizer catering to New Mexican tastes is a plate of green chile strips, breaded whole chiles served with a cool, creamy jalapeño dipping sauce. Served four to an order, each of the green chile strips is at least six inches of piquancy and deliciousness. Unlike some chile rellenos, the batter is thin, light and doesn’t fall off the chiles. The jalapeño dipping sauce is cool heat, a perfect accompaniment for chilephiles who know the only way to improve on a heat-generating food is with even more heat. One of the most redeeming features of the green chile strips is that they’re not greasy.
4 April 2014: The Range menu features ten salads ranging from the familiar and traditional (taco salad, Caesar and wedge) to the innovative (Grilled Salmon Berry and Quinoa). The Asian Salad–fresh spinach and mixed greens with cabbage, carrots, jicama, cucumber, snow peas, sliced almonds and frizzled onions tossed in sesame ginger dressing–probably falls in the latter category. It’s an exceptional salad highlighted by freshness and diversity of ingredients. Alas, those ingredients have a similar flavor profile and the salad would probably benefit from a mild cheese.
The aforementioned meatloaf, christened Tom’s meatloaf in honor of Range co-founder Tom Fenton, is a comfort food standard served with garlic mashed potatoes and a delicious mushroom gravy. The meatloaf is a substantial brick-sized slab of moist deliciousness. Like most Range entrees, it’s served almost out-of-the-stove hot. The mashed potatoes are made with real potatoes, not the powdery stuff and surprise, surprise…you can actually taste the garlic.
Another comfort food specialty, the chicken fried steak (a fresh beef cube steak breaded and smothered with cream gravy) is as good as you’ll find anywhere in the Land of Enchantment’s Rio Grande valley. Even Texans (for whom chicken fried steak is a religion) enjoy the Range’s Texas-sized version which even has the size (everything’s bigger in Texas) they appreciate. This chicken fried steak is tender enough to be cut with a fork.
20 November 2009: Recognizing that mac and cheese are everyone’s favorite, the Range makes theirs with a special New Mexico unique twist–green chile. The macaroni is rigatoni, the size of a culvert. The cheese is creamy and delicious with a prominent white Cheddar flavor though it’s entirely possible more than one cheese is used. The entire bowl–and it’s the size of a hub cap–is covered with ground parmesan. The green chile is a bit mild on the piquancy scale, but it’s a delicious chile that complements the mac and cheese very well.
2 April 2008: Dinner specials are generally so good you’ll wish they were on the standard menu. One example is the Range’s trout which is topped with capers, artichoke hearts and sun-dried tomatoes in a light white wine sauce. The trout is flaky and grilled to perfection. The natural brininess melds perfectly with the tanginess of the ingredients topping the trout. A lime and cilantro infused Basmati rice makes for excellent accompaniment to this dish.
The Range burger starts with an eight-ounce fresh ground chuck patty flame grilled to order. It’s topped with shaved ham, green chile strips and melted white cheddar cheese on a fresh, homemade bun. It is one of six inventive burgers on the menu, the most unique being a Relleno Burger topped with a blue corn chile relleno and green chile sauce. Obviously these are not boring burgers. The ground chuck patty is what all burgers in the area should aspire to be.
28 May 2012: An eight-ounce ground chuck patty is also a key component of the Rio Grande Gorge (named for the ravine through which the Rio Grande runs near Taos) in which the patty is served open face on a tortilla, topped with red or green chile sauce, Cheddar, grilled onions, black beans and Range fries with queso. It sounds great–and for the most part it is, save for the queso which tops the Range fries which is of Velveeta quality.
8 January 2017: Why follow Taco Bell’s advice to head for the border when you can go North of the Border for the Range’s interpretation of New Mexican cuisine. The North of the Border menu includes a number of Land of Enchantment favorites served with arroz verde, pinto beans, white cheddar cheese, your choice of chile and sour cream, guacamole or fried egg for a pittance. Your best bet is the Plato Combinacion Del Norte: blue corn chile relleno, chicken taco, two rolled beef enchiladas served with arroz verde, pinto beans, white cheddar cheese and your choice of chile. It’s one of the very best combination plates you’ll find anywhere. Instead of the usual cheese enchiladas, these are stuffed with beef with plenty of melted white Cheddar covering them. The blue corn chile relleno is superb as are the pinto beans.
Desserts, are so good, they’re almost indecent! The Range bakes only with real butter, fresh cream, real vanilla, fresh fruits and fine chocolates. Anything can be made a la mode for a pittance. The Range’s dessert case is one of Bernalillo’s most popular attractions, one that should be displayed on tourist guide books. Not only is each dessert aesthetically pleasing (drool eliciting), they’re all delicious.
The roadhouse chocolate cake, a moist, rich chocolate cake layered with thick chocolate fudge frosting is among the most moist cakes you’ll find anywhere while the “Life by Chocolate” cake defines the word decadent. Featuring milk chocolate, bittersweet chocolate, Belgian white chocolate and raspberry mousse layered together and glazed with a rich ganache, this is the type of dessert your dentist warned you about as a child and your dietician cautions against today.
20 November 2009: If you’re served green key lime pie, there’s a good bet either food coloring was added or the pie mix came out of a box. In the Florida keys, no restaurant can expect to stay in business for long if it serves green key lime pie. Key lime pies should always be pale yellow, usually a good indication that actual key lime juice is used. The Range’s key lime pie is very reminiscent of those we enjoyed so much when traveling through Florida where the key lime pie has been designated by the state legislature as “the official pie of the state of Florida.” The Range’s version has a tart, but not lip-pursing, flavor. It’s also very aromatic, another sign of authenticity.
4 April 2014: When stationed at Keesler Air Force Base, Bobbye Barlow, our department admin and one of the most wonderful people I’ve ever known used to treat us to monkey bread, a pan full of gooey, sweet, decadent, nutty love. Every time we walk by The Range’s pastry case and espy the Gooey Pecan Caramel Roll, it tugs at my heart strings to remember my special friend. This rich treat is very reminiscent of Bobbye’s wonderful monkey bread. Each morsel of this spiral roll is replete with decadent caramel with plenty of pecans which serve as a foil for an otherwise cloying pastry.
4 April 2014: In New Mexico, chefs and cooks love showing off the versatility of green chile. One of the most delicious is in apple pie, an idea which makes good sense considering chile (a member of the nightshade family) is closer related to fruits than it is to vegetables. The Range’s green chile apple pie with piñon streusel in a flaky pie crust is among the best. The green chile packs the type of piquant punch that titillates the back of your throat. For the faint of heart and tongue, this pie should be served a la mode. The Range, by the way, is perhaps New Mexico’s most generous restaurants when it comes to ice cream. Scoops are super-sized, twice as large as scoops at most restaurants.
The Range is a restaurant about which seldom a disparaging word is heard. Like the Phoenixes rise from the ashes, it continues to ascend in the estimation of its many patrons.
264 Camino Pueblo
Bernalillo, New Mexico
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LATEST VISIT: 29 April 2017
# OF VISITS: 26
BEST BET: Desserts, Meatloaf, Mushroom Soup, Mac and Cheese, Shrimp Scampi Quesadilla, Range Quesadilla, The Wagon Train, The Roundup, Elote, Breakfast Tacos