High Noon Restaurant & Saloon – Albuquerque, New Mexico
“Oh, to be torn twixt love and duty
Supposin’ I love my fair haired beauty
Look at that big hand movin’ round
Nearin’ high noon.”
~ Tex Ritter
The 1952 Academy Award winning movie High Noon follows taciturn marshal Will Kane as he single-handedly prepares to face a posse of murderers hellbent on revenge when the clock strikes twelve. Though the memorable showdown between Marshal Kane and the villainous scourges lasts only a few minutes, viewers are held spellbound by the movie’s black-and-white cinematography and hauntingly relentless soundtrack which accentuate the clock’s inexorable ticking down toward the confrontation at high noon.
The minute hand on the wooden clock facade at the foyer of the High Noon Restaurant & Saloon is on its upward trajectory, scant seconds away from high noon. Instead of tension, your mood will be one of eager anticipation to discover for yourself whether the flavors of the restaurant’s dishes are as welcoming as the aromas which greet you at the door. Since the restaurant was launched in 1974, locals and tourists alike have been beckoned by those alluring aromas to enter and dine at the popular Old Town restaurant.
The timeworn adobe edifice which houses The High Noon Restaurant & Saloon appears contemporaneous with the wooden homes on the dusty streets of Marshal Kane’s Hadleyville in the New Mexico Territory. In actuality, the building—one of Old Town’s original structures—was constructed in 1785, making it about 100 years older than the fictional town of Hadleyville. The High Noon truly provides a glimpse back in time, having served not only as a residence, but reputedly as a gambling casino and brothel. Steeped in history and legend, the building is also said to be haunted.
Anyone six feet or taller will have to bend down to walk through the doorway from the foyer into the cozy bar lounge known as the “Santo” room for the original nichos which have decorated the room since 1810. Within the nichos stand meticulously restored Santos from Mexico and the Philippines. This room honors New Mexico’s Spanish heritage. Further back are two esthetically diverse dining rooms, each one honoring the remaining two of New Mexico’s three dominant cultures. The walls of the “Gallery Room” (the Anglo room) are adorned with large photographs taken during the building’s renovation with participants attired in regalia from the Gay Nineties. The “Kiva Room” stands out by virtue of its thick adobe walls, high ceiling, Pueblo-style bancos with Hopi kachinas, Navajo rugs and Acoma pottery completing the Native American theme.
As with other restaurants clustered throughout Albuquerque’s historic Old Town, The High Noon has had to contend with the derision of nay-sayers who bucket all Old Town area restaurants into the category of “tourist traps.” While many of its guests are indeed visitors, The High Noon also has a loyal following among locals who appreciate that the restaurant’s eclectic menu includes a smattering of New Mexican entrees and some of the most highly regarded Margaritas (the saloon boasts of more than 30 tequila offerings) in town. The High Noon has been owned since its inception by the Villa family, lifelong Duke City philanthropists.
Although the menu is described as serving “new food from the old west,” at its heart and essence The High Noon is a steakhouse. Never mind that the winter 2013 menu lists only three steaks (a 16-ounce center-cut ribeye, an 8-ounce brown sugar-cured beef tenderloin and a 12-ounce New York strip Au Poivre), steak is where the restaurant carved out its reputation. The menu seems tailored mostly for the carnivorous persuasion, but it does includes something to appease even vegetarian palates.
The chile served with the “New Mexican Favorites” menu is made with cumin as is the salsa. All New Mexican favorites are served with Spanish rice and whole pinto beans. “House Specialties” include a number of diverse offerings—from rock shrimp Pappardelle (one of four Italian inspired items on the menu) to a bourbon-roasted chicken. The “From the Grill” menu offers burgers, seafood and chops (including the aforementioned steaks). Soup and salad offerings include a bowl of green chile stew and a number of salads.
The “Starters” menu lists only six items, including Kobe Beef Sliders. Compared to many sliders (can you say White Castle?) on which the beef patties are about as thick as a slice of baloney, the patties on High Noon’s sliders are on steroids. Come to think of it, the patties are thicker than patties on most standard or upscale sized burgers. The burgers are served with only two toppings—Cheddar cheese and green chile—with chipotle ketchup on the side. You won’t need anything else. The chile has just enough bite to complement the Kobe beef. On burgers Kobe (or wagyu) beef isn’t quite as marbled as on steaks, but you can still taste the buttery richness of the beef.
Simply having a garden salad on the menu as an appetizer, entrée or side just doesn’t cut it anymore. Diners want fresh ingredients, lighter dressings and an inventive assembly of ingredients on their salad plate. Most restaurants who care to provide a holistic dining experience will accommodate them. The High Noon certainly does, offering an apple and cranberry salad with baby greens (arugula, frisee, radicchio), sliced Granny Smith apples, blue cheese, chipotle candied pecans and a thick Balsamic vinaigrette. The textural and flavor variety offered in the greens alone make this a salad worth eating, but the supporting cast makes it a salad you’ll order again. There’s just something magical about apples and blue cheese that spritzes up any salad or sandwich.
When we asked our server and the server attending to adjacent tables what their favorite entrees are, they both resounded with praise for the Ancho-BBQ Short Ribs, three braised, boneless short ribs slathered with an Ancho chile and Bing Cherry barbecue sauce with hashed potatoes, haricot vert and onion strings. Reminiscent of an 80s restaurant trend, the items on the plate were stacked on top of each other. The hashed potatoes served as the foundation with the three short ribs on top then the haricot vert and serving as the proverbial topping is a mound of onion strings.
Reminiscence notwithstanding, the short ribs were nearly as good as advertised—tender and melt-in-your-mouth delicious. The Ancho chile-Bing Cherry barbecue sauce doesn’t pack much punch and is a bit on the sweet side, but there’s plenty of it for use as a “gravy” with the hashed potatoes. The haricot vert (thin French green beans) are perfectly prepared with a nice snap to them. The tangle of onion strings reminded us (in a good way) of the onion loaf served at Hackney’s in the Chicago area with a combination of oniony and sweet flavors that go very well together.
The second entrée our servers recommended most highly (and it’s not even among the most expensive entrees on the menu) was the bourbon-roasted chicken served with mashed potatoes, baby carrots and natural jus. When we lived in the Deep South, we became quite familiar with bourbon roasted meats, most of whom were slathered with a cloying Jack Daniels sauce vaguely reminiscent of whiskey maple syrup. The High Noon’s rendition isn’t cloying in the least. The natural jus is seasoned to complement the roasted chicken, not to change its flavor profile. It’s a perfectly prepared and meaty chicken served in the 80s “stacked” style.
The dessert menu is relatively small, but I stop listening when bread pudding is mentioned anyway. The High Noon’s bread pudding is made with white chocolate and cranberries topped with cajeta (goat cheese caramel). This tasty triumvirate may sound sickeningly sweet, but we were surprised at just how balanced the bread pudding is. The pastry chef obviously knows that a little salt and baking powder goes a long way in cutting the cloying qualities of desserts. One of the most surprising elements of this bread pudding is the cajeta, an addictive and luxurious topping for a bread pudding that’s hard to top. My friend Larry McGoldrick, the professor with the perspicacious palate and a fellow bread pudding aficionado, would enjoy this one.
Over the years, The High Noon Restaurant has undergone a number of thematic menu changes. Until rather recently, it was one of few restaurants in town in which wild game (including rattlesnake) could be found. Now, if you want to see rattlesnakes, you’ve got to walk down the street to the rattlesnake museum. As with many progressive restaurants, its menu changes periodically to maintain diner interest.
In its annual Food and Wine issue for 2013, Albuquerque The Magazine‘s staff sampled “every dish of nachos in the city” and selected High Noon’s nachos as the third best in the city. The magazine described these nachos as “surely the kind of chips that angels eat” and having “a kick we still can’t forget.”
Our server confided that he eats at the restaurant five days a week, and while some of that may be salesmanship, he was certainly familiar with the nuances of every item we had and gracefully led us on our dining adventure.
High Noon Restaurant & Saloon
425 San Felipe Street, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 9 March 2013
# OF VISITS: 1
COST: $$$ – $$$$
BEST BET: White Chocolate & Cranberry Bread Pudding, Apple & Cranberry Salad, Kobe Beef Sliders, Bourbon Roasted Chicken, Ancho-BBQ Short Ribs