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Caruso’s Italian Restaurant – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Caruso's Italian Restaurant on Menaul

Caruso’s Italian Restaurant on Menaul

The 1924 publication of Edgar Rice Burrough’s fantasy novel The Land That Time Forgot regaled readers with the notion of what might happen when contemporary humans stumble upon a lost world in which evolution has progressed much more slowly. Step into Caruso’s Italian Restaurant on Menaul and you just might be entering Albuquerque’s version of the Italian restaurant that time forgot. Ask friends or family to name ten or even fifteen Italian restaurants in Albuquerque and it’s likely Caruso’s won’t be on that list. Remind them Caruso’s isn’t on their list and their likely response will be “oh yeah, I forgot about Caruso’s.”

At more than four decades of age, the venerable Caruso’s doesn’t have the pristine veneer or the effusive, over-the-top flamboyance of the chains that dominate the Duke City’s Italian restaurant scene. This august family owned restaurant is showing signs of age and its menu reflects the defiance of a proprietor who holds fast to tradition against a tide of trendy chains which serve portions which would bloat a bovine and whose saccharine service is as transparent as glass. Caruso’s doesn’t feature the latest Northern Italian culinary concept nor does its wait staff belt out operatic arias while you dine. Caruso’s operates largely the same today as it did back in the mid 1970s when it launched.

The interior of Caruso's Restaurant

The interior of Caruso’s Restaurant

So, how does Caruso’s manage to stay in business and who frequents this anachronism of a restaurant? Let me answer the second part of the question first. Generations of Duke City diners frequent Caruso’s. Adults whose own parents brought them to Caruso’s bring their own children to the restaurant. They come for the family-oriented tradition, the great value, personable service…and they come for the food. During a visit in April, 2013, we were both shocked and thrilled to see three teenage boys (no parents in sight) having lunch at Caruso’s. What would compel Generation-Z (born 1995-2012) youth not to follow their peers to a more trendy restaurant? We asked one of them who promptly explained how much he loves the sandwiches and pizza at Caruso’s.

The menu is relatively small with two pages of standard Italian culinary creations such as rigatoni, spaghetti, manicotti and pizza as well as fried chicken. After more than forty year of serving the Duke City dining public, Caruso’s most popular entree remains spaghetti followed by lasagna and pizza. The ground sausage is homemade and the meatballs are more meat than they are filler. Order an entree of spaghetti and meatballs and you transcend the years with the evocation of olfactory memories of your first experience with good spaghetti. A rich red sauce with just the right amount of garlic and oregano make it so.

House salad with bread

House salad with bread

Telephone solicitors calling the restaurant often ask to speak with Mr. Caruso, but the restaurant is actually named for the legendary operatic tenor Enrico Caruso. Several black and white images of the Neapolitan crooner hold a place of honor on the restaurant walls while the back page of the menu defines and describes various facets of an Italian opera. The red, white and green colors of the Italian flag are prominent on the restaurant’s signage, another indication that this is no American chain. Red and white checkerboard tablecloths decorate every table while the requisite wine bottles festoon ledges on the red brick interior walls.

The pizza is substantial with a quarter inch thick crust that holds up well against an onslaught of pepperoni, green chile, onions and sausage (the number four special). It, too, evoked memories of the great pizzas of my youth. There’s nothing fancy about it, no fru fru ingredients, just good crust, a great tomato sauce and fine ingredients. The few pieces left over from dinner will taste just as good the following day.

Old-fashioned veal parmigiana with a side of spaghetti

Old-fashioned veal parmigiana with a side of spaghetti

Entrees are accompanied by an old-fashioned salad. Old-fashioned means iceberg lettuce and lots of it. The only other components to this salad are a single slice of salami and the dressing of your choice (the house Italian is quite popular). There is nothing nouveau or trendy about this salad that time has forgotten, but it’s simple and it’s good. So is the accompanying bread. It’s thick, fresh and served with those small plastic tubs of butter which are annoyingly difficult to open.

Old-fashioned would also describe the veal parmigiana, an entree which time (or at least many restaurant menus) has forgotten. Caruso’s uses a medium sized veal cutlet and breads it rather thickly then tops it with its house red meat sauce and melted mozzarella. The breading sticks very well to the cutlet, perhaps one of the reasons this parmigiana is a bit on the desiccated side. The veal parmigiana is served with a side of spaghetti with meat sauce (marinara is available if you ask for it).

Fried chicken with a side of spaghetti

Fried chicken with a side of spaghetti

Out of curiosity after seeing it destined for quite a few other tables, my Kim ordered the fried chicken during our second visit. An order of fried chicken means a half bird–thigh, leg and wing. The chicken is breaded rather thickly and doesn’t have as much white and dark meat as we would have wanted, but the meat we were able to extricate from the bony carcass was juicy and delicious. The fried chicken is normally accompanied by French fries, but you can ask for spaghetti instead.

As long as there are families with traditions and memories, restaurants such as Caruso’s Italian Restaurant will never be completely forgotten. A family can eat very well more cheaply than they would at some chain burger restaurants.

Caruso’s Italian Restaurant
5626 Menaul, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 884-3050

LATEST VISIT: 13 April 2013
1st VISIT: 25 August 2005
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 15
COST: $$
BEST BET: Pizza, Spaghetti with Meatballs

Caruso's Italian on Urbanspoon

Category: Albuquerque, Italian
  • Bob of the Village of Los Ranchos says:

    (With due respect to yesterday….Shoot ‘em on sight! or… Forgive ‘em!…let your conscience be your guide as I’ve chosen mine, having grown up 25 miles to the North,…. I delayed posting this.)

    Had I posted this before, it would have noted this: With all due respect to those espousing Veal as being UnPC.

    Re Gil’s reflections of ‘traditional’ ala Caruso’s: several years ago I unwittingly started what’s become a tradition of holding off doing my taxes till the very end. To ‘celebrate’ yesterday, I ventured to Caruso’s per that theme of traditionality. Later I speculated on the underpinnings of my ‘tradition’, e.g. could it possibly be a vicarious Hippy countercultural defiance? and concluded that given I’d never read On-The-Road of my Homeboy…Jack Kerouac, it was procrastination as a cheap means (being retired) and safe (not getting my brain sloshed around on the new fangled roller coasters or sky drop) way of generating a ‘rush’ per heightened adrenaline flowing.

    Alas, I t’weren’t in ABQ in my “youth” to know Caruso’s, but family did that schtick back in Kerouac’s Lowell MA during which I coincidentally went through a pre-adolescent phase of always ordering a “breaded veal cutlet”* (BVC)while cautioning the waitress, as I’ve said elsewhere, that it not be “gristly” (What? In contrast to some who may like it that way?? LOL). *I’m guessing listings on menus as BVC was an attempt back then to get people to try other ethnic foods or similarly to update or modernize them like most European immigrants did with their names, e.g. Papadopolous to Pappas; Maciejewski to Mace; etc. ergo i.e. VP was now BVC…LOL.

    Speaking of tradition, weren’t ‘uniforms’ more common back then akin to ABQ’s repro 66 Diner? Did a lot of them disappear per “just cost cutting” or, some may say darkly, as part of the “egalitarian” movement, e.g. we don’t keep score in kids sports? If so, curses to places like Burger King; Mickey D’s; and Olde Town’s Antiquity with their tux-shirts and bow ties instead of jeans and crop-tops!!!

    While Yup, Caruso’s is a step back in time, I was pleasantly suprised to find that the checkered tablecloths looked like they were just unpackaged; the leatherette upholstery was “as new”; and the windows were sparkly clean after all these 40ish years.

    As seen in Gil’s pic, yes that’s indeed one of those faux woven looking salad bowls of unknown amalgam…albeit indeed an antique! To keep with the spirit of the era, i.e. before the more sophisticated popularity of Blue Cheese, I chose 1K Island!! It was served plentifully/generously as well as was the just right, i.e. not overly sweet, spaghetti sauce…. i.e. which some may say is to be expected as ‘Mama-Italian’. I.e. in today’s diet conscience world, some may wish to request either to be “on the side”. Whoa! Within the bread basket, were crackers, my preference to accompany such a salad. Say, where else can you find a paper placemat of olde days: i.e. showing mileage; hot spots in a City?

    Back to the BVC: It filled half the plate and was well presented…as well as that might be then/today! Typically, IMHO, veal is a quiet taste experience as evidenced/augmented by the ‘need for’ cheese-and-sauce or as in other variants thereof, e.g marsala.

    Given the rarity of veal dishes nowadays, I wondered if it was ‘real’! With only a remnant left, it behooved me to peek under the breading. In my case, I thought I espied pokey marks of a traditional tenderizing mallet!

    While it was daytime when there, the hanging colored globes suggested it might be an “intimate” ambiance after dark for those of Y’all herein surprising your mates with a “date-night”; trysts not withstanding!. As such I wondered if the waitgal might change into a “more alluring peasant blouse” and tarantella skirt as well!

    My bottom line: For under ten bucks…including a freekin salad included like days of yore!!!, this offers a respectable, down-home meal as a neighborhood eatery during the week, if not weekend for some.

    If you be a person of mature age: what a great place to meet up with folks of similar ilk a few times a year to reminisce much as ya might do by alternately gathering at the Monte Carlo http://www.nmgastronome.com/?p=344 and Paul’s Monterey Inn http://www.nmgastronome.com/?p=357, to have a wholesome and reasonably priced meal to yak a bit nostalgicly of good times which I can only believe spurs your good health on to return again next year!!! Lastly, if yer out to ‘impress’ your ‘old world’ mother-in-law-to-be from the old country or NYC, let alone BeanTown, e.g http://www.unionoysterhouse.com/ , Fastafajullay indeed!!

    April 16, 2013 at 6:02 PM
  • Bob of the Village of Los Ranchos says:

    Oops…sorry per noting “….having grown up 25 miles to the North….” It should have been: “….to the North of Boston….”

    April 16, 2013 at 6:09 PM
  • Bruce Schor says:

    Wow.
    1313 words which covered everything from the horrific Boston bombing to a mysoginistic description of “wait gal” outfits to tax prep to “homeboy” Jack Kerouac.
    You missed your NCAA brackets and a review of the 2014 Corvette in your review of Caruso’s.
    I assume, lost in those 1313 words, you enjoyed the meal?
    Caruso’s sounds like the 1000’s of Mom and Pop restaurants that dot big cities that were destinations of the millions of immigrants who came from Europe for years.
    By the way, BOTHVOLR, my Russian/Polish paternal grandmother made breaded veal chops for as long as I can remember. All that was missing was chopped salad on the veal chop and she would have been making Veal Chop Giardenier(sp?), a dish held in great favor in Italian restaurants.
    I’m not sure Caruso’s wants to be known as a gathering place for geriatric dining and reminiscing, and would like a broader appeal, perhaps attracting a new wave of younger diners.
    As far as UN-PC, veal has been barred from Costco because of public outcry over the way they are raised for human consumption.
    I could buy veal chops @ $8.99 a pound vs. Tully’s @ $28.99.
    I made sure to buy several packages for the freezer everytime Inshopped at the store, then poof, gone because of a few folks who couldn’t just not buy it for themselves and decided to ruin it for others.
    While this might ignite a fire storm I don’t get those who object to veal because of the methods used to bring it to market.
    Dead is dead and we all eat dead stuff every day.
    When them little veals start a movement and begin complaining about the way they enter the food chain I’ll consider their plight.
    A new anti-veal activist group, VOMIT, or Veal Off Menus Is Terrific, will begin throwing veal offal at diners frequenting restaurants serving all forms of the meat, creating a competition with PETA.
    LEAFS, Let’s Eliminate All Food Sources, will picket restaurants serving anything that once lived.
    So, BOTVOLR, did you like Caruso’s.
    Seems that somewhere in you mentioned Caruso’s food……..
    Yes or no will do!
    Maybe I’ll see you at Caruso’s, but alas I wont be wearing an “alluring peasant blouse”, maybe just my Brooklyn Dodger hat with the “B” the Red Sox stole from “dem bums “.

    April 18, 2013 at 8:03 AM
  • Bob of the Village of Los Ranchos says:

    Bruce: In only 651 words:

    As your Rus/Polish G-Ma might say:
    Dzien Dobry Pan,

    Re your noting: “….mysoginistic(sic) description of “wait gal” outfits….” Oh Pshaw Bruce per trying to yank my chain lest ‘alluring’ is what’s erroneously being referred to versus simply: “Enticing; fascinating; attractive.” Upon request, I will give you contact info to several gals, Gay & Straight, who will attest to my love of persons-female!!!! LMD*O

    Indeed I omitted my Brackets per still in double mourning re Alford’s “choices”. Despite that, I partyed on to attend a pub gathering at Kelly’s to watch UMA-Lowell being in the Frozen Four (i.e. hockey being the basketball-like equivalent.)

    You asked/stated: “Like Caruso’s? Enjoyed the meal? Yes or No!”
    Geesh, ya sound like a lawyer!

    Yes. Unlike Gil’s ‘ratingsys’ however, if I understand it correctly, I am not blessed with his laser-like attentive skill, but am, per constitutional make up, easily distractible (or as I like to hear some saying, I am discerning as relates to the gestalt of the experience) whereby I can’t base my rating on the food item alone!!! YO…there’s nothing wrong with Gil’s, as they say on Seinfeld, however my rating for Caruso/VP would be at least a 17-19 per a) giving ‘points’ for the inclusion of Caruso’s preservation of a bit of nostalgic ambiance; b) including the upkeep thereof; c) the traditional type of presentation for this particular menu item being sans sprigs of pine trees or today’s everpresent tepee arrangement of asparagus, etc.; d) points for the perseverance offered by a bit of crispy/crunchiness of the breading not succumbing to the sogginess of its toppings; and e) price. Of course the latter may be determined by circumstance, e.g. persons you, The Bruce, might arrange with whom for me to dine. E.g. if I were to be escorting the down-to-earth likes of, formerly John Adams or currently, Downton Abbey’s Laura Linney or SF’s Linda Beaver (pardon while I daub my drool), I’d think Caruso’s would be a fun n funky ‘date’. While I’d probably have to choose places almost twice the price if it ‘had to be’ with Eva Longorria (with a political chit-chat ban in place)!!!! Eh! that’s not to be taken as a put down of price’s at Italian places like Joe’s Pasta which I’d enjoy where ya can read my review without price consideration.

    Like I said…my taste buds always perceived veal as having a “quiet taste” which seemed to be why there was a sauce and cheese to begin with or to support it. With all due deference to my beloved Scalo’s Filetto, I would not even give any VP/BVC a “1” rating being served… no matter free, let alone alluring served by the beloved actor B. Strauss http://tinyurl.com/d8d6o3c serving me… in a Men’s room of Tingley Coliseum!!!! Yo, that would even include servers like Gina L., Dagmar, or Ken Murray’s Laurie Anders extolling her liking “The Wide Open Spaces” nobody remembers nowadays!!!) LOL

    (Re your beloved “Brooklyn Dodger’s hat” and the respect it deserves: As I’ve noted elsewhere: As a kid, despite living 25 miles from Baaastan, I was a Yankee fan….Eh!!! go with a winner (of World Series)!!! Despite that, I distinctly remember it was very disconcerting (to be PC) as I presume you did…when The Dodgers moved to the ravine in LA. Nevertheless, Bravo for your….and your alluring mate’s, I’m sure,….continued loyalty!!!

    Just to reinforce your SW hospitality Bruce: lest ya be having some Comp(m)adres come out from Brooklyn this week to enjoy the Dodger’s farm club at Isotopes park, don’t forget to come out to do (and donate if ya have a mind to) this coming Sunday’s 14th Annual Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk on the 28th to meet Y’all around 7am by/at the Registration Tent in the parking lots on the easterly side of Cottonwood Mall. Y’all and readers too, if you RSVP me, are welcome to attend our Apres Walk brunch once we figure “where” in the next couple of days!!!!
    Dobranoc!!!
    Bob
    * Dupa

    April 21, 2013 at 2:29 PM
  • Bruce Schor says:

    BOTVOLR,
    Linda Beaver, really?
    BOTVOLR is becoming BTDOM
    So is the 17 – 19 your rating
    And do you like the VP (veal parm, I presume)?

    By the way, I have seen the Isotopes play this year.
    At the Opening WEEK’s Opening Day game against the Iowa Cubs, Dee Gordon, Isotope SS made the single best defensive play I have ever seen. Running full tilt to a ball that was going to drop between the center and left fielders he went completely prone to catch the ball, jumped up and doubled the runner off first. Better than Willie May’s play in the 54 world series. May’s didn’t have to get off the ground to make the throw.
    Very good pulled pork nachos at Isotopes Stadium. I think I saw Linda Beaver at the game eatin’ those nachos…….
    I’m just saying.

    April 21, 2013 at 10:27 PM

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