The County Line Restaurant – Albuquerque, New Mexico

The County Line of Albuquerque, Just Two Miles From the World’s Longest Tramway

If you believe alcohol Prohibition, America’s federally mandated fourteen year social experiment with sobriety, ended with the passing of the 21st amendment in 1933, you would be wrong.  As of January, 2016, there were still about 200 “dry” counties (particularly in the Bible Belt) across the fruited plain with what most would consider excessively stringent liquor laws.  Residents of dry counties who want to indulge in their favorite adult beverage have but to drive to the county line of the nearest “wet” county where package stores and bars do a thriving business in alcohol sales. 

It might be a stretch to say that the “spirit” of the county line package stores and bars is alive and well at the County Line Restaurant Restaurant.  As with the package stores and bars at the “wet” side of the county line, the County Line Restaurant provides desired “goods” to customers otherwise unable to procure them.  The “goods” in this case is “bodacious barbecue,” and indeed there are many who contend that they have to drive to the County Line to get it.  A crowded parking lot certainly attests to the County Line Restaurant’s popularity as a purveyor of barbecue.

One of the County Line’s dining rooms

The County Line Restaurant was founded in 1975 in an old Austin, Texas speakeasy (a term coined during Prohibition that describes bars or nightclubs who dispensed alcohol illegally).  Today the County Line serves its award-winning barbecue in several Austin locations as well as in San Antonio and El Paso.  Albuquerque’s County Line (launched in 1980) is the furthest outpost from the original restaurant and the only one outside the great state of Texas.  Fortunately County Line aficionados across the fruited plain can obtain its legendary barbecue through the restaurant’s “Air Ribs” service which ships barbecue right to your door. 

Four principles define the County Line’s operational model: First: offer the highest quality smoked barbecue – ribs, brisket, sausage and chicken – with traditional sides of cole slaw, potato salad and beans. Second: provide these BBQ specialties in generous portions at reasonable prices. Next: offer friendly table service with linens and bar service. Finally: feature an authentic location that celebrates the heritage of Texas.  In 1975, the Texas State Legislature passed a resolution to recognize the County Line barbecue restaurant on “the occasion of its 30th anniversary of serving legendary barbecue to the state of Texas.”

House Bread

While virtually no one will dispute the superiority of Texas barbecue over New Mexico barbecue (though the Land of Enchantment’s barbecue is making endroads), Albuquerque’s County Line restaurant has something none of its Texas siblings have.  That’s a nearly unobstructed view of the spectacular Sandia Mountains which form a dramatic backdrop for the restaurant.  You’ll have to sit in the patio to enjoy that view, but because of the mountain’s proximity you’ll certainly appreciate how it acquired its name.  From inside the restaurant’s main dining rooms, the best views are panoramas of the city’s multi-hued summer sunsets and city lights the rest of the year.

The County Line’s ambience is stereotypical roadhouse with distressed wood appointments and legacy bric-a-brac strewn throughout. The cover of the menu is patterned after the “Big Chief” writing notebooks of my youth, complete with a stern countenanced Native American in full headdress (funny how the PC police haven’t gone on the warpath about that). It goes without saying that the menu is dominated by barbecue and smoked entrees, but you can also have any one of six third-pound Angus beef burgers and such Texas staples as chicken fried steak and chicken fried chicken.

Three Meat Platter: Brisket, Turkey, Pulled Pork

Three all-you-can-eat (AYCE) family style options are available only if the entire party on a table opts for one of the three AYCE choices: the “Country Style Meal,” “The Cadillac” and the “All You Can Stand.” All three options provide prodigious platters of barbecue meats bathed in a tangy sauce and are served family-style with the main differences being cost and entrees provided in each. The “Cadillac,” for example includes beef ribs, pork ribs, sausage, chicken and brisket for just under $30 a person.  The Cadillac is served with three sides: potato salad, coleslaw and beans as well as the County Line’s signature loaf of bread (white or wheat). 

For the non-gurgitators (competitive eaters) among us, smaller plates are available as are other sides.  Somewhat smaller than the AYCE options are the combo platters available with two, three or five meats served with your choice of two sides and the County Line’s complimentary bread.  If you want the restaurant’s “Famous Homemade Bread” it’s an extra charge, but worth the dough.  Among the sides, both the coleslaw and the potato salad are more tangy than sweet. Neither is particularly creamy, but they’re good alternatives to their runny, cloying counterparts served at some restaurants. The mushroom caps and corn-on-the-cob (in season) are excellent alternatives.  Even better (though not always on the menu) are ancho-maple glazed carrots with their sweet-piquant flavor profile.  You also won’t find better okra anywhere in Albuquerque than at the County Line.

Baby Back Ribs

The combo platters are an excellent option for those of us who like variety and don’t mind waddling out of the restaurant.  It stands to reason that one of the meats should be the marbled 2nd cut beef brisket.  Brisket is practically a religion in Texas and rightfully so.  The County Line’s brisket is among the best in the city, on par with the brisket at Powdrell’s.  The second (or the deckle) cut of brisket is the antithesis of any stringy, dry and chewy brisket you’ve ever had.  It’s juicy, succulent and pulls apart easily.  Moreover, it’s as flavorful as short ribs, but far less expensive.  Peppered turkey breast has been my favorite barbecued meat since the great Gary West of Rio Rancho’s Smokehouse introduced me to it.  The County Line’s version is terrific. 

My friend Bruce “Sr Plata” Silver is an aficionado of beef ribs.  At the County Line, beef ribs are Flintstonian in size and as meaty as ribs can be.  Baby back ribs, available in half- or full-rack sizes are also excellent.  A sweet and tangy sauce is lacquered on with the excess sauce lingering on the plate should you desire wetter ribs.  These ribs are nearly “fall-off-the-bone” tender with just a little pull that denotes a perfect degree of doneness.  Smoke permeates each morsel.  If you’re unable to finish your platter, fret not because they heat up nicely the next day and are just as delicious cold.

Peach Cobbler with Housemade Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

Dessert options abound at the County Line.  Regardless of which post-prandial sweet you enjoy, ask for a side of the housemade ice cream.  It’s some of the very best in the city.  Echo that sentiment for the peach cobbler ala mode topped with vanilla bean ice cream. There’s just something special about the textural contrast of savory, flaky pie crust and sweet, tangy peaches.  Save for with a scoop or two of the vanilla bean ice cream, you can’t top this cobbler.

For more than a quarter-century, barbecue aficionados have made their way to the County Line Restaurant for a smoky taste of Texas with the magnificent panoramic views available only in the Duke City.

The County Line
9600 Tramway, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 856-7477
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 28 August 2016
# OF VISITS: 10
RATING: 19
COST: $$$
BEST BET: Babyback Ribs, Peach Cobbler with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream, Fried Okra, Ancho-Maple Glazed Carrots, Peppered Turkey Breast, Brisket, Pulled Pork

County Line Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

10 comments

  • Michael

    I took my ten year old grandchildren for their birthdays, born ten days apart. last Saturday, We all had the Big Beef Ribs, Bread, Fries, Beans and Coleslaw with IBC Root Beer. The Coleslaw was terrible, would not order it again. Peach Cobbler Ala Mode for desert completed out meal. Service was good and we got a table in from of one of the big.windows which really pleased the kids, Always a good choice for barbecue, Not sure when I’ll be back the kids like all kinds of foods and I let them pick the restaurant. I have eight grandchildren, four boys and four girls. Gil, they like your website. Thank you.

  • FGFABQ

    I’ve dined at and done takeout from County Line. It does certain things very well, BBQ sausage links and chicken especially. They are reliable, and the service seems fine.
    Hopefully my next comment will not be greeted harshly but like GCCBurgers, BBQ can be great one day and meh the next. A burger at Blake’s at 12:15 PM is way different than the burger offered at 3PM. It just cooked meat after all.
    There seems to a BBQ aficionado for every place and style who says, “I know BBQ, believe me”. For me it’s very in the moment, how does it taste at that moment in time. And for every aficionado extolling the best they’ve ever eaten there is a chorus of naysayers with a different opinion.
    All I know about “best” is that the “best” baseball team in history is the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers.
    Beyond that all else becomes secondary.

  • BOTVOLR

    I think it’s a kinda unique place in ABQ to take especial visitors “from back east” who may be sated on New Mexican cuisine and if you reserve a westerly facing, windowside table when the chill evenings arrive. I agree with Thumbs Up assessments of others, altho if it was my last meal..to-die-for, I’d request the Red Chile BBQ Ribs of…yes…El Pinto – LOL
    – Speaking of the fruited plain…in ’93 I had the op, per living a year in delightful Nashville, to take the tour of Jack’s place….Daniels’ Distillery just down the road a piece in Lynchburg County. I highly recommend it even if ya don’t imbibe, e.g. http://tinyurl.com/hp5gjh8 . (Oh, sorry…don’t confuse thinking you might run into teeny Kunis, who you may espy nowadays on the TV, as she’s at that other Guy’s place http://tinyurl.com/jyd3vcs) Anyway, back in the day after finishing the tour, you couldn’t sample Jack per being in a ‘dry’ county!!!…in contrast to nowadays!
    – Speaking of the fruity plane….don’t know if it still is an FAA regulation, but you couldn’t be served an alcoholic beverage while flying over, e.g. Kansas!!!! Speaking of which as when on the ground, if I remember correctly, you could bring a bottle of wine to a building where for a buck you could become a member of a private club to have your wine served with your meal in what was actually a restaurant.
    I think they even had lockers you could rent where you could store stuff! Lo, the Chairman of the Psych Department at KU was arrested when he bought some booze at the famous Country Club Plaza in KC, Mo. for a faculty party at his home in Lawrence, KS when he was caught going just immediately driving across the border into KC, KS. Alas, kids today miss so much….unless they are six years old and do this http://tinyurl.com/zdoynvt at school and get suspended and sent to psychoanalysis for a year!!!!
    Salud/Slainte!

  • Jim Millington

    Wow! Everybody certainly had a different experience from ours. My memory of the place was crowded with mediocre BBQ but on the evening of October 25, 2015 we dropped by on a wild hair.

    The place was about 85% empty but we still had to wait about 20-minutes to be seated and almost as long to order our brisket. The wait was the best part of the experience. The brisket was dry and generally awful and we have tried to wipe the entire thing from our memories.

    I love good BBQ but would rather eat cornmeal mush than return. I always loved Powdrell’s but since Pete “left us” that has slid ( or slood if you listened to Dizzy Dean). Still it is much better than County Line.

    • Have you tried Powdrell's lately?

      Jim – Have you tried Powdrell’s recently? I agree, it went downhill fast after Pete went on to be the Pit Master for a much lovelier place…

      The location on East Central has gone through a remodel, and I really like what they are doing now. Still have some great sauce and their brisket (good) and hot links (WOW!) are worth getting. I’ve not had much else – well, except the wonderful cobbler.

      Give ’em a try if you haven’t in awhile. If you’ve been there recently, then ignore this post…

  • Michael

    Good barbecue all around with a wide variety of meats on the menu. Some of the best sides to go with it. Two choices for brisket, lean and marbled. I’ll be there Friday with one of my grandsons for his birthday. The only place in town that I’m aware of that serves large beef ribs.

  • bbqaffionado

    Been here. Gonna do it again. Best I had in a long time! And I do BBQ!

  • KK Downing

    Can’t seem to get over this place! This is some of the best BBQ if not thee best I’ve ever had! Try the Vanilla bean ice cream.

  • Jen

    Hey, you might want to give County Line another try. The kiddo and I went there for lunch today since we were hungry and close by, and I hadn’t set foot there for several years. We both ordered the two-meat plate: She had the sausage and pulled pork, and my choices were turkey and the “marbled 2nd cut beef brisket.” All four meats were outstanding, and I have to say that this brisket was probably the best I’ve ever had. I’m not usually a fan of brisket, but this one is something special.

    Some BBQ joints serve great meat while letting the side offerings falter. We both ordered side salads (hers with smoked pecan vinaigrette, mine with blue cheese), and she had macaroni and cheese, while I enjoyed the garlic mashed potatoes. All were absolutely delicious. The salads were generous and fresh, the mac was creamy and rich, and the mashed potatoes were a dead ringer for my own recipe. Even the iced tea was perfect.

    They’ve definitely made some changes for the better. We’ll be making our next drive out there for dinner soon, to enjoy the rest of the menu offerings with a view of the magnificent sunset and/or city views.

  • randall

    I’ve been from Hawaii to Jamaica and eaten barbecue everywhere in between. This place is by far the best barbecue I have ever had! Try the sauasage or Dinosaur sized beef ribs! Chicken is okay. Great desserts!

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