Restaurant critics, whether we write online reviews or are published in print somewhere, must think we’re so smart. We use polysyllabic (there’s one) words when a more prosaic (another one) word will do. We endeavor (yet another one, but you get the picture) to wax eloquent every time we describe something we obviously like or disdain. Here’s one critic who’s eating humble pie courtesy of Erica Ruth, an erudite (I can’t stop myself) Duke City diner who, in recommending a favorite restaurant, gave me one of the best reviews I’ve read in a long time.
When Erica wrote to me and told me of an “amazing hidden treasure in the Heights” serving the “best burgers I have had in Albuquerque,” I asked her what it was about those burgers that made them the best. Here’s her reply. “I think they’re great because they’re one, the perfect size–not so thick that you can’t take a big bite out of them, and not so skimpy in width that the bun envelopes it. Two, they are always cooked to perfection. I am pretty sure the patties are hand formed.
When you order them, they don’t have any filler, so they ALMOST fall apart–almost being the key. They hold their form nicely, even if they don’t look as pretty as a processed patty. They’re so juicy that they soak the bun (in fact this is my only complaint about the burgers–a nice, thick onion roll would suit them better than the buns they use). The buffalo burger is amazing, and if you order it with chile (like any self-respecting New Mexican), you’re as close to burger perfection as you’re going to get without driving to San Antonio to eat at the Owl Cafe. seriously. I cannot rave enough about this place, and I truly hope it survives.”
Wow! I couldn’t have said it better myself–and that’s the truth. Without the sometimes gaseous hyperbole critics sometimes use, Erica motivated me to bump the Coyote Diner ahead of other restaurants on my list. She did my job better than I do.
There’s not much I can add to Erica’s description of the buffalo burger other than to confirm her high opinion of this two-fisted treasure and to add that it’s even better when you add green chile (isn’t everything). Just look at the picture above to see for yourself as close to burger perfection as you’ll find in Albuquerque. It truly is one of the most flavorful burgers I’ve had in the Duke City, a burger worthy of frequent repeat visits to the humble diner which opened in the summer of 2007.
The Coyote Diner is ensconced in the Louisiana Plaza Shopping Center. It’s on the southwest quadrant of the shopping center and if you blink as you approach it on Montgomery, you’re bound to miss it. That would be a shame. Open Monday through Friday from 8AM to 3PM and on weekends from 10AM to 2PM, it’s not a restaurant that will beckon you with over-the-top signage or with sheer size. This is a tiny diner with a limited number of tables.
The elongated dining room is comparatively stark in terms of decorative touches, but if you’re a fan of vintage metal signage (the kind with which some of fossils us grew up), it’ll be a treat to reminisce at such signage as a Dr. Pepper sign extolling the beverage’s “good for life at 10-2-4.”
Note: Dr. Pepper’s trademarked 10-2-4 aren’t random numbers, by the way. They represent the times of day when the human body needs a little “pick-me-up” to avoid an energy slump.) The other noticeable aspect of the dining room’s decor is the red and white 50s style banquettes.
Okay, we’ve established that the buffalo burgers are wonderful, but what about other menu items? I can tell you in all sincerity that the Coyote Diner is not a one-trick pony. If the items we had are any indication, this is a restaurant with a palate pleasing menu. Discover that for yourself with an order of Coyote Nachos, a bed of crisp tortilla chips topped with cheese, pinto beans, onions, tomatoes and green chile all served with a side of salsa. You can add beef or chicken for a mere pittance. Alternatively, you can try chips and salsa (pictured below). The salsa is pureed but has a nice bite and the redolence of fresh cilantro.
The menu does commit one cardinal offense in that it spells New Mexico’s state vegetable “chili.” That misspelling usually means committing the culinary faux pas of preparing the chile with cumin, that accursed despoiler of great chile. Alas, cumin does rear its ugly head on a dish that would otherwise have been outstanding. A daily lunch special of buffalo enchiladas prepared with an otherwise memorable chile would be extraordinary were it not for the acerbic taste (and even worse aftertaste) of cumin.
The perfectly seasoned buffalo ground beef is wonderful as are the layered corn tortillas topped with sour cream and melted cheese. The accompanying pinto beans and roasted potatoes are terrific. This is a dish that would be competitive with the enchiladas at many a New Mexican restaurant were it not for the cumin.
If you ever happen upon the Coyote Diner on a day in which a lunch appetizer special is deep-fried green beans, order at least one portion. Having lived almost eight years in the deep South where everything is fried, seeing deep-fried green beans on the menu widened my eyes in anticipation. The green beans are lightly battered and despite being deep fried have the snap of freshness at each bite. They come served with a ramekin of ranch dressing which lends a nice contrast to the sweetness of the beans.
Specials of the day certainly earn the sobriquet “special.” When you think about it, beef stroganoff soup is a darned good idea, so why don’t you ever see it on any menu. We never had until an April, 2009 visit to the Coyote Diner when it was offered as a special. This is an idea perhaps ahead of its time, an idea executed very well. The soup had the characteristic richness of Stroganoff with New Mexico green chile thrown in for added depth of flavor. Talk about comfort food! This is an excellent soup which would be a starring attraction on many a restaurant’s menu.
Recent commercials for one of the ubiquitous burger chains touts its “home style melt” and would have you believe it’s so good that enraged mothers are after the King’s head (as if you hadn’t already guessed the commercials are for Burger King). Maybe it’s a good thing those hormonally influenced mothers don’t try the Coyote Diner’s patty melt or they might chase after Mark, the restaurant’s affable owner. It’s the real thing–a hand-formed patty, grilled onions and mustard on dark rye bread. It’s as good a patty melt as we’ve had in the Duke City.
No matter what you order, you’ve got to get a side of the onion rings. They’re among the very best in Albuquerque bar none. Lightly coated (beer battered) and golden brown, their prominent taste is of sweet, delicious onion. Even if you order pancakes from the breakfast menu, have the onion rings on the side. You’ll be happy you did.
The Coyote Diner is, as Erica described it, a hidden treasure. It’s too good to stay hidden for long.
7200 Montgomery Blvd, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 29 April 2008
# OF VISITS: 2
BEST BET: Buffalo Burger with Green Chile, Coyote Nachos, Patty Melt, Deep Fried Green Beans, Beef Stroganoff Soup, Onion Rings