Duran’s Central Pharmacy – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Duran's Central Pharmacy

Duran's Central Pharmacy

In an early episode of the Andy Griffith Show, while contemplating a job offer in South America, Andy tried to assuage his son Opie’s concerns about leaving Mayberry. Instead, he wound up confusing Opie by explaining that people in South America ate something called tortillas. Opie wondered aloud why anyone would eat spiders (tarantulas).  Had Opie ever tasted the delicious, piping hot, just off the comal 16-inch buttered orbs at Duran’s Central Pharmacy, it’s unlikely he would ever confuse those grilled spheres with any arachnid.

That’s because Duran’s features some of the very best tortillas of any restaurant in New Mexico. These are not the flavorless, paper-thin, production-line, machine-fashioned orbs you find at some restaurants (can you say Frontier Restaurant). Duran’s tortillas are made to order on a real comal and shaped by a skilled practitioner using a well-practiced rolling pin.  It’s the way abuelitas in New Mexico have done it for generations, a time-honored tradition Duran’s honors. You can tell and appreciate the difference.  In its annual Food & Wine issue for 2012, Albuquerque The Magazine awarded Duran Central Pharmacy a Hot Plate Award signifying the selection of its hot-off-the-griddle tortillas as one of the “most interesting, special and tasty dishes around.”  Considering the thousands of potential selections, to be singled out is quite an honor.

Making tortillas at Duran's Central Pharmacy

Making tortillas at Duran's Central Pharmacy (Courtesy of Sergio Salvador; click on photo for more.)

The tortillas are thick and have a pinto pony blend of char and white. While it may seem the wait staff brushes on butter in parsimonious amounts, you’re almost guaranteed to have some butter drip onto your clothing. These tortillas arrive at your table piping hot and absolutely delicious–a wonderful precursor to a great meal!  Invariably you’ll want to take some home.  Heat them on a griddle, slather on butter (or Kraft sandwich spread) and you’ve got a fantastically filling snack.

True to its name, Duran’s Central Pharmacy is an old-fashioned apothecary in which prescription medicines and over-the-counter drugs are dispensed. The dining area is nestled in the southern portion of the pharmacy and you absolutely have to navigate the aisles of the drug store to get there.  For some, it’s a slow walk as they gawk at meticulously arranged shelves brimming with products you won’t find anywhere else.

Maybe the very best tortillas in town.  Note the melting butter dripping down the just-off-the-comal tortilla.

Maybe the very best tortillas in town. Note the melting butter dripping down the just-off-the-comal tortilla.

In addition to the typical prescription and nonprescription pharmaceuticals found at any drug store, you’ll also find groceries, greeting cards and under glass near the cash registers, a section of fine chocolates that you might want for dessert after your meal of great New Mexican food.  On the dividing wall immediately before the restaurant is a section of books, mostly about New Mexico and by New Mexico authors. Some, like Pulitzer Award finalist River of Traps are absolute gems and must-reads for anyone who loves the Land of Enchantment. The pharmacy is also reputed to carry an excellent selection of perfumes, but perhaps no artificial fragrance compares to the aroma wafting from the kitchen.

The restaurant portion of Duran’s consists of a dozen tables, a small covered patio and a sit-down counter from which you can watch the industrious kitchen and wait staff (some members of whom provide service with a sweet sass) assiduously keeping up with the intense breakfast and lunch crowds.  A banal comment such as “that was fast” might receive a response like, “I’m sorry.  I’ll try to be slower next time.”  How can you not love that?

Lunch and a tortilla at Duran's Central Pharmacy

Lunch and a tortilla at Duran's Central Pharmacy (Courtesy of Sergio Salvador; click on photo for more.)

Despite the unusual restaurant setting, Duran’s has long been regarded as one of the best New Mexican restaurants in the Albuquerque area and it’s been regarded as such since 1942. Within easy walking distance of Old Town and just a short drive from downtown, it is, to the detriment of some local area residents, no longer a well-guarded secret.  With increasing frequency tourists have also discovered Duran’s–a more authentic (translation: not dumbed down for tourist tastes) and delicious alternative to Old Town Plaza restaurants.

Duran’s reputation is built on what has long been considered some of the best red and green chile anywhere in New Mexico.  The red chile lacks the cumin influence (corruption) so prevalent in the chile served in many misdirected New Mexican restaurants. The only ameliorant to that chile is usually a touch of garlic.  Alas, during a visit in September, 2011, the flavor of both the red and green chile were completely dominated by garlic–enough to ward off a family of vampires.  Worse, the garlic lacked freshness, tasting like garlic in a jar past its expiration date.  Even worse, Murphy reared his ugly head as accompanying me during this visit were my friends Bill, Esther and Henry.  All my bragging about the greatness that is Duran’s was as empty as a politician’s campaign promises.

The huevos rancheros served Christmas style with red and green chile.

The huevos rancheros served Christmas style with red and green chile.

Now, the chile has been great in the past.  That has been validated many times.  Our September, 2011 visit may have been an anomaly (perhaps the cook dropped a jar (or six) of garlic into the chile).   In the Alibi’s annual “Best of Burque” restaurant poll for 2005, Duran’s Central Pharmacy earned accolades for serving the “best huevos rancheros” in Albuquerque. In 2006, it was the red chile which earned “Best of Burque” honors. In 2007, Alibi readers accorded “best of” honors to Duran’s chile relleno, red chile and enchiladas. In 2008, it was the huevos rancheros and red chile which took home top honors. Annual awards are nothing new for Duran’s.

The bowl of chile, perhaps the restaurant’s most popular entree, is a Chamber of Commerce exemplar of what this dish should be. It’s heart-warming New Mexico comfort food, especially warm and nurturing on the most bleak and dreary of days.  You certainly can’t get that mother’s love level of comfort from a burger with fries.  Though not strictly a green chile stew, it is certainly “stew-like,” a bowl of red or green chile with beans and seasoned ground beef.  The green chile is neon green in color and about medium on the piquancy scale.  The beans are perfectly prepared while the ground beef is seasoned well.  It’s a concordant marriage of wonderful ingredients that envelop you in a cocoon of warmth and comfort.

Blue corn enchiladas with green chile (and too much garlic)

In its June, 2010 edition, New Mexico Magazine celebrated New Mexico’s Best Eats, eight of the best dishes served in restaurants throughout the Land of Enchantment. Two versions of each dish–a down-home version and uptown version were selected. The magazine accorded the honor as  state’s very best down-home green chile stew  to the Duran’s Central Pharmacy.  It’s a well-deserved honor few would dispute. I wrote the article about that stew which required lots of research on my part; it was a delicious assignment.

Daily specials include a stuffed sopaipilla platter on Wednesdays and Fridays and on Thursdays carne adovada, some of the very best in the city.  The award-winning orange-red chile used on other entrees is ameliorated with aromatic Mexican oregano and chile pequin, a fiery, dried red chile used judiciously (something which should be practiced with the garlic).  The chile is made from ground chile pods, not from powder.  That chile covers bite sized cubes of porcine perfection so tender and delicious they will make your taste buds smile.  My good friend Ruben, a devotee of carne adovada nonpareil, ranks Duran’s rendition on par with the adovada at Mary & Tito’s.

Carne Adovada plate at Duran's

Carne Adovada plate at Duran's

The carne adovada is served with pinto beans, boiled potatoes (perhaps the only item on the menu that’s unremarkable) and a simple lettuce and tomato salad with French dressing.  The only thing wrong with this platter (besides the papas) is that it’s not all carne adovada, as in the entire plate covered with it.  Fortunately you can purchase a pint of this phenomenal adovada to take home and if you don’t want to wait until the next Thursday, carne adovada is also available for breakfast on Saturdays.

Lest I forget, Duran’s salsa and chips rarely receive the rants and raves they deserve.  Quite simply, the salsa is some of the very best in the city.  It has the freshness of just made salsa, not salsa made three or even two hours ago.  The salsa, made with chopped tomatoes, cilantro, onion and green chile is thick and chunky so it doesn’t run off your chips.

Blueberry pie a la mode

During that ill-fated September, 2011, three of us ordered blueberry pie for dessert–partially in hopes it would take away the persistent garlic aftertaste.  The consensus was that the blueberry flavored filling came out of a can.  Flavored filling is the operative term here because none of us tasted an actual blueberry (at least it didn’t have a garlicky flavor).  The crust was flaky and buttery, worthy of better filling.  Duran’s also offers apple pie as well as empanadas.

Duran’s is a neighborhood institution in which neighbors congregate to catch up and enjoy a belly pleasing meal. That neighborhood expanded to the Northeast Heights in 2006 with the launch of Duran’s Station at 4201 Menaul, N.E.   Duran’s Station is situated in the former Fire Station #8 and is owned by Marcel Ghattas. It retains some vestiges of its days as a fire station, including the original alarm bell.  The engine bay was converted into the dining room while the bunkhouse is now the kitchen.

Salsa and chips at Duran's

Salsa and chips at Duran's

Duran’s Station includes all of your favorite Pharmacy favorites.  Similarities don’t stop with the menu.  The restaurant also includes an exposed prep kitchen and a comal for making those addictive tortillas (there may be none better in Albuquerque).  Best of all, it stays open for dinner.

If you just can’t get enough of Duran’s fabulous chile, the Slate Street Cafe just north of Lomas in the downtown district, offers it as well. Red chile runs in the family. Slate Street Cafe is owned by Myra Ghattas, Marcel’s sister. Their father Robert Ghattas has owned the Duran Central Pharmacy for more than a quarter century.

A bowl of green chile with beans and seasoned ground beef.  It's the very best in Albuquerque!

A bowl of green chile with beans and seasoned ground beef. It's the very best in Albuquerque!

In the corporate world, any previous years’ accomplishments–significant though they may be–are not a consideration during employee reviews. Managers take a “what have you done for me lately” attitude toward employee reviews. That’s the stance I take when reviewing and rating restaurants. Reviews are based on a snapshot in time, the experience on the latest visit. Duran’s has shown me greatness many times in the past, but not so in my last visit.  My rating dropped precipitously–from 23 (signifying my recognition of it being one of New Mexico’s best) to 18.  Here’s hoping it will reclaim its rightful spot in my heart and in my ratings during future visits.

Duran’s Central Pharmacy
1815 Central, N.W.
Albuquerque, NM
247-4141

LATEST VISIT: 1 September 2011
# OF VISITS: 10
RATING: 18
COST: $$
BEST BET: Buttered Tortillas, Carne Adovada, Salsa and Chips, Green Chile

Duran Central Pharmacy on Urbanspoon

14 comments

  • Time for a revisit?

    Thinking it might be time to revisit Duran’s, Gil…

    I’ve eaten there a few times since my last comments on here. One thing to note is that I really like garlic, so “too much garlic” is a phrase I rarely use (I have, just rarely).

    When it comes to Duran’s, for me, it is all about the red. Plenty of places have really good green chile, but really good red chile is hard to come by – you can find good enough red, but really good red is very hard to find. Mary & Tito’s is #1 with Duran’s a close 2nd. I’m willing to take suggestions if anyone has some counter points ;-).

    Also wanted to mention that there is now a Duran’s Station on Menaul (near Washington I believe) which has “better” hours of operation – i.e., you can have dinner there. Food is just as good, however it seems to me like there is smaller portions. Maybe I was just really hungry that day for lunch…as I’ve only been there the one time.

  • barbara

    One of the worst places to take Murphy ( my mother ) was to Murphy’s ( the mule barn )

  • I agree about dear ol’ Murphy. I’ve taken friends to places “to die for!!!! for real!!!!” and they were just mildly satisfied. If I could keep my mouth shut, maybe the best places will just reveal their wonders for my friends when they visit without any build-up (and potential let-down).

  • WOW!!! From 23 to 18!!!

    WOW!!! That is a big drop. I’m curious, was it service or food or both that was the catalyst for such a demotion? I have only been to Duran’s once (been a few months) and was waiting to go again before commenting on your site – to make sure it was consistant. The tortilla was everything you say it is and more! The carne adovada was excellent (Mary & Tito’s is still better). Service was average, was not bad, was not great, just so-so.

    So I’m curious why the drop, so that if I go back anytime soon, I know what to expect. Thanks for any update.

    • Hello Noe

      It was strictly the food. After weeks of bragging about Duran’s, I finally corralled my friends for a visit. Unfortunately an uninvited guest also joined us–Murphy. One of Murphy’s little known laws is that restaurants you brag most about will be great until you take your friends there for lunch or dinner. The dominant flavor in all our meals was garlic–enough to ward off a family of vampires. The purity of chile is such that it needs no supporting cast. Additives such as too much garlic, cumin or Mexican oregano can change the flavor of chile significantly. Such was the case during our visit.

      All my reviews are essentially a snapshot in time–my impressions during the latest visit. Because Duran’s has been consistently excellent in the past, the excess of garlic could have been an anomaly. I’m looking forward to another visit to find out for sure.

      Gil

  • Rob

    Hey Gil, I was curious before you got this blog up didn’t you have a much older site that was a pure html website that recorded where you ate and the last time you ate there with a date and some notes on that time and then a rating of the place over all and a description? I ask because I found you right before I think you took it down. I am pretty sure you are the same guy because this is a good review of Durans.

    Either way really nice blog. I love Durans and you highlighted in my humble opinion all the right dishes. I go and have their huevos rancheros as often as I can. I like that dish so much I have to go a lot in a given week to not just get that every time because it is so consistently amazing. I just read a comment from John who is “NOT going to be back” and I found him typical of the few folks that hear all the love about padillas and do not like it. One they want not just a big but oversized portion of stuff and the interpret good mexican food as super hot. Now No one who live in New Mexico is going to claim that Durans is not the real thing as it is like good home cooking from a mama around here. But Durans chillie is delicious without being super hot and macho on the Scofield level. That is actually something I like about New Mexico Green Chillie in particular, it is high on taste with or without having to be hot. I think that those who get bummed about Padillas think they are going into some roller coaster ride of hot chillies but to me that is not what good mexican food is about. It can be a fun aspect of a given dish, But what I love about Padillas is that its is very accessible both in dress requirements and price. But the hand made food done by local women who live in the area is consistently great. Great does not mean hot for hot’s sake and I understand that some people dig this, but Padillas is great because it has flavor and spice without being super hot. I would agree if someone said that would also like to try some food that is even hotter. But I also really enjoy Padillas because I can take a midwesterner there and give them an authentic New Mexican food experience without scaring them for life with overly hot chili. And yet the chillie they usually do use is very very tasty and the real thing, its simply the chilli that is more about the spicy flavor than the heat. Anyway, Very nice Blog I am pretty sure you are the guy who had a foodie web site that you have since converted to this modern blog and I am book marking you my friend because have good taste and this review of padillas was spot on.

    • Hello Rob

      Yes, before there was Gil’s Thrilling and Filling Blog, there was Gil’s Thrilling Web site which was, as you said, an HTML site.

      You’re also right in that many native New Mexicans like their chile “super hot” and “macho on the Scoville scale.” My mom likes to say that I was weaned on a bottle of habanero sauce and some of my friends are even more prolific volcano-eaters than I am. My preference is always for good tasting chile with enough bite to be noticeable.

      Thanks for the kind words and welcome back.

      Gil

  • John L

    With all the raves on your site we tried Duran’s for lunch. Had the blue corn enchiladas with chicken and Christmass chili, and the carne adovada plate. The flour tortilla was remarkable and the red chili sauce was quite tasty but only mildly piquant. The green chili sauce was also tasty but not at all piquant. Overall tho really, really UNimpressed. The carne adovada was OK but have had better elsewhere, like Mary and Tito’s, and nearly 10 bucks for eight small cubes of carne–gimme a break. Overall, overpriced mediocre food. We won’t be back.

    • Foodie

      “Piquant”, definition: PREtentious food snob who doesn’t know good chile if it bit him on the nose!

  • min

    absolutely one of the best New Mexican resturants we’ve been to. For nearly a decade since I moved to ABQ, my wife and i tasted across the state in search of great New Mexican food. Well, Duran ranks top 3 honors.

  • Sheri W.

    Great review and now I am sitting here salivating like Pavlov’s dog!! I grew up in Albuquerque and essentially ate green chile on a daily basis (ok, may have skipped a few – but NOT many!!). I left Albuq. In 2002 and have not had GOOD Mexican food since!! Sure, I have been to a few alleged “Mexican” restaurants that claim to be “authentic” (yeah, ok, whatever…) but are clueless in comparison to anything one would get in NM!! I recall one time while eating at a “Mexican” restaurant in New Hampshire I inquired about having a sunny-side egg on top of my “red enchiladas” and the server looked at me like I was from Mars!! Needless to say – I did not receive my sunny-side egg. Point is, I clearly recall Duran’s and can’t begin to describe how much I miss – I mean truly, sincerely miss GOOD New Mexican food!! I have eaten at Duran’s numerous times and have never had a meal that I was dissatisfied with!! Everything on their menu is awesome and the one poster already stated “just like mom’s.” Yes, I would concur, the tortillas are truly like they were made by someone’s grandmother – nice and thick and fresh and smothered in butter and…. YUMMMMMM! 🙂 So, until I get back to Albuq and am able to eat at Duran’s again (which I will do until I have green chile coming out my ears!! It’ll be like Thanksgiving!!), I’m leaving it up to you folks to keep patronizing this Honest to God Albuquerque staple that has awesome food, great prices (from what I recall), fantastic tortillas, and the green chiles rellenos that I have an indescribable jones for!! Must go now, I’m starting to drool on the keyboard!! Bottom line – ¡Duran’s comida es muy bueno!

  • Gayle Scott

    My favorite Mexican restaurant for the past 25 years!The place I have always taken out of town-ers who now dream about it. Best red and green chile & tortillas I’ve ever eaten anywhere.
    As for those potatoes you didn’t think necessary–they are the perfect complement to soak
    up that red chile!
    Thanks for the good review—-just hope it doesn’t increase the wait!
    Gayle

  • Pat

    Wow! This is a really good restaurant. I’m hesitant to try mexican food in a restaurant. Duran’s is just like Mom makes. I highly recommend the green enchiladas with chicken. And the flour tortillas are just as wonderful as described here–just yummy! 🙂

  • Ruben Hendrickson

    Thanks for the plug, Gil (LOL). I thoroughly enjoyed my carne adovada meal today. You’ve written another great review – you killed on this one (that’s good killed). I don’t know what I enjoyed more, Duran’s food or your review. Both are exceptional.

    As you said, Carne Adovada is only available on Thursdays and Saturdays. What a shame. Something that good should always be available.

    Ruben

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