Garcia’s Kitchen – Albuquerque, New Mexico
According to the Population Division of the U.S. Census Bureau, the most common surname in America is (not surprisingly) Smith, a name shared by over two and a half million people. Contrary to popular belief Jones is not the second most common surname. With only one and a half million citizens, Jones is the fourth most common surname in the census. The Jones are trying to keep up with the Johnsons (two million) and Williams (1.7 million).
The most common Hispanic surname in America is Garcia. With more than 630 thousand citizens bearing the name, it is the eighteenth most common surname in the fruited plain followed by Martinez with 581 thousand plus bearers.
In Albuquerque one of the most common restaurants is The Original Garcia’s Kitchen with seven locations throughout the metropolitan area. Common does not necessarily connote average or ordinary. In this case it speaks to the sheer number of instantiations bearing the name of one of the city’s most popular dining establishments.
The Original also does not mean the first one of the seven Garcia’s Kitchen restaurants. Each of the seven restaurants is called The Original Garcia’s Kitchen. I surmise it might have something to do with a short-lived interloper named Garcia’s of Scottsdale which opened and closed in the early 1980s in the uptown area.
The Original Garcia’s Kitchen has been serving Albuquerque diners since 1973. That’s nearly 35 years of people pleasing that says it’s doing many things right.
Garcia’s is a restaurant with a personality, albeit in the form of a caricature of Andy Garcia, the restaurant’s owner. That caricature depicts a sombrero wearing Andy with a cherubic smile holding a plateful of tacos on one hand and a towel on the other. It is prevalent throughout his restaurants; you can find it on colorful paintings, the menus and even on napkins.
Every one of the seven restaurants is brightly and festively decorated with an ambiance tailored to the specific neighborhood it is serving. Garcia’s Web site offers several Betty Boop themed novelties that seem to go hand-in-hand with the Andy caricature.
One of the things that makes Garcia’s so popular is its breakfast at any time option. There’s a separate section called “Gringo Breakfast” if you prefer not to have any chile laden entrees.
Make that “chili” or at least that’s the way it’s spelled on the menu. It’s one of several menu malapropisms the purist in me finds hard to accept as cutesy. Other liberties taken on the menu include “Karnita’s” and the listing of fajitas under the New Mexican food.
Yeah, I know. What do I want–good grammar or good taste? Obviously there’s nothing as important as great tasting New Mexican food and that’s where Garcia’s has won over legions of fans. Alas, you can’t count me among them.
I receive more e-mail asking me to review Garcia’s than just about any other restaurant in the Duke City. There are several reasons Garcia’s isn’t on my list of favorite New Mexican restaurants and every one of them was confirmed during my most recent visit (October, 2007).
The first reason is the saltiness of the chips. Modern technology has made possible the desalinization of ocean water. It shouldn’t be that difficult to desalinate chips. It’s too bad such overly salted chips are served with an excellent, rich red salsa with the piquant bite purists crave. With better chips, it’s a two bowl pre-meal salsa.
The second reason is that I’ve never had a plate from Garcia’s served at more than lukewarm. To me it’s a near criminal offense not to serve New Mexican food piping hot. Other restaurants (La Esquina comes to mind) don’t seem to have a problem serving hot food. I, for one, appreciate the warning, “be careful, the plate’s hot.”
The third reason has to do with the papas (along with rice, beans or French Fries being the sides you can have with your entrees) which might be good if they didn’t consistently look as if scraped from the bottom of the frying pan.
Garcia’s chile is a bit on the insipid side, barely registering on the piquant scale. It’s the type of chile (I can’t bring myself to spell it “chili”) you would serve visitors from the Midwest who aren’t used to highly spiced, piquant food.
On the plus side there are some things I do appreciate about Garcia’s. The service is always first-rate with an attentive, highly skilled wait staff.
The Karnitas, despite that atrocious spelling, are tender and delicious–like carne adovada without chile.
Garcia’s sopaipillas are also quite good–and they are served steamy hot. They’re not quite pillowy as at other restaurants, but they always feel and taste freshly made and delicious.
Garcia’s also serves excellent biscochitos. The official New Mexico state cookie, the best biscochitos are topped with plenty of anise for sweetness and flavor. These are some of the best!
Garcia’s does its very best to live up to its motto “Stamp Out Gringo Food.” With a loyal fan base and seven restaurants throughout the Duke City, it certainly puts a dent on it.
3601 Juan Tabo, N.E.
LATEST VISIT: 20 October 2007
# OF VISITS: 3
BEST BET: Biscochitos, Salsa