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Garcia’s Kitchen – Albuquerque, New Mexico

The Original Garcia's on Juan Tabo, N.E.

The Original Garcia's on Juan Tabo, N.E.

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 caricature of Andy Garcia can be found throughout the restaurant

The caricature of Andy Garcia can be found throughout the restaurant

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.

Chips and salsa

Chips and salsa

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.

Enchilada plate with a fried egg atop

Enchilada plate with a fried egg atop

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.

Sopaipillas

Sopaipillas

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.

Garcia’s Kitchen
3601 Juan Tabo, N.E.
Albuquerque, NM
275-5812
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 20 October 2007
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 17
COST: $$
BEST BET: Biscochitos, Salsa

Garcia's Kitchen on Urbanspoon

  • EnjoyEP says:

    I hear where you are coming from with your thoughts in this review (and the whole chili / karnitas thing is indeed attrocious), however, I have a major soft spot for Garcia’s.

    One item I would WHOLEHEARTEDLY recommend at Garcia’s is their breakfast burritos – especially if needing a quick “to go” bb. The best are the huevos, papas, queso, carne (bacon) with tons of green. My mouth waters just thinking of one.

    Also, their “to go” bags of tortillas aren’t as good as Frontier’s, but they aren’t far down either.

    Finally, Garcia’s does a pretty good tub of chicharrones.

    Not the best place in ABQ, but pretty darn reliable and solid.

    August 7, 2009 at 7:54 AM
  • Leti says:

    Well, for someone so critical of grammar and spelling, you made about 3 mistakes in the last paragraph. ‘It’s’, used for ‘its motto’ should not have an apostrophe and every word in the motto should be capitalized, just like a title, and you’re missing a comma. You can only reserve the right to act snobbish if you follow the rules you so quickly criticize others for breaking. While you slam the temperature the food is served at, you may consider it may match the frequency of your energy- lukewarm. Remember, an experience goes much deeper than what’s on the plate; your failure to connect with the heart of Garcia’s, isn’t something we can blog about- it’s just missing, and I’m sorry for you.

    October 2, 2010 at 1:37 AM
  • Leti says:

    Oh yeah- the spelling of ‘chili’, is correct. If you are assuming it should be spelled ‘chile’, you should do some brief research- it may save you some face.

    October 2, 2010 at 2:54 AM
    • Gil Garduno says:

      To paraphrase Matthew 7:5, who among us isn’t guilty of “seeing the speck in our brother’s eye, but not always seeing the log in our own.” Thank you for pointing out my grammatical errors. I will correct them on my review, but the spelling of “chile” is not one of them. There are many authoritative sources which validate my preferred spelling including Frommer’s Travel Guide for New Mexico written by New Mexico native Lesley King: “New Mexicans are adamant that chile, the Spanish spelling of the word is the only way to spell it–no matter what the dictionary might say. In fact, we have such a personal attachment to this small agricultural gem that we directed our senior US senator, Pete Dominici, to enter New Mexico’s official position on the spelling of chile into the Congressional Record.” Now that’s taking the spelling “chile” seriously.

      October 2, 2010 at 11:23 AM
  • Nate D says:

    Hey Leti, what is the heart of Garcia’s? Mediocre food? I do like the idea that the food is served to match the “frequency” of one’s energy, that’s an innovative and brilliant concept that I’m sure all mediocre to poor restaurants will race to adopt. I, for one, will stick to restaurants that serve something on my plate that actually tastes good, and leave the myopic experience of thinking it’s a great time to eat lukewarm, bad-tasting food to those like yourself. Oh, and by the way, any self-respecting New Mexican spells it “chile” not “chili”.

    October 2, 2010 at 2:07 PM
  • Leti says:

    Just a lil history for you both, while you’re snuggled up in bed together, to consider. First, Lesley King is an author from northern New Mexico, which is notorious for its cultural association with Spain. In a nutshell, that European association was only to gain privileges on the economic system of the time, so people bought papers showing “proving” their “Spanish” blood line for a price. Truth is there were very few true Spanish settlers, still, the Spanish myth still pervades and northern New Mexicans continue, not so much now, to distinguish themselves from the native (indigenous) peoples of this region. Chili, comes from the Nahuatl word, ‘chilli’, not from the Spanish- just like the fruit comes from the Americas, not from Europe. So, Nate, Gil, whatever, the debate between chili or chile is not settled, and self-respecting New Mexicans know their history! xoxox

    October 2, 2010 at 10:47 PM
  • Schuyler says:

    Yeti. Mark Sciscienti, a world-famous chocolate historian and alchemist, confirms that the word ‘chili’ was originally spelled in the Aztec language with an i at the end. So that word is a Mesoamerican word and not an ‘anglosized’ word at all.

    Gil knows this very well. He has also cited several sources throughout his blog explaining the etymology of the spelling ‘chile.’ I personally believe one of the reasons self-respecting New Mexicans embrace the Spanish spelling ‘chile’ is because it distinguishes the state’s wonderful red and green from the inedible, cumin-laden crap you’ll find in Texas and other states not as enlightened as Gil’s beloved Land of Enchantment.

    It’s been my experience (and Gil has said this on his blog, too) that restaurants using the spelling ‘chili’ don’t usually prepare it as well as those who spell it ‘chile.’ Garcia’s is a good case in point. Garcia’s chile, while not nearly as terrible as what you’ll find in Texas, is mediocre or worse.

    Gil could easily have pointed out the many grammatical errors in your venomous spewage (garbled spoken nonsense from a gratuitous source), but–probably in the interest of space–seems to have chosen not to do so. As for your historical revisionism, I suspect when you’re not engaged in hateful diatribes you’re a spinster history teacher writing sensationalized political ads.

    October 3, 2010 at 1:49 AM
  • Foodie Star says:

    Hey Leti,

    Your name translates in Spanish to Lete without the “i”, which means douche bag.

    You know, Gil didn’t come to your job at McDonalds and knock the broom out of your hand. So why do you have to piss all over his job: a fine public service that Gil performs without getting paid a nickel?

    Gil is a local treasure and if you don’t like his efforts and you think you can do any better, then get your own website – you control freaking LOSER.

    P. S. Please do not reproduce.

    October 3, 2010 at 3:53 AM
  • Holly says:

    With so many great New Mexican restaurants in town, I don’t know why anyone would waste their money at Garcia’s Kitchen. To me, the food is barely mediocre and little more than an over-priced Taco Bell. I ate their once years ago and never went back. However, the place I work at always has them cater the free Cinco de Mayo employee lunch and I’m reminded of why I don’t eat there. Their salsa is nothing to write home about, certainly not on par with Sadie’s, their taco meat pathetically bland and the beans are sad. As long as it’s free, I’ll eat it but I’d never pay to eat their food since there are so many better places around.

    February 26, 2011 at 4:29 AM
  • Aaron says:

    I have been a die hard Garcia’s fan for 20 years, and continue to believe it is one of the best. But…only the original one on 4th and Mountain. Every location does it differently and for me only the original one does it right. Go there in the morning and everything will be hot and spicy, just the way it should be. Carne Adovada breakfast and Huevos Garcia’s style with extra green, have never let me down. An insider tip, ask for the fresh tortillas from the back, truly wonderful.

    February 3, 2012 at 11:40 PM
  • JohnL says:

    After a disastrous experience at the fourth & mountain restaurant We swore we would never darken Garcia’s door again. However, a group we belong to met at the Garcia’s near Comanche. Have had several meals there and have been astonished at how much better they were than what we had at the the other fourth street Garcia’s. They need to work on consistency among the various branches!.

    July 19, 2014 at 11:52 PM

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