Garcia’s Kitchen – Albuquerque, New Mexico

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

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

One of the central themes of William Faulkner’s magnus opus Absalom, Absalom! is that no two people experience the same thing. Of the four characters who narrate the story, none of them is completely reliable because each has a personal bias, a unique frame of reference based on personal experiences to call upon. Readers are left to determine those biases and how they affect the telling of the story. With the passage of time, one of the characters experiences the memory of the events differently than she experienced the events when they happened. 

Similarly, no two diners experience the same meal.  Sure, they may partake of the very same entrees, but how they perceive their dining experience may be tainted or enhanced by personal bias and past experiences.  This is painfully obvious in reading the comments following my review of Garcia’s Kitchen.  Some readers took umbrage at my having reviled a restaurant they love while others agreed with my assessment and readily piled on.  My friend John L. sagely suggested “they (Garcia’s) need to work on consistency among the various branches,” the implication being I should try Garcia’s at other locations as he had.

The caricature of Andy Garcia can be found throughout the restaurant

The caricature of Andy Garcia can be found throughout the restaurant

There are seven Original Garcia’s restaurants across the Duke City.  Though one might expect a consistent experience and standardization across the seven, John’s comments and reviews published on Yelp indicate a lack of consistency among the seven Garcia’s.  To paraphrase Faulkner’s observation, perhaps “no two kitchens prepare the same food” and “no two restaurants provide the same service”–even if those restaurants are of the same family and bear the same name.  The review I published and with which some readers took umbrage was based on a visit in 2007 to the Garcia’s on Juan Tabo.  It was a visit that tarnished my opinion of the restaurant. 

When my friend Nader Khalil recommended we visit Garcia’s Kitchen on 4th Street (just north of Mountain Road), my initial response was hardly enthusiastic, but Nader has never led me astray when it comes to restaurants.  He once worked as a chef in Phoenix and truly understands the nuances of ingredients, seasoning, preparation and the multitudinous factors which play into a great meal.  Garcia’s, he assured me, would redeem itself.  He boasted especially of the restaurant’s menudo, a welcome repast on the rainy, windy day in which we visited.

Chips and salsa

Chips and salsa

External signage at some of the Garcia’s restaurants includes the subtitle “The Original.”  Obviously this doesn’t mean the first one of the seven Garcia’s Kitchen restaurants.  I surmise the designation “The Original” 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 bona fide Original Garcia’s Kitchen has been serving Albuquerque diners since 1973.  That’s nearly 45 years of people pleasing that says it’s doing many things right.

Some of Garcia’s familiarity can be credited to 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.   One of the many things that makes Garcia’s so popular is its breakfast at any time option.  Likely because of political correctness, the menu no longer includes a separate section called “Gringo Breakfast” which listed entrees without chile.

Enchilada plate with a fried egg atop

Enchilada plate with a fried egg atop

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 the spelling “Karnitas” and the listing of fajitas under the New Mexican food (fajitas originated in Texas).  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.  If my visit with Nader is any indication, you may soon count me among them.

20 October 2007 (Juan Tabo location):  Modern technology has made possible the desalinization of ocean water.  It shouldn’t be that difficult to desalinate chips (or to find vendors who proffer chips that aren’t quite so salty).    Unfortunately, the chips at Garcia’s are almost too salty to enjoy.  That’s entirely too bad considering they’re served with an excellent, rich red salsa with the piquant bite purists crave.  With better chips, it’s a two bowl minimum pre-meal salsa.

Menudo

20 October 2007 (Juan Tabo location):  Another culinary transgression no restaurant should ever commit is serving its food at a  lukewarm temperature.  To me that’s a near criminal offense.  New Mexican food should be served piping hot.  Diners would rather hear the warning, “be careful, the plate’s hot”  than to have to request their meal be reheated (never ask for it to be “nuked” because microwaves commit felony-level crimes on foods they reheat).  During this visit, I did have to ask for my enchilada plate to be reheated. That, more than the flavor of the plate, is what remained on my memory.

15 May 2017 (1113 4th location): My friend Nader is a bona fide volcano-eater, an intrepid diner with an asbestos-lined mouth.  Even more than me, he enjoys food that bites back.  The fact that Garcia’s menudo earned his respect, admiration and utterances of “that’s hot!” should be a calling card for diners who enjoy a “pain is a flavor” dining experience.  Available in large and extra large sizes, the menudo is served with hominy (not called posole on the menu).  As New Mexicans know, menudo is made from cow’s honeycomb-structured offal.  Unless prepared correctly, menudo’s off-putting, appetite-suppressing odor will deter even the most intrepid of diners.  Garcia’s prepares it well, serving it with an incendiary red chile that bites back.  Menudo is not for everyone, but if you’re an aficionado, Garcia’s version is one you’ll enjoy.

Green Chile Stew

15 May 2017 (1113 4th location):You’ll also enjoy Garcia’s green chile stew, especially on cold, blustery days–even in mid-May when New Mexico’s weather makes liars out of media meteorologists.  Available with or without beans, it’s served piping hot–just as it should be when cold weather will chill you to the bone.  From both the perspective of temperature and piquancy, it’s a “hot” green chile stew with a pleasant bite.  It’s also very well balanced with plenty of ground beef and chile, not an excess of potatoes.  If your preference is to enjoy it with beans, you’ll appreciate these frijoles, whole beans with a terrific flavor. 

15 May 2017 (1113 4th location):  The burritos menu is prefaced with the boast “the best in town.”  There are thirteen burritos on the menu and they’re available with chile on the inside or smothered with chile and cheese on top.  You can have your burrito ala carte or in the form of a plate (refried or whole beans, rice or papas).  Nader’s favorite is the aforementioned fajitas burrito (grilled beef stripped, grilled onions and green peppers with guacamole and pico de gallo inside).  You’ll maximize your chile apportionment by having your burrito smothered.  Ask for red and green, too.  Both the red and green chile have a pleasant piquancy.  There’s no false advertising with the fajitas burrito.  It does indeed taste like chile smothered fajitas.  Very good fajitas!

Fajitas Burrito

15 May 2017 (1113 4th location): 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.  Moreover, they’re not at all greasy and have a pleasant “mouth feel.”  Instead of being served with real honey, they’re accompanied by a “honey-flavored syrup.”  It’s not quite the same.

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!

Sopaipillas

It’s always been my contention that the true mark of a great restaurant is consistency (great food, great service) over time.  For restaurants with more than one presence in a city or state, that consistency should apply across all locations.  If diners know exactly what they can expect at McDonald’s, shouldn’t they also know what to expect at the seven Garcia’s restaurants across the Duke City?  It will be interesting to visit other locations throughout the city to see the degree of consistency at each of the seven.

Garcia’s Kitchen
3601 Juan Tabo, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 275-5812
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 16 May 2017
# OF VISITS: 4
RATING: 17
COST: $$
BEST BET: Biscochitos, Salsa, Menudo, Green Chile Stew, Fajitas Burrito

Garcia's Kitchen Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

11 comments

  • JohnL

    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!.

  • Aaron

    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.

  • Holly

    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.

  • Foodie Star

    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.

  • Schuyler

    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.

  • Leti

    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

  • Nate D

    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”.

  • Leti

    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.

    • 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.

  • Leti

    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.

  • EnjoyEP

    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.

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