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Garduño’s of Mexico – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Gardunos01

Garduños  on restaurant row near the Cottonwood Mall

All too often faulty premises are based on a lack of information or experience. Take for example, British author Simon Majumdar, a recurring judge on the Food Network’s Next Iron Chef competition who once declared “given how abysmal Mexican food is in London, I always thought that it was a cuisine made up of remains from the back of the fridge.” It wasn’t until Majumdar experienced tacos de tripa at a restaurant in Guadalajara, Mexico that he achieved an epiphany and fell in love with Mexican food. He called it a meal that changed his life.  

Similarly, many of my colleagues from Arizona perceived Mexican food as lacking personality–a misconception borne from their culinary experiences with Phoenix area Mexican food. When business travel brought them to Albuquerque, we exposed them to New Mexican and Mexican food the way it’s done in the Land of Enchantment. It was love at first taste. The addictive properties of capsaicin-blessed New Mexico chile ensnared their affections and haven’t let them go to this date. The very favorite restaurant of many of them became Garduño’s of Mexico.

The festive, fun ambiance at Garduños

The festive, fun ambiance at Garduños

Over the years, Garduño’s has become the favorite of many of its guests—New Mexicans and visitors alike. When the familiar Garduño’s of Mexico jingle declared “nobody serves up Mexico like Garduno’s,” it wasn’t rhapsodizing solely about the restaurant’s culinary fare. From the day Garduño’s first launched in 1981—fittingly on the intersection of Fourth and Garduño Streets—it became a popular draw, as much for its lively and fun ambiance as for the generous portions of Mexican and New Mexican favorites–all washed down, of course, with one of the cantina’s popular margaritas crafted with premium tequilas. 

Despite the name on the marquee, Garduño’s has always straddled the fine line between New Mexican and Mexican food, serving both cuisines on a menu that reads like a compendium of local favorites. Detractors (and there aren’t nearly as many of them as there are devotees) decried Garduño’s as a “tourist trap” and questioned its authenticity. The latter point of contention is likely because they weren’t familiar with the vast diversity of culinary offerings throughout Mexico’s 31 states and one Federal District.

Chips and Salsa

Chips and Salsa

At the height of its popularity, there were six Garduño’s locations in the Land of Enchantment alone, served by more than 500 employees. Garduño’s had a presence in nearly every section of the Duke City including a capacious presence in Albuquerque’s Sunport where departing locals often stopped for their last fix of New Mexican food before leaving the Duke City. Those bound for the Phoenix and Las Vegas areas could find a Garduño’s there, too. There were even conversations with developers about expanding the Garduño’s enterprise to such potential sites as Disney World.

In 2010, three of the five Garduño’s restaurants closed, including the original Garduño’s on Fourth Street. Only the Winrock and Cottonwood locations remain in operation, both under a new ownership group which assumed the helm at the local empire in 2011. From outward appearances, the new ownership group seems to know better than to tamper with a tried and proven formula that made Garduño’s the highest volume Mexican restaurant across the fruited plain and a local favorite which earned several awards and accolades from both the New Mexico Restaurant Association and various Peoples’ Choice mediums.

Tacos Al Pastor

Tacos Al Pastor

Garduño’s remains a sensory experience (some might say sensory bombardment) that involves all five of your senses. It is one of the most visually stimulating and interesting milieus in which to dine with eye-catching features in front, in back and even above you.  From the moment you walk in, you’ll be enveloped by the aroma of Mexican food being prepared on the premises.  The ambiance can be raucous, but that’s because the venue inspires guests to have a good time and enjoy themselves.

The expansive menu includes many popular favorites.  Alas, both red and green chile based entrees are prepared with cumin, proving the name Garduño can be associated with the use of cumin (long-time readers of this blog have been exposed ad infinitum to my diatribes about the use of that foul demon spice on chile).  Fortunately the menu also includes several items made without chile.

Green Chile Cheeseburger

Green Chile Cheeseburger

Rich, red salsa is complimentary.  It’s a jalapeño-based, fire-roasted salsa with a pleasant piquancy New Mexicans can handle easily, but which might have tourists sputtering and reaching for water.  The salsa has a nice viscosity for scooping up large qualities of salsa on each chip.  Thankfully the triangular-shaped chips are formidable enough to hold up against Gil-sized scoops.  You’ll easily go through three ramekins of salsa before and with your meal. 

There are twelve appetizers on the menu in addition to ensaladas y sopas (salads and soups).  One of the most popular is the tacos al pastor, six mini tortillas filled with seasoned pork slowly braised with Axiote (also spelled Achiote) paste, cilantro, onion and pineapple served with a side of tomatillo salsa.  The tacos are quite good thanks to the melding of earthy achiote and tangy-sweet pineapples tinged with the freshness of cilantro and the incendiary tomatillo salsa.  The only thing wrong with these tacos is that six just aren’t enough if you’re sharing.  Maybe six per person will do.

Sizzling beef fajitas

Sizzling beef fajitas

The “Carnes” (meats) menu includes a de rigueur Hatch green chile cheeseburger, an eight-ounce USDA Angus beef patty topped with chopped green chile and Cheddar cheese with lettuce, tomatoes, onions and pickles on the side.  The thick patty exceeds the circumference of the bun and it’s probably a half inch high.  The green chile, unfortunately, is rather insipid, not much more potent than a bell pepper.  The burger is served with papitas, tiny cubed potatoes.  

One entree for which Garduño’s has long been popular is fajitas, which can be constructed from your choice of steak, chicken, shrimp or a unique garden-fresh vegetarian specialty with your choice of flour or corn tortillas.  All eyes will train on your server ferrying these fajitas to your table. More specifically, all eyes and ears will follow the trail of sizzling, aromatic smokiness.  The fajitas are served with sizzling onions, tomatoes, red and green peppers, shredded cheese and sides of guacamole and pico de gallo.  All fajitas can be ordered in half-pound or full-pound sizes.  A half-pound will sate even the most prolific of appetites. The steak is of very high quality and is prepared perfectly for a flour tortilla repository.

Sopaipillas

Sopaipillas

Sopaipillas are another long-time staple of Garduño’s.  Few New Mexican restaurants do sopaipillas like Garduño’s.  The sopaipillas are large golden, deep-fried deliciousness served fresh and hot.  Don’t wait to break open a sopaipilla and cut off a piece while it’s still hot.  The sensation of steamy puffs wafting upwards is an experience not to be missed.  The sopaipillas beckon for the cooling effect of sweet honey to be drizzled onto them.  Unfortunately, the restaurant serves a honey-flavored syrup, a poor pretender that just doesn’t cut it. 

Whether Garduño’s ever reclaims its once lofty position among the Land of Enchantment’s New Mexican restaurant scene remains to be seen.  One thing is for certain, it will remain the favorite restaurant of many of its guests, including my colleagues from Arizona. 

DISCLAIMER:  I’m frequently asked if I’m related to the Garduño family which owned and operated their eponymous restaurant for more than three decades.  Perhaps generations ago our families descended from the same lineage, but our family trees diverged a long time ago.  Even if we were related, I wouldn’t accept special food or treatment.  

Garduño’s of Mexico
10031 Coors Blvd., N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 890-7000
Web Site

LATEST VISIT: 1 February 2013
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: *
COST: $$
BEST BET: Sopaipillas, Fajitas, Chips and Salsa, Tacos Al Pastor


View Garduno’s – Coors on LetsDineLocal.com »

Garduno's on Urbanspoon

  • Mrs. Tiara Garduno says:

    Hello,
    Last year when my husband and I were stationed in Ft. Huachuca, AZ we heard of your resturant and really wanted to visit, not only for the food, but to meet the owner. My husband is from Guerrero Mexico, and is currently trying to find out more about his family. If you can please contact me if you have any info, and hopefully in the near future we can finally come by and visit your fine resturant. God bless and we hope to hear from you soon!

    December 27, 2011 at 11:30 AM
  • Jen says:

    The last time I visited this store on Coors was about two years ago, entertaining friends from elsewhere in the state, and shortly after the other stores had closed. The service wasn’t great; the orders were delivered wrong and not all at the same time; the wait staff seemed spread out too thin. The entrees weren’t delivered hot, either. I’m glad that perhaps they’ve worked out the kinks, and based on your review, I’ll be somewhat confident to go there again. They certainly have the atmosphere down – let’s see if their product will again match that.

    February 6, 2013 at 10:38 PM
  • Jen says:

    Are you a relation, and if so, is some kind of disclaimer expected?

    February 6, 2013 at 10:39 PM
    • Gil Garduno says:

      Hi Jen

      I share the same mellifluous name with the good folks who began the Garduño’s restaurant empire, but we’re not related. As often as I’m asked, a disclaimer is a good idea. Thanks for keeping me honest.

      Gil

      February 6, 2013 at 10:42 PM
  • Alan Schwartz says:

    The last time my wife and I went to Guarduno’s our experience very much mirrored Jen’s. There was only one waitress working the dining room during lunch, backed up by the bartender. Orders from several tables were taken and disappeared into the kitchen for at least a half hour. During this period we observed what appeared to be a repairman going back and forth but nothing was said to us while we waited for our order. My wife had her favorite, the chile verde, which the waitress thoughtfully served without a spoon. When asked for one the best she could do was produce a plastic one from the buffet line. Going that day was already our “last chance” as the prior visit was on Mother’s Day which was a disappointment when we found out they were only serving from the buffet for $25 a plate. (We left and went to Il Vicino.) I don’t know how many others had similar experiences while the business was adrift but the fact that sopas and chips are two of your highlights doesn’t encourage me to return.

    February 7, 2013 at 10:43 AM
  • Bob of the Village of Los Ranchos says:

    Out of the closet: No, it may not be exactly like what I could get at a matanza in ABQ’s Five Points, e.g. a tortilla right off the estufa de lena (from Sears)wrapped around diced chicharones smothered in Red, but Garduno’s offerings/chips n salsa/ambiance is, IMHO, a way to expose Eastern visitors something ya can’t do to approximate a visit to Mexico nowadays. (Getting a NM green chile fix in Vegas at Garduno’s at Maloof’s Fiesta then the Palms was indeed most appreciated.) At least monthly, I enjoy the sight/sound ‘raucousness’ that Coors offers, but miss Tortilla Flats along with the one on Academy next to the sorely missed Seagull St. Never have been disappointed per a margarita/c&s. Later in a given month, will mosey out to enjoy Dave Garduno’s revival at his Chile Rio http://www.nmgastronome.com/?p=17226 to enjoy being hosted by Gil’s cousin, The Theresa.

    February 7, 2013 at 3:00 PM
  • R says:

    As a long time customer that had not visited in awhile we were VERY disappointed & disturbed by our last visit to Garduno’s on Coors. The restaurant had just a handful of customers. They tried to seat us towards the back of the restaurant. When we asked if we could sit near a window we were told the only section open for that is the bar/lounge area. Although it was the time of year the moths were rampant, they made no attempt to clean them up or get an exterminator to rid them from inside the restaurant. It was filthy in there, the staff seemed unhappy & were rude, inefficient. We had to wait at least 30 minutes for a our food to be brought to us & was brought with out place settings. Not sure why it took so long since they had a handful of tables?! The food was not good at all, extremely salty. When we mentioned this the next batch they brought was just as salty. It was such a disappointment & gross we have not been back since & will not be back. Wondering why the employees seemed so bugged & if they have so much time on their hands why did they not put that time into cleaning up the place, treating their customers appreciatively, make better food… So sad that such a great place has fallen so far down. :-(

    February 11, 2013 at 11:53 AM
  • Tiara Garduño says:

    That is really sad. My husband and I wanted to visit one day. Hopefully by then they will be under new management and the place will be ten times better.

    February 11, 2013 at 12:44 PM

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