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K&I Diner – Albuquerque, New Mexico

The ghostly image in the background isn't Travis, the mysterious customer for whom the K&I Diner's most famous entree is named.  It's Bill Resnik, the artist who painted this masterpiece displayed in the front dining room of the K&I.

The ghostly image in the background isn’t Travis, the mysterious customer for whom the K&I Diner’s most famous entree is named. It’s Bill Resnik, the artist who painted this masterpiece displayed in the front dining room of the K&I.

In 1960, Albuquerque’s population reached 201,189, more than doubling the city’s tally from the 1950 census. The start of a new decade began an era of expansion, a construction boom in which the burgeoning city began experiencing unprecedented growth. A proliferation of shopping centers was built to serve new neighborhoods.  Albuquerque was not yet overrun by horrendous, copycat chain restaurants; family owned and operated mom-and-pop dining establishments–like the K&I Diner–were (and still are) your best bet for a great meal.

1960 (March 2nd to be exact) was also the year in which Irene Warner opened Grandma’s K&I Diner (named for her daughter Kay Hess and herself) in the heart of Albuquerque’s industrial district in the far South Valley. She ran the eatery with her family for 39 years until her death at age 82 in 1999.  The matronly Irene was a fixture at her restaurant, a kind and gentle woman who made everyone welcome at her restaurant home. With a pronounced Southern drawl, she and her family kept things lively, often addressing their faithful patrons by “honey” or “sugar.”

On the right hand, a half Travis; on the left, Bert's Mess.

On the right hand, a half Travis; on the left, Bert’s Mess.

The restaurant has undergone several ownership changes since Grandma Warner passed away. In 2003, but other than  some polish and veneer, pretty much left everything the same. For that Albuquerque diners are grateful.  The decor features antique brickerbrack donated by customers. Old stoves, a Pepsi dispenser (from back when a bottle of cold Pepsi cost ten cents), tube-operated radios and more eye-catching antiques will keep your interest while some placards may surprise you at how ribald humor was fifty or sixty years ago. One placard reads “big busted women float better.”

Ask anyone who’s been in Albuquerque for a few years and they can all recount their favorite memories of dining at the K&I. Most of them probably involve the “Travis,” a bean and seasoned beef burrito topped with cheese and chile then piled high with French fries. It’s an unlikely combination, but also a uniquely New Mexican one. The Travis is available in five sizes, the descriptions below of which are taken from the menu:

This behemoth is a quarter Travis.

This behemoth is a quarter Travis.

  • Travis On A Silver Platter – You’d better bring lots of friends to attempt this. Of course, if you can eat it by yourself in an hour or less and we mean ALL of it, it’s free.  It weighs over eight pounds and has been surmounted by only two people in the 40 years plus that it’s been available.
  • Full Travis – Even the biggest of appetites would have a hard time finishing this one.
  • Half Travis – It can be done, but you’d better be happy. Note: check out the photo of the Half Travis on the left.
  • Quarter Travis – This is the most popular size (pictured below), but some still need a to-go box.
  • Wimp Travis – For those who just don’t feel up to the challenge.

The Travis on a Silver Platter is a full six pounds and the platter on which it is served is big enough for the Thanksgiving turkey. A Wimp Travis is big enough for most people, but most men will order at least a quarter Travis or they risk being drummed out of the XY chromosome club.

When he traveled to Albuquerque for a taping of the Travel Channel’s Man vs Food Nation (which aired for the first time on June 22nd, 2011) a stop at Grandma Warner’s K&I Diner was a must for host Adam Richman.  No longer an active competitor in man’s quest to eat ridiculous amounts of food, Richman recruited three Albuquerque residents–all named Travis–to test their gurgitator’s mettle against the Travis on a Silver Platter:  three flour tortillas, beef and beans, sausage-infused red chile and shredded Cheddar.  Once folded over, the burrito is covered over with green chile, cheese and a lettuce-tomato garnish  topped with a mountain of French fries.  Richman called the challenge an “indomitable feat of manhood,” and “maybe the hardest challenge we’ve ever shown.”

Given an hour to consume the entire platter’s worth of food, the three Travises (a student at UNM, a meteorologist for a local television station and a professional bull rider) were unable to surmount the challenge despite the urging of the crowd (which included UNM cheerleaders and Lobo Louie) and Richman’s encouragement.

Bert’s Mess: Hot, crisp French fries topped with chunks of ham, bacon and sausage then smothered with red or green chile and topped with two eggs, any style

My own personal memories of the K&I Diner also involve the Travis. While stationed at Kirtland in the early 1980s, we used to take the dreaded Inspector General (IG) staff to the K&I and challenge them to finish a full Travis. Our hopes were that the IG staffers would get so full that drowsiness would set in after lunch and they wouldn’t be quite as nit-picky in their assessments. This usually worked with new staffers, but veteran IG members ultimately figured out our ploy. Still, they all enjoyed the K&I Diner as much as we did and made it a regular stop during their inspection tours of Kirtland.

Today, Air Force personnel (and no doubt, the infamous IG) still frequent the K&I Diner which despite four separate dining areas is usually packed for both breakfast and lunch. Newcomers with the gumption to try still think they have the mettle to consume an entire Travis, but invariably fail miserably (coincidentally miserable is the gastronomic state of anyone who succeeds).

Elise Hunnicutt, a Del Norte High graduate now residing in deepest, darkest Westchester, New York shares one of her favorite K&I and Travis memories from the winter of 1982.

“The K&I was a favorite lunchtime stop for me when I worked for the Pepsi bottler in Albuquerque. I took two co-workers there one chilly day and instructed them on the fine points of ordering the Travis special. At the time, you didn’t use the word “Travis” when ordering, instead just proclaiming “Quarter” or “Half!” Your waitress would then call out the orders to the guys doing the cooking behind the counter. On this particular trip, I ordered my usual quarter. The first of my colleagues, obviously not embracing my guidance, slammed his fist on the table and demanded a Half. My other companion had no interest in the Travis and asked instead for a cheeseburger. Our waitress turned quickly toward the kitchen and said, “Quarter and a Half! And would someone please go down to Blake’s and get this idiot a cheeseburger?”

The Leo

The Leo (Photo courtesy of Bill “Roastmaster” Resnik)

My friend Bill Resnik recalls the time he goaded a “Travis virgin” into ordering a full Travis. The behemoth platter arrived minutes later with a Dum Dum sucker on top. The acid tongue (but with a heart of gold) waitress presented it with “here you go, sucker!” Another time he asked the waitress how the meatloaf was that particular day.  The waitress’s retort, “I wouldn’t have it if I were you.  Grandma made it.”  Grandma was notorious for putting any leftover she could find into the lasagna–including lime jello.  After about three visits, the wait staff got to know you and treated you like a sibling.

The days of verbal jousting with the waitresses are long past and some of the restaurant’s personality left with Irene’s family and staff, but the K&I is and always will be, a memorable restaurant. Several local restaurants (Hurricane’s and Twisters come to mind) have attempted to duplicate the Travis and while some claim the pretenders are just as good, K&I veterans will vehemently defend the Travis as an incomparable original. In 1980, the Travis was trademarked, but that hasn’t stopped the pretenders.

Chicken Fried Steak, Two Eggs and Hashed Browns

According to local legend, the Travis was born when a frequent visitor (in true Western fashion, embellishments say it was a mysterious stranger) to the K&I asked for a burrito with everything on it but the kitchen sink. That’s what he got!

The K&I Diner serves more than the Travis. Breakfast and lunch portions can best be described as “heaping” with daily specials available every day of the week. Over the years, the diner has added several other unique entrees in which piles of French fries are the topper, but none have approached the legendary status of the Travis.  The K&I Diner’s hours have also expanded.  It’s now open Monday through Friday from 6AM to 6PM and on Saturdays from 7AM to 3PM.

“Bert’s Mess” is a pile of hot, crisp French fries topped with chunks of ham, bacon and sausage  (the triumvirate of porcine perfection) then smothered with red or green chile and topped with two eggs, any style. The “Leo,” ostensibly named for another loyal customer is a plate piled high with French fries and topped with seasoned beef, cheese and your choice of red or green chile.  About the only thing missing from these calorie overachiever’s dream is an angioplasty.  It should come standard.

Seven-year-old Stevie Sunday attempts to put a dent on a K&I pancake.

Seven-year-old Stevie Sunday attempts to put a dent on a K&I pancake. Photo courtesy of Bill “Roastmaster” Resnik

If you’re a pancake aficionado, you’ve got to try the K&I’s version of a tall stack. It’s just one solitary pancake, but it’s the size of the tires on a semi-truck (see photo above). A family of six might not be able to finish this golden orb.

The K&I Diner’s chicken fried steak breakfast is one of the best of its kind found this side of Texas.  The chicken fried steak is at least half an inch thick, not some thinly-pounded, boot leather-tough slab as you’re apt to find in other Albuquerque eateries.  It’s covered in a peppered white gravy and is served with two eggs, a pile of hashed browns and sourdough bread toast on the side.  It’s a prodigious breakfast not for the faint of heart.  The chicken fried steak cuts easily, a very good sign and it’s not breaded so thickly that you have to send out a search party to find the actual beef.  Best of all, it’s very good.

For more than 45 years, the K&I Diner’s formula of atmosphere, quick and friendly service and hearty portions has proven successful. It has stood the test of time and is an American classic in the finest sense.

K&I Diner
2500 Broadway, S.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 243-1881
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 2 March 2011
# OF VISITS: 10
RATING: 18
COST: $$
BEST BET: The Travis, The Leo, Bert’s Mess, Pancakes, Chicken Fried Steak

  • Robert M says:

    I dorve by this one yesterday, and it looked to me like it had closed down. Shame, I really wanted to tackle the Travis.

    October 5, 2008 at 10:55 AM
  • Mike says:

    K&I is still open and as good as ever. Until 3PM weekdays. 2pm weekends

    February 25, 2009 at 10:40 PM
  • Erik says:

    I miss this place!!! We used to go here all of the time when I was stationed at Kirtland.. I am half tempted to plan a trip back so that I can get myself a “Bert’s Mess”!! Definitely do not pass this place up if you have the opportunity!!

    March 11, 2009 at 11:18 AM
  • Charlie Ehler says:

    I remember this place well. Went there for a going away luncheon for a military co-worker in the mid-Eighties and ordered a Travis. The waitress said there was no way I would be able to eat the thing to which my friends replied that my eating it would not be a problem. It came out on a rectangular silver turkey serving platter as described and I proceeded to demolish the thing. I definitely remember getting tired of eating so much food with the same taste for so long; but down it went.

    After I finished eating my Travis the waitress brought me a dum-dum sucker and I asked what on earth it was for. She told me it was for managing to eat a Travis. I said I wasn’t finished and wanted an apple pie a-la mode. She disappeared and came back with a two-thirds of a nine-inch pie with three big scoops of ice cream on top, still in the pie tin and a smirk on her face as if there was no way on Earth I would finish this new challenge. After I wolfed that down I was happy and the waitress was dismayed.

    Noone ever said that if I ate it in under an hour it was free. I’m pretty sure I finished it in under an hour though.

    I paid up and proceeded back to work as the military frowns on taking time off for eating too much food.

    Someday I’ll have to stop by when or if I ever get back to Albuquerque.

    November 8, 2009 at 10:01 PM
  • Glen Seager says:

    my name is glen seager i used to go to the k &i diner i still love the trvis special and the famous biscouts
    i miss kay and grandma i just wish it would be open 7 days aweek from 6am to 3pm or for dinner too
    k&i is still number 1 in albuquerque nm

    January 22, 2010 at 4:17 PM
  • Gary Drost says:

    I love this place! When I was stationed at Kirtland in the late 80′s, I was introduced to Grandma’s by my co-workers. They said I “had” to eat a Full Travis or I was a wimp. I didn’t know then that they were setting me up. Well, I ordered one and couldn’t believe the size of this dish. However, as I was the new “boss” in the division, it was important to set the standard and let my co-workers know I was one of them. It took me about 30 minutes, but I finished the whole thing and was hooked. I never ate another “Full” by myself, but often ordered one to go to feed my family of five dinner when I got off work. For lunch, though, I usually ordered a Half Travis, then tried to stay awake the rest of the afternoon. Grandma’s will always be one of my favorite “hole-in-the-wall” eateries. Gary Drost, College Station, TX.

    March 11, 2010 at 3:39 PM
  • Jan says:

    The story I heard about the Travis, from a friend who went to HS with Travis at Albuq High:
    Travis was a regular customer and came in and was looking over the menu and couldn’t decide what he wanted to eat. It was after the lunch rush so they said he could go into the kitchen and make what he wanted so he did. As he was eating it another customer came in and said “I want what he is having.”

    July 9, 2010 at 10:05 PM
  • Jan says:

    Some improvements…
    The story I heard about the Travis, from a friend who went to HS with Travis at Albuquerque High, and from another friend who knew the Warner family (original K&I owners) for decades, from before they started the K&I:
    Travis was a regular customer. He came in one afternoon and was looking over the menu and couldn’t decide what he wanted to eat. It was after the lunch rush so they said he could go into the kitchen and make what he wanted so he did. As he was eating it another regular customer came in — the waitresses asked if he wanted his usual but he saw what Travis was eating and said “No, I want what he is having.” Also, before Grandma Warner and her daughter Kay (K and I) opened the Diner, Grandma had a place on north 4th called Pancho’s Hideaway. One of the entrees from Pancho’s is on the menu at the K&I.

    July 18, 2010 at 1:02 AM
  • Carl says:

    One of my favorite places when I lived there. First time I went there, I ordered a large chili cheese fries… Managed to finish them like 3 days later! Always a stop when I travel back through that way!

    July 18, 2010 at 9:53 PM
  • Dave says:

    We love the K and I. I was stationed at Kirtland AFB from 81-85 and we would go there often with the guys from the NAV shop. My very skinny wife had heard us talk about the Travis and we decided to have a shop party there and she took the challenge, ordering the full Travis. She ate it all, not sure about the time, but she did get the sucker! We are headed back to ABQ in December and plan on going back. But we won’t be going for the full Travis this time though!

    November 1, 2010 at 2:37 AM
  • Sr Plata says:

    When it comes to choosing between breakfast and lunch, I go for the breakfast and this time was no different. Although my friends who feast here in NM wanted me to try the Travis, I went for the chicken fried steak breakfast that included 2 eggs, sourdough toast and hashbrowns. And for good measure, I ordered 1 (gigantic) pancake. I have to say this was one of the best chicken fried steaks I have had in New Mexico. It was large, thick (not flattened as some other places do it), and delicious. The country gravy had no meat so it met the Sephardic requirement. Eggs were surprisingly cooked perfect and the hashbrowns were tasty (I forgot to order extra well done which I normally do for extra crispness). I also ordered one single pancake, it was huge; the regular order would be rediculous but it was a very good pancake. I also bought some homemade salsa and they fry up some chips to go with it. I was very happy to get down there and have a good brunch with my friends and have some excellent chicken fried steak!!

    March 2, 2011 at 3:34 PM
  • john baldwin says:

    I go for the ham and eggs for breakfast. You get a huge slab of real ham instead of the ersatz stuff others give you.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:59 AM
  • debbie says:

    We went to K & I Diner for the first time today, I have lived in Albuquerque all my life and have heard about it and was looking foward to finaly getting there. After getting a table and getting our drinks, we placed our order and waited, and waited, and waited.. Twenty five minutes later our food was up and there it sat, several waitresess pulled it foward to see if it was their ticket and pushed it back( this happened a few times), encluding OUR waitress who got into the pick up line a couple of times, I kept thinking she was going to get our food, but did not! instead she took the orders of two new tables and walked the room?? After 30 + minutes we paid for our drinks and left.. Very hungry!! Unfortunatly I think the food may have been good. Don’t think I will ever go back to find out.

    April 24, 2011 at 6:06 PM
  • Jennifer Johnson says:

    Great blog. I never read the same information before. The food is delicious. specially, Chicken Fried Steak, i like it. I think i will try to learn to do it.Thanks so much

    June 27, 2011 at 1:28 AM
  • Bob of the Village of Los Ranchos says:

    Chicken Fried Steak? Ok Foodies…if it’s actually BEEF, where does the Chicken come into play? I read it may be an Americanization of Wiener Schnitzel that the mid-European immigrants brought over, but that drudges up the whole Rep Wiener and Commish Wiener shtick and I’d hoped we’d got off that media blitz last week.

    June 27, 2011 at 9:17 AM
  • Barbara says:

    Steak fried in the tradition of chicken.

    You obviously did not grow up in Kansas where the quest of finding the best CFS is something one could make a career of.

    You had to bring up the weiner…

    June 27, 2011 at 12:56 PM
  • Schuyler says:

    Even Guy Fieri got on the Anthony Weiner-Chicken bandwagon. On a recent Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, he said “Weiner, Weiner, chicken dinner.”…whatever that means.

    June 29, 2011 at 9:23 AM
  • Bob of the Village of Los Ranchos says:

    While I did not ’grow up’ in KS Barb (and altho there is nothing wrong that!), I almost was “baptized” by a horrific (is there any other kind?) tornado diagonally crossing Topeka while munching Fried Clams at a Howard Johnson’s (only place where ya could get ’em) while being a Jayhawk for part of my educational journey. I must admit and blush I was never aware of the never-ending search for The Ultimate CFS. I do have fond memories of an occasionally afforded, unadulterated hunk of Kansas Bred Beef, albeit ya had to bring your own bottle of wine accompaniment in a brown paper bag unless you were a restaurant “member” and had a liquor “locker” per Kansas being a “dry state”….LOL.

    Regarding “Weiner, Weiner….Chicken Dinner!” and its meaning: some possibilities here: http://tinyurl.com/3pc7o2

    June 29, 2011 at 10:52 AM

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