In the vernacular and tradition of Hispanic Northern New Mexico, few–if any–titles were held in such esteem and reverence by elder generations as “compadre” (male) and “comadre” (female). In his Dictionary of New Mexico & Southern Colorado Spanish, Ruben Cobos defines a compadre as a “ritual co-parent; a term by which godparents address the father of their godchild and by which the child’s parents address the godfather.”
With the societal dissolution of the family entity, the term compadre doesn’t hold the same bonding connotation as it once did–at least in terms of raising one anothers families should the need arise. Today the term compadre is frequently used almost interchangeably with “paiser,” a derivative of “paisano” or countryman. Paiser is a Northern New Mexican word addressing a person from one’s hometown or county.
Rico Martinez, the brilliant braintrust behind the long defunct and much missed The Rant Pack blog and I refer to one another as compadre, in this case as a term of mutual respect and admiration. We’re both from Northern New Mexico and share similar backgrounds and irreverent senses of humor.
When Brian Maestas a paisano from el Norte recommended Los Compadres Restaurant, he didn’t just tell me it serves great food, he asserted “they have the best Mexican/New Mexican in the state.” He cemented this audacious contention with bona fide credentials you can respect. Brian used to work at El Bruno and grew up in Cuba, New Mexico. El Bruno’s is one of the three or four best New Mexican restaurants in the state, so any comparison to its greatness has to be investigated. Besides, any restaurant with a name like “Los Compadres” has got to be good.
We’d driven by Los Compadres Isleta location on several occasions and despite the fact that its parking lot was always packed, we never stopped, usually because we were on our way to Kathy’s for one of the best burgers in town. Our loss! Los Compadres signage belies the fact that the restaurant once served as a family residence, no doubt with a sala in which compadres got together to talk about family.
Compadres still get together at this South Valley institution. There are several reasons beyond very good food that friends and family pack the restaurant. Start with the welcoming family atmosphere and friendly and attentive service and you have a formula for success. Add generous portions of delicious food and you’ve got a restaurant that draws patrons from throughout the city.
A humble stucco exterior is matched by an equally nondescript interior ambience in several capacious dining rooms. An aquarium teeming with fish large enough to eat is the most conspicuous accoutrement in the restaurant whose white-washed walls are relatively stark.
Los Compadres straddles that sometimes ambiguous line of demarcation between New Mexican food and Mexican food and in fact, serves cuisine unique to and shared by both (often the sole distinction being the degree of heat). The fiery salsa, by far the most piquant item we had during our inaugural visit, is more akin to the salsa offered in New Mexican dining establishments. Its piquancy comes from incendiary jalapenos, but its essence is in the way those jalapenos meld with the tangy acidity of tomatoes and the refreshing fragrance of cilantro. This is very good salsa.
Only a few entrees include a papa asada (Mexican baked potato), but you can ask for one on the side if you wish. Not even the English pubs can bake a potato as well as a Mexican restaurant and this papa asada is no different, save for the fact that it’s about twice as large as most baked potatoes you’ll find at Mexican restaurants. This papa asada is baked to absolute perfection–tender and moist on the inside with no desiccation or hardened crust on the outside. A few pats of butter and sour cream and you’re in potato paradise.
One of the entrees with which the papa asada comes standard is the bistec a la plancha plate. A la plancha refers to meat or fish grilled on a cast iron skillet. It’s a great way to prepare a steak and seems to imbue it with heightened flavor, tenderness and juiciness. The restaurant’s version is a bone-in sirloin steak, not the finest cut of meat you can find, but one with a lot of flavor if prepared right. Los Compadres does it right! At about eight-ounces, it’s not sinewy or fatty as low-priced steak is apt to be. It’s better, in fact, than some steak for which you’ll pay twice the price.
In addition to the papa asada, the plate includes a generous serving of refried beans topped with a sheen of yellow and white cheeses. The beans are delicious, albeit just a bit too salty.
The menu offers two different combination plates. The number twelve combo, pictured below, is comprised of a crispy beef and papas taco, a cheese stuffed enchilada with red chile and a green chile relleno. There are several New Mexican restaurants in the Duke City (including a former honoree of Hispanic magazine’s Top 50 Hispanic Restaurants in America) that add potato flakes to their tacos, perhaps hoping to “stretch” the paltry amount of ground beef they add to their tacos. Los Compadres makes no pretense about their tacos. The menu will tell you up front the tacos include papas, not something you see on many tacos, but quite good when not used as a filler.
The chile relleno is a tepid Anaheim with just a tad more piquancy than a bell pepper. It is topped with green chile which doesn’t pack much of a punch either, but it isn’t needed to make this a flavorful offering. Lightly battered, it is engorged with cheese which just oozes out as you cut into the chile.
Better is the cheese enchilada topped with a red chile that makes the green chile seem incendiary by comparison. The red chile has a lot of earthy flavor and sweetness, but very, very little piquancy. The only disappointment and one I can reiterate about almost every version I’ve had in Albuquerque is the Spanish rice. Los Compadres rendition isn’t desiccated as you’ll find at many restaurants. Instead, it’s nearly overwhelmed with tomato sauce leaning toward the sweet side.
Los Compadres is a restaurant to which you should bring your compadres, paisanos and paisers. It’s a restaurant you should visit by yourself if you have to. Just visit!
Los Compadres Restaurant
424 Isleta Blvd, S.W.
LATEST VISIT: 14 June 2008
# OF VISITS: 1
BEST BET: Salsa and Chips, Carne Asada, Cheese Enchilada, Papa Asada