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Luigi’s Ristorante & Pizzeria – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Luigi's, a mainstay on Fourth Street for nearly fifteen years

Braciole became a part of American pop culture when Debra, Ray Barone’s long-suffering wife on television sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond, prepared a braciole dish everyone in the family liked too much. A notoriously bad cook who may have unintentionally ruined her husband’s taste buds, her braciole was better even than the version prepared by her competitive mother-in-law Marie, the bona fide chef in the family.   Quite naturally Marie didn’t share the ardor the  men in the family felt toward Debra’s culinary masterpiece.  That meant all-out war.

Luigi’s is one of the few (perhaps only) restaurants in town to serve braciole, a traditional Southern Italian dish featuring savory rolls of stuffed lean meat braised in a tomato sauce.  At least two other  Duke City restaurants serve Involtini, a Northern Italian version of the dish while Dagmar’s Restaurant & Strudel House prepares Rouladen, the closest thing to a German equivalent.  The point is Luigi’s serves a number of dishes you won’t find at other Albuquerque Italian restaurants.  In fact, its menu is a veritable compendium of Italian dishes.

The artistic interior of Luigi's

Luigi’s is the eponymous brainchild of Luigi Napolitano whose very last name translates to citizen of Naples, the city from which his mother Tina emigrated more than four decades ago. Tina is the bread-baking, pasta-making dynamo in the kitchen and is also responsible for many of the restaurant’s homey touches.  Tina painstakingly hand-sewed the delicate lace covering over each lamp as well as the curtains over each booth.  Other homey touches include viney plants hanging from pillars throughout the restaurant and a framed picture of the Mona Lisa hanging above the buffet.

The most eye-catching aspect of the restaurant isn’t the well-provisioned buffet, but the charcoal murals on the wall, most of which depict Roman life in the days of gladiators, spas, arcades and colonnades.  Seemingly out-of-place is  the section of the mural depicting the archangel Michael doing battle with Lucifer.  Despite Tina’s homey touches and the intriguing mural work, Luigi’s does show signs of being timeworn, but in a comfortable sort of way.   The only signage directing you to the restaurant is just off the street; there is no signage on the building itself.

Minestrone

Practically from its inception in 1996, Luigi’s has drawn in teeming masses for its weekday lunch buffet and its Friday night seafood buffet. Now, an Italian restaurant couldn’t possibly be good if it offers a dinner buffet, right? After experiencing Luigi’s rendition of a buffet, you might change your mind. That seems to be especially true of the Friday night seafood buffet which is extremely popular. Having lived near the water in Massachusetts and Mississippi, the seafood buffet isn’t something I’ll frequent, but it was worth trying once.

Luigi’s bountiful seafood buffet includes mussels, crab claws, baby clams, fried calamari, boiled shrimp, fried shrimp and other fruits of the sea. None of the crustacean offerings are as sizable as you might find at a casino buffet, but they’re well prepared and seasoned. The calamari is onion ring sized and chewy, not top tier but not bad either. Luigi’s clam chowder is better than you might prepare out of a can, but not of New England quality (in New Mexico, what is?). Had the cocktail sauce not been recently frozen, we might have enjoyed it on the seafood more.

Two slices of fresh, warm, yeasty bread

Two of the buffet highlights are Luigi’s bread offered with a garlic butter that  spreads easily and a salad bar with plenteous ingredients, some–such as beets, boiled eggs, pepperoncinis–not typically served on Duke City salad bar.  Several salad dressings are available to adorn your salad, including a passable blue cheese.  Interestingly, the salad bar also includes chocolate pudding which seems to be a staple at Chinese restaurant buffets, too.  Even if you don’t order the buffet, for a relative pittance you can have the restaurant’s all-you-can-eat soup and salad bar.  Two soups, usually a minestrone and a chowder are also available.

One of the other atypical Italian offerings on Luigi’s menu is a carne adovada pizza.  Pizza has become a virtual canvas on which pizza artisans paint with a broad brush, the more creative the ingredients, the better.  There is virtually no sacred cow, no time-honored traditions left.  When it comes to pizza, anything goes.  Still, carne adovada pizza is one of those things that will have you doing a double-take.  Even as you’re eating it and proclaiming it delicious, you’ll be questioning the propriety of this unique pizza…and it is a delicious pizza.

An all-you-can-eat salad option is available with Luigi's dinner plates

The crust, in particular, is wonderful with a very out-of-the-oven, yeasty bread aroma and texture.  It has just a hint of char on a crispy crust replete in its outside edges with those airy holes that seem part and parcel of most good, thick pizzas.  The carne adovada itself has a chile marinated flavor with just a hint of piquancy.  It’s strewn across the pizza in small shredded pieces then topped with a cheese blend from which bits of the carne peek out.  If carne adovada is too outlandish for your pizza, the menu has several other options, including gluten-free pizza.

While the seafood buffet may not have possessed the boatload of deliciousness I crave from seafood, the Frutta Di Mare, does.  A mixed seafood (shrimp, crab claws, clams, mussels and squid) medley over linguine with your choice of a red or white sauce, the name of this dish translates to “fruit of the sea.”  That’s an appropriate name considering not only the bounty of sea-birthed ingredients, but the way they’re prepared.  The seafood is sweet and succulent, a perfect foil for the red sauce.

A rarity even in Albuquerque--Carne Adovada Pizza

Luigi’s offers several seafood selections including one sure to appeal to New Mexicans who believe pain is a flavor and who like our food to bite back.  It’s the Shrimp Fra Diavalo, shrimp in a spicy garlic sauce served over a bed of linguine.  The menu describes it as “HOT!”  The term “Fra Diavalo” translates to “Brother Devil” in recognition of its tomato-based sauce which employs hot peppers (maybe Cayenne) in its flavor profile.  It’s one of those dishes that red or green chile wouldn’t improve; they’re not the type of pepper which makes this entree good.

If you do want green chile on your entree, it’s available in the green chile chicken lasagna.  Alas, the green chile is almost decorative, or more appropriately garnish-like, for its lack of piquancy.  Come on, this is New Mexico!  The layers of pasta, rich bechamel sauce and molten cheese blanketing the lasagna are quite good, but the entire dish would have been much more flavorful with a fennel-kissed Italian sausage or even ground beef.  Chicken, even well-prepared breast meat, is one of the most boring meat additives to any entree.  Sure it might make you feel good about not eating a more fattening meat, but there’s not much you can do to improve its blandish flavor profile

Green Chile Chicken Lasagna with a Bechemel Sauce

As for the braciole,it’s rolled in herbs, marinated in marinara sauce and served with a side of penne.  It’s also tied with a string to hold in the delicious stuffing.  I’m not sure it’s quite as good as Debra Barone’s rendition, but it’s quite good.  If you’re not tired of pop culture references, check out the movies A Bronx Tale and Raging Bull where braciole is used as a slang reference to the male reproductive organ.

Other pasta entrees are available with a variety of sauces: marinara, pesto, meat, Alfredo, mushroom, carbonara and even a rich broccoli cream sauce maybe even George W. Bush would like (he of the quote “I do not like broccoli and I haven’t liked it since I was a little kid and my mother made me eat it.  And I’m President of the United States and I’m not going to eat any more broccoli.”)  A number of hot and cold sandwiches are available as is a varied selection of domestic and imported beers as well as margaritas and wine.

Tiramisu

A panacea of Italian dessert favorites is available for diners with a sweet, but not too sweet, tooth.  That means tiramisu that doesn’t taste like a cloying pudding.  The tiramisu, served in a small bowl, is made with ladyfingers and is redolent with espresso, not quite enough for me, but sure to please most coffee lovers.  Cannoli, the wonderful Sicilian tube-shaped shells of fried pastry dough stuffed with a sweet, creamy Ricotta cheese-based filling are also available, including a chocolate cannoli.  Lightly dusted with confectioner’s sugar, the cannoli is quite good.

Earlier in this essay, I mentioned the homey touches of the restaurant’s decor.  Homey would also describe the service at Luigi’s.  The wait staff is personable and attentive without hovering over you while you’re trying to eat.  Our waiter should have worn a big red letter “S” on his chest for the way he simultaneously took care of several tables–professional service with a smile, too.

Chocolate Cannoli

Luigi’s Ristorante & Pizzeria is still going strong after nearly a decade and a half in a relatively inconspicuous facade on Fourth Street.  Good portions, reasonable prices, excellent service and a diverse menu are the reason.

Luigi’s Ristorante & Pizzeria
225 4th St NW
Albuquerque, NM
343-0466
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 24 September 2010
# OF VISITS: 4
RATING: 17
COST: $$
BEST BET: Clam Chowder, Chocolate Cannoli, Tiramisu, Carne Adovada Pizza

Luigi's Ristorante & Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

  • John in Los Ranchos says:

    The cook should be brought up on charges. I am sure he or she is an eskimo that went to The Dublin School of Italian Cusine. The owners should be brought up on conspiracy charges for letting this out of the kitchen. The marinara was acidic and completely unseasoned with the exception of salt. The wine is overpriced and totally undrinkable. The salad was no different from a 1950’s truckstop with watery blue cheese dressing. The pasta was not drained and sloshed on the plate.

    Don’t look in the direction of this place. It is a total clip joint. There are so many other ways to satisfy a craving for Italian. Chef Boy-R-di is genius compared to this place.

    Two Big Thumbs Down!

    November 7, 2008 at 9:51 PM
  • Tom D says:

    I think the address here is wrong, it is in Los Ranchos just north of the Smith’s shopping center and Sadie’s and Ezra’s Place not downtown, so probably 6225 4th Street NW

    June 21, 2009 at 2:48 PM
  • MaryAnn says:

    We ate at Luigi’s tonight purely by chance, as the Mario’s nearby was closed for Memorial Day.

    My husband agreed with the review by John as far as acidic pasta sauce went. It’s the first thing he said. He also said it’s not terrible, just not how he prefers it.

    I on the other hand, had pizza that was excellent! It had a great crust, not soggy at all and a good amount of ingredients. I ordered pepperoni, mushroom and black olive and there was quite a bit of each ingredient. It had good balance, the sauce was tasty and I just totally enjoyed it.

    The fried zucchini that we had as an appetizer was great! The zucchini was cut into thin rounds and breaded with homemade breading, or at least it sure tasted homemade. It in no way tasted as if it had been frozen. We ate all of it and wished we had more.

    So a mixed bag on the 31st of May, 2010. (Of course, this is almost 6 years after Gil last reviewed this restaurant and anything can happen in that amount of time!)

    May 31, 2010 at 9:48 PM
  • Larry McGoldrick says:

    The rooms are not elegant. In fact, we were happy to vote for Luigi’s as a candidate for a free restaurant makeover, as prompted by a card on our table (they made it past the first cut). Elegance, however, is not what we look for on our Fourth Street crawls; good food well prepared at reasonable prices is. As we were leaving the place, its tawdry appearance gave pause to a couple who were just entering and stopped Jane to inquire how our meals had been. “Wonderful,” she said, urging them to head inside and indulge in some great Italian food. In essence, Luigi’s calls to mind Nelson Algren’s line about our much-loved former hometown of Chicago: “Like loving a woman with a broken nose, you may well find lovelier lovelies, but never a lovely so real.” We have been searching for this real kind of place ever since we came to New Mexico. We finally found it.

    Luigi’s now has joined the gluten-free rage. GF pastas and pizzas are now available.

    September 30, 2010 at 2:54 PM
  • JohnL says:

    We had the misfortune of trying the seafood buffet at Luigi’s tonight. It was dreadful. The crab legs were so over cooked that the flesh in some was like leather. The mussels, shrimp and clams were tasteless. Their chowder was not as good as what comes out of a can. It was a potato chowder which may have had a clam passed over it. The italian food on the buffet was eually bad. We won’t be back.

    February 8, 2013 at 8:17 PM

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