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Padilla’s Mexican Kitchen – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Padilla's Mexican Kitchen where some of the best New Mexican cuisine in the city can be found.

Padilla’s Mexican Kitchen where some of the best New Mexican cuisine in the city can be found.

“Why, this here sauce is made in New York City!”

“New York City? Git a rope!”

Uttered in a 1980s commercial for Pace picante sauce, those lines expressed the ire of several hungry cowboys who threatened to string up the cook for serving a “foreign” salsa (translation: not made in Texas). That commercial also brings to my mind the annual issue in which Hispanic magazine names its top 50 Hispanic restaurants across America.

The sentiment so eloquently expressed by those ravenous cowpokes is how many New Mexicans feel when Hispanic magazine lists among its top 50, only two or three New Mexico restaurants.  It really rankles us when both Texas and California have four times as many selections on that list. Just as you won’t find too many cowboys who appreciate salsa made in New York City, you won’t find many New Mexicans who will freely admit that California, much less Texas, can have edible Hispanic food.  Hispanic magazine further loses any credibility among New Mexicans if that top 50 list includes restaurants in, heaven help us, Georgia or Mississippi.

Chips and salsa at Padilla's

Chips and salsa at Padilla’s

Hispanic magazine did have a lot of credibility among the Albuquerque dining crowd when, for three consecutive years (2002-2004), it named Padilla’s Mexican Kitchen among its elite fifty. For more than twenty years, Padilla’s has been the anchor tenant of a small shopping strip which appears to be doing a booming business–at least around meal time. If you arrive for lunch only a couple minutes past eleven, you’ll have to park on a side street somewhere because neighboring businesses have a strict prohibition against Padilla’s customers parking in front of their stores.

Arrive ten minutes past eleven and you’ll queue up behind a line of hungry patrons, most of whom were waiting outside the restaurant’s door until it opened promptly on the hour.  It’s the only way employees of neighboring businesses can get back to work within the lunch hour.

Blue corn enchiladas with beef

Blue corn enchiladas with beef

For what it’s worth, most of Padilla’s patrons seem to be locals who know the difference between real New Mexican food and the kind that might be served in New York City.  New Mexicans of several generations have made this restaurant one of the most popular dining establishments in the city. Unfortunately, it’s not one of the largest restaurants in town despite two dining rooms.  If you’re seated in the front dining room, you might feel a little cramped as the line of diners queues up behind you and all eyes are seemingly on the deliciousness on your table.

Padilla’s is sparsely decorated.  Several Southwestern landscapes festoon the walls.  That’s to be expected in New Mexico.  Out of the ordinary, however, are a number of elephant pictures and figurines throughout the restaurant.  It turns out the owner, Mary Padilla likes restaurants (Padilla’s pachyderms?) and knows that elephants facing east with their trunks raised bring good luck. It’s certainly been more than good luck that has made Padilla’s such a success story because it’s certainly not its business hours.  The restaurant is open only Monday through Friday from 11AM to 7:45PM.  Patron loyalty is so strong that you’ll swear the same crowd which queued up before lunch returns to their place in line for dinner, and in some cases, they do.

My friend Mike Muller about to dig into a chicken enchilada platter.

My friend Mike Muller about to dig into a chicken enchilada platter.

The sense of triumph at finally being seated is akin to having won a small jackpot–the longer your wait in line, the more exhilarating your triumph. Once you are seated, a small bowl of salsa and some of the largest toasted tortilla chips you’ll find anywhere are quickly dispatched to your table.  The chips are unfailingly crisp and have a pronounced corn taste. The salsa is like a nearly pureed tomato sauce with flavorful, piquant ingredients.  It doesn’t quite run off your chips, but it’s also not the thickest salsa in town.  At about medium heat, it’s also not among the hottest salsas around, but it’s much better than the aforementioned Pace Picante Sauce.

Padilla’s menu includes a la carte guacamole salad and a guacamole tostada only in season (other restaurants don’t seem to realize that fresh avocado is a seasonal item). Despite the name on the marquee–Padilla’s Mexican Kitchen–the food is definitely New Mexican through and through.  All dinner plates are served with beans, rice and two sopaipillas. The daily special on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday showcases the restaurant’s outstanding carne adovada: carne adovada dinner (Monday), carne adovada burrito (Tuesday) and carne adovada dinner (Wednesday).  The Thursday special is carnitas, papas and quelites (canned spinach at Padillas but known as “lamb’s quarters,” a sort of wild spinach to native New Mexicans), a treat not that many New Mexican restaurants deign to serve.

Padilla's tacos are terrific!

Padilla’s tacos are terrific!

A la carte orders (which you can upgrade to dinners for a pittance more) include a variety of burritos and stuffed sopaipillas.  The stuffed sopaipillas are among the very best in town.  That’s because they start with a base constructed of some of the most wonderful sopaipillas you’ll ever have. The sopaipillas are fabulous!  They’re light and pillowy forming a perfect pocket in which to insert honey or meat and beans.  It’s certainly worth upgrading from a la carte just so you can have two of these honey colored treasures. One of the a la carte items you should order is the restaurant’s tacos, made with crispy tortilla shells stuffed with seasoned ground beef, cheese, lettuce and salsa.  One taco will be gone in six or seven glorious bites so you might be tempted to order two instead.

Padilla’s enchiladas are also quite good and served with chicken, beef or cheese.  You can also have blue corn enchiladas (pictured above) which are even better.  When your server takes your order, you’ll be asked whether or not you want onions on your entree, a courtesy you don’t see elsewhere.

Padilla's sopaipillas are perhaps the very best in town.

Padilla’s sopaipillas are perhaps the very best in town.

Despite my whiny sniping at Hispanic magazine, I admire the gumption it takes to create a list that’s bound to stir up controversy.  The magazine takes special care to recognize restaurants which have carved out a niche in a competitive market in the way outstanding restaurants do–with delicious food and good service that build a loyal clientele.  Padilla’s has certainly done that.

Padilla’s has established itself as an Albuquerque institution, one of the city’s very best New Mexican restaurants.  Credit that to tremendous fan loyalty–not only to the restaurant, but to Mary Padilla and her family, many of whom work in the restaurant. Despite lines snaking out the door just prior to opening time, no one really wants Padilla’s to expand into larger quarters.  Expansion sometimes takes away the charm and personality that makes some restaurants locally beloved and Padilla’s is certainly one very loved restaurant.

Padilla’s Mexican Kitchen
1510 Girard, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 262-0115

LATEST VISIT: 18 April 2007
COST: $$
BEST BET: Blue Corn Enchilada Dinner, Meat & Bean Stuffed Sopaipilla, Sopaipillas with Honey, Salsa

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Padilla's Mexican Kitchen on Urbanspoon

  • Luke says:

    I ate at Padilla’s today for the first time and ordered the taco plate. Given that the place was packed i was highly optimistic about getting a good feed. I have to say though, i was very unimpressed. Everything on the plate (rice, beans and tacos) seriously lacked flavor. The sopaipillas were, however, excellent. I would go back to try out something else (one of the stuffed sopaipillas options perhaps), but certainly not the tacos…

    August 14, 2009 at 2:48 PM
  • EnjoyEP says:

    I agree with Luke’s commentary largely.

    You’d see by my commentary to Gil’s posts that I have quite an affinity for many area Albuquerque Mexican and New Mexican restaurants as I think so many are so very good (it isn’t like mine is the absolute hardest palate to please in the world), however, I always found Padilla’s to be one of the absolute more overrated New Mexican joints in the Duke City.

    Not *bad* by any means, just overrated. To me, I would take a place like Barelas (that I know Gil didn’t like) or yes, even Garcia’s, over Padilla’s.

    At Padilla’s you can get standard, decent NM cuisine (along with great sopapillas) in a fairly neat “dive” atmosphere, but yeah, for the rep / history / packed-business, I certainly expected a better place when it comes to the range of comida.

    August 15, 2009 at 6:32 AM
  • EnjoyEP says:

    Oh…and what is up with Gil’s praise for *hard shell* tacos in a New Mexican restaurant!!? That would have struck me as something way, way too “Old El Paso” for Gil’s tastes!!

    Again, Padilla’s isn’t bad, its just not that great either.

    August 15, 2009 at 6:43 AM
  • lobo59 says:

    As my mother lives just a short distance away, we have been eating at Padilla’s for years and I agree with Gil’s assessment that Padilla’s is one of the best places in ABQ to find good New Mexican food.

    I monotonously order the blue corn enchilada plate, usually with cheese (and onion), but sometimes with meat. I like Padilla’s red sauce as well or better than any I have found in ABQ— it is an excellent fusion of heat and taste, and it is consistent from day to day. The enchilada plate comes with beans and rice, which are both okay. I usually also order a side of red, both to ladle over the enchiladas and the rice and beans.

    My wife routinely orders their meat stuffed sopaipillas with green chile. She claims they are the best stuffed sopapaillas that she has found anywhere, and she love the green chile.

    We both agree that Padilla’s sopapaillas are the best we have found in ABQ. They are always fresh and hot and light and pillowy. Pour in a little honey and you are in sopapailla heaven.

    September 10, 2009 at 10:03 AM
  • Roberta says:

    We have tried Padilla’s three times lately and love it. We don’t go for the atmosphere, it IS just a strip mall joint. But the food is great and worth the drive. It is the only place where I can find a true quacamole tostada–without the beans or meat! It is huge and I have to share it with hubby if I want to get a tamale or relleno too. HE love the rellenos and tamales too. We order a la cart to skip the beans etc to have room for their great sopapillas. YUM

    January 27, 2010 at 12:14 AM
  • Jim Millington says:

    After so many years we finally let a friend talk us into taking her to Padilla’s last night. I must say that I would have loved it 15-20 years ago. Now I find it better than most New Mexican restaurants (well above Mary and Titos)-it just isn’t mom’s home cooking. I must admit however that mom’s home cooking is the type of thing I would not put in my mouth today. Depression era Kansas farm cooking was more than just lacking in taste, texture and general appeal.

    I had the Blue corn cheese enchiladas and really liked them. The side of guacamole was too bland to rate above bad-I make much better. The child bride had the combination plate and was unexcited by it but that isn’t unusual for a person who’s motto is “Food is food.” Since she never eats much we had most of her’s for brunch today and I really liked the tamale. I have no idea what we would eat Saturdays were it not for her leftovers but she will never be fat.

    We lose the vote on how great the sopaipillas are by a margin of 3,000,000 to 2 and I accept being called an idiot. I can’t go for anything dripping oil like that.

    March 5, 2011 at 12:46 PM
  • Michael says:

    I manage to stay out of Padillas except for once or twice a year when I have to go along with the crowd. The enchiladas are above average but the beans and rice need work, and this from a place thats been at it for years. I’m a beanologist so I know that beans arent just beans, but it’s not really hard to make good beans. The tacos are chain restaurant quality, they use shells instead of frying tortillas. Maybe they should consider using onions, garlic and tomatoes in some of their dishes. The salsa is non descript and the sopaipillas about average. So If you like it bland then Padillas is the place.

    April 3, 2011 at 6:27 PM
  • Gregoir says:

    I stopped off the interstate at the local Kmart and asked someone in the parking lot where I could get real authentic good New Mexican food. I was directed to Padilla’s. The sopaipillas were outstanding. I found the table salsa to be bland and prepared with the advantage of quantity versus quality. The entree arrived as one abstract saucy mess, reminiscent of the time I mistakenly tipped a covered dish in transit to a picnic. I found the food to be bland, lacking in salt, cumin, roasted flavor, depth, heat and certainly presentation. I have decided on my return trip to go to a recommended restaurant I saw on Man Versus Food. They have a stuffed burrito style sopaipilla that when covered in green and red chile, beckons my appetite. I shall keep you posted….

    July 18, 2011 at 11:39 AM
  • KH Lee Jr says:

    Just discovered NM Gastronome blog-Going too love it!
    Padilla’s blue corn cheese enchilada w/egg is what God feeds his Mexican Angels.
    The sopapillas are the best.

    December 28, 2013 at 4:00 PM

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