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Papa Nacho’s – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Papa Nacho's Mexican Food Restaurant

Papa Nacho’s Mexican Food Restaurant

No one who cooks, cooks alone. Even at her most solitary,
a cook in the kitchen is surrounded by generations of cooks past,
the advice and menus of cooks present, the wisdom of cookbook writers.”
~Laurie Colwin, Novelist

The notion of cooking alone is unthinkable to Ignacio and Brigette “BeBe” Lopez, proprietors of Papa Nacho’s. Since they launched their popular Mexican restaurant in 1995, the restaurant has embodied the aphorism “the family that cooks together, stays together.” Papa Nacho’s is and always has been a family affair, with daughters Gloria and Marcial practically having grown up in the kitchen. Now as their still spry and youthful parents are in their 60s and beginning to contemplate retirement, Gloria and Marcial are poised to someday assume the helm. As Gloria puts it, “it wouldn’t be a family restaurant if it wasn’t about family.”

More than most restaurants in Albuquerque which promote themselves as being “family owned and operated,” Papa Nacho’s lives it. Some of Gloria’s most cherished times are when she and her dad come in at four in the morning to begin the extensive preparatory work it takes to serve their patrons. At Papa Nachos, there are no short-cuts. Vegetables are hand-cut and all sauces are meticulously prepared. Pinto beans are simmered slowly for six hours. It’s time-consuming and it’s arduous, but it’s also a labor of love. You can taste it in the cooking.

The delightful and radiant Gloria Lopez, one of the most personable restaurateurs in Albuquerque

The delightful and radiant Gloria Lopez, one of the most personable restaurateurs in Albuquerque

Serving wonderful food and having friendly service isn’t always enough, however. Restaurateurs will tell you that the three critical elements to success are location, location and location. The dining public must be able to see you and be willing to get off the well-beaten path to where you are. Papa Nachos is situated in a timeworn strip mall on Louisiana between Paseo Del Norte and San Antonio. It is not clustered among other restaurants or near any other popular draw to the area, yet it has become a destination restaurant–one its guests specifically have in mind when they turn onto Louisiana. That speaks volumes about how wonderful the food and service are.  It may also prove that great food trumps a not-so-good location.

Ironically, in 2008, Papa Nachos was almost responsible for forever changing the fabric of the neighborhood when the Food Network came calling. Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, the popular series which showcases local mom-and-pop gems wanted to feature Papa Nachos in one of its segments. Because BeBe had just been diagnosed with breast cancer and the family’s focus was understandably on her health and recovery, the family declined to be featured. It’s unlikely the resultant fame and notoriety of being showcased to millions of Americans would have changed the down-to-earth, hominess of Papa Nachos.

Papa Nachos' Papa Nachos

Papa Nachos’ Papa Nachos

Not surprisingly, Papa Nachos had a storybook beginning steeped in humility. The inspiration for the restaurant were the homemade burritos Ignacio would prepare for Bebe’s lunch–burritos so good that co-workers continually absconded with them. Undaunted, Bebe told them she’d make burritos for them if they paid for the ingredients. One thing led to another and before long she and Ignacio were selling burritos from an ice chest. Eventually they launched Papa Nachos on Fourth Street in 1995 and moved to its present location in 1998.

Determining what the restaurant should be called was a family decision. For some reason, it seems every Hispanic person christened Ignacio is nicknamed “Nacho” just as every Francisco or Frank becomes “Pancho.” In that Ignacio was the family patriarch, Papa Nachos just made sense. Papa Nacho’s menu has its roots in Mexico (particularly the coastal state of Sinaloa), but is also heavily influenced by the culinary traditions and flavors of California and of course, New Mexico.

Carne Asada Tacos with beans, rice, guacamole and pico de gallo

Carne Asada Tacos with beans, rice, guacamole and pico de gallo

At Papa Nachos, culinary traditions and flavors means cumin ameliorates the sauces and even the chicken is braised with it. Sensing that cumin is more an aversion than an allergy for us, the ever astute Gloria explained that cumin is used at the restaurant to build a flavor profile; cumin isn’t the flavor profile as it is at too many New Mexican and Mexican restaurants. She then brought us a tray loaded with nearly a dozen samples of every sauce and meat in which cumin is part and parcel. Though the cumin is discernible, its influence is very much in the background, lending support and not at all impinging on the flavor profile of any of the chiles used.  It’s  impossible to dislike any of Papa Nachos sauces.

16 April 2013: It goes without saying that a restaurant named Papa Nachos would have an entree named Papa Nachos.   That’s Papa Nachos’ Papa Nachos.  How could that not bring a smile to your face?  Available in half and full-sized portions (both prodigious), these nachos are meant to be shared.  They’re absolutely terrific: homemade tortilla chips, beans, green-chile ground beef, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, jalapeños, sour cream, and guacamole in perfect proportion to each other.  The crisp chips are formidable enough to scoop up sizable amounts of every other ingredient and don’t go limp neath the moistness of the ground beef and melted cheese.  Not even the chips at the bottom are soggy.

Picadillo

Picadillo

While the great state of New Mexico has two official state vegetables, only one of them (chile) seems to inspire respect bordering on reverence.  The other, the magnificent pinto bean, is more often the subject of sophomoric humor.  Perhaps if the deriding diners were introduced to better prepared pinto beans, they would give them the respect due these high protein gems.  If those scatological skeptics were introduced to pinto beans at Papa Nachos, they’d quickly become addicted.  These are not soupy, just off the stove pintos nor are they the often dreaded and desiccated refried beans. At Papa Nachos, a plate of beans simmers every day and when an order is placed that includes beans, a portion of those beans is refried in vegetable oil and chiles.  The result is beans as good (if not better) than what your abuelita served. 

New Mexican comfort food, especially during frosty fall and winter days, always seems to include a hearty and hot green chile stew.  Papa Nacho has an interesting take on green chile stew. It’s called Picadillo and it’s similar in composition and taste to what surely has to be New Mexico’s official state stew.  Think diced lean steak, cubed potatoes, bell peppers, onions, cilantro and green chile and you have the makings of a great green chile stew.  The big difference here is that the entire concoction is served in a plate and not on a bowl. No matter how it’s served, it would be a peccadillo not to share the Picadillo with someone you love.  It is as filling and comforting as any green chile stew you’ll find in the Duke City. 

Tostadas de ceviche

Tostadas de ceviche

Papa Nacho’s menu brags about “more burritos than you can shake your maracas at,” but since there are only seven burritos on the menu, the slogan must have more to do with the size of these behemoths. Each burrito weighs in easily at close to one pound. The flour tortilla is hard-pressed to hold in all those ingredients though if it falls apart, eating them with a fork or spoon would be just fine. The Machaca Burrito is one such treasure. Papa Nacho’s version of Machaca is fresh, spicy shredded beef sautéed with cilantro, bell peppers, jalapenos, onions, tomatoes and the restaurant’s own special blend of spices. The beef is enrobed in a fresh, warm tortilla along with beans and cheese.

Frequent diners can tell you exactly what specials will be available on any day of the week in which Papa Nachos is open.  When the weather is cold, the Friday special means albondigas, a traditional Mexican soup featuring spicy meatballs offset by the fresh flavors of vegetables and herbs.  Bruce, a long-time friend of this blog, named Papa Nachos albondigas as one of the best dishes in the Duke City, a dish he looks forward to every winter. 

Albondigas, a Friday special during fall and winter months

Albondigas, a Friday special during fall and winter months

25 October 2013:  For some reason, albondigas (along with biblioteca) is one of those rare Spanish words that seems to imprint itself upon the minds of non-Spanish speakers who once took a course in Spanish.  Some, like my Chicago born-and-bred Kim (who still can’t speak Spanish after 18 years in New Mexico) actually know what albondigas are because they’ve had them.  Albondigas are a real treat, so good you might wish for inclement weather year-round.  At Papa Nachos, a large bowl brimming with meatballs and vegetables arrives at your table steaming hot.  The vegetables–carrots, zucchini, celery, green beans, potatoes–are perfectly prepared.  The meatballs are seasoned nicely and they’re plentiful.  The broth has comfort food properties.

When the weather warms up, the albondigas are replaced as the Friday special by tostadas de ceviche in which diced shrimp marinated in citrus juices are placed atop a crisp tostada along with cilantro, tomato and cucumber. It is as delicious as its component ingredients are beautiful together. Papa Nacho’s version isn’t quite as “citrusy” as at other Mexican restaurants, but that just allows the shrimp’s natural briny taste to shine.

Machaca burrito

Machaca burrito

16 April 2013: There have been times in my past in which my near addiction to quesadillas nearly warranted a twelve-step recovery program.  Today when those urges strike, it’s far more rewarding to succumb to them.  The shrimp quesadilla at Papa Nachos is so good, recidivism is a certainty.  They’ve dominated my waking thoughts since having consumed them.  A large tortilla speckled the color of a pinto pony is engorged with shrimp, melted white cheese, onions and cilantro. The shrimp is fresh and delicious.  Introduce just a bit of salsa and the element of piquancy enhances the flavor profile of an addictive quesadilla. 

11 April 2015: It’s been long speculated that the fish Jesus multiplied and fed to the masses at the Sermon on the Mount was tilapia which is native to the Sea of Galilee.  Tilapia is the type of fish most people like even if they don’t ordinarily like fish.  Cynics will tell you it doesn’t even taste like fish, an acknowledgment of its lack of “fishiness.”  Tilapia is indeed a mild-flavored fish that seems to go well with almost everything.  Papa Nacho’s serves a tilapia quesadilla that may be the second best quesadilla in Albuquerque (the best being the aforementioned shrimp quesadilla).  If you’re crazy for quesadillas, you’ll love this one.

Shrimp Quesadilla (served after 3PM)

Shrimp Quesadilla (served after 3PM)

16 April 2013: If the shrimp quesadillas can be considered “surf” indulge yourself with a “turf” entree, a carne asada taco plate as good as you’ll find in Albuquerque.  The beauty of these tacos is simplicity.  Your choice of flour or corn tortillas are absolutely engorged with carne asada cut into small pieces and topped with white onions and cilantro.  That’s it.  Nothing else!  Papa Nachos’ tacos are the antithesis of those “salad” tacos in which annoying hard-shelled tacos are stuffed with lettuce and just a bit of mystery meat.  The platter includes only two tacos, but they’re stuffed with more carne than you’ll find in a half dozen tacos at those pseudo Mexican chains.  Beans, those glorious and delicious beans, and rice accompany the tacos.

11 April 2015: When asked where to find the best fajitas in Albuquerque, I’ve always been loathe to respond.  Fajitas is one of those dishes I long ago gave up on, never having found fajitas which truly blew me away.  My Kim, however, has more perseverance and continues her quest to find the very best fajitas in the city.  At Papa Nacho’s, we may have just found them.  At far too many New Mexican restaurants, fajitas are preceded by a fragrant vapor trail and an audible sizzle.  There was no precursory fanfare at Papa Nacho’s, just a simple plate of grilled steak, onions, sour cream, guacamole, rice, beans and flour tortillas delivered to our table.  After one bite, we were smitten.  A very unique fajita marinate impregnates the beef with sweet, tangy and piquant notes reminiscent of a teriyaki-Hoisin sauce perhaps tinged with chipotle.  Gloria wouldn’t divulge the secret formula for the sauce, apprising us only that her mom came up with the recipe after much trial and effort.  Alas, fajitas aren’t on the daily menu.  It’s a special of the day that is truly special–maybe the best fajitas in the Duke City.

Perhaps the very best Fajitas in Albuquerque

Homemade chips and a fiery roasted tomato chile are the perfect antecedent to any meal at Papa Nacho’s.  The salsa has bite and is easily the equivalent of Sadie’s salsa in terms of its piquant kick.

After each visit, I kick myself for not visiting Papa Nachos more frequently.  It’s a wonderful family restaurant  owned and operated by a wonderful family.  For them it’s not enough that no one leaves Papa Nachos hungry; their goal is that all guests leave happy.

Papa Nachos
7648 Louisiana, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 821-4900
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 11 April 2015
# OF VISITS: 8
RATING: 23
COST: $$
BEST BET: Salsa and Chips, Machaca Burrito, Tostados de Ceviche, Picadillo, Papa Nachos, Shrimp Quesadilla, Tilapia Quesadilla, Carne Asada Tacos, Albondigas, Fajitas

Papa Nacho's on Urbanspoon

Category: Albuquerque, Mexican
  • Roberta says:

    We tried this for lunch and were disappointed. The rice and beans were very blah. The beans were grey with a strange taste. The tamales were good. The green chile was almost tasteless. The enchilidas were just okay. Also we only got one tortilla with our two entrees, and it was overly microwaved and tough.
    No sopapillas–I guess this is the difference between Mexican and New Mexican.
    We will not be back.

    February 12, 2010 at 2:02 PM
  • Kimberly says:

    Before visiting a new restaurant, I like to do some homework on the establishment first. I’m glad I opted not to pay too much attention to “Roberta’s” review. My mom passed away four years ago, and I have to say, one bite of the beans sent me right back into my mama’s kitchen -THEY WERE SUPERB! I’ve frequented a number of restaurants and can tell the real deal from the canned, and those were definitely fresh! I ordered the green chile shrimp enchiladas, which were incredible! The staff were very friendly and welcoming. I will DEFINITELY be back, and am getting the word out on this hidden little gem of a place to everyone within earshot! Cudos to the chefs!

    October 26, 2010 at 4:18 PM
  • Bob of the Village of Los Ranchos says:

    Was going to tell a tourist where to go, ah for some local fare. He said his son was raving to go to Papa Nachos on Louisiana near Paseo. Because I (blush) never heard of it (must be slumped asleep against a saguaro) nor saw it of late herein, I figured it to be one of the newest ventures sprouting north of Paseo. Alas, it’s south in a well worn strip of small shoppes, but EEK….mid-week t’were 20 cars in front!!!

    Unabashedly, I admit liking Disneyland per being ”taken away” for a moment or two from every day hum-drum. As such, the faux settings of such places here like Carlsbad Caverns provide the same along with Garduno’s for at least a Margarita!! Eh, throw in some Mariachi and what’s better? Papa’s is a simplest of versions of G’s per at least having “Southwestern” slump block, as faux adobes (albeit repainted) for a wall. In addition however, are several Hispanic painters adorning the walls and for me the sign the owner has great taste is having a ‘numbered’ print by a Chicano named Simon Silva http://tinyurl.com/7u4wbk2 (today) 2nd line, 3rd from left Mom, Dad, 2 kids and a baby. My Fav, albeit not at Papa’s, is “Las Comadres”, first line, 3rd from left (two ladies whispering in a field of ‘sunflowers’) that I’d label….Mitote (aka Gossip…like herein!). NM connection? Read Bio re how our NM Rudy made an imprint on Simon http://www.simonsilva.com/simon_silva-bio.pdf
    Bottom line: deserves visiting for tasty, traditional, local food served by welcoming staff having obviously satisfied ABQians by existing for 14 years!!! in our ‘overloaded’ market for Pedro’s sake!

    April 1, 2012 at 12:01 PM
    • Daniel says:

      This comment is probably the worst thing I’ve ever read and gave zero information. I have never seen someone try to out do the original author as hard as this. Stick to eating and tone down on your attempt at wit.

      April 7, 2014 at 9:19 AM
  • Chelsea says:

    This looks great! I’m always looking for new spots for good New Mexican food. Thanks!

    April 18, 2013 at 12:37 PM
  • Bruce says:

    I was just thinking the other day that it must be time for Albondigas at Papa Nacho’s!

    October 28, 2013 at 4:49 PM
  • Steve says:

    My wife and I love the place. Small clean place that neighbors know about. The fish tacos are the best in New Mexico – I am a sixty+ native and I know they are great. Friendly people and good service. Not an upscale phoney and plastic place but a place for a conversation and good food. I have gotten tired of the same ol mexican food that you get at every other Albuquerque place – this is where to get food that grandma used to make.

    December 14, 2013 at 4:04 PM
  • Di says:

    Okay…this is a few blocks from my house. Why have I never ventured there before? Maybe the hours, but I will try to make there soon one of these nights when I get home early…looks yummy!!

    January 9, 2014 at 4:34 PM
  • Bruce Schor says:

    First let me say right upfront I am not Daniel, NOT Daniel, nor is he paid by me in any form. I may sometimes commiserate but I have long ago given up and just read Bobo’s comments, scratch my head and move on.
    I would suggest Daniel read, then re-read, and read once more BOTVOLR’s comments before passing judgement. If unable, after three tries, to figure out most of the comment just move on.
    One must learn to eliminate the “albeits”, “los”, “blushes”,”pers”, “LOLs”, “ehs”, “EEKS”, etc and then hope to find out whether Bobo likes, dislikes or is straddling the fence.
    Like a Broadway review one just reads the first line and the last line to get the gist of the reviewer’s ramblings.
    And no, Bobo doesn’t get paid by the word to comment.

    April 7, 2014 at 10:22 AM
  • Sr Plata says:

    I think sometimes there are nuggests of truth and information deemed from all who make comments in this blog of NM famed restaurants in this Land of Enchantment. Some give simple comments and others are more complicated and usually there is a reason for it. I would say to Daniel to ask Bob what he specifically thinks of that one individual place; I would hope if Bob has tried it, you would know but I also believe you will find out more than you asked for. This reminds me when people dump on Gil without asking the right question but saying a comment that is either makes no sense, too juvenile or verbiage that doesn’t belong in public. Bob has a lot of history of eating and its amazing what those http::/tinyurls/com/xxxxxx just might lead to.

    April 7, 2014 at 1:48 PM
  • BOTVOLR says:

    Yo Daniel…always good to see a new perspective on board to read their takes on what’s ‘out there’ or herein.
    ~ Sorry my blatherings per ROATMD (Running Off At The Mouth Disorder)don’t fit for you. One reason I enjoy Gil’s Blog is the ‘extras’ he shares beyond, for example, a restaurant itself or a cup of soup and my extrapolation or expansion of other things is perhaps an attempt of pay-back that hopefully might be something-or-other to those who chose to labor through them…LOL
    Say hey, despite my appreciating what Sr. Plata and El Brute had to note, no offense taken to ‘pass’ over my postings as typically many do tend to run-on!

    April 7, 2014 at 3:09 PM
  • Kathy Kyger says:

    Papa Nachos has the best shredded enchiladas in ABQ. Gloria and her family are incredible people who really know how to cook. Having moved from ABQ, there is not a day that I don’t think of Gloria, and her family, and the enchiladas.

    I will have no trouble driving from Houston to Papa Nachos the first chance I get.

    April 18, 2015 at 10:15 PM
  • C. Ashley says:

    Chile is a fruit. Not a vegetable.

    April 23, 2015 at 12:59 AM
  • Schuyler says:

    Tell that to the New Mexico State Legislature. Although they can’t make the time to pass the capital outlay projects budget for 2015, they did make time a few years ago for a more important decision–declaring chile and frijoles the “official state vegetables” of New Mexico. Check it out at the Secretary of State’s site: http://www.sos.state.nm.us/Kids_Corner/State_Symbols.aspx#vegetable

    April 23, 2015 at 4:41 PM
  • Gil Garduno says:

    Thanks, Sky…

    Do you know the difference between knowledge and wisdom?

    Knowledge is knowing chile is a fruit. Wisdom is not using chile on a fruit salad.

    So, sagacity has apparently escaped me. I make a mean fruit salad and green chile is one of the primo ingredients. It’s pretty terrific!

    Gil

    May 2, 2015 at 9:51 AM
  • Schuyler says:

    Glad to hear your green chile fruit salad is the bomb. After all your failed efforts at incorporating green chile into other foods (who can ever forget your green chile jello or your green chile Captain Crunch), you finally got it right.

    BTW, is Papa Nacho’s Gloria THE Gloria of Bob of the Village People fame?

    May 5, 2015 at 8:08 AM
    • Gil Garduno says:

      Did I ever thank you, Sky, for so willingly being my taste testing guinea pig whenever I concocted something weird and different? Neither my Kim nor my pups have your gumption.

      Bob should be so lucky.

      May 5, 2015 at 10:55 AM
  • BOTVOLR says:

    Whether I be La Gloria of Nacho’s or Los Ranchos, Sky…and if you still be in Texas…tentatively plan to motor your Vett over into NM in July for a FOG being considered at Luna Mansion, i.e. to also dine/table chat with BOTVOLR! Your visit will also give you a chance to visit Papa Nacho’s where you will see some of the art of http://tinyurl.com/7u4wbk2
    Also check this out http://tinyurl.com/nmojtaf. Pardon as I didn’t have time to caption it, but I say: “I don’t always drink beer my Friend, but when I do, it is always on Cinco de Mayo when I especially…uh…do it…Salud!…. with my two Exees!!!”

    May 5, 2015 at 3:10 PM

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