Philly’s N Fries – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Philly’s N Fries, formerly Itsa Italian Ice

But it’s a dry heat.”  You’ve probably seen that slogan emblazoned on tee-shirts depicting a sun bleached skeletal figure lying prostrate mere feet from a thirst-slaking, life-giving oasis.  You’ve gratefully expressed that sentiment every time Channel 13’s manic meteorologist Mark Ronchetti predicts yet another day of 90 degree plus weather as you rationalize that you could be in one of the South’s sweltering, sauna-like cities with temperatures comparable to our Duke City, but with 80 percent humidity.  You may even have muttered that phrase while scalding your feet as you scurry to a swimming pool the temperature of bath water.

For years, Albuquerque spelled relief from the oppressive heat “I-T-S-A” as in Itsa Italian Ice, a veritable oasis of cool refreshment on scalding New Mexico summer days.  Itsa was situated in a Lilliputian locale at Lomas and Washington, offering drive-up service for cavalcades of parched motorists.  The specialty at Itsa was a veritable phalanx of Italian ices, a flavor or more for each color on the ultraviolet spectrum.

Cantaloupe and Watermelon Italian Ice

Cantaloupe and Watermelon Italian Ice

Unlike snow cones and other ice desserts, all ingredients–typically water, sugar and flavoring–used in making Italian Ice are blended together prior to being frozen.  Italian ice is baby-butt smooth and soft while snow cones have a granular, crunchy texture and the flavoring is added afterwards.  Most Italian ice is made with sugar, not corn syrup and has neither fat nor milk products.  It is far more refreshing than ice cream, gelato, snow cones or shaved ice.  It is the paragon of frozen pleasure.

Much to the dismay of Duke City heat-stroke candidates, Itsa Italian Ice shuttered its doors in 1996, a year after we moved back to Albuquerque.  Though you could still find Itsa products on the frozen food aisles at some grocery stores, it just wasn’t the same experience as rolling down your window to place your order and experience glorious heat relief and blissful, flavorful, sweet satisfaction seconds later.

Nostalgia Abounds at Itsa Italian Ice

In 2006, Steve and Cathy Garcia purchased Itsa and procured a refrigerated trailer they could ferry to outdoor events throughout the dessert-dry Duke City.  Three years later they actualized their vision for their Italian ice business by launching Itsa Italian Ice on the corner of Second and Phoenix, N.W., two blocks north of Menaul.  The facility isn’t set up for drive-up service, but you’ll want to take a seat and linger for a while at the 50s themed full-service restaurant where now you can get not only your favorite Italian Ice, but hamburgers, hot dogs, corn dogs, a Philly cheese steak, hand-cut French fries, Frito pies, Frontier cinnamon rolls and more. 

In February, 2015, Itsa Italian Ice was renamed Philly’s N Fries.  It’s not everyday a highly regarded and successful business tampers with an established brand identity, but the move was deemed necessary because (surprisingly) not everyone associated the name Itsa Italian Ice with food.  Then, of course, not everyone reads Food & Wine Magazine which, in October, 2010, featured Itsa in its Trendspotting segment.  No, they’re more apt to read Albuquerque the Magazine which spotlighted Itsa’s “better than Philadelphia Philly” in a feature entitled “The Ex-Pat’s Guide to Eating in Abq.”  The rename has proven very successful.

Double meat green chile cheeseburger with French fries

Double meat green chile cheeseburger with French fries

The panoply of Italian ice flavors includes lemon, watermelon, cantaloupe, lime, grape, black raspberry, tangerine, cherry, banana, blue moon (cotton candy) and chocolate.  The only flavor which  didn’t initially survive the decade plus was Root Beer, my very favorite flavor.  Fortunately, it was added to the menu in June, 2010.  It’s as wonderful as ever with a pronounced adult root beer flavor–strong and peppery.   Unlike some Italian Ices, these actually taste like the fruits (and chocolate) for which they are named. They are still as refreshing as a dip in a cold mountain lake.

Philly’s N Fries provides diners with a nostalgic trip back to a carefree, more innocent time before the infestation of chain restaurants.  Even if you’re not old enough to remember it, you’ll appreciate the sundry bric-a-brac from the Fabulous Fifties.  The Fifties theme starts with the black and white checkerboard tile of the era which blends thematically with the red and white kitchen-style chairs, brushed chrome tables, refurbished Conoco gasoline pump and on the northwest corner of the restaurant atop a vintage Pepsi machine, a bulky, boxy period era television set.

Green Chile Philly & Fries

Although prices are hardly reminiscent of the 1950s (or 1996 for that matter), there are good meal deals on the menu.  Hamburger and hot dog combo meals (French fries and a soft drink with unlimited free refills) are a good bet for cost conscious consumers.  A regular ice goes for $2.50 while a large will put a slight dent in your wallet for two dollars more.  Still, this is Itsa Italian Ice we’re talking about and it’s worth it!

Philly’s N Fries doesn’t offer table-side service.  Cathy and her perpetual smile are  ready to take your order at a counter and she’ll deliver it to your table when it’s ready unless long lines prevent her from leaving her post (in which case, you’ll be called up to pick it up).  If there’s one thing reminiscent of the 50s (from what I’ve heard), it’s the service–friendly, accommodating and pleasant.  The service is enough to bring me back.  Steve and Cathy are among the most friendly restaurateurs in the Duke City.

Philly Cheesesteak at Itsa Italian Ice

Another View of the Fabulous Philly Cheesesteak (Photo courtesy of Sean O’Donnell)

2 May 2009: Philly’s N Fries may be just as adept at satisfying the pangs of hunger as it is refreshing your thirst and you won’t go away hungry.  That’s especially true if you order the double-meat green chile cheeseburger, a behemoth on sesame seed buns.  Prepared at just a shade beyond medium, the beef patties are thick and juicy.  American cheese, lettuce, tomato and of course, green chile adorn the burger.  This green chile cheeseburger is one of my Kim’s favorites, a burger for which she actually eschews the green chile Philly. The green chile lacks the piquancy New Mexicans love on their favorite burger, but it’s got a nice flavor and the restaurant doesn’t scrimp on it.  

The French fries are crisp inside and out, almost as if they’re fried twice in very hot oil.  These fries are fresh and hand-cut on the premises.  In a city in which most restaurants serve frozen French fries out of the bag, these fresh not-quite-shoestring thin fries are a welcome change.  You’ve got to order a combo meal (sandwich, fries and a drink) because a Philly without fries is like a day without sunshine.

Green Chile Chicken Philly with Fries

2 May 2009: Being a 50s themed restaurant, it’s only fitting that Philly’s N Fries offer a hot dog that was actually around in the 1950s.  Nathan’s Famous were first seen on the Coney Island boardwalk in 1916.  Not only have they stood the test of time, they’ve expanded nationwide and are available in grocery stores and food courts everywhere.  Despite being ubiquitous, Nathan’s hot dogs are a take it or leave it proposition with as many aficionados as there are detractors.  At Philly’s N Fries these fat all-beef dogs are griddled to a crispy exterior.  They’re browned outside but retain their juiciness inside.

During our inaugural visit, we overheard the owner tell a customer that Philadelphia natives who ordered Philly’s N Fries Philly Cheesesteak compared it to the one offered at Pat’s King of Steaks, arguably the City of Brotherly Love’s best cheesesteak.  I dismissed that as pride of ownership until Sean O’Donnell (the very entertaining former KOB FM radio personality), a Pennsylvania native told me he was “ecstatic” about finally finding “a place in town with a decent Philly Cheesesteak,” “a big deal for a PA transplant.” Considering Sean has steered me toward other great dining destinations, I place a lot of stock in his recommendation.

Nathan's Hot Dog

Nathan’s Hot Dog

9 May 2009: It’s a well-founded recommendation.  the Philly Cheesesteak is terrific!  Sweet white onions are grilled to perfection, not caramelized, but on that fine line between being crispy and soft.  Green peppers are grilled to a slightly crunchy consistency.  Two slices of white American cheese are arranged on each sandwich and it’s a wonderfully creamy and nice melting cheese.  The meat is chopped thin on the grill (a melodic percussion) and is seasoned well; you won’t find any fat or sinew anywhere.  The bread is a soft receptacle for the contents and is quite good.  This isn’t a huge sandwich except in terms of flavor.

17 December 2015: The only Philadelphia cheesesteak better in Albuquerque is the restaurant’s Green Chile Philly, a Philadelphia cheesesteak with New Mexican green chile.  Green chile makes everything taste better, especially when the chile has a piquant bite.  My friend “Señor Plata,” an aficionado of the Philadelphia cheesesteak ranks this sandwich even higher than his previous favorite at Petito’s Pizzeria in Rio Rancho.  The biggest difference, in his estimation, is the steak itself which isn’t shaved sliver-thin as at Petito’s.  It’s also not quite as lean which generally means just a bit of fat for flavor.  A Los Angeles native, Señor Plata has had the very best cheesesteak sandwiches America’s second largest city has to offer and he rates Philly’s N Fries higher.

Cantaloupe Italian Ice

17 December 2015: Not that very long ago, a chicken Philly would have been considered sacrilege, especially in the City of Brotherly Love where the Philly cheesesteak originated.  Today, chicken Phillys are ubiquitous throughout Philadelphia.  It stands to reason that persnickety, variety-oriented diners would want a non-red meat option and chicken, after all, is the other white meat.  As with the more conventional steak-laden Philly, the chicken is finely chopped (it’s a wonder Steve doesn’t have carpal tunnel syndrome) and is available with green peppers and sweet white onions.  Risking the guilt of betrayal for not having our beloved cheesesteak, my  friend Bill Resnik and I were inaugurated into the chicken Philly option in December, 2015.  The date is significant because it’s the day we found a viable alternative to the sacrosanct cheesesteak.

Dessert offerings include the aforementioned Italian ice as well as an old favorite, the Nutty Buddy.  Philly’s N Fries also carries the fabled Frontier rolls, those hot, buttery, gooey rolls of pure deliciousness with a cinnamon sugar glaze.  They pack a day’s worth of tooth-decaying, waist-expanding calories, the kind you love to consume.  Among the very best cinnamon rolls in the Land of Enchantment, they’re worth the extra time at the gym.

Italian Ice–it’s a refreshing, fat free, non dairy dessert that’s an Albuquerque tradition now energizing and winning over yet another generation of thirsty, overheated residents. The green chile Philly cheesesteaks are the very best in Albuquerque (certified by experts like Sr. Plata) and the service is warm and hospitable.

Philly’s N More
215 Phoenix Avenue, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 02 November 2016
1ST VISIT: 1 May 2009
# OF VISITS: 21
RATING: 23
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Double meat green chile cheeseburger, French fries, Italian Ice, Hot Dog, Philly Cheesesteak Sandwich, Green Chilly Philly Cheesesteak Sandwich, Frontier Roll, Green Chile Chicken Philly

Itsa Italian Ice Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

27 comments

  • BOTVOLR

    Alas, don’t mean to be a bummer and while nothing is imminent, the Folks are looking into selling the building and food part of the business while retaining the Itsa Italian Ice rights.
    – Bottom line, if you’ve enjoyed their e.g. Philly Cheesesteak (w/wo green),……..

    • Jen

      Yeah, I saw the “For Sale” sign and wondered what was going on..

      • A couple of months ago Steve and I commiserated about how much time and energy it takes to operate and grow a restaurant. We both expressed admiration for Joe Rodriguez at California Pastrami
        who continues to expand his outstanding sandwich shop.
        While Steve and Kathy believe Philliy’s N’ Fries has a similar growth potential, they do not feel they have the time or energy to pursue that growth. Though both still vibrant and energetic, they would like to begin transitioning to a slower pace of life where they can spend more quality time together and with their grandchild.
        In the time they’ve owned their phenomenal restaurant, they’ve seen a significant growth in business despite reducing their hours of operation. There is no doubt Duke City diners have embraced them and their restaurant.
        Philly’s N’ Fries has an established brand and outstanding reputation. I believe it provides an excellent opportunity for an energetic entrepreneur who wants to grow a proven business.

  • Foodie Star

    I’m off to “Philly’s N Fries” (sic) today for the umpteenth time and going to have another Green Chile Philly – sans bell peppers. Like Sr. Plata, I wish they had a larger size and usually I am still a little hungry after I eat one of their Cheese Steak sandwiches. But then again, I could stand to lose more than a few pounds.

    I am always treated as an honored guest by Steve and Cathy – that combined with great food makes Phillys N Fries a big winner in my book. I hope their new name brings in new business for them.

  • Jane

    Gil, I’m glad to read your review. I had noticed the name change when I drive by, but never see any cars there (and the sign had many missing letters), so wasn’t sure if it is open or not. I will stop and give them another chance – based on your high recommendation. Itsa was my first job, back in the 70’s, on Lomas – so I always had special memories of that place – I’d like to try the cheese steak!

  • BOTVOLR

    “Philly’s n Fries”
    itsa what Itsa is officially now to known as seen on the street sign at the corner of 2nd NW. Same cordial couple offering the same menu, but they were getting feedback that many Folks didn’t understand they also offered food.

    Elsewise, it occured to me while simply smelling my PhillyCheeseSteak with Green while driving it home, that I’ll bet if ya ever find yourself in a grumpy or out of sorts mood, I’m thinking it’s your body’s way of telling ya, ya need one of these especial PCSs with Green.

  • No more nutty buddy :-(

    Hadn’t been to Itsa in a while, so I figured I NEEDED to get back. SO GLAD I did! Green chile Philly is still awesome! Fries are still some of my favorite in ABQ. Only negative? They no longer have the nutty buddy :-(. Still a must go to for GREAT food!

  • Bruce Schor

    BOTVOLR,
    Can’t get clam chowder?
    Can’t be serious!
    Blades has as good a New England clam chowder as you can get in your beloved Bahston..
    I didn’t get most of your post but “can’t find it here”?????
    Especially you, the wandering foodie….
    I’m just saying…….
    And Sunday is football day, not Wahlberg flick day.

  • Bob of The Village of Los Ranchos

    Yo…during this spell of ‘raw weather’ as some might say ‘back east’, what could be better than some clam chowder? Ok, ya can’t get it here, so how about a Philly CheeseSteak (PCS) to snuggle under a blankie while watching some Walberg flick?
    Whoa!!! The Dog House is overflowing with Touristas for Breakin Bad so I boogied here and added some Green Chile to my PCS to YumYum for the rest of the eve….and you might do the same!!!

  • Sr Plata

    Sensei, Beeel, and I made it to Itsa for a nice Friday Lunch. As always, very tasty food and hadn’t had a Philly in a while. I had the opportunity to tell the owner that we needed to have his restaurant (or a 2nd) in Rio Rancho kitty corner to Intel where Sevyn’s used to be. I hinted there were @1000’s of hungry people there who needed some good sandwiches. Hopefully the rent may not be too high and we can travel a little less for some extreme high quality food.

  • Scott Alder

    ItsAmazing…..the Philly should be outlawed…WOW!!!!!!! Everytime I bring someone in from out of state for a job interview, I take them here for lunch and the Philly……They have all accepted so far, hmmm, is it me or the sandwich?

  • Paul

    I can’t brag enough about Itsa! LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, this place, only wish it was closer to my Rio Rancho home! Wonderful friendly service, BEST Philly in Town for sure, and the Nutty Buddy is a fantastic treat, thick tasty chocolate and creamy delicious ice cream all while covered/rolled in many many nuts! I can’t forget to mention the handcut fries, some of the best I’ve had. Maybe some day I’ll be able to try other menu items but for now, this is all I need. Ever since my first visit I can’t help but get an Itsa craving once or twice a week.

  • Bruce Schor

    Pat’s Steaks was and still remains my favorite Philly Cheesesteak hoagie.
    Yes indeed, I loved everything about it including the obligatory Cheese Whiz topping.
    There is an interesting connection between Pat’s Steaks and Albuquerque.
    Pat, the name behind the submarine, was the manager of Bob Foster, a great Light-Heavyweight boxing champion as witnessed by his destruction of Mike Quarry, brother of Jerry, in Muhammad Ali’s comeback from exile called “The Soul Brothers Vs. the Quarry Brothers”.
    When Bob Foster fought and won, which was almost every time, I, and most of my dorm mates at Johnson Hall, Temple University, hurried down to Pat’s where the Philly Cheesesteak grinders were FREE!!!
    The connection?
    Bob Foster became a Deputy Sheriff here in Albuquerque after his fighting years.
    I’ll have to get to Itsa for their Green Chile Philly hero and see how it stacks up.

    Philadelphia is also the first place I ever had a Pizza Steak hero.
    There was an Italian restaurant at 11th and Rising Sun called Spaziano’s that made fabulous huge Pizza Steak hoagies.
    I probably would have done better grades wise and been in better shape save for those two eateries.

  • Bob of the Village of Los Ranchos

    Finally made it in last night for my first Chili(sic)Philly there…Indeed, the previously noted ballyhoo (now there’s a flash-from-the-past word for ya) is deserved along with the hospitality of K & S. For my appetite, in contrast to…ahem…others, I think the size is Perfect and what can ya say about price…the place should be called Itsa Deal.

    As I munched contemplating its namesake, I was reminded of neighboring Pittsburg and its Kelly O’s eatery and couldn’t help but to drop a hint on Steve to look into Haluski (ha wuh ski) given his noting having several transplanted guests from the Philly area. I never heard of Haluski in my Polish neighborhood in MA…let alone have actually eaten it(!!!), but I’ll betcha most of Y’all’s mouths will drool and Y’all will be excited watching ‘Kelly makes Haluski” http://www.kellyos.com to say…ahem…. ‘Whoa, what a bountiful dish!’

    Ok! Ok! I’m just beating my drum trying to help you Foodies facing a retirement with diminished Social Security to start planning for your post retirement career by coming together to open The Eclectic Yum-Yum Shoppe whereby the menu will be an everchanging offering of little known ‘local favorites’ gathered from across the nation…oh hey, the world… including a “This Week’s Feature of Martha or Rachael or that Southern Gal”!

    PS…less you can’t catch one “measuring word” of Kelly…it took me 3 re-watches! …. it is “spoon”!

    “Chow”

  • darchi

    The BEST Chile Cheese Dogs!!!! Their french fries are homemade and perfect! They also have amazing sweet tea too, which im hooked on right now 🙂 What isn’t to like about this place????

  • Sr Plata

    I left work to go home but found my self headed to this very tasty place. This time I had to get it to go and eat while driving doing chores. My cheese steak with green chile was great, the bun was toasted perfect. I still wish they had a larger size, I was wantin more. I topped it off with a corn dog made from turkey which was excellent and crispy. I hoped to run into Gil, maybe next time…

  • More like this please

    Everytime I’ve been to Itsa, has been a wonderful experience. Steve and Cathy make you feel at home, like you belong there. The food? Oh yeah, that is GREAT. The burger is good, the green chile philly is easily the best in ABQ, and the fries are some of my favorites in the Duke City. The Italian Ice is delicious. I’ve had, in varying combinations, lemon, lime, cherry, and grape. Really hard to pick my favorite, but lemon/lime is in the lead, but cherry by itself is like heaven…

    I finally tried the Nutty Buddy on my last visit. WOW! Talk about a sweet treat, it is absolutely a treat you have to give yourself. I actually crave it from time to time.

  • FQG Pinoy

    I heard that this place serves a very good Philly cheese steak sandwich. A friend and I went and I was not disappointed. There’s a place in RR that I thought serves very good Philly cheesesteak sub but Itsa’s sandwich is definitely better…. Love the green chile!

  • Today was my first visit to Itsa due to Gil’s recommendation, and I was not disappointed. I probably would have not ventured to that part of town if it wasn’t for the vast experience that Gil gladly shares with his coworkers, and the world (via Gil’s Thrilling Blog). Where is that option for PayPal donations :-). Thank you Gil ! :-). I had the Green Chile Philly combo w\ Fries, and a cinnamon roll for dessert. I have now found my favorite Philly Cheesesteak :-). Tickles and Snooks (Wings 35) was my #1, but with the green chili and flavorful cheese I had today, the one from Itsa is now in the lead!. A reasonable price ($6.50) for a quality product. If you had a hearty appetite, you may itch for a bit more if you just eat the sandwich, but if you get a roll or other side in addition to the combo, you’ll likely walk away just right. I would however be willing to pay $10 for a foot long :-). I would venture to that part of town again for a great Philly. I think I will regret not trying the Italian Ice, but will likely venture over again when the weather is warm to give it a try.
    Thanks,
    Boomer

  • Sr Plata

    Sr Plata was joined by Boomer and our Sensei Gil for a green chile philly steak sandwich. Again, the sandwich was very tasty and was extremely happy with it. The ingredients all tasted great and it still ranks extremely high on my Philly CheseSteak Meter! I would like to see an option with a large size but not double the price, I made the mistake of not eating breakfast so I was still hungry; a few extra french fries wouldnt hurt as well. I am glad we made the trek from the City of Vision to 2nd Street cause I was very well pleased. I still think they need to do better advertising on the front, change the paint or the signs because if it wasnt for Gils Thrilling and Filling Blog, I again would have past it by. I want the world to experience what I have. I should try something else out but it always seems to come back to the green chile philly steak sandwich. Let me know what you all think…Thanks!

  • Nate D

    I took my daughter and visited this place for this first time. I had the green chile Philly and a cantaloupe italian ice. My daughter had a blue rasperry ice. The cheesesteak was flat out the best phlly cheesesteak I have had in NM. It was fantastic, so good that I wished I had ordered a second one. The service was very friendly. Also, the italian ices were great too. This is exactly why local places need to be supported, because you can’t get food like this at a chain. I will be back many times.

  • vince

    Following in the reviews I decided to go. We had the regular hamburger with cheese and green chile and the philly cheese steak, fries & drinks. The place was very neat and clean, the staff attentive and not rushed, the food well cooked and served politely. The other guests there were equally friendly maybe because the place is so cozy.

    Downs: I could live with the plasticware and baskets, that seemed to fit the atmosphere. The tea, both sweetened and unsweetened weren’t tasty but bitter. And they need to loose the styrofoam cups and opt for recycle friendly cups for both drinks and the ice. Dessert was a blue raspberry and a banana ice; the first was good, the banana was tasteless.

    All that, I’d still go back ’cause the entrees were really good and the a la carte orders are so reasonable. Last, I can say the burger beat out Lotaburger in taste, texture, and appearance. (Lotaburger being the standard for many New Mexicans).

  • kebler

    The place is oddly located but the food is great and the italian ice is so refreshing. The owner is super friendly and the place is clean and well kept. My family will surely frequent this new great find!

  • Sr Plata

    The Man took me to Itsa Italian Ice and celebrated a green chile cheese steak that was excellent! I was impressed with the right amount of cheese and the meat was very tasty. I also liked the french fries that comes with the meal, they tasted fresh and crisp, not like some fast food restaurant. I would like to see the sandwich a bit bigger similar to other cheesesteak restaurants in the state because I wanted more of it. I also think the owners to add splash of color to the front cause it was too hidden and a place with a great sandwich must be visible. I was impressed that I believe the owner came to our table and told a low carb’r that they could replace the awesomely toasted hoagie for lettuce which could be almost as good. Bottom line, I will return and appreciate what I and my friends were servced…

  • Steve

    Hi Gil,

    Thank you for the great review. Just wanted to let you know that we are featuring Root Bear Italian Ice in June.

  • Slick

    You called the Nathan’s hot dog “kosher” which Nathans is not. It is all beef, but that does not make it Kosher.

    • Thank you, Slick. I stand corrected. A kosher hot dog is all beef and made under rabbinical supervision. It is skinless or stuffed into collagen casings, because natural casings are not permitted.

      I head meant to write kosher-style, but even at that, I would have been inaccurate. Kosher-style franks are all beef and share a lot of the same spices with true kosher dogs, but they have a natural casing. Because of their casing, not even kosher-style would be an appropriate descriptor.

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