Tourists visiting San Francisco who wish to partake of the city’s most “authentic” Chinese food might be in for a surprise if they select their dining destination based on the number of indigenous diners they can see from a restaurant’s windows.
It’s widely reputed that in San Francisco such “window dressing” is at the least, a facade and at the worst, a bait and switch tactic. Instead of authenticity, tourists might actually be in for a meal of Americanized Chinese food of which they’ll partake in an upstairs dining room not visible from the street and crowded with other tourists.
If the criteria for authenticity and quality includes the number of indigenous diners at an ethnic restaurant, Perea’s New Mexican Restaurant is one of the Duke City’s most authentic practitioners of New Mexican cuisine (with one deviation about which you’ll read below).
The signage “Perea’s Authentic New Mexican Restaurant” even tells you you’re in for authenticity, but the proof, as always, is in the eating, not just in the number of native New Mexicans seated at the restaurant.
Perea’s is one of Albuquerque’s most popular dining destinations regardless of genre. Open only Monday through Saturday from 7AM through 3PM, it is usually crowded with ten to fifteen minute waits not uncommon, especially on Saturdays.
Perea’s is housed in a facade that was once one of the two Andy’s Restaurants serving Albuquerque back in the days in which Central Avenue was a cavalcade of chain restaurants and national hotel chains.
Perea’s is tailor-made for the beaten (and eatin’) path that is Central Avenue which bisects the city from east to west. It has become so popular that parking is at a premium. The parking lot fills early, requiring many diners to find a space to park in an adjacent street.
There’s nothing particularly remarkable about the restaurant’s interior design which still bears traces of several Mexican restaurants that once occupied this site after Andy’s closed. There is, however, something almost musical in the clanking of spoons as they stir coffee all day long. It’s also comforting to know you can get breakfast at any time of day.
Perea’s breakfast and lunch menu features American and New Mexican treasures, some of which are prepared very well. Most diners seem to eschew burgers and sandwiches and focus their appetites on New Mexican comfort food favorites–essentially anything with red or green chile. Both the red and green chile include ground beef (vegans are forewarned on the menu).
Burritos are one such comfort food favorite. Perea’s burritos start with the best foundation possible–thick homemade flour tortillas. You can pretty much pick what you’d like those tortillas stuffed with and can’t go wrong whether it’s ham, bacon, sausage or chorizo.
Only the chorizo at El Charrito’s comes close to the quality and taste of Perea’s version which is redolent with Mexican oregano and other spices. Fold into your tortilla, chorizo, eggs and potatoes and you’ve got one of the best any time burritos in New Mexico, one which is made even better when served Christmas style (with both red and green chile).
By the way, you can purchase either fresh or day-old tortillas at Perea’s, but good luck in trying to craft a burrito nearly as good.
The Carne adovada (cubes of pork that have been marinated and cooked in red chile) is another Perea’s specialty. This carne adovada is laced with garlic and oregano and is fork tender. Alas, it is also dominated by cumin, a Middle Eastern spice that somehow found its way into Mexican and New Mexican cuisine.
Frequent visitors to my Web site are aware of my disdain for cumin in New Mexican food–my reason being that red chile needs absolutely no amelioration. Cumin tends to give chile an astringent flavor and aftertaste and it removes the earthy, fruity sweetness inherent in great red chile.
The carne adovada at Perea’s was so overbearing that my rating for this popular restaurant plunged (from 21 to 17). This portends ordering only green chile during future visits.
Fortunately, Perea’s has some outstanding green chile offerings including one of the two or three best chile rellenos in Albuquerque. The relleno is creamy and cheesy, a combination we’ve found only in the Las Cruces area.
There are a couple of additions every diner should request. One is the restaurant’s incomparable refried beans which have that cooked with lard taste that seems to set apart the very best refried beans.
The other is a bowl of the green chile, which is fabulous. It is more piquant than the chile served at three quarters of the New Mexican restaurants in Albuquerque, but not overly piquant to real chile fanatics.
Hungry diners may want to try their hand at the large combination plate: a taco, chile relleno, enchilada and burrito along with beans and rice. It is a prodigious platter replete with New Mexico treasures.
Unlike other New Mexican restaurants, Perea’s gives you tremendous latitude in crafting this combo plate to your exacting specifications. That means beef, chicken or carne adovada on your burrito, enchilada and taco–your choice. For me, it will no longer be “Christmas style” on this combo platter. It’s green all the way!
Perea’s salsa is somewhat watery, not so much that it all runs off the chip, but enough that spillage is inevitable. It’s not especially piquant and the chips are lightly salted. Considering the quality of the chile, we expected a top-tier salsa and were a bit disappointed.
Inexplicably, Albuquerque diners which serve the best breakfast burritos (Milton’s and Murphy’s Mule Barn come to mind) also serve some of the very best pancakes in the city. That holds true as well for Perea’s where a “short stack” is a must.
The batter for these golden orbs includes a bit of cinnamon as well as vanilla. The taste of both coalesce to form some of the very best pancakes in town. They would be even better if served with hot syrup instead of syrup from a squeeze jar.
Perea’s New Mexican Restaurant is indeed a genuine treasure serving authentic (albeit laced with cumin) New Mexican cuisine.
Perea’s New Mexican Restaurant
9901 Central Avenue, N.E.
LATEST VISIT: 1 March 2008
# OF VISITS: 3
BEST BET: Salsa & Chips, Pancakes, Chile Relleno