Sadie’s Dining Room – Albuquerque, New Mexico
Albuquerque and Sadie’s Dining Room have come a long way since 1950. Back then the Duke City’s population was 96,815, up 173% from 1940. Sadie Koury, the oldest child of Lebanese immigrants, was four years away from launching her first Albuquerque restaurant. Located on Second and Osuna, the first Sadie’s was housed in a Lilliputian edifice not much bigger than the restrooms at the Fourth Street restaurant which today bears her name. The Duke City was much more pastoral in the early 50s and Sadie’s restaurant was but a diminutive nine-stool diner on what was then one of the city’s most busy thoroughfares (though not quite as busy as Fourth Street which in 1954, was already seventeen years removed from having been part of historic Route 66).
Sadie opened her eponymous eatery for breakfast every morning at 5AM and served lunch late into the afternoon. Standing room only crowds often included truckers who deviated from their Route 66 throughway and who would park their diesel rigs around the tiny edifice. Sadie greeted her customers with a friendly “hi honey” and got to know many of her regulars as well as how they liked their favorite meals prepared.
In 1973 after nearly twenty years at her restaurant’s original home, Sadie and her baby sister Betty-Jo moved the restaurant next door to the Lark Bar which could accommodate 35 guests. They would remain at the Lark Bar for only two years. In 1975, Sadie retired and left the restaurant in Betty-Joe’s very capable hands. Betty-Jo and her husband Bob Stafford soon relocated the restaurant again, this time to the noisy confines of the Sun Valley Bowl on Fourth Street where its reputation for humongous portions of incendiary chile-laden dishes was further cemented. The restaurant’s 120-seat capacity saw overflow crowds every night.
Sadie passed away in 1986, four years before the Staffords opened the palatial Fourth Street dining establishment that thirty years later continues to be one of Albuquerque’s most popular dining establishments. Despite a comfortable lounge, a banquet room for large parties, a spacious bar and a capacious covered patio with fountains and greenery, the restaurant often seems crowded. Such are the overflow crowds that frequent Sadie’s. In 2009, a second instantiation of the restaurant opened, this one on Albuquerque’s east side. East-siders can share a parking lot with he Owl Cafe and get their Sadie’s chile fix. A third outlet, in the Santa Ana Star Casino opened in 2012. Yet another Sadie’s opened in 2013 at an Academy location which previously housed Garduño’s of Mexico.
Today, the Duke City flirts with a population of more than half a million and Sadie’s remains one of the city’s most popular New Mexican restaurants–and certainly one of its most commodious with the Fourth Street location boasting of a 375 diner seating capacity. With the addition of three other Sadie’s outlets, seating capacity for the burgeoning restaurant empire is closer to 1000 today. Long waits are still typical at the Fourth Street location where a large mural taking up nearly the entire South-facing main dining-room wall depicts Sadie’s humble diner and its business neighbors, all back-dropped by the Sandias. On the roof of the diner was a large sign reading simply “Hamburgers” while signage reading “Chops” and “Steaks” flanked the restaurant’s door and sole frontage window. In the accolade-laden shrine that is the hallway between the dining room and the restrooms are dozens of framed newspaper articles touting Sadie’s restaurant, but also holding a place of prominence is the original grill in which Sadie prepared her famous hamburgers.
Sadie’s is renown for several things, among which are: its rags to riches success story, consistently hot chile and prodigious portions. Over the years it has developed a growing and faithful following that has remained steadfast in its devotion. Avid proponents make a case for Sadie’s being one of the best restaurants in the state. A fellow gourmand whose opinion I value swears the triumvirate of Sadie’s in the North, the Owl Cafe in Central New Mexico and Chope’s in the state’s Southern region are the three best restaurant’s in the Land of Enchantment.
Unlike so many other so-called New Mexican restaurants, Sadie’s hasn’t “dumbed down” its chile which retains its characteristically piquant flavor, a fire-eaters elixir that makes our tongues tingles and brings sweat to our brows. That’s the reason–along with the prodigious portions–so many native New Mexicans crowd Sadie’s. Newcomers to New Mexico who are eager to prove their mettle or obtain an endorphin rush also list it among their favorites. My own personal estimation (and rating) of Sadie’s has waned in recent years, largely (but not exclusively) because of the restaurant’s use of cumin, a distinctly non-New Mexican food ingredient. Unlike some other cuminista restaurants, Sadie’s doesn’t actually use cumin on its chile. Instead, the cumin is used liberally on the restaurant’s beef (including the Roberto Special described below).
At Sadie’s, salsa is complimentary and masochists like me might polish off two bowlfuls as our brows glisten (sometimes profusely) courtesy of the capsaicin rich, green chile endowed salsa (which, by the way, is bottled and sold in stores throughout New Mexico). The salsa is the most piquant item on the menu. Comparatively, the red and green chile are tepid. In its September, 2012 edition, Albuquerque The Magazine named the salsa at Sadie’s the sixth best in Albuquerque from among 130 salsas sampled throughout the city.
Portion sizes are gargantuan! Some platters would feed a developing nation or as former Tonight Show host Jay Leno might joke, one endomorphic American diner. Hefting home a doggie bag won’t burn off many of the 2,000 or so calories you just consumed, but it does provide tomorrow’s lunch or dinner. Most “dinner” plates includes frijoles and papitas. For years no restaurant in Albuquerque prepared its papitas (little cubes of potato perfection with the taste of well-salted, square-shaped French fries) quite as well as Sadie’s. During our most recent visits, we’ve found the papitas desiccated and underseasoned.
My long-time Sadie’s favorite for years was the Roberto Special, a pounded hamburger steak patty–the likes of which Sadie herself may have hand-formed back in the 50s. The Roberto Special is topped with enough artery-clogging melted queso to up your cholesterol 50 points. That molten queso blankets a mountain of papitas and frijoles in a plate the size of a car tire. For a mere pittance you can request a “large” Roberto special which essentially doubles the pounded steak portion. Even with the pounded steak doused in cumin, what has stripped this dish of its “Special” designation for me is the fact that all too often the steak is cooked at well-done.
At many New Mexican restaurants salsa and chips are no longer complementary and it’s increasingly rare to find restaurants which also don’t charge for sopaipillas. That’s definitely not the case at Sadie’s where each meal is accompanied by several of these puffy treasures. During a 2006 Food Network episode of the Secret Life of…Southwestern Food, host Jim O’Connor spent a day at Sadie’s where he learned all about sopaipillas. He ate stuffed sopaipillas, sopaipillas with honey and sopaipillas by themselves and enjoyed every single morsel.
When he traveled to Albuquerque for a taping of the Travel Channel’s Man vs Food Nation (which aired for the first time on June 22nd, 2011) host Adam Richman was introduced to the world’s largest sopaipilla at Sadie’s–a foot wide, six and a half pound behemoth of stewed chicken, ground beef, carne adovada, papitas, pinto beans, red and green chile and Cheddar. Served on what appeared to be a pizza-sized platter, it was “sopa-perfect” according to the effusive Richman.
Sadie’s stuffed sopaipillas are indeed very enjoyable (for me only if they’re stuffed with chicken which doesn’t receive the cumin dousing to which the beef is subjected). Even if you’re not inclined to eat the largest sopaipilla in the world, you’ll find a standard stuffed sopaipilla dish quite formidable. Sadie’s sopaipillas can be engorged with spicy beef, chicken, grilled lean ground beef or just frijoles and can be topped with green or red chile (or even better, Christmas style).
The house specialty at Sadie’s is the enchilada dinner, a platter-sized plate brimming with two soft corn tortillas rolled or stacked with Cheddar cheese and onions and served with frijoles. The enchilada dinner is as flexible as the soft corn tortillas on which it is made. That means you can have it with blue corn tortillas instead of the standard yellow corn tortillas. You can have it with boneless grilled chicken or with Billy’s spicy ground beef and if that’s not enough, you can customize your creation–maybe one ground beef enchilada and one with chicken.
Your customization might also extend to the chile where you can have red or green chile or preferably both (what New Mexicans call Christmas style). You can even ask for a third enchilada if you’re so inclined. By all means ask for a fried egg on top of your enchilada. It’s the way New Mexicans have had their enchiladas for generations.
13 July 2016: Even non-chile eaters will find something to love at Sadie’s. One such option is the grilled pork chops, two bone-in chops grilled to a smoky perfection and served with papitas. These are flavorful half-inch thick chops which retain their succulent juiciness and are imbued with delicious, smoky charred edges. The grilled pork chops are served with a dinner salad which is topped with moist, unctuous avocados. Try it with a green chile Ranch dressing for a New Mexico kick.
13 July 2016: Allow me to introduce yet another contender into the highly disputed “best green chile cheeseburger” in New Mexico category. That would be Sadie’s version of the ubiquitous burger practically worshiped by local eaters. Sadie’s burger is crafted with a six-inch, hand-formed meat orb topped with chopped green chile (or green chile sauce if you prefer), tomatoes, lettuce, and cheese. The meat is grilled and prepared to your exacting specifications and the bun is lightly toasted. It is sensational, a wonderful alternative to other entrees. Better still, order your burger the way Sadie prepared burgers in the 1950s–on two thick slices (Texas toast-sized) of French bread. In 2013, Sadie’s rendition of the green chile cheeseburger won the inaugural Governor’s Green Chile Cheeseburger Challenge at the New Mexico State Fair, besting ten other contestants.
Sadie’s is a member of the New Mexico Culinary Treasures Trail, a New Mexico State Tourism initiative which honors independent mom and pop restaurants which have stood the test of time to become beloved institutions in their neighborhoods and beyond. Sadie’s truly is that.
Sadie’s Dining Room
6230 Fourth Street, N.W.
Los Ranchos de Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 13 July 2016
# OF VISITS: 17
BEST BET: Roberto Special, Enchiladas, Salsa, Stuffed Sopaipillas, Papitas, Green Chile Cheeseburger