Albuquerque and Sadie’s Dining Room have come a long way since 1950. Then the Duke City’s population was 96,815, up 173% from 1940 and Sadie Koury, the oldest child of Lebanese immigrants, was four years away from launching her first Albuquerque restaurant on Second and Osuna in a tiny building not much bigger than the restrooms at the current restaurant. The Duke City was much more pastoral back then 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 and 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 the very capable hands of Betty-Jo and her husband Bob Stafford who moved 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 her family opened the palatial dining establishment–complete with a comfortable lounge, a banquet room for large parties, a spacious bar and a capacious covered patio with fountains and greenery–on Fourth street that still bears her name. Since her retirement, her younger sister and brother-in-law, Betty Jo and Bob Stafford and their progeny have carried on her legacy. In 2009, Sadie’s opened a second restaurant, this one on Albuquerque’s east side. East-siders don’t have to go any further than 15 Hotel Circle, N.E., (next to the Owl Cafe) to get their Sadie’s chile fix. A third outlet, in the Santa Ana Star Casino opened in 2012.
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 (and certainly one of its most commodious with a seating capacity of 375 diners) New Mexican restaurants. With the addition of two other Sadie’s outlets, seating capacity is closer to 700 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 good 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 a piquant flavor that makes your tongue tingle (even if you are a native New Mexican and were weaned on piquant formula). Perhaps that’s the reason so many native New Mexicans crowd Sadie’s while non-natives eager to prove their mettle or obtain an endorphin rush also list it among their favorites.
At Sadie’s, salsa is complementary 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 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. There are a couple of items no restaurant in Albuquerque does nearly as well as Sadie’s. One is papitas, little cubes of potato perfection with the taste of well-salted, square-shaped French fries. If your entree doesn’t include papitas, by all means order them on the side.
Another is any entree featuring a pounded steak patty–the likes of which Sadie herself may have hand-formed back in the 50s. The “Roberto Special” features just such a pounded steak. It is topped with enough artery-clogging melted queso to up your cholesterol 50 points, but is so sinfully delightful you can’t stop eating it. For a mere pittance you can request a “large” Roberto special which essentially doubles the pounded steak portion. Though this entree is generally quite good, 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; they’re among the very best in town even if you’re not inclined to eat the largest sopaipilla in the world. 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.
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.
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.
Sadie’s Dining Room
6230 Fourth Street, N.W.
Los Ranchos de Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 3 September 2012
# OF VISITS: 17
BEST BET: Roberto Special, Enchiladas, Salsa, Stuffed Sopaipillas, Papitas, Green Chile Cheeseburger