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Sandia Chile Grill – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Sandia Chile Grille, a popular Northeast Heights dining destination.

Sandia Chile Grille, a popular Northeast Heights dining destination.

Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries.  Jessica Simpson and Tony Romo.  Rihanna and Chris Brown.  These are  pairings so unnatural that there’s seemingly no way they’d ever work together…similar to good food and convenience stores.   The notion of convenience store food conjures images of salty, cylindrically shaped dry meat snacks with the texture of sawdust and air-filled bags of Cool Ranch Doritos.  This is stereotypical convenience store fare, as unappetizing as donut holes.

Now mention New Mexican food and gas station in the same sentence and the likely image conjured would make all the sophomoric six year-olds among us giggle, the notion of “gas” not having anything to do with petroleum.  Visionary entrepreneur Mick Coker had the confidence in his New Mexico food products to launch his business at a convenience store-gas station in the Northeast Heights. The rest, as they say, is history. The Sandia Chile Grill’s inaugural location launched in 2004 at the Winner’s Circle gas station at Harper and Barstow. A second location on Montgomery just east of I-25 followed shortly thereafter.


Order your New Mexican food at this counter then watch it be prepared

From its onset the Sandia Chile Grill’s made-to-order burrito concept elevated gas station dining from a fast food grab and gobble experience to a uniquely sublime New Mexico dining extravaganza, albeit one without on-site seating. The aroma of tortillas on the grill quickly had patrons making a bee-line to the little grill that could at the back of the convenience store portion of the gas station. While relatively little space is required to operate what is essentially a to-go diner, Coker saw his business grow to the extent–as much as 4,000 meals in a busy month–that a real restaurant storefront was in order. He launched the Sandia Chile Grill restaurant at the Del Norte Shopping Center, essentially moving from the Winner’s Circle gas station not that far away.

A native New Mexican (born in Belen), Coker saw two obvious reasons for the name Sandia Chile Grill, the first being Sandia chile which grows in the Mesilla Valley. Sandia chile ranges from four to six-inches long and dries to a deep burgundy color.  It’s one of the most delicious of all red chiles and is served at such fabled New Mexican food treasures as Mary & Tito’s.   Sandia is also the name of the mountain range backdropping the city of Albuquerque.

Unique chips and salsa

Unique chips and salsa

At the restaurant, the staff has the room to operate and customers have comfortable seating in which to dine. Though much of the restaurant’s business remains carry-out, it’s nice to have an alternative when you want it. As at the service station, burritos dominate the menu: breakfast burritos, steak burritos, steak and chicken burritos, chicken burritos, pork burritos and even veggie burritos. Some burritos are named for professional wrestlers (Ultimate Warrior, Undertaker, Junkyard Dog, Mankind and the Macho Man). There are also burritos named for Mexican western characters: El Matidor (sic), Bandito, Caballero and El Jeffe. The menu also includes stuffed sopaipillas, enchiladas, tamales, rellenos and tacos–the New Mexican food essentials which can’t be prepared at the gas station sites.

One word of advice–study the menu on the Web site before you visit. There are a lot of choices! Even though the friendly counter staff won’t rush you in the least, you might not want the person standing behind you glowering impatiently and tapping her toes incessantly (as happened to me during my inaugural visit). You also can’t go wrong with a recommendation from the staff, especially if Mick Coker himself is taking your order.  Alternatively, you can take an easy (and delicious) route and order all-you-can-eat green chile chicken stew for under five dollars.  You can also eat contently in the knowledge that cumin has no place anywhere on the menu.  Nor does Mick buy and reheat any products from Sysco or Shamrock.  The only product not prepared in-house are the tortillas which are procured from the same folks who provision Little Anita’s.

Mick's Pick

Mick’s Pick

If you haven’t been to the Sandia Chile Grill in a while, you’ll quickly note several changes.  In 2009, the facility was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to can all its chiles and sauces for nationwide distribution.  In 2012, the Cokers opened a brewery–and an award-winning brewery at that.  Within months after launching, they entered seven items in a New Mexico State Fair competition, earning five medals including a “best of show” in the professional division.  The blue and red-ribbons are on display in the restaurant.  The menu also features several gluten-free items (nachos, green chile chicken stew, chicken quesadillas, chicken enchiladas, steak tacos and more).

Another gluten-free option is the Sandia Chile Grill’s unique big chips and salsa. The “chips” are fresh-cooked corn tortillas the size of 45RPM (that’s revolutions per minute for your Generation Yers) records (analog storage mediums on flat discs). The salsa is excellent with a pleasantly piquant bite courtesy of jalapeños and red chile (you’d be surprised at how infrequently New Mexican restaurants actually use chile on their salsa).  The chips are formidable enough for Gil-sized scoops of salsa.  They’re also left unsalted so you can salt to taste.

The Ultimate Warrior:  Steak, Bacon, Chorizo, Ham, Potato, Salsa and Cheese with Red and Green Chile

The Ultimate Warrior: Steak, Bacon, Chorizo, Ham, Potato, Salsa and Cheese with Red and Green Chile

Aside from the standard New Mexico restaurant offerings of red and green chile, the Sandia Chile Grill also features a “Milanesa” sauce, a white, cheesy sauce similar to the Alfredo sauce so popular in Italian cuisine. One of the burritos adorned with Milanesa sauce is Mick’s Pick, ostensibly one of the owner’s favorites. Weighing in at more than one pound, Mick’s Pick features a tortilla of medium thickness enveloping a double portion of chicken, bacon, Milanesa sauce, cheese and red or green chile (or both). The chicken is cut into very small cubes and appears to be mostly white meat; I didn’t find any sinewy pieces in the entire burrito. The Milanesa sauce complements red and green chile well, but is a stand-out on its own. 

One of the burritos named for a professional wrestler is the Ultimate Warrior, the sobriquet of a grappler considered “the ultimate archetype of strength and intensity.”  Fittingly, the Ultimate Warrior is one intensely delicious burrito, especially if it is “smothered” in red and green chile, both of which have a nice bite.  The Ultimate Warrior is engorged with chopped steak, bacon, chorizo (made on the premises), potatoes, salsa and cheese.  It’s a behemoth of a burrito, weighing in at more than a pound which means you’ll probably be taking some home.  My Kim, who used to agree with Albuquerque The Magazine‘s selection of Lotaburger‘s burrito as the city’s second best (Frontier‘s was named best) now believes The Ultimate Warrior is better.

The Big Chief: Milanesa Sauce, Steak, Cheese, Potatoes

The Big Chief: Milanesa Sauce, Steak, Cheese, Potatoes

Five different taco options are available on the menu. Even though the tacos are made with Taco Bell style hard-shelled tortillas, that’s the only comparison. The tacos at the Sandia Chile Grill are excellent. At first glance, it may appear the tacos are mostly lettuce, but beneath that lettuce is some wonderfully seasoned hamburger meat and shredded Cheddar cheese. A small plastic tub of salsa accompanies an order of tacos and it is terrific salsa at that. 

Mick Coker and his son Clinton are immensely proud of their New Mexican heritage and like most proud New Mexicans, know one of the day’s most difficult decisions is whether to have red or green chile…or both.   They help make that decision easier for their guests by offering excellent New Mexican cuisine showcasing both.

Sandia Chile Grill
7120 Wyoming Blvd, N.E.,
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 798-1970
Web Site

LATEST VISIT: 22 January 2013
1st VISIT:  18 August 2007
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Mick’s Pick, Tacos, The Big Chief, The Ultimate Warrior, Chips and Salsa

View Sandia Chile Grill on »

Sandia Chile Grill on Urbanspoon

  • Gil ( different Gil) says:

    Gil, thanks for hosting such a great site. I have mixed feelings about the new format though. It’s more difficult to navigate but I also find my self reading about new places I wouldn’t have otherwise.

    Today I checked in to comment on my experience at Sandia Chili grill on Wyoming. There’s not too many choices for a fast bite to eat on the northern part of Wyoming, so I was excited to read about the oversized burritos in your review. Unfortunately my experience wasn’t so positive.

    My father, two year old son and I stopped in for some breakfast on a Tuesday morning. Instead of buying something separate for my son I asked if they could leave a small portion of my burrito on the side with out chili. The answer was “no but we’ll make your burrito with the chili on the side”. I didn’t see the big deal but thought I could work with that and didn’t see the need to argue.

    While I ordered a couple iced teas and paid my father went and washed his and my son’s hands. Because he was in the restroom he didn’t know I had paid for iced tea and started filling his drink from the soda fountain. The same man behind the counter who sighed at my previous request in a raised voice told him in front of a room full of customers that we paid for iced tea and that soda was extra. My father was very embarrassed. Annoyed I dropped my card back on the counter and told him to charge me for the difference only to have him flick my card across the room. Literally across the room! In complete shock and embarrassment we sat down in the corner and waited for the same guy to drop our breakfast with out a word.

    Maybe I caught somebody on a bad day or maybe he thinks he can treat people that way but at $15 for two burritos and two drinks you’d think they could at least treat you with respect.

    August 11, 2009 at 12:45 PM
  • Mick Coker says:

    We try our best to give quality service to everyone that eats at our place no matter how much or little they spend. We are native New Mexicans and run a family operation with a single location in the NE Heights. Our Iced Tea is $.99 cents for 32oz cup all you can drink. Our 32 oz cup of soda is $1.79 all you can drink. We made sure he knew that at the time of purchase the differences in price. All we ask our customers to do is pay and get what they really ordered. From time to time people order complimentary water and fill it up with soda. The soda machine was around the corner where I could see it during his visit. Since this incident I have put the soda machine next to the register where I can see it to avoid this confrontation in the future with people like this man. This man was the classical case of that mentality, try to pay for less than you receive. This man not his father filled up the cups with soda not Iced tea (why didn’t he purchase his father and son what they wanted if he was proud of taking them out to breakfast? Next time he goes to McDonalds ask to get the chile on only one half of the burger and see what they tell you!). His intent from the time of his order was to pay for the cheapest item and get what he wanted anyway. Our drink counter is serve yourself. When I confronted him, he threw a tantrum and then threw his credit card at me from 6′ to 8′ away striking another man (customer) that was standing in line ordering his food. This man was big, he and his wife were very upset over the incident. I asked the customer he hit with the card to please leave him alone and gave the man a drink for his patients with this idiot. The customer told me he was lucky he didn’t hit his wife with the card! I threw his credit card back at him and ask him never to return. All of the customers in our restaurant asked me to have him leave immediately. I disagreed and I let him sit down to eat his meal where he threw everything on the ground making as big a mess as he could before he left. I serve very few people that act like this man especially in front of their children. Unfortunately he embarressed himself in front of a crowd, he did not need me to help him with that. If I would have said something when I dropped off the food it would have been GET OUT!!!, like all of the customers asked me to tell him.
    By the way he must have liked the food. He didn’t have anything bad to say about that part. That must be due to our fresh in house hand prepared ingredients. We prefer to serve honesty hard working people like us.
    Sir, Since when did stealing get associated with respect? Do the right thing by other people not just yourself and you may find people will treat you different and with some respect.
    By the way Gil’s format is just fine. Why are you knocking the guy your complaing to?
    Thanks for your support Gil,
    Mick Coker
    Sandia Chile Grill
    P.S. We were highlighted in the Albuquerque Journal Venue section pg. 12 on Mar. 19, 2010. They liked the service as well as the food and gave us a 3 star rating.

    March 29, 2010 at 10:27 AM
  • MSM says:

    My family and I have been eating at this restaurant on a regular basis since we discovered it awhile back. Never had a problem that I can remember. The prices are fair, the food is delicious and there are a ton of choices.

    Before you consider any bad review of this restaurant I seriously think you should try it first.

    August 15, 2010 at 11:42 PM
  • Pasqualey says:

    Wow, I was there and witnessed this in person. This man paid for tea and went straight to the soda fountain. He was across the room when the cashier informed him that the soda fountain was extra. He threw his debit card agressively and disrespectfully at the cashier from about five feet and then turned his back. The cashier threw his card back to him the same way it was delievered. This man was a jerk and deserved to be throw out of the place by his collar. I don’t blame this man’s father for being embarassed, if my son behaved this way I would want to crawl under a rock. If this man wants respect, he should learn to respect others and he will receive it in return.

    BTW, the food in this place is the best.

    November 18, 2010 at 11:11 PM

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