Gil’s “Best of the Best” for 2016

Ahn (left) and Tammie welcome you to SweeTea Bakery Cafe, home of my favorite pastries for 2016

It’s the season for making lists and checking them twice, finding out which restaurants were naughty or nice. The advent of 2017 is nigh. It’s with great fondness and more than a little (blush) salivation that I bid adieu and auld lang syne to my most memorable dishes of 2016. These are the baker’s dozen plus dishes which are most indelibly imprinted on my memory engrams…the first dishes that come to mind when I close my eyes and reflect on the past year in eating.  As with previous yearly compilations, every item on this list was   heretofore unknown to my palate before 2016. Every dish was a delicious discovery.

In the spirit of lagniappe, my “best of the best” list for 2016 lists nineteen fabulous dishes and–for the first time ever–includes memorable meals shared by some of my faithful readers.  It’s my fondest hope that you do more than just read this list.  Please make it your New Year’s resolution to try as many items as your schedule, budget and dietary constraints will allow–then tell me about it.  Let me know if my recommendations and those of contributors met your own high standards.  I promise it will be worth every calorie.  Please note that the list is strictly chronological, not by any other ranking factor.

  • In January,  I predicted the bacon-toffee sundae (cinnamon and brown sugar ice cream topped with bacon, toffee, maple-caramel and fresh whipped cream) from the Point Grill in Rio Rancho would be on my “best of the best” list for 2016.  This is the most delicious self-fulfilling prophecy made all year long.  Don’t let the distance to the Point Grill deter you from possibly the most surprisingly delicious bacon treat you’ll ever have.
  • My friend Larry McGoldrick jokes that I finally shamed him into eating Japanese food by promising me that the eel (unagi donburi) at Albuquerque’s Magokoro Japanese Restaurant is spectacular.  Larry hadn’t eaten Japanese food in over three decades before falling in love with Magokoro’s electrifying eel and with the infinite variety of deliciousness at this magnificent Japanese restaurant.
Sarita: THE best dish I’ve had this year?  Oh, man, that’s hard, kinda like asking me what’s my favorite song or to pick the prettiest rose in a vast rose garden.  I’ll do this:  I’ll tell you about the three meals that I thought about for days and you can pick which one sounds the most appealing to you. 

#1: The green chile stew at Cocina Azul. (The 12th Street location, if that makes any difference.) This was a nice, hearty stew with chunks of steak (*not* hamburger), potatoes and *HOT* green chile.  In fact, that’s why I went there; I knew I could count on the chile having some kick.  Not some kick, but more like martial-artist-kick.  This is the stuff to have for whatever ails you.

#2:  The Ham and Cheese waffle at La Waffleria.  Start out with buttermilk waffle batter.  Mix in chunks of ham and shredded cheddar cheese and onto the waffle iron it goes.  Typically this comes with maple syrup.  I didn’t want that.  Instead I had them substitute it with their browned butter bourbon sauce.  If that’s not enough, there’s a self-serve station with two crock pots, one filled with maple syrup and the other filled with melted butter.  Well, of course butter makes everything better, so…..

#3:  The keema dosa at Curry Leaf.  Although, I suppose this should be 2.5 instead of 3 because I just got a sampling instead of an actual meal.  Anyway, it’s an Indian crepe filled with wonderfully seasoned ground lamb, served with a couple of delicious chutneys.

  • Although there are dozens of Mexican restaurants across the Albuquerque metropolitan area, only Delicias Cafe showcases transformative Chiles Rellenos en Nogada.  Traditionally made in Puebla to celebrate the Mexican Independence Day on September 16, these rellenos are a celebration of culinary inventiveness and the sheer magical combination of complementary ingredients to create a sweet-savory sensation  
  • Situated directly across the street from the San Francisco de Assis church in Ranchos de Taos,  Old Martina’s wasn’t around when Georgia O’Keefe was painting the venerable Catholic church, but she would certainly have found artistry in the menu–especially in the Duck Enchiladas.  Rolled blue corn tortillas engorged with a generous amount of moist, flavorful duck and slathered in your choice of red or green chile (ask for both), these enchiladas are enchanting!
Bruce “Sr Plata Silver: Chicken Fried Steak and Fried Chicken from Mannie’s Family Restaurant. Both dishes have to be grouped together as both are totally Amazing! The fried chicken tastes really ‘Home Made’ and brings back memories of a different time eating ultimate comfort food. The chicken fried steak is thick, juicy and crispy with amazing gravy. Dare I say more!
  • To say the Costillas del Cordero from The Cellar in Albuquerque are good is akin to declaring Sofia Vergara is merely shaped like a girl.  These lolipop lamb chops are superb!  Pert, petite and packed with flavor, these crusty corderos are imbued with a demi-glace enlivened with an attention-grabbing combination of lively flavors.  The only one thing wrong with these luscious lamb chops is that there are only four to an order.
  • When the Poki Poki Cevicheria in Albuquerque launched in May, 2016, it may have heralded the Duke City’s entry into the second decade of the millennium.  Largely influenced by Asian flavors and ingredients, poke can be–and is–made with almost any type of seafood and topped with a vast array of garnishes and sauces.  Poki Poki increases its fusion elements by adding New Mexican Touches.  The spicy bowl was the first of several poki bowls I enjoyed and remains my favorite.
Mary Kroner: That is easy for me: the barbecued pork sandwich (banh mi) at iKrave Cafe on Juan Tabo.  I am a stickler when it comes to good bread, and the warmed roll, lightly buttered, proved the perfect wrapper for the succulent pork and lightly pickled vegetables, plus fresh jalapenos.
  • There are several items at the Pop-Up Dumpling House in Albuquerque worthy of inclusion on this list.  Certainly any one of the dumplings are memorable, but when my mind’s eye reflects on my two meals at this pop-up palace, it’s the hot and sour soup which bubbles to the top.  This is the hot and sour soup the culinary gods envisioned when they created what has all-too-often become a boring and blase soup.
  • Even before the Golden Crown Panaderia in Albuquerque installed its new pizza oven, this Old Town treasure created the very best combination pizza (tasty pepperoni, hearty Italian sausage, black olives, crisp bell  peppers, red onions and mozzarella) we’ve enjoyed in New Mexico.  Naturally, the canvas for this masterpiece is the bakery’s magnus-opus, an artisinal bread dough that elevates pizza to lofty levels.     
Bob of the Village of Los Ranchos: Best Dish of ’16: Sorry, despite some great dishes, e.g. Asparagus Soup (but it’s a soup) at The Cellar, or Carpaccio (but it’s listed amongst Antipasti), none have topped my perennial love of Scalo‘s “Filetto” at $29 (despite the dastardly ravages of ART to Route 66!), to wit: the tenderest, grilled beef tenderloin topped with cambozola cheese and red wine reduction which contrasts/pairs so nicely with a yummy mushroom risotto, and all served with the standard, grilled asparagus by “professional” waitstaff.  “Chow!”
  • New Mexican food with a pedigree!  That’s what you’ll find in Albuquerque’s Pana’s Cafe, a New Mexican eatery which launched in January, 2016, but whose timeless recipes have been beloved by Duke City diners for generations. Pana’s recipes are essentially the same family recipes which have made Padilla’s Mexican Kitchen an institution.  Pana’s just seems to prepare them better.  The combination plate is an exemplar of New Mexican cooking.
  • Despite having lived on the Mississippi Gulf Coast for eight years, my Kim and I can’t recall having a single memorable grits dish down South.  Since moving back to New Mexico in 1995, we’ve uncovered three “best ever” grits dish.  The Cajun-Style Shrimp and Grits from Blades Bistro in Placita are the best of the best.  To paraphrase a famous catchphrase from a 1970s television comedy, you’ll want to “kiss these grits” before enjoying their depth of flavor.
Ryan “Break the Chain” Scott: My favorite was the one we shared with you at Eclectic. I loved the chimichurri skirt steak, the hot wings, the half chicken…pretty much everything. Max and Daniela also have great taste in insurance agents.

A close second was the Oklahoma smash and fries with garlic aioli at Pete’s Frites.

I also tried Korean fried chicken at a place called BonChon in Houston this week…now I understand why Pluto (Sr. Plata) loves these places so much. Outstanding.

  • Since its launch in 2009, no restaurant has introduced me to as many new dishes as has Budai, the transformative  restaurant which elevated Chinese cuisine to gourmet.  Who would have thought a Jellyfish Salad could be so utterly delicious?  Chef Hsia certainly did. This dish is so good, you’ll never give it a second thought that you’re eating jellyfish whose texture and flavor are surprisingly palate pleasing especially when paired with the melange of ingredients the Chef adds.
  • The painful trauma of having lost a tooth to an especially sticky caramel apple kept me away from the delectable autumn treat for several decades.  Then we discovered the English Toffee Caramel Apple at Chocglitz in Albuquerque.  Chocolatier Celeste Davis’s boundless talents in coaxing pure deliciousness from the many ice cream and chocolate treats she creates by hand extend to caramel apples which are absolutely addictive.   
Captain Tuttle: Thanks for the opportunity to contribute to your list.  Wow, that is a tough question.  I’m like you in that I have a hard time coming up with a favorite.  Here are a couple that I could think of…I’d need a whole year to think about it!

1)  Broasted Chicken and Broasted Pork Chop @ Vick’s Vittles – These delicious meals are perfectly prepared in the broaster style (a combination of frying and pressure cooking).  This style imparts great flavor and juiciness to the chicken/pork chops.  Simply put, they are mouth watering and (dare I say?) finger lickin’ good. 🙂

2)  Banh Mi Sandwiches and Spring Rolls @ Banh Mi Coda – These sandwiches are the bomb!  They are simple, but simply amazing at the same time.  The genius is the simplicity of it.  The spring rolls are perfectly rolled and are delicious!  The peanut dipping sauce is so good, I’d drink it up by itself if left to my own devices…

3) Dumplings, Pork Belly Sandwich and Spicy Cucumbers @ The Pop-Up Dumpling House in the Talin Market.  These handmade from scratch dumplings (with spicy sauce of course!) are quite delicious,  The pork belly sandwich is small, but quite satisfying.  A lot of flavor in that little sandwich!  The spicy cucumbers (made with the same spicy sauce as is served with the dumplings) are simply amazing.  They make a nice pallet cleanser, but provide their own delicious contribution to the meal.

4) B.L.A.T. @ The FR8 House in Bernalillo.  This is what a BLT is supposed to be.  The bacon in this BLT is actually a pork belly cut – in other words thick and as flavorful as can be!  A nice selection of micro-brews as well!

  • My inaugural visit to An Hy Quan, Albuquerque’s very best vegetarian restaurant set the tone for future visits.  The very first item these lips sampled at this terrific eatery has turned out to be the best papaya salad I’ve ever had.  Alas, it’s so good that my expectations for the dish at other restaurants might be impossible to meet.  Fresh and invigorating, it’s also very well balanced with flavor combinations that will titillate your taste buds. 
  • Where would you find the best burger in the metropolitan area?  As newspaper magnate Horace Greeley might advice “go west!”…all the way to Rio Rancho’s Toro Burger Bar where you’ll find a burger menu unlike any other.  Twelve burgers adorn the menu with the Mo Better Burger capturing my heart early though future visits will likely uncover an even more delicious option.  If you’re tired of the same trite burger options, you’ll love what the Toro Burger Bar is doing. 
Gil’s Kim:  Unlike my thrilling (yawn) husband who didn’t list anything from Curry Leaf because all he’s had comes from the buffet,  three items made my “best of the best” list:  the unbelievable garlic naan, the wonderful fruit salad and the tandoori chicken.  Like my Gil, Curry Leaf is simply the best!
  • 2016 seems to be the year of the pizza for Gil’s Thrilling…  Three pizzas made this “best of the best” list, but not just for this year.  The three listed herein are the best we’ve had in more than two decades across the Duke City.  Perhaps the most memorable of the three is the Carbonara Pizza from M’Tucci’s Market & Pizzeria in Albuquerque.  This is the pizza which defies all stereotypes and templates.  It’s unique…and uniquely delicious.  
  • Daniela and Maxime Bouneou made their triumphant to the Duke City dining scene with the launch of Eclectic Urban Pizzeria and Tap House which can boast of three of Gil’s favorite dishes for 2016.  First would be the stellar North End Pizza with its bodacious bacony flavor.  Second is my favorite sandwich for the year, the Oyster Po’ Boy, as good as the best we had in New Orleans.  Third is the big dips and dough appetizer which everyone should experience at least once (preferably a hundred times) in their lives.
Sarita: Another place to add to my list is Maya, over on 3rd & Silver.  It’s the latest venture by Dennis Apodaca.  Of course a different menu (Latin fusion) from Eli’s Place, but I enjoyed my meal.  I had the Kobe green chile cheeseburger.  The burger is cooked to order with white cheddar cheese and green chile.  The chile wasn’t particularly hot, but it did have a nice flavor.  The fries were very similar to the delightful fries served at Eli’s Place.  Next time I go I’ll try their more Latin offerings, like the tortas or the tacos.
  •  With a cosmopolitan vibe that belies Albuquerque’s cow town feel, the SweeTea Bakery Cafe is a magnificent milieu for noshing on a crusty, crunchy banh mi or two.  This breath of fresh air bakery offers a plethora of pulchritudinous pastries so beguiling, your New Year’s resolution should be to try them all.  The nutella buns and the not your traditional banana nut bread are beyond delicious.
  • It’s not every purveyor of great sushi that serves dessert, much less one worthy of accolades and laudation.  The Blue Velvet Swirl from Ohana Hut in Albuquerque is the perfect finisher for a sumptuous soiree of sushi.  What, pray tell, is a Blue Velvet Swirl?  Picture a colorful cake with a lemon creme cheese filling topped with kiwi, white chocolate and hazel nuts.  Scratch that.  Picturing it isn’t enough.  You’ve got to taste it to believe it!

Gil’s “Best of the Best”: 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012 |

One comment

  • BOTVOLR

    Happy New Year to Y’all!
    A Big Thank You to several Folk for sharing new and old experiences…As Gil cautions that his/Kim’s experiences are but one snapshot in time, please consider sharing Comments more this year…they are valued!
    – Per my Filet “fetish”: as my daughter had one Thurs evening at Indigo Crow and the Filetto at Scalo’s just several weeks ago that she gave 2 Thumbs Up to both, I asked her Fav. To my surprise, “It’s not a filet, but the ribeye at Frenchish was hands down the best piece of beef I have ever had in my life. It literally melted in my mouth. I’ve heard people say that about steak before and never knew what they meant. It was amazing.” Too funny!
    (Re the Carpaccio I noted above…it’s that of Piatanzi.)

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