Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Year in Food: July, 2018
Marie Ynguez, one of Albuquerque’s most popular restaurateurs was featured in a segment of NBC News Dateline. As warmly showcased in the feature, Marie’s is the quintessential feel-good story replete with elements of grittiness, determination and surmounting challenges. A stroke at age 32 prompted her to address the direction her life was taking and pursue her dream of someday owning her own restaurant…despite one callous restaurant owner telling her she only had the aptitude to be a dishwasher. She started by selling burritos out of the trunk of her car. Before long, her daughter’s school asked if she could help prepare breakfast or lunch for the students. Instead of the preservative-laden foods the school had been serving, Marie focused on feeding students fresh and healthy food. Preparing meals for schools gave Marie the financial support she needed to start her own restaurant, Bocadillos, a slow-roasted sandwich shop in which everything is prepared from scratch using mostly local ingredients. Marie believes wholeheartedly in giving back to the community and in helping others flourish as she has.
Not quite as contentious across the fruited plain as “red state or blue state” is the question which dominates the summer grilling season: Hamburger or Hot Dog. The only conceivable answer, of course, is “both.” In collaboration with Walmart, Food & Wine magazine was able to put together a profile of hamburger or hot dog states, somehow figuring out that preferences for one or the other can actually be broken down by state lines. Not surprisingly, hamburgers reigned supreme in forty states including New Mexico (we can thank green chile cheeseburgers for that). The ten states which prefer hot dogs are mostly clustered along the west coast.
Chowhound, an online community for the food and restaurant obsessed among us, compiled a list of 50 States, 50 Insanely Expensive Restaurants. New Mexico’s most insanely expensive restaurant was deemed to be Geronimo, a Santa Fe institution. Chowhound wrote “The appetizers at this American restaurant in Santa Fe cost as much as $29. The rack of lamb is $52. At a sit-down restaurant next door, the most expensive menu item is $22.” Considering the per capita income is not quite $44K, it’s not likely many New Mexicans will be enjoying a meal at Geronimo any time soon.
New Mexico basks in 310 days of sunshine, combined with a mild, dry climate and four distinct seasons. That means al fresco dining options are plentiful. Despite sheer numbers, only one restaurant across the Land of Enchantment ranked among the 100 best Al Fresco Restaurants in the fruited plain according to OpenTable. That restaurant is Albuquerque’s own Farm & Table which achieved an 89% “recommended” rating. OpenTable commented: “Farm and Table always provides an exceptional dining experience.”
For eight decades, the New Mexico State Fair has thrilled locals and visitors alike with an incomparable array of concerts, competitions, rodeos, carnival rides, games, farm animals, horses, agriculture, art and food. Where state fairs at other states may offer mostly wacky and zany foods (deep-fried watermelon and fried Kool-Aid anyone), the New Mexico State Fair is renowned for its delicious culinary offerings. It’s no surprise New Mexico made the list of Ask’s #1 Food From Each U.S. State Fair You Must Try. What is surprising is that Ask’s choice was red chile chocolate limeaid about which Ask wrote: “Just Squeezed’s tent at the New Mexico State Fair offers red chile chocolate limeade. The sweet, sour, and spicy drink can’t be found anywhere else.”
Perhaps no state across the fruited plain celebrates its barbecue as enthusiastically as Texas. Barbecue is the Lone Star state’s aqua vitae and no one celebrates the state’s pantheons of barbecue greatness as often or as well as Texas Monthly, the national magazine of Texas. It’s not often Texas Monthly crosses the sacred borders of the “whole other country,” so when it visited New Mexico it wasn’t to annex a part of the Land of Enchantment bordering Texas. It was to celebrate Mad Jack’s Mountaintop Barbecue in Cloudcroft where Lockhart, Texas transplant Kirk Jackson is offering Texas style brisket and more. Barbecue aficionados might recognize Lockhart as an epicenter of Texas barbecue. In time, Cloudcroft might achieve similar acclaim thanks to Mad Jack’s.
2017 was not a good year for chain restaurants. Not only are mom-and-pop restaurants actually growing at a faster rate than the once dominant chains, several chains experienced more closures than growth. Still, more than half of the restaurant industry’s $537 billion came from the top 500 chains. From among just the top 100 chains, Albuquerque has the top 31 though almost a third–some 33 of the top 100 chains across the fruited plain–don’t currently have a presence in the Duke City. Among them are In-N-Out Burger, Culvers, and Steak N Shake. Many of them can be found not far away in Phoenix and Denver.
lovefood.com, the self-professed “definitive website for food, recipes and reviews” believes “there can’t be any meal quite as satisfying as a juicy burger and salty fries.” “To help make sure your next order is deliciously meaty, crispy and downright memorable,” lovefood chose the “top burger and fries joints in every single state.” Their selection from the Land of Enchantment comes from La Cienega’s Blue Heron Restaurant. Here’s what lovefood had to say: “Every year, Santa Fe is home to the Green Chile Cheeseburger Smackdown, which decides which local restaurant has the year’s best variation of the revered local classic, crowning them the “Reigning Chomp”. The Blue Heron Restaurant won in 2017, and it’s certainly worth trying their winning green chile cheeseburger. Nicknamed “The Life Changer”, the creation is made with brisket and ribeye, topped with vintage cheddar, green chile and homemade pickles and served with brined fries.”
Caleigh Yacone didn’t have to look any further for a role model than across the kitchen table. That’s where her dad Robert sat. An indefatigable and driven perfectionist, Robert required that his children establish both short- and long-term goals and that they strive at all times to maximize their potential. When Caleigh, then a precocious ten-year-old, displayed a strong aptitude and talent for baking, Robert nurtured her interests and challenged her to continue honing her skills. In short order, she became an amazing cookie and brownie maker, developing her own recipes. Inheriting her dad’s assiduous work ethic, she achieved four straight years of perfect attendance and a 4.0 grade point average at Deming’s middle and high schools. All the while, she was running varsity cross-country and working next to her dad as much as forty hours a week at the family’s nascent restaurant Forghedaboudit. It was exhausting work, but it was a labor of love.
In May, 2018, Caleigh graduated from the Culinary Institute of America (the “real” CIA), one of the world’s best incubators for leading culinary professionals. Shortly after returning to Deming, her dad and stepmother Kimberly made Caleigh a co-owner of Forghedaboudit, quite a coup considering she’s not even old enough to drink legally. Like Robert and Kimberly, Caleigh is driven to continue growing the family restaurant, perhaps expanding into several locations. She is very proud of the overwhelmingly positive response Forghedaboudit has garnered for its fabulous Italian food and exemplary service. Travelers journey from across the fruited plain and faraway countries to partake of cuisine that has earned significant national and international acclaim and world championships for both pizza and wings.
Caleigh is also delighted at how the restaurant has melded New Mexican and Italian culinary techniques and ingredients to create such uniquely delicious dishes as a 14-ounce green chile bone-in veal chop. She’s not baking as much anymore, preferring to make sauces and focus on continually improving her skills and the restaurant’s dishes. Her favorite sauce is a five ingredient Marsala which she describes as “amazing.” That’s an apt term for everything at Forghedaboudit, Deming’s dining diadem. Amazing also describes Caleigh Yacone, an outstanding role model in her own right.
In a recent poll, Ranker asked more than 10,000 burger fans nationwide to name their favorite burger from a major fast-food establishment or restaurant chain. Data revealed that the Double Double from In-N-Out and the hamburger from Five Guys tie as the most popular fast-food burgers across the fruited plain. Several popular fast food burger joints found in New Mexico–including Wendy’s, Jack-in-the-Box, Sonic Drive-in, Dairy Queen and Fuddruckers–failed to make the list for any state. The most popular fast food burger across the Land of Enchantment is (you might want to be seated for this) Burger King’s Whopper Junior. The poll did not indicate whether or not green chile adorned that Whopper Junior.
My Jewish Learning, a resource-rich online presence designed to help you navigate all aspects of Judaism and Jewish life—from food to history to beliefs and practices–published a map showing the best Jewish deli in every state. The compilation includes “delis with Jewish roots, serving standards like matzah ball soup or overstuffed sandwiches — kosher or not.” If you’re wondering where in New Mexico you can find a Jewish Deli, look no further than Santa Fe where the New York Deli’s “expansive menu features sandwiches named after NYC neighborhoods, plenty of deli sandwich options, and for breakfast, blintzes, bagels, and schmears.”
12 Tomatoes, whose mission it is “to inspire everyday cooks, every day“, may well inspire you to reach for your favorite cookie (assuming you keep them on hand all year-round). That’s because 12 Tomatoes compiled a list of the most iconic dessert from every state. Named the Land of Enchantment’s most iconic dessert was the bizcochito, about which 12 Tomatoes wrote “A sweet, buttery cookie flavored with cinnamon and anise, Bizcochitos became the official state cookie of New Mexico almost 30 years ago.” The only argument about this choice is whether you spell it with a “z” as in bizcochito or an “s” as in biscochito.
Boomerang BBQ of Wolfforth, Texas bested a field of ardent competitors to earned the New Mexico State Barbecue Championship at the Smokin’On The Pecos event held in Artesia. The championship was the seventh for Boomerang BBQ, earning the team an automatic entry into the Jack Daniels World Championship Invitational Barbecue.
For years your humble blogger has been shouting (at least virtually) that while Albuquerque and Santa Fe might be the apotheosis of the Land of Enchantment’s culinary scene, there’s so much more to dining in New Mexico than what these two epicenters offer. Hidden gem restaurants, many of which are yet to be reviewed on this blog, are pervasive throughout New Mexico. In its feature honoring the best tacos in every state across the fruited plain, Thrillist named La Herradura (which translates to “the horseshoe” in English) in Artesia as the best in New Mexico…and “perhaps the entire country.” Thrillist noted “The portions are heaping. The prices are almost embarrassingly cheap. And their world-class tacos — from the red sauce-soaked beef asada to their shredded beef desheredada — are served fresh, hot, and with a delicious plate of rice and beans as a worthy sidekick.”
In its feature honoring the best steakhouse in every state, Business Insider didn’t find New Mexico’s best chops in Albuquerque or Santa Fe. Instead, the Land of Enchantment’s best slab of beef can only be found in Double Eagle in Mesilla, increasingly a dining destination of repute among cognoscenti. Self-glossed the “crown jewel of historic Old Mesilla,” the Double Eagle is situated in an edifice constructed in 1849 which has been the site of many colorful and historic events. Business Insider seemed just as enamored of Double Eagle’s adult libations: “Margaritas and steak? It’s not a typical dining experience, but you won’t want to miss out on this combination at Double Eagle in Mesilla. Try the signature green chili Bloody Mary to spice up your evening.”
Only someone as brilliant as my friend Larry McGoldrick, the professor with a perspicacious palate, can hope to understand the Wilson Score formula used by Yelp to compile its first ever Top 50 Places to Eat in Albuquerque. Though the math may seem like Greek to most of us, we can all agree that this enumeration of exceptional eateries will come in handy when we’re contemplating where to eat. The list is sure to generate water cooler discussions among savvy and casual diners throughout the country. During our inaugural visit to 2G’s Bistro shortly after it was published, the list was a topic of conversation among several diners. It should be that way throughout the summer and beyond.
While it didn’t make it onto Yelp’s list of the top 50 places to eat in Albuquerque, El Pinto continues to garner national acclaim. It’s no surprise that this North Valley institution has one of the largest “I love me” walls in the city. For years it’s been drawing in throngs of devotees for its red chile ribs and generous margarita pours. Its most recent accolades come from fashionbeans.com, an online guide to men’s fashion (or at least men who don’t frequent JC Penney for its husky boy collection). Fashionbeans asked and answered the question “Are these really America’s most favorite restaurants.” On this compilation of one restaurant per state, El Pinto stood tall as the Land of Enchantment’s most beloved dining institution: “Often considered one of the best Mexican restaurants in the U.S., El Pinto has been serving up red chile ribs and margaritas in Albuquerque since 1962. Also, it’s one of the biggest restaurants you will ever visit.”
Via, an online resource from AAA, purports “to excite, to inform, and to entertain Western travelers.” To that end, it recently polled readers as to find the best places for pie across the west. Any way you slice it, no list of best pies in the universe (excluding pizza pies) has got to include Pie-On-Neer Pies in Pie Town, New Mexico. Via reader Barbara Weist commented “Head to Pie-O-Neer Pies in Pie Town, New Mexico, between Quemado and Datil on U.S. Highway 60. All they do is pie. The town developed in the 1920s, serving pies to the masses driving to California and other points west.”
Food and Wine partnered with People magazine to find the best hot dogs in every state. Named the Land of Enchantment’s best was one of its elder statesdogs (circa 1940), Albuquerque’s Dog House Drive In, a “no frills spot on Route 66” which “serves “footlong chili (SIC) dogs (served with red or green chili), tater tots and a killer Frito pie.” If (like me) your spellchecker finds the spelling “chili” offensive, pick up a coffee of my dear friend Becky Mercuri’s outstanding tome The Great American Hot Dog Book. She clarifies “Note, the spelling is chile, not chili, which New Mexico frowns upon as some kind of perverted Tex-Mex soup.” Bravo Becky and kudos to the Dog House.
Former American Idol winner and restaurant owner Taylor Hicks may have the best job in the country..or at least the tastiest. When he’s not entertaining or running his Alabama-based barbecue joint, he travels across the county for the Inspiration Channel’s State Plate program, assembling plates that represent each state’s most iconic foods. “From appetizers to main course to dessert, Taylor piles his plate high with delectable delights, as he makes his way across the country, meeting the people who take pride in their state’s foods.” His visit to New Mexico may have been the most enchanting (and certainly among the most delicious) of all the states he’s visited. The five items comprising the New Mexico state plate included carne adovada made from the increasingly rare Chimayo chile, green chile stew prepared by the great Rocky Durham at La Cienega’s Blue Heron Restaurant, calabacitas from The Santa Fe School of Cooking, stuffed sopaipillas from the Sopaipilla Factory in Pojoaque and for dessert, piñon brittle from Jericho Nursery. It would be so easy for New Mexicans to dispute some of these choices, but frankly State Plate did a pretty good job coming up with dishes which represent the Land of Enchantment so deliciously.
Long a staple of the collegiate diet, ramen’s “mass appeal has solidified it as both a cultural phenomenon and a global food craze.” That’s why Business Insider sought to locate the best ramen in each state. Named New Mexico’s best ramen was Albuquerque’s Naruto, a Central Avenue dining destination with an unimpeachable pedigree. Owners Hiro and Shohko Fukuda opened the Land of Enchantment’s very first sushi bar in 1975 and have been offering sushi nearly as long. Naruto’s Tonkotsu ramen is porcine perfection, an intensely porky elixir concocted by culinary wizards who, over many hours of simmering time, transform pork bones into an opaque broth with a rich, butyraceous flavor and the aroma of heaven.
The Taste SF, a culinary lifestyle website and photography company based in San Francisco is dedicated to sharing the best food, wine and culinary-focused travel experiences. Cognoscenti will tell you any New Mexico-focused culinary adventure has got to include Los Poblanos Historic Inn in Los Ranchos de Albuquerque. The Taste SF called Los Poblanos “one of our favorite places in Albuquerque.” A spectacular anthology of photographs accompanied a very respectful tribute with photos of the brunch entrees especially noteworthy.
Over the years few chefs have graced Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Year in Food as often as Marc Quinones, the über talented executive chef at Mas Tapas Y Vino. In 2017 for example, the New Mexico Restaurant Association’s “Chef of the Year” showed his versatility garnering a third-place-finish in the Great American Seafood Cook-off, a national competition held in New Orleans. His culinary career trajectory, passion and exposure seem to portend future James Beard nominations. Lois Alter Mark profiled Chef Quinones in an article fittingly titled The Secret Ingredient Award-Winning Chef Marc Quinones adds to Every dish. While it’s probably trite and cliche when chefs claim their secret ingredient is love, the interview reveals a rare passion which is suffused into every dish he prepares.
It wouldn’t surprise many people if you told them New Mexico has one of the 23 best Indian restaurants in America. After all, the Land of Enchantment has 23 tribes and an Indian population of more than 210,000. In its compilation of the best Indian restaurants across the fruited plain, Thrillist evaluated east Indian restaurants, not restaurants owned and operated by Native American Indians. Only one Indian restaurant from New Mexico made this hallowed list. That restaurant was Santa Fe’s Paper Dosa which “specializes in, well, its namesake dosa, or crepe made from a fermented batter, which arrives stuffed with ingredients like spiced paneer and peas, white truffle oil, spiced ground lamb, or green chile and not one, but three cheeses.”
“Ah, the American deli experience. This tasty tradition conjures visions of satiating potato latkes, pastrami sandwiches and other Jewish delicacies.” That’s how the Food Network describes delis in its compilation of the 50 Best Delis by State. Now, what Food Network describes as a deli and what some cafes label themselves as a deli are often two different things–especially in New Mexico. More often than not, delis in the Land of Enchantment are usually just glorified sandwich shops. Not so for Food Networks anointed deli, Bodega Prime, a bona fide deli which actually makes its own ricotta, queso fresco, brioche rolls and more. The Food Network noted “This spot takes the concept of an average bodega and blows it up to epic proportions by bringing retail, take-out and dine-in together in one sleek yet charming space.”
There’s so much more to the Land of Enchantment than Albuquerque and Santa Fe. If you’re not already subscribing to Melodie K’s Romancing Southern New Mexico newsletter, you’re missing out on the state’s spectacular southern half. From her home in the Las Cruces area, Melodie ventures out all over the Southwest, lovingly sharing stories on food, travel, and lifestyle. For a couple of years Melodie has also been sharing her photographs with readers of Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Blog as well as keeping us well apprised of food-centric news from the area…such as the following gem.
It’s official: Diners searching for the best of the best green chile in the Land of Enchantment need look no further than El Patron Cafe in Las Cruces. So say the readers of USA Today who voted El Patron their favorite of ten New Mexico restaurants known for doing the state’s most iconic food particularly well. More than a few legendary eateries figured in the top ten, including The Shed in Santa Fe and The Owl Cafe in San Antonio. But in the end, El Patron’s specialty dishes made with Hatch green chile, such as brisket nachos and a house posole, won the most hearts and votes.
“Whoever first uttered the phrase “American as apple pie” probably did so while perched on a stool at a crowded diner. So that means a diner is somehow more American than apple pie.” That’s how Thrillist began its feature on the 21 best diners in America. While nay-sayers may consider diners an endangered species, there are still several of them serving people-and-palate-pleasing plates of classic American foods…or in the cast of Santa Fe’s The Pantry, classic New Mexican cuisine. New Mexico’s sole representative on the list of sacrosanct diners, The Pantry is “1. damn iconic, 2. a place where you have a decent shot at running into Cormac McCarthy, and 3. serves impeccable New Mexican breakfasts.”
Here’s one from November, 2017 I missed: “Whether you call it a sandwich, a hoagie, or a sub, the combination of meat, vegetables, and condiments between two pieces of bread is a universally enjoyed dish all over the US.” With the help of Yelp, Business Insider compiled a list of the best sandwiches in the US based on the star rating and number of reviews of restaurants listed in the “sandwiches” category. Yelp reviewers gave the most love to the shredded beef sandwich from Albuquerque’s Guava Tree Cafe. With an average rating of 4.5 stars (out of 5), it’s sandwich nirvana for Duke City aficionados.
And another–this one from Road and Track. You might think that an online and print magazine written for the automotive enthusiast would know something about driving to great places to eat…and you’d be right. Road and Track compiled a list of The 50 Most Delicious Things to Eat on an American Road Trip, one from each state in the fruited plain. To absolutely no one’s surprise, there’s nothing better to eat in New Mexico than Hatch green chile. Here’s what Road and Track had to say: The town of Hatch, New Mexico, is so obsessed with its eponymous chiles that come Labor Day, the Hatch Chile Festival draws over 30,000 people to this tiny town of 1,600. And when the harvest comes, Hatch chile makes its way into everything Mexican and nearby Tex-Mex: Hatch chile sausage, Hatch chile beer, Hatch chile chili, Hatch chile and Sweet Lime Sandwich Cookies. You get the idea.
American journalist Anna Quindlen declared “ideas are like pizza dough, made to be tossed around.” At the International Pizza Expo in Las Vegas, everyone who is anyone in the independent and chain pizza industry gets together to share ideas, expand their knowledge and toss dough in pizza skills competitions. No one tosses dough as well as Robert Yacone and Kimberly Duncan, the high-energy and even higher in personality quotient dynamic duo who own and operate the incomparable Forghedaboudit in Deming. In the 2018 Expo, Kimberly’s pulchritudinous pepperoni and sausage pizza placed third in the Southwest region (California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Texas, Utah and Oklahoma) and fifth in the country in the traditional pizza category. In 2017, she won the Southwest region, placed second in the United States and fourth in the entire world.
Competing in the non-traditional pizza category, considered the most difficult competition at the Expo, Robert created a pizza which exemplifies creativity and genius: grilled jerk shrimp, applewood smoked bacon, avocado, mushrooms, Piave 18 month aged cheese, Bacio mozzarella lemon-lime zest topped with basil on a four-day old cold rise crust topped with garlic and olive oil!. Only two points separated Robert’s masterpiece from first place in a competition that pitted the best pizzaioli in the world. If you’re not beating a path to Deming right now (don’t forget to get reservations), you’re missing out on one of the best traditional pizzas in the world and a non-traditional pie I’d give my right arm for. Now go!
For the second consecutive year and third time overall, Santa Fe Chef Martin Rios became a finalist for the James Beard Foundation Awards in The Best Chef Southwest category, coming oh-so-close to earning the award in 2015 and 2017. One of New Mexico’s most heralded chefs, Rios continues to enthrall New Mexico diners with his innovative Progressive American cuisine at his eponymous Restaurant Martin. Since launching his restaurant, Rios has earned nine James Beard award nominations. Chef Rios is much too talented to become the Susan Lucci of the culinary world.
12 Tomatoes, an online presence whose byline is “Simple Recipes. Serious Flavor,” noted that while not every state in the fruited plain has an official state dessert, “each and every state is at least known for something sweet.” Reading the 12 Tomatoes list of the most iconic dessert in each state just might “be enough to make you want to take one sweet road trip.” So, what does 12 Tomatoes consider the most iconic sweet in the Land of Enchantment? Why, the bizcochito, of course. The feature described the bizcochito thusly: “A sweet, buttery cookie flavored with cinnamon and anise, Bizcochitos became the official state cookie of New Mexico almost 30 years ago.”
New Mexico hasn’t been widely heralded as a state in which great barbecue is to be found. That may be changing thanks to a small purveyor of bodacious barbecue in Tucumcari. Yes, Tucumcari. In February, Tucumcari’s Watson’s BBQ garnered national recognition from Thrillist as one of the best small town restaurants in the country. Just one month later, Watson’s earned an even more significant honor, being named one of the 50 best barbecue restaurants in America according to Yelp. Watson’s ranked 35th in the meaty pantheon. On 89 reviews (as of this date), Yelp reviewers gave Watson’s five stars.
In an episode of Food Paradise entitled “More Bite for the Buck,” the Travel Channel showcased where “frugal foodies across the country” go “to savor the savings while indulging in high quality meals without the high prices, from four dollar fried chicken tacos and one buck shucks to half-priced rib eyes and bargain breakfast bites.” The only restaurant in the Land of Enchantment to make the list is The Pantry in Santa Fe which for some reason, the program’s map depicted as being located in the Farmington area. “Widely known as Santa Fe’s meeting place,” The Pantry “has been a home away from home for generations of Santa Feans” giving guests a “bang for their buck.” Food Paradise noted that ” the food may be cheap, but it’s definitely rich, in particular the stuffed French toast.”
According to 24/7 Wall St., a financial news and opinion company with content delivered over the Internet, there are approximately 41,000 Chinese eateries across the fruited plain. “In recognition of Chinese cuisine’s proud place in the American culinary tradition,” 24/7 Wall St. created a list of the most popular Chinese restaurants in each state. Employing criteria as complicated as Chinese logograms but which included Yelp reviews, the Chinese Restaurant Foundation’s annual Top 100 Awards as well as dozens of restaurants reviews, polls, and other internet sources, the best from among the Land of Enchantment’s 166 Chinese restaurants was deemed to be Albuquerque’s Rising Star Chinese Eatery which has an average Yelp rating of 4.5 stars.
In some cultures, such foods as ballut (fertilized duck egg with its partly developed embryo insidel), chapulines (grasshoppers), huitlacoche (corn smut) and cazu marzu (rotten Pecorino cheese) are considered delicacies. To the editorial staff of Topix Off Beat, a technology company focusing on entertainment and news media, these foods would be considered “gross.” Topix compiled a list of the grossest food from every single US state. Using such terms as “horrifying foods, “worst regional food” and “some of these are bad,” the foods listed may gross out the non-foodies among us, but gallant gastronomes would very likely enjoy most of them. According to the third graders who wrote this feature, the grossest food in the Land of Enchantment is the green chile sundae. Topix had this to say: “New Mexicans put green chile in everything. EVERYTHING. Why should ice cream be any different? I don’t know, maybe it’s because it’s a frozen dairy dessert. What is your damage, New Mexico?” Huh?
“From the world’s most luxurious steaks to the season’s most vibrant veggies, diners across the country are going wild for homegrown goodness at these popular farm-to-table restaurants.” That was the premise of the Travel Channel’s Food Paradise episode entitled “Farm to Feast,” a term synonymous with Albuquerque’s Farm & Table. Since its launch in 2012, Farm & Table has been an exemplar of fine dining using locally grown produce, sustainable seafood and grass-fed beef. The short segment featuring Farm & Table showcased Chef Carrie Eagle’s terrific tortilla burger made with sharp Tucumcari Cheddar and roasted green chiles folded into a perfect bite and served with French fries and a side of pinto beans.
Urban America doesn’t hold exclusivity when it comes to great restaurants across the fruited plain. There are terrific eateries throughout rural America. They may not get the publicity of their big city brethren, but some are every bit as good…or better. Within the Land of Enchantment, restaurants such as Deming’s Forghedaboudit, Peñasco’s Sugar Nymph Bistro, El Rito’s El Farolito and Carlsbad’s Danny’s Place have garnered much-deserved attention from national press. Thrillist compiled its list of the absolute best small-town restaurants in the country. New Mexico’s best small town gem was deemed to be Watson’s BBQ in Tucumcari. Ensconced within a family-owned hardware store, Watson’s serves “mouth-watering brisket, ribs, potato salad, and beans to hungry travelers and locals working in the ranching biz.”
“Setting the table for romance involves an array of ingredients: scrumptious food, alluring ambiance, and bespoke service.” So says OpenTable whose Most Romantic Restaurants list for 2018 honors “the seductive spots at which couples are creating connections and savoring delicious memories.” The list of honorees is based on more than 12,000,000 reviews of more than 26,000 restaurants across the country — all submitted by verified OpenTable diners. Only one restaurant from New Mexico made the list, but it’s one for whom the term “romantic’ is certainly appropriate. New Mexico’s most romantic restaurant for 2018 is Santa Fe’s legendary Geronimo.
Not so fast, Geronimo. Food & Wine has its own opinion as to the Land of Enchantment’s most romantic restaurant. Just in time for Valentine’s Day, Food & Wine published its list of America’s most romantic restaurants. In its estimation, Tesuque’s Terra within the Four Seasons Rancho Encantado is as romantic as it gets. Food & Wine declared “If the glorious sunsets and sweeping mountain views at Terra don’t scream romantic to you, chances are nothing will. (Its garden-to-table dishes will also catch your eye.)”
Two of the most prolific and talented chefs in the Land of Enchantment were named semifinalists in the James Beard Foundation Awards for 2018. A 2017 semi-finalist in the Rising Star Chef of the Year category, Colin Shane, chef at Arroyo Vino in Santa Fe, repeated in that category in 2018. Also repeating as a semi-finalist is Martin Rios, a 2017 finalist for Best Chef: Southwest category. Since launching Restaurant Martin, Rios has earned eight James Beard award nominations. Rios is actually a two-time finalist for the Best Chef Southwest category, coming oh-so-close in 2015 and 2017.
It’s probable that if you see a restaurant featuring “Chimayó chile” on its menu, the chile actually came from somewhere else. In an article entitled “Why This New Mexico Chile Has An International Cult Following,” Food & Wine lamented that the Chimayó Chile is so precious that a counterfeit market has emerged. Chimayó chile, a distinctly orange-reddish chile craved by connoisseurs the world over is the most prized culinary item in the agrarian community half an hour north of Santa Fe. Despite being so prized, it is grown only in Chimayó and only in small batches by farmers whose families reap the bounty of their harvests. The chile is grown from original heirloom seeds passed down from generation to generation.
“The humble donut has come along way in recent years, from an obligatory morning staple serving mainly as the basis for cop jokes to an object of obsession that replaced cupcakes as the “everyday sweet treat that everyone’s making all fancy” of the moment.” Thrillist notes “the common denominator” in its compilation of the 31 best donut shops in America “is the kind of eye-rolling satisfaction that’ll dictate a “yes” when you inevitably ponder whether or not to eat another one.” Frankly, you shouldn’t ever have to ponder whether or not to eat another one. That’s especially true at Thrillist’s sole heralded donut from New Mexico, Whoo’s Donuts in Santa Fe. Thrillist raves about the blue corn donut” “Just imagine a corn muffin that was made with blue corn and then cross pollinated with a donut with fantastic results. Then go eat one so you no longer have to imagine.”
Silver City’s loss has become St. Louis, Missouri’s gain. In 2016, James Beard nominated chef Rob Connoley left the very highly regarded The Curious Kumquat and moved to the Gateway City. Two years later, he launched Squatter’s Cafe which was recently featured in a mostly complimentary review from the St. Louis Post Dispatch. The review chronicled his self-taught, second-career chef journey, an unconventional trek that includes modernist cooking and foraged ingredients. The review declared his latest venture ” one of the most interesting and appealing breakfast-lunch restaurants to open in St. Louis in recent memory.”
In 1680, Northern New Mexico’s Pueblos orchestrated a bloody revolt to expel Spanish settlers from the Land of Enchantment. On the Travel Channel’s Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern program, the host explored the route taken by Pueblo leader Po’pay and the united Pueblo peoples during the revolt. In a very respectful tribute to “America’s First Revolution,” Zimmern visited several pueblos and the Jicarilla Apache Nation where he explored native traditions and learned about the pre-contact (the period before the contact of New Mexico’s indigenous people with the Spanish culture) diet and its healthful benefits. Among the delicacies he sampled were porcupine heart, acorn mush cake and elk jerky.
Over the years, Albuquerque has garnered a lot of notoriety. Thanks largely to a television show about crystal meth, it’s been stereotyped and besmirched. What it’s never been called is underrated. That is, not until Thrillist put together a compilation of the Most Underrated Cities to Visit in All 50 States. For some reason, Albuquerque was named New Mexico’s most underrated city. Huh? Thrillist advises prospective visitors to “forget you ever saw an episode of Breaking Bad and you’ll be floored by Albuquerque.” Among the many reasons Albuquerque is underrated is “the The Southwestern influence” which “gives ABQ an impressive food scene, with spots like El Pinto and the James Beard Award-winning Mary & Tito’s Café.”
If you visit a New Mexican restaurant and you’re offered red or green “sauce,” you might have to question if (like Bugs Bunny) you made a left turn in Albuquerque and wound up in Denver. Virtually no one calls our sacrosanct red and green chile “sauces.” That is virtually no one who’s lived in the Land of Enchantment for a while or the Travel Channel. In an episode of Food Paradise entitled “Saucy,” the Travel Channel showcased some of the best sauce-driven dishes across the fruited plain. Recognized for its red and green chile “sauces” was Santa Fe’s Tia Sophia’s, a veritable institution on the famous Plaza.
In its February issue, Sunset Magazine named Albuquerque as one of “20 Game-Changers That Are Redefining the West,” ranking the Duke City 17th. “Considering the strong public-art program, miles of hiking trails, and 310 annual days of sunshine, it’s no wonder the locals don’t boast. They’re too busy living,” wrote Sunset’s editors. Sunset also noted “coffee roasters, restaurants, and food trucks are launching to keep up, many of them focused on local, organic produce, especially New Mexico’s beloved green chile.”
“To get all existential about it – how do I know the perfect donut for me is the perfect donut for you? The truth is there really is no Perfect Donut because we all love different things. So at Rebel Donut, we are all about options.” How’s that for an appealing mission statement or operating philosophy, not that Rebel Donut’s Web site calls it that. With that level of commitment to variety and people pleasing, is it any wonder Albuquerque’s Rebel Donut was named “The Best Donut Shop in New Mexico” by Delish. Like Rebel Donut, Delish believes “there’s no wrong way to eat a donut.” To compile its list of each state’s best donuts, Delish consulted Yelp, increasingly the most reliable crowd-source on culinary matters.
“In most of America, winter sucks. It is cold out. You don’t feel like doing anything, so you get fat. Pipes freeze. Lips, noses, and cheeks get chapped and raw. Black ice kills.” That’s how Thrillist began its feature “Every State Ranked By How Miserable Its Winters Are.” Not surprisingly the state whose winters were deemed most palatable was Hawaii while Minnesota’s winter was rated most miserable. New Mexico was ranked 45th in the winter misery index, meaning our winters are the fifth best across the fruited plain. It may raise your temperature to learn that Thrillist believes “New Mexico is basically Colorado” because we both “have high plains, mountain ranges, deserts, basins, and affiliations to green chile.”
BuzzFeed which purports to have “all the trending buzz you’ll want to share with your friends” consulted Yelp to uncover the top new restaurant that opened in 2017 in every single state. Taking into account the number of reviews and star ratings for every new restaurant on the site, Buzzfeed then compiled a list of “the one restaurant to try in every state in 2018.” New Mexico’s very best new restaurant, according to Yelp’s algorithm was Fresh Bistro in Los Ranchos de Albuquerque. Yelper Bella B. described Fresh as “Lovely French- and Italian-inspired creations will keep you enticed at this charming, cozy, and newly transformed restaurant in Los Ranchos.”
Cheapism, an online presence which scours the internet for news stories and resources that are informative and fun and can help you save money, acknowledges that “no shortage of cheap, delicious pizza across America, but sometimes something that demands a little more finesse, like veal parmigiana or ravioli heaped with red sauce, is required.” In tracking down “the best old-school Italian restaurant in every state,” believed there could only be one choice for the best Italian restaurant in New Mexico. Joe’s Pasta House “offers an oasis of Italian just north of Albuquerque. Go traditional with a dish like carbonara, ziti alla vodka or gnocchi, or try the well-reviewed Southwestern fettucine, which has green chile and crushed red peppers for a local twist.”
“A coffee shop’s design often reflects its neighborhood.” Perhaps only an architect would think in those terms. The rest of us typically walk into our favorite coffee shops in a weary and bleary state and only after a caffeine fix do we even notice the ambiance which surrounds us. The Architectural Digest published its list of the most beautiful coffee shop in every state in America. The Land of Enchantment’s most beautiful coffee shop was deemed to be Zendo in Albuquerque. Here’s what the Digest had to say: “On warm days, the outdoor patio at Zendo is open for seating, marked by a colorful mural and covered by sailcloth. The minimalist interior—white-washed brick walls and concrete floors—is pretty sweet, too.”
“Grabbing guac? Craving queso? Dips reflect history, a sense of place and evoke a strong sense of home-state pride, whether they feature locally caught seafood, export-worthy cheese or indigenous produce. So grab that cracker, chip, fry or veggie, and dig into the dips that give each state something to sing about.” That’s how the Food Network Magazine began its feature 50 States of Dips. Arizona’s best dip is salsa while California goes gaga for guacamole and Colorado gets mountain high over choriqueso (from a restaurant called Chili Verde). Representing the Land of Enchantment is the Frontier Restaurant’s Green Chile Salsa. “The salsa gets a double dose of heat from flame-roasted green chiles and jalapenos, which are simmered with sautéed onions, tomatoes and spices and served warm.”
A Travel Channel program called Roadside Eats: Top 20 counts down the “top 20 restaurants in America that might just require a little extra mileage to get to. Just off I-25 in the desert hamlet of San Antonio is the world-famous Owl Cafe where the original owner Jose Miera is credited with having invented the green chile cheeseburger. The Owl Cafe was the only restaurant in New Mexico to have made the list, but savvy New Mexicans know that the Buckhorn Tavern another destination roadside eat lies just across the street from The Owl and it’s not just The Owl’s overflow crowds who visit. San Antonio is an exemplar of roadside eats!
Every year on the Saturday preceding some much ballyhooed football game, Albuquerque’s Roadrunner Food Bank hosts the Souper Bowl, an annual soup and dessert event which brings 1,200 people into the Food Bank facility to enjoy the wonderful creations of restaurants from throughout the metro area. While at the event, attendee are able to vote for and select People’s Choice winners by submitting a ballot voting for their favorite soup and dessert. Drumroll, please. The 2018 Souper Bowl winners were:
People’s Choice – Overall Soup Winners
1st: The Corn Maiden at the Hyatt Tamaya (Sweet Corn Chowder)
2nd: 99 Degrees Seafood Kitchen (Vegetarian Soup- plantain fennel and butternut squash)
3rd: Indigo Crow (Lavender and corn bisque with smoked crema)
People’s Choice – Vegetarian Soup Winners
1st: 99 Degrees Seafood Kitchen (Vegetarian Soup- plantain fennel and butternut squash)
2nd: The Daily Grind (Blue cheese root vegetable)
3rd: Zacatecas Tacos (Negro Modelo-Tillamook Cheddar Soup
1st: Zactecas Tacos + Tequila+ Bourbon
2nd: 99 Degrees Seafood Kitchen
3rd: Sage Dining @ Albuquerque Academy
Critic’s Choice Awards were chosen by a panel of six judges (including yours truly) who rated each soup based on appearance, aroma, texture, spice blend, flavor and overall impression.
Critics’ Choice Winners
1st Place: Sage Dining @ Albuquerque Academy (“Street” Elote Soup- Roasted Corn Chowder topped with Cotija Cheese)
2nd Place: Ranchers Club of New Mexico (Crab and Green Chile Chowder with Corn)
3rd Place: Garduños (Elote Soup)
Celebrating its 24th anniversary, Santa Fe’s version of the Souper Bowl was also a huge success. In 2017, over 160,000 meals were served that might otherwise been missed, thanks to the generosity of soup lovers, who supported this event. Some of the city’s very best purveyors of soup accorded themselves very well:
Best Overall Soup: Nath’s Inspired Khmer Cuisine (Chicken Tom Yum Soup)
Best Savory Soup: Nath’s Inspired Khmer Cuisine (Chicken Tom Yum Soup)
Best Vegetarian: Kingston Residence of Santa Fe (Cold Pistachio Soup)
Best Seafood Soup: Dinner For Two (Lobster Bisque)
Best Cream Soup: Jambo Cafe (Curry Roasted Garlic & Coconut Cream Bisque)