AK Deli – Albuquerque, New Mexico

AK Deli, a True Chicago-Style Sandwich Shop

“You’ll never be one of us,” my brother-in-law Chuck quipped in his best Baron von Trapp voice. He wasn’t talking about me being part of the family. He was talking about me being a Chicagoan. Chuck wasn’t being mean-spirited or condescending in any way. The only person not born in the Windy City whom he considers a true Chicagoan is da coach Mike Ditka. “He’s the embodiment of Chicago. It’s in his soul. It’s his attitude.” he explained. Michael Jordan? “Nah, his Royal Airness probably has never even had a real Italian beef sandwich.” Oprah? “Too Hollywood. Not a real person.” Barack Obama? (Surely a former President for whom Chuck voted twice would have to be given a pass). “Politicians are what make Chicago the “Windy City,” he joked. “To be a Chicagoan, you have to have been born here, not transplanted here in your 20s,” Chuck qualified. He isn’t alone in his thinking. A lot of people in the Windy City feel that way and they’re not xenophobic in the least.

Throughout Chicago the walls at many small cafes, diners and hot dog stands are festooned with a poster entitled “You know you’re from Chicago when…” This colorful, fact-filled poster was created by Vienna Beef, the true sausage king of Chicago (with apologies to Abe Froman, the mythical sovereign of tubed meat immortalized in the 1986 classic “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.)” Among other things, the poster will tell you that you’re from Chicago if…”you know what the phone number is for Empire Carpet (it’s 588-2300, by the way),” “you commute 20-feet above street level,” “you have two favorite football teams—the Bears and anyone who beats the Packers,” and of course, “you know you’re from Chicago when you insist on a Vienna Beef hot dog with all seven condiments” (more on this later).

Chicago Hotdog Made with Vienna Beef Hot Dogs

Vienna Beef’s famous poster festoons one wall at AK Deli, the Chicago-style sandwich shop which opened its doors shortly after Labor Day in 2017. The Deli is named for Allan and Kameko, the friendly husband-and-wife couple who own what has already become one of my favorite sandwich destinations in Albuquerque (four visits in two weeks).  Allan is originally from the south side of Chicago which legendary troubadour Jim Croce described as “the baddest part of town,” while Kameko is from Aurora.  AK Deli is located in a nondescript shopping center on Wyoming Blvd just north of Comanche. It’s next door to Ortega’s New Mexican Restaurant. Sadly it isn’t nearly as capacious as Ortega’s. In fact, it’s downright Lilliputian. Within feet of its entrance, you run into the counter where you place your order. There’s a menu on one wall and a few chairs where you can sit while you wait for your order.  There’s not much else.

Unlike two classic Saturday Night Live (SNL) skits which immortalized Chicago, there aren’t many telltale signs that AK Deli is destined to be a second home for Chicago transplants living in the Duke City (and for those of us who love the City of Big Shoulders). No, you won’t hear the exaggerated Chicago accent embodied by George Wendt playing Bill Swerski on the Saturday Night Live “Super Fans” skit. Nor will you hear anything approximating “cheeburger, cheep and Pepsi” as you might at Chicago’s Billy Goat Tavern (and in another classic SNL skit). What you will find is amiable people who are happy to see you…and contrary to stereotypes, there are very nice people in Chicago.  They’re happy to answer your questions on their little restaurant and big menu.

Italian Combo with Hot Giardinara

That menu is very similar to what you’d see at restaurants and cafes throughout Chicago where the distinction between blue-collar and white-collar is blurred because real Chicagoans tend to love the same foods.  Three breakfast sandwiches–available in your choice of bread: bagel, English muffin or toast–as well as bagel and cream cheese will open your eyes in the morning, but Chicagoans (including wannabe-Chicagoans like me) will gravitate toward the “Chicago Favorites” menu.  That’s where you find Chicago hotdogs, Italian beef, Italian combo (sausage and beef) and the ribeye steak sandwich.  Other sandwich choices include pastrami, corned beef, fried bologna and more.

You can have your sandwich dressed with such condiments as mustard, spicy mustard, mayo, A1 steak sauce and BBQ sauce.  Available cheeses include Cheddar, Havarti, Provolone and Swiss.  Sandwiches can be constructed on a canvas of rye bread, sourdough, kaiser roll, English muffin or bagel.  Extras include whole pickles and chips–Lay’s or Jay’s.  The latter is a 90-year old Chicago institution.  Of course, you know you’re from Chicago if you grew up eating Jay’s potato chips.  My Kim got me hooked on Jay’s, especially the open pit BBQ chips with their hint of heat.  AK Deli offers these gems and will soon be carrying regular potato chips, too.

Fried Bologna Sandwich

If you know only one thing about eating a hot dog in Chicago, it’s probably the hard and fast rule: absolutely, under penalty of ridicule or torture, no ketchup!!!  Even Dirty Harry, who’s not even from Chicago, will tell you (in the movie Sudden Impact) in his inimitable manner: “Nobody, I mean nobody, puts ketchup on a hot dog.”  Though he didn’t declare a presidential fiat, Barack Obama (sounding very much like a real Chicagoan) chimed in: “You shouldn’t put ketchup on your hot dog.”  The most definitive anti-ketchup declaration, however, came from Chicago’s legendary columnist Mike Royko: “No, I won’t condemn anyone for putting ketchup on a hot dog. This is the land of the free. And if someone wants to put ketchup on a hot dog and actually eat the awful thing, that is their right. It is also their right to put mayo or chocolate syrup or toenail clippings or cat hair on a hot dog. Sure, it would be disgusting and perverted, and they would be shaming themselves and their loved ones. But under our system of government, it is their right to be barbarians.”

18 September 2017: There is absolutely no ketchup in a Chicago Hotdog, whom Chicagoans lovingly tease is “dragged through the garden” because of the many accoutrements with which it is constructed: yellow mustard, chopped white onions, neon green sweet pickle relish, a dill pickle spear, tomato wedges, pickled sport peppers and a dash or two of celery salt on a poppy seed bun (preferably from Rosen’s).   Then there’s the Vienna Beef hot dog in a natural casing with its first-bite-snap.  By the way, you should never say “Chicago style hot dog” because “style” implies Chicago’s hot dogs are a variation of an original. No self-respecting Chicagoan can accept that.  AK’s rendition of the Chicago Hotdog is exemplary (my Kim called it “spectacular.”).  It will trigger memories of your very first Chicago Hotdog.  This is what most transplanted Chicagoans will order their first visit to AK Deli.

Pastrami on Rye

Ask any Chicago transplant in Albuquerque or anywhere else to list the five things they miss most about the Windy City and it’s a good bet the list will include Italian beef sandwiches, a staple in Chicago. Citizens of the Toddlin’ Town are almost as passionate about this sloppy sandwich as they are Da Bears. Chicagoans grow up worshiping at high counters on which they prop their elbows as they consume Italian beef sandwiches–sometimes because the restaurant has no tables, but more often than not, because no matter how careful they are, they’re bound to spill shards of beef, bits of giardiniera and drippings of spice-laden beef gravy onto their clothing. An Italian beef sandwich is made with roasted sirloin tip which is massaged with a blend of herbs and spices (oregano, black pepper, basil and more) before roasting. The beef is sliced Nicole Ritchie thin and is so tender it shreds into pieces.  Kameko’s favorite Italian beef sandwich, by the way, comes from Portillo’s.

18 September 2017: At many Chicago restaurants, it is momentarily immersed (dipped) in the gravy to make it even juicier. It is often served with either hot or mild giardiniera (a concoction of spicy, pickled, chopped-up vegetables such as peppers, carrots, cauliflower and celery), but sometimes with sautéed mushrooms and bell peppers. The entire creation is extremely messy; you dare not ever try to eat one while driving.  My favorite variation is an Italian combo which pairs Italian sausage with the Italian beef.   AK Deli’s rendition is very good though I regret not having had it served “wet” (dipped).  The gravy is a wonderful counterbalance to the heat of the hot giardiniera.  During her inaugural visit with me on September 30th, my Kim had an Italian Beef sans everything–and she had it wet.  “It’s just like home,” she declared.

Jay’s Open Pit BBQ Chips, a Chicago Staple

20 September 2017: Midwesterners have long claimed fried bologna sandwiches as their own, but if you’re from Northern New Mexico (particularly if you lived on or near an Indian pueblo), you’ve probably consumed dozens of fried bologna sandwiches in your day.  In that regard, having a fried bologna sandwich from AK Deli was for me like going home.  Another way in which it was akin to going home is that AK Deli prepares sandwiches the same way we do at home.  That means they’re not chintzy in their portions.  With three thick slices of bologna fried just the way I like it, mustard and onions on lightly toasted sourdough, this is a sandwich’s sandwich.  Comedian Mitch Hedberg calls bologna “a deli meat for people with eyes.”  It’s also for people with great taste who love deli meats that taste great!

30 September 2017: In two of my first four visits, my choice has been a pastrami sandwich–a regular-sized sandwich my first visit and an “AK Max” sandwich on my second.  Both times the pastrami has been served on a canvas of light rye with mustard–the way Chicagoans like pastrami.  The pastrami served at AK Deli is quite a bit thicker than the fabulous pastrami served at California Pastrami.  While Joe Rodriguez slices his pastrami into thin shards, at AK Deli the pastrami is sliced into thick ribbons.  Aside from the distinctive brine flavor that characterizes great pastrami, this pastrami has a peppery influence–large flecks of pepper that compete with the mustard as the most assertive element of the sandwich.  It reminded me very much of the wonderful pastrami sandwiches shared with Aunt Emily at Siegelman’s Deli in Arlington Heights, a Chicago suburb.

Ribeye Steak Sandwich on a Kaiser Roll

21 September 2017:  Determined to have something other than a pastrami sandwich or Italian combo, I asked Kameko what her favorite sandwich is.  Without hesitation she recommended the Ribeye Steak Sandwich on a kaiser roll with A1 sauce, onions, tomato and lettuce.  That’s just how Allan prepared it for me and I loved every single bite.  Ribeye is tender, juicy and full-flavored, with nice marbling throughout.  It loses none of those qualities the way it’s prepared at AK Deli.  This is a terrific sandwich!  By the way, you should always order the combo which includes chips (Jay’s, of course) and a soda. 

You may have noticed that AK Deli is the 1000th review published on Gil’s Thrilling…  While achieving a millennial occasion of any sort is one worthy of celebration with friends and family, the truth is I often dine alone.  I wanted to be alone on this momentous occasion to take pause to reflect on the many wonderful friends this blog has brought into my life.  My journey to 1000 reviews has been made special because it’s been shared–on at least one meal–by great friends such as Andrea Lin, Barbara Chase, Bill Resnik, Bob of the Village of Los Ranchos, Bruce and Grayce Schor, Bruce “Sr. Plata” Silver, Bruce Terzes, Bryan Byun, Captain Escalante Tuttle, Carrie Seidman, Dave Hurayt,  Dazzling Deanell, Delightful Darren, Elaine Rising, Esther Ferguson, Franziska Moore,  Dennis Gromelski, Hannah Walraven, Henry Gabaldon, Howie Kaibel, Huu Vu, Jim Millington and The Child Bride, Jim and Sylvia Westmoreland, John Colangelo, John and Kay Lucas, John and Zelma Baldwin, Joe Vaughn, Karen Baehr, Professor Larry McGoldrick, Mary Ann Spencer, Mike Muller, Nader Khalil, Nikko Harada,  Paul Lilly, Ruben Hendrickson, Ryan “Break the Chain” and Kimber Scott, Schuyler, Scott McMillan, Shawn Riley, Tom and Elyn Hamilton, Tuan Bui and others whose names may not appear here, but which are forever impressed in my heart.  Thank you for accompanying me on this cavalcade of calories.

AK Deli
3615B Wyoming Blvd, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 639-4249
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 30 September 2017
# OF VISITS: 4
RATING: 21
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Pastrami Sandwich, Chicago Hot Dog, Italian Combo Sandwich, Ribeye Steak Sandwich, Jay’s Open Pit BBQ Chips, Fried Bologna Sandwich
REVIEW #1000

AK Deli Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

22 comments

  • This review has earned my Brilliancy Prize.

    Dazzler and I will meet you there any time—the sooner, the better.

    Professor Larry,
    The University of Chicago.

  • Jen

    Everything looks so good! I have driven by this many times – now I have to actually stop in.

    Congratulations on #1000, Gil!

    • Thank you, Jen. You have been a wonderful part of the culinary adventure and I appreciate your support and friendship. Hearty congratulations on your recent Facebook announcement and best of luck in your own new adventures. You’ll do great things!

  • BOTVOLR

    Ya took me over the edge Michael.
    My Bad! I should’ve re-read the Blog and asked for the Italian Beef “wet”. (In LA’s 100+ yr old Philippe’s, munchers request Double Dipped for the French Dip invented there. As such, I’m not sure what we do here as given once something is wet, can it be double wet?) Be all that as it may, that is one heckof an outlay of “shaved(?)”, tender, beef picturesquely nestled in a substantial bun. Not so substantial mind you, as some places have gotten, whereby you are eating mostly bun to save costs of the beef etc.. IMHO, buns can be very important and can be enticing. Take for example, the bun of a Schlotzsky’s is supreme. I think a great Kaiser adds to a straight, thinly shaved Pastrami, and Kaisers were an “added” lure at a burger place I’d worked as a BAed college grad. In New England, hot dog buns are actually baked shaved/nekked on the sides http://tinyurl.com/ydaatlo4 so they can be buttered and grilled which adds something Especial to the Iconic Lobster Roll, akin to mayo wisped (i.e. as how two debutantes greet each other) on the lobster, is often the only addition.
    – Ya know, AK D’s gives added veridicality to “You’re never to old to learn!” While I know Bob Newhart had his office on the 7th floor in Chicago, I never knew of Giardinara (I’ve since asked WallyMart for some individual bottles on its shelves.) Indeed, when I read Giardinara, I was expecting some nuanced/coded weirdness about Giada. Indeed, Giardinara is hot so ya don’t have to fret about not having Green Chile on it.
    – Remember, this is not a Sit-Down place and ya shouldn’t eat while driving. While ya might lament that trying to get away from work for lunch, I’m thinking it is an astute Business-Venture Plan to see how things will go. Elsewise, my choice was properly wrapped for travel.
    -While I can actually make one at home, one of these days, I will have to give the Fried Round Steak a try and even a Chicago Dog if that is Sweet Relish I espy and chopped onions, a whimsy of mustard, but no tomatoes and, I agree with Clint et al…NO Heinz Ketchup!

    • Michael

      BOTVOLR,
      Philippes The Original is the best. I’ve eaten a hundred pounds of sandwiches there. The beef is my favorite, wet of course and the lamb is good also topped with the house made hot mustard. I did not order the Italian Beef at AK wet as I didn’t think the bun would hold up as it doesn’t have a crusty exterior. I might have to try it for the au jus and eat it with a fork if need be. AK’s plan is a bigger location with tables, right now its very representative of a Chicago stand, take away only, according to Bill my Chicago food expert.

      • BOTVOLR

        Whoa Michael! A Philipper! Over the years of mentioning Philippes herein (per it being circa 107 years old and inventor of the French Dip), I’m thinking most shrugged my exuberance. Alas, Thanks for the confirmation that if the beef could be gotten, I’m wondering if we could find a place featuring scant parking, wherein we’d place mostly Community tables, if the noon/supper time mayhem as seen here http://tinyurl.com/yaa24ovu with sawdust still on the floor, could this not be a hit HERE! And nowadays being a BrewPub????
        Say, I’m also wondering: could we use Wharton’s cost savings principle of The Economy of Size by having Philippe box us up a couple dozen sandwiches (for personal use) with au jus on the side and take ’em just down the street to Union Station to entrust them to a conductor, who we’d hit with a couple of bucks or sandwiches, on the 6:10 PM Super Chief that arrives just in time for lunch at 11:42AM in Albuquerque on it’s way to…of all places….Chicago!!!!
        – Given you mentioned the Dodgers as if you knew them as being initially born in Chavez* Ravine, I’m thinking several places http://tinyurl.com/y8ww6psc known as Woody’s Smogasburgers e.g. http://tinyurl.com/yc7qdb28, were before your time????
        *Shaah VEZ as some Eastern sportscasters are wont to mispronounce…LOL

  • Michael

    Well, I’ve been back three more times as I’m slowly eating my way through the menu. I’ve had the Chicago Dog once and the Maxwell Street Polish twice, it comes on a poppy seed bun, mustard, Vienna polish dog and grilled onions. My only critique is the onions need to be caramelized more to attain the sweet flavor that I like. Today I had the Italian Beef Sandwich with Giardiniera and sport peppers. Giardiniera is a relish made from jalapenos, celery, carrots, onions, oregano, vinegar and oil. There are of course different recipes with some being hotter than others. AK has there’s shipped in from Chicago. The sandwich woke up my taste buds and made my head sweat. One word description, Outstanding! Added a soda and a bag of Jays Barbecue chips to my order. My buddy bill who’s from Chicago, Rosco St. loves this place and the Jays take him back to his childhood. He’s a Cubs fan and I’m a Dodgers fan but we agree on one thing, AK is great. I urge you to go there now, turn the lap top off and just go, you’re gonna like it.

    • I’m so glad you’re enjoying AK Deli so much, Michael. As good as the Italian beef may be, try the Italian combo (sausage and Italian beef) with that magical giardiniera. It’s the best combination since peanut butter and chocolate.

      You must be thrilled that the Dodgers are going to the world series for the first time since Kirk Gibson’s legendary homerun.

      • Michael

        I had to laugh as the combo is next on my list. I saw Bill yesterday as he stopped by the cigar shop we frequent. He brought the steak sandwich with him and was pleased with his choice.
        As for the Dodgers, Ive been a fan since childhood and tho born in the Duke city I lived in SO CA for decades. I love a Dodger Dog made by Farmer Johns and available at grocery stores in CA. Delicious and longer than the bun so you get a two bite bonus with each dog. At Chavez Ravine aka Dodger Stadium, they come with the usual hot dog condiments. When I’d make em at home I’d make my outstanding hot dog chile to go on top along with yellow mustard, finely chopped white onions and a couple of pickled yellow hots.

  • Michael

    I had lunch with my friend Bill who grew up three blocks from Wrigley in Chicago, he’s always telling me that you cant get a Chicago dog in Albuquerque. I read Gil’s review over the weekend and was excited to tell Bill.
    He and his wife were in AZ for the weekend and they ate at Portillos and had a Chicago dog. I’ve had a few Chicago style dogs and since I’ve never been to Chicago what do I know. It’s all about the dog, the
    Vienna dog that everyone in Chicago uses. Well, it was very good, snapped when I bit into it and it came with everything. We both had the dog and for 2 dollars extra a bag of Jays Barbecue Chips and a can of soda.
    I’m going to eat my way thru the menu and we both agreed we’d be back. We had a nice conversation with Al and his wife who own the place. I’m telling everyone I know that they have to go there for a dog or any one of the many Chicago originals on the menu.

  • Donna

    Spot on Italian Beef. Even the bread tasted like Turano’s. I’ll be back to enjoy the rest of the menu!

  • john baldwin

    You did it again. We would probably never have known about AK since we rarely travel an that part of Wyoming. Zee had the Italian beef and I had the beef and sausage combo. They were both great and we will return. The owners were very nice. We highly recommend the place.

  • 1000. My man. Much respect.

    • I concur

      Much respect, and I too have enjoyed dining with yourself and Ryan. Good company makes any restaurant a 5 star outing…

    • BOTVOLR

      Indeed Kudos on 1K! Am sure Y’all Concur in wishing him a Bon Appetit as he will now be munching on his way to 2K!
      (As an aside, is there any truth to the mitote (gossip) that he’ll be expanding to eruditely comment on the nuances the likes of Giada and Marie, for example, have to offer, let alone as more Meals-by-Fedex come online?

      • Thank you very much BOTVOLR, Captain Tuttle and Ryan.

        There is no truth to the mitote that I’ll be commenting about Giada’s cleavage or the disproportionate size of her head. Oops, I think I just did.

        • Giada

          Say what you will about Giada’s, umm, features, but I absolutely love her foodgasms. You can almost taste just how good the dish is when she closes her eyes and makes those sounds…just saying…

          • Schuyler

            LOL. When Morimoto and Batali close their eyes and make those sounds, it’s because they need more roughage in their diets. When they experience a foodgasm, I change the channel.

  • I have been stalking the blog all week to see what #1000 would be! I moved back to ABQ in 2005 and have relied on your reviews ever since. Congratulations, thank you, and cheers!

    • Hi Merritt

      Thank your for the kind words and hearty congratulations on Vox Optima. It’s very gratifying to see a fellow veteran achieve so much. You’re a great asset to Albuquerque.

      Gil

  • Franziska

    Gil,
    Congratulations on the milestone and thank you, thank you, thank you, for the numerous dining experiences, memories of which will always be cast in neon hues. I will never be capable of eating chapulines without thinking of you!

    Franziska

    • Hi Franzi,
      It’s always a joyous event hearing from Albuquerque’s most beauteous and talented barrister. I look forward to the day when you’re elected mayor and Finn replaces me as the nmgastronome. With her precocious mind and fearless palate, she’ll do a great job. Thank you for letting me occasionally bask in your presence. You are one of a kind and very special to us. Someday soon we’ve got to enjoy chapulines again.

      Gil

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