Gil's Thrilling (And Filling) Blog

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Dining Albuquerque

Downtown Albuquerque (Courtesy of Sarah Rose)

Downtown Albuquerque (Courtesy of Sarah Rose)

As New Mexico’s largest city, Albuquerque also provides its most plentiful and diverse dining opportunities.  Lying in the Chihuahuan Desert near the geographical center of New Mexico, the “Duke City” is situated on a plain along the banks of the Rio Grande and at the base of the Sandia Mountains to the east.

Historically a tricultural city representing a synergy of Native American, Hispanic and Anglo cultures, both modern and traditional cultures coexist in a relatively easy harmony.  As a result, Albuquerque is very accepting to diversity in dining.

Less than 20 years ago “diversity” was not a term you could ascribe to the Albuquerque dining scene.  Aside from a preponderance of New Mexican and American restaurants, the only other ethnic restaurants represented in appreciable numbers were Chinese and Italian.

My friend Bill Resnik attepts to bite into the Have your Cake Dagwood sandwich

My friend Bill Resnik attepts to bite into the Have your Cake Dagwood sandwich

Burgeoning growth over the past three decades resulted in a population, which in 2002, surpassed half a million.  It also meant the introduction into our dining scene, of restaurants crossing many ethnic groups and demographics.

Bigger is not always better and with an increase in population, Albuquerque also has seen the onslaught of many nation-wide franchise restaurants, most of which dot the frontage roads visible from the city’s freeways.

Some of these interlopers have essentially driven long-established “mom and pop” restaurants out of business.  During the 18 month period starting at about January, 2003, the number of chain restaurants in the Duke City doubled, adding over 5,000 seats to an already glutted market.  At the same time, the number of new seats for restaurants not in the “chain gang” increased by just over 200.

The famous Lotaburger marquee (Photo courtesy of Sarah Rose)

Several years ago some innovative Duke City restaurateurs fought back, forming the “Albuquerque Originals”, one of sixteen chapters nationwide dedicated to promoting the independent restaurant.  Many of the city’s best restaurants belong to the Originals: Artichoke Cafe, Ambrozia, Graze, Great American Land & Cattle Company, Indigo Crow, McGrath’s, Rancher’s Club, The Range Cafe, Scarpa’s, Seasons, Yanni’s and others among them.

It baffles me as to why the local populace would prefer to eat at a copycat chain when they could dine at a wonderful original.  For a lengthier diatribe on my opinion of corporate restaurants, please read my ratings page.

Albuquerque’s mantra should be “pansa llena, corazon contento,”  a Spanish “dicho” or saying which means, “full stomach, happy heart.”  That’s because Duke City residents have over 1200 restaurants from which to choose–and choose they do–to the tune of about $1400 per diner in 1994.

In fact, New Mew Mexicans in general like to dine out.  In fiscal 2003, New Mexicans spent $1.6 billion in eating and dining establishments (considering the disgraceful amount of alcohol consumed by New Mexico residents, I’d love to see the true break-down between alcohol and food).

Other cities may have more restaurants and restaurants with much more acclaim, but Albuquerque holds its own and often surpasses the culinary culture at larger cities.

NOTE:  The awe-inspiring polychromatic photo of downtown Albuquerque is courtesy of my friend Sarah Rose, a very talented and creative artist whose lenses capture her subject matter in a unique light.

  • Schuyler says:

    Holy cow! Suzie Queue must have a lot of relatives.

    Jim, if you think Albuquerque doesn’t measure up to a lot of cities, try Grand Prairie, Texas, a true culinary wasteland unless you like cumin and Tex-Mex cooking. Other local favorites include IHOP, Popeye’s Chicken, Texas Roadhouse and Cheddar’s. I have to drive to Irving, Arlington and Dallas for decent food, but no green chile anywhere.

    June 30, 2014 at 4:53 PM
    • Jim Millington says:

      I lived in the sweathole of Dallas for many (20) years but in all that time don’t think I ever made it to Grand Prairie. Back then it was pretty much dry thus no decent restaurants. Now it is the source of half the world’s chains. Ina minor defense I used to regularly eat at Steak and Ale when there was only one in the world and Brinker had yet to start his world of chains. He used to have a Greek restaurant in Oak Cliff where Little Mo waited tables. I understand that she pretty much originated the Steak and Ale concept but died before it opened. Recently I found a few really good places. Try Rex’s Seafood, Royal Thai on Greenville, OMI Korean Grill or the Dodie’s a mile or so south of Mockingbird. And I don’t hate decent Tex Mex.

      June 30, 2014 at 6:20 PM
  • Bruce Schor says:

    The results say more about the folks eating out than where they dine.
    When Blake’s wins the “Best Green Chile Cheeseburger” in a statewide poll it simply means the respondents from all over the state voted what they knew, and Blake’s sells 1000 for every 1 Santa Fe Bite (formerly Bob Cat Bite) sells.
    And folks don’t like to try new places once the find something they like. No adventures No gain.
    It seems that every food poll, especially readers choice types, have surprises everytime.
    Foodies would be a much better demographic to poll. We’re more focused, more adventurous.

    June 30, 2014 at 6:14 PM
  • Foodie Star says:

    Yo Brute!

    You da man! I agree folks get stuck in their ways – they have a natural aversion to being out of their comfort zones. I don’t usually like sharing a table with them – the Chili’s/Appleby’s crowd unless they are fun people and the food is secondary.

    Foodies would be a much better demographic to poll, and would be the type of people whose opinion I would value over the hoi polloi. Just like I would rather take the word of a master gardener over a group of regular folks about the best tomato plants to grow around here.
    Restaurants that did not place on the media polls should not feel bad. Luckly they have Gil’s Thrilling Blog and the foodies who contribute comments to measure themselves against.
    BTW, I was blown away by the list that Jim Millington recounted from the ABQ Urinal. Oh, the humanity! Suzie Queue must have voted multiple times.

    July 1, 2014 at 3:53 PM
  • BOTVOLR says:

    OMG…I thought Gil had done a review of The Popcorn Cannery and I was going to do a reliability note per having just bought another big bag of Christmas (Chile) flavor figuring teens at my G-daughter’s 18th might think it’s funky enough for a “WOW” rating this coming weekend.

    Oh well…LOL In any event, in these days of alfresco BBQing Gatherings…from burgers to filets….thought Y’all might have Comment Opines ready for after Gil’s critique, per having found the variety of flavor offerings might make an amuse-bouche!!!

    The website is here: http://www.thepopcorncannery.com/flavors.html Just off 40, a couple of blocks south on 4th to Haines, west to 7th south. Or use 4th vs 7 when coming from the downtown area.

    (Man, writing this seems so Deja-vuish!)

    July 17, 2014 at 3:52 PM

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