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.
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.
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.