Farina Alto – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Farina Alto in the Northeast Heights

Much thought, deliberation and market research usually goes into the naming of a business, but every once in a while, one linguistic aspect or another isn’t fully explored to the nth degree. Take for example  Chevrolet’s problems marketing the Nova in Latin America where the term “no va” means “it won’t go” in Spanish. Even though the Nova sold quite well, the car’s name wasn’t without irony and humor.  (Yes, I know the Nova story is an urban myth, but it helps illustrate my point.) Worse, a slogan for Frank Perdue chicken, “it takes a strong man to make a tender chicken,” translated (also in Spanish) as the equivalent of “it takes a sexually aroused man to make a chicken affectionate.”

Obviously, the “Alto” portion of Farina Alto Pizzeria & Wine Bar in Albuquerque is intended to accentuate the “Heights” where the restaurant is located. Alto, after all, translates in both Italian and in Spanish to “high” or “ high up” as in the foothills. Lesser known is the fact that “alto” also translates in Spanish to “stop.” That’s what you’ll read in Spain on octagonal red signs that in America read “stop.” So, Farina Alto not only translates to Farina at the Heights, but perhaps not intentionally to “Farina. Stop!”. Could it be the folks who named Farina Alto knew just what they were doing because stopping at Farina for lunch or dinner is a great idea?

The Sprawling Dining Room

Farina Alto is the younger, more cosmopolitan sibling of Farina Pizzeria, the East Downtown (EDO) area Italian restaurant which took the Duke City by storm when it launched in 2008 and continues to be regarded as one of the Duke City’s best and most inventive pizza restaurants. As with its elder sibling, Farina Pizzeria is owned by restaurant impresarios Pat and Terry Keene, founders and owners of the Artichoke Café, long one of Albuquerque’s most highly regarded fine dining experiences.

Situated in the edifice which previously housed the Pacific Rim Asian Bistro, Farina Alto is easily–at 6,500 square feet–three times the size of the original Farina. Its operating hours are expanded, too, with lunch and dinner served seven days a week. Unlike at its elder scion, Farina Alto’s seating isn’t in personal space proximity and a capacious patio is available for overflow crowds and diners who prefer al fresco dining. Few, if any, vestiges of the Pacific Rim remain. In the area which once served as a sushi prep area, you’ll now find a wine cave and a curing room for the high quality meats and oils used throughout the restaurant’s menu.   Alas, only the chef and sous chef enter the curing room so my pleas for a tour were gently rebuffed.

The Dog-Friendly Patio

Farina Alto launched on Wednesday, April 24th, 2013 with an expanded menu featuring fresh, locally-grown ingredients.  Aside from ingredients of the highest quality, another factor which makes it “Farina-style” is the oven which bakes the restaurant’s signature thin pies in an inferno of heat–650 to 800 degrees.  By virtue of their thin crust, these twelve-inch orbs don’t require a lot of oven-time.  The thin crust also means you’re likely to see more char on the pizza’s edges and bottom than you would on a thicker crust.  The taste of char should be relatively innocuous, even pleasant, but it’s also an acquired taste.  If you accept it, if you like it, you’ll enjoy Farina’s pies because char is a flavor.

12 May 2013: Other restaurant standards ported over from EDO include some of the very best meatballs in town.  The notion of meatballs at an Italian restaurant conjures images of baseball-sized orbs made from veal, pork and beef and deluged by red sauce.  Farina’s meatballs al forno Balsamico are the antithesis of that stereotype.  This oven-baked deliciousness features four pine nut studded meatballs per order immersed not in tomato sauce, but in a sweet, tangy, savory Balsamic sauce.  The meatballs are accompanied by toasted crostini which you’ll use to dredge up any of the remaining sauce.

Meatballs Al Forno Balsamico

12 May 2013: Another EDO favorite which has moved on up to the East side is the pasta e Fagioli, a non-vegetarian bean and pasta soup.  Translating simply to pasta and beans, this Italian comfort food standard is simmered until rich, flavorful and redolent with a melange of ingredients working very well together.  The pasta e Fagioli is topped with ground Italian basil and served hot.  It is available in cup and bowl sizes.

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Pasta e Fagioli: (non-vegetarian) bean and pasta soup

25 January 2015: Since the mid-1960s “invention” of Buffalo chicken wings at the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, New York, there has been no surcease to the popularity of chicken wing pieces that have been deep fried and slathered in a spicy hot sauce.  Perhaps to stave of monotony, many restaurants have tried their hand at inventing the “next big thing” in the chicken wing arena.  Farina Alto’s effort involves chicken wings and legs rubbed with a red chile flake and thyme seasoning then tossed in an elderberry reduction and roasted in an oven.  The result is rather insipid chicken wings whose primary qualities are stickiness and sweetness.  The red chile flake is lost in the sweet, lacquered-on reduction.  The accompanying celery and blue cheese are a better bet.

Oven-Roasted Chicken Wings

3 July 2017:  There are over 3,000 different varieties of olives (and that’s a conservative estimate) with flavor profiles that are sweet, sour, salty, bitter and pungent.  Though I’ve prided myself on a discerning palate able to detect nuanced differences on many foods, olives have always been one of foods so similar in flavor that I can’t tell the difference–especially when roasted and served in olive oil.  That’s how Farina Alto serves them.  The oven-roasted Italian olives appetizer includes several varieties, some small, others large, some green, some black and some brown.  The Castelvetrano olives stand out, but more for their bright green appearance than their flavor.  The generous bowlful also included Gaetas and Ligurias.

Oven Roasted Italian Olives

In his Local IQ review of Farina Pizzeria, Kevin Hopper wrote of the pizza “each pie’s individual ingredients come together to form a synergistic symphony of flavors.”   Each pie is crafted in the tradition of artisan pizzaiolos who  know what they’re doing in crafting pies with ingredients so complementary, they dance on all 10,000 of your taste buds with alacrity.  Other pizzerias use similar ingredients (for example: pepperoni, salami, mozzarella) to less acclaim, the difference being the high quality of the ingredients used at Farina Alto.

12 May 2013: The carnivore’s choice for pizza is the simply named Carne which does translate to “meat” in both Italian and Spanish.  A triumvirate of magnificent meats–pepperoni, salami and prosciutto–share space on a canvas of perfectly charred dough with a lightly applied tomato sauce and mozzarella.  Selfishly I love when my Kim orders meaty pizzas on which pepperoni is an ingredient because she doesn’t like pepperoni.  Make that she doesn’t like inferior pepperoni.  She loved the pepperoni at Farina Alto which means I didn’t get much of it.  The Carne is a pulchritudinous pie.

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Carne (pepperoni, salami, prosciutto, tomato sauce, mozzarella)

12 May 2013: For turophiles (connoisseurs of cheese), one cheese just won’t cut it.  Give us quattro formaggio (four cheeses) when you can or due (two) formaggio if the cheeses complement one another.  On the Formaggio di Capra, the two cheeses-farmhouse goat cheese and mozzarella–most definitely complement one another. Other ingredients on this masterpiece are leeks, scallions and crisp pancetta (a salt-cured pork belly meat).  The pancetta isn’t nearly as smoky as American bacon tends to be, lending instead an infusion of pure pork flavor.  It goes especially well with the smooth, savory-tangy farmhouse goat cheese. 

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Formaggio di Capra

25 January 2015: Several years ago, restaurants across the fruited plain tried to start a “breakfast pizza” trend. They couldn’t pull the wool over American consumers who weren’t fooled by “new Coke” and ultimately weren’t swayed by quiche-like frittata dishes marketed as “breakfast pizza.” Ever the skeptics, we didn’t know what to expect from Pizzeria Alto’s breakfast pizza.  As it turned out, it’s truly a pizza in the finest traditions of pizza.  It’s also breakfast in that breakfast ingredients (a fried egg over easy, roasted potatoes, apple wood smoked bacon) meld deliciously with the tomato sauce, green chile, leeks and the cheesy due of aged mozzarella and Fontina on a crispy, smoky pizza dough canvas with plenty of the characteristic Pizzeria Alto char.  This is a breakfast pizza the way it should have been made years ago!

Breakfast Pizza

25 January 2015: Conan O’ Brien recently joked that “a new study says that children are suffering bad health effects from eating too much pizza.  The study was explained in a pie chart which children immediately tried to eat.”  It’s not only children who partake of too much pizza.  When it’s as good as Farina Alto’s Salsiccia (tomato sauce, local fennel sausage, oven-roasted onion, Mozzarella and Provolone cheese) even Job would be tempted to overindulge.  True to the pizza’s name, the fennel-enhanced sausage is what makes this pizza special even though some may decry this pie as just a bit salty. 

Salsiccia

3 July 2017:  If you’re not in a mood for pizza, Farina Alto offers a number of pasta alternatives such as spaghetti and meatballs, lasagna and rigatoni.   Also available is one of the most pretty-as-a-picture chicken Parmesan dishes in town.  By the way, the “Parmesan” portion of the name doesn’t mean it’s made with Parmesan cheese.  The dish is instead named after the Italian region of Parma where the dish is said to have originated.  This version is fairly typical–a breadcrumb coating, mozzarella and a marinara sauce.  Seasoning is where Farina Alto’s version falls short.  Our dish lacked the flavor punch from oregano, garlic and other Italian herbs and seasonings that says “I’m Italian.”  The dish was even a bit lacking in the salt department.

Chicken Parmesan

12 May 2013: Farina Alto’s dessert menu is limited only in the number of options available.  The deliciousness is unlimited.  Among the most popular options is the gelato, an Italian frozen dessert somewhat similar to ice cream.  The difference between gelato and ice cream is subtraction; gelato usually is not made with cream and usually has a much lower fat content.  Although other flavor options are available, you can’t go wrong with plain vanilla and not just as a metaphor.  The vanilla and the chocolate are exemplars of how good and how pure these two flavors can be, how intensely chocolatey and vanilla pure gelato can be.  The gelato is served with a chocolate biscotti which is also intensely chocolatey.

12 May 2013: It’s not likely any foodie will ever conceive of an Albuquerque tiramisu trail.  There just aren’t that many trail worthy options save for Torinos @ Home, Joe’s Past House and the Farina family.  Though it’d be a short trail, it would be a delicious one.  Farina Alto’s tiramisu is an excellent rendition: Savoiardi cookies soaked in espresso with marsala zabaglione.  The strong espresso is perhaps why tiramisu translates to “pick me up” in Italian.  This is an adult dessert, just sweet enough for interest.

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Tiramisu

Great pizza at the Heights can now be found on the gentle up-slope leading to the Sandias. It’s a pizzeria and more whose very name beckons you to stop.

Farino Alto
10721 Montgomery Blvd, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 298-0035
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 3 July 2017
1st VISIT: 12 May 2013
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 18
COST: $$ – $$$
BEST BET: Tiramisu, Gelato, Meatballs al Forno Balsamico, Pasta e Fagioli, Carne, Formaggio di Capra, Salsiccia, Breakfast Pizza

Farina Alto Pizzeria & Wine Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Rolls & Bowls – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Rolls & Bowls Vietnamese Deli and Boba Coffee

The banh mi sandwich is really the only good argument for colonialism.”
~Calvin Trillin

By most historical standards, the banh mi is a rather new entrant in the world culinary stage. Its evolution into the revered sandwich we know and love today began in 1859 with the French arrival in Saigon. Along with military occupation, the French brought their c’est delicieux cuisine to Southeast Asia…although to be clear, the colonial rulers never had the benevolent intent of introducing the Vietnamese to their more “refined” cuisine. The French, in fact, initially forbade their subjects from partaking of such stables as bread and meat, believing the Vietnamese diet of fish and rice kept them weak. In time, wealthy Vietnamese who embraced French rule were allowed to purchase sandwiches from expensive bakeries which constructed them on French baguettes (which were too pricey for the poverty classes).

One of the culinary traditions the French brought to Vietnam was casse-croute, a term which translates literally to “break or crush the crust,” but which more often translates to “snack.” Among the most popular snacks was a traditional French baguette which the “upper crust” served with a plate of cold cuts, pate, ham, cheese and butter. Is this starting to sound familiar? This obviously was the deconstructed precursor of the modern banh mi. The term “banh mi,” by the way, actually translates to “bread,” but is understood to refer specifically to the Vietnamese baguette and more often, the sandwiches constructed on those baguettes.

The counter where you place your order

After the French were ousted from Vietnam in 1954, baguettes and cold cuts became increasingly available to the Vietnamese people. It didn’t take long before a tiny family-owned snack bar known as Hoa Ma constructed the first truly Vietnamese sandwich–the banh mi which became the progenitor of the beloved banh mi of today. Hoa Ma’s version of the banh mi included traditional ingredients, condiments, sauces and garnishes the Vietnamese people considered their own. It didn’t take long before street vendors popularized the banh mi as a staple food for the masses.

When Saigon fell to the Communist North Vietnamese Army in 1975, a unified Vietnam entered a period of austerity and hardship. It fell upon those who fled Vietnam’s shores to carry forward to their new homes in America, Europe and Australia, the propagation of such Vietnamese delights as the banh mi and its culinary cousin, pho. Initially some of the expatriates established bakeries and delis which catered to their communities, but when the local populace discovered the incomparable deliciousness of Vietnamese cuisine, its popularity soared. Today there are hundreds of restaurants, bakeries, delis and cafes offering banh mi…and for that, Calvin Trillin’s statement makes good sense.

Raspberry Boba Tea and Vietnamese Coffee

We’ve been loving banh mi in Albuquerque since at least 1995 when they were called “Vietnamese Sandwiches” by the few Vietnamese restaurants (May Hong among them) which served them. That’s sixteen years before banh mi made it to the Oxford English dictionary. Albuquerque’s very first Vietnamese bakery whose primary focus was banh mi was Banh Mi Coda which opened in 2010 after a short stint as Lee’s Bakery. In its annual Food & Wine issue for 2012, Albuquerque The Magazine named the banh mi at Banh Mi Coda as “one of the city’s “12 yummiest sandwiches.” In early 2013, the Duke City saw the launch of its second banh mi shop when Sai Gon Sandwich opened in Franklin Plaza, a timeworn shopping center made infamous on Better Call Saul. Ten different banh mi adorn the menu at this combination bakery, deli and tofu house.

In November, 2016, SweeTea Bakery Café opened its doors in the Montgomery Plaza shopping center, gracing the Duke City with yet another very impressive array of delicious banh mi as well as some of the best pastries this side of Paris. Not quite a year later, Rolls & Bowls became the fourth Vietnamese bakery-restaurant specializing in banh mi to launch in Albuquerque. One commonality among the quadrumvirate of banh mi purveyors is some of the city’s very best sandwiches prepared and served by very talented and dedicated owners all committed to proving (to paraphrase the Beatles) you can banh mi love (how’s that for a pithy covfefe?).

Egg Rolls

Located in the timeworn shopping center that also serves as home to Basil Leaf (next door) and La Salita, Rolls & Bowls proves once again that a small space doesn’t belie huge flavors.  A handful of booths hug one wall then there’s the counter at which you place your order.  That’s the extent of this Lilliputian lair.  The face of Rolls & Bowls is the lovely Ai (or the American name Tina if you prefer) who’s lived in the Duke City for nearly a quarter-century though she barely looks much older than that.  Ai is as friendly and engaging as any restaurateur in town.  Her husband prepares the baked goods and the restaurant’s featured fare.

The menu at Rolls & Bowls is rather ambitious considering its diminutive digs though as previously declared, if restaurants were measured solely by their deliciousness, it would be one of the city’s most capacious restaurants.  The menu’s tag line reads “Asian fusion comfort food freshly made for you!”  Those comfort foods include rolls (obviously), a number of egg rolls and spring rolls and bowls (of course) of rice served with your choice of chicken, grilled pork char siu (Chinese barbecued pork) and tofu loaf.  Noodle dishes also grace the menu as do bowls of salad and assorted breads, pastries and snacks.  Then there’s the banh mi, a phalanx of superb sandwiches.  To wash it all down, Rolls & Bowls offers boba flavored teas in several flavors as well as an outstanding Vietnamese espresso.

Meatball Banh Mi

Vietnamese egg rolls tend to be thinner and lighter than their Chinese and American counterparts.  Thinner, too, are the wrappers which are tightly packed with ground pork and vegetables (cabbage, dried mushrooms, carrots, and jicama) cut so small and thin that they’re difficult to distinguish by sight alone.  It’s only in the tasting that a determination as to their deliciousness can be discerned.  Rolls & Bowls prepares excellent egg rolls, as good as you’ll find at any Vietnamese restaurant in town.  Accompanied by a tart-tangy fish sauce, they’re a terrific way to start a meal.

The canvas for the banh mi are whole baguettes baked in-house and dressed with a type of aioli spread infused with fish sauce. About ten-inches in length, the baguettes become a repository for a wide variety of fillings: your choice of grilled pork, char siu, meatballs, sardines, ham, chicken, fried eggs and vegetables. A common denominator on all banh mi is a bright, crunchy “slaw” constructed from shredded carrots, daikon radish, fresh cilantro and sliced jalapeños. Freshness and flavor are a hallmark of all banh mi as is value. Unlike so many American sandwiches, the price point of most banh mi remains less than six dollars.

Grilled Pork Banh Mi

Rolls & Bowls meatball banh mi ranks with its brethren from SweeTea as my favorite Vietnamese sandwich in the Duke City.  There’s just something magical about the moist pork meatballs interplaying with the crunchy slaw that appeals to my taste buds.  As with all banh mi, the secret to this sandwich is the balance between meatballs, slaw and sauce.  Banh mi are not intended to be behemoth “Dagwood” sandwiches crammed with meats and cheeses.  You can actually taste, discern and appreciate every single component of every banh mi.

Perhaps the most popular banh mi across the fruited plain is the one constructed with grilled pork.  Yes, this is the same grilled pork that’s magically marinated with the sweet spices of anise and cinnamon to create an olfactory treasure that dances on your taste buds.  The grilling infuses the flavors of those spices deeply into the pork while imparting the unmistakable essence of meats prepared on a grill.  The grilled pork banh mi is the favorite of my Kim–to the point that all she ever lets me have is one bite of her sandwich.

Vietnamese Steamed Pork Buns

Vietnamese steamed pork buns are, much like their Chinese counterparts, a type of dumpling made with leavened dough and rolled out into round shapes then stuffed and steamed.  Rolls & Bowls shapes their steamed pork into pig faces, a precursor to the delicious pork sausages with which the buns are stuffed.  The exterior of these steamed pork buns is cakey and dense indicative of being steamed for an optimum time (when not steamed long enough, the interior can taste undercooked and doughy).  The interior is stuffed with sausage and hard-boiled egg tinged with a sweet barbecue-like sauce.  These are addictive.

Rolls & Bowls–the name slides off your tongue like a rhapsodic melody and indeed, the flavors conjured in the kitchen are carefully orchestrated to give diners maximum enjoyment.  Rolls & Bowls is a wonderful addition to the Duke City’s increasing repertoire of banh mi restaurants.

Rolls & Bowls
1301 Eubank, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 990-0480
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 2 July 2017
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET:  Raspberry Boba Tea, Vietnamese Espresso, Egg Rolls, Vietnamese Bun, Grilled Pork Banh Mi, Meatball Banh Mi, Ham Banh Mi

Rolls & Bowls Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

El Patio – Albuquerque, New Mexico

El Patio on Harvard Avenue

For more than a quarter century, award-winning journalist Charles Kuralt had the type of job any aspiring sojourner would envy.  He hit the road on a motor home, crisscrossing  the fruited plains where waving fields of wheat passed in review and snow-capped mountains reached for cobalt colored skies.  Observing that “thanks to the interstate highway system, it is now possible to travel from coast to coast without seeing anything,” Kuralt avoided the interstates, instead traversing America’s back roads and byways in search of real people with interesting stories to tell.

Kuralt loved New Mexico, which he noted in his terrific tome America, is really a misnomer.  In his estimation, New Mexico “should be called Precambria for the sea that crashed upon its shores for tens of millions of years, or Mastadonia, for the mammals that later roamed its plains..; or Sandia for the mountain where the camp of an ice age hunter, the earliest known American was found in a cave…New Mexico is old, stupendously old and dry and brown, and wind-worn by the ages.”

Chips and Salsa

Kuralt also loved the cuisine of the Land of Enchantment.  In his book America, he declared the Owl Cafe in San Antonio, New Mexico “one of the best food tips” he’d ever gotten.  During his peridoc visits to the Duke City, the peripatetic wanderer also frequented Old Town’s La Placita restaurant which he considered one of his favorite feeding stations.  In 1988, the legendary newsman featured El Patio in a CBS “Sunday Morning On The Road” segment.

El Patio was then but ten years old, but already becoming a formidable presence in the Duke City dining scene.  It was then one of the few New Mexican restaurants in the UNM area, but that wasn’t solely the reason it garnered rave reviews and legions of loyal fans.  Discerning UNM students appreciated the authenticity and deliciousness of the food; for many of them, it represented a home away from home where they could get cooking as good or better than mom’s.  Those former students have raised a generation, many of whom followed their parents to UNM and to El Patio.

Frito Pie

El Patio is ensconced in a converted home just south of Central Avenue on Harvard Drive.  A telltale sign you’ve made it to the popular restaurant on this relatively low traffic drive is the can’t miss Taos blue Mexican picket fence.  Beyond the fence lies the patio (El Patio), essentially the entire front yard, which is shaded by tall trees, a welcome respite from the sun’s heating rays.  El Patio’s patio also welcomes dogs.

For the duration of its three decade plus, El Patio has been family owned and operated.  Founding owners Dave Sandoval (a fellow Taoseño) and wife Gloria Sandoval remain involved, but much of the day-to-day operation has been transitioned over to their progeny, sons Thomas and Christopher who have made some changes, including the addition of a catering service and a sales operation which markets El Patio’s fabulous salsa and green chile.  Both can be purchased in the restaurant and at several stores throughout the Duke City.

Carne Adovada plate (no beans)

Thomas Sandoval, the elder sibling, is the chef while Christopher is the restaurant’s front-end man.  Thomas acquired his culinary skills literally at his maternal grandfather’s apron strings.  His grandfather taught him well.  El Patio’s food is as good today as it was decades ago when it first blew me out of the water.

Interestingly, El Patio considers itself primarily a vegetarian restaurant, but that distinction isn’t readily apparent in its meat dishes which are as good, if not better, than meat-based New Mexican entrees at other restaurants.  Even the most ardent carnivores, however, should at least try the vegetarian entrees which go a long way toward showcasing the delicious versatility of New Mexican cuisine.  The restaurant’s vegetarian enchiladas, for example, are made with spinach instead of meat.  The spinach imparts a spring-like freshness and healthful, but surprisingly (at least to meatatarians) delicious qualities to the enchiladas.  The Frito pie is also meatless, but you won’t miss the meat.  It’s one of the best Frito pies in town.

Carne Adovada Taco

Many pundits rank El Patio among the top four or five New Mexican restaurants in Albuquerque, leaving one to wonder if voters on “best of” polls mistakenly stuff the ballots for “El Pinto” when meaning to vote for El Patio which is several orders of magnitude better.  You’d think after the “dangling chad” episodes during the 2000 presidential elections in Florida, more extreme care would be taken in the voting process.

Salsa isn’t complementary at El Patio, but it’s worth the paltry pittance for which you pay for it, especially considering the attentive wait staff is on the ball to replenish each ramekin just as you’re running low.  The salsa is jalapeno based, but I believe it includes a tinge of red chile powder.  In any case, this is a wonderful salsa, some of the very best in the city.  This flavorful salsa has a nice piquant bite that will get your attention without dulling your taste buds for your entrees.  The accompanying chips are low in salt, crisp and formidable enough to scoop up ample amounts of salsa.  In its September, 2012 edition, Albuquerque The Magazine named the salsa at El Patio the seventh best in Albuquerque from among 130 salsas sampled throughout the city.

Green Chile Chicken Enchiladas

30 June 2017: The restaurant’s most popular entree, according to the menu, are the green chile chicken enchiladas.  El Patio is so accommodating (one of the main reasons for its popularity), you can have dual meat–beef and chicken–enchiladas and you can have them Christmas style and on blue corn tortillas with the requisite fried egg on top.  This best of all worlds approach for one of New Mexican cuisine’s most versatile entrees is my favorite way to have them.  The shredded chicken is moist and delicious, prepared to absolute perfection.  The beef is ground hamburger, not shredded beef as Mexican restaurants will serve on enchiladas, but the beef is well-seasoned and not refried as some restaurants are apt to do.  The red chile is rich and flavorful at about a medium level of piquancy.  The green chile has a fresh, fruity taste.  Both are par excellence.

31 December 2011: Carne Adovada is available in several dishes, including on a smothered or hand-held burrito. Because the chile with which carne adovada is smothered is oftentimes not the same chile in which the pork is prepared, my Kim will never order a smothered carne adovada burrito. She contends it allows her to better enjoy the purity of the adovada. El Patio’s adovada is outstanding, well worthy of a visit from my friend Ruben Hendrickson whose quest for the perfect carne adovada continued until his passing on 30 May 2016 (I miss you, dear friend). The pork is spoon tender (that means even more tender than fork-tender) and absolutely delicious, a benchmark which competes with some of the very best in the city.

Combination Plate

1 July 2017: El Patio’s combination plate is the best way to introduce newcomers to some of the best the restaurant has to offer.  A veritable platter is brimming with two cheese enchiladas engorged with chile, a chile relleno and a taco (thankfully served on a small plate) all topped with shredded Longhorn Cheddar and your choice of chile.  Longhorn Cheddar is what makes the cheese enchiladas some of the very best you’ll ever have.  It’s a good melting cheese with a nice degree of sharpness and terrific cows’ milk flavor.  The chile relleno is especially noteworthy.  A single sweet-piquant chile is stuffed with even more of that luscious Longhorn cheese then battered lightly and deep-fried.   It’s quite good.  So is the taco.  Given your choice of carne advocada, chicken or ground beef (all good), opt for the carne adovada.  It’s prepared on a hard-shelled corn tortilla that crumbles quickly, but that’s why God invented forks.

Each entree is served with pinto beans (not refried), boiled and peeled potatoes and lots of garnish (lettuce and tomato).  The potatoes have a consistency near being mashed.  Similar to the boiled potatoes at Duran’s Central Pharmacy, they appear to be an anomaly at first in that they’re not crisply fried, but by your second forkful, you’ll be hooked.  The potatoes have a sweet-savory marriage that makes them a joy to eat.  The beans are perfectly cooked and absolutely delicious.

Fajitas

1 July 2017:  There’s a short list of fajitas on our list as best in the Duke City.  Topping our current list are the fajitas at El Patio.  Among the many reasons we esteem these so highly is the full half-pound of marinated steak, as tender and flavorful as any fajita beef we’ve ever enjoyed.  The marinated steak is hand-cut and sauteed with green and red peppers, mounds of onions, and diced tomatoes. They’re served with guacamole, sour cream, pico de gallo, salsa, a side of potatoes and two flour tortillas (white or wheat).  Oh, and there’s plenty of Longhorn cheese, too.

Entrees also include complementary sopaipillas.  Large, cloud-like and puffy, they emit wisps of steam as you cut into them to form a pocket for honey.   Kudos to El Patio for serving real raw honey, not that aberrational honey-flavored syrup.   These sopaipillas are not doughy as some sopaipillas are made, but rather have thin walls that are easy to penetrate, but not so thin that they’re sieves for the honey. If you don’t imbibe adult beverages, the watermelon limeaid is a very nice alternative.  It’s more tangy than it is sweet and it’ll quell your thirst on the dog days of summer.

Sopaipillas

We’ve found service at El Patio extremely capable and more than accommodating, but then we tend to visit when the restaurant first opens (11AM seven days a week) and the choicest seating is available.  Experience has taught us that this extremely popular restaurant fills up quickly–and for good reason.  This is one of Albuquerque’s very best New Mexican restaurants, a genuine gem.

El Patio
142 Harvard Dr SE
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 268-4245
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 1 July 2017
# OF VISITS: 5
RATING: 23
COST: $$
BEST BET: Salsa and Chips, Sopaipillas, Beef and Chicken Enchiladas Christmas Style, Carne Adovada Burrito, Chicken Taco, Combination Plate, Carne Adovada Plate, Green Chile Chicken Enchiladas, Watermelon Limeaid, Frito Pie, Fajitas

El Patio de Albuquerque Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Year in Food: June, 2017

Squash Blossom Taco from the B2B Tap Room in Albuquerque

Cosmopolitan, the world’s most successful magazine for young women aged 18-34, isn’t as widely known for its restaurant recommendations as it is for empowering women. Cosmo recently took a stab at naming the “best 24-hour restaurant in your state,” an endeavor to sate late-night cravings. Using Yelp data, Cosmo listed diners, burger joints and restaurants which “serve amazing food to customers around the clock (at least one day per week).” Considering the Duke City recently made the ignominious list as being ranked among the worst cities for late night food, it’s a given Albuquerque didn’t make Cosmo’s list. Instead the Land of Enchantment’s best 24-hour restaurant comes from Belen where Penny’s Diner, an airstream trailer style diner keeps hungry patrons happy every day of the week.

A quarter-century has elapsed since the Golden Girls, four geriatrically advanced Miami housewives, graced the air. While devotees loved the comedy’s zany plots, what many of us found most endearing were the intimate scenes in which the four friends sat around the kitchen table sharing a cheesecake and commiserating into the night. Cheesecake may not be the panacea that cures all that ails us, but it certainly makes life more delicious. Delish invites readers to have their taste buds branch out beyond chains for a slice (or five) of the rich, creamy, fluffy dessert loved by the Golden Girls. In a feature entitled “This is the Best Cheesecake in Your State,” Delish used Yelp data to compile a list of the best cheesecakes in the fruited plain. The best cheesecake in the Land of Enchantment comes from Vinaigrette in Albuquerque. Yelp contributor Amy R. noted “This beautiful restaurant is full of pops of color, and guests love finishing their meals with flavor-packed desserts like their lemon cheesecake, made with fresh lemon and topped with raspberry coulis.”

“Good Old Reliable” burger with sweet potato fries from Big D’s Downtown in Roswell. Photo Courtesy of Melodie K.

Denizens of the Land of Enchantment know the best green chile cheeseburgers in the universe can only be found within our state’s borders. We esteem our green chile cheeseburgers with such high regard that our state’s Department of Tourism promotes a trail listing purveyors who prepare them best. Most of us couldn’t fathom of a burger without green chile, but the rest of the fruited plain isn’t quite as lucky. Perhaps recognizing this, Delish evaluated Yelp reviews and published a list of the “Best Bacon Burger in Every State.” New Mexico’s best bacon burger, the “Southwest Burger” comes from Hall of Flame Burgers in Ruidoso. According to Yelper Christy M., “the big draw is tons of avocado and bacon.”  Avocado? Fret not, friends. Hall of Flame Burgers is on the New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail so you’ll certainly be able to improve the state’s best bacon burger with the addition of our sacrosanct green chile.

You may have noticed that in the past three months, most of our dining excursions have been to dog-friendly restaurants throughout the Land of Enchantment. In the June-July edition of “Denver’s Quintessential Dog Magazine” “Mile High Dog,” the staff took its own dog-friendly sojourn. Mile High Dog noted that “As Saint Francis is the patron saint of animals, what could be better when traveling with pets than going to the place named for that saintly friar, Santa Fe.” The magazine staff spent time dining with their four-legged friends at some of the City Different’s dog-friendly restaurant patios including Cowgirl, La Choza, Gabriel’s, The Shed, The Teahouse and TerraCotta Wine Bistro. You can find even more dog-friendly Santa Fe restaurants on Bring Fido.

Green Chile Cheeseburger from The Owl Cafe in San Antonio, New Mexico. Photo Courtesy of Melodie K.

If you read my recent review of La Lecheria, you already know it’s been named the Land of Enchantment’s selection for “The Best Ice Cream Shop in Every State” feature on Thrillist. Hopefully by now you’ve made your way to Santa Fe for some of La Lecheria’s fabled popcorn or green chile ice cream. Thrillist noted: “Local chef Joel Coleman fell in love with ice cream making while running his popular Santa Fe restaurant Fire & Hops. The love was so deep, in fact, that he launched a separate ice cream business in 2016, and New Mexicans have had a valuable weapon against the heat ever since. Well, hold that thought — this being New Mexico, you better believe there are chilis occasionally involved, as brown sugar red chili and (of course) green chile both figure into the seasonal flavor rotation alongside menu stalwarts like sea salt chocolate. So it’s possible your palate will be feeling a little heat, but it’ll be so blissfully pleased you won’t mind a bit.”

Could there be a better name for a Web site dedicated to culinary news than “Eater?” Could there ever be a bigger head-shaking statement than this one from Eater: “ New Mexican green chile peppers are special, with a strong vegetal taste that approaches artichoke territory.”? That’s how the Eater staff began a feature entitled “7 Must-Visit Spots in Santa Fe to Eat Green Chile.” New Mexicans will argue that in no way should green chile (unless it’s that stuff from Colorado) and artichoke ever be mentioned in the same sentence. Despite that grievous faux pas, Eater’s seven must visit spots reflect most popular opinion from natives who know: The Shed, Café Pasqual’s, Santa Fe Bite, Tomasita’s, Dr. Field Goods, Posa’s El Merendo and Horseman’s Haven.

Chocolate Cheesecake Gelato From Sam Steel Cafe on the NMSU campus in Las Cruces. Photo Courtesy of Melodie K.

2017’s domestic travel trends should include Santa Fe, according to the Travel Channel which compiled a list of trending U.S. cities you should add to your wish list. The Travel Channel’s criteria for compiling its diverse group includes emerging food scenes. About Santa Fe’s “emerging” food scene, the Travel Channel observes: “Santa Fe’s food scene has been steadily moving beyond conventional Southwestern fare. Recent restaurant additions include Milad Persian Bistro, the city’s first Persian; Sabor Peruano, the city’s first Peruvian; and The Root Cellar, a speakeasy pub beneath The Hive Market gift shop. La Lecheria is another newcomer, specializing in artisan ice cream; try locally inspired flavors such as green chile. However, Santa Fe is also elevating Southwestern food. Try some of the best at Eloisa, a James Beard semifinalist for best new restaurant in 2016. Eloisa is also among a handful of local restaurants incorporating Native American ingredients into their menus, which looks like it’s becoming a bigger trend.”

If, as the proverbial “they” say, “the third time’s a charm,” consider this. You’ve read about La Lecheria twice in this synopsis. Here’s the third mention, the one which should push you over the edge of your couch and into your car for a drive to the City Different’s best purveyor of ice cream. The Tasting Table has the scoop (or two or three) on the “Flavor of Love” and it’s delicious. The Tasting Table took it upon themselves to “seek out the very best flavors this summer has to offer, so that you can make the most of ice cream season this year.” One of the flavors of love they discovered is the Banana Leaf Candy Ginger from La Lecheria. The Tasting Table tells us “When you need to wash down all those green chiles, head to this little shop where chef Joel Coleman of Santa Fe restaurant Fire & Hops specializes in stabilizer- and preservative-free exotic flavors, like miso brown sugar. This season, look out for the banana leaf candy ginger, which combines some of our favorite Asian flavors into a perfectly balanced scoop.”

Combination Plate from Mandarin Chinese in Albuquerque

Departures, a luxury magazine specializing in travel and leisure as well as food and wine, raved about its “Tour of Santa Fe’s Food Scene,” introducing readers to “five restaurants to know now—and what dishes to order.” Offering a fusion of “incredible Native American, Spanish, Mexican, New Mexican, red chile, green chile, poblano and serrano flavors—one plate at a time”—Santa Fe’s anointed five (restaurants and dishes) were the Santacafe for its green chile cheeseburger, Whoo’s Donuts at the Farmers’ Market for its lavender blue corn doughnut, Sazon for its crunchy chapuline (dried grasshopper) tacos, Eloisa for its fabulous tortillas florals cooked with pansies and rose petals, and Tia Sophia’s for its breakfast burrito.

Santa Fe isn’t solely a dining destination. Visitors have long been lured to the state capital by its history, art and culture, too. Most recently, Santa Fe earned acclaim from National Geographic as one of “America’s 20 Best Mountain Bike Towns,” noting, in fact, that the City Different has “what is arguably the best food scene of any bike town.”

May, 2017

Turtle Blonde Sundae and Caramelo Sundae from Albuquerque’s Flying Star

Much like the electoral college, OpenTable’s 100 Best Brunch Restaurants in America 2017 is slanted toward more populous states. The elite brunch 100 list reflects the combined opinions of more than 10 million restaurant reviews submitted by verified OpenTable diners for more than 24,000 restaurants in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The complete list features winning restaurants in 36 states and Washington, D.C., but only one restaurant from the Land of Enchantment earned a place. New Mexico’s best brunch comes from Albuquerque’s Farm & Table on 4th Street.

Santa Fe Chef Martin Rios became a two-time finalist for the James Beard Foundation Awards in The Best Chef Southwest category, coming oh-so-close in 2015 and 2017. One of New Mexico’s most heralded chefs, Rios may not have taken home the culinary world’s equivalent of an Oscar, but he continues to enthrall New Mexico diners with his innovative Progressive American cuisine at his eponymous Restaurant Martin. Since launching his restaurant, Rios has earned eight James Beard award nominations.

Ahi Poke Salad from the Pecan Grill in Las Cruces (Photo Courtesy of Melodie K)

It’s not every state under the spacious skies which can boast of more than one city which can even be considered the best, most essential, go-to food city in that state. In New Mexico, both Santa Fe and Albuquerque vie for that honor. Fortunately it was Thrillist and not me who endeavored to name the better of the two. It wasn’t an easy decision: “It pains us physically, in our hearts and souls, not to choose Albuquerque for this honor. We sung its praises in a story on food cities for Thrillist previously. We also shouted, “It’s misunderstood!” from the internet rooftops. While its food scene is certainly noteworthy (Los Poblanos is a game-changer), Santa Fe has just too much good stuff to be ignored, and a lot of it has to do with green chile. So it bears mentioning the green chile cheeseburgers at Santa Fe Bite, the green chile enchiladas at Horseman’s Haven, and the green chile-rubbed pulled pork sandwich at Dr Field Goods Kitchen. If Southwestern food isn’t your thing, you’re wrong, but there’s still standout American cuisine at Restaurant Martin and Joseph’s, and a restaurant with food so fresh, nourishing, and delicious that senior staff writer Lee Breslouer once visited three times in 48 hours: Sweetwater.

When you think about it, “Burgers are the most democratic of foods. The best burger in any one city might be in the dankest of dive bars, or in the fanciest of restaurants.” That’s an observation made by Thrillist in its quest to name and rank the 100 best burgers in America. Coming in at number 29 is New Mexico’s sacrosanct green chile cheeseburger as it’s prepared at Santa Fe’s revered Santa Fe Bite. Thrillist declared “The cream rising to the top of the New Mexico green chile burger scene, Bite consistently puts out a burger that might make this list even if the green chiles weren’t there to help push it with subtle heat and acid.”

Superbowl Breakfast From The Bean in Mesilla. (Photo Courtesy of Melodie K.)

It wouldn’t be a stretch to say vehicles rented by Enterprise have boldly gone where no man or woman have gone before. Enterprise recently visited Hatch to glean an answer to New Mexico’s burning question: green or red chiles. As Enterprise noted “when you visit Hatch itself — the Chile Capital of the World — you’re greeted by pepper pride of intense proportions, even during the offseason. This tiny village is powered by peppers.” The one “can’t miss culinary destination,” “a brand of quirkiness that could only exist in a village with one major export” is Sparky’s where owners Josie and Teako Nunn had the audacity to call their green chile cheeseburgers “world famous” even before that burger started winning awards. Enterprise also noted that “And they do add chiles to everything in New Mexico. In Albuquerque, you can get them on pizza at local favorite Amore Pizzeria or add them to your eggs at scenic brunch spot Farm & Table.”

Breaking Bad tourists will find that Albuquerque is more than a pop culture trip.” That’s the observation made by the Lexington (Kentucky) Herald Leader who sent a travel writer to check out the Duke City. No stranger to Albuquerque, she waxed nostalgic for her childhood when recalling a stop at La Placita Dining Rooms in Old Town. Years later, she marveled at the city’s “800 works of public art; a vibrant mix of neighborhoods; and a burgeoning brewery industry.” Then, of course, there’s the matter of Albuquerque “being the setting for two of television’s most acclaimed series, ‘Breaking Bad’ and its prequel ‘Better Call Saul’.” It wouldn’t have been a fruitful trip without indulging in our chile laden cuisine. She took in Los Poblanos and Zacatecas Tacos & Tequila where she found that even her margarita had red chile in it.

Cultured Canines Dine at Santa Fe’s Teahouse

Thrillist put it best: “Nachos — they’re a combination of pretty much the best foods out there, and yet a truly transcendent plate of them is mysteriously elusive, like the Bigfoot of bar food, except (hopefully) less hairy.” In contemporary America, you’re no longer likely to find nachos constructed solely from gloppy canned cheese and stale jalapeños. You certainly won’t find anything so boring on Thrillist’s list of the 21 best nachos in America. What you’ll find are paragons of deliciousness on tortilla chips–nachos such as the Nachos Grande from Albuquerque’s El Patron. Thrillist described these nachos as “Tasty and authentic, these New Mexican nachos are bursting with flavorful ground beef, guac, beans, cheese, and more, all on crispy tostadas. After you scarf those down, you might as well go for some more traditional NM fare, so order their famous chicharones, which are hunks of stewed pork tucked into a warm tortilla with cheese and green chile sauce.”

The Cooking Channel’s “Big Bad Barbecue Brawl” show pitted Albuquerque pitmaster extraordinaire Daniel Morgan against Brooklyn pitmaster Shannon Ambrosio who travels the fruited plain to see if he can measure up against the best pit masters in the south. Ambrosio had won their previous seven competitions before running into the talented owner of Pepper’s Barbecue on San Pedro. Chef Morgan’s winning dishes incorporated such New Mexico staples as pinon and green chile. How can anyone hope to compete with that?

Fried Cheesecake from Mix Pacific Rim in Las Cruces (Photo Courtesy of Melodie K)

For those among us who aren’t endowed with athletic ability or cerebral capabilities, there are still many opportunities to engage in competition. Competitive eating has become a rather popular “sport” with every state in the fruited plain boasting of its own insane food challenges. Chowhound published a feature called “50 States, 50 Insane Food Challenges” that highlighted them. The Land of Enchantment’s most insane food challenge was deemed to be the “Gila Monster,” a sandwich served at “Melissa” (Melissa?) Valley BBQ Company in Las Cruces. The Gila monster is “filled with pulled pork, brisket, chopped chicken, spicy sauce and cole slaw” and “if you can put this monster away in under 45 minutes, it’ll run you just $1. New Mexico Magazine might want to look at the URL for the page in which the Gila Monster is showcased. The last part of the URL reads “mexico-gila-monster.” Apparently New Mexico is missing once again.

Chowhound also decided to compile a list of “the best burger (or darn close to it) in your state.” According to Chowhound, the Land of Enchantment’s very best burger comes from the Santa Fe Bite (which, if the URL (is to be believed is in Mexico). Here’s what Chowhound has to say about the Bite: Obviously the New Mexico choice is going to involve green chiles. The richness of the cheese and the beef (a blend of sirloin and chuck) offsets the heat of the chile … but not too much. It’s a good intro to this state’s edible emerald.

April, 2017

Championship Wings From Forghedaboudit in Deming. Photo Courtesy of Robert Yacone

Americans love chicken wings, gobbling them up by the semi-load with more than 27 billion eaten in 2013 and 1.23 billion wings consumed during Super Bowl weekend alone. That’s over 100-million pounds of wings. Laid out end to end, all these wings would circle the perimeter of the Earth twice. Delish ranked the very best chicken wings across the fruited plain–based on review volume and ratings from Yelp–and named the best wing spots in every state. New Mexico’s best wings didn’t need Yelp reviews to certify them as the very best. Deming’s magnificent Forghedaboudit restaurant earned its chicken wing creds at the National Buffalo Wing Fest where the transformative maple bacon variety earned a second place finish in America’s premier chicken wings competition. Take my word for it–these are life-altering wings, the best we’ve ever had!

First We Feast, an online presence which “views food as an illuminating lens into pop culture, music, travel, and more” recognizes that there’s a lot of great pizza across the fruited plain. To make it easy for us to find great pizza during our travels, they compiled “The United States of Pizza: The Best Pizza From Each of the 50 States.” The Land of Enchantment’s best was deemed to come from Santa Fe’s Dr. Field Good’s Kitchen. Here’s what First We Feast had to say: “At his casual, farm-to-table restaurant Dr. Field Goods Kitchen, chef Josh Gerwin uses a wood-fired, New Mexico horno-shaped oven to make a flat, crispy “pizza de gallo”—his version of a New Mexican Margherita. This is one of those pies that offers the contrast of a hot pie topped with cool or room temperature ingredients. In this case, that means fresh New Mexican gremolata gets scattered over the diced tomatoes, onion, garlic, and jalapeños, which briefly get scorched with the dough while it blisters and the smoked mozzarella melts. ”

Brunch Burger from Chala’s Wood Fired Grill in Mesilla. Photo Courtesy of Melodie K.

National Geographic quipped “Albuquerque may be known for its International Balloon Fiesta and the hit series Breaking Bad, but breaking bread here is becoming a major reason to visit as well.” Well, not only bread, but sopaipillas, pita, papadum, tortillas, lavosh, naan, chapati, roti, arepa and even injera. “Albuquerque’s blend of indigenous, Spanish, and American cultures pairs well with new influences,” as National Geographic discovered in its profile Sights and Bites: Albuquerque, New Mexico. The online presence learned that “for every unique neighbourhood in Albuquerque, there’s a restaurant to match.” Old Town, for example, boasts of Monica’s El Portal, High Noon Restaurant & Saloon and Duran’s Central Pharmacy. Other areas of the city profiled were Downtown, Nob Hill, North Valley, South Valley and the Northeast Heights.

On June 16, 2017, the Albuquerque Isotopes will officially change their names for the day in honor of New Mexico’s sacrosanct green chile cheeseburger. On that day, the Isotopes will become the Albuquerque Green Chile Cheeseburgers and will sport a custom uniform adorned with a special green chile roaster patch on the left sleeve , a New Mexico state flag with a toothpick for a pole on the right sleeve and a black hat with a burger. It promises to be the hottest promotion in the history of the franchise. You can rock the (hot or mild) stuff here.

The great folks at Albuquerque’s Roadrunner Food Bank (RRFB) are gearing up for the Stamp Out Hunger food drive on Saturday, May 13 and they need YOUR help. Letter carriers, the US Postal Service and so many other national and local partners come together to collect non-perishable food in 10,000 communities across the country to help hunger-relief organizations including food banks, food pantries, soup kitchens, and others. If you or someone you know can volunteer at one of eleven metro area post offices, please sign up ASAP via AnnaMarie Maez. Volunteers will be unloading food from letter carrier vehicles and sort food at post offices. It can be a bit physical so you’re advised to dress comfortably and wear close-toed shoes. More information is available on the Roadrunner Food Bank’s Web site.

Food and Wine celebrated “Santa Fe’s small, intimate and upscale dining scene” which “provides ample restaurants with hushed lighting, tranquil outdoor seating and a unique fold of Southwestern, American and French cuisines.” In compiling a list of the most romantic restaurants in Santa Fe, Food and Wine urged locals and visitors to “reserve a table for two at these romantic spots.” They include Bouche, Eloisa, Geronimo, The Compound Restaurant, Terra, Izanami, Luminaria, Joseph’s, The Anasazi Restaurant and Santacafe.

March, 2017

Robert and Kimberly Yacone of Forghedaboudit Pizza in Deming with Their 2017 “Best Traditional Pizza” Award at the International Pizza Expo in Las Vegas, Nevada.  Photo Courtesy of Robert Yacone

Most of the accolades signifying New Mexico’s “best” foods or restaurants as chronicled on Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Year in Food monthly updates are determined by either culinary critics-cognoscenti or by popular acclaim. While both methods are valid and should never be discounted, some restaurateurs are so confident in their culinary specialty that they literally need to prove their mettle in the field of culinary competition. That would be an apt description for the approach taken by Robert and Kimberly Yacone, owners of Forghedaboudit Pizza in Deming. In 2016, the duo earned second place in the dry rub category at the National Buffalo Wing Festival. On Wednesday, March 29th, Forghedaboudit won the Southwest region’s “best traditional pizza” competition at the International Pizza Expo, the largest gathering of pizza professionals in the world. Competing against sixty other pizzaioli from California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, Colorado, Oklahoma and Texas, Forghedaboudit’s pepperoni and mushroom pie bested all regional competition. The pizza also earned a very respectable fourth place overall in the worldwide competition. Who says you can’t get outstanding pizza in the Land of Enchantment?

Chef Martin Rios, one of New Mexico’s most heralded chefs has been named a finalist for the James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef – Southwest award. A semi-finalist on several occasions and runner-up in 2011, Rios owns the eponymous Restaurant Martin in Santa Fe where award-winning progressive American cuisine is showcased. The two-time Chef of the Year for New Mexico award-winner is in contention with five other chefs from the region for the culinary world’s “Oscar.” James Beard Award winners will be announced on May 1st. The event will be hosted by another New Mexican, actor Jesse Tyler Ferguson. Will this be the year Santa Fe chef Martin Rios finally breaks through? Stay tuned.

Rancho de Chimayo’s Florence Jaramillo and New Mexico Restaurant Association President Carol Wright (Photo Courtesy of Gerges Scott)

In conjunction with National Women’s History Month, the New Mexico Restaurant Association (NMRA) and the New Mexico Kitchen Cabinet (NMKC) named Florence Jaramillo, owner of historic Rancho de Chimayó, winner of the first annual Women’s Restaurant Award. The award was created to recognize women who have made outstanding contributions to the New Mexico Restaurant industry. Fittingly, the award will henceforth be named for Mrs Jaramillo. In 2016, her legendary restaurant earned the James Beard Foundation’s “America’s Classic” honor signifying “restaurants with timeless appeal, beloved for quality food that reflects the character of their community, and that have carved out a special place in the American culinary landscape.” Florence was New Mexico Restaurateur of the Year in 1987, served on the New Mexico and National Restaurant Associations boards and won the top honor from the National Restaurant Association – The Lifetime Achievement Award.

Cooking With Kids has been named Gourmand World Cookbook’s 2017 winner in the “Children” category. Written by Lynn Walters and Jane Stacey, with Gabrielle Gonzales, the Cooking with Kids Cookbook includes “most enthusiastically kid-tested dishes, along with tips for engaging with children in the kitchen and in the garden.” Featuring more than 65 recipes focused on tasty, nutritious meals and snacks, the Cookbook is designed to teach children how to help plan, prepare and cook meals. The Cookbook will now compete with winners from other countries for the honor “Best in the World.” Cooking With Kids has been cultivating positive experiences with healthy foods for Santa Fe’s children since 1995.

Santa Fe High School’s Pro-Start Award-Winning Team with Chef Fernando Olea (Photo Courtesy of Gerges Scott)

More than 100 top culinary students from across the Land of Enchantment demonstrated their mastery of restaurant leadership skills — culinary and management — in a fast-paced competition to win their share of $3.2 million in scholarships at the Santa Fe Convention Center. A culinary team from Santa Fe High and a management team from Cloudcroft High were crowned state champions and will represent New Mexico at the National ProStart Invitational, the country’s premier high school competition focused on restaurant management and culinary arts. The culinary competition highlighted the creative abilities of each team through the preparation of a three-course meal in 60 minutes using only two butane burners. Management teams developed a proposal for an original restaurant concept and applied critical thinking skills to challenges restaurant managers face in day-to-day operations. The performance of teams in both the culinary and management events were observed and rated by expert judges from industry and academia. Taos High and Atrisco Heritage High took second and third in the culinary competition. Taos High and Sandia High took second and third in the management competition.

As illustrated in humorous anecdotes published in New Mexico Magazine’s monthly “One of Our Fifty is Missing” feature, there are still a lot of people who don’t recognize that New Mexico is a state. Sadly, some believe a passport is needed to cross into the Land of Enchantment’s borders. Others believe New Mexico is part of Arizona. Some (including a couple of respondents to a recent poll on Gil’s Thrilling…) think New Mexicans eat “chili.” Not only are these misconceptions a sad indictment of America’s educational system, they demonstrate the New Mexico Tourism Department’s challenge in touting all that is great about our state. To help, Thrillist compiled a list of “the very best thing in each and every of these United States.” To no surprise (except the spelling challenged people who insist on the spelling “chili”), the best thing about New Mexico is green chile which got the nod over blue meth, science and aliens.

Green Chile Cheeseburger from Dick’s Cafe in Las Cruces. Image Courtesy of Melodie K.

Because “you want a perfectly prepared steak without so much as a shred of effort on your part,” Thrillist compiled a list of the best steakhouse in every state. According to Thrillist, the Land of Enchantment’s best hunk of bodacious beef comes from the Monte Carlo Steakhouse and Liquor Store in Albuquerque. “Founded by Greek immigrants who pride themselves on serving not only the best steaks, but the best authentic Greek cuisine in New Mexico, this place is kinda like a Greek restaurant inside a steakhouse inside a liquor store, and it’s all named after a section of Monaco. So very confusing. And while Guy Fieri was impressed by the rib-eye when he visited on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, the main attraction is the baklava.” Frankly, if you’ve got room for baklava after polishing off a steak at the Monte Carlo, you’re quite the trencherman.

For generations we’ve been told breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Thankfully the Land of Enchantment is blessed with many wonderful options which allow us to skip cream of wheat, Captain Crunch and other such options that give us little reason to get up in the morning. Delish compiled a list of the breakfast spots everyone is talking about in each of the fifty states. According to Delish, New Mexico’s best breakfast comes from Flying Star, a Duke City mainstay for three decades. That’s not the first time Flying Star has earned such an accolade. Bon Appetit once named it one of the “ten favorite places for breakfast in America.” Flying Star is renowned for prodigious portions of high quality dishes as well as inventive takes on comfort foods.

French Dip (Beef Au Jus) from St. Clair Winery & Bistro in Las Cruces. Image Courtesy of Melodie K.

Delish.com, one of the top ten food-related online destinations, knows that buffets are often perceived as “minimal hotel breakfasts and cheesy resort restaurants.” Rather than waste bytes denouncing these denizens of dreariness, Delish celebrated the highest-rated restaurant buffets according to Foursquare City Guide. In its feature “The Buffet Everyone is Talking About in Your State,” Delish certainly picked a great one from New Mexico, selecting Joe’s Pasta House in Rio Rancho as purveyor of the very best buffet in the Land of Enchantment. Joe’s buffet is the apotheosis of deliciousness, a sumptuous array of favorites that will leave you drooling. Although Joe’s spectacular buffet is available only for lunch, the dinner menu is even better.

State fairs across the fruited plain are renowned for fried indulgences (including fried beer) and foods which make you feel like a neanderthal as you eat them sans utensils (turkey legs). The Travel Channel recently compiled a list of some of the best fair foods in the nation for its Food Paradise series. Two foods from the New Mexico State Fair, both long-standing concessions made the list–Rex’s Makin’ Bacon (fresh, handmade burger, topped with green chile and American cheese, wrapped in bacon and deep-fried to a crispy, brown perfection) and Casa Dog (a foot long all-beef hot dog, wrapped in a New Mexico corn tortilla, then stuffed with thick smoked bacon and cheese, and smothered in green chile).

Breakfast Enchiladas from The Shed in Las Cruces. Image Courtesy of Melodie K.

BuzzFeed, “the leading independent digital media company delivering news and entertainment to hundreds of millions of people around the world” employed its global, cross-platform network to compile “the best bakery in every state, according to Yelp.” The most popular bakery in every state was determined using an algorithm that considered the number of reviews plus the star rating for every bakery on Yelp. It will probably surprise, shock and awe some of you to read that New Mexico’s best bakery is Albuquerque’s Trifecta Coffee Company. Yelper comments indicated “they have the best scones, coffee cakes, muffins and quiche on a daily basis. The food is outstanding and the coffee is some of the best I’ve had!”

Comedian Rob Riggle jokes that his favorite food is “flapjacks, followed closely by hotcakes. After that, crepes. Y’know, like, pancake-thick.” Now there’s a pancake obsessed man. Riggle is the type of pancake aficionado who’ll take a cross-country trip just to try each and every one of the best pancake houses in every US state (and D.C.). Fortunately MSN compiled that list for paramours of prodigious pancakes such as Riggle. According to MSN, the Land of Enchantment’s best pancake house is Albuquerque’s Grove Café & Market, described as “Albuquerque’s favorite breakfast spot.” MSN noted “You can order breakfast any time of day, with the French-style pancakes topped with fresh fruit, creme fruit, local honey and real maple syrup always a winner.

Kimberly Yacone shows off two of ForghedaboutIt’s Traditional Award-Winning Pizzas.  Photo Courtesy of Robert Yacone

At a more micro level, theChive, an entertainment digital media presence, used Foursquare data to rank the best pie in each state according to reviews, comments and tips. While not naming a specific pie, theChive did indicate the best pie in New Mexico comes from Albuquerque’s Flying Star Café. With a tempting array of handmade bakery desserts prepared fresh daily, the Flying Star has been a Duke City favorite since 1987. A quick perusal of the café’s bakery desserts menu lists such favorites as Dutch Apple Crumb, Cherry, Key Lime, Strawberry Rhubarb and Rio Grande Mud Pie.

“Every state has specific dishes and ingredients that its residents are particularly fond of — Idahoans love their potatoes, and Virginians can’t get enough sweet tea, but when it comes to online food searches, Americans become less predictable.” Delish published its intel on “the most-searched foods in every state.” While Arizonans were searching for chiles and Coloradoans scoured the internet for carnitas, New Mexicans want to know how to make empanadas.

February, 2017

Praline Bread Pudding from St. Clair Winery & Bistro in Las Cruces. Image Courtesy of Melodie K.

When you pit some of the Land of Enchantment’s best chefs against kitchen luminaries from throughout the fruited plain, you quickly come to the realization that our chefs can compete against the very best from anywhere. One recent showcase for New Mexico chefs has been the Food Network’s reality-based cooking television game show series Chopped. In an episode first airing on January 31st, Chef Carrie Eagle of Albuquerque’s Farm & Table showed her culinary mettle in besting three other competitors. The show’s theme was “game day party” and required each chef to prepare an appetizer, entree and dessert for a chance to win $10,000.

Marie Yniguez, chef and owner of Bocadillo’s was first introduced across the fruited plain in September, 2013 when her sandwich emporium was featured on the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives program. Beguiled by her charm, wit and talent, the Food Network asked her back, this time as a competing chef on Chopped. In an episode which first aired on February 28th, Marie competed against three other chefs in a episode entitled “Raw Deal” which required that each chef create an appetizer from a deconstructed sushi burger which she converted to a tuna and pork taco with logan berries and wasabi pico de gallo, followed in the entree round by a grilled buffalo steak with porcini mushroom hash. Her dessert, a butter-braised polenta cake with bechamel ganache, proved to be the difference-maker, earning her the title of Chopped Champion.

Tacos Al Pastor from Andele Restaurante in Las Cruces. Image Courtesy of Melodie K.

Valentine’s Day doesn’t necessarily celebrate love at first bite as much as it does romantic love, but some restaurants have mastered the art of presenting food you’ll love sharing with someone you love. One such restaurant is Santa Fe’s Santacafe which Delish.com named the most romantic restaurant in New Mexico. Delish noted “The Southwestern bistro is tucked inside a 19th century adobe house, and features four candlelit dining rooms with fireplaces, as well as an outdoor patio. Menu standouts include crispy calamari, roasted poblano chile relleno, and blue corn chicken enchiladas.”

“Setting the table for romance involves an array of ingredients: scrumptious food, alluring ambience, and bespoke service.” OpenTable diners had their say in declaring the 100 most romantic restaurants in America for 2017, honoring the seductive spots at which couples are creating connections and savoring delicious memories. “Based on an analysis of 10,000,000+ reviews of more than 24,000 restaurants across the country — all submitted by verified diners,” the list included only one restaurant from the Land of Enchantment–perennial honoree Vernon’s Speakeasy in Los Ranchos de Albuquerque. Vernon’s also earned a similar distinction from Albuquerque The Magazine.

Cinnamon chipotle chocolate cake truffles from The Chocolate Affair in Las Cruces. Image Courtesy of Melodie K.

22 Words, “a premier viral publisher, serving up funny, cute, heartwarming, and fascinating stories to over 40 million readers a month across its network” published a list celebrating the United States of Weird or Intriguing Food Facts. Thankfully the list didn’t name eating menudo or carne adovada (see the January, 2017 version of “Year in Food”) as the weirdest food fact about the Land of Enchantment. Instead, our weirdest food fact is that it’s illegal to carry a lunchbox down main street. 22 Words wonders “what happened that made this law go on the books. Did someone just go ape crap crazy and start swinging around a metal lunchbox like a major league baseball player?” New Mexicans know. This law was enacted thanks to the will of all the farm animals and cemetery-dwellers who cast votes in Las Cruces (and throughout New Mexico) elections.

Every year the American Automobile Association (AAA) reviews more than 31,000 restaurants, rating them based on a combination of the overall food, service, décor and ambiance offered by the establishment. Only 2.1 percent make the AAA Four Diamond list, a distinction assigned exclusively to establishments that meet and uphold AAA’s rigorous approval standards for distinctive fine-dining using criteria that considers creative preparations, skillfully served, often with wine steward, amid upscale ambience. New Mexico had two AAA Four Diamond Restaurants in 2017, both in Santa Fe. Both are perennial AAA Four Diamond honorees: Geronimo (since 2004) and Terra at Rancho Encantado (since 2009).

Panang Curry at Renoo’s Thai Delight in Las Cruces. Image Courtesy of Melodie K.

Thrillist compiled a list of the best chicken wings in the United States, “all guaranteed to leave you with dirty fingers and a very happy belly.” According to Thrillist, the Land of Enchantment’s best wings aren’t appendages on our state bird, the roadrunner. Our best wings, at least according to Thrillist, come from Santa Fe’s Cowgirl BBQ. Thrillist described them as “the honkin’ wings, which contain a light smoke, crispy skin, and a hell of a lot of heat, even if you get the straight-up house style. You can also go jerk, but come on. Cowgirl up and go with the Wings of Fire, which are tossed in a fiery habanero-based salsa diablo that might be manageable for the weak of heart(burn) were they not so friggin’ big.”

Three of the Land of Enchantment’s best chefs have been named semifinalists in 2017’s prestigious James Beard Foundation Awards, the culinary world’s equivalent of the Oscar. Two of them–Chef Jonathan Perno of Los Poblanos and Martín Rios of Restaurant Martín in Santa Fe–who have been nominated several times are up for “Best Chef-Southwest” honors. The third, Colin Shane, of Santa Fe’s Arroyo Vino is a semifinalist in the “Rising Star” category. In 2015 Chef Shane was the first chef from New Mexico selected to compete at Chaine des Rotisseurs, a competition of young chefs from the Far West, where he earned bronze.

Green Chile Bañado Plate from Nellie’s Cafe in Las Cruces. Image Courtesy of Melodie K.

“Obsessed with everything that’s worth caring about in food, drink, and travel,” the good folks at Thrillist compiled a list of “the most iconic restaurants in every state.” To qualify, a restaurant had to have been around for 30 years or more and “still be a crowd favorite.” As a disclaimer, perhaps, the selected restaurants “may not have the best food or be tourist-free,” but “they’re all famous.” Thrillist’s selection for New Mexico–for the second consecutive year–was El Pinto, a restaurant Thrillist declared is “also one of the best Mexican spots in the country. The red chile ribs are reason enough to schedule a visit soon, but it’s also one of the largest restaurants you’ve ever been in, period. It’s like how big your rich friend’s house seemed when you were a kid: rooms open up into other rooms.”

Parade Magazine, the popular insert in many newspapers, describes comfort food as “like a hug on a plate,” indicating that “comfort food is what folks turn to to sooth their souls when the weather, the world or life in general isn’t going well.” Parade’s list of comfort food from coast-to-coast listed the favorite comfort food in each of the fifty states. New Mexico’s favorite comfort food, according to Parade is the ubiquitous breakfast burrito: “The Land of Enchantment is the birthplace of this morning spin on a Southwest favorite filled with scrambled eggs, hash browns, cheddar and green chiles. (When you visit, you can even eat along the Breakfast Burrito Byway.) Other Faves: green chile cheeseburgers, green chile stew, posole, “Christmas-style” enchiladas (that’s with green and red sauce).” Interestingly, Colorado’s favorite comfort food was deemed to be chile verde: “bowls of this stew made with tender, slow-cooked pork shoulder, tangy tomatillos and local green chiles. Other Faves: chiles rellenos and Navajo tacos (tacos on Indian fry bread).”

French Onion Soup from the RendezvousCafe and French Pastry Shop in Las Cruces.  Image Courtesy of Melodie K.

Founded in 1952, Blake’s Lotaburger shows no sign of slowing down. As it celebrates its 65th birthday, the bastion of behemoth burgers continues its burgeoning. Once exclusive to the Land of Enchantment, Lotaburger now boasts of 74 locations across New Mexico, Texas and Arizona with a third location in the works for Tucson and a new restaurant launching soon in Gilbert, its first in the Phoenix metro area. Dion’s, another New Mexico chain too good not to share with the rest of the world is also expanding, recently launching its 22nd store, this one in the Reunion Metro District of Commerce City (Denver). Here’s betting Denver-area pizza aficionados will love Dion’s famous Ranch dressing as much as New Mexicans do.

On a number of blog posts, I’ve half joked about votes being cast by dead people and farm animals in New Mexico’s elections. If recent events have any veracity, perhaps it would also be apropos to blame (or credit) our election results on Russian hacking. One thing is for certain–New Mexicans take elections and the privilege of voting seriously…maybe too seriously. To help make voting a more fun process, Bob of the Village of Los Ranchos (BOTVOLR), the unofficial publicist for Gil’s Thrilling…, suggested a quick poll question feature. You can find the quick poll question on the blog’s right-hand-side navigation. Bob also provided the inaugural question for the poll. If you’d like to submit a poll question, please email me at thriller@nmgastronome.com.

Quick Poll Questions Now on Gil’s Thrilling…

House Bill 118, a measure which will make our sacrosanct green chile cheeseburger the state of New Mexico’s official state burger passed the House 57-8. Introduced by Representative Matthew McQueen of Galisteo, the green chile cheeseburger will join join the state cookie (bizcochito), state question (red or green?) and “red and green” or “Christmas” (state answer) as official state symbols. In 2015, the New Mexico True Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail was named the nations number one food trail by USA Today’s 10 Best Readers’ Choice Awards.

January, 2017

Beef Tender Bistro with Waffle Fries from Grill 49 in Tularosa.  Image Courtesy of Melodie K.

As an essayist of the New Mexico culinary scene, it often baffles me to read national print and online publications attempting to speak for New Mexicans in naming our best this or best that.  It’s often as if the writers have never set foot in the Land of Enchantment and instead tossed a dart at a target listing sundry foods.  Take for example, Delish.com’s recent compilation of compilation of The 50 Most Wanted Game Day Food in Your State.  Using findings from DirecTV which ostensibly combed through Instagram to determine which snacks people were scarfing down before cheering on the home team, Delish.com named onion rings as the fried snack of choice here.  Onion rings!!!   In years of having attended Lobo football and basketball games, I don’t recall any tailgaters noshing on onion rings.  Perhps they devour onion rings at home before heading to the University Stadium or Wise Guys Arena.

According to an online survey from the National Coffee Association, 83-percent of adults crave their caffeine jolt.  A separate survey from Zagat revealed about half of respondents get their coffee fix at a nationally owned chain or local coffee shop.  When it comes to finding a great cup of coffee, not every city is created equal.  Yelp data was evaluated to determine America’s fifty caffeine capitals.  With a caffeine score of 86.27, Albuquerque ranks as America’s second most caffeinated city.  Coffee lovers convene for their favorite cup at one of the city’s 124 coffee shops which earned an average Yelp rating of 3.9 (on a scale of one to five) with 80 of them earning ratings of four to five on Yelp reviews.

Chicken and Waffles (with Bacon) from Salud! de Mesilla.  Image Courtesy of Melodie K.

“Love may be a many-splendored thing, but however you cut it, “splendor” is the operative word.  Cities that bring the beauty almost always crank up the heat, which is why there’s no mistaking a romantic city when you encounter it. Thrillist compiled a rundown of US cities where the scenery doubles as an aphrodisiac, for use as you and boo see fit.”   Not surprisingly, Santa Fe was named one of the most beautiful cities in the US for romantic getaways.  According to Thrillist, the City Different’s most romantic restaurant-bar is the Pink Adobe adding that “the neighborhood’s wonderful collection of bars and restaurants, from the Palace to Secreto Lounge to Tia Sophia’s, is integral to the area’s sultry charm.”

Santa Fe is also home to one of America’s 39 most historic restaurants as named by MSN.  The venerable El Farol on artsy-chic Canyon Road is the city’s oldest restaurant.  MSN wrote: “Serving Spanish tapas this delightful restaurant has been offering “warmth” and “light” (the English translation) since 1835, alongside sharing plates well before they became a trend and nightly entertainment.  El Farol is one of the forerunners of the tapas movement, the sharing of small portions of delectable foods served in groupings.  History meets entertainment at El Farol which features live entertainment seven days a week.

Cannoli from NYP Pizza House in Las Cruces.  Image Courtesy of Melodie K.

Just in time for the advent of 2017, Travel Squire,  a digital magazine and travel therapist in one combined, written and edited by destination specialists. organized its picks for the top 28 destinations for the upcoming year in travel.  The list includes every continent with something for every travel style.  “New on Your Radar” destinations providing a variety of cultural and culinary experiences include the Land of Enchantment.  New Mexico is the only state that is home to three UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Chaco Canyon, Taos Pueblo and Carlsbad Caverns.  It’s also unmatched in terms of culinary experiences.  Travel Squire noted: “Enticing culinary trails like the Breakfast Burrito Byway and the Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail will introduce you to New Mexico’s culinary staple—the spicy chile. There are also numerous opportunities to experience the Native American culture from a pueblo cooking class at Okhay Owingeh to sampling pueblo cuisine, exploring Gallup’s Native art and Native-influenced spa treatments.”

While many New Mexicans might have named our official state cookie–the sacrosanct biscochito–as our most delicious cookie, Good Housekeeping made a rather surprising choice.  In naming a dark chocolate chili cookie as New Mexico’s very best cookie in its list of the 50 most delicious cookies by state, Good Housekeeping actually found a cookie that really doesn’t have much New Mexico in it.  Study the recipe and you’ll quickly note its ingredients include a hint of cinnamon, cayenne pepper, and chunks of dark chocolate chili chocolate.  Sure, we love cayenne pepper with Cajun food, but it doesn’t grace our recipes for New Mexican food.   As for the “chili” in this cookie, it actually comes from a  Lindt chili excellence bar.  It’s unlikely any New Mexican chile farmers would allow their product to be spelled “chili” so there’s no telling where it comes from.

Menudo from Bravas Cafe in Las Cruces.  Image Courtesy of Melodie K.

During our three years in England, we spent many a lazy day on the banks of the serene River Windrush  luxuriating with a cup of tea coupled with a combination of scones, clotted cream, and jam.  It’s not something we can hope to duplicate on the banks of the murky Rio Grande, but scant miles away, we can experience the genteel pleasure of sipping tea at The St. James Tearroom.  The Huffington Post calls an experience at the St. James Tearoom “the lost art of connection,” indicating that the tearoom “offers its patrons an experience that creates connection and intimacy for those who choose to leave the rushed and stressful day to day duties of work to take time out and connect. It is a place to relax and be fully present to those around you and tea is the magical thread that weaves this experience together.” 

What one person considers delicious, another may deem entirely unpleasant.  Thrillist realizes that “each state has foods that might look unappetizing or downright disgusting to an outsider — but to homegrown kids, they’re a little slice of home.”  Most native New Mexicans will consider it heretical that in a Thrillist feature entitled “Every State’s Grossest Food (That People Actually Love),” declares that our beloved carne adovada “resembles a plate of wet dog food in marinara sauce.”  Hard to believe as New Mexicans will find it, carne adovada was deemed our “grossest food.”  Where do you find this paragon of loathsomeness?  Thrillist recommends Mary & Tito’s Cafe where “you get it paired with a plate of perfectly cooked sunny-side eggs and hash browns.”

Croissant from Belle Sucre in Las Cruces.  Image Courtesy of Melodie K.

Ludwig van Beethoven once declared “only the pure in heart can make a good soup.”  Restaurants throughout Albuquerque and Santa Fe are obviously staffed with pure-hearted chefs and cooks who show off their formidable culinary skills every year at each city’s annual Souper Bowl, the most delicious fund-raising events in the state.  Santa Fe’s Souper Bowl benefits The Food Depot, “Northern New Mexico’s Food Bank.”  Approximately one-thousand soup lovers attended the twenty-third annual event where they sipped soup to their heart’s content.  Sweetwater Harvest Kitchen earned both  best overall soup and best savory soup with a Thai Cambodian Coconut Chicken soup.  Other category winners included Terra at the Four Seasons at Rancho Encantado in the best cream category; Kingston Residence of Santa Fe in the best seafood category; and The Palace in the best vegetarian category.

More than twelve-hundred guests enjoyed scrumptious soups and delectable desserts from nearly forty area Albuquerque restaurants in the Roadrunner Food Bank’s Souper Bowl 2017.  Awards were presented in two categories: Critic’s Choice and People’s Choice with attendees casting their ballots for their favorite soup and dessert.  Drum roll please…the 2017 Souper Bowl award winners were:

People’s Choice – Overall Soup Winners
1st Place and Souper Bowl Champion: Bocadillos Café and Catering
2nd Place: Chumly’s Southwestern
3rd Place: Daily Grind

People’s Choice – Vegetarian Soup Winners
1st Place: Turtle Mountain Brewing Co.
2nd Place: 99 Degrees Seafood
3rd Place: Corn Maiden at the Hyatt

People’s Choice – Dessert Winners
1st Place: Nothing Bundt Cakes
2nd Place: Theombroma Chocolatier
3rd Place: Vic’s Daily Cafe

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: Chumly’s Southwestern
2nd Place: Sandia Golf Club
3rd Place: Zacateca Tacos + Tequila

Quiche Lorraine from The Shed in Las Cruces.  Image Courtesy of Melodie K.

What’s the hottest trending topic in the world of comfort cuisine.  According to The Travel Channel, it’s Mexican food.  With flavors so bold, brash and satisfying, it’s no surprise.  Leaving no tortilla unturned in its search for America’s eight best places to “enjoy maximum Mexican food enjoyment,” it’s also no surprise The Travel Channel would wind up in New Mexico where Albuquerque’s legendary El Pinto ranked number four in the list of Best Mex.  John and Jim Thomas, the famous “Salsa Twins” were featured along with the meaty splendor that is El Pinto’s red chile ribs.  The process of preparing the best ribs since Adam shared one with Eve was showcased along with calabasitas and a 24-ounce bone-in tomahawk steak.

The Travel Channel also counted down eight restaurants known for serving up the best version of a city’s signature dish.  In an episode of Food Paradise entitled “Iconic Eats,” Santa Fe’s Maria’s New Mexican Kitchen was lauded for its blue corn enchiladas, a main player in its menu for more than fifty years.  Another dish on the epic list are Maria’s epic chile rellenos which are stuffed with a pepperjack cheese.  It’s too bad modern technology has not yet developed smell-o-vision or better still, taste-o-vision because both dishes truly represent New Mexico on a plate.  It’s Christmas every day at Maria’s.

Chello Grill – Albuquerque, New Mexico

My friend Bruce “Sr. Plata” Silver Stands in Front of Chello Grill Mediterranean Cuisine on Cutler

Persian cuisine has been described as “poetry on a plate” and “a pretext to break into verse.”  Persian history is replete with a large repertoire of literary quotes about food and drink.  Even when the subject of a poem wasn’t about food, a poet’s appreciation for Persian cuisine often inspired the inclusion of culinary terms.  Take for example fifteenth-century Persian poet Bu-Isaq of Shiraz who described his beloved as: “lithe as a fish, eyes like almonds, lips like sugar, a chin like an orange, breasts like pomegranates, a mouth like a pistachio” and so forth.”

“Surely,” I thought, “contemporary poets can also be inspired to put to verse and song their sentiments about the loves of their lives using food in descriptive terms.  Diligent searches revealed that the twain apparently doesn’t cross.  I did, however, find an inspiring poem by Grammy award-winning hip-hop artist Busta Rhymes who pays tribute to his favorite food (and one of mine): “Mrs. Fried Chicken you was my addiction. Dripping with high cholest- Like Greeks with his falafel, Italian with his to-mato pasta. What roti is to a rasta. Trapping me; You and your friend mac’ and cheese. Candy yams, collard greens but you knocking me to my knees…”

Skewered Meats and Vegetables

My friend Bruce “Sr. Plata” and I were nearly inspired to break into verse and song ourselves the minute we walked into Chello Grill and espied a shaker of sumac, a rich red colored spice with a bright lemony flavor.  We’ve both been known to lament the relative meagerness of sumac on Persian and Middle Eastern foods we enjoy.  Even though it’s considered an essential ingredient in cooking throughout the region, all too often it’s used in moderation (at least by our standards).   We knew we’d like the Chello Grill the moment we discovered that shaker of sumac.  It gave us confidence that other Persian spices we love on Persian cuisine–cardamom, saffron, garlic, turmeric and yes, even cumin–would be used in the preparation of dishes we would soon be enjoying.

There’s much to like about the Chello Grill, the brainchild of the entrepreneurial duo of Hasan Aslami and Behrad Etemadi who are becoming quite the restaurant impresarios in the Duke City and beyond.  Several years ago they created Pizza 9, a burgeoning franchise  named by  Franchise Business Review  among its “best of the best,” one of the top 200 franchises in America for 2016.  Hoping to duplicate the success they had with Pizza 9, they plan to franchise Chello Grill with the goal of expanding across the Southwest.  The Chello Grill is located in the Pavilions at San Mateo shopping center, occupying the storefront which once housed Boston Market.

Chello Doh: Chicken Kabob, Sheesh Kabob, Rice and Vegetables

The Chello Grill operates much like a cafeteria.  Instead of taking your seat at a vacant table, you’ll walk up to the counter where you’ll undoubtedly gaze longingly at the skewers and vegetables under glass before deciding whether to have Chello Yek (one kabob and one side), Chello Doh (two kabobs and two sides) or Chello Seh (three kabobs and two sides).  Chello, by the way, comes from the Farsi word for rice.  Rice is indeed a prominent part of every meal as is naan, a fresh-baked flat bread more closely associated with Indian cuisine. Available kabobs include koobideh, ground meat seasoned with minced onion, salt and pepper; chicken seasoned with turmeric, paprika, sumac, salt, garlic and several other spices; and shish kabob, skewered beef along with mushrooms, onions, tomatoes and peppers.

Both Bruce and I enjoyed the chicken kabob above all else.  The characteristic yellowish hue courtesy of turmeric is punctuated by the characteristic char of a grill.  The chicken straddles the fine line between being moist and juicy and being on the desiccated side.  A little more either way and it wouldn’t be quite as enjoyable.  All too often the shish kabob served in Persian and Middle Eastern restaurants tends to be on the dry side, courtesy of too much time spent on a grill that’s too hot.  Not so at the Chello Grill where the grilled beef is moist and delicious.  So are the grilled vegetables.  A large mound of rice, more than one person can eat, completes the plate.

Top: Naan; Bottom: Mast O Khiar (Cucumber & Yogurt Dip) and Hummus

Our sides ranged from very good (the mirza ghasemi, a grilled eggplant and tomato dip with plenty of garlic) to good (mast o khiar, a cucumber and yogurt dip similar to Greek tzadziki) to unremarkable (a rather dry hummus).  The freshly baked naan is much larger than its Indian restaurant counterpart and quite a bit crispier.  Roughly the size of a medium pizza, it goes well with any of the sides, but is just too crispy to use “sandwich style” with the kabobs. 

Service at Chello Grill is exceptional with a friendly and attentive staff at your beck and call.  As with Pizza 9, the Chello Grill recognizes the value of customer orientation and good value.  Don’t be surprised if this Persian treasure expands similar to its elder sibling and that someday an inspired poem will rhapsodize about that chicken kabob.

Chello Grill
5010 Cutler Avenue, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 881-2299
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 27 June 2017
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Chicken Kabob, Sheesh Kabob,  Mast O Khiar, Naan, Mirza Ghasemi

Chello Grill Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

M’TUCCI’S MARKET & PIZZERIA – Albuquerque, New Mexico

M’Tucci’s Market & Pizzeria

Greek mythology recounts the story of Tantalus, progeny of a divine parent (Zeus himself) and a mortal one.  Uniquely favored among mortals by being invited to share the food of the gods, Tantalus abused that privilege by slaying his own son and feeding him to the gods as a test of their omniscience.  The gods immediately figured out what Tantalus had done and in their rage condemned him to the deepest portion of the underworld where he would be forever “tantalized” with hunger and thirst.  Though immersed up to his neck in water, when Tantalus bent to drink, it all drained away.  When he reached for the luscious fruit hanging on trees above him, winds blew the branches beyond his reach.

For years, Duke City diners have been tantalized by the promise of signage beckoning us to visit “delis” only to realize, much like the gods of Olympus, that all is not as it appears.  A sign does not a deli make nor do products from peripatetic distributors.  As with Tantalus, we’re left to pine for the authenticity of a true deli, the type of which Albuquerque has not seen since the bygone days of Deli Mart.  Savvy diners may not be able to vanquish the ersatz delis to the underworld, but we can banish these pretenders to the realm of chain restaurants we choose not to frequent.

Huge Flavors Come out of This Small Space

By strict definition a “deli,” an abbreviated form of delicatessen, is a term meaning “delicacies,” “fine foods” or “delicious things to eat.”   Over time delicatessen and its diminutive form came to represent the store, restaurant or combination thereof in which these delicacies, fine foods and delicious things to eat are sold, either for take-out or eat-in.    For many of us who have lived in large cities, the term deli is synonymous with Jewish deli while for others a deli proffers specialty foods indigenous to Italy, Poland (see Red Rock Deli) or other European nation. 

The hard-liners among us will never accept  that Schlotzky’s, Jason’s, McAlister’s and others of that ilk are delis despite what their signage may say.  Nor will we ever be duped by the deception of diners daring to call themselves delis.  It goes without saying that we don’t believe a deli should  feature products burnishing the labels of Oscar Mayer, Hormel, Kirkland, Butterball or even the ubiquitous Boar’s Head.  An authentic deli should preferably cure, salt, dry and cut its own meats and make at least some of its cheeses–and if it doesn’t do that, it should procure and sell only the finest, most authentic meats and cheeses available.

Italian Charcuterie Board

With the December, 2014 launch of M’Tucci’s Italian Market & Deli, Albuquerque once again has an authentic Italian deli in the tradition of delis for which hard-core deli aficionados have pined for far too long.  It’s a deli in which I’d proudly break bread with Dave Hurayt, Bruce Schor, Bob Sherwood and Gary Feaster with whom I’ve commiserated about the absence of an authentic deli in Albuquerque.  Best of all, it’s a deli with a pedigree that promises authenticity and deliciousness. 

Trust the ownership triumvirate of John Haas, Katie Gardner and Jeff Spiegel to do for their Italian market and deli what they’ve done for their restaurant. The trio launched M’Tucci’s Kitchina in 2013 and accolades quickly piled on (including “Best New Restaurant” honors from Albuquerque The Magazine readers and being named one of the top 100 neighborhood restaurants in the US by Open Table).  M’Tucci’s Italian Market & Deli is located about 150 feet away from its elder sibling in the Montaño Plaza shopping center.

Pickled Board

Ensconced within Lilliputian digs, M’Tucci’s Italian Market & Deli embodies the axiom “little place, huge flavors.”  Add huge aromas and you might feel you’ve been transported to a small corner New York City Italian deli.    You’ll be amazed at just how much is crammed into such a small space.  Seating for about ten guests is to your immediate left and right as you walk in.  Because of space constraints, the deli’s take-out business will be a robust part of the operation.  The rest of the space is devoted to mouth-watering Italian products, many of which are created on the premises. 

In fact, the talented staff at M’Tucci’s Italian Market & Deli bakes its own breads (sourdough, rye, whole wheat, baguette, ciabatta, foccacia), makes its pastas and sausages, cures many of its own meats (prosciutto, cotto, sopressata, mortadella, etc.) and makes its cheeses (mozzarella, ricotta, burrata, etc.).  What isn’t made on the premises is procured from trusted, high-quality sources.  On the shelves you’ll also espy jars of fresh herbs (basil, sage, rosemary, thyme, oregano, etc.) while refrigerated deli cases showcase pickled goods (eggplant, sweet or spicy cucumbers, cardamom carrots, giardinera, Sicilian green olives, Macedonian peppers and more).  Your taste buds might go into sensory overload, not to mention involuntary salivation.

Muffaletta with Farro Salad

Optimally, you’ll be able to score one of the four tables for a unique eat-in experience that will allow you to browse and sample as you wait for your meal which, by the way, is so much more than sandwiches.  First on the menu are three Italian charcuterie boards, all of which are accompanied by house-made artisan bread.  After you peruse the four enticing appetizers and three scrumptious salads, you’ll be hard-pressed to choose from among seven featured sandwiches, including a build-your-own option and all served with one side.  You can opt instead for one of three pastas.  Either way, you might not have room left for one of the three luscious desserts.

If, like me, you believe Italian delis start and end with meats and cheeses, you’ve got to try one of the three Charcuterie Boards (Salumi Board, Pickled Board, Cheese Board).  In America, the ancient European culinary art of charcuterie has recently started to become a highly revered and well-practiced art.   Charcuterie refers to the products made and sold in a delicatessen-style shop, also called a charcuterie. The operative word here is “made” as in butchering, cutting, salting, curing, slicing, storing and preparing such meat products such as bacon, sausage, ham, pates, and more.  M’Tucci’s Italian Market & Deli not only offers charcuterie, it is a charcuterie!

Pastrami

14 December 2014: The Salumi Board offers three options: pick two, pick three or pick four from among the meats.  An outstanding option is the spicy coppa (short for capicolla), a traditional, rustic Italian cured meat with a taste and texture similar to prosciutto.   If you’re a Sopranos fan, you might recognize capicolla by its slang name “gabagool.” By any name it’s delicious.   Speck, which is cured with such spices as juniper berries, nutmeg, garlic and bay leaves before being cold-smoked, is another terrific option.  It wouldn’t be a salumi (Italian cold cuts) board without Toscano salami, a dry, salami with large bits of fat, garlic and black peppercorns surrounded by leaner meat which provides a robust, distinctive but not overpowering flavor.  It goes without saying you’ll also want prosciutto on your board.  Accompanying these meats are slices of Italian bread, an addictive onion jam, house-made mustard, tomato relish and probably the very best spicy pickles you’ll ever have.

12 April 2015: M’Tucci’s pickled board is the very best we’ve had in New Mexico though there aren’t that many to compare with.  Available in quantities of two, three or four pickled vegetables, it’s essentially a vegetable plate even vegetable-haters will love.  Usually served with a local goat cheese, we lucked out during our April, 2015.  Because the deli had run out of what is undoubtedly an outstanding goat cheese, a Bucherondin de Chevre, a luscious and creamy French goat cheese was substituted.  Pierce the Bucherondin’s rind and you’ll enjoy a near-buttery soft, creamy and mild goat cheese that complements pickled vegetables very well.  Our pickled board included sweet and hot pickles, carrots and eggplant, all of which were oh, so delicious with distinctive notes in each.  Those pickles are absolutely addictive!

BLT

14 December 2014: The sandwich menu includes several familiar favorites such as the Cubano, BLT, Pastrami and Muffaletta, but while M’Tucci’s pays homage to traditions which spawned these sacrosanct sandwiches, it does not attempt to duplicate them.  The muffaletta, for example, is not an exact replica of the muffaletta you might have at the Central Grocery in New Orleans, but it’s an outstanding Italian inspired sandwich in its own right.  The canvas for this superb sandwich is housemade ciabatta which is generously topped with housemade capicola, mortadella, salami, an olive tapenade and house-smoked mozzarella. It takes two hands and a wide-open mouth to handle this mighty, meaty, magnificent sandwich.  The yin to the muffaletta is a ferro salad  (fresh grape tomatoes, walnuts, Tucumcari feta, pickled red onions on a lettuce leaf), one of the four available sides.

14 December 2014: Pastrami paramours often consider it heretical for pastrami sandwiches to be topped only with a good deli mustard with a dill pickle on the side.  Before they become apoplectic at learning M’Tucci’s pastrami (made on the premises) sandwich is made with herbed goat cheese, fresh red onions, a housemade mustard on housemade rye, they had darned well better try it.  It’s unlike any pastrami this aficionado has ever had and it’s a bit lean (fat is flavor) for my tastes, but it’s still a pretty good sandwich with that herbed goat cheese really standing out.  This sandwich pairs well with oven-roasted herbed potatoes, red potatoes seasoned with rosemary, thyme and fresh garlic. 

Carbonara

12 April 2015: For years, the benchmark against which I’ve measured all BLTs in New Mexico has been the TBL, a Gecko’s Bar & Tapas original stacked in triplicate with applewood smoked bacon, green leaf lettuce and ripe tomatoes on wheatberry bread.  It took more than a decade to find a BLT that’s better.  Like the TBL, M’Tucci Market’s version is also an original.  In its standard form, it, too, is made with applewood smoked bacon though for a mere pittance, you can substitute bourbon-glazed bacon.  Splurge!  It’s the best bacon we’ve had in New Mexico, better even than the red chile-honey glazed bacon at the Gold Street Caffe.  The BLT (butter leaf lettuce, fresh tomato, blue cheese aioli and wheat bread made on the premises) is all a sandwich should be though the hard-crusted bread scrapes against the roof of your mouth just a bit.  The blue cheese aioli is rather mild which is perfectly fine because it lets the bacon shine.  The lentil salad (pickled onion, carrot, zucchini, rosemary, sage, thyme and Tucumcari gouda) is an excellent accompaniment.

12 April 2015: While judging the Taste of Rio Rancho in February, 2015, my friend Mario D’Elia, the uber-talented executive chef for the Albuquerque Isotopes, commiserated that guanciale (an Italian cured meat prepared from pork jowl or cheeks) isn’t that widely used in Albuquerque restaurants, Chef Maxime Bouneou, formerly of  Torinos @ Home being one of the few to use it.  Add M’Tucci’s Italian Market & Deli to what will hopefully become a trend.  M’Tucci’s makes its own guanciale and it’s terrific.  The guanciale is perhaps my favorite ingredient in a Carbonara dish constructed of superb ingredients (housemade cured egg yolk, Pecorino, sage, pepperoncini flakes, shallots and tagliatelle made on the premises).  The tagliatelle (long, flat pasta ribbons) is fortified with an unctuous, but not overly excessive, sauce.   The portion size is relatively modest, but being so rich, Carbonara isn’t a pasta dish on which many diners can over-indulge.  This is a great one!

Italian Mac & Cheese

7 June 2016:  My friend Larry McGoldrick, the professor with the perspicacious palate, has (as of this writing) visited MTucci’s Italian Market & Deli some 48 times.  It’s easy to see why he loves this restaurant so much–as well as why your humble sesquipedalian blogger needs to increase the frequency of his visits.  The Italian Mac & Cheese (Rosemary ham, Morbier Mornay, handmade penne, fresh Mozzarella, Aleppo pepper bread crumbs) warrants a visit or ten all by itself.  After one forkful Larry declared it the best mac and cheese he’s ever had.  High praise indeed.  There’s a lot to love about this skilletful of deliciousness and inventiveness.  Instead of the usual half-and-half mixture of Gruyere and Parmesan cheeses, the Mornay sauce is made with Morbier, a semi-soft cow’s milk cheese which, interestingly, is fashioned with a black layer of tasteless ash.  The Morbier not only coalesces the penne, some of it melts into a delightfully oily pool at the bottom of the skillet.   Chunks of Rosemary ham imparts resinous, savory and sweet qualities that blend magnificently with other ingredients while the Aleppo peppers (about 10,000 on the Scoville scale) lends a pleasant piquancy.

7 June 2016:  When she hangs out with Larry and me, Dazzling Deanell  is like a delicate flower among two wilted weeds.  She not only graces our table with beauty, wit and charm, she always seems to order the right things.  Take for example, the Market Reuben (fresh market-cured corned beef, homemade sauerkraut, red chile mostarda on rye bread) she ordered during our June 7th visit.  Even as she ordered it, she declared the Reuben at O‘Hare’s Grille and Pub in Rio Rancho to be her favorite Reuben then conceded that M’Tucci’s version will probably be even better.  She has the gift of prophecy!  This is a fantastic Reuben, one she paired with a glorious beet salad.  The housemade rye is the perfect canvas for the other components.  The red chile mostarda (which has nothing to do with mustard and more closely resembles a relish) is a magnificent blend of fruity sweetness, piquancy and tanginess.  As we enjoyed the sandwich, we discerned a flavor similar to cloves (or perhaps crushed lebkuchen, a type of gingerbread spice cookies), but weren’t quite sure what its genesis was.  We surmise it may have come from the roasting of the corned beef itself.  The corned beef is even better than M’Tucci’s pastrami and that’s saying something.

Market Reuben (Photo Courtesy of Larry McGoldrick)

11 December 2016:  There appears to be no limit to the talents of Shawn Cronin and Cory Gray, the uber-talented chefs who “bake, cook, age, and cure their way to creative culinary bliss.”    In November, 2016, the dynamic duo transformed M’Tucci’s Italian Market & Deli  into M’Tucci’s Italian Market & Pizzeria.  It’s not just a change in concept or solely an exercise in re-branding, but rather an ambitious expansion that reflects the addition of 12 pizzas into an already outstanding menu.  When you think about it, it just makes sense.  They were already hawking some of the best cheese, meat and bread in the city.  Why not put them all together?  And, if you’re thinking to yourself, there’s already a top tier pizza at M’Tucci’s Kitchina, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to find M’Tucci’s Market & Pizzeria has one-upped its elder sibling.  In fact, in our estimation, the only pizza in the Duke City that’s even in the same zip code is at the Eclectic Urban Pizzeria and Tap House. 

Custom-made ovens that heat to 800-degrees will ensure your pie is baked quickly and evenly.  You’ll find plenty of char on each pie, a hallmark of the pizza at Farina  where Shawn and Cory cut their teeth.  If char is not a flavor you like much, you can ask for light char.  The menu indicates “Our pizza dough uses wild sourdough starter instead of yeast, giving a better flavor and texture. We cook it until a deep caramelization occurs. We source the best ingredients, either house made, local, or imported.”  Ten years ago you wouldn’t have found a pizza menu like this one.  Instead of last decade’s sausage, pepperoni, mushrooms, black olives and the like, this menu lists such ingredients as orange-herb gremolata, baby kale, smoked buffalo mozzarella and caramelized onion coulis.  The result will make a believer out of you!

Caprese Trio

11 December 2016:  Mike Greenberg, the metrosexual nerd who pairs with the brutish former NFL player Mike Golic to host the morning sports talk show Mike & Mike (on Albuquerque’s ESPN 101.7 The Team) contrasts the difference in their personalities by condescendingly pointing out he enjoys Caprese salads while his endomorphic partner prefers donuts.  The implication here is that the Caprese salad (tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and basil drizzled with a sweet balsamic reduction and olive oil) is enjoyed by worldly sophisticates while donuts are an opiate for the hoi polloi.  In truth, Caprese salads are a favorite of all of us who enjoy salads. 

Though listed in the Insalata (salad) section of the menu, the “Caprese Trio” is unlike any composed Caprese salad you’ve ever seen.  Served on a slate board is a treasure trove of deliciousness: fresh mozzarella, Balsamic roasted tomato, fresh basil, smoked mozzarella, house Italian tomato jam, pesto, Burrata, fresh tomatoes, basil oil, ten-year old Balsamic vinegar and wedges of lightly toasted bread.  It’s sheer genius to compile such individually delicious ingredients into a cohesive array of complementary, harmonious magnificence.  Every single component is a shining star.  Our favorite may have been the burrata, an unnaturally soft and moist fresh Italian cheese made from cream and mozzarella.  Translated to “buttered,” it bears a strong resemblance to mozzarella, but is much softer and when penetrated by a knife or fork, has an interior that spills out, revealing unctuous, stringy curd and fresh cream.   The smoked mozzarella is absolutely amazing and the tomato jam is addictive!

Carbonara Pizza

11 December 2016:  Ordering the Carbonara pizza brought a broad smile to our server’s face.  She said it was her favorite pizza.  It’s easy to see why.   M’Tucci’s pizzaiolos nonpariel have taken Carbonara to the nth degree, actualizing its potential and fashioning a pizza as good as it can possibly be.  Not since Pizzeria Mozza in Newport Beach, California have we found a pizza that amazed us as much as this one did (Jim Millington, are you reading this?).  This fourteen-inch masterpiece redolent with char is topped with house-cured and smoked Guanciale, caramelized onion coulis, sauteed spinach, Tallegio cheese and Rosemary cured egg yolk.  The caramelized onion coulis imparts sweet notes while the Tallegio cheese provides an unusually fruity tang.  Our favorite ingredient, however, is the guanciale (about which I rave above).  The Neapolitan crust is light and chewy with the distinctive flavor of sourdough in evidence.

11 December 2016:  While the Margherita may be the forerunner of all pizzas, it’s never been one of my favorites.  It’s just too basic and unadorned to suit my “more is better” tastes.  M’Tucci Market & Pizzeria has made a convert out of me with its Buffalo Margherita (smoked buffalo mozzarella, basil-infused olive oil, tomato jam and roasted garlic).  Buffalo mozzarella, made from the milk of domestic Italian water buffalo, is a difference-maker.  With a high butterfat content, it’s got a seductive tang you just don’t get from mozzarella made from cow’s milk.  Then there’s the tomato jam with its rich, sweet-savory notes. It’s wholly unlike the savory acidity of the tomato sauce which typically graces pizza. Every Margherita should be this good!

Margherita Pizza

25 June 2017:  My friend Larry McGoldrick writes on his blog, “For my last dozen or so visits, I don’t even look at the menu. Cory and Shawn know what I like and what is healthy for me, and automatically start a custom meal as soon as I walk in the door.”  You, too, can eat like Larry and not just vicariously.   All you’ve got to do is roll the dice.  A small placard over the door reads, “Don’t know what to eat?  Roll the dice and let us decide with Chef Roulette.”  Yeah, it requires a high level of trust and not every chef warrants such trust.  Cory and Shawn do!

What is most amazing about the Chef Roulette concept is that the dish tailor-made for you may not be made exactly the same for the next intrepid diner who decides to roll the dice.  I wouldn’t change a thing about the mushroom stuffed pork tenderloin, two thick tenderloins stuffed with mushrooms and local-roasted leeks over roasted potatoes, cannellini beans, piñon and scallions over a roasted tomato cream sauce.  Along with Forghedaboudit‘s transformative pepperoni and sausage pizza and magnificent meatballs, this is the best dish I’ve enjoyed in 2017.  The roasted tomato cream sauce has an element of piquancy that pairs perfectly with the sweet-tanginess of the roasted tomatoes.  There is a complexity to this dish that extends far beyond its ingredients.  This is a dish which will enrapt your taste buds.  Knowing it may never again cross my lips is almost painful to contemplate.

Mushroom Stuffed Pork Tenderloin

14 December 2014: There are only three desserts on the menu and if they’re all as good as the two we chose, you’re sure to sate, if not titillate, your sweet tooth. The molded cheesecake topped with a fig jam renewed my faith in cheesecakes which of late have all been plagued by a boring sameness.  The crostata, a delicate Italian tart enveloping buttery butternut squash infused with sage is nearly as good.  Somewhat small by contemporary dessert size standards, they’re not to be missed.

12 April 2015: Not that long ago you could practically count on one hand, the number of Italian restaurants offering cannoli as a dessert option.  For the most part, it’s been pretty standard–tube-shaped shells of fried pastry dough, filled with a sweet, creamy filling usually containing ricotta and often, mascarpone.  “Radical” versions sometimes included chocolate toppings.  Yawn!  During our visit in April, 2015, M’Tucci’s served a cannoli pila (an Italian term meaning “stacked” or “piled”) that was essentially a deconstructed cannoli.  Instead of the standard stuffed shell, bits of shell were topped with a mascarpone-ricotta mix topped with a cherry-walnut compote.  It’s a deliciously different way to enjoy one of the most popular of Italian desserts.

Italian Bread Pudding (Photo Courtesy of Larry McGoldrick)

7 June 2016:  When Larry first tried M’Tucci’s Italian bread pudding, it immediately rocketed to the coveted number one spot on his Bread Pudding Hall of Fame.  It was so good that both he and Deanell regretted not having ordered one each instead of sharing a portion.  One of my life’s greatest regrets is not having driven over immediately as soon as they told me (months ago) how fabulous this bread pudding is.  There are several reasons it’s so good.  First, the bread isn’t the mushy, squishy mess so often used on bread pudding.  It’s a housemade foccacia.  Secondly, it’s not cloying as bread pudding is oft to be.  Third, it’s made with premium ingredients.  The version to which I was introduced included blueberries and piñon and was topped with a seasonal melt-in-your-mouth gelato.  This is transformative stuff!

Pop culture enthusiasts will remember the scene from the 1989 movie When Harry Met Sally in which Meg Ryan experienced delirious joy from her sandwich at New York City’s revered Katz’s Deli. Similar reactions at M’Tucci’s are sure to be repeated and when they are, you can tell your server “I’ll have what she’s having.”

M’TUCCI’S  MARKET & PIZZERIA 
6001 Winter Haven Road,  N.W., Suite G
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 503-7327
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 25 June 2017
1st VISIT: 14 December 2014
# OF VISITS: 5
RATING: 25
COST: $$
BEST BET: Italian Charcuterie Board, Pickled Board, Pastrami Sandwich, BLT, Muffaletta, Carbonara, Farro Salad, Lentil Salad, Oven-Roasted Herbed Potatoes, Cheesecake with Fig, Crostata with Butternut Squash, Cannoli Pila, Italian Mac and Cheese, Market Reuben, Italian Bread Pudding, Carbonara Pizza, Buffalo Margherita Pizza, Caprese Trio, Mushroom Stuffed Pork Tenderloin

M'Tucci's Market and Pizzeria Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Fork & Fig – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Fork & Fig, a Modern Eatery on Menaul Just East of Louisiana

Listen to Billy Joel’s 1983 doo wop hit Uptown Girl and you’ll probably get the impression that uptown is synonymous with uppity or at least upscale.  The lyrics describe a working-class downtown man (ostensibly Joel himself who’s originally from blue-collar Long Island) trying to win the heart of a wealthy, white bred uptown girl (Joel’s future wife Christie Brinkley). The perception of uptown’s haughtiness were reenforced in “The Contest” episode of Seinfeld in which John F. Kennedy, Jr. lived in trendy uptown.  When they finally came into money, the Jefferson’s moved on up, too.

Until just a few years ago, the Albuquerque neighborhoods around which conversations typically centered were Old Town, downtown, Nob Hill and even EDo (East Downtown).  Uptown was solely where the Coronado and Winrock Malls were.  With the closure of the Winrock Mall and subsequent launch of ABQ Uptown, a pedestrian-friendly, open-air lifestyle center, Albuquerque’s uptown area seemingly became “the heart of the city’s modern shopping and business district.”

The dining room with open kitchen at Fork & Fig

Though it may appear national chains such as the Elephant Bar, Dave & Buster’s, Bonefish Grill and Romano’s Macaroni Grill dominate the uptown culinary landscape, actually only 45 percent of the uptown area’s 75 restaurants are national chains.  Local mom-and-pop restaurants continue to thrive against the onslaught of deep-pocketed corporate competition.  Enter into the fray Fork & Fig, a modern eatery which opened its doors just before the calendar flipped to February, 2015. 

Fork & Fig is an exemplar of locally owned and operated.  After having worked as a personal chef in Los Angeles and Phoenix, Josh Kennon, a Deming native credentialed at Le Cordon Bleu in Scottsdale, decided to try his hand at owning and operating his own restaurant.  Though Fork & Fig specializes in gourmet burgers, sandwiches, wraps and salads, you can also get more substantial offerings (such as steak) on a take-out basis.  The restaurant, which has neither a freezer or a fryer, emphasizes fresh, local ingredients. 

Citrus Salad

Compared with some of the megalithic chains in the area, Fork & Fig is practically Lilliputian, seating only 40 patrons in its 1,500 square-foot space. Diminutive, however, doesn’t mean dull and drab.  Fork & Fig is a hip and happening venue sure to excite both even the most discerning palates.  Seating is in personal space proximity (which means you have a good view of what’s being delivered to your neighbors’ tables) with bar-like seating overlooking an exhibition prep kitchen and, when they’re not swamped, you can even interact with the chefs.  

In Albuquerque The Magazine‘s annual “Best of the City” peoples’ choice poll for 2015, Fork & Fig was named “Best New Restaurant.”  That’s quite an honor considering the high quality of new restaurants launched in 2015.  In January, 2017, Fork & Fig was one of a handful of Duke City eateries highlighted by Young Professionals of Albuquerque for inclusion in list naming “5 Eateries Perfect For Your Lunch Break.”  Since its launch, Fork & Fig has remained a consistent presence on Yelp’s list of “best restaurants in Albuquerque.”  It’s certainly a restaurant going places.

Sesame Salad

If there’s one thing a smallish restaurant with no freezer and no fryer can’t do, it’s be all things to all people.  It makes better sense to focus on a select few items and prepare them exceptionally well.  The few, the proud, the delicious at Fork & Fig is comprised of eight sandwiches (Sammys), five burgers (Burgs), three wraps, three greens (salads), five sides, a sour du jour and a dessert du jour as well.  With the Sammys, Burgs and Wraps, you also receive one side (Cotija corn, grilled zucchini, potato gnocchi, cherry tomato salad, green chile slaw).  Please note that because of menu rotation, some of the items described below may not be available when you visit.

8 February 2015: It’s probably not polite to drool when servers deliver a meal to your neighbors, but such is the hazard of close proximity seating.  The burgers, in particular, are drool-worthy.  They’re skyscraper tall with thick beef patties topped with sundry ingredients and imagination.  Sometimes, however, you feel like a burger and sometimes you don’t.  In the rare latter event, it’s nice to know you can find something as good as the Grown-Up Grilled Cheese Sandwich (four cheeses, tomato fig relish and bacon on Hawaiian bread).  This magnificent melange of sweet, unctuous and smoky deliciousness is indeed an all grown up version of the sandwich we all loved as children.  The Cotija corn, a grilled ear of corn topped with shredded Cotija cheese) is a terrific foil.

The Fig with a Cool Watermelon Gazpacho

8 February 2015: Save for the sacrosanct green chile Philly at Philly’s N’ Fries, I’m at a loss to recall a single transformative or even memorable steak sandwich in the Duke City. Fork & Fig’s Ribeye Sammy (ribeye, caramelized onions, smoked Gouda and creamy chimichurri on a ciabatta bun) aims to change my thinking. The ribeye is on the thin side (similar to a Mexican steak), but it’s tender and nary fat nor sinew rear their yucky presence. The chimichurri is indeed creamy, but a bit more of it would have been nice. The green chile slaw doesn’t have much personality or piquancy, but it doesn’t take anything away from the Ribeye Sammy.

8 February 2015: Uber chef Marcus Samuelsson believes “Salad can get a bad rap.  People think of bland and watery iceberg lettuce, but in fact, salads are an art form, far from the simplest rendition to a colorful kitchen-sink approach.”  It’s with this approach that Fork & Fig creates the four salads on its Greens menu.  You’ve probably had a salad similar to The Citrus (berries and orange supremes, mixed greens, candied walnuts and goat cheese with a blood orange vinaigrette), but you’ll probably enjoy The Citrus more.  The blood orange vinaigrette should be bottled and sold. 

Cubano

24 June 2017: Humorist Fran Lebowitz once remarked “A salad is not a meal.  It’s a style.”  Most of us will agree with at least the first part of that quote.  Salad is definitely not a meal!  That said, salad can be a very enjoyable first course, a precursor to something less spartan.  Much as we might enjoy Fork & Fig’s The Sesame, we’re happy in the realization that something more substantial will follow–not that this salad is small by any means.  The sesame (greens, avocado, candied ginger, heirloom carrots, orange supremes, pickled red onion and sesame vinaigrette) is an excellent salad, one in which the combination of sesame seeds and sesame vinaigrette impart a discernible nutty flavor, something akin to sunflower seeds.  The sesame flavor is a perfect complement to the peppery arugula while the orange supremes and especially the candied ginger add a delightful contrast.

24 June 2017:  While mathematicians may get their jollies in contemplating the golden ratio (a special number found by dividing a line into two parts so that the longer part divided by the smaller part is also equal to the whole length divided by the longer part), burgerphiles would rather contemplate ratios which make a perfect burger: the ratio of meat to fat and the ratio of beef to bun to ingredients.  Fork & Fig got the first ratio (meat to fat) just right on the eponymous Fig (beef, caramelized onion, Swiss cheese, fungi, truffle fig aioli, bacon, greens, crispy onion and tomato on a brioche bun).  The beef, prepared a medium degree of doneness, is moist, juicy and very flavorful, about as flavorful as some very good steaks.  Alas, the ratio of bun to beef to ingredients was a bit askew.  Before we had consumed even half the burger, the bun had crumpled under the moistness and volume of the beef and accompanying ingredients.  We had to finish the burger with a fork.  By definition (at least mine), it’s no longer a burger when a fork has to be used.

Opera Cakes

24 June 2017:  Virtually every sandwich purveyor in the Duke City, it seems, offers its rendition of a Cubano.  Virtually all of them are formulaic copies of the other, most often served panini style.  Kudos to Fork & Fig for employing a buttery croissant as the canvas for its Cubano (sliced ham, pulled pork, Swiss cheese, aioli grain mustard, kosher pickle). Two things stand out about this Cubano: the aioli grain mustard and kosher pickle.  Two things are in short supply: pulled pork and sliced ham.  Had more substantial portions of these proteins been piled on, this sandwich would be in contention for “best in the city.”

24 June 2017:  Fork & Fig offers a dessert du jour.  Good fortune smiled upon us when opera cakes were the delight of the day.  Essentially petit fours, a French term which literally translates as “small oven,” the opera cakes are bite-sized pastries.  Nine different cakes are available, but only five to an order are ferried over to your table and you don’t get to choose which five of the nine you’ll get.  Live dangerously.  If the five–apple crumble cake, pistachio, tiramisu, raspberry and lemon tart–which graced our table are any indication, you can’t go wrong with any of the five.  They’re small slices of decadent deliciousness.

Albuquerque’s Uptown area is far from the uppity and exclusive neighborhood so often stereotyped in song and literature.  In restaurants such as Fork & Fig, all are welcome no matter your neighborhood.

Fork & Fig
6904 Menaul, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 881.5293
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 24 June 2017
1st VISIT: 8 February 2015
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 20
COST: $$
BEST BET: Grown-up Grilled Cheese, Cotija Corn, Ribeye Sandwich, Green Chile Coleslaw, The Fig, Cubano, Watermelon Gazpacho, Opera Cakes

Fork and Fig Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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