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

Vegetarian Dumplings from the Pop-Up Dumpling House in Albuquerque

If it seems as though every conceivable television food show concept has been tried, sometimes ad-nauseum, you might want to check out FYI television’s new culinary series. Called SCRAPS, it features Chef Joel Gamoran traveling across the fruited plain creating incredible feasts in unexpected places, using the most out-of-the-box ingredients – food waste and scraps. In the seventh episode of its inaugural season, SCRAPS visited Santa Fe where Chef Gamoran partners up with local chef Jonathan Perno, executive chef at Los Poblanos Historic Inn and a multi-time James Beard “Best Chef Southwest” semi-finalist. The two learn how to make the traditional blue corn tortilla, and give local scraps a makeover by using stale tortillas, rejected chiles, zucchini blossoms, and overripe avocados to create a delicious dinner menu.

With 620,807 restaurants (give or take a few) across the fruited plain as of Fall, 2016, you have to be very special to stand out. You have to be extraordinary to make it to a list titled “50 Essential Restaurants Every American Should Visit.” Only one restaurant in the Land of Enchantment was deemed worthy of inclusion on the list published by Thrillist, a leading men’s digital lifestyle brand. That anointed restaurant is The Range Café in Bernalillo and Albuquerque. It’s on the pantheon of deified dining in part because of the “open-faced Rio Grande Gorge burger, topped with white cheddar, grilled onions, and gelatinous green chiles on a tortilla alongside cheesy potatoes.” Thrillist closed its write-up with the confusing missive: “May the green chile sauce flow as strongly as the Rio Grande and your supply of antacids be bountiful as stucco housing.”

Village Pizza in Corrales Where Friendly Dogs Are Always Welcome

Buzzfeed, which was described on NYMag as “a hyper­active amalgam: simultaneously a journalism website, a purveyor of funny lists, and a perpetual pop-culture” consulted Yelp to find the “best ice cream sandwiches in America.” Coming in at number nineteen (out of thirty-five) is the Ice Cream Taco from Albuquerque’s Pop Fizz, an oft discussed purveyor of fantastic frozen treats as well as New Mexican food. Buzzfeed described the Ice Cream Taco as “like your favorite store-bought choco taco, but so. much. better. Choose from a bunch of ice cream flavors, which are stuffed in a waffle cone taco shell and topped with chocolate.”

My blogging buddy Melodie K. whose photographs frequently grace the “Thrilling (And Filling) Year in Food” feature passed along this gem: It’s “O”-fficial. O, the Oprah Magazine has declared San Antonio’s Owl Bar & Cafe‘s green chile as “the best thing you can eat in New Mexico.” The 72-year old restaurant’s winning ways with green chile over fries and its legendary green chile cheeseburger made it the statewide stand-out in an article singling out the “Best Thing to Eat in All 50 States.” Melodie recently made the trek to The Owl and shared the photograph you’ll find in the June edition of “Year in Food.”

Farm Fresh Mobile Farmer’s Market in Las Cruces. Photo Courtesy of Melodie K.

Would fast food taste as good if we didn’t feel guilty about eating it? If we didn’t feel as though we’re getting away with something? It’s only fitting that a “no judgements food site” which calls itself Guilty Eats would celebrate life’s guilty pleasures. Recognizing that fast food is ingrained in our American fabric, Guilty Eats took a “trip to find the best fast food joint in all 50 states of the wide swath of land we call Murica’! In what is probably as close as a “no-brainer” as you’ll ever see, the Land of Enchantment’s selection was Blake’s Lotaburger. Guilty Eats tells us “While you can get it (the green chile cheeseburger) at the local Whataburger, the best place to get these bad boys is at Blake’s Lotaburger, which is recognized as one of the best regional fast food chains in the country. Not only are their burgers simply the bomb, the rest of the menu is also tasty and fresh.”

Unlike most culinary industry recognition which is “based on subjective standards and opaque criteria,” Good Food 100 Restaurants™ inaugurated a new accolade based on “percentage of total food purchases ($) spent to support local/state, regional and national Good Food producers and purveyors vs. same category restaurants in the same region.” In other words, Good Food 100 celebrates restaurants where “truly good food is good for every link in the food chain,” where “sustainability and transparency” are making a positive impact. New Mexico’s sole representative on the “Good Food 100 Restaurants” list for 2017 is Albuquerque’s The Grove Café & Market. “For over 10 years, The Grove Cafe & Market has offered local, organic, antibiotic and preservative-free foods, promising to source and serve the best to our guests. We think it is imperative to spread awareness and continue to educate the public as to why Good Food is the best 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.

Village Pizza – Corrales, New Mexico

Village Pizza in Corrales

Research has proven that taste buds are dulled by high altitude and cabin pressure, so as an aircraft climbs, our sense of taste diminishes by as much as 30 percent. That explains why many passengers praise airline food on flights in which meals are actually served.  It’s probably not that the food is good; it’s more likely that their sense of taste is diminished.  Alas, it’s not solely high altitude and cabin pressure which can diminish the sense of taste.  On this blog I’ve catalogued some of those factors: the use of spices (i.e., cumin) that mask the purity, earthiness and richness of red chile; the use of inferior ingredients that can’t mask the lack of quality; the impairing effects of alcohol on the senses of smell and taste; improper preparation time and so forth.  One factor I have not touched upon is “too much of a good thing.”

At Village Pizza, the pizza buffet is so inviting, so tempting, so alluring that you’re bound to consume more than you should.  In all its glory and splendor, the pizza buffet is as enticing as the sirens of Greek mythology who lured nearby sailors with their enchanting music and voices.   Willpower will wane.  Diet be damned.  Resistance is futile!  You can’t help but make repeat visits to this paragon of pizza perfection with occasional and frequent detours to the salad bar or to the tureen of green chile chicken stew, a magical elixir. The Village Pizza is a bit of a paradox–luring patrons with so much (maybe too much) of a good thing while daily demonstrating that willpower is not enough.

The sprawling dog-friendly patio

18 July 2009:  If you’ve ever lamented the dearth of ingredients (particularly meats) on restaurant pizza, you’re overdue for a visit to Village Pizza, the antithesis of the “where’s the ingredients” pizzas throughout the Duke City area.  It would be easier to locate Forrest Fenn’s fabled treasure than to locate more than a handful of pepperonis on many pizzas.  At the opposite extreme of these chintzy, cheap pies is the Village combo , described on the menu as “a real combo piled with smoked ham, pepperoni, mushrooms, black olives, hot or mild green chile, bell peppers, red onions, ground beef and hot or mild sausage,” the emphasis should be on “piled.”

When we first undertook the monumental task of finishing the Village Combo, our initial impressions were that moderation might be in order.  It’s the first time my Kim and I were ever intimidated by a pizza.  The ingredients on this baked behemoth were stacked so high we didn’t know whether to eat them, make a salad out of them or organize an expedition to climb them.  Perhaps only Joey Chestnut, the renowned greatest eater in history could have polished off this prodigious pie in one sitting.  Over time, we’ve come to appreciate that the Village Pizza strives to provide its loyal guests not only with great food and portions, but with great value.

The pizza buffet is a very popular draw

Geographically, the Village Pizza lies pretty close to the heart of the village, but villagers might argue that it actually is the heart of the village.  It’s where families congregate to share food, fun and fellowship.  Village Pizza has probably hosted more anniversaries and parties than any other venue in the village.  Cognizant of its location and of environmental concerns, Village Pizza gives discounts to diners who ride their bike or horse to eat at this converted home.  Exterior signage reads “Human Only Patio?  No!  Bring Your Lovable Canine Pal.”  That’s what we do and our debonair dachshund The Dude (he abides) couldn’t be happier.

The restaurant has two large dining rooms as well as a capacious outdoor patio.  During buffet hours, all three can be quite crowded and at times rather “festive.”  Towering assiduous trees provide sun-shielding shade, but our favorite spot is beneath the covered portal where our backdrop is the preternatural photography of Kim Jew, a Corrales resident widely regarded as one of the Land of Enchantment’s most talented photographers.  Just as the Land of Enchantment provides the most beautiful subject matter for Jew’s photographs, the Village Pizza’s dough is the canvas upon which beautiful ingredients are heaped.

The Village Pizza, A Pie So Large It May Take a Village to Finish

In Corrales it may be said that if it takes a village to bake a great pizza, that village is the Village Pizza and if pizza dough is the canvass on which great pizza is made, Village Pizza creates the canvass on which masterpiece pizzas are made.  The dough–conventional or whole wheat–is made on the premises.  Thin, regular or “thick” varieties shaped into 12″, 14″ and 16″ sizes (three sizes, three thicknesses) are available for appetites of varying capacities.  Each pizza is hand-tossed and baked in slate ovens.  Fresh ingredients and real cheese are a standard as is the generosity of ingredients.  An array of exotic ingredients such as eggplant, artichoke hearts, feta and roasted pine nuts are available for pizza aficionados who don’t want a conventional pizza.  Village Pizza even offers a “take and bake” option so you can bake the pie at home.

The homemade sauce is very good, obviously made from rich tomatoes at the peak of freshness.  It is seasoned very well with basil, garlic and other complementary ingredients.  If you prefer pizza sans tomato sauce, the restaurant can accommodate you there, too.  In addition to the original red sauce, you can have a wonderful bianco (garlic and ricotta) sauce or pesto if you please.  There’s even a “gourmet” sauce option where you can choose two from the sauce triumvirate of tomato, bianco or pesto.

Two Slices from the Pizza Buffet

An all-you-can-eat buffet is available every day from 11AM – 2PM and Monday and Tuesday nights from 5PM until closing.  The buffet, which includes pizza, soup, salad and breadsticks, is one of the biggest draws to this Corrales institution.  Whether you order off the menu or opt for the buffet, your portions will be profligate.  Village Pizza is not a restaurant you visit if when you want a small meal.  Though we often eschew buffets, this is one we enjoy–even when having to share a dining room with a passel of party-goers. 

Several types of pizza are available on a large silver table spotlighted by heating lamps.  You needn’t worry about the pizza growing stale or cold because it doesn’t spend much time on the table.  A procession of hungry diners forms quickly after the pizza is replenished.  The buffet features many of the most popular pizzas–pies adorned with green chile, pepperoni, cheese and more.  The Hawaiian-style pizza (pineapple, Canadian bacon) is quite good, showcasing the contrast of tangy-sweet pineapple and salty-savory Canadian bacon.  Alas, the green chile would barely register on the Scoville scale.  It’s got virtually no heat and that’s a mortal sin in New Mexico.

Green Chile Stew from the Buffet

The salad bar allows you to indulge your creativity with a melange of fresh ingredients.  The foundation for your salad starts with either a conventional iceberg lettuce or spinach base.  Trays of ingredients include discs of pepperoni, sliced mushrooms, sliced black olives, chopped green peppers, flower seeds and some of the largest, most juicy pepperoncini (which packs more punch than the chile) in the area.  Salad dressings include all the usual suspects and a raspberry vinaigrette we enjoyed for dipping the bread sticks. 

Soup of the day is a celebrated event when the featured fare is green chile chicken stew.  A large crock of piping hot green chile chicken stew has its own place separate from the buffet as well as its own legion of admirers who queue up to ladle it onto their bowls.  This is a good green chile stew even though we were hard-pressed to glean any piquancy or smokiness.  What is discernible, however, is finely cut chicken and a thick broth.  We love that this stew is served hot, a much welcome respite from the chill of winter.

Calzone at Village Pizza in Corrales

Calzone at Village Pizza in Corrales

As someone for whom Spanish was the first and only language I knew until starting school, the word “calzone” has always amused me.  In Spanish and in Italian, a calzone is a trouser, so the first time I saw “calzone” on the menu of an Italian restaurant, confusion and humor abounded.  After having consumed one, it could have been called ropa interior (underwear in Spanish) and it wouldn’t have mattered.  This wondrous Italian turnover crafted from pizza dough baked golden brown and stuffed with rich Ricotta absolutely captivated me.

Village Pizza’s rendition, the Corrales Calzone, is much like those calzones with which I fell in love in Massachusetts.  It’s made from hand-formed dough whose outer borders are formed into bread knots you can tear off and dip into the accompanying red sauce.  The golden brown bread is heavenly, very much reminiscent of bread right out of the oven.  The calzone is about the size of a flattened football so there’s plenty of room in which to stuff it with mozzarella and Ricotta cheeses.  It’s brushed with pesto after it’s baked.  As with the pizza, you can have your calzone with additional ingredients.  Spicy sausage is a good choice here.

Tequila Lime Chicken Wings with Pico de Gallo and Sour Cream

Tequila Lime Chicken Wings with Pico de Gallo and Sour Cream

The menu features four appetizers: breadsticks, nachos (yes, nachos), chicken wings and a veggie plate.  The chicken wings are available in two varieties, a tangy honey barbecue sauce and tequila lime.  The tequila lime chicken wings are served with blue and yellow corn chips, sour cream and pico de gallo.  Unlike what most fried foul fanatics fantasize about, these are not deep-fried and therefore, don’t have a crispy texture.   The skin has a bit of an unappetizing “elastic” feel as you bite into it.  Discard the skin and you’ll find the tequila lime flavors do penetrate into the delicious, albeit chintzy chicken meat. 

There aren’t many dessert options on the menu, but it’s unlikely unless their to-go boxes are full, many diners will have room left over for dessert.   One option is a parfait-like dessert, a frothy chocolate mousse topped with whipped cream, piñon and two cherries.  It’s available in three sizes up to 16-ounces which means it’s big enough to share.

A chocolate mousse parfait at Village Pizza

A chocolate mousse parfait at Village Pizza

In January, 2014, Village Pizza branched out to the southwest corner of Griegos and Rio Grande which served for years as the home of Geezamboni, a popular barbecue restaurant.

Village Pizza
4266 Corrales Road
Corrales, New Mexico
(505) 898-0045
Web Site | Facebook Page

LATEST VISIT: 30 July 2017
# OF VISITS: 7
RATING: 19
COST: $$
BEST BET: Tequila Lime Wings, Village Combo Pizza, Chocolate Mousse Parfait, Salad Bar, Green Chile Chicken Stew

Village Pizza Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Scalo Northern Italian Grill – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Scalo, one of the crown jewels of the Nob Hill area.

When we moved back to New Mexico on May 15, 1995, our first priority wasn’t where to live, but where to eat.  Having been away for the better part of 18 years, there were so many old favorites with which to reacquaint ourselves and so many exciting new prospects we just had to try.  By year’s end, we had visited 75 different restaurants (no chains).  One of our favorite sources on where to eat was Albuquerque Monthly, a very well written publication which celebrated the Duke City’s culinary scene with an Annual Restaurant Guide and a “Best of Albuquerque” edition. 

On its tenth anniversary, the magazine created a “Best Of” Hall of Fame, listing the ten establishments–restaurants, bars, card stores, clothing stores, computer stores, galleries and more–which had received more “best of” votes during the decade than anyone else.  The first establishment listed was Scalo Northern Italian Grill, which was also perennial selection on the magazine’s annual listing of the city’s top ten fine-dining restaurants (other mainstays still serving the city include the Artichoke Cafe, Prairie Star and the Rancher’s Club).

The main dining room at Scalo

Call it heretical if you will, but it took a while before Scalo earned my affections.  One song described perfectly my first three experiences at Scalo, long regarded by many as an Italian restaurant in a class of its own–the pinnacle of Italian dining in the Duke City.  That song, a 1960’s baby boomer tune by Polly J. Harvey asked the question, “Is that all there is? If that’s all there is, my friends, then let’s keep dancing. Let’s break out the booze and have a ball if that’s all there is.”  After every meal at Scalo, I asked myself the same question: Is that all there is?…but I didn’t come away dancing (although the pricey tab usually made me want to take up drinking.)

Bread with Olive Oil and Balsamic Vinegar

Because it was one of Albuquerque’s most popular, highly acclaimed and revered restaurants, I expected Scalo to completely blow me away. Instead, my every dining experience was a humdrum event that left me perplexed as to what I was missing.  That changed on Saturday, May 5th, 2005 when like a sudden, powerful and almost spiritual realization hit me–an eating epiphany of sorts. That epiphany came with the second or third bite of the spinach salad (yes, a salad!) with blue cheese, honeyed walnuts and strawberries. Almost ethereal in its lightness, this salad married ingredients that just shouldn’t work that well together, but nonetheless coalesce to create a memorable taste sensation.  The sharpness of the blue cheese, the tartness of the just in season strawberries and the salty sweetness of the honeyed walnuts were like the signature masterpiece of a culinary artist, easily one of the best salads we’ve had in New Mexico.

Great Northern White Bean Soup

Great Northern White Bean Soup

Perhaps not coincidentally, just a few weeks before that transformative visit Scalo’s ownership changed hands with entrepreneur Steve Paternoster assuming the helm.  Paternoster is one of Albuquerque’s most successful restaurant impresarios, having had a hand on several successful start-ups including La Brasserie Provence and Ptit Louis Bistro.  He is also one of the city’s most active philanthropists, garnering the New Mexico Restaurant Association’s (NMRA) Cornerstone Humanitarian of the Year for New Mexico in 2010.  That same year Scalo and Brasserie La Provence shared the NMRA’s “Restaurant Neighbor Award” for their ongoing contributions to many civic organizations, schools and churches. 

Carpaccio

It would be presumptuous to believe one person, no matter how influential or dynamic, could be solely responsible for my sudden change of heart about a restaurant.  After all Scalo has been serving Albuquerque since December, 1986 and during its quarter-century of operation has always been regarded as one of the city’s premier destination restaurants. In 2007, it was bestowed a Wine Spectator award of excellence for its outstanding selection of premium wines.  In 1998, it was featured in Gourmet Magazine.  After nearly three decades, it continues to garner accolades.  During his much missed very entertaining and interesting weekly radio show, Steve Paternoster often gave all the credit to Scalo’s success to the restaurant’s staff, most of whom have been with the restaurant for years.  It’s a good staff, as accommodating and friendly as they come in the Duke City, but Paternoster’s leadership and commitment to keeping his restaurant at the top is inspiring.

The Scalo experience is much more than excellent wines and quality Northern Italian cuisine. Its allure also includes a bright, airy interior bustling with the cacophonous din of constant activity from an open kitchen and an enthusiastic wait staff flitting from patron to patron, seemingly never skipping a beat or screwing up an order.  Weather permitting, al fresco dining is available in a capacious, covered, temperature-controlled patio replete with white linen table cloths and fine silverware.  It’s a patio our debonair dachshund The Dude (he abides) enjoys very much.

Baked cavatelli

Baked cavatelli

7 October 2007: Scalo’s menu is influenced by seasonal harvests and it prides itself on using locally grown organic produce. The quality shows in some of the most inventive salads and soups anywhere in town.  The Great Northern White Bean Soup is one such soup–a brimming bowl of great ingredients melded together creatively. Those ingredients include shaved Parmesan cheese, a spicy-sweet pancetta, an invigorating Italian pesto pasta and hard-crusted Ciabatta croutons. This is the perfect autumn soup a comforting elixir that will cure what ails you. 

29 July 2017: If you find the notion of raw beef a bit primitive, you probably would never consider eating steak tartare (top-quality raw beef chopped and served with onion, capers, parsley, mustard, and egg yolk).  Instead, you might want to try Carpaccio.  Named for an Italian painter famed for his use of red pigments resembling raw meat, Carpaccio is often sliced so thin that you can almost see right through it.   Scalo’s Carpaccio (shaved beef tenderloin, Parmesan, arugula, local greens, extra-virgin olive oil) isn’t transparent, but it’s sliced so thin you practically have to scrape it off the plate as spearing it with a fork won’t cut it.  The marriage of shaved Parmesan and that whisper-thin beef tenderloin is especially memorable and the light olive oil touch with a sprinkling of cracked pepper brings it all together.  If you love carpaccio, you also owe it to yourself to try the superb lime beef at Cafe Dalat.  It’s carpaccio made the Vietnamese way and it’s a winner.

Gnocchi Scalo style is an adventure in flavor.

Gnocchi Scalo style is an adventure in flavor.

A meal at Scalo includes complimentary bread baked by the Swiss Alps Bakery which has been serving the Duke City for more than a decade. It’s a hearty, hard-crusted, airy bread just perfect for sopping up Scalo’s savory sauces. The bread is served with an olive oil and Balsamic vinegar mix. Alternatively, you can request butter which is soft and easy to spread.

7 October 2007: The Baked Cavatelli starts with a corkscrew shaped pasta baked al dente then topped with a fennel-rich housemade pork sausage, mushrooms, roasted garlic, ricotta, Parmesan and a pine nut gremolata in a marinara cream sauce.  There are a lot of things going on with this entree, but it’s not one of those dishes in which all the ingredients seem to be competing for the rapt attention of your taste buds. Instead the ingredients work well together in a concordant, complementary fashion.  You may want to isolate the flavors to focus on specific tastes (for example, the richness of the ricotta or the tangy, piquant bite of the sausage), but this is an entree in which the flavors are truly best in combination with each other.

chocolate semi freddo

chocolate semi freddo

7 October 2007: The sautéed gnocchi employs even more flavor combinations–a Gorgonzola cream sauce, toasted walnuts, balsamic currants and chives. There’s the pungent richness and sharpness of the Gorgonzola, the fruity tanginess of the currants and the flagrant effervescence of the chives. This gnocchi is rich and delicious. Gnocchi, which is much more than just Italian potato or semolina dumplings, should be light in texture with almost a melt-in-your-mouth quality. That’s what Scalo’s rendition of this taken-for-granted entree is–ethereally light and wholly enjoyable.

The lunch menu includes several wood-fired gourmet pizzas, most crafted with fairly standard, albeit high-quality ingredients.  On occasion, the pizze (sic) menu also includes pizza crafted with ingredients you might not see elsewhere in New Mexico on a pizza. Creativity seems to be a hallmark of all Scalo entrees. One pizza we enjoyed immensely but which isn’t on the standard pizze menu showcased fig preserve, prosciutto, Gorgonzola, mozzarella and arugula. At first browse, these ingredients seem somewhat disparate, yet Scalo made them work in a taste bud pleasing fashion. Scalo’s pizza is a semi-round pie served slightly crispy and waifishly thin. It’s not likely you’ll have any leftovers save for the impressions left  on your olfactory memories and taste buds.

Budino Di Pane

5 February 2012: Dessert (the “dolce” menu) is a celebratory event at Scalo where seven sensational sweet treats will challenge you to select the right one to finish off your meal.  As with the antipasti, insalati, pizze, panini, carne e pesce and fresh pasta menus, desserts are not permanent fixtures as Scalo changes things up frequently to keep things interesting and delicious.  You can generally expect to find homemade gelato on the menu and usually a “sampler’ which introduces you to three desserts at one fixed price.  During our inaugural brunch visit, we rejoiced at finding a Budino Di Pane, an Italian bread pudding topped with warm caramel and served with vanilla gelato.  It’s a dessert which in 1995 could well have been another epiphanic dish.

7 October 2007: If you fancy chocolate–and not the dairy chocolate variety tailored for children–you’ll love Scalo’s chocolate semi freddo Genoise cake with a pistachio bark in a warm pool of dark chocolate sauce.  This is not a fork-tender chocolate confection. In fact, it’s darn hard to cut into the cake, but once it’s in your mouth, it practically melts there. This is a dark, rich chocolate that should come with an “R” rating for adults only.

Ostrichi al Forno

Brunch 

Scalo was a relative late-comer to the brunch bunch, serving the traditional Sunday repast from 11AM to 2:30PM with a Bloody Mary bar starting at noon.  The brunch menu includes five items on the antipasti y insalate menu, four pizzas and a ten-item Primi Y Secondi menu.  In Italy, the traditional meal progression begins with an antipasto followed by a primi (usually soup, pasta or risotto) then a secondi (main course) and finally dolce or formaggi (a cheese course).  Portions in Italy tend to be much smaller than in America so that progression makes sense.  Scalo’s portions are somewhat more substantial and you might not follow the traditional progression.

5 February 2012: You would not, however, want to pass on an antipasti as terrific as the ostrichi al forno, four oysters on the half-shell baked with artichoke, aioli, Reggiano and truffle oil.  It’s a wonderful variation on Oysters Rockefeller and much better, too.  The greenish hue of the artichoke-infused, Reggiano blessed oyster appetizer is intriguing, but it’s the flavor of the dish–the brininess of the oysters, the fresh “greeness” of the artichokes, the sharp nuttiness of the Reggiano–that will ensnare your affections. You’ll want a dozen of these beauties.

Costletto alla Milanese Mostarda

5 February 2012: The Costletto alla Milanese Mostarda, a pounded bone-in crispy pork chop with an onion, bacon, capers and grain mustard cream  is somewhat reminiscent of a German weinerschnitzel though much more lightly breaded.  The mustard cream is more akin to a French Hollandaise sauce than to a pungent, tangy German mustard.  This prodigious hunk of porcine heaven is as substantial in flavor as it is in portion-size.  The pork chop is nearly fork tender and is terrific with or without the mustard cream.

5 February 2012: A more “breakfasty” brunch offering is the Polenta y Salsiccia, creamy polenta, grilled sausage, poached eggs, roasted peppers and mushrooms.  Polenta (not necessarily synonymous with grits) serves as the base for this dish–literally.  Piled atop the polenta are two sausages, one spicy and one sweet and frothy poached eggs.  The objective of this dish is to spread the runny yokes throughout the dish, making it a melange of flavors.  It may not be as aesthetically pleasing, but the combination of ingredients works very well.

Polenta y Salsiccia

29 July 2017:  My Kim likes to joke that her weird husband doesn’t like spaghetti, but loves all of Sergio Leone’s spaghetti western. She, on the other hand, dislikes the Clint Eastwood shoot-em-ups and loves spaghetti.  Not finding spaghetti on Scalo’s brunch menu, she opted for the next best thing, a Scalo’s only entree called Spaghettini Olio e Aglio con Gamberetti (sauteed shrimp, olive oil, chili, garlic, sun-dried tomato, peas, parsley, lemon and white wine butter).  It’s a dish that will address different areas of your taste buds with flavor profiles that are alternatively piquant, savory, tart, briny and even a bit sweet.  The shrimp is fresh and snaps when you bite into it.  My favorite elements were the fresh green peas and sun-dried tomatoes.

Spaghettini Olio e Aglio con Gamberetti

29 July 2017:  One of the highlights of visiting my mom in Peñasco is enjoying organic farm-fresh eggs for breakfast.  Online debates rage as to whether there’s a discernible difference between farm-fresh eggs and their store-bought counterparts.  Having been raised on the former, I’m a stickler for farm-fresh eggs.  That said, the three eggs on Scalo’s Pizza Colazione (sunny side up egg, speech ham, Fontina, Gorgonzola, fresh rosemary, aged balsamic) reminded me of the eggs we gathered every morning from my grandmother’s chicken coop.  This is a terrific pizza, my only nit being that the eggs shouldn’t have been congregated so closely so as to better distribute the unctuous yolk.  The cornicione, an Italian term for the “lip” or puffy outer edge of the pizza is soft and chewy with a pronounced flavor of oven-baked bread.  In combination, the Fontina and Gorgonzola provide a wondrous cheesy flavor that goes very well with the salty ham.  In my pantheon of New Mexico’s very best pizzas, this one certainly deserves a high spot.  It’s outstanding!

Pizza Colazione

For several years my friend Bob of the Village of Los Ranchos has been extolling the greatness of Scalo’s Filetto (grilled beef tender loin, mushroom risotto, grilled asparagus, cambozola cheese, red wine reduction), a dish which certainly sounds worthy of much praise.  Alas, our visits to Scalo seem to occur most often on weekends during brunch.  One of these days we’ll have to join Bob for dinner.  That’s likely the day my rating for this Duke City institution is likely to climb.

Scalo Northern Italian Grill
3500 Central, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
505 255-8782
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 29 July 2017
# OF VISITS: 8
RATING: 22
COST: $$$
BEST BET: Spinach Salad; Penne with Tomato Cream Sauce; Pizza; Costletto alla Milanese Mostarda; Ostrichi al forno; Baked Cavatelli; Chocolate semi freddo; Carpaccio, Pizza Colazione, Spaghettini Olio e Aglio con Gamberetti

Scalo Northern Italian Grill Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Duran’s Central Pharmacy – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Duran Central Pharmacy on the Fringes of Old Town Albuquerque

In an early episode of the Andy Griffith Show, while contemplating a job offer in South America, Andy tried to assuage his son Opie’s concerns about leaving Mayberry. Instead, he wound up confusing Opie by explaining that people in South America ate something called tortillas. Opie wondered aloud why anyone would eat spiders (tarantulas).  Had Opie ever tasted the delicious, piping hot, just off the comal 16-inch buttered orbs at Duran’s Central Pharmacy, it’s unlikely he would ever confuse those grilled spheres with any arachnid.

That’s because Duran’s features some of the very best tortillas of any restaurant in New Mexico. These are not the flavorless, paper-thin, production-line, machine-fashioned orbs you find at some restaurants (can you say Frontier Restaurant). Duran’s tortillas are made to order on a real comal and shaped by a skilled practitioner using a well-practiced rolling pin.  It’s the way abuelitas in New Mexico have done it for generations, a time-honored tradition Duran’s honors–with one exception.  No lard is used on these tortillas; they’re strictly vegetarian.   You can tell and appreciate the difference.  In its annual Food & Wine issue for 2012, Albuquerque The Magazine awarded Duran Central Pharmacy a Hot Plate Award signifying the selection of its hot-off-the-griddle tortillas as one of the “most interesting, special and tasty dishes around.”  Considering the thousands of potential selections, to be singled out is quite an honor.

Duran’s Dining Room

The tortillas are thick and have a pinto pony blend of char and white. While it may seem the wait staff brushes on butter in parsimonious amounts, you’re almost guaranteed to have some butter drip onto your clothing. These tortillas arrive at your table piping hot and absolutely delicious–a wonderful precursor to a great meal!  Invariably you’ll want to take some home.  Heat them on a griddle, slather on butter (or Kraft sandwich spread–trust me) and you’ve got a fantastically filling snack.  Dorado Magazine which celebrates the rugged and eclectic spirit of the Four Corners, describes them as “thick and fluffy with the perfect blend of darkened char spots and bright white floury goodness.”

True to its name, Duran’s Central Pharmacy is an old-fashioned apothecary in which prescription medicines and over-the-counter drugs are dispensed. The dining area is nestled in the southern portion of the pharmacy and you absolutely have to navigate the aisles of the drug store to get there.  For some, it’s a slow walk as they gawk at meticulously arranged shelves brimming with products you won’t find anywhere else.  Although Duran’s Central Pharmacy has been around since the 1940s, it wasn’t until 1965 that Robert Ghattas, a trained pharmacist, and his family assumed ownership from Pete Duran.  At the time, Duran’s operated as a pharmacy with a soda fountain where you could grab a sandwich and a “malted.”  The Ghattas family decided to retain the name, but because soda fountains were no longer in vogue, they changed the restaurant concept to showcase New Mexican cuisine.

A Very Comfortable Enclosed Patio

In addition to the typical prescription and nonprescription pharmaceuticals found at any drug store, you’ll also find groceries, greeting cards and under glass near the cash registers, a section of fine chocolates that you might want for dessert after your meal of great New Mexican food.  On the dividing wall immediately before the restaurant is a section of books, mostly about New Mexico and by New Mexico authors. Some, like Pulitzer Award finalist River of Traps are absolute gems and must-reads for anyone who loves the Land of Enchantment. The pharmacy is also reputed to carry an excellent selection of perfumes, but perhaps no artificial fragrance compares to the aroma wafting from the kitchen.

The restaurant portion of Duran’s consists of a dozen tables, a small covered patio and a sit-down counter from which you can watch the industrious kitchen and wait staff (some members of whom provide service with a sweet sass) assiduously keeping up with the intense breakfast and lunch crowds.  A banal comment such as “that was fast” might receive a response like, “I’m sorry.  I’ll try to be slower next time.”  I also overheard one waitress tell a frequent guest that if he wanted a drink, he could get one from the small fountain on the patio.   How can you not love that?

Buttered Tortilla Hot Off The Comal

Despite the unusual restaurant setting, Duran’s has long been regarded as one of the best New Mexican restaurants in the Albuquerque area and it’s been regarded as such since 1965 when New Mexican cuisine became featured fare. Within easy walking distance of Old Town and just a short drive from downtown, it is, to the detriment of some local area residents, no longer a well-guarded secret.  With increasing frequency tourists have also discovered Duran’s–a more authentic (translation: not dumbed down for tourist tastes) and delicious alternative to Old Town Plaza restaurants.

Duran’s reputation is built on what has long been considered some of the best red and green chile anywhere in New Mexico.  The red chile lacks the cumin influence  so prevalent in the chile served in many misdirected New Mexican restaurants. The only ameliorant to that chile (in addition to salt) is usually a touch of garlic.  It’s a chile which has garnered many accolades over the years.   In the Alibi’s annual “Best of Burque” restaurant poll for 2005, Duran’s Central Pharmacy earned accolades for serving the “best huevos rancheros” in Albuquerque. In 2006, it was the red chile which earned “Best of Burque” honors. In 2007, Alibi readers accorded “best of” honors to Duran’s chile relleno, red chile and enchiladas. In 2008, it was the huevos rancheros and red chile which took home top honors. Annual awards are nothing new for Duran’s.

Salsa and Chips

The bowl of chile, perhaps the restaurant’s most popular entree, is a Chamber of Commerce exemplar of what this dish should be. It’s heart-warming New Mexico comfort food, especially warm and nurturing on the most bleak and dreary of days.  You certainly can’t get that mother’s love level of comfort from a burger with fries.  Though not strictly a green chile stew, it is certainly “stew-like,” a bowl of red or green chile with beans and seasoned ground beef.  The green chile is neon green in color and about medium on the piquancy scale.  The beans are perfectly prepared while the ground beef is seasoned well.  It’s a concordant marriage of wonderful ingredients that envelop you in a cocoon of warmth and comfort. 

In its June, 2010 edition, New Mexico Magazine celebrated New Mexico’s Best Eats, eight of the best dishes served in restaurants throughout the Land of Enchantment. Two versions of each dish–a down-home version and uptown version were selected. The magazine accorded the honor of New Mexico’s very best down-home green chile stew  to the Duran’s Central Pharmacy.  It’s a well-deserved honor few would dispute. I wrote the article about that stew which required lots of research on my part; it was a delicious assignment.

Blue Corn Cheese Enchiladas

Daily specials include a stuffed sopaipilla platter on Wednesdays and Fridays and on Thursdays carne adovada, some of the very best in the city.  The award-winning orange-red chile used on other entrees is ameliorated with aromatic Mexican oregano and chile pequin, a fiery, dried red chile used judiciously (something which should be practiced with the garlic).  The chile is made from ground chile pods, not from powder.  That chile covers bite sized cubes of porcine perfection so tender and delicious they will make your taste buds smile.  My great and dearly departed friend Ruben Hendrickson, a devotee of carne adovada nonpareil, ranks Duran’s rendition on par with the adovada at Mary & Tito’s.

The carne adovada is served with pinto beans, boiled potatoes (perhaps the only item on the menu that’s unremarkable) and a simple lettuce and tomato salad with French dressing.  The only thing wrong with this platter (besides the papas) is that it’s not all carne adovada, as in the entire plate covered with it.  Fortunately you can purchase a pint of this phenomenal adovada to take home and if you don’t want to wait until the next Thursday, carne adovada is also available for breakfast on Saturdays.

Pork Tamales With Beans

25 July 2017:  A 2013 Huffington Post article entitled “25 Food Things Only A New Mexican Would Understand” describes New Mexican cuisine as living “somewhere between traditional Mexican food and Tex Mex food, in a place where there is a lot more cheese.”  Hmm, more cheese?  Does that mean there’s more cheese in New Mexican food than in its Mexican and Tex Mex counterparts?  That certainly isn’t the case should you order the blue corn cheese enchilada plate (three blue corn cheese enchiladas, green and (or) red chile, beans and onions) from Duran’s Central Pharmacy.  The cheese is discernible, but it’s certainly not a dominant element.  It’s a team player, not a star.  There is no star in this enchilada plate.  Rather it’s a combination of several elements working very well together to create an exemplar of enchilada excellence.

25 July 2017: Aficionados will tell you the best burgers have a perfect meat to bun to ingredients ratio.  Similarly, tamales should have an optimum pork to masa to chile ratio.  Not all burgers achieve the desired ratio.  Neither do tamales.  At Duran’s, you get as close as possible to the perfect ratio, a balance of ingredients that coalesce int a delicious whole.  The pork tamale plate features two generously stuffed tamales topped with Duran’s famous red chile with beans on the side.  This is a delicious dish.

Blueberry pie a la mode

25 July 2017: Lest I forget, Duran’s salsa and chips rarely receive the rants and raves they deserve.  Quite simply, the salsa is some of the very best in the city.  It has the freshness of just made salsa, not salsa made three or even two hours ago.  The salsa, made with chopped tomatoes, cilantro, onion and green chile is thick and chunky so it doesn’t run off your chips.  It’s by far the most piquant item on the menu, on par with the incendiary heat of Sadie’s salsa.  That salsa, as well as green and red chile, is available for purchase on Duran’s Web site.

Duran’s is a neighborhood institution in which neighbors congregate to catch up and enjoy a belly pleasing meal. That neighborhood expanded to the Northeast Heights in 2006 with the launch of Duran’s Station at 4201 Menaul, N.E.   Duran’s Station is situated in the former Fire Station #8 and is owned by Marcel Ghattas, scion of Robert (the founder) and Mona (the current owner of Duran’s Central Pharmacy). It retains some vestiges of its days as a fire station, including the original alarm bell.  The engine bay was converted into the dining room while the bunkhouse is now the kitchen.  Duran’s Station includes all of your favorite Pharmacy favorites.  Similarities don’t stop with the menu.  The restaurant also includes an exposed prep kitchen and a comal for making those addictive tortillas (there may be none better in Albuquerque).  Best of all, it stays open for dinner.

A bowl of green chile with beans and seasoned ground beef. It's the very best in Albuquerque!

A bowl of green chile with beans and seasoned ground beef. It’s the very best in Albuquerque!

If you just can’t get enough of Duran’s fabulous chile, the Slate Street Cafe just north of Lomas in the downtown district, offers it as well. Red chile runs in the family. Slate Street Cafe is owned by Myra Ghattas, Mona and Marcel’s sister.  Every New Mexican restaurant should have chile this good, preferably with the best tortillas in Albuquerque, too.

Duran’s Central Pharmacy
1815 Central, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 247-4141
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 25 July 2017
# OF VISITS: 12
RATING: 20
COST: $$
BEST BET: Buttered Tortillas, Carne Adovada, Salsa and Chips, Green Chile, Blue Corn Cheese Enchiladas, Pork Tamales

Duran Central Pharmacy Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Lollie’s New Mexican Food – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Lollie’s

In the frontier wilderness of New Mexico–long before the advent of culinary schools and home economics classes–a cook’s credentials weren’t bestowed by some accredited institution of higher learning.   Instruction in the culinary arts was most often imparted lovingly by mothers.  Recipes were passed on from one generation to another, using ingredients often grown in the family farm and livestock raised locally.  “Credentials” were earned by reputation and the word of mouth of satisfied diners (most often family members, neighbors and visitors).  A good cook was known about far and wide.

Lollie Padilla can relate to the New Mexican culinary traditions of yore, having worked next to her mother (to whom the restaurant is dedicated) in learning to cook homemade, wholesome New Mexican dishes at a very young age.  On April 3rd, 2013, Lollie launched the eponymous Lollie’s New Mexican Food restaurant in the Barelas-South Valley area in which she was raised as were generations of her family.  Two things are immediately obvious: Lollie was a very good student and her mother was a very good cook.

Chips and Salsa

Don’t let the restaurant’s motto “Proudly Serving The Southwest” confuse you. There are no pretenses to food being influenced by a mixed bag of Spanish, Mexican Native American, French and California genres as “Southwest cuisine” is defined in some upscale Santa Fe restaurants. Lollie’s serves New Mexican food the way it’s been served for generations. The “Southwest” portion of the motto refers to Albuquerque’s southwest quadrant where the restaurant is located. It’s off the well-beaten (and eaten) path just a few blocks north of popularly anointed restaurants on Route 66.

If you’re driving south on Isleta, you might miss Lollie’s which, despite a street-facing storefront, is a bit obfuscated from view. Just remember it’s directly across the street from Dairy Queen about half a mile from where Avenida Cesar Chavez turns southward to Isleta and you’ll get there. The nearly almost always full parking lot evinces that a lot of hungry diners have found it. Lollie’s is open only for breakfast (starting at 8AM sharp) and lunch seven days a week. On weekdays it closes at 2PM and on weekends at 3PM.

Guacamole and salsa

Lollie is a peripatetic presence at her colorful restaurant, meeting and greeting regulars and those who will become regulars (it should take only one visit). She’s a very engaging and friendly person with a broad, warm smile after every compliment she receives–and she receives many. During our inaugural visit we were so touched by the authenticity and homey familiarity of her cooking that we thanked her for keeping it real. For Lollie, keeping it real means chile with piquancy and absolutely no cumin. It’s the way her mother taught her.

The restaurant is comprised of three distinct dining rooms.  The front room includes a view not only of the cashier’s station, but of the counter at which servers pick up orders to be delivered to lucky guests.  Seating is more functional than it is attractive.  The wait staff is cheerful and attentive, working as a cohesive unit to make sure your beverages are replenished and everything is to your satisfaction. The servers rank up there with Joe Guzzardi’s team at Joe’s Pasta House in Rio Rancho in terms of friendliness and professionalism.

Beef and Bean Tostada

You won’t be seated long before a basket of chips and ramekin of salsa are delivered to your table.  The first order is complementary.  You’ll have to pay a pittance for the second order.  Trust me, you’ll ask for a second helping.  My friend Bill “Foodie Star” Resnik was thoroughly besotted by the salsa, a pleasantly piquant blend in which red chile is discernible (surprisingly not many New Mexican restaurants use red chile on their salsa).  It’s fresh and piquant, the type of salsa which pairs very well with hot coffee which accentuates its piquancy oh so well.

5 June 2017: The qualities most in evidence in Lollie’s guacamole salad are freshness and flavor.  Mashed from fresh avocados at their prime of ripeness, the rich, meaty avocados are the most prevalent flavor component.  Alas, if you’re wary of guacamole being succeeded by “salad,” you probably won’t like all the lettuce on the plate.  Purists don’t want lettuce getting in the way of their guacamole.  This is a very good guacamole which should be liberated from its lettuce bed.

Ground Beef Taco with Salsa

The menu includes daily specials for every day but Monday (and if ever a day needed something special, it’s Monday).  It’s a comprehensive menu offering all New Mexican food favorites as well as burgers.  “Southwest Lunches” are served with beans and papas and your choice of red or green chile as well as tortillas.  Ask your server for a recommendation and chicharrones will invariably be mentioned (for good reason). 

2 June 2014: Appetizers include quesadillas, chile con queso, chile cheese fries with your choice of red or green chile, Rio Grande nachos, the aforementioned guacamole salad and a side of chicharrones with red or green chile.  Another good bet from the a la carte menu are the tostadas (including one topped with carne adovada).  A simple beef and bean tostada is everything New Mexicans love about this very simple–and very delicious–snack or starter. The fried tortilla shell is too delicate and the toppings too generous for you to pick everything up intact, but a fork will do just fine. Immediately obvious is the fact that the ground beef hasn’t been refried, a nefarious practice in which almost every other New Mexican restaurant engages. Fresh ground beef, shredded cheese, lettuce and chopped tomatoes in good proportion topped with salsa–for what more can you ask.

Carne Adovada with two fried eggs

2 June 2014: If you prefer your crispy corn tortillas to remain intact, you can order the taco plate (three tacos), a single ground beef taco from the a la carte menu or a combination plate.  Some may say a taco is basically a tostada folded like a sandwich, but it’s so much more than that.  A taco is hand-held comfort, the perfect snack whether mobile or stationary.  As with the tostada, the ground beef is freshly prepared and lightly seasoned.  Despite being deep-fried, it’s not greasy at all.   Apply Lollie’s salsa liberally for best results.

2 June 2014: Saturday’s special is a carne adovada breakfast–two fried eggs, carne adovada and a tortilla.  You’ll never again crave Captain Crunch or other breakfast cereals of that ilk.  Carne adovada is the perfect morning wake-up food.  Unlike some New Mexican dishes which might shock you awake with piquancy, carne adovada wakes you up with the loving caress of porcine perfection, tender tendrils of cubed pork marinated in a rich, delicious red chile.  This is a chile my adovada-adoring friend Ruben Hendrickson needs to try.  Good as it is, there isn’t as much of it as you’ll want…not enough of a good thing.

Stuffed Sopaipillas with Red and Green Chile (Refried Beans and Papitas on the side)

2 June 2014: When Spanish conquistadors risked life and limb in pursuit of gold, had they known about chicharrones they would have stopped there.   Chicharrones, small, fatty cubes of deep-fried pork, are a New Mexico treasure worth their weight in gold.  New Mexicans in quest of wonderful chicharrones need not go further than Lollie’s where these crispy pork cube are available on burritos and sopaipillas.  A chicharron stuffed sopaipilla is an excellent way to sample them.  “Stuffed” should be prefaced with “generously” because you’ll find plenty of golden-brownish porcine nuggets within each sopaipilla.  The stuffed sopaipilla plate includes two sopaipillas, the perfect vehicles for both red and green chile.  Lollie’s chile has a pleasant piquancy with the green having more bite than the red.  Both are delicious.  Refried beans and cubed papitas are also excellent.

5 June 2014: The menu includes two combination plates.  Both include a ground beef taco and a cheese enchilada, but one comes with a chile relleno and the other with a homemade tamale.  The tamale, one of the very few things not made on the premises, is not to be missed.  Lollie’s tamale maker should be knighted for creating one of the very best tamales in Albuquerque.  The proportion of corn masa to pork is absolutely perfect with the flavor of each complementing the other very well.  The cheese enchilada is excellent.  Being a combination plate, you should combine both red and green chile with this terrific plate.

Combination Plate

20 July 2017: Several years ago, my Intel colleagues hosted a team luncheon at Macayo’s Mexican Table, a very popular Arizona-style Mexican restaurant.  The New Mexicans among us took to calling it “Mocoso’s,” a Spanish term used to describe a snotty brat.  None of us liked it (to put it mildly).  Ask most New Mexicans and few of us would ever concede that anything edible has ever been invented in Arizona except for maybe the chimichanga.  In 1922, Monica Flin, founder of the Tucson restaurant El Charro accidentally dropped a burrito into the deep-fat fryer.  Thus was born the chimichanga. 

We’ve had a chimichanga at El Charro and we’ve had them in New Mexico where our sacrosanct red and (or) green chile transform the dish into a masterpiece.  One of the very best we’ve had across the Land of Enchantment is Lollie’s version, Friday’s special of the day.  What distinguishes this chimichanga from most is that it’s lightly fried.  It’s not sheathed in a thick, hard-to-cut tortilla.  You can cut into it with a spoon where you’ll extricate seasoned ground beef.  The chimichanga is topped with melted, shredded cheese and covered with your choice of red or green (go Christmas here) chile.  If I didn’t previously mention how good the refried beans are, let me take the opportunity here to tout them as some of the very best in town.  So is the chimichanga, the Arizona mistake that it takes New Mexicans to perfect.

Chimichanga Burrito

Lollie’s embodies the heart and soul of Albuquerque’s South Valley, showcasing the type of New Mexican cooking generations of mothers have passed on to their children.  Every neighborhood should be so lucky as to have such a homey, tradition-oriented restaurant in its midst.

Lollie’s New Mexican Kitchen
424 Isleta Blvd, S.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 452-9096
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 20 July 2017
1st VISIT: 31 May 2014
# OF VISITS: 4
RATING: 21
COST: $$
BEST BET: Stuffed Sopaipilla, Carne Adovada, Ground Beef Taco, Beef and Bean Tostado, Combination Plate,

Lollies New Mexican Food Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Papaburgers – Los Ranchos De Albuquerque, New Mexico

Papaburger, an El Paso institution now open in Albuquerque

Back in the 1960s, A&W’s Papa Burger was a rite of passage for me.  By age nine, I had surmounted the phased progression through A&Ws burger family–Baby Burger, Mama Burger and Teen Burger–and was ready to prove my mettle with the largest of A&Ws burger family, one beefy behemoth only my dad, a paragon of masculinity, had ever ordered.  Earning the right to order one was acknowledgement that I was growing into a man.  Polishing one off brought newfound respect from my younger brothers, both of whom longed for the day  my dad would order a Papa Burger for them.

In the 1960s, A&W’s burger family signified a formidable line-up of burgers served in more than 2,000 A&W restaurants throughout the fruited plain and Canada.  Each member of the burger family was represented by cartoonish fiberglass statues, the largest of which was the Papa Burger, a bald, vested gentleman holding a large frosted mug on one hand and a gigantic burger on the other.  Papa Burger stood eight and a half feet tall and the frothy mug of root beer was three feet tall.

 Bright and colorful interior at Papaburgers

Bright and colorful interior at Papaburgers

Driving on Chavez Avenue just west of Fourth Street and espying a restaurant called Papaburgers brought a nostalgic pang to my heart. That nostalgia made me hopeful that A&W was preparing to mount a challenge to the Big Three (McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Burger King) and would no longer be relegated to sharing space with abhorrent chains.  Though I disdain chains, A&W still represents growing up to me.  The name on the marquee dashed those hopes quickly.  It read “Papaburgers” not Papa Burgers.  No, this was an A&W offshoot.

Papaburgers has its roots in El Paso, Texas where in 2008, entrepreneur Eric Zubia launched the first instantiation of what has become one of the Sun City’s most popular burger joints.  As of this writing, ninety percent of visitors to El Paso’s Zomato Papaburgers page indicate they like it with some being effusive in their praise.  Sadly, as of this writing, I’d venture to say fifty percent of Albuquerque diners still have no idea about this terrific burger restaurant (unless they read Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Blog), of course.

My friend Bruce "Sr. Plata" enjoys a double meat burger with avocado and green chile

My friend Bruce “Sr. Plata” enjoys a double meat burger with avocado and green chile

That’s not entirely their fault.  Albuquerque’s Papaburgers, open only since November, 2009 is ensconced in a nondescript shopping center where it’s barely visible from heavily trafficked Fourth Street.  Get the word out!  This is a very good burger joint, one that is rapidly becoming an Albuquerque favorite.  In El Paso, customers queue early and often to get their burger fix in a restaurant with limited seating.  In Albuquerque, you can still walk up to the counter, place your order and sit where you want.

Finding a seat  is no problem in the Los Ranchos Papaburgers, a sprawling corner edifice which doubled its space within two years of opening to accommodate all the diners who discovered this unique bastion of burgers.  In three years, the ambiance has gone from prosaic to rather busy with a lot to see everywhere you turn.  The menu is sparse, about a dozen items, but there are always specials on the board.  A jukebox and an old-fashioned video gaming console make the expanded dining room just a bit noisy at times.

The Andre Burger Fresh ground beef with onions, lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, chili, weenies, American cheese and mustard with Butter-Garlic Fries

When Eric Zubia mentioned possibly expanding into the Albuquerque area, his Rio Rancho-based uncle Silver and aunt Adriana Zubia leapt at the opportunity.  As with the original Papaburgers, the freshness of ingredients is a strong point of emphasis.  Each burger is made to order on a flattop grill from freshly ground beef in which finely chopped onions are integrated right into the meat.  The burgers are adorned with lettuce, tomato, pickles, more onions and your choice of mustard or mayo.  The restaurant’s eponymous Papaburger can be topped with American or Swiss cheese. 

Your table haul should also includes plenty of green chile sauce which you can add to your burgers, fries, hot dogs or onion rings.  The green chile is mild by any piquancy scale, but it’s got a garlicky kick potent enough to ward off a family of vampires.  Papaburgers’ version of a green chile cheeseburger is called the Chiara Burger (named for Eric Zubia’s goddaughter).  Instead of finely chopped chile, the burger is crafted with long green chile.  It’s lacking in the piquancy New Mexicans love.

Frito Pie

Frito Pie

During our inaugural visit back in 2009, my friend and frequent dining companion Bill Resnik took one bite of the Papacheeseburger and declared “it’s just like Lotaburger.”  Considering his devotion for Lotaburger (which he considers New Mexican comfort food), that’s a high compliment.  As with Lotaburger, the ingredients are extremely fresh–crisp lettuce, juicy tomatoes, lip-puckering pickles, eye-watering onions.  The biggest difference is the onions incorporated right into the beef.  Bill’s sole complaint is that the beef was slightly overdone, sometimes a problem with thin beef patties. 

17 July 2017: You can request double meat with any burger or you can try something entirely different–the Andre Burger (named for Eric Zunia’s godson).  Hamburger meets hot dog in this unique offering–fresh ground beef with onions, lettuce, tomato, pickles, chili, weenies, American cheese and mustard.  As if weenies isn’t unique enough, the chili also includes beans.  It’s not a burger for everyone, but if you have a penchant for the slightly different, this is a burger you will absolutely love.

Jalapeño Fries

Jalapeño Fries

You’ll love it as a composite of terrific ingredients and you’ll love the interplay among those ingredients.  The chili is mild, but has a nice garlicky flavor that almost completely obfuscates the hint of cumin.  The weenies are of the thin-sliced variety, not those flavorless two-inch in circumference meat tubes that seem to be in fashion today.  I liked them so much, my second visit order was a Papadog.  Papadogs are described as a “round hot dog” and are served on hamburger buns.  The buns are toasted and sandwich between them, weenies sliced in half then topped with pinto beans and chili with ground beef.  A smear of mustard and several sliced pickles adorn the bottom bun.  Though somewhat unconventional, this is a good hot dog that warrants return visits. 

Papaburgers is no one-trick pony.  The menu, though limited, also includes a grilled chicken sandwich basket, chicken nuggets and a grilled Papacheese Green Chile sandwich.  Sides include French fries, onion rings and chili cheese fries.  The fries and onion rings are out of a bag, but are quite good when doused in the green chili on each table.   Perhaps the most intimidating item on the menu is an all-beef Chili Cheese Foot Long Coney from Nathan’s.  Bob of the Village People who’s consumed over 550 feet of hot dog from The Dog House Drive In won’t have to consume quite as many to get to 550 feet.  It’s a beefy behemoth.

More Than A Foot Long of Nathan's Hot Dog

More Than A Foot Long of Nathan’s Hot Dog

Papaburgers may have nothing to do with the A&W of my youth, but it’s a rite of passage in its own way–as Food Network star Guy Fieri might say, “a passage to flavortown.”  These are seriously good burgers!

Papaburgers
6601 4th Street, Suite P.
Los Ranchos de Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 345-0255
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 17 July 2017
1st VISIT: 25 February 2010
# OF VISITS: 4
RATING: 19
COST:  $ – $$
BEST BET: Andre Burger, Papacheesebasket, French Fries, Onion Rings, Papadog

Papaburgers Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Fresh Bistro – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Fresh Bistro on Fourth Street

Life is similar to a bus ride.
The journey begins when we board the bus.
We meet people along our way of which some are strangers, some friends and some strangers yet to be friends.”
~Chirag Tulsiani

Perhaps no mobile conveyance in the Land of Enchantment has ferried as many interesting people on as many colorful journeys as the “Road Hog,” the psychedelic bus which shuttled its passengers from Haight-Ashbury to Woodstock to Llano Largo, New Mexico. The Road Hog’s 1969 arrival in Llano Largo heralded the start of the “summer of the hippie invasion” as The Taos News called it. There unwashed masses settled into a Utopian agrarian commune they called the Hog Farm. The Road Hog with its familiar duck hood ornament and Grateful Dead-style tie-dyed design became a common sight in Peñasco, my childhood home. Sadly, for want of a part nowhere to be found, the Road Hog is slowly rusting away at its home in Llano Largo.

If the Road Hog represented the counter culture and anti-American bourgeois of the 60s, the KOB TV mobile News bus represented the staid establishment. For years, the classic Fageol Twin Coach (circa 1955), emblazoned with the station’s call letters proudly reminded viewers that KOB TV was the first station across the Land of Enchantment to broadcast in color. Ultimately, more sleek and maneuverable motorized conveyances came along and the KOB TV bus became obsolete. It wound up a rusty, hollowed-out scrap heap in La Hoya, New Mexico where the time-weathered bus seemed fated to fade into oblivion. Unlike the Road Hog, however, the former News bus didn’t remain in the “island of misfit buses.”

Fresh Mobile Bistro, Forty Feet of Fine Dining Excellence

Where others saw an unused, unloved, unwashed motorized mess, Corrales Chef Jon Young and his radiant bride Melissa, saw their opportunity to become a part of the food truck revolution sweeping across the fruited plain. In 2014, they purchased the vintage bus and began the painstaking process of transforming it into a mobile food kitchen where Jon could ply his passion for creative fine dining. The renovation process required the patience of Job. Obsolete parts had to be retooled by hand. In fact, the entire refurbishment process was arduous and manual.  With Jon and Melissa working assiduously, the ugly duckling slowly began blossoming into a graceful swan. Timeworn seats gave way to swanky booths more comfortable and spacious than first class airline seats. A small, but fully functional kitchen was installed at the back of the bus. Kitchen utensils such as a spatula and spoon were converted into door handles.

Alas, sometimes bad things happen to good people. During the restoration project, Melissa was diagnosed with stage two breast cancer and had to undergo chemotherapy. Healing became their focus and priority with the conversion project taking a back-burner for a while. Their dream was postponed for about a year. Today, the reservations-only luxury bus themed after the famous Orient Express is home to creative fine dining that comes from the heart of a very determined, very talented chef with a high likeability quotient. Spend just a few minutes with Jon and Melissa and you’ll find yourself rooting for them to succeed in a very tough business.

The Interior of Fresh Mobile Bistro

At an early age, the precocious chef knew he was destined to become a chef. While watching Julia Child prepare omelets on television, he complained to his mom that the revolutionary chef had stolen his idea. By age fourteen, he was slinging pizza dough in his hometown’s beloved Village Pizza. Later on, he took a job as a dishwasher at what was then New Mexico’s finest restaurant, the Casa Vieja, also in Corrales. Renowned chef Jean-Pierre Gozard started Jon at the very bottom—washing dishes. When a busboy left, Jon moved up and continued a steady ascent up the kitchen ranks. Like a sponge, he absorbed as much as he could from the fiery Gozard, acquiring classic French culinary techniques without having to attend a credentialed culinary school.

If Jon has a high likeability quotient, Melissa’s is off the charts. She is a buoyant bundle of energy with smiling eyes. Gracious and kind, she’s the restaurant’s hostess, operations manager and ambassador. A native New Mexican like Jon, Melissa has an entrepreneurial background. She keeps things moving efficiently and steadily with an attention to detail which ensures a smooth operation.  Moreover, she’s got a smile and a kind word for every guest.  Her sweet sister, also an ebullient whirling dervish, was our server during our inaugural visit.  She took very good care of us.

Chef Jon Young

Fresh Bistro, not to be confused with its mobile sibling Fresh Mobile Bistro, is located on Fourth Street in the converted home which previously housed Desert Grows.  Several small and smartly appointed dining rooms evoke a homey feeling.  Modern impressionist portraits festoon the walls while fresh flowers adorn the tables.  Towering deciduous trees and yawning umbrellas shield guests from New Mexico’s dazzling (Hi Deanell) sun in a capacious patio where our dachshund The Dude (he abides) enjoyed the rapt attention of other guests.  A lone troubadour regaled us with easy listing and folk tunes.

Fresh Bistro, the brick-and-mortar restaurant, is actually a spin-off of Fresh Mobile Bistro, the bus, which is parked behind the restaurant.  The full-service restaurant actually spawned because of the popularity of the mobile kitchen.  It was only natural that Chef Young would need a more expansive canvas for his edible art.  Before launching their traditional sit-down restaurant, the Youngs operated much as other mobile food kitchens, albeit one in which diners were embraced by quiet luxury evocative of a small Parisian cafe.  Ironically the mobile Bistro parked often at La Casa Vieja where the chef learned to master French culinary techniques.

Your Hostess Melissa Young

Whether you dine in the restaurant, on the patio or on the bus, you can be assured of a meal prepared from scratch by a very passionate chef who thrives on creating memorable meals that are as much a delight to the eye as they are to taste.  Reservations are required to dine on the bus where you’ll be transported to a timeless and rare elegance and indulgence with seasonal menus that will take you on a gastro-tour of taste.  Jon lovingly prepares each dish to order, imparting sage tidbits along the way.  Chef Young describes very clearly and accurately just where your taste buds will discern various elements of your meal.  Just as he predicted, his barbecue sauce–emboldened with Chimayo chile–imparts a nice heat about four seconds after you’ve tasted it.   The mobile bistro offers six-  and ten-course dinners, all served at an old-world pace to allow guests to fully appreciate each course.

Fresh isn’t solely the name on the marquee.  It’s an operational model and a philosophy.  The Youngs source as many ingredients from local growers so that most of what their guests enjoy is local, in season and, of course, fresh.  Structurally, the menu is similar to the menus at other bistros with appetizers, salads, soups, pastas, entrees and desserts.  Where you’ll notice the differences is in reading the vivid descriptions of each item–tantalizing descriptions punctuated with cooking techniques and premium ingredients.  It’s practically an invitation to drool.

Lavender French Toast

Coincidentally, our inaugural visit (on a Saturday when brunch is featured fare until two o’clock ) was on the day the village of Los Ranchos was celebrating its annual lavender festival. Lavender is a rarity among flowering plants in that it goes as well with savory dishes as it does decadent desserts. It has a penetrating floral and spicy aroma with a flavor profile similar to rosemary and thyme. It’s got a residual bitterness that’s overridden by its flavor and aromatic bouquet. To some, it tastes like soap (the same thing is often said about cilantro). To others, lavender can do no wrong. We were determined to enjoy this versatile, fresh, floral, clean flower in as many dishes as we could find.

French toast are described on the menu as “sourdough bread topped with sweetened mascarpone cheese topped with your choice of fruit and powdered sugar” with fruit choices being bananas, peaches and strawberries. When our savvy server suggested lavender, we jumped at the opportunity. Syrup need not apply for a place on these four golden slices of eggy bread flecked with lavender. Sweetened mascarpone made them sweet enough with the lavender often making its presence felt in tempering any residual sweetness. In the spectrum of sweet that runs from mild to cloying, these French toast were…just right.

Monte Cristo Sandwich with Salad

Similar to French toast, the bistro’s Monte Cristo is lightly dipped in egg batter then grilled. This beauteous sandwich is constructed on sourdough bread and filled with ham and Gruyere cheese. It’s topped with a cherry-brandy reduction. More commonly, a Monte Cristo is topped with a small amount of powdered sugar and traditionally served with a ramekin of raspberry or strawberry jam you can apply yourself. There’s nothing common about this sandwich. The cherry-brandy reduction is a superb complement to the savory elements of the sandwich, working with them instead of overpowering them with sweet notes. Both the rich, nutty Gruyere and the salty ham worked well, too.

It’s a rarity in Albuquerque to find a brunch menu without any number of dishes showcasing the Land of Enchantment’s addictive red or green chile. On Fresh’s brunch menu there are only two. One is eggs Benedict served with carne adovada. The other is a dish created by the inventive chef. It’s called a Frenchilada and it’s a sort of New Mexico meets France featuring layers of crepes filled with chicken breast, green chile, mushrooms and roasted garlic cream sauce with an egg on top. This is a magnificent dish! Chef Young doesn’t shy away from piquant chile and he doesn’t use it sparingly. The foil to the chile’s heat is the mushroom’s earthiness. You’ll want to lick your plate to ensure you don’t leave behind any of the roasted garlic cream sauce.

Green Chile Chicken Frenchiladas

Perhaps the piece de resistance of our meal was Chef Young’s lavender bread pudding. It may not be on Larry McGoldrick’s Bread Pudding Hall of Fame, but that’s only because the professor with the perspicacious palate hasn’t yet had it. This is a superb bread pudding, the antithesis of so many cloying versions of a dish whose genesis has been traced back to 13th century England. Sure it’s sweet, but not nearly overly so. It’s light, delicate and spongy, topped with whipped cream and surrounded by a pool of sweet, creamy sauce. The lavender has its desired effect of introducing the elements of flowery freshness to a bread pudding which would have been wonderful without it, but becomes transformative with it.

Howie “The Duke of Duke City” Kaibel, the charismatic Albuquerque Community Manager for Yelp describes his inaugural experience at Fresh (The Mobile Bistro) as “probably my favorite find in Albuquerque over the last year.” Larry McGoldrick tells us on his Yelp review that “Jon is a wizard in the kitchen. He has a passion for good, fresh, excellently prepared food, and that’s precisely what you’ll get here.” If you need further proof that the Fresh Bistro and its mobile sibling are a not-to-be-missed dining destination, read the Yelp reviews. Yelp critics tend to be a tougher crowd than I am and they give Fresh Bistro four-and-a-half stars. It’s a perfect ten in my book.

Lavender Bread Pudding

Fresh Bistro and its mobile sibling may be the culmination of the dreams of a very talented chef and his beautiful bride, but it’s a good bet you may find yourself dreaming about your next meal there.

Fresh Bistro
7319 4th Street, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505)
985-8449
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 16 July 2017
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Lavender Bread Pudding, Lavender French Toast, Monte Cristo, Green Chile Chicken Frenchiladas

Fresh Bistro Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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