Toltec Brewing Co. – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Toltec Brewing Co. on Albuquerque’s Burgeoning West Side

Vincent: And you know what they call a Quarter Pounder with Cheese in Paris?
Jules: They don’t call it a Quarter Pounder with Cheese?
Vincent: No, they got the metric system there, they wouldn’t know what the #%*&! a Quarter Pounder is.
Jules: What’d they call it?
Vincent: They call it Royale with cheese.
Jules: Royale with Cheese. What’d they call a Big Mac?
Vincent: Big Mac’s a Big Mac, but they call it Le Big Mac.
~Pulp Fiction

265 “f-bombs,” copious racist slurs, torrents of extreme language and some of the most weighty dialogue ever spoken in an American movie.  That was Quentin Tarantino’s 1994 apotheosis Pulp Fiction, a low-brow pastiche the cognoscenti consider one of the most quotable movies ever made.  The clever banter and witty repartee between hitmen Vincent Vega (John Travolta) and Jules Winnfield (Samuel L. Jackson) is particularly memorable.  It was their dialogue which introduced this review.  It was what immediately came to mind when I espied the “Royale” on the “Breaking Bread” section of Toltec Brewing Co.’s menu.

“The Royale”

While no self-respecting gastronome would ever order a Quarter Pounder…er, Royale with cheese in Paris (or anywhere else, but especially not in Paris), Toltec’s Royale is an entirely different matter. Constructed from a patty weighing in at a whopping half-pound of blended brisket and crimini mushrooms, it’s the proverbial muscle-bound beach bully kicking sand in the face of  the four-ounce weakling Quarter Pounder.    Toltec’s Royale was first brought to my attention by a well-meaning colleague who asked me if I had ever tried Albuquerque’s James Beard award-winning burger.  Huh?

This Royale has not won a James Beard award of any kind, but Duke City voters can change that.  The Royale is one of many burgers entered in the James Beard Foundation’s Blended Burger Project national project.  Some of the other burgers entered in the competition are constructed by actual James Beard award-winning chefs so this is one formidable food melee.  You can vote once a day through 31 July 2018 (and we know how much New Mexicans love to vote).  If you’re of the mind that you won’t vote for anything until you find out what the candidate stands for, consider this: 1/2 Pound brisket and crimini mushroom patty with ancho and herb mayo, Young Guns green chile, aged white Cheddar, bacon, local-fried egg and heirloom tomato.

Local Cheese Plate

Okay, you’ve read the campaign promises, but how does it deliver on those promises?  Take it from at least two constituents, photographer extraordinaire Bruce Terzes and your gangling gastronome, the Royale warrants your support.  Not since the green chile cheeseburger at Alamogordo’s Rockin’ BZ Burgers has such a fantastic burger crossed my lips.   It made such a tremendous first impression on the Thursday of my inaugural visit to Toltec that I had to have another one the next day.  Quite simply, it’s one of the very best burgers in the Duke City.

So, what makes it a burger for the people (at least the non–vegan people among us)?  Well, it delivers on what was promised about Wendy’s burgers by 1970s commercials.  Wendy’s spokesperson Clara Peller, for example,  often asked “where’s the beef.” That question doesn’t apply with the Royale. There’s a whole half-pound of brisket blended with crimini mushrooms.  The combination is hot and juicy, another Wendy’s promise of yore.  It’s a multi-napkin affair with moistness sure to run down your arms and make a glistening mess of your face.  The fried egg is over-medium which means the yolk is only slightly runny (like the Rio Grande).  The bacon is crisp and plentiful, the aged Cheddar sharp and complex, but it’s the green chile from Young Guns which brings it all together.  The green chile actually bites back, increasingly a rarity in the Land of Enchilement. Though the buns are formidable, they’re no match for the juiciness of this fabulous burger.  Bravo, Toltec!

Side Salad with Blue Cheese

It may surprise some that Toltec, a west side brewery which launched in May, 2018, would serve such a superb burger though the surprise quickly evaporates when informed the genius responsible for this chef d’oeuvre is David Ruiz.  Albuquerque knows David from his days as executive chef at Pueblo Harvest, a gig that earned him a 2017 appearance on the Food Network show “Guy Fieri’s Family Road Trip.”  It wasn’t the chef’s only appearance on the Food Network. In 2016, he competed on the network’s popular cooking show “Chopped.” In 2017, David won the “Duke it Out” challenge, earning both people’s choice and critics’ choice for best entree.  David was the co-founder of 505 Food Fights, a grassroots chef competition intended to fonder community in Albuquerque’s culinary industry.

8 June 2018: Toltec is by no means a one-trick pony when it comes to dining. Its menu might be small, but it’s mighty.  Save for “Green Eggs and Ham,” Toltec’s name for deviled eggs (with spinach and agave glazed pork belly), the “Beer Bites” section of the menu is pretty uninteresting.  That doesn’t mean it’s not good.  Take, for example, the Local Cheese Plate (local cheese, cured meat, flat bread, local honey and candied pepitas).  It’s a turophile’s dream, celebrating Tucumcari Mountain Cheese Factory‘s fantastic fromage: (wonderful wedges of green chile and aged Cheddar and charcuterie meats (prosciutto, salami, capicola).  The greater surprise, however, were the candied pepitas and the local honey from a bee-keeper of the chef’s acquaintance.

Sausage and Peppers

8 June 2018: With every burger or sandwich on the “Breaking Bread” menu, you have your choice of seasoned fries, cinnamon fries, cinnamon sweet potato fries, tortilla chips or side salad.  The side salad (mixed field greens, candied pepitas, fresh apple slices, white cheddar and sweet red onions) is superb, pairing magnificently with the blue cheese dressing with its plenitude of cheese crumbles.  This is a salad constructed of complementary ingredients; they all go well together.

8 June 2018: For my Kim, sausage and peppers evokes memories of Italian restaurants throughout the Chicago area where that combination is part and parcel of one of the best sandwiches you’ll find in the Windy City (and that’s saying something).  Sausage and Peppers at Toltec is something entirely different: house-made lemon capellini topped with turkey, lemon and thyme sausage, a trio of bell peppers, roasted marinara and Parmesan.   The capellini, a thin pasta whose name translates to “little hairs” is perfectly al dente.  Strands of this light pasta wrap around red, yellow and green peppers, a coarse sausage and lots of red sauce.  The dish was recommended by two servers, both of whom indicated it was the best thing on the menu.

Service at Toltec is terrific.  Make sure to ask for Nate, an ambassador for the restaurant’s menu who’s on-the-spot with whatever you need, whether it be a refill or an answer to a question about the menu.  Toltec’s dog-friendly patio is only about fifteen feet away from a heavily trafficked and often noisy street, but it’s well-shaded (except right before sunset) and relatively cool.  Were Vincent and Jules to ever visit Toltec, the ensuing dialogue would probably be laced with colorful epithets, all complimentary.  They would love Toltec’s version of the Royale with cheese.

Toltec Brewing Co.
10250 Cottonwood Park, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 890-1455
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 7 June 2018
COST: $$
BEST BET: The Royale, Local Cheese Plate, Sausage & Peppers, Side Salad
REVIEW #1045

Toltec Brewing Co. Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Year in Food: May, 2018

Tiri Ke Elies (feta cheese, olives, pepperoncinis and pita wedges) from Mykonos in Albuquerque

For years your humble blogger has been shouting (at least virtually) that while Albuquerque and Santa Fe might be the apotheosis of the Land of Enchantment’s culinary scene, there’s so much more to dining in New Mexico than what these two epicenters offer. Hidden gem restaurants, many of which are yet to be reviewed on this blog, are pervasive throughout New Mexico. In its feature honoring the best tacos in every state across the fruited plain, Thrillist named La Herradura (which translates to “the horseshoe” in English) in Artesia as the best in New Mexico…and “perhaps the entire country.” Thrillist noted “The portions are heaping. The prices are almost embarrassingly cheap. And their world-class tacos — from the red sauce-soaked beef asada to their shredded beef desheredada — are served fresh, hot, and with a delicious plate of rice and beans as a worthy sidekick.”

In its feature honoring the best steakhouse in every state, Business Insider didn’t find New Mexico’s best chops in Albuquerque or Santa Fe. Instead, the Land of Enchantment’s best slab of beef can only be found in Double Eagle in Mesilla, increasingly a dining destination of repute among cognoscenti. Self-glossed the “crown jewel of historic Old Mesilla,” the Double Eagle is situated in an edifice constructed in 1849 which has been the site of many colorful and historic events. Business Insider seemed just as enamored of Double Eagle’s adult libations: “Margaritas and steak? It’s not a typical dining experience, but you won’t want to miss out on this combination at Double Eagle in Mesilla. Try the signature green chili Bloody Mary to spice up your evening.”

Enchiladas Suizas from Delicia’s in Las Cruces. Photo Courtesy of Melodie K.

Only someone as brilliant as my friend Larry McGoldrick, the professor with a perspicacious palate, can hope to understand the Wilson Score formula used by Yelp to compile its first ever Top 50 Places to Eat in Albuquerque. Though the math may seem like Greek to most of us, we can all agree that this enumeration of exceptional eateries will come in handy when we’re contemplating where to eat. The list is sure to generate water cooler discussions among savvy and casual diners throughout the country. During our inaugural visit to 2G’s Bistro shortly after it was published, the list was a topic of conversation among several diners. It should be that way throughout the summer and beyond.

While it didn’t make it onto Yelp’s list of the top 50 places to eat in Albuquerque, El Pinto continues to garner national acclaim. It’s no surprise that this North Valley institution has one of the largest “I love me” walls in the city. For years it’s been drawing in throngs of devotees for its red chile ribs and generous margarita pours. Its most recent accolades come from, an online guide to men’s fashion (or at least men who don’t frequent JC Penney for its husky boy collection). Fashionbeans asked and answered the question “Are these really America’s most favorite restaurants.” On this compilation of one restaurant per state, El Pinto stood tall as the Land of Enchantment’s most beloved dining institution: “Often considered one of the best Mexican restaurants in the U.S., El Pinto has been serving up red chile ribs and margaritas in Albuquerque since 1962. Also, it’s one of the biggest restaurants you will ever visit.”

On 27 April, Stripes Biscuit Co Donated Some of its Proceeds to the Veterans Administration Hospital in Albuquerque

Via, an online resource from AAA, purports “to excite, to inform, and to entertain Western travelers.” To that end, it recently polled readers as to find the best places for pie across the west. Any way you slice it, no list of best pies in the universe (excluding pizza pies) has got to include Pie-On-Neer Pies in Pie Town, New Mexico. Via reader Barbara Weist commented “Head to Pie-O-Neer Pies in Pie Town, New Mexico, between Quemado and Datil on U.S. Highway 60. All they do is pie. The town developed in the 1920s, serving pies to the masses driving to California and other points west.”

Food and Wine partnered with People magazine to find the best hot dogs in every state. Named the Land of Enchantment’s best was one of its elder statesdogs (circa 1940), Albuquerque’s Dog House Drive In, a “no frills spot on Route 66” which “serves “footlong chili (SIC) dogs (served with red or green chili), tater tots and a killer Frito pie.” If (like me) your spellchecker finds the spelling “chili” offensive, pick up a coffee of my dear friend Becky Mercuri’s outstanding tome The Great American Hot Dog Book. She clarifies “Note, the spelling is chile, not chili, which New Mexico frowns upon as some kind of perverted Tex-Mex soup.” Bravo Becky and kudos to the Dog House.

April, 2018

Discriminating Diners Gideon and Angel Came All the Way From Deming to Enjoy the Dog-Friendly Patio at Torinos @ Home

Former American Idol winner and restaurant owner Taylor Hicks may have the best job in the country..or at least the tastiest. When he’s not entertaining or running his Alabama-based barbecue joint, he travels across the county for the Inspiration Channel’s State Plate program, assembling plates that represent each state’s most iconic foods. “From appetizers to main course to dessert, Taylor piles his plate high with delectable delights, as he makes his way across the country, meeting the people who take pride in their state’s foods.” His visit to New Mexico may have been the most enchanting (and certainly among the most delicious) of all the states he’s visited. The five items comprising the New Mexico state plate included carne adovada made from the increasingly rare Chimayo chile, green chile stew prepared by the great Rocky Durham at La Cienega’s Blue Heron Restaurant, calabacitas from The Santa Fe School of Cooking, stuffed sopaipillas from the Sopaipilla Factory in Pojoaque and for dessert, piñon brittle from Jericho Nursery. It would be so easy for New Mexicans to dispute some of these choices, but frankly State Plate did a pretty good job coming up with dishes which represent the Land of Enchantment so deliciously.

Long a staple of the collegiate diet, ramen’s “mass appeal has solidified it as both a cultural phenomenon and a global food craze.” That’s why Business Insider sought to locate the best ramen in each state. Named New Mexico’s best ramen was Albuquerque’s Naruto, a Central Avenue dining destination with an unimpeachable pedigree. Owners Hiro and Shohko Fukuda opened the Land of Enchantment’s very first sushi bar in 1975 and have been offering sushi nearly as long. Naruto’s Tonkotsu ramen is porcine perfection, an intensely porky elixir concocted by culinary wizards who, over many hours of simmering time, transform pork bones into an opaque broth with a rich, butyraceous flavor and the aroma of heaven.

My friend Bruce “Sr Plata” Enjoys the Chicken Fried Steak at Cocina Azul in Albuquerque

The Taste SF, a culinary lifestyle website and photography company based in San Francisco is dedicated to sharing the best food, wine and culinary-focused travel experiences. Cognoscenti will tell you any New Mexico-focused culinary adventure has got to include Los Poblanos Historic Inn in Los Ranchos de Albuquerque. The Taste SF called Los Poblanos “one of our favorite places in Albuquerque.” A spectacular anthology of photographs accompanied a very respectful tribute with photos of the brunch entrees especially noteworthy.

Over the years few chefs have graced Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Year in Food as often as Marc Quinones, the über talented executive chef at Mas Tapas Y Vino. In 2017 for example, the New Mexico Restaurant Association’s “Chef of the Year” showed his versatility garnering a third-place-finish in the Great American Seafood Cook-off, a national competition held in New Orleans. His culinary career trajectory, passion and exposure seem to portend future James Beard nominations. Lois Alter Mark profiled Chef Quinones in an article fittingly titled The Secret Ingredient Award-Winning Chef Marc Quinones adds to Every dish. While it’s probably trite and cliche when chefs claim their secret ingredient is love, the interview reveals a rare passion which is suffused into every dish he prepares.

Deep-Fried Twinkies From Danny’s Place in Carlsbad

It wouldn’t surprise many people if you told them New Mexico has one of the 23 best Indian restaurants in America. After all, the Land of Enchantment has 23 tribes and an Indian population of more than 210,000. In its compilation of the best Indian restaurants across the fruited plain, Thrillist evaluated east Indian restaurants, not restaurants owned and operated by Native American Indians. Only one Indian restaurant from New Mexico made this hallowed list. That restaurant was Santa Fe’s Paper Dosa which “specializes in, well, its namesake dosa, or crepe made from a fermented batter, which arrives stuffed with ingredients like spiced paneer and peas, white truffle oil, spiced ground lamb, or green chile and not one, but three cheeses.”

Ah, the American deli experience. This tasty tradition conjures visions of satiating potato latkes, pastrami sandwiches and other Jewish delicacies.” That’s how the Food Network describes delis in its compilation of the 50 Best Delis by State. Now, what Food Network describes as a deli and what some cafes label themselves as a deli are often two different things–especially in New Mexico. More often than not, delis in the Land of Enchantment are usually just glorified sandwich shops. Not so for Food Networks anointed deli, Bodega Prime, a bona fide deli which actually makes its own ricotta, queso fresco, brioche rolls and more. The Food Network noted “This spot takes the concept of an average bodega and blows it up to epic proportions by bringing retail, take-out and dine-in together in one sleek yet charming space.”

Tamale Plate from Santa Fe’s Casa Chimayo

There’s so much more to the Land of Enchantment than Albuquerque and Santa Fe. If you’re not already subscribing to Melodie K’s Romancing Southern New Mexico newsletter, you’re missing out on the state’s spectacular southern half. From her home in the Las Cruces area, Melodie ventures out all over the Southwest, lovingly sharing stories on food, travel, and lifestyle. For a couple of years Melodie has also been sharing her photographs with readers of Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Blog as well as keeping us well apprised of food-centric news from the area…such as the following gem.

It’s official: Diners searching for the best of the best green chile in the Land of Enchantment need look no further than El Patron Cafe in Las Cruces. So say the readers of USA Today who voted El Patron their favorite of ten New Mexico restaurants known for doing the state’s most iconic food particularly well. More than a few legendary eateries figured in the top ten, including The Shed in Santa Fe and The Owl Cafe in San Antonio. But in the end, El Patron’s specialty dishes made with Hatch green chile, such as brisket nachos and a house posole, won the most hearts and votes.

The Original Range Burger from Bernalillo. Photo Courtesy of Melodie K

Whoever first uttered the phrase “American as apple pie” probably did so while perched on a stool at a crowded diner. So that means a diner is somehow more American than apple pie.” That’s how Thrillist began its feature on the 21 best diners in America. While nay-sayers may consider diners an endangered species, there are still several of them serving people-and-palate-pleasing plates of classic American foods…or in the cast of Santa Fe’s The Pantry, classic New Mexican cuisine. New Mexico’s sole representative on the list of sacrosanct diners, The Pantry is “1. damn iconic, 2. a place where you have a decent shot at running into Cormac McCarthy, and 3. serves impeccable New Mexican breakfasts.”

Here’s one from November, 2017 I missed: “Whether you call it a sandwich, a hoagie, or a sub, the combination of meat, vegetables, and condiments between two pieces of bread is a universally enjoyed dish all over the US.” With the help of Yelp, Business Insider compiled a list of the best sandwiches in the US based on the star rating and number of reviews of restaurants listed in the “sandwiches” category. Yelp reviewers gave the most love to the shredded beef sandwich from Albuquerque’s Guava Tree Cafe. With an average rating of 4.5 stars (out of 5), it’s sandwich nirvana for Duke City aficionados.

Tandoori Chicken from India Hut in Las Cruces. Photo Courtesy of Melodie K.

And another–this one from Road and Track. You might think that an online and print magazine written for the automotive enthusiast would know something about driving to great places to eat…and you’d be right. Road and Track compiled a list of The 50 Most Delicious Things to Eat on an American Road Trip, one from each state in the fruited plain. To absolutely no one’s surprise, there’s nothing better to eat in New Mexico than Hatch green chile. Here’s what Road and Track had to say: The town of Hatch, New Mexico, is so obsessed with its eponymous chiles that come Labor Day, the Hatch Chile Festival draws over 30,000 people to this tiny town of 1,600. And when the harvest comes, Hatch chile makes its way into everything Mexican and nearby Tex-Mex: Hatch chile sausage, Hatch chile beer, Hatch chile chili, Hatch chile and Sweet Lime Sandwich Cookies. You get the idea.

March, 2018

Kimberly Duncan, pizzaioli extraordinaire at the 34th Annual International Pizza Expo (the Pizza Superbowl)

American journalist Anna Quindlen declared “ideas are like pizza dough, made to be tossed around.” At the International Pizza Expo in Las Vegas, everyone who is anyone in the independent and chain pizza industry gets together to share ideas, expand their knowledge and toss dough in pizza skills competitions. No one tosses dough as well as Robert Yacone and Kimberly Duncan, the high-energy and even higher in personality quotient dynamic duo who own and operate the incomparable Forghedaboudit in Deming. In the 2018 Expo, Kimberly’s pulchritudinous pepperoni and sausage pizza placed third in the Southwest region (California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Texas, Utah and Oklahoma) and fifth in the country in the traditional pizza category. In 2017, she won the Southwest region, placed second in the United States and fourth in the entire world.

Competing in the non-traditional pizza category, considered the most difficult competition at the Expo, Robert created a pizza which exemplifies creativity and genius: grilled jerk shrimp, applewood smoked bacon, avocado, mushrooms, Piave 18 month aged cheese, Bacio mozzarella lemon-lime zest topped with basil on a four-day old cold rise crust topped with garlic and olive oil!. Only two points separated Robert’s masterpiece from first place in a competition that pitted the best pizzaioli in the world. If you’re not beating a path to Deming right now (don’t forget to get reservations), you’re missing out on one of the best traditional pizzas in the world and a non-traditional pie I’d give my right arm for. Now go!

Robert Yacone Competed in the Non-Traditional Category at the International Pizza Expo in Las Vegas

For the second consecutive year and third time overall, Santa Fe Chef Martin Rios became a finalist for the James Beard Foundation Awards in The Best Chef Southwest category, coming oh-so-close to earning the award in 2015 and 2017. One of New Mexico’s most heralded chefs, Rios continues to enthrall New Mexico diners with his innovative Progressive American cuisine at his eponymous Restaurant Martin. Since launching his restaurant, Rios has earned nine James Beard award nominations. Chef Rios is much too talented to become the Susan Lucci of the culinary world.

12 Tomatoes, an online presence whose byline is “Simple Recipes. Serious Flavor,” noted that while not every state in the fruited plain has an official state dessert, “each and every state is at least known for something sweet.” Reading the 12 Tomatoes list of the most iconic dessert in each state just might “be enough to make you want to take one sweet road trip.” So, what does 12 Tomatoes consider the most iconic sweet in the Land of Enchantment? Why, the bizcochito, of course. The feature described the bizcochito thusly: “A sweet, buttery cookie flavored with cinnamon and anise, Bizcochitos became the official state cookie of New Mexico almost 30 years ago.”

Minestrone Invermaie from Il Bosco in Albuquerque

New Mexico hasn’t been widely heralded as a state in which great barbecue is to be found. That may be changing thanks to a small purveyor of bodacious barbecue in Tucumcari. Yes, Tucumcari. In February, Tucumcari’s Watson’s BBQ garnered national recognition from Thrillist as one of the best small town restaurants in the country. Just one month later, Watson’s earned an even more significant honor, being named one of the 50 best barbecue restaurants in America according to Yelp. Watson’s ranked 35th in the meaty pantheon. On 89 reviews (as of this date), Yelp reviewers gave Watson’s five stars.

In an episode of Food Paradise entitled “More Bite for the Buck,” the Travel Channel showcased where “frugal foodies across the country” go “to savor the savings while indulging in high quality meals without the high prices, from four dollar fried chicken tacos and one buck shucks to half-priced rib eyes and bargain breakfast bites.” The only restaurant in the Land of Enchantment to make the list is The Pantry in Santa Fe which for some reason, the program’s map depicted as being located in the Farmington area. “Widely known as Santa Fe’s meeting place,” The Pantry “has been a home away from home for generations of Santa Feans” giving guests a “bang for their buck.” Food Paradise noted that ” the food may be cheap, but it’s definitely rich, in particular the stuffed French toast.”

February, 2018

Santa Fe’s Heralded Geronimo

According to 24/7 Wall St., a financial news and opinion company with content delivered over the Internet, there are approximately 41,000 Chinese eateries across the fruited plain. “In recognition of Chinese cuisine’s proud place in the American culinary tradition,” 24/7 Wall St. created a list of the most popular Chinese restaurants in each state. Employing criteria as complicated as Chinese logograms but which included Yelp reviews, the Chinese Restaurant Foundation’s annual Top 100 Awards as well as dozens of restaurants reviews, polls, and other internet sources, the best from among the Land of Enchantment’s 166 Chinese restaurants was deemed to be Albuquerque’s Rising Star Chinese Eatery which has an average Yelp rating of 4.5 stars.

In some cultures, such foods as ballut (fertilized duck egg with its partly developed embryo insidel), chapulines (grasshoppers), huitlacoche (corn smut) and cazu marzu (rotten Pecorino cheese) are considered delicacies. To the editorial staff of Topix Off Beat, a technology company focusing on entertainment and news media, these foods would be considered “gross.” Topix compiled a list of the grossest food from every single US state. Using such terms as “horrifying foods, “worst regional food” and “some of these are bad,” the foods listed may gross out the non-foodies among us, but gallant gastronomes would very likely enjoy most of them. According to the third graders who wrote this feature, the grossest food in the Land of Enchantment is the green chile sundae. Topix had this to say: “New Mexicans put green chile in everything. EVERYTHING. Why should ice cream be any different? I don’t know, maybe it’s because it’s a frozen dairy dessert. What is your damage, New Mexico?” Huh?

Posole from Warrior Fuel in Bernalillo

From the world’s most luxurious steaks to the season’s most vibrant veggies, diners across the country are going wild for homegrown goodness at these popular farm-to-table restaurants.” That was the premise of the Travel Channel’s Food Paradise episode entitled “Farm to Feast,” a term synonymous with Albuquerque’s Farm & Table. Since its launch in 2012, Farm & Table has been an exemplar of fine dining using locally grown produce, sustainable seafood and grass-fed beef. The short segment featuring Farm & Table showcased Chef Carrie Eagle’s terrific tortilla burger made with sharp Tucumcari Cheddar and roasted green chiles folded into a perfect bite and served with French fries and a side of pinto beans.

Urban America doesn’t hold exclusivity when it comes to great restaurants across the fruited plain. There are terrific eateries throughout rural America. They may not get the publicity of their big city brethren, but some are every bit as good…or better. Within the Land of Enchantment, restaurants such as Deming’s Forghedaboudit, Peñasco’s Sugar Nymph Bistro, El Rito’s El Farolito and Carlsbad’s Danny’s Place have garnered much-deserved attention from national press. Thrillist compiled its list of the absolute best small-town restaurants in the country. New Mexico’s best small town gem was deemed to be Watson’s BBQ in Tucumcari. Ensconced within a family-owned hardware store, Watson’s serves “mouth-watering brisket, ribs, potato salad, and beans to hungry travelers and locals working in the ranching biz.”

A six pack from Bristol Doughnut Co.

Setting the table for romance involves an array of ingredients: scrumptious food, alluring ambiance, and bespoke service.” So says OpenTable whose Most Romantic Restaurants list for 2018 honors “the seductive spots at which couples are creating connections and savoring delicious memories.” The list of honorees is based on more than 12,000,000 reviews of more than 26,000 restaurants across the country — all submitted by verified OpenTable diners. Only one restaurant from New Mexico made the list, but it’s one for whom the term “romantic’ is certainly appropriate. New Mexico’s most romantic restaurant for 2018 is Santa Fe’s legendary Geronimo.

Not so fast, Geronimo. Food & Wine has its own opinion as to the Land of Enchantment’s most romantic restaurant. Just in time for Valentine’s Day, Food & Wine published its list of America’s most romantic restaurants. In its estimation, Tesuque’s Terra within the Four Seasons Rancho Encantado is as romantic as it gets. Food & Wine declared “If the glorious sunsets and sweeping mountain views at Terra don’t scream romantic to you, chances are nothing will. (Its garden-to-table dishes will also catch your eye.)”

Sweet Potato Waffle Fries From Groundstone

Two of the most prolific and talented chefs in the Land of Enchantment were named semifinalists in the James Beard Foundation Awards for 2018. A 2017 semi-finalist in the Rising Star Chef of the Year category, Colin Shane, chef at Arroyo Vino in Santa Fe, repeated in that category in 2018. Also repeating as a semi-finalist is Martin Rios, a 2017 finalist for Best Chef: Southwest category. Since launching Restaurant Martin, Rios has earned eight James Beard award nominations. Rios is actually a two-time finalist for the Best Chef Southwest category, coming oh-so-close in 2015 and 2017.

It’s probable that if you see a restaurant featuring “Chimayó chile” on its menu, the chile actually came from somewhere else. In an article entitled “Why This New Mexico Chile Has An International Cult Following,” Food & Wine lamented that the Chimayó Chile is so precious that a counterfeit market has emerged. Chimayó chile, a distinctly orange-reddish chile craved by connoisseurs the world over is the most prized culinary item in the agrarian community half an hour north of Santa Fe. Despite being so prized, it is grown only in Chimayó and only in small batches by farmers whose families reap the bounty of their harvests. The chile is grown from original heirloom seeds passed down from generation to generation.

Miso Soup from Sushi & Sake in Albuquerque

The humble donut has come along way in recent years, from an obligatory morning staple serving mainly as the basis for cop jokes to an object of obsession that replaced cupcakes as the “everyday sweet treat that everyone’s making all fancy” of the moment.” Thrillist notes “the common denominator” in its compilation of the 31 best donut shops in Americais the kind of eye-rolling satisfaction that’ll dictate a “yes” when you inevitably ponder whether or not to eat another one.” Frankly, you shouldn’t ever have to ponder whether or not to eat another one. That’s especially true at Thrillist’s sole heralded donut from New Mexico, Whoo’s Donuts in Santa Fe. Thrillist raves about the blue corn donut” “Just imagine a corn muffin that was made with blue corn and then cross pollinated with a donut with fantastic results. Then go eat one so you no longer have to imagine.”

Silver City’s loss has become St. Louis, Missouri’s gain. In 2016, James Beard nominated chef Rob Connoley left the very highly regarded The Curious Kumquat and moved to the Gateway City. Two years later, he launched Squatter’s Cafe which was recently featured in a mostly complimentary review from the St. Louis Post Dispatch. The review chronicled his self-taught, second-career chef journey, an unconventional trek that includes modernist cooking and foraged ingredients. The review declared his latest venture ” one of the most interesting and appealing breakfast-lunch restaurants to open in St. Louis in recent memory.”

In 1680, Northern New Mexico’s Pueblos orchestrated a bloody revolt to expel Spanish settlers from the Land of Enchantment. On the Travel Channel’s Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern program, the host explored the route taken by Pueblo leader Po’pay and the united Pueblo peoples during the revolt. In a very respectful tribute to “America’s First Revolution,” Zimmern visited several pueblos and the Jicarilla Apache Nation where he explored native traditions and learned about the pre-contact (the period before the contact of New Mexico’s indigenous people with the Spanish culture) diet and its healthful benefits. Among the delicacies he sampled were porcupine heart, acorn mush cake and elk jerky.

Over the years, Albuquerque has garnered a lot of notoriety. Thanks largely to a television show about crystal meth, it’s been stereotyped and besmirched. What it’s never been called is underrated. That is, not until Thrillist put together a compilation of the Most Underrated Cities to Visit in All 50 States. For some reason, Albuquerque was named New Mexico’s most underrated city. Huh? Thrillist advises prospective visitors to “forget you ever saw an episode of Breaking Bad and you’ll be floored by Albuquerque.” Among the many reasons Albuquerque is underrated is “the The Southwestern influence” which “gives ABQ an impressive food scene, with spots like El Pinto and the James Beard Award-winning Mary & Tito’s Café.”

January, 2018

Green Chile Cheeseburger from Cafe Laurel

If you visit a New Mexican restaurant and you’re offered red or green “sauce,” you might have to question if (like Bugs Bunny) you made a left turn in Albuquerque and wound up in Denver.  Virtually no one calls our sacrosanct red and green chile “sauces.”  That is virtually no one who’s lived in the Land of Enchantment for a while or the Travel Channel.  In an episode of Food Paradise entitled “Saucy,” the Travel Channel showcased some of the best sauce-driven dishes across the fruited plain. Recognized for its red and green chile “sauces” was Santa Fe’s Tia Sophia’s, a veritable institution on the famous Plaza.

In its February issue, Sunset Magazine named Albuquerque as one of “20 Game-Changers That Are Redefining the West,” ranking the Duke City 17th.  “Considering the strong public-art program, miles of hiking trails, and 310 annual days of sunshine, it’s no wonder the locals don’t boast. They’re too busy living,” wrote Sunset’s editors.  Sunset also noted “coffee roasters, restaurants, and food trucks are launching to keep up, many of them focused on local, organic produce, especially New Mexico’s beloved green chile.”

Foie Gras (Hudson Valley Foie, Caramelized Apple, Pickled Strawberry, House Ciabatta) From M’Tucci’s Market & Pizzeria in Albuquerque

To get all existential about it – how do I know the perfect donut for me is the perfect donut for you? The truth is there really is no Perfect Donut because we all love different things. So at Rebel Donut, we are all about options.”  How’s that for an appealing mission statement or operating philosophy, not that Rebel Donut’s Web site calls it that.  With that level of commitment to variety and people pleasing, is it any wonder Albuquerque’s Rebel Donut was named “The Best Donut Shop in New Mexico” by Delish.  Like Rebel Donut, Delish believes “there’s no wrong way to eat a donut.”  To compile its list of each state’s best donuts, Delish consulted Yelp, increasingly the most reliable crowd-source on culinary matters.

In most of America, winter sucks. It is cold out. You don’t feel like doing anything, so you get fat. Pipes freeze. Lips, noses, and cheeks get chapped and raw. Black ice kills.”  That’s how Thrillist began its feature “Every State Ranked By How Miserable Its Winters Are.”  Not surprisingly the state whose winters were deemed most palatable was Hawaii while Minnesota’s winter was rated most miserable.  New Mexico was ranked 45th in the winter misery index, meaning our winters are the fifth best across the fruited plain.  It may raise your temperature to learn that Thrillist believes “New Mexico is basically Colorado” because we both “have high plains, mountain ranges, deserts, basins, and affiliations to green chile.”

Nutella and Cinnamon Cream Crepe from Breve

BuzzFeed which purports to have “all the trending buzz you’ll want to share with your friends” consulted Yelp to uncover the top new restaurant that opened in 2017 in every single state.  Taking into account the number of reviews and star ratings for every new restaurant on the site, Buzzfeed then compiled a list of “the one restaurant to try in every state in 2018.”  New Mexico’s very best new restaurant, according to Yelp’s algorithm was Fresh Bistro in Los Ranchos de Albuquerque.  Yelper Bella B. described Fresh as “Lovely French- and Italian-inspired creations will keep you enticed at this charming, cozy, and newly transformed restaurant in Los Ranchos.”

Cheapism, an online presence which scours the internet for news stories and resources that are informative and fun and can help you save money, acknowledges that “no shortage of cheap, delicious pizza across America, but sometimes something that demands a little more finesse, like veal parmigiana or ravioli heaped with red sauce, is required.”  In tracking down “the best old-school Italian restaurant in every state,” believed there could only be one choice for the best Italian restaurant in New Mexico.   Joe’s Pasta Houseoffers an oasis of Italian just north of Albuquerque. Go traditional with a dish like carbonara, ziti alla vodka or gnocchi, or try the well-reviewed Southwestern fettucine, which has green chile and crushed red peppers for a local twist.” 

Salad with Green Chile Ranch Dressing from Seared

A coffee shop’s design often reflects its neighborhood.”   Perhaps only an architect would think in those terms.  The rest of us typically walk into our favorite coffee shops in a weary and bleary state and only after a caffeine fix do we even notice the ambiance which surrounds us.  The Architectural Digest published its list of the most beautiful coffee shop in every state in America.  The Land of Enchantment’s most beautiful coffee shop was deemed to be Zendo in Albuquerque.  Here’s what the Digest had to say: “On warm days, the outdoor patio at Zendo is open for seating, marked by a colorful mural and covered by sailcloth. The minimalist interior—white-washed brick walls and concrete floors—is pretty sweet, too.” 

Grabbing guac? Craving queso? Dips reflect history, a sense of place and evoke a strong sense of home-state pride, whether they feature locally caught seafood, export-worthy cheese or indigenous produce. So grab that cracker, chip, fry or veggie, and dig into the dips that give each state something to sing about.”  That’s how the Food Network Magazine began its feature 50 States of Dips.  Arizona’s best dip is salsa while California goes gaga for guacamole and Colorado gets mountain high over choriqueso (from a restaurant called Chili Verde).  Representing the Land of Enchantment is the Frontier Restaurant’s Green Chile Salsa. “The salsa gets a double dose of heat from flame-roasted green chiles and jalapenos, which are simmered with sautéed onions, tomatoes and spices and served warm.” 

Green Chile Cheeseburger from the Pecos River Cafe in Carlsbad. Photo Courtesy of Melodie K.

A Travel Channel program called Roadside Eats: Top 20 counts down the “top 20 restaurants in America that might just require a little extra mileage to get to. Just off I-25 in the desert hamlet of San Antonio is the world-famous Owl Cafe where the original owner Jose Miera is credited with having invented the green chile cheeseburger.  The Owl Cafe was the only restaurant in New Mexico to have made the list, but savvy New Mexicans know that the Buckhorn Tavern another destination roadside eat lies just across the street from The Owl and it’s not just The Owl’s overflow crowds who visit.  San Antonio is an exemplar of roadside eats! 

The 2018 Roadrunner Food Bank Souper Bowl in Albuquerque

Every year on the Saturday preceding some much ballyhooed football game, Albuquerque’s Roadrunner Food Bank hosts the Souper Bowl, an annual soup and dessert event which brings 1,200 people into the Food Bank facility to enjoy the wonderful creations of restaurants from throughout the metro area.  While at the event, attendee are able to vote for and select People’s Choice winners by submitting a ballot voting for their favorite soup and dessert.   Drumroll, please. The 2018 Souper Bowl winners were: 

People’s Choice – Overall Soup Winners
1st: The Corn Maiden at the Hyatt Tamaya (Sweet Corn Chowder)
2nd: 99 Degrees Seafood Kitchen (Vegetarian Soup- plantain fennel and butternut squash)
3rd: Indigo Crow (Lavender and corn bisque with smoked crema)

People’s Choice – Vegetarian Soup Winners
1st: 99 Degrees Seafood Kitchen (Vegetarian Soup- plantain fennel and butternut squash)
2nd: The Daily Grind  (Blue cheese root vegetable)
3rd: Zacatecas Tacos (Negro Modelo-Tillamook Cheddar Soup

People’s Choice – Dessert Winners
1st: Nothing Bundt Cakes
2nd: Garduños
3rd: Theobroma Chocolatier

Best Booth
1st: Zactecas Tacos + Tequila+ Bourbon
2nd: 99 Degrees Seafood Kitchen
3rd: Sage Dining @ Albuquerque Academy

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: Sage Dining @ Albuquerque Academy (“Street” Elote Soup- Roasted Corn Chowder topped with Cotija Cheese)
2nd Place: Ranchers Club of New Mexico (Crab and Green Chile Chowder with Corn)
3rd Place: Garduños (Elote Soup)

Celebrating its 24th anniversary, Santa Fe’s version of the Souper Bowl was also a huge success. In 2017, over 160,000 meals were served that might otherwise been missed, thanks to the generosity of soup lovers, who supported this event. Some of the city’s very best purveyors of soup accorded themselves very well:

Best Overall Soup: Nath’s Inspired Khmer Cuisine (Chicken Tom Yum Soup)
Best Savory Soup: Nath’s Inspired Khmer Cuisine (Chicken Tom Yum Soup)
Best Vegetarian: Kingston Residence of Santa Fe (Cold Pistachio Soup)
Best Seafood Soup: Dinner For Two (Lobster Bisque)
Best Cream Soup: Jambo Cafe (Curry Roasted Garlic & Coconut Cream Bisque)

Campo at Los Poblanos – Los Ranchos de Albuquerque, New Mexico

Entrance to Los Poblanos

A simple day laborer at a wealthy estate, Ysidro began his days by rising early and attending Mass.  His fellow laborers complained that they had to do some of his share of the work because he lingered in church.  After hearing the complaints of his farmhands, the land owner visited his fields while Ysidro was at Mass.  To his astonishment, he saw two angels guiding Ysidro’s plow in his absence.  Later when Ysidro returned to work, the angels stood next to him and plowed alongside.  Ysidro was essentially doing twice as much work as he would have on his own and while at Mass, his work was getting done, too. 

One snowy day when taking wheat to the mill to be ground, Ysidro passed a flock of pigeons scratching fruitlessly for food on the hard surface of the frozen ground.  Taking pity on the birds, he poured half his sack of wheat upon the ground, giving the pigeons the sustenance they needed to survive.  Passers-by witnessing his kindness mocked him.  When he reached the mill, however, Ysidro’s bag of wheat was full and when it was ground, it yielded twice the expected amount of flour.  During his simple life, several miracles were attributed to the humble laborer who was declared a saint by the Catholic Church in 1622.

Your Drive to Campo Is Through A Canopy of Trees

Today, San Ysidro is venerated as the patron saint of farmers, peasants, day laborers and agriculture in general.  He has a special place in the heart of rural New Mexico, bringing rain, encouraging crops to grow and protecting fields from blight.  Visit any Hispanic folk art fair or market and you’ll invariably see wood carvings of San Ysidro, one of the most revered of all saints in New Mexico.  The carvings depict a tall man attired in working clothes of the period–a black hat with a flat crown, short jacket and knee-length pants.  Often, in front of him is a primitive plow guided by a carved angel and pulled by a yoke of oxen.

A modest sign at the entrance to Los Poblanos depicts San Ysidro in the very same working clothes, flanked by motifs of wheat on one side and a pair of oxen on the other.  San Ysidro is very important to the sprawling organic farm so you’ll see his image everywhere.  In the central ballroom, for example, you’ll find carvings of San Ysidro by Gustave Baumann, one of New Mexico’s most beloved artists, a maestro considered one of the finest woodcut printers of the 20th century.  On the metalwork over the door to the restaurant,  you’ll espy an angel guiding a team of oxen with San Ysidro standing by a sheaf of wheat. 

Metalwork Over the Entrance to Campo: An Angel Guides Oxen While San Ysidro Walks

Nestled among 25 acres of scented lavender fields, lofty cottonwood and elm trees and luxuriant formal gardens, Los Poblanos is a magnificent historic property, a rural enclave in the midst of urban sprawl and a departure from the mundanity and strife of  21st century living into the simpler, more agrarian lifestyle of yore.  Your portal into this transcendent setting is a canopy of towering trees arching overhead as you make your way toward the inn and restaurant.  It’s easy to imagine Ysidro among the field hands assiduously tending to the acreage of produce or perhaps gently stroking the soft fleece of the alpacas who feast on the property’s grasses.  

Though its lineage can be traced back to the ancient Anasazi of the 14th Century, the true genesis of Los Poblanos as we know it today can be credited to two very prominent families.  First was the family of Congressman Albert and Ruth Simms, baronial land-owners who in 1932 commissioned the renovation of the L-shaped ranch house and creation of the Cultural Center they christened La Quinta.  The architect for this effort was the renowned John Gaw Meem, regarded as the leader of the Santa Fe style movement which combines Spanish Colonial and classic architecture. 


The second prominent family for whom credit is richly deserved is the Rembe family.  In the late 1990s when the threat of redevelopment loomed over La Quinta, next door neighbors Armin and Penny Rembe purchased the property, restored the building and turned their home into a bed-and-breakfast.  The Rembes introduced sustainability to the acreage by planting lavender which does not deplete the soil or consume as much water as other crops.  They begin making lavender oil then lavender salve which was provided to the Inn’s guests.  Penny also served warm lavender shortbread cookies upon check-in. 

In 2005, son Matt assumed the helm at Los Poblanos.  From the onset he devised an approach designed to make Los Poblanos more profitable while not compromising on the family’s preservation goals.  Today, after $10 million in improvements, the enterprise is comprised of six distinct but interdependent business entities: farming, lodging, retail, wholesale production, events and a restaurant.  While the property has had a restaurant (La Merienda) for years, at nearly 5,000 square-feet, Campo dwarfs its predecessor and is a better vehicle for showcasing the farm’s produce.  Campo occupies the space previously used as dairy barns. 

Campo’s Capacious Dining Room

Campo is a worthy venue for the talents of Executive Chef Jonathan Perno and his team.  A four-time James Beard Award semi-finalist for Best Chef in the Southwest region and twice recipient of a Local Hero award from Edible Santa Fe, Jonathan is an innovator with a hands-on approach.  Renowned as a champion of the field-to-fork philosophy and slow food movement, he calls his culinary approach Río Grande Valley Cuisine.  In an interview with New Mexico In Focus, he explained “Rio Grande Valley Cuisine tastes like New Mexico. It’s the sky, it’s the air, it’s everything that encompasses this state and that river and the culture that resides here.”  He’s not trying to reinterpret California cuisine with its emphasis on fresh ingredients grown locally; he’s cooking the bounty of New Mexico’s fields at their peak of freshness and optimum flavor.

The minute you set foot into the cavernous restaurant, you’re enveloped by the fragrant wood smoke of oak and mesquite emanating from the crackling blaze of the open-fire hearth in the back of the large exhibition kitchen.  Flames lick the pots and pans in which meals are being prepared.  It’s an olfactory and visual sensory experience not to be missed.  Make sure to ask your congenial server to take you into the kitchen.  As you’re escorted into the gleaming, well-organized bastion of culinary creativity, you’ll be announced: “guests in the kitchen.”  Though the staff is focused on making guests happy in more hands-on ways, they’ll take the time to greet you and maybe answer a question or two.

The Kitchen

Campo’s dining room also entrances all your senses. Visually, it’s a stunning departure from almost every other dining room in which you’ve enjoyed a great meal. Some of that is because it got its start as a dairy building in which cows were milked. Its transformation is amazing, yet vaguely familiar. Dining tables are constructed from reclaimed building materials used in Santa Fe’s Bishop’s Lodge. Ceilings–rustic and corrugated wood–were recycled from the venerable Plaza Hotel in Las Vegas, New Mexico. Hanging on one wall are the wooden covers used on barrels, not as someone on the table behind us described as “pizza paddles.” The overhead lighting, suspended by thick gauge metal, provides the intimate level of lighting guests appreciate. The only aspect of our dining experience which wasn’t top-tier was the noise level in the room. Reverberating sounds made it difficult to speak at normal conversational volumes.

You need only peruse the menu (on which San Ysidro and his oxen are depicted) to affirm Campo’s commitment to authentic field-to-fork dining. It’s a well thought-out menu resplendent with fresh, seasonal ingredients grown on the premises or sourced locally. Though it’s proudly and most assuredly a menu of New Mexico’s farm bounty, it does not showcase chile, the Land of Enchantment’s official vegetable and the culinary ingredient for which our state is best known. The menu nonetheless pays homage to the rich history of the region where living off the land has long been a tradition.

Oak and Mesquite Woods Perfume the Entire Restaurant

You know a menu’s offerings are spectacular when the number of appetizers and entrees are limited, but you can see yourself happily enjoying every single one of them.  Campo’s “fire-centric” menu is such a menu.   “Beginnings,” the menu’s nine appetizers, are very intriguing, but it’s the nine entrees you’ll be most hard-pressed to select from.  If you can’t decide what to order it, narrow it down to your two or three or four items you’d happily enjoy and ask your server to surprise you.  It’s what your humble blogger did and couldn’t have been happier with the results. 

Service is absolutely impeccable.  From the minute you step into Bar Campo where early arrivals are enjoying hand-crafted artisan cocktails, you’re very well tended to.  Our ebullient server James, a self-professed “biggest fan of Campo’s menu” was attentive without hovering, friendly without being overly familiar and professional without being overly formal.   Moreover he was perceptive about our needs and sagely answered all our questions without any of the “wait schtick” you find at chain restaurants.  When he wasn’t taking care of us, his fellow servers were capably doing so.

Artisinal Cheese Plate

In Campo’s Artisinal Cheese Plate, we found the best of its kind we’ve had in New Mexico, an array of fabulous fromage wedges, house condiments and crispy crackers.   We’ll happily get lost in the Bermuda Triangle, an award-winning California goat milk cheese with an earthy, tangy flavor ameliorated with intense pepper notes.  It’s served with a fabulous green chile jam and butter crackers.    Our favorite turned out to be a veiny blue cheese from Tennessee named Shakerag.  This was the most complex of the three cheeses with discernible notes of everything from whiskey to fruit.  It was paired with an addictive fennel marmalade and seeded shortbread. Our least favorite (equal to calling any one of your children your least favorite) may have been the Estero Gold, another California cheese, this one made from unpasteurized cow’s milk.  Estero Gold is from the Parmesan family, sporting the familiar Parmesan textural and flavor qualities.  Paired with this cheese were balsamic mushrooms and lavosh.

To accompany your cheese plate, the Chef recommends a drizzle of 20 year, cask-aged balsamico made by Aceto Balsamico in the restored ghost town of Monticello, New Mexico.  If you’re thinking all balsamico is the same, you’re in for a surprise.  When we first encountered this award-winning balsamico several years ago, we agreed it was not only the very best balsamico we’d ever had, but that it had provided us with one of life’s defining dining moments, a sense that we had touched touched gastronomic perfection. On my restaurant rating scale of 1-30, it would warrant a 35.  So splurge for the balsamico featured in a Wall Street article entitled “A Ghost Town, Dressed in Vinegar.”  Your palate will be smitten.

Campo Beets

For my Kim, any salad which includes beets is a must-have, especially if both red and golden hued beets are on the plate.  Campo Beets may be the best beet salad we’ve had in New Mexico.  The beets were beautifully al-dente with a nice crispness and the earthiness of freshly harvested beets.  Old Windmill Dairy goat cheese and sprouted almonds provide a nice counterbalance to the sweetness of the beets, but it’s a small dollop of green chile that really brings out the flavors of all the other components.  Whether that’s the endorphins talking or the preternatural ability of green chile to improve everything it touches, we’ll be craving green chile on all other beet salads we have.

My carnivorously inclined bride of 32 years could always be counted to order steaks–until she discovered that the pork chops I tended to order were invariably a tastier option.  Now she’s the one who orders pork chops while her uxorious husband has to “settle” for something else (it’s only settling when the pork chops are as wonderful as the grilled, cider-brined pork chop at Campo).  Sliced into six large half-inch thick medallions, including one with bone-in, these chops were porcine perfection, as good as any pork chops we’ve had anywhere.  Even the accompaniment was fabulous–stinging nettle spätzle, lardon, spring beans, chimichurri sauce and a sunny-side-up farm egg.  The chimichurri imbued the spätzle and spring beans with a lemony flavor that seemed to bring out their freshness and flavor.  Even the sunny-side-up farm egg earned its keep on the plate.

Grilled Cider-Brined Pork Chop

James explained  that the mole negro (much to our surprise) is the most popular item on the menu. That bespeaks of more sophisticated diners who aren’t of the mind that  if they have mole, they’re somehow being unfaithful to chile. In keeping with its seasonal menu traditions, Los Poblanos changes the two moles on its menu every six months. The mole amarillo, a vegetarian mole, showcases vegetables in season during spring and fall. As seasons rotate so does the protein on the mole negro, a meat-based mole.

If braised lamb is the featured protein on the mole negro, it’s easy to see why this dish is so popular. Another reason is that unlike some moles, this one isn’t trying to let chocolate be the dominant flavor. Sure chocolate is often a prominent ingredient on mole, but there are so many other flavor profiles and combinations that work, too. Campo’s rendition has a bit more heat than any we’ve had in New Mexico—not a New Mexico chile heat, but a heat that will titillate your tongue and taste buds nonetheless. Piquant and potent though it may be, it does not obfuscate the melt-in-your-mouth deliciousness of the six-ounces of beautifully braised lamb. The mole is served mixed toasted grains and sautéed greens, both of which are prepared masterfully.

Mole Negro

There are only six items on the dessert menu, but that doesn’t make it any easier to decide which one (or two or three…) to order. James steered us toward the Los Poblanos honey cake, a European-style cake layered with elderberry syrup and studded honey brittle. Reminiscent of the many French gateaus we enjoyed during our time across the pond, this pretty-as-a-picture cake is surprising for several reasons, the least of which was our relative unfamiliarity with elderberries. Renowned as a cold and flu remedy, elderberries are high in antioxidants, but don’t taste good unless you cook them then sweeten them. Honey is the perfect foil for the bitter berry. Another surprise is the textural contrast between the soft, moist cake and the bits of honey brittle hidden between the layers.

Organic lavender farming has been central to Los Poblanos’ preservation mission. A steam distillation process extracts the lavender’s essential oil which is used in a line of artisan products and amenities offered to guests. Artisan lavender products available at the Farm Shop include salves, lotions, soaps, body washes, shampoos and other personal care items. We weren’t thinking of any of these products when we espied blueberry-lavender ice cream on the dessert menu. Normally served with a puff pastry, we asked to have just a scoop of the ice cream. We should have asked for six scoops. While lavender has beautiful floral notes, its aromas are always clean and wondrous to inhale. Those aromas were more subtle on the ice cream, but the blueberries came across nicely.

Left: Blueberry Lavender Ice Cream
Right: Los Poblanos Honey Cake

Campo, a Spanish term which translates to English as “field” is an appropriate name for one of the Land of Enchantment’s most heralded restaurants.  Rather than being a venue for special occasions, Campo makes every meal a special occasion.  It is in rarefied air as one of New Mexico’s very best restaurants.

Campo at Los Poblanos
4803 Rio Grande Blvd, N.W.
Los Ranchos de Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 344-9297
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 31 May 2018
COST: $$$ – $$$$
BEST BET:  Artisinal Cheese Plate, Campo Beets, Grilled Cider-Brined Pork Chop, Mole Negro, Los Poblanos Honey Cake, Blueberry-Lavender Ice Cream
REVIEW #1043

Campo at Los Poblanos Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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