Casa de Benavidez – Los Ranchos de Albuquerque, New Mexico

Casa de Benavidez, nestled under the pines on Fourth Street

There are restaurants throughout the Duke City that have seemingly always been “there.”  They’re  as much a part of the fabric of the city as the neighborhoods they serve.  Casa de Benavidez is one of those restaurants, a familiar part of the landscape on North Fourth Street, some would say an institution.  Despite the notion of permanence, this venerable treasure has, in fact, been around only since 1984–at least under its current name.

Before there was a Casa de Benavidez, there was, just a mile or so away, a tiny little eatery with only three tables and a bustling take-out business.   There was also a dream, the shared ambition of Paul and Rita Benavidez  to serve their hometown with the food they loved and prepared so well.  At El Mexicano, a diminutive eatery they operated with their children, that dream began the transformation from monochromatic to technicolor with every one of their trademarked sopaipilla burgers sold.

Salsa and Chips

While the family was selling more and more sopaipilla burgers, they were also stockpiling used restaurant equipment in hope and anticipation of an expansion that would allow them to more fully realize their dreams.  Not far from their diminutive digs, Paul found a nearly 100-year-old two-story territorial style adobe home with a half-finished waterfall just south of the structure.  Quickly consummating the sale of the home, the Benavidez family moved out of their old location into the sprawling edifice in just one day.  The rest, as the proverbial “they” say, is history.

Over time, the carryout business at the back of the home became so successful that the family expanded their operation to include a full-service restaurant in the front of the house.  The restaurant was rechristened “Casa de Benavidez,” and the dream culminated with a commodious restaurant offering an expansive menu featuring traditional New Mexican and Mexican food in elegantly appointed interior dining rooms and exterior surroundings that include lush gardens, a koi pond teeming with life and strolling mariachis.

Combination No. 1 Tamale, Cheese Enchilada, Chile Relleno and Taco Served With Beans, Rice, Special Rib and Sopaipilla

On the marquee, subtitled directly below the restaurant’s name, are the words “Home of the Sopaipilla Burger.”  That’s a recognition of the role played in the restaurant’s early and current successes by its unique rendition of New Mexico’s ubiquitous green chile cheeseburger.  Several other restaurants offer their own take on a sopaipilla burger, but Casa de Benavidez’s version was the very first and it remains first in the heart of its loyal patrons, some of whom order the “jumbo” sized half-pound version.

Repeat after me (to the tune of the old Big Mac jingle) — one all-beef patty, refried beans, lettuce, cheese, tomato and chile  (red, green or both) on two sopaipilla “buns.”  That’s the sopaipilla burger, still one of the most popular and celebrated items on the menu.  The sopaipillas are more dense than the puffed-up sopaipillas on which New Mexicans love honey.  They’re formidable enough not to fall apart at the moistness of other ingredients, but if the chile is ladled on a bit too generously, expect your hands to be covered in the red or green stuff.

Carne Adovada Plate

Casa de Benavidez was one of the first restaurants we visited after moving back to Albuquerque in 1996. It didn’t surprise us when this casa was the 1996 winner of KOB TV’s “Salsa Challenge.” The salsa is about medium on the piquancy scale  and has a garlicky flavor aficionados love while the chips (served warm) are unfailingly crisp and fresh. Alas, sometimes because of overflow crowds your empty salsa dish isn’t replenished as faithfully as at other New Mexican restaurants. That’s about the only short-coming in the service which tends to be friendly and attentive.  That salsa, by the way, was named Albuquerque’s fifth best salsa by Albuquerque The Magazine from among a sampling size of 130 different restaurant salsas reviewed in the September, 2012 issue.

The menu features many New Mexican standards, but it also includes “foreign” items such as  chimichangas (Tucson) and fajitas (Texas).  Breakfast is served Friday, Saturday and Sunday with lunch and dinner (same menu) served every day of the week.  Lunch specials are a more economical dining option than dinners. To say Casa Benavidez is one of the more pricey New Mexican restaurants  might be an understatement.  You might experience a bit of sticker shock at seeing some items approaching the nine dollar price point–and that’s just the appetizers.  The entrees are all priced in double-figures.

Sopaipillas and Tortilla

3 January 2017: Perhaps the best way to experience the restaurant’s culinary wizardry is by ordering one of the four combination plates.   Combos are served with beans, rice, one very special rib and sopaipillas.  Combination plate number one features a cheesy enchilada, a taco, a crunchy chile relleno and a tamale. Of these, the real stand-out is the crunchy chile relleno whose sweet, battered texture is unlike any other we’ve had in Albuquerque.  The special pork rib is unique to Casa Benavidez.  It’s a real treat.  Be forewarned that combination plates are humongous–large enough for two.

One of the restaurant’s very best, albeit most unconventional entrees are the succulent pork short ribs: four meaty ribs on which is slathered a semi-sweet and smoky homemade sauce.  These are multi-napkin ribs, the type of which will leave a red beard on any clean-shaven face.  They’re better ribs than you’ll find at several of the Duke City’s barbecue restaurants.  That goes for the sauce, too.  You’ll find yourself dredging up excess sauce with the accompanying fries (or you can have rice).

Natillas

3 January 2017: My Kim tells me it’s a woman’s prerogative to change her mind.  She does so frequently, but rarely when ordering at a New Mexican restaurant.  Almost invariably, she’ll order the carne adovada plate though only with the chile in which the carne has been marinated, no extra.   Casa de Benavidez serves some of her favorite adovada.  Tender tendrils of easily pulled apart pork marinated in a rich, hearty red chile make her happy and when she’s happy, Gil’s happy.  The carne adovada plate is served with Spanish rice and beans (which she passes over to me). 

3 January 2017: Casa de Benavidez offers a number of desserts: German chocolate cake, carrot cake, fried ice cream, flan, natillas, brownies and a sweet roll.  The natillas are topped with a very generous dollop or ten of whipped cream.  When scraped off, not much of the natillas actually remain.  That’s too bad because these natillas are cinnamon rich, creamy and delicious.

On Fourth Street, facing east Casa de Benavidez is at the forefront of the Sandia Mountains.  Both seem to have an air of distinction and permanence.  Because of its longevity and community standing, the Casa de Benavidez is on the New Mexico Tourism Department’s “Culinary Treasures trail,” an initiative which honors those rare and precious family-owned-and-operated gems operating continuously since at least December 31st, 1969.  As with all the restaurants on the list, the Casa is an independent mom-and-pop restaurant which has stood the test of time to become beloved institutions in their neighborhoods and beyond.

Casa de Benavidez
8032 Fourth Street, N.W.
Los Ranchos de Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 893-3311
Web Site | Facebook Page

LATEST VISIT: 3 January 2017
# OF VISITS: 9
RATING: 18
COST: $$
BEST BET: Sopaipilla Burger, Pork Ribs, Chile Relleno, Salsa and Chips, Combination Plate #1, Sopaipilla

Casa de Benavidez Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Year in Food: 2016

2016 Began with an Albuquerque Journal Article on the Friends of Gil.

Tis the season…for year-end retrospectives in which the good, the bad and the ugly; the triumphs and tragedies; the highs and lows and the ups and downs are revisited ad-infinitum by seemingly every print and cyberspace medium in existence. It’s the time of year in which the “in-your-face” media practically forces a reminiscence–either fondly or with disgust–about the year that was. It’s a time for introspection, resolutions and for looking forward with hope to the year to come. The New Mexico culinary landscape had more highs than it did lows in 2015. Here’s my thrilling (and filling) recap.

Hardly a week passed during 2016 in which the world didn’t lose one or more of the biggest names in music, acting, literature and politics.  We celebrate their lives and mourn their passing.  While perhaps not as tragic, 2016 also saw the closure of several beloved restaurants.  Some flashed early potential only to fade quickly.  Others stood the test of time.  Still others closed only to reinvent themselves with new concepts and menus.  One saving grace was the launch of several new independent restaurants which are quickly becoming favorites. 

Your host for three Friends of Gil dinners in 2016

2015 was another banner year for Gil’s Thrilling (and Filling) Blog. There are now more than 8,200 reader comments on 956 reviews, an increase of more than 800 comments and 55 new reviews. I value your comments immensely and appreciate that you thought enough of my blog this year to have voted me, for the fifth time in six years, as one of the city’s five best bloggers in Albuquerque The Magazine’s annual “best of the city” issue.  Contrary to my friend Schuyler’s contention, the Russians didn’t rig the balloting nor did I ever promise to leave the country if I didn’t win. 

From among the 955 reviews published on Gil’s Thrilling…here are the most popular during 2016: (1) Laguna Burger in Albuquerque; (2) The Owl Cafe & Bar in San Antonio; (3) Mary and Tito’s Cafe in Albuquerque; (4) Eli’s Place (Formerly Sophia’s Place) in Albuquerque; (5) Philly’s N Fries in Albuquerque; (6) Red Rock Deli in Albuquerque; (7) K&I Diner in Albuquerque; (8) The Frontier Restaurant in Albuquerque; (9) Bocadillo’s in Albuquerque; and (10) Eclectic Urban Pizzeria and Tap House.  Thank you, New Mexico and beyond, for your contributions to Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Blog. I’ve always bragged about having the most discerning, intelligent and passionate readers of any online presence in the blogosphere.

Caldo de Rez from La Nueva Casita in Las Cruces.  Photo Courtesy of Melodie K.

December, 2016

Whatever your idealogical bent may be, many of us agreed with conservative talking-head Glenn Beck when he said “whoever thought a tiny candy bar should be called fun size was a moron.” There are, of course, exceptions to this. Chocolatiers throughout the fruited plain have proven time after time that even bite-size chocolates can be absolutely delicious. Take, for example, the delicious creations crafted by the Chocolate Lady in historic Old Mesilla’s plaza who creates premier chocolates in the tradition of European candy makers. Her chocolates are so good they’ve captured the notice of MSN Lifestyle which singled the Chocolate Lady in its “Candy Store That Everyone Is Talking About in Your State” feature.

While many of us look to traditional tried-and-true family recipes to sate hungry guests who dine with us over the holidays, others scour online resources for something new and different. So what recipes do New Mexicans search for? According to the Thrillist feature, the most searched for holiday recipes in all fifty states, we Google fudge more than any other holiday recipe. Perhaps if we were in closer proximity to the San Antonio General Store, we wouldn’t need to search online for fudge recipes.

Vanilla Custard with toppings from Caliche’s in Las Cruces. Photo Courtesy of Melodie K.

According to Travel & Leisure, “Albuquerque has always played second fiddle to Santa Fe when it comes to tourism. But now, the vibrant New Mexican city is experiencing a renaissance, thanks to its restaurateurs’ dedication to using healthy, locally sourced food in creative ways.” The Five Restaurants Leading Albuquerque’s Local Food Renaissance are El Pinto whose vegetable garden “gives a new meaning to “local food;” the Golden Crown Panaderia whose “hand-mixed, chemical-free, complex-carbohydrate flours have earned the bakery a serious cult following;” La Merienda at Los Poblanos which claims to have “the most pure field-to-fork menu;” Standard Diner whose menu showcases some local produce, natural meats, and some creative vegetarian alternatives; and the Pueblo Harvest Cafe which uses ingredients from its on-site garden (that uses traditional farming techniques against the backdrop of the Sandia Mountains) and an horno (a traditional beehive-shaped outdoor mud oven) to bake fresh breads daily.

In listing the “Sports Bar in Your State Everyone is Talking About,” Delish spilled “on where sports fans flock for great atmosphere, cold beer and some seriously good grub.” It stands to reason that the Del Charro Saloon, a sports bar affectionately called “Santa Fe’s watering hole” would be tagged as New Mexico’s most talked about sports bar. Adjacent to the Inn of the Governors, one of the city’s most reasonably priced lodgings, Del Charro is so friendly even murmurations of starlings frequent it or at least they frequent the fireside patio which is covered and heated during cold weather. The inviting fragrance of woodsmoke permeates the warm, amiable milieu.

Assorted Pastries From Le Rendezvous Cafe & French Pastry in Las Cruces.  Photo Courtesy of Melodie K.

Stretching some 2,400 miles from Chicago to Los Angeles, Route 66 — which John Steinbeck nicknamed the “Mother Road” in his novel “The Grapes of Wrath” — was one of America’s first highways.” You can get your kicks on remnants of Route 66 as it traverses across California, Arizona, New Mexico, Missouri and Illinois. The Travel Channel’s “Route 66 Weekend Guide” has some helpful recommendations on where you can stay and eat along Route 66. New Mexico eateries on the list were Del’s Restaurant in Tucumcari, the Golden Crown Panaderia in Albuquerque and Earl’s Restaurant in Gallup.

The next time you complain about the hundred dollar bill of fare at a local restaurant, consider yourself lucky.  You could be dining at one of the World’s Most Expensive Restaurants where a per person meal could cost you as much as the monthly mortgage many of us pay.  

Green Chile Cheeseburger from Sparky’s in Hatch. Photo Courtesy of Melodie K.

November, 2016

In each episode of the Food Network’s reality show Chopped, four chefs from throughout the fruited plain compete in a three-round contest, attempting to incorporate unusual combinations of ingredients into appetizer, entree and dessert dishes that are evaluated by a panel of three judges. When Santa Fe chef Fernando Ruiz competed, chefs were asked to incorporate cobia, Crenshaw melon, mezcal and tasso ham into a delicious entree. Chef Ruiz knocked it out of the park as he did with the appetizer and dessert dishes. In doing so, the chef at Santacafe earned the top prize, a whopping $10,000. The episode aired on November 1st. In the show’s 2016 premier which aired on October 13th, Chef Marc Quiñones of El Pinto was eliminated in the entree round.

The Daily Meal posited that “the burrito may be the world’s most perfect food.” Because, the Daily Meal argued, the burrito is “customizable to the extreme,” “all the food groups are covered and best of all, the burrito is handheld.” For the fourth consecutive year, the Daily Meal compiled its list of the 50 Best Burritos in America and the Land of Enchantment was very well represented. Coming in at #47 was Burritos Victoria out of Las Cruces whose “chicharrón and green chile burrito stands out from the crowd.” At #39 is the Duke City’s aptly named Burrito Lady whose burritos “have a habit of not staying exactly closed, and can be beasts to eat.” At Sadie’s Dining Room which placed 14th, the “house specialty is carne adovada, a stew made with cubes of lean pork and plenty of red chile, and the best way to experience it is wrapped up in a fresh flour tortilla.” Breaking into the top ten at #7 is Albuquerque’s Frontier Restaurant whose “red pork stew, the regional specialty known as carne adovada, is perhaps the best item on the entire menu.” Just ahead of Frontier at #6 is Albuquerque’s El Modelo where stand-outs “include the chile relleno burrito and ones filled with carne desebrada (brisket stew) and carne adovada (pork stew), but opt for the chicharrones, deep-fried chunks of pork.” The highest rated among New Mexico’s beautiful, bounteous burritos is the green chile burrito at The Shed in Santa Fe, a “must-visit Santa Fe institution” which “has been spreading the green and red chile gospel since it opened in 1953.”

Kale, Spinach and Blueberry Salad from Rosat’s Cafe in Silver City. Photo Courtesy of Melodie K.

New Mexico tends to rank with Mississippi and Arkansas in virtually every quality of life category tracked by governmental and public entities, but now it seems we can’t even make a decent sandwich. In compiling its list of Where to Get the Best Sandwich in Every State in America, Town & Country decided New Mexico’s best sandwich is the green chile cheeseburger from Rockin BZ’ Burgers in Alamagordo. My trusted colleague Melody K describes this green chile cheeseburger as a “A slammin’ great CUSTOM BURGER, whether with cheese or without,” the operative word being “burger,” not sandwich. If it’s any consolation, Connecticut and Iowa apparently can’t make a decent sandwich either. Perhaps Governor Susana Martinez should send a delegation of New Mexico’s best chefs on a nationwide tour of kitchens where they can learn how to prepare a sandwich worthy of inclusion on the next “best sandwich” list.

With so many restaurants throughout the Land of Enchantment showcasing red and green chile, restaurants featuring a genre outside New Mexican cuisine don’t always receive the acclaim they deserve. That may be especially true of the best French restaurants across the fruited plain which cognoscenti tend to believe are available solely in the country’s megalopolises. Kudos to Travel & Leisure for figuring out that French culinary greatness can be found outside New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and the like. In its Best French Restaurants in the U.S. compilation, Travel & Leisure listed Santa Fe’s Bouche Bistro as the nation’s sixteenth best French restaurant. Here’s what Travel & Leisure’s write-up had to say: “When your local restaurant scene is crowded with fiery chili sauces, steak frites can sound tantalizingly exotic. Enter this cozy bistro, opened in February 2013 by chef Charles Dale, whose résumé includes some James Beard nominations and elbow rubbing with Spain’s Ferran Adrià. While menu items ebb and flow with the seasons, mainstays include charcuterie, roasted chicken, escargots, and black mussels in white wine and red chili lemon mousseline.”

Gordita from Saenz Gorditas in Las Cruces. Photo Courtesy of Melodie K.

The Daily Meal describes donuts as “extremely versatile” and “essentially a blank canvas.” As to prove the versatility of the donut, the online site compiled a list of America’s Most Outrageous Doughnuts and Where to Find Them. You probably didn’t have to give it a second thought to know Albuquerque’s Rebel Donut would make the list. Breaking Bad fans recall Rebel Donut’s “Blue Sky” doughnut which was topped with something resembling blue meth. That’s not even their most outrageous donut. That honor, according to The Daily Meal, would be reserved for the Dough Boy doughnut which “is studded with chocolate chips, drizzled with ample chocolate sauce, and topped with a hefty scoop of chocolate chip cookie dough.”

If someone asked you what New Mexico’s signature food might be, you’d certainly wrangle several choices in your mind, all featuring the Land of Enchantment’s sacrosanct red and green chile. When the Cooking Channel Cooking Channel asked viewers to vote on each state’s favorite/signature food, New Mexicans decided the Signature Food of New Mexico is the green chile cheeseburger (which Town & Country tells us is also our best sandwich). The Cooking Channel didn’t indicate whether our voting constituency included farm animals and deceased residents.

October, 2016

1/4 Rack Ribs Plate from Hitch-N-Post BBQ in Alamagordo. Photo Courtesy of Melodie K.

Courtesy of Melodie K: At the end of another sweetly aromatic chile harvest, Saveur magazine’s appreciation of all things Hatch chile is an opportunity for green chile lovers everywhere to revisit the season. Hatch chile from seed time to harvest, from market to table, it’s all here. Amazing how this single crop from a small village in the southwest corner of New Mexico continues to impact the daily way of life throughout the state and gain new converts around the world. Saveur wraps up with a nod to the farmers and other entrepreneurs who bring New Mexico’s favorite food to market, such as Hatch chile farmer, Preston Mitchell, great-great grandson of Hatch’s very first chile farmer, Joseph Franzoy. And Nate Cotanch, owner of Zia Green Chile Company, who is making sure our friends in Brooklyn can get their fill of New Mexico’s green gold.

My friend Sandy Driscoll reports that Los Angeles Times also spent time in Hatch and elsewhere in the Land of Enchantment eating burgers on New Mexico’s Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail. Wondering “what makes these cheeseburgers worth hoofing it to New Mexico,” it wasn’t long before the Times surmised the difference is the preternatural influence of green chile: “Done right, the chiles are not just cooked but are roasted, resulting in a complex yet mellow heartiness. They pair well with slices of American, the often-disdained cheese that redeems itself with a viscosity that helps mate the chiles with the burger patty.” On the Trail, the Times listed several purveyors of our sacrosanct burger that are not to be missed: Sparky’s in Hatch, the Santa Fe Bite in Santa Fe and two legendary San Antonio burger outposts: The Owl Cafe and the Buckhorn Tavern.

Green Chile Cheeseburger from Rockin’ BZ Burger in Alamagordo. Photo Courtesy of Melodie K.

Every election cycle, America is divided among labels–blue and red states, conservatives and liberals, Democrats and Republicans, left and right. The one platform in which Americans remain united is in our love of burgers. We consume some fifty-billion of them every year. That’s enough burgers to circle the planet more than thirty-two times. Americans love all types of burgers, in part because they’re right-prize for all socioeconomic strata. It’s still possible to find an outstanding value-priced burger across the fruited plain as MSN chronicled in its list of deliciously cheap burgers in all 50 states. Albuquerque’s Papaburgers is one such example. As MSN described: “Known for friendly service as much as “good, old-fashioned burgers,” this Albuquerque spot slings patties for $4.29. The goal here isn’t wild creativity so much as a consistent and nostalgic product based on quality ingredients.”

History is replete with failed marriages, couplings that didn’t work. Perhaps history’s most successful marriage has been between hamburgers and fries. It’s a marriage whose genesis began with the return of American servicemen from Europe at the end of the first war to end all wars. Having been introduced to fries during the American campaign, servicemen had a hankering for the salty deliciousness of fries. Their return coincided with the birth of the modern-day American fast food restaurants. We haven’t stopped talking about fries since then as Delish chronicled in its compilation of the French fries everyone is taking about in every state. In New Mexico, the fries most often discussed come from Holy Cow in Albuquerque.

Half Pepperoni, Half Sausage Pizza from NYP Slice House Pizza in Las Cruces. Photo Courtesy of Melodie K.

Perhaps the most eloquent and certainly the most aptly descriptive quote ever uttered about donuts came from everyman philosopher Homer Simpson who once said “Mmmmmm…doughnuts.” What more needs to be said? Maybe “better than cupcakes, as classic as apple pie.” That’s what BuzzFeed said when introducing a feature listing the best donut shop in every state according to Yelp. Using an algorithm that looked at the number of reviews plus the star rating for every doughnut business listed on Yelp, the best donut in New Mexico was determined to come from Rebel Donut in Albuquerque. That comes as no surprise to Duke City donut aficionados who have been flocking to the premier artisan donut and pastry shop in the Land of Enchantment.

Despite being the world’s largest travel site, TripAdvisor recognizes that not every traveler has the budget to splurge on five-star hotels, indulgent resorts and the finest food. Some of us are more cost-conscious and value oriented. Using an algorithm on its website that took into account the quantity and quality of reviews for the restaurants considered over a 12-month period, TripAdvisor compiled a list of the top restaurants for budget dining across the United States. Making the list is Santa Fe’s own Pantry Restaurant which has garnered a 4.5 out of 5-star rating in more than 1,300 TripAdvisor reviews. The Pantry has served the City Different since 1948 with no surcease to its popularity in sight.

Biscochitos from Mi Abuelita’s Biscochitos in Las Cruces. Photo Courtesy of Melodie K.

“Everyone knows the big cities like New York, San Francisco and Seattle have a plethora of amazing restaurant options for the gourmand, but there are a slew of smaller cities with world-class chefs producing some very creative cuisine.” That’s how Travelocity began its feature on America’s best small cities for foodies. To no surprise, the list includes Santa Fe where “the dining options are as plentiful as they are impressive, rivaling that of larger cities with its innovative creations and overall selection.” Travelocity listed two places not to miss: The Coyote Cafe and The Compound.

While Travelocity may not have listed Geronimo as a restaurant not to be missed, TripAdvisor certainly didn’t, naming the Santa Fe gem one of America’s best fine dining restaurants in the United States. Geronimo ranked seventeenth among the pantheon of hallowed restaurants. With more than 1400 reviews on TripAdvisor with an overwhelming number of them according “excellent” or “very good” ratings, Geronimo has garnered more recognition in recent years than probably every restaurant in New Mexico. The transformative elk tenderloin remains one of the most delicious items you’ll ever have.

Posole from Andele Restaurant in Las Cruces. Photo Courtesy of Melodie K.

Redbook, the online version of the US print magazine “for the woman juggling family, career and her own needs” recognizes that sometimes women need to book a bachelorette or just need a weekend sans husbands/kids, a weekend with her best gal pals. For them, Redbook compiled a list of the 50 best vacation destinations with your BFFs in every state. Best friends of both genders will love the Land of Enchantment’s representative on the list, Taos, which Redbook described as “part whimsical artists’ sanctuary, part ski haven, Taos is all about engaging all of your senses in a city that’s as rich in its cultural heritage as it is in jaw-dropping landscapes. Redbook recommends indulging your sense of taste with the best cream of mushroom soup you’ve ever sipped from Martyr’s Steakhouse in the heart of downtown Taos.

Condé Nast Traveler readers cast more than 100,000 votes for their favorite cities across the fruited plain in the 2016 Readers’ Choice Awards survey. Santa Fe was named one of the best small cities in the United States recognizing cities with populations below 150,000 souls. Traveler readers have long loved Santa Fe, most recently naming it one of the best cities for food lovers. The magazine recommends visitors “dig into African comfort fare at Jambo Café or green chili enchiladas at The Shed.” For a publication so frequently featuring Santa Fe, Conde Naste has yet to learn how to spell “chile.”

Green Chile Enchiladas from the Pepper Pot in Hatch. Photo Courtesy of Melodie K.

What’s the best restaurant in New Mexico? By what criteria could an answer to that question possibly be gleaned? Yelp used an algorithm combining users’ ratings and reviews (and excluding chains) to compile a list naming “50 States: 50 Best Restaurants.” If you’re thinking the best restaurant in New Mexico, by Yelp standards, would be a New Mexican restaurant, you’d be wrong. Nor is Yelp’s highest restaurant a fine-dining establishment. No, dear readers. The best restaurant in the Land of Enchantment according to Yelp is the Asian Pear in Albuquerque. Serving downtown diners since January, 2015, this little Korean gem has earned the gushing word-of-mouth praise from its guests.

You’ve probably noticed the improved photographic quality in this month’s edition of Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Year in Food. Rather than subject you to my usual parade of distorted, out-of-focus photos, October’s professional quality compositions are courtesy of Melodie K., a travel and food writer living in Las Cruces. I’m a huge fan of her writing and photography skills and invite you to visit her delightful site. Melodie does a wonderful job covering Southern New Mexico’s culinary scene.

September, 2016

Hot Dog and Fries from Spinn’s Burger & Beer in Albuquerque

With a panoply of colors, warm days that transition to crisp evenings and the irresistible aroma of roasting chile, autumn is the favorite season for many New Mexicans and visitors to the Land of Enchantment. Naming the Duke City “one of the best Fall escapes in the United States,” National Geographic invites travelers to “take to the skies in Albuquerque” and enjoy the spectacle of the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. National Geographic also praised our “delicious New Mexican cuisine,” recommending the red chile pork ribs at El Pinto and the chile relleno at Mary & Tito’s.

Not even the beloved taco has been excluded from the divisiveness of 2016’s contentious presidential campaign. Latinos for Trump leader Marco Guttierez warned “that without tighter immigration policies…you’re going to have taco trucks on every corner.” While taco trucks may not be parked on every corner, tacos have become a ubiquitous American favorite. No longer are denizens of the fruited plain subjected solely to Taco Bell’s rather piteous version of the taco. You can find outstanding tacos across the country. Just ask BuzzFeed which compiled a list of the most popular taco spot in every state. Popularity was measured using an algorithm considering the number of reviews plus the star rating for every business on Yelp. New Mexico’s most popular taco comes from El Paisa in Albuquerque. One astute devotee commented on Yelp, “The only comparison is the street tacos in downtown Puerto Vallarta, because this is as authentic as it gets.”

The Apple Tree Cafe in Corrales may have a small menu, but it’s a great one

Bustle, an online presence “for and by women who are moving forward as fast as you are” invites its readers to try seven authentic New Mexican eateries to try because “green chile is king.” The writer, who’s actually lived in New Mexico for four years, attests that “New Mexican cuisine is a flavorful, fiery treat for the taste buds.” She recommends the Frontier Restaurant, “one of the most iconic Albuquerque dining destinations;” Casa Azul “in queso emergency” or for “a meal that takes advantage of the freshest ingredients New Mexico has to offer; El Patio, “a cozy, intimate dining destination that has been family owned and operated for three generations;” Sadie’s of New Mexico where it “doesn’t get much more New Mexican;” Mary & Tito’s which offers “James Beard Award-winning New Mexican food in a relaxed, understated setting;” El Pinto, “a New Mexican restaurant that offers anything your heart desires;” and the 66 Diner whose “whimsical retro decor and friendly, uniformed wait staff might make you feel like you’ve stepped into another era.”

On September 12th, 2016, Laguna Burger earned bragging rights at the New Mexico State Fair’s Green Chile Cheeseburger Challenge, ending a two year reign by national chain Fuddrucker‘s. Finishing second in the blind taste test adjudged event was Starr Brothers while judges determined Pasion Latin Fusion‘s green chile cheeseburger was third best. The competition featured ten of the Land of Enchantment’s most prolific purveyors of New Mexico’s sacrosanct burger. As is often the case, the public’s perception of which burger is best differed from the opinion of the judges. Earning the coveted “people’s choice” award was Sparky’s, a Hatch institution.

Homemade Bread from the Loyal Hound Pub in Santa Fe

In the pages of September’s New Mexico Magazine, you’ll find recipes that will help you ‘”cook like a local with harvest-ready dishes” showcasing green chile from the Hatch valley. Descendants of Hatch chile pioneer Joseph Franzoy and other Hatch pepper buffs offer their favorite home-cooking recipes for such standards as green chile stew. You’ll also learn how to prepare such non-traditional dishes as Crepe Olé, green chile pasta, stuffed eggplant with green chile and even Sparky’s Green Chile Milkshake.

When Santa Fe’s scintillating four-time James Beard award-winning author Cheryl Alters Jamison launches a new brand, it doesn’t solely warrant local attention. The culinary community across the fruited plain takes notice. Food & Beverage Magazine sure did, lauding her launch of Excited About Food, a multimedia Web presence where she shares recipes, cookbooks, exotic ingredients, tips, classes, videos and special events all about the excitement of cooking! The indefatigable culinary evangelist also launched Heating It Up!, a riveting program in which she interviews a wide array of experts from chefs and authors to food critics and farmers from across the country. Fittingly, Cheryl’s radio program comes to us courtesy of KVSF 101.5, the Voice of Santa Fe.

Chocolate Nirvana from ChocoGlitz & Cream in Albuquerque

“Foodies. Gourmands. Epicureans. These are the people seeking adventure on a plate.” These are the people who cast their votes for Open Table’s 2016 list of the Best Restaurants for Foodies. The list of honorees was compiled “after analyzing more than five million reviews of more than 20,000 restaurants across the country — all submitted by verified diners.” Alas, only one restaurant in the Land of Enchantment made the list. Widely regarded as the best fine-dining restaurant in New Mexico, Santa Fe’s Geronimo is perpetually the state’s most consistently honored dining establishment.

Is it any wonder September is probably the favorite month for most New Mexicans? With trees adorned in spectacular colors and the aroma of freshly harvested chile perfuming the air, there’s just something magical about September. Magic certainly pervades every September at Santa Fe’s annual green chile cheeseburger smackdown. Chefs from throughout the Land of Enchantment vie for bragging rights every year, the one constant being the starring ingredient: New Mexico’s sacrosanct green chile. Anthony Smith, executive chef at the Inn and Spa at Loretto in Santa Fe laid the smack down on six other competitors, earning the coveted judges’ choice award with The Santa Fe Autumn Roast which celebrates New Mexican ingredients with grass-fed beef, Angel’s Bakery bun, house-made pancetta, Tucumcari Cheddar Cheese, New Mexico Autumn Roast Green Chile and creamy avocado spread. Chef Milton Villarrubia‘s “Plate Lickin’ Cheese Burger” earned “people’s choice honors.

The Stack House, Bodacious Barbecue in the City of Vision Once Again

The Texas Hill Country. Memphis. The Carolinas. Kansas City. These are America’s paragons of low-and-slow supremacy, each asserting credible claims to smoking the best stuff under spacious skies. New Mexico has never been known for its bodacious barbecue, but that may be changing. NFL powerhouse, the Seattle Seahawks are now showcasing Mr. Powdrell‘s house sauce on brisket sandwiches sold at CenturyLink Field. Paul Allen, the billionaire team owner and former denizen of the Duke City apparently acquired quite a fondness for Powdrell’s when he and fellow Microsoft founder Bill Gates lived in Albuquerque.

Contrary to so many coming of age movies about the college experience, the collegiate lifestyle isn’t only fraternities and sororities, binge drinking, toga parties and starving students subsisting solely on ramen. College is also about discovery–the growth experience that comes from uncovering new experiences. Thrillist believes college “students carrying overpriced textbooks while wearing sweatpants” have discovered the 21 best college burgers in America, a likely major contributor to the fabled freshman fifteen. Making the list is the Frontier Restaurant’s signature “Fiesta Burger with green chiles, cheddar, and lettuce, just as the New Mexican forefathers intended.”

Three Sauces Every Chinese Restaurant Should Have Chili, Hoisin and Hot Mustard: from the Dragon House in Albuquerque

Thrillist also refreshed its annual list of the best barbecue restaurants in the United States. For the second consecutive year, the Land of Enchantment’s best purveyor of smoked deliciousness is Danny’s Place in Carlsbad “thanks to the glory that is consistently great barbecue cooked over sweet hardwood for over 40 years. Oh, and don’t worry, because this is New Mexico after all, you can still get a green chile-smothered burrito and the “flip plate” — a flour tortilla buttered and fried on the grill and filled with a hamburger patty, two cheese slices, green chile, onions, and salsa.” By the way, the “local expert” mentioned in the feature is a blogger of some repute whose thrilling and filling reviews you can trust.

Thanks to the Food Network, restaurants have become a water cooler topic (though water coolers themselves have largely gone out of fashion). The point is, restaurants are a popular topic of conversation. Gastronomes no longer have to skulk in dark corners and speak in hushed tones when we discuss our favorite eateries. We can now shout from the rooftops about our favorite foods, including pizza. The pizzeria everyone is obsessed with in New Mexico, according to Delish comes from Farina Pizzeria in Albuquerque. Farina has made char a flavor in New Mexico and for that we’re obsessed.

Glandjila from Frost Gelato in Albuquerque

The Land of Enchantment’s culinary community was feted during the New Mexico Restaurant Association’s 2016 Hospitality Industry Awards banquet. Restaurateur of the Year honors went to Laura Leal of Leal’s Mexican Food Restaurant in Clovis. Pizza 9 earned the Restaurant Neighbor Award for its community involvement. Chef of the Year went to Tatsu Mizayaki of The Restaurant at Sierra Grande in Truth or Consequences while Wayne Moore of St. Clair Winery & Bistro earned Manager of the Year honors. Several other restaurants were recognized for feeding New Mexico’s families for more than forty years.

Saveur Magazine writer Matt Taylor-Gross undertook a hunt for Hatch chiles, a trek that began at the Hatch Chile Festival which he compared to “walking around an O’Keeffe painting.” Though Georgia O’Keefe may not have spent much time in Hatch, she was known to cook with and enjoy chile. On his weekend assignment to the chile capital of the world, Taylor-Gross enjoyed chile in several New Mexican staples as well as in a milkshake from Sparky’s. He also discovered sopaipillas from Church Street Cafe in Albuquerque.

August, 2016

Pepper Lamb from Budai Gourmet (Photo Courtesy of Haley Hamilton)

In August, 2016, Spoon University, the self-proclaimed “everyday food resource for our generation, on a mission to make food make sense” set off on a course to identify the 50 best ice cream desserts in every state,” one from each state in the fruited plain. The Land of Enchantment’s representative was the ice cream taco from Pop Fizz. Spoon University waxed poetic about this ice cream: “We all scream for this ice cream. You can find this bad boy in Albuquerque, NM, and you can choose from several flavors such as cinnamon churro, cookies and cream, and strawberry.”

Is there anything worse than concession nachos, those depressing, over-salted, stale round chips blanketed in gloppy cheese “stuff” pumped from a large jar? If you’ve ever had them, likely at a ball park or movie theater, you’ve probably tried to repress the memories. Thankfully inspired chefs have done a lot to improve nachos, to the point that it’s grossly unfair and inaccurate that the gloppy concession travesties share the name “nachos.” TABELog, a restaurant review blog undertook the enviable task of naming the ten best places to eat nacos in America. It stands to reason that a restaurant whose very name includes the term “Nachos” would make the list, never mind that Albuquerque’s very own Papa Nacho’s was named for the proprietor’s nickname. In naming Papa Nacho’s the seventh best place to eat nachos, TABELog advised “Do not be fooled by this exterior of this spot—it is better than it looks. They serve Mexican dishes rice & beans, tacos, quesadilla, enchiladas and of course nachos. Their signature papa nachos is packed with enough spices and cost only $7.”

Lunch-Size Stromboli from Saggio’s in Albuquerque

In 1982, Bruce Feirstein wrote “Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche, a “bestselling tongue-in-cheek book satirizing stereotypes of masculinity.” Had he written about truck drivers instead, the book’s title would likely have been “Truck Drivers Don’t Eat Salad.” According to the Center for Disease Control, truck drivers top the occupation obesity list, largely due to a diet of fast food and long periods of inactivity. Truck drivers don’t always eat fast food. Truckers know about the hidden gems most of us would discount, little holes-in-the-wall lacking the pristine veneer off the chains. Thrillist enlisted a trio of professional tractor-trailer drivers to deliver a convoy of those hidden gems. In a feature entitled “Truckers Name America’s Greatest Restaurants You’ve Never Heard Of,” that trucking triumvirate listed among the tantalizing ten, a Route 66 gem in Santa Rosa, New Mexico. The Silver Moon Cafe was described as ” “It’s a pretty popular place. They have it all: beef tacos, cheese dip, salsa, fajitas. But the big thing is that it’s all seasoned so well, especially if you like hot stuff.”

Have you ever wondered why so many guides and books employ fatalistic titles imploring readers to see or do something “before you die?” The likely culprit was the 2007 movie “The Bucket List,” whose premise was indeed to “complete a list of things they want to see and do before they die.” The movie inspired many people to compile their own lists and it engendered a number of publications employing “before you die” in their titles. Spoon University published a predictably and unimaginatively named feature titled “The 50 Best Things to Eat in Albuquerque Before You Die.” From burritos at Twister’s to green chile bread from Golden Crown Panaderia, the comprehensive compendium offered no surprises for residents of the Duke City, many of whom have probably sampled everything on the list many times in their lifetimes.

Reina Margherita Pizza from Eclectic Urban Pizzeria and Tap Room in Albuquerque (Photo Courtesy of Kimber Scott)

“Bugs Bunny and Breaking Bad don’t really capture the essence of this largest city in New Mexico. Albuquerque offers art, culture, history, and places of great surprise, if you know where to look beyond the usual tourist haunts.” Offbeat Travel’s feature “10 Favorites Only Locals Know in Albuquerque” listed only one food-related item. In a snippet about the Green Jeans Farmery, Offbeat Travel waxed poetic about Chill’N handcrafted organic ice cream, explaining the ice cream is created by “created by churning the ingredients in blasts of liquid nitrogen. Remember how some of the trendy cooking shows experiment with this new technique? Well, it makes amazing ice cream. The superfast freezing results in richly creamy frozen confection. The nitrogen bubbles away during the process.”

PureWow, an online women’s lifestyle site “dedicated to finding ways to make your life more interesting, beautiful and manageable” compiled a list of “The Most Iconic Restaurant in Every Single U.S. State.” The list of “restaurants (and, OK, fast-food joints) that make America so tasty” did include some of the most iconic eateries in the fruited plain, many of them introduced to America by the Food Channel. New Mexico was well-represented on the list by Santa Fe’s Cafe Pasqual’s. PureWow explained “Since 1979, visitors have lined up outside Café Pasqual’s turquoise door for New Mexican classics with an inventive twist. (Think: green chili burgers and huevos barbacoa.) The colorful restaurant also houses an art gallery on the second floor.” While it’s difficult to dispute the selection of Cafe Pasqual as the Land of Enchantment’s most iconic restaurant, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a “green chili burger” anywhere on the restaurant’s menu.

Ice Cream Sandwich from Rude Boy in Albuquerque

Shame on those of you who would answer the question “where is the best steak in New Mexico to be found” with LongHorn, Black Angus, Golden Corral or The Sizzler. Steak, “a dish that reaches across American diversity, binding us together through a common love of red meat” is never intended for the institutionalized, corporate fast food treatment. MSN partnered with FourSquare to locate the “best steakhouse in every state.” For a change, the Land of Enchantment’s representative didn’t come from Albuquerque or Santa Fe, but from Mesilla, a “suburb” of Las Cruces: “Margaritas and steak? It’s not a typical dining experience, but at Double Eagle in Mesilla, New Mexico, you won’t want to miss out. Try the signature Green Chili Bloody Mary to spice up your evening.”

From the pages of New Mexico Magazine, managing editor Kate Nelson introduces readers to a “renowned Los Ranchos inn” which “serves what it sows, with scrumptious assists by a host of local farmers.” In 2013, Bon Appetit named Los Poblanos Historic Inn “a top ten hotel for food lovers.” At the helm is multi-time James Beard Award nominee chef Jonathan Perno whose “carefully constructed breakfasts and dinners” are veritable “sensory smorgasbords.” Kate spent time with the culinary architect of “true farm-to-table invention that he calls Río Grande Valley Cuisine.” It’s a very compelling read which may just have you planning your next date night outing to one of New Mexico’s most acclaimed dining destinations.

The Classic Pastrami Sandwich from California Pastrami in Albuquerque

Willy Wonka may have had a chocolate factory, but New Mexico has a Pie Town, described by writer Bobby Christian as “the last stop along a road that never reached its full potential…a desert town where fruit pies are a way of life.” Writing for Travel Mindset, an online site “created by experienced travelers who like to explore the world and are looking for life changing and life shaping experiences,” Christian so eloquently described a Pie Town experience poetically: “In a world where reality trumps frivolity, it’s an escape into the possibility of a magical realm, a place where for the brief time of a roadside stop, life can be a whimsical experience.” His article “Meet Pie Town, New Mexico’s Tastiest Stop” chronicles Pie Town: The Film, an Alec Baldwin narrated documentary introducing, but not centering around, Kathy Knapp, Pie Town’s fabled Pie Lady.

A list of the World’s Best Cities for Food would certainly include such paragons of culinary excellence as New York City, Chicago, New Orleans, San Francisco and so on. That’s to be expected. Perhaps not as expected is the inclusion of Santa Fe, New Mexico as one of the top ten cities for food in the United States. Travel & Leisure magazine readers, a savvy, worldly bunch listed the City Different alongside some of the aforementioned cities when it comes to great food. “For a small city,” said one T+L reader about Santa Fe, “the restaurant and food selections are outstanding.” Others raved about the unique, regional dishes like carne adovada: braised pork featuring local meat, dried red New Mexican chilies, and Mexican oregano.”

Double Meat Green Chile Cheeseburger with Fries, an Onion Ring and Vanilla Pudding From Rex’s Hamburgers in Albuquerque

Delish, one the top 10 food-related destinations online, “rounded up the top-rated burger shop in each state.” While similar lists have named such denizens of deliciousness as Santa Fe Bite and LotaBurger as the best the Land of Enchantment has to offer, Delish dared differ from the usual suspects. Delish’s choice is Holy Cow, an Albuquerque burger institution since 2011. Holy Cow’s best bet, according to Delish, are the “Holy Cow, Mushroom & Swiss and Blue Cheese Burgers.” So for those of us who can’t conceive of a great burger being constructed without New Mexico’s sacrosanct green chile, Holy Cow is telling us otherwise.

It was once said that “seventy-percent of the Earth is covered in water, the rest is covered by the Associated Press.” Because I can’t cover the entirety of the Land of Enchantment by myself, I’ve asked Melodie Kenniebrew for help. A New York City transplant to New Mexico now living in Las Cruces, Melodie publishes the delightful blog “Melodie K” in which she chronicles her travel and culinary adventures, employing a very warm and endearing style that makes it obvious she loves her new home. Melodie has agreed to keep her ear to the ground for news-worthy culinary events throughout Southern New Mexico. She’ll be sharing her findings with readers of Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Blog. Her first update (below) explains how a small-town pizzeria has been invited to a prestigious culinary competition involving restaurants from across the country. You can find a link to Melodie’s bog on my blogroll.

Stir-Fried Noodles with Shrimp and Vegetables from Le Bistro Bakery & Vietnamese Cuisine in Albuquerque (Photo Courtesy of Larry McGoldrick)

Forghedaboudit, a Deming restaurant specializing in New York Italian-style food, is off to represent New Mexico this Labor Day weekend at the National Buffalo Wing Festival in ~ where else? ~ Buffalo, New York. Owner and native New Yorker Bob Yacone will be offering both sauced and dry-rub wings in 6 flavors, including red and green chile, to compete with the best of the best in the world for chicken wings. Restaurants attend the festival by-invitation-only and Forghedaboudit is the first in New Mexico to be invited since the festival began in 2002. The annual event regularly draws thousands of chicken wing aficionados from all over the world.

July, 2016

La Gobernadora Burger from Pasion Latin Fusion in Albuquerque

As oft chronicled in monthly “Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Year in Food” updates, the Land of Enchantment receives a lot of praise from national publications. Almost invariably they tout our incomparably delicious red an green chile–usually to the exclusion of all the other wonderful cuisine available in New Mexico. In a riveting piece for New Mexico Magazine, scintillating four-time James Beard award-winning author Cheryl Alters Jamison invites readers to take a “delightful detour from the norm” and “check out some of the savvy immigrant restaurateurs serving the dishes of their homelands in the Land of Enchantment.” Her NM’s Wide World of Forks article showcases dining diversity at such paragons of deliciousness as Albuquerque’s Ajiaco Colombian Bistro, Pad Thai Cafe and Budai Gourmet Chinese. Because international fare and flavors aren’t exclusive to Albuquerque, she also profiled restaurants in Santa Fe, Gallup and Las Cruces.

A Thrillist feature naming the “best food city in every US state” is bound to invite controversy, if not outright civil war. It takes a lot of gumption, for example, to declare San Francisco a better food city than Los Angeles, to pronounce Kansas City cuisine as superior to St. Louis culinary fare and to rank Pittsburgh’s culinary landscape over Philadelphia’s. Thrillist was clearly divided in selecting the Land of Enchantment’s best food city. “It pains us physically, in our hearts and souls, not to choose Albuquerque for this honor,” the writer declared, however, “Santa Fe has just too much good stuff to be ignored, and a lot of it has to do with green chile.” Citing such green chile apotheoses as the Santa Fe Bite and Horseman’s Haven, Thrillist also noted that the City Different boasts also of “standout American cuisine.”

The Provencale Sandwich from La Quiche Parisienne in Albuquerque

From 1994 to 2014, the number of farmers markets across the fruited plain increased almost fivefold making them a viable alternative to the behemoth supermarkets brimming with food from corporate farms. Today, virtually every city or town has a market area where farm fresh isn’t just an ethereal concept. America Unraveled, self-professed as the “best place online to discover the greatest destinations in the USA” ranked its five favorite farmers’ markets across the country. The number one Farmers’ Market in America, according to America Unraveled, is Santa Fe’s Farmers’ Market, but it isn’t regarded as highly because of its products or location, but because of “the philosophy behind the existence of this market.” “The organizers and participants believe that everyone, independent of their economic status, should have access to fresh, locally grown agricultural products that are nutritious and taste better than the goods that are shipped thousands of miles to grocery stores.” It’s number one in our hearts, too.

No one has eaten America and chronicled its culinary landscape better than Jane and Michael Stern, the trusted, trailblazing restaurant guidebook authors who founded the Roadfood franchise. The Sterns recently assembled a roster of must-eat, iconic dishes they’ve discovered throughout their four decades plus of road-tripping. It stands to reason that New Mexico’s sacrosanct green chile cheeseburger would make that list and that Santa Fe Bite (arguably) the state’s best exemplar of that bodacious burger would be listed as the paragon purveyor. The Sterns described it thusly: “It (the green chile cheeseburger) finds its apotheosis at Santa Fe Bite, where 10 ounces of freshly ground chuck and sirloin are cooked to your specs, smothered with vibrant green Mesilla Valley chilies and melted cheese, and piled into a fluffy-crumbed, house-baked bun. It may not adhere to food-pyramid proportions, but this big, ovoid masterpiece delivers bread, meat, vegetable, and dairy in lip-smacking balance.”

Flowers in Bloom at the Golden Crown Panaderia in Albuquerque in Albuquerque

Refinery 29, “the fastest growing independent fashion and style website in the United States” recently told its readers where to go. On vacation that is. Albuquerque was named in a feature listing “10 Up and Coming U.S. Cities to Visit Now.” Predictably, the feature gave a perfunctory nod to Breaking Bad as well as to our legendary red and green chile: “Albuquerque may still be synonymous with Breaking Bad, but it is sorely underrated as a destination on its own terms. Though its culinary reputation is dominated by green and red chiles, Albuquerque is also home to a surprisingly healthy wine and beer scene: It has a higher concentration of breweries per capita than even Portland, Oregon.”

The Exception Magazine, the self-glossed “favorite news source for the world’s most inspiring and innovative people, places and ideas” has identified “10 Popular Restaurants with the Most Creative Chefs of Albuquerque, New Mexico.” Acknowledging that Albuquerque is “stuffed with appetizing restaurants,” Exception listed some of the most exceptional. Anointed restaurants include Magokoro, B2B Bistronomy, Ajiaco Colombian Bistro, The Cellar and Ben Michael‘s, all showcased on this blog.

June, 2016

My good food friends Bruce “Sr Plata” Silver and Larry McGoldrick, the Professor with the Perspicacious Palate at Limonata in Albuquerque

Ruben Hendrickson was my best friend! That’s a claim dozens of Ruben’s friends can make because that’s precisely how Ruben made us all feel. Ruben had the rare gift of being truly present and fully attentive in every conversation he shared with his friends and family. On Friday, June 3rd, we bid our final good byes to my friend–one of the kindest, most humble and giving people I’ve ever been blessed to know. Ruben was taken from us all too soon. He would have turned 59 on August 3rd. Ruben and I were brought together by our shared love of food, but became friends because of our love of family. We traveled the Rio Grande corridor together–from Hatch to Chimayo–in pursuit of the best carne adovada in New Mexico. Carne adovada was just one of his passions (hence the frequent references to my “adovada adoring amigo” on the blog). So were barbecue and craft beer. Ruben didn’t just sit back and passively enjoy the things he loved. He pursued them vigorously and meticulously, becoming an excellent cook (only Mary & Tito’s, his favorite, makes a better carne adovada) and brewer. He lived and loved life with a similar passion…and we sure loved him. Godspeed, my friend.

Shortly after the Breaking Bad episode aired in which a waiter at Garduno’s (great name for a restaurant) kept trying to hawk the restaurant’s table-side guacamole at inopportune times, sales of the guacamole saw a significant increase with some 35-percent of customers ordering it. Most customers cited the episode as the reason for ordering the guacamole. Some tourists visit the restaurant to have their photos taken at the table in which the Whites and Schraeders could have shared in the most awkard guacamole in television history. Perhaps table tensions would have been allayed had they ordered the guacamole which tabelog ranked as the fifth best guacamole in America. According to Tabelog, “Quality ingredients and customer service are the main focus, and this shines through in the guacamole. Prepared table-side and from fresh ingredients, Garduno’s does the classic guacamole in a memorable way.

Sopaipillas and Tortillas from the El Comal Cafe in Santa Fe

At the risk of introducing an irritating earworm, who can ever forget the Dr. Pepper jingle “Dr. Pepper, so misunderstood. It tastes different and millions of people love the difference of Dr. Pepper. So misunderstood.” As with Dr. Pepper, different can be good. So says Thrillist which compiled a list of America’s 13 most misunderstood cities, cities “that are way cooler than anyone gives them credit for.” Topping the list (only because it was in alphabetical order) is Albuquerque, described as “the perfect place to start your meth empire if you’re a science teacher.” Thrillist conceded that the Duke City’s food scene has plenty to offer, citing Los Poblanos as “a tiny reservation/inn worth snagging a scarce reservation. The feature also indicated “you’d also be remiss not to eat some green chile while you’re in town, and El Pinto’s enormous-but-always-full restaurant (get the red chile ribs and one of the strong margaritas) does the trick. And for an evening in extremes, eat dinner at the upscale, seasonal NM-cuisine spot Farm & Table.

Try dining al fresco in Phoenix, Tucson or even El Paso and you risk being as cooked as your meal (or at least feeling that way). For dining in the great outdoors anywhere across the Southwest, you can’t beat Albuquerque whose moderate climates (and especially its cool evenings) make it an ideal milieu for luxuriating under the shade of a tall tree or patio’s canopy. In compiling its list of the 100 best al fresco dining restaurants in America for 2016, Opentable.com considered the opinion of more than five-million restaurant reviews submitted by verified Open Table diners for more than 20,000 restaurants across the fruited plain. Only two restaurants in New Mexico made the list: Farm & Table in Albuquerque and Indigo Crow in Corrales.

Ground Beef Enchiladas from The Frontier in Albuquerque

Travel & Leisure acknowledges that even “fast food chains are hawking the farm-to-table trend” which leaves consumers feeling that “every restaurant is green to some degree.” Still, within the true farm-to-table movement, there are some restaurants which “stand out from the pack by not only creating exciting innovative cuisine with a locally sourced menu, but also by applying that same eco-minded culinary philosophy to every aspect of the operation.” Travel & Leisure consulted with experts across the fruited plain to uncover the best eco-friendly restaurant in every state. New Mexico was well-represented by La Merienda at the Los Poblanos Historic Inn and Organic farm. La Merienda was described as “a green oasis that pays homage to the pioneering farm-to-table roots of pueblo cuisine. Everything on the menu—from the micro greens to the bacon to the honey and jujubes—is sourced on-site.”

In 2008, America was introduced to Dennis Apodaca, the pioneering chef at Eli’s Place (formerly known as Sophia’s Place) when Dennis wowed Food Network Star Guy Fieri during an episode of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. Eight years later, Dennis will make his second Food Network appearance, this time in an episode of Chopped, a program which challenges four chefs to create dishes out of mystery ingredients. The winner gets $10,000, but more importantly, an opportunity to showcase culinary talents across the country. The show will be taped in August and will air later this fall.

Cherry Tart and Almond Tart from Chez Mamou in Santa Fe

The term “underrated” has connotations of being underestimated or being rated or valued too low. Perhaps it’s because the Land of Enchantment tends to rank with Mississippi and Arkansas on the bottom end of many quality-of-life ratings, New Mexicans feel our beloved state is underrated even when we’re ranked near the top. Despite those quality-of-life ratings, we believe we’re number one in everything. In its Lifestyle section, MSN published its list of the most underrated restaurant in every state. “Whether it’s because of the understated appearance, hidden location or lack of publicity, these restaurants serve great food and everyone should know it.” New Mexico’s most underrated restaurant is Albuquerque’s Dog House. According to MSN “ What the Dog House may lack in ambiance they make up for in the taste of their chili dogs. Breaking Bad even used the Dog House as a filming location.” To really understand the Dog, House, you’ve got to read the assessment penned by Bob of the Village of Los Ranchos on my review.

“Land of the Free, Home of the Heavy.” That’s how Thrillist subtitles its feature “The Best States to Get Fat In.” You would think—considering the Land of Enchantment has the best food in the world—that we would top this list, however, perhaps because we’re a fitness-minded citizenry, New Mexico ranked only 31st. According to Thrillist “The greatest trick New Mexico ever pulled was convincing the world that if you douse everything in green chile it basically counts as eating your vegetables, even if said “everything” happens to primarily involve various meats, tortillas, and melted cheeses. For real, it’s a great trick.” There’s no trick to it. Green (and red) chile makes everything taste better!

Pizza Slice Masterpieces from DaVinci’s Gourmet Pizza in Albuquerque

Who can ever forget Homer Simpson’s bucket list? Predictably it consisted of a bucket of fried chicken, a bucket of shrimp, a bucket of tartar sauce, a bucket of chili and a bucket of popcorn all washed down with a bucket of cholesterol medicine. As with most gourmands, Homer’s bucket list was replete with culinary options. Thrillist compiled its Great American Bucket List: 50 Restaurants to Try Before You Die, listing restaurants whose “overall experience — yes, the food, but not just the food — is so spectacular in its singularity that it’s worthy of telling others to seek out before they kick the bucket.” The Land of Enchantment’s sole representative is Bernalillo’s iconic The Range Cafe which Thrillist described thusly: “When it comes to green chile options, this cafe does, in fact, have range. It also has “ranges,” as in the nickname for the vibrant, vintage toy stoves that adorn the walls.”

Purewow.com, an online presence “dedicated to finding ways to make your life more interesting, beautiful and manageable” compiled a list of “the most iconic restaurants in every single U.S. state,” ostensibly the restaurants which “have emerged as the ultimate representation of each and every state.” New Mexico’s representative was Santa Fe’s Cafe Pasqual. Purewow’s synopsis: “Since 1979, visitors have lined up outside Café Pasqual’s turquoise door for New Mexican classics with an inventive twist. (Think: green chili burgers and huevos barbacoa.) The colorful restaurant also houses an art gallery on the second floor.” Green chili burgers? Unless Texans have started dying their “chili” green, there’s no such animal!

May, 2016

Tempura Cheesecake from Naruto in Albuquerque

Brunch–it’s the best of two worlds–not quite breakfast and not quite lunch, but the best of both. It’s a leisurely weekend repast which makes you feel you’re getting away with something, as if you’re defying your mom’s mandate not to have dessert before the main entree. More than five million verified OpenTable diner reviews of more than 20,000 restaurants across the nation were used in the compilation of the 100 Best Brunch Restaurants in America for 2016. Surprisingly the only restaurant in New Mexico making the list is the Duke City’s own Farm & Table. Going strong since 2012, Farm & Table is a veritable oasis of green amidst Albuquerque’s earth-tone and concrete modernity. With an enviable balance of sweet and savory deliciousness, its brunch options are bountiful and beauteous.

Readers of USA Today and 10Best were given the opportunity to select the very best of the best from among so many outstanding green chile cheeseburgers throughout the Land of Enchantment. A panel of experts picked the initial 20 nominees, and the top 10 winners were determined by popular vote. That popular vote determined Blake’s Lotaburger is the best green chile cheeseburger in New Mexico. Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the final results is that the voting was not dominated by purveyors of New Mexico’s sacrosanct burger in Albuquerque and Santa Fe. The Duke City’s sole representative was the Owl Cafe, a presence in San Antonio since the 1940s. The Owl Cafe was runner-up to Lotaburger. Santa Fe was well represented by Santa Fe Bite in eighth place.

A half-pound of brisket from Pepper’s Bar-B-Q & Soul Food in Albuquerque

Travel & Leisure took the pulse of its readers to compile a list of America’s Favorite Cities. Thanks in large part to a vibrant culinary scene, the Duke City was rated sixth. Here’s what Travel & Leisure had to say: “Readers rated Albuquerque especially well for its bakeries, such as Golden Crown Panaderia, where the loaves of the signature New Mexico Green Chile Bread are decorated with howling coyotes. But since man does not live on green-chile bread alone, Albuquerque also scored well for local beer (like the wildflower wheat at downtown’s Marble Brewery) and diners. For the latter, the Standard Diner offers comfort food such as bacon-wrapped meatloaf and country-friend ahi tuna. Readers also applauded the city for feeling like a good value.”

Travel & Leisure didn’t define how it distinguishes between a city and a town, but for Santa Fe it probably wouldn’t matter. The City Different is beloved regardless of classification. In its 2016 compilation of America’s Favorite Towns, Santa Fe ranked third. As is often the case, the city…er, town’s burgeoning culinary scene is just one of many reasons it’s held in such esteem. According to Travel & Leisure, “It also ranked well for history—like its San Miguel Chapel, the nation’s oldest church, and even its restaurants, like Geronimo, set in an adobe home that dates to 1756. Its lounge offers the opportunity to try the city’s most famous local crop in a creative way: the Norteño margarita is made with Hatch-green-chile-infused tequila, then shaken with an orange liqueur. After a few, you might see why the city also got high marks for its peaceful vibes.”

Sauce Katusu from Magokoro in Albuquerque

“Barbecue festival season kicks off in the spring, with celebrations, cook-offs and competitions held all over the USA until late fall. In general, the barbecue teams and cooks that participate in these festivals pay homage to Memphis-, Texas-, St. Louis-, Kansas City- and Carolina-style barbecue, experimenting with spice rubs, slathering meats with thick, sweet sauces, or dressing shredded tendrils of pork with a tart vinegar-based dip.” USA Today included a New Mexico standard among the best cue-fests in the fruited plain: “The Pork & Brew BBQ State Championship is a Kansas City Barbecue Society-sanctioned event in Rio Rancho, N.M. The three-day festival features top barbecue vendors, offerings from local microbreweries, live music and interactive family activities. General admission is $6 for adults and $4 for kids. The winning barbecue teams can go on to participate in larger national competitions.” The Pork & Brew is an annual tradition for me and my friends Larry “the professor with the perspicacious palate” McGoldrick and the Dazzling Deanell, all of us certified Kansas City Barbecue Society (KCBS) judges and barbecue aficionados.

Mental Floss, “the international media brand that gives smart, curious knowledge junkies their fix with upbeat, witty explorations of everything from science to pop culture to tech to history” compiled its list of the best burger in all 50 states. The Land of Enchantment’s representative is no surprise considering it’s graced similar lists for years. Mental Floss lavished praise on San Antonio’s Buckhorn Tavern, saying “Food experts across the country continuously name Buckhorn Tavern’s Green Chile Cheeseburger one of the best burgers in the U.S. The small, family owned Buckhorn Tavern is so popular that many visitors actually plan their trips around this burger hot spot.

Watermelon Shake from The Owl Cafe in Albuquerque

Americans seem to love lists and often seem willing to forgive list-makers when less than completely accurate choices are made. It’s all in good fun save for those of us who want the world to know there’s a difference between the cuisines of Old Mexico and New Mexico. The most recent culprit in committing this geographic faux pas is Tabelog, a “dynamic, interactive environment where users can come together over a shared passion for fine dining.” In its “10 best Mexican Restaurants in America,” Tabelog listed Santa Fe’s The Shed restaurant as America’s second best pantheon for Mexican cuisine, all-the-while indicating “Rooted in Northern New Mexico cuisine and hospitality, The Shed has been around since 1953.” Perhaps the most offensive statement for New Mexicans was “Any true lover of Mexican cuisine must make a point to hit this spot for an amazing experience.” While the experience will certainly be amazing, it won’t be Mexican.

Pardon my gratuitous self aggrandizing here, but I was tickled pink to read Kitson Harvey’s shout-out to “some of my favorite local bloggers, not on Duke City Fix.” Here’s what the brilliant Kitson wrote about your favorite sesquipedalian sybarite. “Gil Garduño @ Gil’s Thrilling (and Filling) Blog. This is THE Albuquerque food blog. This past week he made a return trip to Joe’s Pasta House in Rio Rancho and, along with his new review, includes the text of his past reviews so we can see whether/if his opinions have changed over time. This blog is a major resource for local eaters, and I love his reason for not including wine pairings (check the FAQs for the answer).” Right back atcha, Kitson. I’ve been a huge fan for years.

April, 2016

The Cubano from Alicea’s Bagels & Subs in Rio Rancho

It’s no April Fool’s Day joke. On April 1st, LotaBurger launched its very first Arizona location, expanding its burger empire to three states (in 2004, Lotaburger debuted in El Paso, Texas). Tucson’s burger aficionados will quickly discover why the 2006 edition of National Geographic’s Passport to the Best: The 10 Best of Everything book, declared LotaBurger serves the “Best Green Chile Cheeseburger in the World“. Going strong for well over six decades, LotaBurger was a New Mexico only institution for all but the past 62 years, but not appears poised to conquer new culinary horizons.

It’s been oft said by chefs that “you eat with your eyes first. Although the senses of taste, smell, and vision are distinct, visual stimuli have been shown to alter your perception of those senses. Tabelog, an “online community for foodies by foodies,” compiled a list of America’s 13 most scenic restaurants, eateries boasting of amazing panoramas from every angle. New Mexico’s sole honoree is the High Finance Restaurant at the top of the Sandia Peak Tramway. According to Tabelog, “With enormous views of the Rio Grande Valley and the Land of Enchantment, High Finance Restaurant offers one of the most unique scenic meals in the country.”

Wings with Buffalo Garlic Sauce from Bucket Headz in Albuquerque

Over the years there have been a number of national online presences purporting some level of expertise about New Mexican cuisine. They publish “best of” features that leave locals asking “huh” and “why was this restaurant selected?”. At other times those “best of” features show a level of savvy that surprises locals. Such was the case when Spoon University, “the everyday food resource for our generation, on a mission to make food make sense” selected the cheeseburger from Burger Boy in Cedar Crest as the Land of Enchantment’s best. Spoon University’s “best burger from every state” feature indicated “Although they offer a few different burgers for a cheap price, most choose the classic cheeseburger, which also comes with fries.” Most New Mexicans we know order their burger with green chile.

What type of restaurant might be named to MSN’s 50 best restaurants in America list? You’re probably thinking it’s some posh fine-dining establishment featuring nouveau French cuisine. “Best,” as we all know is a subjective term subject to individual interpretation. MSN’s list showed some out-of-the-box thinking in naming Albuquerque’s Guava Tree Cafe as the 31st best restaurant in the fruited plain. According to MSN, “this little restaurant has great Caribbean and Latin American-inspired food. With many Cuban type sandwiches and avocados in most of their food, this place definitely has the delicious lunch thing down.”

Toritos from Mariscos Mazatlan in Rio Rancho

Innovative chefs ply their trade all across the fruited plain with some of the very best working across the southwest. Dorado, an online magazine which “celebrates the rugged and eclectic spirit of the Four Corners region” compiled a list of “seven Southwest chefs we love.” New Mexican chefs which made the list included Rob Connoley, the James Beard award-nominated forager from Curious Kumquat in Silver City; Ahmed Obo, the Kenya native who fuses traditional Kenyan dishes with Caribbean flavors at Jambo; and Erin Wade, who’s made really big salads really delicious in Vinaigrette which has a presence in Albuquerque and Santa Fe.

Thrillist, the online presence “obsessed with everything that’s worth caring about in food, drink” compiled a “state-by-state ode to the edible (and drinkable!) dynamos that have literally changed the shape of America (because we’re fatter now). In its “Every State’s Most Important Food Innovation” feature, Thrillist declared (what else) green chile as New Mexico’s choice. According to Thrillist, “Chiles only came to the region post-Columbus, and the chiles you so enjoy today are the results of painstaking research in the early 20th century at New Mexico State University meant to isolate varieties that would thrive in the arid climate there.”

Blueberry Muffin from Desert Grows in Los Ranchos de Albuquerque

Perhaps if our options consisted solely of green chile and pinto beans, more of us might endeavor to become vegetarians. Fortunately for vegetarians, there are many other delicious meat-free choices across the Land of Enchantment…so many that CNN Traveler named Santa Fe as one of the “15 best U.S. cities for vegetarians.” Traveler noted that “like the town itself, Santa Fe’s vegetarian-friendly restaurants offer a number of ways to get out of your comfort zone. Try a fix of the famed local staple, green chile, in a tamale at Cafe Pasqual’s or wrapped in a crispy dosa at the innovative South Indian restaurant Paper Dosa.

Although the Cooking Channel doesn’t grace my cable subscription package, I find comfort in knowing Founding Friends of Gil (FOG) member Jim Millington was able to watch the channel’s “Cheap Eats” show when it featured host Ali Khan visiting beautiful, sunny Albuquerque. Jim reports that “the show is pretty much like Rachael Ray’s old Twenty Dollar a Day show except that Ali lacks Rachael’s cuteness and he has $35. His first stop was at the Tia B’s La Waffleria for vegan waffles which he found to be wonderful. Next stop was the Route 66 Pit Stop for the famous green chile cheeseburger which knocked his socks off. Third was Rebel Donuts. He didn’t even get a donut shaped one. It was long, stuffed and topped with bacon. Papa Felipe’s introduced him to the amazement of carne adovada stuffed in a sopaipilla.” Thank you, Jim.

March, 2016

Polish/German Platter from the Red Rock Deli in Albuquerque

Hollywood has discovered one of New Mexico’s most enchanting qualities. It’s the state’s chameleon-like ability to transform itself to virtually any location movie producers wish to portray. Thanks to its preternaturally diverse topography, various locations throughout the Land of Enchantment have been featured in more than 600 productions over the years, touching virtually every corner of the state. In many instances, New Mexico doubles as some far-away exotic locale and not necessarily within the surly bounds of Earth. The filming location for the 2016 movie Whiskey Tango Foxtrot may have been Albuquerque, but it’s a Duke City many of us won’t recognize. Stretching its acting chops, Albuquerque portrayed Afghanistan in the movie. During an appearance on the Tonight Show, starring actress Tina Fay explained “New Mexico looks a lot like Afghanistan, weirdly, but with really good burgers with green chiles.” You won’t find green chile cheeseburgers in Afghanistan.

Speaking of doubling for something else, several years ago Rebel Donut gained tremendous notoriety for creating a donut mimicking the potent crystal blue meth made famous by AMC’s Breaking Bad series. More recently, Rebel Donut was honored on Food Network Magazine as one of a dozen “best in dough,” an honor bestowed upon fun donuts. The honoree is Rebel Donut’s pina colada donut, a vanilla cake donut dipped in coconut rum glaze then raw coconut with buttercream frosting. Unlike the Breaking Bad donut which has no actual blue meth, there is actual real rum in the pina colada donut. It’s one in a small line of adult donuts though it can be made “virgin” as well.

Corn from Delicias Cafe in Albuquerque

There are dozens of annual sweets and dessert festivals across the fruited plain. USA Today honored just a handful of the most popular, inviting readers to “sweets festivals worth traveling to indulge in.” One of the festivals garnering a mention is Albuquerque’s own Southwest Chocolate & Coffee Fest in March. “The festival features both baking and eating contests, welcoming all ages and skill levels.” More than 120 vendors and 17,000 festival-goers attend” the event according to USA Today.

How many times have you heard it said “only in New Mexico.” Frankly, every state has unique features, landmarks, personalities and quirks that set it apart from other states. Recognizing the uniqueness of each state is the goal of OnlyInYourState.com, an online presence which takes a fun, informal approach to helping readers discover things to do in each of the 50 states. Anyone can write about New Mexico’s enchanting enchiladas and bounteous burritos. OnlyInYourState dares to point out “13 Pizza Places in New Mexico So Good Your Mouth May Explode.” Interestingly, you have to go all the way down to number six before a pizza from Albuquerque is even mentioned. According to the writer, the five best pizzas in New Mexico are the Rooftop Pizzeria in Santa Fe, J.C.’s Pizza Department in Las Vegas (with a branch in Albuquerque), The Pizza Barn in Edgewood, Zeffiro Pizzeria Napoletana in Las Cruces and Forghedaboudit in Deming. How many of us even know these pizza places exist?

Chicken Fried Steak from City Lights in Albuquerque

“Santa Fe’s small, intimate and upscale dining scene provides ample restaurants with hushed lighting, tranquil outdoor seating and a unique fold of Southwestern, American and French cuisines.” Foodandwine.com invited its readers to reserve a table or two at the most romantic restaurants in Santa Fe. The list includes Eloisa, the James Beard award-nominated restaurant from chef John Rivera Sedlar; Izanami, the traditional Japanese izakaya restaurant; Luminaria, where lantern-lit courtyard dining awaits; The Anasazi, a rustic-chick restaurant melding Southwestern and Latin influences; and Santacafe, with its Georgia O’Keefe inspired dining room. Romance is definitely in the air at these restaurants.

22 Words, an online presence which purports to be “your source for the crazy, curious, and comical side of the Web” and offers “funny and fascinating viral content as well as more obscure (but equally interesting) pictures, videos and more” put together its list of the “BEST things to Eat in Every State.” It’s a no-brainer to declare the best thing to eat in New Mexico: “When chili peppers are one of the state vegetables, it’s a given that you’re known for producing fresh, hot chili-based sauces that are poured on everything from eggs to burritos to burgers.” Spelling “chile” as our neighbors in Texas do just takes something away from the credibility of this otherwise interesting feature.

Chiles Rellenos from Tenampa in Albuquerque

When it comes to perpetuating a successful franchise, Pizza 9 is a ten. Franchise Business Review named the burgeoning enterprise among its “best of the best,” one of the top 200 franchises in America for 2016. As one of only 38 franchises in the food and beverage segment to be honored, Pizza 9 has experienced substantial growth since launching its inaugural store in 2008. Today, the company boasts of more than 20 locations in the Land of Enchantment and Texas with other locations being planned. While the name on the marquee pegs it as a pizza restaurant, Pizza 9 is also one of only a handful of restaurants throughout the Land of Enchantment to offer Italian beef sandwiches, a Chicago area staple.

Zap2it, an online movie and television information network , interviewed cast and creators of AMC’s “Better Call Saul” to find out what restaurants in the Land of Enchantment they frequent. Bob Odenkirk (Jimmy McGill/Saul Goodman) and Michael Nando (Nacho) enjoy Farina Pizzeria in Albuquerque. Producer Vince Gilligan favors Santa Fe’s Geronimo while Patrick Fabian (Howard Hamlin) is a fan of Los Compadres . Rhea Seehorn (Kim Wexler) enjoys the food and ambiance at Los Poblanos Farms. Interestingly, none mentioned restaurants such as Loyola’s, Sai Gon Sandwich and Taco Sal which have made cameo appearances in the series.

Hass Aslami, founder of franchise powerhouse Pizza 9

On March 22nd, the Travel Channel debuted its Bizarre Foods: Delicious Destinations episode showcasing Albuquerque. Instead of highlighting the weirdly wonderful aspects of dining in the Duke City, the show focused on the unique foods Zimmern believes define Albuquerque. Understandably that means chile, both red and green. At the Church Street Cafe, Zimmern touted the stacked green chile enchiladas. For green chile cheeseburgers, Zimmern visited The Owl Cafe on Eubank, explaining this satellite location uses the recipes and preparation techniques of the San Antonio Owl Cafe which originated green chile cheeseburgers. For the most intense, rich and smoking hot red chile, Zimmern recommended Mary & Tito’s Cafe, a James Beard Award-Winning restaurant where carne adovada is a mainstay. Because not even New Mexicans can live on chile alone, Delicious Destinations visited The Pueblo Harvest Cafe for a Tewa taco and piñon rolls from Buffet’s.

February, 2016

Nutella and Banana Crepe from Boiler Monkey in Albuquerque

In January, Business Insider put together a list showcasing the best restaurant in every state. Paying particular attention to fine-dining establishments, Business Insider declared Santa Fe’s Geronimo as the best the Land of Enchantment has to offer. Less than a month later, restaurant review guide Zagat compiled a line-up called “50 States, 50 Steaks” which honored the definitive slab of succulent beef to be found in every state. New Mexico’s honoree was none other than the Tellicherry-Rubbed Elk Tenderloin at Geronimo. “Served atop roasted garlic fork-mashed potatoes, sugar snap peas, Applewood smoked bacon and creamy brandied-mushroom sauce,” the Elk Tenderloin is indeed divinely inspired, a transformative steak.

Shortly after Zagat’s affirmation of New Mexico’s premier steak, Geronimo’s uber-talented executive chef Eric DiStefano passed away unexpectedly. Tributes to the chef centered not as much on his greatness as a culinary virtuoso, but on what a kind and gentle soul he was. He was a man beloved in the community, a man who touched many lives as well as palates. My friend Billie Frank who knew him well wrote a very touching feature on Chef DiStefano on Santa Fe Travelers. Billie and I agreed that every apron in Santa Fe should be at half-mast. Godspeed Chef.

Fried Pickles from The Fat Squirrel Pub & Grille in Rio Rancho

It speaks to the remarkable consistency with which New Mexico’s very best chefs perform night in and night out that in 2016, the state’s five semifinalists for the James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef Southwest are repeat honorees. To be named a semi-finalist is to be recognized as among the very best from among the elite. The level of competition throughout the Southwest (Arizona, Colorado, Texas and New Mexico) is extremely high. Semifinalists for Best Chef Southwest for 2016 include Jennifer James of Jennifer James 101 in Albuquerque, Martin Rios of Restaurant Martin in Santa Fe, Jonathan Perno of La Mierienda at Los Poblanos in Los Ranchos de Albuquerque and Andrew Cooper of Terra at the Four Seasons Resort Rancho Encantado in Santa Fe. Eloisa, Chef John Sedlar’s tribute to his grandmother, was nominated for Best New Restaurant.

Rancho de Chimayo was announced as one of five recipients of the James Beard Award’s “America’s Classic” honor. A James Beard Award signifies the pinnacle of achievement in the culinary world, the country’s most coveted and prestigious culinary award while the “Americas Classic Award” honors “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.” Rancho de Chimayo is the true, timeless American classic–beloved in the community with the highest quality food reflecting the character of New Mexico.

Whoo’s Donuts, Homer Simpson’s Favorite Santa Fe Restaurant

No doh about it. Homer Simpson would drool over the Thrillist’s compilation of the best donut shops in America, thirty-three purveyors of confectionery excellence. Only one of the Land of Enchantment’s decorated domiciles of donut deliciousness made the list. Santa Fe’s Whoo’s Donuts were a revelation to Thrillist writers who described the blue-corn donut experience as “like eating a corn muffin that has been put into a culinary witness-protection program and comes out with a totally new identity, but is more delicious.” While the analogy may be a bit lame, Whoo’s Donuts are fantastic.

“Kiss me, I’m drunk.” While that quote may sound as if uttered by Richard Burton or Joe Namath, it’s how Buzzfeed subtitled its “Best Irish Bar in Every State” feature. Regardless of what the subtitle may or may not have implied, the feature acknowledged that “a good Irish bar isn’t just a bar. It’s home.” Buzzfeed consulted the good folks at Yelp for the top-rated Irish spots in every state. The Land of Enchantment is well represented by Albuquerque’s Two Fools Tavern where “the hardest part is deciding if you want the boxty, fish and chips or the bangers and mash.”

For the Love of Meat – Airing in Santa Fe on Wednesday, March 9th at 7PM. (Click Image for More Info)

Best in the country. It’s one thing to give yourself that title, it’s another to earn it. Chef Todzilla’s Mobile Cuisine, a Roswell food truck earned it! In a poll of the best food trucks in the fruited plain, Chef Todzillas garnered almost half the 4,700 votes cast while competing against food trucks in such cosmopolitan behemoths as Dallas and Las Vegas. Chef Todzilla prides itself on using fresh, local, never frozen ingredients and has a burger menu to be envied. The chorizo burger is reputed to be addictive.

On Wednesday, March 9th at 7PM, the Violet Crown Cinema in Santa Fe will screen a documentary on barbecue as it is incomparably prepared in Central Texas. Entitled “For the Love of Meat,” the documentary introduces some of the top barbecue pit-masters in Central Texas. This documentary comes with a warning: It will make you hungry for some brisket. Purchase your tickets here.

January, 2016

High Point Mac (Choice Center-Cut Steak and Green Chile) from The Point in Rio Rancho

Not since Adam and Eve have ribs been as oft-discussed as they are today.  Barbecue restaurants throughout the fruited plain strive for melt-in-your-mouth pork and beef ribs.  Ribs are the most popular of all barbecued meats, caveman cuisine at its very best.   In a program called Top 5 BBQ in America, the Food Network celebrated barbecue ribs in such barbecue hotbeds as Tennessee and North Carolina.  Admittedly Albuquerque isn’t the first place you think of for great ribs, but the Food Network fell in love with the red chile ribs from El Pinto, ranking them third in the country.  “The secret to their mouth-watering spicy ribs is a paste made of dried caribe chiles rubbed onto the meat and allowed to marinate for 24 hours.” 

“From new attractions and massive additions to quirky flavors, big birthdays and booze, 2016 promises to be a good year for the curious traveler.”  CNN compiled a list of 16 things to see and do in the U.S. in 2016.   Arguably the most delicious destination to be enjoyed this year is New Mexico’s very own Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail.  “With nearly 100 spots to sample, the Trail is a tasty way to add a little spice to your life this year.”  Among the purveyors of incomparable green chile cheeseburgers listed were Sparky’s in Hatch and 5 Star Burgers with locations in Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Taos.

My friend Darren contemplates his meal at Magokoro

In December, 2015, you read on this blog that Zagat, a national online and print restaurant review medium, had selected as New Mexico’s very best dessert not something unique to the Land of Enchantment, but a bundt cake you can find at a chain with locations throughout the fruited plain.  Spoon University, the self-professed “everyday food resource for our generation, on a mission to make food make sense” made a lot more sense than Zagat, naming New Mexico’s best dessert as bizcochitos from the Golden Crown Panaderia.  Spoon described them as “sweet, cinnamony cookies” that became the “official state cookie almost 20 years ago” and “deserve to graduate onto the official dessert.” 

Business Insider didn’t limit itself to cookies, naming the best restaurant in every state.  Sifting through their own list of the best restaurants in America, James Beard Award nominations, expert reviews, and local recommendations, paying particular attention to fine-dining establishments, Business Insider declared Santa Fe’s Geronimo as the best in the Land of Enchantment.  “Noted for its impeccable service and complex dishes,” Geronimo “boasts a host of mouthwatering dishes.”

Wonton soup from Asian Pear

With almost twice as many flavor-characteristics discernible by human senses than wine, coffee is next to water, the world’s most popular beverage with 400 billion cups consumed yearly (1.4 billion cups daily) across the globe. The Huffington Post and Foursquare users compiled a list of the best places for coffee in every state across the fruited plain.  With cups touting them as “passionate about coffee,” the Land of Enchantment representative was Satellite Coffee, an Albuquerque presence with eight locations throughout the city. 

“Until recently, Tim Harris, of Albuquerque was the only restaurant owner in the country with Down syndrome. But what drives a restaurateur who has lived for his business to close up shop? A girl he loves more than anything.”  In a very touching report the CBS news show Sunday morning profiled Harris and his decision to close his popular restaurant Tim’s Place to move to Denver where he could be close to the love of his life.  When Tim launches his restaurant in Denver, it’s a sure bet the Mile High City will embrace him as warmly as the Duke City did.

Lobster Tater Tots from the Freight House in Bernalillo

Santa Fe Chef Marc Quiñones who plies his craft at Luminaria competed with four other chefs on the Food Network’s “Cutthroat Kitchen,” a reality cooking show.  Cutthroat Kitchen features four chefs competing in a three-round elimination cooking competition. The contestants face auctions in which they can purchase opportunities to sabotage one another. Each chef is given $25,000 at the start of the show; the winner keeps whatever money he or she has not spent in the auctions.  While the talented chef didn’t win the competition, every guest at Luminaria is a winner when they get to partake of his culinary fare. 

For years, Santa Fe has been regarded as one of the nation’s premier tourist attractions as well as one of America’s best dining destinations.  This culinary Mecca hosted its inaugural Santa Fe Foodie Classic, highlighting classic flavor combinations as well as new techniques demonstrating the future of Southwestern cuisine.   Several events were held in which some of the city’s very best chefs showcased their talents over a three-day period.

2016SouperBowl

For more than 35 years, the Roadrunner Food Bank of New Mexico has been serving the state’s hungry.  As the largest Food Bank in the state, it distributes more than 30 million pounds of food every year to a network of hundreds of partner agencies and four regional food banks.  Through that network, the Food Bank is helping 70,000 hungry people in our state weekly.  That’s the equivalent to feeding a city the size of Santa Fe every single week. Every January, the Food Bank hosts the Souper Bowl, its largest fundraiser, an event in which restaurants across the metropolitan area prepare and serve their tastiest soups to hundreds of people and several hungry judges who get to weigh in on their favorites.  This year’s winners were: 

People’s Choice Winners – Soup
1st Place and Souper Bowl Champion: Artichoke Café for their Butternut Squash and Coffee Soup; 2nd PlaceSoupDog for New Mexico meets New Orleans Gumbo; 3rd Place: Bocadillos Café and Catering for New Mexico Clam Chowder

Critics’ Choice Winners – Soup
1st Place: Zinc Bistro and Wine Bar for Roasted Chicken and Red Chile Dumpling Soup; 2nd Place: Bien Shur at Sandia Resort and Casino for Fire Roasted Poblano Cream Soup with Corn and Crawfish Salsa; 3rd Place: The Ranchers Club of New Mexico for Bison Posole

People’s Choice Winners – Vegetarian Soup
1st Place: Street Food Asia for Malay Curry PPP Chowder; 2nd Place: Il Vicino Wood Oven Pizza for Vegetable Minestrone; 3rd Place: Turtle Mountain Brewing Company for Green Chile Cheddar Ale soup

People’s Choice – Dessert

1st Place: Nothing Bundt Cakes for Bundtinis; 2nd Place: Theobroma Chocolatier for Assorted Chocolates; 3rd Place: Gardunos Restaurants for Biscochito Flan

People’s Choice – Booth Winner: Bien Shur Restaurant

On the same weekend, The Food Depot in Santa Fe holds its own Souper Bowl event. This year more than 1,200 people enjoyed the best soups some 28 restaurant chefs across the City Different had to serve.  Winners of the 2016 event were:

Best Cream: Rio Chama
Best Savory: Four Seasons Resort Rancho Encantado Santa Fe
Best Seafood: Sweetwater Harvest Kitchen
Best Vegetarian: Paper Dosa
Best Overall Soup: Sweetwater Harvest Kitchen 

2016: A Thrilling (And Filling) Year in Food | 2015: A Thrilling (And Filling) Year in Food | 2014:A Thrilling (And Filling) Year in Food | 2013: A Thrilling (And Filling) Year in Food |  2012: A Thrilling (And Filling) Year in Food2011: The Thrilling & Filling Year in Food. |  2010: The Thrilling & Filling Year in Food.

Aya’s New Asian Japanese Cuisine – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Aya’s New Asian on Menaul

There’s an unspoken reciprocal arrangement between restaurant guests and the restaurant personnel with whom we interact. As guests, we show our appreciation for a dining experience well executed by tipping generously and maybe complimenting the kitchen and wait staff during and after the meal. Representatives of the restaurant– whether they be chefs, maître ds, servers or owners—typically thank their guests and invite them to return. All too often these interactions seem trite, maybe even rehearsed or expected. It’s what we all do because it’s what we’ve always done and it’s what’s expected to be done. Only during and after exceptional (or exceptionally bad) dining experiences do interactions between guests and restaurant personnel become more effusive…or so we thought.

During our inaugural visit to Aya’s New Asian Japanese Cuisine on Menaul, we experienced gratitude and friendliness so sincere and authentic that we couldn’t help but be touched.  Even if the Japanese cuisine hadn’t won us over, the humility and friendliness of Aya herself would have.  Let me step back at this point and explain that the restaurant is actually operated by two women named Aya (short for Ayako).  One Aya runs the front of the house and serves as sushi chef while the other runs the kitchen.  We only met the Aya who’s the public face of the restaurant and we were impressed.

Aya’s Dining Room

The two Ayas have been in Albuquerque for just over half a year, having made the move from Seattle which they found too rainy and dreary.  In contrast, they love the Duke City, especially its incomparable skies and weather.  The Ayas plan on making their lives in the United States, having liquidated their assets in Japan to move here.  Both classically trained in Japanese culinary techniques, they hope to introduce Duke City diners to the food of their homeland…and indeed, the menu offers a few “just a little different” items heretofore not found in the area’s Japanese restaurants.

Aya (the restaurant, not the owners) is ensconced in a timeworn shopping center on Menaul.  To its immediate west is a Flying Star and just east is Relish.  Wasabi and cranberry colored walls are festooned with serene paintings of lotus blossoms on one side and magnificent glass art showcasing Michael Miro‘s kabuki series on the other.  Aya was delighted in my knowledge and appreciation of the kabuki practices depicted so colorfully.  With an amazing command of English–considering she’s only been in America for about a year–she told us about her life in Okinawa.  Her self-effacing modesty in accepting compliments on her English was but one thing we immediately liked about her.

Vege Tempura

We also liked the Web site’s URL. It’s not just aya.com. It’s ayako-san.com. In Japanese, appending a name with the suffix “san” is a title of respect which can be used with both female and male names and with either given names or surnames. It can also be attached to the name of occupations and titles. In Japan, restaurant owners are often called mama-san or papa-san by both customers and employees. This signifies a level of affection as well as respect. It’s easy to see that Aya deserves such a title of endearment. We also liked that menu items are spelled phonetically—how they sound. Some menu items aren’t necessarily spelled the way Americans or even other Japanese restaurants would spell them. For example, the American spelling for Japanese dumplings is “gyoza” but the Aya menu spells it “gyouza.”

There’s much to like about Aya’s menu. There are seven starters on the menu, including three recently added (such as the green chile Ohitashi and poke salad). Four ala carte tempura options and miso soup can also be ordered as starters. The next section of the menu is dedicated to curry—five types, each served with a small salad. Six noodle dishes, including miso ramen, will sate all of us who love to nosh on noodles. Nine rice dishes, several of the donburi variety, follow suit. Next on the menu are three platters which are served with steamed rice, small salad, soup and small dish of the day. Sushi, available only during dinner time, follows suit then it’s a vegetarian tofu teriyaki dish. Last, but certainly not least is a three item dessert menu.

Gyouza

Let tempura tease your taste buds. The vege tempura is an excellent starter option, rewarding you with a generous plating of deep-fried assorted seasonal vegetables sheathed in a crispy tempura batter. Having been born and raised in the Windy City area, my Kim generally eschews vegetables unless they’re covered in meat and potatoes, but she loves tempura vegetables. Unlike fried foods in Chicago, these are virtually grease-less. Aya served us lightly battered green beans, zucchini, squash and carrots. Underneath the tempura sheath, each vegetable retains a nice crispness that is indicative of fresh vegetables. Tempura dishes are served with a light soy-based sauce.

Another excellent starter is the aforementioned gyouza, five lightly stir-fried, house-made Japanese pork dumplings served with ponzu (thin, tart citrus-based) sauce. While Japan is steeped in ancient culinary traditions, gyouza isn’t one of them. Japanese didn’t start making gyouza until after World War II when Japanese soldiers were exposed to Chinese dumplings while serving in Manchuria. Gyouza are usually thinner, smaller (two to three bites), more delicate and fillings tend to have a finer texture than their Chinese counterparts. Made well, gyouza is as good as any Chinese dumplings you’ll ever have. Aya makes them well.

Bara Chirashi Sushi Plate

You can emphasize the word “special” when a special of the day is posted on the slate board or Facebook page. As someone who tends to order specials more often than from the regular menu, I’m ever attuned for something new and different such as the Bara Chirashi Sushi Plate (cubes of tuna, boiled shrimp, egg, zencom, cucumber and avocado over sushi rice). While we’ve certainly had chirashi before, it’s always been served donburi-style (in a bowl).  At Aya, the chirashi is served in a rectangular plate. The dish is pleasing to the eye and the palate with a nice balance of ingredients in good proportion to one another. Unlike chirashi we’ve had in other Japanese restaurants, we weren’t provided wasabi-sushi which really changes the flavor profile. Instead, we were left to enjoy sweet, delicate flavors that practically had us swooning.

The Chirashi Sushi Plate is served with a salad, miso soup and pickled vegetables somewhat reminiscent of Korean namul (assorted unfermented salads). A simple salad (iceberg lettuce, shaved carrots) is transformed into a paragon of deliciousness with a cool, refreshing ginger dressing so good you’ll be tempted to lick the plate. The miso soup is much better than most we’ve had in Albuquerque where bouillon cube quality miso is maybe not the norm, but it’s shamefully all too common. It’s served hot as opposed to warm which gives it good miso creds with us and the tofu appears to have been made in-house.

Yakisoba

Another popular Japanese dish of Chinese origin is Yakisoba, a fried noodle dish similar to chow mein. Aya elevates this relatively simple dish of fried noodles and vegetables with the addition of bacon. Yes, bacon! In Japan, thinly sliced pork is most commonly used on Yakisoba. Japan needs to have a bacon epiphany! A generous amount of bite-sized pieces of smoky, delicious bacon coalesces with the thick, sweet sauce to make this potentially the best Yakisoba dish we’ve ever had (we can’t remember having one better).

Great desserts and Japanese restaurant are two terms not commonly associated with one another. If a Japanese restaurant in New Mexico even deigns to serve dessert, it’s usually plum sorbet or green tea ice cream. Aya offers several desserts heretofore unknown to us. The most intriguing may be the green tea parfait which is served on a goblet similar to what Dairy Queen might use to serve a sundae. Layers of flavor, color and texture define this dessert. Imagine corn flakes (yes, the Kellogs type), green tea ice cream, whipped cream, green tea jelly, chocolate and seasonal fruits. Where do you start? We discovered early on that this dessert is best experienced if you can combine flavors and textures in each spoonful. The combination of corn flakes, chocolate sauce and green tea ice cream is especially satisfying.

Green Tea Parfait

We first experienced green tea tempura cheesecake at Naruto, one of the Duke City’s premier ramen houses.  It’s since been an obsession.  Comparisons with Naruto’s version were inevitable.  At Naruto, the cheesecake is drizzled with cocoa powder served atop a swirl of chocolate.  Not so at Aya where a thin tempura batter sheathes a beautiful wedge of green tea cheesecake.  A dollop of whipped cream with a cherry on top is served on the side.  It’s a very good cheesecake.

My introduction of this review posited the existence of an unspoken reciprocal arrangement between guests at a restaurant and the restaurant personnel who serve them.  I explained that our experience with Aya was unlike the usual polite interaction between the two parties.  As we settled our bill of fare and prepared to leave, Aya didn’t extend the perfunctory “come back soon.”  She embraced us as one might an old friend or family member and told us how much she appreciated our visit and interest in her food.  She meant it!

Green Tea Tempura Cheesecake

Aya’s New Asian Japanese Cuisine offers many of the comfort food favorites Americans have come to love as well as some new and different options which just might become new favorites.  There’s also a strong chance Aya herself will quickly become one of your favorite restaurateurs.

Aya’s New Asian
8019 Menaul, N.E., Suite A
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 323-5441
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 31 December 2016
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Bara Chirashi Sushi Plate, Yakisoba, Vege Tempura, Gyoza, Green Tea Tempura Cheesecake, Green Tea Ice Cream Parfait

Ayas New Asian Cuisine Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Gil’s “Best of the Best” for 2016

Ahn (left) and Tammie welcome you to SweeTea Bakery Cafe, home of my favorite pastries for 2016

It’s the season for making lists and checking them twice, finding out which restaurants were naughty or nice. The advent of 2017 is nigh. It’s with great fondness and more than a little (blush) salivation that I bid adieu and auld lang syne to my most memorable dishes of 2016. These are the baker’s dozen plus dishes which are most indelibly imprinted on my memory engrams…the first dishes that come to mind when I close my eyes and reflect on the past year in eating.  As with previous yearly compilations, every item on this list was   heretofore unknown to my palate before 2016. Every dish was a delicious discovery.

In the spirit of lagniappe, my “best of the best” list for 2016 lists nineteen fabulous dishes and–for the first time ever–includes memorable meals shared by some of my faithful readers.  It’s my fondest hope that you do more than just read this list.  Please make it your New Year’s resolution to try as many items as your schedule, budget and dietary constraints will allow–then tell me about it.  Let me know if my recommendations and those of contributors met your own high standards.  I promise it will be worth every calorie.  Please note that the list is strictly chronological, not by any other ranking factor.

  • In January,  I predicted the bacon-toffee sundae (cinnamon and brown sugar ice cream topped with bacon, toffee, maple-caramel and fresh whipped cream) from the Point Grill in Rio Rancho would be on my “best of the best” list for 2016.  This is the most delicious self-fulfilling prophecy made all year long.  Don’t let the distance to the Point Grill deter you from possibly the most surprisingly delicious bacon treat you’ll ever have.
  • My friend Larry McGoldrick jokes that I finally shamed him into eating Japanese food by promising me that the eel (unagi donburi) at Albuquerque’s Magokoro Japanese Restaurant is spectacular.  Larry hadn’t eaten Japanese food in over three decades before falling in love with Magokoro’s electrifying eel and with the infinite variety of deliciousness at this magnificent Japanese restaurant.
Sarita: THE best dish I’ve had this year?  Oh, man, that’s hard, kinda like asking me what’s my favorite song or to pick the prettiest rose in a vast rose garden.  I’ll do this:  I’ll tell you about the three meals that I thought about for days and you can pick which one sounds the most appealing to you. 

#1: The green chile stew at Cocina Azul. (The 12th Street location, if that makes any difference.) This was a nice, hearty stew with chunks of steak (*not* hamburger), potatoes and *HOT* green chile.  In fact, that’s why I went there; I knew I could count on the chile having some kick.  Not some kick, but more like martial-artist-kick.  This is the stuff to have for whatever ails you.

#2:  The Ham and Cheese waffle at La Waffleria.  Start out with buttermilk waffle batter.  Mix in chunks of ham and shredded cheddar cheese and onto the waffle iron it goes.  Typically this comes with maple syrup.  I didn’t want that.  Instead I had them substitute it with their browned butter bourbon sauce.  If that’s not enough, there’s a self-serve station with two crock pots, one filled with maple syrup and the other filled with melted butter.  Well, of course butter makes everything better, so…..

#3:  The keema dosa at Curry Leaf.  Although, I suppose this should be 2.5 instead of 3 because I just got a sampling instead of an actual meal.  Anyway, it’s an Indian crepe filled with wonderfully seasoned ground lamb, served with a couple of delicious chutneys.

  • Although there are dozens of Mexican restaurants across the Albuquerque metropolitan area, only Delicias Cafe showcases transformative Chiles Rellenos en Nogada.  Traditionally made in Puebla to celebrate the Mexican Independence Day on September 16, these rellenos are a celebration of culinary inventiveness and the sheer magical combination of complementary ingredients to create a sweet-savory sensation  
  • Situated directly across the street from the San Francisco de Assis church in Ranchos de Taos,  Old Martina’s wasn’t around when Georgia O’Keefe was painting the venerable Catholic church, but she would certainly have found artistry in the menu–especially in the Duck Enchiladas.  Rolled blue corn tortillas engorged with a generous amount of moist, flavorful duck and slathered in your choice of red or green chile (ask for both), these enchiladas are enchanting!
Bruce “Sr Plata Silver: Chicken Fried Steak and Fried Chicken from Mannie’s Family Restaurant. Both dishes have to be grouped together as both are totally Amazing! The fried chicken tastes really ‘Home Made’ and brings back memories of a different time eating ultimate comfort food. The chicken fried steak is thick, juicy and crispy with amazing gravy. Dare I say more!
  • To say the Costillas del Cordero from The Cellar in Albuquerque are good is akin to declaring Sofia Vergara is merely shaped like a girl.  These lolipop lamb chops are superb!  Pert, petite and packed with flavor, these crusty corderos are imbued with a demi-glace enlivened with an attention-grabbing combination of lively flavors.  The only one thing wrong with these luscious lamb chops is that there are only four to an order.
  • When the Poki Poki Cevicheria in Albuquerque launched in May, 2016, it may have heralded the Duke City’s entry into the second decade of the millennium.  Largely influenced by Asian flavors and ingredients, poke can be–and is–made with almost any type of seafood and topped with a vast array of garnishes and sauces.  Poki Poki increases its fusion elements by adding New Mexican Touches.  The spicy bowl was the first of several poki bowls I enjoyed and remains my favorite.
Mary Kroner: That is easy for me: the barbecued pork sandwich (banh mi) at iKrave Cafe on Juan Tabo.  I am a stickler when it comes to good bread, and the warmed roll, lightly buttered, proved the perfect wrapper for the succulent pork and lightly pickled vegetables, plus fresh jalapenos.
  • There are several items at the Pop-Up Dumpling House in Albuquerque worthy of inclusion on this list.  Certainly any one of the dumplings are memorable, but when my mind’s eye reflects on my two meals at this pop-up palace, it’s the hot and sour soup which bubbles to the top.  This is the hot and sour soup the culinary gods envisioned when they created what has all-too-often become a boring and blase soup.
  • Even before the Golden Crown Panaderia in Albuquerque installed its new pizza oven, this Old Town treasure created the very best combination pizza (tasty pepperoni, hearty Italian sausage, black olives, crisp bell  peppers, red onions and mozzarella) we’ve enjoyed in New Mexico.  Naturally, the canvas for this masterpiece is the bakery’s magnus-opus, an artisinal bread dough that elevates pizza to lofty levels.     
Bob of the Village of Los Ranchos: Best Dish of ’16: Sorry, despite some great dishes, e.g. Asparagus Soup (but it’s a soup) at The Cellar, or Carpaccio (but it’s listed amongst Antipasti), none have topped my perennial love of Scalo‘s “Filetto” at $29 (despite the dastardly ravages of ART to Route 66!), to wit: the tenderest, grilled beef tenderloin topped with cambozola cheese and red wine reduction which contrasts/pairs so nicely with a yummy mushroom risotto, and all served with the standard, grilled asparagus by “professional” waitstaff.  “Chow!”
  • New Mexican food with a pedigree!  That’s what you’ll find in Albuquerque’s Pana’s Cafe, a New Mexican eatery which launched in January, 2016, but whose timeless recipes have been beloved by Duke City diners for generations. Pana’s recipes are essentially the same family recipes which have made Padilla’s Mexican Kitchen an institution.  Pana’s just seems to prepare them better.  The combination plate is an exemplar of New Mexican cooking.
  • Despite having lived on the Mississippi Gulf Coast for eight years, my Kim and I can’t recall having a single memorable grits dish down South.  Since moving back to New Mexico in 1995, we’ve uncovered three “best ever” grits dish.  The Cajun-Style Shrimp and Grits from Blades Bistro in Placita are the best of the best.  To paraphrase a famous catchphrase from a 1970s television comedy, you’ll want to “kiss these grits” before enjoying their depth of flavor.
Ryan “Break the Chain” Scott: My favorite was the one we shared with you at Eclectic. I loved the chimichurri skirt steak, the hot wings, the half chicken…pretty much everything. Max and Daniela also have great taste in insurance agents.

A close second was the Oklahoma smash and fries with garlic aioli at Pete’s Frites.

I also tried Korean fried chicken at a place called BonChon in Houston this week…now I understand why Pluto (Sr. Plata) loves these places so much. Outstanding.

  • Since its launch in 2009, no restaurant has introduced me to as many new dishes as has Budai, the transformative  restaurant which elevated Chinese cuisine to gourmet.  Who would have thought a Jellyfish Salad could be so utterly delicious?  Chef Hsia certainly did. This dish is so good, you’ll never give it a second thought that you’re eating jellyfish whose texture and flavor are surprisingly palate pleasing especially when paired with the melange of ingredients the Chef adds.
  • The painful trauma of having lost a tooth to an especially sticky caramel apple kept me away from the delectable autumn treat for several decades.  Then we discovered the English Toffee Caramel Apple at Chocglitz in Albuquerque.  Chocolatier Celeste Davis’s boundless talents in coaxing pure deliciousness from the many ice cream and chocolate treats she creates by hand extend to caramel apples which are absolutely addictive.   
Noe Pacheco: Thanks for the opportunity to contribute to your list.  Wow, that is a tough question.  I’m like you in that I have a hard time coming up with a favorite.  Here are a couple that I could think of…I’d need a whole year to think about it!

1)  Broasted Chicken and Broasted Pork Chop @ Vick’s Vittles – These delicious meals are perfectly prepared in the broaster style (a combination of frying and pressure cooking).  This style imparts great flavor and juiciness to the chicken/pork chops.  Simply put, they are mouth watering and (dare I say?) finger lickin’ good. 🙂

2)  Banh Mi Sandwiches and Spring Rolls @ Banh Mi Coda – These sandwiches are the bomb!  They are simple, but simply amazing at the same time.  The genius is the simplicity of it.  The spring rolls are perfectly rolled and are delicious!  The peanut dipping sauce is so good, I’d drink it up by itself if left to my own devices…

3) Dumplings, Pork Belly Sandwich and Spicy Cucumbers @ The Pop-Up Dumpling House in the Talin Market.  These handmade from scratch dumplings (with spicy sauce of course!) are quite delicious,  The pork belly sandwich is small, but quite satisfying.  A lot of flavor in that little sandwich!  The spicy cucumbers (made with the same spicy sauce as is served with the dumplings) are simply amazing.  They make a nice pallet cleanser, but provide their own delicious contribution to the meal.

4) B.L.A.T. @ The FR8 House in Bernalillo.  This is what a BLT is supposed to be.  The bacon in this BLT is actually a pork belly cut – in other words thick and as flavorful as can be!  A nice selection of micro-brews as well!

  • My inaugural visit to An Hy Quan, Albuquerque’s very best vegetarian restaurant set the tone for future visits.  The very first item these lips sampled at this terrific eatery has turned out to be the best papaya salad I’ve ever had.  Alas, it’s so good that my expectations for the dish at other restaurants might be impossible to meet.  Fresh and invigorating, it’s also very well balanced with flavor combinations that will titillate your taste buds. 
  • Where would you find the best burger in the metropolitan area?  As newspaper magnate Horace Greeley might advice “go west!”…all the way to Rio Rancho’s Toro Burger Bar where you’ll find a burger menu unlike any other.  Twelve burgers adorn the menu with the Mo Better Burger capturing my heart early though future visits will likely uncover an even more delicious option.  If you’re tired of the same trite burger options, you’ll love what the Toro Burger Bar is doing. 
Gil’s Kim:  Unlike my thrilling (yawn) husband who didn’t list anything from Curry Leaf because all he’s had comes from the buffet,  three items made my “best of the best” list:  the unbelievable garlic naan, the wonderful fruit salad and the tandoori chicken.  Like my Gil, Curry Leaf is simply the best!
  • 2016 seems to be the year of the pizza for Gil’s Thrilling…  Three pizzas made this “best of the best” list, but not just for this year.  The three listed herein are the best we’ve had in more than two decades across the Duke City.  Perhaps the most memorable of the three is the Carbonara Pizza from M’Tucci’s Market & Pizzeria in Albuquerque.  This is the pizza which defies all stereotypes and templates.  It’s unique…and uniquely delicious.  
  • Daniela and Maxime Bouneou made their triumphant to the Duke City dining scene with the launch of Eclectic Urban Pizzeria and Tap House which can boast of three of Gil’s favorite dishes for 2016.  First would be the stellar North End Pizza with its bodacious bacony flavor.  Second is my favorite sandwich for the year, the Oyster Po’ Boy, as good as the best we had in New Orleans.  Third is the big dips and dough appetizer which everyone should experience at least once (preferably a hundred times) in their lives.
Sarita: Another place to add to my list is Maya, over on 3rd & Silver.  It’s the latest venture by Dennis Apodaca.  Of course a different menu (Latin fusion) from Eli’s Place, but I enjoyed my meal.  I had the Kobe green chile cheeseburger.  The burger is cooked to order with white cheddar cheese and green chile.  The chile wasn’t particularly hot, but it did have a nice flavor.  The fries were very similar to the delightful fries served at Eli’s Place.  Next time I go I’ll try their more Latin offerings, like the tortas or the tacos.
  •  With a cosmopolitan vibe that belies Albuquerque’s cow town feel, the SweeTea Bakery Cafe is a magnificent milieu for noshing on a crusty, crunchy banh mi or two.  This breath of fresh air bakery offers a plethora of pulchritudinous pastries so beguiling, your New Year’s resolution should be to try them all.  The nutella buns and the not your traditional banana nut bread are beyond delicious.
  • It’s not every purveyor of great sushi that serves dessert, much less one worthy of accolades and laudation.  The Blue Velvet Swirl from Ohana Hut in Albuquerque is the perfect finisher for a sumptuous soiree of sushi.  What, pray tell, is a Blue Velvet Swirl?  Picture a colorful cake with a lemon creme cheese filling topped with kiwi, white chocolate and hazel nuts.  Scratch that.  Picturing it isn’t enough.  You’ve got to taste it to believe it!

Gil’s “Best of the Best”: 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012 |

The Artichoke Cafe – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Albuquerque’s Artichoke Cafe for the Finest in Fine Dining

These things are just plain annoying.
After all the trouble you go to, you get about as much actual “food”
out of eating an artichoke as you would from licking 30 or 40 postage stamps.
Have the shrimp cocktail instead.”
Miss Piggy

Miss Piggy, that shrill and garrulous walking side of bacon, may not appreciate the humble artichoke much, but among both health conscious and discerning diners, the artichoke has long been a healthful and delicious dining option.  Considered a “super food” for its high antioxidant, fiber, potassium, phosphorous, iron, calcium and magnesium content, artichokes have long been used in the treatment of gall bladder and liver conditions because it improves liver functions and is recognized for its ability to lower blood pressure.  It’s also been known, in some cases, to help with migranes and to give skin a healthy glow. 

In 16th Century Europe, eating an artichoke was considered scandalous behavior for women because the artichoke was considered an aphrodisiac (along with the humble tomato) and was reserved exclusively for men (especially aristocrats like Henry, VIII).  Catherine de Medici, bride of King Henry, II of France, denounced that social more, introducing the artichoke along with traditional Italian foods and cooking to the French kitchen.  Catherine was passionate about artichokes, consuming them in large quantities. Henceforth the French elevated the artichoke to the stature of a gourmet ingredient.  It was treated as such when introduced to the American colonies.

The Exquisite Elegance of the Artichoke Cafe

It’s only fitting that one of Albuquerque’s most highly regarded fine-dining gourmet treasures pay tribute to the artichoke by  festooning its name on the marquee.  When the Artichoke Cafe opened in 1989, the artichoke was hardly ubiquitous on Duke City restaurant menus, many of whom seemed to believe vegetables stopped and ended with green chile.  In its two and a half decades plus  of serving the city, the Artichoke Cafe has helped pioneer culinary trends diners now take for granted.  That includes concepts such as seasonal menus, sustainable foods, a wine bar and…a mission statement. 

Mission statements are commonplace in the military and in the corporate world, but not necessarily among restaurants.  They should be!  The Artichoke Cafe’s mission statement is inspired, especially the part which reads, “The guest is always is always right and we will accommodate every guest’s dietary needs to the best of our ability. We strive to make our guest’s dining experience a delicious and memorable one at the Artichoke Cafe.  We encourage every employee working at the Artichoke Cafe to make this vision a reality. On any given day we are only as good as our best effort. Therefore, every employee is an important link in the chain of our mission statement and is valued as such.”

A Basket of Bread and Muffins with Herbed Butter

From the onset, the Artichoke Cafe has been a trend-setter, launching in the East Downtown (EDO) district long before it was the burgeoning residential and business district regarded by real estate experts as one of the “top five up-and-coming areas in the nation.”  In 1989, the district was actually considered failing.  You can’t underestimate the impact the Artichoke Cafe has had on the area nor that it has rightfully earned the sobriquet “heart of EDO.”  In fact, there’s no disputing the veracity of any of the other slogans the Cafe has used: “the saucy little bistro at the heart of creative cuisine” and “where artisan cocktails meet creative cuisine” among them. 

The 5000-square foot, 120-seat establishment is the brainchild of proprietors Pat and Terry Keene.  Pat serves as the restaurant’s executive chef, a vocation for which she was formally trained in New York City while Terry has more than 30 years experience in restaurant management.  While that marital pairing was certainly made in heaven, the restaurant is reputed to serve heavenly pairings of fine wine and exquisite cuisine.  As a non-imbiber of adult beverages, I can’t speak for the wine, but The Wine Spectator certainly can, perennially listing it in its annual dining guide.   

French Onion Soup Gratinee with crostinis and Gruyere

The Cafe’s walls are adorned with art whose beauty pales in comparison to the the truly artistic cuisine, whose artists are merely stick figure novices in comparison to the classically trained masters who create in the kitchen.  From the complimentary bread basket to desserts, this restaurant exudes four star first class with a culinary repertoire which melds the finest in creative American, Italian and French cuisines.  Be aware, however, that it’s easy to fall in love with an entree that may not be available because of a seasonal menu rotation. 

The love starts early as in when the basket of fresh bread is delivered to your table along with a delicious herbed butter.  The basket typically includes a triumvirate of breads including a very good French bread.  It’s an excellent bread for sopping up the restaurant’s inspired soups, among them memory-triggering Potato-Leek soup.   The Artichoke’s rendition transported us back to  The Mermaid Inn in picturesque Burford, England where we luxuriated in its warmth and depth of flavor.  It’s a high compliment to the Artichoke’s version that it can even be mentioned in the same sentence as the wondrous elixir served at the Mermaid Inn.

Sliced Steak

28 December 2011: Also quite inspired is the French Onion Soup gratinee with imported Gruyere.  It’s easily among the very best French Onion Soups in Albuquerque, so good even French-hating xenophobes would appreciate a steamy bowl of aromatic beef broth in which sweet onions and pungent cheese swim merrily with spongy, soft crostinis.   Considered a “peasant food” by virtue of its humble, economically borne origin, French onion soup has risen to the level of much coveted, highly sought after gourmet favorites.

26 December 2016: Don’t be surprised if lunch entrees at the Artichoke are exceedingly better than more expensive dinner entrees at other fine dining establishments. Such is the case, in part because the lunch menu includes sliced steak.  As described on the menu (flat iron steak, angel hair pasta salad, basil, asparagus, red pepper, Parmesan, Balsamic reduction), you’re not quite sure what exactly will be delivered to your table, but you can rest assured it’ll be outstanding.   Flat iron steaks are a value-priced cut that is tender, juicy and which some experts say has the “beefiest” flavor of any cut of beef on any steak. The Artichoke Cafe exploits these qualities to their utmost, serving a fork-tender steak that is juicy, delicious and absolutely beefy at about medium-rare which means plenty of delicious pink.  The Balsamic-blessed asparagus spears shine!

Salmon and Broccolini Crepe with Marsala-Goat Cheese Sauce

26 December 2016: The lunch menu during our December, 2016 visit listed both a crepe of the day and a chef’s daily preparation of shepherd’s pie.  Although chicken was the listed filling for the crepe, the accommodating kitchen staff agreed to substitute salmon for a small up-charge.  Well cognizant that the Artichoke Cafe prepares salmon better than just about any restaurant in Albuquerque, it was a substitution this persnickety diner relished.  Picture if you will a thin crepe nearly bursting at its seams with sweet, earthy broccolini and tender, flaky salmon all covered with an absolutely addictive Marsala-goat cheese sauce served with a side salad and vegetables.  Broccoli haters might enjoy its more palatable cousin broccolini whose flavor is more mild and less bitter.  It’s an excellent complement to salmon and absolutely shone under the resplendent Marsala-goat cheese sauce which is so good you’ll want to mainline it.

26 December 2016: Author Anna Lappe rhapsodized “the joy of eating seasonally is the joy of fresh produce and fresh foods.”  That’s what you find on the Artichoke Cafe’s greens menu–an array of seven artfully composed and inspiring salads so inviting you might eschew the restaurant’s magnificent appetizers.  Available year-round is the best Salad Nicoise in New Mexico as well as the restaurant’s most popular salad, the extraordinary Pear and Point Reyes Blue Cheese Salad.  This is a salad comprised of complementary flavor and textural elements for which all great salads should strive: fresh, crispy greens; a pungent, fetid blue cheese; sweet-juicy pears; tangy-sweet cranberries and savory umami-laden Tamari pecans all drizzled with a honey-champagne vinaigrette that pulls everything  together.  This is one of my favorite salads anywhere!

Pear and Point Reyes Blue Cheese Salad

At the Artichoke, we’ve also discovered one of the very best Italian entrees we’ve had in the Duke City, an inspired lunch entree of Italian sausage and roasted hot peppers, a concordant marriage of sweet, savory and piquant flavors that had us salivating with every delicious morsel.  The Italian sausage is of Chicago or Philadelphia caliber with the perfect amount of fennel.  Italian sausage and roasted hot peppers are a quintessential Italian dish, especially popular throughout the East Coast where they’re often stuffed into sandwiches.

For dinner, perhaps no restaurant in New Mexico serves a lamb quite as luscious as the Artichoke Cafe.  The oven roasted New Mexico rack of lamb, as succulent as you’ll find anywhere in the state, is not to be missed.  It is tender and mouth-watering without the prevalent gamy smell of lamb served in restaurants not of the Artichoke’s caliber.  The only fault you can ever find with outstanding lamb is that you’re always left wanting more.  That’s the case with this luscious lamb.

Mocha Semi-Freddo and chopped Serrano chiles (added at my request)

28 December 2011: One of the hallmarks of the Artichoke Cafe is its commitment to sustainable seafood. Past menus have featured a “chef’s daily creation” in which only sustainable king salmon and seafood are used.  You’ll want to pay rapt attention to your server’s description of this daily seafood bounty though doing so may dissuade you from ordering what you thought you had wanted. One daily special we happened upon during a December, 2011 visit showcased sustainable king salmon atop a bed of ginger and scallion sticky rice and topped with pickled onions and a chopped Serrano chile relish served with snap peas and carrots. 

This is an entree with one surprise after the other.  The salmon has a near “just caught” freshness that seems enlivened by the mouth-watering combination of pickled onions and a chopped Serrano chile relish.  The combination of tanginess and piquancy is a winner, far better than disguising the native flavors of the salmon with some syrupy sweet sauce as other restaurants are apt to do. The ginger and scallion sticky rice had me longing for ripe Thai mangoes.

King Salmon over Sticky Rice

28 December 2011: The Serrano chile relish so captivated me that I asked for it to be added to my dessert choice of mocha semi-freddo.  To our server’s credit, he didn’t call for a straight jacket or attempt to dissuade me from potentially ruining what is an excellent dessert.  Alas, instead of the Serrano chile relish served with the salmon, chopped Serrano chiles were delivered in a plate.  It didn’t matter.  I garnished the dessert with the chiles and enjoyed my fiendish concoction thoroughly.

The Artichoke Cafe is one of the Duke City’s premier dining destinations, a fact not lost among the city’s movers and shakers who make it their destination of choice for “power” lunches and dinners.  Whether or not you consider yourself a “player” in the arena of business, politics or any other enterprise, you’ll feel right at home at the Artichoke Cafe, truly one of the city’s very best restaurants of any genre.

The Artichoke Cafe
424 Central, S.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
505 243-0200
Web Site | Facebook Page

LATEST VISIT: 26 December 2016
# OF VISITS: 8
RATING: 24
COST: $$$ – $$$$
BEST BET: Italian Hot Peppers, New Mexico Rack of Lamb, Pear and Point Reyes Blue Cheese Salad,

Artichoke Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Delicias Cafe – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Delicias Cafe on San Mateo

There’s no denying the ever-increasing popularity of Mexican food across America, but it may surprise you to learn that in the estimation of some sources, it has supplanted Italian food as the favorite ethnic cuisine in the land.   Marketplace, a nationally syndicated business oriented radio program with more than nine-million listeners a week, says there’s no bones about it, calling Mexican food “the most popular ethnic food in the U.S., bigger than Italian or Chinese.”  Askmen.com confirms only that “Mexican has become one of the three most popular cuisines in the U.S., with nearly 90% of the total population having tasted it.” 

According to Marketplace, there are some 90,000 or so Mexican restaurants across the fruited plain. The loose categorization of “Mexican restaurants” not only includes our incomparable New Mexican cuisine and our neighboring state’s Tex-Mex, but such “Americanized” chains as Chipotle, Taco Bell and others of the ilk. Lest you become agitated that such Mexican “in name only” restaurants would be thrown in along with the authentic Mexican restaurants, the truth is that even among restaurants owned and operated by Mexican immigrants you’ll find pretenders serving less than authentic Mexican cuisine. Sometimes they do so to remain competitive in markets saturated for so long by the aforementioned chains that the local dining public knows no better. In other cases, would be authentic restaurants sacrifice authenticity for convenience when they’re not able to find authentic ingredients at a reasonable price.

One of the most colorful dining rooms in Albuquerque

Several years ago, the proliferation of chefs not properly trained and steeped in the culture behind Japanese cuisine so rankled the ire of Japanese chefs that they formed advocacy groups aimed at protecting their highly traditional and exquisitely artistic form of cooking.  The Mexican government has followed suit, founding the Mexican Restaurant Association (MERA), a trade association chartered to encourage the spread of more authentic cuisine.  More than 1,000 members strong, MERA recognizes that advocacy is just so much empty air without action so it helps members locate and negotiate better prices for authentic ingredients which are often very difficult to find.

It’s indicative of the Land of Enchantment’s famous attitude of acceptance (or perhaps the sheer number of tourists) that Taco Bell has survived for so long in New Mexico. For many of us, however, “run for the border” would never, even under threat of torture, constitute a visit to Taco Bell. We take “run to the border” a bit more literally–as in heading out to our favorite purveyor of magnificent and authentic Mexican food. Fortunately, we’ve long been blessed to have a plethora of irrefutably authentic Mexican restaurants, some so good you might swear you’ve been transported to the Land of Montezuma.

Chips, Salsa and Corn Dish

When my compadre Rico Martinez craves “real Mexican food,” he heads to Delicias Cafe which he considers “better than any Mexican restaurant I’ve tried in Albuquerque.”  Rico has become Delicias unofficial publicist, waxing poetic about his new favorite on Urbanspoon and telling everyone he knows about it.  I wish he had told me sooner.  Delicias is every bit as good as he said, maybe better.  Best of all, it’s got that real south-of-the-border authenticity aficionados like Rico and me crave. 

That authenticity is confirmed by my friend and fellow blogger Steve Coleman of Steve’s Gastronomic Home Page.  Steve is an authority on Mexican food, having traveled extensively throughout our southern neighbor.  For years he also chronicled his visits to Mexican restaurants in El Paso on his very well written blog.  He knows what he’s talking about so when he says “one thing I like about Delicias is its ability to reproduce the same kind of experience that could be found by walking into any restaurant at random in Cuidad Juarez or other cities in the state of Chihuahua, you can take it to the bank.” 

A trio of Sopes: Carne sado, Chile Verde and Beans

When you walk into Delicias Cafe at the Fiesta Del Norte Shopping Center in Albuquerque’s Northeast Heights, there’s no way you’ll mistake it for Perennials Restaurant, its long-time predecessor at the bright, east-facing edifice. Delicias is a panorama of color, a glossy, multi-hued milieu of chairs depicting vibrant symbols of Mexican life. Upper-tier seating on comfortable booths provides a good view of the entire restaurant, but if you want to imbibe the sights and sounds of the bustling exhibition kitchen, you’ll want a seat on the lower level. From either vantage point, you’ll be treated to the inimitable aromas of wonderfully seasoned Mexican food wafting toward you.

The genesis of the aromas which greet you at the door can come from any number of items on the menu, a veritable compendium of Mexican food favorites. Delicias Cafe, which has sister restaurants in Las Cruces and El Paso, is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner though you can have breakfast any time of day. The menu showcases the cuisine of Delicias, a city in Chihuahua some 250 miles from Cuidad Juarez. Delicias translates literally from Spanish to “delights,” a well-earned term for the food at this delightful restaurant. It also sounds a bit like “delicious” which is also fitting. 

Tostada de Mariscos con Pescado

Shortly after you’re seated, a complimentary basket of chips and a bowl of salsa are delivered to your table.  The salsa isn’t especially piquant, but it’s got a very fresh, lively flavor with just a hint of jalapeño and garlic.  The chips are large and thin, but substantial enough to scoop up Gil-sized portions of salsa.  Service is so quick that you probably won’t finish your first bowl of salsa before your appetizers or entrees are delivered.  Be forewarned that chips and salsa are likely not the only “freebies” coming your way. During two visits in March, 2016, we were treated to complimentary small plates of yellow corn in a light sauce of Mexican crema and jalapenos. This is corn from a cob, not from a can. It’s sweet and fresh, enlivened by the piquancy of the jalapenos and the sour tang of the crema.

Depending on what you order, your entree might also include a bowl of Caldo de Res, a beef stew with large pieces of vegetables and rice. This near-entree sized stew is as good as they come with a beef-flavored broth that bespeaks of comfort. The vegetables are perfectly prepared and fresh-flavored while the rice is a pleasant surprise. With seafood dishes, you might see a Caldo De Mariscos, a seafood stew replete with delicacies of the sea. If Delicias generosity is a ploy to entice you back, it’s working.

Queso Fundido con Chorizo

11 February 2012: The Antojitos de Banqueta (appetizers and snacks) menu lists only seven items, perhaps a consequence of portion size–both appetizers and entrees–being almost profligate in size.  Finish your appetizer and you probably won’t finish your entree.  If you don’t order an appetizer to make sure you have room for your entree, you’ll miss out on such terrific starters as sopes, three fried corn masa patties topped with sundry ingredients: asado on one, chile verde on another and beans on the third.  At first glance the sopes resemble small, thick tortillas and in a sense they are.  The sopes are also topped with lettuce, shredded cheese, chopped tomatoes and an acidified cream.

6 March 2016: In March, 2016, Delicias expanded its menu to include a boatful of mariscos (Mexican seafood) dishes. In recent years, mariscos have become increasingly popular in New Mexico, perhaps because our enchantment is landlocked and seafood restaurants are scarce. Delicias’ new menu includes an appetizer portion of tostadas ceviche de pescado, a crispy fried shell atop of which are piled netfuls of fish marinated in citrus juices, chopped tomatoes, green onions, and fresh, ripe avocados. Limes are provided for diners who want their ceviche experience to tingle their lips. For the rest of us, the interplay between tangy citrus juices and the savory, briny fish is an adventure in balancing compatible flavors. The buttery, savory avocados are a nice foil for the tangy citrus influence on surprisingly fresh fish.

Migas con Chorizo

24 December 2016:   Two relics from the 1970s–toga parties and fondue parties–have largely gone the way of the dinosaur.  Today if you want melted cheese, your best bet is a Mexican restaurant where queso fundido remains one of the most popular appetizers available.  Fundido, a Spanish word which translates to “molten” aptly describes one of the most gooey, rich and delicious starters available anywhere.  While cheese alone is wonderful on its own, it becomes double decadent with the addition of chorizo, the unctuous pork sausage.  Delicias Cafe serves one of the best exemplars of queso fundido con chorizo you’ll find.  Served with soft, warm corn tortillas, you’ll need a fork to extract the queso from its bowl and even then, the cheese will stretch for a foot or more before you can cut it.  Queso fundido is best (and more pliable) when warm.

11 February 2012: The first entree to strike my fancy was Enchiladas Suizas, a fabulous dish invented in Mexico City’s Sanborn’s restaurant.  As you’ve probably surmised, “Suiza” means Swiss, a tribute to the fact that this dish uses both cream and cheese.   Delicias Cafe rendition is among the very best I’ve ever had.  Three rolled corn tortillas are engorged with finely shredded white meat chicken then are covered in a sauce of tomatillo, jalapeño and sour cream with shredded cheese in the mix, too.  The enchiladas have a delightfully slightly sour tanginess that impregnates the perfectly prepared poultry.  The enchiladas Suizas are served with beans and rice, but these are hardly standard.  The beans have that prepared in lard flavor while the rice is fluffy with nary a clump.

Chilaquiles con mole

As if the Enchiladas Suizas weren’t enough, my delightful waitress also brought me a bowl of Caldo de Res, a beef stew with large pieces of vegetables and rice.  She told me this hearty, delicious stew came with the enchiladas.  This near-entree sized stew is as good as they come with a beef-flavored broth as comforting as broth comes.  The vegetables are perfectly prepared  and fresh-flavored while the rice is a pleasant surprise.  Note: During our visit on December 24th, we noticed that the Enchiladas Suizas are no longer on the menu.  Apparently not everyone had as high an opinion of this magnificent dish as we did.

12 February 2012: Coincidentally on the date of my inaugural visit, Barbara Trembath, a long-time friend of this blog and another of my most trusted sources of restaurants throughout the fruited plain, visited Delicias Cafe a few hours before I did.  Though she was positively giddy over the entire menu, she was most excited about the fact that the restaurant has four different chilaquiles dishes and described them as “hands-down the best.”   If the chilaquiles con mole are an indication, she’s absolutely correct.  More than most mole, this one has the prominent flavor of chocolate, one of its chief ingredients.  It’s a dark brown mole redolent with complex flavors.  Order it with the shredded chicken which is light, fluffy and moist.  For breakfast, the chilaquiles are served with two eggs, beans and hash browns.

Molletes: open-faced torta bread topped with beans & cheese

Molletes

Belly-busting, belt-loosening, stomach swelling–there are many ways to describe portions at Delicious (not necessarily a Freudian slip) which offers several platters large enough to feed a family. One of the very largest and most delicias (see, they’re synonymous) is the Patron Platter: a jumble of two eggs, diced ham, onions, cubed potatoes, jalapenos, mushrooms and cheese served with a tortilla, two strips of bacon, two sausage patties and a corn chorizo quesadilla.  If that sounds like a bounteous buffet, it may as well be.  Where but on a buffet might you find bacon, sausage and ham together in one plate?  This buffet on a plate is not only prodigious, it’s so good you’ll finish it all.

Shame on me for not having already mentioned just how accommodating and friendly the wait staff is.  Delicias is one of those rare restaurants in which “have it your way” is a reality.  In three visits, each member of the tandem wait staff as well as the manager have visited my table to make sure I had everything needed to enjoy my meal.  It’s a genial wait staff eager to please.  The menu offers seventeen different burritos and if one doesn’t quite have everything you want, just tell your server and the sky’s the limit.  You can smother your burritos in your favorite sauce: green sauce, red sauce, Delicias sauce (tomatillo sauce), mole sauce and even Suizas sauce.  A breakfast burrito with eggs, ham and beans topped with extra Suizas sauce became a favorite after one bite.  That Suizas sauce is absolutely addictive.

Tacos de Alhambre: Ham, bacon, carnitas, shredded cheese on corn tortillas

Tacos de Alambre

Traditional American entrees abound on the menu where in addition to four hamburgers, a club sandwich and French fries, you’ll find oatmeal, omelets, French toast and hot cakes.  The hot cakes are among the best in Albuquerque, better than at many paragons of pancake perfection.  The batter is infused with vanilla, just enough to be discernible but not so much as to make them cloying.  The hot cakes are golden hued and of medium thickness.  They’re served with heated syrup and easily melting butter.

February 24, 2013: Delicia’s is one of a handful of restaurants in the Albuquerque area to serve molletes, a delightfully unique yet simple appetizer.   Molletes are a sort of open-faced sandwich made from tortas bread (similar to French bread) layered generously with refried beans and cheese all toasted on a broiler.  It’s simple in its execution and delivery.  Though satisfying on their own, it’s hard not to contemplate how much better the molletes would be with some New Mexico green chile.  Maybe next time we’ll sneak some in. 

Camarones Mojo De Ajo

26 February 2013: Aficionados of terrific tacos will find several options to assuage their yen.  One taco more common in southern New Mexico than in the northern half of the state are tacos de alambre.  Alambre is a Spanish word for “wire” which sounds like an odd name for these tacos.  The genesis of the name is in dispute with some theories tying the name to the Moors who settled in Spain while others believe the name refers to the way the cheese in the mixture stretches out like thin wire when it sticks to the cook’s spatula while it’s being grilled with pre-marinated and cooked meats.  In this case, the meats are ham, bacon and carnitas served on a plate with steaming corn tortillas on the side.  These are terrific tacos. 

24 December 2016: Migas may translate from Spanish to “crumbs,” there’s absolutely nothing crummy about this popular breakfast dish.  The crumbs in the name is because this dish is made with left-over tortillas or bread.   At Delicias, migas con chorizo have the carb-loaded oomph that elevates scrambled eggs to a sublime waker-upper of a dish.  With pork chorizo, onions and green peppers, there’s deliciousness in every bite.  Better still, the migas are served with refried beans and hash browns.  This is breakfast!

Chiles Rellenos en Nogada

6 March 2016: The mariscos menu includes a number of shrimp (camarones) entrees including camarones mojo de ajo (shrimp marinated in garlic). This is a very interesting dish in that the shrimp are accompanied by two starches—mashed potatoes and white rice. Considering Mexican restaurants prepare baked potatoes (papas asadas) better than anyone, it should come as no surprise that the mashed potatoes are par excellence. If you like gravy with your mashed potatoes, there should be enough of the buttery-minced garlic mix to appease you. Eight butterflied shrimp per serving are sweet and succulent with a snap to each bite that tells you they’re fresh.

6 March 2016: Mexican history recounts that in 1821, Catholic nuns from Pueblo created a dish to honor a visit from a revolutionary general who helped Mexico win its independence from Spain. That dish, chile rellenos en nogada, was the color of the Mexican flag: a green poblano pepper, a white walnut sauce and red pomegranates. The version prepared at Delicias is among the best we’ve found in New Mexico and to my knowledge, the only chiles rellenos of this type in Albuquerque. Two Poblano chiles are stuffed with a picadillo filling, a combination of minced meat, fruits, pinons and spices then topped with a white, creamy walnut sauce garnered with dried cranberries (when pomegranates are not in season). Unlike some chiles rellenos en nogada, these are not battered and fried which will enhance your appreciation for a pepper low in the Scoville scale, but high in flavor.  The well-balanced combination of sweet and savory flavors is palate pleasing and addictive. If you’ve never had this dish, you should run to the border (6601 San Mateo) and order it.

Congreburger

9 March 2016: It’s what I ordered for the second time in a three-day span in order to introduce my friends Larry “the professor with the perspicacious palate” McGoldrick and Dazzling Deanell to what I believe is a very special and unique dish.  Larry put it succinctly—“this is OMG good.”  Deanell wasn’t quite as effusive, her appreciation more evident in spoonful after spoonful of this magic dish.  The chiles rellenos en nogada are served with rice which might otherwise be good, but is elevated to greatness when dragged along the rich walnut sauce.

9 March 2016: What kind of so-called gastronome would dine at a Mexican restaurant and order a hamburger? The answer, of course, is a gastronome already well acquainted with the Mexican food on the menu. The description of the Congreburger had me at “three strips of bacon” and if that isn’t sufficiently enticing, this work of genius also includes two slices of cheese, a single strip of green chile, ham and avocado. Despite featuring double cheese, this behemoth is constructed with only one beef patty, but it’s thicker than three quarter-pounders stacked atop one another. It goes without saying the patty is also juicier and more flavorful. Now, bacon and ham—that’s pure porcine pleasure, an aphrodisiac no red-blooded male can resist. The bacon is thick and smoky while the ham is imbued with sweet, smoky notes. Together, their flavor profile is pure harmony. There’s not much piquancy on the strip of chile, but it pairs well with the unctuous avocadoes. Atop the bottom bun and below the beef patty are layers of julienned carrots and mixed greens, an interesting touch. This burger is so tall you’ll probably envy birds whose double-jointed beaks allow them to open wide. As is, you’ll have to mash the burger down just to be able to bite down on it. Though our server indicated the term “Congre” doesn’t have a literal translation, we suspect it’s a diminutive of “congregar,” the Spanish word for “congregate.” That’s what this burger is—a congregation of great ingredients and flavors.

Pastel Tres Leches

9 March 2016: In the unlikely event you’ll be able to enjoy dessert after polishing off a prodigious platter and all the generous sides, Delicias offers several post-prandial treats: fried ice cream, sopaipillas, flan and pastel tres leches. My Kim called the pastel tres leches the best she’s ever had. It would be hard to argue against that contention. It’s as spongy moist and decadent delicious as any tres leches cake in New Mexico. Press into it with your fork and you’re not only rewarded with magnificent milkiness, but with pudding-like layers of deliciousness. The cake is drizzled with a heavenly strawberry gelée you’ll want on all your morning toast. It’s amazing how the enjoyment of a dish increases exponentially when you introduce someone to it and they enjoy it as much, if not more than you do. Such was the case when my friend Larry McGoldrick and I took Dazzling Deanell to Delicias on her birthday. Never having had tres leches cake before, Deanell was verklempt at just how moist and delicious this cake was. In all her 32 years on Mother Earth, Deanell had never experienced any cake quite as dazzling.

Delicias Cafe lives up to its name.  It is one of the most delightful and delicious Mexican restaurants in the city with a wonderful authenticity aficionados will love.

Cafe Delicias
6001 San Mateo, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
505-830-6561
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 24 December 2016
1st VISIT:  12 February 2012
# OF VISITS: 7
RATING: 22
COST: $$
BEST BET: Sopes, Enchiladas Suizas, Caldo de Res, Salsa and Chips, Chilaquiles con Mole, Patron Platter, Short Stack, Burrito with Suiza Sauce, Tres Leches Cake, Molletes, Tacos de Alhambre, Chiles Rellenos en Nogada, Camarones Mojo de Ajo, Tostadas de Ceviche con Pescado

Delicias Café Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

SweeTea Bakery Cafe – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Sweet Tea Bakery Cafe on San Mateo

In some metropolitan areas, legions of restaurant bloggers dissect and report on every facet of the area’s dining scene. These bloggers have a significant impact on the restaurant choices diners make. That fact isn’t lost on savvy restaurateurs—particularly young entrepreneurs active in social media–who solicit feedback on their restaurants from the dynamic food blogger community. Some restaurateurs who understand the power of online reviews even engage in “food blogger outreach campaigns” and cultivate mutually beneficial relationships with food bloggers. Alas, this doesn’t often happen in Albuquerque—maybe because you can count on one hand (with at least two fingers left over) the number of active food bloggers with staying power and brand recognition.  There is anecdotal evidence that Duke City restaurant review bloggers have some impact, but it hasn’t been quantified.

You can also count on one hand the number of restaurateurs who have actually invited me to experience their new restaurant ventures. On the rare occasion in which a restaurateur does invite me, it reaffirms for me that the restaurateur: (1) recognizes food bloggers as a legitimate, credible and influential medium; and (2) understands the power of blog-based reviews to amplify a positive dining experience. So, when Anh and Tammie, the vivacious owners of the SweeTea (the expected “t” is redundant) Bakery Café on San Mateo, invited me to “come sample and review our new sandwich bakery” and expressed their “excitement to get feedback from food experts like you,” I leaped at the opportunity…though careful as always to remain as inconspicuous as my linebacker size and “real” camera will allow.

Owners Tammie Nguyen (left) and Any Nguyen

It didn’t immediately dawn on me that I may have “outed” myself when ordering a durian-coconut smoothie. Durian, as regular readers may recognize, is considered “the world’s smelliest fruit.” Its odoriferous emanations have been likened to body odor, smelly feet, rotten onions, garbage and worse. Our server’s reaction—a shock and awe mix of “you are kidding, aren’t you?” and “do you really know what you’re ordering?”–is typical. Perhaps sensing the server’s trepidation, Anh Nguyen stepped out to confirm the sheer madness or foolhardiness of my beverage order. She laughed when I told her I was Vietnamese in my previous life, acknowledged that durian is an acquired taste which very few people acquire then proceeded to give us a guided tour of the bakery-café’s pastry case.

This wasn’t some special treatment accorded to a food blogger who could perhaps influence venturesome Duke City diners (remember, Anh didn’t yet know who I was). This is how SweeTea’s staff treats everyone who walks into the premises for the first time. With the pride of a young parent, Anh practically beamed as she aptly described each pulchritudinous pastry, a phalanx of sweet and savory treasures displayed under glass. It’s a wonder drool tracks don’t obscure your view; many a museum’s most cherished masterpieces pale in comparison to these pastries. Their appeal is heightened by Anh’s enthusiastic descriptions.

View of the Pastry Case and Order Counter

After our meal had been delivered to our table, Anh stopped by to see how we were enjoying it…and “caught me” carefully photographing our bounty. Surmising my gig was up, I proceeded to reveal my identity as a mild-mannered food blogger who can eat tall banh mi in a single (well, maybe ten) bite(s). She reproved me for having paid for the meal myself, indicating that having invited me she had intended to treat us to our meal. Noting our table was brimming with savory fare, she excused herself, returning scant minutes later with a trove of baked goods—eight enticing delicacies as dainty and beautiful as those baked by a Parisian patisserie.

Ahn then summoned her partner and long-time friend Tammie Nguyen to join us. If you’ve ever admired those framed portraits of statuesque Vietnamese women which adorn the walls at some Vietnamese restaurants, in Anh and Tammie you’ll see vivid confirmation that such elegant beauty does exist. Theirs is an easy friendship borne of shared years and experiences. Before launching SweeTea, Ahn worked as a pharmacist while Tammie toiled as a software engineer.  As restaurateurs they’re naturals with an ambassadorial flair all good restaurateurs have.  They’re passionate about giving their guests a memorable and delicious experience.

Meatball Banh Mi

If you ever visited the defunct House of Pho, the location’s previous occupant at Montgomery Plaza, you’ll be amazed at the wholesale transformation the 1,800 square-foot space has undergone. A complete make-over has converted a nondescript restaurant venue into one which bespeaks of both modernity and hominess. A mural depicting Singapore’s high-rise dominated skyline covers an entire wall. It’s eye-catching, but the true cynosure of the attractive milieu is the pastry case with its enticing fare. Seating is more functional than it is comfortable unless you manage to snag the comfortable red sectional sofa where you can stretch out. Anh expects a robust take-out business so the dozen or so seats should be just about right for those of us who want to eat in.

SweeTea is patterned after 85 °C Bakery Café, a Taiwanese chain of coffee shops and self-serve bakeries with a huge presence in California. Guests employ tongs to extricate their favorite (or soon-to-be favorite) pastries from self-serve pastry cases then pile them onto a tray and ferry them to the counter. In other pastry cases, you’ll see such delicacies as cheesecake and fruit-filled tarts. Above the counter you’ll espy a menu showcasing an appealing selection of delicious Vietnamese sandwiches, small bites, special entree dishes, unique specialty drinks and bubble tea. It’s an ambitious menu considering the relatively Lilliputian size of the bakery-cafe, but it’s not exclusively Vietnamese.

Bulgogi Banh Mi

Anh explained that contemporary Vietnamese food has been heavily influenced by nearly a century of French colonialism. The influx of French flavors, ingredients and techniques essentially revolutionized traditional Vietnamese food. One of the most visible aspects of modern French-inspired Vietnamese food is the crusty baguette, the basis for banh mi, the widely popular Vietnamese sandwich. Sweet and savory pastries, sweet breads, chocolate-filled croissants and other tantalizing baked goods may now be ubiquitous in Vietnam, but their origin is French.

“In Vietnam,” Anh told me “it takes a lot more work to make a banh mi.” That’s because ovens are still relatively scarce within family homes. Throughout Ho Chi Minh City where she was born, banh mi are a featured fare of the makeshift street markets in which “kitchens” are ad-libbed by inventive cooks. The fragrant bouquet of ambrosial street foods being prepared on small, sometimes homemade, charcoal braziers wafts throughout the alleyways and side streets in which these, mostly uncovered, markets are located. Though she can’t hope to recreate the incomparable experience of preparing banh mi in the street food style of her birthplace, she certainly knows what it takes to create the best to be found in Albuquerque.

Egg Rolls

Before launching SweeTea, Anh and Tammie returned to Vietnam to study baking techniques then spent time refining recipes to adapt to Albuquerque’s high altitude, high alkaline water and arid climate.  These challenges have baffled transplanted bakers for years, but with lots of practice, water-softening technology and a determination to treat Duke City diners to the very and most authentic best banh mi in New Mexico, they’ve got it down pat.  The authenticity is immediately obvious in that the baguettes (baked on the premises, not purchased at Costco) have a perfect balance of pillowy softness inside and crustiness of the exterior.  Moreover, Anh explained, banh mi sandwiches are supposed to be at least twelve-inches long as they are at SweeTea.

In our first two visits, we enjoyed five banh mi, each one dressed with picked carrots, daikon relish, cilantro, jalapeño, cucumbers and SweeTea mayo.  Banh mi aren’t ungashtupt (that’s Yiddish for overstuffed) in the manner of American sandwiches.  There’s just enough meat in each of the five sandwiches we enjoyed to complement the accompanying vegetables without obscuring the freshness and deliciousness of the baguette.  Each banh mi is a balance of flavors in perfect proportion to one another.  My early favorite is the meatball banh mi.  If you’re picturing golf ball-sized meatballs as you’d find in an Italian meatball sandwich, you won’t find them here, but you will find them addictively delicious.  These “meatballs” have neither the texture nor orb-like shape of Italian meatballs.  They are instead more akin to a very moist, very well-seasoned ground pork simmered in tomato sauce.

Chicken Dumplings

My Kim enjoyed the bulgogi banh mi most.  Bulgogi is certainly not Vietnamese.  It is instead the signature dish of Korea,  what many Americans refer to as Korean barbecue–thin strips of marinated lean beef imbued with a harmonious marriage of sweet, savory and spicy tastes.  The fusion of signature elements from Korean and Vietnamese culinary cultures is a winner, but in terms of flavor profile, it’s not significantly different than the grilled pork banh mi.  For more distinctive, savory flavors try the grilled sausage banh mi, a pork-based sausage redolent with the flavors of fish sauce and garlic.  If “cold-cut” sandwiches are your preference, you’ll love the #1 Special Banh Mi made with Vietnamese ham, pork roll, headcheese and pate (yet another delicacy for which Vietnam can thank France).  Don’t let the term “headcheese” scare you off.  There’s not enough of it to overwhelm the sandwich.  Besides, it’s a nice complement to the other ingredients.

But I digress.  Before you get to the banh mi, you’ll want to enjoy at least two of the four listed “small bites” on the menu.  Make one of them the deep-fried, golden-hued egg rolls.  Come to think of it, you may want two orders of these cigar-shaped beauties lest you risk fighting over who gets the third one (being a gentleman, I always let my Kim have it then stew over it later).  Served with a sweet-savory and slightly tart sauce of thick viscosity, these egg rolls are generously stuffed and perfectly fried.  They’re absolutely delicious.

Vermicelli with Grilled Pork

For those of us who dine with a spouse or partner, the matter of appetizers served in odd-numbered quantities can be confounding.  Exempli gratia, the pan-fried chicken dumplings which are served five to an order.  You’ll probably covet all five of these crescent-shaped beauties for yourself.  Who can blame you?  They’re tender and plump, filled with fresh, tasty minced chicken fried to a crispy (but not greasy) golden-hue.  There’s only one thing missing–and that’s the elusive sixth dumpling to make it an even-numbered starter so neither you or your partner will feel short-changed. 

While not a compendium-like menu (such as the 145-items at nearby Saigon Restaurant), SweeTea offers more than enough entrees to make it not just your favorite pastry provider, but a very viable lunch or dinner option.  In thirty or forty visits, for example, you might  want to deviate from the banh mi menu.  There to sate and likely hook you are seven vermicelli options, each made with the same familiar proteins you love on the bahn mi.  The grilled pork vermicelli is a resplendent swimming pool-sized bowl crammed with vermicelli noodles, cucumber, bean sprouts, cilantro, lettuce, pickled carrot and daikon, scallion and roasted peanuts served with SweeTea fish sauce.  If freshness has a flavor, it’s exemplified by this dish in which a melange of ingredients and flavors coalesce into a palate-pleasing, tongue-titillating bowl of pure gustatory enjoyment.

Assorted Vietnamese Pastries

Now for the pastries!  Trays of these artisanal delicacies are baked twice daily so you’ll always have fresh pastries on hand. That is until the bakery runs out…and if you get to SweeTea late in the day, you just might find slim pickings. Not that a limited selection is a bad thing. It’s how we discovered the cinnamon rose buns, (not pictured) cinnamon rolls shaped like roses.  Unlike those overly-glazed grocery store pretenders, the prevalent flavor here is sweet cinnamon in perfect proportion to the soft bread dough which unravels easily.  After two visits and nine different pastries, these may be my favorite…at least until I try another new one.  

For years the Coconut Craisins Butterfly at Banh Mi Coda has been my favorite of all Vietnamese pastries.  Though somewhat smaller, SweeTea’s version is better…more of the coconut-raising marriage we love.  For my Kim, the nutella buns reign supreme.  She’s fiendishly addicted to the sweetened hazelnut cocoa spread and smiles broadly with every bite of the soft buns.  We both love the “not your traditional banana nut bread” which is baked with fresh rum-soaked bananas and is topped with walnuts.  This is not your mother’s dry, tasteless banana nut bread.  It’s rich, moist and utterly decadent.  SweeTea’s signature pastry is the Kim Sa Bun, a soft bun filled with egg custard and with a cookie crust top.  Anh described the painstaking process of brining the egg yolks to prepare the custard, a labor of love for a pastry you will love.  

More Pastry Deliciousness

24 December 2016: It stands to reason that innovative and avant-garde restaurateurs such as Anh and Tammie wouldn’t subject their guests to the de rigueur Coke or Pepsi product offerings.  Though soft drinks are available, adventurous diners will gravitate to the exceptional teas or smoothies (truly intrepid souls will try the coconut-durian smoothie).  If you’re of a more healthful bent, Anh (remember she was a pharmacist) might recommend Thai basil seed with Malva nut which has properties conducive to good health. 

The childlike among us (okay, me) might instead opt for a colorful, multi-layered “rainbow” drink.  From bottom to top, this beverage is layered with chestnuts, mung bean, agar, coconut and crushed ice.  Use your straw to blend it all together and you’ll enjoy one of the more unique flavor-texture experiences you’ll have in the Duke City.

Nhu Holding “Rainbow” Drink

There are many things to love about the SweeTea Bakery Cafe, a magical fusion of Vietnamese and French ingenuity.  With Anh and Tammie turning out the best pastries this side of Ho Chi Minh City, it promises to be a very welcome and exciting addition to the Duke City dining scene.  Tell them Gil sent you.

SweeTea Bakery Cafe
4565 San Mateo, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 582-2592
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 24 December 2016
1st VISIT: 4 December 2016
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 24
COST: $$
BEST BET: Meatball Banh Mi, Bulgogi Banh Mi, Special (Vietnamese ham, pork roll, headcheese and pate) Banh Mi, Grilled Sausage Banh Mi, Grilled Pork Banh Mi, Chicken Dumplings, Egg Rolls, Vermicelli with Grilled Pork, “Not Your Traditional Banana Nut Bread,” Kim Sa Bun, Egg Custard Bun, Nutella Bun, Coconut Craisins Butterfly, Cinnamon Rose Bun

Sweet Tea Bakery Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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