Gil's Thrilling (And Filling) Blog

Follow the Culinary Ruminations of New Mexico's Sesquipedalian Sybarite. 841 Restaurant Reviews, More Than 6500 Visitor Comments…And Counting!

Mr. Powdrell’s Barbecue House – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Pete Powdrell, Albuquerque's barbecue legend

Pete Powdrell, Albuquerque’s legendary barbecue king

If you believe in forever
Where baby backs are never bland
If there’s a barbecue heaven
Well you know Mr. Pete is lending a hand, hand, hand.

Shortly after Arthur Bryant died in 1982, the Kansas City Star published a cartoon depicting St. Peter greeting Arthur at the gates of heaven and asking, “Did you bring sauce?” A quarter of a century later, I can imagine St. Peter asking Pete Powdrell if he brought the secrets to his extraordinarily tender brisket.  What the legendary Kansas City barbecue giant Arthur Bryant was to sauce, Pete Powdrell was to beef. Albuquerque’s indisputable king of barbecue was called home on December 2nd, 2007, but he left behind an indelible legacy that extended far beyond serving some of the best barbecue in the west.

Pete was a second-generation sharecropper who in 1958 escaped the small town racism of Crosbyton, Texas to start a new life in Albuquerque. Fifty years later, Pete’s circle of friends and mourners included most of New Mexico’s political power brokers as well as tens of thousands of customers who loved his barbecue and the gentle man perpetually attired in overalls who prepared it.

Powdrell’s restaurant on Fourth Street is on the National Historic Register

To chronicle Pete’s life (and someone should) would be to celebrate the sheer determination and drive of a man whose greatest of many gifts may have been perseverance. He literally had not much more than the clothes on his back when he arrived in Albuquerque with his wife and eleven children, but he was determined to make a good life for his family. Mission accomplished!

Since 1962, the Powdrell family has operated several barbecue houses in the Duke City. Their initial restaurant venture, a take-out diner on South Broadway, launched four years after the family relocated to Albuquerque. The inspiration for Pete’s original, authentic Southern-style barbecue was family recipes he began perfecting during backyard and church cookouts in Texas. Those recipes dates back to the 19th century near Baton Rouge, Louisiana where his grandfather Isaac Britt began the Powdrell family legacy of incomparable barbecue.

Salad with blue cheese dressing

Salad with blue cheese dressing

The word “institution” is bandied about too easily these days, but in Mr. Powdrell’s Barbecue House, Albuquerque has a bona fide institution that continues to stand the test of time against the formidable onslaught and riches of corporate pretenders, many of whom fall by the wayside while Powdrell’s continues to thrive.  Drive by Powdrell’s and the wafting fragrance of hickory smoke literally invites you to step inside and partake of old-fashioned barbecue.  Not coincidentally, Pete’s son Joe will tell you his father was much like the hickory wood used at the restaurant–hard, stubborn and consistent.

The reason for Powdrell’s continued success–some of the very best barbecue in the west served by a warm family in welcoming milieus.  East side residents frequent Powdrell’s on Central Avenue between Eubank and Juan Tabo while west dwelling citizens visit Powdrell’s on North Fourth where barbecue is served in a stately brick home on the National Historic Registry.

Mushrooms

Mushrooms

Ann Powdrell, who was eleven years old when the family traversed the winding Route 66 in their move to Albuquerque, takes care of the kitchen in the Fourth Street restaurant.  She is a sweet, gentle woman with a raconteur’s gift for enthralling guests with stories about her fabled family.  On an infrequent slow lunch hour, she might even show you the veritable museum collection of family memorabilia upstairs.  More than likely, however, she’s in  the kitchen preparing the dishes which help make Powdrell’s the legendary barbecue restaurant it is.

Powdrell’s hasn’t been a local secret in a long time, but it’s a claim to fame of which we’re all proud. Over the years Albuquerque’s finest gift to Route 66 barbecue tradition has garnered a lot of recognition from beyond the Duke City.  In 2004, Sunset magazine published an article celebrating the west’s best BBQ. Calling the west a “barbecue frontier,” the magazine trumpeted Powdrell’s baby back ribs slathered with tart, spicy sauce.  Culinary sojourner Michael Stern, co-founder of the Roadfood Web and publishing dynasty loved Powdrell’s beef, proclaiming that “it isn’t the extraordinary tenderness that will make you happy; it’s this meat’s flavor.”  In his thematic tome, Dr. BBQ’s Big-Time Barbecue Road Trip! author Ray Lampe hits the road and introduces America to the best barbecue in the fruited plains. Mr. Powdrell’s Barbecue House was one of only four New Mexico venues singled out by the self-professed Dr. BBQ.

The combo platter

The combo platter

My first impression of this very special barbecue was formed in the late 1970s while living on the south side of Central Avenue not more than three hundred yards from Mr. Powdrell’s. With the most faint of breezes, the aroma of succulent meats smoked low and slow wafted toward my cramped quarters like an irresistible siren’s song. It was a tantalizing temptation no one could resist. The genesis of the olfactory arousing aroma was indeed hickory smoke-saturated meats, the memory of which imprinted themselves on my taste buds with an ineffaceable permanence. In Mr. Powdrell’s Barbecue House, barbecue Nirvana beckoned and I answered.

Over the past few decades my travels have allowed me to experience barbecue from the four American epicenters of barbecue excellence: Texas, Memphis, Kansas City and South Carolina. Though I have found barbecue that is more lauded and more famous, only Mr. Powdrell’s has the taste of being home.  It’s that way for generations of Duke City residents.

Chicken Dinner-One half pound of barbequed chicken

Chicken Dinner-One half pound of barbequed chicken

The stately brick home on North Fourth street which houses Mr. Powdrell’s Barbecue House still looks very much like the family dwelling it once was. From the built-in china cabinets to the hardwood floors, it is an inviting setting for dining, an invitation infused by the provocative hickory smokers near the parking lot.

In describing the west’s barbecue as “unburdened by the orthodoxy of such hot spots as Texas and the Carolinas,” Sunset magazine may have well been describing Powdrell’s where the menu has a whole lot of Texas, a little bit of Memphis with a touch of Kansas City for good measure. In other words, the menu has a bit of everything then some.

Powdrell10

Chicken Wings Powdrell’s Style

Being “unburdened”, Powdrell’s can serve such non-traditional starters as mushrooms prepared in butter as well as all the favorite fried appetizer favorites.  It also serves some of the best blue cheese dressing in Albuquerque, a dressing ameliorated by just a bit of feta with some very high quality blue cheese.  It’s perfect–neither too thick nor too thin and runny, not too strong or sour.  It’s the blue cheese dressing Goldilocks would choose.

9 February 2008: The menu includes a veritable smorgasbord of sumptuous sandwiches generously engorged with smoke-infused meats slathered with a tangy sauce. The sandwiches are excellent, but most diners queue for barbecue dinners, all of which are served with two sides and Texas toast.  A half-rack of baby back ribs at Powdrell’s is the antithesis of “competition” baby backs which tend to be overly sweet (sometimes almost candied).  A reddish glaze covers the moist, succulent pork on Powdrell’s baby backs which are so good you’ll discharge the bones like cartridge shells.

Babyback Ribs with French Fries and Texas Toast

9 February 2008: The combination platter (pictured above) features a pound or more of some of the best Mr. Powdrell’s has to offer–chicken, ribs, sausage, links and some of the very best brisket in the world.  The brisket is the pièce de résistance, indisputably the very best in town (and nothing else is even close). It is smoked at low heat for eighteen hours and when done is refrigerated then heated again. The process somehow imbues the brisket with an uncommon tenderness that belies what can be a leather-tough cut of meat.  Michael Stern is absolutely right in declaring the flavor of this meat to be your source of happiness. This is an absolutely delicious brisket that would convert the most staunch of vegetarians.

29 January 2010: If you’ve ever lamented the dearth of truly outstanding chicken wings in Albuquerque, Powdrell’s will make a believer out of you.  These wings are imbued with a hint of smoke before being deep-fried to seal in that smokiness and flavor while melting off that layer of fat just underneath the skin.  They are then glazed with a tangy, spicy barbecue sauce so unlike the sauces wings restaurant describe as “inferno,” “nuclear” and the like, but which don’t deliver.  Powdrell’s sauce has the zesty tanginess of orange peel, the pleasant piquancy of peppers and the sweet-savory goodness of ingredients that work very well together.  The wings are moist, meaty and utterly delicious.

Special of the Day: Catfish, Brisket and two sides (Fried Okra and Corn on the Cob) with Texas Toast

The perfect accompaniment for those wings is a dish of black beans and rice quite unlike what you might see at a Cajun restaurant where such a dish isn’t prepared with smoked sausage, celery and a tomato sauce base. Ann Powdrell describes it as one of those dishes her mother created out of whatever was in the refrigerator. You’ll describe it absolutely delicious.

1 July 2011: Not even the very best restaurants do all things well though the great ones tend to come close. At Powdrell’s as at most restaurants in Albuquerque, the Achilles Heel seems to be catfish. It’s the one dish I’ve enjoyed least at Powdrell’s and that’s not solely because of my eight years in Mississippi (America’s catfish capital) helped me appreciate the qualities of catfish done well. The coating on the catfish made it very difficult to cut into, normally an indication the inside is dry (it was). Fortunately the catfish was offered as a special of the day along with another meat. The brisket was as wonderful as the catfish was disappointing.

Broiled Trout

1 July 2011: Much better is an entree of broiled trout which is as tender and moist as the catfish is tough and dry.  Two delicious filets are served with two sides and Texas Toast.  The filets are brushed lightly with butter and served with a nice char.  A squeeze of lemon or a small application of tartar sauce and you’re good to go.  The only drawback to eating broiled fish, no matter how good it may be, is being surrounded by the fragrant bouquet of bodacious barbecue.  You may want some of Powdrell’s barbecue sauce on the trout, too.

Powdrell’s meats are the antithesis of the type of meat to which I refer as Ivory Snow in that it’s NOT 99 and 44/100 percent pure. You’ll find a fatty or sinewy meat here or there and plenty of dark meat, but that’s, in part what Duke City diners have loved about Powdrell’s for generations. It’s a bit sassy and a bit imperfect, but always comforting and delicious.

The Rockin’ Po-Boy

9 December 2014:  If you have a predilection for poultry, Powdrell’s is your hook-up and if you consider barbecue chicken to be the least exciting among available meats, this one may make a convert out of you.  The chicken (breast, thigh, wing) is moist, tender and delicious with the tangy house sauce generously slathered on.  The perfect accompaniment for the chicken is (you may want to be seated for this) deep-fried macaroni and cheese.  It’s not one of the available sides, but you should spring for it anyway. 

29 September 2010: In 2010, Powdrell’s East Side location was selected by Duke City voters as the inaugural winner of the city’s “rock this restaurant” challenge, qualifying for a complete make-over.  It’s a testament to just how beloved this bastion of barbecue has become over the years.  In honor of its selection, Powdrell’s introduced an “everything but the kitchen sink” sandwich called the “Rockin’ Po-Boy,” a beefy behemoth that would test the mettle of a professional gurgitator. Available in six- or twelve-inch sizes, this sandwich is engorged to its spilling point with beef brisket, pulled pork, smoked turkey, onion rings, French fries and coleslaw slathered with barbecue sauce.  There’s obviously no need for sides because they’re inside the sandwich.  You’ll be hard-pressed to finish this hard rockin’ sandwich.

Mr. Powdrell’s Barbecue House
5209 4th Street, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 345-8086
Web Site

LATEST VISIT: 9 December 2014
# OF VISITS: 13
RATING: 21
COST: $$
BEST BET: Barbecue Brisket, Chicken Wings, Rockin’ Po-Boy, Babyback Ribs, Okra, Corn-on-the-cob, coleslaw

Mr. Powdrell's Barbeque on Urbanspoon

Viet Q – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Viet Q Vietnamese Grill Restaurant on Montgomery and San Pedro

When helicopters were snatching people from the grounds of the American embassy
compound during the panic of the final Vietcong push into Saigon,
I was sitting in front of the television set shouting, ‘Get the chefs! Get the chefs
!'”
Calvin Trillin, American writer, New Yorker Magazine

It’s unlikely Trillin, a humorist renown for his love of food, was entirely serious about his seemingly callous reaction to the poignant imagery of thousands of South Vietnamese fleeing their besieged city.  In his own inimitable way, he was using his sardonic wit to express  appreciation for the exotic cuisine he loves so much.  In fact, he considers the influx of Asians into American restaurant kitchens divine intervention of a sort: “God felt sorry for us because we lost a war to such a small country as Vietnam and sent the Vietnamese to us–where they were really needed.”

Three decades after the evacuation of Saigon, the Travel Channel’s articulate bon viveur Anthony Bourdain, wrote about Saigon: “I think I’ve gone bamboo…I’ve gone goofy on Vietnam, fallen hopelessly, hopelessly in love with the place.”  For Bourdain, that’s rare, unfettered praise.  Most viewers recognize that Bourdain’s approach to his culinary adventures is antithetical to the burbling style of Rachel Ray who visits only the most sanitary, hip and happening restaurants then anoints everything that touches her toothsome mouth as “yummo.”  Bourdain doesn’t sugarcoat anything, exposing his featured fare’s warts and blemishes yet somehow finding deliciousness in the experience and describing it with the honesty that has made him an iconic personality.

Papaya Salad

Bourdain champions the experience of dining in Saigon’s makeshift street markets in which kitchens are ad-libbed by inventive cooks.  The fragrant bouquet of ambrosial 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 many tourists fear the Vietnamese version of Montezuma’s revenge, the incidence of food-borne illness is relatively low.

Alas, we’re not going to find improvised street markets in Albuquerque’s International District or anywhere else in our fair city and not even a fun shopping day at the Talin Market World Food Fare can match the experience of a day  of dining in  a Saigon open air market or a soiree at a side street “cafe.”  Fortunately the Duke City is home to several very good to outstanding Vietnamese restaurants, a concentration of which are centered in the city’s southeastern section.  A number of outliers (May Hong and Saigon come to mind) make Vietnamese cuisine proximal to most neighborhoods east of the Rio Grande.

Grilled Beef Wrapped in Grape Leaves

In June, 2010, the Northeast Heights welcomed a new, yet seemingly familiar, Vietnamese restaurant.  It’s no coincidence that the lime green signage at Viet Q resembles the color pallet at Viet Taste, a popular strip mall eatery near Coronado Mall.  The ownership of both Viet Q and Viet Taste is related, but that’s not the only semblance.  Step inside Viet Q and you’re in the lap of upscale stylings, starting with a pergola you walk under to enter the dining room.  Lighting is subdued and the spacing between tables allows for some privacy.  Framed photographs depicting the curvature of sultry women accentuate the ambiance.

22 August 2010: Viet Q purports to be the most upscale Vietnamese restaurant in town.  To that end, service is very personable and attentive.  Every meal begins with a complementary papaya salad, a very nice touch.  Green papaya is shaved into thin slices with julienne carrots then drizzled with a sauce of soy, coconut milk and sugar topped with sprigs of cilantro and crushed peanuts.  This is an addictive salad showcasing fresh, crispy vegetables and a sauce that’s both sweet and piquant, deliciously so.  It’s very similar to the papaya salad offered at many Thai restaurants, but we enjoyed it more–so much more that in future visits, we’ll order the appetizer portions which are made with shrimp or chicken.

Meat Ball Soup

22 August 2010: Unacculturated diners visiting a Vietnamese restaurant for the first time tend to do a double-take when they see grilled beef wrap grape leaf on the menu, wondering if they stepped into a Greek restaurant. Entirely different than Greek dolmades, Viet Q’s version features the anise, lemon grass and cinnamon blessed grilled beef encased is a small, tightly wrapped, cigar shaped grape leaf.  It’s served with a light, slightly piquant and not too sweet fish sauce.   Five pieces to the order might inspire rapacious drooling.

7 December 2014:  Few things in life are as satisfying as biting into a well-crafted dumpling–the steamed or fried wrapper hermetically sealing concordant ingredients in a steamed or fried wrapper.  Preceded by an intoxicating aroma wafting toward your eagerly awaiting nostrils, the  first bite is always a revelation as to whether you’re partaking of dumpling greatness.  At the very least, Viet Q’s dumplings are very good.  Engorged with pork and a tangy-piquant dipping sauce, their only fault is in quantity–there are only six per order.

Potstickers

22 August 2010: As Bourdain fans know, he considers pho, a wonderful Vietnamese noodle soup, his favorite comfort food, claiming that he would “jerk a butter knife across his best friend’s throat” for a bowl of pho.  Fortunately the portion size for pho at most restaurants is about the size of a small swimming pool, so a bowl of pho is usually large enough for two to share.  If you’re not hungry enough for a large bowl, the appetizer menu comes to the rescue with two small portioned soups–a meat ball soup and a wonton soup. 

22 August 2010: The meat ball soup is a warm elixir for whatever ails you, so warm and good you’ll long for the cold bite of winter so the soup can warm you up.  The broth is delicious with cilantro and red onions floating atop to amend the flavor profile.  The meat balls are quite dissimilar to the meatballs you might associate with an Italian spaghetti dish.  These meat balls aren’t wholly spherical, but rather sliced like thick sausage on a pizza.  Come to think of it, texturally the meat balls resemble a sliced Italian sausage.  In any case, they’re delicious and there are plenty of them on the soup.

Banh Mi

7 December 2014: Bourdain describes banh mi as a “symphony in a sandwich.”  Not very long ago, the number of Vietnamese restaurants in Albuquerque offering the sacrosanct sandwich of Vietnam was somewhat limited.  Today almost every Vietnamese restaurant in the Duke City offers a version with levels of quality varying from very good to excellent.  That’s quite a testament as to just how good banh mi can be.  Viet Q offers two banh mi though on the menu they’ve been translated to English. 

The canvas for Viet Q’s banh mi is a warm baguette which is crispy on the outside and pillowy soft on the inside which is stuffed with a number of robust herbs and vegetables such as coriander, parsley, jalapeño, daikon, cucumber and carrots along with your choice of meat (pork is an excellent option).  It’s a scrumptious sandwich that will wake up your palate.  It’s not, however, an Americanized “Dagwood” sandwich overstuffed with ingredients, but the ingredients that it does have are indeed symphonic in the way they coalesce into absolute deliciousness.

Hot Claypot Rice Combination with Grilled Beef, Squid, Crab and Vegetables

22 August 2010: One of Bourdain’s favorite restaurants in Vietnam adds an entertaining touch to the dining experience.  When a claypot rice dish is ready to serve, the claypot is broken open and the rice is tossed across the room.  Smashing claypots can be heard every few minutes.  The practice is probably too cost prohibitive and probably prohibited by the city’s Environmental Health Department, too, so you won’t hear smashing crockery at Viet Q.  What you will hear is hungry diners ordering this very popular entree.  There’s a good reason for this. 

22 August 2010: There are two claypot rice entrees on the menu–a rice dish with your choice of meat (pork, beef, shrimp) and a combination claypot rice dish with the aforementioned three choices plus squid.  The combination claypot rice dish is the dish for adventurous diners who don’t mind mixing seafood with meat.  The rice is sweet and delicious, the rice at the bottom of the dish sporting a nice caramelized texture.  Fresh vegetables–sugar snap peas, broccoli and more–blend well with fresh, well-prepared seafood and meat for a flavor combination that will keep diners happy.

Special Noodle Soup

7 December 2014:  Is there any term in the American restaurant menu that has been as cheapened over time as much as the word “special.”  Bourdain, in fact, advises diners to never, ever order the special of the day especially if it’s a seafood item. This is a way the kitchen staff gets rid of items about to spoil or go bad.  Seeing the term “special of the day” related to seafood now makes me cringe, however, seeing the term “special” used to describe a Vietnamese soup makes my mouth water.  Viet Q’s Special Noodle Soup ranks just below Cafe Dalat’s Spicy Beef Stew as my very favorite Vietnamese soup. 

If ever a soup earned the designation “special” it’s this one.  Our lovely server confessed that it’s as close to what she grew up with in Vietnam as she’s found in America. The enthusiasm with which she recommended it inspired me to bypass other desirable options.  As with the aforementioned Spicy Beef Stew, this soup packs a pleasantly piquant punch, the kind of which generates an endorphin rush sure to please your palate.  Its piquancy is punctuated by the discernible sweetness of anise and cinnamon.  Swimming in the reddish hued broth are thinly sliced raw beef slices which cook in the soup.  A large tangle of rich, unctuous noodles impregnated with the flavor of the broth is delightful.  This is indeed a special soup!

Stir-Fried Egg Noodle with Pork

22 August 2010: The stir-fried egg noodle with pork dish evinces why Viet Q’s signage includes “Vietnamese Grill.”  The grilled beef is delicious, tinged with the fragrant smokiness imparted by grilling.  The egg noodles are perfectly prepared as are the vegetables.  A light, slightly sweet broth is a flavorful addition to an excellent noodle dish.

Experientially, a meal at Viet Q is wholly unlike the unique experience of dining at a Saigon street market, but it does provide comfortable seating, excellent service, a varied menu and entrees (especially that addictive special noodle soup) that will having you coming back again and again.

Viet Q Vietnamese Restaurant
6205 Montgomery, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 872-2311
LATEST VISIT: 7 December 2014
1st VISIT: 22 August 2010
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 22
COST: $$
BEST BET: Stir-Fried Egg Noodle with Pork, Hot Claypot Rice Combination, Meat Ball Soup, Grilled Beef Wrapped in Grape Leaves, Papaya Salad, Durian Shake, Potstickers, Special Noodle Soup

Viet Q on Urbanspoon

Omira Bar & Grill – Santa Fe, New Mexico

Omira01

Omira Brazilian Steakhouse on the southeast intersection of Cerrillos and St. Michael’s in Santa Fe

HOLLY: I can’t believe you’ve never taken anybody here before.
JERRY: Well, I’m not really that much of a meat eater.
HOLLY: . . . You don’t eat meat? Are you one of those. . .
JERRY: Well, no, I’m not one of those.
~ Seinfeld

“One of those!”  Around my Chicago born and bred Kim and her family, that term fits me to a tee.  As with many Midwestern families, my in-laws are rapacious carnivores.  Their dining room table is a pantheon of pork and a bastion of beef.  It’s a Bacchanalian feast of multitudinous meats.  Similarly, meals at Windy City  restaurants are veritable meat-fests where diners unleash their innermost meat-eating-machine.  In the city’s chophouses (what every other city calls a steakhouse) heavily marbled flesh is displayed under glass, trophies of edible excess.  Is it any wonder the city’s defining foods include humongous Italian beef sandwiches, slabs of Flintstonian-sized ribs and steaks the size of manhole covers. 

This obsession with meat isn’t solely a Midwestern phenomena.  People throughout the world are eating more meat and fat than ever with worldwide meat consumption expected to double by 2020.  In the western world alone, the per capita consumption of meat is a whopping 176 pounds–or about what my in-laws eat in a week.  When they decide to lose weight or live more healthily, meat mongers eschew carbs and happily sink their teeth into…even more meat, a much-appreciated dietary byproduct of the most popular meat-centric diets in the world.

Omira02

The massive Salad Bar at Omira

Carnivores–and those among us who, unlike Jerry Seinfeld, are “one of those”–can dine together in perfect harmony, eating side-by-side at veritable meatatoriums known as Brazilian Churrascarias.  Strictly speaking, calling a Churrascaria a Brazilian “steakhouse” is a misnomer in that you don’t plop yourself down and order a slab of beef (not that there’s anything wrong with that).  Instead, you pay a fixed price (preco fixo) for the decadent indulgence of sitting down for bounteous portions of magnificent meats and full access to a sumptuous salad bar.  For carnivores, this is basically heaven on Earth.  For those among us who are “one of those” there’s still  much to enjoy.

The rodizio service is almost as entertaining as it is indulgent.  Machete-wielding servers channeling their inner gaucho traverse the room with oversized skewers of freshly prepared meats.  They risk life and limb to appease ravenous carnivores, some of whom would just as soon not wait for the meats to be sliced and apportioned.  On each table, you’ll find a “signaling” apparatus (not wholly unlike the famous bat signal in the campy Batman series) that apprises your server you want more meat.  This carnivorous cavalcade doesn’t end until you turn off the signaling device.

Omira03

While the light is on, your server will continue to bring food to your table

Perhaps someday Santa Fe’s resident carnivores will celebrate the summer of 2013 as the “summer of meat,” a tribute to the launch of the Omira Bar & Grill.   While the marquee is subtitled “Brazilian Steakhouse,” Omira is Brazilian only in the spirit and style of the Churrascaria.  Its world-cuisine offerings are more than a tad more sophisticated and of significantly higher quality than at other Churrascarias we’ve frequented while holding to a much appreciated price point.  Within months of opening, the Santa Fe Reporter named Omira one of Santa Fe’s ten best restaurants for 2013, a tremendous accomplishment considering the quality and diversity of the city’s restaurant scene.

Omira is the brainchild of Ziggy Rzig, a Tunisian-born entrepreneur who also owns the Pyramid Cafe, a popular Mediterranean restaurant on Cordova Road.  Ziggy is as hands-on and personable as any restaurant owner we’ve met.  He’s a peripatetic presence at the cavernous Omira, flitting from table-to-table while simultaneously acting as host, server, busboy and all-around ambassador.  The only job he doesn’t do is chef.  That’s the bailiwick of his beauteous bride Sally.  Ziggy credits being actively involved in every facet of day-to-day operation as one of the reasons Omira is able to maintain such high quality at a surprisingly low price point.

Omira06

Owner Ziggy Rzig

It’s certainly not the only reason.  Ziggy frequents the farmers’ market to find fresh, local produce where the tremendous variety and seasonal diversity allows for frequent menu changes.  Meats are also sourced locally.  Lamb and pork, both grass-fed, are procured from the Talus Wind Ranch Heritage Meats in Galisteo.  Beef is sourced from 4 Daughters Land & Cattle Company in Los Lunas.  While technically an all-you-can-eat (AYCE) restaurant, the quality at Omira is wholly antithetical to your typical AYCE pantheon of the pig-out.

Ziggy jokes that Omira is named for the Spanish expression “¡O, mira!’” which translates from Spanish to “oh, look” as in “oh, look at all the wonderful food.” (Actually, Omira is a portmanteau for the names of Zigg’s children, Omar and Samira.)  You won’t just look.  You’ll do a double- or triple-take.  As you walk past the front dining room into the larger, main dining room, your eyes will instantly train on a glimmering, glinting steely salad bar, one unlike any salad bar you’ll find in New Mexico.  It’s a veritable cornucopia of freshness, variety and pulchritude.  The burnished salad containers aren’t overfilled with their contents replenished faithfully to ensure freshness and minimize wastage.

Omira04

From the salad bar and a bowl of butternut squash soup

If your idea of salad is the anachronistic concept of iceberg lettuce, tomatoes and gloppy blue cheese, you’re in for a surprise.  The salads, about two dozen in all, are already prepared for you.  Clearly marked cards are labeled with the names of artistic composed salads: mushrooms in Balsamic vinaigrette, Greek salad, kale salad, Basmati rice, watermelon and cantaloupe in mint dressing, chopped beets and feta, Asian coleslaw and so much more.  If you discern an Asian influence throughout the menu, credit Sally, of Southeast Asian descent. 

There are a number of very pleasant surprises in the salad bar experience though because of the rotating menu, it’s likely some of those we enjoyed most won’t be available in future visits.  Among our early favorites were a butternut squash soup, as warm and comforting as any soup.  It’s a soup with personality, seasoned assertively but not so much that it takes anything away from the flavor of the squash.  The Thai chicken curry is as good as we’ve had at some Thai restaurants.  Bread rolls are yeasty and delicious, perfect for sopping up the curry and soup.

Omira05

Egg Rolls

The fried bananas, a popular dish in Malaysia where they’re known as pisang goring, bring together sweet, ripe bananas sheathed in a light batter.  Traditionally a street food favorite, they’re wonderful even without coconut sprinkles or ice cream (hint here). The mushrooms in Balsamic vinegar are only lightly dresses so  as to allow the fleshy fungi to sing with delicious earthiness.  Surprisingly, the freshly-made Caesar salad is as good as you’ll have at fine dining restaurants.  It’s a daily salad bar standard.

If you’re not carnivorously inclined (or you’re “one of those”) you can opt out of the cavalcade of carne altogether and you’ll be perfectly happy (understatement) with the salad bar.  Better still, focus on the salad bar one visit and the meat next time.  Only certified gurgitators will have the caloric overachieving capacity to eat everything they want on both during one visit.  My friend Ryan “Break the Chain” Scott and I certainly tried, but were woefully inadequate for the task.

Omira07

At top, Bottom Sirloin Steak; At bottom: Panko Encrusted Pork Sirloin wrapped in Bacon

Though the meats are slow-cooked to bring out the optimum smokiness and delicate flavors of the nicely marbled grass-fed stock, you may quickly find yourself falling behind if you’re still attacking your salad when the parade of meats begins.  Depending on where in the meaty rotation your server (likely Izzy himself) is, you might start with German sausage, a nicely seasoned, not too assertive sausage with a smoky flavor.  Maybe it will be with the crispy egg rolls stuffed with ground beef.  The egg roll plating isn’t only decorative, it’s deliciously functional with swirls of a Sriracha and a soy-Hoisin sauce for your dipping pleasure.

The meat-fest features both bottom sirloin and top sirloin, two distinctly different cuts of beef from a one to two foot section of the cow.  Top sirloin, along with tenderloin, is considered one of the “better” cuts.  From the bottom sirloin comes a personal favorite, the tri-tip.  Both the top and bottom sirloin are flavor-rich though not necessarily as tender as one might think.  The meat with which I fell most in love is the panko-encrusted pork sirloin wrapped in bacon.  Panko, Japanese breadcrumbs, imbue the sweet, tender pork with a delightful crispiness while bacon imbues everything it touches with deliciousness.  For my friend Ryan, it was the Picanha, the most prized cut of meat in Brazil.  Picanha is the cap that sits on top of the top sirloin butt roast.  It’s a wonderfully beefy, magnificently marbled and superbly flavored cut of beef.

Omira08

Two chicken hearts and Tokyo style beef

For the intrepid among you (Franzi, I have you in mind here), chicken hearts are not to be missed. Probably closer in flavor to dark meat chicken than to white meat, chicken hearts have a musky offal flavor and impart a slightly metallic aftertaste.  More to the liking of most diners is Tokyo style beef, folded flank steak with the complementary contrasting flavors of soy and teriyaki for savory and sweet notes.  Among carnivores filet mignon is a universal favorite.  Often referred to as “beef tenderloin,” filet mignon is a tender cut resplendent with superb beefy flavor.  The leg of lamb is a moist, tender dark meat with a wonderful flavor and very little of the gaminess for which lamb is renowned.  One commonality among all meats is absolutely impeccable seasoning.  Every dish is served as well as it can possibly be made–an optimum in deliciousness.  You could happily make a meal of any one of the cavalcade of meats, but you’re treated to all of them.  It’s truly a carnivore’s paradise.

There are about a dozen meat offerings on the lunch buffet with filet mignon and leg of lamb added for dinner.  As an intermediary in between meats, Omira serves grilled pineapple sliced tableside.  It’s a good palate cleanser that prevents a meaty overload.  Moreover, it’s the very best grilled pineapple I’ve ever had.  Glazed with a combination of butter, brown sugar and Amaretto, it may remind you of the best pineapple upside down cake you’ve ever had without the cake part.  Seriously, this is one addictive pineapple.  Great fortune smiled upon us during our inaugural visit as the talented Sally had just prepared a loaf of pecan bread, a moist, tender and delicious post-prandial treat.  Other  desserts may be offered when you visit.

Omira10

Pecan Bread

For sheer quality and value Omira Bar & Grill may be unmatched in Santa Fe, but it’s certainly no slouch in the department of deliciousness with something for everyone to love–even if you’re “one of those.”

OMIRA BAR & GRILL
1005 South St. Francis Drive
Santa Fe, New Mexico
(505) 780-5483
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 06 December 2014
1st VISIT: 15 December 2013
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 25
COST: $$-$$$
BEST BET: Panko Encrusted Pork Loin Wrapped in Bacon, German Sausage, Fusion Dolmas, Egg Rolls, Grilled Pineapple, Top Sirloin, Bottom Sirloin, Filet Mignon, Tokyo Style Beef, Mediterranean Chicken Wrapped in Bacon, Picanha, Lamb Kefta

Omira Bar & Grill on Urbanspoon