Pig + Fig Cafe – White Rock, New Mexico

Pig + Fig Bakery & Cafe in White City

In its eighth season, the brilliant sitcom Seinfeld helped introduce casual comic book fans to the concept of Bizarro world, a setting which is weirdly inverted or opposite of expectations. In other words, a Bizarro world is a mirror image of conventionality, logic and reality, everything being reversed. Jerry Seinfeld’s polar opposite Kevin, for example, was depicted as kind, selfless and reliable in contrast to Jerry’s indifference, self-absorption and forgetfulness. Gene was quiet, studious, polite and giving while his Bizarro counterpart George was loud, obnoxious, cheap and slovenly. Some people believe there’s a polar opposite—a Bizarro version—of every one of us.

I met “Bizarro Gil” while stationed at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi. While I (all modesty aside) consider myself a bit of a renaissance man, Derwin was atavistic, a throwback to the days of Ralph Kramden when men were short-tempered, disparaging and chauvinistic. He couldn’t understand why I would take my Kim out for dinner so often when there we had a perfectly good stove at home. It galled him that Kim often picked where we’d eat. His retort to that grievous affront was “The last time women decided what to eat, they doomed humanity for eternity,” an obvious reference to Eve being misled by a waiter into ordering the most expensive special at Eden Eatery.

Pig + Fig Dining Room

Bizarro Gil, er…Derwin was especially critical of the spontaneity of our meal choices. My Kim and I didn’t decide what to eat until after discussing our options and preferences…and only after hashing over the travails of our day at work. Derwin, on the other hand, laid out a strict schedule of mostly 1950s diner-style American favorites (meatloaf on Monday, roast beef on Tuesday, pork chops on Wednesday and so on) from which his browbeaten bride was never allowed to deviate. What torqued him off most was the egalitarian nature of my relationship with my Kim. We usually cooked together. “Cooking,” he insisted “is women’s work.” He found the notion ridiculous that many of the world’s greatest chefs are men. “Girly men” he called them…and probably me, when my back was turned.

Obviously Derwin had absolutely no any sense of appreciation for independent-minded, entrepreneurial women who owned restaurants and therefore told girly men what to do. Such a notion was incomprehensible, a sheer travesty. His caveat to “a woman’s place is in the kitchen” is that “the kitchen should be at home in a man’s castle”…and “if a woman did have to work outside the home, it should be as a waitress.” He would have hated Laura Hamilton, owner and chef of Pork + Fig Bakery and Cafe in White Rock and would be incensed to learn that Laura’s enviable culinary credentials dwarf those of many men.

Apple Strudel & Strawberry Lemonade

In forging a distinguished career, Laura blazed a path that took her from Houston to Las Vegas, Miami, Paris and back home to Houston before moving to Los Alamos in 2009. She is a graduate of the world-famous Le Cordon Bleu in Paris and got her baptism by fire at Houston’s prestigious Brennan’s where after only two years, she ascended to sous chef. At Brennan’s she helped co-author two cookbooks and was on the culinary team that launched Commander’s Palace in Las Vegas. From 2001 through 2009, she earned multiple culinary honors nominations in Houston restaurants.

After moving to Los Alamos, Laura took a three-year hiatus from cooking. In January, 2016, she launched Pig + Fig Bakery and Cafe in White Rock as a venue in which she can showcase gourmet comfort food and fine wine. Within a year, the Los Alamos Daily Post was calling it a “White Rock Institution.” In May, 2017, she added tapas to her restaurant’s menu (alas, they’re available only from 4-8p.m.). Breakfast is served from 7-11a.m. and lunch from 11a.m. to 4p.m. Pig + Fig is closed on Sundays (“a man’s day of rest” according to Bizarro Gil). I first learned of this culinary oasis from my dear Zuzu Petals (from It’s a Wonderful Life, not The Adventures of Ford Fairlane).

Pig + Fig Green Chile Stew

Unlike Chicago’s acclaimed Purple Pig which showcases porcine perfection in all its glory, the Pig + Fig offers an eclectic menu. Its appellation (and the tapas menu) is a tribute to Laura’s Spanish mother and Cuban father. During visits to Spain, she frequented tapas restaurants where she developed a fondness for pork and figs. The charming bakery-café is obviously a popular dining destination for denizens of White Rock, a bedroom community where most residents are transplants from throughout the fruited plain and beyond. The queue to place your order begins when you set foot in the door. Pastries under glass may evoke involuntary salivation, if not sheer lust.

Whether you’ve been hiking at Bandelier or just parched from the salubrious mountain air, the strawberry lemonade will slake your thirst and delight your taste buds. It’s served in a Mason jar with plenty of ice to keep it cold and it’s not too sweet or too tart (Goldilocks would love it). Because it was served at the same time as the lemonade, I made quick work of the apple strudel. My well-intentioned willpower to sample only one bite and save the remainder for dessert went out the window. This strudel is reason enough to consider moving to White Rock. It’s light, flaky and fabulous–the optimum ratio of apples to crust!

Hot Pig & Fig Sandwich with Sea Salt Potato Chips

It’s rare that White Rock is mentioned as a dining destination, much less one that serves excellent chile. Pig + Fig may soon be changing perceptions with its eponymous Pig + Fig green chile stew (Kyzer Farms pork chunks, potato, sweet onions, New Mexico green chile). This chile bites back—not so much that it’ll deaden your taste buds, but enough for you to take notice. The Kyzer Farms pork is an order of magnitude better than the pork you’ll find on most green chile stew. If green chile stew is the Land of Enchantment’s most comforting elixir, this one could be an archetype, an ideal example or theoretically perfect form.

Though the lunch menu features such gourmet fare as chicken tagine, summer gnocchi and pork tagliatelle, don’t discount the sandwiches, salads and quiches. If you do, you’ll miss out on such sumptuousness as the Hot Pig + Fig Sandwich (honey-cured ham, arugula, brie and fig jam in a sourdough bread canvas). This exemplar of sweet meets savory meets peppery is an outstanding sandwich in which so many complementary flavors coalesce that grown men (at least this one) will swoon in delight. Fig jam, brie and honey-cured ham are so good together it’s as if that combination has always existed. The peppery arugula is a nice foil.  So are the housemade sea salt potato chips.

There is so much to see and do in Los Alamos county—and now there’s a fabulous bakery and café to entice visitors from throughout the Land of Enchantment. The Pig + Fig is the real deal! Only Bizarro Gil could utter a disparaging word or ten about this place.

Pig + Fig Bakery & Cafe
35 Rover Blvd Suite G
White Rock, New Mexico
(505) 672-2742
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 1 September 2017
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Hot Pig & Fig Sandwich, Sea Salt Potato Chips, Pig + Fig Green Chile Stew, Apple Strudel
REVIEW #997

Pig + Fig Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Fresh Bistro – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Fresh Bistro on Fourth Street

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

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

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

Fresh Mobile Bistro, Forty Feet of Fine Dining Excellence

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

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

The Interior of Fresh Mobile Bistro

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

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

Chef Jon Young

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

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

Melissa Young and her jaunty sister Jahqwah with our debonair (and uncharacteristically camera-shy) dachshund Dude

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

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

Lavender French Toast

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

16 July 2017: French toast are described on the menu as “sourdough bread topped with sweetened mascarpone cheese topped with your choice of fruit and powdered sugar” with fruit choices being bananas, peaches and strawberries. When our savvy server suggested lavender, we jumped at the opportunity. Syrup need not apply for a place on these four golden slices of eggy bread flecked with lavender. Sweetened mascarpone made them sweet enough with the lavender often making its presence felt in tempering any residual sweetness. In the spectrum of sweet that runs from mild to cloying, these French toast were…just right.

Monte Cristo Sandwich with Salad

16 July 2017: Similar to French toast, the bistro’s Monte Cristo is lightly dipped in egg batter then grilled. This beauteous sandwich is constructed on sourdough bread and filled with ham and Gruyere cheese. It’s topped with a cherry-brandy reduction. More commonly, a Monte Cristo is topped with a small amount of powdered sugar and traditionally served with a ramekin of raspberry or strawberry jam you can apply yourself. There’s nothing common about this sandwich. The cherry-brandy reduction is a superb complement to the savory elements of the sandwich, working with them instead of overpowering them with sweet notes. Both the rich, nutty Gruyere and the salty ham worked well, too.

16 July 2017: It’s a rarity in Albuquerque to find a brunch menu without any number of dishes showcasing the Land of Enchantment’s addictive red or green chile. On Fresh’s brunch menu there are only two. One is eggs Benedict served with carne adovada. The other is a dish created by the inventive chef. It’s called a Frenchilada and it’s a sort of New Mexico meets France featuring layers of crepes filled with chicken breast, green chile, mushrooms and roasted garlic cream sauce with an egg on top. This is a magnificent dish! Chef Young doesn’t shy away from piquant chile and he doesn’t use it sparingly. The foil to the chile’s heat is the mushroom’s earthiness. You’ll want to lick your plate to ensure you don’t leave behind any of the roasted garlic cream sauce.

Green Chile Chicken Frenchiladas

16 July 2017: Perhaps the piece de resistance of our inaugural meal at Fresh was Chef Young’s lavender bread pudding. It may not be on Larry McGoldrick’s Bread Pudding Hall of Fame, but that’s only because the professor with the perspicacious palate hasn’t yet had it. This is a superb bread pudding, the antithesis of so many cloying versions of a dish whose genesis has been traced back to 13th century England. Sure it’s sweet, but not nearly overly so. It’s light, delicate and spongy, topped with whipped cream and surrounded by a pool of sweet, creamy sauce. The lavender has its desired effect of introducing the elements of flowery freshness to a bread pudding which would have been wonderful without it, but becomes transformative with it. 

Lavender Bread Pudding

26 August 2017:  Mycologist and author Paul Stamets who founded Fungi Perfecti to educate the world on the benefits of using mushrooms to improve the health of the planet and its people, once said “never underestimate the cleverness of mushrooms to find new food!”  Nor should you ever underestimate the talents of a great chef to use mushrooms in truly delicious ways.  Chef Young’s stuffed mushrooms are a must-have starter–four large mushrooms caps stuffed to overfilling with crab, ricotta cheese and fresh herbs in an addictive red wine reduction.  The crab, ricotta and herb mix is almost mousse-like in its consistency and ethereally light in its mouth feel.  The fleshy fungi are earthy and fresh.  Though we polished off the red wine reduction with our spoons, a few slices of bread would have been welcomed to sop up the soupy sumptuousness.

Stuffed Mushrooms

26 August 2017:  As has oft been chronicled on this blog, your humble blogger loves risotto–almost as much as one of George Costanza’s girlfriends did during one memorable Seinfeld episode.  So much so that I ordered the seared shrimp with chile and pineapple mostly to partake of the risotto.  Predictably, Chef Young understands the challenges and nuances of preparing a great risotto.  It’s rich and creamy with individual grains prepared at just past al dente–exactly as they should be.  Oh, and the seared shrimp were pretty good, too.  It’s not every chef who’s intrepid enough to embolden the sweet flavor of shrimp with a pleasantly piquant red chile and make the results pay big dividends.  Perhaps more chefs should take the risk.  The sweet, juicy pineapple, grilled to a light caramelization, are a terrific foil for the heat of the chile.  Then there’s the accompanying vegetables, best of which are asparagus spears.  They’re prepared as well as vegetables possibly can be and are crisp, fresh and delicious.

Seared Shrimp with Chile and Pineapple

26 August 2017:  During our inaugural visit to Fresh, Chef Young gave us a sample of  his housemade red chile barbecue sauce.  Just as he predicted, his barbecue sauce–emboldened with Chimayo chile–imparts a nice heat about four seconds after you’ve tasted it.  First, your taste buds will discern a smoky sweetness that will trigger a wanton desire for more.  Then the endorphin-generating heat kicks in and that wanton desire becomes unbridled lust.  It’s an outstanding barbecue sauce.  Now, we’ve seen red chile barbecue sauce before, but no other has the combination of heat and flavor this one does. 

My Kim ordered the red chile barbecue pulled pork sandwich so she could enjoy the nuances of the sauce even more.  This sandwich is engorged with a generous amount of pulled pork with nary any fat or sinew.  The sauce is counterbalanced by melted Cheddar cheese of medium sharpness on a canvas of fresh, soft bread.  How much did we enjoy this sandwich?  It made it to my list of list of highest rated sandwiches.  If on the menu, the perfect accompaniment is Chef Young’s French onion soup, an exemplar of this paragon of deliciousness.  The wondrous combination of sweet, caramelized onions and blistered, molten, cheesy blanket make this a favorite.

Housemade Red Chile Barbecue Pulled Pork

26 August 2017:  Just as it doesn’t have to be the Christmas season to enjoy crooner Andy Williams singing Christmas carols, it doesn’t have to be Christmas season to enjoy Buche de Noel, a traditional French dessert normally served at Christmas celebrations.  Chef Young offered it on an August day when the thermometer approached ninety-degrees.  It’s a wonderful early Christmas gift.  Often referred to as yule log or holiday log, this glorious cake is shaped and decorated to look like a tree log, albeit a chocolate log.  This deliciously light and moist chocolate sponge cake is filled with chocolate whipped cream, rolled into a cylinder, then frosted with chocolate ganache.  Sure it’s a chocolate overdose, but what a great way to go.

It Doesn’t Have to be Christmas Season to Enjoy Buche Noel

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

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

Fresh Bistro
7319 4th Street, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505)
985-8449
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 26 August 2017
1st VISIT: 16 July 2017
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 23
COST: $$
BEST BET: Lavender Bread Pudding, Lavender French Toast, Monte Cristo, Green Chile Chicken Frenchiladas, Stuffed Mushrooms, Buche Noel, Red Chile Barbecue Pulled Pork, Seared Shrimp with Chile and Pineapple

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

Marley’s Barbecue – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Marley’s Barbecue – Central Texas Barbecue

In Central Texas, Barbecue is more than a way to cook meat –
it’s a way of life, a path to salvation, and
a sure-fire way to start an argument at the dinner table.”
~Central Texas Barbecue

Texans hold certain truths to be self-evident: everything is bigger (and better) in Texas, the Dallas Cowboys are America’s team (who can argue with that?), George Strait is the king of country music, Nolan Ryan was the greatest baseball pitcher who ever lived and the best barbecue in the universe is pit-smoked along the Central Texas Barbecue Belt.  Although Texas may be “like a whole other country,” the rolling plains of Central Texas are like a whole other world when it comes to barbecue. 

That’s not to say pit masters at Texas’s three other barbecue regions–East Texas, South Texas and West Texas–don’t prepare great barbecue or that they don’t regard barbecue as practically a religion.  In fact, pit masters from each Texas barbecue region will defend the honor and bragging rights of their respective regions with the same vigor shown in 1836 by a small group of volunteer soldiers at The Alamo.

Low-and-Slow Smoke Magic Emanates From Two Grills

While conceding that there is great barbecue to be found throughout the Lone Star state, purists and aficionados almost unanimously agree that the state’s best barbecue is to be found in Central Texas with Austin as the region’s epicenter and pockets of barbecue excellence nonpareil found in such small towns as Lexington, Lockhart, Driftwood and Taylor.  Historically, it makes sense.  The Central Texas region was settled in the 19th century by German, Polish and Czech immigrants carrying forward their old country traditions for making sausage and smoking meats.

Central Texas barbecue has a number of distinguishing hallmarks.  First and foremost, beef is king.  That means moist, smoky brisket.  Secondly, barbecue means spice and seasoning rubs (heavy on salt and pepper), not sauces.  Some of the best bastions of barbecue serve their meats naked–no sauce.  Others will give you sauce on the side if you request it.   If you’ve got to have it, sauce is typically tomato-based complemented by vinegar and Worcestershire.  Thirdly, barbecue means low and slow cooking over Texas post oak wood or pecan woods, both of which impart mild smokiness.  For best results, the wood is “cured” for nine to twelve months which creates very little soot when it burns.

The comfy-cozy interior

June, 2014, saw the launch in Albuquerque of a new barbecue joint brandishing the name “Marley’s Central Texas Barbecue.” Located on the northeast corner of Montgomery and San Pedro (at the former home of the beloved Tickles & Snooks Wings & Things), Marley’s seemed primed for longevity at that location. Just over two years later, however, Marley’s moved to the North Fourth street location which previously housed Paddy Rawal’s OM. Accompanying the change of venue was a bit of a name change. No longer does the marquee boast of its “Central Texas BBQ” heritage. Now it’s just “Marley’s Barbecue” though the menu remains the same.

Restaurant employees still sport shirts emblazoned with the slogan “we smoke the good stuff.”  For the most part, the “good stuff” still comes from the Lone Star state.  The restaurant’s Black Angus beef is sourced from trusted Texas suppliers and sausage comes from Elgin, the self-proclaimed “Sausage Capital of Texas.”  The twin Heartland smokers which send smoky invitations to passing motorists come from Missouri, another barbecue-crazed state.  You’ll pass by them on your way into the restaurant.  The aromas are a preview of deliciousness to come.

Sliced Brisket and Elgin Sausage with Bacon Potato Salad and Coleslaw

Conspicuous by its absence is the Texas state flag used to accent the restaurant’s decor at its inaugural location. Other Texas accents remain include looped lassos and cowboy accoutrements on the walls as well as other stereotypical trappings (such as corrugated steel panels on the wall).  One of my favorite Texas accents is Big Red soda which, not coincidentally, is bottled in Austin.  I believe it’s a Texas state law that Big Red should be served with barbecue.

The menu is relatively small.  Meats–sliced brisket, chopped brisket, Elgin sausage (regular or “hot”), pork spare ribs and pulled pork–are available by the half-pound.  Sandwiches and plates are also available.  Sides include Texas pinto beans, coleslaw, fresh-cut fries, mac and cheese and bacon potato salad.  Your best bet is a combination plate, your choice of any two meats served with two sides.  Plates include sweet Vidalia onions, pickles and slices of white bread (often considered a veggie in barbecue circles).

Pork Spare Ribs and Elgin Sausage with Beans and Bacon Potato Salad

3 August 2014: The sliced brisket is moist and tender with a faint smokiness, a very pronounced smoke ring and a good amount of marbling around the edges (off-putting to some, absolutely necessary for others).  It doesn’t have the thick, peppery crust characteristic of some legendary Central Texas barbecue establishments, but for taste, tenderness and appearance, it’s a very good brisket.  Procured from the world-famous Southside Market in Elgin, Texas, both the regular and “hot” Elgin sausage live up to their reputation.  They’re succulent, smoky and delicious with a natural casing that’s easy to bite through, but not cut with the plastic utensils provided. 

28 August 2014: There’s yet another way to enjoy brisket at Marley’s and that’s in the form of a chopped brisket sandwich.  When the menu reads “chopped” it’s not “chopped” as in the Carolina style “hack” job done to pork.  In this case, the brisket is cut into very small cubes.  If anything, the brisket seems even more tender prepared in this fashion and a caramelization not as apparent on sliced brisket is readily discernible with the chopped brisket.  This sandwich is served with onions and pickles.

Chopped Brisket Sandwich with Coleslaw

28 August 2014: No longer on the menu, but perhaps they should be considering the recent taco craze, is brisket tacos. An order of brisket tacos yields three beauteous tacos made on housemade corn tortillas.  The tacos are engorged with chopped brisket and a pico de gallo.  The corn tortillas are quite good and are formidable enough to hold up against the moistness and volume of the brisket and pico.  The brisket is moist, tender and smoky.  Alas, the pico de gallo (tomatoes and green peppers) is rather insipid, lacking any heat.  Fortunately the barbecue sauce has just a tad of heat to lend.

3 August 2014: Although beef may be king in Texas, Marley’s pork spare ribs are no jesters.  While the menu describes them as “fall-off-the-bone tender,” they have just a bit of “give” on them as you pull them off the bone.  That’s the way it should be.  Far too often, fall-off-the-bone denotes overdone.  The ribs are tender and juicy with the spice and seasonings rub more pronounced (you’ll discern a bit more sweetness) than on the other meats.  None of the meats needed sauce to make them palatable, but Marley’s sauce is good for dipping bread into.   It’s sweet, vinegary and has a pleasing bite.

BBQ Nachos

3 August 2014: Sides are no afterthought.  The bacon potato salad, made with in-house cured bacon and a spice blend with personality, is very different from most potato salad served in New Mexico which tends to have a surfeit of mayo or salad cream.  Shawne Riley, a long-time friend of this blog, called the potato salad the “closest to my Texas grandmother’s I’ve ever had.”  We agreed the coleslaw was wonderful. Even with New Mexico green chile, the pinto beans have the flavor of Texas beans with sundry spices which detract from the natural flavors of the Land of Enchantment’s “other” official state vegetables (pinto beans and chile).

3 August 2014: As a proud native New Mexican well acquainted and enamored with our state’s fantastic pecan crop, try as I might it was difficult to remain impartial about our pecans, especially when a Texas city has the audacity to declare itself “the pecan capitol of the world.”  Alas, the pecan pie was rich, decadent and absolutely mouth-watering.  Nary a disparaging word can be said about it even though it wasn’t made with New Mexican pecans.  During a visit in August, 2017, my server informed me that pecan pie is no longer on the menu.  Instead, Marley’s now offers a strawberry-rhubarb pie (get it a la mode) which, while quite good–and quite Texan–didn’t please me as much as the pecan pie did.

The oak which generates inviting aromas

23 August 2017:  BBQ Nachos are the sole appetizer on the menu though a heaping portion is enough to constitute a meal.  Available with your choice of pulled pork or chopped brisket, the nachos are served atop a bed of tortilla chips covered with nacho cheese, jalapenos and the house barbecue sauce.   The chopped brisket is redolent with the fragrant aroma of oak and there’s plenty of it.  We found the sauce a bit on the sweet side with tangy notes that couldn’t quite tame the sweetness.  That’s probably why my Kim competed with me for the jalapenos–and she normally wouldn’t touch jalapenos with the proverbial ten-foot-pole.

Marley’s may not be the next best thing to eating at a barbecue restaurant in the Texas Hill Country of Central Texas, but in some ways it’s got those Lone Star bastions of bodacious barbecue beat. Within the air conditioned confines of Marley’s, we were especially grateful not to be waiting in line for two hours for one of Austin’s famous pilgrimage barbecue restaurants to open even as oppressive humidity sapped our energy and mosquitoes the size of helicopters consumed us as eagerly as we would the barbecue.

Marley’s Central Texas BBQ
7520 4th Street, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 639-5962
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 23 August 2017
1st VISIT: 3 August 2014
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 18
COST: $$
BEST BET: Big Red, Pecan Pie, Sliced Brisket, Pork Spare Ribs, Elgin Sausage, Bacon Potato Salad, Coleslaw, Brisket Tacos, Chopped Brisket Sandwich, BBQ Nachos, Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie A La Mode

Marley's Texas Barbeque Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Gourmet Döner Kebab – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Gourmet Doner Kebabs Served Here

In my review of Taco Fundacion, I explained that some pundits believe the taco is poised to become the most ubiquitous and popular dish in the fruited plain, supplanting the fruited plain’s sacrosanct burger. While conquering the culinary affections of a country would be a huge accomplishment, one particular type of sandwich (loosely defined) has conquered an entire continent. Europe is absolutely crazy for kebabs! From the Iberian Peninsula to the Caucasus region, the döner kebab has become the world’s most popular spit-grilled meat.

We witnessed some of its popularity first-hand when we lived in England where döner kebabs are considered an icon of urban food culture. They’re even served in centuries-old pubs alongside a pint (or six) of beer and the sacrosanct British chips. Döner kebabs are even more popular in Germany which is now considered the kebab capital of the world. Easily the most popular street food in Germany, döner kebabs by far exceed the popularity of the sausage, long a German source of historical and cultural pride. According to Thrillist, as of 2014, there were some 17,000 kebab slingers in Germany and more kebab stands than McDonald’s and Burger King combined.

French Fries

Aside from vegans, vegetarians and calorie counters, it seems the only person in Europe who doesn’t like döner kebabs is curmudgeonly contrarian Gordon Ramsey who likens kebabs throughout the United Kingdom to “a piece of (expletive) on a stick that is taken off the burner at night frozen then reheated the next day.” Obviously he never visited the jankety little kebab house in Banbury which forever set our benchmark for excellence in Middle Eastern sandwiches. Thirty years removed from our last Banbury kebab, we still remember it with great fondness.

If you’ve never had a döner kebab or have gleaned from this essay only that it’s some sort of sandwich, let me describe it. A döner kebab is a traditional Turkish dish made from meat roasted vertically on a spit, very similarly to how Greek gyros and other spit-roasted meats from throughout the Mediterranean region are prepared. On the long cylindrical spit, the meat resembles an elephant’s foot from which small pieces of juicy meat are shaved then crammed into warm pita or epic flat bread before being topped with a sauce (curry in England and usually a dill-yogurt sauce in England) and (or) cabbage, onions and tomatoes. If that description sounds like a “shawarma” or a “gyro,” they’re all basically the same thing with minor differences not worth elaborating on.

Döner Sandwich

When entrepreneurial George Alin Strimbu decided to launch a mobile food kitchen, it didn’t take him long to decide he shouldn’t serve the foods of Romania, his ancestral homeland. Denizens of the fruited plain, after all, tend to associate Romania with vampires and gypsies…if they think about Romania at all. Instead, George opted to go into business slinging kebabs, one of the most popular street foods in Romania.  His mobile food kitchen is one of the largest in town with a refrigerator capacious enough to virtually ensure he doesn’t run out of food.  In keeping with the name on the marquee, there’s a vertical spit in the truck spinning round and round. 

George, by the way, was the first in his family born in the United States.  Before moving to Albuquerque, his family lived in Cleveland and of course, before that in Romania.  If you try to discern an accent–Romanian, Cleveland, Albuquerque–in George, you won’t find one in the soft-spoken, genial proprietor of the Gourmet Döner Kebab.  Before launching his mobile food kitchen, he ran the hotel restaurant at the historic Hiway House Motel which his family has operated for years.  He hopes to launch a second mobile food kitchen soon and has aspirations to someday operate a commissary for Duke City mobile food kitchens.

​​​Döner Tacos

The concept at Gourmet Döner Kebab is rather simple and not as “one note” as you might think when you first peruse the “build you platter” menu.  First you choose one of the gourmet entrees: döner sandwich, döner wrap, döner salad, döner box (chicken or beef served with fries) or döner tacos.  Second you pick the filling with which you’ll stuff your entree: beef n lamb, chicken or veggie mix.  Lastly, you top it off with the mobile food kitchen’s signature sauces (housemade garlic aioli, hot & spicy or vinaigrette), veggies (tomatoes, cucumbers, red onions, cabbage, red cabbage and pickles) and cheese.  For an additional charge, you can have green chile, feta cheese or a feisty feta spread.

My Kim opted for a fully-dressed ​​​döner sandwich served in a freshly toasted pita (imported all the way from Phoenix).  With the addition of feta cheese and the housemade garlic aioli, the sandwich was brimming with ingredients.  One of the hallmarks of every item we enjoyed at Gourmet Döner Kebab is freshness–surprisingly fresh (just look at the ripe red tomatoes) and crisp vegetables chopped and cut to a right-size.  One caution–the garlic aioli will sneak up on you–maybe not while you’re enjoying your sandwich, but soon afterwards.  It’s a breath-wrecking, vampire-warding garlic aioli and you’ll love it.

​​​Döner Salad

You’ll also love the döner tacos, three soft corn tortillas engorged with the aforementioned ingredients.  It’s a New Mexico meets Asia meets Europe concept that really works.   With the pronounced flavor of corn, the tortillas are a nice counterbalance to the addictive garlic aioli.  We even asked for the garlic aioli on the döner salad though we also added the vinaigrette.  Both the tacos and the salad are worthy of future and repeated visits to the Gourmet Döner Kebab, an American mobile food kitchen with the spirit and cuisine of Europe.

There’s no telling if (or when) the döner kebab will conquer the fruited plain, but if it does you can credit purveyors such as George Alin Strimbu and his rolling restaurant for leading the charge.

Gourmet Döner Kebab
(Location Varies)
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 585-1551
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 20 August 2017
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET:  Döner Sandwich, ​​​Döner Tacos, ​​​Döner Salad, French Fries

Gourmet Doner Kebabs Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Zullo’s Bistro – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Zullo’s Bistro and Bar in Albuquerque’s Downtown

“When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat that doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me,
And I shall spend my pension
on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals,
and say we’ve no money for butter.”
~Jenny Joseph

“Only you,” my Kim chided me “would approach an Italian bistro and associate it with a poem considered an ode to nonconformity.” It couldn’t be helped. My mind just works that way. Besides, purple is prominent on the exterior facade approaching Zullo’s Bistro on Old Route 66. “Why so much purple?” I wondered—”especially amidst the adobe-hued homogeneity that is Albuquerque.” My Catholic upbringing taught me that purple is used during Advent and Lent as a sign of penance, sacrifice and preparation. Purple also represents justice as one of the three colors of Mardi Gras. In the best-selling novel The Color Purple, purple is a reminder that we should take the time to notice what little things God does to show us that He loves us.  Purple, it seems is a very versatile color.

There’s even more purple inside the restaurant as well as on the expansive back patio It’s a drastic departure from the days in which the edifice–then home to the Blackbird Buvette–was as dark as a goth wardrobe.   So why purple?  Mike Zullo who owns the bistro with his daughter Jenni, is–like the old woman of Jenny Joseph’s poem–a bit of a nonconformist (he plays bluegrass music after all).  While other restaurateurs might go with an earthy adobe tone, he likes purple.  Don’t get me wrong.  It’s not a Barney the annoying Dinosaur purple.  It’s more of a purple M&Ms purple.  There are pastel colors, too…and most “normal” people will probably notice them first.

The interior of Zullo’s Bistro

Zullo’s Bistro is the family’s investment in Albuquerque, Mike told us.  It’s an investment that’s been fraught with challenges–and not solely because the Albuquerque Rapid Transit (ART) has made driving and parking downtown a serious challenge.  Since launching in the Spring of 2017, a number of days in the hundred-degree range slowed walk-in traffic from neighboring businesses–so much so that a planned daily lunch seven days a week is down to four days.  As the saying goes, however, “when life gives you plums, you make plum wine (purple of course).”  While lunch traffic may be way down, this is one jumping joint in the evening.  Zullo’s is one of the few downtown dining alternatives to food trucks that remains open into the wee hours of the night.  Live music is a huge attraction.

So is the capacious back patio, a corner of which is a designated musical space.   The dog-friendly patio offers sun-shielding canopies and overhead fans to help offset the heat. Alas, during our inaugural visit on a Saturday lunch hour we had the patio to ourselves.  Still, it’s easy to see why the back patio is such a popular draw.  Admittedly, we probably wouldn’t have been on the back patio if Zullo’s didn’t offer some tempting Italian food prepared by an Italian chef.  In 32 reviews Zullo’s has amassed a four-star rating (out of five) on Yelp.

Beet and Feta Salad

Zullo’s menu lists only about a dozen items, but a compendium-like menu is never a guarantee of quality and deliciousness.  Instead, Mike Zullo told us, his family restaurant emphasizes fresh, high quality ingredients and even pays tribute to the Land of Enchantment’s favorite vegetable by offering a green chile marinara option as well as frites with green chile.  There are three salads, two sandwiches and three pasta items on the menu along with three appetizer items such grass-fed beef meatballs (more on them later).  For diners who pride themselves on trying everything on the menu, it won’t take many visits to do so.  Thankfully, you’ll want to repeat several of the dishes.

One dish you’ll enjoy time and again is the beet and feta salad (yellow and red beets, feta, toasted walnuts, craisins, and spinach tossed in orange vinaigrette).  Yellow (golden) beets vary in sweetness, tending to be a bit sweeter and tasting a little less earthy and more mellow in intensity than their red counterpart.  Texturally, yellow beets are more tender and are easier to masticate.  They’re my favorites while my Kim enjoys the red beets best.  To counterbalance the sweetness of the beets, ask for an additional ramekin of the orange vinaigrette, one of the very best we’ve had.  The toasted walnuts also provide a nice foil.

Bruschette

Bruschetta is an example of culinary ingenuity meeting practicality.  Originally created as a means to use up bread beginning to get stale by adding oil and seasonings to improve its flavor, it’s become a versatile appetizer or snack.  Toasted slices of bread can be served with any number of toppings, the chef’s imagination being the sole limiter.  At Zullo’s, the bruschette features triple-cream Brie cheese, freshly chopped basil and assorted tomatoes on a toasted baguette.  It’s akin to a Caprese salad sans mozzarella.  Served three to an order, it’s a nice starter!  The fresh cherry tomatoes and their sweet, juicy flavor are a perfect foil for the invigorating basil and the rich, milky Brie.  Our sole complaint (and it’s a nit) is that we had to split one of the bruschette.  Make it a foursome and we would have been very happy.

In 2008, the New York Times celebrated the return of the “lost Jersey tomato.” Believe it or not, the Garden State’s state’s agricultural reputation was built on consistently sweet, juicy tomatoes (and jokes crediting Three Mile Island soil aren’t appreciated). According to the Times, “the classic Jersey tomato is not an heirloom, loosely defined as a tomato your great-grandfather might have grown in the backyard.” Instead, it’s a disease-resistant, high-yield, red, round tomato developed for taste. New Jersey tomatoes are the only tomatoes Zullo’s uses on their sauces. They’re more expensive, but the quality is certainly telling.

Pasta and Free Range Meatballs

Still believe nothing says Italian food like a big bowl of spaghetti and meatballs?  Think again.  If you visit Italy and ask for spaghetti and meatballs, you might hear “sfigato” (loser) and “stunad” (stupid) being uttered under your server’s breath as they steer you toward something more authentically Italian.   Spaghetti and meatballs is strictly an American invention popularized in New York City.  For that, generations (at least of Americans) are grateful.  You’ll certainly give thanks for Zullo’s free-range meatballs served with fresh, hand-cut Pappardelle noodles and basil marinara.

My Kim believes these magnificent orbs are the best in Albuquerque and second only in New Mexico to the amazing meatballs at Deming’s tranformative Forghedaboudit.   Zullo’s meatballs aren’t of the crumbly variety, retaining their integrity even after you pierce them with your fork.  Already the most popular item on the menu, the grass-fed beef and sausage meatballs are about the size of a golf ball and are probably the first item on your plate you’ll attack, but don’t discount the papardelle.  Papardelle, a flat pasta cut into a broad ribbon shape, is tailor-made for sauce and Zullo’s doesn’t spare it.

Roasted Mushroom Manicotti with Green Chile Marinara

With nearly nine months having elapsed in 2017, reflecting on Gil’s “best of the best for 2017” has started to take on a more serious tone.  It’s a virtual certainty that Zullo’s roasted mushroom manicotti with green chile marinara will make it onto that hallowed list.  Normally served with a basil marinara, the four manicotti dish is an exemplar of flavors that work very well together.  The roasted mushrooms and their earthy deliciousness are finely diced and generously stuffed into the manicotti which is topped with the rich, fresh-flavored New Jersey marinara sauce punctuated with New Mexico green chile.  Between the acidity and sweetness of the marinara sauce and the pleasant piquancy of the green chile, this sauce is a winner.  Topping the manicotti is a melted three-cheese blend of Parmesan, Mozzarella and Pecorino Romano sprinkled with basil.  This is an outstanding dish!

The dessert menu is a bit on the small side, but the tiramisu has already garnered high acclaim.  Alas, Saturday night diners and revelers polished it all off so the only postprandial treat available to us was a chocolate gelato sprinkled liberally with walnut chunks.   Tannins in walnuts are great for balancing out sweet dishes, not that the chocolate is especially sweet.  Still, the walnuts provide a nice flavor contrast to an “adult” ice cream with plenty of rich creaminess, chocolate chunks and dense thickness.  It’s a nice way to finish a great meal though someday we’ve got to return to try that acclaimed tiramisu.

Chocolate Gelato with Walnuts

Zullo’s Bistro is living proof that you don’t have to be old to wear purple.  It’s seriously one of the very best reasons to visit Albuquerque’s downtrodden downtown district.  Go for the roasted mushroom manicotti and you’ll be back time and again.

Zullo’s Bistro
509 Central Avenue, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 242-6909
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 19 August 2017
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Beet and Feta Salad, Bruschette, Pasta and Free Range Meatballs, Roasted Mushroom Manicotti with Green Chile Marinara, Chocolate Gelato with Walnuts

Zullo's Bistro Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

MARY & TITO’S CAFE – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Mary & Tito's may serve the very best red chile in Albuquerque

Mary & Tito’s, THE very best New Mexican restaurant in the world!

Old-timers whose opinions I respect consistently rate Mary & Tito’s as Albuquerque’s best restaurant for New Mexican food, a restaurant that has been pleasing the most savvy and unindoctrinated palates alike since 1963.  It takes a lot to impress some of those old-timers, none of whom see much substance in the flash and panache of the nouveau restaurants and their pristine veneer and effusive, over-the-top flamboyance.  These guys and gals are impressed only by New Mexican food the way their abuelitas prepared it–unadorned, authentic and absolutely wonderful.  If you want to evoke their ire, take them to one of the chains.  Worse, try sneaking some cumin into their chile.

Just how good is Mary & Tito’s?  In an October, 2009 span of two days, three people whose opinion on food I value weighed in, prompting me to ponder that question and not just take for granted that it’s “one of” the very best restaurants in New Mexico. World-travelers Randy and Bonnie Lake experienced an epiphany during their most recent visit, marveling at just how much better Mary & Tito’s legendary red is than other red chile they’ve ever had.  Bill Resnik who’s authored a cookbook on New Mexican cuisine was more to-the-point, asking why it hasn’t been accorded a “30” rating–the epitome of perfection in my rating system and a rating I have not bestowed upon any restaurant anywhere.

Mary Ann Gonzales for whom the restaurant is named passed away on Tuesday, September 17, 2013. She was a great and wonderful lady! Photo courtesy of Sandy Driscoll.

A dining experience at such an ideal would have to be absolutely flawless with uncompromising standards and an obvious commitment on the restaurant’s part to providing a dining experience I would want to repeat over and over again.  Obviously the food would have to be more than good; it would have to tantalize, titillate, enrapt my taste buds with every morsel.  Every facet of the meal would have to be like a well synchronized and beautiful ballet in which each course is a prelude to the next and leaves me absolutely lusting for the next bite.

There have been times (many, in fact) in which a magical endorphin high from Mary & Tito’s red chile made my taste buds so unbelievably, deliriously happy that I’ve sworn nothing quite as good has ever crossed my lips.  Immediately after each meal at Mary & Tito’s, I want to repeat it, usually right then and there.  It is simply my very favorite restaurant in New Mexico, my highest rated restaurant of any genre in the Land of Enchantment and one of the highest rated across the fruited plain.

Mary & Tito’s legendary carne adovada. Photo courtesy of Sandy Driscoll.

I’m not the only patron this loyal to Mary & Tito’s.  In truth, the restaurant’s walls could probably be covered with framed certificates and accolades feting it as the “best” in one category or another. Instead, you’ll find family photo montages along with photos of some of their loyal customers. For ambiance, this homey restaurant might not win any awards, but for outstanding New Mexican cuisine, it has secured a place in the hearts and appetites of their many guests.

Although the legendary Tito passed away in 1990 and his devoted wife Mary Ann Gonzales left us in 2013, their effervescent daughter Antoinette and sons Jordan and Travis continue to provide the hospitality for which Mary & Tito’s is renowned. Better yet, they oversee an operation that serves what is arguably the best New Mexican food in New Mexico (ergo the entire universe)–and unequivocally the very best red chile anywhere.  Interestingly, Mary & Tito’s continues to win over lifelong New Mexicans who never heard of the restaurant until it was featured on the Travel Channel’s Bizarre Foods Dining Destinations program.

Mary & Tito's green chile burrito stuffed with guacamole and rice--one of the very best burritos in the universe!

A rare sight–green chile on a burrito at Mary & Tito’s where red is best!

The red chile has culled a legendary reputation among aficionados. Slathered generously on your entrees, it is a rich red color. At first impression it tastes great, but the more you eat more of it, the more the piquant heat builds up. Oh, the wonderful burn!  Beads of perspiration glistened on my dearly departed friend Ruben Hendrickson’s forehead with every bite, but he persevered through that endorphin generating heat with what can only be described as a lusty fervor.  Even when the particular crop of chile isn’t particularly piquant, Mary & Tito’s red chile is always wonderful, so good some frequent guests have no idea what the green chile tastes like.  It’s been so long since I’ve had the green chile that I no longer remember what it’s like.  The red chile is available meatless for diners of the vegetarian persuasion.

Ask the vivacious Antoinette what makes Mary & Tito’s red chile so uniquely wonderful and she’ll tell you that the chile starts off like the chile at most New Mexican restaurants. The difference is in what is done with it.  Mary & Tito’s chile has been purchased from one Hatch grower for years and it’s ground from pods, not made from powder. Beyond that, the restaurant doesn’t adulterate the chile with other than salt and garlic (absolutely no cumin–contrary to what the Travel Channel’s Andrew Zimmern once reported on Bizarre Foods: Dining Destinations). There is magic in this purity.  There’s also purity in its almost mesmerizing red-orange color and if you look at the edges of your plate, you won’t see the tell-tale signs of the excessive use of a thickening agent such as corn starch.  There’s none of that in this red chile!

A guacamole, beans and rice burrito with red chile. Photo courtesy of Sandy Driscoll.

The green chile (as I remember it) isn’t quite as piquant, but it is very tasty and generously applied to your entrees. For the best of both, ask for your entree to be served “Christmas” style so you can taste both the chile rojo (red) and chile verde (green). Vegetarians can also ask for it without meat.  My friend Lesley King, the wonderful writer whose monthly “King of the Road” column used to grace New Mexico Magazine, visited Mary & Tito’s for the first time in May, 2010 and recognized immediately that at this legendary restaurant, it’s all about the chile, finding both red and green as good as could possibly be made.

My dear friend Ruben Hendrickson, who for more than a year was engaged in a Holy Grail type quest to find the best carne adovada in the Albuquerque area, was absolutely besotted with Mary & Tito’s rendition. It’s carne adovada the way it’s supposed to be with tender tendrils of moist, delicious pork ameliorated with the best red chile in the metropolitan area.  Cheryl Jamison, the scintillating four-time James Beard Award-winning author, calls the carne adovada “absolutely spectacular.”   The Santa Fe Travelers Billie Frank and Steve Collins called it “the best carne adovada we’ve ever had.”  As with most entrees, it’s served with beans and rice, both of which are quite good.

A large combination plate: taco, tamale, cheese enchilada, beans and rice

In New Mexico Magazine‘s “Best Eats” issue for 2011, Mary & Tito’s was recognized as having the best carne adovada in the Land of Enchantment.  As one of the seven culinary experts who selected and wrote about New Mexico’s best, it was the choice with which I most agreed.  Though every other honoree is worthy of “best eats” selection, Mary & Tito’s carne adovada stood out, the best of the best!

The enchiladas are certainly among the best in town and I appreciate the fact that you can have them rolled or stacked (my preference with three corn tortillas), the way they’re served throughout Northern New Mexico. Natives and newcomers alike ask for a fried egg on top of the enchiladas, a flavor-enhancer that improves on a New Mexican entree that doesn’t really need any improvement. An “extra beef” option means enchiladas with even more fantastically well seasoned beef.  With red chile, they will make your taste buds ecstatic.

Two Tacos

Burritos are nearly a foot long and served overstuffed. One of the very best burritos anywhere features guacamole, beans and rice along with the aforementioned red or green chile. It is more than half a pound of New Mexican food greatness, especially when the guacamole practically erupts when you press your fork into the burrito.  It’s become the only dish capable of prying me away from the carne adovada–except when I have the combination plate, stuffed sopaipilla, chiles rellenos… I love it all!

With chips, that guacamole is simplicity itself (avocados in their prime, garlic, lime juice, salt), but it is some of the best guacamole in town. The freshness of guacamole made daily from the best avocados is evident.

Chile relleno covered in red.

Chile relleno covered in red.

The chile rellenos are also among the best I’ve ever had, far superior to their world-famous brethren served at Mesilla’s fabled La Posta restaurant. A thin, crispy batter envelops a piquant pepper stuffed with a sharp Cheddar cheese. Each bite produces an endorphin rush and taste explosion.  The rellenos are available on the combination platter as well as a la carte.  As with other entrees at Mary & Tito’s, they’re best smothered with that miraculous red chile.

My friend Sr. Plata had the privilege of first-time visits to both Chope’s and Mary & Tito’s within two weeks of each other.  In his estimation, the chile relleno at Mary & Tito’s is far superior to Chope’s version (which is often considered THE standard-bearer for the genre in the Land of Enchantment).  New Mexicans from the southern half of the state, in particular, might consider it sacrilege, but Sr. Plata reasons that Mary & Tito’s superior red chile is the difference-maker.  He’s calls it the essence of purity and deliciousness.

A huskless tamale smothered in red chile

You won’t find sopaipillas with honey at Mary & Tito’s, but you will find a “Mexican turnover‘ resembling an overgrown empanada or Italian calzone. It’s made from sopaipilla dough stuffed with meat, beans, rice and chile then deep fried. It’s Mary & Tito’s version of stuffed sopaipillas and it’s (not surprisingly) among the very best in the city.  The Mexican turnover is the most popular item at the restaurant, surpassing even the nonpareil carne adovada.

Entrees include some of the best refried beans anywhere…and I mean anywhere in the country. They have that “prepared with lard” taste all good refrieds have. Spanish rice also comes with every entree as does a tomato and lettuce garnish. Garnish is one of those plate decorations many people discard. With Mary & Tito’s fabulous red chile, it’s just something else with which to sop up every bit of that chile rojo.

Enchiladas with a fried egg and red chile

Enchiladas with a fried egg and red chile

Your first bowl of salsa is complimentary and it’s so good you’ll certainly finish it off quickly and order another. The chips, like the salsa, are lightly salted and crisp, the perfect size and texture to complement the tomato rich salsa.  The salsa has a nice piquancy but other than tomatoes and chile, there are no discernible additives such as garlic and onion.

Only the con queso gets a less than outstanding mark at Mary & Tito’s. The cheese has that “melted Velveeta” feel and taste and is somewhat gloppy.  Authenticity and utter deliciousness,however, aren’t spared on the chicharrones which compete with those at Cecilia’s Cafe for best in the city.  Chicharrones are Pieces of pork crackling cooked until crunchy and most of the fat is rendered out.  A plateful of chicharrones and a bowl of that legendary red are a great way to start any meal.

Carne Adovada Omelet

Carne Adovada Omelet

Another excellent entree unique to Mary & Tito’s is a carne adovada omelet.  Yes, you did read that correctly.  It’s a multi-egg omelet folded over that outstanding carne adovada then covered in the red chile of my dreams.  There’s no need for any of the usual omelet ingredients when you’ve got carne adovada.

Compliment Antoinette on an outstanding meal and she’ll invariably credit “the guys in the kitchen.” Those guys, the Arguello brothers–Patricio and Louis–are following Tito’s recipes and keeping his culinary legacy alive.  They’ve been working at Mary & Tito’s since they were but teenagers, schooled under the watchful eye of Tito himself.  They’re well versed at their craft. Antoinette will, however, take credit for the terrific desserts available at Mary & Tito’s.

Salsa and Chips

For dessert, an absolute “must have” is Mary & Tito’s take on traditional New Mexican wedding cake, a yellow cake made with walnuts and pineapple and topped with a cream cheese frosting is spectacular.  Antoinette has been making this cake for better than 30 years (though she doesn’t look much older than 30 herself) and says she’s made it thousands of times.  You won’t find any better in New Mexico.  You won’t find anything close.  My friend Bill Resnik calls it “one of the ten best things I’ve ever put in my mouth.”

In January, 2010, Mary & Tito’s was announced as the 2010 recipient 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.” Mary & Tito’s is the true, timeless American classic–beloved in the community with the highest quality food reflecting the character of New Mexico.

Chicharones, Mary & Tito’s style. Photo courtesy of Sandy Driscoll.

Mary and Antoinette received the award at a ceremonial dinner on May 3, 2010 at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall in New York City.  Governor Bill Richardson celebrated the honor by proclaiming May 12th “Mary & Tito’s Day” in New Mexico, a well-deserved honor for an exemplary restaurant.

While writing an article entitled “Ode to the Chile Pepper” for the September, 2011 edition of New Mexico Magazine, I had the privilege, pleasure and honor to interview the owner of the Hatch chile farm which supplies Mary & Tito’s with their fabulous chile. Leticia Carrasco is justifiably proud of the Sandia chile her farm provisions to a James Beard award-winning restaurant. She could not have been nicer–a great person supplying great chile to a great family. How fitting is that?

The James Beard Award of Excellence. Photo courtesy of Sandy Driscoll.

29 April 2013: In January, 2013 Food & Wine Magazine compiled a list of the nation’s “best taco spots.”  The only New Mexico taco spot recognized was Mary & Tito’s for which Food & Wine acknowledged the “famed secret weapon of this mother-daughter-run operation is its fiery red chile sauce–killer with succulent braised pork in the New Mexico classic carne adovada, or drizzled over beef tacos in crispy corn tortilla shells.”  New Mexico’s best tacos at Mary & Tito’s?  Why not?  They’re fantastic!

18 August 2017: It took me 45 visits to sample everything on the menu at Mary & Tito’s, the very last item being a Mexican Pizza.  Described on the menu as “fry bread, refried beans and cheese,” it’s so much more than that.  It’ll remind you most of the fry bread tacos served at Indian Pow Wows and on reservations.  The canvas for this unique pizza is a deep-fried sopaipilla similar to the one used on the Mexican turnover.  The sopaipilla is topped with lots of refried beans, red chile, sprinkled with cheese and lined with lettuce and tomato.  Unlike Indian-style fry bread tacos, the fry bread at Mary & Tito’s is crisp and crunchy, not soft and pliable.  It doesn’t make the top ten list of items I’ve had at Mary & Tito’s, but you could put that red chile on a leather boot and it would be delicious.

Mexican Pizza

In the February, 2013 edition of Albuquerque The Magazine  celebrated the Duke City’s best desserts. The fabulous Mexican wedding cake was recognized as the “to die for dessert to remember.”  I’m not too sure what that means, but if it means the Mexican wedding cake is unforgettable, the honor is certainly well deserved.  It’s certainly one of the very best desserts in New Mexico.

The cast and crew of This Old House, a Boston-based home-improvement and remodeling television show spent two days at Mary & Tito’s in April, 2013.  While filming a segment in Hatch, purveyors of New Mexico’s best chile told the crew that the very best example of chile is served at Mary & Tito’s.  The cast and crew proceeded to enjoy every item on the menu.  More converts!

Mary & Tito’s fabulous New Mexican Wedding Cake. Photo courtesy of Sandy Driscoll.

Mary & Tito’s is one of those restaurants that elicits a craving only it can sate. It is the essence of red chile Nirvana.

MARY & TITO’S CAFE
2711 4th Street, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
505-344-6266
Mary & Tito’s Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 18 August 2017
# OF VISITS: 45
RATING: 27
COST: $$
BEST BET
: Enchiladas, Chile Relleno, Taco, Natillas, Guacamole Burrito, Carne Adovada Burrito, Chicharrones,  Mexican Wedding Cake, Carne Adovada Omelet, Carne Adovada, Combination Plate, Mexican Pizza, Mexican Turnover, Salsa & Chips

Mary & Tito's Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Soo Bak Foods – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Soo Bak Foods, an Outstanding Mobile Kitchen

When I told my friend Jim “Bubba” Chester about having discovered a terrific mobile food kitchen named Soo Bak, he became very animated. Surely, he thought Soo Bak just had to serve the Arkansas-style barbecue he craved. When I asked how he arrived at that conclusion, he explained rather matter-of-factly that the trademarked chant at his beloved alma-mater (the University of Arkansas), is ”Woooo! Pig Sooie!” and of course, the team mascot is the Razorbacks. Hence anyone should be able to see that “Soo Bak” is Arkansas-style barbecue. It nearly broke his heart to learn that instead of Arkansas-style barbecue, Soo Bak serves Korean barbecue (among other paragons of deliciousness). “How in tarnation could someone that far from the Ozarks know anything about barbecue?” he cried. Quite a bit, my friend. Quite a bit.

Korean barbecue, called “gogi gui,” more closely resembles grilling than it does the traditional low-and-slow preparation of meats throughout the fruited plain. This grilling method is distinguished by the use of a charcoal or gas grill, often build right into the dining room table itself. There diners prepare their favorite thinly sliced pork, beef, chicken or seafood. Korean barbecue is actually an overarching term encompassing a variety of marinated and non-marinated meat and seafood dishes. The two Korean barbecue dishes with which Americans are most familiar are bulgogi (thinly sliced rib eye glazed with a sweet and savory marinade) and kalbi (sliced, butterflied and marinated beef short ribs prepared over a wood fire).

The Soo Bak Menu

Contrary to Jim’s rationale, the name Soo Bak actually translates from Korean to “Watermelon,” a fitting appellation considering the mobile kitchen conveyance plies its craft under the shadows of the Sandias. Soo Bak is the brainchild of owner-chef John Katrinak who has reinterpreted his grandmother’s and mother’s recipes so that they meld the complementary flavors of Korea and New Mexico. Those flavors work very well together! During his travels throughout the globe, the impressions he gleaned from the generosity and love many people put into their food resonated deeply with him. It’s his personal mission statement to share his foods in the spirit of that generosity and love. Mission accomplished!

You can’t help but love a mobile kitchen sporting the tag line “Korean Seoul Food,” wordplay honoring the capital of South Korea. Operating across the city since January, 2013, Soo Bak is a ubiquitous presence at the Talin Market where it sets up alongside several other mobile kitchens every Wednesday. Unlike many of its brethren, Soo Bak posts its weekly schedule on its Facebook page and can be counted on reliably to be where it’s supposed to be. Its Facebook page also lists its menu of “everyday items,” though frequently changing specials aren’t listed. Befitting a motorized conveyance with limited operating room, the menu is rather limited, but it’s the flavors and aromas that are far-reaching. As you queue up to place your order, you may want to pull a George Costanza and yank the people in front of you out of your way.  That’s how ravenous the aromas will make you.

BBQ Beef Tacos with Cucumber Kimchi

9 August 2017: Among Soo Bak’s most popular fusion of New Mexico meets Korea are Korean tacos. Available in quantities of two or three and generously engorged with your choice of Korean BBQ beef (with lettuce, cheese, crema and Sriracha), Spicy Pork (with lettuce, cheese, crema, and a side of jalapeño salsa) or sautéed mushrooms (with lettuce, cheese, crema and Sriracha). The Korean BBQ Beef taco is in rarefied company as one of the most surprising tacos I’ve had in years. Many other tacos have surprised me in their use of ingredients which don’t always work well together. Soo Bak surprised me in just how harmoniously well those ingredients coalesce into a delicious whole. The beef is impregnated with a superb smokiness, a grilled flavor with a perfect amount of char that still lets you appreciate the crispiness and freshness of the lettuce and the complementary sauces.

9 August 2017: Air Force friends and colleagues who served in Korea like to use the term “deep kimchi” when someone is in a rather sticky situation. They shared horror stories of kimchi so pungent and piquant that they couldn’t eat it. Because I could, it instantly made me one of the gang. Soo Bak offers three types of kimchi available in small and large portions: Napa cabbage, radish and cucumber. The cucumber kimchi is the complete antithesis of the sometimes cloying cucumber salad oft served with satay at many Thai restaurants. Where Thai cucumber salad is sweet and vinegary, Soo Bak’s cucumber kimchi is pungent, salty and pleasantly piquant with a nice crunchy texture that bespeaks of its freshness. It isn’t nearly as incendiary as other kimchi I’ve enjoyed, but it is a delightful accompaniment to any meal.

Korean BBQ Beef Bibimbap

 9 August 2017: Koreans have mastered the art of “leftovers disguised as a gourmet dish” in a popular dish known as Bibimbap, which translates from Korean to “mixed rice.” As with other Soo Bak dishes, there are three types of bibimbap available: Korean BBQ beef, spicy pork and sautéed mushrooms. The dish is described on the menu as “on a dish of steamed rice with lettuce and chilled daikon, sprouts and zucchini; topped with a fried egg and topped with red pepper sauce or sesame ginger vinaigrette.” My words won’t do justice to this dish which plays with and delights every one of your ten-thousand taste buds. Puncture the yolk and let it run across the other ingredients to maximize the intensity of your enjoyment.  My choices were the spicy pork and the sesame-ginger vinaigrette, both of which interplay so well. As with the aforementioned BBQ beef, the spicy pork is grilled to the point that its exterior is nearly caramelized, the flavor of nicely-seasoned charcoal prominent.  Call it “gourmet leftovers” if you will, but this is an addicting dish. 

16 August 2017:  There’s an unwritten rule that you shouldn’t eat more than one starch in any one meal.  This isn’t as much so that you avoid bad combinations (such as potatoes and pasta) as it is so that you don’t overeat starches.  Somehow Soo Bak can get away with violating this culinary faux pas.  At least they do with the Sesame Noodles (chilled sweet potato noodles with spinach, carrots, onion, and sesame seeds in a sesame soy sauce)  served with steamed rice.  While both the sesame noodles and the steamed rice are exemplars of how each dish should be prepared, eating that much starch in one meal will rankle the ire of your cardiologist.  One way to cut the starch is to add the Korean BBQ beef with the dish.  Yes, the dish will still have two starches, but at least the flavor profile isn’t one-note.  This is an excellent dish.

Korean Sesame Noodles with Korean BBQ Beef

16 August 2017:  Kimchi is as Korean as apple pie is American.  It’s a quintessential food, one offering spicy, salty, sour, crunchy and healthy notes.  With more than one hundred varieties of kimchi, there’s bound to be one to appease ever palate–and contrary to stereotype, not all are made with cabbage.  That said, Soo Bak’s Napa cabbage kimchi is terrific, an exemplar of the kimchi with which most Americans are familiar.  Its pungency and piquancy is courtesy of the combination of red pepper powder and several other seasoning spices.  Its deliciousness is courtesy of Soo Bak’s traditional preparation.  My friend Bill Resnik calls Soo Bak’s radish kimchi the very best he’s ever had.  Made with ponytail radishes, it’s got a pleasant punch and delightfully crunchy texture.

Soo Bak prepares everything to order so waits are in order. If you find them at Talin, there’s a good chance you’ll run into Air Force personnel in uniform. Make sure to thank them for their service and maybe compliment them for their good taste in mobile food kitchens. Soo Bak is among the very best!

Soo Bak Foods
Location Varies
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 221-9910
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 16 August 2017
1st VISIT: 9 August 2017
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 22
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Korean BBQ Beef Bibimbap, Cucumber Kimchi, Spicy Pork Tacos

Soo Bak Foods Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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