Gil's Thrilling (And Filling) Blog

Follow the Culinary Ruminations of New Mexico's Sesquipedalian Sybarite. 825 Restaurant Reviews, More Than 6300 Visitor Comments…And Counting!

The Mine Shaft Tavern – Madrid, New Mexico

The Mine Shaft Tavern is a very popular eatery and watering hole on the Turquoise Trail

The Mine Shaft Tavern, home to one of the very best green chile cheeseburgers in New Mexico

“You load sixteen tons and what do you get?
Another day older and deeper in debt.
St. Peter, don’t you call me cause I can’t go.
I owe my soul to the company store

Those immortal lyrics, hauntingly performed by crooner Tennessee Ernie Ford describe with a poignant reality, the plight of the American miner even onto the 20th century.  By payday, which came at month’s end, miners did indeed owe their souls to the company–for the company house in which they were living, for groceries to feed their families, for doctor bills and even for the tools they used to mine.

They were paid in scrip which could only be spent at the company store, leaving them no choice but to buy from the companies. Despicably, this allowed the company to gouge the miners with vastly over-inflated prices, leaving miners with families inextricably in debt to the company.  When they got paid at month’s end, any money left after settling their debts to the company was insufficient to last through the following month. This vicious cycle was perpetuated the following month when miners again had to pay the company first and were lucky to have anything left for their families.

The capacious Mine Shaft Tavern Dining Room

Although many miners of the age toiled under hazardous working conditions and in virtual indentured servitude  while despotic mine owners and managers benefited from their labors, Madrid’s superintendent of mines Oscar Huber was a unique sort.  Under his direction, the citizenry of Madrid enjoyed unlimited electricity in their homes courtesy of the company-owned power plant, paved streets, schools, a company store and even a hospital.  Commerce was still controlled by the company, however, so miners wages ultimately returned back to the owners’ pockets. 

When given the opportunity, the miners played as hard as they worked. In 1922, Huber built the first illuminated baseball park (still in use today) west of the Mississippi.  The stadium served as home to the Madrid Miners, a farm team for the Brooklyn Dodgers who played a game in the park in 1934.  Madrid was also home to one of the most elaborate and famous Christmas light displays in America.  From the 1920s through the advent of World War II, Madrid miners lit up the sky with 150,000 Christmas lights powered by 500,000 kilowatt hours of electricity provided by the company’s coal-fed generators.   Commercial planes used to divert from their normal routes in order to fly over Madrid so passengers could enjoy the pageantry.

The famous bar at the Mine Shaft Tavern

The last “company town” building erected in Madrid was the Mine Shaft Tavern whose doors opened in 1946. Within the tavern only those familiar with the difficult mining conditions pause to reflect on that heart-wrenching aspect of Madrid’s colorful history. Other patrons are there to have a good time thanks to tavern quality food and libations which flow freely.

The Mine Shaft Tavern is especially popular with old hippies and Harley Davidson enthusiasts whose “hogs” take up many of the parking spaces. The bikers congregate on the porch where they have an excellent vantage point from which to admire their bikes and those of their fellow easy riders. The tavern’s dimly lit interior appears relatively unchanged since the 1940s with canned lights that are indeed made from tin cans. Above the longest stand-up bar in New Mexico, a series of paintings by renown artist Ross J. Ward depicts Madrid’s colorful history.

A better view of some of the paintings just above the bar

From a culinary perspective only, our inaugural visit to the Mine Shift Tavern back in 2005 was a disappointment.  The menu was rather lackluster and the quality of fare was pedestrian.  It might best be described as “company store quality.”   Marked improvement was evident during my second visit in 2011 when I dined at the Mine Shaft Tavern for a “Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner” article in New Mexico Magazine.  What a difference a change of ownership can make!  In 2009, Lori Lindsey purchased the Mine Shift Tavern and has made it not only “Madrid’s living room,” but one of its best dining rooms.

The menu features “New Mexico Roadhouse Cuisine” showcasing a number of specialty burgers, grilled pizza and specials such as enchiladas, fish and chips and a smoked barbecue sandwich.  Dinner specials are available from Thursday through Sunday after 5PM.  They include a Wagyu “Baseball Cut” Sirloin, Shrimp Brochette and Wild Mushroom Pasta.  If it’s been a while since your last visit to the Mine Shaft Tavern, you might be surprised at how much more varied and inviting the menu now is.  The kitchen’s “mission statement says it best: We take pride in making food from scratch using quality and organic ingredients whenever possible.  Our famous burgers and “Kobe” comes right off the Turquoise Trail, from Bonanza Creek Ranch and Lone Mountain Ranch.”

The Mine Shaft Tavern Stage

With a New Mexican beef pedigree like that, you’ve got to order one of the Tavern’s six specialty burgers which are available from your choice of half-pound Angus, New Mexico Wagyu, Buffalo or Veggie.  The newest specialty burger was created in 2014 for the second annual green chile cheeseburger smackdown in Santa Fe.  It’s called the “Mad Chile Burger” for good reason–because most New Mexicans are absolutely mad about green chile.  The more, the better!  If this describes you, you’ll love the duo of roasted green chile and lightly battered and fried green chile strips.  The Mad Chile Burger also includes a half-pound black Angus Chuck, aged Cheddar and Chipotle Dijonaisse on a Brioche Bun with garnish (pickles, tomatoes, lettuce) on the side.

When I ordered the Mad Chile Burger, my server (who also happens to be owner Lori Lindsey’s niece) was very prophetic in telling me it would be the winning green chile cheeseburger in the Smackdown two days later.  I was skeptical until my second bite when the Chipotle Dijonaisse kicked it.  With the heat-generating triumvirate of roasted and chopped green chile, battered and fried green chile and Chipotle Dijonaisse, this burger blesses you with three times the love and three times the flavor you get from most green chile cheeseburgers.  The battered and fried green chile strips, similar to a chile relleno without the cheese, are especially addictive.  The Chipotle Dijonaisse has the tanginess of mustard with the piquant kick of chipotle, a combination which renders mustard unnecessary.  In fact, to add anything else to this burger would be to desecrate it.  It is simply one of the very best green chile cheeseburgers in New Mexico.  Smackdown attendees obviously agreed, according the Mad Chile Burger the “people’s choice” award for 2014.

The Mad Chile Burger with black and tan onion rings

All burgers are served with your choice of fresh cut French fries or coleslaw.  For a pittance more, you can substitute a salad, sweet potato fries or black and tan onion rings.  Better still, order an appetizer-sized Hatch green chile basket, the same fried, fire-roasted Hatch green chiles found on the Mad Chile Burger.  Served with Ranch dressing, these green chiles will give you yet another reason to be mad about green chile.

Fittingly, the Mine Shaft Tavern is on the New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail and was also recognized by the New Mexico Tourism Department as a Culinary Treasure.

The Mine Shaft Tavern
2846 State Highway 14
Madrid, New Mexico
(505) 473-0743
Web Site

LATEST VISIT: 10 September 2014
1st VISIT: 30 May 2005
COST: $$
BEST BET: The Mad Chile Burger, Black and Tan Onion Rings

The Mine Shaft Tavern on Urbanspoon

Chicharroneria Orozco – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Chicharroneria Orozco on Bridge Boulevard

On a dark desert highway, cool wind in my hair
Warm smell of colitas rising up through the air
~Hotel California – The Eagles

Among the many alluring olfactory temptations emanating from dilapidated and timeworn food stalls and colorful restaurant storefronts throughout Mexico is the warm smell of colitas.  They beckon passers-by to experience the aromas, sights, sounds and flavors of one of the Land of Montezuma’s most intriguing and unique dishes, one which will require timorous diners to renounce the heinous malefaction of consuming artery-clogging and fatty foods.  For many Americans, colitas have a major “ick” factor so they stick with the “safe” foods: tacos, tortas, tostadas and tamales (the “T” food group)…and wisely, they don’t drink the water.

To intrepid gastronomes intimate with Mexican food, “the warm smell of colitas rising up through the air” has a different meaning than the colitas about which The Eagles sang. Though often interpreted as sexual slang (colitas translates to “little tails”) or a reference to marijuana (cannabis buds), band member Don Felder once explained the  colitas referenced in the song are “a plant that grows in the desert that blooms at night, and it has this kind of pungent, almost funky smell.”

Pork by the pound is the specialty here

The carnitas which delight diners throughout Mexico are indeed “little tails.”  More precisely, they’re turkey tails (colitas de pavo), they’re a delicacy and you’ll never convince aficionados of these crunchy, fatty, meaty treats that the immortal Eagles lyrics weren’t written about them.  Their first and most logical argument, of course, is the warm smell rising up through the air.  It’s a smell you can find in the Duke City only at Chicharroneria Orozco just north and west of the Barelas neighborhood. 

Though only a few blocks south of downtown, the area just over the bridge that crosses the Rio Grande on Bridge Boulevard may remind you of crossing into Juarez.  The flesh-rending razor wire fence atop the walls and roofs of nearby businesses will certainly tell you this isn’t the kinder, gentler side of Albuquerque.  Don’t let that scare you.  Most of the visitors to Chicharroneria Orozco are young immigrant families jonesing (or would that be martinezing) for a taste of home.

Celebrating the charro

There’s a lot to see, hear and smell when you step into the restaurant.  The cynosure is most definitely an island of deliciousness–a glass case displaying fried goodness in all shapes and sizes.  Save for the colitas de pavo and higado ensebollado (beef liver and onions), featured fare is of the porcine variety: tripitas (intestines), buche (stomach), carnitas, carne al pastor and costillas de puerco (pork ribs).  For an insanely low price, one pound of the meat of your choice includes a stack of fresh, steaming corn tortillas and a bowl brimming with chopped cilantro, onions and limes.

On one corner of the restaurant is a celebration of the charro, the Mexican horseman of legend and lore.  Atop stacked hay bales is a colorful Mexican blanket, a saddle and a lariat.  The walls immediately behind the hay bale “horse” include other accoutrements of the charro.  An adjacent dining room includes an automated teller machine (ATM) so you can settle your bill of fare.  Take a gander at the refrigerator in which a number of Mexican and American beverages brewed in Mexico (you haven’t lived until you’ve had a Cherry Pepsi bottled in Mexico and made with pure cane sugar) are available.

Salsa and Chips

As you await delivery of your meal, chips and salsa are delivered to your table.  The salsa is uniquely Mexican. It’s not made with either onions or tomatoes as most New Mexican salsas tend to be.  The salsa, a rich red chile punctuated with cilantro and salt will still win you over.  It’s not especially piquant and it’s almost watery in its consistency, but it’s got a great flavor.  Because it is so thin, the thick, crisp chips will function more efficiently if you dip them instead of trying to scoop Gil-sized portions of salsa. 

If you’re averse to fried pork, the Carne Al Pastor is an excellent choice.  Al pastor, which translates to “in the style of the shepherd” is a ubiquitous street food option in Mexico where al pastor means thin cuts of marinated pork whittled away from a cone of sizzling pork gyrating on a spit similar to an gyro.  At the Chicharonneria Orozco, the carne al pastor arrives at your table in cubed form, a bright red reminiscent of tandoori meats in its splendorous patina.

Al Pastor with Onions, Limes and Cilantro

The corn masa taco shells are about four-inches around and remain hot to the touch during your entire meal even though they’re not presented in a warmer of any sorts.  A few spoonfuls of carne al pastor, some freshly chopped onions and cilantro followed by a squeeze of lime and you’ve got a taco which may transport you to the streets of Mexico.  The marinated pork includes some sinewy and fatty bits, but that should be expected considering the price.  You’ll have enough carne al pastor to share and still have some left over for the following day. 

In Mexico, carnitas are the undisputed king of the taco cart as well as of cholesterol.  Every region has its own version of deep-fried pig.  Sometimes shredded like pulled pork and sometimes cubed into small pieces, carnitas should always be moist, juicy and redolent with porcine flavor.  The Chicharroneria Orozco’s version of carnitas is very typical.  One pound of these smoky golden-hued beauties may permanently imprint a smile on your face.

One pound of carnitas with corn tortillas

Where many couples might celebrate a wedding anniversary at an upscale eatery, my Kim and I couldn’t resist the warm smell of colitas and celebrated our momentous day at Chicharroneria Orozco.  She told me we could return any time.

Chicharroneria Orozco
709 Bridge S.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 873-4806
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 7 September 2014
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Carnitas, Al Pastor

Chicharroneria Orozco on Urbanspoon

Taste of Himalayas – Los Ranchos De Albuquerque, New Mexico

Taste of Himalayas on Fourth Street in Los Ranchos de Albuquerque

At 40,000 1/2 feet, the imposing Rum Doodle is the highest mountain in the world, surpassing even Mount Everest, its alpine neighbor on the Himalayas.  Surmounted only by a group of audacious British mountaineers and their Yogastani porters in an odyssey fraught with misadventure, its ascent is the stuff of which mountaineering legends are made.  As if scaling the perilous precipice wasn’t dangerous enough, the intrepid climbers had to endure the inedible culinary miscreations of Pong, the expedition’s sadistic cook.

While Rum Doodle the mountain exists only in the 1956 novel The Ascent of Rum Doodle, there’s an immensely popular bar in Kathmandu named for the fictitious mountain.  The Rum Doodle Bar is legendary as the gathering place and watering hole of outdoor adventurers who visit prior to mountaineering expeditions on the nearby Himalayas.  The very best of them return after successfully ascending Everest, only one-hundred miles away.  They return to cement their place among a very exclusive club of climbers.

The Interior of Taste of Himalayas

Beginning with Sir Edmund Hillary, the first climber to summit Everest, climbers have returned to the Rum Doodle Bar to sign a summit register of the select few who have successfully climbed the highest mountain in the world.  The register is kept in locked glass cases behind the bar.   Signatories with connections to the Land of Enchantment include Taos resident Dave Hahn who has successfully reached the 29,035-foot top of Everest four times.  On May 30, 2003, former governor Gary Johnson joined that exclusive club.  Perquisites for members of this exclusive coterie include free food for the rest of their lives.  Alas, the Rum Doodle Bar’s menu is rather limited, listing only a hamburger, cheeseburger, mushroom pizza and cheese pizza. 

Burgers and pizza are hardly the traditional fare of Kathmandu, but they do seem to appeal to the adventurous international clientele which frequents the Rum Doodle Bar.  In fact, because of tourism, a number of hybrid “westernized” foods have been introduced to an already accepting culinary culture.  To indulge in local cuisine would be to dine on food which, because Kathmandu is such an ethnically and culturally diverse city, has taken inspiration from neighbors Tibet, China and especially from India.

Papadum with Mint-Coriander and Tamarind Chutneys

Until recent years, the foods of Nepal have not been readily available in the Land of Enchantment.  In July, 2008, Namaste Restaurant in Rio Rancho opened and though primarily an Indian restaurant, offered a smattering of dishes from Nepal. In Santa Fe, the Himalayan Cuisine restaurant offered dishes from Nepal, India and Tibet for several years before closing in 2013.  July, 2014 saw the launch of Albuquerque’s first restaurant showcasing the culinary fare of Nepal. 

Taste of Himalayas occupies the space which previously housed Paddy Rawal’s OM Fine Indian Dining Restaurant in Los Ranchos de Albuquerque.  Rawal was a magnificent shooting star talent whose departure from the Duke City left an indelible afterglow, gaining such a stellar reputation that he probably could have run for mayor of Los Ranchos and won.  Taste of Himalayas will assuage the loss and over time may even make some of us forget Paddy Rawal’s genius.

Himalayas Prime Choice Momos with Lamb

Chef Raji, a native of Kathmandu, probably didn’t spend much time at the Rum Doodle.  He seems far too spiritual and humble for cavorting with the hard-living, hard-drinking mountaineers.  He starts his day at the restaurant by burning incense at various points throughout the restaurant.  A statue of Buddha’s head overlooks the restaurant.  Buddhist wall hangings resembling aprons adorn interior doors while framed angels cover the window to the kitchen.  Both the wall hangings and angels are signs of respect in the spirit of namaste, Raji assured us. 

Raji was kind enough to give me a quick tour of the assiduous kitchen, even demonstrating the art of preparing naan on a tandoori oven (pictured below).  Baking naan, the wonderful leavened tandoori oven-baked flat bread, is not wholly unlike making tortillas.  The most significant difference is that after the dough is rolled into a ball, it’s slapped against the tandoori oven wall.  Over direct heat easily achieving 600-degrees, the naan is ready in just about 30-seconds.  After it’s extricated from the oven with a pair of tongs, a light brushing of ghee (clarified butter) is applied, giving the naan a beautiful sheen.

Chef Raji prepares naan on a tandoori oven

There are seven different naans on the menu:plain; garlic, cilantro and chive; ginger mint; onion; stuffed potato and cheese; rosemary olive oil and stuffed dried fruit.  The other available Tandoori bread is Tandoori roti whole wheat bread.  Unlike naan, roti is unleavened and is made from stone-ground wholemeal flour, but is no less delicious than its bread counterpart.  During our inaugural visit, we opted for the garlic cilantro/chive naan, a terrific choice.  The naan is soft and moist with the pinto pony char characteristic of its brief interlude with burning coals in the oven.  The triumvirate of garlic, cilantro and chive lends herbaceous properties that are accentuated with the steaminess of naan freshly extricated from the tandoori. 

Still another popular Indian bread is papadum, a cracker-bread made from flour then deep-fried to give it a crispy consistency.  You won’t be seated for long before a complimentary plate of papadum with two chutneys are brought to your table.  The papadum resembles hard taco shells, but is much more brittle and breaks apart rather easily.  The chutneys are magnificent in their contrasting and complementary properties.  The mint-coriander chutney offers a vibrant nasal-clearing piquancy with herbaceous noted while the tamarind chutney lends sweet notes tempered by sour-tangy properties.

Garlic Cilantro/Chive Naan

The appetizer menu includes a number of vegetarian and non-vegetarian items with which diners who frequent Indian restaurants will be familiar.  Those include chicken pakora and chana chaat.  Others are uniquely Nepalese and should be sampled by all diners wishing to expand their culinary footprint.  Soups and salads are also available.  Peruse the menu further and you’ll see items suffixed with the term “Manchurian,” a tribute to the culinary inspiration gleaned from China. 

Perhaps the one appetizer which best exemplifies the cuisine of Nepal is momos, a Nepali (and Tibetan) name for dumplings.  Momos are almost inarguably the most popular snack and fast food in Nepal.  In fact, there are more “momo corners” in Kathmandu than there are McDonald’s and Subways combined in New York City.  Enjoy momos one time and you’ll wish for a preponderance of this versatile dumpling which can be filled with a limitless variety of vegetarian and non-vegetarian items.

Non-Vegetarian Lunch Special: Tandoori Chicken, Chicken Curry, Butter Chicken, Saag Paneer, Basmati Rice, Sweet Rice

Taste of Himalayas offers four different momos, three of which are vegetarian.  Available either fried or steamed, they are served eight to an order.  If you’ve got a carnivorous bent, the Himalayas Prime Choice Momos are your best best.  Stuffed with your choice of ground lamb (our choice) or chicken mixed with ginger, garlic and other premium spices in a dumpling wrap, they’re magnificent.  The accompanying dipping sauces are wholly unnecessary though the sweet-sour-tangy tamarind sauce plays very well with the richness of the lamb. 

While Taste of Himalayas doesn’t offer a buffet, it does serve a vegetarian and non-vegetarian lunch special of the day sure to please and sate budget-conscious diners.  On a tray large enough to feed a small family, the non-vegetarian plate of the day (pictured above) included two pieces of tandoori chicken, a sweet rice dessert, butter chicken, chicken curry, saag paneer and Basmati rice, all of which are at least very good.  The butter chicken is superb, boneless, skinless, marinated chicken pieces served in a richly flavored tomato and yogurt sauce with melted butter poured over the dish before serving.  It’s sinfully rich and delicious.

Lobster Malabar with Basmati Rice

For the seafood lover in you, Taste of Himalayas offers a number of dishes showcasing the fruits of the sea.  The Lobster Malabar, named for a prolific pepper producing region in India, this dish showcases lobster cooked in a tomato-coconut sauce.  Available in your choice of piquancy, the briny sweetness of seafood generally warrants no more than mild heat lest its flavors be obfuscated by piquant, pungent peppers.  At just south of twenty dollars, it’s a steal though you should accept that at this price, you’re not getting the most tender portions of the lobster.  Still, it’s a very good dish with the lobster very much at home in the tomato-coconut sauce.

The dessert menu lists six items.  For my friend, the dazzling Deanell Collins and for me, there’s no need to read any further than Gajar Halwa, the delightfully rich carrot-based treat we both love.  Composed of grated cooked carrots, sauteed nuts, clarified butter and milk, it’s a unique use of carrots sure to please lovers of carrot cake.  Taste of Himalayas’ version is on par with the Gajar Halwa at Namaste which means it’s the best in the metropolitan area.

Gajar Halwa

Aside from the vibrant and delicious cuisine, our experience at Taste of Himalayas was greatly heightened by the attentive, personal service.  In slightly more than an hour, we spent time in conversation with an energetic and personable chef, a delightful manager named Jamie Lee Curtis and a very cute server we called “wolf” after she described how the naan made her ravenous like a wolf.  Frankly, everything we tried had the same effect on us.

Taste of Himalayas
7520 Fourth Street
Los Ranchos de Albuquerque
(505) 899-4423
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 6 September 2014
COST: $$ – $$$
BEST BET: Gajar Halwa, Lobster Malabar, Tandoori Chicken, Chicken Curry, Butter Chicken, Saag Paneer, Basmati Rice, Sweet Rice, Garlic Cilantro/Chive Naan, Himalayas Prime Choice Momos with Lamb, Papadum

Taste of Himalayas on Urbanspoon