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Central Grill and Coffee House – Albuquerque, New Mexico

The Central Grill and Coffee House near Old Town

“Life is short. Eat more pancakes and fewer rice cakes”.
~ Unknown

With an almost reverential zeal they come, their cellphone cameras at the ready. The enthusiasm for their pilgrimages have brought them to this hallowed destination from every corner of the country.  Some know next to nothing about the city, save for it having been the hometown of chemistry-teacher turned meth-kingpin Walter White.  They don’t regard the city with the ignominy with which it’s been portrayed, but as a Mecca replete with landmarks of the groundbreaking television series Breaking Bad.  They come for  up-close-and-personal views of locations frequented by its characters. 

The more enthusiastic among them have gone as far as to toss a pizza on Walter White’s roof, recreating White’s famous pizza toss from season three.  Roughly 200 avid devotees wishing to bid one last goodbye to the drug lord better known by the clandestine pseudonym Heisenbergeven participated in his mock funeral.  Most, however, are content to take in the landmarks from the air-conditioned conveyances of the several companies capitalizing on the show’s popularity.

Hot and Buttered Salted Caramel Sticky Bun

One landmark Breaking Bad enthusiasts will no longer find is Liu’s Chinese Fast Food Restaurant which made a cameo appearance during a season one episode entitled “Cancer Man.”  No longer will fans be able to reenact the scene in which Christian “Combo” Ortega stood outside the restaurant to call Jesse Pinkman, Breaking Bad’s deuteragonist. It may not seem like much to the casual watcher, but to diehard devotees, it’s part of living the dream.

Situated on Old Route 66 directly across the street from the Old Town Plaza parking lot, Liu’s may not have been contemporaneous with the Conquistadores, but it sure seems that way.  In May, 2014, the Central Grill and Coffee House replaced Liu’s at the 60-year-old edifice, in the process transforming the nondescript building from a rather austere and uninviting premises to a bright, welcoming diner. 

“Christmas Style” Breakfast Burrito with Sausage and Bacon

The Central Grill and Coffee House seats 48 with outdoor seating on an expansive patio accommodating several more patrons. Walk in on a Sunday morning and you’ll swear there are at least 48 guests standing in line to place their orders.  The process is rather brisk.  While standing in line you’ll have plenty of time to peruse the menu and after you place your order, it’ll be delivered in a short while.  Watching one order after another of pancakes being ferried to eagerly awaiting guests is part of the fun. 

Pancakes are one of many options on a rather wide-ranging menu that includes numerous breakfast favorites, burgers, sandwiches, salads, sides and “perks.”  The latter would be a line-up of coffee and blended smoothies sure to wake you up on a sleepy morning.  There’s enough variety on the menu that you’ll be hard-pressed to make a quick decision.  Fortunately, as previously stated, you could be in line long enough to deliberate your choices thoroughly.

Carne Adovada Burrito

Perhaps the most difficult choice to make is deciding from among the scone of the day, muffin of the day and sweet of the day.  If the salted caramel sticky bun is available, it’s a no-brainer.  This is a sweet treat which should be mentioned in the same breath as the fabled Frontier roll and the cinnamon rolls at San Marcos Cafe outside of Santa Fe.  In other words, it’s in rarefied company.  It’s even better when served hot with lots of melting butter.  Calories be damned; just double-up on the treadmill. 

The behemoth breakfast burrito is probably even more dietetically devastating than the sticky buns.  Roughly the size of a log of firewood, it’s engorged with the ingredients New Mexicans love on their breakfast burritos: scrambled eggs, potatoes, cheese and your choice of bacon or sausage (live it up and have both) topped with red or green chile (or both).  This is one of the best breakfast burritos to have crossed my path in quite a while.  The red chile has a very pleasant piquancy while the green has the roasted nuances aficionados appreciate.

ABQ Western Sandwich

For my Kim, a carne adovada burrito sans additional chile makes great sense.  She contends that the chile in which the pork has marinated has a porcine-blessed flavor profile other chile doesn’t have.  She was blown away by the sheer volume of pork with which this burrito is engorged.  Tender tendrils of pure pork deliciousness marinated in chile practically made her swoon. 

Among the more intriguing sandwiches on the menu is one called the ABQ Western Sandwich, sliced brisket, smoked sausage, Cheddar and barbecue sauce on a toasted ciabatta bun.  One of the things that make this an intriguing sandwich is that there is no smoker on the premises.  Somehow, the brisket has the hint of smokiness that seems to indicate it spent time imbibing low-and-slow smoke.  The smoked sausage doesn’t quite have the same discernible smoke notes, but it pairs well with the brisket.

While Breaking Bad devotees may not find one of their favorite Old Town area landmarks, if the pangs of hunger strike during their pilgrimages, they’ll certainly find a terrific diner and coffee house to sate them.

Central Grill and Coffee House
2056 Central Avenue, S.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 554-1424
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 28 June 2015
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Salted Caramel Sticky Bun, Breakfast Burrito, Carne Adovada Burrito. ABQ Western Sandwich

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Sandia Chile Grill – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Sandia Chile Grill, Smokehouse and Microbrewery

If perspiration is (as the proverbial “they” have declared) the mother of invention, Mickey and Clinton Coker may just be two of the most glistening guys in the Duke City. Since 2004, the Cokers have “reinvented” their restaurant four times. If you’re thinking, they’re just try, try, trying again until they get it right, you couldn’t be more wrong. Mickey Coker, the entrepreneur behind the four make-overs, started with a culinary concept that was so wildly successful, it prompted almost immediate growth. His second effort, a brick-and-mortar operation, also achieved significant acclaim. Some might have considered the third Coker transition strictly a sideline…until it started garnering one award after the other. The fourth step in the evolution of the Sandia Grill may be the most revolutionary of all.

For Mickey Coker, the route to entrepreneur was inauspicious. He got his start selling New Mexican food at a gas station-convenience store. Yes, the very notion of a gas station-convenience store food conjures images of salty, cylindrically shaped dry meat snacks with the texture of sawdust and air-filled bags of Cool Ranch Doritos.  Now mention New Mexican food and gas station in the same sentence and the likely image would make all the sophomoric six-year-olds among us giggle, the notion of “gas” not having anything to do with petroleum.  Despite these stereotypes, Coker had the confidence in his New Mexico food products to launch his business in 2004, ensconced within the confines of a convenience store-gas station in the Winner’s Circle gas station at Harper and Barstow. A second location, on Montgomery just east of I-25, followed shortly thereafter.

Once strictly a New Mexican Restaurant, Now Showcasing Barbecue and New Mexican Food

From its onset, the Sandia Chile Grill’s made-to-order burrito concept elevated gas station dining from a fast food grab-and-gobble experience to a uniquely sublime New Mexico dining extravaganza, albeit one without on-the-premises seating. The aroma of tortillas on the grill quickly had patrons making a bee-line to the little grill that could at the back of the convenience store portion of the gas station. While relatively little space is required to operate what is essentially a to-go diner, Coker saw his business grow to the extent–as many as 4,000 meals in a busy month–that a real restaurant storefront was in order. He launched the Sandia Chile Grill restaurant at the Del Norte Shopping Center, essentially moving from the Winner’s Circle gas station not that far away.

A native New Mexican (born in Belen), Coker saw two obvious reasons for the name Sandia Chile Grill, the first being Sandia chile which grows in the Mesilla Valley. Sandia chile ranges from four to six-inches long and dries to a deep burgundy color.  It’s one of the most delicious of all red chiles and is served at such fabled New Mexican food treasures as Mary & Tito’s.   Sandia is also the name of the mountain range backdropping the city of Albuquerque.

Pulled Pork Sandwich with Twice Baked Potatoes and Calabasitas

At the restaurant, the staff had the room to operate and customers had comfortable seating in which to enjoy New Mexican food favorites. Though much of the restaurant’s business remained carry-out, it was nice to have had an alternative when you wanted it. As at the service station, burritos dominated the menu: breakfast burritos, steak burritos, steak and chicken burritos, chicken burritos, pork burritos and even veggie burritos. Some burritos were named for professional wrestlers (Ultimate Warrior, Undertaker, Junkyard Dog, Mankind and the Macho Man). There were also burritos named for Mexican western characters: El Matidor (sic), Bandito, Caballero and El Jeffe. The menu also included stuffed sopaipillas, enchiladas, tamales, rellenos and tacos–the New Mexican food essentials which couldn’t be prepared at the gas station sites.

In 2009, the facility was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to can all its chiles and sauces for nationwide distribution. In 2012, the Cokers opened a microbrewery on the premises–and an award-winning brewery at that. Within months after launching, they entered seven items in a New Mexico State Fair competition, earning five medals including a “best of show” in the professional division. The blue and red-ribbons are on display in the restaurant. The menu also began featuring several gluten-free items (nachos, green chile chicken stew, chicken quesadillas, chicken enchiladas, steak tacos and more).

House Sauces: Hot (with Habanero), Tangy (Mustard-Based) and Sweet

The Cokers determined that an even more natural accompaniment to award-winning adult libations than New Mexican food is barbecue. Yes, barbecue! Though their New Mexican dishes were beloved by the masses who frequented the Sandia Chile Grill, the Cokers are not ones to stay still. They transitioned to a smokehouse concept in March, 2014, positioning a smoker near the Wyoming entrance to the shopping center. Aficionados of Sandia’s New Mexican food weren’t left in the cold, however. The new menu also includes several popular New Mexican food favorites (burritos, enchiladas, stuffed sopaipillas, quesadillas, huevos rancheros and a green chile chicken bowl ) prepared with smoked meats instead of the more conventional meats used on New Mexican food.

Because the concept of transitioning from a New Mexican restaurant to a smokehouse may seem radical, you’re probably wondering if this is a haphazardly undertaken venture. In truth, the Cokers have had a smoker for more than a decade. That’s plenty of time to master low-and-slow smoke manipulation on meats. Brimming with confidence from the great reception their barbecue has received, the Cokers have plans for a larger smoker with a much greater capacity. The barbecue menu is replete with the essentials: pulled pork, smoked chicken, brisket, St. Louis ribs and street tacos. You can purchase them in increments ranging from a quarter-pound through ten pounds. You can also partake of a sandwich meal with two sides for a ridiculously low price. Three sauces–a tangy sauce similar to what you’d find in the Carolinas, a spicy sauce redolent with Habanero and a sweet sauce–are available though because it’s good barbecue, they’re wholly unnecessary.

Brisket Enchiladas

The pulled pork sandwich features a hoagie type bun brimming with tender tendrils of pulled pork. It’s good to go as is though you might want to experiment with the three sauces to see if one suits your taste. The spicy Habanero-based sauce provides a “slow burn,” a deceptive “sneak up on you” burn that may water your eyes if you apply too much of the sauce. If you’re from New Mexico, you can handle it. Make one of the two sides the calabasitas. These aren’t your run-of-the-mill calabasitas. They’re prepared al dente and paired with a green chile as incendiary as the Habanero sauce. Another excellent side is the twice-baked potatoes which have a smooth, creamy texture and are punctuated with sour cream.

The pairing of New Mexican food and barbecue is a match made in New Mexico and that’s about as close to heaven as there is on Earth.  One of the most surprisingly natural couplings is smoked brisket with “Christmas” style enchiladas, available in quantities of one, two or three.  Atop tortillas redolent with corn are heaping helpings of smoked brisket, shredded Cheddar, lettuce and the red and green chile with which Duke City diners fell in love when the Ultimate Warrior was on the menu.  The chile has a pleasant piquancy that doesn’t obfuscate the smokiness of the brisket.  Brisket enchiladas are a surprisingly good way to enjoy the best of two flavor combinations.

Mick Coker and his son Clinton are immensely proud of their New Mexican heritage and like most proud New Mexicans, know one of the day’s most difficult decisions is whether to have red or green chile…or both.   They help make that decision easier for their guests by offering excellent New Mexican cuisine showcasing both. They also showcase some of the best adult libations and barbecue in town.

Sandia Chile Grill
7120 Wyoming Blvd, N.E.,
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 798-1970
Web Site

LATEST VISIT: 3 July 2015
1st VISIT:  18 August 2007
# OF VISITS: 4
RATING: 21
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Pulled Pork Sandwich, Calabasitas, Twice Baked Potatoes, Brisket Enchiladas

Sandia Chile Grill on Urbanspoon

Friends of Gil Head Out-Of-Town And You’re Invited

The Lina Mansion in Los Lunas

Experience has shown that the Friends of Gil (FOG) are willing to go great distances for a diversity of excellent dining experiences.  In four previous excursions, FOG members have traveled to Rio Rancho for superb Italian fare at Joe’s Pasta House, enjoyed a sumptuous six-course repast at Budai Gourmet Chinese, partaken of magnificent Mexican food at El Norteno and converged on M’Tucci’s Kitchina for an evening good friends, good food and good laughs.  Our next planned outing is slated for July, 2015 at the fabulous Luna Mansion in beautiful downtown Los Lunas and you’re invited.  At this point we have two tentative dates and times:

  • Saturday, July 18th at 5PM for dinner; or
  • Sunday, July 19th at 1PM for brunch.   During brunch you can also order items from the dinner menu (with the exception of baked potatoes which are not ready that early).

We need your help in finalizing the date and time of FOG V.  If you’re interested in attending, please let us know by providing a comment to this post indicating which of the proposed events you wish to attend and how many guests you’ll be bringing with you. If you’re available to attend on both dates and times, please let us know that, too, but indicate which you’d prefer.  So that we can plan accordingly, please respond by Saturday, July 4th.

Don’t let the perceived distance dissuade you from dining at one of the most unique and attractive settings in New Mexico.  From 1st and Central then via I-25, it’s approximately 25 minutes to the Luna Mansion.  That’s quicker than driving from one side of town to the other during rush hour and half as long as a rush hour commute from Rio Rancho to the Big I. 

For reviews other than those on Gil’s Thrilling…click here.  For more photos of the spectacular Luna Mansion ambiance, please click here, here, here and here.  Thanks to Bob of the Village of Los Ranchos for organizing what promises to be yet another fantastic Friends of Gil event.