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Roma Bakery & Deli – Albuquerque, New Mexico

The Roma Bakery & Deli is a culinary oasis north of Albuquerque's downtown district.

The Roma Bakery & Deli is a culinary oasis north of Albuquerque’s downtown district.

Galdamez and Albertine.  If you saw those names on a building, you might expect to see them appended with “Attorneys at Law.”  That’s especially true if the building is in the area  immediately north of Albuquerque’s burgeoning downtown district, an area teeming with lawyers’ offices and bail bondsmen (is bondspeople the politically correct term?). Instead, the building in which Oscar Galdamez and Bruce Albertine ply their own noble trade houses a diminutive and charming dining establishment, Roma Bakery and Deli.  You won’t see their named displayed in any officious self-aggrandizement manner, but it’s a good bet you’ll get to know their names soon enough.

That’s because frequent return visits are imminent, especially for hungry patrons lucky enough to live or work close to the restaurant.  The Roma Bakery and Deli launched in the summer of 2006 and despite seating for only about 40 patrons, this comfy, cozy diner has established itself as a very popular dining destination.  Visit during the lunch hour and you’ll find yourself standing in a line that extends from the entrance to the counter at which you place your order.  There is no menu overhead, but most of the patrons don’t seem to need it.  That familiarity and the banter they exchange with Oscar and the genial staff means they’re regulars.

Oscar Galdamez, the baker and chef, is quite a character.

Oscar Galdamez, the baker and chef, is quite a character.

While delicious, made-from-scratch food is the big draw, it doesn’t hurt any that Oscar and Bruce are as outgoing as any restaurateurs in town.  Oscar, who does the cooking and baking, is from El Salvador but don’t expect any pupusas on the menu any time soon.  He frequents  the Pupuseria Y Restaurante Salvadoreño for his pupuseria fix.  His restaurant launched four months after the popular pupuseria.

Finding a place to sit during the weekday lunch hour is a challenge so a lot of people call in to-go orders, sometimes for dozens of sandwiches.  An early lunch (or late breakfast), say at about 10 o’clock might be your best bet and if you’re not in a hurry, make sure to imbibe the ambiance.  The first thing you see when you walk in is a pastry case under glass in which colorful, delicious looking Central American pastries and cookies are put on display.  If you do succumb to the tasty temptations, you’ll be heartened to learn that these pastries don’t derive all their flavor from sugar as do many of their American counterparts.

The pastry display case is replete with delicious treats.

The pastry display case is replete with delicious treats.

Instead, these goodies showcase other distinct tastes.  The prominent flavors on the orange raisin scones, for example, are the citrusy freshness of oranges and the sunny sweetness of sultana (golden raisins).  The coconut butter cookies are indeed buttery and studded with smoked coconut flakes (not unlike coconut macaroons which bear a surprising similarity in appearance), but I digress…

The walls are festooned with giclee prints of original Julie Maas pastels, all very reasonably priced.  Interspersed among the colorful giclees are paintings of automotive designed concepts from the 1960s, all painted by Miller Johnson, a retired automobile designer.   The building which houses restaurant still has old-fashioned windows which open and close with a crank handle.  It’s one of the deli’s charms, along with the worldly eclectic music which plays mostly upbeat and concordant tunes continuously.

On the left, the 5th Street Grilled Cubano and on the right, The Rostisado.

On the left, the 5th Street Grilled Cubano and on the right, The Rostisado.

The menu features five deli-style sandwiches and two croissant sandwiches made on all-butter croissants made in-house.  Four salad options, a soup of the day (on Tuesdays, it’s Baja Lobster Bisque, a bisque spiced up with sauteed jalapeno and tomatoes with fresh cilantro tossed in) and two breakfast entrees (breakfast burrito and breakfast croissant) are also available, albeit served only until 10:30AM.  A chocolate chip cookie is served with every sandwich.  When you bite down on this cookie, you might forever swear off anything baked by an elf.  The chocolate practically oozes out with each heavenly bite. 

15 March 2007: Perhaps the most popular sandwich on the menu is the 5th Street Grilled Cubano, a slight departure from the traditional Cuban sandwich Duke City diners have embraced with a passion. This Cubano is crafted from tender marinated pork loin and Swiss cheese with fresh spinach, pickle and a Citrus dressing (a marinade of lime and orange juices, onion and garlic) all grilled on an in-house baked Roma baguette.  It is served warm and is as comforting and delicious a sandwich as you’ll find anywhere in the Duke City.  The freshly baked, just out-of-the-oven baguette (crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside) is a perfect canvas for any sandwich, especially panini.  The citrus dressing, a tangy elixir may just transport you to Miami.

The Cubano

15 March 2007: Perhaps even better (if possible) is a sandwich called The Rostisado.  This beauty is crafted with slow-roasted beef, pepper Jack cheese, marinated Italian red peppers, lettuce and a proprietary Bistro sauce.  The roast beef is roasted on the premises (as are the pork and turkey) and it is piled high on a fresh-baked Roma French roll.  It’s a very tender roast beef which might just rekindle memories of mom’s pot roast.  The Italian peppers (roasted and marinated in oil and oregano) are so good, you might want to order a separate Italian red pepper salad (for a mere pittance more).

19 August 2014: Having an office within easy walking distance of the Roma Bakery & Deli is one of the very few perquisites of my Kim’s job.  Over the years she’s sampled virtually everything on the menu several times over.  She raves so much about the croissants that not having one was not an option for me.  The Southwest Tuna Croissant is the very best tuna-based sandwich I’ve had in New Mexico (and as my readers know, one of my life’s quests is to find a tuna sandwich equal to those in Massachusetts).  This one is close!  The tuna is as fresh as is possible and it’s not overwhelmed by mayo or salad cream.  Instead, it’s ameliorated with just enough finely chopped jalapeño peppers to earn its sobriquet and give the tuna a discernible punch without detracting from the freshness of the tuna.  Onion, cilantro and tomatoes are the only other ameliorants.  The croissant is buttery, soft and flaky (though not overly so).

The Southwest Tuna Croissant with Pasta Salad

A separate deli case displays the deli’s various salads, all of which appear as fresh and inviting as possible.  The Southwest Tuna Salad, a cool mound of the aforementioned tuna on a bed of fresh mixed greens, will forever be my choice after having experienced that tuna on a croissant.  The pasta salad, however, is no bride’s maid.  In a city where it may be impossible to find a good pasta salad, this is a great one.  Salads are available in small or regular sizes.  The soup-of-the-day is made daily from fresh ingredients.  Monday is green chile stew day, a cause for celebration in Albuquerque.

The name “Roma,” by the way, has nothing to do with the Italian city by that name or with the wine which once sponsored Championship Wrestling on Channel 7 (does anybody remember Cyclone Negro panning Duke City drunks?).  It has everything to do with being located on Roma Avenue.  The Roma Bakery & Deli is open on weekdays from 7AM to 2PM.  It’s closed on Saturday and Sunday.

Coconut Butter Cookies

This tiny gem has been called one of downtown’s best kept secrets.  Frankly, it’s far too good to be a secret.  This is the type of treasure the downtown revitalization folks and Albuquerque tourism should trumpet with pride.  Residents and tourists can’t live on chile alone.

Roma Bakery & Deli
501 Roma, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 843-9418
Web Site

LATEST VISIT: 19 August 2014
1st VISIT: 15 March 2007
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 22
COST: $$
BEST BET: The 5th Street Grilled Cubano, The Rostisado, Southwest Tuna Croissant, Pasta Salad, Red Pepper Deli Salad, Coconut Butter Cookies, Orange Raisin Scone, Pumpkin Empanaditas, Raspberry Margaritas,

Roma Bakery & Deli on Urbanspoon

Basil Leaf – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Basil Leaf on Eubank just south of Constitution

“Do we really want to travel in hermetically sealed Popemobiles
through the rural provinces of France, Mexico and the Far East,
eating only in Hard Rock Cafes and McDonalds?
Or do we want to eat without fear, tearing into the local stew,
the humble taqueria’s mystery meat, the sincerely offered gift of a lightly grilled fish head?
I know what I want. I want it all.  I want to try everything once.”
- Anthony Bourdain

Genesis 11 recounts a time when the entire world had a common language and dwelt as one people.  Alas, hubris overtook the generations of survivors of the great flood who decided, with great unity of purpose, to build a city named Babel with a tower that would reach to heaven itself.  God immediately knew this “stairway to heaven” was essentially a self-aggrandizing monument to the people themselves, calling attention to their own abilities and achievements instead of giving glory to God.  Consequently, God confused their language, causing them to speak different languages so they would not understand one another.  He also scattered the people of the city all over the face of the Earth. 

Some Biblical scholars believe this event marks the point in history when God divided the Earth into separate continents.  Whether or not you believe this Old Testament account, there’s no denying some good would ultimately came from such a division of humanity.  That may be especially true from a culinary perspective.  It stands to reason that a common language and proximal dwelling would limit the diversity of culinary thought and opportunities.  Conversely, the more the population spread out across the wide expanse of climatic and topographical variation, the more diverse the culinary opportunities.

The front dining room at Basil Leaf

Why then, in an increasingly connected and informed world, do so many people limit their culinary opportunities and refuse to deviate from their culinary comfort zones?  It’s a matter long pondered by many of us who look upon Anthony Bourdain’s aforementioned sagacity as a marching order–those of us who want it all, who want to try everything at least once.  Culinary bon vivants see the diversity of dining as an adventure, an experience to be cherished and repeated.  It’s because we have this sense of adventure that we love the diversity proffered by such  restaurants as the Basil Leaf on Eubank.  

Heck without the culinary diversity resultant from topographical and climatic variety around the world we might not even have basil itself. Basil is one of the most popular culinary herbs in the world, a richly aromatic, slightly spicy ameliorant to many of the best dishes proffered at all Thai and Vietnamese restaurants.  Also known as “hairy basil” and by its Thai name of “horapa”, it’s used in salads, soups, curries and as a garnish.  The aroma of Thai basil is stronger and sweeter than its Italian counterpart and it has a peppery flavor slightly reminiscent of star anise. It’s no wonder so many Thai and Vietnamese restaurants across the country are named for this diverse and revered herb.

Vietnamese Crepe with Pork

The Basil Leaf occupies one of those seemingly cursed restaurant locations in Albuquerque, a venue which has seen a number of Thai and Vietnamese restaurants give it the old college try before succumbing to both economic malaise and absence of culinary adventurers.  Perhaps the Basil Leaf  has the familial pedigree to succeed where others have failed.  Family members include Tony Trinh who owns and operates Relish, one of the Duke City’s most popular sandwich shops.  Other family members own and operate Pacific Rim, the only Vietnamese restaurant in Rapid City, South Dakota.

The menu at Basil Leaf isn’t quite the voluminous compendium you’ll find at other Vietnamese restaurants throughout the Duke City. The menu is segmented by related fare: appetizers, beef noodle soup (pho), rice dishes, stir-fried noodles, vermicelli, kid’s menu and beverages.  Unless you’ve got a predetermined notion what you’re in the mood for you’ll spend some time perusing the menu.  It’s a terrific menu promising a culinary adventure in every bite.

The very best clay pot rice dish in Albuquerque

For some reason, the Vietnamese crepe is listed as an appetizer.  Whether deliberate or an anomaly, you’ll marvel at the size of this golden-hued (courtesy of tumeric) beauty.  Resembling a well-engorged egg omelet, the half-moon shaped crepe takes up half the plate.  The other half is covered by fresh, crisp vegetables: a shredded carrot and daikon salad, whole leaf lettuce and sprigs of basil.  It’s much like the vegetable accompaniment for pho.  The Vietnamese crepe, made from coconut milk and rice flour, is stuffed with savory ingredients: bean sprouts, white onions and green onions and is served with fish sauce and your choice of tofu, shrimp, pork or chicken.  Though the crepe itself has a slightly sweet flavor, it’s rare that Vietnamese crepes are stuffed with sweet fillings or toppings.  Pan-fried so they’re just slightly crispy, the crepes have a mild flavor profile for which the tangy, acidic, slightly piquant fish sauce is a perfect foil.  At Basil Leaf, the Vietnamese crepe is an appetizer built for two, especially if you have any expectation of enjoying an entree, too. 

Alas, the best laid plans of gastronomes often go astray.  After consuming the entire crepe, my plan was to sample a few bites of my entree then take the rest home for my Kim to enjoy.  The Sizzling Clay Pot Rice dish had other ideas.  It would ensnare me with its preternatural deliciousness and it wouldn’t let me go until nary a grain of rice remained on the clay pot.  This is a dish which earns its name.  It remained almost too hot to eat even after the Vietnamese crepe was a memory  As you eat, the clay pot remains piping hot throughout your meal which allows the slightly smoky sauce of your choice of meat or tofu to caramelize and waft invitingly for the duration of your meal.  For this reason, clay pot cooking is popular throughout Asia where the clay pot is used as both pot and serving dish.  Aside from rice, this dish contains broccoli, Vietnamese sausage, mushrooms, cashews, cilantro and green onion along with your choice of pork, tofu, shrimp, beef, chicken or a combination thereof.  To the pork goes my highest recommendation.  It’s got a smoky, wok-fried flavor and light sweetness that comes from a sweet-savory-tangy marinade that renders the pork’s edges a reddish hue.  Only the Chicken with Chinese Basil in Hot Pot at China Luck is in the rarefied company of this fabulous hot pot dish.

Basil Leaf is the type of restaurant good enough to convert even the nay-sayers who rarely stray outside their culinary comfort zones.  Moreover, it’s the type of restaurant culinarily adventurous diners love best for its authenticity and oh, those basil-enhanced taste explosions.

Basil Leaf
1225 Eubank, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 323-2594
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 18 August 2014
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Vietnamese Crepe, Clay Pot Rice

Basil Leaf on Urbanspoon

Alicea’s NY Bagels & Subs – Rio Rancho, New Mexico

Never mind the signage.  This is the home of Alicea’s NY Bagels & Subs in Rio Rancho

Imagine a world without sandwiches! That daunting premise would make a pretty fatalistic post-apocalyptic movie in which Dystopian societies exist in a nightmare of deprivation, hopelessness, terror and processed food rations (Soylent Green anyone?).  No sandwiches–it’s just too incomprehensible to imagine, especially considering everywhere you turn there’s another Subway.  Frankly, my own post-apocalyptic nightmare would be a world in which Subway and other restaurants of that ilk are the only option for sandwiches.  Like the indestructible roach, Subway would survive even a nuclear cataclysm.

Alas, my personal post-apocalyptic hell is closer to reality than you might suspect.  CHD Expert, the worldwide leader in collecting, managing and analyzing food service industry data reports that the sacrosanct sandwich, one of America’s iconic foods, is dominated by chains.  It’s not even close.  A bleak analysis indicates chains account for 90.4 percent of the sandwich market landscape while independent sandwich restaurants represent only 9.6 percent.  That type of dominance hasn’t been experienced since Mike Locksley coached the UNM Lobo football team.

The counter at which you order. Notice the large neophrine sandwich hanging overhead

CHD Expert’s analysis reveals that Subway is the “largest chain restaurant in America in terms of number of locations with over 26,000 units.”  Beyond the fruited plain there are over 10,000 Subway restaurants operating in more than 100 countries.  Subway ranks behind only McDonald’s (18,710) and KFC (11,798) among the ten most prolific fast food chains in the world.  Lest you fall for Subway’s Madison Avenue propaganda about its healthful menu, in 2010 the sandwich behemoth earned a rather dubious honor (is it any wonder I fear the white and yellow logo).   

Knowing all of these facts, perhaps the premise with which I began this essay should be rewritten to “imagine a world without independent sandwich restaurants.”  Let’s make it even easier to imagine by limiting that premise to sandwich restaurants specializing in subs.  At the risk of sounding gloomy, that world may soon be here…at least in the Duke City.  Think about it.  How many independent, mom-and-pop sub sandwich restaurants can you name in the Duke City area?  There aren’t many, folks. 

Meatball Parm Sub

When a new, independent, mom-and-pop sub sandwich restaurant opens its doors, it’s an event warranting a celebration.  Heck, when you pass by an independent mom-and-pop sandwich shop, a snappy salute should immediately be followed by a U-turn and visit.  April, 2011 saw the launch of L.A. Subs in a nondescript strip shopping center on Golf Course Road in Rio Rancho.  The initials L.A. didn’t represent the City of Angels, but rather the first names of owner Linda (L) Lorens-Martin and her mother Ann (A).  It wasn’t easily visible from the street and only simple signage told you it existed.

Despite its obfuscated location and virtually no advertising, L.A. Subs acquired a pretty significant and loyal clientele.  It wasn’t even listed on Urbanspoon until months had elapsed after its opening.  Visitors learned about it solely through word of mouth from satisfied customers.  You got the impression that’s the way Linda wanted it.  Her menu, scrawled by marker on a white board, was hardly a compendium of every sub sandwich and side conceivable, listing only a handful of subs, sandwiches and salads.  Specials of the day were listed on a smaller white board behind the counter at which you place your order.  Suspended behind that counter is a gigantic neoprene sub sandwich, a depiction so accurate it may make your mouth water.

Steak and Cheese Sub

Two years later, word on the street was of a merger between L.A. Subs and a newcomer named Alicea’s N.Y. Bagels, a bi-coastal sounding operation if ever there was one.  In addition to the subs with which City of Vision residents had fallen in love, they could now get fresh, New York-style bagels (and isn’t Rio Rancho often referred to as “Little New York?”) and fresh coffee.  Today, external signage still reads “L.A. Subs” but all other references for the 1,200 square-foot sub restaurant indicate it’s “Alicea’s NY Bagels & Subs.”  

Alicea is Frenchy Alicea, a Connecticut native who relocated to Rio Rancho with Hewlett-Packard (HP).  Although HP offered to move Frenchy to its operations in Georgia, he had already established roots in the Rio Rancho community and decided to stay.  Besides, he wanted to transition out of his engineering career into a culinary career and in his spare time had already been working with Linda at L.A. Subs. 

Tuna Sub

If there’s one part of the country that knows subs, it’s the East Coast.  You can find phenomenal subs from Maine to Delaware.  Independent mom-and-pop sub sandwich shops rule the East Coast.  Rio Rancho’s New York transplants echo similar sentiment about bagels, arguing that a good bagel can’t be found west of the Hudson River.  Not even in New York City, however, are bagels delivered to your door.  You read that correctly.  Alicea’s will deliver the bagels which are made the old-fashioned way.  Frenchy calls them “real NY bagels” and the subs “real subs,” emphasis on the real.

Subs are available in two sizes: large and small.  They’re made with lettuce, onions, tomatoes, pickles, peppers, cheese and Italian dressing.  They’re also accompanied by thick kettle chips and a single pickle spear.  On paper, some of the subs are hold-overs from the L.A. Subs days, but you’ll quickly discover they’re “real” subs, the way they’re made on the East Coast.  They’re bulging behemoths bursting with meats and cheeses.  Oh, and the meats aren’t pre-measured and extricated from hermetically sealed plastic.

Italian (ham, salami, roast beef and cheese)

Italian (ham, salami, roast beef and cheese)

During my inaugural visit since the transition to Alicea’s, the sub calling loudest was a meatball parm sub.  You know it’s an East Coast sandwich if it’s called a “meatball parm” sub.  Everywhere else it’s just a “meatball sub.”  The “parm” is “alla Parmigiana,” because of the cheese.  Alicea’s doubles your fromage fantasy by also adding Provolone.  The cheese is molten, melted deliciousness which blankets the meaty (no adjective better describes them) meatballs.  The meatballs are large orbs and each sub half is loaded with them.  They’re covered in a superbly seasoned sauce, the type of which East Coast Italian restaurants excel. 

In New England the steak and cheese sub is practically a religion.  No doubt Bostonians were up in arms when Subway introduced their version, an ostensibly flavorless (speculation here) calorific overachiever.  Though there are similarities, steak and cheese subs should not be mistaken with Philly Cheesesteak subs.  At Alicea’s, the steak and cheese sub is crafted from good quality steak cut painfully thin, glistening sweet fried onions, soft melting cheese and a soft, chewy sub roll.  It’s an excellent sandwich sure to be loved by expatriate New Englanders.

Bread Pudding, my weakness

As she transitioned L.A. Subs to Alicea’s NY Bagels & Subs, Linda imparted her bread pudding recipe to Frenchy.  Great move!  The bread pudding is thick, buttery and delicious, topped with brown sugar and walnuts which provide a savory contrast to the rich, gooey, buttery sweetness. I don’t know if it would make Larry McGoldrick’s bread pudding hall of fame, but I’m betting he’d like it.  Make sure you ask Frenchy to heat it up for you and to top it with a pad of butter for a sweet-salty contrast you’ll enjoy. 

The bleak post-apocalyptic scenario I posed in which there are no independent mom-and-pop sub sandwich shops will hopefully never come to pass.  This can best be assured by supporting local gems such as Alicea’s NY Bagels & Subs in Rio Rancho.

Alicea’s NY Bagels & Subs
1009 Golf Course Road
Rio Rancho, New Mexico
(505) 896-4455
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 16 August 2014
1st VISIT:  4 August 2011
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 19
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET:  Bread Pudding, Meatball Parm Sub, Steak and Cheese Sub

L.A. Subs on Urbanspoon