66 Diner – Albuquerque, New Mexico

The 66 Diner on Route 66 (Central Avenue)

Known as “America’s Highway” and celebrated by author John Steinbeck as the “Mother Road,” the legendary Route 66 meandered across 2,448 miles of the fruited plain, crossing three time zones and eight states as it traversed from Chicago to Los Angeles. For many—especially destitute sharecroppers fleeing Oklahoma’s devastating Dust Bowl—Route 66 held the promise of a better life. For others, Route 66 brought a sense of connectedness with parts of America previously considered difficult to reach. For them, Route 66 engendered a frontier spirit of adventure, greatly expanding their vacation options and travel opportunities.

For hundreds of communities strewn along the two-lane blacktop, Route 66 was also an engine of economic prosperity, creating tremendous opportunities for entrepreneurs large and small. The service industry fared especially well with roadhouses, motels and restaurants springing up, offering respite and sustenance to weary and hungry travelers. Since the halcyon days of Route 66, neon signage has been a prominent and vital part of the Mother Road as it winds through Albuquerque. From the foothills of the Sandias in the east to the parched desert expanse of the west, Route 66 is festooned with vibrant neon signage that cuts a luminous swath through the city. The nocturnal spectacle of glowing neon might be the siren’s call that has drawn generations of “cruisers” to the nostalgic route.

My Friend Bruce “Sr Plata” Silver Enjoys the Nostalgia

One of the Route 66 corridor’s most popular neon-spangled destinations celebrates Route 66 in name and spirit. Even though Route 66 was decommissioned as a U.S. highway in 1984, a visit to Albuquerque’s 66 Diner takes you back in time to when Nat King Cole was singing about getting his kicks on the fabled highway. It will transport you back to the days of pony-tailed waitresses in blue skirts and bobby socks, back to when rock-and-roll was making inroads to ruling the airwaves, to when Ed Sullivan was nabbing all the top talent for his popular variety television show.

With a jukebox full of hits, walls adorned with nostalgic black-and-white photographs and plenty of neon, the 66 Diner celebrates the era of Route 66 with aplomb, earning it an internationally known reputation. Hundreds of Pez dispensers line the ledges directly above the steely countertops in the front dining room. A black-and-white classic lunch counter calls to mind the ice cream fountain of yesteryear. There is much to like about the Route 66 the diner even if Route 66 the two-lane blacktop is solely something you’ve read about. You’ve got to admire the gumption of a restaurant willing to replace a recipe if a better one is brought in by a guest. That’s right! If you believe you have a tastier recipe for something, the 66 Diner will try it out and if they like it more, it will go on the menu. Not only that, they’ll treat you and three friends to dinner. Frankly, I have a feeling they haven’t had to comp many dinners.

Nostalgia Abounds at the 66 Diner

That’s because the 66 Diner’s recipes are tried and tested over time. The diner originally launched in 1987 in a converted World War II era Phillips 66 gas station named Sam’s. It was an instant hit among locals and tourists alike. In May, 1995, the 66 Diner went up in flames, only a portion of the original structure remaining. Albuquerque was in mourning for nearly seven months as the diner was rebuilt. It relaunched in February, 1996 and like the Phoenix of legend, has arisen from the ashes to reclaim its previous glory.

Like many 1950s diners, the 66 Diner features a daily “blue plate special.” Ironically the term “blue plate special” originated not in the 1950s, but in the 1890s courtesy of the Fred Harvey restaurants along the railroad lines of the frontier west. I’ve written extensively in other reviews of Fred Harvey’s culinary contributions to the West. Like his other contributions, the genesis of the blue plate special is very interesting. Apparently Harvey bought cheap, disposable plates colored blue similar to Wedgwood dishes and used them to serve inexpensive meals, hence the term.

Albuquerque’s best shakes according to many are at the 66 Diner

At the 66 Diner, the blue plate specials range from spaghetti and meatballs on Monday to chicken pot pie on Tuesday, chicken and dumplings on Wednesday, a taco platter on Thursday, fried catfish on Friday, a hot turkey sandwich on Saturday and “mom’s choice” (whatever mom comes up with) on Sunday. For the most part, the blue plate specials are comfort food favorites prepared very well and served in generous portions.

No ’50s-era diner would be complete without thick, rich milkshakes, floats and malts (egg creams are available, too). No one in Albuquerque does it any better. That’s the consensus of respondents to various annual polls of city diners who have voted the 66 Diner’s shakes “best in the city” consistently year after year. It’s unlikely, however, that you’d have been able to find a strawberry-lemonade or Mochaccino shake during the Route 66 era. The 66 Diner offers more than twenty different shake flavors.

One of the very best green chile cheeseburgers not to make the New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail

Many people eschew the old stand-bys–chocolate, vanilla and strawberry–in favor of flavors that weren’t available in the 1950s. In fact, some of those revolutionary flavors might have been considered heretical in the more conservative era of the 50s. Those flavors include the Elvis Presley (banana and peanut butter), the Pink Cadillac (strawberry ice cream and crushed Oreos), Oreo, Dreamsicle, Mocha, Coffee and several others. Pumpkin pie and Egg Nog shakes are featured as “shakes of the month” during winter holiday season. Despite all the inventiveness, the most popular shake remains chocolate.

Unique flavors not withstanding, the 66 Diner’s milkshakes are made with real hand-dipped ice cream and whole milk and are mixed in a tin on a Hamilton Beach blender, the way they were made in the 50s. They’re then served in a shake glass with the tin on the side, much like getting a shake and a half. The 66 Diner is also one of the few places in town to offer red cream soda, my favorite before I gave up sodas altogether.

Sloppy Joe and onion rings

25 June 2011: Nothing goes better with a shake, float or malt than a burger. In New Mexico, naturally this means a green chile cheeseburger. The 66 Diner makes one of the very best (top ten) green chile cheeseburgers in town–even though it didn’t made the New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail in either 2009 or 2011. When you request a burger a certain way, it’s delivered to your exacting specifications. Moreover you get a two-fisted burger in which the beef is prepared to your exacting specifications, the ingredients are unfailingly fresh and the chile (spelled correctly on the menu) actually bites back. It’s a very good chopped green chile with piquancy and flavor. Burgers are accompanied by your choice of sides–French fries, potato chips, coleslaw or potato salad. 

28 June 2014: There are probably only a handful of Duke City restaurants deigning to serve a Sloppy Joe sandwich today.  While the Sloppy Joe wasn’t “invented” during the Route 66 era, its peak in popularity occurred during that time.  The Food Timeline Web site explains how the name Sloppy Joe came about: “There is probably no Joe after whom it is named–but its rather messy appearance and tendency to drip off plate or roll makes “sloppy” an adequate description, and “Joe” is an American name of proletarian character and unassailable genuineness.”   At its most basic, the Sloppy Joe is a simple sandwich constructed with ground beef and a tomato sauce to which salt, pepper and spices are added.  At its elevated form, it’s  sandwich deliciousness you will crave.  Route 66’s Sloppy Joe will inspire craving.

Patty Melt with Potato Chips

28 June 2014: Contrary to cynics who decry the patty melt as nothing but a “cheeseburger served on toast instead of a bun,” a patty melt—when made well—can be a transformative sandwich constructed from a high-quality ground beef patty topped with molten cheese and grilled onions on rye bread pan-fried in butter. The 66 Diner may prepare the very best patty melt in town. Perhaps that’s because the patty melt actually originated in the Route 66 era. Every element of this sandwich is absolutely textbook perfect, the way every patty melt should be made.

All sandwiches are served with your choice of French fries, potato chips, potato salad or coleslaw. For a pittance more, you can substitute onion rings, Cheddar fries, Fiesta fries, okra or a dinner salad. The onion rings are worth the splurge. They’re lightly battered and golden-hued, sheathing a sweet onion. The potato chips are crisp and whole, not annoying bottom-of-the-bag bits and crumbs.

The Breakfast Burrito

The 66 Diner isn’t as well known for breakfast as perhaps it should be. Its limited breakfast menu might be the reason. Frankly, many New Mexicans are of the opinion that if you have breakfast burritos on the menu, you don’t need much else. The diner’s breakfast burrito is one of the biggest in the city, a large tortilla engorged with home fries, scrambled eggs and chopped green chile topped with melted Cheddar cheese and your choice of red and (or) green chile.

12 October 2008: Make yours “Christmas style,” a burrito covered with both red and green chile. Both are surprisingly good and more piquant than at many New Mexican food restaurants. In fact, the green chile is downright special, a fruity sweet and incendiary chile that elicits the type of endorphin rush which makes people fall in love with chile in the first place. The burrito is served with pinto beans.

A “short stack” of pancakes

12 October 2008: On our way to the 66 Diner for breakfast one Sunday, we passed a restaurant on Central Avenue offering “all you can eat pancakes for seven dollars.” A better bet would be ordering a “short stack” at the 66 Diner. Short obviously isn’t synonymous with small as we found out when our waitress delivered two pancakes which covered all but a tiny bit of the plate. These enormous pancakes would fill a small, developing nation (or as Jay Leno might quip, one fat American). We barely put a dent on them and even contemplated the notion of left-over pancakes, but perhaps only if you’re stoned would pancake left-overs be palatable…and they might cure the munchies. Otherwise, they’re almost inedible.

13 December 2017: My friend Bruce “Sr. Plata” Silver is as California as a surfer girl or an In & Out Burger, but as much as he loves chicken fried steak, you’d think he was from Texas.  When we make plans to meet for breakfast or lunch, he’s invariably “low-carbing” it.  Healthy eating be damned when one of us suggests chicken fried steak.  It’s a choice we always agree upon.  In our two-man quest to traverse the length and breadth of the New Mexico chicken fried steak trail, it surprised me to learn he’d never tried the Route 66 Diner’s version.  He quickly discovered what generations have known–that the tenderized slab of breaded steak on his plate is roughly the size of Danny DeVito.   Seriously!  It’s one large slab.  As always, Sr. Plata didn’t settle for for only the house gravy (a meatless brown).  He also requested a side of the con queso.  He then slathered the slab with a sinful portion of both–not gravy on one side and queso on the other, but both intermixed.  It was a delicious choice!

Chicken Fried Steak, Another Route 66 Favorite

13 December 2017:  While Sr. Plata enjoys chicken fried steak best, my preference is for chicken fried steak, a redundantly named dish which Serious Eats calls “country cooking at its most comforting.”  This is one chicken dish about which any pretensions about chicken being a healthier alternative to beef go out the window.  There’s not much healthiness in the tender, juicy hunk of tenderized and breaded chicken.  Add queso and you can virtually feel your arteries hardening with every bite.  What a way to go!

Friendly, attentive service is also a constant. There are many who say nothing could be finer than a meal at the 66 Diner.  They’re right!

Chicken Fried Chicken

66 Diner
1405 Central Avenue, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 247-1421
Web Site| Facebook Page

LATEST VISIT: 13 December 2017
# OF VISITS: 16
RATING: 19
COST: $$
BEST BET: Green Chile Cheeseburger, Breakfast Burrito, Pancakes, Red Cream Soda, Shakes, Malts, the “Dagwood”, Sloppy Joe, Patty Melt, Chicken Fried Steak, Chicken Fried Chicken

66 Diner on Urbanspoon

Groundstone – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Groundstone on San Mateo

Kids say the darnedest things.  That was the premise of popular radio and television shows hosted by Art Linkletter from the mid 1940s through 1969.  Linkletter would engage children (usually aged three to eight) in casual conversation.  Humor–often laced with double entendre–would often ensue out of the children’s naive and silly responses.  Once, for example, he asked a little girl to spell Art, his name.  She proceeded to spell the host’s name R-A-T.  Most parents can relate to the unpredictable nature of what their children say. More often than not, it resonates with child-like innocence, but every once in a while an utterly unintentional and unfiltered zinger sneaks out that will make parents want to slink away and hide.

When her son Caleb was four years old, Kimber Scott, an Albuquerque resident and one of my very favorite people, discovered that he was curious about everything his world had to offer.  He was fascinated by all the letters, numbers and colors that whizzed by him.  Now nine, he’s always asked a lot of questions and has never shied away from expressing himself.  Sometimes he speaks with the insightful precociousness of an older child and sometimes with the naivete of innocence, but more often than not, the streams of consciousness that come out of his mouth warrant being shared.  Thankfully Kimber chronicled Caleb’s words of warmth, wit and wisdom in a recently published must-read book she named Caleb-isms:  The Things My Kid Says.  It’s a wonderful insight into the world of a child you can’t help but love.

One of the capacious Groundstone dining rooms

Because Kimber and her charismatic husband “Break the Chain” maven Ryan are passionate gastronomes and always a pleasure to break bread with, it’s only natural that the book be laced with Caleb’s observations about food.  Here’s one of my favorites: Every day after school, Caleb usually asks if I will take him to get a cheeseburger.  Cheeseburgers are his all-time favorite food.  He has affectionately called them hambahgahs for as long as he could talk.  I tried to explain that i was not going to buy him a hamburger every day.  I went on to say that if I did, I would spend a lot of money every month just on after-school hamburgers and I was not willing to spend that much money.  As well as that it is not not the best after-school snack, mainly because it fills him up too much and he will not eat his dinner.  I guess I blabbed too much going on and on about why I was not going to get him one.  He was silent.  I looked in the rear-view mirror and asked, “Well?”  He sulked, then quoted a line from his favorite Pigeon book by Mo Willems.  “You don’t want me to be happy, do you?”

To good old Charlie Brown, happiness is a warm blanket.  To Caleb and many of the rest of us, happiness in a warm cheeseburger, preferably one with green chile.  My friend Ryan and I have shared many a cheeseburger, but I’ve yet to have the pleasure of Caleb’s company at a purveyor of bounteous burgers.  One of these days, perhaps I’ll ask Caleb to write a guest review.  With his astute mind, there’s no telling what he’ll come up with though it’s bound to be better and more percipient and mirthful than anything I can come up with.  In writing this review, I tried to channel my own inner Caleb, but just don’t have his flair for words.  Nonetheless, I hope you enjoy this missive as much as we enjoyed our meals at Groundstone.

Ahi Poke

Parents of both two-legged and four-legged children will appreciate Groundstone’s family friendliness.  On both our visits, our sylphlike hostess Dawn fawned over our debonair dachshund Dude as did our smiling server Shannon.  They’re demonstrative dog lovers, not the pretentious type who only touch dogs with their fingertips.  During lull periods they returned to give the Dude more love.  We watched them impart the same kindness to children and elderly guests.  How can you not love a restaurant in which the term “dog-friendly” is a way of service, not just some patio in which dogs are sequestered away from everyone else?  Groundstone actually has two patios–one on the restaurant’s east side where the winter sun will keep you warm and one on the west side where the shade will shield you from summer’s rays.

Veteran restaurant impresario Russ Zeigler is the brainchild behind Groundstone.  He’s been creating restaurant concepts for four decades.  It’s pretty obvious one of the lessons he’s learned in that time is to hire good people who are earnest and caring in their approach to customer service.  That’s one of the things that sets apart restaurants such as Groundstone and Joe’s Pasta House.  Russ launched his first restaurant in 1977 and has since then owned or co-owned such stalwarts as Liquid Assets, High Finance, Options, Assets and Sandiago’s.

Green Chile Strips with Avocado Ranch Dressing

Groundstone is located in the 6,700 square-foot edifice which previously housed The Library and before that Johnny Carino’s, a short-lived Italian chain.  If you’re wondering, the genesis of the name “Groundstone” comes from the restaurant’s make-over.  During the renovation, an undesirable flooring had to be ground down to stone and concrete, leaving the floor with an organic look.  The cynosure of the capacious restaurant is an attractive bar back-dropped by distressed red bricks.  Several flat screen televisions are strategically placed throughout the dining room and bar, most tuned to NFL games during our visits.  Several of the staff are diehard Philadelphia Eagles fans, but they still treated this Cowboys loyalist very well.

Groundstone’s promise to its guests is “local, fresh, fun.”  The concept combines “the best of the burger, pizza, and craft beer scene, and rounded off with incredible gourmet salads meant to re-invent the dining experience.”  Russ calls the triumvirate of pizza, burgers and beer “the classics,” and indeed, there are few eateries across the Duke City in which this troika can be found under the same roof.   A commitment to serving mostly local ingredients will endear local diners who appreciate such high-quality local products as Fano bread and Bueno chile.  When local ingredients aren’t possible, the restaurant’s commitment to freshness and quality is not compromised.

The Cubano

26 November 2017: Appetizers (and desserts, too, for that matter) have become pretty blase as if imagination is left to wholesale distributors who supply so many restaurants.  It’s rare that we find an appetizer that surprises us.  Count among those rare surprises the Ahi Poke (sashimi grade seared tuna, kale, sweet chili (SIC), pickled ginger, wasabi, avocado, sesame soy glaze) at Groundstone. With a perfect sear framing the perfectly red tuna, it’s got the chops of a good sashimi.  The sweet chili sauce contrasts nicely with the quick burst of heat from the American wasabi and the biting freshness of the pickled ginger, all of which provide a diversity of flavors.  The buttery avocado and slightly bitter kale are good, but it’s the sashimi grade tuna which shines most.

3 December 2017: In the past few years, restaurants across the Land of Enchantment seem to have discovered the delicious potential of green chile as an appetizer alternative (or addition) to salsa.  It should come as absolutely no surprise that green chile strips have caught on.  The real surprise is that it took so long.  Groundstone’s version showcases Amber ale battered Bueno green chile strips served with a cooling avocado ranch dressing.  The green chile is a bit on the mild side, but it has a nice roasted flavor.  The avocado ranch dressing is a winner.  Even better is the green chile ranch which our delightful server Shannon thought we might enjoy.  The green chile ranch isn’t quite as thick as the Dion’s version, but it’s every bit as flavorful.  All salad dressings are made on the premises.

The Groundstone Burger with Sweet Potato Fries

3 December 2017:  Several elements define the Cuban sandwich, a hearty sandwich which got its start among the working classes in Cuba.  What Americans have come to know as a Cuban sandwich typically includes thin slices of marinated pork roast, thin slices of ham, Swiss cheese and dill pickles.  Groundstone pays tribute to the Cuban sandwich with a burger called the Cubano.  The burger contains some elements of the popular Cuban sandwich, but it goes much further.  Picture Akaushi beef topped with black forest ham, smoked pulled pork, provolone cheese, pickles, whole grain Dijon ale mustard, served on a Fano brioche bun.  It’s a mouthful and then some.  The generous portion of this burger’s three meats–rich, buttery Akaushi beef (a type of Wagyu); salty, intensely-flavored black forest ham and smoked pulled pork– will make carnivores very happy.  It wouldn’t be a Cubano, however, without the pickles which provide a textural and flavor (zesty and sour) contrast.

26 November 2017: Sometimes a burger is constructed with too much of a good thing.  That was our assessment of the eponymous Groundstone burger (grass-fed beef topped with Gruyere cheese, caramelized onions, sautéed mushrooms, tomato, roasted garlic infused mayo, served on a Fano brioche bun).  Though the sautéed mushrooms provide terrific umami (deep, dark, meaty intensity), the strong, pungent garlic mayo is the dominant flavor.  That’s almost criminal considering the tender grass-fed beef; rich, sweet Gruyere and sweet caramelized onions.  We scraped off some of the mayo and enjoyed it much more.  Next time we’ll order this burger sans condiments.

The Brooklyn with Green Chile

3 December 2017:  Nine pizzas grace the Groundstone menu.  Available in ten- and eighteen-inch sizes, they’re not as waifishly thin as today’s fashionable pizzas nor are they thick, casserole-like slabs.  If the Brooklyn (pepperoni, roasted garlic, mozzarella, fontina, garlic infused olive oil) is any indication, they’re more generously topped than the penurious pizzas on which it’s a challenge to find some of the named ingredients.  That generosity applies as well to the cheese which drapes over the crust like a molten blanket.  No matter which of the pizzas you order, it can be improved with green chile (which goes well with everything).

Groundstone may not be entirely groundbreaking in its concept or menu, but it’s got a great pedigree and is committed to such ideals as using locally sourced products, enthusiastic and warm service and providing a comfortable milieu in which families can enjoy themselves.  With effervescent hostess Dawn and attentive servers such as Shannon at your beck-and-call, you can’t go wrong.  Groundstone is terrific: For now you’ll just have to take my word for it, but someday I hope to share Caleb’s unique perspective.

Groundstone
5001 San Mateo, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 404-8287
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 3 December 2017
1st VISIT: 26 November 2017
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 20
COST: $$
BEST BET: Ahi Poke, Groundstone Burger, Sweet Potato Fries, The Cubano, The Brooklyn, Green Chile Strips, Salad with Avocado Ranch Dressing, Green Chile Ranch Dressing

Groundstone Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Bristol Doughnut Co. – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Bristol Doughnut Company in the Sawmill District

While most people speak with fond nostalgia about their first ride on a double-decker bus, the memories of our inaugural trip are tinged with horror that traumatizes us to this day. As with most visitors making their first excursion to London, we wanted to take in all the sights with the best vantage point you can have. That meant sitting on the top deck of a double-decker. These bi-level behemoths ride higher than almost everything else on the road save for those noisy articulated lorries ( what we Yanks call semi-trailer trucks). Despite the congestion that typifies London’s streets, double-deckers provide spectacular, mostly unobstructed views of the city.

Though we arrived early to ensure we got seats on the coveted top deck, a couple dozen early birds got there earlier. As we climbed the stairs to our lofty perch, the portly fellow in front of us “let ‘er rip,” emitting the most noxious effluvia imaginable. Our eyes began to water as we coughed and sputtered at the malodorous “silent but deadly” emanation. Surely this odoriferous rank was equal to or more potent than the sulfuric gates of Hell. Congestion at the top slowed our ascent and heightened our suffering. Then, to our horror and dismay, the only available seats were behind the mephitic miscreant who continued his “assault from the rear.” As if to prolong our distress, an accident snarled traffic. When we finally disembarked—at the very first stop—we thanked God for our delivery from our putrid purgatory.

Doughnuts

When I excitedly told my Kim about Bristol Doughnut Co., a new donut shop in the Duke City which proffers “probably the best donuts in Albuquerque” (according to ever reliable Howie “The Duke of Duke City” Kaibel, the charismatic Albuquerque Community Manager for Yelp), she reminded me of the torment we suffered in London. It then dawned on me that the double-decker on which our torturous ordeal (death might have been preferable) occurred sported the Bristol name. Surely we thought, Bristol the double-decker manufacturer has absolutely no relation to Bristol the purveyor of peerless donuts.  We were half right.

When we asked “why the name Bristol,” we were told that a bona fide Bristol Double-Decker bus is being readied for selling donuts.  Can there be a better idea than donuts coming to the masses instead of the masses having to go to the donuts?  For now, when you attempt to go to the (Bristol) donuts, you may have trouble finding them.  Though the Bristol Doughnut Co. has a physical address, there is no exterior signage anywhere to let you know you’ve arrived at your destination.  Bristol is ensconced within The Spur Line Supply Company just past Mama’s Minerals in the burgeoning Sawmill District.  It’s in the southeast corner of a large complex resembling a warehouse.

Two Cinnamon Rolls, One Egg Nog Donut, One Maple Bacon Donut and Two Bristol Salted Butter Donuts

In addition to its unique location, the Bristol Doughnut Co. displays its featured fare in a very distinct manner.  Donuts are displayed behind what was once the back window of a vintage automobile which has since been cut in half.  It’s akin to a super-sized sneeze guard.  A limited number of donuts are available on any given day, not always the same kind.  We ordered four of the six kinds available on the date of our inaugural visit and absolutely loved every single one of them.  Bristol donuts are certainly among the very best of breed. 

My Kim tends to judge the worthiness of a donut shop by the quality of its cinnamon rolls.  As with almost all cinnamon rolls, she contends Bristol’s could have used a bit more cinnamon, but considering the general deliciousness of these dense, doughy spirals, it’s a nit.  A light sugary glaze practically begs for the sheen of melted butter, a sweet and savory complement she enjoys.  Maple bacon donuts have become as common as fake news, but Bristol’s version is better than any we’ve previously enjoyed.  The complementary flavors of sweet maple and salty bacon are in perfect proportion to one another.  Perhaps that’s because the bacon is in bits not strips.  Of seasonal significance is an egg nog donut which might just have you pining for its liquid counterpart.  Then there’s the salted butter donuts which stand out because the light glaze allows you to easily discern and thoroughly enjoy the salted butter.  They go together very well.

Now, if you’re thinking you’ll get up early tomorrow to grab donuts on your way to work, you can sleep in.  Bristol’s hours of operation start at 10AM Monday through Saturday and at 11AM on Sunday.  The good news is that you’ll be able to pick donuts up on your way home because Bristol is open until 6PM Monday through Saturday and 4PM on Sunday.  Donuts…no longer just for breakfast…and so good, we’d risk another trip on a double-decker bus.

Bristol Doughnut Co.
800 20th Street, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 596-0312
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 3 December 2017
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Cinnamon Rolls, Egg Nog Donut, Maple Bacon Donut, Bristol Salted Butter Donut

Bristol Doughnut Co. Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Urban Hotdog Company – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Let the Barking Begin! The Urban Hotdog restaurant is open as of October, 2012.

Fat kids, skinny kids, kids who climb on rocks
Tough kids, sissy kids, even kids with chicken pox
love hot dogs.
Armour Hot Dog Commercial, 1960s

Advertising standards in the 1960s were quite a bit more lax than they are today.  In today’s culture of American political correctness, there’s no way an earworm-inspiring jingle such as the Armour Hotdog commercial would ever see the light of day, but back then it helped sell a lot of hot dogs.  Even in the 1960s, Armour’s savvy ad agency undoubtedly understood the influence children had on the family’s food consumption budget.  In addition to catchy jingles designed to appeal to children, Armour’s advertising agency enticed children with prizes to be had for a monetary pittance and a coupon cut out from the back of a package of its hot dogs.  Not even parents were immune from Madison Avenue’s charms.  They were swayed by assurances that hot dogs were actually good for children because they were “made from lean meat” and were “protein rich.”

The 1963 United States census reported the production of 1.11 billion pounds of frankfurters and wieners, constituting thirty percent of all sausages made that year.  Two years later, a study by the US Department of Agriculture revealed that the household per capita consumption of hot dogs averaged nine pounds or about 75 hot dogs per family per year, numbers consistent regardless of socioeconomic status or region.  Interestingly, the world-champion gurgitator in the 1960s established a personal best of 18-1/2 hot dogs and buns in the International Hot Dog Eating Contest held at Nathan’s in Coney Island.  That’s less than a third the number of hotdogs consumed by today’s gurgitator extraordinaire Joey Chessnut.

The order counter at the Urban Hotdog

The 60s were also a time in which, for the most part, hot dogs were rather basic, lacking in imagination and flair.  The most common toppings were mustard (sometimes a deli variety) and relish.  Daring diners might add onions, sauerkraut or chili (not chile), hardly what you might consider gourmet ingredients.  Most hot dogs were prepared in boiling water though grilling was becoming increasingly popular.  Most were made from beef or pork. 

The advent of “gourmet” hot dogs can largely be attributed to the desire of immigrants and their descendants to incorporate their traditional foods and ingredients into a standard hot dog.  A Greek hot dog, for example, might include feta cheese, an olive tapenade and sun-dried tomatoes.  Mexican-style hot dogs might be served in tortillas and slathered with guacamole or (and) salsa.  Asian-style varieties frequently incorporate soy sauce, ginger, onions, teriyaki sauce and more.  Most varieties of gourmet hot dogs develop locally and spread across the region.  The best ones ultimately become national phenomena.

The Crunchy Onion Hotdog and baked beans

In 2007, my good friend Becky Mercuri published The Great American Hotdog Book, a terrific tome which takes readers on a state-by-state tour across America, introducing us to each state’s special take on this American comfort food classic (New Mexico’s contribution, by the way, was the red chile hotdog as prepared at Albuquerque’s Dog House Drive In).  Becky replicated each of the fifty unique ways to prepare hot dogs in her kitchen, finding that though a hot dog may be a source of pride for its state of origin, it doesn’t always export well.

My initial impression of the gourmet hotdogs offered at Albuquerque’s Urban Hotdog Company mirrors Becky’s findings.  Though most of the hotdogs will appeal to some diners, few will have a universal appeal though adventurous eaters will enjoy testing their mettle and taste buds.  As validated in Albuquerque The Magazine‘s “Best of the City” for 2013, Duke City diners love these hot dogs, naming them Albuquerque’s best.     The menu lists more than a dozen “urban dogs” with gourmet toppings heretofore not seen in the Duke City.   If you could go back in time to the 1960s and describe these hotdogs, you’d probably find yourself in a straitjacket.  There’s no way those of us who are products of the 60s could have conceived of such “weirdness.”

Rosemary-Garlic French Fries and Curry Hot Dog

If gourmet isn’t your style, you can also have a more “standard” hotdog, ranging from the “starter” made with your choice of mustard, ketchup, onion and relish to a Chicago Dog, described as it would be in the Windy City: “dragged through the garden.” The menu earns extra props from me by acknowledging its New Mexico adorned hot dog as “Real Chile,” made with white Cheddar cheese, green chile, tomato and onions. Alas, when Urban Hot Dog first launch it committed a grammatical faux pas in that the “Other Chile” hotdog wasn’t spelled “chili” even though the menu describes it as “East coast style chile.”

Each hotdog is made to order in a semi exhibition kitchen though most diners probably won’t stand behind the counter to observe the process.  Instead, most of us take the little three-by-five cards handed to us when we placed our orders and which are inscribed with the name of some city (Dallas, for example) to our table and place it in the card slot atop the napkin holder.  Expect to wait ten to fifteen minutes for your order to be ready.  That’s on top of the time you spend in line as diners ahead of you peruse the menu carefully (and painfully slowly if you’re hungry) before placing their orders.

Top: The Tiger
Bottom: Le Bleu

The Urban Hotdog Company has the look and feel of a sophisticated chain, but it is definitely and proudly local, procuring as many products locally as possible.  The corner space housing the restaurant is bright and airy courtesy of unobstructed sunlight filtering in from the east.  It’s open seating is more utilitarian than it is comfortable.  Large plastic menus are on display next to the counter where you place your order and there are also paper menus available for your perusal.  Your order is taken on an iPad configured with a point of sale software system.    An “expediter” stands watch over the kitchen to make sure all orders are comprehended and delivered accurately.  The self-serve beverage dispenser is in a small room adjacent to the open dining room.

9 October 2012: With my predilection for the “strangest” or most unique items on any restaurant menu, my inaugural visit proved a fun culinary adventure as well as a challenge.  How, after all, do you determine the strangest, most unique item on a menu replete with unique and different items?  The “tamest” of the four hotdogs I split with my Kim was the Crunchy Onion Hotdog crafted with fresh-fried Ancho chile dusted onion strings with the restaurant’s signature chipotle mayo.  Texturally the crunchy onions are a success, but neither the Ancho chile nor the chipotle mayo packed much discernible punch and were overwhelmed by the thick hot dog itself, a salty, garlicky and thick wiener with a lot of flavor.  The buns, made locally by Pastian’s Bakery, are soft and pliable, but substantial enough to hold in the copious ingredients of some hot dog creations.

UrbanHotDog06

Chorizo

9 October 2012: The Curry Urban Dog is a vegetarian delight, but it’s not a hotdog.  If you order it as it’s described on the menu, it’s made with marinated tofu grilled and served with green curry vegetables, chopped peanuts and cilantro on a poppy seed bun.  I made the mistake of ordering it hotdog style, effectively rendering the wonderful green curry vegetables anemic because of the overwhelming hotdog.  The green curry, chopped peanuts and cilantro are very much reminiscent of Thai curry dishes without a pronounced coconut milk flavor.  Marinated tofu is actually an excellent vehicle for these ingredients as tofu tends to inherit the flavor properties of ingredients around it. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa for not having ordered the Curry as it’s designed.

9 October 2012: We had hopes the Le Bleu (fried hot dog wrapped in bacon and covered with sauteed mushrooms, blue cheese and thyme) would rekindle memories of the Sonoran hotdogs we enjoyed so much in Tucson.  It didn’t, but this hotdog is a standout on its own.  The sharp, pungent blue cheese is a perfect foil for the garlicky hotdog while the sauteed mushrooms play a deliciously complementary role.  This is the one hotdog in which the wiener itself didn’t dominate the flavor profile.   The Tiger (housemade Asian slaw, spicy dried peas and fresh pea shoots on a poppy seed bun) is more tame than it is wild courtesy of a relatively anemic Asian slaw.  Many Asian slaws utilize ginger, rice wine vinegar and citrus to add tartness and personality.  This Tiger could have used a more Asian-like slaw.

UrbanHotDog07

Real Chile

13 December 2013: One of the potential pitfalls of gourmet hot dogs is “too much of a good thing,” as in too many ingredients competing for your attention, especially when some of those ingredients mask the flavors of others.  That may be the case with the Chorizo hot dog (spicy mayo, pineapple & pepper salsa and cilantro) in which the spicy mayo pretty much obfuscated the flavor of the chorizo.  The occasional sneak-in of chopped pineapple is a nice foil to a flavor profile that is primarily piquant. 

13 December 2013: More complimentary are the ingredients on the Real Chile” hot dog (white Cheddar cheese, green chile, tomato, onions and chopped bacon) and that’s not just because green chile makes everything else around it taste better.  The green chile has a pleasant piquancy, more kick than entrees at far too many New Mexican ingredients.  The chopped tomatoes and onions are a natural pairing with the chile, a sort of pico de gallo.  Then there’s the bacon, which like green chile, seems to pair well with everything.

Banh Mi Hot Dog

13 December 2013: The menu calls its sides “the extras,” a term which makes sense.  Extras include five types of French fries (plain and simple; rosemary-garlic; chile con queso; “the other chile,” cheese and onion; and blue cheese, chives and truffle oil).  These fries are of the stiff variety with a crispy exterior sheathing soft, tender “innards.”  They’re definitely not flaccid, nor are they boring.  My Kim’s favorite are those in which blue cheese, chives and truffle oil are featured.  Truffle oil is too strong, musky and earthy, but it also has a bit of a “chemical” flavor…at least in my estimation.  It is, after all, artificially produced.

2 December 2017: Our very favorite of Urban Hot Dog’s offerings is the Banh Mi which, true to its name, is fashioned after the very popular Vietnamese sandwich.  Indeed, it’s constructed from many of the same ingredients used on the sandwich: shredded carrots, daikon radishes, red onion, cucumber, cilantro and jalapeño.  These ingredients are so good together, they make the relative minimalist use of meats on banh mi a non-event.  The banh mi is constructed on a poppy seed bun instead of the popular Vietnamese baguette.  Sriracha mayo is the crowning ingredient, imparting heat and moistness.  This is an excellent hot dog!

Chicago Hot Dog

2 December 2017: We didn’t enjoy the Chicago Hot Dog nearly as much chiefly because it wasn’t made with a Vienna Beef hot dog.  Virtually all Windy City area denizens will tell you it’s not a real Chicago hot dog without Vienna Beef and I’m inclined to agree.  Nathan’s hot dogs are just too darn garlicky.  So just what is a Chicago Hot Dog and why is it often referred to as “dragged through the garden?”  Here’s what the Vienna Beef Web site has to say: Vienna Beef hot dog, nestle it in a steamed poppyseed bun, and cover it with a wonderful combination of toppings: yellow mustard, bright green relish, fresh chopped onions, juicy red tomato wedges, a kosher-style pickle spear, a couple of spicy sport peppers and finally, a dash of celery salt.

2 December 2017: The Urban Hot Dog Company constructs several of its hot dogs with ingredients used on namesake sandwiches.  Take, for example, the Havana, an obvious take on the famous Cubano sandwich.  Picture a pork sausage, split, grilled and filled with Swiss cheese then topped with warm, thinly-sliced black forest ham, a dill pickle spear and loaded into a grilled bun.  It’s dressed with a touch of raspberry jam and spicy brown mustard.  We were surprised at how well the unconventional liberties worked together though it’s hard to say whether or not a native Cuban might enjoy it.

The Havana

In the 1960s and in the new millennium, there’s no doubt all kinds of kids love hotdogs.  Most of them will find at least one hotdog to love on the Urban Hotdog Company menu.   Edward Sung did and he wrote about it in his inimitable fashion on one of my very favorite food blogs in New Mexico, Once Again We Have Eaten Well.  It’s a great read!

Urban Hotdog Company
10250 Cottonwood Park NW Suite 400H
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 898-5671
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 2 December 2017
1st VISIT: 9 October 2012
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 18
COST: $$
BEST BET: Le Bleu, The Crunchy Onion, The Tiger, The Curry, The Real Chile, Banh Mi, Havana, Chicago Hot Dog

Urban Hotdog Company Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Year in Food: November, 2017

Pitmaster Extraordinaire Greg Janke Slices Brisket with Surgical Precision at Stack House BBQ in Rio Rancho

If you live in the Albuquerque metropolitan area and your cable or satellite package doesn’t include the Cooking Channel, you’d be forgiven if you shed a few tears on Thursday, November 9, 2017 when you missed Rio Rancho’s Stack House BBQ being showcased. You can catch Pitmaster-owner Greg Janke on the Food Network sometime in 2018 when he’ll create Stack House’s triple stack sandwich (brisket, pork and jalpeño sausage topped with slaw and barbecue sauce on a hoagie roll) for a program called Carnival Eats. If you haven’t discovered for yourself why television food and cooking shows are visiting Rio Rancho, you owe it to yourself to see why the Stack House is a star.

There’s a widely held perception that the Land of Enchantment is a one-trick-pony in terms of our culinary profile. The national media seems to believe that other than dishes featuring red and green chile, our restaurants don’t serve anything worth noting. In a feature entitled Best States in the US for Food, Thrillist ranked each state in the fruited plain by its food. Unlike so many quality of life polls in which New Mexico competes with Mississippi and Arkansas for the lowest ranking, our state was ranked 26th for food. Thrillist noted “We don’t blame you for putting that green chile all over everything — it’s quite tasty, but that’s only going to take you so far.”

Cupcakes from Smallcakes in Albuquerque

In an episode showcasing hotel hot spots that excel at excellent eats, the Travel Channel explained that travel broadens the soul and the food at its featured restaurants would broaden everything else. “If you’ve had reservations about hotel dining, cancel them because one bit at these hotel hot spots and you’ll never want to leave.” Only one hotel restaurant from the Land of Enchantment was featured, but it’s a great one. The Travel Channel advised ” when the beat of your own drummer takes you through the Southwest, you’ve got to stay at La Fonda at the Santa Fe Plaza. If La Fonda is the heart of Santa Fe, its heartbeat is La Plazuela.” La Plazuela’s signature dish is a unique green chile meatloaf which pairs the sweetness of white raisins, the heat of green chile and the freshness of New Mexican piñon. It’s some of the very best meatloaf you’ll ever have.

In 1835–twenty-six years before the American Civil War and eight-seven years before New Mexico joined the union— La Cantina del Cañon, a saloon dispensing liquor and food, opened its doors on Canyon Road. Instead of the fashionable destination art district it is today, back then Canyon Road was a hard-packed dirt trail flanked by old adobe homes. The cantina was owned and operated by the Vigil family well into the mid-twentieth century then in 1963, it was sold and rechristened El Farol. Perhaps because of the continuity of having a restaurant at the same spot, El Farol has long billed itself as the oldest restaurant in New Mexico. Delish certainly has bought in, naming El Farol as the Land of Enchantment’s representative in its compilation of the oldest restaurants in America.

Pad Thai from Thai Kitchen in Albuquerque

Ten-Four Good Buddy. October 4th is National Taco Day. Every Tuesday has become Taco Tuesday. Tacos have certainly come a long way. Business Insider teamed up with Yelp to “find out which restaurants, trucks, and food stands are serving up the very best tacos in America.” The Land of Enchantment was well represented. Ranked 43rd is Albuquerque’s El Paisa where even a trencherman can eat well for a few pesos. El Callejon Taqueria and Grill in Santa Fe was ranked 35th. Some of us find it hard to believe such states as Hawaii, Massachusetts, Tennessee and Virginia can have higher rated tacos.

It’s not intuitively obvious as to why October 4th is National Taco Day, but it’s glaringly apparent that March 14th is Pi(e) Day. Well, actually every day is Pie Day if you know where to find it. In its Facebook page, Tasting Table asked readers to share their state’s most amazing pie. It should come as absolutely no surprise that Pie-O-Neer Pies‘ pies were named the best pie in New Mexico. Tasting Table explained it very well: “It’s extremely important you know this: There is an entire town named after pie, and you can pay homage with a signature slice of New Mexico apple with green chiles and pine nuts. Pie Town still celebrates its namesake with a yearly festival, but it’s a party every day at this spirited shop, located on Pieway 60. You just can’t make this stuff up.”

Daniela and Maxime Bouneou in Better Times at Eclectic Urban Pizzeria Which Closed Its Doors in November

Time Out, the online city guide that glosses itself as the “worldwide guide to art and entertainment, food and drink, film, travel and more,”compiled a list of the seventeen best pizzerias in America. Only one pizzeria across the Land of Enchantment made the list–and at 17th at that. Albuquerque’s Farina Pizzeria & Wine Bar has been a revered Duke City institution since its launch in 2011 and now America knows about it. Here’s what Time Out had to say: “Any Albuquerque restaurant worth a line out the door has to offer green chilies, and Farina is no exception—the spicy local obsession is available as an optional add-on to any of the restaurant’s pizzas. They’re particularly welcome on the Salsiccia, with tomato sauce, sweet fennel sausage, roasted onion, mozzarella and provolone or the Formaggio di Capra, with goat cheese, pancetta, leeks and scallions.”

It’s apparently the dream of Purewow to “live in Italy and eat nothing but red wine pasta for the rest of our lives. But since that probably isn’t happening any time soon, we’re scouring the country for the best pizza, pasta and tiramisu the U.S. has to offer, with help from our friends at Yelp. Named the best Italian restaurant in the Land of Enchantment was Albuquerque’s Fresh Bistro which really doesn’t bill itself as an Italian restaurant. Of course when you make the best crab ravioli in town, does it really matter that you’re not strictly Italian?

Don’t forget to vote

Tis the season for eating and giving and what better gift is there than food. Thrillist compiled a list of top edible delights you can acquire from all 50 states, perfect for bestowing upon a friend or hoarding all to yourself. Apparently Santa knows his way to Hatch where Thrillist recommends gift-giving in the color green: “You can buy these spicy beauties fresh, roasted, or already broken down into a convenient sauce on your behalf. And if you’re REALLY jones-ing on a regular basis, they offer monthly subscriptions.”

Celebrity chef and restaurant impresario Bobby Flay knows a thing or two about food and restaurants. He shared some of his insight with Food and Wine, touting New Mexico as “the hottest food destination in America right now.” Flay expressed that “Mexico had its moment like 25 years ago, when Southwestern food was just becoming an important thing in this country, and now it’s having a comeback.” He named Santa Fe and Albuquerque as two of the state’s most interesting food cities, but didn’t discount other parts of the state. “I think the outer regions of New Mexico are important, too. Don’t forget there’s so much Native American culture there, and it doesn’t get played out in our cuisine very often. Nobody uses the red and green chiles of this country anywhere else in their food, and it’s such an important part of what we do in this country.”

October, 2017

Italian Beef from AK Deli

Not that very long ago you couldn’t find a decent burrito outside of a few states populated with large concentrations of Hispanic people. During my years in New England and the Gulf Coast, I could count on one hand the number of purveyors of just “passable” burritos we visited. Today purveyors of inventive and delicious burritos abound across the fruited plain. In its annual compilation of the best burritos in America, Thrillist listed burritos from states you wouldn’t have associated with great burritos just a decade ago: Massachusetts, Georgia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and New York City (New York City! Get a rope.) The list included only one from the Land of Enchantment: La Choza in Santa Fe. Who can argue with a capital city paragon for outstanding New Mexican food? Here’s what Thrillist has to say: “New Mexico is a big breakfast burrito state, so picking a burrito without a hint of egg in it is no mean feat. But La Choza makes it easy with its Burrito Grande entree, which, importantly, comes smothered in green or red chile. We hate to tell you to pick just one, so first order a cup of the green chile stew as an appetizer and then go red, to cover all your taste buds’ bases.”

Though Thrillist named only one burrito among the best 33 burritos across the fruited plain, at least it’s savvy enough to understand that “there’s incredible diversity within the regional cuisines of Mexico and the different directions they’ve taken as they’ve crossed the border and mingled with American palates.” Thrillist’s compilation of the 31 best Mexican restaurants in America named two of the Land of Enchantment’s very best. One, Santa Fe’s La Choza is a perennial fixture on many “best of” lists. Thrillist described La Choza thusly: “Spanish for “shed” — a nod to its iconic sister restaurant in Santa Fe Plaza, The Shed — adobe-style La Choza specializes in the New Mexican take on Mexican cuisine. There are homey enchiladas, burritos, chile rellenos, carne adovada, and the like, served with whole pinto beans and hominy. A deluge of green or red chilies can (and should!) be applied to practically any dish, and if you refuse to choose a camp you can always give yourself the gift of Christmas-style.” A first-timer on the list and deservedly so is Albuquerque’s Zacatecas about whom Thrillist writes: “From decorated Albuquerque chef Mark Kiffin, Zacatecas is named for one of the central states in Mexico, where influences from different surrounding regions frequently intermingle. His taqueria definitely isn’t afraid to explore with its tacos (which come wrapped in impossibly soft corn tortillas, four to an order), with selections like Mazatlan shrimp tacos, seared in molido chile and topped with Napa cabbage tossed in a bright vinaigrette.”

Duck Enchiladas from Maya

Every year, Pizza Today, a highly respected trade publication, surveys independent pizzerias across the fruited plain and compiles the results to put together a Hot 100 list–a ranking of the 100 largest (based on sales) independent pizza operations in America. While mom-and-pop pizzerias may not compete with behemoth national chains (paragons of mediocrity) in terms of profitability, they offer a far superior product and (certainly the pizzerias on the Hot 100 list) aren’t impoverished by any means. With annual profits of more than $10-million dollars, Albuquerque’s Il Vicino ranked fourteenth on the list. Mario’s Pizza, another Albuquerque pizza giant, made the list at 27th with reported annual sales of $6.9-million. Raking in annual sales of $4 million, Giovanni’s of Albuquerque has been a fixture on this list for years. Conspicuous by its absence is Albuquerque favorite Dion’s.

Mark Twain once wrote “you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did.” One of my profound regrets is not having made the time to meet Billie Frank, who along with Steve, Collins her doting husband and partner of 44 years, were the Santa Fe Travelers. Together Billie and Steve owned and operated a trip-planning and tours business specializing in creating authentic Santa Fe experiences based on individual interests. Billie passed away on October 11th. Over the years Billie and I shared a lot of restaurant and travel intelligence. We frequently commiserated that we never met in person and made tentative plans to remedy that situation only for life to get in the way. Billie loved the Land of Enchantment and was one of its most prolific promoters. She was an indomitable spirit with a great sense of adventure. She’ll be greatly missed.

The high-tech menu at Brixens in Albuquerque

With more than 535 million reviews and opinions covering the world’s largest selection of travel listings worldwide–over 7 million accommodations, airlines, attractions, and restaurants–TripAdvisor, the world’s largest travel site, provides travelers with the wisdom of the crowds to help them decide where to stay, how to fly, what to do and where to eat. TripAdvisor recently compiled a list of the best fine dining restaurants in the United States. Ranking seventh among the best in the best in the fruited plain is Santa Fe gem Geronimo. Here’s what TripAdvisor had to say about the Land of Enchantment’s best: “A perfect match of setting and food, Geronimo is an elegant 18th-century hacienda serving a “global eclectic” menu that changes with the seasons. Chef Sllin Cruz inherited and has burnished Geronimo’s reputation as New Mexico’s best. “Geronimo is not a place you go to in Santa Fe, it’s the reason you go to Santa Fe,” a TripAdvisor reviewer enthused. “Delicious food, fantastic service, great atmosphere and warm hospitality.”

This is the city, Los Angeles, California. On a recent foodie Friday, two mobile food kitchens (that’s food trucks to you, Sr. Plata) rolled into La La Land for a heated competition pitting celebrated restaurateur Susan Fenninger against badass burger maven Erica Coins with roasted Hatch green chile from Albuquerque’s own 505 Southwestern as the showcased ingredient. Eight other mobile food kitchens joined the fray, adding green chile to a variety of dishes. Most of the dishes were very rudimentary—essentially just add green chile. A panel of celebrity judges and online voters used such adjectives as “awesomeness and “tantalizing” to describe the chile-laden fare. Ultimately, a tie was declared, but the real winners are Los Angeles area diners who have been introduced to Hatch green chile.

September, 2017

Kim and Bob Yacone of Forghedaboudit in Deming Bring More Gold Home to New Mexico.

In the Christmas classic It’s A Wonderful Life, we learned that every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings. Unfortunately for the angels, the most heavenly wings aren’t of celestial origin. The best wings can only be found on Planet Earth at Forghedaboudit in Deming, New Mexico. For the second consecutive year, Bob and Kim Yacone spent their Labor Day weekend in Buffalo, New York where they competed in Wingfest 2017, the 17th annual national buffalo wing festival. Considered the premier competition in the chicken wing arena, it pitted some forty restaurateurs from across the globe in a heated (and delicious) competition. The Yacones earned first place in the “Dry Rub” category for their magical maple-bacon dry rub and third place in “XHot.” The maple-bacon dry rub was improved version of the same maple bacon rub that placed second in last year’s competition (and which Gil can attest is the best he’s ever had). PMQ Pizza Magazine, an online community dedicated to pizza gave Bob the sobriquet “king of the wings.” NOTE: Melodie K. of the fabulous blog Melodie K.com collaborated with Gil on this post.

September proved an auspicious month for the Yacones. Shortly after returning from Buffalo, Viceland channel’s The Pizza Show kicked off its second season by showcasing the International Pizza Expo in Las Vegas. While the Pizza Show chose to focus more on the gimmicky freestyle acrobatic dough tossing competition, if you paid close attention you may have seen Kim’s name atop the leaderboard in the traditional pizza category. As chronicled on this blog, Bob and Kim—competing against pizzaioli from all over the world—eared “Best Traditional Pizza” honors in the Southwest Region (California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, Colorado, Oklahoma and Texas). They also placed second in the United States and fourth in the entire world. In the past two years, no one has brought as much gold home to New Mexico as Bob and Kim have. Isn’t it time for the state to declare a “Forghedaboudit Day” in their honor? How about it, Governor Martinez?

Green Chile Ranch Dressing from Dion’s

Most dating sites are based on compatibility, matching couples on the basis of shared lifestyle preferences. Hater, which launched in February, is approaching compatibility from an entirely different perspective, matching people with others who hate the same things. Hater’s premise is that “mutual dislikes can bring people closer than their shared interests.” The Hater app allows users to express their level of hate on about three-thousand topics. Based on data collected, Hater put together a map showing the most hated food in each state. It turns out that what denizens of the Land of Enchantment hate most is chicken nuggets (though we would probably love them with green chile). Our neighbors in Colorado hate flaming hot Cheetos while Arizonans hate kombucha and Texans loathe steak cooked well done.

The sixth time proved the charm for Sparky’s Burgers, BBQ & Espresso which finally won the New Mexico State Fair Green Chile Cheeseburger Challenge after years of trying. In previous competitions, Sparky’s earned second-place and a people’s choice award, but top honors proved elusive. The chile Sparky’s used on their burgers was grown in Hatch, hometown to the very popular destination restaurant. It was picked and processed two days before the competition. Second place was earned by Fuddrucker’s, a two-time winner of the competition. The Oak Tree Café earned third place while the Oso Grill in Capital took home the people’s choice award. Twelve restaurants competed for “best burger” honors in this annual event.

Arrachera & Eggs from Salud! de Mesilla. Photo Courtesy of Melodie K.

Reigning supreme in Santa Fe’s 2017 Green Chile Cheeseburger Smackdown, a truly chile-licious event, was Chef Rocky Durham of Blue Heron at the Sunrise Springs Spa in La Cienega. David Sellers of Street Food Institute earned the people’s choice award. Eight competitors entered the fray, showcasing a variety of different ways to prepare and serve New Mexico’s sacrosanct burger. The winning burger, christened “The Life Changer” featured Brisket, rib eye, vintage cheddar, Acalde green chile, and housemade pickles. Alas, it’s available only for lunch and brunch at Blue Heron. Other contenders included Chefs Marc Quinones of Mas Tapas Y Vino at Hotel Andaluz in Albuquerque, Jeffrey Kaplan of Rowley Farmhouse Ales in Santa Fe, Matt Schnooberger of the Freight House Kitchen in Bernalillo and five other esteemed competitors.

Chef Marc Quinones of Mas Tapas Y Vino at Hotel Andaluz in Albuquerque was named “Chef of the Year” for 2017 at the Hospitality Industry Awards banquet sponsored by the New Mexico Restaurant Association. The award signifies “leadership, creativity and culinary excellence in addition to demonstrating outstanding guest service and mentorship inside and outside the kitchen.” Previous honors for Chef Quinones include a third-place-finish in the Great American Seafood Cook-off, a national competition held in New Orleans back in July. Restaurateur of the Year, the Association’s highest honor, went to Brian Baily from Domino’s for leading his team on a number of community involvement activities. The Restaurant Neighbor Award went to Larry and Dorothy Rainosek from Frontier Restaurant and Golden Pride. The Rainoseks are exemplars of giving back to the community.

Cinnamon Roll from Limonata in Albuquerque

Thrillist, the online media brand which covers food, drink, travel and entertainment listed Santa Fe as one of “Nine Surprisingly Great U.S. Food Cities You Have to Visit.” For those of us who follow culinary trends, the biggest surprise is that it’s a surprise to anyone that Santa Fe is a great food city. It’s been a great food city for decades, in fact. Thrillist summed it up succinctly: “Pretty much everything you love, done the best it can be done.” Noting that “Every day in Santa Fe can be Christmas: Red chile sauce and green chile sauce slathered side-by-side on your enchilada, burrito, or chile relleno like a piquant Yuletide fiesta,” Thrillist named Maria’s New Mexican Kitchen as a peerless purveyor of margaritas. If, however, you can only have one meal in Santa Fe, Thrillist recommends it be from Eloisa which “eschews the standard Santa Fe palette of purples and pinks for a sleek black-and-white space inside the Drury Plaza Hotel.”

With more than 214-million users in the United States and 1.8 billion active monthly users, Facebook is the most popular social network in the planet. It stands to reason, therefore, that Facebook recommendations carry a lot of weight. USA Today polled Facebook as to what restaurants its users recommend across the fruited plain. In a feature entitled “Each state’s most recommended restaurant on Facebook,” data revealed that New Mexico’s most recommended restaurant on Facebook is El Pinto in Albuquerque. In the seven years “Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Year in Food” has been gracing this blog, no restaurant has garnered as much acclaim as the capacious El Pinto. Though it has its detractors, it’s widely beloved, too.

Green Chile Cheeseburger and Fries from Dick’s Cafe in Las Cruces. Photo Courtesy of Melodie K.

“The inside of Mary and Tito’s Restaurant on Albuquerque’s 4th Street doesn’t look like much: vinyl tablecloths, walls plastered with family photos. But the kitchen produces some of New Mexico’s best chile—not the meaty stew, spelled chili, served across the border in Texas, but the pepper-based sauce that holds pride of place in New Mexican cuisine.” That’s how the Wall Street Journal began its feature “Why Doubling Down on the Chile is the Way to Go.” The feature boasted “New Mexico’s red and green chile sauces are so good, why not opt for both at once?” Red and green chile are precisely why the Land of Enchantment celebrates Christmas all year long.

Datafiniti, which purports to provide instant access to web data, explored which parts of the country offer the most for Mexican food aficionados. More precisely, Datafiniti sought answers to the questions: “Which city has the most Mexican restaurants?” and “Are there preferences for tacos or burritos?” The results indicate Albuquerque ranks eighteenth—behind such cities as Seattle, Atlanta, San Francisco and Tucson—among cities with the most Mexican restaurants. According to the list, the Duke City boasts of some 67 restaurants, but there’s no indication as to whether New Mexican restaurants figured into the equation, but Albuquerque did fare better among cities with the “most authentic (non-chain) Mexican restaurants.” Albuquerque ranked sixteenth in that category with some 57 “authentic” Mexican restaurants. Do your Math and what that statistic tells you is that there are ten chain Mexican restaurants in town. Insofar as the taco-burrito comparison, the ratio of tacos and burritos on restaurant menus, Albuquerque finished tenth. Apparently 61-percent of the city’s restaurants offer tacos on the menu and 39-percent offer burritos.

August, 2017

Sugar Nymphs in Peñasco Offers New Mexico’s Very Best Organic Carrot Cake

If you wanted to watch a cooking show some two and a half decades ago, you had very few options available to you. The most prominent was PBS where such culinary pioneers as Julia Child, Graham Kerr and Justin Wilson entertained and educated viewers on the nuances of the cooking arts. Since the launch of the Food Channel in 1993, cooking and food shows of all types have become a standard at many networks. Delish.com, one of the top 10 food-related online destinations, used Google Trends to determine the most popular food program in every state. Analytics revealed that New Mexico’s very favorite food program is the Food Network’s Giada at Home in which the doe-eyed beauty shows off her love for California-style cuisine, party-planning and cooking for family and friends.

Thirteen of the nation’s top chefs battled for prestigious title of King of American Seafood at the 14th annual Great American Seafood Cook-Off, held in New Orleans, Louisiana. Now, if you believe New Mexico, home of landlocked enchantment, couldn’t possibly compete in such a competition, you don’t know Albuquerque’s uber chef Marc Quiñones who wowed the judges with his spice duck-fat-fried oysters with Hatch green chile and chorizo BBQ spread. Chef Quiñones, currently plying his craft at Mas, finished third in the competition.

Korean BBQ Beef and Spicy Pork Tacos From Soo Bak Foods

You might expect that a magazine named Southern Living and which “celebrates the best of Southern life” would know a thing or two about barbecue. Indeed it does. Expanding its boundaries beyond Dixie, Southern Living published The Great American Barbecue Bucket List, “fifty spots worth road-tripping for.” For the best in bodacious barbecue, the magazine recommended Sparky’s Burgers, Barbecue & Espresso, describing the barbecue hot spot as: “A campy, convivial spot that always has a line out of the door, Hatch green chiles are elevated to hero status at this Hatch mainstay. Sure, you could order their celebrated Green Chile Cheeseburger, but our vote is for the succulent Pulled Pork Tacos, which are decked out with cheddar cheese. As live music pulses, stay for a little longer and recharge with one of their espresso drinks off of their long list of iced or hot elixirs.”

Howie “The Duke of Duke City” Kaibel, the charismatic Albuquerque Community Manager for Yelp probably does more for mom-and-pop businesses in Albuquerque than anyone else. During a recent corporate get-together, Yelp singled out Howie for one of its most prestigious accolades, one that personally means a lot to him. Yelp’s community managers named him recipient of the Collen Burns award for Authenticity, one of Yelp’s five core values. If you’ve ever spent any time with Howie, authenticity is certainly a quality you’ll ascribe to him. It comes across very well in his creative, non-formulaic writing. His reviews are a pleasure to read.

Prestigious Award Earned By Albuquerque’s Yelp Community Manager Howie Kaibel

Mobile food kitchens, known also as “food trucks” have come a long way, baby. Once synonymous with “roach coaches,” today’s mobile food kitchens can compete with many brick-and-mortar restaurants when it comes to deliciousness. According to one trade publication, mobile food kitchens have become a billion dollar business. Spoon University ate its way across the fruited plain in finding the best food trucks in every state. The Land of Enchantment’s best, according to Spoon, is the Supper Truck which prowls the mean streets of Albuquerque. Spoon University had this to say: “In Albuquerque, The Supper Truck is a combo of Mexican, Vietnamese, and Southern food. Sounds amazing right? Try one of their tacos, banh mi sandwiches, or grits.”

If it seems as if Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Blog expends a lot of words discussing tacos, that’s only because tacos are hot–literally and figuratively. Business Insider, a publication normally concerned with the business of tacos than it is the deliciousness of tacos, partnered with Yelp to “find out which restaurants, trucks, and food stands are serving up the very best taco joints in America.” Ranking at number 43 is Albuquerque’s El Paisa, a rating my friend Ryan “Break the Chain” Scott will tell you is much too low. Eight spots higher is Santa Fe’s El Callejon Taqueria and Grille, which has earned a 4.5 star rating from Yelp.

Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Blog: Named One of the World’s Best

There are literally tens of thousands of gastronomy blogs across the blogosphere. Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Blog has been named one of the Top 50 Gastronomy Blogs in the planet. Okay, so the blog is currently rated thirteenth, but it’s a lucky thirteen. Four criteria were used in determining the elite fifty: Google reputation and Google search ranking; influence and popularity on Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites; quality and consistency of posts; and an editorial team and expert review. Considering Gil’s Thrilling…has virtually no presence on social media, this is quite a coup.

In a rare departure from its seemingly ad-nauseum coverage of political shenanigans, Time Magazine compiled its list of the “best restaurants in America.” Criteria used to determine this list sifting through Business Insider’s list of the best restaurants in America, the James Beard award nominations, expert reviews, and local recommendations, paying particular attention to fine-dining establishments. To no surprise, Santa Fe’s Geronimo was declared New Mexico’s best. Time had this to say about the Canyon Road institution: “Noted for its impeccable service and complex dishes, Geronimo was named as one of the best restaurants in the US by OpenTable last year. The setting is formal to match its intricate and elegantly put-together dishes. The menu boasts a host of mouthwatering dishes, including grilled Maine lobster tails served with Thai basil pasta in a creamy garlic chile sauce.”

Golf Teams Needed to Support Roadrunner Food Bank

On 2 October 2017 at the Tanoan Country Club, National Distributing is hosting its third annual golf tournament and is seeking golf teams to fill it. The tournament will benefit the Roadrunner Food Bank along with two additional charities. If you’re a golfer or know golfers, please invite them to register a team.

As much time as the Food Network has spent in New Mexico, you would think its program hosts would know better than to refer to our official state vegetable as “chili sauce” and that sub-text wouldn’t commit the grammatical faux pas of spelling it “chili.” In the premier of her eponymous Food Network show “I Hart Food,” host Hannah Hart recommended peanut butter and jelly sandwiches as a way to quell the burn you get after eating hot chile. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches? That’s a new one for me and I’ve spent most of my life in New Mexico. On the positive side, Hannah displayed proper reverence and awe when partaking of the huevos Yucatecos at the Tecolote Cafe. She learned about the history of chocolate and its mingling with chile at Kakawa and thoroughly enjoyed the best green chile cheeseburger in the universe at Santa Fe Bite.

Vegetarian Pizza from Golden Crown Panaderia

Much more familiar with the Land of Enchantment is Food Network glitterati Guy Fieri who’s starring alongside his family in a new series called Guy’s Family Road Trip. One of the family’s stops on their RV trek from their California home to the Florida coast was at Albuquerque’s Pueblo Harvest Cafe in the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center. The Fieris joined Executive Chef David Ruiz to discuss the restaurant’s fresh local ingredients, innovative New Native American Cuisine, and classic dishes such as the award-winning Tewa Taco (recipe for which can be found on the Food Network site).

Lady Gaga once described herself thusly: “I‘m not a sandwich store that only sells turkey sandwiches. I sell a lot of different things.” All across the fruited plain, there are sandwich shops which sell only one product–some of the most sumptuous, mouth-watering sandwiches in creation. Thrillist believes “we’re currently in a sandwich renaissance, with greatness increasingly popping up between buns (or Texas toast or kaiser rolls or other carb creations) across the country.” In a feature honoring the best sandwiches and sandwich shops in every state, Thrillist singled out the Palacio Cafe and its “fantastic Taos Style panini, with beef, provolone, caramelized onions, and NM’s signature green chiles packed into sourdough then pressed until it’s all melted together into one beautiful cacophony of deliciousness that will have you wondering why the Tex-Mex model of putting green chiles on everything isn’t a mandatory offering for any sandwich… peanut butter included.” Tex-Mex model? What an insult!

White Chicken Chili from the Tre Rosat Cafe in Silver City. Photo Courtesy of Melodie K.

AARP, which purports to “make life better for today’s 50-plus population and generations that follow,” published a list of 6 great U.S. getaways for good lovers. Explaining that “long gone are the days when Americans needed a passport to experience truly spine-tingling cuisine,” AARP listed a “bumper crop of newcomers has set up shop in second-tier cities and are offering the old-timers a run for their money.” One of the cities making the list was Albuquerque which has “evolved very recently into a tantalizing mixture of Native American, Latin and European food traditions for which there is no shortage of purveyors. The “three sisters” of Native American cuisine — corn, beans and squash — are everywhere, as is the venerable fire-roasted green chili, which can be found in everything from tacos and cheeseburgers to cocktails. New-Mex classics include places such as Sadie’s of New Mexico and El Pinto, which have been joined by award-winning newcomers such as Frenchish and Los Poblanos Historic Inn & Organic Farm.”

Remember college? Yeah, we don’t either. But amid fuzzy memories of late-night contemplations on Nietzsche and later-night sticky basement floors, there’s one thing that stands out: the food we loved the most.” That’s how the Tasting Table began its feature on the best college town food in every state. Perhaps because of proximity, the Land of Enchantment’s best college town food was deemed to be the Frontier Restaurant just across Central Avenue from the University of New Mexico. Here’s what Tasting Table had to say about the famous Frontier: “The sweet roll at this campus-adjacent icon is an irresistible plate-sized spiral of sugar, cinnamon and joy. But since one cannot live on dessert perfection alone, there are house-made tortillas (which you can buy to go) and plenty of dishes that use green chile, the hallmark of regional New Mexican cuisine.”

Smoked Salmon Salad from Roswell’s Big D’s Downtown Dive. Photo Courtesy of Melodie K.

Route 66, America’s highway, meandered across 2,448 miles of the fruited plain, crossing three time zones and eight states, from Chicago to Los Angeles. Although Route 66 has all but disappeared, been renamed (as in Albuquerque’s Central Avenue) or left for nature to reclaim, the spirit of the roadside diner continues to thrive in neon spangled restaurants such as Albuquerque’s 66 Diner. In an episode celebrating great eats across Route 66, Travel Channel’s Food Paradise program stopped at the 66 Diner for a Route 66 “pile-up,” an “everything but the kitchen sink” heaping helping of New Mexico deliciousness. The program also showcased the 66 Diner’s frosty milk shakes, an integral part of the diner experience. Luxury models such as the “Pink Cadillac” (strawberry ice cream, crushed cookies) are a specialty of the nostalgia restaurant.

The show also stopped at a “mystical mashup of art, culture and Southwestern scenic splendor, the capital of the Land of Enchantment, Santa Fe.” There, they visited Sazon, the highly regarded new world restaurant owned and operated by uber-chef Fernando Olea who the show christened the “king of moles.” Chef Olea demonstrated his preternatural preparation of New Mexico mole with a rack of lamb. He also created a work-of-art seafood enchilada so appealing you might be tempted to rush to your television and lick the screen. Sazon is one of the very best restaurants in New Mexico and on Route 66 (yes, the mother road traversed through Santa Fe).

July, 2017

Vegetarian Dumplings from the Pop-Up Dumpling House in Albuquerque

If it seems as though every conceivable television food show concept has been tried, sometimes ad-nauseum, you might want to check out FYI television’s new culinary series. Called SCRAPS, it features Chef Joel Gamoran traveling across the fruited plain creating incredible feasts in unexpected places, using the most out-of-the-box ingredients – food waste and scraps. In the seventh episode of its inaugural season, SCRAPS visited Santa Fe where Chef Gamoran partners up with local chef Jonathan Perno, executive chef at Los Poblanos Historic Inn and a multi-time James Beard “Best Chef Southwest” semi-finalist. The two learn how to make the traditional blue corn tortilla, and give local scraps a makeover by using stale tortillas, rejected chiles, zucchini blossoms, and overripe avocados to create a delicious dinner menu.

With 620,807 restaurants (give or take a few) across the fruited plain as of Fall, 2016, you have to be very special to stand out. You have to be extraordinary to make it to a list titled “50 Essential Restaurants Every American Should Visit.” Only one restaurant in the Land of Enchantment was deemed worthy of inclusion on the list published by Thrillist, a leading men’s digital lifestyle brand. That anointed restaurant is The Range Café in Bernalillo and Albuquerque. It’s on the pantheon of deified dining in part because of the “open-faced Rio Grande Gorge burger, topped with white cheddar, grilled onions, and gelatinous green chiles on a tortilla alongside cheesy potatoes.” Thrillist closed its write-up with the confusing missive: “May the green chile sauce flow as strongly as the Rio Grande and your supply of antacids be bountiful as stucco housing.”

Village Pizza in Corrales Where Friendly Dogs Are Always Welcome

Buzzfeed, which was described on NYMag as “a hyper­active amalgam: simultaneously a journalism website, a purveyor of funny lists, and a perpetual pop-culture” consulted Yelp to find the “best ice cream sandwiches in America.” Coming in at number nineteen (out of thirty-five) is the Ice Cream Taco from Albuquerque’s Pop Fizz, an oft discussed purveyor of fantastic frozen treats as well as New Mexican food. Buzzfeed described the Ice Cream Taco as “like your favorite store-bought choco taco, but so. much. better. Choose from a bunch of ice cream flavors, which are stuffed in a waffle cone taco shell and topped with chocolate.”

My blogging buddy Melodie K. whose photographs frequently grace the “Thrilling (And Filling) Year in Food” feature passed along this gem: It’s “O”-fficial. O, the Oprah Magazine has declared San Antonio’s Owl Bar & Cafe‘s green chile as “the best thing you can eat in New Mexico.” The 72-year old restaurant’s winning ways with green chile over fries and its legendary green chile cheeseburger made it the statewide stand-out in an article singling out the “Best Thing to Eat in All 50 States.” Melodie recently made the trek to The Owl and shared the photograph you’ll find in the June edition of “Year in Food.”

Farm Fresh Mobile Farmer’s Market in Las Cruces. Photo Courtesy of Melodie K.

Would fast food taste as good if we didn’t feel guilty about eating it? If we didn’t feel as though we’re getting away with something? It’s only fitting that a “no judgements food site” which calls itself Guilty Eats would celebrate life’s guilty pleasures. Recognizing that fast food is ingrained in our American fabric, Guilty Eats took a “trip to find the best fast food joint in all 50 states of the wide swath of land we call Murica’! In what is probably as close as a “no-brainer” as you’ll ever see, the Land of Enchantment’s selection was Blake’s Lotaburger. Guilty Eats tells us “While you can get it (the green chile cheeseburger) at the local Whataburger, the best place to get these bad boys is at Blake’s Lotaburger, which is recognized as one of the best regional fast food chains in the country. Not only are their burgers simply the bomb, the rest of the menu is also tasty and fresh.”

Unlike most culinary industry recognition which is “based on subjective standards and opaque criteria,” Good Food 100 Restaurants™ inaugurated a new accolade based on “percentage of total food purchases ($) spent to support local/state, regional and national Good Food producers and purveyors vs. same category restaurants in the same region.” In other words, Good Food 100 celebrates restaurants where “truly good food is good for every link in the food chain,” where “sustainability and transparency” are making a positive impact. New Mexico’s sole representative on the “Good Food 100 Restaurants” list for 2017 is Albuquerque’s The Grove Café & Market. “For over 10 years, The Grove Cafe & Market has offered local, organic, antibiotic and preservative-free foods, promising to source and serve the best to our guests. We think it is imperative to spread awareness and continue to educate the public as to why Good Food is the best food.”

June, 2017

Squash Blossom Taco from the B2B Tap Room in Albuquerque

Cosmopolitan, the world’s most successful magazine for young women aged 18-34, isn’t as widely known for its restaurant recommendations as it is for empowering women. Cosmo recently took a stab at naming the “best 24-hour restaurant in your state,” an endeavor to sate late-night cravings. Using Yelp data, Cosmo listed diners, burger joints and restaurants which “serve amazing food to customers around the clock (at least one day per week).” Considering the Duke City recently made the ignominious list as being ranked among the worst cities for late night food, it’s a given Albuquerque didn’t make Cosmo’s list. Instead the Land of Enchantment’s best 24-hour restaurant comes from Belen where Penny’s Diner, an airstream trailer style diner keeps hungry patrons happy every day of the week.

A quarter-century has elapsed since the Golden Girls, four geriatrically advanced Miami housewives, graced the air. While devotees loved the comedy’s zany plots, what many of us found most endearing were the intimate scenes in which the four friends sat around the kitchen table sharing a cheesecake and commiserating into the night. Cheesecake may not be the panacea that cures all that ails us, but it certainly makes life more delicious. Delish invites readers to have their taste buds branch out beyond chains for a slice (or five) of the rich, creamy, fluffy dessert loved by the Golden Girls. In a feature entitled “This is the Best Cheesecake in Your State,” Delish used Yelp data to compile a list of the best cheesecakes in the fruited plain. The best cheesecake in the Land of Enchantment comes from Vinaigrette in Albuquerque. Yelp contributor Amy R. noted “This beautiful restaurant is full of pops of color, and guests love finishing their meals with flavor-packed desserts like their lemon cheesecake, made with fresh lemon and topped with raspberry coulis.”

“Good Old Reliable” burger with sweet potato fries from Big D’s Downtown in Roswell. Photo Courtesy of Melodie K.

Denizens of the Land of Enchantment know the best green chile cheeseburgers in the universe can only be found within our state’s borders. We esteem our green chile cheeseburgers with such high regard that our state’s Department of Tourism promotes a trail listing purveyors who prepare them best. Most of us couldn’t fathom of a burger without green chile, but the rest of the fruited plain isn’t quite as lucky. Perhaps recognizing this, Delish evaluated Yelp reviews and published a list of the “Best Bacon Burger in Every State.” New Mexico’s best bacon burger, the “Southwest Burger” comes from Hall of Flame Burgers in Ruidoso. According to Yelper Christy M., “the big draw is tons of avocado and bacon.”  Avocado? Fret not, friends. Hall of Flame Burgers is on the New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail so you’ll certainly be able to improve the state’s best bacon burger with the addition of our sacrosanct green chile.

You may have noticed that in the past three months, most of our dining excursions have been to dog-friendly restaurants throughout the Land of Enchantment. In the June-July edition of “Denver’s Quintessential Dog Magazine” “Mile High Dog,” the staff took its own dog-friendly sojourn. Mile High Dog noted that “As Saint Francis is the patron saint of animals, what could be better when traveling with pets than going to the place named for that saintly friar, Santa Fe.” The magazine staff spent time dining with their four-legged friends at some of the City Different’s dog-friendly restaurant patios including Cowgirl, La Choza, Gabriel’s, The Shed, The Teahouse and TerraCotta Wine Bistro. You can find even more dog-friendly Santa Fe restaurants on Bring Fido.

Green Chile Cheeseburger from The Owl Cafe in San Antonio, New Mexico. Photo Courtesy of Melodie K.

If you read my recent review of La Lecheria, you already know it’s been named the Land of Enchantment’s selection for “The Best Ice Cream Shop in Every State” feature on Thrillist. Hopefully by now you’ve made your way to Santa Fe for some of La Lecheria’s fabled popcorn or green chile ice cream. Thrillist noted: “Local chef Joel Coleman fell in love with ice cream making while running his popular Santa Fe restaurant Fire & Hops. The love was so deep, in fact, that he launched a separate ice cream business in 2016, and New Mexicans have had a valuable weapon against the heat ever since. Well, hold that thought — this being New Mexico, you better believe there are chilis occasionally involved, as brown sugar red chili and (of course) green chile both figure into the seasonal flavor rotation alongside menu stalwarts like sea salt chocolate. So it’s possible your palate will be feeling a little heat, but it’ll be so blissfully pleased you won’t mind a bit.”

Could there be a better name for a Web site dedicated to culinary news than “Eater?” Could there ever be a bigger head-shaking statement than this one from Eater: “ New Mexican green chile peppers are special, with a strong vegetal taste that approaches artichoke territory.”? That’s how the Eater staff began a feature entitled “7 Must-Visit Spots in Santa Fe to Eat Green Chile.” New Mexicans will argue that in no way should green chile (unless it’s that stuff from Colorado) and artichoke ever be mentioned in the same sentence. Despite that grievous faux pas, Eater’s seven must visit spots reflect most popular opinion from natives who know: The Shed, Café Pasqual’s, Santa Fe Bite, Tomasita’s, Dr. Field Goods, Posa’s El Merendo and Horseman’s Haven.

Chocolate Cheesecake Gelato From Sam Steel Cafe on the NMSU campus in Las Cruces. Photo Courtesy of Melodie K.

2017’s domestic travel trends should include Santa Fe, according to the Travel Channel which compiled a list of trending U.S. cities you should add to your wish list. The Travel Channel’s criteria for compiling its diverse group includes emerging food scenes. About Santa Fe’s “emerging” food scene, the Travel Channel observes: “Santa Fe’s food scene has been steadily moving beyond conventional Southwestern fare. Recent restaurant additions include Milad Persian Bistro, the city’s first Persian; Sabor Peruano, the city’s first Peruvian; and The Root Cellar, a speakeasy pub beneath The Hive Market gift shop. La Lecheria is another newcomer, specializing in artisan ice cream; try locally inspired flavors such as green chile. However, Santa Fe is also elevating Southwestern food. Try some of the best at Eloisa, a James Beard semifinalist for best new restaurant in 2016. Eloisa is also among a handful of local restaurants incorporating Native American ingredients into their menus, which looks like it’s becoming a bigger trend.”

If, as the proverbial “they” say, “the third time’s a charm,” consider this. You’ve read about La Lecheria twice in this synopsis. Here’s the third mention, the one which should push you over the edge of your couch and into your car for a drive to the City Different’s best purveyor of ice cream. The Tasting Table has the scoop (or two or three) on the “Flavor of Love” and it’s delicious. The Tasting Table took it upon themselves to “seek out the very best flavors this summer has to offer, so that you can make the most of ice cream season this year.” One of the flavors of love they discovered is the Banana Leaf Candy Ginger from La Lecheria. The Tasting Table tells us “When you need to wash down all those green chiles, head to this little shop where chef Joel Coleman of Santa Fe restaurant Fire & Hops specializes in stabilizer- and preservative-free exotic flavors, like miso brown sugar. This season, look out for the banana leaf candy ginger, which combines some of our favorite Asian flavors into a perfectly balanced scoop.”

Combination Plate from Mandarin Chinese in Albuquerque

Departures, a luxury magazine specializing in travel and leisure as well as food and wine, raved about its “Tour of Santa Fe’s Food Scene,” introducing readers to “five restaurants to know now—and what dishes to order.” Offering a fusion of “incredible Native American, Spanish, Mexican, New Mexican, red chile, green chile, poblano and serrano flavors—one plate at a time”—Santa Fe’s anointed five (restaurants and dishes) were the Santacafe for its green chile cheeseburger, Whoo’s Donuts at the Farmers’ Market for its lavender blue corn doughnut, Sazon for its crunchy chapuline (dried grasshopper) tacos, Eloisa for its fabulous tortillas florals cooked with pansies and rose petals, and Tia Sophia’s for its breakfast burrito.

Santa Fe isn’t solely a dining destination. Visitors have long been lured to the state capital by its history, art and culture, too. Most recently, Santa Fe earned acclaim from National Geographic as one of “America’s 20 Best Mountain Bike Towns,” noting, in fact, that the City Different has “what is arguably the best food scene of any bike town.”

May, 2017

Turtle Blonde Sundae and Caramelo Sundae from Albuquerque’s Flying Star

Much like the electoral college, OpenTable’s 100 Best Brunch Restaurants in America 2017 is slanted toward more populous states. The elite brunch 100 list reflects the combined opinions of more than 10 million restaurant reviews submitted by verified OpenTable diners for more than 24,000 restaurants in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The complete list features winning restaurants in 36 states and Washington, D.C., but only one restaurant from the Land of Enchantment earned a place. New Mexico’s best brunch comes from Albuquerque’s Farm & Table on 4th Street.

Santa Fe Chef Martin Rios became a two-time finalist for the James Beard Foundation Awards in The Best Chef Southwest category, coming oh-so-close in 2015 and 2017. One of New Mexico’s most heralded chefs, Rios may not have taken home the culinary world’s equivalent of an Oscar, but he continues to enthrall New Mexico diners with his innovative Progressive American cuisine at his eponymous Restaurant Martin. Since launching his restaurant, Rios has earned eight James Beard award nominations.

Ahi Poke Salad from the Pecan Grill in Las Cruces (Photo Courtesy of Melodie K)

It’s not every state under the spacious skies which can boast of more than one city which can even be considered the best, most essential, go-to food city in that state. In New Mexico, both Santa Fe and Albuquerque vie for that honor. Fortunately it was Thrillist and not me who endeavored to name the better of the two. It wasn’t an easy decision: “It pains us physically, in our hearts and souls, not to choose Albuquerque for this honor. We sung its praises in a story on food cities for Thrillist previously. We also shouted, “It’s misunderstood!” from the internet rooftops. While its food scene is certainly noteworthy (Los Poblanos is a game-changer), Santa Fe has just too much good stuff to be ignored, and a lot of it has to do with green chile. So it bears mentioning the green chile cheeseburgers at Santa Fe Bite, the green chile enchiladas at Horseman’s Haven, and the green chile-rubbed pulled pork sandwich at Dr Field Goods Kitchen. If Southwestern food isn’t your thing, you’re wrong, but there’s still standout American cuisine at Restaurant Martin and Joseph’s, and a restaurant with food so fresh, nourishing, and delicious that senior staff writer Lee Breslouer once visited three times in 48 hours: Sweetwater.

When you think about it, “Burgers are the most democratic of foods. The best burger in any one city might be in the dankest of dive bars, or in the fanciest of restaurants.” That’s an observation made by Thrillist in its quest to name and rank the 100 best burgers in America. Coming in at number 29 is New Mexico’s sacrosanct green chile cheeseburger as it’s prepared at Santa Fe’s revered Santa Fe Bite. Thrillist declared “The cream rising to the top of the New Mexico green chile burger scene, Bite consistently puts out a burger that might make this list even if the green chiles weren’t there to help push it with subtle heat and acid.”

Superbowl Breakfast From The Bean in Mesilla. (Photo Courtesy of Melodie K.)

It wouldn’t be a stretch to say vehicles rented by Enterprise have boldly gone where no man or woman have gone before. Enterprise recently visited Hatch to glean an answer to New Mexico’s burning question: green or red chiles. As Enterprise noted “when you visit Hatch itself — the Chile Capital of the World — you’re greeted by pepper pride of intense proportions, even during the offseason. This tiny village is powered by peppers.” The one “can’t miss culinary destination,” “a brand of quirkiness that could only exist in a village with one major export” is Sparky’s where owners Josie and Teako Nunn had the audacity to call their green chile cheeseburgers “world famous” even before that burger started winning awards. Enterprise also noted that “And they do add chiles to everything in New Mexico. In Albuquerque, you can get them on pizza at local favorite Amore Pizzeria or add them to your eggs at scenic brunch spot Farm & Table.”

Breaking Bad tourists will find that Albuquerque is more than a pop culture trip.” That’s the observation made by the Lexington (Kentucky) Herald Leader who sent a travel writer to check out the Duke City. No stranger to Albuquerque, she waxed nostalgic for her childhood when recalling a stop at La Placita Dining Rooms in Old Town. Years later, she marveled at the city’s “800 works of public art; a vibrant mix of neighborhoods; and a burgeoning brewery industry.” Then, of course, there’s the matter of Albuquerque “being the setting for two of television’s most acclaimed series, ‘Breaking Bad’ and its prequel ‘Better Call Saul’.” It wouldn’t have been a fruitful trip without indulging in our chile laden cuisine. She took in Los Poblanos and Zacatecas Tacos & Tequila where she found that even her margarita had red chile in it.

Cultured Canines Dine at Santa Fe’s Teahouse

Thrillist put it best: “Nachos — they’re a combination of pretty much the best foods out there, and yet a truly transcendent plate of them is mysteriously elusive, like the Bigfoot of bar food, except (hopefully) less hairy.” In contemporary America, you’re no longer likely to find nachos constructed solely from gloppy canned cheese and stale jalapeños. You certainly won’t find anything so boring on Thrillist’s list of the 21 best nachos in America. What you’ll find are paragons of deliciousness on tortilla chips–nachos such as the Nachos Grande from Albuquerque’s El Patron. Thrillist described these nachos as “Tasty and authentic, these New Mexican nachos are bursting with flavorful ground beef, guac, beans, cheese, and more, all on crispy tostadas. After you scarf those down, you might as well go for some more traditional NM fare, so order their famous chicharones, which are hunks of stewed pork tucked into a warm tortilla with cheese and green chile sauce.”

The Cooking Channel’s “Big Bad Barbecue Brawl” show pitted Albuquerque pitmaster extraordinaire Daniel Morgan against Brooklyn pitmaster Shannon Ambrosio who travels the fruited plain to see if he can measure up against the best pit masters in the south. Ambrosio had won their previous seven competitions before running into the talented owner of Pepper’s Barbecue on San Pedro. Chef Morgan’s winning dishes incorporated such New Mexico staples as pinon and green chile. How can anyone hope to compete with that?

Fried Cheesecake from Mix Pacific Rim in Las Cruces (Photo Courtesy of Melodie K)

For those among us who aren’t endowed with athletic ability or cerebral capabilities, there are still many opportunities to engage in competition. Competitive eating has become a rather popular “sport” with every state in the fruited plain boasting of its own insane food challenges. Chowhound published a feature called “50 States, 50 Insane Food Challenges” that highlighted them. The Land of Enchantment’s most insane food challenge was deemed to be the “Gila Monster,” a sandwich served at “Melissa” (Melissa?) Valley BBQ Company in Las Cruces. The Gila monster is “filled with pulled pork, brisket, chopped chicken, spicy sauce and cole slaw” and “if you can put this monster away in under 45 minutes, it’ll run you just $1. New Mexico Magazine might want to look at the URL for the page in which the Gila Monster is showcased. The last part of the URL reads “mexico-gila-monster.” Apparently New Mexico is missing once again.

Chowhound also decided to compile a list of “the best burger (or darn close to it) in your state.” According to Chowhound, the Land of Enchantment’s very best burger comes from the Santa Fe Bite (which, if the URL (is to be believed is in Mexico). Here’s what Chowhound has to say about the Bite: Obviously the New Mexico choice is going to involve green chiles. The richness of the cheese and the beef (a blend of sirloin and chuck) offsets the heat of the chile … but not too much. It’s a good intro to this state’s edible emerald.

April, 2017

Championship Wings From Forghedaboudit in Deming. Photo Courtesy of Robert Yacone

Americans love chicken wings, gobbling them up by the semi-load with more than 27 billion eaten in 2013 and 1.23 billion wings consumed during Super Bowl weekend alone. That’s over 100-million pounds of wings. Laid out end to end, all these wings would circle the perimeter of the Earth twice. Delish ranked the very best chicken wings across the fruited plain–based on review volume and ratings from Yelp–and named the best wing spots in every state. New Mexico’s best wings didn’t need Yelp reviews to certify them as the very best. Deming’s magnificent Forghedaboudit restaurant earned its chicken wing creds at the National Buffalo Wing Fest where the transformative maple bacon variety earned a second place finish in America’s premier chicken wings competition. Take my word for it–these are life-altering wings, the best we’ve ever had!

First We Feast, an online presence which “views food as an illuminating lens into pop culture, music, travel, and more” recognizes that there’s a lot of great pizza across the fruited plain. To make it easy for us to find great pizza during our travels, they compiled “The United States of Pizza: The Best Pizza From Each of the 50 States.” The Land of Enchantment’s best was deemed to come from Santa Fe’s Dr. Field Good’s Kitchen. Here’s what First We Feast had to say: “At his casual, farm-to-table restaurant Dr. Field Goods Kitchen, chef Josh Gerwin uses a wood-fired, New Mexico horno-shaped oven to make a flat, crispy “pizza de gallo”—his version of a New Mexican Margherita. This is one of those pies that offers the contrast of a hot pie topped with cool or room temperature ingredients. In this case, that means fresh New Mexican gremolata gets scattered over the diced tomatoes, onion, garlic, and jalapeños, which briefly get scorched with the dough while it blisters and the smoked mozzarella melts. ”

Brunch Burger from Chala’s Wood Fired Grill in Mesilla. Photo Courtesy of Melodie K.

National Geographic quipped “Albuquerque may be known for its International Balloon Fiesta and the hit series Breaking Bad, but breaking bread here is becoming a major reason to visit as well.” Well, not only bread, but sopaipillas, pita, papadum, tortillas, lavosh, naan, chapati, roti, arepa and even injera. “Albuquerque’s blend of indigenous, Spanish, and American cultures pairs well with new influences,” as National Geographic discovered in its profile Sights and Bites: Albuquerque, New Mexico. The online presence learned that “for every unique neighbourhood in Albuquerque, there’s a restaurant to match.” Old Town, for example, boasts of Monica’s El Portal, High Noon Restaurant & Saloon and Duran’s Central Pharmacy. Other areas of the city profiled were Downtown, Nob Hill, North Valley, South Valley and the Northeast Heights.

On June 16, 2017, the Albuquerque Isotopes will officially change their names for the day in honor of New Mexico’s sacrosanct green chile cheeseburger. On that day, the Isotopes will become the Albuquerque Green Chile Cheeseburgers and will sport a custom uniform adorned with a special green chile roaster patch on the left sleeve , a New Mexico state flag with a toothpick for a pole on the right sleeve and a black hat with a burger. It promises to be the hottest promotion in the history of the franchise. You can rock the (hot or mild) stuff here.

The great folks at Albuquerque’s Roadrunner Food Bank (RRFB) are gearing up for the Stamp Out Hunger food drive on Saturday, May 13 and they need YOUR help. Letter carriers, the US Postal Service and so many other national and local partners come together to collect non-perishable food in 10,000 communities across the country to help hunger-relief organizations including food banks, food pantries, soup kitchens, and others. If you or someone you know can volunteer at one of eleven metro area post offices, please sign up ASAP via AnnaMarie Maez. Volunteers will be unloading food from letter carrier vehicles and sort food at post offices. It can be a bit physical so you’re advised to dress comfortably and wear close-toed shoes. More information is available on the Roadrunner Food Bank’s Web site.

Food and Wine celebrated “Santa Fe’s small, intimate and upscale dining scene” which “provides ample restaurants with hushed lighting, tranquil outdoor seating and a unique fold of Southwestern, American and French cuisines.” In compiling a list of the most romantic restaurants in Santa Fe, Food and Wine urged locals and visitors to “reserve a table for two at these romantic spots.” They include Bouche, Eloisa, Geronimo, The Compound Restaurant, Terra, Izanami, Luminaria, Joseph’s, The Anasazi Restaurant and Santacafe.

March, 2017

Robert and Kimberly Yacone of Forghedaboudit Pizza in Deming with Their 2017 “Best Traditional Pizza” Award at the International Pizza Expo in Las Vegas, Nevada.  Photo Courtesy of Robert Yacone

Most of the accolades signifying New Mexico’s “best” foods or restaurants as chronicled on Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Year in Food monthly updates are determined by either culinary critics-cognoscenti or by popular acclaim. While both methods are valid and should never be discounted, some restaurateurs are so confident in their culinary specialty that they literally need to prove their mettle in the field of culinary competition. That would be an apt description for the approach taken by Robert and Kimberly Yacone, owners of Forghedaboudit Pizza in Deming. In 2016, the duo earned second place in the dry rub category at the National Buffalo Wing Festival. On Wednesday, March 29th, Forghedaboudit won the Southwest region’s “best traditional pizza” competition at the International Pizza Expo, the largest gathering of pizza professionals in the world. Competing against sixty other pizzaioli from California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, Colorado, Oklahoma and Texas, Forghedaboudit’s pepperoni and mushroom pie bested all regional competition. The pizza also earned a very respectable fourth place overall in the worldwide competition. Who says you can’t get outstanding pizza in the Land of Enchantment?

Chef Martin Rios, one of New Mexico’s most heralded chefs has been named a finalist for the James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef – Southwest award. A semi-finalist on several occasions and runner-up in 2011, Rios owns the eponymous Restaurant Martin in Santa Fe where award-winning progressive American cuisine is showcased. The two-time Chef of the Year for New Mexico award-winner is in contention with five other chefs from the region for the culinary world’s “Oscar.” James Beard Award winners will be announced on May 1st. The event will be hosted by another New Mexican, actor Jesse Tyler Ferguson. Will this be the year Santa Fe chef Martin Rios finally breaks through? Stay tuned.

Rancho de Chimayo’s Florence Jaramillo and New Mexico Restaurant Association President Carol Wright (Photo Courtesy of Gerges Scott)

In conjunction with National Women’s History Month, the New Mexico Restaurant Association (NMRA) and the New Mexico Kitchen Cabinet (NMKC) named Florence Jaramillo, owner of historic Rancho de Chimayó, winner of the first annual Women’s Restaurant Award. The award was created to recognize women who have made outstanding contributions to the New Mexico Restaurant industry. Fittingly, the award will henceforth be named for Mrs Jaramillo. In 2016, her legendary restaurant earned the James Beard Foundation’s “America’s Classic” honor signifying “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.” Florence was New Mexico Restaurateur of the Year in 1987, served on the New Mexico and National Restaurant Associations boards and won the top honor from the National Restaurant Association – The Lifetime Achievement Award.

Cooking With Kids has been named Gourmand World Cookbook’s 2017 winner in the “Children” category. Written by Lynn Walters and Jane Stacey, with Gabrielle Gonzales, the Cooking with Kids Cookbook includes “most enthusiastically kid-tested dishes, along with tips for engaging with children in the kitchen and in the garden.” Featuring more than 65 recipes focused on tasty, nutritious meals and snacks, the Cookbook is designed to teach children how to help plan, prepare and cook meals. The Cookbook will now compete with winners from other countries for the honor “Best in the World.” Cooking With Kids has been cultivating positive experiences with healthy foods for Santa Fe’s children since 1995.

Santa Fe High School’s Pro-Start Award-Winning Team with Chef Fernando Olea (Photo Courtesy of Gerges Scott)

More than 100 top culinary students from across the Land of Enchantment demonstrated their mastery of restaurant leadership skills — culinary and management — in a fast-paced competition to win their share of $3.2 million in scholarships at the Santa Fe Convention Center. A culinary team from Santa Fe High and a management team from Cloudcroft High were crowned state champions and will represent New Mexico at the National ProStart Invitational, the country’s premier high school competition focused on restaurant management and culinary arts. The culinary competition highlighted the creative abilities of each team through the preparation of a three-course meal in 60 minutes using only two butane burners. Management teams developed a proposal for an original restaurant concept and applied critical thinking skills to challenges restaurant managers face in day-to-day operations. The performance of teams in both the culinary and management events were observed and rated by expert judges from industry and academia. Taos High and Atrisco Heritage High took second and third in the culinary competition. Taos High and Sandia High took second and third in the management competition.

As illustrated in humorous anecdotes published in New Mexico Magazine’s monthly “One of Our Fifty is Missing” feature, there are still a lot of people who don’t recognize that New Mexico is a state. Sadly, some believe a passport is needed to cross into the Land of Enchantment’s borders. Others believe New Mexico is part of Arizona. Some (including a couple of respondents to a recent poll on Gil’s Thrilling…) think New Mexicans eat “chili.” Not only are these misconceptions a sad indictment of America’s educational system, they demonstrate the New Mexico Tourism Department’s challenge in touting all that is great about our state. To help, Thrillist compiled a list of “the very best thing in each and every of these United States.” To no surprise (except the spelling challenged people who insist on the spelling “chili”), the best thing about New Mexico is green chile which got the nod over blue meth, science and aliens.

Green Chile Cheeseburger from Dick’s Cafe in Las Cruces. Image Courtesy of Melodie K.

Because “you want a perfectly prepared steak without so much as a shred of effort on your part,” Thrillist compiled a list of the best steakhouse in every state. According to Thrillist, the Land of Enchantment’s best hunk of bodacious beef comes from the Monte Carlo Steakhouse and Liquor Store in Albuquerque. “Founded by Greek immigrants who pride themselves on serving not only the best steaks, but the best authentic Greek cuisine in New Mexico, this place is kinda like a Greek restaurant inside a steakhouse inside a liquor store, and it’s all named after a section of Monaco. So very confusing. And while Guy Fieri was impressed by the rib-eye when he visited on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, the main attraction is the baklava.” Frankly, if you’ve got room for baklava after polishing off a steak at the Monte Carlo, you’re quite the trencherman.

For generations we’ve been told breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Thankfully the Land of Enchantment is blessed with many wonderful options which allow us to skip cream of wheat, Captain Crunch and other such options that give us little reason to get up in the morning. Delish compiled a list of the breakfast spots everyone is talking about in each of the fifty states. According to Delish, New Mexico’s best breakfast comes from Flying Star, a Duke City mainstay for three decades. That’s not the first time Flying Star has earned such an accolade. Bon Appetit once named it one of the “ten favorite places for breakfast in America.” Flying Star is renowned for prodigious portions of high quality dishes as well as inventive takes on comfort foods.

French Dip (Beef Au Jus) from St. Clair Winery & Bistro in Las Cruces. Image Courtesy of Melodie K.

Delish.com, one of the top ten food-related online destinations, knows that buffets are often perceived as “minimal hotel breakfasts and cheesy resort restaurants.” Rather than waste bytes denouncing these denizens of dreariness, Delish celebrated the highest-rated restaurant buffets according to Foursquare City Guide. In its feature “The Buffet Everyone is Talking About in Your State,” Delish certainly picked a great one from New Mexico, selecting Joe’s Pasta House in Rio Rancho as purveyor of the very best buffet in the Land of Enchantment. Joe’s buffet is the apotheosis of deliciousness, a sumptuous array of favorites that will leave you drooling. Although Joe’s spectacular buffet is available only for lunch, the dinner menu is even better.

State fairs across the fruited plain are renowned for fried indulgences (including fried beer) and foods which make you feel like a neanderthal as you eat them sans utensils (turkey legs). The Travel Channel recently compiled a list of some of the best fair foods in the nation for its Food Paradise series. Two foods from the New Mexico State Fair, both long-standing concessions made the list–Rex’s Makin’ Bacon (fresh, handmade burger, topped with green chile and American cheese, wrapped in bacon and deep-fried to a crispy, brown perfection) and Casa Dog (a foot long all-beef hot dog, wrapped in a New Mexico corn tortilla, then stuffed with thick smoked bacon and cheese, and smothered in green chile).

Breakfast Enchiladas from The Shed in Las Cruces. Image Courtesy of Melodie K.

BuzzFeed, “the leading independent digital media company delivering news and entertainment to hundreds of millions of people around the world” employed its global, cross-platform network to compile “the best bakery in every state, according to Yelp.” The most popular bakery in every state was determined using an algorithm that considered the number of reviews plus the star rating for every bakery on Yelp. It will probably surprise, shock and awe some of you to read that New Mexico’s best bakery is Albuquerque’s Trifecta Coffee Company. Yelper comments indicated “they have the best scones, coffee cakes, muffins and quiche on a daily basis. The food is outstanding and the coffee is some of the best I’ve had!”

Comedian Rob Riggle jokes that his favorite food is “flapjacks, followed closely by hotcakes. After that, crepes. Y’know, like, pancake-thick.” Now there’s a pancake obsessed man. Riggle is the type of pancake aficionado who’ll take a cross-country trip just to try each and every one of the best pancake houses in every US state (and D.C.). Fortunately MSN compiled that list for paramours of prodigious pancakes such as Riggle. According to MSN, the Land of Enchantment’s best pancake house is Albuquerque’s Grove Café & Market, described as “Albuquerque’s favorite breakfast spot.” MSN noted “You can order breakfast any time of day, with the French-style pancakes topped with fresh fruit, creme fruit, local honey and real maple syrup always a winner.

Kimberly Yacone shows off two of ForghedaboutIt’s Traditional Award-Winning Pizzas.  Photo Courtesy of Robert Yacone

At a more micro level, theChive, an entertainment digital media presence, used Foursquare data to rank the best pie in each state according to reviews, comments and tips. While not naming a specific pie, theChive did indicate the best pie in New Mexico comes from Albuquerque’s Flying Star Café. With a tempting array of handmade bakery desserts prepared fresh daily, the Flying Star has been a Duke City favorite since 1987. A quick perusal of the café’s bakery desserts menu lists such favorites as Dutch Apple Crumb, Cherry, Key Lime, Strawberry Rhubarb and Rio Grande Mud Pie.

“Every state has specific dishes and ingredients that its residents are particularly fond of — Idahoans love their potatoes, and Virginians can’t get enough sweet tea, but when it comes to online food searches, Americans become less predictable.” Delish published its intel on “the most-searched foods in every state.” While Arizonans were searching for chiles and Coloradoans scoured the internet for carnitas, New Mexicans want to know how to make empanadas.

February, 2017

Praline Bread Pudding from St. Clair Winery & Bistro in Las Cruces. Image Courtesy of Melodie K.

When you pit some of the Land of Enchantment’s best chefs against kitchen luminaries from throughout the fruited plain, you quickly come to the realization that our chefs can compete against the very best from anywhere. One recent showcase for New Mexico chefs has been the Food Network’s reality-based cooking television game show series Chopped. In an episode first airing on January 31st, Chef Carrie Eagle of Albuquerque’s Farm & Table showed her culinary mettle in besting three other competitors. The show’s theme was “game day party” and required each chef to prepare an appetizer, entree and dessert for a chance to win $10,000.

Marie Yniguez, chef and owner of Bocadillo’s was first introduced across the fruited plain in September, 2013 when her sandwich emporium was featured on the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives program. Beguiled by her charm, wit and talent, the Food Network asked her back, this time as a competing chef on Chopped. In an episode which first aired on February 28th, Marie competed against three other chefs in a episode entitled “Raw Deal” which required that each chef create an appetizer from a deconstructed sushi burger which she converted to a tuna and pork taco with logan berries and wasabi pico de gallo, followed in the entree round by a grilled buffalo steak with porcini mushroom hash. Her dessert, a butter-braised polenta cake with bechamel ganache, proved to be the difference-maker, earning her the title of Chopped Champion.

Tacos Al Pastor from Andele Restaurante in Las Cruces. Image Courtesy of Melodie K.

Valentine’s Day doesn’t necessarily celebrate love at first bite as much as it does romantic love, but some restaurants have mastered the art of presenting food you’ll love sharing with someone you love. One such restaurant is Santa Fe’s Santacafe which Delish.com named the most romantic restaurant in New Mexico. Delish noted “The Southwestern bistro is tucked inside a 19th century adobe house, and features four candlelit dining rooms with fireplaces, as well as an outdoor patio. Menu standouts include crispy calamari, roasted poblano chile relleno, and blue corn chicken enchiladas.”

“Setting the table for romance involves an array of ingredients: scrumptious food, alluring ambience, and bespoke service.” OpenTable diners had their say in declaring the 100 most romantic restaurants in America for 2017, honoring the seductive spots at which couples are creating connections and savoring delicious memories. “Based on an analysis of 10,000,000+ reviews of more than 24,000 restaurants across the country — all submitted by verified diners,” the list included only one restaurant from the Land of Enchantment–perennial honoree Vernon’s Speakeasy in Los Ranchos de Albuquerque. Vernon’s also earned a similar distinction from Albuquerque The Magazine.

Cinnamon chipotle chocolate cake truffles from The Chocolate Affair in Las Cruces. Image Courtesy of Melodie K.

22 Words, “a premier viral publisher, serving up funny, cute, heartwarming, and fascinating stories to over 40 million readers a month across its network” published a list celebrating the United States of Weird or Intriguing Food Facts. Thankfully the list didn’t name eating menudo or carne adovada (see the January, 2017 version of “Year in Food”) as the weirdest food fact about the Land of Enchantment. Instead, our weirdest food fact is that it’s illegal to carry a lunchbox down main street. 22 Words wonders “what happened that made this law go on the books. Did someone just go ape crap crazy and start swinging around a metal lunchbox like a major league baseball player?” New Mexicans know. This law was enacted thanks to the will of all the farm animals and cemetery-dwellers who cast votes in Las Cruces (and throughout New Mexico) elections.

Every year the American Automobile Association (AAA) reviews more than 31,000 restaurants, rating them based on a combination of the overall food, service, décor and ambiance offered by the establishment. Only 2.1 percent make the AAA Four Diamond list, a distinction assigned exclusively to establishments that meet and uphold AAA’s rigorous approval standards for distinctive fine-dining using criteria that considers creative preparations, skillfully served, often with wine steward, amid upscale ambience. New Mexico had two AAA Four Diamond Restaurants in 2017, both in Santa Fe. Both are perennial AAA Four Diamond honorees: Geronimo (since 2004) and Terra at Rancho Encantado (since 2009).

Panang Curry at Renoo’s Thai Delight in Las Cruces. Image Courtesy of Melodie K.

Thrillist compiled a list of the best chicken wings in the United States, “all guaranteed to leave you with dirty fingers and a very happy belly.” According to Thrillist, the Land of Enchantment’s best wings aren’t appendages on our state bird, the roadrunner. Our best wings, at least according to Thrillist, come from Santa Fe’s Cowgirl BBQ. Thrillist described them as “the honkin’ wings, which contain a light smoke, crispy skin, and a hell of a lot of heat, even if you get the straight-up house style. You can also go jerk, but come on. Cowgirl up and go with the Wings of Fire, which are tossed in a fiery habanero-based salsa diablo that might be manageable for the weak of heart(burn) were they not so friggin’ big.”

Three of the Land of Enchantment’s best chefs have been named semifinalists in 2017’s prestigious James Beard Foundation Awards, the culinary world’s equivalent of the Oscar. Two of them–Chef Jonathan Perno of Los Poblanos and Martín Rios of Restaurant Martín in Santa Fe–who have been nominated several times are up for “Best Chef-Southwest” honors. The third, Colin Shane, of Santa Fe’s Arroyo Vino is a semifinalist in the “Rising Star” category. In 2015 Chef Shane was the first chef from New Mexico selected to compete at Chaine des Rotisseurs, a competition of young chefs from the Far West, where he earned bronze.

Green Chile Bañado Plate from Nellie’s Cafe in Las Cruces. Image Courtesy of Melodie K.

“Obsessed with everything that’s worth caring about in food, drink, and travel,” the good folks at Thrillist compiled a list of “the most iconic restaurants in every state.” To qualify, a restaurant had to have been around for 30 years or more and “still be a crowd favorite.” As a disclaimer, perhaps, the selected restaurants “may not have the best food or be tourist-free,” but “they’re all famous.” Thrillist’s selection for New Mexico–for the second consecutive year–was El Pinto, a restaurant Thrillist declared is “also one of the best Mexican spots in the country. The red chile ribs are reason enough to schedule a visit soon, but it’s also one of the largest restaurants you’ve ever been in, period. It’s like how big your rich friend’s house seemed when you were a kid: rooms open up into other rooms.”

Parade Magazine, the popular insert in many newspapers, describes comfort food as “like a hug on a plate,” indicating that “comfort food is what folks turn to to sooth their souls when the weather, the world or life in general isn’t going well.” Parade’s list of comfort food from coast-to-coast listed the favorite comfort food in each of the fifty states. New Mexico’s favorite comfort food, according to Parade is the ubiquitous breakfast burrito: “The Land of Enchantment is the birthplace of this morning spin on a Southwest favorite filled with scrambled eggs, hash browns, cheddar and green chiles. (When you visit, you can even eat along the Breakfast Burrito Byway.) Other Faves: green chile cheeseburgers, green chile stew, posole, “Christmas-style” enchiladas (that’s with green and red sauce).” Interestingly, Colorado’s favorite comfort food was deemed to be chile verde: “bowls of this stew made with tender, slow-cooked pork shoulder, tangy tomatillos and local green chiles. Other Faves: chiles rellenos and Navajo tacos (tacos on Indian fry bread).”

French Onion Soup from the RendezvousCafe and French Pastry Shop in Las Cruces.  Image Courtesy of Melodie K.

Founded in 1952, Blake’s Lotaburger shows no sign of slowing down. As it celebrates its 65th birthday, the bastion of behemoth burgers continues its burgeoning. Once exclusive to the Land of Enchantment, Lotaburger now boasts of 74 locations across New Mexico, Texas and Arizona with a third location in the works for Tucson and a new restaurant launching soon in Gilbert, its first in the Phoenix metro area. Dion’s, another New Mexico chain too good not to share with the rest of the world is also expanding, recently launching its 22nd store, this one in the Reunion Metro District of Commerce City (Denver). Here’s betting Denver-area pizza aficionados will love Dion’s famous Ranch dressing as much as New Mexicans do.

On a number of blog posts, I’ve half joked about votes being cast by dead people and farm animals in New Mexico’s elections. If recent events have any veracity, perhaps it would also be apropos to blame (or credit) our election results on Russian hacking. One thing is for certain–New Mexicans take elections and the privilege of voting seriously…maybe too seriously. To help make voting a more fun process, Bob of the Village of Los Ranchos (BOTVOLR), the unofficial publicist for Gil’s Thrilling…, suggested a quick poll question feature. You can find the quick poll question on the blog’s right-hand-side navigation. Bob also provided the inaugural question for the poll. If you’d like to submit a poll question, please email me at thriller@nmgastronome.com.

Quick Poll Questions Now on Gil’s Thrilling…

House Bill 118, a measure which will make our sacrosanct green chile cheeseburger the state of New Mexico’s official state burger passed the House 57-8. Introduced by Representative Matthew McQueen of Galisteo, the green chile cheeseburger will join join the state cookie (bizcochito), state question (red or green?) and “red and green” or “Christmas” (state answer) as official state symbols. In 2015, the New Mexico True Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail was named the nations number one food trail by USA Today’s 10 Best Readers’ Choice Awards.

January, 2017

Beef Tender Bistro with Waffle Fries from Grill 49 in Tularosa.  Image Courtesy of Melodie K.

As an essayist of the New Mexico culinary scene, it often baffles me to read national print and online publications attempting to speak for New Mexicans in naming our best this or best that.  It’s often as if the writers have never set foot in the Land of Enchantment and instead tossed a dart at a target listing sundry foods.  Take for example, Delish.com’s recent compilation of compilation of The 50 Most Wanted Game Day Food in Your State.  Using findings from DirecTV which ostensibly combed through Instagram to determine which snacks people were scarfing down before cheering on the home team, Delish.com named onion rings as the fried snack of choice here.  Onion rings!!!   In years of having attended Lobo football and basketball games, I don’t recall any tailgaters noshing on onion rings.  Perhps they devour onion rings at home before heading to the University Stadium or Wise Guys Arena.

According to an online survey from the National Coffee Association, 83-percent of adults crave their caffeine jolt.  A separate survey from Zagat revealed about half of respondents get their coffee fix at a nationally owned chain or local coffee shop.  When it comes to finding a great cup of coffee, not every city is created equal.  Yelp data was evaluated to determine America’s fifty caffeine capitals.  With a caffeine score of 86.27, Albuquerque ranks as America’s second most caffeinated city.  Coffee lovers convene for their favorite cup at one of the city’s 124 coffee shops which earned an average Yelp rating of 3.9 (on a scale of one to five) with 80 of them earning ratings of four to five on Yelp reviews.

Chicken and Waffles (with Bacon) from Salud! de Mesilla.  Image Courtesy of Melodie K.

“Love may be a many-splendored thing, but however you cut it, “splendor” is the operative word.  Cities that bring the beauty almost always crank up the heat, which is why there’s no mistaking a romantic city when you encounter it. Thrillist compiled a rundown of US cities where the scenery doubles as an aphrodisiac, for use as you and boo see fit.”   Not surprisingly, Santa Fe was named one of the most beautiful cities in the US for romantic getaways.  According to Thrillist, the City Different’s most romantic restaurant-bar is the Pink Adobe adding that “the neighborhood’s wonderful collection of bars and restaurants, from the Palace to Secreto Lounge to Tia Sophia’s, is integral to the area’s sultry charm.”

Santa Fe is also home to one of America’s 39 most historic restaurants as named by MSN.  The venerable El Farol on artsy-chic Canyon Road is the city’s oldest restaurant.  MSN wrote: “Serving Spanish tapas this delightful restaurant has been offering “warmth” and “light” (the English translation) since 1835, alongside sharing plates well before they became a trend and nightly entertainment.  El Farol is one of the forerunners of the tapas movement, the sharing of small portions of delectable foods served in groupings.  History meets entertainment at El Farol which features live entertainment seven days a week.

Cannoli from NYP Pizza House in Las Cruces.  Image Courtesy of Melodie K.

Just in time for the advent of 2017, Travel Squire,  a digital magazine and travel therapist in one combined, written and edited by destination specialists. organized its picks for the top 28 destinations for the upcoming year in travel.  The list includes every continent with something for every travel style.  “New on Your Radar” destinations providing a variety of cultural and culinary experiences include the Land of Enchantment.  New Mexico is the only state that is home to three UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Chaco Canyon, Taos Pueblo and Carlsbad Caverns.  It’s also unmatched in terms of culinary experiences.  Travel Squire noted: “Enticing culinary trails like the Breakfast Burrito Byway and the Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail will introduce you to New Mexico’s culinary staple—the spicy chile. There are also numerous opportunities to experience the Native American culture from a pueblo cooking class at Okhay Owingeh to sampling pueblo cuisine, exploring Gallup’s Native art and Native-influenced spa treatments.”

While many New Mexicans might have named our official state cookie–the sacrosanct biscochito–as our most delicious cookie, Good Housekeeping made a rather surprising choice.  In naming a dark chocolate chili cookie as New Mexico’s very best cookie in its list of the 50 most delicious cookies by state, Good Housekeeping actually found a cookie that really doesn’t have much New Mexico in it.  Study the recipe and you’ll quickly note its ingredients include a hint of cinnamon, cayenne pepper, and chunks of dark chocolate chili chocolate.  Sure, we love cayenne pepper with Cajun food, but it doesn’t grace our recipes for New Mexican food.   As for the “chili” in this cookie, it actually comes from a  Lindt chili excellence bar.  It’s unlikely any New Mexican chile farmers would allow their product to be spelled “chili” so there’s no telling where it comes from.

Menudo from Bravas Cafe in Las Cruces.  Image Courtesy of Melodie K.

During our three years in England, we spent many a lazy day on the banks of the serene River Windrush  luxuriating with a cup of tea coupled with a combination of scones, clotted cream, and jam.  It’s not something we can hope to duplicate on the banks of the murky Rio Grande, but scant miles away, we can experience the genteel pleasure of sipping tea at The St. James Tearroom.  The Huffington Post calls an experience at the St. James Tearoom “the lost art of connection,” indicating that the tearoom “offers its patrons an experience that creates connection and intimacy for those who choose to leave the rushed and stressful day to day duties of work to take time out and connect. It is a place to relax and be fully present to those around you and tea is the magical thread that weaves this experience together.” 

What one person considers delicious, another may deem entirely unpleasant.  Thrillist realizes that “each state has foods that might look unappetizing or downright disgusting to an outsider — but to homegrown kids, they’re a little slice of home.”  Most native New Mexicans will consider it heretical that in a Thrillist feature entitled “Every State’s Grossest Food (That People Actually Love),” declares that our beloved carne adovada “resembles a plate of wet dog food in marinara sauce.”  Hard to believe as New Mexicans will find it, carne adovada was deemed our “grossest food.”  Where do you find this paragon of loathsomeness?  Thrillist recommends Mary & Tito’s Cafe where “you get it paired with a plate of perfectly cooked sunny-side eggs and hash browns.”

Croissant from Belle Sucre in Las Cruces.  Image Courtesy of Melodie K.

Ludwig van Beethoven once declared “only the pure in heart can make a good soup.”  Restaurants throughout Albuquerque and Santa Fe are obviously staffed with pure-hearted chefs and cooks who show off their formidable culinary skills every year at each city’s annual Souper Bowl, the most delicious fund-raising events in the state.  Santa Fe’s Souper Bowl benefits The Food Depot, “Northern New Mexico’s Food Bank.”  Approximately one-thousand soup lovers attended the twenty-third annual event where they sipped soup to their heart’s content.  Sweetwater Harvest Kitchen earned both  best overall soup and best savory soup with a Thai Cambodian Coconut Chicken soup.  Other category winners included Terra at the Four Seasons at Rancho Encantado in the best cream category; Kingston Residence of Santa Fe in the best seafood category; and The Palace in the best vegetarian category.

More than twelve-hundred guests enjoyed scrumptious soups and delectable desserts from nearly forty area Albuquerque restaurants in the Roadrunner Food Bank’s Souper Bowl 2017.  Awards were presented in two categories: Critic’s Choice and People’s Choice with attendees casting their ballots for their favorite soup and dessert.  Drum roll please…the 2017 Souper Bowl award winners were:

People’s Choice – Overall Soup Winners
1st Place and Souper Bowl Champion: Bocadillos Café and Catering
2nd Place: Chumly’s Southwestern
3rd Place: Daily Grind

People’s Choice – Vegetarian Soup Winners
1st Place: Turtle Mountain Brewing Co.
2nd Place: 99 Degrees Seafood
3rd Place: Corn Maiden at the Hyatt

People’s Choice – Dessert Winners
1st Place: Nothing Bundt Cakes
2nd Place: Theombroma Chocolatier
3rd Place: Vic’s Daily Cafe

Critic’s Choice Awards were chosen by a panel of six judges (including yours truly) who rated each soup based on appearance, aroma, texture, spice blend, flavor and overall impression.  

Critics’ Choice Winners
1st Place: Chumly’s Southwestern
2nd Place: Sandia Golf Club
3rd Place: Zacateca Tacos + Tequila

Quiche Lorraine from The Shed in Las Cruces.  Image Courtesy of Melodie K.

What’s the hottest trending topic in the world of comfort cuisine.  According to The Travel Channel, it’s Mexican food.  With flavors so bold, brash and satisfying, it’s no surprise.  Leaving no tortilla unturned in its search for America’s eight best places to “enjoy maximum Mexican food enjoyment,” it’s also no surprise The Travel Channel would wind up in New Mexico where Albuquerque’s legendary El Pinto ranked number four in the list of Best Mex.  John and Jim Thomas, the famous “Salsa Twins” were featured along with the meaty splendor that is El Pinto’s red chile ribs.  The process of preparing the best ribs since Adam shared one with Eve was showcased along with calabasitas and a 24-ounce bone-in tomahawk steak.

The Travel Channel also counted down eight restaurants known for serving up the best version of a city’s signature dish.  In an episode of Food Paradise entitled “Iconic Eats,” Santa Fe’s Maria’s New Mexican Kitchen was lauded for its blue corn enchiladas, a main player in its menu for more than fifty years.  Another dish on the epic list are Maria’s epic chile rellenos which are stuffed with a pepperjack cheese.  It’s too bad modern technology has not yet developed smell-o-vision or better still, taste-o-vision because both dishes truly represent New Mexico on a plate.  It’s Christmas every day at Maria’s.

Nori Ramen & Sushi Bar – Rio Rancho, New Mexico

Nori Ramen & Sushi Bar in Rio Rancho

From our home in northeast Rio Rancho, it’s about thirteen miles to the Nori Ramen & Sushi Bar on Southern Boulevard.  It would have been safer to run with the bulls at Pampalona than it was driving the half hour it took me to get to Nori.  In those thirty minutes, an impatient tailgater blasted her horn at me for having the audacity to come to a complete stop at a stop sign in our subdivision.  As she roared passed me on a 25 miles-per-hour street, she contemptuously extended her middle finger out the window (in the same way drivers espying the Dallas Cowboys plate on my car acknowledge the Cowboys are number one).  Once on Highway 528, I witnessed drivers running red lights, exceeding the speed limit by at least warp five, turning from the wrong lane and not using turn signals (even though the season of lights is approaching).  “Phew,” I thought “at least we don’t live in any of the other 48 states whose drivers are more impolite.”

Yep, you read that correctly.  A June, 2017 survey conducted by Kars4Kids ranked New Mexico as the second-most polite state in which to drive.  At this point you’re probably laughing uproariously or wondering how New Mexico’s notorious election officials managed to stuff the ballots for the Land of Enchantment and abscond with ballots from other states.  “More likely,” you’re thinking “the survey’s respondents included such paragons of impartiality as Governor Martinez, the New Mexico Tourism Department and former Albuquerque Mayor Berry’s effusive spinmeister.”  For those of us with lengthy daily commutes into the heart of the Duke City, there’s more credibility in little green men landing their extraterrestrial craft in Roswell than there is in a survey indicating New Mexico’s drivers are the apotheosis of politeness.

The interior of Nori

Chanting Frank Costanza’s “serenity now” mantra as you navigate the metropolitan area’s mean streets is hardly a match for crazed, oblivious and wholly impolite drivers…and not even Calgon can take you away when driving in New Mexico leaves you frazzled and harried.  Fortunately there are three havens of civility in Rio Rancho where you can find solace and regain your composure. One is Joe’s Pasta House where possibly the very best wait staff in the Land of Enchantment is as welcoming as your most comfortable slippers.  Another is Namaste where respect and graciousness are practiced daily.  The third and most recent addition is the Nori Ramen & Sushi Bar which opened its doors in October, 2017.

Until 2010 when it shuttered its doors, Noda’s Japanese Cuisine may have been the Land of Enchantment’s very best purveyor of sushi as well as a nonpareil paragon of politeness.  Other sushi restaurants such as Ahh! Sushi and Sushi King have tried to fill the void, but all have fallen short in comparison to the sublime greatness of Noda’s, a once in a generation restaurant which many of us miss direly.  Nori won’t make anyone forget Noda’s, but Rio Rancho diners who appreciate good Japanese food and professional service will like it very much…especially if your commute was as harrowing as mine.

Tonkotsu Ramen

It seems the template for Japanese restaurants emphasizes professionalism.  In the Land of the Rising Sun, good service is associated with professionalism, not friendliness.  Wait staff are trained to maintain a professional, polite distance.  Instead of the chatty, often insincere wait shtick practiced by servers at many American restaurants (particularly the cookie cutter chains), servers in Japan don’t engage in small talk (especially of a personal nature) or try to establish personal rapport with their guests.  It’s the way some of us like to be treated.  By the way, if you appreciate the impeccable timing of servers who don’t hover over you and ask how your meal is just as you’ve taken a hefty bite, you’ll like Nori.

Nori, the Japanese name for edible seaweed, is appropriately named as nori is indeed an ingredient in several sushi rolls and dishes.  Neither the Japanese menu nor the sushi menu feature any real surprises, but offer familiar standards prepared well.  Appetizers include such recognizable favorites as edamame, gyoza, egg rolls and tempura.  Ramen and donburi dishes make up the entrees portion of the menu.  The sushi menu includes all familiar favorites: nigiri (a slice of raw fish over pressed vinegared rice), sashimi (slices of very fresh fish served raw) and maki (roll-style sushi in which ingredients are often wrapped in roasted seaweed sheets (nori) and seasoned rice). 

Top: Buddy Crunch Bottom: Unagi

Over the decades, ramen has evolved from a staple of the Japanese working class to a mainstay of impoverished American college students to most recently, a trendy Japanese restaurant favorite.  The latter is ramen all grown up, the antithesis of the budget dorm food favorite.  There are many different types of Japanese noodle soups, but tonkotsu ramen may be the most revered. Two main components define tonkotsu: tangles or nests of thin, starchy noodles in a rich salty pork broth. Traditionally made by boiling pork bones for twelve hours or more, the broth is incomparable.  Nori’s version also includes two marinated hard-boiled eggs, scallions, niblets of corn and fatty pork cutlets.  It’s a satisfying soup, filling and tasty, but much better versions can be found in Albuquerque at O Ramen and Naruto (both of which would require matador-like maneuvering among polite Duke City drivers).

Rather than one of the appetizers on the menu, my starter choice was unagi, grilled freshwater eel served nigiri style. Unagi is much sweeter and more tender than its saltwater cousins and is said to have stamina-giving properties. Containing 100 times more vitamin A than other fish, it’s believed to heighten men’s sexual drive. Japanese wives would prepare unagi for dinner to suggest to their husbands that they wanted an intimate night.  While some may find the thought of eel repellent, “eel sauce” is a popular topping for various sushi rolls.  A thick sweetened sauce made from soy sauce, mirin or sweet rice wine and sugar, it’s akin to fish candy.

Several of Nori’s maki rolls are topped with a crunchy tempura flakes instead of wrapped in nori sheets.  Among them is the buddy crunch (shrimp tempura, salmon tempura, avocado, spicy mayo inside tempura flakes and the aforementioned eel sauce).  During my novitiate days of enjoying sushi, my Kim questioned whether it was really the incendiary wasabi I really enjoyed.  Back then I drowned maki rolls in combustible mix of soy sauce and wasabi.  With more refined and developed tastes, it’s the ingredients within the vinegared rice that now enthrall me most.  My buddy roll barely touched the soy-wasabi mix, allowing me to enjoy balanced flavors from fresh ingredients.

Nori Ramen’s wait staff can show the fruited plain’s second most polite drivers a thing or two about politeness.  Moreover, they can show you a menu of familiar Japanese favorites prepared well.

Nori Ramen & Sushi Bar
2003 Southern Blvd., S.E., Suite 116
Rio Rancho, New Mexico
(505) 796-5065
LATEST VISIT: 25 November 2017
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Tonkotsu Ramen, Buddy Crunch, Unagi

Nori Ramen & Sushi Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Chile Time Restaurant – Albuquerque, New Mexico

The Chile Time Restaurant in the Scottsdale Village Shopping Center

“For everything there is a season,
    a time for every activity under heaven.
A time to be born and a time to die.
    A time to plant and a time to harvest.”
~Ecclesiastes 3

Autumn in New Mexico is indisputably chile time.  The high mountain air is at its most crisp and salubrious.  Foliage is adorned in a vibrant panoply of color. Magnificent cottonwoods and aspens gleam in the evening sun like the fabled cities of gold sought by Spanish explorers. Hazy smoke plumes waft upward from giant rotating drums.  These irresistible smoke signals beckon hungry masses to roadside stands where flame-licked chile tumbles in steel-meshed drums.  Those chiles blister then seem to hiss and spit in protest as their skins blacken, leaving their fleshy insides intact and imbued with an intoxicating aroma and addictive flavor. 

Winter in New Mexico is indisputably chile time.  The salient aromas of piñon burn in kiva fireplaces, perfuming a night air swathed in a canopy of stars.  Glowing rows of farolitos perched on adobe-hued rooftops and sidewalks light the way for the Christ child.  Glissading down precipitous mountain slopes during the day gives way to sedentary evenings in the company of friends and family.  This is when the hours spent peeling freshly-roasted chile pays off.  Our bounty showcases soul-warming green chile stew and enchiladas with enough heat to temper the cold air.

Salsa and Chips

Spring in New Mexico is indisputably chile time.  Spring is the season of reawakening and new beginnings–the blooming of fresh buds, animals leaving their dens after a long winter’s nap, farmers and gardeners planting seeds and tending to them lovingly.  For generations, family farmers have risen with the sun then toiled past sunset, lovingly tending to fertile acreage which will yield the sacrosanct red and green chile so very beloved throughout the Land of Enchantment.  Grown across the state for at least four centuries, chile is the one ingredient which distinguishes New Mexican cuisine from that of any other state across the fruited plain.

Summer in New Mexico is indisputably chile time.  Abundant sunshine, intense heat and fecund fields irrigated by the Rio Grande and its tributaries are nature’s blessings; assertive monsoon seasons, pests and blights its banes.   The distinctive pungency, sweetness, flavor, and piquancy of chile are fashioned in summer.  Across the state, the freezers which once held large caches of green chile apportioned in baggies, have seen their chile stashes depleting rapidly.  Autumn can’t return soon enough so we can replenish our chile supply.  It’s an yearly cycle, a ritual we eagerly repeat because in New Mexico, every season is chile time.

Carne Adovada Enchiladas

My friend Steve from my days at Kirtland Air Force Base never invited me for lunch though we dined together frequently.  He’d come into my office and in his best Ben Grimm impression would growl “It’s chile time!”  For a Maryland transplant, he sure loved chile–the hotter, the better.   He would have loved the Chile Time Restaurant, not only because his “it’s chile time” declaration also answered the question “where should we go for chile,” but because the kitchen staff knows what it’s doing with red and green chile.  The kitchen staff, it turns out, is the one-man whirling dervish named Mick whose other restaurant, Mick’s Chile Fix is a long-time Duke City favorite.

Located in the Scottsdale Village Shopping Center in the space which previously housed the Karibu Cafe, the Chile Time Restaurant opened its doors in September, 2017.  My inaugural visit two months later evoked a feeling of déjà vu upon espying Dave Sweis, a long-time server at Mick’s.  I couldn’t place where I’d see him before until Mick peeked out from the kitchen to survey the Black Friday breakfast crowd.   There’s comfort in knowing what to expect.  What you can expect from Chile Time is hearty portions of New Mexican favorites, breakfast served any time of day and behemoth burgers. 

You can also expect the salsa to be the most piquant item on the menu.  The salsa and chips are right-priced.  They’re complimentary, but so good you wouldn’t mind paying for them.  Piquancy isn’t the salsa’s sole redeeming quality.  It’s fresh, lively and delicious–the type of salsa you’ll need replenished at least once. The chips are crisp, low in salt and probably better for dipping than scooping (my preference). If, like me, you like heat with heat, enjoy a cup of coffee (or six) with the salsa. Hot coffee has the unique ability to enhance the piquancy of chile.   Dave will refill your cup faithfully. 

The trite phrase “have it your way” has long been associated with Burger King, but at Chile Time, “have it your way” applies to enchiladas, too.  Enchiladas are made with yellow corn tortillas and your choice of seasoned ground beef, chicken or carne adovada and they’re made flat or rolled.  That endearing fact means they’re made to order, not prepared en masse and waiting to be apportioned from a large casserole dish.   Then there are the egg choices: one or two, over easy, over medium or over hard.  The carne adovada is mild and mellow, as smooth and tender as any in Albuquerque.  Tender tendrils of red chile marinated pork are smothered in melted shredded chile and layered in between corn tortillas.  The enchiladas are served with refried beans and Spanish rice.

Because any time, every time and all the time are chile time, the Chile Time Restaurant promises to please discerning palates needing their chile fix.

Chile Time Restaurant
3107 Eubank Blvd, N.E., Suite 12
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 237-8463
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 24 November 2017
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Enchiladas, Salsa and Chips

Chile Time Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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