Coda Bakery – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Coda Bakery, home of fabulous Vietnamese sandwiches

JP, my former boss at Intel prides himself on consistently working “half days.” If you’re thinking you’d like a job where you work only four hours a day, you’ve misinterpreted his definition of “half days.” To him, half days is a literal term meaning twelve hours a day.  When most of us are done for after only nine or ten hours, he was just starting what he calls his “second shift.”  Very few of us have the stamina, initiative and especially the passion for what we do to work “half days.”

I know restaurateurs for whom half days (or longer) are standard six or seven days a week.  Because they spend so much time in their restaurants tending to the care and feeding of others, they tend not to eat there–when they make time to eat.  On their rare days off or when they’re able to make time for a quick escape, they like to visit their fellow restaurateurs, not necessarily to check up on the competition, but to be pampered and fed well.

The expanded dining room

Some restaurateurs would make great restaurant critics though they do tend to be overly “honest” when describing direct competitors, restaurants which serve the same type of cuisine they do.  On the other hand, if you’d like to know where to find cuisine that meets exceedingly high standards, ask your favorite restaurateurs where they like to dine, particularly with family.  If they’re effusive  about a restaurant, you should make it a point to visit soon.  It’s a good bet you’ll like it too. 

Marc Quinones, the über talented executive chef at Mas Tapas Y Vino  is a huge fan of M’Tucci’s Italian Restaurant,  listing ten reasons he loves about the restaurant in an interview with AbqLive.  In another example of a restaurateur with a pedigree of great restaurants unabashed with praise for another great restaurant,  Daniela Bouneau, the vivacious dynamo who partnered with her husband Maxime to launch Torinos @ Home and Eclectic Urban Pizzeria  is positively besotted with Basil Leaf, a Vietnamese gem.

Top View of Coda Combo (Jambon, Headham, Vietnamese Ham, BBQ Pork, Pate)

Though she would probably have preferred most of my restaurant meals and words of praise be reserved for the her restaurants, Daniela emailed me a few years ago with a rousing endorsement for a restaurant she and husband Maxime discovered during a foray to the International District.  She admitted “Max and I were like kids last Saturday.  Oh my, so fresh and so good and very affordable, too.”  She then proceeded to recommend several dishes which struck her fancy.  Daniela has never led me astray, either at her fabulous restaurants or at one she’s recommended to me.

The restaurant which excited her so much is Coda Bakery (formerly Banh Mi Coda), a Vietnamese bakery which specializes in banh mi, the sandwich fusion which melds the freshness of Asian ingredients and the culinary ingenuity of the French.  Banh Mi Coda is situated next door to Cafe Trang, separated only by a sprawling parking lot from Talin Market.  In a previous instantiation, Coda Bakery was also named Lee’s Bakery (not to be confused with the California-based Lee’s Sandwiches) and was located on the west side of the commodious Cafe Trang complex.

Right: House Marinated Grilled Pork
Left: Vietnamese Pork Meatball

When you enter the Lilliputian digs, your olfactory senses will experience the sensual delight of fresh, warm oven-baked breads and pastries.  As the intoxicating fragrances waft toward you, you’ll start to take in the visual aspects of your soon to be dining experience. Immediately to your right as you walk in are bold, color photographs of the eleven sandwich options, each foot-long banh mi seemingly not much smaller than the eatery.  Until 2017, Coda Bakery had only a handful of tables, all in personal space proximity.  An expansion more than doubled seating capacity.  Culinary treasures are showcased under glass, the objects of much ogling and lust.

Your first visit should be reserved for the name on the marquee, a banh mi unlike any other in the Duke City, a sandwich Albuquerque The Magazine named one of the city’s 12 yummiest sandwiches in its annual Food & Wine issue for 2012.   The basis for any great sandwich is the bread into which sundry ingredients are cradled.  Fresh-baked, out of the oven into your waiting hands, twelve-inch French baguettes are the foundation of these banh mi.  Each sandwich includes pickled carrots and daikon, cucumber, cilantro, sliced jalapeño and Vietnamese mayo.  Even the deli meats used on these sandwiches are made in-house and are available for purchase by the pound.  The eleven sandwich options include two vegetarian choices: over-easy egg and tofu (also made on the premises).

Top: House Marinated Grilled Chicken
Bottom: Beef Lemongrass Wrapped in Grape Leaves

The French baguettes may resemble sub sandwich bread, but the similarity stops there.  Unlike the thick, doughy, pillowy bread proffered by the sub sandwich chains, these baguettes are crispy on the outside and have a soft interior without being doughy.  Characteristic of banh mi, these sandwiches will never be accused of being overstuffed.  In fact, they look positively paltry compared to subs stuffed with lettuce.  The difference is in the profusion of flavors you’ll experience with every bite.  The ingredients are unfailingly fresh, crisp and moist.  From grilled pork and chicken to shrimp sausage and cold cuts, the “innards” of each sandwich are as flavorful as can be imagined.

3 April 2018: The Coda Combo (jambon, head ham, Vietnamese ham, BBQ pork and pate) is an excellent introduction to the delicious possibilities of a Vietnamese sandwich. If the aforementioned ingredients sound unfamiliar, if not daunting, fear not. Jambon is a wet-cured, boneless ham. Pate is a pork and liver spread. They–and the other ingredients in this combo–are absolutely delicious, and not just in an exotic, adventure-eating sort of way. The grilled pork banh mi, much like traditional Vietnamese grilled pork entrees, is redolent with the sweet spices of anise and cinnamon. Complemented with the sweet-savory-tangy pickled vegetables, it’s a wonderful sandwich.  Even if you’re a bit pusillanimous around piquant peppers, make sure your sandwich includes at least a few jalapenos.  They add more than piquancy. 

Green Chili Chicken Pate Chaud

10 February 2015: There’s a Lemony Snicket quote which might just be appropriate for Banh Mi Coda’s Vietnamese Meatball Banh Mi: “Miracles are like meatballs, because nobody can exactly agree on what they are made of, where they come from, or how often they should appear.”  The photo on the wall depicts a baguette brimming with meatballs.  There aren’t nearly quite that many meatballs on the banh mi.  In fact, meatballs are rather sparse.  Perhaps that’s because a few meatballs go a long way.  Texturally the meatballs are akin to meatloaf, the soft, squishy inside, not the crusty exterior.  In terms of flavor, they’re a perfect foil for the other ingredients.  More savory than sweet, the meatballs are a wonderful filler for any sandwich. 

13 March 2015:  It took the Lenten season for me to notice that one of the banh mi options on the daily menu is a shrimp sausage banh mi with spicy mayo.  Consider my oversight a lost opportunity to enjoy a rather unique sandwich.  Unless you’ve previously had shrimp sausage, it’s wholly unlike what you might picture shrimp sausage to be.  Picture a soft, moist patty of finely minced shrimp with a binding agent of some sorts.  It’s seasoned very well, particularly when the spicy mayo (which you’ve probably had with sushi) is part of the picture.  Spicy is a bit of a misnomer unless you also bite into a jalapeño concurrently.  This is one of those non-meat items that as a Catholic, doesn’t taste at all like a penance.

Cha Chien

21 July 2011: For a surprising combination of Vietnamese and New Mexican ingredients, the green chili (sic) chicken pate chaud is a must-have. Under glass, it resembles a German apple strudel, but this is far from a dessert offering.  As with banh mi, it’s a French influenced dish.  A homemade puff pastry is engorged with shredded chicken and green chili in a cream sauce.  The golden crust is light and flaky, the shredded chicken and cream sauce a delight and the green chili actually has bite.  Call this one a Vietnamese empanada and you wouldn’t get much argument from any New Mexican who tries it.

21 July 2011: One of the items Daniela recommended most highly was the pandan waffle, wholly unlike any conception of a waffle you might have. Pandan is an herb with long green leaves. It not only imbues the waffles with a bright green coloring, but with a discernible flavor and aroma. Also prominent on the flavor profile is coconut milk. Pandan waffles are moist and don’t require syrup. They’re also surprisingly good.

Fresh, Right out of the Oven Cinnamon Raisin Croissant

10 February 2015: With all due apologies to the famous Frontier Roll, the Duke City’s very best anytime pastry may well be Banh Mi Coda’s fabulous Cinnamon Raisin Croissant.  While not crescent-shaped or as flaky as most, if not all, of the croissants you’ve ever had, it has the delicious properties of croissants at their best.  Tear into the spiral-shaped, sugar encrusted beauty and wisps of steam will waft upward toward your eagerly anticipating nostrils.  The insides are pillowy soft with melt-in-your mouth qualities and the sweetness born of raisins a plenty as well as sugar and cinnamon, but not too much of either.  If you’re tired of pastries so sweet that looking at them rots your teeth, you’ll love this one. 

In its annual Food & Wine issue for 2017, Albuquerque The Magazine awarded Ban Mi Coda a Hot Plate Award signifying the selection of its Beef Lemongrass Banh Mi as one of the “dishes…that’s lighting a fire under the city’s culinary scene.”  Considering the thousands of potential selections, to be singled out is quite an honor.

Pandan Waffles

The premise that restaurateurs and chefs know where to eat wasn’t lost on the Food Network whose program “The Best Thing I Ever Ate” answers the question “where do food stars and chefs eat in their free time–when they’re paying.” It make sense that people who spend their lives obsessing about food during their half days or longer at the kitchen would know where it’s served best. Banh Mi Coda is one such restaurant.

Coda Bakery
230-C Louisiana Blvd, S.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 232-0085
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 3 April 2018
1st VISIT: 21 July 2011
# OF VISITS: 9
RATING: 23
COST: $$
BEST BET: Pandan Waffles, Green Chili Chicken Pate Chaud, Coda Combo Banh Mi, Grilled Pork Banh Mi, Vietnamese Pork Meatball Banh Mi

Banh Mi Coda Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Rising Star Chinese Eatery – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Rising Star Chinese Eatery on San Antonio

Let’s get one thing straight. General Tso’s chicken is not some weird cold war Chinese one-upmanship response to Colonel Sanders’ Kentucky Fried Chicken. In other words, China did not deliberately seek to outdo the United States by creating a chicken dish and naming it for a General, a rank superior to the rank of Colonel. Not even close! Back in the early 50s, Colonel Harlan Sanders actually did create a revolutionary way of preparing poultry (pressure fried, eleven herbs and spices, yada, yada, yada).  General Zuo Zongtang (romanized as Tso Tsung-t’ang), on the other hand, did not create the dish named for him. Nor did he ever eat it. In fact, he never even heard of it. It wasn’t even invented in China…or at least, not in mainland China. So, just who was General Tso and why does America love his chicken?

General “Tso” was a war hero who expelled thousands of rebels from China during its fourteen year civil war. It could be said the rebels turned chicken and ran, but that’s about as close as the General ever got to the battered and sauced chicken dish bearing his name. If anything, you can credit another Chinese leader, the infamous Chairman Mao Zedong for being the inadvertent catalyst behind the invention of the dish (and who would want to name a dish for him). When Mao ascended to chairmanship of the Chinese Communist Party, many of the classical chefs who had served the court fled to Taiwan. Among them was Chef Peng Chang-kuei who became a successful restaurateur in his adopted homeland. In the 1950s, Peng created a dish he named in honor of General Tso.

The Dining Room

When immigration laws in the fruited plain were relaxed, enterprising Taiwanese chefs brought with them Chinese dishes theretofore unknown in the United States. Many of them were radical departures from stereotypical Chinese-American dishes (such as chop suey) popular at the time. Among the captivating new dishes was General Tso’s chicken which was “Americanized” to suit native palates. Over the years it has done more than just suit American palates. It’s become one of the most popular of all “Chinese” dishes and is served in Chinese restaurants throughout the fruited plain though it’s not necessarily prepared exactly the same way from one restaurant to another.

After watching “Hunt For General Tso,” a hilarious TED talk by Jennifer Lee (author of  The Fortune Cookie Chronicles), inexplicable cravings began gnawing at me for this most mysteriously named of Chinese dishes.  But where should my cravings be sated?  Would it be one of my tried-and-true favorites Budai Gourmet Chinese, Ming Dynasty or Chopstix, all of whom would undoubtedly serve me a delicious version of the dish?  Then it hit me.  Why not try a restaurant I’d never before visited?  Why not try the Rising Star Chinese Eatery, the most popular Chinese restaurant in the Land of Enchantment?

Crab Rangoon

Who says it’s the most popular Chinese restaurant in New Mexico?  24/7 Wall St., a financial news and opinion company with content delivered over the Internet, says so.  According to the internet media presence, there are approximately 41,000 Chinese eateries across the fruited plain. “In recognition of Chinese cuisine’s proud place in the American culinary tradition,” 24/7 Wall St. created a list of the most popular Chinese restaurants in each state. Employing criteria as complicated as Chinese logograms and which included Yelp reviews as well as dozens of restaurants reviews, polls, and other internet sources, the best from among the Land of Enchantment’s 166 Chinese restaurants was deemed to be Albuquerque’s Rising Star Chinese Eatery which has an average Yelp rating of 4.5 stars.

If you’ve never heard of or visited Rising Star, you’re not alone. Despite favorable reviews from both Albuquerque Journal and Alibi critics, not everyone has had a reason to visit the San Antonio Drive area just west of Wyoming. It’s a very nice neighborhood, but not necessarily centrally located–and it’s not (yet?) a dining destination as it has very few options. One of them, Taco Shel is in the same nondescript strip mall as Rising Star which itself occupies a space in which another Chinese restaurant previously resided. Rising Star is family owned and operated. Like the creator of General Tso’s chicken, the owner came from Taiwan and has more than three decades in the food industry. Rising Star has been serving Duke City diners since 2014.

Hot and Sour Soup

As with so many Chinese restaurants across the city, Rising Star follows a pretty standard template that includes a lot of food for very little cost. For both lunch and dinner, a number of combination meals are available for several dollars less than you’d pay for an appetizer alone at other restaurants. Lunch and dinner combinations are served with your choice of rice (with noodle substitution for a pittance), soup and an egg roll. Should you care to explore the menu and order something other than the combination plates, you’ll find a phalanx of options: appetizers, soups, fried rice, veggies, noodles, chicken, beef, pork, shrimp and chef specialties. Gluten-free, low carb and low sodium options are available upon request.

Alas, my menu exploration was brief because General Tso beckoned. Shortly after placing my order, a server delivered an order of Crab Rangoon, a dish whose origin is in dispute. Some claimants believe it’s strictly an American dish; the fact that one of its chief ingredients is Philadelphia cream cheese lends credence to that theory. Others contend the dish was invented in Myanmar whose capital city was once named Rangoon. At any regard, the crispy star-shaped wontons stuffed with cream cheese, crab and sundry ingredients is a popular starter not very common in China. Thankfully Rising Star doesn’t sweeten the cream cheese as so many other Chinese restaurants do though it does serve its Crab Rangoon with a luminous sweet sauce. You’ll enjoy them more without that sauce. You’ll enjoy them even more if they’re misdirected to your table and you’re not charged for them as was the case with me. Though I offered to pay for them, the genial owner insisted “they’re on the house.”

General Tso’s Chicken with Fried Rice and Egg Roll

Rising Star’s version of General Tso’s chicken features breaded dark meat chicken lacquered with a chili-spiked sweet and sour (mostly sweet) sauce. Perhaps in deference to American tastes, the chili lacked any bite. In deference to the palates of chile-loving New Mexicans, it should have had piquancy a plenty. To my tastes (I rarely order Americanized Chinese food), there wasn’t much to distinguish the dish from other fried, breaded, sweet sauced chicken dish. The popularity of the dish seems to indicate most diners enjoy it this way. The accompanying egg roll, hot and sour soup and rice were rather on the ordinary side, but considering the cheap eats price point, that was expected.

Being named the most popular Chinese restaurant in New Mexico is quite a coup for Rising Star. A very favorable cost to portion ratio is just one reason. The staff treats guests very well and is on the spot with refills when you need them.

Rising Star Chinese Eatery
7001 San Antonio Drive, N.E., Suite S
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 821-6595
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 2 April 2018
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET:  General Tso’s Chicken, Crab Rangoon, Fried Rice, Egg Roll, Hot and Sour Soup
REVIEW #1035

Rising Star Chinese Eatery Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Year in Food: March, 2018

Kimberly Duncan, pizzaioli extraordinaire at the 34th Annual International Pizza Expo (the Pizza Superbowl)

American journalist Anna Quindlen declared “ideas are like pizza dough, made to be tossed around.” At the International Pizza Expo in Las Vegas, everyone who is anyone in the independent and chain pizza industry gets together to share ideas, expand their knowledge and toss dough in pizza skills competitions. No one tosses dough as well as Robert Yacone and Kimberly Duncan, the high-energy and even higher in personality quotient dynamic duo who own and operate the incomparable Forghedaboudit in Deming. In the 2018 Expo, Kimberly’s pulchritudinous pepperoni and sausage pizza placed third in the Southwest region (California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Texas, Utah and Oklahoma) and fifth in the country in the traditional pizza category. In 2017, she won the Southwest region, placed second in the United States and fourth in the entire world.

Competing in the non-traditional pizza category, considered the most difficult competition at the Expo, Robert created a pizza which exemplifies creativity and genius: grilled jerk shrimp, applewood smoked bacon, avocado, mushrooms, Piave 18 month aged cheese, Bacio mozzarella lemon-lime zest topped with basil on a four-day old cold rise crust topped with garlic and olive oil!. Only two points separated Robert’s masterpiece from first place in a competition that pitted the best pizzaioli in the world. If you’re not beating a path to Deming right now (don’t forget to get reservations), you’re missing out on one of the best traditional pizzas in the world and a non-traditional pie I’d give my right arm for. Now go!

Robert Yacone Competed in the Non-Traditional Category at the International Pizza Expo in Las Vegas

For the second consecutive year and third time overall, Santa Fe Chef Martin Rios became a finalist for the James Beard Foundation Awards in The Best Chef Southwest category, coming oh-so-close to earning the award in 2015 and 2017. One of New Mexico’s most heralded chefs, Rios continues to enthrall New Mexico diners with his innovative Progressive American cuisine at his eponymous Restaurant Martin. Since launching his restaurant, Rios has earned nine James Beard award nominations. Chef Rios is much too talented to become the Susan Lucci of the culinary world.

12 Tomatoes, an online presence whose byline is “Simple Recipes. Serious Flavor,” noted that while not every state in the fruited plain has an official state dessert, “each and every state is at least known for something sweet.” Reading the 12 Tomatoes list of the most iconic dessert in each state just might “be enough to make you want to take one sweet road trip.” So, what does 12 Tomatoes consider the most iconic sweet in the Land of Enchantment? Why, the bizcochito, of course. The feature described the bizcochito thusly: “A sweet, buttery cookie flavored with cinnamon and anise, Bizcochitos became the official state cookie of New Mexico almost 30 years ago.”

Minestrone Invermaie from Il Bosco in Albuquerque

New Mexico hasn’t been widely heralded as a state in which great barbecue is to be found. That may be changing thanks to a small purveyor of bodacious barbecue in Tucumcari. Yes, Tucumcari. In February, Tucumcari’s Watson’s BBQ garnered national recognition from Thrillist as one of the best small town restaurants in the country. Just one month later, Watson’s earned an even more significant honor, being named one of the 50 best barbecue restaurants in America according to Yelp. Watson’s ranked 35th in the meaty pantheon. On 89 reviews (as of this date), Yelp reviewers gave Watson’s five stars.

In an episode of Food Paradise entitled “More Bite for the Buck,” the Travel Channel showcased where “frugal foodies across the country” go “to savor the savings while indulging in high quality meals without the high prices, from four dollar fried chicken tacos and one buck shucks to half-priced rib eyes and bargain breakfast bites.” The only restaurant in the Land of Enchantment to make the list is The Pantry in Santa Fe which for some reason, the program’s map depicted as being located in the Farmington area. “Widely known as Santa Fe’s meeting place,” The Pantry “has been a home away from home for generations of Santa Feans” giving guests a “bang for their buck.” Food Paradise noted that ” the food may be cheap, but it’s definitely rich, in particular the stuffed French toast.”

February, 2018

Santa Fe’s Heralded Geronimo

According to 24/7 Wall St., a financial news and opinion company with content delivered over the Internet, there are approximately 41,000 Chinese eateries across the fruited plain. “In recognition of Chinese cuisine’s proud place in the American culinary tradition,” 24/7 Wall St. created a list of the most popular Chinese restaurants in each state. Employing criteria as complicated as Chinese logograms but which included Yelp reviews, the Chinese Restaurant Foundation’s annual Top 100 Awards as well as dozens of restaurants reviews, polls, and other internet sources, the best from among the Land of Enchantment’s 166 Chinese restaurants was deemed to be Albuquerque’s Rising Star Chinese Eatery which has an average Yelp rating of 4.5 stars.

In some cultures, such foods as ballut (fertilized duck egg with its partly developed embryo insidel), chapulines (grasshoppers), huitlacoche (corn smut) and cazu marzu (rotten Pecorino cheese) are considered delicacies. To the editorial staff of Topix Off Beat, a technology company focusing on entertainment and news media, these foods would be considered “gross.” Topix compiled a list of the grossest food from every single US state. Using such terms as “horrifying foods, “worst regional food” and “some of these are bad,” the foods listed may gross out the non-foodies among us, but gallant gastronomes would very likely enjoy most of them. According to the third graders who wrote this feature, the grossest food in the Land of Enchantment is the green chile sundae. Topix had this to say: “New Mexicans put green chile in everything. EVERYTHING. Why should ice cream be any different? I don’t know, maybe it’s because it’s a frozen dairy dessert. What is your damage, New Mexico?” Huh?

Posole from Warrior Fuel in Bernalillo

From the world’s most luxurious steaks to the season’s most vibrant veggies, diners across the country are going wild for homegrown goodness at these popular farm-to-table restaurants.” That was the premise of the Travel Channel’s Food Paradise episode entitled “Farm to Feast,” a term synonymous with Albuquerque’s Farm & Table. Since its launch in 2012, Farm & Table has been an exemplar of fine dining using locally grown produce, sustainable seafood and grass-fed beef. The short segment featuring Farm & Table showcased Chef Carrie Eagle’s terrific tortilla burger made with sharp Tucumcari Cheddar and roasted green chiles folded into a perfect bite and served with French fries and a side of pinto beans.

Urban America doesn’t hold exclusivity when it comes to great restaurants across the fruited plain. There are terrific eateries throughout rural America. They may not get the publicity of their big city brethren, but some are every bit as good…or better. Within the Land of Enchantment, restaurants such as Deming’s Forghedaboudit, Peñasco’s Sugar Nymph Bistro, El Rito’s El Farolito and Carlsbad’s Danny’s Place have garnered much-deserved attention from national press. Thrillist compiled its list of the absolute best small-town restaurants in the country. New Mexico’s best small town gem was deemed to be Watson’s BBQ in Tucumcari. Ensconced within a family-owned hardware store, Watson’s serves “mouth-watering brisket, ribs, potato salad, and beans to hungry travelers and locals working in the ranching biz.”

A six pack from Bristol Doughnut Co.

Setting the table for romance involves an array of ingredients: scrumptious food, alluring ambiance, and bespoke service.” So says OpenTable whose Most Romantic Restaurants list for 2018 honors “the seductive spots at which couples are creating connections and savoring delicious memories.” The list of honorees is based on more than 12,000,000 reviews of more than 26,000 restaurants across the country — all submitted by verified OpenTable diners. Only one restaurant from New Mexico made the list, but it’s one for whom the term “romantic’ is certainly appropriate. New Mexico’s most romantic restaurant for 2018 is Santa Fe’s legendary Geronimo.

Not so fast, Geronimo. Food & Wine has its own opinion as to the Land of Enchantment’s most romantic restaurant. Just in time for Valentine’s Day, Food & Wine published its list of America’s most romantic restaurants. In its estimation, Tesuque’s Terra within the Four Seasons Rancho Encantado is as romantic as it gets. Food & Wine declared “If the glorious sunsets and sweeping mountain views at Terra don’t scream romantic to you, chances are nothing will. (Its garden-to-table dishes will also catch your eye.)”

Sweet Potato Waffle Fries From Groundstone

Two of the most prolific and talented chefs in the Land of Enchantment were named semifinalists in the James Beard Foundation Awards for 2018. A 2017 semi-finalist in the Rising Star Chef of the Year category, Colin Shane, chef at Arroyo Vino in Santa Fe, repeated in that category in 2018. Also repeating as a semi-finalist is Martin Rios, a 2017 finalist for Best Chef: Southwest category. Since launching Restaurant Martin, Rios has earned eight James Beard award nominations. Rios is actually a two-time finalist for the Best Chef Southwest category, coming oh-so-close in 2015 and 2017.

It’s probable that if you see a restaurant featuring “Chimayó chile” on its menu, the chile actually came from somewhere else. In an article entitled “Why This New Mexico Chile Has An International Cult Following,” Food & Wine lamented that the Chimayó Chile is so precious that a counterfeit market has emerged. Chimayó chile, a distinctly orange-reddish chile craved by connoisseurs the world over is the most prized culinary item in the agrarian community half an hour north of Santa Fe. Despite being so prized, it is grown only in Chimayó and only in small batches by farmers whose families reap the bounty of their harvests. The chile is grown from original heirloom seeds passed down from generation to generation.

Miso Soup from Sushi & Sake in Albuquerque

The humble donut has come along way in recent years, from an obligatory morning staple serving mainly as the basis for cop jokes to an object of obsession that replaced cupcakes as the “everyday sweet treat that everyone’s making all fancy” of the moment.” Thrillist notes “the common denominator” in its compilation of the 31 best donut shops in Americais the kind of eye-rolling satisfaction that’ll dictate a “yes” when you inevitably ponder whether or not to eat another one.” Frankly, you shouldn’t ever have to ponder whether or not to eat another one. That’s especially true at Thrillist’s sole heralded donut from New Mexico, Whoo’s Donuts in Santa Fe. Thrillist raves about the blue corn donut” “Just imagine a corn muffin that was made with blue corn and then cross pollinated with a donut with fantastic results. Then go eat one so you no longer have to imagine.”

Silver City’s loss has become St. Louis, Missouri’s gain. In 2016, James Beard nominated chef Rob Connoley left the very highly regarded The Curious Kumquat and moved to the Gateway City. Two years later, he launched Squatter’s Cafe which was recently featured in a mostly complimentary review from the St. Louis Post Dispatch. The review chronicled his self-taught, second-career chef journey, an unconventional trek that includes modernist cooking and foraged ingredients. The review declared his latest venture ” one of the most interesting and appealing breakfast-lunch restaurants to open in St. Louis in recent memory.”

In 1680, Northern New Mexico’s Pueblos orchestrated a bloody revolt to expel Spanish settlers from the Land of Enchantment. On the Travel Channel’s Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern program, the host explored the route taken by Pueblo leader Po’pay and the united Pueblo peoples during the revolt. In a very respectful tribute to “America’s First Revolution,” Zimmern visited several pueblos and the Jicarilla Apache Nation where he explored native traditions and learned about the pre-contact (the period before the contact of New Mexico’s indigenous people with the Spanish culture) diet and its healthful benefits. Among the delicacies he sampled were porcupine heart, acorn mush cake and elk jerky.

Over the years, Albuquerque has garnered a lot of notoriety. Thanks largely to a television show about crystal meth, it’s been stereotyped and besmirched. What it’s never been called is underrated. That is, not until Thrillist put together a compilation of the Most Underrated Cities to Visit in All 50 States. For some reason, Albuquerque was named New Mexico’s most underrated city. Huh? Thrillist advises prospective visitors to “forget you ever saw an episode of Breaking Bad and you’ll be floored by Albuquerque.” Among the many reasons Albuquerque is underrated is “the The Southwestern influence” which “gives ABQ an impressive food scene, with spots like El Pinto and the James Beard Award-winning Mary & Tito’s Café.”

January, 2018

Green Chile Cheeseburger from Cafe Laurel

If you visit a New Mexican restaurant and you’re offered red or green “sauce,” you might have to question if (like Bugs Bunny) you made a left turn in Albuquerque and wound up in Denver.  Virtually no one calls our sacrosanct red and green chile “sauces.”  That is virtually no one who’s lived in the Land of Enchantment for a while or the Travel Channel.  In an episode of Food Paradise entitled “Saucy,” the Travel Channel showcased some of the best sauce-driven dishes across the fruited plain. Recognized for its red and green chile “sauces” was Santa Fe’s Tia Sophia’s, a veritable institution on the famous Plaza.

In its February issue, Sunset Magazine named Albuquerque as one of “20 Game-Changers That Are Redefining the West,” ranking the Duke City 17th.  “Considering the strong public-art program, miles of hiking trails, and 310 annual days of sunshine, it’s no wonder the locals don’t boast. They’re too busy living,” wrote Sunset’s editors.  Sunset also noted “coffee roasters, restaurants, and food trucks are launching to keep up, many of them focused on local, organic produce, especially New Mexico’s beloved green chile.”

Foie Gras (Hudson Valley Foie, Caramelized Apple, Pickled Strawberry, House Ciabatta) From M’Tucci’s Market & Pizzeria in Albuquerque

To get all existential about it – how do I know the perfect donut for me is the perfect donut for you? The truth is there really is no Perfect Donut because we all love different things. So at Rebel Donut, we are all about options.”  How’s that for an appealing mission statement or operating philosophy, not that Rebel Donut’s Web site calls it that.  With that level of commitment to variety and people pleasing, is it any wonder Albuquerque’s Rebel Donut was named “The Best Donut Shop in New Mexico” by Delish.  Like Rebel Donut, Delish believes “there’s no wrong way to eat a donut.”  To compile its list of each state’s best donuts, Delish consulted Yelp, increasingly the most reliable crowd-source on culinary matters.

In most of America, winter sucks. It is cold out. You don’t feel like doing anything, so you get fat. Pipes freeze. Lips, noses, and cheeks get chapped and raw. Black ice kills.”  That’s how Thrillist began its feature “Every State Ranked By How Miserable Its Winters Are.”  Not surprisingly the state whose winters were deemed most palatable was Hawaii while Minnesota’s winter was rated most miserable.  New Mexico was ranked 45th in the winter misery index, meaning our winters are the fifth best across the fruited plain.  It may raise your temperature to learn that Thrillist believes “New Mexico is basically Colorado” because we both “have high plains, mountain ranges, deserts, basins, and affiliations to green chile.”

Nutella and Cinnamon Cream Crepe from Breve

BuzzFeed which purports to have “all the trending buzz you’ll want to share with your friends” consulted Yelp to uncover the top new restaurant that opened in 2017 in every single state.  Taking into account the number of reviews and star ratings for every new restaurant on the site, Buzzfeed then compiled a list of “the one restaurant to try in every state in 2018.”  New Mexico’s very best new restaurant, according to Yelp’s algorithm was Fresh Bistro in Los Ranchos de Albuquerque.  Yelper Bella B. described Fresh as “Lovely French- and Italian-inspired creations will keep you enticed at this charming, cozy, and newly transformed restaurant in Los Ranchos.”

Cheapism, an online presence which scours the internet for news stories and resources that are informative and fun and can help you save money, acknowledges that “no shortage of cheap, delicious pizza across America, but sometimes something that demands a little more finesse, like veal parmigiana or ravioli heaped with red sauce, is required.”  In tracking down “the best old-school Italian restaurant in every state,” believed there could only be one choice for the best Italian restaurant in New Mexico.   Joe’s Pasta Houseoffers an oasis of Italian just north of Albuquerque. Go traditional with a dish like carbonara, ziti alla vodka or gnocchi, or try the well-reviewed Southwestern fettucine, which has green chile and crushed red peppers for a local twist.” 

Salad with Green Chile Ranch Dressing from Seared

A coffee shop’s design often reflects its neighborhood.”   Perhaps only an architect would think in those terms.  The rest of us typically walk into our favorite coffee shops in a weary and bleary state and only after a caffeine fix do we even notice the ambiance which surrounds us.  The Architectural Digest published its list of the most beautiful coffee shop in every state in America.  The Land of Enchantment’s most beautiful coffee shop was deemed to be Zendo in Albuquerque.  Here’s what the Digest had to say: “On warm days, the outdoor patio at Zendo is open for seating, marked by a colorful mural and covered by sailcloth. The minimalist interior—white-washed brick walls and concrete floors—is pretty sweet, too.” 

Grabbing guac? Craving queso? Dips reflect history, a sense of place and evoke a strong sense of home-state pride, whether they feature locally caught seafood, export-worthy cheese or indigenous produce. So grab that cracker, chip, fry or veggie, and dig into the dips that give each state something to sing about.”  That’s how the Food Network Magazine began its feature 50 States of Dips.  Arizona’s best dip is salsa while California goes gaga for guacamole and Colorado gets mountain high over choriqueso (from a restaurant called Chili Verde).  Representing the Land of Enchantment is the Frontier Restaurant’s Green Chile Salsa. “The salsa gets a double dose of heat from flame-roasted green chiles and jalapenos, which are simmered with sautéed onions, tomatoes and spices and served warm.” 

Green Chile Cheeseburger from the Pecos River Cafe in Carlsbad. Photo Courtesy of Melodie K.

A Travel Channel program called Roadside Eats: Top 20 counts down the “top 20 restaurants in America that might just require a little extra mileage to get to. Just off I-25 in the desert hamlet of San Antonio is the world-famous Owl Cafe where the original owner Jose Miera is credited with having invented the green chile cheeseburger.  The Owl Cafe was the only restaurant in New Mexico to have made the list, but savvy New Mexicans know that the Buckhorn Tavern another destination roadside eat lies just across the street from The Owl and it’s not just The Owl’s overflow crowds who visit.  San Antonio is an exemplar of roadside eats! 

The 2018 Roadrunner Food Bank Souper Bowl in Albuquerque

Every year on the Saturday preceding some much ballyhooed football game, Albuquerque’s Roadrunner Food Bank hosts the Souper Bowl, an annual soup and dessert event which brings 1,200 people into the Food Bank facility to enjoy the wonderful creations of restaurants from throughout the metro area.  While at the event, attendee are able to vote for and select People’s Choice winners by submitting a ballot voting for their favorite soup and dessert.   Drumroll, please. The 2018 Souper Bowl winners were: 

People’s Choice – Overall Soup Winners
1st: The Corn Maiden at the Hyatt Tamaya (Sweet Corn Chowder)
2nd: 99 Degrees Seafood Kitchen (Vegetarian Soup- plantain fennel and butternut squash)
3rd: Indigo Crow (Lavender and corn bisque with smoked crema)

People’s Choice – Vegetarian Soup Winners
1st: 99 Degrees Seafood Kitchen (Vegetarian Soup- plantain fennel and butternut squash)
2nd: The Daily Grind  (Blue cheese root vegetable)
3rd: Zacatecas Tacos (Negro Modelo-Tillamook Cheddar Soup

People’s Choice – Dessert Winners
1st: Nothing Bundt Cakes
2nd: Garduños
3rd: Theobroma Chocolatier

Best Booth
1st: Zactecas Tacos + Tequila+ Bourbon
2nd: 99 Degrees Seafood Kitchen
3rd: Sage Dining @ Albuquerque Academy

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: Sage Dining @ Albuquerque Academy (“Street” Elote Soup- Roasted Corn Chowder topped with Cotija Cheese)
2nd Place: Ranchers Club of New Mexico (Crab and Green Chile Chowder with Corn)
3rd Place: Garduños (Elote Soup)

Celebrating its 24th anniversary, Santa Fe’s version of the Souper Bowl was also a huge success. In 2017, over 160,000 meals were served that might otherwise been missed, thanks to the generosity of soup lovers, who supported this event. Some of the city’s very best purveyors of soup accorded themselves very well:

Best Overall Soup: Nath’s Inspired Khmer Cuisine (Chicken Tom Yum Soup)
Best Savory Soup: Nath’s Inspired Khmer Cuisine (Chicken Tom Yum Soup)
Best Vegetarian: Kingston Residence of Santa Fe (Cold Pistachio Soup)
Best Seafood Soup: Dinner For Two (Lobster Bisque)
Best Cream Soup: Jambo Cafe (Curry Roasted Garlic & Coconut Cream Bisque)

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