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Desert Grows – Los Ranchos de Albuquerque, New Mexico

The patio at Desert Grows

And he gave it for his opinion,
that whoever could make two ears of corn,
or two blades of grass,
to grow upon a spot of ground where only one grew before,
would deserve better of mankind,
and do more essential service to his country,
than the whole race of politicians put together.”
–  Jonathan Swift, Gulliver’s Travels

 Had Jonathan Swift not uttered those words of sagacious cynicism, there’s a good chance Armand Saiia would have.  It’s a sentiment that resonates with Armand, the effusive chef-owner of Desert Grows.  Sensing our confusion as we approached the towering trees providing sweet, salubrious shade to a charming courtyard, Armand welcomed us to one of the Duke City’s most unique and most welcoming milieus, assuring us that we were indeed at the right place.  Only partially joking, he explained that the goal of his restaurant is to “provide food on Route 66 for the 99-percent”  and that he would like to “turn the Route 66 upside-down as a sign that the 99-percent of us are in distress.”

Route 66, or at least the original route that meandered south from Santa Fe through Fourth Street is where Desert Grows is located though you won’t see much in the way of signage to let you know you’ve reached your destination.  Your best bet is to look for vertical flags in front of a converted stuccoed home directly across the street from the venerable Dan’s Boots and Saddles.  A weather-worn dirt road and sparsely graveled parking lot behind the restaurant does little to alleviate your confusion.  Then there’s a mobile food kitchen in a utility trailer which might lead you to wonder if Desert Grows is a food truck operation.  There’s also nothing to indicate the restaurant is within the stuccoed edifice.  When Armand guided us to a comfortable, shaded space on the patio, we knew there was nowhere else on Earth we’d rather be.

Heirloom Tomato Salad

Armand is a true Renaissance man with a passion for sustainable, healthy food, but unlike so many of the celebrated chef luminaries plying their trade in New Mexico, his path to a culinary career in the Land of Enchantment doesn’t include the usual matriculation at an accredited culinary school.  Instead of artistry on a plate, Armand’s chosen career path was as a painter and sculptor who attained success in New York City (and if you can make it there, you’ll make it anywhere), but being an artist only begins to define his assiduous life.  He’s also been a filmmaker, yogi, healer, wilderness camp instructor, organic farmer, restaurateur and chef.

It was his experiences in the restaurant field that would define his current life’s path.  Those experiences didn’t cultivate a myopic, profit-driven mindset; they awakened a passion to combat the “industrial food plague” which he contends contributed to the deaths from cancer of two wives.  He also believes that poor consumer health and suspect food quality is the ultimate cost of corporate agriculture and its mass production of inexpensive, chemically modified food.  The alternative, he says is sustainable, local agriculture which may cost more, but is so much better and more importantly, better for you.

Potato Wedges with Housemade Ketchup

About a decade ago, Armand’s passions led him to Ribera, New Mexico where he bought a nine-acre farm he christened Infinity Farms.  After tending to vegetable gardens and greenhouses for three years, the gentleman farmer expanded his operation, establishing Desert Grows, a nonprofit agency he chartered to encourage and support other small farmers in the valley.  For eight years, Armand even served as mayordomo for the acequias which are the life’s blood for all farms in the area. 

In 2014, Armand launched a restaurant he named The Desert Rose at the Fashion Outlets of Santa Fe, offering simple fare–sandwiches, salads, pastas and baked goods–to enthusiastic diners.  Despite critical and popular acclaim, he didn’t see eye-to-eye with the mall owners and relocated to Los Ranchos de Albuquerque where he launched Desert Grows.  The menu boasts of “serving 90% New Mexico locally and naturally grown or eco-sourced food,” The restaurant is provisioned with fresh local produce from his new acreage in the South Valley as well as his farm in Ribera and from La Montañita Co-op.

Brisket Tacos

Whether you’re passionate about sustainability and maintaining a small footprint or you’re just passionate about great food, Desert Grows has something for you.  It’s got breakfast and lunch Tuesday through Sunday and dinner by reservation only.   The lunch menu features salads, sandwiches and chef’s specialties such as an Italian meat loaf plate, carne adovada tacos and more.  Whatever you order is best washed down with organic apple cider (cherry, ginger, mint or lemonade apple).  It’s, by far, the best we’ve had in New Mexico. 

While the menu is replete with temptation, daily specials are equally alluring.  Armand is proud and passionate about everything on the menu, perhaps proudest of all of the heirloom tomato salad, a lush, lavish in-season cornucopia of freshness plated with artistic flair.  This bounty of the garden showcases beauteous red and yellow heirloom tomatoes whose juicy deliciousness belies their plum size, julienne carrots, red onions, red peppers and mozzarella slice drizzled with a beet vinaigrette.  It’s beautiful to ogle and delightfully delectable to eat.

Brisket Ribs with French fries and Coleslaw

If you see potato wedges scrawled on a slate board on one of the mobile kitchens window, you’re well advised to order them.  While technically not wedge-shaped (they’re more silver-dollar shaped), these terrific tubers, each about an eighth of an inch thick, are superb–maybe even better when dipped into the housemade (with fresh tomatoes) ketchup.  If you like the papitas served with so many New Mexican dishes, you’ll love these, though they may make you pine for red or green chile. 

Even though you won’t see a smoker on the premises, there are many ways to impart a barbecue-like smokiness to meats.  The brisket tacos are certainly imbued with the type of smokiness you’ll find in sanctioned barbecue competition.  It’s a light smoke intended to impart flavor and personality, not overwhelm the meats.  Tender tendrils of brisket blanketed by molten cheeses nestled in moist, pliable tortillas define these tasty tacos.  Carne adovada tacos are also on the menu, but this isn’t your abuelita’s carne adovada.  Armand uses five different chiles, not all New Mexican, on the adovada, imparting a piquancy that’ll please fire-eaters.


Barbecue aficionados will appreciate the boneless brisket ribs (any comparisons with Applebee’s riblets should subject you to flogging), a plateful of moist, meaty ribs glistening with a chocolate-mole barbecue sauce.  The unique sauce alone makes these ribs a great choice, but it’s the magnificent meat carnivores will appreciate most.  Though not quite fall-off-the-bone tender, each mouth-watering rib has a fresh-off-the-grill flavor.  The ribs are served with French fries (which are best eaten with the chocolate-mole barbecue sauce) and a tangy coleslaw. 

Desert Grows is no slouch when it comes to desserts.  Armand’s partner Betina Armijo bakes some of the best bizcochitos in town.  Four per plate of these anise-kissed cookies will leave you pining for more when they’re done.  Neither cake nor pie, bread pudding can be a carb-overload, ultra-decadent dessert too rich for some.  For others, bread pudding is a little slice of heaven.  Desert Grows’ bread pudding cake is so sinfully rich, moist and delicious it may leave you swooning.

Bread Pudding Cake

If you find yourself in the North Valley and you see a sign telling you you’re on Route 99, make your way to Desert Grows where all your cares melt away as you luxuriate in fresh food you can trust.

Desert Grows
6916, 4th Street, N.W.
Los Ranchos De Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 362-6813
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 26 September 2015
COST: $$
BEST BET: Heirloom Tomato Salad, Potato Wedges, Brisket Tacos, Brisket Ribs, Bizcochitos, Bread Pudding Cake

Desert Grows Kitchen Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Chopstix – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Chopstix Chinese Cuisine on the northwest corner of Lomas and San Pedro.

Chopstix Chinese Cuisine on the northwest corner of Lomas and San Pedro.

And I find chopsticks frankly distressing. 
Am I alone in thinking it odd that a people
ingenious enough to invent paper, gunpowder,
kites and any number of other useful objects,
and who have a noble history extending back
3,000 years haven’t yet worked out that a pair
of knitting needles is no way to capture food? 
~Bill Bryson

The precise date in which chopsticks were first used has been lost in time. Archaeological evidence found in burial plots indicates they are at least 3,200 years old though some scholars believe they’ve been around even longer than that. Even the evolution of chopsticks is in debate. Some surmise that chopsticks evolved from the practice of using wooden sticks to stir food as it cooked on large pots over an open fire. Others believe that hasty eaters broke twigs from trees to retrieve food as it cooked. Whenever their origin and whatever its genesis, chopsticks have, for thousands of years, been the main tableware of the Chinese. By the Fifth Century A.D., the use of chopsticks had even spread from China to present day Japan, Korea and Vietnam.

The dualistic philosophies of Yin Yang that seek universal balance and harmony even posit a correct way to use chopsticks so that the user forges a correct ration of sauce to meat. Their fundamental use remains unchanged over time. While many Americans have mastered the etiquette and techniques for using chopsticks properly, in the hands of others (including me), chopsticks become a lethal weapon, the attempted use of which might result in someone’s eye being gouged out.

The Chopstix dining room

Ironically, the only chopsticks you’ll see when you walk into Chopstix Chinese Cuisine are in the hands of deft users. On unoccupied tables, the place settings are spoons, forks, knives and a napkin. What makes this doubly ironic is that Chopstix, despite the Westernization of the name, is, along with the fabulous Budai Gourmet Chinese Restaurant, the most authentically Chinese restaurant we’ve found in Albuquerque.  How authentic?  For the unacculturated, it’s scary authentic with such rare specialties as chicken feet and pickled kohlrabi with pork and chive (both are delicious).

From its launch in 2005 until my inaugural visit, I received more e-mail about Chopstix than any other restaurant not previously reviewed on my blog. None of the e-mail was more passionate or compelling than one from Tom Donelan who described Chopstix as having “really excellent food with amazing and not familiar flavors.” Tom should know, having sampled 50 to 60 menu items.  While it’s not unusual for Chinese restaurants to have more than a hundred items on the menu, what is unusual for many diners is to sample so many of them.  Most diners seem to settle on a handful of select favorites.

Sesame Shaobing (left) and homemade Szechwan Sausage

Sesame Shaobing (left) and homemade Szechwan Sausage

Chopstix is ensconced in a nondescript shopping center on the northwest corner of Lomas and San Pedro. It occupies the space which once held Taeja, a highly regarded and widely popular Korean restaurant which closed in 2004. On its signage, the “x” at the end of the name Chopstix resembles a pair of chopsticks. The bottom end of the chopsticks (the end used for picking up food) is tapered to a blunt end. That, we quickly found out, is where the “Westernization” ends.

The menu at Chopstix is very similar to what you might find in the Chinatown district of a large Cosmopolitan city such as San Francisco or my former hometown of Boston. Every item on the menu is spelled out in English and in Chinese and is accompanied by a photograph. A plethora of healthful options, including several vegetarian dishes makes this menu unique in that it doesn’t specialize in the deep-fried, heavily breaded, candied meat favorites proffered elsewhere. The menu does include several of the “usual suspects” (Kung Pao Chicken, Sweet and Sour Chicken, Orange Beef), but the Chopstix’ version is  better and not nearly as Westernized.

Chinese Fried Bread with Sweetened Condense Milk

Additional dishes (specials) are posted in plastic sleeves on the east-facing wall. Many of these dishes are not to be found anywhere else in Albuquerque and rotate in and out seasonally and as customers request. To my surprise, there were several menu items I hadn’t seen since my days in Boston.  The cuisine is Beijing-style which focuses on poultry and vegetables and relies heavily on spices (though not as extensively as Szechwan style cooking) and breads. This style of cuisine is surprisingly not that common, even in Cosmopolitan cities throughout America.

Most of the dishes are truly authentic, prepared as they would be in Beijing itself, without modification for American tastes. These dishes are prepared from scratch and take meticulous preparation time before they reach your table. When the restaurant is busy, it can mean long waits. While that may tax the patience of some Americans, many of Chopstix’ customers are Chinese who don’t seem to mind the wait. It’s certainly worth it.

The hot and sour soup is really HOT...and thoroughly delicious.

The hot and sour soup is really HOT…and thoroughly delicious.

The appetizer section of the menu lists twelve appetizers including the ubiquitous egg rolls. Appetizers also include sesame shaobing, a layered baked flatbread with sesame on top. In texture, shaobing bears some semblance to naan, the wonderful Indian flatbread.  It’s crispy on the outside and soft on the inside.  Unlike naan, however, shaobing is virtually devoid of flavor, not even salt.  In Taiwan, it’s served for breakfast with soy milk, a combination considered the most iconic breakfast in Taiwan.

The shaobing is accompanied by a standard “pot sticker sauce” (soy sauce, ginger and rice wine vinegar) for dipping, but savvy diners order the shaobing with their meals instead of as an appetizer. Dredging up the sauce on some of the entrees with shaobing is an improved use of a very tasty, very utilitarian bread that you just don’t find in many Albuquerque Chinese restaurants.

Shrimp with garlic sauce, the best we've had in New Mexico.

Shrimp with garlic sauce, the best we’ve had in New Mexico.

20 May 2012: Though New Mexico doesn’t currently have a full-fledged Chinese bakery, a surprisingly wide variety of Chinese bakery goods can be found in Chinese restaurants throughout Albuquerque (the dim sum menu at Ming Dynasty, for example, offers several). Only at Chopstix will you find Chinese fried bread, a deep-fried cruller that’s a Hostess cupcake shade of gold served with sweetened condensed milk which has a “frosting” like effect on the bread. It’s akin to having a Chinese donut. Only a scalding cup of coffee could possibly improve on this Chinese fried bread.

4 August 2007: Another appetizer unique in Albuquerque to Chopstix is Szechwan Sausage. While Szechwan cooking is characterized by spicy and piquant food, the Sausage barely registers on the piquant scale, but is redolent with spices (ginger, star anise, dried red chili and wild pepper), making it a very flavorful appetizer.  Szechwan sausage is made from shredded fresh pork, both lean and fat meat cuts.  You’ll occasionally bite into a sinewy bit, but for the most part, the texture of the sausage is akin to that of many German dry sausages.

Mustard with dried bean curd.

Mustard with dried bean curd.

17 March 2007: There’s a lot of truth in labeling when an asterisk (*) prefaces a dish. That means the dish is hot and spicy. Even the hot and sour soup (one of three soups on the menu) is gunpowder incendiary. It’s also as delicious and comforting as any hot and sour soup we’ve had, with throat and stomach warming properties that move it near the top of my favorite soup list.  There are plenty of woody mushrooms on this soup, a sign of its authenticity.

17 March 2007: Near the very top of my list of outstanding garlic shrimp entrees I’ve ever had is the Chopstix version. Laden with minced garlic and populated with barbed hot peppers, it is intensively flavored and preternaturally delicious. Prepared to absolute perfection were the dish’s vegetables: sweet snow peas, julienne carrots, green peppers, white onions and more. The sauce is incredibly flavorful, a perfect accompaniment to the aforementioned shaobing.

Dong Bo Pork on a Hoison-Soy Sauce

17 March 2007: Chinese physicians tout the healthful properties of mustard seed (which contain lots of protective substances called phytochemicals, which may inhibit the growth of existing cancer cells and help prevent normal cells from turning into cancerous ones), while diners will tout the surprising deliciousness of mustard with dried bean curd. Somewhat resembling, in both taste and appearance, the mustard greens so popular in Southern cooking, this dish doesn’t have the intense flavoring of the garlic shrimp, but it may be the most surprisingly good version of “greens” I’ve ever had. 

20 May 2012: If the Chinese dish of mustard with dried bean curd resembles the mustard greens of the Deep South, Chopstix’ rendition of Seafood Noodles has only a passing resemblance to the Caldo de Siete Mares served in many Mexican mariscos restaurants.  It more closely resembles a Vietnamese pho with a rich broth redolent with the flavors of the bounty of the sea–shrimp, crab, squid and fish.  The baby bak choy lends a slightly bitter flavor profile while the thick rice noodles provide one of life’s best pleasures, that of slurping perfectly prepared, almost buttery noodles.

Vinegar and sugar ribs

Vinegar and sugar ribs

4 August 2007: Pork entrees include Vinegar and Sugar Ribs in which pork ribs are stewed with soy sauce, Chinese vinegar, various seasonings and what is likely brown sugar. Not everyone appreciates a sweet and savory combination, and even if you do, this may be too much of a good thing–as in not enough taste contrasts for you to continue enjoying it with the same gusto as you had when gnawing the meat off the first few bones. 

20 May 2012: In recent years, perhaps as an offshoot of bacon’s popularity, one of America’s favorite gourmet cravings has been for pork belly.  The Chinese version is called Dong Bo Pork and it’s fabulous.  On the bowl in which it’s served, it bears an almost off-putting resemblance to fatty pork served in ink or tar.  The sauce in which it is served is a Hoisin-soy sauce mix that’s wholly unnecessary, but quite good.  This half-lean meat and half-fat pork belly dish is a wonderful study in textural contrasts, but if you like pork regardless of texture, it’s a dish you’ll love.

Chicken with Ginger

2 October 2015:  Little chili icons next to specific items on the menu denote levels of spiciness.  Several items are rated one chili, but only one item has two chili icons next to it.  That’s the chicken with ginger, a unique dish unlike any we’ve had in Albuquerque.  Lightly breaded chicken usually means tender and moist, but not on this dish.  Texturally the chicken is chewy and crisp with not as much moistness as you might expect.  Piquancy is courtesy of finely chopped bird peppers as well as stir-fried ginger strips.  It’s not the type of piquancy which should intimidate most New Mexicans, but it’ll make most of us happy.

Several entrees are accompanied by steamed white rice, but for a pittance you can also have fried rice, with or without pork. Chopstix’ version of fried rice isn’t as soy sauce salty as most fried rice you’ll find in Americanized Chinese restaurants. It lets other flavors speak out for themselves.

Seafood Noodles (Baby Bak Choy, Shrimp, Crab, Squid, Fish)

You should never visit Chopstix alone because while every item might be good, you miss out on the fun and adventure of sharing and even a good thing (like the Vinegar and Sugar Ribs) might be too much of a good thing. There is much to like and much to be explored at Chopstix, a restaurant which may have a Westernized spelling, but which serves some of the best, most authentic dishes of any Chinese restaurant in New Mexico. This one will remain highly placed on my rating list!

6001 Lomas Blvd, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Web Site

LATEST VISIT: 2 October 2015
COST: $$
BEST BET: Mustard With Dried Bean Curd, Shrimp With Garlic Sauce, Sesame Shaobing, Hot & Sour Soup, Seafood Noodles, Chicken with Ginger, Vinegar and Sugar Ribs, Dong Bo Pork, Chinese Fried Bread with Sweetened Condense Milk

Chopstix on Urbanspoon

Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Year in Food: September, 2015

Fabulous Flan from Canvas Artistry in Albuquerque

“Forget Hatch chiles. It’s time to celebrate the Pueblo chile.” That’s how Westword, a Denver-based free alternative newspaper began a feature on the Colorado State Fair’s celebration of Pueblo chiles. Colorado governor John W. Hickenlooper jumped on the bandwagon, proclaiming forever after, September 5, 2015, as Pueblo Chile Day. Perhaps there will come a day in which an article will be written about Pueblo chile (or chile from anywhere in Colorado) in which Hatch chile isn’t mentioned. That’s not likely any time soon.

What’s the very best thing to eat in New Mexico? According to Thrillist, our definitive best thing to eat is chicken enchiladas, Christmas-style from Santa Fe’s Tune-Up Cafe. Thrillist declared “All due respect to the fantastic and widely praised green chile burger at Santa Fe Bite, but we think the greatest chile-based dish in this state happens to involve chicken enchiladas at Tune-Up Cafe. Also, isn’t the term “Christmas-style” just kind of the greatest of all shorthands? And isn’t it even better that it involves mixing red and green chile?

Stuffed Sopaipilla from El Sabor De Juarez

For the third consecutive year, Santa Fe celebrated another of the Land of Enchantment’s best things to eat. Eight local chefs competed for top honors at the Green Chile Cheeseburger Smackdown with judges declaring Chef Enrique Guerrero’s #2 (on the menu of the Bang Bite food truck) number one. The winning burger was constructed from five kinds of chile, bacon, pepper jack cheese, avocado and roasted green chile mayonnaise. The People’s Choice Award went to Chef Anthony Smith of the Eldorado Hotel’s Agave Lounge.

Ten restaurants from throughout the Land of Enchantment convened at the New Mexico State Fair to compete at the annual Green Chile Cheeseburger Challenge. For the second year in a row, a panel of celebrity judges accorded “best” honors to Fuddrucker’s, a decision which surprised those of us who believe it takes a New Mexican to create a great green chile cheeseburger. Bravo!, yet another chain restaurant (and Italian to boot) took second place honors. As is often the case, the people disagreed with the judges, according the “People’s Choice” award to Sparky’s.

Giandula from Frost Gelato in Albuquerque

The Food Republic “where food, drink and culture unite” acknowledged that other than surrounding states, “much of the rest of the country has no idea what” green chile season in New Mexico “is all about. “For many people, the green chile means a jalapeño, poblano or — even worse in the minds of purists — the impostor chilies sold by companies trying to capitalize on the fame of their beloved New Mexican staple.” For others such as William Stafford, co-owner of Sadie’s of New Mexico, who was quoted in the article, “green chile is life.” Sadie’s uses “around 1,000 pounds per week in its four locations” and has “always used chile from the Hatch region. To use anything else is unimaginable.”

Add “Restaurateur of the Year” to the many accolades Robert Vick has earned during a stellar culinary career. The popularity of Vick’s Vittles, his family-style restaurant, can be attributed not only to hearty, delicious food, but to Vick’s commitment to reasonable prices, personal customer service and large portions. The peripatetic restaurateur meets and greets all his guests to make sure they’re enjoying their dining experience. With a planned expansion that will double Vick’s Vittles, twice as many people will find out why this restaurant is one of the city’s best.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year – chile roasting time, that is.

Did you know that “the trick to getting a proper taste of Santa Fe is learning to balance the tried-and-true chiles and smothered enchiladas with the newer, more adventurous options.” That’s according to Coloradoan, a Fort Collins-based online site which published a “guide to the best food and drink spots for your next weekend getaway in Santa Fe, New Mexico.” Among the restaurants the Coloradoan loved were The Shed, Cafe Pascual’s, La Choza, Tune-Up Cafe and Harry’s Roadhouse.

Instead of the classroom, many of us matriculated at our favorite hamburger hang-outs near the University. It’s part of the American college experience. Recognizing this, Thrillist put together its list of the 21 best college burgers in the fruited plain. It shouldn’t surprise any Lobo (and everyone’s a Lobo, woof, woof, woof) that the Frontier Restaurant‘s Fiesta burger with green chiles, cheddar, and lettuce, made the list. The Frontier which sits “right across from campus, is most newbies’ first experience in the art of New Mexican cooking.” The Fiesta burger will leave a lasting experience.

Deluxe Prime Rib from Slate Street Cafe in Albuquerque

You may have noticed an orange shield on the navigation menu of Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Blog. It’s in recognition of the Surveybee having singled me out as one of 30 interesting and active bloggers who review everything from restaurants to beauty products. Surveybee, by the way, invites you to “make the most out of your free time and make money by taking online surveys.

Doesn’t it just make sense that an FYI Network program calling itself “Big Kitchens” would visit El Pinto, New Mexico’s most commodious restaurant. In an episode entitled “Massive New Mexican,” the program noted that “El Pinto’s massive kitchen can feed up to three thousand people a night.” The program followed twin brothers John and Jim Thomas as they lead their kitchen team as they prepare three tons of food every night.

Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Blog Named One of the Best Review Blogs for 2015

Andrea Lin Retires

For just shy of ten years, Duke City diners have faithfully turned to Andrea Lin for advice on where to eat. Andrea, the Albuquerque Journal’s luminous restaurant critic, posted her final review for the Journal on September 18th and hopes to take her best reviews from the Journal and publish them so they’ll be at the fingertips of anyone without a newspaper subscription. There’s a lot of material for a “best of” Andrea Lin compilation. Before writing for the Journal, she wrote some 50 to 75 reviews for the Duke City Fix. In 9.6 years with the Journal, she wrote about 499 reviews without missing a single week.

Characteristic of Andrea’s incomparable wit and wisdom are her answers to a few questions I posed after she told me of her impending retirement:

Q: How has the Duke City restaurant scene evolved since you started? A: A lot. And, not very much. When I began, Jennifer James was trying to convince people to Graze on her perfectly balanced food. These days I think she’s well-established, but I also know folks who consider her high-falutin’ and would rather go have a burger. Although, her burger is phenomenal… Our New Mexican is still quite good, though a few of my favorites have moved around or reconfigured. You still can’t beat a Frontier breakfast burrito, or a bowl of red from Sadie’s (ask for it with a fried egg on top), or carne adovada from Mary & Tito’s. Farm to table is both an overused buzzy phrase and a real, important thing. Could you imagine paying $14 for a locally-grown meal-sized salad 10 years ago? But now there’s Vinaigrette, and The Grove, and The Shop, all taking from the foundations set by places like Flying Star and building in both creativity and reach. All of these places are to be lauded.

Q: What you’ll miss most about writing about the Albuquerque culinary culture? A: I love the weirdness of Albuquerque’s mashup of cuisine. We have pretty good Chinese but only a few outstanding places. Our Italian and French are pretty lacking (in quantity), but our Thai and Vietnamese are everywhere. We have a fair amount of good Mexican, but of course that must compete with New Mexican and that’s a hard contest, so most of them just serve both. My favorites are the hard-core sticklers like Mary & Tito’s on the New Mexican side, or Antojitos Lupe on the Mexican side. I also have found that very few places in the United States love HEAT as much as we do. Texans might be in the same ballpark, but no one comes close. Not Arizona, or California, or Colorado, or the south from what I can tell. We just love to have our taste buds enflamed and our endorphins racing.

Q: Any last words you’d like to say to your readers? A: Thank you, to everyone. I’ve made many good friends in the food world here in town and in the state. Without readers I wouldn’t have been going for 10 years, of course. My editor at the Journal was wonderful and it has been a good experience.

August, 2015

Orange Peel Chicken with Brown Rice from Fan Tang in Albuquerque

Vacation Idea, the online dream vacation magazine believes “foodies traveling to Santa Fe are in for a treat” because the city’s diverse restaurant offerings “showcase dishes from around the world.” Whether you’re vacationing in Santa Fe or you’re traveling there from within the Land of Enchantment, Vacation Idea has several ideas you might want to heed. Its 21 Must-Try Santa Fe Restaurants list includes some of the city’s best including: Osteria D’Assisi, Izanami, The Ranch House, Atrisco Cafe & Bar and several other highly regarded eateries this blogger will be visiting soon.

Not that long ago, a compilation of the best burritos across the fruited plain would probably have been shortlisted to only a few states, those with significant Hispanic populations: Texas, California, Arizona and of course, New Mexico. Thrillist’s compilation of the 33 best burritos in America includes burritos from such once unlikely states as Georgia, Massachusetts, West Virginia, North Carolina and even Colorado. The only New Mexican restaurant to make the list is Santa Fe’s La Choza. Thrillist recommends you “first order a cup of the green chile stew as an appetizer and then go red, to cover all your taste buds’ bases.”

Orange Beef from Chen’s in Albuquerque

Although it’s been four years (2011) since the New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail was last updated, the Tourism Department initiative continues to garner nationwide recognition. USA Today asked its readers to vote for their favorite from among ten culinary trails across the fruited plain. You can joke that New Mexicans know a thing or two about stuffing the ballot boxes, but it’s unlikely the New Mexico green chile cheeseburger would have earned enough votes without the support of so many visitors who have fallen in love with our sacrosanct sandwich. USA Today acknowledged that “the dish has been served here for decades, and several venerable roadside joints claim to be the original, including the Owl Café in San Antonio and the original Blake’s Lotaburger in Albuquerque, but it hardly matters: you can find delicious examples all across the state.”

Inc., a monthly American publication focused on growing companies doesn’t focus solely on Fortune 500 companies. It’s got a soft spot for the backbone of American business, the traditional mom-and-pop operation. Inc. discovered that “family-owned Pop Fizz is cooling off scorching-hot Albuquerque with its frozen treats — while trying to revitalize the image of its neighborhood.” Pop Fizz, “a popsicle shop, or paleteria, is a beloved part of the South Valley” created by the entrepreneurial Alvarez family in 2013. In a scant two years, its operations have expanded to the Hispanic Heritage Center.

Fried Chicken from Gravy

“Hatch chile is such a commodity.” That’s the misguided opinion of the Whole Foods Market regional produce manager who decided to drop Hatch green chile in favor of Pueblo chiles. That means infecting most of the Rocky Mountain region (including Colorado, Utah and Idaho) with more than 125,000 pounds of the brown…er, green stuff. It’s a good thing Whole Foods Market doesn’t bring Pueblo grown chile to the Land of Enchantment or another war between the states might ensue.

While Pueblo chile has gained a foothold in the Rocky Mountain region, the LA Creamery in Los Angeles has come up with “another chile way to cool down.” “For the second year, the ice cream company is making a Hatch green chile ice cream, to be sold exclusively through Bristol Farms stores.” Alas, only 800 pints will be made so they’re sure to go quickly. Creamland, are you reading this?

The Pauley with a side of fruit from the Oak Tree Cafe In Albuquerque

For years Bob of the Village of Los Ranchos has been shouting from the rooftop about how great the red chile ribs at Albuquerque’s El Pinto are., a popular mobile application that allows users to quickly find nearby points of interest such as restaurants, agrees, declaring that “not only is El Pinto”New Mexico’s most iconic restaurant, it is also one of the best Mexican restaurants in the country.” In an article entitled “21 states and their most iconic restaurants,” aroundme indicated El Pinto is “known for their red chile ribs” and “sure is steps above the rest of the many Mexican restaurants in the state.” Bob, when did you get a job writing for

July, 2015

Turtle Cheesecake from Sara’s Pastries & Deli

USA Today invited readers to feast on ten great summer cookbooks, “arriving just in time for outdoor grilling, family picnics and making the most of your garden’s goodies.” It wouldn’t be summer without barbecue and for many of us, it’s not barbecue without barbecue sauce. For the sauce lovers among us, The Barbecue Lover’s Big Book of BBQ Sauces by Santa Fe’s own Cheryl and Bill Jamison will surely help us earn our “Kiss the Cook” aprons. July also saw the release of The Restaurant Martin Cookbook, the last collaboration by the Jamisons before Bill’s passing in March.

Zagat, the “go-to guide for those obsessed with exceptional experiences” claims New Mexicans are obsessed with a specific food. Care to guess what it might be? Could it possibly be something red, hot and green? It’s really a no-brainer. New Mexicans are absolutely obsessed with red and green chile, our official state vegetable.

Lemon cheesecake (left) and Turtle cheesecake (right) from New Yorken in Albuquerque

If it’s July, grilling and barbecuing activities are at their peak throughout the Land of Enchantment, but nowhere more than in Rio Rancho which hosted its 12th annual Pork & Brew at the Santa Ana Star Center. Some of the very best competition barbecue teams in the fruited plain competed in the event, including seven of the top 25 teams in America. Though New Mexico was well represented in the competition, none were among the top five finishers. Rio Rancho’s own Rub-N-Wood did earn the Mayor’s Award.

It seems every time a national publication compiles a “best” of any food, the “usual suspects” always seem to represent the Land of Enchantment…and they almost always seem to be from either Santa Fe or Albuquerque. It’s as if new restaurants, especially those outside Santa Fe and Albuquerque, can’t possibly compete with the venerated restaurants which have always made the “best of” lists. Kudos to, a lifestyle and travel site, for uncovering a hidden gem worthy of acclaim, if not adulation. In naming Davido’s of Rio Rancho the “best pizza in New Mexico,” Pixte wrote “great value for money with its monstrous portion sizes, you’ll never leave here hungry. Perfect balance of quality and quantity.”

Veal Saltimbocca from Joe’s Pasta House in Rio Rancho

Travel + Leisure showcased the world’s best cities as voted by readers. Santa Fe was voted the fourth best city in the United States and Canada. “Beyond the turquoise clichés and New Age philosophizing,” Travel + Leisure discovered “the key to Santa Fe” is “in the characters we meet along the way.” Some of those characters were uncovered in Santa Fe’s restaurants, among them Cafe Pasqual‘s, Restaurant Martin and El Parasol.

“With its fresh mountain air, farmer’s-market cuisine and mellow ambiance,” Albuquerque was rated number five for peace and quiet, number ten for wine and number one for picnics in a Travel + Leisure readers’ poll. Locals and visitors are urged to “fill your basket with fresh fruit and plenty of local flavors, like burritos from Java Joe’s or green-chile bacon quiches from New Mexico Pie Company.”

Adana Shish Kabob Combo from Anatolia in Albuquerque

Twenty-one of New Mexico’s finest restaurants were recognized by Wine Spectator magazine for inclusion in the publication’s 2015 Restaurant Awards, which highlight restaurants around the world that offer the best wine selections. Among the Duke City honorees were the Artichoke Cafe and the Ranchers Club. Santa Fe selections included Il Piatta and Luminaria. Blades Bistro from Placitas and Arroyo Seco’s Sabroso were among the seven restaurants to make the list from outside Albuquerque and Santa Fe.

Bakers Royale, Naomi Robinson’s cozy online corner “where baking meets random thoughts and musings,” spent some time in Santa Fe where the writer got “hands-on experience with how to make the red and green chile sauce New Mexico cuisine is known for.” In addition to visiting the Santa Fe School of Cooking, Robinson visited a number of Santa Fe’s most widely acclaimed eateries: The Pantry Restaurant, Tomasita’s, Eloisa and others. She urges visitors to dispense with calorie-counting while visiting Santa Fe and above all not to “be that visitor and ask for skinny, made-to-order portions.” Great advice!

Inside-Out Burger from Central Grill in Albuquerque

Chef John Rivera Sedlar might have read Thomas Wolfe’s book “You Can’t Go Home Again,” but he didn’t follow that advice. After four decades of plying his craft in California, the Santa Fe native returned home to launch Eloisa, a restaurant which both reinterprets and honors New Mexico’s culinary traditions. Located within the Drury Plaza Hotel, Eloisa was named one of Eater Magazine’s 21 best new restaurants in America” for 2015. Calling Eloisa a “command performance,” Eater Magazine proceeded to heap praise on Chef Sedlar’s celebration of “local culture with more modern nuance than any other menu in town.”

The Las Cruces Convention and Visitor’s Bureau launched the Las Cruces “Walk of Flame” Green Chile Trail which invites locals and visitors to “experience a traditional green chile Mexican dish, or go off the beaten path and try one of the specialty plates, such as pecan encrusted green chile strips, green chile-meat lasagna, green chile chicken wontons, green chile hummus, green chile posole, green chile stew, cream of green chile, green chile mashed potatoes, green chile sausage soup and other exclusive dishes.”

Butterup Knife

I’ve longed contended (and this isn’t pandering) that readers of Gil’s Thrilling…are the most discerning and intelligent gastronomes in New Mexico.  Case in point.  I recently received an email from my friend Bruce Schor pointing out that Bob of the Village People shilled for the Butterup knife well before it was featured on August edition of Bon Appetit.  Despite driving a mid-century Pontiac Firebird and a daily spritz (or five) of Old Spice, Bob keeps up with all the pop culture trends.  Compared to Bob, Bruce and I are dinosaurs.

June, 2015

Los Equipales, a magnificent Mexican restaurant, shuttered its doors on June 26th

While trying to get to Las Vegas, Nevada in 1945, Bugs Bunny accidentally wound up in Germany where for the first time he utters the recurring line “I should have made that left turn at Albuquerque.” Realtors across the fruited plain have come to the realization that many people aren’t making any turns when they arrive in the Duke City. They’re here to stay. For them, the blog, the lighter side of real estate, provides “29 things you need to know about Albuquerque before you move there” Among the sagacious tips: Green Chile: Love it or Leave Town; Great Community Food at the Grove Cafe; You may not Know the Mufin Man, but Everyone Knows the Candy Lady; The Perfect Ron Swansonable Steak (from Farm & Table at “rustic Old Town”); All Other Bread Will Pale in Comparison (from the Golden Crown Panaderia); These Donuts, Oh Man, These Donuts (from Rebel Donut); and Your BBQ Search is Over at Mr. Powdrell’s BBQ House.

Every state in the U.S. has a unique flavor. Foursquare’s data science team identified the singular tastes of all 50 states and Washington, D.C., using a mix of data sets (menus, tips, ratings, and more) and normalizing for size against other states. The editorial team then reviewed the data and selected the winning taste that is most special and unique to each state. Dispensing with the statistical jibber-jabber, it’s no surprise that what New Mexicans crave more than any other state–255 percent more, in fact–is sopaipillas. Among the restaurants Foursquare recommends you get them are La Choza. It’s entirely likely that some of our neighbors cross into the Land of Enchantment for the tastes they crave: chile verde in Utah and chili (SIC) rellenos in Colorado.

Judy’s Catsup from Santacafe in Santa Fe

When Westword, the self-professed “first and the last stop of the day for anyone who wants to know what’s going on in Denver” published its “ten best green chiles in Denver for 2015” edition, New Mexican transplants saw red and green. Westword described it as ““fast and furious—mostly furious.” Almost a thousand Facebook posts, mostly from New Mexicans, described in no uncertain terms just what they think of chile in Denver–and it’s not much. Westword conceded that their neighbor to the south has a ” long history of growing chiles and enticing tourists with its pure and flaming version that doesn’t sport even the barest tint of orange.” Obviously the writer has never been to the Land of Enchantment at the tail end of harvest season.

A list of the “25 Best Things to Do in Albuquerque” is sure to evoke at least a little controversy, especially if it doesn’t list a few restaurants in between all those museums, the tramway, Old Town and the like. Vacation Idea, the “dream vacation magazine” tells perspective vacationers they should include Farm & Table, Vinaigrette, Budai Gourmet Chinese, The Grove Cafe & Market, Jennifer James 101 and the Artichoke Cafe among those 25 things all vacationers should do in the Duke City.

Banana Pudding from Vick’s Vittles in Albuquerque

When it comes to most quality of life categories, New Mexico seems to rank perpetually near the very bottom where we compete with such states as Mississippi, Arkansas and Louisiana for lowliness. You might think that the Land of Enchantment wouldn’t fare very well on Thrillist’s “Definitive and Final Ranking of All 50 States,” but that wasn’t the case. New Mexico actually ranked 23rd. The reasons given (no surprise here): “GREEN. CHILE. Also sand. And, like, pretty good skiing.”

Drive Happy. It Comes With the Territory! That’s what Alamo Car Rental has been telling us for years. So with all the driving their clients do, how well does Alamo know a territory near and dear to our heart? In its estimation, Alamo knows the Duke City territory well enough to compile a list of Albuquerque’s best attractions? Those attractions include two restaurants whose “homemade chili sauces are quite popular even outside Albuquerque, which is why they can be found in grocery stores throughout the country.” Chili? Apparently Alamo thinks Albuquerque is in Texas. In the Land of Enchantment, we spell it “chile.” 

Drive to Teofilo’s in Los Lunas and you may just find the food is so good you’ll want to stay there.

Guilty Pleasures.  We all have them.  So do Food Network glitterati who reveal their “best-kept, most-intimate, guilty-pleasure secrets for the first time ever.”  The Food Network’s “Guilty Pleasures” program visits the locations to hobnob with the chefs who “make these crazy ooey-gooey, “I can’t believe I’m eating this” food masterpieces.  Top Chef America star Alex Guarnaschelli lusts after the Frito Pie (and Ribs) plate at Santa Fe’s Cowgirl BBQ, an indulgence she says offers something different in every bite.

May, 2015

Brussels Sprouts Salad from The Shop Breakfast and Lunch in Albuquerque (Photo Courtesy of Hannah Walraven)

One of the most mirthful events during the merry, merry month of May is Cinco De Mayo, a relatively minor holiday in Mexico, but one which has evolved into a celebration of Mexican culture and heritage throughout the fruited plain. Every May, it seems, brings with it a compilation of the “top Mexican restaurants” in America by virtually every online list compiling site. Gayot, “the guide to the good life,” named Mary & Tito’s to it’s top ten Mexican restaurant list, citing it for “exemplary red chile” which “smothers just about everything here from eggs to tamales to the fresh-tasting chile rellenos.”

At least Yahoo Food is honest enough to reveal that Cinco de Mayo has come to be embraced as a celebration of Mexican food, beer, tequila, culture, and more food…even if, like Gayot, it doesn’t know the difference between Mexican food and New Mexican cuisine. Its own compilation of the “best Mexican restaurants” in America included only one restaurant from the Land of Enchantment. Yahoo Food urges visitors to “do what the locals have been doing for the last 65 years: head over to The Pantry and make sure to order the famous huevos rancheros.”

Crawfish Etouffee from N’awlins Mardi Gras Cafe in Albuquerque

Thrillist calls nachos “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.” Elusive though they may be, great nachos can be found at “taquerias, bars, and holes-in-the-wall” throughout America. Thrillist put together a list of the 21 best nachos in America. The Brisket Nachos at El Patron in Las Cruces made the list thanks to “smoky, flavorful meat paired with refried beans, tomatoes, lettuce, guacamole, and salsa on top of authentic, house-made tortillas.” Also making the list were the Nachos Grande at Cecilia’s Cafe in Albuquerque, described as “bursting with flavorful ground beef, guac, beans, cheese, and more, all on crispy tostadas.”

Four New Mexican restaurants made it onto MSN‘s its list of America’s 75 best tacos: The Shed topped the list with its taco plate: “two fresh blue corn tortillas with baked chicken topped with green chile, Cheddar cheese, onion, lettuce, and tomato.” “If a great taco requires perfection in all of its elements, then the carne adovada at Mary and Tito’s, heaped into a fresh corn tortilla, is undeniably world-class.” “Only three types of tacos are available (chicken, ground beef, and shredded beef)” at Santa Fe’s El Parasol but “what tacos these are.” For sheer value, you can’t beat the 99-cent tacos at Tacos Mex Y Mariscos in Albuquerque. MSN urges you to “peruse the menu and pick out something a little out of the ordinary, like cabeza (head) or tripas (which are intestines, not tripe), but their al pastor taco is sure to please even the least adventurous eater.”

Italian Sandwich from the Empire Board Game Library in Albuquerque

If you’re dubious about the credibility of all these online lists purporting to rate the best of this or the best of that, Thrillist may have given you even more reason to question the veracity of these lists. In compiling its list of the “Best BBQ in America,” Thrillist reached out to a “verbose restaurant reviewer who can’t write his own name in under 100 words.” (Shameless self-promotion here.) The “best in show was a toss-up between Danny’s and Sparky’s” with Danny’s from Carlsbad getting “our nod because of the gall involved in tearing up a Dairy Queen franchise agreement when they wouldn’t let him add his own smoked meats to the menu.”

“No longer just a side dish, great fries deserve recognition in their own right.” That’s why MSN Food & Drink “consulted expert reviews and local recommendations to find the true standouts from every state.” The Land of Enchantment’s best fries were also “voted best fries in Albuquerque as a part of Alibi’s Best of Burque Restaurants in 2013.” “Holy Cow’s hand-cut fries do not disappoint. They come in regular, sweet potato, and zucchini varieties, and each huge order is enough to split two or three ways — but there’s no guarantee you’ll actually want to.”

Hot buttered tortilla from Duran’s Station in Albuquerque

The aptly named Cheap Tickets blog “scoured North America for bargain-priced, refreshingly creative plates, and found eleven, all ten bucks or under. The Frito Pie Bowl at Santa Fe’s Beestro “may seem pedestrian to some foodies out there, but this match-up is a legendary throwback to the Woolworth’s original and now served with flair and a fun-loving attitude at this super-cute farm-to-table bistro (the owners are sweet on honey bee products and preservation) in downtown Santa Fe. “

Turophiles everywhere across the fruited plain sing “This cheese is your cheese, this cheese is my cheese” for at least fifty different reasons. Cheeserank compiled a list of the fifty best cheese recipes from the “fifty best United States.” All the usual suspects–cheese dip (Arkansas), cheesesteak (Pennsylvania), mac and cheese (Colorado), etc.–made the list. So did New Mexico’s fabled green chile cheeseburger. As Cheeserank explains “You can’t be from New Mexico and not love green chiles (it’s the law).”


Still much missed, the wonderful Sheepherder’s Cafe

The Food Network’s “Great Food Truck Race” spent a day in Santa Fe Plaza shooting a big food competition segment for the season premiere episode airing later in August, 2015. It’s the second time the Great Food Truck Race has filmed in Santa Fe. One of the factors making Santa Fe so attractive to the food competition is New Mexico’s fabled green chile. Five food truck teams rolled into the City Different and tried their hand at preparing dishes showcasing chile. Show host Tyler Florence and Santa Fe’s multi-time James Beard Award nominee Martin Rios judged their dishes. Stay tuned!

Emage Magazine, renowned internationally for its fashion sense, placed Golden Crown Panaderia‘s dashing and debonair owner-chef Chris Morales on its cover for issue 40. Unlike some previous cover models who doffed most of their clothing, Chris was pictured in his his baker’s whites for the shoot. The publication date will be announced soon.

April, 2015

Scallops from M’Tucci’s Kitchina (Photo Courtesy of Hannah Walraven)

Ponder the simple French fry. It’s not one of those sexy, glamorous foods that easily comes to mind when you’re famished. In fact, most of us don’t think of French fries unless we’re also thinking of burgers. The Daily Meal, perhaps the most prodigious creator of culinary content in the blogosphere, apparently thinks about fries more than most of us do. In compiling its third ever list of America’s fifty best fries, the Daily Meal traversed the length and breadth of the fruited plain. Only one restaurant in the Land of Enchantment made this sacrosanct list, ranking 14th. It’s not surprising that our best fries come from The Santa Fe Bite whose pommes frites were described as combining “the best of Tex-Mex with burgers and fries.”  Tex Mex?  “Their wedge fries are stellar, and if you’re feeling adventurous, ask for the green chile cheese fries. They’re a secret menu item that locals rave about.”

Cowboys & Indians, a Western lifestyle magazine covering Western art, rodeo, cowboys, the cowboy way of life, westerns, music, television, food, and travel gave readers a taste of the West’s culinary pioneers and innovators on their food issue for 2015. You can’t discuss culinary pioneers and innovators without mentioning scintillating four-time James Beard award-winning author Cheryl Alters Jamison. Cheryl, a proud Tesuque resident, shared the recipe for Rancho de Chimayo’s legendary carne adovada. The recipe was excerpted and adapted with permission from The Rancho de Chimayó Cookbook: The Traditional Cooking of New Mexico, 50th Anniversary Edition by Cheryl Jamison and her husband Bill Jamison.

Red Chile Mocha from The Brew on Gold Street in Downtown Albuquerque

To New Mexicans, there is nothing as thoroughly soul-satisfying and utterly delicious as our ubiquitous green chile cheeseburger. We have a fierce pride in that most simplistic, but explosive, flavor-blessed union of a thick, juicy beef patty grilled over an open flame or sizzled on a griddle then blanketed in cheese and topped with taste bud awakening, tongue tingling, olfactory arousing green chile. USA Today honored our ubiquitous green chile cheeseburger by placing the New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail on the pantheon of greatness that is “America’s Most Indulgent Food Trails.” USA admitted “There’s no better way to splurge than with a juicy burger and New Mexico’s Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail is the hottest of its kind, literally.

Homer Simpson, that everyman philosopher posited an essential philosophical question: “Donuts. Is there anything they can’t do.” in recent years, donuts in New Mexico have garnered their share of recognition with both Duke City Donuts and Rebel Donut being singled out for national recognition. Recognizing that donuts are a “full-blown trend now, as artisanal donut shops have risen up like those magical yeasty treats all across America,” Thrillist named the 33 best donuts in America. New Mexico was well represented by Santa Fe’s Whoo’s Donuts, which inspired “one rather chubby act of selfishness” for the Thrillist feature writer.

Tilapia Quesadilla from Papa Nacho’s

Albuquerque took quite a beating from the national media in 2014, but Travel and Leisure was paying attention to the positive aspects in the Duke City. In recognition of its “affable citywide demeanor” Albuquerque was ranked ninth from America’s ten friendliest cities. Though you can pick up “faux crystal-meth candy from The Candy Lady or even the “Blue Sky” donuts at Rebel Donut,” Travel and Leisure cautions not to spoil your appetite because the Duke City has “a large presence on the state’s so-dubbed Breakfast Burrito Byway” where you’ll find “two classic spots…The Frontier and Burrito Lady. “

You’ve got to admire Thrillist and its patriotism for reminding all red-blooded Americans that “it’s your duty — nay, your destiny — to eat as many different varieties of your birthright food as humanly possible.” That birthright food is the quintessential American sandwich. Thrillist compiled a “bucket list of 50 sandwiches across America that you should eat before you die (probably from eating so many sandwiches).” Where this list reigns supreme over similar lists is that it doesn’t cop-out and add a couple burgers to the list. Santa Fe’s Palacio Cafe made the list with its “Taos Style” sandwich, a “mix of roast beef, Provolone, chopped green chile, caramelized onion, and mayo on panini-pressed sourdough.”

Marinated Grilled Tilapia from Jambo Cafe in Santa Fe

There are New Mexicans who even under the threat of water-boarding would never concede that Colorado grows, prepares and serves an edible green chile, much less one that’s delicious. In that respect we differ from Thrillist which ranked the “green chile legends” of Denver. The “one single criterion for ranking them: deliciousness,” which means “zero debates about the Colorado vs. the New Mexico style — because who gives a flying frijole?” Huh? As if to give credence and consolation to New Mexicans who’ll fight to the death over the supremacy of our chile, almost every chile pictured on the article has a brownish patina. So there!

According to Wikipedia, “the traditional etymology for April is from the verb aperire, “to open”, in allusion to its being the season when trees and flowers begin to “open.” Alas, sometimes in April restaurants close, too, including one of only two restaurants (Mary & Tito’s is the other) to earn a rating of “27” on this blog. Epazote, the fabulous milieu serving incomparable world cuisine served its last magnificent meal two weeks before the closure of Bert’s Burger Bowl, a Santa Fe institution for 51 years. Both restaurants were owned and operated by Fernando Olea, a gentle man if ever there was one. The gracious chef is enjoying a well-deserved retirement.

From the Flying Star‘s new menu: Hidden Treasure (Thai coconut red curry sauce, grilled chicken, fresh veggies over your choice of organic Jasmine or brown rice)

THREE FOR MAY: One of the most important things a restaurant can do to ensure longevity in a very dynamic business climate is to listen to its customers. In response to customer feedback and the perception that menu items were too pricey, the Flying Star revamped its menu, offering several lower-priced items in a new “Café Menu.” New desserts were also added. If the Hidden Treasure (pictured above) is any indication, the iconic Flying Star is well on its way to regaining, retaining and attaining guests. *** One person’s bizarre is another person’s delicacy. Albuquerque’s NewsCastic outlet recently published a list of “13 bizarre things on ABQ menus.” Among the baker’s dozen was the caramel catfish at Café Dalat, my highest rated Vietnamese restaurant in New Mexico. While not taking umbrage with the categorization of caramel catfish as “bizarre,” owner James Nguyen confirmed that the dish is absolutely beloved by Vietnamese people and that it’s usually paired with sour soup. Sounds great to me. *** When is the last time you enjoyed “the other red meat” other than on a lamb chop or gyro? The roast leg of lamb burrito from the Atrisco Bar & Café in Santa Fe is so good, you’ll be having lamb more often.

March, 2015

The Milano (Marinara Sauce, Italian Sausage, Prosciuitto, Genoa Salami, Mozzarella, Oregano, Pesto) from Saggio’s

Noting that “America’s coming-of-agecoincided with the rise of the automobile,” and the automobile birthed the ubiquitous drive-in restaurant, Thrillist compiled a list of the best drive-in restaurants in the fruited plain. The Land of Enchantment was well represented thanks to Mac’s Steak in the Rough, an Albuquerque staple for more than six decades. According to Thrillist: “just about everyone in Albuquerque that isn’t a meth-addled Breaking Bad fan has hit up Mac’s Steak in the Rough for everything from taquitos and cheeseburgers, to the semi-eponymous Double Meat Rough.” You can bet even our meth-addled citizenry have hit up Mac’s for that fantastic limeade.

Don’t ever use the tired idiom “Always a bridesmaid, never a bride” to describe the Land of Enchantment’s uber chefs whom, it seems, are perennially named semi-finalists for the James Beard “Best Chef: Southwest” Award, but don’t advance further. To be named a semi-finalist is to be recognized as among the very best of the elite. The level of competition throughout the Southwest (Arizona, Colorado, Texas and New Mexico) is extremely high. Chef Martin Rio’s of the eponymous Restaurant Martin has broken through, being named one of six finalists for the “Oscars of Food.”

Egg Foo Yong and Fried Rice from Lucky Boy

Chope’s Town Café and Bar in La Mesa has been recognized by the New Mexico Historic Preservation Division as the newest entrant on the state’s Register of Cultural Properties. Named for José “Chope” Benavides, the son of original proprietors Longina and Margarito Benavides, the restaurant was established in 1915 when Longina opened her dining room to sell enchiladas to local residents. A century later, visitors from all over the world have discovered Chope’s and pilgrimage to what remains one of the very best restaurants in the Land of Enchantment.

San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, Austin, New Orleans…These are all formidable foodie cities, heralded and acclaimed as trend-setters and culinary destinations nonpariel. Would you believe the Duke City rates above all of these cities, finishing sixth overall, in a Travel & Leisure Magazine ranking of America’s best food cities? As is usually the case, you can attribute that high ranking to New Mexico’s incomparable green chile which Travel & Leisure described as “the patron saint of this Southwestern city’s food scene” indicating it “pops up on the local fry-bread tacos and cheeseburgers (like the classics at Monte Carlo Steakhouse and Liquor Store, or can be made into a sauce at your table at legendary spots like El Pinto.”

Shrimp Sausage Banh Mi from Banh Mi Coda

Take a quaint, old adobe building, some candlelight, and arguably Albuquerque’s best food and you have the making of an amazing romantic experience.” In recent years, Old Town’s iconic Antiquity Restaurant has consistently garnered “most romantic restaurant” honors in several local polls. The secret is out. TABELog has named Antiquity “one of the thirteen most romantic restaurants in America,” and recommends trying the “filet mignon wrapped in bacon.”

On March 24th, a pall of sadness was cast over the Land of Enchantment as we learned of the passing of Bill Jamison. That sadness was punctuated by loving memories of a beautiful man with an infectious joie de vivre. Bill was a man who laughed easily and often and who kept listeners spellbound with his raconteur’s wit and humor. When he circulated among friends, he had the rare gift of making all of them feel special. Modest and self-effacing almost to a fault, you’d never hear him trumpet his many impressive accomplishments—such as partnering with Cheryl, the love of his life and scintillating bride for thirty years, to earn four James Beard Awards for culinary writing. Along with Cheryl, he authored some two dozen travel books and cookbooks, earning the couple the sobriquet “the king and queen of grilling and smoking” from Bon Appetit magazine. Even as we will miss this tremendous soul, we can’t help but smile at having been blessed with his wit and his friendship. Godspeed, Bill.

Thai hot Mussamun Curry with Vegetables from Thai Cuisine II

IN APRIL, MAKE TIME FOR: On Saturday, April 11th from 11AM – 4PM, the Anderson-Abruzzo Albuquerque International Balloon Museum will host the inaugural Great New Mexico Food Truck & Beer Festival. It’s an opportunity to celebrate the Duke City’s food truck and craft beer culture in one place for one truly delicious day. The festival will include 20 gourmet food trucks from the Duke CIty area, serving up a variety of savory and sweet dishes, including fall off the bone BBQ to South American cuisine, gourmet hot dogs and everything in between. General admission tickets cost $5, with children 12 and under free. Food and craft beer are sold separately. For more information and to purchase tickets in advance to avoid lines, please visit:


Street Food Blvd was the Clear Favorite Among Judges and Public Alike at The Taste of Rio Rancho

The fifth-annual Taste of Rio Rancho gave 22 of the City of Vision’s best eateries an opportunity to showcase their finest culinary fare to some 800 guests. Shining most brightly was rookie participant Street Food Blvd., a food truck which garnered three of six awards in the “Best of Taste” competition judged by two panels of six judges each. The winners were:

  • Best Appetizer: Street Food Blvd.
  • Best Entree: Street Food Blvd.
  • Best Pizza: Pizza 9
  • Best Sandwich: Pizza 9
  • Best Dessert: Vanilla Bean Frozen Custard and Treatery
  • People’s Choice: Street Food Blvd.

If nothing else the compilation of lists is entertaining. Often controversial and rarely achieving consensus, lists serve as excellent conversation starters. One of America’s foremost compilers of lists is Thrillist which purports to bring “very best food, drink, and fun from across the country and around the world delivered piping hot right to your inbox.” Recognizing that “50 million Americans are served fast food every day,” the good folks at Thrillist compiled a list ranking every state in the fruited plain by its fast food. New Mexico ranked 31st largely on the strength of the 75 LotaBurgers throughout the Land of Enchantment. Special mention was given to Whataburger with the disclaimer that the writer was “running out of other options.”

Pierogies from the Heimat House in Albuquerque

Thrillist “looked to” their “famous chef friends to tell us the best burgers they’ve ever eaten” and where to find them. The best burgers in the country, according to chefs included only one burger from the Land of Enchantment, but it’s a great one indeed. Chef Michael Kornick of Chicago’s celebrated mk is obviously a discerning gentleman with great taste: “My favorite burger would have to be the original Hatch green chile cheeseburger at Santa Fe Bite (formerly The Bobcat Bite), made with a giant hunk of amazing beef and green chile so perfect it renders any additional condiments superfluous.”

New Mexico’s best restaurant. That’s a topic sure to elicit a wide swathe of opinions. In compiling a list of the best restaurants in every state, the Business Insider considered a wide swathe of opinions from credentialed sources (such as the James Beard Foundation) while not discounting local recommendations. Paying particular heed to fine dining establishments, Business Insider named Santa Fe’s Geronimo as New Mexico’s best, citing its “impeccable service and complex dishes” and noting that “Geronimo was named best overall, best ambiance, and best food in New Mexico by OpenTable, among other honors.” Business Insider also indicated Geronimo is the “only New Mexico restaurant to win a AAA Four Diamond award, as well as a Forbes Four Star award.”

Coffee isn’t all Rio Rancho’s Cafe Bella does well: Chocolate Chip and Double Espresso Scones

The Los Angeles Times arrived at a conclusion reached by sojourners along Highway 60 on the west side of the Continental Divide: There are indeed pies in Pie Town, a slice of heaven for travelers. The “queen of the oven” in Pie Town is the effervescent Kathy Knapp, a “pastry pilgrim” with a license plate befitting her status: “PIELADY.” “Visitors from all over the world” come, some “to see if a place named Pie Town is a joke.” Pie Town is no joke. It’s the panacea of pie.

Albuquerque is Where It’s At” according to The Huffington Post which named the Duke City among the “5 American Cities You Should Visit” in 2015. With a nod to “Breaking Bad,” writers encouraged visitors to “go for the insanely good chicken-fried steak fingers at Mac’s Steak in the Rough” and to “stay for the sopaipillas.” An Albuquerque tradition for more than six decades, Mac’s Steak in the Rough may not have the fine-dining cachet of Geronimo, but it’s got the love and admiration of generations of Duke City diners.

Albuquerque’s The Grill is proud of its burgers

New Mexico was well represented in the 2015 James Beard Foundation pantheon of award semifinalists. James Beard awards, the restaurant industry’s equivalent of an Academy Award, have eluded all but a few of the Land of Enchantment’s best restaurants and chefs. Could 2015 be the year Albuquerque’s Jennifer James is finally recognized for Best Chef: Southwest Honors, a distinction for which she’s been nominated numerous times? Her in-state competition in 2015 includes another multi-time nominee in Martin Rios of Santa Fe’s Restaurant Martin as well as Andrew Cooper at Santa Fe’s Terra at the Four Seasons Resort Rancho Encantado and Jonathan Perno of La Merienda at Los Poblanos in Los Ranchos de Albuquerque. Ron Cooper of the Del Maguey Single Village Mezcal in Ranchos de Taos was nominated in the category of Outstanding Wine, Beer or Spirits Professional.

The Daily Meal’s “passionate team canvasses the world to bring you the best food and drink experiences at all levels, around the table, at home or on the road.” In February that passionate team took a stab at naming America’s 50 Best Mexican Restaurants.” Only one Mexican restaurant in the Land of Enchantment made it onto the fabulous fifty, but it’s a restaurant imbued with greatness. Albuquerque’s El Modelo, a Duke City institution since 1929 “still makes rave-worthy tortillas and tamales along with enchiladas, burritos, tostadas and sopaipillas–many of these featuring New Mexico’s signature red and green chiles.”

Panna Cotta from Albuquerque’s Fork & Fig

In an era of openness and transparency in which there seem to be no secrets left, DreamPlanGo which purports to “bring you travel and vacation ideas, insights and inspiration” named Santa Fe as one of “America’s secret 2015 foodie destinations.” One of ten foodie destinations noted, Santa Fe was noted for its chef “blending the flavors they’ve grown up on with influences from Mexico, France and the Mediterranean” resulting in “a delicious collection of Southwest fare prepared in new and innovative ways.” 

Plato once said that “opinion is the medium between knowledge and ignorance.”  In the opinion of The Culturetrip, these are “New Mexico’s ten best restaurants:” Antiquity Restaurant, High Noon Restaurant & Saloon, The Artichoke Cafe, and The Grove Cafe & Market, all in Albuquerque; The Range in Bernalillo;  Geronimo, Luminaria and Cafe Pasqual in Santa Fe; The Curious Kumquat in Silver City and Savoy de Mesilla in Mesilla.  Some will view this list and determine it leans toward knowledge and others will argue that it skews toward ignorance.  At the least, it should inspire conversation.

Salsas from Taqueria El Paisa in Albuquerque

Global Gumshoe Ron Stern of the Communities Digital News (CDN) tells readers that Albuquerque’s cuisine is “anything but ordinary.”  In fact, Stern believes “Albuquerque is blazing a trail of its own on the culinary scene.”  “From hot and spicy New Mexican cuisine to upscale dining,” CDN recommended some of the Duke City’s most popular dining hotspots including: Sadie’s of New Mexico, El Pinto, The Cube, The Pueblo Harvest Cafe and others.

TIME TO REVISIT THESE THREE RESTAURANTS: Bob of the Village of Rio Rancho (BOTVOLR), the most prodigious commentator on Gil’s Thrilling…(and some would say, most prolific palaverist) recently suggested I “might remind readers of three Options to check out over a weekend as many of us are ‘getting of an age’.” If you’re interested in sampling traditional Lenten fare enjoyed by New Mexico’s Catholics for generations, make one of those three Abuelita’s in Bernalillo and order the torta de huevo and quelites. You have only one day left to visit Paul’s Monterrey Inn, an Albuquerque institution which shutters its doors for good on February 28th. It may not quite be a trip to the age of Aquarius, communes, hippies and free love, but Santa Fe’s Counter Culture Cafe may just remind you of a bygone psychedelic era as it delights you with deliciousness.


The  Culture Trip, “a one-stop, global website, showcasing the best of art, food, culture and travel for every country in the world” discovered ten great places in Taos for dining out.   It may surprise you to learn that only two–Michael’s Kitchen and Orlando’s Cafe— of the restaurants recognized showcase New Mexican cuisine.  Diversity is the hallmark of the remaining restaurants whose ranks include French and Latin inspired Gutiz and Spanish and Moorish influenced El Meze whose chef Frederick Muller has been nominated several times for the James Beard award as the best chef in the Southwest.

Sushi Rolls from Ahh Sushi in Rio Rancho

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.”  Admittedly this endeavor required looking up the word “iconic” in the dictionary and 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 was El Pinto, a restaurant with  more detractors than supporters, a conclusion at which you might arrive if you read the comments following the list. 

While it may be debated as to whether or not El Pinto is the most iconic restaurant in the Land of Enchantment, you can’t dispute its popularity and propensity for marketing.  The new year saw filming begin for a potential reality show featuring the restaurant.  El Pinto’s owners, the “iconic” Thomas twins desire is that the reality show “offer an authentic portrayal of the restaurant, the Albuquerque community and New Mexico’s food and culture.” 

Mussels from Farina Alto in Albuquerque

In its January, 2015 report Pizza Magazine Quarterly revealed that only four states across the fruited plain love pizza less than New Mexico does  (another quality of life category for which we can be grateful for Mississippi).  With only 1.55 pizza joints per 10,000 residents, the Land of Enchantment ranks 46th in terms of number of pizzerias.   Worse, only 38.4 percent of those pizzerias are independent.  There is one local chain regarded as one of the most successful local chains in the fruited plain.  Dion’s ranked number 37 on the magazine’s list of the top fifty pizza chains in America.  From a monetary perspective, however, the magazine noted that Dion’s makes more money per restaurant than any other pizza chain in the country.

“The Best…Ever!”  That’s a pretty audacious premise, but one the Food Network decided to tackle.  In its inaugural episode which aired on January 5th, celebrity chefs and restaurateurs celebrated the “Best. Pizza. Ever.,” identifying the eleven best pizzas ever.  Who says when it comes to pizza you can’t have the whole enchilada?  Not chef and restaurateur Roger Mooking who made a a case for the chicken green chile and cheese pizza at Santa Fe’s Rooftop Pizzeria being “the best spicy slice ever.” 

Adult Beverage Menu at the Shade Tree Custom & Cafe which was featured on the Food Network’s Restaurant Impossible

If you’ve ever shortchanged New Mexico’s barbecue, you might just give it some respect now that the Food Network’s “Best…Ever!” program airing on January 12th listed a Santa Fe barbecue dish as one of the best barbecue dishes ever in America.  Chef Aaron Sanchez explained why Cowgirl BBQ in Santa Fe is taking nachos to another level, calling them “decadent, gluttonous and fun” with “big flavor.”  He noted that the “best barbecue nachos ever” brings elements of barbecue (brisket), Mexican and Southwestern dishes together. 

Travel Mindset, a site “created by experienced travelers who like to explore the world and are looking for life changing and life shaping experiences” took a stab at dissecting New Mexico’s “signature ingredient: the chile pepper.”  Advising that “if you want to taste one of the hottest—literally—culinary landscapes in the United States, you need to get a few things straight,” Travel Mindset encourages familiarizing yourself with the “red or green” question.  They also championed the New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail, “composed up of local and critic favorites—making it the best of the best.”  The best, in their estimation comes from San Antonio’s fabulous Owl Cafe

Street Food Asia and sister restaurant Street Food Market won second and third place critic’s choice awards at the 2015 Roadrunner Food Bank SouperBowl in Albuquerque

The premise of the Food Network’s Restaurant: Impossible is that within two days and on a budget of $10,000,  host Robert Irvine will transform a failing American restaurant with the goal of helping to restore it to profitability and prominence.  To make the show entertaining, any existing dysfunction or drama in the restaurant’s day-to-day operations is spotlighted in the fashion of all reality shows.  On January 14th, the episode featuring Albuquerque’s Shade Tree Customs & Cafe aired for the first time.  While soap opera-like drama is typical for many reality shows, the Restaurant: Impossible segment was a very effective vehicle for showing the likeability and passion of the Shade Tree ownership and staff.  

When most people think American cuisine, they think pizza, hot dogs and hamburgers.  While these are indeed staples across the country, each state has its own sense of flavor.”  The Huffington Post and Yelp collaborated to determine the “most disproportionately popular cuisine in each state.”  In Louisiana, it was Cajun cuisine while Missouri certainly loves its barbecue.  Interestingly, the most disproportionately popular cuisine in New Mexico was determined to be “Mexican.”  Not “New Mexican,” but Mexican.  Texas garnered more respect as its most disproportionately popular cuisine was deemed to be “Tex-Mex.”  

Santa Fe SouperBowl Winners: 215

If breakfast is truly the most important meal of the day, it seems most of America prefers to start their day off with a richly indulgent cavalcade of calorific sweets such as pancakes, French toast, donuts and sticky buns.  At least that’s what several celebrity chefs on the Food Network’s “Best. Ever. Breakfast” program would have you believe.  California based chef Antonia Lofaso begs to differ, making a case for the breakfast burritos in Santa Fe’s Tia Sophia’s restaurant as the best breakfast burrito ever.    Chef Lofaso recommends getting it “Christmas style.”  

On Saturday, January 17th, 2015, Santa Fe’s The Food Depot hosted its 21st annual Souper Bowl, a fabulous event featuring soup tastings from 29 local restaurants competing for the title of Best Soup in Santa Fe.  

  • In the category of “best savory soup” as well as the overall winner with a King Trumpet Mushroom soup was Dinner For Two.  
  • In the category of “best cream soup,” the winner was Terra at Four Seasons Resort Rancho Encantado with a Creamy Vegetable with Cranberry soup.  
  • The “best seafood soup” category was claimed by The Pantry which wowed judges with a Seafood Butternut Bisque.  
  • “Best vegetarian soup” honors went to Bon Appetite with a wild mushroom soup.

The Ranchers Club of New Mexico won the Critic’s and People’s Choice Awards at the Roadrunner Food Bank’s 2015 SouperBowl in Albuquerque

The Roadrunner Food Bank’s annual Souper Bowl, held on an unseasonably warm January day, is the Food Bank’s largest fund-raising effort every year. The soups seem to get better every year, too.  In my eight years serving as a soup judge, this year’s soups were the very best I’ve had from top to bottom and for the first time in memory, the critic’s  and people’s choice award winners went to the same restaurant.  Here are the 2015 winners:

  • 1st Place and Souper Bowl Champion: Ranchers Club of New Mexico for their Chimayo Red Chile Pork Chowder; 2nd Place: Artichoke Café for their Lobster Bisque; Third Place: Bocadillos New Mexico for their New Mexico Clam Chowder
  • People’s Choice – Vegetarian Soup 1st Place: Bouche for their Cream of New York Portabello; 2nd Place: Forque Kitchen and Bar at the Hyatt Regency for their Pumpkin Red Vegetarian Soup; 3rd Place: StreetFood Market for their Malay Curry Squash Bisque
  • People’s Choice – Desserts 1st Place: Nothing Bundt Cakes; 2nd Place: Theobroma Chocolatier; 3rd Place: Chocolate Cartel
  • People Choice – Best Booth: Ranchers Club of New Mexico
  • Critics’ Choice Winners 1st Place:  The Ranchers Club of New Mexico for their  Chimayo Red Chile Pork Chowder; 2nd Place: StreetFood Asia for their Bangkok Christmas Lobster Bisque; 3rd Place: StreetFood Market for their Malay Curry Squash Bisque

The American diner tradition is alive and well.  To recognize this sacrosanct tradition, the good folks at Thrillist embarked on a trek across the fruited plain to locate America’s 21 best diners.   The only diner in the Land of Enchantment to make it onto this elite list was Santa Fe’s Pantry Restaurant on Cerrillos.  Thrillist observed that “the Pantry was on every single person’s list” when the writer inquired as to where he should eat.  “Around since 1948, it’s 1) damn iconic, 2) a place where you have a decent shot at running into Cormac McCarthy, and 3) serves impeccable New Mexican breakfasts.”

Orange Chicken en Papillote with rice and vegetables from The Model Pharmacy in Albuquerque

Movoto Blog, a blog celebrating the lighter side of real estate, did a seriously great job of naming “15 New Mexico Restaurants Which Will Blow Your Taste Buds Out Of Your Mouth.”  Having previously published a list showcasing Albuquerque restaurants, the list was richly represented by restaurants in Rio Rancho where the  Turtle Mountain Brewing Company, Namaste Restaurant, Rub-N-Wood Barbecue and Joe’s Pasta House received well-deserved praise.  Duke City restaurants noted included Farm & Table, The Grill, Down N Dirty Seafood Boil, Tia Betty Blues, Bocadillos Slow Roasted and the Guava Tree Cafe

Each January, AAA announces restaurants that received the Four Diamond or Five Diamond Rating during their latest evaluation. Restaurants at these rating levels offer an extensive array of amenities and a high degree of hospitality, service and attention to detail. Among the 58,000 AAA Approved and Diamond Rated restaurants visited in 2014, only a very small percentage received the AAA Four Diamond Rating.  Two Santa Fe restaurants–Geronimo and Terra at Encanto–were named to the very exclusive list. 

Chips Con Queso from the Effing Bar in Albuquerque

The Food Network’s Best. Ever. program continued its love affair with Santa Fe restaurants and dishes, going four for four (four episodes, four Santa Fe restaurants) in the month of January.  The beloved Santa Fe Bite was showcased in the Best.Burgers.Ever episode with chef and restaurateur Roger Mooking calling them “a rich, satisfying bite.”  New Mexicans have long acknowledged the Santa Fe Bite and its predecessor, The Bobcat Bite, as living treasures in the Land of Enchantment.