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Mick’s Chile Fix – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Mick's Chile Fix on Candelaria

Mick’s Chile Fix on Candelaria

Addicts are all too familiar with the symptoms, especially the insatiable cravings that can only be quelled by a fix.  There’s nothing like the high you get from the addictive mistress that is New Mexican chile.  That’s why we willingly singe our tongues and scald our taste buds to get that fix. What gives chile its intense fire and creates the need for a fix is a chemical called capsaicin, a natural ingredient that stimulates the mouth’s nerve endings, causing a burning sensation. In response to this burning sensation, the brain releases endorphins, natural painkillers that may produce a temporary “high.” So, the more of a fiery chile you eat, the stronger the soothing effect. Even though chile isn’t medically addictive, some chile lovers may be hooked on the high they get…just ask anyone in New Mexico who loves the stuff.

Better still, ask a chile addict who no longer lives in New Mexico and can’t get the stuff everyday.  The withdrawal is painful.  In dreams they are plagued by the unrequited yearning which can be fulfilled only by a satisfying bowl of red or green.  They wake to drool soaked and chewed up pillows. New Mexicans are fortunate indeed in that we can satisfy our lust for chile whenever we want–and we want it for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks in between.  We want it in all foods sweet and savory.  We want it at work and at play.

Lunch Crowd at Mick’s Chile fix

One of the very best new restaurants in Albuquerque in which to get that fix is the aptly named Mick’s Chile Fix.  Mick’s isn’t situated in a bustling, well-trafficked, well eaten area, but in a humble brick stand-alone building in an industrial area off Candelaria.  Open 7AM through 2PM from Monday through Saturday, it’s a locally owned and operated diner in which patrons willingly risk spilling some of the red stuff on their nattily whites or grungy blues.  It’s a classic greasy spoon and in 2006, Mick’s earned a Greasy Spoon award from a local rock station.

The dining room is stark and functional.  It’s not the type of diner in which comfy chairs invite lingering for post-meal conversations.  Come to think of it, the only conversations I recall during our inaugural visit were in between utterances of umm and yum.  Conversations that did take place centered around how good the food is.  A persistent, droning hum from the ice maker could be another reason conversation seemed so sparse.  The menu, on which the letter “i” in chile is painted like a red chile and the “i” in Fix is painted like a green chile features all the New Mexican standards.  Breakfast is served all day long.

Chips and salsa at Mick's Chile Fix

Chips and salsa at Mick’s Chile Fix

Salsa isn’t complementary at Mick’s, a trend that seems to be increasing among Duke City restaurants.  It’s a nice salsa, pureed but not to the point of being liquefied.  It’s got a piquant bite that goes oh so well with the plateful of crisp, low-salt and heated chips. If, like me, you like heat with heat, enjoy a cup of coffee (or six) with the salsa. Hot coffee has the unique ability to enhance the piquancy of chile.

30 October 2007: Two of the more popular entrees at Mick’s are generously endowed combination platters fittingly called the “Hungry Man’s Lunch” and the “Hungry Man’s Breakfast.”  What makes their popularity so surprising is that many of the partakers have to go back to work on what will invariably be an overfull belly. The Hungry Man’s Lunch is bountiful: two beef tacos, one meat and one cheese enchilada, a tamale and two paper-thin tortillas along with the de rigueur beans and rice.  Everything is smothered in your choice of chile (red, green or Christmas style) and a blanket of Cheddar.

The Hungry Man's Lunch

The Hungry Man’s Lunch

30 October 2007: If you’ve ever had a combination plate in which you can’t discern much difference between the enchiladas and the tamale, you’ll appreciate Mick’s version of both. The tamale has the perfect amount of masa with a nice texture. It provides a complementary contrast between the pronounced corn flavored outer “shell” and the chile blessed, shredded meat inside. The enchiladas are substantial with fried, soft corn shells enveloping generous portions of meat and cheese (this is a very cheesy enchilada). Rarely do you find a cheese enchilada as flavorful as Mick’s rendition. The tacos aren’t your garden-variety tacos busting at the seams with lettuce and tomato. Once you get past the greenery (and reddery?) there’s plenty of well seasoned and flavorful beef.

The chile isn’t quite piquant enough for a fire-eater like me (coffee helps), but it’s quite flavorful.  Both the red and green chile are thickened almost to the consistency of cream.  The green chile is almost luminescent and packs a fruity flavor.  The red is a bit more mild than the green.  Still, both  will assuage your fix. There are plenty of options on the menu for folks who don’t necessarily need a fix (tourists mostly).

One UFO sized pancake in each Hungry Man's Breakfast

One UFO sized pancake in each Hungry Man’s Breakfast

30 October 2007: For them, there’s the Hungry Man’s Breakfast which is missing only one thing–an angioplasty.  That’s what you might need after three eggs, hash browns, two strips of bacon, two sausage links, a pancake and toast or tortilla.  This is the type of breakfast that will fill you up for an entire weekend.  The pancake itself is roughly the size of the unidentified conveyance seen flying over Roswell some sixty years ago.  It’s also an excellent pancake, the only room for improvement being warm syrup instead of syrup from a squeeze bottle. 

4 May 2015:  Joey Chestnut, winner of five straight Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Championships (and counting) may just meet his match should he ever try Mick’s “Shocker,” a behemoth burrito that covers an entire plate and gives the servers a workout just by ferrying it over to your table.  The aptly named Shocker is roughly the size of a piece of firewood.  It’s engorged with eggs, hash browns, beans, sausage, bacon and ham smothered with your choice of red or (and) green chile.  The three meats are full-sized, not tiny bits and pieces.  That means, entire slices of bacon, sausage links and thick chunks of ham–and there’s plenty of them all.  The eggs, hash browns and beans are all nicely seasoned, worthy complements to the meats.  There’s also plenty of chile for each spoonful and enough shredded cheese to stuff a grilled cheese sandwich.

The “Shocker”

Chile addicts like me will readily admit to recidivism, relapsing willingly to the allure of our green and red mistress.  Mick’s is a great place to get our fix near Route 66.

Mick’s Chile Fix
2930 Candelaria, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 881-2233
LATEST VISIT: 30 October 2007
FIRST VISIT: 4 December 2015
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 18
COST: $$
BEST BET: Salsa & Chips, The Hungry Man’s Breakfast, The Hungry Man’s Lunch

Mick's Chile Fix on Urbanspoon

Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Year in Food: 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: http://www.foodtruckfestivalsofamerica.com.

February

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.

January

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.

Teofilo’s Restaurante – Los Lunas, New Mexico

Teofilo’s Restaurante on Main Street in Los Lunas

Several years ago award-winning Albuquerque Journal columnist Leslie Linthicum (since retired) penned a wonderfully evocative column entitled “Spanish Names Fade into History.”  Leslie observed that if you frequent the obituaries, especially those published on the Journal North and Journal Santa Fe, you may have observed  and lamented the passing of another great Spanish name.   The lyrical names with which the scions of Coronado were christened–Leocaida, Elfido, Trinidad, Pacomio, Seralia, Evilia, Amadea, Aureliano and others– have become increasingly rare in the Land of Enchantment. 

Leslie noted that “just about every day in New Mexico, another great old Spanish name passes on as a family loses a viejo.”   Former state historian Estevan Rael-Gálvez believes the disfavor which has befallen once-honored given names can largely be attributed to  “the stigma against the use of the Spanish language, which stretched from the 1940s into the 1980s.”   It’s a shameful stigma that “extended into many families as they welcomed babies into the world.”

One of the capacious dining rooms at Teofilo’s

Today, instead of bestowing their children with such culturally-rooted names as Prudencio, Malya, Natividad, Onofre, Celso, Andreita, Ramoncita and Piedad, young New Mexican parents tend to favor more “homogeneous” names as Noah, Elijah, Jacob, Aiden, Daniel, Jayden, Josiah, Ethan and Michael for boys and Sophia, Emma, Isabella, Olivia, Emily, Sofia, Ariana, Ava and Abigail for girls. According to the state Bureau of Vital Records and Health Statistics, in 2014, the most popular names for newborns in New Mexico were Liam for boys and Mia for girls followed by the aforementioned names. Coronado would not recognize these names.

Salsa and Chips

Having grown up daily hearing the mellifluous and traditional Spanish names of a bygone era, I can now appreciate their distinctively melodic qualities and like Leslie, mourn the passing of friends, relatives and strangers alike who brought honor to those names.  It makes me cringe when young Hispanos mispronounce (butcher would be a more appropriate term) names those of my generation hold sacrosanct.  Because their own parents were taught to eschew Spanish, it’s entirely inappropriate to blame young Hispanos for any linguistic malapropisms.

Breakfast Quesadilla (Cheddar-Jack Cheese, Avocado, Bacon) with Papitas

Leslie recalls the appropriate recitation of these names by former state historian Estevan Rael-Gálvez as “somewhere between a poem and a lullaby.”  Were she to visit Teofilo’s Restaurante in Los Lunas, Leslie would probably first celebrate the perpetuation of a time-honored, traditional Spanish name on the restaurant’s marquee.  She would probably then shudder the first and subsequent times she heard a server answer the phone “Tio Philo’s.”   Servers aren’t the only ones employing this aberrant mispronunciation, but even more than their customers, they darned well should know better. 

Guacamole and Chips

That not everyone in the village of Los Lunas can correctly pronounce the name Teofilo is probably attributable to the fact everyone calls Pete “Teofilo” Torres, Jr. by his first name.  Everyone in Valencia county pronounces the Torres name correctly and with a bit of reverence.   To put it mildly, the dynastic Torres family is restaurant royalty in Valencia County. In 1949, Pete Jr.’s father and mother Elijia (another melodic New Mexican name) founded the legendary Pete’s Café in Belen, which (ask Arnold Schwarzenegger) is still going strong.  In 1986, Pete, Jr., and his wife Hortencia (more music to my ears) launched Teofilo’s in Los Lunas. 

T’s Huevos in a Bowl (Blue Corn Tortilla topped with papitas, T’s red chile carne adovada, two over-medium eggs, chile, Cheddar-Jack cheese piled high in a bowl

Teofilo’s is situated on Main Street where it faces the historic Luna Mansion which Pete, Jr. purchased in 2009.  Both are historic properties.  The venerable complex which houses Teofilo’s dates from 1913.  It was built for Doctor W.F. Wittwer who was enticed to stay in Los Lunas for the princely sum of fifty dollars per month.  The distinctively old New Mexican architectural design showcases period-specific architecture, including terron (thick slabs of earth rather than adobes) walls and a high-pitched, corrugated tin roof. 

Step into Teofilo’s and you’re not only walking into history, you’re walking into a warm and beckoning interior with period pieces throughout.  It’s akin to walking into someone’s home and in a very real sense, you are.  The small waiting room, which is often standing room only, includes a number of black-and-white photos of Doctor Wittwer and his family.  There are a number of small dining rooms, the most popular of which is probably the enclosed porch area where historic artwork festoons the wall.  The east-facing windows let in both heat and sunlight.

Red Chile Carne Adovada on Blue Corn Tortillas with refritos and arroz

You’ll also find plenty of heat on the salsa.  The salsa is a rich red jalapeno-based salsa with as much heat as it has flavor. Your first serving of salsa is complementary. After that there’s a small charge. Freshness, flavor, piquancy and a little bit of smokiness are hallmarks of the very best salsas and this one ranks near the very top, among the very best in New Mexico.  Aside from jalapenos, you’ll discern the boldness of chopped onions, fresh cilantro and naturally sweet and absolutely delicious crushed tomatoes. The chips are over-sized and delicious with little salt to get in the way of your taste buds enjoying them with a scoopful of the salsa.

15 March 2015: Rather than lamenting Sunday as the day preceding the start of a new workweek, savvy diners in Los Lunas and beyond celebrate Sunday as the day in which Teofilo’s offers a Sunday breakfast menu unlike any in the area. Available only from 9AM until 2PM, this is a Sunday breakfast the good doctor would have ordered. Start with a breakfast quesadilla (Cheddar-Jack cheese, avocado and bacon) with a side of papitas. It’s not only a good way to obtain another portion of salsa, it’s a way to treat yourself to as good a quesadilla as you’ll find anywhere. You’ll love the way the buttery richness of the sliced avocadoes, sharpness of the Cheddar and smokiness of the bacon nestled within a grilled flour tortilla all combine to form an eye-opening, mouth-watering flavor combination. The lightly-sheened papitas are thinly sliced and are fried to perfection.

Chile Rellenos

15 March 2015: If the breakfast quesadilla doesn’t have you praying for Sunday, T’s Huevos in a Bowl (blue corn tortilla topped with papitas, T’s red chile carne adovada, two over-medium eggs, chile, Cheddar-Jack cheese piled high in a bowl) certainly will. At first glance, T’s Huevos in a Bowl might appear to be a gloppy, cheesy mess, but as your fork peels back layer-upon-layer of concordant flavors, you won’t care what it looks like. To your taste buds, this is a masterpiece, a convergence of ingredients that complement one another very well. The carne adovada is among the very best in New Mexico. It’s silky smooth porcine perfection marinated slowly in a superb red chile. The blue corn tortilla has a sweet, nutty flavor that plays off the sharpness of the cheese very well. 

26 April 2015: In Old Mexico, mention chiles rellenos and the likely reply will probably be “Que rico!, a lustful expression declaring how very good chiles rellenos are.  New Mexicans aren’t quite as expressive about our chiles rellenos, but we love them no less.  Perhaps we’d be more prone to rhapsodizing enthusiastically if all chiles rellenos were as wonderful as those served at Teofilo’s.  These chiles rellenos are in rarefied company in a small pantheon of great New Mexican chiles rellenos.  At first glance, the coating around the New Mexico green chile stuffed with cheese might have you thinking Panko breadcrumbs, but one bite will confirm they’re not nearly that grainy textured.  They also retain their integrity at the press of a fork.  Each forkful rewards you with chile, cheese and the wondrous sheathing around the rellenos, not some crumbly mess.  Not all chiles rellenos are created equal; these are among the very best!

Stuffed Sopaipillas with Ground Beef and Refritos

15 March 2015: For many of us, enchiladas are the benchmark we use to measure just how good a New Mexican restaurant is. While they may appear rather simple in their construction, when you consider the vast diversity of ingredients with which they can be created, enchiladas can be a rather complex dish. Teofilo’s creates enchilada plates from which dreams are made. Picture a blue corn tortilla canvas topped with carne adovada and a fried egg over-easy slathered with a rich red chile and served with sides of refritos and arroz. Quite simply, Teofilo’s enchiladas are poster child quality, as good as they can be made. “As good as it can be made” aptly describes the red chile which may tempt you to lick the plate so as not to leave any behind. 

26 April 2015: Because the sopaipillas at Teofilo’s are so good with honey, it stands to reason they’d be just as good in the form of stuffed sopaipillas.  If anything, the stuffed sopaipillas are even better, especially if they’re engorged with ground beef and refritos then slathered in rich, red chile and blanketed in molten shredded Cheddar.  As with every entree at Teofilo’s, a case could easily be made for these being among, if not the very best stuffed sopaipillas in New Mexico.  They’re also served piping hot, a serving style every New Mexican restaurant should emulate.

Sopaipillas

15 March 2015: Sopaipillas are, very often, the way most meals at New Mexican restaurants end. Most of the time, it would be criminal to consume anything after reveling in the hot, puffy pillows of dough. Doing so is generally anti-climatic. As wonderful as the sopaipillas are at Teofilo’s, you’re forgiven if you choose to indulge in one of the rich, delicious desserts. For many diners, a meal at Teofilo’s wouldn’t be complete without finishing it off with natillas. In its “Best of the City” issue for 2008, Albuquerque The Magazine named them the “best natillas,” indicating they’re “worth driving for.” These rich, creamy, cinnamon custard delights are absolutely addictive.

Award-winning Natillas

15 March 2015: If there’s one dessert which may top (yes, it’s blasphemy, I know) the natillas, it’s Teofilo’s Toledo Crème Cake, a three-layer coconut-buttermilk cake studded with pecans and thick, rich cream cheese frosting. Served Fred Flintstone slab-sized, it’s an addictively rich, calorific indulgence you’ll have to share and even so, will probably take much of it home with you. This is the type of cake few restaurants endeavor to prepare and serve any more.   Lucky for all of us, Teofilo’s isn’t like other restaurants.

Toledo Creme cake (three-layer buttermilk, pecan, coconut cake layered with cream cheese frosting)

While so many mellifluous New Mexican names are going by the wayside, we’re comforted in knowing that wonderful family restaurants such as Teofilo’s continue to prepare and serve the traditional foods of New Mexico the way they’ve been prepared for generations.  Teofilo’s is a Land of Enchantment classic!

Teofilo’s Restaurante
144 Main Street
Los Lunas, New Mexico
(505) 865-5511
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 26 April 2015
# OF VISITS: 4
RATING: 24
COST: $$
BEST BET: Natillas, Toledo Creme Cake, Blue Corn Enchiladas, T’s Huevos in a Bowl, Sopaipillas, Breakfast Quesadilla, Chips and Salsa, Chile Rellenos, Stuffed Sopaipillas, Guacamole and Chips

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