Human brains are wired so that the way we perceive the flavor of food is actually a synthesis of how it looks, tastes, smells and feels. Four senses are actively engaged as we’re masticating, licking, sipping or sucking our food. The one traditionally recognized method of perception apparently not crucial to enjoying the dining experience is the sense of hearing. Until rather recently, the effect music has on the enjoyment of our food hadn’t been thoroughly studied scientifically.
In 2011, the Journal of Culinary Science & Technology determined through a series of experiments that food tastes best when served with quiet classical music in the background. If the music was played at a level higher than the optimal 62-67 decibels, diners enjoyed the taste of their food less. The experiments also revealed that silence–the absence of at least some ambient sound–actually detracts from the enjoyment of eating and makes the restaurant setting uncomfortable.
The skeptic in me wonders how classical music impacts people who liken “long hair music” to the sound made by mating cats while the quasi-scientist in me wants to know what the enjoyment of food would be like with rap, rock and country music playing in the background and at various decibel levels. Ostensibly, various types of musics were used in the experiments, but readers are left to speculate their effects. One can surmise, for example, that the rock music with a fast beat would probably increase the rate of chewing. Rap music would probably have many of my wizened friends looking for a short rope and a tall tree.
Duke City diners need go no further than Rey’s Place at 6400 Edith Boulevard, N.E. to enjoy excellent Mexican and New Mexican food and, if your timing is good, get to listen to an impromptu jam session. A large decorative-only blue guitar in front of the restaurant is a precursor to things to come. There are two smaller (but functional) guitars on one corner of the dining room. Both the staff and diners have been known to pick up those guitars and belt out a tune or two. You can check out some of the staff’s musical stylings on Reverbnation then imagine yourself enjoying an enchilada dinner at Rey’s Place as the music plays in the background.
Rey’s Place has been serving Albuquerque since 2010, but remains a fairly well-kept secret largely because of it’s off-the-well-beaten-and-well-eaten-path. Its location, in an industrial and warehouse area, means it will remain largely a destination restaurant albeit one very popular with savvy neighborhood blue and white collar workers. Rey’s is open Monday through Friday from 7AM to 3PM and on Saturdays and Sundays from 8AM to 3PM. More than most restaurants in Albuquerque, it’s a restaurant with personality–one which jams. The heart of the restaurant is its owner Michael Sierra, an affable host who takes the time to visit with his guests to ensure they’re enjoying their dining experience. Michael is a larger than life personality with a very high likeability quotient and a great singing voice. Dining at Rey’s is like dining at his home.
Rey’s also has a very customer-oriented four-point mission statement: (1) We give you our best Albuquerque welcome; (2) We are attentive to your needs; (3) We advise you that every dish we serve is prepared from scratch, that it takes a little longer than most; and (4) We serve you a hot delicious New Mexican food plate that we’re proud to say, ” is hard to match.” Rey’s recognizes that slower hand-made food is the key to the very high quality of their Mexican and New Mexican food. Shortcuts aren’t taken in the preparation of the food. It’s all made from scratch with no additives (and thankfully no cumin) to “stretch” the red chile. That uncompromising attention to detail and authenticity is reflected in some of the very best red chile I’ve had this year, a pleasantly piquant a pure, earthy blend with a rich flavor.
The menu is a refreshing change of pace from the humdrum (but usually delicious) menu you come to expect from Mexican and New Mexican restaurants in the city. The Mexican dishes section of the menu includes such mouth-watering delicacies as lengua (tongue) a la Mexicana, barbacoa (a restaurant specialty), and gorditas, an entree Rey’s touts as a meal and a half. The menu also features nine different types of tacos, some of which you won’t find anywhere else in town. Four tortas (sandwiches crafted on bolillo bread), seven types of hand-held burritos, four caldos (including caldo de rez, a Gil favorite), six burgers and six different types of enchiladas are also available. This is a menu from you’ll want to sample every item.
You’ll want to start your Rey’s experience with salsa and chips. The salsa is special, some of the very best in town. It’s reminiscent of the salsa at Sadie’s Dining Room in terms of piquancy, viscosity and flavor. Best of all, the plastic molcajete in which the salsa is served is nearly full when it arrives at your table. You’ll probably run out of chips before you finish the salsa. The chips are thin, light and crispy which is fine for this salsa because unless you’re a bona fide fire eater, it’s made for dipping more than for scooping.
Fundido, a Spanish term for melted or molten cheese, has been used to describe everything from the gloppy, pedestrian baseball stadium nacho cheese to richly indulgent fondue quality cheese. Neither is a good representation of true queso fundido, the type of which is served at Rey’s Place. Rey’s queso is an amalgam of molten cheeses and a spicy chorizo in perfect proportion to one another. The cheese starts off hot and thick and like most queso fundido, will coagulate and harden as it cools and because the portion is rather sizable, it will cool down.. That’s when you ask the accommodating staff to reheat it for you. It’s just as good reheated.
Seeing diners at adjacent tables all enjoying stuffed sopaipillas had a not-so-subliminal effect during my inaugural visit. It’s no wonder this dish is so popular. Talk about an orchestra effect on your taste buds. The sopaipilla is engorged with ground steak, beans and a lettuce-tomato garnish then slathered with chile. The red chile has a nice bite to it without the residual bitterness of impure chile. It’s got endearing earthy qualities that will imprint themselves on your taste buds and memories. The whole beans are perfectly cooked and delicious while the rice is fluffy, light and better than most Mexican-style rice.
If you’re the type of person who likes curling up in front of the fireplace with a steamy mug of cocoa on a cold winter day, you’re probably the type of person who appreciates a good soup. Mexicans appreciate a good soup very much, especially caldo de res, a rich beef stock brimming with rich, fork-tender bits of meat from a beef hock and vegetables (celery, carrots, potatoes, cabbage and even corn-on-the-cob) topped with cilantro. Made well, it will cure whatever ails you more effectively than any chicken noodle soup. Rey’s rendition of caldo de res will most assuredly cure the winter blahs or any other time blues. It’s an excellent soup with a broth you’ll slurp up with gusto. The vegetables are perfectly prepared, fresh and delicious. It’s served with rice and a small plastic cup of finely chopped green peppers and tomatoes.
While Rey’s Web site is effusive about the restaurant’s entire menu, only one item occupies a place of prominence on a wall where it shares space with framed artwork. The poster extolling the virtues of Rey’s gorditas is both explanatory in nature and a delicious marketing tactic. Read the poster and you’ll probably order the gorditas plate. Gorditas are basically deep-fried pockets of cornmeal or flour dough engorged with a savory mixture. At Rey’s the corn or flour cakes are slow-cooked on the grill, sliced open and stuffed with your choice of carne asada, carne adovada, barbacoa, carne desebrada (tender, slow-cooked shredded beef), shredded chicken, carnitas and carne molida (ground steak). The carne adovada-stuffed gorditas are terrific. The combination of the corn masa cake and the red chile marinated, tender pork make for a very interesting and wholly delicious pairing. The gorditas plate is served with rice, beans and red or green salsa. By the way, shame on Taco Bell for that abomination they’ve tried to pass off as a gordita.
If you prefer your carne adovada unencumbered by such trivialities as a cornmeal pocket, lettuce and tomatoes (delicious though they might be), you’re going to love Rey’s carne adovada plate. This is carne adovada prepared the way your sainted abuelita might have made it. The red chile marinated pork is so tender you could chew it with your gums, so good it might make you swoon. It’s a carne adovada so good I’d introduce my friend Ruben Hendrickson to it. Ruben, as faithful readers know, is an adovada aficionado who prepares it better than most restaurants. Getting his seal of approval on carne adovada means it’s not only good, it’s in rarefied company. I believe he’d place Rey’s carne adovada in that category.
As much as Ruben loves carne adovada, he doesn’t wax eloquently about his love for it on a thematic blog as does a Duke City blogger so passionate about her culinary passion that she launched a blog to celebrate the best huevos rancheros in New Mexico. Her Huevos Addiction blog is a terrific read with her review of Rey’s huevos rancheros inspiring me to try her favorite dish. Rey’s huevos rancheros are simplicity itself–corn tortillas on the bottom, fried eggs on top and the whole thing slathered with chile (red and green for me). The huevos are served with sides of beans and papitas (some of the best in town). Simplicity does not mean plain or boring, not as long as you’ve got Rey’s red chile (described on Huevos Addiction as “for those who have said their prayers.”)
One item which rarely warrants more than a mention on Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Blog are tacos. It perplexes me as to why diners would ever order a taco plate. Tacos are among the least expensive items to make, tend to be overstuffed with lettuce and tomatoes and are rarely worth writing about. I could write a book about Grandma Gloria’s tacos. At three tacos per order, you won’t go away hungry because an order also includes beans and rice.
So what makes these tacos so unique? It starts with a fried corn tortilla that’s obviously not out-of-the-box. The tortillas are lightly fried with char marks which seem to indicate some time on a comal. The tacos are engorged not with shredded or ground beef, but with a well-seasoned hamburger patty. That’s a first for me. The de rigueur lettuce, tomatoes and shredded cheese are there, too, and while some restaurants serve a side of house salsa for their tacos, Rey’s provides a ramekin of chile pequin salsa made from a 112-year-old family recipe. You’ll want to spoon it on generously or maybe even dip your tacos into this unique salsa.
Many diners, no matter how sophisticated they might consider themselves to be, have an aversion to eating tongue (lengua in Spanish). Contrary to some opinion, the texture of lengua is not akin to shoe leather nor is it comparable to menudo. At Rey’s, the lengua is sliced into small cubes and is prepared with onions and green chile. If you didn’t know what you just ate, you might think you had roast beef, albeit a very moist and delicious roast beef. The lengua isn’t tough, sinewy or chewy in the least. It’s the type of tongue action you can brag about to your mom.
Rey’s burger menu includes one whose name is sure to appeal to the macho among us. It’s the “Man Size” burger, a full pound of beef on lightly toasted sourdough. The burger is served with lettuce, onions and a white-yellow cheese blend. Of course you’re going to want to garnish it with Rey’s terrific green chile. The sourdough is a surprisingly good canvas for the moist beef patty and garnishes. The burger is served with a nice amount of fries.
Rey’s Place features home-cooked Mexican and New Mexican food prepared with love and served by a cheerful staff who wants nothing more than for you to enjoy your dining experience. It’s ambitious goal is to be the best New Mexican food restaurant in Albuquerque. It may well get there. The question is whether it will receive honors and accolades before and more often for its music as for its food.
6004 Edith Blvd NE
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 18 January 2013
1st VISIT: 16 October 2012
# OF VISITS: 4
BEST BET: Salsa and Chips, Stuffed Sopaipilla, Queso Fundido, Calde de Rez, Gorditas, Carne Adovada Plate, Huevos Rancheros, Grandma Gloria Tacos, Lengua, Man Size Burger