MALAGUEÑA’S LATIN TAPAS – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Malagueña’s Latin Tapas, Five-Star Dining From a Mobile Food Kitchen

Not long after Superbowl XL’s halftime show began, a veil of theatrical smoke enveloped the stage, dissipating slowly to reveal the legendary featured performers, the immortal Rolling Stones.    First the camera panned to a gyrating Mick Jagger who got the frenzied crowd rollicking with Start Me Up. When the camera focused on Keith Richards, my sister-in-law asked when the Cryptkeeper (from the 1990s horror anthology television series Tales From The Crypt) joined the Stones.  We spent the halftime show making fun of the then-63-year-old rocker who looked much older thanks to a life of debauchery.

When the last commercial began before the game resumed, I reminded our guests that despite looking like a decrepit old duffer, Keith Richards was considered one of the best guitar players in the world (in 2015, Rolling Stone named him the fourth greatest guitarist in history.)  That didn’t impress them as much as watching a video afterwards of Richards playing Malagueña, a classical Spanish Guitar composition that evokes the spirit of Spain.   Malagueña, a composition which requires exceptional deftness and skill, was actually the very first song Richards learned.   No one in our party joked about the Granny Clampett  look-alike playing the banjo.

Molly and Javier Montaño

For Chef Javier Montaño, an Albuquerque native and (like me) a scion of Galicia in Spain, Malagueña resonates deeply.  When he and his beauteous bride Molly relocated from San Francisco to the Duke City, it made sense that their restaurant venture would be named for the profoundly soulful song which captures the essence of Spain so well. While well cognizant of the barbarous atrocities perpetrated throughout the Americas by Spanish conquistadores, Javier’s focus is on the positive cultural and culinary aspects of the Spanish influence.  Promising a fresh twist on Spanish and Latin American Cuisine, the Montaños are taking traditional ingredients and culinary ideas from throughout Latin America and interpreting them in delicious ways.  After our inaugural sampling of Malagueña’s fare, my Kim called it “five-star food from a food truck.”

Yes, some of the very best Latin American cuisine in the Duke City exists not in a brick and mortar operation, but in a mobile food kitchen.  With thirty years experience as a chef, Javier well knows that the three keys to success as a brick and mortar restaurant are location, location and location.  A brick and mortar might come later.  For now, the Montaños are having a blast meeting and interacting with very savvy and receptive diners.  They’ve now had their mobile food kitchen for three months (as of July, 2017), but have enjoyed a promising start.  

Chef Montaño Shows Off Beautifully Marbled Wagyu Beef from Lone Mountain Wagyu in Golden, New Mexico

Before moving to San Francisco, Javier plied his chef skills at some of New Mexico’s most highly acclaimed restaurants including Scalo in Albuquerque and the Coyote Cafe in Santa Fe.  In the City by the Bay, he served as chef at Fog City and at Guckenheimer, a corporate food service provider.  Also in San Francisco he met and married Molly who worked at the time as a gourmet food representative.  Their passion for food is obvious.  Speak with them for just a while and you’ll come away impressed with their commitment to creating a harmonious interplay from the premium ingredients they use.

Take, for example, their use of beautifully marbled wagyu beef from Lone Mountain Wagyu in Golden, New Mexico.  Wagyu beef is beef self-actualized, as good as it can be.  It’s luxurious, buttery and high in saturated fats (which, contrary to some nutrition know-it-alls tell us has many health benefits).  Wagyu is regarded as some of the best beef in the world.  Beef this exclusive and premium shouldn’t be prepared on just any old grill.  Javier worked with an Argentine friend (and few people know beef as well as Argentines do) to construct an Argentinian-style pit for grilling meats low and slow in a shallow pile of glowing coals.

Surf & Turf Special

8 July 2017: The results are some of the most unctuous, tender, rich and absolutely delicious beef we’ve had in quite a while.  Three thinly sliced seared strips of wagyu prepared at medium-rare graced the surf and turf special of the day that also included chimichurri, a spicy shrimp skewer on roasted Spanish potatoes with an aji amarillo aioli.  A surf and turf special of this caliber is usually served with cloth napkins and silverware, not on a paper food tray.  The three shrimp on a wooden skewer are fresh and firm with a characteristic snap when you bite into them.  They’re lightly dusted with a spice mix that gives them a lively flavor profile that complements a grilled flavor.  The roasted Spanish potatoes are sliced into small cubes and have sweet-savory notes that go so well with the aji amarillo aioli. 

8 July 2017: Amarillo aji, a ubiquitous fixture in Peruvian cuisine, also plays a prominent part in another fabulous entree–the ceviche mixto.  Ceviche is the national dish of Peru and the coastal nation’s most popular dish: fresh, raw, white fish cut into smaller than bite-size cubes, marinated and “cooked” in lime juice and seasoned with Peruvian chili peppers (often aji), onions and salt.  There are literally hundreds of variations of Peruvian ceviche.  Malagueña’s version includes not only the fish of the day, but calimari and chicharrones as well as ginger, garlic and pepitas.  The aji amarillo, a thick-fleshed chile with a medium to hot heat level works very well with the lime and ginger to imprint the sensation of invigorating freshness in your mouth.  You haven’t had ceviche until you’ve enjoyed a Peruvian version of this manna from the sea.  Malagueña’s version would make a Peruvian swoon.

Ceviche Mixto

8 July 2017: When my Kim ordered Malagueña’s lomo burrito, my first inclination was to dismiss it as just another boring burrito, the same as so many others.  Even after Javier cut it in half to reveal edible art reminiscent of a beautiful stained glass window, I remained a cynical skeptic.  Then my Kim slid a heaping forkful into my mouth.  The lomo burrito (marinated beef with chopped red onions, fries, tomatoes, rice, lettuce, sour cream and rocoto chile sauce wrapped in a thin flour tortilla) may be the very best burrito we’ve had in three years or longer.  Rocoto is one of Peru’s most piquant chiles, an incendiary pepper that’ll set your mouth on fire if you eat it straight off the plant.  Javier tames the chile in sauce form so that its emphasis isn’t solely heat, but the sweet-fruity notes that really define this pepper. The rocoto sauce allows the lomo (the Spanish term for loin) to shine. It’s tender and delicious with a magical marinade that compliments its beefy flavor.

8 July 2017: After polishing off our entrees and being fully sated, you’d think we could walk away contented, but we wanted to have even more of the explosions of flavors that characterized our inaugural visit to Malagueña’s.  Our solution: take home two Choripan (Argentinian spicy sausage sandwich with chimichuri and salsa fresca on a toasted bun).  Choripan is in Argentina what the hot dog is in the United States, perhaps the ultimate street food.  Choripan is obviously a portmanteau from the words chorizo, a sausage, and pan, meaning bread.  Take my word for it, Malagueña’s choripan is better than about one-hundred-percent of the hot dogs you’ll find in the Duke City.  It’s better than a Wisconsin brats, too.  Wow, is this an excellent sandwich.

Lomo Burrito

As might be expected from a mobile food kitchen, Malagueña’s menu is on the small side, listing fewer than a dozen items.  If our initial and second visits are any indication, you’ll want to try them all.  Aside from the items so inadequately described by me above, the menu on the date of our inaugural visit listed chicken pintxos (sherry, garlic chicken skewers), salt and vinegar fries, papas bravas (seasoned crispy fries with smoked tomato aioli), a spring salad (greens, nectarines, feta, almonds and mint in a charred lime vinaigrette) and a coconut pudding (with coconut, peanuts and sesame).  Javier apprised us that he and Molly plan to change up the menu frequently to keep things lively and fresh.  Lively, fresh, delicious…these are the hallmarks of Malagueña.

18 November 2017:  Habitues of Gil’s Thrilling… may have noticed that Malagueña’s Latin Tapas has now earned the very first rating of 25 I’ve ever accorded to a mobile food kitchen, placing it in rarefied company as one of my highest rated restaurants in the Land of Enchantment.  That’s not just one of my highest rated food trucks.  It’s among my highest rated restaurants of any type: brick and mortar, mobile food kitchen, fine dining, etc.  The flavors coaxed by Chef Javier and Molly from the highest quality ingredients can’t be contained.  Nor can they go without notice.  Before celebrating its one year anniversary, Malagueña’s has earned so much critical acclaim that it was one of ten nominees for the Edible Local Heroes award in the food truck category.  It’s the best vote you’ll cast.

Choripan, an Argentinian Sausage Sandwich

18 November 2017:  Javier reminisced about the creative liberties he enjoyed as a young chef working at Fuego, then the high-end fine-dining gem at La Posada de Santa Fe.  Working alongside another youthful prodigy named Maxime Bouneou, he fondly recalled creating a dinner salad offered for the then (and maybe even now) unfathomable price of thirty dollars.  Despite that lofty price point, the salad flew off the menu (and that was more than two decades ago).  The reason–it was constructed with quite literally the finest ingredients available: jamon Iberico, aged Balsamico, premium olive oil, etc. 

Javier is well aware that in a food truck market where the expectation is often nachos and tacos, he can’t possibly proffer a gourmet salad approximating the price of Fuego’s lavish gallimaufry.  What he does offer is the best five dollar salad you’ll ever have.  Talk about a different kind of sticker shock.  For a salad of such quality, we would have paid three times the amount.  The canvas for Malagueña’s autumn salad is locally grown little gem lettuces from a north valley farmer.  Not only are locally grown greens much more fresh and flavorful, they retain the nutritional value absent in greens shipped for hundreds of miles before making it to your grocery.  Playing six-part harmony with the little gem lettuces are thinly sliced apples, cranberries, goat cheese and cinnamon pecans in a maple vinaigrette.  The interplay between ingredients, textures and flavors–sweet, savory, tartness, earthiness–will enthrall your taste buds.

Autumn Salad

18 November 2017:  One of the most surprising culinary trends across the fruited plain over the past two years has been the ascendancy of cacio e pepe, literally “cheese and pepper,” or as described by some sources as a “minimalist mac and cheese.”  Essentially just long, stringy noodles  tossed in olive oil, Parmesan cheese, Pecorino and cracked pepper, cacio e pepe is terrific, but hardly worthy of the adulation it’s received.  Much better by several orders of magnitude is the simply named garlic noodles from Malagueña’s.  

Two of the many essential ingredients in my Kim’s kitchen repertoire are noodles and garlic, ingredients which not only go very well together, they complement virtually everything else.  Yeah, I know there are plenty of you who share  a vampire-like affinity with garlic, but for those of us with heightened tasted buds, garlic is glorious.  Malagueña’s garlic noodles lists only two other ingredients ( butter and Parmesan), but there’s so much more going on in this simple dish with complex flavors.  There is, for example, the delightful caramelization of garlic, an alchemic process made possible by its catalytic interaction with Turbinado sugar (from pure cane sugar extract).  The caramelization doesn’t take away garlic’s strong, sharp, pungent flavor.  It makes it more interesting.  Then there’s the acidic notes of shredded Parmesan, the creaminess of butter and the experiential delight of slurping up noodles.  Let’s face it, these are self-actualized garlic noodles, as good as they can be!

Garlic Noodles

18 November 2017:  Throughout Mexico and often using makeshift grills on ramshackle roadside stands, intrepid cooks aren’t afraid to let chicken skin blacken on the outside while the chicken cooks through on the inside.  Their technique involves two steps: a simple achiote-based marinade and slow-roasting over charcoal.  Known as pollo al carbon (literally “to the coals”), this poultry preparation style hasn’t caught on as widely across the fruited plain (perhaps because the technique isn’t exactly the most clean).  The Duke City’s sole sit-down purveyor (El Pollo Real) of pollo al carbon closed down in 2014 while a poultry purveying mobile kitchen (El Chicken 100% Carbon) has been inactive since the onset of the dreaded Albuquerque Rapid Transit (ART) project. 

It’s no surprise that Javier and Molly would be great fans of pollo al carbon.  Nor should it comes as a surprise that their interpretation of chicken carbon is absolutely delicious and wholly unique.  Instead of the spatchcocked chicken favored in Old Mexico, Malagueña’s rendition showcases marinated juicy chicken skewers topped with a smoked tomato salsa.  The marinade includes Worcestershire sauce and achiote, a bright orange-red spice vastly underutilized in New Mexico.   Achiote marinade imparts a distinctively peppery aroma and a subtle flavor described by The Kitchn as nutty, sweet, and earthy.  The marinade also facilitates the beauteous blackening of the skin that seals in juices and flavors.  The fresh smoked tomato salsa is yet another example of Malagueña’s commitment to freshness and fine ingredients.  Neither sauce-like nor runny as some salsas tend to be, it’s premium tomatoes and red onions cut up into small chunks.

Chicken Carbon

18 November 2017:  Among carnivores, the matter of baby back ribs or St. Louis ribs is oft debated.  Baby backs are favored in the barbecue community because their meat is ubiquitous.  It’s found between the bones and on top of the bones.  Baby backs are shorter, curved, and usually meatier and leaner than St. Louis ribs.  Those of us who favor the latter know St. Louis ribs have more fat content (and fat does mean flavor) and tend to be more tender then baby backs.  Sure, St. Louis ribs have more bone, but they also have more meat. 

It made me very happy to see Malagueña’s featuring St. Louis ribs with coffee red chile rub on the late Fall menu.  Coffee, Javier explained, is an underused ingredient in cooking and as aficionados know, coffee has almost twice as many flavor-characteristics discernible by human senses than wine does (take that oenophiles).  Pair coffee (Javier uses New Mexico Piñon Coffee) with red chile and you’ve got two of the most flavorful ingredients conceivable.  It makes for a fantastic rub.  Neither the coffee nor the red chile dominate.  Instead, notes from each coalesce into a delicious dream slathered on top of meaty ribs.  Wow!  Javier knows ribs!  He also knows New Mexico and knows there’s no better accompaniment for ribs than beans.  No, not the molasses-based beans served at barbecues across the fruited plain.  When in New Mexico, you serve pinto beans, the official state vegetable of the land of Enchantment.  A single bread roll completes a plate that feels like summer but would be great any time of year.

St Louis Ribs with Coffee Red Chile Rub

When he’s not prepping for his busy days on Malagueña, Javier teaches students knife skills and how to prepare everyday foods at New Day Youth & Family Services’ Gourmet Grub, a cooking class with the goal of helping Albuquerque’s at-risk youth stay off the streets and gain valuable experience in the food service industry for their future. In this capacity, he works closely with his brother Sean, part owner and general manager of Monroe’s, one of Albuquerque’s most popular New Mexican restaurants.

My Kim may have said it best: “Malagueña offers five-star cuisine in a food truck.”  It is the best mobile food kitchen we’ve experienced in the Duke City.  Javier and Molly are taking Latin American cuisine to new heights.  If you hear of them rolling down your neighborhood, run, don’t walk to this wonderful addition to the Duke City culinary scene.

MALAGUEÑA’S LATIN TAPAS
(Location Varies)
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(415) 342-1461
Web Site | Facebook Page | Instagram
LATEST VISIT: 18 November 2017
1st VISIT: 8 July 2017
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 25
COST: $$
BEST BET: Lomo Burrito, Ceviche Mixto, Choripan, Special Surf & Turf, Autumn Salad, Garlic Noodles, Chicken Carbon, St. Louis Ribs with Coffee Red Chile Rub

Malagueña Latin Tapas Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Los Compadres Restaurant – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Los Compadres on Central Avenue

In the vernacular and tradition of Hispanic Northern New Mexico, few–if any–titles were held in such esteem and reverence by elder generations as “compadre” (male) and “comadre” (female).  In his Dictionary of New Mexico & Southern Colorado Spanish, Ruben Cobos defines a compadre as a “ritual co-parent; a term by which godparents address the father of their godchild and by which the child’s parents address the godfather.” With the societal dissolution of the family entity, the term compadre doesn’t hold the same bonding connotation as it once did–at least in terms of raising one another’s families should the need arise.  Today the term compadre is frequently used almost interchangeably with “paiser,” a derivative of “paisano” or countryman. Paiser is a Northern New Mexican word addressing a person from one’s hometown or county.

When Janice and Roberto Martinez launched Los Compadres in March, 1997, they must have had in mind a homey, family-oriented restaurant in which compadres could gather for delicious Mexican and New Mexican cuisine the way it’s been prepared for generations.  Their mission statement as expressed so familially on their Facebook page bespeaks of concepts very important to New Mexicans: “The goal is to serve the best food in New Mexico and make customers feel happy and at home. So come in, get comfortable, and enjoy a nice meal with friends and family here at Los Compadres Restaurant LLC where Mi Casa Es Su Casa.”  

A rare sight–Los Compadres Isn’t Packed

When Brian Maestas a paisano from el Norte recommended Los Compadres Restaurant, he didn’t just tell me it serves great food, he asserted “they have the best Mexican/New Mexican in the state.” He cemented this audacious contention with bona fide credentials you can respect. Brian used to work at El Bruno and grew up in Cuba, New Mexico. El Bruno’s (the one in Cuba) is one of the ten best New Mexican restaurants in the state, so any comparison to its greatness has to be investigated. Besides, any restaurant with a name like “Los Compadres” has got to be good.

We’d driven by Los Compadres at its Isleta location on several occasions and despite the fact that its parking lot was always packed, we never stopped, usually because we were on our way to Kathy’s for one of the best burgers in town. Our loss!  Los Compadres signage belied the fact that the restaurant may once have served as a family residence, no doubt with a sala in which compadres got together to talk about family.  After fifteen years at the familiar Isleta location, the Martinez family relocated to the Northeast Heights, launching Los Compadres in the venue which has been the home to such restaurants as the Heimat House and Beer Garden and the Independence Grill.  The original home of Los Compadres, by the way, lives on today as Lollie’s New Mexican Food.

Salsa and Chips

In 2004, Los Compadres relocated again, this time to a Central Avenue venue just east of Route 66’s crossing of the Rio Grande.  Now situated at the former site of a Village Inn, Los Compadres remains a very popular eatery, especially on weekends where short waits aren’t uncommon.  There are several reasons beyond good food that friends and family pack the restaurant. Start with the welcoming family atmosphere and friendly and attentive service and you have a formula for success. Add generous portions of delicious food, piping hot coffee that’s replenished faithfully, prices reminiscent of the halcyon days of Route 66 and you’ve got a restaurant that draws patrons from throughout the city.

Los Compadres straddles that sometimes ambiguous line of demarcation between New Mexican food and Mexican food and in fact, serves cuisine unique to and shared by both (often the sole distinction being the degree of piquancy). The fiery salsa, by far the most piquant item on the menu, is some of the very best on Route 66. Its piquancy comes from incendiary jalapenos, but its essence is in the way those jalapenos meld with the tangy acidity of tomatoes and the refreshing fragrance of cilantro.  Make sure to have coffee with the salsa and chips.  The heat (temperature) of the coffee exaggerates the heat (piquancy) of the salsa even more.  It’s a practice fire-eaters enjoy.

Combination plate with enchilada, chile relleno and taco (not pictured)

Combination plate with enchilada, chile relleno and taco (not pictured)

14 June 2008: Only a few entrees include a papa asada (Mexican baked potato), but you can ask for one on the side if you wish. Not even the English pubs we frequented can bake a potato as well as a Mexican restaurant and the papa asada at Los Compadres is no different, save for the fact that it’s about twice as large as most baked potatoes you’ll find at many Mexican restaurants.  This papa asada is baked to absolute perfection–tender and moist on the inside with no desiccation or hardened crust on the outside. A few pats of butter and sour cream and you’re in potato paradise.

14 June 2008: One of the entrees with which the papa asada comes standard is the bistec a la plancha plate. A la plancha refers to meat or fish grilled on a cast iron skillet. It’s a great way to prepare a steak and seems to imbue it with heightened flavor, tenderness and juiciness. The restaurant’s version is a bone-in sirloin steak, not the finest cut of meat you can find, but one with a lot of flavor if prepared right. Los Compadres does it right! At about eight-ounces, it’s not sinewy or fatty as low-priced steak is apt to be. It’s better, in fact, than some steak for which you’ll pay twice the price.  In addition to the papa asada, the plate includes a generous serving of refried beans topped with a sheen of yellow and white cheeses. The beans are delicious, albeit just a bit too salty.

Bistec a la plancha

Bistec a la plancha

14 June 2008: The menu offers two different combination plates. The number twelve combo, pictured below, is comprised of a crispy beef and papas taco, a cheese stuffed enchilada with red chile and a green chile relleno.  There are several New Mexican restaurants in the Duke City (including a former honoree of Hispanic magazine’s Top 50 Hispanic Restaurants in America) that add potato flakes to their tacos, perhaps hoping to “stretch” the paltry amount of ground beef they add to their tacos. Los Compadres makes no pretense about their tacos. The menu will tell you up front the tacos include papas (not potato flakes), not something you see on many tacos, but quite good when not used as a filler.

The chile relleno is a tepid Anaheim with just a tad more piquancy than a bell pepper. It is topped with green chile which doesn’t pack much of a punch either, but it isn’t needed to make this a flavorful offering.  Lightly battered, it is engorged with cheese which just oozes out as you cut into the chile. Better is the cheese enchilada topped with a red chile that makes the green chile seem incendiary by comparison. The red chile has a lot of earthy flavor and sweetness, but very, very little piquancy. The only disappointment and one I can reiterate about almost every version I’ve had in Albuquerque is the Spanish rice. Los Compadres rendition isn’t desiccated as you’ll find at many restaurants. Instead, it’s nearly overwhelmed with tomato sauce leaning toward the sweet side.

Breakfast Enchiladas with Two Eggs

17 November 2017: My return visit to Los Compadres transpired some nine years after our inaugural visit, but that wasn’t by design.  We tried several times to return–always on weekends–but we couldn’t find a parking place.  That’s a testament to just how very popular this family-oriented gem is.  Breakfast enchiladas (two stacked enchiladas with red and green chile topped with two fried eggs over easy with sides of papitas and refried beans) were my Douglas McArthur (I shall return) choice.  Save for the overly salted refried beans, the behemoth breakfast place is a terrific option, one that will ensure you won’t be hungry the rest of the day.

Los Compadres is a restaurant to which you should bring your compadres, paisanos and paisers. It’s a restaurant you should visit by yourself if you have to. Just visit!

Los Compadres Restaurant
2434 Central Avenue, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 452-8091
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 17 November 2017
1st VISIT: 14 June 2008
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 18
COST: $$
BEST BET: Salsa and Chips, Carne Asada, Cheese Enchilada, Papa Asada, Breakfast Enchiladas, Coffee

Los compadres Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Lindy’s Diner – Albuquerque, New Mexico

My friend Bruce “Sr Plata” Silver stands in front of Lindy’s Diner, one of the Duke City’s oldest restaurants

Get your kicks on Route 66” is the mantra of nostalgic motorists who have lobbied for generations to preserve the heritage that is America’s “mother road”, the 2,448 mile highway commissioned in 1926 and decommissioned in 1985 and which traversed eight states between Chicago, Illinois and Santa Monica, California. Though Route 66 generally traces the state’s traditional east-west transportation corridor through the center of the state, its initial route when commissioned in 1926 resembled a giant S-shaped detour.  It ran northwest from Santa Rosa to Santa Fe then south (through Bernalillo and Albuquerque) to Los Lunas. At that point, the road resumed its northwesterly route toward Laguna Pueblo, where it finally resumed its western direction.

Route 66’s original Albuquerque route basically followed 4th Street.  One block west–on the corner of Central Avenue and 5th Street–a storied eatery opened in 1929.  Now Albuquerque’s longest continually operating restaurant with a nearly 90-year run, this landmark institution began serving the Duke City as the Coney Island Cafe.  In 1937, the Coney Island Cafe would begin casting its shadow on Route 66 when the fabled highway was rerouted through the center of the state, traversing the length and breadth of Albuquerque’s Central Avenue. 

Lindy’s on Route 66 resonates with the past

In the 1960s, the homey hot dog haven was purchased by Narke Vatoseow who renamed it Lindy’s Coffee Shop. Remnants of its past include walls festooned with nostalgic bric-a-brac and a long lunch counter at which long-time patrons congregate to catch up.  Gone, however, are the red vinyl booths that you stuck to on hot summer days.  Today, Lindy’s Diner remains a popular dining destination, an anachronism for which there will always be a place. Situated on historic Route 66, it may serve as a living reminder of Albuquerque’s nostalgic past, but has assured its future by serving hearty, homestyle meals for decades.

In 1999, Gourmet magazine feted Lindy’s in a feature called “Sentimental Journey Through America’s Main Streets.” In 2002, Jane and Michael Stern celebrated Lindy’s on their Roadfood Web site. Despite such national recognition and its longevity, many Duke City residents (especially the young whipper-snappers) have never heard of this unassuming historical treasure–and it’s likely the folks at Lindy’s like it that way. It allows them to maintain the personal touch and comfortable pace its clientele has come to love.  After a nine-year absence (from 2008 through 2017), I returned to Lindy’s with my friend Bruce “Sr Plata” Silver who appreciates nostalgia almost as much as he loves chicken fried steak.  Lindy’s offers both.

Sour Cream Enchiladas

9 November 2017:  Breakfast is served all day long and during breakfast hours you can order anything off the menu. American comfort food favorites, bounteous sandwiches, salads and New Mexican entrees hold prominence on the menu, but you can also order Mediterranean specialties. It’s a safe bet everything on the menu is somebody’s favorite.  My favorite after three visits is the sour cream enchiladas, three flat cheese enchiladas served Christmas style (both red and green). The green chile is slightly more piquant than the red chile and while neither will singe your tongue, they’re both very flavorful.  Most sour cream enchiladas seem to incorporate both chicken and cream of chicken soup, but at Lindy’s you can also have this entree with beef.  Another difference is that a huge dollop of sour cream is added after the rest of the entree is baked.  It imparts a mild and not too tart flavor that complements the chile very well.

Better chile is slathered on the Frito pie which includes a generous tossing of Frito corn chips garnished with a mountain of lettuce, tomato, onions and Cheddar cheese. Scale down that garnish and you’ll uncover one of the best Frito pies in the city.  In its annual food and wine issue for 2013, Albuquerque The Magazine‘s staff sampled “every dish of nachos in the city” and selected Lindy’s nachos as the ninth best in the city.  The magazine described these nachos as having been “sent by the Greek gods themselves.”

Cowboy Breakfast

Breakfast favorites include a traditional American breakfast of bacon, fried potatoes and eggs. The eggs are prepared to your specifications.  The potatoes are small, delicately cubed and well-salted spuds reminiscent of very good French fries with a soft texture inside.  The star of this triumvirate, however, is the bacon.  It’s the type of bacon only old-fashioned American diners seem to serve best–three six-inch strips of porcine perfection fried perfectly.  if you’re tired of bacon as stiff and dry as jerky, you’ll love the pliability of this bacon.  It’s crisp on the edges and beautifully bendable elsewhere with just the right amount of fattiness for flavor.

9 November 2017: For my friend Sr Plata, the epitome of comfort food greatness spells chicken fried steak, also a favorite of his sainted parents.  For two dollars shy of a ten-spot, he found some of the very best in Albuquerque in a plate called the Cowboy Breakfast.   You’d better arrive hungry if you’re thinking of ordering this behemoth breakfast which includes a chicken fried steak smothered in green chile and cheese with two eggs, beans, hash browns and two slies of toast.  In addition to the green chile and cheese, Sr. Plata asked for and was brought a cupful of white gravy sans meat (Lindy’s has many vegetarian guests).  He poured the white gravy on top of the green chile, making a rich dish even more calorific and delicious.  The chicken fried steak is fork tender and delicious, as good as you’ll find anywhere along Route 66.

Short Stack of Pancakes

9 November 2017:  You can add a short stack of fluffy, golden brown pancakes with syrup to any breakfast for a pittance. The syrup comes unheated, but you ask for it to be nuked for a steamy syrupy treat.  Even better–and this is the way Sr. Plata loves his pancakes–is with heated butter.  When the two golden orbs arrive at your table they’re glistening from the butyraceous touch.  The pancakes, by the way, nearly cover the plate and are dusted with white confectioner’s sugar.  If Route 66 has a food mascot, it would have to be pancakes.  Lindy’s pancakes are among the best along the Mother Road.

In 2003, the Vatoseows launched Lindy’s American Cafe in a Northeast Heights former location of JB’s. Larger accommodations (seating for 140 patrons) than the downtown restaurant allowed for a more expansive menu, but the new cafe lasted just about a year. It must be true that there’s only one Lindy’s.

Lindy’s
500 Central, S.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 242-2588
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 9 November 2017
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 19
COST: $$
BEST BET: Sour Cream Enchiladas; Frito Pie; Pork Chops; Pancakes; Bacon; Cowboy Breakfast

Lindy's Diner Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Aya’s New Asian Japanese Cuisine – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Aya’s New Asian on Menaul

There’s an unspoken reciprocal arrangement between restaurant guests and the restaurant personnel with whom we interact. As guests, we show our appreciation for a dining experience well executed by tipping generously and maybe complimenting the kitchen and wait staff during and after the meal. Representatives of the restaurant– whether they be chefs, maître ds, servers or owners—typically thank their guests and invite them to return. All too often these interactions seem trite, maybe even rehearsed or expected. It’s what we all do because it’s what we’ve always done and it’s what’s expected to be done. Only during and after exceptional (or exceptionally bad) dining experiences do interactions between guests and restaurant personnel become more effusive…or so we thought.

During our inaugural visit to Aya’s New Asian Japanese Cuisine on Menaul, we experienced gratitude and friendliness so sincere and authentic that we couldn’t help but be touched.  Even if the Japanese cuisine hadn’t won us over, the humility and friendliness of Aya herself would have.  Let me step back at this point and explain that the restaurant is actually operated by two women named Aya (short for Ayako).  One Aya runs the front of the house and serves as sushi chef while the other runs the kitchen.  We only met the Aya who’s the public face of the restaurant and we were impressed.

Aya’s Dining Room

The two Ayas have been in Albuquerque for just over half a year, having made the move from Seattle which they found too rainy and dreary.  In contrast, they love the Duke City, especially its incomparable skies and weather.  The Ayas plan on making their lives in the United States, having liquidated their assets in Japan to move here.  Both classically trained in Japanese culinary techniques, they hope to introduce Duke City diners to the food of their homeland…and indeed, the menu offers a few “just a little different” items heretofore not found in the area’s Japanese restaurants.

Aya (the restaurant, not the owners) is ensconced in a timeworn shopping center on Menaul.  To its immediate west is a Flying Star and just east is Relish.  Wasabi and cranberry colored walls are festooned with serene paintings of lotus blossoms on one side and magnificent glass art showcasing Michael Miro‘s kabuki series on the other.  Aya was delighted in my knowledge and appreciation of the kabuki practices depicted so colorfully.  With an amazing command of English–considering she’s only been in America for about a year–she told us about her life in Okinawa.  Her self-effacing modesty in accepting compliments on her English was but one thing we immediately liked about her.

Vege Tempura

We also liked the Web site’s URL. It’s not just aya.com. It’s ayako-san.com. In Japanese, appending a name with the suffix “san” is a title of respect which can be used with both female and male names and with either given names or surnames. It can also be attached to the name of occupations and titles. In Japan, restaurant owners are often called mama-san or papa-san by both customers and employees. This signifies a level of affection as well as respect. It’s easy to see that Aya deserves such a title of endearment. We also liked that menu items are spelled phonetically—how they sound. Some menu items aren’t necessarily spelled the way Americans or even other Japanese restaurants would spell them. For example, the American spelling for Japanese dumplings is “gyoza” but the Aya menu spells it “gyouza.”

There’s much to like about Aya’s menu. There are seven starters on the menu, including three recently added (such as the green chile Ohitashi and poke salad). Four ala carte tempura options and miso soup can also be ordered as starters. The next section of the menu is dedicated to curry—five types, each served with a small salad. Six noodle dishes, including miso ramen, will sate all of us who love to nosh on noodles. Nine rice dishes, several of the donburi variety, follow suit. Next on the menu are three platters which are served with steamed rice, small salad, soup and small dish of the day. Sushi, available only during dinner time, follows suit then it’s a vegetarian tofu teriyaki dish. Last, but certainly not least is a three item dessert menu.

Gyouza

31 December 2016: Let tempura tease your taste buds. The vege tempura is an excellent starter option, rewarding you with a generous plating of deep-fried assorted seasonal vegetables sheathed in a crispy tempura batter. Having been born and raised in the Windy City area, my Kim generally eschews vegetables unless they’re covered in meat and potatoes, but she loves tempura vegetables. Unlike fried foods in Chicago, these are virtually grease-less. Aya served us lightly battered green beans, zucchini, squash and carrots. Underneath the tempura sheath, each vegetable retains a nice crispness that is indicative of fresh vegetables. Tempura dishes are served with a light soy-based sauce.

31 December 2016: Another excellent starter is the aforementioned gyouza, five lightly stir-fried, house-made Japanese pork dumplings served with ponzu (thin, tart citrus-based) sauce. While Japan is steeped in ancient culinary traditions, gyouza isn’t one of them. Japanese didn’t start making gyouza until after World War II when Japanese soldiers were exposed to Chinese dumplings while serving in Manchuria. Gyouza are usually thinner, smaller (two to three bites), more delicate and fillings tend to have a finer texture than their Chinese counterparts. Made well, gyouza is as good as any Chinese dumplings you’ll ever have. Aya makes them well.

Bara Chirashi Sushi Plate

31 December 2016: You can emphasize the word “special” when a special of the day is posted on the slate board or Facebook page. As someone who tends to order specials more often than from the regular menu, I’m ever attuned for something new and different such as the Bara Chirashi Sushi Plate (cubes of tuna, boiled shrimp, egg, zencom, cucumber and avocado over sushi rice). While we’ve certainly had chirashi before, it’s always been served donburi-style (in a bowl).  At Aya, the chirashi is served in a rectangular plate. The dish is pleasing to the eye and the palate with a nice balance of ingredients in good proportion to one another. Unlike chirashi we’ve had in other Japanese restaurants, we weren’t provided wasabi-sushi which really changes the flavor profile. Instead, we were left to enjoy sweet, delicate flavors that practically had us swooning.

31 December 2016: The Chirashi Sushi Plate is served with a salad, miso soup and pickled vegetables somewhat reminiscent of Korean namul (assorted unfermented salads). A simple salad (iceberg lettuce, shaved carrots) is transformed into a paragon of deliciousness with a cool, refreshing ginger dressing so good you’ll be tempted to lick the plate. The miso soup is much better than most we’ve had in Albuquerque where bouillon cube quality miso is maybe not the norm, but it’s shamefully all too common. It’s served hot as opposed to warm which gives it good miso creds with us and the tofu appears to have been made in-house.

Yakisoba

31 December 2016: Another popular Japanese dish of Chinese origin is Yakisoba, a fried noodle dish similar to chow mein. Aya elevates this relatively simple dish of fried noodles and vegetables with the addition of bacon. Yes, bacon! In Japan, thinly sliced pork is most commonly used on Yakisoba. Japan needs to have a bacon epiphany! A generous amount of bite-sized pieces of smoky, delicious bacon coalesces with the thick, sweet sauce to make this potentially the best Yakisoba dish we’ve ever had (we can’t remember having one better). 

6 November 2017: On the first Monday following the long overdue return to standard time, it seemed nothing could get me going despite having supposedly gained an hour of sleep.  What’s the cure for Monday malaise you ask.  The prescription for whatever ails you on Monday or any day is green chile–even in a Japanese restaurant.  Aya’s green chile tempura is as good as you’ll find at many New Mexican restaurants.  Not only does the chile have a pleasant piquancy, it’s served with something other than the de rigueur ranch dressing.  A soy-rice wine dressing imparts sweet notes that contrast nicely with the heat of the green chile strips.  The tempura batter is lightly applied and lends a delightfully crispy texture.

Green Chile Tempura

6 November 2017: Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto describes ramen as “a dish that’s very high in calories and sodium.  “One way to make it healthier,” he advises is to “leave the soup and just eat the noodles.”  Do that at Aya’s and you’ll miss out on a very satisfying, soul-warming soup that’s surely the epitome of Japanese comfort food.  Picture tangles of ramen noodles in a miso flavored soup topped with corn, sprouts, minced meat and butter.  While other Japanese restaurants across the Duke City favor a pork broth for their miso ramen minced meat makes for a surprisingly flavorful protein.  My sole complaint about this ramen–and it’s a nit–is the very thin sliver of butter.  My preference would be for a healthy half pound of butter.  The ramen noodles are a joy to eat though the Iron Chef’s contention that eating solely the noodles would be healthier has got to be wrong.  These noodles are much too tasty not to be calorie-laden.

31 December 2016: Great desserts and Japanese restaurant are two terms not commonly associated with one another. If a Japanese restaurant in New Mexico even deigns to serve dessert, it’s usually plum sorbet or green tea ice cream. Aya offers several desserts heretofore unknown to us. The most intriguing may be the green tea parfait which is served on a goblet similar to what Dairy Queen might use to serve a sundae. Layers of flavor, color and texture define this dessert. Imagine corn flakes (yes, the Kellogs type), green tea ice cream, whipped cream, green tea jelly, chocolate and seasonal fruits. Where do you start? We discovered early on that this dessert is best experienced if you can combine flavors and textures in each spoonful. The combination of corn flakes, chocolate sauce and green tea ice cream is especially satisfying.

Miso Ramen

31 December 2016: We first experienced green tea tempura cheesecake at Naruto, one of the Duke City’s premier ramen houses.  It’s since been an obsession.  Comparisons with Naruto’s version were inevitable.  At Naruto, the cheesecake is drizzled with cocoa powder served atop a swirl of chocolate.  Not so at Aya where a thin tempura batter sheathes a beautiful wedge of green tea cheesecake.  A dollop of whipped cream with a cherry on top is served on the side.  It’s a very good cheesecake.

My introduction of this review posited the existence of an unspoken reciprocal arrangement between guests at a restaurant and the restaurant personnel who serve them.  I explained that our experience with Aya was unlike the usual polite interaction between the two parties.  As we settled our bill of fare and prepared to leave, Aya didn’t extend the perfunctory “come back soon.”  She embraced us as one might an old friend or family member and told us how much she appreciated our visit and interest in her food.  She meant it!

Green Tea Parfait

Aya’s New Asian Japanese Cuisine offers many of the comfort food favorites Americans have come to love as well as some new and different options which just might become new favorites.  There’s also a strong chance Aya herself will quickly become one of your favorite restaurateurs.

Green Tea Tempura Cheesecake

Aya’s New Asian
8019 Menaul, N.E., Suite A
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 323-5441
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 6 November 2017
1st VISIT: 31 December 2016
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 18
COST: $$
BEST BET: Bara Chirashi Sushi Plate, Yakisoba, Vege Tempura, Gyoza, Green Tea Tempura Cheesecake, Green Tea Ice Cream Parfait, Miso Ramen, Green Chile Tempura

Ayas New Asian Cuisine Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Las Ristras Restaurant – Corrales, New Mexico

Las Ristras Restaurant: Comedor de Corrales

Based on interviews conducted with Hollywood luminaries who’ve starred in movies or television shows shot in New Mexico, you might think our state either doesn’t have a symbol of hospitality or that symbol is something as poorly representative of the Land of Enchantment as crack (Josh Brolin), tire stores (Jonathan Banks), shirtless drivers (Seth McFarlane), Walmart (Jessica Alba) or loudness (Tommy Lee Jones).   With all the tax breaks and enticements afforded film production companies, shouldn’t its most visible beneficiaries at least have something nice to say about New Mexico?

While New Mexico doesn’t have an official (as in legislatively decreed) symbol of hospitality, most of us recognize a ristra hanging on a doorway as an invitation to visitors, ergo a symbol of hospitality. It’s as much a symbol of hospitality as the pineapple is in Hawaii and the fleur de lis is in Louisiana. Moreover, the ristra has come to represent the state of New Mexico, maybe not quite as much as the Zia sun, but to a large extent. Now, if you want your texts to reflect New Mexico hospitality, download an app called “New Mexico Emojis” for your iPhone or iPad. Among the emojis you can add to your texts is one depicting a bright red ristra.

Chips and Salsa

In Spanish, “ristra” actually means string.  “Chile ristra” then translates into “a string of chiles.”   While the chile ristra has utilitarian roots (chiles being strung together by their stems and hung on walls to dry in the sun), it’s possible decorative ristras fashioned from ceramic, fabric, plastic, and plaster mold are almost as common as actual chile ristras.  Traditionalists appreciate the decorative qualities of the chile ristra, but ultimately will use them as they’ve been used for generations–for cooking and eating.

Because of the esteem with which the chile ristra is held throughout New Mexico, the expectations for a restaurant calling itself Las Ristras are high.  That name brings with it the promise of hospitality and good food showcasing chile.   Las Ristras opened its doors in August, 2015 at the site which scant weeks earlier was home to The Spot.  The restaurant was the brainchild of Corrales resident Ginger Hunter, a fourth generation Corralenia who in 2015 was awarded a Civic Recognition Award in recognition of “acts of compassion and kindness.”  Doesn’t that just bode of hospitality?

Baked Queso Fresco Topped with Chorizo

At its onset, the featured fare at Las Ristras was New Mexican cuisine—most of the “usual suspects” with a few creative touches added for good measure. Las Ristras made an impact on my friend Larry McGoldrick, the professor with the perspicacious palate who gave it the “McGoldrick stamp of approval: “What I like about Las Ristras is that it is not a clone of the many dozens of cookie-cutter NM restaurants. The food is homemade and I feel like I’m eating (and conversing) in Ginger’s kitchen. This is simple food lovingly prepared.” Alas, not everyone shared the same opinion with Yelp and Zomato critics casting dissenting opinions. 

By year’s end, ownership of Las Ristras had transitioned to Chef Jude Sanchez, a Corrales native (and Cibola graduate) who had returned home after cutting a wide swath across some of the best kitchens in Chicago and New York. One of the restaurants at which he worked even earned a Michelin star, a distinction accorded to very few restaurants. While a Michelin star for any restaurant in the Land of Enchantment may seem a fanciful hope, Chef Sanchez has very high aspirations for Las Ristras. To that end, he’s expanded the restaurant’s menu from mostly New Mexican fare to one now showcasing chophouse favorites the likes of which he enjoyed during his time in Chicago.

Dinner Salad

TTo say Chef Sanchez has come a long way is an understatement. Unlike many chef luminaries who aspire from a very young age to pursue the culinary arts, he had no such designs. Fate—and a famous New Mexico chef—intervened. After committing a teenage indiscretion, Chef Sanchez found himself in front of a judge about to impose a sentence of community service. Chef Jim White, then at the helm of Corrales institution La Casa Vieja, convinced the judge to let the young rapscallion perform his community service at his restaurant. The rest, as the proverbial “they,” say is history.

Initially, Chef Sanchez was assigned to what the military terms as “kitchen police,” or “KP,” a punishment calling for washing and drying mountains of soiled dishes. When the repentant teen proved himself adept at following instructions and performing quality work, Chef White taught him how to cut and peel vegetables, the next tasking to which he was assigned. Laboring in the fast-paced kitchen environment went from judicially imposed community service to a career path Chef Sanchez wanted very much to pursue. After his stint at La Casa Vieja, he made it his life’s quest to learn as much as he could about the vast diversity of culinary arenas, hence his sojourn to Chicago and New York.

Half Rack Green Chile Rubbed Ribs

The domain of some chefs is solely the kitchen where they toil in relative anonymity and rarely mingle with the dining public. Other chefs glad-hand diners and let others actually prepare meals for their guests. Not so with Chef Sanchez who not only makes it a point to check up on his guests, he prepares meals. When we met him, he was toting heavy boxes of locally grown produce for use at Las Ristras, but the prospect of spending time with our debonair dachshund Dude lured him toward our table under a porch at the back of the restaurant. Chef Sanchez is an outgoing gentleman with an easy smile and ebullient passion for his restaurant. He’s got a pit bull terrier at home whom he loves like a child. How can you not appreciate a chef like that? 

You’ll certainly appreciate the multifarious menu, a surprisingly ambitious bill of fare that is actually several menus in one.  There’s the Steak House Menu which is subtitled “Chef Inspired Dishes.”  This is where carnivores of all persuasions will gravitate.  Then there’s the New Mexican Favorites page which lives up to its name.  The third menu, called “From the Grill” includes such inviting offerings as green chile meatloaf, fajitas and the Corrales Tortilla Burger.  A breakfast menu includes both New Mexican and American wake-you-up items.  Drive past Las Ristras and invariably you’ll see a slate board inviting you to try the latest du jour offering.

The “Bad Boy”

Five appetizers and three “in the bowl” starters (posole, green chile stew and chile with beans) may not seem like many, but you’ll be hard-pressed to make a decision as to which to order.  Luckily while you’re perusing the menus, a bowl of fresh salsa and chips is ferried over to your table.  It may inspire you (as it did us) to order a Mexican inspired starter–the baked queso fresco topped with chorizo.  Described as “a fresh slice of queso fresco baked and topped with sauteed chorizo served with chimi chips,” it’s presented beautifully.  More importantly it’s flavored beautifully.  The chorizo has a pleasant piquancy that permeates the entire dish with the queso fresco slice serving as a nice foil, maybe even palate-cleanser.  Since my Kim found the chorizo a bit too piquant for her Chicago palate, it was only fair that I let her have both slices of the melted queso.  We suspect that what the menu described as “chimi chips” may have been the three sopes-like fried dough circles on which everything else is piled.  In any case, it was the canvas on which a masterpiece was created.

Ever since a rib was taken from Adam’s body and fashioned into the first woman, both men and women (exempting vegetarians and vegans, of course) have craved ribs.  Whether spare ribs, baby backs, rib tips or St. Louis cut ribs, they’re beloved by many, but don’t always offer many surprises.  Chef Sanchez’s half rack of green chile rubbed ribs (fire-roasted baby back ribs with a Corrales green chile rub and sweet jalapeño sauce) surprised us.  Most surprising is just how balanced and complementary the Corrales green chile and jalapeño sauce were.  If you ever thought “never the twain shall meet,” you’ll be won over by just how much flavor can be extricated from that combination.  The ribs themselves aren’t quite fall-off-the-bone tender, but then the best ribs aren’t.  They have a little bit of give, indicative that they’re not overdone as those fall-off-the-bone ribs tend to be.  These are competition worthy ribs which would fare well at Rio Rancho’s Pork & Brew.

For my Chicago born-and-bred Kim, meat and potatoes have been a lifelong dietary staple, so you just have to know that she spent most of her time perusing the Steak House Menu.  Not that she got very far even on that page.  Mostly she contemplated at length the very first item on the menu, a beefy behemoth called “The Bad Boy.”  Picture a sixteen to eighteen ounce bone-in ribeye, it’s described on the men as the “James Dean of the menu,” “so good, it’s bad.”  That’s bad in a good way.  At medium rare, this beauteous slab of beef has picturesque grill marks that preface flowing juices and a rich, beefy flavor with nice marbling throughout and after all, fat is where a lot of the distinctive flavor of beef comes from.  In some places, ribeye is sold as “beauty steak.”  The two-inch-thick Bad Boy certainly fits the bill.  Steak House menu items are served with a terrific dinner salad drizzled with a creamy avocado ranch dressing.  You also have your choice of sides: smoked Gouda green chile potatoes, pancetta vegetables or cilantro lime rice.  Go for the former.

Las Ristras is part New Mexican, part steak house and a one-hundred percent destination restaurant.  Chef Jude Sanchez certainly has knows his way around the kitchen.

Los Ristras Restaurant
4940 Corrales Road, N.E., Suite 400
Corrales, New Mexico
(505) 433-4192
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 4 November 2017
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Chips and Salsa,

Las Ristras Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Thai Vegan – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Thai Vegan on Osuna

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”
– William Shakespeare

Contrary to the Bard of Avon’s most famous sonnet, what something is named does matter.  It matters at least as much as what it is.   Some would say, in fact, that a name is everything.  If a steak restaurant was named Rotted Meat, it’s unlikely it would entice enough diners (much less pedantic critics) to ever discover it serves four-star gourmet quality cuisine.  Diners would stay away in droves and those intrepid enough to visit would likely find the suggestive nature of its name  greatly diminishes the deliciousness of the food.

A restaurant’s name is its identity.  The right name imprints a good and lasting impression on a restaurant’s customers.  It’s an effective way to draw first-time visitors to a restaurant, if only to satisfy their curiosity.  Choose the wrong name and your restaurant could be subjected to pejoratives and ridicule. Zagat’s, one of the most prolific print and online sources of user-generated restaurant reviews rounded up what they consider the worst restaurant names they could find — “silly, sexually suggestive, potty referencing and all.”

Thai Vegan’s exotic dining room

The list was comprised of Asselina, an Italian restaurant in New York; Beaver’s Choice, an Arizona Scandinavian eatery; Big Wong, a New York City Chinese institution; Crabby Dick’s, a Mid-Atlantic seafood chain; Crapitto’s, a Houston Italian diner; Fu King, a Chinese restaurant in Florida; Goat Lips, a Florida deli; 9021Pho, a Beverly Hills Vietnamese restaurant; Phat Phuc, a Vietnamese noodle Bar; and Pink Taco, a Las Vegas taco restaurant.  It’s possible the double-entendre and scatology will appeal to the sophomoric among us–at least the first time we visit.  After that, return visits are unlikely if the food isn’t up to par. 

Rather than risk scaring potential customers away or worst, bringing in an “undesirable” crowd, most restaurant owners play it safe and give their restaurants fairly generic, but descriptive names that leave no doubt as to what type of food is proffered.  Albuquerque’s Thai Vegan restaurant, for example, will never be mistaken for a restaurant which serves steak and chops.  The name is clearly indicative of the type of food this restaurant serves.  What the name doesn’t come close to describing is just how good Thai vegan food can be under capable hands. 

Steam Dumplings (Photo Courtesy of Dazzling Deanell)

At Vegan Thai, the capable hands belong to chef-owner Pat Phomnoi and they’re on display for all diners to admire in two Albuquerque locations–the original on Osuna and one in Nob Hill–and one in Santa Fe. It’s obvious from Thai Vegan’s “I love me” wall that the original restaurant’s success spawned the need for expansion. One section of the wall just as you walk in is plastered with all the “best of” accolades the restaurant has earned over the years from such publications as Albuquerque The Magazine, the Albuquerque Journal, The Daily Lobo and more. Not only has it earned honors as the city’s best vegan restaurants, but in recent years has also been recognized as the city’s best Thai restaurant.

That last honor–best Thai restaurant–places the emphasis on “Thai” cuisine, not “vegan” cuisine.  My friend Larry McGoldrick, the professor with the perspicacious palate rates Thai Vegan as the third best Thai restaurant in the Duke City, right behind the Pad Thai Cafe and Thai Tip.  When it comes to purity of flavors, Thai Vegan, he emphasizes, is spot on.  After his inaugural visit, he returned to Thai Vegan four times in a two week span.  I joined Larry and Dazzling Deanell on Larry’s fourth visit.  He was excited to see if maybe a more recent visit to Thai Vegan might persuade me to up my rating from “20” to “22,” the rating he would accord the restaurant on my scale.

Papaya Salad (Photo Courtesy of Dazzling Deanell)

Chef Phomnoi launched Vegan Thai in 2010 at the former site of Lotus Cafe, quickly winning over the hearts of many of its predecessor’s devotees and bringing in the niche demographic of vegans wanting high-quality Thai cuisine.  No matter your preference, Vegan Thai will win you over when you step into the restaurant and are immediately enveloped in the olfactory arousing aromas of spices and sauces.  If you had any doubts before walking in, the fabulous fragrances will dispel them as they waft toward you like a sensuous siren’s call.

Thai Vegan will appeal to your visual sense as well.  The attractive dining room is adorned in gold trim with a gold symbol resembling a seahorse particularly prominent.  An aquarium teeming with goldfish seems strangely out of place though it does add to an already tranquil ambiance.  Service is friendly, attentive and employs tandem concepts.  The waitress who takes your order may not be the one to deliver it.  Whichever waitress is closest to you at any given time will be the one to refill your drink order or check up on you.

Red Curry (Photo Courtesy of Dazzling Deanell)

The menu is very similar to that of many Thai restaurants with a few surprises thrown in.  For example, the appetizers include not only edamame (soybean pods more commonly served in Japanese restaurants), but French fries, too.  Perhaps because of the commonality of the pairing, the menu also lists eight burgers–tofu burgers, legume veggie burgers, soy burgers, wheat meat burgers and wheat and soy burgers, all of which you can have with fries.  Many entrees are available with your choice of soy chicken, soy pepper steak or soy fish.

2 November 2017: Dumpling appetizers come six to an order or you can request an assortment of each of three types of dumplings: veggie, steam curry or red chili.  The dumplings are decoratively plated on a bed of lettuce, julienned carrots and purple cabbage.  The steam curry dumplings stand out largely because of the green curry sauce drizzled on top.  The red chili dumplings   have a crispy texture as if deep-fried.  The red chili is more cloying than it is piquant.  One of this appetizer’s best qualities is that when you’re done with the dumplings, you still have a salad well sauced with green curry and red chili.

Praram’s Plate with two spring rolls and a salad

2 November 2017: The menu offers eight different salad options including larb (the national dish of Laos) and papaya salad.  The papaya salad is as beautiful to behold as it is a joy to eat.  A bed of lettuce is crowned with julienned papaya and carrots, minced peanuts, cilantro and purple cabbage flanked by tomatoes.  Ordered at medium piquancy, there is barely a discernible hint of heat (at least to fire-eaters like Larry and me) on an otherwise very tasty, very fresh papaya salad.  Papaya salad is one of the most fresh and vibrant dishes on a Thai menu.  Even if newcomers don’t like anything else about Thai food, they’ll probably enjoy papaya salad.

30 July 2011:My server looked at me as if I had a death wish when I requested green curry at a “Thai hot” level, prompting me to question my own sanity.  I shouldn’t have.  The heat level was innocuous–maybe a third as piquant as the incendiary heat generated at Thai Cuisine.  That’s too bad because a little heat would have elevated the flavor profile of a pretty good green curry.  Even my Chicago born-and-bred better half thought the heat level to have been strictly “gringo.”  Stricken by a desire to experiment, I asked for the curry to be prepared with the soy pepper steak which will never be mistaken for the real thing, but shouldn’t be discounted either. 

Mangoes with sticky sweet rice

5 May 2015: Thai Vegan’s daily lunch and dinner combinations are a bargain at under ten dollars. Both are served with steamed brown rice, a spring roll and salad with your choice of tofu, soy chicken, pepper steak or soy fish. For a pittance more, you can also have soy shrimp or soy chicken nuggets. If the curiously named Praram’s Plate (marinated soy chicken pan-fried with peanut sauce on a bed of steamed spinach) is any indication, these combination plates are special. The pan-fried soy chicken may not perfectly mimic the taste and texture of real white meat chicken, but it’s close enough to the real thing that not everyone will notice. The tofu chicken is drenched with a peanut sauce very much reminiscent of the peanut sauce often served with satay. For those of us who love peanut sauce, the profligate portion of sauce is very much welcome. The spinach also goes well with the peanut sauce. As Thai spring rolls tend to be, the spring roll is excellent.

30 July 2011: Our mangoes with sticky rice dessert was a bit of a let-down. Though the mangoes were in-season, fresh and juicy and the sticky rice was perfectly prepared, this simple but elegant dessert favorite lacked coconut milk, the ingredient which coalesces all flavors in this dish.

So, what’s in a name?  In the name Thai Vegan, there’s the promise of very good and very healthy Thai food prepared before your eyes in a very attractive milieu.

Thai Vegan
5505 Osuna, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 884-4610
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 2 November 2017
1st VISIT: 30 July 2011
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 20
COST: $$
BEST BET: Papaya Salad, Green Curry, Mangoes with Sticky Rice, Dumpling Assortment, Praram’s Plate, Spring Rolls, Spicy Eggplant

Thai Vegan on Urbanspoon

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

Italian Beef from AK Deli

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

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

Duck Enchiladas from Maya

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

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

The high-tech menu at Brixens in Albuquerque

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

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

September, 2017

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

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

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

Green Chile Ranch Dressing from Dion’s

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

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

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

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

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

Cinnamon Roll from Limonata in Albuquerque

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

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

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

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

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

August, 2017

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

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

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

Korean BBQ Beef and Spicy Pork Tacos From Soo Bak Foods

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Golf Teams Needed to Support Roadrunner Food Bank

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

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

Vegetarian Pizza from Golden Crown Panaderia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July, 2017

Vegetarian Dumplings from the Pop-Up Dumpling House in Albuquerque

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

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

Village Pizza in Corrales Where Friendly Dogs Are Always Welcome

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

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

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

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

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

June, 2017

Squash Blossom Taco from the B2B Tap Room in Albuquerque

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Combination Plate from Mandarin Chinese in Albuquerque

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

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

May, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cultured Canines Dine at Santa Fe’s Teahouse

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

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

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

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

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

April, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quick Poll Questions Now on Gil’s Thrilling…

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

January, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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