Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Year in Food: April, 2016

The Cubano from Alicea’s Bagels & Subs in Rio Rancho

It’s no April Fool’s Day joke. On April 1st, LotaBurger launched its very first Arizona location, expanding its burger empire to three states (in 2004, Lotaburger debuted in El Paso, Texas). Tucson’s burger aficionados will quickly discover why the 2006 edition of National Geographic’s Passport to the Best: The 10 Best of Everything book, declared LotaBurger serves the “Best Green Chile Cheeseburger in the World“. Going strong for well over six decades, LotaBurger was a New Mexico only institution for all but the past 62 years, but not appears poised to conquer new culinary horizons.

It’s been oft said by chefs that “you eat with your eyes first. Although the senses of taste, smell, and vision are distinct, visual stimuli have been shown to alter your perception of those senses. Tabelog, an “online community for foodies by foodies,” compiled a list of America’s 13 most scenic restaurants, eateries boasting of amazing panoramas from every angle. New Mexico’s sole honoree is the High Finance Restaurant at the top of the Sandia Peak Tramway. According to Tabelog, “With enormous views of the Rio Grande Valley and the Land of Enchantment, High Finance Restaurant offers one of the most unique scenic meals in the country.”

Wings with Buffalo Garlic Sauce from Bucket Headz in Albuquerque

Over the years there have been a number of national online presences purporting some level of expertise about New Mexican cuisine. They publish “best of” features that leave locals asking “huh” and “why was this restaurant selected?”. At other times those “best of” features show a level of savvy that surprises locals. Such was the case when Spoon University, “the everyday food resource for our generation, on a mission to make food make sense” selected the cheeseburger from Burger Boy in Cedar Crest as the Land of Enchantment’s best. Spoon University’s “best burger from every state” feature indicated “Although they offer a few different burgers for a cheap price, most choose the classic cheeseburger, which also comes with fries.” Most New Mexicans we know order their burger with green chile.

What type of restaurant might be named to MSN’s 50 best restaurants in America list? You’re probably thinking it’s some posh fine-dining establishment featuring nouveau French cuisine. “Best,” as we all know is a subjective term subject to individual interpretation. MSN’s list showed some out-of-the-box thinking in naming Albuquerque’s Guava Tree Cafe as the 31st best restaurant in the fruited plain. According to MSN, “this little restaurant has great Caribbean and Latin American-inspired food. With many Cuban type sandwiches and avocados in most of their food, this place definitely has the delicious lunch thing down.”

Toritos from Mariscos Mazatlan in Rio Rancho

Innovative chefs ply their trade all across the fruited plain with some of the very best working across the southwest. Dorado, an online magazine which “celebrates the rugged and eclectic spirit of the Four Corners region” compiled a list of “seven Southwest chefs we love.” New Mexican chefs which made the list included Rob Connoley, the James Beard award-nominated forager from Curious Kumquat in Silver City; Ahmed Obo, the Kenya native who fuses traditional Kenyan dishes with Caribbean flavors at Jambo; and Erin Wade, who’s made really big salads really delicious in Vinaigrette which has a presence in Albuquerque and Santa Fe.

Thrillist, the online presence “obsessed with everything that’s worth caring about in food, drink” compiled a “state-by-state ode to the edible (and drinkable!) dynamos that have literally changed the shape of America (because we’re fatter now). In its “Every State’s Most Important Food Innovation” feature, Thrillist declared (what else) green chile as New Mexico’s choice. According to Thrillist, “Chiles only came to the region post-Columbus, and the chiles you so enjoy today are the results of painstaking research in the early 20th century at New Mexico State University meant to isolate varieties that would thrive in the arid climate there.”

Blueberry Muffin from Desert Grows in Los Ranchos de Albuquerque

Perhaps if our options consisted solely of green chile and pinto beans, more of us might endeavor to become vegetarians. Fortunately for vegetarians, there are many other delicious meat-free choices across the Land of Enchantment…so many that CNN Traveler named Santa Fe as one of the “15 best U.S. cities for vegetarians.” Traveler noted that “like the town itself, Santa Fe’s vegetarian-friendly restaurants offer a number of ways to get out of your comfort zone. Try a fix of the famed local staple, green chile, in a tamale at Cafe Pasqual’s or wrapped in a crispy dosa at the innovative South Indian restaurant Paper Dosa.

Although the Cooking Channel doesn’t grace my cable subscription package, I find comfort in knowing Founding Friends of Gil (FOG) member Jim Millington was able to watch the channel’s “Cheap Eats” show when it featured host Ali Khan visiting beautiful, sunny Albuquerque. Jim reports that “the show is pretty much like Rachael Ray’s old Twenty Dollar a Day show except that Ali lacks Rachael’s cuteness and he has $35. His first stop was at the Tia B’s La Waffleria for vegan waffles which he found to be wonderful. Next stop was the Route 66 Pit Stop for the famous green chile cheeseburger which knocked his socks off. Third was Rebel Donuts. He didn’t even get a donut shaped one. It was long, stuffed and topped with bacon. Papa Felipe’s introduced him to the amazement of carne adovada stuffed in a sopaipilla.” Thank you, Jim.

March, 2016

Polish/German Platter from the Red Rock Deli in Albuquerque

Hollywood has discovered one of New Mexico’s most enchanting qualities. It’s the state’s chameleon-like ability to transform itself to virtually any location movie producers wish to portray. Thanks to its preternaturally diverse topography, various locations throughout the Land of Enchantment have been featured in more than 600 productions over the years, touching virtually every corner of the state. In many instances, New Mexico doubles as some far-away exotic locale and not necessarily within the surly bounds of Earth. The filming location for the 2016 movie Whiskey Tango Foxtrot may have been Albuquerque, but it’s a Duke City many of us won’t recognize. Stretching its acting chops, Albuquerque portrayed Afghanistan in the movie. During an appearance on the Tonight Show, starring actress Tina Fay explained “New Mexico looks a lot like Afghanistan, weirdly, but with really good burgers with green chiles.” You won’t find green chile cheeseburgers in Afghanistan.

Speaking of doubling for something else, several years ago Rebel Donut gained tremendous notoriety for creating a donut mimicking the potent crystal blue meth made famous by AMC’s Breaking Bad series. More recently, Rebel Donut was honored on Food Network Magazine as one of a dozen “best in dough,” an honor bestowed upon fun donuts. The honoree is Rebel Donut’s pina colada donut, a vanilla cake donut dipped in coconut rum glaze then raw coconut with buttercream frosting. Unlike the Breaking Bad donut which has no actual blue meth, there is actual real rum in the pina colada donut. It’s one in a small line of adult donuts though it can be made “virgin” as well.

Corn from Delicias Cafe in Albuquerque

There are dozens of annual sweets and dessert festivals across the fruited plain. USA Today honored just a handful of the most popular, inviting readers to “sweets festivals worth traveling to indulge in.” One of the festivals garnering a mention is Albuquerque’s own Southwest Chocolate & Coffee Fest in March. “The festival features both baking and eating contests, welcoming all ages and skill levels.” More than 120 vendors and 17,000 festival-goers attend” the event according to USA Today.

How many times have you heard it said “only in New Mexico.” Frankly, every state has unique features, landmarks, personalities and quirks that set it apart from other states. Recognizing the uniqueness of each state is the goal of OnlyInYourState.com, an online presence which takes a fun, informal approach to helping readers discover things to do in each of the 50 states. Anyone can write about New Mexico’s enchanting enchiladas and bounteous burritos. OnlyInYourState dares to point out “13 Pizza Places in New Mexico So Good Your Mouth May Explode.” Interestingly, you have to go all the way down to number six before a pizza from Albuquerque is even mentioned. According to the writer, the five best pizzas in New Mexico are the Rooftop Pizzeria in Santa Fe, J.C.’s Pizza Department in Las Vegas (with a branch in Albuquerque), The Pizza Barn in Edgewood, Zeffiro Pizzeria Napoletana in Las Cruces and Forghedaboudit in Deming. How many of us even know these pizza places exist?

Chicken Fried Steak from City Lights in Albuquerque

“Santa Fe’s small, intimate and upscale dining scene provides ample restaurants with hushed lighting, tranquil outdoor seating and a unique fold of Southwestern, American and French cuisines.” Foodandwine.com invited its readers to reserve a table or two at the most romantic restaurants in Santa Fe. The list includes Eloisa, the James Beard award-nominated restaurant from chef John Rivera Sedlar; Izanami, the traditional Japanese izakaya restaurant; Luminaria, where lantern-lit courtyard dining awaits; The Anasazi, a rustic-chick restaurant melding Southwestern and Latin influences; and Santacafe, with its Georgia O’Keefe inspired dining room. Romance is definitely in the air at these restaurants.

22 Words, an online presence which purports to be “your source for the crazy, curious, and comical side of the Web” and offers “funny and fascinating viral content as well as more obscure (but equally interesting) pictures, videos and more” put together its list of the “BEST things to Eat in Every State.” It’s a no-brainer to declare the best thing to eat in New Mexico: “When chili peppers are one of the state vegetables, it’s a given that you’re known for producing fresh, hot chili-based sauces that are poured on everything from eggs to burritos to burgers.” Spelling “chile” as our neighbors in Texas do just takes something away from the credibility of this otherwise interesting feature.

Chiles Rellenos from Tenampa in Albuquerque

When it comes to perpetuating a successful franchise, Pizza 9 is a ten. Franchise Business Review named the burgeoning enterprise among its “best of the best,” one of the top 200 franchises in America for 2016. As one of only 38 franchises in the food and beverage segment to be honored, Pizza 9 has experienced substantial growth since launching its inaugural store in 2008. Today, the company boasts of more than 20 locations in the Land of Enchantment and Texas with other locations being planned. While the name on the marquee pegs it as a pizza restaurant, Pizza 9 is also one of only a handful of restaurants throughout the Land of Enchantment to offer Italian beef sandwiches, a Chicago area staple.

Zap2it, an online movie and television information network , interviewed cast and creators of AMC’s “Better Call Saul” to find out what restaurants in the Land of Enchantment they frequent. Bob Odenkirk (Jimmy McGill/Saul Goodman) and Michael Nando (Nacho) enjoy Farina Pizzeria in Albuquerque. Producer Vince Gilligan favors Santa Fe’s Geronimo while Patrick Fabian (Howard Hamlin) is a fan of Los Compadres . Rhea Seehorn (Kim Wexler) enjoys the food and ambiance at Los Poblanos Farms. Interestingly, none mentioned restaurants such as Loyola’s, Sai Gon Sandwich and Taco Sal which have made cameo appearances in the series.

Hass Aslami, founder of franchise powerhouse Pizza 9

On March 22nd, the Travel Channel debuted its Bizarre Foods: Delicious Destinations episode showcasing Albuquerque. Instead of highlighting the weirdly wonderful aspects of dining in the Duke City, the show focused on the unique foods Zimmern believes define Albuquerque. Understandably that means chile, both red and green. At the Church Street Cafe, Zimmern touted the stacked green chile enchiladas. For green chile cheeseburgers, Zimmern visited The Owl Cafe on Eubank, explaining this satellite location uses the recipes and preparation techniques of the San Antonio Owl Cafe which originated green chile cheeseburgers. For the most intense, rich and smoking hot red chile, Zimmern recommended Mary & Tito’s Cafe, a James Beard Award-Winning restaurant where carne adovada is a mainstay. Because not even New Mexicans can live on chile alone, Delicious Destinations visited The Pueblo Harvest Cafe for a Tewa taco and piñon rolls from Buffet’s.

February, 2016

Nutella and Banana Crepe from Boiler Monkey in Albuquerque

In January, Business Insider put together a list showcasing the best restaurant in every state. Paying particular attention to fine-dining establishments, Business Insider declared Santa Fe’s Geronimo as the best the Land of Enchantment has to offer. Less than a month later, restaurant review guide Zagat compiled a line-up called “50 States, 50 Steaks” which honored the definitive slab of succulent beef to be found in every state. New Mexico’s honoree was none other than the Tellicherry-Rubbed Elk Tenderloin at Geronimo. “Served atop roasted garlic fork-mashed potatoes, sugar snap peas, Applewood smoked bacon and creamy brandied-mushroom sauce,” the Elk Tenderloin is indeed divinely inspired, a transformative steak.

Shortly after Zagat’s affirmation of New Mexico’s premier steak, Geronimo’s uber-talented executive chef Eric DiStefano passed away unexpectedly. Tributes to the chef centered not as much on his greatness as a culinary virtuoso, but on what a kind and gentle soul he was. He was a man beloved in the community, a man who touched many lives as well as palates. My friend Billie Frank who knew him well wrote a very touching feature on Chef DiStefano on Santa Fe Travelers. Billie and I agreed that every apron in Santa Fe should be at half-mast. Godspeed Chef.

Fried Pickles from The Fat Squirrel Pub & Grille in Rio Rancho

It speaks to the remarkable consistency with which New Mexico’s very best chefs perform night in and night out that in 2016, the state’s five semifinalists for the James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef Southwest are repeat honorees. To be named a semi-finalist is to be recognized as among the very best from among the elite. The level of competition throughout the Southwest (Arizona, Colorado, Texas and New Mexico) is extremely high. Semifinalists for Best Chef Southwest for 2016 include Jennifer James of Jennifer James 101 in Albuquerque, Martin Rios of Restaurant Martin in Santa Fe, Jonathan Perno of La Mierienda at Los Poblanos in Los Ranchos de Albuquerque and Andrew Cooper of Terra at the Four Seasons Resort Rancho Encantado in Santa Fe. Eloisa, Chef John Sedlar’s tribute to his grandmother, was nominated for Best New Restaurant.

Rancho de Chimayo was announced as one of five recipients of the James Beard Award’s “America’s Classic” honor. A James Beard Award signifies the pinnacle of achievement in the culinary world, the country’s most coveted and prestigious culinary award while the “Americas Classic Award” honors “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.” Rancho de Chimayo is the true, timeless American classic–beloved in the community with the highest quality food reflecting the character of New Mexico.

Whoo’s Donuts, Homer Simpson’s Favorite Santa Fe Restaurant

No doh about it. Homer Simpson would drool over the Thrillist’s compilation of the best donut shops in America, thirty-three purveyors of confectionery excellence. Only one of the Land of Enchantment’s decorated domiciles of donut deliciousness made the list. Santa Fe’s Whoo’s Donuts were a revelation to Thrillist writers who described the blue-corn donut experience as “like eating a corn muffin that has been put into a culinary witness-protection program and comes out with a totally new identity, but is more delicious.” While the analogy may be a bit lame, Whoo’s Donuts are fantastic.

“Kiss me, I’m drunk.” While that quote may sound as if uttered by Richard Burton or Joe Namath, it’s how Buzzfeed subtitled its “Best Irish Bar in Every State” feature. Regardless of what the subtitle may or may not have implied, the feature acknowledged that “a good Irish bar isn’t just a bar. It’s home.” Buzzfeed consulted the good folks at Yelp for the top-rated Irish spots in every state. The Land of Enchantment is well represented by Albuquerque’s Two Fools Tavern where “the hardest part is deciding if you want the boxty, fish and chips or the bangers and mash.”

For the Love of Meat – Airing in Santa Fe on Wednesday, March 9th at 7PM. (Click Image for More Info)

Best in the country. It’s one thing to give yourself that title, it’s another to earn it. Chef Todzilla’s Mobile Cuisine, a Roswell food truck earned it! In a poll of the best food trucks in the fruited plain, Chef Todzillas garnered almost half the 4,700 votes cast while competing against food trucks in such cosmopolitan behemoths as Dallas and Las Vegas. Chef Todzilla prides itself on using fresh, local, never frozen ingredients and has a burger menu to be envied. The chorizo burger is reputed to be addictive.

On Wednesday, March 9th at 7PM, the Violet Crown Cinema in Santa Fe will screen a documentary on barbecue as it is incomparably prepared in Central Texas. Entitled “For the Love of Meat,” the documentary introduces some of the top barbecue pit-masters in Central Texas. This documentary comes with a warning: It will make you hungry for some brisket. Purchase your tickets here.

January, 2016

High Point Mac (Choice Center-Cut Steak and Green Chile) from The Point in Rio Rancho

Not since Adam and Eve have ribs been as oft-discussed as they are today.  Barbecue restaurants throughout the fruited plain strive for melt-in-your-mouth pork and beef ribs.  Ribs are the most popular of all barbecued meats, caveman cuisine at its very best.   In a program called Top 5 BBQ in America, the Food Network celebrated barbecue ribs in such barbecue hotbeds as Tennessee and North Carolina.  Admittedly Albuquerque isn’t the first place you think of for great ribs, but the Food Network fell in love with the red chile ribs from El Pinto, ranking them third in the country.  “The secret to their mouth-watering spicy ribs is a paste made of dried caribe chiles rubbed onto the meat and allowed to marinate for 24 hours.” 

“From new attractions and massive additions to quirky flavors, big birthdays and booze, 2016 promises to be a good year for the curious traveler.”  CNN compiled a list of 16 things to see and do in the U.S. in 2016.   Arguably the most delicious destination to be enjoyed this year is New Mexico’s very own Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail.  “With nearly 100 spots to sample, the Trail is a tasty way to add a little spice to your life this year.”  Among the purveyors of incomparable green chile cheeseburgers listed were Sparky’s in Hatch and 5 Star Burgers with locations in Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Taos.

My friend Darren contemplates his meal at Magokoro

In December, 2015, you read on this blog that Zagat, a national online and print restaurant review medium, had selected as New Mexico’s very best dessert not something unique to the Land of Enchantment, but a bundt cake you can find at a chain with locations throughout the fruited plain.  Spoon University, the self-professed “everyday food resource for our generation, on a mission to make food make sense” made a lot more sense than Zagat, naming New Mexico’s best dessert as bizcochitos from the Golden Crown Panaderia.  Spoon described them as “sweet, cinnamony cookies” that became the “official state cookie almost 20 years ago” and “deserve to graduate onto the official dessert.” 

Business Insider didn’t limit itself to cookies, naming the best restaurant in every state.  Sifting through their own list of the best restaurants in America, James Beard Award nominations, expert reviews, and local recommendations, paying particular attention to fine-dining establishments, Business Insider declared Santa Fe’s Geronimo as the best in the Land of Enchantment.  “Noted for its impeccable service and complex dishes,” Geronimo “boasts a host of mouthwatering dishes.”

Wonton soup from Asian Pear

With almost twice as many flavor-characteristics discernible by human senses than wine, coffee is next to water, the world’s most popular beverage with 400 billion cups consumed yearly (1.4 billion cups daily) across the globe. The Huffington Post and Foursquare users compiled a list of the best places for coffee in every state across the fruited plain.  With cups touting them as “passionate about coffee,” the Land of Enchantment representative was Satellite Coffee, an Albuquerque presence with eight locations throughout the city. 

“Until recently, Tim Harris, of Albuquerque was the only restaurant owner in the country with Down syndrome. But what drives a restaurateur who has lived for his business to close up shop? A girl he loves more than anything.”  In a very touching report the CBS news show Sunday morning profiled Harris and his decision to close his popular restaurant Tim’s Place to move to Denver where he could be close to the love of his life.  When Tim launches his restaurant in Denver, it’s a sure bet the Mile High City will embrace him as warmly as the Duke City did.

Lobster Tater Tots from the Freight House in Bernalillo

Santa Fe Chef Marc Quiñones who plies his craft at Luminaria competed with four other chefs on the Food Network’s “Cutthroat Kitchen,” a reality cooking show.  Cutthroat Kitchen features four chefs competing in a three-round elimination cooking competition. The contestants face auctions in which they can purchase opportunities to sabotage one another. Each chef is given $25,000 at the start of the show; the winner keeps whatever money he or she has not spent in the auctions.  While the talented chef didn’t win the competition, every guest at Luminaria is a winner when they get to partake of his culinary fare. 

For years, Santa Fe has been regarded as one of the nation’s premier tourist attractions as well as one of America’s best dining destinations.  This culinary Mecca hosted its inaugural Santa Fe Foodie Classic, highlighting classic flavor combinations as well as new techniques demonstrating the future of Southwestern cuisine.   Several events were held in which some of the city’s very best chefs showcased their talents over a three-day period.

2016SouperBowl

For more than 35 years, the Roadrunner Food Bank of New Mexico has been serving the state’s hungry.  As the largest Food Bank in the state, it distributes more than 30 million pounds of food every year to a network of hundreds of partner agencies and four regional food banks.  Through that network, the Food Bank is helping 70,000 hungry people in our state weekly.  That’s the equivalent to feeding a city the size of Santa Fe every single week. Every January, the Food Bank hosts the Souper Bowl, its largest fundraiser, an event in which restaurants across the metropolitan area prepare and serve their tastiest soups to hundreds of people and several hungry judges who get to weigh in on their favorites.  This year’s winners were: 

People’s Choice Winners – Soup
1st Place and Souper Bowl Champion: Artichoke Café for their Butternut Squash and Coffee Soup; 2nd PlaceSoupDog for New Mexico meets New Orleans Gumbo; 3rd Place: Bocadillos Café and Catering for New Mexico Clam Chowder

Critics’ Choice Winners – Soup
1st Place: Zinc Bistro and Wine Bar for Roasted Chicken and Red Chile Dumpling Soup; 2nd Place: Bien Shur at Sandia Resort and Casino for Fire Roasted Poblano Cream Soup with Corn and Crawfish Salsa; 3rd Place: The Ranchers Club of New Mexico for Bison Posole

People’s Choice Winners – Vegetarian Soup
1st Place: Street Food Asia for Malay Curry PPP Chowder; 2nd Place: Il Vicino Wood Oven Pizza for Vegetable Minestrone; 3rd Place: Turtle Mountain Brewing Company for Green Chile Cheddar Ale soup

People’s Choice – Dessert

1st Place: Nothing Bundt Cakes for Bundtinis; 2nd Place: Theobroma Chocolatier for Assorted Chocolates; 3rd Place: Gardunos Restaurants for Biscochito Flan

People’s Choice – Booth Winner: Bien Shur Restaurant

On the same weekend, The Food Depot in Santa Fe holds its own Souper Bowl event. This year more than 1,200 people enjoyed the best soups some 28 restaurant chefs across the City Different had to serve.  Winners of the 2016 event were:

Best Cream: Rio Chama
Best Savory: Four Seasons Resort Rancho Encantado Santa Fe
Best Seafood: Sweetwater Harvest Kitchen
Best Vegetarian: Paper Dosa
Best Overall Soup: Sweetwater Harvest Kitchen

Mimmo’s Ristorante & Pizzeria – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Mimmo’s Ristorante And Pizzeria on Coors

My sisters present quite a dichotomy. On one hand, it’s as if they’ve never set foot in the Land of Enchantment. Case in point: In a recent family instant messaging session, they discussed our mom’s delicious red “chili.” A disgrace, I know. Our mom, a spry octogenarian, has never made “chili,” but has always prepared some of the best “chile” in Taos county. You can almost excuse one of my sisters as she’s lived in Texas for many years, but my other sister is married to a guy from Hatch. On the other hand, you can take the girls out of New Mexico, but you can’t take New Mexico out of the girls. On Valentine’s Day, my sisters took our mom to Buca Di Beppo, a mediocre chain restaurant serving “family style portions” (if you’re a family of NFL offensive linemen). Only in New Mexico do hordes frequent Buca di Beppo when there are so many better options available—options such as Mimmo’s Ristorante & Pizzeria.

From the outside, Mimmo’s has the look and feel of a typical casual Italian restaurant, but step inside and you can’t help but notice right away that this venerable restaurant has a devoted following.  If long lines and crowded tables portend an excellent meal, then Mimmo’s is one of the Duke City’s premier Italian dining establishments.  On busy nights hungry patrons queue up from the restaurant’s entrance to the host’s station to get their names on a list for the next available table.  Mimmo’s has no pretensions to being a trendy Northern Italian restaurant.  This is a classic Southern Italian and Sicilian restaurant with more than a touch of New York City thrown in.  It’s reminiscent of the “red sauce” Italian restaurants on the East Coast which is appropriate because its roots are deeply New York.  Mimmo’s is a family restaurant in the classic sense of the word, too.  It’s not uncommon to see several tables pushed together with family members of several generations sharing a bountiful repast.

Mimmo’s capacious dining room

Set your expectations high at Mimmo’s.  It’s not the type of restaurant for which you have to dress up, but you’ll be treated better than at most of the so-called four-star restaurants or those stereotypical chain Italian restaurants with their saccharine service and family-style portions.  Even if your visits are spaced out by several months (or years), the wait staff will remember having served you before–or at least they’re professional enough to give that impression.  The nattily attired–white shirts, black slacks and ties–wait staff is unfailingly polite, accommodating and energetic.  Most of the wait staff has been with Mimmo’s for years.

Even before you’re seated, your olfactory senses will respond to the arousing authenticity in the air as the aroma of seasoned sauces wafts toward you.  You’ll want to grab the nearest menu and find the genesis of those enticing emanations.  As in many Italian restaurants, portions are generally “right-sized” only if you’re famished (meaning the portions are humongous).  Your order is at your table within minutes after you order with a significant number of orders being for the special of the day.

Silver Trays Brimming with Red Sauce Favorites

Popular among couples with children and diners looking for good value is Mimmo’s lunch hour buffet, an all-you-can-eat feeding trough brimming with pizza, salad, soup and pasta.  Similar to many buffets, items are kept warm under serving lamps, but they’re turned around rather quickly by the ever-vigilant wait staff.  The frequent replenishment of buffet items ensures freshness and that hot items stay hot.  The buffet allows you to craft salads your ways with a variety of fresh ingredients and thick, creamy salad dressings.

The menu is a veritable compendium of Southern Italian and Sicilian favorites–heavily sauced pastas of all types as well as pizzas resplendent with all the usual ingredients and then some.  Some of the restaurant’s entrees are accompanied by salad, garlic bread, vegetables and spaghetti while pasta entrees include your choice of salad or soup and garlic bread.  It’s not uncommon to leave Mimmo’s with a doggie sack or two.  The make-your-own-salad allows you to be as creative and generous as you wish.  For me, that means as much blue cheese dressing as it’s humanly possible to carry.  Beneath all that blue cheese are some of the freshest salad ingredients to grace a salad bowl in Albuquerque.

Underneath all that blue cheese is a pretty good salad

In 1949, Louis P. De Gouy wrote The Soup Book which included nearly 800 recipes for thin and thick soups, hot and cold soups, instant soups and soups taking hours to prepare.  He called good soup “one of the prime ingredients of good living.  For soup can do more to lift the spirits and stimulate the appetite than any other one dish.”  Some of the soups at Mimmo’s have that effect on diners, especially the tomato soup which is creamy and delicious.  Served piping hot, it’s the type of soup which can quell the cold of winter.

2 May 2010: Mimmo’s cream of mushroom soup has the distinction of having more mushrooms than any soup of this genre we’ve ever had–especially considering some cream of mushroom soup only seems to hint at the proximity of mushrooms.  Fetid fungi can be tasted in every single sip of this soul-warming soup, some mushrooms covering much of the spoon.  It’s an earthy, soul-warming soup as comforting as you’ll find anywhere.

Affettati Misti For Two

23 April 2016: Mouth-watering appetizer options abound, including an antipasto which could easily make a meal for one.  That would be an appetizer called affettati misti (mixed cured meats), an antipasto comprised of salami, proscuitto, olives, ham, Swiss and provolone cheeses and an assortment of pickled vegetables that may include tomatoes, carrots, celery and more.  It is one of our favorite antipastos in Albuquerque even though it’s more than doubled in price in the years we’ve been ordering it.  The affettati misti is meant to be shared and even at that, it might fill you up if you’re not careful.  It’s served with a sliced loaf of delicious, crusty bread which can be used to craft sandwiches from the cold-cuts or dipped into a mix of Balsamic vinegar and olive oil.

Some say the secret to great Southern Italian food is in the sauce.  Mimmo’s seemingly has a sauce to satisfy any palate–Carbonara, Marinara, Alfredo, Fra Diavalo, Bolognese, Béchamel and others.  None of the sauces are subtle either in flavor or in profusion.  Pasta-based entrees tend to swim in sauce, which is not entirely a bad thing because the sauces are fairly prototypical examples of Italian sauces done well.

Rigatoni and Scallops Amatriciana

The carbonara sauce, for example, is very rich.  I’ve had carbonara on the East coast that was so rich, you couldn’t finish it thanks to a profusion of pancetta and a deluge of heavy cream.  Mimmo’s carbonara approaches that level.  One of our favorite sauce-based entrees has been the Gamberi Fra Diavalo, shrimp served in a sauce which translates to “Brother Devil.”  The sauce earns its sobriquet because it’s not only delicious, it’s fiendishly piquant thanks to the liberal use of incendiary peppers.  At Mimmo’s, this is one sinfully delicious entree.

Where Mimmo’s truly excels is in the pizza department with a pie that is better than we’ve had at pizzerias raved about by the cognoscenti.  Don’t let the buffet pizza be your measuring stick for the greatness of Mimmo’s pizza.  Order one of the menu standards (the Mediterranean pizza is terrific).  Better yet, have Mimmo’s craft one for you with the ingredients of your choice.

Baked Ziti

2 May 2010: Make it Sicilian style, a rectangular pizza with a thick crust.  Its body is similar in texture to focaccia bread, save for the wonderful crunch on the bottom.  Some Sicilian pizza is upwards of an inch thick and is almost casserole-like.  Not so at Mimmo’s where the pizza is probably just over half an inch thick including toppings.  The toppings are unfailingly fresh and delicious and even though the green chile isn’t particularly piquant, it’s got that unmistakable roasted flavor New Mexicans love.

Sicilian pizza is very popular in the New York area–even though there’s no way you can fold it in half vertically the way many New Yorkers like.  It’s stiff enough to be held by the rim without it drooping over and spilling ingredients all over you, but only the bottom is crunchy.  The rest is like soft focaccia.  Mimmo’s pizza sauce is applied thickly, but it’s redolent with Italian spices (garlic, oregano) and is better than the restaurant’s Marinara sauce.  If possible, a Sicilian pizza from Mimmo’s might taste even better after being refrigerated (and it’s fabulous just out of the oven).  Considering there are bound to be leftovers, that’s a great thing.  A large pizza will generally tide you over for lunch and dinner with a slice or two left over for breakfast.

Garlic Bread

29 March 2008: The wait staff raves about Mimmo’s Quatro Formaggi (four cheese) pizza.  Atop a thin, chewy canvas and a thin slathering of oregano and basil blessed tomato sauce is a rich blend of mozzarella, fontina, gorgonzola and parmesan cheeses.  This is a pizza so rich you’ll want to cut that richness with other toppings.  Two which do the job well are meatballs and garlic.  This pizza is not too heavy or crust-laden so the focus is squarely on the ingredients.  Because it is so rich, two people may not be able to finish an entire pie.

2 May 2010: Perhaps the richest entree at Mimmo’s is a special–mushroom stuffed ravioli with scallops absolutely buried under a thick carbonara sauce.  This is most definitely a two meal ordeal, a pasta dish so rich you can feel your arteries hardening.  As my friend Bill Resnik would say, it should come standard with an angioplasty.  My gosh, this is a rich dish!  Okay, you’ve got the point–it’s rich.  It’s also very good, addictively so.  The mussels are sweet, fresh and tender.  The mushrooms are earthy and fleshy and the carbonara sauce is redolent with pancetta.

Limoncello Cake

24 April 2016: Baked ziti, a classic Italian-American hybrid showcasing a medium-sized tubular pasta baked with a “chunky” meaty sauce is a specialty at Mimmo’s. Served in a casserole dish, this rendition is very reminiscent of baked ziti as it’s prepared and served in the East Coast. That means it’s served piping hot with a blanket of molten cheese melted atop layers of pasta and rich, red sauce. Rhee Drummond, the Food Network’s “Pioneer Woman” likens baked ziti to be “almost like a lasagna that forgot to use lasagna noodles. Messy. Gooey. Decadent. Ridiculous. In every sense of the word.” That’s how you’ll find the baked ziti at Mimmo’s.

24 April 2016: It speaks volumes about a restaurant that is willing to change the way it serves a dish to accommodate a customer. For one thing, it says that restaurant has a customer first policy that engenders customer loyalty and repeat visits. Secondly, it means dishes are prepared to order; they’re not waiting under some heat lamp for a server to pick them up. On a Sunday, for example, the special of the day was spaghetti all’ Amatriciana with scallops. Explaining my lack of dexterity with spaghetti noodles, I asked if the dish could be made with rigatoni instead. Our server didn’t even bat an eye. The dish arrived as requested—a mound of rigatoni with bits of pancetta, a slathering of olive oil and red hot peppers in a slightly piquant sauce. New Mexico chile lovers will appreciate this dish. 

Chocolate Cannoli

24 April 2016: Mimmo’s offers some terrific desserts, all shipped fresh from Roma Food Enterprises in New Jersey.  The cannoli are generously stuffed (on the premises) with rich ricotta embellished with chocolate chips.  The shell has a crispy, light texture but it doesn’t crumble when you press your fork down on it.  Best of all, you can have either the traditional cannoli or a chocolate-coated cannoli and both are good.

Our favorite Mimmo’s dessert is an Italian cream cake (sometimes called Italian Wedding Cake) so rich and luscious, you can gain weight just looking at it.  It is an edible work of art, three layers of heavily iced white cake sprinkled with confectioner’s sugar, topped with caramel and edged with toasted coconut.  No two recipes of Italian cream cake are alike.  Mimmo’s version is a winner.

Mimmo’s has the look and feel of a neighborhood Italian restaurant in New York or Boston.  It’s a little piece of Italy in Albuquerque.  You’ll remember the friendly service almost as long as you’ll fondly recall the well-sauced meals.

Mimmo’s Ristorante & Pizzeria
3301 Coors, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 831-4191
Facebook Page

LATEST VISIT: 24 April 2016
# OF VISITS: 14
RATING: 19
COST: $$
BEST BET: Affetati Misti, Sicilian Style Pizza, Quatro Formaggi Pizza, Cannoli, Italian cream cake, Tomato Soup, Cream of Mushroom Soup, Gamberi Fra Diavalo, Baked Ziti, Spaghetti All’Amatriciana, Lemoncello Cake

Mimmo's Ristorante and Pizzeria Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Naruto – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Naruto on Central Avenue in the University of New Mexico area

During a 2015 episode of the Travel Channel’s Delicious Destinations, glaborous host Andrew Zimmern articulated what may be the very best–or at least most comprehensive–definition of comfort food ever. “Comfort food,” he explained, “makes us feel good. Every culture has its favorites–satisfying classics carried throughout the generations. Simple recipes loaded with carbs and full of love. It’s the taste of a feeling: warm, cozy, hearty and homey. Comfort foods satisfy more than physical hunger. They’re the feel good favorites that connect us to our past, family and cultural classics that fill us with sustenance and warm feelings at the same time.”

At first browse, it appears that Zimmern’s definition applies solely to the act of consuming comfort foods, however, read closely and nowhere within that definition is it explicitly stated that comfort foods have to be eaten in order to be warm, cozy, hearty and homey. Nor do we have to masticate, graze, sup or savor comfort foods in order to feel good or to satisfy more than our physical hunger. Whether deliberate or unintentional, Zimmern’s definition can also apply to acts other than eating one’s food. Indeed, for some of us, the sense of warmth, coziness and comfort from food can be derived from acts other than eating it.

Naruto’s long, narrow dining room

That may be especially true for ramen, arguably the most popular comfort food in the world. In Japan, ramen is so revered that several major cities boast of museums designed to pay homage to this national dish. Considering the veneration with which they revere this sacrosanct food, you might think the Japanese consider ramen as strictly for degustation, for lovingly luxuriating in its nuanced flavors, studiously imbibing its fragrant aromas and ruminating about the sheer delight of enjoying such sheer deliciousness. You might even believe Japanese would consider it heretical, perhaps even blasphemous for ramen to be used as a “play thing” or worse, as bath water. You would be wrong on both counts.

Since 2007, a Japanese spa has been offering patrons the opportunity to luxuriate in a tub filled with ramen. While health regulations mandate that only non-edible (synthetic) noodles be used in the hot bath water, real pork broth is added. The broth not only renders the water brownish, it imparts collagen which ostensibly has the salubrious benefits of helping improve the bather’s metabolism while cleansing the skin. Frankly, a tonkatsu (pork bone) broth sounds just a bit greasy and there’s no telling what bodily nook and crannies those noodles will sneak up into.

Jim and Janet Millington, founding Friends of Gil (FOG) members

We joked about the ramen baths with our friends and founding Friends of Gil members Jim and Janet Millington who joined us for our inaugural visit to Naruto, an Albuquerque ramen house open since December, 2015. The Millingtons were already planning a visit to a ramen museum in Tokyo during an upcoming sojourn to the Land of the Rising Sun. I tried in vain to talk them into indulging in a ramen bath, but Jim has too much respect and love for ramen. Like me, he would rather eat a tubful than bathe in it. Googled images of ramen bathers did little to make the ramen bath concept more enticing. In fact, our Japanese server found the notion rather silly.

It’s becoming a tradition that Jim and I break in new ramen restaurants together. On 24 April 2014, we made our initial excursion to the delightful O Ramen on Central Avenue across the street from the University of New Mexico (UNM). Surprisingly, only one (currently vacant) storefront separates O Ramen from Naruto which occupies the space which previously housed the Mint Tulip Vegan Café. Out of concern and curiosity, we walked the twenty steps or so from Naruto to O Ramen and were very happy to see nearly every seat at both ramen houses occupied. It makes sense that collegiate types would appreciate having two ramen houses in close proximity (after all, ramen is a dietary staple for students).

Gyoza

Naruto may be new to Albuquerque, but it’s got a New Mexican pedigree. Founding owners Hiro and Shohko Fukuda opened the Land of Enchantment’s very first sushi bar some four decades ago. Since its opening in 1975, the Shohko Café has been considered one of the very best sushi restaurants in the Land of Enchantment, earning first place in the Santa Fe Reporter’s annual “Best of Santa Fe” edition from 2009 through 2014. Not strictly a sushi restaurant, Shohko serves a number of ramen dishes as well as soba or udon noodles and many other Japanese favorites.

The transformation from the Mint Tulip Vegan Café to Naruto is startling, an aesthetic and functional make-over. Bar stools overlooking the exhibition kitchen give diners a window to the real transformation which goes on everyday at Naruto. That’s the transformation of fresh ingredients into some of the very best ramen in New Mexico. There are similarities to the ramen at O Ramen, but it’s distinctive enough that comparisons will be in order. The menu showcases eight different ramen dishes, including some heretofore unavailable in the Duke City. We’re talking miso ramen, seafood ramen and vegetable ramen here. Also available are a number of entrees including kimchi fried rice, a chashu bowl (sliced pork with ramen noodles) and gyoza.

Miso Ramen with Tempura Shrimp

6 February 2016: If your experience with gyoza is similar to ours, you’ve found there’s very little to distinguish gyoza at one Japanese restaurant from another. Worse, there’s little to distinguish gyoza from dumplings you’ll find at any Chinese, Thai or Vietnamese restaurant in town. At first bite, we could tell the gyoza at Naruto is different. It’s better…legions better These pulchritudinous pan-fried dumplings are stuffed with the usual minced pork, but that’s where similarities end. The greenish tint of the pork is courtesy of Chinese leeks and scallions. They infiltrate the pork with an herbaceous quality no other dumpling in memory possesses.

6 February 2016: The gyoza isn’t accompanied by the usual soy-based dipping sauce served with most dumplings in the Duke City. Instead, you’ll find a condiment caddy at your table replete with everything you need to impart as much additional personality to your gyoza (or ramen) as you’d like. The caddy includes a pickled ginger that’ll water your eyes, pickled garlic that’ll ward off a family of werewolves, chile oil that’ll have you coughing and sputtering and another oil whose undoubtedly delicious qualities escape me.  Darn, that means I have to visit Naruto again…and soon.

Tonkatsu Super Rich Ramen: Murky, Cloudy Deliciousness

6 February 2016: Tonkotsu ramen is porcine perfection, an intensely porky elixir concocted by culinary wizards who, over many hours of simmering time, transform pork bones into an opaque broth with a rich, butyraceous flavor and the aroma of heaven. Naruto offers two versions of its Tonkotsu ramen, the standard “as good as winning the lottery” version and a super-rich version that’s even better than winning the lottery. The super-rich version includes Japanese pickled mustard greens, black mushrooms and chashu pork as well as any additional toppings (there are eleven of them) you may choose to add. The ramen noodles are imported from California where they’re fashioned to Naruto’s exacting specifications. They’re transformative, as good as you’ll find anywhere in Albuquerque! This is comfort food ramen at its very best, a melt-in-your-mouth dish that will make adults swoon.

6 February 2016: Even better if you can imagine that is a Miso Ramen (green onions, two slices of chashu, bamboo shoots and kikurago) a relative newcomer in that Miso Ramen has been made in Japan only since the 60s. The broth combines “copious amounts of miso blended with an chicken pork broth to create a thick, nutty, slightly sweet and very hearty soup.” Dismiss any notions you might have about miso soup; this one is many orders of magnitude better than any miso soup you’ve ever had at any Japanese restaurant.  The dashi stock, the base for any miso soup, is made in-house.  As with the Tonkotsu Ramen, there are twelve optional toppings. Try this special elixir with shrimp tempura; you’ll thank me later.

Shoyu Ramen

23 April 2016: During our second visit to Naruto, we sat in personal space proximity to a very uninhibited millennial couple.  By uninhibited, I don’t mean they groped each other or flashed other diners.  What they did may be an even bigger taboo in the oft prudish American culture.  They slurped their ramen so loudly we joked they risked ingesting the ceramic off the bowl.  Slurping ramen is perfectly acceptable, perhaps even expected in Japanese ramen and noodle restaurants (as detailed in my review of the Asian Noodle Bar), but not necessarily in Albuquerque.  My Kim and I are still too westernized to have initiated our own slurpfest, but we didn’t judge or condemn the enthusiasm other diners had for very slurp-worthy ramen.

23 April 2016: Unlike tonkatsu ramen which tends to be heavy and cloudy, Shoyu ramen (which can trace its origin back to the very first ramen) is light and clear. Known for its tangy, savory and salty flavor, the basis for Shoyu ramen is, of course, Japanese soy sauce. Naruto’s version is made with a chicken broth and a special shoyu base with such toppings as green onions, two slices of chashu (salty, sweet, fatty, pork belly braised until it practically melts-in-your-mouth), bamboo shoots, scallions, white onions and two halved soft-boiled eggs which have been marinated in multi-flavored seasonings. These hard-boiled eggs are indispensable on ramen, a wonderful flavor profile contrast to the chashu. As with the miso ramen, tempura shrimp make a wonderful additive. 

Kimchi Fried Rice

23 April 2016: Though more prevalent in Korea than it is in Japan, kimchi fried rice is no stranger in Japanese cuisine. Naruto’s version incorporates Japanese kimchi which doesn’t have nearly the personality and kick of Korean kimchi which is imbued with pungent properties from fermentation and a discernible level of umami (a pleasant savory taste imparted by glutamate). It’s a very good fried rice with many of the standard fried rice ingredients, but would be improved with the kick of Korean kimchi. Kimchi fried rice is one of only six appetizer-type items listed on the “Entrée” section of the menu, along with gyoza, fried rice, Takana (pickled mustard leaf) fried rice, chashu bowl and white rice. 

23 April 2016: Dessert options are limited, too, but who needs a compendium of postprandial sweets when you’ve got tempura green tea cheesecake, a wedge of creamy, moist cheesecake drizzled with cocoa powder served atop a swirl of chocolate. The cheesecake is coated in a light tempura batter that lends a slight crispiness to each bite. The tempura also adds a savory quality that wonderfully complements the sweet-tanginess of the green tea cheesecake. Sliced strawberries on the side add their own tang. This is a unique cheesecake, wholly unlike the deliciously decadent creations made by Eli’s Cheesecake Company of Chicago offered about half a mile away at Saggio’s.

Tempura Green Tea Cheesecake

Naruto’s ramen is made for luxuriating–not the type you do in a tubful of hot water, but for slurping merrily with a soup spoon.  Naruto is blazing new paths in culinary deliciousness.

Naruto
2110 Central Avenue, S.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 369-1039
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 27 April 2016
1st VISIT: 6 February 2016
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 23
COST: $$
BEST BET: Miso Ramen, Tonkatsu Ramen Super Rich, Gyoza, Kimchi Fried Rice, Tempura Green Tea Ice Cream, Shoyu Ramen

Naruto Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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