At about 75 miles each way, Cuba, New Mexico is almost equidistant between Albuquerque and Farmington. Regardless of starting point, the drive to and from Cuba is one of the Land of Enchantment’s most spectacular. A preponderance of scenic vistas and an otherworldly, multi-hued topography make the drive a sightseer’s delight. The stratification of multi-hued earthen layers, will remind you of colorful Navajo sand paintings while hulking hoodoos (columns or pillars of bizarre shape caused by differential erosion on rocks of different hardness) will inspire awe, none more so than the nipple shaped Cabezon Peak, a dramatic 7,785 foot volcanic formation that commands the skies.
I must admit that most of my enjoyment of those incomparable vistas has been on the return trip from Cuba. For some reason, I always seem to be in a hurry to get there with a single-mindedness of purpose only a seeker with a yen to be sated can truly understand. In my quest to fulfill that longing, I’ve even resorted to corrupting the innocent, once convincing my friend Sandy that her new Prius could reach speeds of over 100 miles-per-hour on the long, straight stretches of U.S. Highway 550. So what would drive two law-abiding, upstanding citizens of good repute to risk life and limb at the expense of enjoying the scenery?
The answer, of course, is El Bruno’s Restaurante Y Cantina, considered by the cognoscenti as one of the very best purveyors of New Mexican food in the Land of Enchantment. For nearly four decades–since 1975–savvy diners have made their way to Cuba for traditional and contemporary New Mexican food crafted from Hazel Herrera’s family recipes. Hazel and her husband Bruno are the genial proprietors of this storied restaurant, the destination of hungry legions who, like me, probably wait until the return trip to enjoy the vistas which give New Mexico the sobriquet “land of enchantment.”
There’s plenty to see on the premises of El Bruno, too. A colorful mural on an exterior west wall depicts a New Mexican woman carrying a basket brimming with green, red and yellow chile peppers while other field hands harvest New Mexico’s official state vegetable from fecund and verdant fields. The entrance to El Bruno’s is through a wooden bell gate into an expansive courtyard. A large Spanish bell is poised above the gate as if to call in hungry patrons to a meal with its timbre and tintinnabulation. On the wooden gate is carved the Virgen de Guadalupe, the patron saint of the Americas. To many New Mexicans there is no truer manifestation of welcome.
Not surprisingly, the restaurant’s interior ambiance is superb (although what can truly compare to the unrivaled scenery on the way to Cuba). Being surrounded by the enrapturing art of Taos artist Miguel Martinez (renowned for painting beauteous women with almond-shaped eyes) as well as by charming antiques makes it an attractive milieu for any meal. A canopy of huge vigas overhead and earthen-hued tones add to the New Mexican ambiance. Ambiance not withstanding, it’s the food for which so many visit El Bruno.
For Albuquerque’s El Bruno’s enthusiasts, the news in August, 2010 that this terrific destination diner would be launching its first satellite, and in the Duke City, too, was as welcome as news that the Lobos had been invited to the big dance. Notice that it wouldn’t open in December as originally announced was then akin to learning the Lobos had lost to BYU. After a couple of false-starts, El Bruno’s finally opened on March 7th, 2011 in the spot vacated by long-time tenant Garduño’s of Mexico. Ironically, the restaurant is situated on the intersection of Fourth Street and Garduño Drive.
Bob of the Village of Los Ranchos, a long-time contributor and friend of this blog, was one of the very first Burqueños to visit El Bruno’s. He came away impressed by some things, but disappointed by others indicating “perhaps my anticipation, nursed by several delays in opening, created a mystique which set too high a bar.” With an ease of words I admire, Bob also relayed that El Bruno’s “captures what folks expect of an inviting New Mexican cantina, but avoids a formality to a place.”
An inviting New Mexican cantina is an apt description for El Bruno’s which straddles the line between casual and formal dining with a motif that includes bright earth-tone colored walls, earthenware sconces, tin light fixtures and other Southwestern accouterments. Immediately to the left as you walk in is the bar-dining room and beyond that is an elongated north-facing room bathed in sunlight. The equipales furnishing (tables and chairs) in both these rooms are crafted from fibrous materials removed from maguey cactus and fixed with leather bands. The restaurant includes several other dining rooms including one in which intimate booths are partially shielded by purplish drapes. The art of Miguel Martinez festoons several walls.
The menu is extensive. All the favorites from the original El Bruno’s are available. A separate menu depicts lunch specials, all of which are named for Albuquerque area locales: Placitas, Bernalillo, Los Lunas, Corrales, Ranchitos, Rio Rancho and the Cuba plate (one cheese and one beef enchilada, red and green chili (sic), beans, rice and melted cheese). Appetizers have climbed in price (thanks to all the building back better) and include such surprises as camarones Mexicanos marinated in El Bruno’s pinon sauce and traditional shrimp ceviche. There are seven creative salads on the ensaladas section of the menu.
Enchiladas and tacos occupy an entire page on the menu. Shrimp and crab enchiladas (topped with chile con queso and fresh green chile) are just one of the six different enchilada offerings, all of which can be made with blue corn tortillas. Platos de pollo (plates showcasing chicken), de la parillada y del mar (from the grill or the sea) and fajitas y carnitas share a page on the menu. The other two sections of the menu showcase Antojitos Mexicana and Platos de Combinacion on one page and burritos, chimichangas, los burgers and “para los niños” on another. The menu is replete with surprises, some items of which you won’t see at other New Mexican restaurants in Albuquerque.
As you ponder the menu, the friendly and accommodating wait staff will deliver your first bowlful of salsa and a basket of red and yellow corn chips. My initial impression, one shared by Bob the Villager, was that the salsa lacked the piquancy of salsa at other Fourth Street New Mexican restaurants. There was discernibly more heat in the salsa during my second and third visits when the medley of rich, red tomatoes and the jalapeños combined to titillate my taste buds with the heat they crave. This is good salsa and the chips are thin and crisp yet substantial enough for Gil-sized scoops (though they’re quite salty). There’s no chip-dipping in my table. In its September, 2012 edition, Albuquerque The Magazine named the salsa at El Bruno the very best in Albuquerque from among 130 salsas sampled throughout the city.
13 March 2011: Alas, one of our very favorite dishes in Cuba, the magnificent chile con queso, was a disappointment in Albuquerque. In fact, it was downright “dumbed down,” lacking the piquancy the Cuban con queso contained. Though the queso was flecked with green (ostensibly green chile), it was as punchless as the University of New Mexico football team under coach Locksley. Without piquancy, the queso was reminiscent of the gloppy Velveeta genre. Instead of conventional chips, El Bruno’s con queso is served with crispy tostadas (fried flour tortillas). These “chips” are magnificent!
29 March 2015: El Bruno’s menu pays homage to Old Mexico with several items you don’t often see in New Mexican restaurants. Among those is “traditional” shrimp ceviche, a mariscos favorite throughout Mexico. The quotation marks around “traditional” are there because El Bruno’s shrimp ceviche wouldn’t pass for traditional shrimp ceviche in Mexico. In fact, it resembles something akin to a cross between Campechana (a Mexican seafood cocktail) and ceviche. Where El Bruno’s ceviche (avocado, fresh lime, jalapeño, yellow hot, fresh cucumber, red onion and a special marinade sauce) lacks the tangy citrus prominence of Mexican ceviche, the freshness of the avocado, jalapeños and special marinade are quite good in their own right. Our only other complaint with the ceviche is the relative sparsity of seafood. There just wasn’t much of it.
27 May 2022: Thankfully most of us who view ourselves as mycophiles have the good sense not to hunt for edible wild mushrooms. There are more than 70 species of poisonous mushrooms; a few of them even cause death. Though we might never win the lottery, you can bet we’d find the one poisonous mushroom in the forest. It’s a good thing some restaurants serve mushrooms better than you’d find yourself. El Bruno is one such restaurant. Its fresh mushrooms appetizer is superb! Picture whole button mushrooms sauteed in Merlot and butter than served warm and glistening in that wondrous broth. They’re meaty, earthy and absolutely delicious.
27 May 2022: Do you love a steak? You might be INSECURE! Men who worry that they are not ‘manly’ enough are more likely to eat red meat. That startling conclusion was reached by researchers in Canada who determined that men suffering from ‘masculinity stress‘ are more likely to try and ‘augment their masculinity’ by eating red meat, which is generally perceived as more masculine. The study did not address women who love steak. My Kim would be an excellent candidate for that study.
Who else but a meatatarian would visit a premier New Mexican restaurant and order steak? In my Kim’s defense, the charbroiled taste of that steak would convert a vegan. So would the delicious aromas that rush to your nose. El Bruno’s steak can compete with prime steaks from premium steakhouses. They’re tender with just a slight chew and have a juiciness that escapes with a slight press of a fork. Then there are the grill marks which have a subliminal effect that screams “I’m good.” It’s no wonder my Kim loves this steak.
13 March 2011: Fortunately one of the dishes we enjoyed most in Cuba is also on the menu in Albuquerque. That would be El Bruno’s fabulous carnitas, some of, if not THE best carnitas in New Mexico. Celebrated among patrons who have sampled these cubed carnivore’s delights, the carnitas are available in two dinner combinations: the poetic sounding carnitas con papitas and the carnitas a la Mex which come with rolled enchiladas, refried beans and homemade tortillas, all of which are wonderful. What makes these carnitas incomparable is the quality of the sirloin (yes, sirloin, not pork as seems to be the case with most carnitas) which has the charbroiled taste of an outstanding steak. The papitas are silver dollar-sized, dusted with fiery red chile and on par with those served at Sadie’s in Albuquerque (meaning they’re the best).
13 March 2011: At many New Mexican restaurants when an entree includes a side of, but does not necessarily showcase, enchiladas, the enchiladas are an after-thought, generally not very good. That’s not the case at El Bruno’s. While carnitas may be the starring attraction of the aforementioned Carnitas a la Mex, the enchiladas are main entree quality. They are engorged with cheese and topped with your choice of red, green or Christmas style chile. The chile won’t set off any fire alarms with its piquancy, but it’s got a good flavor. The beans and rice are topped with melted yellow and white Cheddar. Garnish includes not only the perfunctory lettuce, but large sprigs of parsley (which has wonderful flavor ameliorating qualities and should not be solely relegated to plate decoration).
29 March 2015: My dearly departed friend Larry McGoldrick, the professor with the perspicacious palate, once took umbrage with a “top five carne adovada” list compiled on Newscastic by a culinary novice. Larry’s own list begins with the sublime carne adovada at the incomparable Mary & Tito’s Cafe followed by the superb carne adovada at El Bruno. Larry describes it as “very tasty and succulent marinated pork was fork tender, and among the best in the city.” How can you argue with that? El Bruno’s carne adovada is indeed fork tender and delicious, each tender tendril of marinated pork falling apart at the press of a fork. My Kim enjoys the carne adovada with two fried eggs.
16 March 2011: The “Los Burgers” menu features six half-pound burgers, including one served on a tortilla with green chile. Just as it’s not every great Italian restaurant that can make a decent pizza, not every great New Mexican restaurant can char-grill a decent burger. My frequent dining compañero and amigo especial Bill Resnik and I arrived at that conclusion after a couple of bites each of our burgers, both of which arrived at medium-well though we requested medium-rare and medium respectively. Mine was a Chaco Burger which is embellished with blue cheese crumbles, caramelized onions and chipotle mayo. The combination of caramelized onions and chipotle mayo is very sweet (much like a caramelized onion relish) and there weren’t enough blue cheese crumbles to provide any contrast (and I like my blue cheese breath-wrecking strong). If there was any bite to the chipotle, it, too, was obfuscated by the sweet caramelized onions.
4 December 2011: Growing up in Northern New Mexico, fishing the pristine cold-water streams was a favorite pastime, but my brothers and I were pescatarian snobs. During camping trips into the wilderness where we subsisted solely on fish we caught, we threw back any rainbow trout which had made their way upstream from where they were stocked. Our taste buds craved New Mexico’s official state fish (yes, we do have one), the cutthroat trout, the most delicate and delicious of all fish you can find in the Land of Enchantment. Rainbow trout, we believed, were strictly for tourists and if we did take them home, we fed them to our neighbor’s chickens who pecked them to pieces and chased each other around the coop playing a combination of take-away and tackle. It was great fun at the time.
4 December 2011: Thanks to a recommendation from the professor of the perspicacious palate Larry McGoldrick–or more accurately, his better half Jane who became besotted of an entree showcasing rainbow trout, my own opinion may have been forever changed. El Bruno’s piñon crusted rainbow trout is butterflied and pan-seared to a golden-hue then topped with a mango salsa–not enough to make the trout “fruity tasting,” but just enough to provide a light contrast to the delicate, fresh taste of the trout. The piñon crust is also delicate with barely a hint of the woodsy tasting nut. The trout is served atop a bed of fried spinach, a unique dish first created by the brilliant entrepreneur Tom Hamilton of the sublime Hamilton Chop House (sadly now closed) outside Durango. It’s served with a generous mound of red chile-dusted papitas and a garden salad (make sure you request the green chile ranch dressing).
4 December 2011: It stands to reason that because of the pride El Bruno takes in preparing its carnitas, the fajitas would be something special and indeed they are. Sizzling strips of sirloin arrive at your table on a hot metal plate. The fajitas are served with sauteed onions and bell peppers, grated white and yellow Cheddar cheese, guacamole, lettuce, sour cream and flour tortillas. It’s the sirloin which stands out most because it’s a much higher quality cut than skirt steak which is typically used for fajitas. It’s chop house quality steak and it goes very well with whatever other ingredients you wish to use in crafting your meal.
Driving a few miles through the concrete urban jungle to get to El Bruno’s isn’t nearly as scenic as the 75-mile drive along Highway 550, but it’s a drive many Duke City diners have already started to make. The parking lots are as full now as they were during the halcyon days of Garduño’s and the food is so much better.
El Bruno’s Restaurante Y Cantina
8806 Fourth Street, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 27 May 2022
1st VISIT: 13 March 2011
# OF VISITS: 5
BEST BET: Carnitas con Papitas, Carnitas a la Mex, Chips and Salsa, Fajitas, Piñon Crusted Rainbow Trout, Carne Adovada, Shrimp Ceviche, Fresh Mushrooms, Steak & Papitas
15 thoughts on “El Bruno’s Restaurante Y Cantina – Albuquerque, New Mexico”
Fried spinach was mentioned simewhere above but it might not be the same as deep-fried spinach. El Bruno’s makes this in a household appliance deep-fryer. 30 seconds. Order it off the menu. I eat it by itself. It it were ever to snow spinach, this is it. It has a bit of a crispy crunch and ‘melts’ in the mouth.
Thought I’d give El B another try after several months ago finding the Chimi quite salty. I tried several bites, hoping maybe it was accidently one spot. Alas, the waiter tried to be as accommadating as he could when he reported the kitchen agreed “the remains” were salty. (I don’t understanding ‘salting’ New Mexican food, but that’s another thread.) This week: the ‘wrap’, which was left bare with the green chile on the side (to avoid soggyness), looked weird, but tasted fine. Alas, the shredded beef, while looking moist, was dry. The two side servings of guac and sour cream were now generous; the guac and chile were tasty as well as the ‘rita. Sorry, feeling kind of like, Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice….yada yada. I’d be curious if the kitchen staff has changed given a previous review of the carne.
Had lunch with my brother yesterday. They offer several lunch specials, he had the Enchiladas and I had the tacos. Rice was good, beans were whole and also good. He liked his dish, the tacos were full but they did use shells, I prefer a fried corn tortilla. They are generous with the chips and salsa with the salsa being more of a pico de gallo. Sopaipillas were a little oily. Overall, good meal.
Holy Chihuahua…it’s been so long since I’ve shied away from El Bruno’s?! (My original comment for the ABQ site was on Gil’s EB Cuba ‘page’ per the ABQ blog hadn’t been set up yet.)
Again, had the reasonably priced carne adovada Chimi. To be fair, I can’t remember the last, but this was a healthy sized one, but still missing traditional(?) blobs of guac/sour cream. Again the carne was excellent and I managed to save a goodly portion to experiment blending in with a bowl of Wolf’s Chili later! In contrast to previously, I would rate the Sopa as one of the most excellent in terms of size and (now non-doughy) “flakiness”. The salsa was also now right up there with The Best in The Environs!
~ Alas, I previously described the bar/lounge area as cozy New Mexican. I now swear they’ve repainted it darkly and, without warm, indirect lighting, it is not a place I’d take a Chica on a first, or later, date.
~ One of my biggest whinings last time was about the just under 8 bucks for a house margarita. Aha…now during Happy Hour, one can be gotten for $5.95 beating Sadie’s let alone the other maximizer on El Camino Real, El P’s, which may be smaller!!!!
~ Bottom line: I’m more upbeat about a return, but only if I can get seating in the “sun room” or waiting till summer’s return for Garduno’s original patio which is nicely walled off from a street view. (Not to mislead and in contrast to me, I’m sure most Folk will enjoy seating in the main dining room.)
Robert, surely you jest. Not even you would blend perfectly good carne adovada with canned Wolfe Brand Chili WITH beans, would you? Maybe a sudden Alzheimer attack IS the explanation for your recent problems. Get help!
There is nothing nearer to my heart than feeding the hungry.
If the Felician Sisters are helping those in need then helping them is the next best thing.
Nobody in this great country should be going hungry and nobody in this great country should lose all they’ve worked their lifetime for because they lack medical insurance.
Here’s a factoid from RoadRunner Food Bank……
There is one (1) full service supermarket (Albertson’s, Smith’s, etc) every 840 square miles. And think how much the larger areas skew that number.
There’s much to be done to combat hunger in our Land of Enchantment.
Bravo to the Felician Sisters.
Sorry for the delay in responding Bruce, had to check that we’all can still get some “Polish” at the Felician Sisters’ annual fundraising Polish Dinner. Alas, its now called an International Dinner as they’ve added some Italian and New Mexican http://tinyurl.com/3jx5rx8 …Hey, this one of their retirement convents is in Rio Rancho Gumba!!! Call 892-8862 in Jan. for the date they’ll be having it the first part of ’12. One of the benefits they are noted for “up there” is their St. Felix Pantry, 4020 Barbara Loop SE which will accept food donations, from any of us, to help out folks going through a tough economic time.
Na Zdrowie! L’chaim! Salud! Sláinte!
Tuesday on our way home from a trip to Durango my wife and I stopped for dinner at El Bruno in Cuba.
The red chile salsa was fire hot, too hot for my wife but in small quantities I found it good by the third or fourth dip with chip.
Had a so so quesadia while my wife scarfed down the sauteed mushrooms.
My chicken fajitas was good but I like it better at Mariscos Altimar.
I often wonder is NM foodies have a real understanding of truly fine NM food having dined on it far longer than I.
Then again great food ,like art, is in the eye of the beholder.
Mr. Bob, OTVOLR, mentioned perogies and I have loved them for 60 years.
Like potato latkes I prefer them with a thick sour cream.
Mr. Bob is correct again when he calls for a good Polish restaurant.
How many Poles does it take to change a restaurant?
More than it takes to change a Lite Beer.
And one more thing about prices…….
I think most foodies would rather pay a buck or so more than get a smaller portion.
And I think the establishments who go for the smaller portions will lose more customers than by charging the extra buck.
I’m just saying………
Horrible service, food & prices. Do yourself a favor do not eat here. Red chili had a mothball smell to it.
Aye yi yi Chi hua hua! Yo Andrea…and with All Due Respect (as I/we/they say):
After reading your note, I’m reminded about my conclusion, after deep wonderment in days of yore, that “we” indeed have a tendency to somehow cheapen…take umbrage with….the prices of Chinese as well as New Mexican dishes simply because they are Chinese and New Mexican dishes. Certainly, we don’t do that with French Cuisine, despite Escargot being replete and the bane of my arid/desert back yard!! Hey, I betcha (sic) if we had a Polish restaurant here (now there’s a novel idea!!!) we’d be outraged at price-creep of pierogies, kapusta, chunks of kielbasa, and galumpkis as well….indeed! delicious dishes from all….for the most part made from simple ingredients.
While I know ingredients’ costs go up…and particularly with respect for exceptions like a bad spring freeze/drought stricken summer, I’m sorry, but I will not “feed” inflation with “Que sera, sera.” While it is my admitted sloth (my choice) that I eat out nightly, I can still kvetch about prices given that no recognition…acknowledgement…. is made that some of us have sucked it up with NO monetary increases to “pensions” or Social Security to accommodate ingredients’ “adjustments” for the past TWO years!!!!
Per comparing to El Pinto, I stand by my note http://nmgastronome.com/?p=269.
Check out an Inflation Calculator: http://www.westegg.com/inflation/
While I “acknowledged” the price of El Bruno’s Chimi, please consider Andrea, going to this joynt (sic) http://tinyurl.com/3hcdyog to compare their Chimi con margarita for taste and price (albeit with a different ambiance, especially if one dines in the lounge area where I choose to). Besides the complimentary, sabrosa salsa n chips and attentive “barmaids” who remember my order, please note the chimi’s dollops as well…LOL!)
BTW, for not only a great but healthy “Huevo” Rancheros that raises the bar for most NM restaurants, please go here (blush) http://tinyurl.com/3oh5uu9 (Actually, it should be Huevo los Ranchos” now that I think about it!!!)
What I also tended to think was off-putting about ‘ingredient costs going up’, was that about a year or so ago, the wholesale prices for e.g. Maine lobstah (sic) reached an all time Low, BUT with no downward accommodation in “Market Price”s experienced for e.g. a lobstah(sic) tail. I have no objection to a business charging what it wants, except as I can also choose not to pay 3 bucks above what I’d pay retail for a bottle of beer let alone $7.95 for an “everyday” El Bruno margarita which I can get elsewhere for $5.95 with great NM food.
In the end…bottom line….and, if need be, my treat for La Fiesta comparison: If I’m hankering to have a “good” steak, I’ll choose Antiquity, Paul’s Monterey Inn, Luna Mansion etc. and if I have a hankering for chicken (THE Steak Alternative), I’ll go to KFC or Chic-fil-A or even Burger King…LOL…. instead of $18 at El Bruno‘s!
Lastly, a very nice interview Muchacha this last Saturday on 1550 AM radio on Break the Chain! Hope you, Gil, et al do ongoing presentations!!!
I’ll write here what I wrote on Urbanspoon: Those that are all over El Brunos for their prices need to take a look at the current competition, like El Pinto and Garduno’s (what’s left of them). All are pricing meat entrees in the mid to high teens and up – this is nothing isolated to El Brunos and has everything to do with skyrocketing ingredient costs to all restaurants.
Yeah, there are anomalies like Los Cuates who are still in the $10 range, but that is not the case with MANY restaurants all over the country. Good food is not inexpensive.
It was worth driving 105 mph to eat here with you, Gil! 🙂
Being a frequent driver between New Mexico and Idaho , I would often stop at El Bruno’s in Cuba and almost always enjoyed their meals. True, they are a litle pricey, but if I timed it right, there was a small window of time when they offered a discount. I believe it is between 11 AM and one PM. One time I stopped there for dinner , when the red chile enchiladas were way too hhot for human consumption. I mentioned that to the waitress, she offered some sour cream to “cool” it down. It didn’t help much ands she still charged for the sour cream! I brought the left overs home to my son ( who is a real fire eater) and he said they were way too hot also.
Tried the Carnitas a la Mex last night for my second visit in four days. One of the tastiest meals I’ve had in a long time. We got a second (and third!) basket of sopaipillas in lieu of desert. Superb. Then, so is the flan. World class.
El Bruno’s is now on my Friday night 4th Street restaurant crawl.
When I was traveling the state more than now I frequently stopped at El Brunos in Cuba. All before the fire, as I recall. The food was good but not exceptional. Looking at the menu for the 4th street instantiation I’ll stick with Mary & Titos and Cocina Azul. El Bruno’s prices are ridiculous.