Dahlia’s Central Mexican Cuisine – Rio Rancho, New Mexico (CLOSED)

Dahlias Central Mexican Cuisine in Rio Rancho

Because Mexico spans several climatic zones and a diverse topography, its cuisine varies from region to region. As such, it’s grossly unfair to stereotype Mexican food. It’s true that until recent years, most of the Mexican restaurants in the Albuquerque’s area featured the cuisine of the border state of Chihuahua, Mexico, typified by menus offering refried beans, enchiladas, chiles rellenos and the like. The past decade or so, however, has seen the influx of Mexican restaurants serving mariscos, the surprisingly fresh cuisine of the Mexican states bordering its coastal waters.

Dahlia and Juan
Dahlia and Juan (Courtesy of Sergio Salvador)

The 2008 introduction of Dahlia’s Central Mexican Cuisine in Rio Rancho was therefore intriguing. My hopes were that Central Mexican cuisine might mean the cuisine of Oaxaca and Puebla, two regions renown for moles. Alas, the family who owns Dahlia’s is from Guadalajara, the largest city in the state of Jalisco which borders the Pacific ocean and is not, as the restaurant’s name might imply, centered geographically in the nation of Mexico. A common misperception might be that the menu would then include, if not specialize, in mariscos, the incomparable seafood prepared so well in the Mexican states bordering the Pacific.

The colorful interior of Dahlia’s Central Mexican Cuisine

Mariscos do indeed have a prominent place on the menu, but so do several house specialties not commonly found in other Albuquerque area Mexican restaurants. It isn’t, as we found out quickly, necessarily any regional cuisine or specialty that makes Dahlia’s Central Mexican Cuisine a special restaurant. What makes it special is the operating principles by which this family owned restaurant operates.

Those principles center around preparing healthy and delicious meals for their customers with the use of all-natural ingredients such as grain-fed, hormone-low meats. Many meals featuring meats are prepared by using marinades of limes, grapefruits and oranges to kill off enzymes. The restaurant prides itself on not using trans-fat oils on any of its meals, all of which are prepared fresh on a daily basis. That includes the seafood which is prepared using wine butter and self-ground spices for flavor.

In no way does all natural mean dietary and bland. Dahlia’s family has been in the restaurant business for more than a decade and is well-versed in pleasing hungry patrons. The recipes used have been passed on from generation to generation and are intended not only to nourish the body, but to please the palate. If you want a variation to something on the menu, accommodating cooks will prepare your meal to your exacting specifications.

Salsa and chips at Dahlia’s are unfailingly fresh and delicious

Also prepared fresh daily are the blue, red and yellow tortilla chips made on the premises from white corn. The chips are made throughout the day and are kept crisp and fresh on a dual warmer. They are served with a fiery salsa which is complementary. It is a delicious salsa, the type of which you will devour two bowlfuls of before your entrees are brought to your table. Fresh onion, cilantro, garlic and jalapeño are its constituent ingredients, but deep flavor is its byproduct. The chips are crisp, thin and low in salt.

To wash down the salsa and chips, Dahlia’s offers traditional horchata and offered sandia (watermelon) until the vendor proved unreliable.  That’s too bad. It actually tasted like natural watermelon not like an overly sweetened fruit punch.

The menu features several appetizers fairly typical of Mexican restaurants in the Albuquerque area. Opt instead for a cup or bowl of albondigas, a light and delicious Mexican comfort soup with hearty vegetable chunks and meatballs. Instead of several rice-filled meatballs, Dahlias cup-sized rendition includes only one meatball, but it’s a large meatball, the type of which you might find served with spaghetti.

The vegetables–celery, carrots, tomatoes, red and green peppers–are cooked to perfection and the broth is lightly salted. There is a lot of flavor emanating from a steamy cupful–even with the slight whiff of cumin, a spice I’m not particularly fond of.

(Courtesy of Sergio Salvador)
Albondigas, the best in Albuquerque (Courtesy of Sergio Salvador)

From among the house specialties, you’ll find several not commonly found in Albuquerque area restaurants including banderillas. The term banderillas itself is quite interesting. In Spain and Mexico, bandilleras are the barbed metal tipped spikes that bullfighters drive into the bull’s shoulders to subdue them before the kill. In Spain, bandilleras are the most common form of tapas. Essentially, this tapa consists of skewering sundry ingredients on a toothpick.

Fortunately, the banderillas at Dahlia’s are gruesome only to vegetarians and the word is an offshoot of bandera, or flag. In fact, the menu calls banderillas “our patriotic dish, likely because some of the ingredients are the same colors (red, green and white) as the Mexican flag and because the skewer can be equated to the flagpole.

Seafood lovers will salute the camarones (shrimp) or scallops banderillas which are served with grilled bell peppers. onion, tomato and smothered with sauteed mushrooms on a bed of rice. This is a dish warranting a salute or two. For one thing, Dahlia’s uses real scallops, not the imitation scallops some restaurants serve. Prepared in wine butter, the scallops are a perfect blend of sweet and savory flavors that coalesce beautifully. The vegetables are all grilled to absolute perfection. The sauteed mushrooms impart their fungi flavor onto the rice, making it moist and flavorful.

Bandilleras with scallops

Carnivorous cravings will be sated by meat or chicken banderillas. A skewer of tender and flavorful meat banderillas is pictured below literally covered by fresh vegetables, a grilled pineapple slice and fresh guacamole. Each meaty chunk is roughly an inch cubed and grilled to the peak of flavor. Honestly, the meat on these skewers is as flavorful as some of the best steak in Duke City area steakhouses.

Banderillas made with beef

Another Dahlia’s specialty not frequently found in Duke City area Mexican restaurant are Enchiladas Suizas. Many of us don’t think “melting pot” when considering the nation of Mexico, but the truth is, Mexico is a multi-cultural country. Any dish in Mexico labeled “Suiza” can be attributed to the country’s Swiss immigrants, many of whom gravitated to the dairy country where they produced cheeses, yogurt and a unique version of creme fraiche called crema Mexicana.

Enchiladas Suizas are among the richest and most delicate in Mexico. Dahlia’s version features rolled enchiladas topped with a green cream-based sauce topped with avocado and sour cream and imbued with the distinctive hint of lime. These enchiladas are not piquant in the least, but they are very flavorful and delicious. They are served with rice and beans.

Enchilada Suiza

Still another mouth-watering entree involves camarones (shrimp) wrapped in bacon and served with a cheesy rice, a grilled pineapple slice and a tangy, smoky barbecue sauce.  The shrimp is kissed with the flame of a well seasoned grill and has a faint smokiness.  The bacon is fried just enough so that it wraps completely around the shrimp.  The barbecue sauce is a surprising complement to the sweetness of the shrimp.

Camarones con queso y tocino
Camarones con queso y tocino

Guadalajara, the second most populous municipality in Mexico, has much in common with Rio Rancho. Both are situated at an altitude just above one mile. Guadalajara is known as Mexico’s “silicon valley” in recognition of its strong electronic industry. It is considered Mexico’s high-tech capital on account of its leadership in software and informatics development. Rio Rancho, as many New Mexicans know, is situated on the “silicon mesa” along the middle Rio Grade valley.

Dahlia’s Central Mexican Cuisine
2003 Southern Blvd., Suite 116
Rio Rancho, NM
LATEST VISIT: 14 February 2009
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 20
COST: $$
BEST BET: Enchiladas Suiza, Banderillas, Salsa and Chips, Aguas Frescas, Camarones

About Gil Garduno

Since 2008, the tagline on Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Blog has invited you to “Follow the Culinary Ruminations of New Mexico’s Sesquipedalian Sybarite.” To date, nearly 1 million visitors have trusted (or at least visited) my recommendations on nearly 1,100 restaurant reviews. Please take a few minutes to tell me what you think. Whether you agree or disagree with me, I'd love to hear about it.

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12 Comments on “Dahlia’s Central Mexican Cuisine – Rio Rancho, New Mexico (CLOSED)”

  1. Now closed–a great loss, had really incomparable menu and food. We’ve heard that the punk patrons of the video store next door would hang out in front and scare off potential customers. Video store owner refused to correct the situation, as did the police.

  2. Awesome food. I’m not a big fan of New Mexican Hot food, so I was intrigued to try Central Mexican Cuisine. Wow! This restaurant is a well hidden secret to most.

    The food is very traditional Mexican, not covered in red or green. The meats are natural and antibiotic free. The homemade chips and salsa are to die for. My favoraite was the Enchiladas Suizas. The Flautas, wrpped in a homemade flour tortilla, are great also.

    If you plan on going out to dinner in Rio Rancho, PLEASE check them out. You will not be disappointed.

  3. Have been there about a half dozen or so times since it opened, never disappointed and continue to be surprised and pleased most visits. Ann had a carne adovada burrito–moist, chock full of tender meat and some beans, smothered with delicious cheese–and I dared to order the flautas. I say “dared,” because I cannot count the number of times that I have ordered these in other restaurants, and they turn out to be a bad choice, a disaster, perhaps the worst item on the menu: greasy, overcooked, dried out, tough. At Dahlia’s, these were made with flour tortillas, very quickly fried so that they kept their shape, but were relatively grease-free, light, puffy, and insides were chock full of wonderful desabreada (i.e., moist and tender pot-roast style beef). All this (4 of them) with beans and rice on the side, along with sour cream and a really generous dollop of made-on-premises guacamole. Only trouble with Dahlia’s is our repetitive need to bring home the leftovers–perhaps we should try to get children’s portions or raciones–although Ann enjoys the remains for lunch the next day or so.

  4. We’ve been there four or five times and we love it. We’re native Mexicans and the food just reminds us of home. It’s authentic and delicious; and we’ll keep going back – plus it’s two minutes from where we live and the prices are reasonable. What more can we ask for??

  5. I visited Dahlia’s the other day, and this time, unfortunately, I can’t give it the A+ I gave it the other times I ate there.

    Maybe I just ordered the wrong thing – Tacos Al Carbon. The meat looked and tasted dried out (obviously at least a day old), and was missing the cilantro sauce advertised on the menu. There was plenty of rice (delicious), but they were rationing the portion of beans. Too bad! I love their beans. The chips are still fabulous, so I contented myself with eating the chips and salsa.

    I was particularly disappointed because this restaurant advertises all their food is cooked fresh. I didn’t get that impression with the meat served in my tacos.

    I will try them again, because overall, their food is very good. Perhaps, it was just my bad luck this time to be served a plate of carelessly prepared food.

  6. Fantastic restaurant only several miles from my home, if it was 50 miles away I’d still go frequently. The best Mexican Restaurant I’ve been to in ABQ or Rio Rancho. Always take my guests there as I know everything will be perfect.

  7. We have visited Dahlia’s Restaurant in Rio Rancho twice now. Both times were very good experiences.

    Everything we have tried so far has been wonderful. I totally love their enchiladas suizas. That tomatillo sauce is so good. On another visit, we had the tostadas. It’s a big meal and the tostada shell is to die for. Our son had the steak fajitas – out of this world.

    Oh, and you won’t be able to stop eating their chips and salsa. On future visits, we plan to try their banderillas and also their seafood dishes.

    We were so pleased with the food and service that when we left the restaurant after our first visit, my son asked if we could go back the next day.

  8. We have been to Dahlia’s at least seven times and every time we try something new. Their menu is exceptional – very unusual dishes! Tonight my husband had the steak banderillas. I was lucky enough to get a few bites of it. It was wonderful and next time i plan on having it myself. Their chips and salsa are what keeps bringing me back each time. The food is wonderful and to make things even better, the service and the employees that work there are great. They aim to please. I hope that they make a success of their business, as it is very hard in Rio Rancho to keep restaurants. I will do my best to pass the word to others. You are missing out if you don’t try this very different, exceptional cuisine.

  9. I enjoyed your review, the food at Dahlia’s is exceptional. My family and I have yet to try anything on the menu that is not pleasing to the palate and to the eyes. Great addition to the Rio Rancho and neighboring communities!!

    Everyone should allow themselves to experience the distinctive flavors and bring your friends.

  10. Gil,

    Thank you for reviewing this new addition to Rio Rancho, great job, lover your writing and tell everyone that will listen about your blog!

    Keep Eating!

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