Abuelita–perhaps no word in the vernacular of Spanish Northern New Mexico evokes such veneration, reverence and, for those of us who have lost these heaven-sent treasures, a melancholy ache not even time can erase. The abuelita is the family matriarch, the heart of the extended family and the sagacious matron to whom you go for counsel, consolation and cooking. For generations, New Mexico’s abuelitas have been nurturing their families with the simple foods passed down by their own abuelitas. Before the proliferation of New Mexican restaurants, abuelita’s was where the family congregated–no special occasion was necessary because any time with your abuelita was a special occasion.
Dining at Abuelita’s New Mexican Kitchen in Bernalillo or Albuquerque won’t replace dining at your own abuelita’s, but you’re guaranteed a good meal, sizeable portions and genial, attentive service. As at your own abuelita’s home, there’s almost always something going on in the kitchen. Abuelita’s is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day but Monday and has been serving Bernalillo since 1984. Photographs honoring abuelitas of local patrons festoon the muted yellows and earth tones of the restaurant’s walls. Fittingly the shirts worn by the wait staff sport the motto “panza llena, corazon contento” or “full belly, happy heart.” The Abuelita’s on Isleta has “only” been around since the year 2000, but it shares many of its elder sibling’s traits for longevity.
The original Abuelita’s in Bernalillo was founded by Christopher Romero who invented the now famous tacopilla, signature dish for both Abuelita’s restaurants. When Christopher passed away suddenly, the restaurant went through a couple of ownership changes all within the family. Today, the Bernalillo mainstay is owned and operated by Rubi and Kevin Lozoya. Rubi’s mom Kathy Martinez owns and operates the Albuquerque restaurant. Both restaurants are welcoming and homey with friendly and attentive servers at your every beck and call.
1 August 2019 (Bernalillo): All too often, the term “chile con queso” is a bit of a misnomer. Sure, there’s plenty of queso, but rarely does the chile distinguish itself. That’s not the case in Bernalillo where Abuelita’s chile con queso will water your eyes. All my Kim could manage was one bite before she cried “no mas.” That meant more for me, but my preference is always for her to share and delight in everything as much as I do. While the food at both Abuelita’s is consistently good, the one differentiator between the Bernalillo and Albuquerque restaurants is the chile. The chile at the Bernalillo Abuelita’s is among the most piquant in the metropolitan area. It’s not only the con queso that demands respect.
10 December 2022 (Albuquerque): The salsa has a rich red tomato taste much like a spicy V8 juice with a jalapeno kick flecked with cilantro and white onions. No longer is a complimentary order of chips and salsa ferried to your table shortly after you’re seated. You’ve got to pay for it now, a fairly standard practice at most New Mexican restaurants today. Both the salsa and the crisp chips are low in sodium. Best of all, the salsa has a nice bite with a pleasant piquancy locals love, but which won’t send tourists scurrying for a fire hydrant.
1 August 2019 (Bernalillo): Hundreds of restaurants throughout the Land of Enchantment pride themselves on breakfast burritos with many of them claiming bragging rights. Very few breakfast burritos in New Mexico are as worthy of bragging rights as the calabasitas and egg burrito (two scrambled eggs, diced squash, zucchini and onions) topped with both red and green chile. The calabasitas are perfectly al dente, crispy not mushy and very fresh. The eggs are fluffy and well seasoned and the tortilla is engorged with ingredients, topped with red and (or) green chile and melted white and yellow Cheddar cheese.
Both the red and green chile have a terrific bite, a welcome change from the insipid chile that’s become so commonplace. It’s the type of chile that pairs well with a hot cup of coffee, the heat of the coffee accentuating the piquancy of the chile. You can add your choice of bacon, sausage, diced ham or chorizo to the burrito for a pittance more. The ham has an endearing smokiness and goes well with the calabasitas. This is one of the very best breakfast burritos in New Mexico.
2 May 2019 (Albuquerque): Never mind the debate as to whether you should enjoy green or red chile…or both! There is no one right answer, no one preference that’s better than the other. Sometimes your preference is just a matter of your mood at the time or what dish you want to blanket with the chile of your choice. Ditto for which New Mexican breakfast dish you should have. Will it be the ubiquitous breakfast burrito or the equally esteemed and beloved huevos rancheros? Both are great choices! Huevos rancheros (flour tortilla topped with eggs prepared the way you want them, red and (or) green chile and shredded cheese) are a specialty at Abuelita’s. This dish is simplicity itself though the chile lends a wondrous complexity and deliciousness to the dish. Abuelita’s refried beans are among the very best in New Mexico, by the way.
10 December 2022 (Bernalillo): The menu is replete with New Mexican specialties, some of which you might not ever see in your abuelita’s kitchen. One such unique entree is the creatively named tacopilla which is a portmanteau of the words taco and sopaipilla. Some might argue that the foundation for this entree isn’t a sopaipilla, but a buñuelo. A buñuelo is essentially a flat sopaipilla about nine inches around, but it resembles Indian fry bread (which is more dense and tastes more like yeast-leavened bread). Anyway, the buñuelo, er…sopaipilla is layered with refried beans, lettuce, tomatoes, guacamole and sour cream and if you so desire, shredded beef, ground beef or chicken. The shredded beef is your best bet. It’s moist and tender, like shredded carne adovada without the chile.
The tacopilla is delivered folded over like a taco, but there’s no way you can eat it like that. You’re going to have to lay it flat and cut into it like a pizza in order to eat it. That’s a bit of a challenge considering the “elasticity” of the sopaipilla. It may be argued that the refried bean, shredded beef and green chile combination on a sopaipilla makes it an entree while the lettuce and tomato make it a sandwich. Whatever it is, it covers your plate and it’s a rare eater who can finish the entire Frisbee-sized behemoth. It’s even more challenging to finish the entire tacopilla if you empty the contents of the accompanying bowls brimming with red and (or) green chile. The chile is muy picante. Even New Mexico born-and-bred fire-eaters will appreciate its heat.
25 January 2014 (Bernalillo): If tacopilla sounds too much like a reptilian monster which terrorizes Mexico City, Abuelta’s has your hook-up with normal sized tacos. Available in quantities of two or three (or you can order four or more a la carte) and served with refried beans and rice, these tacos are of the hard-shelled variety and are engorged with ground beef, cheese, lettuce and tomato. The ground beef is nicely seasoned without being too salty and doesn’t taste refried as at far too many New Mexican restaurants. These tacos are perfectly made for Abuelita’s salsa.
1 August 2019 (Bernalillo): Abuelita’s carne adovada is yet another winner. The slow-roasted lean pork is marinated in red chile then smothered in either red or green chile. If you’ve never had red chile marinated pork smothered in green chile, you owe it to yourself to try it. It’s the best of both worlds. Abuelita’s carne adovada is oh so smooth and delicious with tender tendrils of pork you can chew even if you don’t have teeth. It’s among the best carne adovada in the area and displays its versatility in stuffed sopaipillas, burritos, enchiladas or on a lunch or dinner plate where it’s served with refried beans and Spanish rice as well as two sopaipillas.
10 December 2022: A recent prescription change has made my Kim hypersensitive to spicy and piquant foods. No longer can she order and enjoy her favorite New Mexican foods–not even carne adovada which tends to be less fiery than other chile-based dishes. She now finds herself discussing which foods are the least piquant with our server. That’s the only reason she would ever order flautas. Abuelita’s serves both chicken and beef flautas (or you can have a combination of the two) in quantities of three per order. They’re served with sour cream, guacamole, refried beans (not pictured) and rice. The flautas, deep-fried flutes stuffed with beef are a good choice for Texans and others who can’t handle heat, but New Mexicans shouldn’t have to order them when much better choices are to be found.
10 December 2022: Nearly flat and just slightly greasy and somewhat “elastic,” the sopaipillas are served with most lunch and dinner plates. They’re low in salt and are a perfect repository for honey. Alas, instead of the plastic squeeze bottles that allow honey to flow onto your sopaipilla easily, you’re handed several of those infernal little plastic packets of Kraft brand honey. It was probably easier to pull off the Brinks caper than to open those miserable little packets especially when your hands are as large as frying pans. Try ripping them open with your teeth and your beard might just be covered in honey. Darn it, I should be writing about how good the sopaipillas, but i’d rather be waterboarded than try to open those little packets.
Abuelta’s is no one-trick pony when it comes to enchiladas, offering six enchilada dinners, all served with Spanish rice and refried beans. The enchiladas are rolled (though you can order them flat/stacked as they’re served in much of Northern New Mexico) and stuffed with your choice of cheese, beef, chicken, carne adovada, calabasitas and of course, with the requisite egg atop and your choice of chile. There’s not a bad enchilada on the menu, only good, better and best (the carne adovada).
There are also six burritos on the menu including one of the very best chicharones burritos you’ll find in the Land of Enchantment. Chicharones are made by frying pig skin and are sometimes called “cracklings” although in no case should they be as crisp as pork rinds. The best chicharones are just slightly crispy and have a smoky, bacon-like taste. At Abuelita’s, the chicharones are neither too crispy or too soft. They’re also delicious and generously packed into a tortilla where they share space with excellent refried beans.
Abuelita’s New Mexican Kitchen is a hometown treasure serving New Mexican comfort foods in the ways they’ve been prepared for generations by abuelitas in their own kitchens.
Abuelita’s New Mexican Kitchen
621 Camino Del Pueblo
Bernalillo, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 10 December 2022
# OF VISITS: 8
BEST BET: Salsa and Chips, Natillas, Carne Adovada, Chicharones Burrito, Tacopilla, Ranchero Steak, Calabasitas Burrito. Con Queso
Abuelita’s New Mexican Kitchen
6083 Isleta Blvd, S.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 2 May 2019
# OF VISITS: 1
BEST BET: Chips and Salsa, Huevos Rancheros, Coffee
10 thoughts on “Abuelita’s New Mexican Kitchen – Bernalillo and Albuquerque, New Mexico”
Is it culinarily gauche to ask what cheese was used in your Chile con Queso, Gil?
I thought “queso” was Spanish for “cheese.” Does it just shout “Gringo” for me to ask? Will non-Gringo diners in adjoining tables smirk, shake their heads, and return to eating knowing full-well that only one type of cheese is customarily used in New Mexico for the dish?
I hear say that Velveeta is the queso preference in Texas. Is this true, Gil? I was raised in Northern California and couldn’t even begin to tell you if there was a queso preference in the dish. By the way, the venerable columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, Herb Caen, whose column spanned nearly 60 years, once described his hometown of Sacramento as a place where “Velveeta is in the gourmet cheese section.”
Will our roving gourmet enlighten us as to (1) is there a queso preference in New Mexico, and (2) does he have a preference? and (3) his opinion of using Velveeta cheese in the dish.
I’m ashamed to say my turophile taste buds let me down at Abuelita’s. My very first bite was a Gil-sized scoop of the molten stuff preceded by a swig of scalding hot coffee which had the effect of exacerbating the queso’s piquancy. As such, I couldn’t discern exactly what queso was used though I suspect a blend of shredded Cheddar and Monterey, ameliorated with sour cream (maybe heavy cream) and milk. The chile, of course, was a Hatch blend that should come with a cautionary warning for Coloradans who might be visiting. Denizens of the Cannabis…er, Centennial State are used to inferior chile.
Restaurant menus typically list “chile con queso” (chile with cheese) but perhaps “queso con chile” or even “queso con queso with a hint of chile” would be more appropriate. There are many restaurants where the chile is “dumbed down,” often with little more piquancy than a bell pepper. That’s certainly not the case at Abuelita’s in Bernalillo where the chile demands your rapt attention.
In a feature detailing the history of chile con queso in Texas, Eater.com contends that “chile con queso in the States has pretty much always been made with processed American cheese.” The term “processed cheese,” of course, is a rather broad umbrella that includes Velveeta.
What an indictment that Velveeta resides in the gourmet cheese section in Sacramento. That’s hilarious.
New Mexico is such a broad and diverse state that it’s impossible to generalize a statewide queso preference. Preferences vary not only from restaurant to restaurant, but from household to household. During your recent peregrination down south, you may have noticed that the con queso in the Las Cruces area is quite a bit different than the con queso in the Albuquerque metropolitan area. Then there are Mexican restaurants which offer queso fundido or queso flameado made with wonderful Mexican cheeses and often prepared with chorizo. We’re blessed to have such variety…so many great choices, so much queso, so little time.
I’m personally not fond of Velveeta. There are (as you know from burger preferences you’ve expressed on this forum) far superior cheeses. My own preference lean toward a blend of Mexican cheeses and good old smoked Cheddar with lots of chile picante.
Lo…far far from being a turophile, I but wondered about some of the provenance of Velveeta and, as such, haven’t gone much beyond 14 Cheesy Facts about Velveeta https://tinyurl.com/y28zwwtx
Elsewise, I but wonder per armchair observation, if there is not but a cultural-economic element herein to its popularity in NM. I apparently didn’t pay much attention as a kid “back East” as to where the cheddar for a Grilled Cheese Sangwich(sic) came from, albeit I do clearly remember it was either Campbell’s Tomato soup or Wise Potato Chips (in the partially clear cellophane bags) with which it was served.
Anyway, Velveeta is what my late Chicana always had on hand for her tacos of the corn, not flour, tortilla variety and especially for her ineffable and unique version of Huevos Rancheros. It was from a chunk thereof, that one of my kidlets or I was tasked with grating some cheese. My Vieja grew up in what was kinda the heart of the South Valley in her day, the barrio of Five Points. Her Folks had immigrated up from Los Chavez and had a culturally typical family of 6. They were not rich, but a blue collar family where Dad contracted his used truck to deliver mail between cities and used another for a side service to the community with a motto of “You make it, we take it!” from which I thus learned as an adult, there were such things as cesspools in reality, i.e. beyond politics. Beyond work, I learned of the frugality of having mantanzas and a jardin for veggies and chile and how ya reroofed your own roof of your hand constructed, adobe casita of just 3 bedrooms/1 ba, or dug a ditch for a water line when a main line was finally put along your dirt street in the County….LOL…Yo, I once “operated” a jackhammer for that!
Given I just bought a couple of slices of Baby Swiss which, if extrapolated out, would be $9.50/#, the 5 bucks one now pays for Cheese in a Box on a shelf and not in a refrigerated case, made sense for a frugal family! I just did a search of Sprouts on Academy/San Mateo…they apparently do not carry it…(too cheap?)…LOL
Elsewise, just confirmed with my Daughter that her Viejo’s Con Queso is made with Velveeta!!! As he grew up in the North Valley, I was wondering if there might be a difference from barrio to barrio. In addition to his Green Chile with almost wincing Heat, he also adds in a can of RO*TEL which I’m learning is common.
As an aside…but having a cultural relatedness…last night I caught the cult-like, The Milagro Bean Field War, ’87, for Free here: https://tinyurl.com/yymbh8n7 . The Village of Milagro, which is actually Truchas as the setting, supposedly now has a food serving Mercantile that might catch Gil’s fancy https://tinyurl.com/y4gzsbxc for his review on his visits to Penasco. Elsewise, the movie featured many townsfolk along with Homie Roberto Mondragon, long time Politico and Singer/Preserver of Hispanic music, and Hollywood types like Melanie Griffith and Christopher Walken and others less known, as well as songster Freddie Fender, e.g. https://tinyurl.com/y6ege8m9, to name a few.
As you know, researching the provenance of dishes is difficult, sometimes tedious, and fraught with pitfalls and assumptions. Chile con queso is certainly another Mexican dish that was adopted and adapted as it was brought north into the American Southwest where it can still differ from area to area.
Lisa Fain, who writes a blog called “Homesick Texan” (she also wrote a cookbook with the same title), authored another cookbook titled “Queso!” published in 2017. Food Republic published an excerpt from the latter that relates Fain’s extensive research into chile con queso that’s very interesting and worth reading: https://www.foodrepublic.com/2017/10/03/history-chile-con-queso/.
Out of curiosity, I took a brief look at what New Mexico’s own Cheryl Jamison has to say about queso. In “Texas Home Cooking”, she and her husband Bill noted that “…it has suffered the indignity of being homogenized into a glop that’s poured on ballpark nachos” and they gave a recipe for queso made with mild cheddar and preferably New Mexican roasted green chiles.
In “The Rancho de Chimayo Cookbook: The Traditional Cooking of New Mexico”, the Jamisons provide a recipe for queso made with Velveeta cheese, noting “Velveeta is not a historical ingredient in northern New Mexico cooking, of course, but it does date back to the 1920s and was the first commercial cheese product available to Chimayo families. A welcome and versatile change from homemade goat cheese, it was widely embraced for its long shelf life, mild flavor, and superior texture in melting.” Goat cheese? Who knew?
In an article entitled “Feliz Navidad: NM Style”, Cheryl relates the history and Christmas traditions of the Delgado family in Santa Fe and provides a number of their favorite recipes. That for the Delgado’s chile con queso is perhaps the most surprising since it includes not only Velveeta but a can of mushroom soup as “…the secret to the smooth long-lasting texture of the warm dip”.
Based upon your comment that New Mexicans enjoy different kinds of queso and that the queso in the Las Cruces area differs from that of the Albuquerque area, I ended up back with Lisa Fain. In accordance with her article “The Ballad of Chile Con Queso” in Taste, she notes that the queso in El Paso and southern New Mexico “…is more Mexican than Texan” since the cheese of choice can be Asadero, Muenster, Monterrey Jack or white cheddar.
The most consistent ingredient in the recommended recipes for chile con queso was the Hatch green chile, a real tribute to New Mexico and about a thousand notches better than plain old canned green chile.
Wow! Thank you, my friend. As always, your research is impeccable.
As you point out, con queso was most certainly another Mexican dish that was adopted and adapted, likely scions of queso fundido and queso flameado (both favorites of Lisa Fain.)
Con queso is such a wonderfully versatile dish that virtually every type of cheese is a candidate for use. Gecko’s, for example, sometimes offers a chorizo blue cheese queso. The one constant is New Mexico’s superior green chile.
We happened to be in Bernalillo on Sunday and decided to finally stop in at Abuelita’s. So glad we did. The green chile did have a bite to it, but I thoroughly enjoyed every last bit of it. Even resorted to sopping it up with the sopapilla rather than put honey on it. I went with the relleno plate. The rellenos were a tad too bready for me, but were the perfect texture and flavor! I should’ve gone with the huevos rancheros…I guess I know what I’m getting next time!
The wife and I decided that we would make it out to Bernalillo for breakfast/lunch/dinner in the very near future and more frequently than we do now.
Oh, you may want to look at the last sentence of the first paragraph of your comment on August 4th, Gil. Sounds like maybe you’ve had a slight change of opinion…LOL.
Chicharones con refritos = NOMS
Y las papitas parecen sabrosos!
Generalmente, la comida ofrecida en la cocina de la abuelita fue excelente–especialmente los chicharrones y la carne adovada.
Extraño mucho mi podcast favorito. Cuando van a empezar de nuevo con Drive to Place?
Saludos a Edwardo. Abrazos para usted. Espero que los dos estan buenos y sanos.
Had the chorizo and eggs here the other morning. I ordered my eggs over easy and the chile christmas. The red was outstanding. Wonder where they get their chile.
This is a Wonderful Blog!!! Very Interesting.