El Bruno – Cuba, New Mexico

El Bruno in Cuba, New Mexico

Fool that I am, after my first visit to El Bruno’s in 1997, I spent half an hour pondering how best to describe the restaurant in alliterative prose–adobe abode of amazing adovada, beguiling bastion of bountiful burritos, captivating citadel of chile con queso, earthen edifice of enchanting enchiladas–and while El Bruno is all of those and so much more, a simplified yet wholly accurate description would be “one of the five or six best New Mexican restaurants in the state.”

El Bruno’s is almost equidistant between Albuquerque and Farmington, about 75 miles away from each. The drive is spectacular with a preponderance of scenic vistas and an unbelievable, multi-hued topography that includes hulking hoodoos (columns or pillars of bizarre shape caused by differential erosion on rocks of different hardness) and the nipple shaped Cabezon Peak, a dramatic 7,785 foot volcanic formation. The vistas, and especially the stratification of multi-hued earthen layers, may remind you of colorful Navajo sand paintings.

El Bruno (Courtesy of Sarah Rose)
El Bruno (Courtesy of Sarah Rose)

El Bruno’s is also an excellent stopping point on the way to Chaco Canyon and indeed, on one memorable visit to the epicenter of the Anasazi’s world, we had lunch on the way to Chaco and dinner on the way back. Just as Chaco Canyon is steeped in legend, El Bruno’s has culled a legendary reputation of its own. In 2000, El Bruno’s garnered recognition for crafting a Guinness World Record largest burrito, tipping the scales at over 4,300 pounds.

La Virgen de Guadalupe at the gate to the courtyard

While portions at El Bruno’s tend to be prodigious, most diners aren’t out to set records–unless it’s for most enjoyment in one meal. The menu is replete with New Mexican favorites, all of which exemplify the highest standards of the genre.  The recipes come from Hazel Herrera’s family.  Hazel and her husband Bruno (for whom the restaurant is named) have been capturing hearts and taste buds since 1975.

On June 5, 2006, El Bruno was consumed by a fire which destroyed one of the very best New Mexican restaurants in northern New Mexico. El Bruno’s re-opened in early October, 2006, albeit in a smaller location directly across from the original restaurant.  What was once a Frostee-Freeze restaurant and an old house next door was transformed over a period of two years into what is now a spacious restaurant with all the charm of its predecessor.

A mural on the west side of the restaurant

The remnants of the Frostee-Freeze are apparent only from the restaurant’s western frontage.  What was once a relatively small fast-food drive-in is now so seamlessly connected to the sprawling edifice which houses the restaurant that you might think the connection has always been in place.  The Frostee-Freeze portion of the complex now houses the restaurant’s kitchen where Hazel’s recipes are crafted.

As with its predecessor, the rebuilt El Bruno’s parking lot is expansive.  It has to be to accommodate all the hungry patrons, many of whom drive more than an hour just for lunch and dinner.  The exterior west wall includes a colorful mural of 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.

Chips and salsa at El Bruno’s

Not surprisingly, the restaurant’s interior ambience 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 (renown 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 ambience.

El Bruno’s salsa is splendiferous, a magnificent medley of rich, red tomatoes and piquant green chile. While the salsa is superb and you’ll be tempted to consume several bowlfuls, limit yourself to one then order the restaurant’s signature chile con queso. Not only is the creamy chile con queso some of the best you’ve probably ever had, it’s served with crispy tostadas (fried flour tortillas) instead of chips. The queso is enlivened with green chile that bites back.  There’s green chile in every chip.

Chile con Queso–perhaps the very best in New Mexico!

The restaurant is renown for serving 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).

At many New Mexican restaurants when an entree includes a side of, but does not feature, enchiladas, the enchiladas are like an after-thought, generally not very good.  That’s not the case at El Bruno.  While carnitas may be the starring attraction of the aforementioned Carnitas a la Mex (pictured below), the enchiladas are main entree quality.  They are engorged with cheese and topped with your choice of red, green or Christmas style chile.  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).

Carnitas a la Mex

Another entree for which El Bruno is renown is carne adovada, the incomparable dish of cubed and shredded pork which is marinated and simmered for hours in chile.  At El Bruno’s the carne adovada is among the most flavorful and tender of any in the state.  Its piquancy level is about medium and Mexican oregano is also discernible in its composition.  It arrives at your table steaming hot and just beckoning for you to try.

At El Bruno’s, the sopaipillas are to die for–whether you partake of these puffy treats as a delicious dessert with honey (real honey, not that honey flavored syrup inferior restaurants use) or as an incomparable entree, stuffed with chicken or beef and garnished with beans, cheese, chile, lettuce and tomato.

El Bruno’s gigantic sopaipillas

In the July, 2010 edition of New Mexico Magazine, the magazine’s brilliant King of the Road Lesley King chronicled her visit to Cuba, New Mexico, a visit highlighted by her meal at El Bruno.  Her video can be viewed here.  Both her story and video are enthralling.

Eating at El Bruno’s is enchanting dining at its best.

Highway 44
Cuba, NM

LATEST VISIT: 24 November 2008
COST: $$
BEST BET:Carnitas, Salsa, Papitas, Con Queso, Enchiladas, Stuffed Sopaipillas

El Bruno's Restaurante on Urbanspoon

19 thoughts on “El Bruno – Cuba, New Mexico

  1. thanks for the attention and the food is delicious never happened out there on his way to utah .. worth it

  2. Well El Bruno (de Cuba) can finally be added to the Albuquerque listings under the New Mexican genre!

    Nice renovation job painting and fixtures…there must some word or turn-of-phrase that captures what folks expect of an inviting New Mexican cantina, but avoids a formality to a place.

    Alas, if you like cozy head for (or reserve seating in) the bar or ‘sun room’. The main dining area leaves me a tad cold with it’s openess and table closeness. While there are a couple of booths, there’s something about them that’s “awkward”.

    I had the carne adovada Chimichanga, the shell of which was fried to a crisp perfection…one of the better ones I’ve had in awhile. While the carne was tasty, I felt that perhaps the size of some pieces may have required a bit longer cooking which left them a bit on the dry side. I did get some green on the side to sample but don’t have much to say in terms of taste or heat. Missed there being a glop of guacamole (and sour cream) that elsewhere adds a certain “artistic” touch to chimis. The beans were good, albeit could use less salt.

    Sopapillas? Small can be fine actually, but I prefer ones that are less doughy and I’m hoping this was just an aberration.

    Complimentary Chips and salsa were fine albeit for a North Valley comparison, heat was noticeably less than Sadie’s, Casa de Benavidez, or El P’s.

    Living in the neighborhood, it would be nice to have a cantina to drop into for some munchies and a margarita on occassion when things are quiet. Alas, $7.95 for a house margarita ain’t gonna do it nor with the bit pricey appetizers.

    Well I’ll certainly give it another shot….perhaps my anticipation, nursed by several delays in opening, created a mystique which set too high a bar.

  3. FYI, El Bruno Albuquerque Opens at 8806 4th Street NW Tomorrow Monday March 7!

    Official Grand Opening Night is Friday March 11.

  4. 1/31/11…The Down n Dirty or The Skinny if you will: I called Cuba and the opening of El Bruno in the now defunct, but, alas, original Garduno’s on 4th NW between Alameda and the Paseo overpass in Albuquerque/Village of Los Ranchos known as Tortilla Flats, is Feb 25th. Several unanticipated alterations plus the liquor license transfer hearing not being scheduled until Valentine’s Day, have contributed to unforeseen delays. Eh!!!it’s New Mexico! Keep an eye out! I’m considering running for the legislature so I can get the Official State Question changed from “Red or Green?” http://tinyurl.com/48wmty8 to “You want it done when? Manana?” LWMOMNWPIMD (Laughing With Milk Out My Nose While P**ing In My Depends!)

  5. I was fortunate enough to be able to eat at El Bruno’s on Friday for lunch and again on Sunday going to and returning from my 50th high school reunion in Farmington. The food seemed even better than what I had in the past. On Friday I thoroughly enjoyed a Navajo taco and today I consumed all but the parsley of my order of stuffed sopaipilla. Each was accompanied by chips and homemade salsa along with a warm sopaipilla and honey for dessert. The only problem with El Bruno’s is that it is 1500 miles from my home.

  6. Hazel and Bruno Herrera, co-owners of the legendary (since 1976) El Bruno’s Restaurante y Cantina in Cuba, NM, have announced that they will open an Albuquerque branch in December 2010 with essentially an identical menu (why mess with a good and proven thing). It will be located on 4th St. at the address formerly occupied by the original Garduño’s Restaurant. Read further details at http://www.abqjournal.com/biz/252140227619biz08-25-10.htm

    This is exciting news for me and other ABQ gastronomes and foodies. Gil gives the Cuba location a very high rating (25). I can hardly wait.

    1. Very exciting news indeed! If you haven’t already read Lesley King’s wonderful King of the Road article about her visit to Cuba and El Bruno in the July, 2010 edition of New Mexico Magazine, click here to read it. Lesley’s video of her meal at El Bruno can be viewed here. Both are enthralling.

  7. There is a rumor that I found on Andrea’s blog that El Bruno will be opening on 4th Street in the space that was one of the Garduño’s that has closed.

    Know anything about this? I can hardly wait.

  8. Oh joy! El Bruno’s sells their salsa by the case! It is bright with tomato and medium to hot without too much onion. Truly the best! We have ordered many cases and hoard it like gold! Couldn’t agree more! Viva el Brunos!

  9. El Bruno’s has a couple of more fans. My wife and I stopped by for lunch after a long morning drive from Monument Valley and 3 weeks on the road. What a wonderful place for our chile fix! Absolutely great chile, tasty and piquant (especially the red). The enchilada plate had both a ground beef and cheese enchilada, a grouping which I like a lot. We got there just before 1:00 p.m. which was good because we got the lunch specials which are full plates (enchiladas, rice and beans), but reduced in price. A very good and tasty deal.

  10. The news of the Great El Bruno’s Fire of 2006 made it all the way up to southwest Colorado. At the time, we were concerned. Where would we stop on our way to Albuquerque? Would anything be the same? Alas, our worries were for naught. So glad El Bruno’s perservered. I can suggest El Bruno’s to almost anyone here in Cortez and they’ve already been there, and maybe even consider themselves regulars.

  11. I was so glad to see El Bruno’s reopen across the street after the 2006 fire. A friend of mine comes from Detroit to visit three or four times a year and we always have to make a trip up there from Rio Rancho for lunch. Several times we have eaten there both on our way to Chaco Canyon and on the way back. Can’t get enough of El Bruno’s.

  12. Great site!!!! Have you ever tried Angelina’s (Espanola area)? They have wonderful red chili. Suprised it’s not here as this is a very thorough treatment of restos. Barbara

  13. I live in Rio Rancho but I am from Navajo Dam (by Farmington) so I travel 550 a lot. I always stop at Brunos for their salsa and queso. I was so sad to see the old location burn down, but they have done beautiful things with the old Tastee Freeze. It is always nice to see the owner working. I have seen her in the kitchen cooking and I have also seen her water the plants and flowers.

  14. El Bruno’s is now reopened with all the original foods and, recently, an expanded seating area. Great and the margaritas are excellent. (I was one of those die-hard folks eating in the tent in the parking lot on those picnic tables shortly after the fire) Viva El Bruno’s!!

  15. Tried out the El Bruno in Cuba based on your review and really liked it. I had a blue-cheese burger with caramelized onions that was very tasty and my wife had a combo plate that was also very good. Flavorful chile that was not overwhelmingly hot. We stopped in on a day where they were roasting chiles right outside the patio. What a great place to have a leisurely lunch. Thanks for the tip.

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