The former site of a Kentucky Fried Chicken and its familiar red and white edifice has been transformed into the lemon green and sunshine yellow home of Federico’s Mexican Food where authentic treasures from the northern Mexican states (with a touch of California) are available for dining-in or taking-out 24 hours a day. Launched in April 2005, Federico’s features an extensive menu with more than 20 combination plates in which inexpensive Mexican favorites are served. A second edition of the California and Arizona chain owned by Lorena and Juan Almanza launched four months later in a far Northeast Heights (1109 Juan Tabo) strip mall.
Duke City area dining patrons are a dichotomous lot when it comes to burritos. The cavalcades of cars crowding Taco Bell’s parking lots and queuing like a parade route around its drive-up window seem to indicate Duke City diners don’t care so much about quality of their burritos; as long as it’s cheap, many will eat it. That theory is quickly dissipated when you hear vociferous criticism of burritos which are otherwise deemed to be “not New Mexican enough.”
It was the latter aspect of the Duke City area dining patron personality that made me wonder if Federico’s would be able to compete in the tough Burque burrito market. With more than a dozen burritos, the house specialty, Federico’s burritos are several orders of magnitude superior to the scrawny, tasteless burritos at Taco Bell, but they’re also vastly different from New Mexico style burritos.
The difference perhaps most noticeable is the absence of New Mexico’s favorite fruit and state vegetable, the ubiquitous red and green chile we love so much. Many of the burritos at Federico’s don’t feature any piquancy whatsoever, relying instead on other ingredients to provide flavor. Chile not withstanding, locals also love prodigious portions and Federico’s doesn’t disappoint there with each burrito weighing in at a strapping full pound. The tortillas are engorged near the bursting point with quality and delicious ingredients.
Aside from the visual assault of an unnaturally bright, but certainly not offensive color pallet, the first thing that will hit you when you approach Federico’s is the aroma of meats and onions on the grill. It’s a pleasant precursor of things to come. The challenge will be picking from a wide and varied menu that in addition to the aforementioned burritos (and breakfast burritos) includes tortas, various combination plates, tostadas, tacos and tortas.
Tortas (a popular Mexican sandwich typically made from a soft Mexican roll called a bolillo) of several varieties are as popular in Mexico as burgers are in America. The ham torta features Mexican ham which isn’t nearly as salty as its American counterpart while the beef torta showcases shredded beef. Neither is nearly as tall as the skyscraper high “Dagwood”sandwiches Americans love, but they are both very tasty sandwiches. My only complaint is that the ham torta would be even better with two or three more pieces of ham (but wouldn’t everything, including some desserts).
Perhaps the most pleasing torta is Federico’s fish torta stuffed with hoki (misspelled on the menu as “hoky”) fish, cabbage, tartar sauce and chunky salsa. Hoki fish is a white fish that only recently has gained wide acceptance as a prime fish. It is light and flaky and complemented well by the slightly tart tartar sauce and piquant salsa.
Conversely, the fish burrito which also features hoky fish has been a major disappointment the two times we’ve tried it. Although the burrito is engorged with several pieces of fish, the fish has been overdone–so much so that it was dry and overly crispy. Not even the tangy coleslaw style cabbage could salvage this burrito.
We’ve had better luck with the shrimp burrito (pictured above) which is stuffed with several pieces of shrimp, Spanish rice, cabbage and a tangy piquante sauce. Shrimp is a misnomer for this two-fisted burrito with a boatload of taste.
Federico’s features a passable fountain quality (definitely not homemade) horchata, but you can also wash down your meal with traditional Mexican beverages such as jamaica, tamarindo and pina.
Federico’s Mexican Food
1590 Deborah Road, S.E.
Rio Rancho, New Mexico
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LATEST VISIT: 30 June 2009
# OF VISITS: 5
BEST BET: Fish Torta; Ham Torta; Shrimp Burrito, Rolled Tacos, Chile Relleno Burrito, Carne Asada Burrito, Chorizo Torta