I was a strapping lad of fifteen when hired as a “box boy” at a country store in Peñasco. Now, being a box boy at a small village country store is to being a bagger at Smith’s or Albertson’s in Albuquerque what the red chile at Mary & Tito’s is to McCormick’s chili seasoning mix. The former is so much more than the latter. For one thing, my duties included bailing hay, rounding up cattle, stacking lumber, loading cement, operating a forklift and every once in a while actually bagging or boxing groceries. The job kept me in great physical condition for football season.
“Eloy,” my fellow “box boy” was a crusty curmudgeon sixty-some years old who didn’t always take direction well and expended more energy getting out of work than actually doing it. Every morning when our boss, a lovely and gracious woman, gave us our marching orders, he would respond “si patrona” (“yes boss.”) after each order. On busy days those orders came with the rapid fire cadence of an auctioneer. Eloy’s responded just as quickly, “si patrona, si patrona, si patrona.” Occasionally he sneaked in in a “si cabrona” (the literal term means female goat, but is more often used in a profane and insulting manner) amidst all the “si patronas.” She either never noticed it or was too ladylike to acknowledge it.
Even though we have a very egalitarian marriage and tend to complete household chores together, my Kim does maintain a “honey do” list of “manly” chores I’m better equipped to perform. Every once in a while when she recites the litany of chores my procrastination has allowed to stack up, I revert to Eloy-like responses. As she rattles them off, my acknowledgement is “si patrona” peppered by an occasional and very affectionate “si cabrona” (she’s heard and loves the story). It’s the response I utter when she jokingly suggests dinner at the Olive Garden.
When, however, she suggested a few years ago that we try a brand new restaurant named El Patron, the only fitting response was “si patrona.” As a name for a Mexican restaurant “El Patron” is a very popular choice with dozens of non-affiliated, non-chain restaurants by that name throughout the United States. The Albuquerque rendition is an independent restaurant as well, owned by Albuquerque impresarios Nick Kapnison and Jimmy Daskalos. Launched April 5th, 2012, El Patron is located at 10551 Montgomery, N.E., an area increasingly populated by commodious restaurant edifices. At 11,689 square feet, El Patron may be the largest.
If the names of owners Nick Kapnison and Jimmy Daskalos sound familiar, it’s because this dynamic duo has owned a triumvirate of highly regarded restaurants in the Duke City. Yanni’s Mediterranean has been proffering some of the city’s best Greek cuisine since 1995 while the eponymous Nick & Jimmy’s has earned a loyal following since launching in 2009. The entrepreneurial duo has also had a hand in other enterprises throughout Albuquerque, not all of them restaurants.
If the address (10551 Montgomery, N.E.) also sounds familiar, it’s because Duke City diners on Albuquerque’s Northeast Heights visited that location to get their Garduño’s fix for nearly two and a half decades. The sprawling structure and its parking lot encompass nearly two full acres. Only El Pinto at 18,000 square feet eclipses El Patron for sheer size among the city’s New Mexican restaurants while Sadie’s Dining Room seating capacity of 375 is in the same ballpark. As you approach El Patron from the downward sloping east, it looks like a cross between a rambling hacienda and a citadel.
Step into the restaurant and it looks even more expansive than it does from the outside, if that’s possible. Even the foyer is capacious. The bar itself is larger than many restaurants. The main dining room is bathed in glorious New Mexico sunlight courtesy of strategically placed skylights. Perched on a ledge overlooking the dining room is a mannequin-like mariachi trio. Appropriately the music reverberating from the restaurant’s sound system is a “desfile de exitos,” compilation of corridos, rancheras and cumbias from some of Mexico’s most illustrious artists: Vicente Fernandez, Antonio Aguilar, Jose Alfredo Jimenez, Lola Beltran and more.
Though the restaurant had been open scarcely more than a week when we first visited, service was generally first-rate, usually indicative of a very professional and seasoned wait staff and management. Most, if not all, restaurants have start-up problems, but those problems can be mitigated by ownership which has seen and done it all. El Patron operates as well as a finely tuned requinto. The wait staff is courteous and on-the-spot with drink refills. If anything, the wait staff was even better two years later when we visited for a second time. That’s usually a sign of a well-managed restaurant which wants guests to return. Chrystal took great care of us during our third…and best visit in 2019.
The menu, though not a compendium of New Mexican and Mexican favorites, is quite extensive and it offers some relatively unique dishes. It also includes a disclaimer about the chile not being for the faint of heart (or something to that effect). The only menu item with cumin (about one part per million we were assured) is the Spanish rice. Most of the entrees come with your choice of two sides: calabasitas, papitas, whole beans, refried beans, black beans, Spanish rice and more.
Shortly after you’re seated, a basket of chips and a bowl of salsa are delivered to your table. They’ll also be replenished faithfully because it’s a two-bowl minimum quality salsa. The salsa isn’t especially piquant, but it has a fresh and lively flavor. What bite it does have comes from jalapeños. The chips are relatively thin, but crispy and though salted, not in dire need of desalinization as many restaurant chips seem to be.
29 September 2019: Among the appetizers are red chile ribs, an item Casa de Benavidez popularized many years ago and which few New Mexican restaurants prepare well. At El Patron, the chile ribs are fall-off-the-bone tender and slathered in a sauce that’s more barbecue sauce (sweet and somewhat sticky) than chile (only a hint and without much piquancy). There are four ribs to an order and you’ll polish them off quickly, perhaps even gnaw at the bone to make sure you capture all the tender tendrils of the baby backs. An entree sized order of red chile ribs is available at half- or full-rack portions.
6 June 2014: If there’s one savory dish that evokes images of beaches and summertime, it’s ceviche. El Patron’s version is created from very fresh seafood, citrus juices which pack a lip-pursing punch and other ingredients which give it a surprisingly refreshing flavor profile. White fish and shrimp shrimp are marinated with lemon-lime, tomato juice, tequila, jalapeño, avocado, diced tomatoes and a touch of cilantro all served in a cocktail goblet. Saltine crackers are provided, but the seafood goes best by itself or with chips. El Patron’s ceviche is a bit more expensive than ceviche served in most Duke City New Mexican restaurants, but it’s also some of the best, most “summery” in town.
15 April 2012: The carne adovada is similarly tender though the kitchen staff’s heavy-handedness with Mexican oregano renders the dish just a bit acerbic. A fried egg on top mitigates the adovada’s acerbic qualities somewhat. If your experiences are that many restaurants serve chintzy portions of carne adovada, you’ll be well pleased with the generous serving at El Patron. Two side dishes which complement the adovada are the papitas and calabasitas. The papitas are thinly sliced and heavily salted. The calabasitas are perfectly prepared, neither too soft and chewy nor overly hard and crunchy.
15 April 2012: The menu offers several combination platters including perhaps the most comprehensive combo platter of any New Mexican restaurant in the Duke City. Picture if you will, a cheese enchilada, a chile relleno, a tamale, a taco, carne adovada and two sides. It’s a veritable family feast. Several items are notable, especially the tamale which has a pronounced corn masa flavor and an abundance of tender tendrils of shredded pork. The hard-shell taco (with your choice of shredded or ground beef) is also quite good, the beef far more prominent than lettuce and tomato. As for the heat promised on the menu, neither the red or green chile delivers (unless you’re used to getting your salsa from New York City.)
6 July 2014: One of the most colorful entrees on the menu is the blue corn enchiladas served Christmas style (red and green chile) with a fried egg on top and beans and Spanish rice on the side. El Patron gives you the option of having your enchiladas served either stacked or flat (my preference). Chicken or ground beef will cost you a bit extra. Sweeter and more delicious than their yellow corn counterparts, the blue corn tortillas are a perfect canvas for cheese and ground beef topped with chile and a fried egg. The ground beef is nicely seasoned and not overly salty. The pinto beans are terrific as is the Spanish rice. Alas, a side of papitas yielded some of the saltiest cubed tubers imaginable. Our server replaced them without hesitation.
29 September 2019: Considering El Patron’s ownership pedigree, it shouldn’t surprise you to find a “New Mexico meets Greece” entree on the Sunday brunch menu. It’s a match of complementary culinary heritages, a match we found both creative and surprising. Essentially what we had–Greek tacos (seasoned beef and lamb in a flour tortilla with onion, tomato and tzatziki sauce)–are gyros in which tortillas are substituted for pita. The tortillas don’t miss a beat though a more generous portion of tzatziki would have given the tacos much-needed moistness. Seasoned French fries are a pleasant accompaniment though we missed having Greek-style patates
6 July 2014: El Patron lets you have fajitas your way, offering your choice of chicken, beef, shrimp or a combination of any two. You can also request veggie fajitas. Heck, the grilled onions are so sweet, juicy and delicious, we might be tempted to order grilled onion fajitas next time. The grilled meats and shrimp are marinated in El Patron’s “special sauce” then are grilled with onions and bell peppers and served with pinto beans, Spanish rice, pico de gallo, guacamole, sour cream and flour tortillas. The chicken and beef are tender, nicely seasoned and delicious, but it’s those sweet onions that really stand out.
29 September 2019: There are three items on the seafood section of the menu: blackened tilapia, Parmesan sole and salmon a la Mexicana, an eight-ounce filet lightly seasoned and topped with an avocado-mango salsa. While salmon is not a seasonal dish, mango isn’t–or at least the mango used to create the avocado-mango salsa wasn’t. It lacked both the juiciness and sweetness of in-season mangoes. In fact, its flavor profile was more akin to pineapple, more tart than sweet. The avocado-mango salsa wasn’t bad, but there’s absolutely nothing as “tropical” and freshly delicious as in-season mangoes. It would have made a good salmon dish oh so much better.
Sopaipillas are served with the honey flavored syrup most restaurants offer, but your server will accommodate your request for real honey if you ask. It makes a difference. The sopaipillas aren’t pillowy puffy, but they’re thick and billow with wisps of steam when you cut into them to deposit the sweet honey. The dessert menu also includes a number of postprandial treats made in-house.
6 July 2014: The blueberry bread pudding is a dense brick of sweet, moist and near cloying goodness served steaming hot. If just a pinch of salt is added to this bread pudding to offset the sweetness, it’s not easily discernible. This is one sweet bread pudding, emphasis on sweet. The natillas, a cinnamon-rich custard dish, are also sweet, but a generous dusting of cinnamon provides an excellent foil.
There will be critics and detractors who will denounce El Patron as a parody of its predecessor (El Bruno, which replaced the Garduño’s on Fourth Street faces the same criticisms), but mostly there will be contented guests who will return for generous portions of good food served in an inviting milieu by friendly attendants.
El Patron Restaurant & Cantina
10551 Montgomery Blvd, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 29 September 2019
1st VISIT: 15 April 2012
# of VISITS: 3
BEST BET: Combination Plate, Carne Adovada, Red Chile Ribs, Sopaipillas with honey, Salsa and Chips, Ceviche, Blue Corn Enchiladas, Fajitas, Blueberry Bread Pudding, Natillas
10 thoughts on “El Patron – Albuquerque, New Mexico”
RE El Patron: First, let me say I appreciate the offerings of the owners of the likes of e.g. Nick n Jimmy’s. Indeed, the venue for El Patron brings back fond memories of days of yore as a Gardunos which also went contrary to cookie cutter designs of other “Brands” as they expanded into being a Chain…kinda like the likes of The Range. However…RE Red Chile Ribs: Kinda “comparatively” and disappointingly, you spotlighted Casa de Benavidez (CdB), de pasada, as having “…. popularized (them) many years ago and which few New Mexican restaurants prepare well.” Alas, per no other info but Cbd’s menu, it only lists BBQ Ribs…”in house made BBQ sauce”…which to me misses the element of being Red Chiled(sic), i.e. more than just slathering some on after ya BBQ them! In my 15-20 years of dropping into CdB, especially via the back door, my primo reason has been for the just right sized and crunchy Chicharrones along with Beans with Red Chile and onions in a Stuffed Sopapilla (for 1/2 the price of the front with it’s bestest of patios), I’ve never thought of Red Chile Ribs there. I’m hoping t’was a matter of you dancing too fast whereby you meant to give laudations to El Pinto’s Red Chile Ribs as you did https://www.nmgastronome.com/?p=269 under the subheading “Most Recent Visit: 25 May 2019”.
Elsewise, it’s kinda sad how language changes/disappears over time. “El Patron” was one of the first Spanish terms I learned and heard often when first coming here. Someone, for better/for worse, who you went to in your barrio who could get things done like getting you a job or getting your dirt street paved, yada yada. (Indeed, not a concept unique to the Hispanic culture.) Surely they were invited to weddings, matanzas, your kid’s confirmation…albeit that did not satisfy the implicit Quid pro quo. “Chicano” was another neat word…most often associated with/updated as The Spirit of those native or legal Folks trying to improve, most typically, the plight of the ‘migrant farm workers’ across the Southwest ala Cesar Chavez/Dolores Huerta.
We go to El Patron on Wyoming for Taco Tuesdays. This is a great way to sit outside and enjoy good tacos for a steal.
Thanks for this review. It lines up with our experience for a regular dinner.
Ate lunch with my sister today. Ice tea’s, chile rellano plate for her and shredded beef Chimichanga for me. Both plates came with Spanish rice and whole pinto’s. We were served chips and salsa without an off of a refill. I also order the house salad, nice greens, large strips of red onion, diced tomatoes and one slice of cucumber, dressing came on the side. The rice was soupy, seriously, not good. The beans were alright but nothing to brag about. The rellano’s came with a creamy serrano sauce and were battered nicely and cooked correctly, she liked them. The chimichanga was large and had a small amount of red sauce over it and a combo of cheddar and jack cheeses. It wasn’t crisply fried as expect and lacked the usual sour cream and guacamole topping or pico that I expected. Lots of beef that was flavorful but no onions or peppers or chile mixed in the meat. Since it wasn’t crisp as expected it was more of a burrito smothered. I would not order it again. The rice was like risotto and a pore excuse for Spanish rice. They cant cook Spanish rice, a staple side dish to Mexican food.
The sopapillas were four inches square fluffy but lacked the nice golden brown that adds to the flavor. Chips thin and crisp, salsa had some heat but this is not the Garduno salsa that is much better. Service was not attentive, they weren’t very busy as we sat down at 1 pm. So, would I got back, not likely.
We are immense fans of the Very Fine Nick& Jimmy’s& devotees of Yannis. So said we found el Patron a victim of elaborate architecture and an unfortunate tendancy of the Great Nick& Jimmy to re-make long empty restaurants in their image ( Nick& Jimmy’s was the long empty & entirely ghastly counterfeit Italian Boite Johnny Carino’s ).
One visit to any new enterprise is not at all a fair platform to pass judgement…so I will again ( Once when my courage is restored ) take another try at el Patron.
So many restaurants serve Mexican& New Mexican food in this neck of the woods that the base line is middlin’…..but very few still open distinguish themselves. One experience at el Patron was a disappointment. I will be dauntless& try again sometime soon. But the simple dishes were lamentably grim. Am us-sure what comprised the queso…as a reasonably accomplished cook I am at a loss to find words to conjure up that peculiar confabulation when Velveeta & some category of frozen chile is generally the mean.
Having so much pleasure with Nick& Jimmys& Yanni I will give El Patron another go. In the hopes that those two excellent efforts have drifted over to the heights.
Dave of The desert
Tried El Patron for lunch. The chipas and salsa were quite good–chips light and delicate, salsa tasty and nicely piquant. Kay and I split one of their large combination plates–taco, enchilada, relleno,tamale and carne adovado. It was more than enough food for the two of us. We also got a side of green chile sauce for the relleno. The carne adovado was in large chuncks–prefer smaller ones that get more flavor from the chile–that were so tender that thay fell apart when we stuck a fork in them. Very good. The relleno was battered with a light batter that was very good. We were unfamiliar with the white cheese it was stuffed with but it was quite tasty. The red and green chile sauces were both quite flavorful and nicely piquant. The sopapillas were light and puffy but disgustingly greasy. Overall the food was pretty good and the service was great. It was a bit pricey so we’ll stick with Papa Felipes.
We visited for the first time last week. All four of us were very impressed and satisfied when we had finished. I had the chile rellenos, and they were absolutely outstanding. The chips and salsa before the meal were incredible – the chips were so thin and delicate, and the salsa was perfect. I also ordered a side of carne adovada, which was also really good. Had the house premium margarita, and then I had a second. I highly recommend this to all lovers of good New Mexican cuisine. The owner came by our table to chat and ask how we liked our dinner. We will definitely return, soon.
Visited on 4/27 and really enjoyed everything about the visit.
I had vegetarian fajitas which were not on the menu but at my request, they made them and they were fantastic! Zucchini, corn, 3 types of peppers, onions and the usual fixings. Just spicy enough where it didn’t overwhelm the flavors of the veggies.
Hubby had combo plate with relleno, taco, enchilada and tamale (I think).
Sat on the patio at one of the new fire pit tables and were glad we did.
Service was great and the restaurant was packed.
I was told the Grand Opening is Cinco de Mayo and that more seating would soon be available on the patio and that they may be offering live music out there soon.
The bar was also very crowded and had we not chosen to sit on the patio we’d have had to wait approximately 30 minutes, which isn’t terribly bad for as full as they were. We’ll be back for sure!
Bad food!! This is NOT Mexican food, but whatever it is, is bad.
Ordered Steak tacos, the menu indicate they have Pico de Gallo, they did not.
The rice and the beans were cold but the tacos were hot.
Had to wait too long for the plate.
The waiter was not interested, nevwr asked me how the food was.
I will not return.
I assume that you will try the bread pudding next time. I probably will, too.
Dined at El Patron this past week.
Decided on the Chile Relleno plate and really enjoyed it.
Good chips and salsa
Real good service.
A good house margarita.
I’ll get more adventurous next visit.
Yes, there will be another visit.
Nick and Jimmy were overseeing everything, another good sign.