Timbuctu Bistro – Rio Rancho, New Mexico (CLOSED)

The Timbuctu Bistro is on the southeast corner of the Mariposa Information Center

Growing up in bucolic Peñasco back when fires were still started by rubbing two sticks together and mastodons roamed the Earth, I distinctly remember hearing playmates uttering the term “going all the way to Timbuktu.”  Considering we all thought Albuquerque was a million miles away, we couldn’t imagine just how far away Timbuktu must be.  Some of us reasoned it  existed only as a figment of the imagination similar to Oz, Neverland and Atlantis (Hogwarts, Narnia and Jurassic Park for you Generation Yers).  Even adult teachers whom we asked dismissed it as a distant land in deepest, darkest Africa though it was obvious they weren’t quite sure where it actually was…or if it existed at all.

Though seemingly synonymous with “some far away place,” Timbuktu does exist and imaginative children of all ages do visit it on occasion.   Timbuktu is a city of some 50,000 citizens–the most remote city, in fact, in the country of Mali, the crown jewel of West Africa.  It’s located between the southern edge of the mighty Sahara and the great bend of the Niger River.  Not only is it far away, it is difficult to get there, the only reliable route in or out being by chartered aircraft.

Restaurant impresario and Timbuctu Bistro owner Nico Ortiz (far right) discusses the daily menu

When you visit the Timbuctu Bistro in Rio Rancho, it’s pretty obvious how the restaurant got its name.   It’s about four miles north of the Santa Ana Star Center which even most of Rio Rancho’s citizenry erroneously believe is as far northwest as you can go and still be in the City of Vision.  There’s a vast expanse of sage and sand as far as the eyes can see on both sides of the two lane Unser Boulevard on the way to Mariposa, the environmentally-responsible master-planned community in which the Bistro is located. The Bistro is housed in complex which was previously home to the much-missed Outlook Cafe.

Its perceived distance will likely make the Timbuctu Bistro a true destination restaurant, an  exclusive enclave far away from the bustling well-beaten and well-eaten path that defines the Rio Rancho’s dining scene. In truth, however, from the intersection of Rio Rancho’s Unser and Southern Boulevards, the Timbuctu Bistro is almost equidistant to the Cottonwood Mall. There are far fewer traffic lights, no traffic snarls and once you’re past the turnoff to Northern, virtually no other traffic and only a couple of residential neighborhoods.

French Toast: two slices of locally-made Challah bread battered with a spiced orange liqueur, grilled golden brown and topped with vanilla whipped cream and fresh berries; served with warm syrup

There’s another reason for the name Timbuctu Bistro.  The charming restaurant which opened in May, 2012, is owned by Rio Rancho restaurant impresario Niko Ortiz, proprietor of the Turtle Mountain Brewing Company and the Fat Squirrel Pub & Grille.  The first letters of each word in Turtle Mountain Brewing Company (TMBC) are virtually an acronym for Timbuctu, ergo the name.  The Bistro is ensconced in a 1,200 square-foot corner space in the capacious two-story business center, a modern edifice with plenty of glass to take advantage of wondrous panoramic views.  From the ground-level cafe, your views are of the Sandia, Sangre de Cristo, Manzano and Ortiz Mountains, views which seem even more spectacular from the patio.

The Bistro has a beer and wine license, but for those of us who appreciate other adult beverages, there’s  Villa Myriam Specialty Coffee, a start-up franchise owned and operated by Juan and David Certain.  The hand-picked Colombian Arabica bean is hand-roasted in Albuquerque.  It’s an excellent coffee, best described on the Villa Myriam Web site: “A very intense fragrance and aroma with an exotic flavor and a medium to heavy body, very balanced cup with a strong character and very pleasant after taste. With nutty cacao and hints of caramel smokiness notes. With the richness and flavor that makes Colombian coffee famous.”   Only at Cafe Bella have I had a better Cafe Au Lait in New Mexico.

Crab Cake Benedict: Two green chile crab cakes topped with poached eggs smothered in house-made Hollandaise and served with hash browns

The Timbuctu Bistro is open for lunch Tuesday through Friday from 11AM to 3PM and for dinner Tuesday through Sunday starting at 5PM.  Brunch is served Saturdays and Sundays from 9AM to 3PM.  The menu is surprisingly ambitious considering the Bistro’s tiny confines, though it’s not an especially large menu (four appetizers, three salads, seven lunch entrees, six dinner entrees and eight brunch entrees).  It’s a menu wholly unlike that at either of Niko Ortiz’s other restaurant ventures and it has a distinct New Mexican influence.  Burgers and sandwiches dominate the lunch menu while more sophisticated offerings (including a red chile bourbon glazed salmon) are available for dinner.  Aside from the salads, the most vegetarian-friendly items on the menu are a quesadilla (flour tortilla with Monterey Jack, tri-colored bell pepper-onion mix served with guacamole and sour cream) and a hummus cups (red chile hummus piled into crisp cucumber cups, each garnished with diced tomato, a pita chip and fresh basil) appetizer.

Brunch is the best of two worlds–not quite breakfast and not quite lunch, but the best of both. It’s a leisurely weekend repast which makes you feel you’re getting away with something, as if you’re defying your mom’s mandate not to have dessert before the main entree.  The Timbuctu Bistro has some of the standard New Mexico brunch favorites such as a breakfast burrito and French toast, but some are distinct enough not to be classified as the “same old, same old.”   Take the French Toast, for example.  Two slices of locally-made Challah bread are battered with a spiced orange liqueur then grilled golden brown and topped with vanilla whipped cream and fresh berries.  The spiced orange liqueur adds a nice citrusy touch and it’s hard to dispute that Challah bread makes the very best French toast.

Classic Breakfast: Two fried eggs over easy, two slices of bacon, a tortilla and yogurt with fresh fruit

For a uniquely New Mexico twist on a traditional favorite, you can’t beat the Bistro’s Crab Cake Benedict, two green chile crab cakes topped with poached eggs smothered in house-made Hollandaise and served with hash browns.  My friend  Larry McGoldrick, the professor with the perspicacious palate, contends “green chile is strictly forbidden” on crab cakes, but I believe these would make a convert out of him.  The crab cakes are fashioned from jumbo lump crab meat which is impregnated with the incomparable flavor of New Mexico roasted green chile–only enough to be discernible, not to dominate.  For good measure, the house-made Hollandaise is lightly dusted with red chile.  Only at the Gold Street Caffe will you find a comparable Southwest influenced Eggs Benedict dish.

If you’re not in an adventurous mood, the Bistro offers a Classic Breakfast option (two eggs any style with your choice of bacon, house-made chorizo (cumin added) or Canadian bacon served with hash browns and sourdough toast).  You can also substitute a tortilla and yogurt with fresh fruit for the hash browns and sourdough toast.  The yogurt is sweetened with honey, a nice contrast to the tangy, fresh berries and the creamy, pleasantly sour flavor of yogurt. 

The Piña Burger: Half-Pound Beef Patty topped with a tequila pineapple salsa, Canadian bacon, Provolone and Teriyaki served on ciabatta

Lunch options include three intriguing gourmet burgers, all of which start with a half-pound beef patty on ciabatta.  One of the burgers, the Piña burger, answers the question as to what a burger version of a Hawaiian pizza might look and taste like.  The beef toppings include a tequila pineapple salsa, Canadian bacon, Provolone and teriyaki sauce.  The saltiness of the Canadian bacon (which not even Ree Drummond, the Pioneer Woman can distinguish from ham) is a nice foil for the sweet-tart flavors of the finely chopped pineapple and the nuttiness of the Provolone.  The ciabatta is toasted so the edges are crisp and the insides are soft.

You can also substitute a marinated portabello mushroom cap or eight-ounce chicken breast on any burger for no additional charge.  Better still, if you’re on a no- or low-carb diet, substitute the ciabatta for two large portobello buns. My friend Paul “Boomer” Lilly swears by this on “The Green Machine,” Timbuctu’s rendition of a green chile cheeseburger which also includes applewood smoked bacon, green chile, Cheddar, spicy chipotle mayo and a fried egg.  All burgers and sandwiches come with your choice of tri-color rotini pasta salad or classic potato salad, but you can substitute a side salad or classic potato salad for a dollar more.

The Green Machine: half-pound beef patty (normally served on ciabatta, but pictured above with two portabello mushrooms in lieu of buns) topped with applewood smoked bacon, green chile, Cheddar, spicy chipotle mayo and a fried egg.

Aside from the burgers, the lunch menu offers a quesadilla, five sandwiches and a Pasta Al Fresco entree (angel hair pasta tossed in garlic white wine sauce with capers, grape tomatoes and basil chiffonade served with garlic toast points and your choice (for a cost) of a four-ounce chicken breast, four-ounce salmon, spicy Italian sausage or citrus-marinated shrimp.  It’s a surprisingly sophisticated entree with a richness of flavors.  The Italian sausage has a nice kick to complement the buttery silkiness of the fine pasta. 

Dinner at Timbuctu is a more upscale event with a smattering of New Mexican and Southwest inspired entrees (Southwest Alfredo, Red Chile Bourbon-Glazed Salmon, Fajitas and Carne Adovada) among a chops menu some steak houses would envy.  The veal chop and herb-crusted rack of lamb are knocking on the forty dollar price point, but if they taste nearly as good as they’re described on the menu, they’ll be worth the price.  Burgerphiles can also have The Green Machine if they’re so inclined.

Pasta Al Fresco: Angel hair pasta tossed in garlic white wine sauce with capers, grape tomatoes and basil chiffonade served with garlic toast points and spicy Italian sausage

Timbuktu has long had the connotation of a place so distant that going any farther is inconceivable.  The Timbuctu Bistro may someday be known not for being the furthest away (at least from the city’s population center) of Rio Rancho’s restaurants, but for being a viable, delicious dining option worth the drive from anywhere in the area.

Timbuctu Bistro
2500 Parkway Avenue
Rio Rancho, New Mexico
: 26 June 2012
1st VISIT:  12 May 2012
COST: $$
BEST BET: Crab Cake Benedict, Classic Breakfast, French Toast, Coffee Au Lait, Piña Burger, The Green Machine

14 thoughts on “Timbuctu Bistro – Rio Rancho, New Mexico (CLOSED)

  1. Tried ordering several of the appetizers – they were out of all of them at lunch – no crabcakes, brushcetta or the carpacio. We split the salmon club – very good but the server offered to give us an additional “pasta side” – the portion was so tiny it was no more than two spoonfuls. She said they were almost out of it. Service was good – they need signage out on Unser – Only three tables were there between 11 .m. and 1:30 p.m. We love the Turtle and the Fat Squirrel but am not sure if this will make it. They could use a Happy Hour, too!

  2. WORST EXPERIENCE EVER We call ahead and let them know we are having a large group. We get there and they are extremely unprepared. They only had one appetizer of crab cakes which were about the size of a quarter. I asked if we could order off of the dinner menu. That was not a possibility because it was before 5. Then I asked what the soup of the day was. Response “We don’t have soup today, it didn’t work out.” Wow really instill confidence in the rest of the meal if you can’t even make soup. Finally after a long time we get our meals cause there is only one chef working. Bread is hard steak is tough. All around awful. DO NOT GO HERE. It is unbelievable they can even call this a Bistro and are certified to sell food to human beings.

  3. In the paragraph under the french toast you say it opened in May 2002, is that correct?

    Thanks for you continued excellent education of the public about of New Mexican eateries.

    1. Thank you, Tom…for pointing out the error of my ways and for the kind words. Repairs have been effected. In 2002, Mariposa was probably just a thought germinating in some entrepreneurial mind so there’s no way Timbuctu could have opened then.

      Several years ago you introduced me to Chopstix. I’m curious as to how you’d compare Chopstix to Budai, the two most authentic Chinese restaurants in Albuquerque.

      1. There were many attempts for over a month to call this restaurant, but continued to get a msg. saying to call back as they were busy with customers. I foolishly made the very long drive only to find that the restaurant was closed. Why isn’t there a msg. saying they were closed!

  4. I ventured out to the NW mesa today to visit Timbuctu (a very modern restaurant with a great menu and quality food). I also had the Green Machine burger, and for anyone looking for a low carb option, they were very kind to replace the standard buns with Portabella mushrooms at my request. Their flexibility to modify their menu for what I was looking for was an excellent illustration of top customer service! I agree about the previous comment on being an oasis in the desert. Two thumbs up from me as well 🙂

  5. Well, what can I say. I was joined by Sensei, Boomer and Beeeeeeal and felt priviledged to get out with them at this fine restaurant. I had the Green Machine hamburger, they were kind enough to leave out the bacon (sorry guys) but instead they added sliced portobello that really made for a good burger. It included green chile (a little bite) with cheddar, spicy chipotle mayo on Ciabatta bread but what I was really impressed with was it included a fried egg! I have had fried eggs mainly at places we dont mention here and so I was quickly drawn to this burger on the menu. I am glad because it was cooked very good and all the flavored blended well. It included a fresh pasta salad which was very good. Sensei suggested I have coffee, I usually have a carbonated soda at lunch but I chose the coffee and it was really good, no bitterness like in the more popular coffee houses found in random areas. The service was a little slow but we blame it on the pasta that my dear friend to my right ordered. Also, would love to see home made Root Beer one day. There were awesome views and think it would be a great place to enjoy dinner towards sunset, they need to have some inside tables with views to the west but I can picture dusk looking east to be a special place for bring Senorena. A multiple thumbs up for Timbuctu!!

  6. With Mariposa in limbo, I surely hope this place is able to survive. Haven’t tried it yet, but look forward to really soon.

  7. what a refreshing oasis in the desert. whoda thought one would have the best catfish, greens, and corn bread right here in rio rancho, nm. we just happened to be there on a full moon, thanks for that, and another unearthly delight was the apricot flan.. OMG a taste sensation.

    thanks timbuctu

  8. This place is a little piece of paradise in the middle of the desert! Best crab cakes in town!

  9. Green Chile is strictly forbidden in Maryland Crabcakes, as is anything else green.

    This is, afterall, New Mexico. Green is allowed, and I’m looking forward to trying them. Wanna bet I’ll really like ’em?

    1. Hi Larry

      I’ll bet you’ll really like ’em even with the green chile…but then even my baby formula included green chile and I’m known to enjoy it with ice cream, pie and even pastrami.


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