In as delicious a dichotomy as you’ll find on any novel, the chapter from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory which most terrorized and traumatized children actually provides glorious fantasy material for many adults. In that memorable chapter, a gluttonous brat child named Augustus Gloop falls into a Chocolate River and is sucked through a pipe into a room in which fudge is manufactured. By being squeezed through the pipe, Augustus’s once endomorphic body (described in the novel as “fat bulging from every fold, with two greedy eyes peering out of his dough ball of a head“) is transformed and he emerges as an extremely svelte shadow of his former self.
For calorically overachieving chocoholic adults who struggle with the battle of the bulge, the notion of falling into a river of indulgent chocolate then being sucked into a pipe and coming out thin is fantasy indeed. While some adults might prefer that the river of chocolate be a brook of beer, the food fantasy of true New Mexicans who love our official state vegetable is to fall into a river of rich, delicious chile grown in the Land of Enchantment. That, alas, is fantasy. In the real world, we can visit Chile Rio Mexican Grill, perhaps the closest thing (at least in name) to a river of chile we’ll find in reality world.
Chile Rio, which opened on July 23rd, 2012 is hardly a river of chile, but chile does flow through many of the time-tested, traditional recipes executed by Executive Chef George Abeyta who’s been cooking for four decades, including more than 36 years as chef at Garduño’s of Mexico. The avuncular chef isn’t the only mainstay from Garduño’s to grace Chile Rio. Dave Garduño, the founder and long-time owner of his eponymous restaurant empire manages the restaurant which is owned by a partnership which includes Sharon Davidson, Jeannine Kosel and Dave’s daughter Theresa Kelly. All are peripatetic presences at the restaurant.
Thematically, there are some similarities to the Garduño’s restaurants with which Duke City residents will be quite familiar, especially in the use of vibrant colors, a fun and casual ambiance and of course, some of the most highly-regarded, premium hand-shaken “skinny” margaritas in town. Chile Rio is patterned after popular nightlife and dining hotspots in Mexican beach towns such as Cabo San Lucas which are renowned for their festive atmosphere, fun and excitement. As with Garduño’s, Chile Rio is very much a guest-oriented concept…and have I mentioned that it’s a fun place to dine.
The vibrant milieu has been so greatly transformed and optimized that it’s hard to believe it once housed the Allure Bar & Grill and before that Dickey’s, a Texas-based barbecue chain. Situated on Pan American Freeway west of I25, even its signage, resplendent in a flourish of bright red and blue, bespeaks of an invitation to fun. So does the expansive patio and its sun-shielding umbrellas. Illuminated at night, the signage and patio are like beckoning beacons calling teeming hungry masses to an evening of fun, frolic and food.
The lunch menu is a greatly abbreviated version of the dinner menu with prix fixe entree specials Monday through Friday from 11AM through 3PM daily. The dinner menu is much more interesting with a mix of Mexican and New Mexican entrees and botanas (appetizers) as well as a smattering of grilled favorites (such as sizzling skirt steak and chicken fajitas which are marinated in-house, slow-roasted carnitas and steak asada), street tacos and a Yucatan-style rotisserie chicken. Also available are cemita sandwiches, a real treat between sesame bread made famous during an episode of Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.
In a guest-oriented departure from so many New Mexican restaurants, your first basket of chips and salsa are complimentary with additional servings costing a pittance. The chips are housemade and are thicker than the brittle and thin chips you might be used to. They’re also lightly salted and have a pronounced corn flavor. Two salsas, one red and one green, are featured and both are quite good though not especially piquant. The red is a two bowl minimum quality salsa.
A very special treat for guacamole lovers is having it prepared tableside to your specifications: hot, medium or mild. Don’t be surprised if the guacamole is prepared specially for you by Chef George or maybe even David Garduño himself. The guacamole is made with fresh California or Mexico avocados (two per order) depending on the season, fresh lime, white onions, garlic, cilantro and tomatoes (added last so they’re not mashed). The guacamole has a chunky and creamy consistency and is served with seasoned flour tortilla chips. The fact that guests can select their level of piquancy (hot is wonderful) places this at the top of my favorite guacamole starters in town.
The Botanas menu offers several ways to have Chile Rio’s terrific chips. In addition to the aforementioned chips with salsa and chips with guacamole, the menu includes Border Town Nachos (tri-color tortilla chips, frijoles charra, queso, jalapeño wheels, scallions, guacamole and sour cream), something called Tostada en Juantes (four mini corn masa shells with frijoles charra topped with queso fresca, salsa and guacamole) and a Queso Blanco Dip, one of the very best con queso appetizers in New Mexico. It’s a rich and creamy three cheese blend ameliorated with Hatch chile verde, pico de gallo and scallions served with both corn and flour tortilla chips. It’s reminiscent of the con queso made in southern New Mexico and is wholly an antithesis to the gloppy con queso served at ballparks.
Deciding which entree to have is a challenge, one that will have you perusing the menu time and again. There are so many options that your most difficult challenge will be ordering one of your usual favorites or something brand new. The Yucatan Rotisserie half-chicken is a little of both, a rotisserie chicken that’s different from most you’ve had. The chicken is marinated for 24 hours in a rub of achiote paste and citrus juices. The rotisserie seals in the juices and the marinade of earthy achiote and sweet-tangy citrus penetrates deeply. The Yucatan-style chicken is available with other entrees and should not be missed.
Not only does this entree exemplify plating as an art form, it’s indicative of the generous portion sizes and variety of accompaniment at Chile Rio. The chicken is served with sweet street corn, Rio coleslaw in a small, crisp tortilla bowl, pico de gallo which bites back and a sweet corn cake (a standard at Garduño’s). The corn-on-the-cob is sprinkled with cojita cheese which lends a saltiness and granular texture to the wonderfully sweet corn. The Rio coleslaw is not only beautiful to behold, it’s a delicious assemblage of corn niblets, black beans and coleslaw. The sweet corn cake is not quite dessert sweet, but has always been a unique Garduño’s offering.
My friend Joe O’Neill, founder, owner and on-air personality at KQTM-FM, The Team, Albuquerque’s best and highest-rated sports station, introduced me to Chile Rio. Already a frequent visitor to the restaurant, he raves about the carnitas stuffed burrito (which can also be engorged with Yucatan chicken or carne adovada), comparing its cheese sauce to the famous sauce used at Charlie’s Front Door, an Albuquerque institution for nearly five decades. That’s high praise indeed.
Another entree for which Garduño’s was long known was some of the very best fajitas in town. Chef George takes pride in serving them sizzling and smoking in a cast iron skillet platter. All eyes in the restaurant are instantly trained on the fajitas as they’re ferried to your table, an inviting fragrance wafting over everyone in the path of the smoke. Take your pick of tequila-lime chicken, beef skirt steak (my Kim’s favorite) or grilled vegetables. The beef skirt steak is as tender as a mother’s heart. Served with sauteed onion, bell peppers, zucchini, guacamole, pico de gallo, sour cream, frijoles charra and flour tortillas, it’s apparent Chef George hasn’t lost a step. These are excellent.
A recent article on Food Network Magazine entitled “50 States, 50 Sandwiches” has invited debate as to what New Mexico’s best sandwich is. Savvy sandwich savants would be hard-pressed to argue against the magazine’s selection of the outstanding Southwestern grilled cheese sandwich from the Mucho Gourmet Sandwich Shoppe in Santa Fe, but for the sake of debate, let me introduce a new contender. As you peruse the Chile Rio menu, don’t overlook the Cemita Sandwich offerings. Often called a “Mexican Dagwood,” the cemita sandwich originated in Puebla, Mexico (also the birthplace of mole and chiles relleno en nogada) is brand new to New Mexico, but not to viewers of the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.
The Cemita Sandwich is one of the most exciting meals between bread to come around in a long time, a revelation even to those of us which thought we really knew Mexican food. Culinary experts are so excited about the Cemita sandwich that Bon Appetit Magazine named it one of the top 25 food trends for 2013. Chile Rio offers three variations, one made with Yucatan chicken, one made with steak asada and one made with pork milanesa. The canvas for this masterpiece is a sesame bread bun atop of which are layered a chipotle crema, avocado spread and Oaxaca cheese. Onion, tomato, pickle and large-leaf papalo, a Mexican herb are optional, but wholly unnecessary. This can be a fabulous sandwich! The unctuous and creamy guacamole and incendiary chipotle crema may replace mustard as my favorite sandwich condiment. It’s a combination which adds punch to the slow-roasted pork carnitas which are tender and delicious.
The secret to this sandwich is the blending of ingredients in perfect proportion. Too much meat changes the flavor profile and masks the sauce. Too much sauce and the sandwich is messy. After bragging incessantly about the Cemita, my friend Paul Lilly and I visited Chile Rio and ordered it made with steak asada and pork Milanesa respectively. In both cases, the meat was too thick and the chipotle crema-avocado spread was lost entirely. By itself the carne asada would have made the very best steak sandwich in town, but we weren’t looking for a great steak sandwich. Similarly, the pork Milanesa was so large that it dominated the flavor profile. The best of the three Cemitas I’ve had is the one with Yucatan chicken. That’s because there was a luscious blending of flavors and ingredients that showcase the unique deliciousness of the Cemitas sandwich I named to my “Best of the Best for 2012” list.
Chile Rio offers only one burger on its menu, but it’s a unique burger well worth ordering. It’s an interesting variation on New Mexico’s iconic green chile cheeseburger in that it’s made with three chiles and is, in fact, called the Rio 3 Chile Burger. The three chiles are Hatch green chile (of course), breaded jalapeño wheels and pico de gallo. Not to be understated on the flavor profile, there are also three quesos on the burger along with lettuce, tomato and chipotle mayo on a hand-form ground sirloin patty. The Rio 3 Chile Burger is a multi-napkin affair brimming with flavor. Despite the three chiles, most New Mexicans will handle its piquancy easily.
Dessert options include sopaipillas, a favorite of New Mexico’s throughout the state; fried ice cream and churros. Often referred to as Spanish donuts, churros are indeed a fried pastry with a crunchy exterior and a soft, pillowy interior. They’re sprinkled with sugar and drizzled with a caramel sauce. Ask for a scoop of ice cream on the side to cut the sweetness and heat of the churros.
Chile Rio is sure to become an Albuquerque favorite with its fun and festive ambiance and interesting, delicious food served in generous portions by an enthusiastic wait staff which aims to please. Because I’ve already been asked numerous times, let me clarify that I’m not related to Chile Rio’s Garduño family though “Cousin” Theresa has quickly become one of my favorite restaurateurs in town. With a smile that would light up UNM’s Pit and a real customer oriented attitude, she really cares that guests to her restaurant have not only a great meal, but a great time.
4811 Pan American Fwy
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 10 January 2013
1st VISIT: 14 August 2012
# OF VISITS: 4
BEST BET: Yucatan Rotisserie Half Chicken, Salsa and Chips, Guacamole, Cemita Sandwich with Carnitas, Cemita Sandwich with Yucatan Chicken, Rio 3 Chile Burger
25 thoughts on “Chile Rio Mexican Grill – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)”
Geesh, where does the time go? A reliability note: Chimi with carne adovada remains great! While I chose Green which comes on the side, I barely touched it per the muy sabrosa carne.
Can’t help but think it speaks well of a venue, when ya see a couple enjoying their 1st anniversary as highlighted by a great bouquet.
The patio looks so inviting for soon to be windless days (LOL) to delight…loll…in for one of our New Mexican especially alluring twilight times!
Instead of their great Chimi, I had one of their Macho servings of a stuffed sopa with red. Ya know, as many places have dropped it, the bit of a cornbread thingy and dolop of guac they adorn plates with, is greatly appreciated…let’s say a homey touch if you will. Always nice to be able to get a House Magarita for 5 instead of 7-8 bucks!
Lastly, isn’t part of the ambiance of a place where you go ‘regularly’…semi regularly…for it to be a place where Folks know your name…well, at least give you a nod/smile of recognition? At CR, it’s especially warm when ya get that from Gil’s cousin, 3X removed, the enchanting Teresa, who gives the impression she’s so invested in the success of her restaurant and your enjoyment. Tell her Gil sent ya!
A nice spot for happy hour. I enjoyed the street tacos and cucumber margaritas!
That would be great. BTW–was underwhelmed at Zacatecas when visited a couple Sundays ago. Waiter with an attitude, lemonade so sour and citric it was not fit to drink, and NO GORDITAS, the signature dish of the city of Zacatecas. Expected more of a restaurant affiliated with Mark Kiffin.
Gil–You mention chile en nogada in the write-up but as a reference to dishes from Puebla. I’m desperately searching for an Albuquerque restaurant serving this dish. I know those in Santa Fe, Taos, even Mesilla. But ABQ? No luck.
Guicho’s Authentic Mexican Food Restaurant which closed in 2011 served the closest approximation to chile rellenos en nogada we’ve seen in Albuquerque. I’m surprised Zacatecas Tacos & Tequila doesn’t serve them as they’d it in perfectly with that menu. Perhaps one of my readers will be able to share just where we can find this wonderful Pueblan dish.
Best Mexican food I’ve ever eaten, hands down, and I am a native New Mexican. The Garduno daughters have added an upscale touch to the food while establishing and warm, charming and friendly atmosphere. It is a Sunday regular for us – and we had STOPPED going out for mexican food! The home-made touch is in everything. It’s is good to see their dad on the scene with them!
I just hope the success that is certain to come their way doesn’t outgrow their ability to sustain the excellence that will bring it to pass!
The parking is horrible? Having to pay 10 to ? bucks and still having to walk a couple of blocks as in e.g. NYC or Baaastan,’thats’ horrible much akin to the ‘miles’ one walks from the free garages in Vegas to the ultimate/haute ‘diners’ of the world. Yes, about 5:30 Saturday, I had to walk past seven (full) spaces to get to the door…Oh my! And yes it wasn’t from the auxiliary lot, but even that distance pales in comparison to restaurant lots along, e.g. I-25! And ‘horrible’ is trying to find a place to park for many restaurants in Nob Hill!
– Say, tasteless and bland food? Why then was there a 10 minute or so wait in this packed place? Surely, word would’ve gotten out by now. Also, I must be blessed that despite my advanced age (and past smoking) my taste buds are still intact to discern flavors as well as heat when I purposely closed my eyes to test the red, then the green chile individually, let alone the infusion of the adovada! Otherwise, the salsa had more substance than previously, but again, I could find no flies; Kimberly was a great waitperson; and I even had my plate brought over, as did others, by Gil’s 2nd cousin, thrice removed. Later I learned that tonight’s hostess made for 3 generations of Gardunos being ‘on the floor’ which suggests these folks are invested in striving to be a success by way of satisfied consumers…IMHO…given the plethora of competition in this dining genre.
First off the parking is horrible, second the waiting area is non existent and all the food is tasteless and bland.service was good but did not make up for the food. I will not recommend this place to anyone.
I have visited Chile Rio on two occasions now. I was initially impressed just by walking in. The overall restaurant atmosphere was delightful. It was very cold the day I went, but I could easy picture myself spending some time on the outdoor patio having a margarita. I had a Cemitas sandwich (steak) along with sharing the fish tacos with my wife. My wife had even stated these we the “best fish tacos I have ever had” . I did think the fish tacos were delightful, but I cannot discount that it was other elements of the dish the really made the entire experience wonderful. There was a homemade coleslaw that I had never had before, and the extra details on the corn on the cob, really made the overall dish a success and rather unique in my opinion. I will definitely be going back.
Dined there this past weekend. Food was very good, very pleased that the chips with the complimentary salsa were served warm. Salsa was also very good. Service was a little slow, had to wait a good 10 minutes before the waitress came to take our drink order, but she realized we had been waiting and apologized. Food also took a while, however she offered a second round of chips and salsa without charging. We also did get the aforementioned tip upgrade ploy when we paid a $25 check with two $20s and were asked if we needed change.
By the way, I think I know the answer, but I have often wondered when reading your blog if there is any relation between you and the Gardunos, given the names. Or does the presence/absence of the tilde answer that?
Although I’m not related to the Garduños of Chile Rio, Theresa and I consider ourselves long-lost cousins. Ancestry.com indicates there are actually quite a few Garduños across the fruited plain.
If I’ve ever left out the tilde on my family name, it’s because I’ve forgotten the shortcut keys to add it. Attribute that to my advancing geriatric progression.
Conchas??? I’ve lived here 44 years and again discovered I’ve been living under a rock!!!! Did I ‘look’ herein at The Gil’s blatherings, but just didn’t ‘see’ there is a dessert called a Concha that might be offered in one of our Mexican…let alone New Mexican….restaurants? This http://tinyurl.com/a9p6o54 is but an example.
Went to a meeting Wed. of about 50 people being introduced to Chile Rio. Been here, done this…see above…and must say they did great job in serving such a crowd complimentary ‘breakfast’ burritos, but more importantly (well to me anyway) these great Conchas that exemplify CR’s specialty endeavor to enlighten “us” to the pleasures of the ‘street foods’ of Mexico! It’s just a simple dough mix with just enough tweek of sweet which IMHO is ‘healthier’ than the cinammon/frosted oversweet roll conglomerations we often choose for breakfast or with evening coffee! Alas, they had ’em made especial for the gathering and I badgered them to consider being on the menu to enjoy a lightness after dinner. Hopefully, Y’all might inquire if they have any on your next visit in order to spur a trial offering.
Again, their Hatch Green was ‘Muy Sabrosa’, while walking that line of having a kick to please many Locals without ‘shocking’ Tourists!
Are you an expert of The Grape and thus one who enjoys ‘Wine Tastings’ but otherwise flummoxed re ‘Tequila’s Tequila’…it’s all Jose Cuervo….. as I was? Chile Rio will be offering ‘Tequila Flights’ so you may educate your liquid palate as well!!! Viva Sabrosa!!!
Trivia: the bottle cap covered table tops were “home made” by the families involved.
Kudos to Chef Gilbert and Senor Dave Garduno and his bonita partners for staying on the diningscape of ABQ!
– Was greeted by a perky young lady, pleasantly offering me my choice of seating and while the bar looked very inviting, I was somewhat morose from catching a lot of the storm’s devastation all day and thought I wouldn’t fit in with the Happy Hour crowd that might show up so took a booth in the up-beat, neo-stylish dining room.
– After thankfully giving me a moment to settle in, a waitress readily showed up to ask about drinks and any other needs while then giving me a chance to check the menu. After my Magarita arrived within only 5 minutes and then taking my first sip, I relaxed a bit as I’d been a bit uptight about what I might be in for in reading reviews herein. The Margarita was smooth and suggested it was not made with a too often, tarty mixer found at a lot of places. I got the invitingly presented Chimi con Carne, frijoles charra. The guac and sweet corn smash were fine. No flies accompanied it nor did I find any in the rest room! Bravo, the red and green were in side-cups so as to leave the fried aspect of the Chimi intact!…reminding me of my missed Rellenos of the past Blue Cactus on Coors…location location.
As the Carne is red, I ordered Christmas (am I allowed to say that?) just so I could taste the Green (my Fav) – it has a bite, but importantly a flavor. To me, I’m thinking the red might rival the Icon…M&Ts. It’s tang has a classic hit 1.87 seconds after ingestion and had a pungent taste. The carne was lean, fell apart, and was tasty. My Sopa was nicely puffy and flaky and ungreasy.
– So I don’t look like a shill: While the Chips were seemingly healthy per not being overly salted, the salsa didn’t do much for me per tastiness and needs more ‘substance’, especially given the ‘manliness’ of the chips, albeit there was a fair bite. While fine, next time I’ll ask that the Chimi be just a bit more ‘crispy’.
– Darn: I forgot to hit the ATM on the way over and thus didn’t find out if my unfavorite gizmo to boost the gratuity is in play, i.e. where waitstaff asks if I want change for $20 that’s showing for $15.23 tab. On the other hand, I found Elizabeth’s use of including my name (from the VISA card) in her parting ‘adios’ as thoughtfully discrete, compared to other places lack thereof, when I’ve charged.
– All in all, I give it an ‘A’ for being a nice change-of-pace ambiance when munching NM.
– If confused by the online maps: it is directly off the Frontage Rd. on the west side of I-25 coming south from Jefferson, just past the Lexus dealership, but before REI.
Just FYI, Saul is now cooking at Standard Diner.
Break The Chain!
Quite Impressive ! Having dined twice at Chile Rio we have have nothing but praise. We are well aware that new restaurants have some occasional service issues and that there are many NM food partisans in town, Chile Rio serves amazing food. The carne adovada is a very close competitor to the justifiably revered Mary& Tito’s and the guaccamole rivals any in the southwest ( The delicate balance between the gentle avocado and the lovely garlic is absolutely perfect ). One remembers the days when the old iteration of Gardunos served us all fine food for many years in that era before the decline. Much of the menu we have sampled is very well assembled…the care for the dining experience is obvious. I think Chile Rio is working hard to score high marks in Albuquerque.
By the way…..am not sure that anyone manages to do more with beans than did the great Saul Paniagua of the late, lamented Four Aces.
Chile Rio is very high ( Diet or No )on the list.
Totally awful. We left w/o paying. I have honestly never done that before, and I have been a “foodie” 25 years +. Then again, after an hour of waiting, our order was still not complete…we were still waiting on our salad dressing and stuff. Not a side salad, the MAIN salad. Waste of time, which my HB and I have precious little of to spend together. Ruined our only day off together. It may have been the lazy staff, but the the “owner” (or someones wife) was smiling at everyone coming through the door like a bobblehead. Oh, and there were tons of FLIES everywhere. The place should be inspected – blech!
My fajitas sucked! Looked nothing like the fresh looking picture above. I didnt order them originally but was told 20 min. after I ordered my food that they didn’t have my 1/2 rotissiere chicken. What an over-priced plate of crap! Won’t be back and will discourage all my friends not to waste their $$. Id rather have Taco Bell or Del Taco!
Just got back from chile rio I was very disappointed took over 45 min. to get our food the beans looked like they were cooked days ago, old and dry the potatos were raw cold inside I ask for red chile got a little cup with about a tablespoon of chile in it my sister plate was even more desappointing then my plate only a few sopaipillas were served but not every one got one thet just brought a few out I will never go there again I try to support new restaurants but this one gets a big NO!!!!
My friend Becket and I had lunch at Chile Rio this afternoon. As is often my habit I called Kim to ask her suggestions before we arrived. She recommended the queso and the steak fajitas but she absolutely insisted that we try the street corn. She assured me there would be plenty for Becket and I to share as we didn’t want to be too stuffed. Everything was spot on delicious. The queso had a marvelous piquancy and I even added a touch to my fajitas giving it a kick above the pico. Becket commented on how wonderfully the steak was seasoned and it lived up to your review, very tender indeed. He was curious about the street corn but his expression said it all when he tried it, we both devoured it. Kim was correct, the fajita plate offered plenty for us to share.
We were both very pleased with our lunch and enjoyed trying a new place. Even when my husband Chris’s schedule allows him to join us for lunch we are perhaps guilty of haunting a handful of our favorites, so the branching out proved to be worth it.
I look forward to returning with our four year old Paco, he loves eating in restaurants, is thankfully very well behaved and would love the lively environment at Chile Rio.
We went to Chile Rio on Sunday the 19th for dinner around 6 p.m. 3 or 4 parties of 6 or more were in the restaurant as well as a few smaller groups of 2 or 3 and our service was fantastic.
Veggie fajitas were my choice and hubby had a combo plate. We both enjoyed our meals and our tableside guacamole also. The guacamole was made by one of the owners, not sure which, but she was very friendly and quite interesting to speak to.
Even the busperson spoke with us and asked if we were enjoying our meal and when leaving, invited us back again. Prices were reasonable, meals were very enjoyable and as mentioned, service was great. For a restaurant that has been open approximately 3 weeks, we thought they really had it together and we’ll definitely not only recommend this to friends, but will return.
Gil as always, thanks for the great reviews and bringing new places to our attention.
You might want to correct the address. It is 8411 Pan American, not 4811.
Thank you, Laurie. Interestingly Chile Rio’s Facebook page and Urbanspoon both indicate the restaurant’s address is 4811 while the Chile Rio Web site claims an address of 8411. Lexus of Albuquerque which is directly north of Chile Rio has an address of 4821 and the previous occupant at the current Chile Rio site has an address listing of 4811. I called the restaurant and confirmed that the correct address is 4811.
George Abeyta prepares guacamole tableside. Yummmmmmm! Can we go there sometime?
Unlike the tableside guacamole at Gabriel’s which jaded us both, this one is actually quite good.
We can go anytime you’d like. All you’ve got to do is make it to Albuquerque. It’s been much too long.