Ponderosa Family Restaurant & Grill- Tijeras, New Mexico

The Ponderosa Family Restaurant & Grill in Tijeras, New Mexico

The teeth, tail and eye of the tiger caused quite an uproar in the Sandia National Forest near Tijeras, New Mexico back in 2015 and it made the national news. A mountain biker took a blurry photo of what appeared to be a tiger and posted it online. The photo went viral, prompting Bernalillo county officials to issue a warning urging hikers to take caution and call 911 if they saw it. A subsequent investigation by the New Mexico Game and Fish Department uncovered a life-sized plastic statue of a tiger. Because of the uproar it had caused, the plastic tiger was destroyed.

New Mexicans found the presence of the jungle cat in Tijeras wilderness quite ironic. There’s been a standing joke for years about tourists being unable to pronounce Tijeras so they just call it “Tiger Ass.” These, by the way, are probably the same tourists who’ve given alternative names to such New Mexico places as “Elephant Butt,” “Lost Curses,” and “Toucan Carrie” among others.  Other than as an assault to proper pronunciation, Tijeras has nothing to do with tigers.  Tijeras actually translates from Spanish to “scissors.”  It sits in Tijeras Canyon (Tiger Ass Canyon to some tourists), which divides the Sandia and Manzano mountain ranges. 

Front Dining Room

Tijeras also gained notoriety in 2014 when the National Geographic Channel paid for a portion of Route 66 in Tijeras to be made into a singing road. A series of permanent rumble strips along Route 66 play “America the Beautiful” when motorists traverse over the strips at precisely 45mph. The goal of the road is to help drivers stay focused on the road.  That’s not always easy to do considering all the scenic qualities of Route 66 in the area.  There’s a lot to see.  Just do it safely. 

Only a portion of the village of Tijeras sits on Route 66 with much of the village’s population of just over 550 centered on the west and east sides of the Route’s intersection with State Highway 337.  There’s another part of Tijeras that sits off Highway 337, a scenic, serpentine highway that takes you through the Cibola National Forest.  This route is an exemplar of picturesque high desert topography. At the crest of a long vertical climb, just past where the mountain flattens out into a verdant valley sits the Ponderosa Family Restaurant & Grill, never to be mistaken for the Ponderosa Steakhouse chain.

Main Dining Room

By the time we discovered the Ponderosa in 2005 it had already been doing a bustling business for a number of years.  Denizens of the back side of the Manzanos congregated at the Ponderosa where Wrangler jeans, ten gallon hats, tank tops and Cowboy boots were commonplace but shorts were not; where scruffy, unkempt beards were routine and cigarette smoke billowed like a blue haze over the outdoor porch.  The Ponderosa played both types of music, Country and Western, and remained unchanged by the ravages of time.  It was a haven for the hard-working, blue-collars, many of whom are fortunate enough to work and live off the land–and what land it is.  The Tijeras area is among the state’s most beautiful. 

Shortly after the Ponderosa’s owner passed away in 2012, the restaurant shuttered its doors and was put up for sale.  About a year later, the Ponderosa doubled as a New Hampshire mountain bar in a season five episode of Breaking Bad.  While taking shelter in a rustic hunters’ bar, Walter White made the decision to return to Albuquerque.  No stranger to either the big or small screen, the Ponderosa made a “cameo appearance” and was one of the few saving graces of a sophomoric 2004 movie called “Elvis has Left The Building” which was filmed mostly in the Land of Enchantment.

Greek Salad

On 1 May 2017, after months of assiduous effort and extensive renovations that included upgraded wiring, plumbing, seating, kitchen, music area, tables, booths, patio and just about everything that was and wasn’t nailed down, the Ponderosa opened its doors once again.  Owner Nate Gale, who runs the front of the house, regaled us with horror stories about the backbreaking labor of sanding layers of paint to reveal the distressed wood planked floors.  Nate has returned the Ponderosa to the rustic charm for which it has been renowned while giving it a  pristine veneer and more importantly, a capacious Dude-friendly patio.

Gone is the pool table which once occupied the front room.  Also gone is the malodor of cigarettes, a remnant of the days when smoking was allowed within the restaurant.  Today, the restaurant’s prevalent fragrance is the unmistakably distinct aroma of steaks sizzling on the grill.  You won’t find choice or prime beef at the Ponderosa.  Those cuts are too pretentious and expensive for its patrons.  In fact, the beef may well have come from a neighboring ranch where grass-fed cows graze lazily on their verdant high mountain bounty.  It’s good beef–very good beef–for which you won’t pay city prices to get country portions.

T-Bone Steak

The most expensive steak (a country-cut sixteen-ounce T-Bone) on the menu is under $25 and unlike at some Duke City establishments, “a la carte” is a foreign concept.  Each steak dinner comes with a baked potato or fries and garlic bread with butter.  If you’re not in the mood for a slab of beef, the menu offers a phalanx of options from such comfort food favorites as meatloaf and lasagna to burgers, sandwiches and paninis. Burritos and made-to order omelets are available for breakfast. You won’t leave hungry no matter what meal you enjoy at the Ponderosa. 

Julia Child once quipped “The only time to eat diet food is while you’re waiting for the steak to cook.”  It wasn’t her sage comment that motivated us to order a salad in lieu of an appetizer.  It was a section of the menu entitled “Garden Sensations” that lists eight salads, a soup and salad combo and wild smoked salmon.  The Greek salad (spinach and mixed field greens, red onion, plum tomatoes, olives, cucumbers and croutons topped with sun-dried tomatoes, basil feta cheese with an oil and vinegar dressing) is artistically plated with ingredients splayed out in colorful synergy.  That synergy also comes across with each bite of components which complement each other.

Center-Cut Pork Chops

The T-Bone steak is enormous and will take longer to prepare than anything on the menu.  This is a peerless cut consisting of a supple, tender filet and a robust strip separated by the T-bone.  At about three quarters of an inch thick, it’s a carnivores’ delight.  Ask for any Ponderosa steak to be grilled with salt, pepper and garlic on both sides and you’ll be pleasantly surprised by a well-seasoned, highly flavorful slab of beef.  It’s not perfect by any means.  You may have to trim off some fat from the sides, but you’ll get more steak than sinew, more flavor than fat.

Although the baked potatoes aren’t the size of footballs, they make up for their diminutive size with great flavor. The baked potato of choice at the Ponderosa is a blonde Yukon Gold beauty with a natural sweetness and moist flesh.  Kim’s side of choice was a red beet and onion salad that pairs slightly sweet and earthy beets with the mild astringency of red onions.  My choice was a “gourmet” coleslaw with pineapple reminiscent of the coleslaw served at Sparky’s in Hatch.

Pineapple Pie

Several years ago, the twangy chords of Lynyrd Skynard’s “Sweet Home Alabama” played in the background while a Chili’s restaurant television commercial boasted of its “meat lovers dream” menu.  The Alabama anthem came to mind as we reviewed the “Homemade Dinners” section of the menu where you’ll find such anachronistic favorites as Salisbury steak, house-smoked ribs, cedar-grilled hand cut salmon, hickory-smoked sausage and sirloin-cut pork chops with an apple chutney maple reduction butter sauce.  Sadly, an early lunch rush had depleted ingredients needed to construct the chutney, but the chops (two moist, tender, well-seasoned slabs) were quite good nonetheless.

Playwright David Mamet had it right when he said “Stress cannot exist in the presence of a pie.”  Has any truer statement ever been uttered?  The moment we saw the line-up of pies on display near the bar, any semblance of stress vanished–even though we were told pies were available only whole, not by the slice.  Pineapple pie was something neither of us remembered ever having tried before, but after devouring a couple of heaping slices, we certainly want to relive (re-taste) the experience.   Cinnamon is sprinkled atop a flaky crust that sandwiches moist pineapple pieces.

A Better View of the Pineapple Pie

At the Ponderosa, you’ll find yourself effusively praising a dining experience in an unbeatable rural setting where winds rustle lightly, skies seem more blue and nary a tiger is in sight.

Ponderosa Family Restaurant & Grill
10676 State Highway 337
Tijeras, New Mexico
(505) 281-8278
Website| Facebook Page

LATEST VISIT: 8 June 2019
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Greek Salad, Pineapple Pie, Center-Cut Pork Chops, T-Bone Steak

About Gil Garduno

Since 2008, the tagline on Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Blog has invited you to “Follow the Culinary Ruminations of New Mexico’s Sesquipedalian Sybarite.” To date, nearly 1 million visitors have trusted (or at least visited) my recommendations on nearly 1,100 restaurant reviews. Please take a few minutes to tell me what you think. Whether you agree or disagree with me, I'd love to hear about it.

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9 Comments on “Ponderosa Family Restaurant & Grill- Tijeras, New Mexico”

    1. Alas Catherine…very much appreciate the update and hoping Y’all can expand as it looks like a funky getaway from the standard here in ABQ, e.g. is the menu and food as previously? I did in fact call and the Gal that answered sounded quite hospitable while also being Up Front that they are still playing dosey-dos with BERNCO re getting their Beer-Wine license in place.
      What’s your take per apparently having been there? Do I need “leathers” or would my button down or polo shirt with khaki pants be OK too… as I suspect? As it has been years, is there or was there a Volunteer fire station “building” close by, across the street?
      Presently it seems it should be noted as the Ponderosa Family Restaurant & Grill and try reaching them at 281-1181!

    2. Thank you, Catherine. The blog has been updated to reflect that Ponderosa is once again open. Much has changed about the Ponderosa: new owners, new menu, new atmosphere, new website, new Facebook page, etc. You just can’t beat the location which fortunately hasn’t changed.

  1. Some of my best memories shared with my beautiful sister, MaryAnn. My last meal with her was at the Ponderosa. One of my best birthdays was there, with dancing, a live band, Great food, and Great company! I will never forget this place, and I would still drive over an hour to be there!

  2. What a treat! Celebrated my and a friend’s birthdays early last night at the Ponderosa; the food was great, the service was typical of a classic roadhouse (meaning friendly and attentive without being pushy like city places). The steaks were delightfully seasoned, the salsa had a great little kick and a cilantro pique, and they even let us put the cake we had brought in their cooler until we were ready to cut into it. I had been past this place several times in the past, going to Manzano Mountain Camp; so grateful my friend suggested it as a place for my 55th. DEFINITELY going back. The staff were so friendly, we left the remaining birthday cake for them so they could benefit from our celebration as well. Thanks everybody for a special evening! (too bad my camera didn’t work so well in the subdued lighting but next time, gotta remember to click on the flash mode :D)

  3. We had HORRIBLE service last night. We were ignored for 20 minutes before the bartender finally took our drink order. We ordered 2 plates “to go”. It took 1 hour 20 minutes for our order and then it was WRONG. All we ordered was a burger and a philly cheese steak. The place was not busy and the bartender did everything she could to help take other customers orders first. Even though they walked in well after we did. We were the only 2 dark skinned people in the place. Other light skinned customers who walked in after we did were served immediately and they were almost finished eating their dinner before we were even given our food. PREJUDICE!!!! I will not go back there ever again!!!

  4. Today, Betty Lynn and I decided to escape the heat and smokey blanket of Albuquerque, and we made a tri p to The Ponderosa for lunch. We were not disappointed. The Dos Equis Amber was cold and the “steak sandwiches” were hot and tender and tasty. I happened to come across this amiable restaurant about twelve years ago when exploring my new Albuquerque surroundings–and I have to say that it’s a hidden treasure.

  5. My husband and I recently visited the Ponderosa in Tijeras after reading Gils review. I had the ribeye and it was juicy, flavorful and cooked perfectly. As I was eating it I couldn’t stop repeating, “omg, this is sooo good!” My husband had the t-bone and had the same mouth watering experience I had with the rib eye. And our waitress, I think her name was Annette, was very friendly and does her job very well. We spent a lot of time chatting with her and enjoyed the visit. I would recommend this restaurant to anyone passing through Tijeras, or to even go out of your way! It is now our favorite place for a steak. And not just because of the food. The restaurant was very rustic and seemed like the place where the locals go to relax after work or to catch a game on one of the many TV located around the room. Just the kind of friendly, non-pretentious, relaxing place we love to visit. Oh ya, and the prices are very reasonable.

  6. Gil, I just discovered your website and am thrilled to find this resource.

    If you ever return to the Ponderosa, you MUST try the steak fajitas. When my family comes to NM for their annual visit, this is the only restaurant we visit and the only thing we ever order, year after year after year.

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