Barelas Coffee House – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Barelas Coffee House

Quick, name the oldest neighborhood in Albuquerque. Most people would say Old Town which was settled in 1706 near the banks of the Rio Grande. Most people would be wrong. The oldest neighborhood in Albuquerque is actually the Barelas neighborhood, formally established as a ranching settlement in the late 1600s. The history of the central Rio Grande region began at and expanded from Barelas, once a thriving hub of commerce bustling with activity.

Both the Camino Real, the royal road to Mexico City and Route 66, America’s mother road passed through the Barelas neighborhood. Barelas was the seat of a flourishing railroad enterprise which facilitated a burgeoning economy.  The neighborhood began a precipitous decline in the 1950s when odoriferous emanations from an area sewage treatment plant drove people away. Then in the 1960s, shopping mall developments proved too formidable competition for long-established mom and pop businesses, the economic heart of the community.

A “Slow Day” at the Barelas Coffee House

Before long, the federal government was calling Barelas a “pocket of poverty” and what was once a thriving neighborhood languished. By the 1970s, Barelas was all but forgotten–perhaps a blessing in disguise because that allowed the preservation of historic buildings for which the community is best known today. The 1978 launch of the Barelas Coffee House predates by almost a decade the revitalization of what has once again become a thriving neighborhood. A government neighborhood revitalization program later provided the means by which the restaurant could update its facade while retaining the look and feel that has made it a very popular dining destination.

Today, if you want to take the pulse of the city, you go to Barelas Coffee House where Albuquerque’s movers and shakers congregate for a great meal. They go there not only because the restaurant serves their favorite New Mexican food entrees, but because it’s where they can mingle with their constituency or with tourists exploring the off-the-beaten path charm of the neighborhood.  Everyone from Presidents (Clinton and Obama) to governors (Richardson and Johnson) has broken bread (tortillas) at the Barelas Coffee House.  Despite hosting political and professional glitterati, this modest, maybe even self-effacing restaurant, remains a seat-yourself, absolutely no reservations, dining establishment in which long lines of frothing-at-the-mouth hungry diners are commonplace.

Barelas Coffee House: Land of Mi Chante

Vintage signage for carbonated beverages of “back in the day” adorns the walls. One back dining room is a veritable shrine to Coke A Cola.  If you’re New Mexican, your heart might swell with pride as you gaze at framed posters by Albuquerque artist Edward Gonzales, a rare talent whose depictions of New Mexico’s Hispanic peoples celebrate the Chicano experience in New Mexico and the Southwest.  The menu and advertising under glass at each table proclaim Barelas to be the “Land of Mi Chante,” chante being a colloquial New Mexican term for home. To area residents, this restaurant is like being home.

12 December 2019: Once you’re seated, the menu is replete with popular New Mexican favorites calling for your rapt attention. Will it be huevos rancheros, a steaming bowl of beans and green chile, maybe menudo? The pinto beans–in a bowl by themselves or smothered in red or green chile–are among the very best in the city.  New Mexican plates are served with beans, rice, a tortilla and pork embellished chile. As with an increasing number of New Mexican restaurants, Barelas Coffee House charges for salsa and chips, but in this case, the cost is worth it. The chips are crispy, lightly salted and best of all if you enjoy Gil-sized portions, don’t collapse under the weight of the salsa. The salsa is a highlight; it is unfailingly fresh and delicious at about medium on the piquancy scale. It’s a chunky jalapeno based salsa made with white onions, jalapenos and oregano (quite discernible) in proportions that make it memorable.

Chips and Salsa

12 December 2019: All plates arrive at your table steaming hot–not hot enough to scald your tongue, but at an optimum temperature to facilitate enjoyment. Few things are worse than New Mexican food served lukewarm.  The temperature, however, is the only thing that might be considered “hot” in some entrees as neither the green or red chile are especially piquant.  For years, that’s been my biggest beef with the Barelas Coffee House.  Your heat tolerance, of course, may vary.  Plates are served with a dinner salad’s worth of lettuce and tomato.

Barelas Coffee House is one of very few restaurants who offer enchiladas either rolled or stacked (Northern New Mexico style).  Enchiladas are also available with your choice of beef, carne adovada and chicken and you can have them Christmas style (both red and green).  They’re a thing of beauty.  Because the little things mean so much, let me point out that this restaurant is very generous with its Cheddar cheese which melts atop your entrees like molten lava running down a cliffside. That’s a huge plus for me.

Carne Adovada Enchiladas

Carne adovada enchiladas are generously appointed with bite-sized cubes of pure porcine perfection that shred easily into tender tendrils. Served with whole pinto beans and the ubiquitous Spanish rice, these enchiladas are terrific, a perfect vehicle for carne adovada most New Mexicans love as much as a favorite child or grandchild.  It’s easy to spot New Mexicans of my generation as they tend to cut up the tortillas into little “spoons.” These are substantial tortillas, not the inferior paper-thin, assembly line tortillas some restaurants serve (can you say Frontier Restaurant?).

In its annual Food & Wine issue for 2012, Albuquerque The Magazine awarded the Barelas Coffee House  a “Hot Plate Award” signifying the selection of its menudo as one of the “most interesting, special and tasty dishes around.”  Considering the thousands of potential selections, to be singled out is quite an honor.  Menudo is one of those New Mexican dishes many diners find off-putting while proponents swear it’s a panacea for whatever ails you (especially hangovers).  Barelas Coffee House has made menudo a delicious art form.

Housemade Tortilla

The Barelas Coffee House has been going strong for more than a quarter century with no surcease to its popularity in sight. It is considered a landmark and local treasure just like the neighborhood that houses it.

Barelas Coffee House
1502 4th Street, S.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
505-843-7577
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 12 December 2019
# OF VISITS: 5
RATING: 19
COST: $$
BEST BET: Posole, Huevos Rancheros, Beans, Rice, Chips & Salsa, Menudo, Carne Adovada Enchiladas

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.

View all posts by Gil Garduno →

12 Comments on “Barelas Coffee House – Albuquerque, New Mexico”

  1. I have had the stacked enchiladas at Barela’s and as I remember they were very good. Never had menudo there, but did have it recently in a cafe in Northern California. My interest was peaked to try a bowl one cold, rainy day and after reading one of my favorite writers Jim Harrison who claimed that menudo will not only cure a nasty hangover, but will surely resurrect a man’s virility.

    To a gringo, such as myself, the dish can only be described as a “boiled bowl of abdominal-lining cow shrapnel.” There was posole, but no heat. I ended up shaking a bottle of Cholula into the bowl as though shaking maracas in a Tijuana street band. The Cholula helped (though I left a half a bowl) and still walked away from the table with the restorative idea of stopping by In-N’-Out Burger for a double with cheese (I, was, after all, in California and not New Mexico which as no In-N’-Out restaurants).

    I don’t know if I will ever try another bowl of menudo. Jim Harrison also said this about menudo: “Down in Nogales, AZ, they are not afraid of your basic hot peppers. The best menudo in the country can be gotten across from the Historical Museum in Nogales. They serve these wild little chiles. There are wild Sonora chiles on the side, freshly chopped cilantro, and there are nice fatty morsels of calves’ feet in there with the tripe.

    I think I remember you saying you were not fond of menudo, Gil. You being a Scoville freak as I, maybe we’re not getting the hot version in this country? What do you think?

    1. Tom – Menudo in and of itself is not supposed to be piquant. It’s the flavor profile (hard to describe…beefy and fatty maybe?) that menudo lovers really enjoy. As I enjoy a bit of heat with my dishes, I add red (preferred) or green NM chile to my bowl. Some places such as Sabor De Juarez will add red peppers to make the heat index go up, but a well seasoned bowl of menudo really does not need any heat to satisfy.

      Also, a pet peeve of mine is when the posole/menudo ratio is skewed to the posole side. I prefer no posole in fact.

      As I mentioned before, Barela’s is my #1 menudo place (menudo puro) in ABQ. Sabor De Juarez is probably a distant second. If anyone knows of a worthy contender, I’m all ears…or taste buds, I guess!

      1. Yeah, guess I’m not the customer for menudo, though I am open to being escorted some day to a satisfying bowl somewhere, some place. I like that you add red or green chile but the bowl in front of me was served in Northern California, a New Mexico chile-free zone.

    2. I actually do like menudo, but it ranks below enchiladas, tamales, burritos, chiles rellenos, tacos, etc. on my hierarchy of needs. Out of curiosity, I once tried “Menudo Polish Style” at the Red Rock Deli in Albuquerque. Hungarian spicy paprika doesn’t impart the piquancy New Mexico’s red chile imbues menudo with.

  2. We love this place. Their Posole is the best. I have tried many different recipe variations but I just can not seem to find the secret. Does anyone know what the special touch is. We live in Aztec and do not get to ABQ as often as we would like so I would love to make it at home.

  3. Caveat…Off-Side/Off-Track per re-reading Gil’s Review: RE reference to Edward Gonzales’ eye candy (as Food for the Soul), I recommend a moment of serenity offered by Avelina’s World http://tinyurl.com/z4vsncn and an intro to NM for Newbies http://tinyurl.com/hl7j9ld per Dichos as gifted me by my daughter. (Interesting RE Gonzales: in ’04 had an ABQ elementary school named after him per still being alive.) The other New Mexican’s…i.e. being a Local…art I greatly enjoy is http://www.victoriadealmeida.com/

  4. Finally made it to the BCH ! Alas, I cannot take issue with Gil’s assessment despite a warm spot in my heart for Barelas being the first place I worked when arriving in The Q… before BCH when part of it was a tienda. One thing that stood out in those days of La Raza/Reies Lopez Tijerina/Brown Berets/MLK/National Guard @ UNM, was the warm acceptance extended to me by, if I may say, La Gente of Barelas to the Gringo.

    Alas, the Huevos Rancheros Deluxe, while indeed fine, was nothing especial. In terms of the chicharones, I personally prefer the smaller cubed ones as come in a sopapilla with beans, (ask for extra onions), and red chili(sic) from Casa de Benavidez’ back door take-out. As others have raved however, maybe such a ‘size’ preference is “set” by what you’re first exposed to…my memory is about 7am on a morn with a bit of nip in the air (let alone accompanying a cerveza) as a matanza was wrapping up just across the Rio Grande. I watched as my M-i-L took a freshly made tortilla off the late ’30s seafoam-green, cast iron “estufa de lena” from Sears http://tinyurl.com/3k392fn and made me my first burrito filled with fresh-off-the-fire chicharones (which I’d just finished tending in a harrowing disc) which she bathed in freshly made red chili(sic) from their 1/2 acre jardin! (Lest anyone missed it before: Why does a matanza begin about 4-4:30ish in the gawdawful AM? Du…uh…..Flies don’t start coming out till the sun (not just its glow) breaks over the Sandias!!!)

    My net line: A wholesome New Mexican meal awaits you at the BCH! as most NM restaurants. The BCH’s edge is that El Corazon de Barelas still exists in the wait staff. Beyond that, if you’re into the essence of what is “downhome” and what it was like for a “Mom n Pop” to risk steppin on up, this is a classic museum as you meander about the “nichos” of the setting. Alas and sadly, I went on a day the legislature was in Special Session. I now look forward to a return as I sat and imagined the ‘atmosphere’, the funk, what witnessing The Theatre of the Absurd must be like when the Politicos and Patrons are in attendance (holding court?) in the various nichos! In addition, for your readers into Prez Obama/Clinton, Y’all have the opportunity to sit your tush on a seating they may have enjoyed as they passed through on the campaign trail per their visits here!

    “Chow and Salud!”

  5. I, too, have to disagree with Gil on this one. I absolutely love Barela’s and would rank it in my top 5 in the city, definitely top 10 in the state. I have eaten there about once/week for the last 8 years and cannot remember a single bad meal. The waitstaff is awesome, nice, and attentive and the food, well, it’s just delicious. My personal fav’s are the red cheese enchiladas, red huevos deluxe and the torta de huevo during Lent.

  6. Actually, Barelas is one where I’d probably break ranks a bit with Gil’s review and rate it much, much more highly. In fact, Barelas is one of my personal favorites in all of the Duke City!!

    And my favorite item at Barelas (along with my old boss) – the chicharrones burrito…so unbelievably good, my mouth waters just thinking of one!

    The frijoles y arroz are both very good at Barelas, and their cheese enchiladas are spectacular. I’ve dined at Barelas many times, and I have never had a bad meal.

    To me, the ambiance at Barelas is a great attractor, too. I love the sprawling “house” and the screen doors on warm, sunny days; always packed, and I love the candy counter in front as well.

  7. Gil – Do yourself a favor and try the menudo at Barela’s (if you like menudo that is :-)), without posole of course. Easily one of, in not the, best in ABQ.

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