A couple of days before my Kim and I were to be married (some three decades plus ago), my mom flew to Chicago to teach her how to prepare some of my favorite dishes (is it any wonder my sisters call me “consentido” (spoiled)?). A quick study, Kim learned how to make tortillas, lasagna, fried chicken, red chile and other favorites just the way mom makes them. Among the wedding presents my mom gave Kim were a cast-iron comal (griddle) and a rodillo (rolling pin) of her own. In short order Kim began making tortillas as if she’d been making them all her life, in the process contributing significantly to my adulthood struggle with caloric overachievement.
The time-honored, traditional art of making tortillas on a sizzling cast-iron comal is truly one of the defining elements of both New Mexican and Mexican cuisine. Tortillas are a simple, round flatbread partaken with just about every meal in many a New Mexican household. They are a staple available in most New Mexican restaurants and certainly in the Garduño household. With the widespread availability of plastic-wrapped, store-bought pretenders, however, the art of kneading dough and shaping orbs for preparation on a griddle is slowly being lost.
That’s truly a shame because store-bought tortillas can’t compare in taste (and certainly not in aroma) with a tortilla just been peeled off of the comal with its robust, lightly crisped outside and soft, chewy center. The store-bought variety tends to be thin, highly processed and tastes like cardboard might. You need go no further than Duran’s Central Pharmacy in the Old Town area to experience the former. The latter is, unfortunately, available in far too many New Mexican restaurants.
Shirley Chavez was a tortillera in the traditional sense, a true craftsperson connected in tradition to rich, ancient cultures as far back as the advanced Mesoamerican civilizations. In 1989, she opened a small tortilla factory called Chavez Tortillas and while her product was known to be outstanding, sales were disappointing. It wasn’t until she began preparing burritos with her tortillas that her business took off. Thus was born Burritos Alinstante, a restaurant which now has a presence in Albuquerque as well as in Belen, Bosque Farms and Los Lunas.
Although the tortillas at Burritos Alinstante are no longer made in the old-fashioned ways, food preparation is still an in-house, hand-crafted process. Everything on the menu is made fresh daily from scratch. Gleaming metal vessels hold the ingredients in readiness until an order is placed. Place your order and almost in an instant, your burrito will be ready for you. If that sounds too much like “just add water and your burrito will be ready,” that’s certainly not a case. The well-practiced hands of the restaurant’s staff are so deft that your wait will be minimal.
The menu offers twelve burrito choices plus a breakfast burrito (available only until noon) and build your own options (pick one meat, red or green chile, shredded or nacho cheese and two more ingredients). You can have your burritos smothered in red or green chile or hand-held with the chile inside. Combination plates include beans (prepared with lard for that wonderfully authentic New Mexican taste) and Spanish rice. You can also order nachos, Frito pie, tamale bowl and a taco plate. Several ala carte items such as salsa and chips, guacamole, tacos and tamales are also available.
The chile isn’t particularly piquant–at least for this fire-eater, but it is very tasty. The number four burrito (chicharrones, beans, cheese and green chile) hand-held is a popular favorite. It’s a full eight-ounces of flavor-packed deliciousness with chicharrones in every single bite. Hand-held doesn’t necessarily mean you can drive with one hand and hold your burrito with the other. The burrito is so crammed with beans, melting shredded cheese and chile that copious spillage is bound to occur no matter how careful you are. You’ll enjoy the burrito more if you take a seat in the restaurant’s comfortable confines and savor it slowly.
Comprehensive as it may be, the New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail doesn’t list a single burger that isn’t constructed on conventional burger buns. Savvy New Mexican restaurateurs long ago figured out green chile cheeseburgers can also be made on tortillas. Burritos Alinstante doesn’t call their version a “tortilla burger” as some restaurants do. It’s called a green chile cheeseburger burrito and it’s terrific! Instead of cutting up a burger patty as some restaurants do, Alinstante’s cooks fill the tortilla with seasoned ground beef then they add traditional green chile cheeseburger ingredients: lettuce, tomatoes, green chile and cheese. This has become my favorite among the restaurant’s many delicious offerings.
For some inexplicable reason, there was a ten-year gap in between my visits to Burritos Alinstante. That shameful travesty won’t be repeated. Burritos Alinstante can become a habit.
LATEST VISIT: 21 December 2016
# OF VISITS: 2
BEST BET: Chicharones Burrito, Salsa and chips, Guacamole, Green Chile Cheeseburger Burrito