Calico Cantina & Cafe – Los Ranchos de Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

The Calico Cantina & Cafe
The Calico Cantina & Cafe

The first time my friends and I visited the Calico Cafe at its original Corrales location, we wondered if the restaurant suffered from an identity crisis. Exterior signage read “Calico Cafe” but the menus indicated we were dining at “Cowgirl’s.” Apparently the restaurant was initially christened Cowgirl’s, but a name change was court-ordered after a naming dispute with Santa Fe’s long-established Cowgirls BBQ restaurant.

On December 2nd, 2004, the popular and intimate lunch and breakfast restaurant owned by Corrales residents Vernon and Angel Garcia, was consumed by fire. In 2006, the Calico Cantina & Cafe launched in a new and much expanded location, the 19,000 square foot Village Shops at Los Ranchos–in the heart of the original Route 66. Coupled with outdoor seating in a spacious patio, the Cafe now accommodates as many as 189 diners.

The Village Shops at Los Ranchos is a burgeoning complex usually beset by the parking woes of popular destinations. The Calico Cantina & Cafe is an anchor tenant along with its sister restaurant Vernon’s Hidden Valley Steakhouse, located directly behind the Cafe’s bakery. Vernon’s, patterned after a probation era speakeasy, can be accessed through the Los Ranchos Liquors store.

The ambience shouts Southwestern with an emphasis on Western.
The ambience shouts Southwestern with an emphasis on Western.

Thematically, the Calico Cantina & Cafe could be described as “Southwestern with an emphasis on Western.” Peeled knotted pine vigas on the ceiling support copper burnished light fixtures. A waxy plaster finish on the walls hosts several western watercolor paintings, most by popular Corrales artist Doreman Burns.

Burns’ watercolor compositions juxtapose the American cowgirl against multi-hued sunsets, azure skies and other romantic settings that portray a spirit of independence and beauty. The cowgirls’ eyes are always shaded, making the viewer wonder what the windows to the soul are transfixed upon.

I’m getting ahead of myself in describing the restaurant. The very first thing you see when you step into the restaurant is a bakery case perhaps unlike any other in any Albuquerque dining establishment. You’ll wonder how drool stains and tongue trails don’t cover the glass under which some of the very best cakes and cookies in town are displayed.

The desserts at the Calico Cafe are delicious, decadent and diet devastating.
The desserts at the Calico Cafe are delicious, decadent and diet devastating.

The German Chocolate Cake is certainly one of the very best of its kind we’ve sampled in the Duke City. Rich and delicious, it is served slab-sized and is easily big enough for two to share, not that you’d want to. The cookies are the size of a motorcycle tire. Oatmeal, chocolate chip, sugar cookies–they’re all there under glass and all beckoning you to abandon the diet du jour.

The menu is replete with all the comfort food favorites Americans love in huge portions: chicken-fried steak, pot roast, meat loaf and more all with mashed potatoes and gravy and buttered corn. A mom-and-pop restaurant to the nth degree, the Calico Cantino & Cafe also specializes in New Mexican food favorites.

The prime rib sandwich provides the type of comfort you might want wrapped around you like a cocoon.  This sandwich features tender prime rib-style beef shaved thin and piled high on a warm, crusty ciabatta roll.  It is available with either Swiss or Cheddar cheese and is served with a seasoned au jus and a small tub of horseradish.  The au jus is hot and delicious, served in a cup big enough for sandwich dipping.  The horseradish has the distinctive taste of well, horseradish with just enough bite to get your attention.

Prime rib sandwich on Ciabatta
Prime rib sandwich on Ciabatta

Breakfast at the Calico Cantina & Cafe is a popular family event, especially on weekends when traditional American and New Mexican breakfast entrees are served.

The restaurant has a unique twist on the quesadilla, most of which are served elsewhere as wafer thin and oozing cheese. The Calico’s breakfast quesadilla is engorged with scrambled eggs; your choice of bacon, sausage or ham (or carne adovada for a bit more) and country potatoes.

The breakfast quesadillas at the Calico Cafe.
The breakfast quesadillas at the Calico Cafe.

The Calico Cafe’s version is a far cry from the Nicole Ritchie thin quesadillas you may have had elsewhere. The quesadilla is easily three-quarters of an inch thick and bulging with ingredients. Alas, it’s served with a chunky tomato salsa served just-out-of-the-refrigerator cold. It would be better with a hot and piquant green chile.

Vernon’s Favorite,” an eye-opening breakfast of three eggs prepared any style, a rasher (three) plus one of bacon, country style potatoes and a short-stack (what a misnomer) of pancakes. The pancakes are about six-inches around and served with a hot syrup. The country-style potatoes are cubed and baked. The bacon is crisp and thick-sliced. It’s a day’s worth of delicious calories in one meal.

The wait staff at the Calico Cafe is on-the-spot with free coffee or soft-drink refills. It’s a courteous staff prone to folksiness that seems more sincere than rehearsed.

Fourth Street in historic Los Ranchos De Albuquerque houses some of the area’s most popular restaurants (Sadie’s, Sophia’s Place, Cafe Benavidez, Garduno’s). With the Calico Cafe joining the fray, diners have yet another great dining destination not too far from anywhere else in the Albuquerque area.

Calico Cafe
6855 4th Street, N.W.
Los Ranchos de Albuquerque, NM
LATEST VISIT: 20 July 2009
# OF VISITS: 4
RATING: 19
COST: $$
BEST BET: German Chocolate Cake, Prime Rib Sandwich, Breakfast Quesadilla

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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6 Comments on “Calico Cantina & Cafe – Los Ranchos de Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)”

  1. Bring Calico back! I can’t believe they replaced Calico with some upscale sandwich shop! The sandwiches aren’t even that good!

  2. I would be willing to try this place again, because dessert was wonderful. But, after my first visit, I’m a bit disappointed. Service was good. The waitress seemed a bit over-eager to get us out of the booth, and it wasn’t particularly busy. But, she did keep our glasses filled, and the food came out in a timely manner after we ordered. My dining companion and I both opted for the “House Special” – a stacked enchilada-type dish with a green chile cream sauce. While the majority of the ingredients were very fresh and the food was hot, the sauce nearly tasted like something out of a jar. And there was a sweetness to it that was rather off-putting.

    That being said, we shared two desserts: A slice of black forest cake and a slice of coconut cream cake. Both slices were enormous and moist, and tasted like something Grandma would make. Eons better than anything from Flying Star.

    If I go back, I think I’ll take your recommendation for the French Dip, and leave extra room for cake.

  3. Another very nice lunch at The Calico. We hadn’t been there for a while and had forgotten how comfortable the place was…and how very accurately the food was prepared. The fish tacos were excellent, the prime rib sandwich was excellent. The service was prompt and un-fussy. We look foreward to going more often…its always a pleasure to patronize a restaurant that is so consistently good. Will try the breakfast menue next

  4. Having been there many times the last visit it seems that either the ownership changed, but if not, certainly the menu has changed. The burger was good, while the salad was uninspired. The patio was packed and the entertainment was terrific with a three piece band as well as a women’s group entertained briefly.

    Going back soon, although I do miss the old menu!

  5. Have been there three times, for breakfast. Everything was good. Good food, good service, friendly people. They seem to be doing a lot more business than when they were in Corrales.

    I wish the Calico Cafe a great successful future!

    I will go back!

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