Cecilia’s Cafe – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Cecilia’s Cafe, a hidden downtown gem and one of New Mexico’s most famous restaurants

Pasqual Baylon’s devotion to the Mass and the Holy Eucharist was so fervent that even when assigned kitchen duty, he remained so enraptured in adoration of the Eucharist that angels had to stir the pots to keep them from burning.  It’s deliciously ironic, therefore, that San Pasqual is the recognized patron saint of Mexican and New Mexican kitchens, a beloved saint whose smiling countenance graces many a kitchen, including the one in Cecilia’s Cafe, one of Albuquerque’s most authentic (and best) New Mexican restaurants.

On the day Cecilia opened her cafe back in 1999, she found a small retablo (a painting with a religious theme) of San Pasqual on her restaurant’s stoop.  To this day, no one knows who left that retablo which now hangs near the kitchen’s entrance.  If you’re inclined to believe in miracles…or at least in a favorable omen, San Pasqual was portend of greatness for this humble little restaurant.

Cecilia warms herself by the wood stove
The talented and terrific Cecilia Baca

When Cecilia says the secret ingredient in her cooking is love, she knows it comes from her heart, but she also doesn’t discount divine inspiration from her kitchen’s patron saint.  One meal at Cecilia’s Cafe and you’ll probably be disposed to believe her food is inspired.  If you’re a native New Mexican, you might even call it miraculous.  That’s because this is New Mexican food the way it’s been prepared by and for New Mexicans for generations.  It is unadulterated and in no way “anglicized” for touristy tastes.  This is the real thing!

Cecilia worked at several restaurants (including Little Anita’s, Garduno’s and Garcia’s) before embarking on her restaurant venture.  Because her goal is to deliver authenticity and consistency to her customers, she insists on preparing all the food herself (with Pasqual’s angels no doubt lending a hand).  The result is no less than some of the very best New Mexican food in the city–far better than the food at any of the restaurants in which she worked.

Cecilia's charming cafe
Cecilia’s comfortable restaurant

Cecilia was born and raised in Albuquerque’s North Valley and is a stickler for the details–the little things that make a difference between authenticity and a parody.  Preserving centuries old New Mexican culinary traditions is one of the reasons she opened her restaurant.  It’s also one of the reasons she had her daughters Stephanie and Claudette work with her.  Cecilia wanted to ensure they learn traditional New Mexican culinary techniques and taught them how to prepare even those dishes (such as meat empanadas) they might not like.  Her daughters learned much more than cooking.  Their engaging and friendly personalities are obviously a reflection of the old-fashioned New Mexican manners they’ve learned from their mother.

Cecilia’s Cafe is the essence of an off-the-beaten path restaurant.  Situated in a hundred year old plus brick edifice a few blocks south of Central Avenue, it is both amazingly obscure and surprisingly well known.  Cecilia’s loyal clientele include white- and blue-collar workers who have frequented her cafe from the start. That clientele includes Ed Romero, former ambassador to Spain, a New Mexico native.  Romero gave Cecilia the wood-burning stove that keeps her homey restaurant warm. Considering its relative anonymity until “discovered” in 2009, you might wonder if the faithful throngs wanted to keep this divine dining destination a well-kept secret.

Green chile Salsa and chips

Much of Albuquerque didn’t learn about Cecilia’s until the Albuquerque Journal’s erstwhile restaurant critic Andrea Lin rated it three and a half stars, a rating rarely accorded by the fire-eating Wisconsin native.   During her time in New Mexico, Andrea came to realize that true greatness in chile is rare, even in the Land of Enchantment.  As such, for her to use the adjective “great” to describe Cecilia’s chile, it has to be something special.  I believe Cecilia’s red chile is in rarefied company along with Mary & Tito’s, The Shed, La Choza and Pete’s Cafe when it comes to capturing the essence of outstanding red chile.  Cecilia’s red chile is a dark, rich and earthy chile never adulterated with flour or with cumin, that accursed spoiler of chile (Cecilia and I commiserated on the use of that vermin spice cumin, both aghast that any self-respecting New Mexican cook would use it on chile).

Today, Cecilia’s is no longer a well-kept secret thanks to an episode of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives which aired on February 16th, 2009.  Host Guy Fieri couldn’t get enough of Cecilia’s chicharrones (more on those later) and appreciated the multiple layers of flavor in Cecilia’s made from pods red chile.   He even took a stab at frying sopaipillas and watching tortillas on the griddle (under Cecilia’s watchful eye, of course).  Shortly after the episode aired, a monitor on a wall showed the “Triple D” episode perpetually.

Blue corn enchiladas with red chile and a fried egg
Blue Corn Enchiladas with a fried egg on top

In January, 2010, the Travel Channel traveled from coast to coast to uncover the 101 tastiest places to chow down–”joints serving some of the biggest and best dishes of deliciousness around.”  The only New Mexico restaurant to make the list–at  number 45 on the chow down countdown–was Cecilia’s Cafe, a downtown Duke City institution.  The program described Cecilia’s as “where they serve up New Mexican food so messy not even a stack of napkins won’t help.”  The description aptly described the Fireman’s Burrito, “a burrito bursting with so many mouthwatering and mind-blowing fillings, they serve it with a side of…apron.”  The Travel Channel gave it a “four-napkin” rating. 

This behemoth burrito was created by Cecilia at the behest of two local firemen Cecilia describes as “characters” who came into the restaurant famished and asked for something really big.  Cecilia put together sausage, bacon, eggs and hashed browns then loaded them into a homemade tortilla and piled on red chile, green chile, beans and carne adovada.  She topped the “gloriously messy mound of chow” with cheese and red and green chile.  Cecilia says it weighs between two and a half and three pounds, depending on who makes it.  When she makes it, it’s always three pounds.  This is the Fireman’s Burrito on the menu for just over a ten spot.  There’s also a competition-size burrito which goes for $42 (as of February, 2012), but it’s yours at no charge if you can finish it in an hour.  Because it’s roughly the size of a barge (seriously–it’s the length of a table and is more than three-inches high), only one gurgitator has managed to finish it and he did so in 36 minutes.  Nearly eighty others have tried and failed.

Salsa and Chips

Most Recent Visit: 29 May 2019

As has become rather common in many New Mexican salsa and chips are no longer complementary but this is one salsa worth splurging (a pittance really) for.  This salsa’s piquancy will sneak up on you and before you know it the roof of your mouth and tongue will be tingling with the spicy vibrancy of a fresh and delicious salsa.  At many New Mexican restaurants salsa is often the most piquant menu item.  That’s not the case at Cecilia’s whose chile can be quite incendiary.  Another rare treat is that Cecilia sometimes offers a green chile-based salsa. 

I may have been a day late for National Hamburger Day (May 28, 2019), but thankfully wasn’t a dollar short…and while I’m at it, thank you to Alibi food editor Dan Pennington who alerted me to Pablo’s Burger from Cecilia’s.  Pablo’s Burger (double-patty burger topped with crispy bacon, melted cheese, juicy tomatoes, creamy guacamole, sautéed jalapenos and your choice of red or green chile) is reason enough to brave the parking challenge of downtown Albuquerque. It’s a superb burger!

Pablo’s Burger

One of the very first things you’ll notice about this this behemoth creation is the high-quality beef patties, the antithesis of the formerly-frozen hockey pucks too many restaurants serve.  These patties are hand-formed from beef procured at Nelson’s Market, the best in town.  If you’re wondering whether the dual-threat of jalapenos AND green chile might be a bit much, most New Mexicans should be able to handle the heat easily.  Besides, as Dan Pennington noted this combination creates “that extra oomph that pushes it into the extraordinary.”

Over the years my dear friend Becky Mercuri and I have debated the fine points of chimichangas with me taking a contrarian view and her professing a deep, abiding love for these “deep-fried burritos.”  Though she’s never outright accused me of it, I suspect she believes my low opinion is at least partially based on the fact that the humble chimichanga was invented in Arizona.  If indeed she has that belief, she may be right, but readers have to admit there just aren’t many good chimichangas in the Land of Enchantment (and if there are, why haven’t you told me about them?). 

Carne Adovada Chimichanga

Cecilia’s chimichanga has made a believer out of me. It also helped me realize that one of the things I’ve most disliked about chimichangas is that they’re almost always deep-fried to the point that the tortilla resembles an egg roll wrapper. Yeah, crispy, crunchy and brown. Not so at Cecilia’s where the tortilla is still very much a tortilla with its blanket softness just a fork press away. That means the carne adovada stays tender, moist and incomparably delicious. Red chile is the best (make that the ONLY) chile for this chimi.

Previous Visits

The menu includes many New Mexican favorites, all prepared to order. This isn’t fast food, or worse, frozen food thawed when ordered. Cecilia frowns on institutionalized restaurants who don’t use the freshest ingredients possible. Though I normally order my New Mexican entrees “Christmas style” so as to sample both red and green chile, Cecilia’s red chile is so good that it might be a while before I find out what the green is like. It’s that way at Mary & Tito’s, too.

27 December 2007: That red chile shines on blue corn enchiladas engorged with shredded beef and topped with a fried egg. If it’s possible for your taste buds to be happy, this entree will do it for you. The shredded beef, like all the meats Cecilia uses, comes from Nelson’s Market, a long-time Old Coors neighborhood institution and for my money, the very best meat market in the Duke City. The shredded roast beef is tender and delicious.

Carne adovada
Carne Adovada Breakfast with potatoes and beans at Cecilia’s

27 December 2007: Having certified that Cecilia’s red chile is in exclusive company, we picked up Andrea’s gauntlet and ordered the carne adovada breakfast plate (hashed browns, two eggs any style, beans and carne adovada). The carne adovada is achingly tender and melt-in-your-mouth delicious–shredded pork marinated in luscious red chile and slow-cooked to perfection. As my great friend Becky Mercuri might say, “it’s so good I’d like to comb it through my hair.” Guy Fieri called it “pulled pork gone wild” after spilling the contents of a hand-held carne adovada burrito onto his beard. Combing it through your hair or spilling it onto your beard might let it linger a bit longer, but in your mouth is where this carne adovada belongs. This is carne adovada you will dream about.

18 January 2008: Not surprisingly, Cecilia’s brings authenticity to a New Mexican specialty few restaurants seem to do well any more. That would be chicharrones or pork cracklings (not pork rinds, but deep-fried cubes of pork with maybe a bit of pork fat thrown in for flavor). A six- or eight-ounce portion at Cecilia’s is served with just off-the comal flour tortillas. Fieri made the mistake of declaring that chicharrones are eaten like potato chips. “That’s pork rinds, baby.” Cecilia corrected him. She then showed him how they’re made–four hours of meticulous preparation time. Another venue for chicharones is in Cecilia’s chicharones and bean burrito (pictured above). Covered in cheese and smothered in heavenly red chile, it is among the very best burritos in the city. Guy Fieri declared them “the size of a small football.” Utterances of “wow” punctuated each bite he took of these delicious burritos.

Chicharones burrito
A humongous burrito at Cecilia’s

Desserts rotate in and out at Cecilia’s whose prowess at baking is equal to its preparation of main entrees. Alas, sometimes the entire baking bounty is gone by noon courtesy of savvy diners buying the sweet stuff in bulk. This is definitely a case of their gain and your loss. One of the specialties of the house are natillas, a rich Spanish custard that is equally wonderful whether served cold or warm. Cecilia’s rendition is reputed to be fabulous, but if you don’t get it early, you might not get it at all. You’ll also want a cup or three of the coffee. It’s only Maxwell House, but perhaps because the pot is brewing all day long, it’s a good coffee.

Visit during the Lenten or Advent seasons and Cecilia might just be serving capirotada. To call this dessert “bread pudding” is a vast understatement. Made well, it is a terrific dessert. Made authentically, it can be extraordinary. Cecilia’s capirotada is extraordinary! Like most capirotada, its component ingredients include toasted bread, lots of butter, cheese and raisins. Cecilia also adds New Mexican roasted piñon which gives it a subtle hint of pine and for good measure, she might throw in cranberries to lend a tart taste. She also uses piloncillo, a Mexican brown sugar.

Huevos Rancheros served Christmas style with Chicharones, Potatoes and Beans

Capirotada isn’t the only traditional Lenten dish Cecilia prepares. During Lent, her menu might include quelites (wild spinach) and torta de huevo (a light egg-based dish served on Good Friday when Catholics abstain from eating meat). Non-Lenten desserts include some of the best chocolate brownies I’ve ever had. My friend Mike Muller said he’d dream about them after having lustily consumed the very last one left at Cecilia’s. Being the good friend that he is, he shared it with me. It’s so good, I might not have shared it.

The walls at Cecilia’s Cafe are adorned with several images of San Pasqual, as appropriate an inspiration as there could be for this wonderfully authentic New Mexican restaurant. As you partake of Cecilia’s wonderful red chile, visualizing Pasqual’s angels helping out in the kitchen won’t be much of a stretch. Get to know Cecilia and you’ll come to the realization that working miracles is a specialty for her.

Cecilia’s Cafe
230 6th Street
Albuquerque, New Mexico
505 243-7070
Facebook Page

LATEST VISIT: 29 May 2019
# OF VISITS: 5
RATING: 23
COST: $$
BEST BET: Blue Corn Enchiladas with Shredded Roast Beef, Carne Adovada, Salsa and Chips, Capirotada, Chicharones and Bean Burrito, Chocolate Brownies, Pablo’s Burger with Fries, Coffee

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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47 Comments on “Cecilia’s Cafe – Albuquerque, New Mexico”

  1. Im suprised you and Sr. Planta didnt have Cicilia’s chicken fried steak. Its served with a green chili cream gravy and is super delicious. By the way, are you ever going to try the chicken fried steak at Effing? I was hoping to see y7ou two there last Monday.

  2. Becky, do you consider yourself a “chiminologist”?

    “You know your chimichanga is authentic if, an hour after eating it, you feel a log gently rolling around in your stomach,” says one of my favorite travel writers, Tom Miller, a Tucson author who has tried chimis at dozens of different Arizona restaurants and considers himself somewhat of a chimiologist.

    1. No, Tom, I don’t consider myself a “chiminologist” by any stretch of the imagination. I just happen to like chimichangas. I also enjoy researching the provenance of various foods and dishes and I used to write extensively about my research. Chalk it up to curiosity and, as you have pointed out, perhaps an unhealthy curiosity in the case of the chimichanga. Fortunately, I’m not large enough nor do I have an appetite supportive of devouring more than about a quarter of one of these behemoths at a time.

      Tom Miller addressed the chimichanga in an article he contributed to the New York Times on February 14, 1982 entitled “What’s Doing in Tucson” that doesn’t sound like an indictment of it when read in full context. Miller states, “The greatest contribution Tucson has made to America’s dining rooms is the chimichanga, which was introduced at one of the city’s restaurants in the 1950’s. The classic chimichanga is a tortilla tightly wrapped around chicken or refried beans or stripped beef or chile and shaped into a cylinder, then deep fried and topped with melted cheese, sour cream and salsa. Roughly translated, chimichanga means thingamabob. Shortly after eating one you feel a small log gently rolling around in your stomach.”

      I see that your reference to Tom Miller comes from a second New York Times article dated November 15, 2011 entitled “Arizonans Vie to Claim Cross-Cultural Fried Food” wherein Miller is quoted as follows: “You know your chimichanga is authentic if, an hour after eating it, you feel a log gently rolling around in your stomach,” Tom Miller, a Tucson author who has tried chimis at dozens of different Arizona restaurants and considers himself somewhat of a chimiologist, wrote in “Revenge of the Saguaro: Offbeat Travels Through America’s Southwest.”

      As a “chiminologist”, it doesn’t appear that Mr. Miller took his research as far as he might have since article after article notes his conclusion that it’s an “Arizona invention”. I will say, however, that the ability to research food and foodways has been made easier with the digitization of more information than ever before on the Internet. Books on the subject are also now plentiful. Maybe one of these days, he’ll renew his investigation.

      Anyway, I get it that you aren’t a fan of chimichangas and I certainly respect your position. As Gil said to you recently, let’s just agree to disagree.

    2. Aha Tom & Beckey! I think I may possibly see the problem: i.e. “Tom Miller, a Tucson author who has tried chimis at dozens of different Arizona restaurants…” AHA! He apparently has just eaten AZ Chimis and has not apparently eaten a New Mexican Chimi which I have not as yet experienced as “rolling around in my panza”, whether it’s from the likes of one at…let us hold on to our cojones…Garduno’s or the Fiesta Lounge…or the closed Chile Rio…or dang I’m blocking on others. In any event, I’d dislike a soppy/soft/too crusty Chimi.
      Anyway Becky…and as an aside: per your familiarity with sangwiches (http://tinyurl.com/7lw4umu) which I do not have an available reference to: What is your take on the Tuna Salad Sandwich: My bias is canned Tuna in oil not water and thus very drained. Mayo. I was shocked when it occurred to me as a kid to ask my Mom who said she added Sweet pickle relish AND a light sprinkling of sugar!!! Of course, it was always served with salty potato chips to flummox your tastebuds!!! Same was regularly…mandatorily…done, to be included when served a PB&J. Speaking of which…did you find the best was actually a PB&J&MF? Alas and always on lightly toasted White (e.g. Wonder) bread which minimized the bread tearing when spreading PB or MF! Again, the chips/diagonal cut apply! Just curious.
      Ooops…MF is Marshmallow Fluff http://tinyurl.com/yxl7faz2 or possible variants.

      1. Hi Bob: Well, you may very well have gotten, at least partially, to the root of the chimichanga discussion. While I like the typical Arizona version, I have often made chimis at home that are filled with shredded chuck roast, cheese, onion, and a bit of New Mexico red chile, accompanied by sour cream, guacamole, and a generous “side” of additional New Mexico red chile to spoon on as desired. It’s positively delicious but again, it doesn’t solve the textural objections to the crispness of the chimi that seems to be so objectionable to some folks.

        As for tuna salad, I wish we had a “Miscellaneous” category for such discussions but lacking that, I’ll proceed to defile the Cecilia’s thread with my response. Your mother’s tuna salad with sweet pickle relish sounds quite typical of many variations out there. The addition of sugar was new to me so I did some research and it turns out your mother was pretty clever – a touch of sugar cuts the more intense fishy taste of tuna. Who knew?

        My mother’s tuna sandwich was completely mundane and didn’t inspire much (any) excitement. It consisted of drained oil packed tuna (such as Starkist) and mayo on Wonder bread. That’s it. Period. She hated vegetables, especially anything green, so forget pickle relish let alone celery or onions.

        School cafeteria tuna sandwiches, which we vastly preferred, were called “tuna bunsteads” which I guess is a variation on the “tuna boat”. They were comprised of tuna salad made with drained oil packed tuna (such as Starkist), finely chopped onion and celery, chopped hard-boiled egg, chunks of Velveeta, and mayo piled into a hot dog bun, wrapped in foil, and heated in the oven until hot, melted and gooey.

        My traditional tuna sandwich is water packed solid white albacore tuna, celery, red onion, Hellman’s mayo (NEVER Miracle Whip), salt and pepper on a really nice toasted white bread with lettuce and sometimes sliced tomato. I also like tuna melts which are the addition of cheese to my traditional tuna sandwich and then grilled. I also like Italian canned tuna in olive oil – known as tonno. It is more costly at about $3.00 for a 5 ounce can but to me, it’s worth the price. I use it in sandwiches but also in making Salad Nicoise.

        Now about PB & J: I’m a huge fan of peanut butter but I never liked PB & J sandwiches. We can chalk that up to my mother’s insistence upon the use of Welch’s grape jelly which always gave me the urge to heave. Even the addition of Marshmallow Fluff wouldn’t have mitigated my dislike and I’ve never recovered sufficiently to even try a PB & J with a different kind of jam. It’s a case of leave the sandwich and take the chips.

        1. Ha ha, Becky.
          (Indeed, I’ve badgered Gil RE a “Miscellaneous” ‘page’. Wasn’t it Shakespeare who introduced ‘An Aside’, as even used by Frank Underwood?)
          Alas, I very much love onions. I have a ziplock, stuffed with absorbing paper towels, of diced in the frig to add to vittles tho I don’t eat at home much, nor am a cook. I will try next time, but right now am not sure of your use of onion in a tuna salad sandwich!
          Alas RE your reference to Tonno. Immediately I thought I could see that in my mind’s eye on the shelves of WallyMart given all the varieties there are nowadays including tuna (salmon, SPAM) in a pouch!
          Double checking, I found these as examples: http://tinyurl.com/y35zwsro http://tinyurl.com/y4zk7xh7
          OMG and with all due respect! Welch’s Grape Jelly was indeed Top Shelf for a PB&J…LOL Unlike my fav, BeechNut Gum…WGJ lasts today! Just goes to show what a complex venture it is for us’all (as a universal) to agree on the wonderfulness of any dishes, given the variables of the number of sweet, sour, bitter, or salty taste buds each individual has amongst the average of 10,000 that get replaced every 2 weeks. Alas, a Seasoned (no pun intended) Person may have only 5K. And then we add in aroma, sight, childhood memories, and texture (e.g. OooEee, the sliminess of raw oysters or the squishy gooeyness of Fried Clams with Bellies!!!!
          In any event: Chive On, Enjoy The Crunch!

          1. Bob, Gil reminded me that you might very well have taken me to task for criticizing Welch’s grape jelly since it’s a favorite of yours and made not far from your hometown of Lowell. Thank you for being so gracious! Here’s an interesting profile of Welch’s: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Welch%27s.

            And here’s a photo of the old Welch’s factory near me (the area is still a major producer of grapes) where they once manufactured Welch’s grape juice: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Welch_Factory_Building_No._1

            1. LOL…Thanks Becky for the Update on Welch’s! Little did I know of it in Concord, MA where we rode 32 miles RT 1 year as kids on 2 lane roads on our 1 speed, steel bikes to celebrate a Patriot’s Day, with our PB&J&MFs strapped to our handlebars. Speaking of your sangwiches, got a Thillist email today of “80 sandwiches of the world” where a ‘side’ reference to the Bologna sandwich noted some included grape jelly! Bet that gives ya goosebumps!
              Elsewise, and while I’ve read little detail in the list’s descriptions as yet, I did find a lengthy account http://tinyurl.com/zuke5e8 comparing the history of LA’s Philippe’s to Cole’s inventions of the French Dip of a 100 years ago last year! Philippe’s was a weekend FAV for this budget minded, college student back in the day and is still the choice of LA tourists-to-ABQ when asked.
              Bon Appetit! Hat’s off to D-Day & Churchill!

  3. No, Becky, our roving gourmand is irrefutably correct, without fear of contradiction, no interesting dishes attributive to Arizona have ever come out of Arizona. Period. Chimichangas, perhaps, but we have made it lucidly clear how the New Mexico boys feel about chimichanga. Should Arizona boys take umbrage, I know as a native New Mexican our roving gourmand can corral enough homeboys to take on the “The Copper State.” I alone can muster and inspire the rebellious fighting spirit here in Corrales as long as the battle doesn’t conflict with their senior center movement classes. Seriously, Becky, submit your counter evidence that Arizona cuisine can step up to New Mexican cuisine.

    1. Tom, I did not state that “Arizona cuisine”, as you refer to it, is better than that of New Mexico. Our discussion was about the chimichanga which likely originated in the Primeria Alta region of Mexico from whence it was brought to Arizona and popularized. Without dwelling on the traditional preparation of a chimi, which has already been discussed, it seems that many folks in New Mexico are either not familiar with it or they are not fond of the dish. I’m afraid you took the light-hearted bantering as a call to a battle that doesn’t exist. Anyway, the popularity of the chimichanga – or lack thereof – reminds me of a potato salad debate. People who like it tend to prefer the version prepared by their mothers and which they grew up on. And maybe that’s similar to New Mexico’s debate over red or green chile. There’s no winner since it’s a matter of individual taste.

  4. What do Linda Ronstadt and chimichanga have in common other than both can carry a tune? They both were born in Tucson. Linda, if you read this blog (and we all hope you do) please weigh in with your native opinion on this growing chimichanga controversy.

    I grew up on the San Francisco peninsula eating Mexican food upon visits north to the Mission District. There, I was introduced to burritos and the deep-fried burrito, chimichanga. It all tasted fine to me but when Tito’s burritos in Los Angeles was named the best burrito in America, food essayist Jonathan Gold exclaimed “at least the award didn’t go to one of those San Francisco places that wrap vast expanses of dry rice and indifferently grilled chicken into what amount to over-steamed pillowcases.”

    Back to the chimichanga brouhaha. Emphasis on “haha” as I laughed at your description, Gil, of “chimichangas that are deep-fried to the point that the tortilla resembles an egg roll wrapper.” The most disappointing moment in a chimichanga is when the corners of the tortilla unravel like an over-starched dress shirt.

    I agree with our roving gourmand on chimichanga and not because he is paying my salary (he isn’t) but because of his professional observation: very few in New Mexico (or anywhere else) make a good one.

    Though I’ve never had one at Cecilia’s, her chimichanga appears to be baked instead of deep-fried. I may be wrong, but I definitely would like to try one, if for no other reason than I haven’t had a chimichanga since chipping a tooth on the last one.

  5. Gil, I roared when I read your comment about our ongoing chimichanga debate. And for the record, I think you’re just being stubborn. You really need to give Arizona a break – not everything delicious can come from New Mexico!

    With that said, I took a few moments to again review the supposed origin of the chimi. Frankly, I don’t buy the oft-repeated claim that it was the result of a restaurant cook “accidentally dropping something into something else, resulting in something fabulous” – with the French dip and the chimichanga being often repeated, trite examples.

    Maybe you will feel more charitable toward my beloved chimichanga with the idea that it was brought to Arizona by Mexican immigrants from the Pimeria Alta region, “an area of the 18th century Sonora y Sinaloa Province in the Viceroyalty of New Spain, that encompassed parts of what are today southern Arizona in the United States and northern Sonora in Mexico” where folks long favored a dish known as “chivichangas”. A number of references state chivichangas are a traditional food of the Mexican State of Sonora and noted Mexican food authority Diana Kenndy, for whom I know you have deep respect, confirmed that they have graced the table deep into Mexico for decades.

    I’m happy to see that you found an acceptable version of a chimichanga in New Mexico but the chimichanga at Cecelia’s appears to be a wet burrito or, at best, a “soft chimichanga”, perhaps just browned a bit on a hot top. The whole point of a chimichanga is to change the texture of the flour tortilla by deep-frying it to – yes – “crispy crunchy brown”. Alas, my good friend, at this point it appears that our debate continues.

    1. Indeed Becky and apparently being Easterners, we have a finer appreciation of “Fried” when it comes to Chimis. Perhaps with age, Gil will come to appreciate “….that the tortilla (should) resembles an egg roll wrapper. ….crispy, crunchy and brown…in contrast to what the pic of Cecilia’s resembles (with all due respect to her other culinary wizardry). It’s like having naked, battered woked pork to which you add the Sweet n Sour Sauce.
      Yes! As an immigrant, I recall my first time…as I’m sure most do…being impressed with one in the ’70s. It was at the Cooperage…unsmothered, with a dollop of sour cream and Guac on top with Green on the side. What a strange, delicious delight!

      1. Bob, thanks for your support. It looks like the New Mexico boys are going to gang up on us when it comes to chimichangas. In a pitiful attempt at injecting a bit of humor here, I can at least say you and I haven’t yet reached that delicate stage in life where we must resort to Pablum for texture.

        Anyway, I have a sneaking suspicion that Gil’s particular dislike of the chimi relates back to frequent business trips to Arizona when he was subjected by his peers to “Mexican food” from various chain restaurants. Given the torture he undoubtedly endured, he has revolted in the extreme – despite many years of gentle chiding from me. So at this point, I guess we await his further education of our deranged Eastern palates. Buckle in because our hero is strengthening his defenses.

        Note to Gil: Before crucifying Bob and me, please remember Calvin Trillin’s “American Fried” and his quest for “oral nirvana”. Fried food is good food. Deep fried food is even better.

        1. You know me too well, my friend. Recurrent nightmares still torture me of being subjected to Arizona-based Mexican food with its strange effluvium and brown gravy-like “chili.” Those nightmares are further intensified by the traumatic memory of having seen Cousin Raul from Tucson lose an entire chimichanga in his dense primeval forest of a mustache. Oh, the humanity.

      2. Bob, I’ve been thinking about your description of the first chimichanga that you had after arriving in New Mexico. It sounds very much like the first time I ate a chimi at Woody’s El Nido on McDowell in Phoenix, across the street from where I worked. It, too, was served with sour cream and guacamole but no green chile – just plenty of hot sauce to add as you wished. I also enjoyed many a chimi at Woody’s Macayo on Central Avenue, one of the Arizona restaurants claiming to have originated the dish – a doubtful claim at best but it didn’t interfere with my enjoyment of the dish. I remember eating chimis in Tucson, too, but none as memorable as those at Woody’s – maybe because I’ve never been a fan of Tucson.

    2. There’s a lot of veracity in your recounting of the true history of the chimichanga. Its genesis is indeed very likely the “chivichanga” of the Pimeria Alta region. I’ve done some research as to the etymology of the term “chivichanga,” believing this type of burrito might possibly have been made with goat meat. As you know, “Chivito” is the grilled meat of a young goat as well as the name of a very popular sandwich in Argentina.

      1. Gil, thanks for the visual. I try not to think about Cousin Raul from Tucson – or his mustache.

        Ah, yes – the chivito. It’s the national dish of Uruguay – usually made with beef despite the literal meaning of chivito which, as you noted, is goat meat. On the other hand, the lomito in Argentina is always made with goat. I don’t remember having seen either one on menus in Uruguay or Argentina where I was typically subjected by my hosts to an awesome onslaught of beef at every turn. Goat is certainly widely consumed throughout Latin America as well as other countries around the world where it’s considered a staple. I wonder if the cemita, the pride of Pueblo, Mexico, is ever made with goat?

        I do recall reading an article somewhere that the chivichanga was originally made with goat (maybe goat-head meat – as used in tacos de cabeza?) but for the life of me, I can’t locate that reference. Perhaps over time, goat was replaced by beef given the size of that industry in Sonora , Nuevo Leon (Monterrey) and other northern Mexico states. Goat production is also significant in those areas but the bottom line is that goat consumption, while on the rise, is still not widely popular in the U.S. And in Sonora, beef and the flour tortilla still reign supreme.

        In an interview with Frances Lam, Gustavo Arellano noted his family is from the state of Zacatecas in North Central Mexico where they make burritos filled with birria de res (he makes no mention of those burritos ever falling into hot grease and emerging as chimichangas).

        Finally, there’s the theory that Chinese workers in Mexico invented the chimi, a theory I’ve not warmed up to because it sounds a bit like the “burrito-that-fell-into-hot-fat” stories but it does coincide with your description of the chimi as akin to an egg roll wrapper. This 2014 article by Arellano is interesting, though, and it was published after his book “Taco USA” – I wonder what you think of it?: https://ocweekly.com/was-the-chimichanga-invented-by-chinese-in-mexico-6624206/.

  6. I read some of the comments and was reminded that some people just gotta hate. I am sorry that as a burqueno that I haven’t been frequenting this place for decades. My first go was today, I was concerned that like all the other “New Mexican” restaurants I would have to grill the waitstaff on what does and does not have meat or monteca. To my wonderous surprise it was both veggie red and green, veggie rice veggie beans!
    On a Friday at lunch, it was busy and I had to wait outside until a table opened. In my situation it was springtime, what the heck, if I can’t enjoy an ABQ springtime, I probably won’t enjoy anything.
    The waitstaff was business like, but it was busy. I was warned that nobody could eat the red chile. Challenge accepted, cheese enchiladas smothered in red and a side of green. Flavor and presentation 10/10. Spiciness of chile ( using my own thai rating) I gave it a 7.5/10. Which means, runny nose and not quite a tear drop. I was offered plenty of refills and I was rewarded with a big basket of sopaipillas. Sorry Senores Garcia y Garduno… Spenca Senora Sadie… Dona Cecilia es la reina de la comida Nuevo Mexicano! P.S. La reina promised me a 10 on spiciness for my next visit!

  7. Finally (blush)got here per choosing it as one of my monthly ‘Summer Breakfast with my Gals (daughters)’ treats of a Dad’s Day present!

    a) hopefully Gil can figure a way to put ‘Most Recent Comments’ (of here and elsewhere) first. b)Plenty of parking on Silver on a Saturday @ 10 AM (albeit parking meters) c)Inside, a steady in-out stream of just about full house(10ish? booths) during our next hour there. (i.e. the early pajarito gets the seat, at least on a Saturday AM!) Never felt being rushed out the door, tho. d)Eek…we apparently missed ‘the rude server’ of 3 who were in perpetual/polite hustle e)Thumbs-Up is what I got from the couple of abutting booths I asked re patronage f)while my ‘green’ was mild today on my otherwise fine eggs/potato/beans dish, I did manage to purloin a “few” ‘red’samples off my Daughters’ carne adovada dishes and, with all due respect to Ravers of Mary & Tito’s and The James (i.e. Beard), must say this (today’s)Red was Muy Sabrosa and Mucho CALIENTE…IMHO!

    If Y’all are looking for fine…tea-service… breakfast/lunch dining, Y’all are going to miss out going elsewhere for that. If Y’all are from the “East” and enjoy eating at a Diner, this is about THE Best we’all have to offer, SouthWest Style!!!!

    Surprisingly per being “downtown”, ABQ has little (I stand to be corrected) to recommend when a person attending the Convention Center asks for a “New Mexican” lunch spot close by….Alas, this is it!!!!

  8. I am a white girl who was born and raised in abq….I have had great ‘Mexican’ food all over New Mexico and love love love Cecelia’s .. We are there every time we return to the city ! We have always had great service and great food .

  9. About the worst service I’ve experienced. 1) We had to ask for chips and salsa–out of chips, 2)lemon in our water–out of lemon. 3) One of our party ordered coffee–it never came. When our food came we had to ask for silverware. The sopapillas we ordered that were supposed to be hot were cold and when we inquired were told that “she was sure they were made in the last 10 minutes!” Of course had to ask for honey. Food was good but not outstanding. The carne adovada was incendiary. When we asked about dessert? The owner hadn’t made any. Can’t recommend.

  10. Gracias Sr P…Alas, never been in a Ship’s as can be seen on the internet http://tinyurl.com/7e927w9
    Having to come ‘across town’ on a Vespa to enjoy the ambiance of Westwood, the only spot that stands out is a hole-in-the-wall place called Konditori…a place featuring shamefully decadent Scandanavian pastries with coffee in a simple but elegant, chic, perhaps avant gard setting for its time!

  11. I don’t think I could have stated it any clearer than my friend Bob whose goal is to brighten up the quaint Village of Los Ranchos! I wonder if we ever crossed paths in the Hills of Westwood at a very old haunt from a time long-ago called Ships; another late night dining established for those who couldn’t sleep. I think Barbara has heard enough and hopefully sees the truth which is this food blog, brought to us by Gil on his own time and $, is a key to those who come from far away places making New Mexico their new home feel a bit more like they are ‘Home’. That is the case for me and other New Mexico friends who like to feast!

  12. Eeee ho la! Sorry Barbara, I’m compelled to add my two pesos, albeit belatedly.
    Alas, I didn’t read any Commentators saying they were alienated by Garduno’s use of the word “anglosized”, which, and tho Garduno now says t’was a misspelling, I like as having used it for years even tho it may not actually be a word as it doesn’t come up when I Google it!!!
    If anything however were to alienate folks, one might conjecture that his sesquipedalian bent might be the prime reason as apparently some folks can be frazzled per being hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobic. Contrawise, some might argue his blog should be “must” reading for kids preparing for the National Spelling Bee competition or taking the SATs!!!
    Similarly, lest some might say he tends to be verbose, in this instance he tries to rein himself in by using “anglosized”!! For example, check out what The Frugal Writer might say in the prestigious Columbia Journalism Review http://tinyurl.com/4trgcqe regarding what you recommend he use “….by simply(?) stating that the food is authentic in ingredients and flavours (sic), and is not watered down or altered for tourist-tastebuds (sic).”
    IMHO, I’d be surprised if other Anglos, especially who’ve lived here awhile, find the reference as being derogatory or racist. I consider it a form of (and please pardon, maybe it’s just a “Guyz Thing”) joshing Newbies to NM be they tourists or residents as most of whom, in my humble experience, will chuckle at themselves per having to ‘get used to’ the “heat“ of New Mexican cuisine. Certainly…and despite many, many decades of living here as an Anglo… I can always stand to be corrected for not recognizing I’m being put down, altho none of my Anglo com(p)adres have ever brought it up as something that bugs them.
    Alas Barbara, lest Y’all be a Barbara Tyner of Fanta Se, I might ask readers to now better understand and take that into account sorta speak, where Y’all are coming from! Nevertheless! hope Y’all share some of your opinions of d i n i n g experiences as we all do (+ or -)…given that Garduno provides Comment space to even us Gabachos! Salud!

  13. Barbara,
    You need to get over yourself. And as Gil points out, you should look up the definition of words before acting as if you know what they mean. I would also look up the definition of racist, since you imply you know the definition when you clearly do not. Gil’s reviews are fantastic and to react in the manner you did, without any factual basis, reflects on you and not on him. Since you won’t be going to any restaurants Gil recommends, I’d point out that he has recommended and reviewed a large number of them in Albuquerque. I guess that leaves you with relatively few dining choices. I truly feel sorry for you, for your ignorance and your childish way of expressing your misguided opinions….but most of all for the fact you’re now stuck eating at Arby’s, or someplace else Gil hasn’t reviewed because of your boycott. Enjoy the Beef N’Cheddar sandwiches…2 for $5, a great deal.

  14. Where does that leave me?
    I often say that the Albuquerque Italian restaurants sometimes New Mexicanize the their attempts at marinara sauce with an addition of chile in it.
    Does that make me a RACIST too?
    Am I jingoistic when I write of my love 0f NY pizza?
    Am I being bigoted for extolling the virtues of the bagels found in hundreds of shops in NY?
    We discuss food on the wonderful blog not life and death issues.

    What’s this world coming to when we have to be PC about food and restaurants?
    It’s all about personal preferences.,
    Relax folks, make it all about green and red, not seeing red.

  15. Your use of the term “anglosized,” especially in such a derogatory manner, is RACIST, by definition. You could have avoided alienating others by simply stating that the food is authentic in ingredients and flavours, and is not watered down or altered for tourist-tastebuds. This is careless writing, or it displays a deeper racist attitude. Either way, it does not make me want to read any more of your writing or try any of the restaurants you tout in your blog. You make choices when you write. Your words tell us who you are. Choose wisely.

    1. Hello Barbara

      The term “anglicized” (which I misspelled) is defined as “altering something such that it becomes English in form or character.” The oft used stereotype (one to which I don’t subscribe) about English food is that it is bland and tasteless. The comment with which you took umbrage–“It (Cecilia’s chile) is unadulterated and in no way “anglicized” for touristy tastes.”–is absolutely accurate in that Cecilia does not serve a bland and tasteless chile. Her chile is not anglicized nor is my use of the term racist!

      Not only do “words tell us who you are,” so do the ways in which people choose to react to those words. My review of Cecilia’s Cafe has been launched more than 7200 times and you are the only person to take issue with any aspect of the review (save for those who disagree with my high opinion of Cecilia’s food). You are absolutely welcome to choose to be upset about my use of a word whose connotations you did not understand, but any implications of racism are absolutely unfounded. You know nothing about me save for what I choose to share on my reviews.

      By the way, you’d better not read my review of Prime in which I write about foods white people like. You should also avoid my review of El Modelo in which I explain the roots of my “racism.”

      Best,

      Gil

  16. After eating at Cecilia’s, I’d have to say I wasnt impressed. Saw the place on Diners Drive Ins and Dives and they made it look good. We had breakfast and I ordered the carne adovada which was average, the hashbrowns need work and the eggs were ugly, maybe they need a good egg pan. The salsa was tasty and I got extra for my carne as it needed some heat. I haven’t been back due mostly because it’s in the heart of downtown. Average food, bad parking and the service is slow and it wasnt busy.

  17. Great review! We just bought a Groupon deal ($10 for $20) and will be visiting Cecilia’s this weekend. I’m leaning toward carne adovada, but my girlfriend is vegetarian so we’ll have to choose a veggie dish for her. Any suggestions?

    1. Hello Bill

      Although Cecilia’s menu lists some items which appear to be vegetarian-friendly, some of them might actually be prepared in lard. I encourage you to ask Cecilia or her wait staff before ordering.

      Gil

  18. never got to the food part. the first staff members i met were so rude i left before ordering. guess being famous means bad customer service.

  19. The food wasn’t bad and could be found in any decent restaurant in Albuquerque. The waitress was slow and unaccommodating. The cashier was plain rude. I will not suggest anyone try this place purely due to their customer service. The food wasn’t bad but I will never return. Thanks Gil, but you obviously had better service than I did.

  20. Visited Cecilia’s in Sept while on a vacation to see family. Loved the food, loved Cecilia and her family who were very friendly everytime we ate there. We were even able to purchase homemade tamales to take back to NY to carry us over til we eat there again. We know what good New Mexican food is having been born and raised there. Sure do miss it in NY….Can’t wait to return.

  21. Ate here last year and am planning a return trip this week….we ate at several (ok, 5-6) New Mexican restaurants at that time and found this to be one of the best ! The food was fabulous, wait-staff great, atmosphere fun and comfortable. Red sauce great, green great, coffe great, etc. We actually liked it better than Mary and Tito’s…although their green sauce is hard to compete with. In our opinion, this is definitely a place to eat at in Albuq. As a side note, I was born and raised in Albuq so feel myself to be somewhat an expert in this cuisine….have to brag that my husband and family likes MY green and red sauces better than any in town ! Seriously, though, this is a really good restaurant !

  22. 7/12/09

    Just came from Cecilia’s. It was WONDERFUL!!! I had the chicharrones & they certainly lived up to all the hype, maybe even better. My husband had the breakfast enchiladas & just loved ’em. We would have liked more beans/rice/potatoes on the side because they were delish. I can’t imagine anyone not loving the food, but I guess all great cooks have an off day from time to time. In any event, you owe it to yourself to give it another shot. A thousand screaming fans can’t be wrong!

  23. I ordered the carne adovada burrito. The red chile was good – it had a nice rich color and flavor, and obviously didn’t have any thickeners added. The good flavor of the chile ON TOP of the burrito was really the only thing providing flavor and moisture to the otherwise dry meat and tortilla.

    The rice and beans were flavorful, but there were not enough of either – just enough to keep the plate from peeking through. Would have liked to have had papas on the menu.

    I initially went for the chicharrones, but, disappointingly, they were not on the menu.

    Chips were a bit thin, but flavorful, well-salted, and the salsa was very good with a nice spicy bite. Unfortunately, the serving was very small – just enough for a solo diner, but not nearly enough for two or more.

    I may go again, but I think I’ll keep trying different places. Cecilia’s was okay, but it’s no Mary and Tito’s.

  24. Cecilia’s can be delicious and the waitstaff great, the problem is both of them can be inconsistent. Here’s hoping you catch them on a good day, of which I have more often than not.

  25. I also went after seeing this on Guy’s show. I was sorely disappointed and will only go back to try the carne adovada they were raving about. I went on a Friday and they didn’t have any no meat specials– I had a choice between rellenos (and they were out) and a bean stuffed sopapilla. The food wasn’t spectacular and the standout was the salsa. It was supposed to be served with spanish rice, but I literally got a tablespoon.

    Our waitress was nice up until she brought out our food. We couldn’t get her attention and it wasn’t busy– no refills on water and she acted like I was inconviencing her when I asked for tortillas. The tortillas were gummy and definitely did not taste homemade. We were also going to ask regarding desserts, but we were ignored for the rest of our meal.

    The cashier was rude as well. We stood there for 5 minutes before she even acknowledged us.

    I will give this place one more chance, but will not go back if I have the same experience.

  26. After watching on Food network looked so good, decided to try on 3/16/09. Food ok, not the greatest, waitress and cashier had attitude. My reccommendation, get new help, she did not seem happy to be there. Did not get drink refill, asked for additional chips and salsa, out of chips. Will not be back.

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