Milton’s Cafe – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

Milton’s Cafe Reborn

“Where we love is home – home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts.
~Oliver Wendell Holmes

You might think that a world-famous cookbook author and New York Times food writer who dines at four-star white-tablecloth restaurants and routinely drops $200 or more for a meal would be ecstatic about his culinary opportunities. Instead, Mark Bittman appears to have had too much of a good thing and longs for, of all things, a restaurant which feels like home (ostensibly without having to do the dishes).

Bittman laments “I want “my” place, don’t you? A place with a working chef, not a cookie-cutter spinoff and certainly not a circus. A place where the food is at least as good as what I can do at home and preferably better, and consistently so; one that’s pleasant; one where I’m vaguely known as a repeat customer, but not falsely fawned over; one where I can pay without thinking about what that chunk of money might have gone to instead.”

This sure doesn’t look like the Milton’s on Central Avenue

New Mexico’s dining options aren’t nearly as diverse and plentiful as those in New York City and my dining budget is a modicum of Bittman’s, but quite frequently I’m completely simpatico with his lament. Every once in a while, nothing would suit me more than a non-gourmet quality meal at a restaurant in which friendly servers bring warm, delicious, comfort foods to my table and top off my coffee regularly, a restaurant in which diners aren’t rushed and which won’t break the bank. In other words, a restaurant which feels a bit like home…a restaurant like Milton’s.

Since the early 1980s when I was stationed at Kirtland Air Force Base, Milton’s was–for me and my dormitory-dwelling friends–what Monk’s Cafe was to Jerry Seinfeld and his friends and what the Central Perk Coffee House was to the cast of Friends. It’s where we commiserated with one another after a stressful day and it was where we celebrated good times. It was our haven and our refuge. Most of all, it was a place which felt like home away from home, where we were treated well and were served some of the best breakfast and comfort foods in town.

Cream of corn on the cob soup

Fortuitously, Milton’s was situated just outside the Wyoming gate from Kirtland so we didn’t have to go far for nurturing comfort food. Years later when I retired from the Air Force, the second Milton’s in the East Downtown (EDO) district, by virtue of its proximity, took over where its elder sibling left off. Both Milton’s restaurants were the quintessential American diner, the very essence of respite. The original Milton’s closed in 2004 and its historic EDO sibling closed in 2012, leaving a hole in my heart.

In August, 2013, Milton’s was reborn, albeit several miles away from its previous incarnations. Now situated on Candelaria just west of Carlisle, it remains to be seen whether or not Milton’s will serve as a backdrop for several small- and big-screen productions as it did in its EDO location. During its halcyon days in the EDO, Milton’s made several “cameo” appearances on Hollywood productions, although not on Breaking Bad. Ostensibly, several of the glitterati actually ate there, but it might not have had the feeling of “home” for them under the bright lights and hullabaloo.

Bacon Hamburger with French Fries

Milton’s reborn is almost the antithesis of its predecessors in terms of architectural style. Modernity has replaced the classical diner look and feel and expansiveness has replaced the homey, close proximity seating. In its scopious new digs, Milton’s now has a wide-open configuration, seating 120 diners. Hours of operation have also changed. Milton’s is now open from 6AM to 3PM Monday through Saturday instead of its previous seven days a week stint. The menu has a few changes—primarily in offering more sandwich and burger options—but you can still get reliable New Mexican, Greek and American breakfast and lunch favorites. Alas, the red chile is now made with cumin which wipes out several options for me.

Sandwich and burger entrees are served with your choice of soup of the day or French fries. The French fries aren’t quite Texas cut, but they’re larger than the usual out-of-the-bag variety. If the soup of the day is cream of corn on the cob, don’t hesitate to order it. This soup does indeed include a segment of corn on the cob as well as other vegetables. It’s a thick, creamy soup served with the endearing belly warming properties that come in hand especially in winter.

Two Eggs Burritos with Pinto Beans

My friend Ryan “Break the Chain” Scott raves about Milton’s bacon burger–for good reason. With two four-ounce patties, it’s a half pound of beef coupled with thick bacon and lettuce, onions and tomatoes on a sesame seed bun. Milton’s will happily grill those onions if you’d like. Better still, top that burger with New Mexico green chile. While the red chile may be contaminated with cumin, the green chile is delicious purity of flavor.

For years, my very favorite entree at Milton’s has been the eggs burritos, available in quantities of one or two. I’m in good company. Several years ago Jason Sheehan, a James Beard Award-winning author who once wrote for Albuquerque’s Alibi, assembled a dream menu of the best foods he had ever eaten, a “desert-island top ten” from which he’d choose if ever asked the question, “If you could eat only one thing every day for the rest of your life, what would it be?” His top ten list included the phenomenal red chile breakfast burritos from Milton’s.

Though the cumin means I’ll never again order red chile at Milton’s, the green chile makes up for it. Make sure to ask for a larger portion of chile because the eggs burritos are rather sizable. The chile has a bite and nicely roasted flavor to it. It’s as good as Milton’s chile has always been. So are the eggs burritos which are simplicity itself (hash browns, eggs). They’re always served hot, a huge plus.

Thomas Wolfe may have had it all wrong when penning “you can never go home again.” Milton’s is like coming home.

Milton’s Cafe
3351 Candelaria, N.E., Suite A
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 21 September 2013
COST: $$
BEST BET: Eggs Burritos, Bacon Hamburger, French Fries

8 thoughts on “Milton’s Cafe – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

  1. Miltons has new owners, and while the menu has many of the same dishes, the food quality and sourcing has improved. One thing that has changed is the red chile which has nearly converted me from years of green chile militancy. Give it a try now; I think you will be pleasantly surprised.

    Under the new owners, the hours have also changed. They are now open until 4:30 every day except Sunday.

  2. Whatever the merits or not of using cumin in chile, the food at Milton’s is unremarkable. The chicken fried steak was nicely done but had no flavor to speak of. The gravely tasted strongly of flour. As is typical in most restaurants the hash browns were really hash whites. (Bring back the Toddle House where they knew how to cook them.) The beef on the French dip sandwich was tough and stringy. I often could not bit though it. For a dollar or so more you can get a much better French dip at Mimi’s–tender beef and lots more of it. And Mimi’s issues an almost endless supply of twofer coupons.

  3. I think of cumin as like ketchup, a strong flavor that kind of obliterates everything it’s put on. I do enjoy the taste and smell of cumin, but I agree that it’s crazy to put it in NM chile, which is not only amazing on its own, but the whole point of having chile is to…taste the chile! Putting cumin in red chile is like adding Hawaiian Punch to a really nice Cabernet. Not only does it not need it, but you’re actually masking the flavor of the experience you’re presumably after in the first place.

    1. Very well put, Edward. Perfectly stated, in fact. Adding cumin to our chile makes as much sense as the New Mexico Tourism Department touting the Land of Enchantment’s wind and dust as a reason to visit.

  4. I’m with Gil when it comes to the subject of cumin in New Mexican food. Personally, I think it tastes the way body odor smells. It is so strong that it overpowers the wonderful flavor that is NM red chile. Cumin wants to be the star of the show. To me, it is the one thing that transforms chile into chili.
    Blecccch. Leave it in India, or in a dirty armpit and out of NM!

  5. Gil,
    I enjoy your website and always check out whats new. I have noticed what appears to be proselytising on the subject of cumin. Three times in this review you complain about its use in red. Can you provide some reference to the incorrectness of cumin in New Mexican cooking. I have been unable to find any print which says it should not be used. I have also seen some apparently genuine red recipes with cumin. Maybe you can clear up my confusion.

    1. Hello Joe

      Not surprisingly, cumin was introduced to the Americas by the Spanish. Because it was so expensive, only nobility and the wealthy could afford it. Of the thousands of intrepid Spanish and Mexican colonists, conquering warriors and evangelizing Franciscan priests and friars who traversed the 1,600 mile route from Mexico City to the Land of Enchantment, very few of them actually brought cumin with them.

      In the 20th century when cumin became more affordable and plentiful, many New Mexicans, particularly in the north, chose not to use it. The main reason, I suspect, is because the purity of red and green chile requires absolutely no amelioration. When we visit New Mexican restaurants we always ask if cumin is added to chile entrees. In restaurants throughout Northern New Mexico, the response isn’t just “no,” but “hell no” or something equally passionate. The very best New Mexican restaurants–Mary & Tito’s, The Shed, La Choza, Rancho De Chimayo–and many others are exemplars of not using cumin.

      In 2012, James Beard Award-winning authors Cheryl and Bill Jamison published Tasting New Mexico: Recipes Celebrating One Hundred Years of Distinctive Home Cooking, featuring full-flavored versions of 100 beloved local dishes. It’s one of the very best and most important culinary compilation about New Mexican food ever written. Almost all the recipes omit cumin.

      Over the years I’ve waged a one-man crusade against the use of cumin with chile, calling it “that foul demon spice” and more, but I must admit to enjoying it on Indian food.


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