Los Cuates – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Los Cuates New Mexican Restaurant launched in 1989

Of the five variations of twins that occur commonly throughout the world, the most common fraternal (non-identical) occurrence is male-female twins which transpire in about 40% of all twins born. Fraternal twins may share up to 50% of their genes and generally are no more similar or dissimilar than any other two siblings.  Although technically not twins because they were “born” four years apart, the Duke City’s most famous twins are the Los Cuates restaurants (cuates being the Spanish word for twins), named for Antoinette and Marcus, the fraternal male-female twins of founder Frank R. Barela, an inspiration for all of us who started at the bottom and worked our way up. 

Barela got his start in the restaurant business in 1971 as a busboy at Silvano’s, a legendary Duke City purveyor of New Mexican food.  In 1985, he bought Silviano’s and renamed it Los Cuates after his newborn children.  In 1989, he took over another Albuquerque landmark of the era, Cocina De Carlos Mexican Restaurant, across the street from his first eatery. Because of the two restaurant’s twin-like proximity, he also named it Los Cuates…not Los Cuates I and Los Cuates II, just Los Cuates.

The famous salsa and chips at Los Cuates

From the very beginning, Los Cuates has been one of the most popular New Mexican restaurants in the city.  In its halcyon days, diners lined up before opening while late-comers waited for a table to come open. The restaurant’s logo of a little boy and girl twins astride a burro has been, for years, a very familiar landmark to Albuquerque diners who certify their love of the diner’s food on the Alibi’s annual “best of” poll. One category Los Cuates has practically owned since the inception of the poll is best chips and salsa.

The salsa is indeed unique–wholly unlike the traditional New Mexican salsa of tomatoes, onions, garlic and either green chile or jalapenos. Los Cuates salsa is based on ancho chiles (known as chile pasilla in the Michoacan area and in California), an aromatic, brownish red chile that smells somewhat like prunes and has a mild, rich and almost sweet taste with just a hint of residual bitterness. It’s an “either you love it or you don’t” type of salsa with plenty of fans and detractors. Count me among those who love the uniqueness of this pre-prandial treat though I don’t quite love it as much in its bottled state–in part because the ingredient list reads like it belongs in a chemistry lab.

An enchilada trio–carne adovada, chicken and ground beef–served Christmas style on blue corn tortillas

A basket of chips and a small plastic bowl with the dark red salsa is placed on your table shortly after you’re seated. The complementary sweet and piquant salsa is satiny smooth, not at all chunky like most restaurants serve. It’s not the most piquant salsa in Albuquerque, but definitely leaves a pleasant, capsaicin-kissed impression on your tongue and taste buds. The chips are unfailingly crisp and faithfully replenished.

In Albuquerque, a New Mexican restaurant won’t survive on its salsa alone, no matter how storied that salsa may be. Fortunately Los Cuates’ menu is replete with traditional favorites prepared from recipes passed on through generations. When your entree arrives at your table, it’s steaming hot with no evidence of pre-made, pre-heated dryness that’s become all too common in other restaurants. There’s a freshness to everything at Los Cuates.

The famous Bob of the Village of Los Ranchos (BOTVLR) enjoys huevos rancheros at Los Cuates

One of the entrees Los Cuates does exceptionally well is enchiladas (beef, chicken or cheese) crafted with blue corn tortillas. These aren’t your gloppy, boring enchiladas. Not only are the beef and chicken seasoned well and absolutely delicious on their own, the accompanying red or green chile lends a rich savoriness. The chile isn’t the sinus-clearing, eye-watering stuff I like, but at least the chile is discernible in its flavor profile and not corn-starchy.  During a visit to the Los Cuates on Albuquerque’s Northwest side, I happened upon a special of the day that included a trio of enchiladas–carne adovada, chicken and ground beef.  They were quite good.

Anything with chicken is a good bet at Los Cuates. That includes the stuffed sopaipillas. Deep pockets are formed in pillow-like sopaipillas then those pockets are generously engorged with flavorful and moist chicken which is then topped with melted cheddar cheese and your choice of red or green chile.  The chicken is so fresh and moist, it’s reminiscent of stewed chicken.  A platter includes refried beans and rice. Portions are enormous.

Carnitas

Many entrees include complementary sopaipillas which arrive at your table steamy warm. Intrepid diners risk burning their fingers and the roof of their mouths so they can attack these puffy pillows of goodness with honey. There’s no need for dessert when you’ve got these gems though Los Cuates does a nice job with natillas, the smooth, sweet custard dish.

Note: While walking the La Luz Trail in July, 2002, Frank Barella collapsed and died of a heart attack at age 50. His restaurant was placed in a trust for several months until purchased by two well-established Duke City restaurateurs–Larry Gutierrez of Little Anita’s and George Daskalos of Milly’s Restaurant. The new ownership vowed “everything would stay the same–recipes and staff. Shortly after this changing of the guard, a few long-time Los Cuates staffers launched their own restaurant, Mis Amigos which has since closed.

Sopaipillas at Los Cuates

There are some who say Los Cuates just isn’t the same restaurant it once was–and in fact, in 2005, the twins became triplets with the launch of yet a third restaurant.  The third in the Los Cuates line (8700 Menaul Blvd, N.E.) opened in 2005 at the former site of the city’s only Godfather’s Pizza restaurant.  Five years later, the original Los Cuates at 5016 Lomas, N.E., closed, eventually to be replaced by Silvano’s, a full-circle turn few would have expected. 

2011 was a year of major expansion for Los Cuates which launched a Santa Fe restaurant in May within the confines of the Lodge of Santa Fe Hotel.  In November, Los Cuates found a home within the Albuquerque International Airport.  Located immediately before the security checkpoint, the Sunport’s Los Cuates makes it possible for your first meal when you land or your last meal before you take off to be New Mexican food.  Cheryl Jamison, one of America’s most lauded food authors and a frequent flying bon-vivant praised the restaurant on her Tasting NM blog.  Bob of the Village of Los Ranchos, who has enjoyed the huevos rancheros at the Sunport Los Cuates also sees it as a boon to travelers.

Los Cuates in Albuquerque’s Northwest side (10051 Coors Blvd, N.W.)

In January, 2012, Los Cuates expaned to Albuquerque’s sprawling far Northwest side within one mile of Corrales and two miles of Rio Rancho. Situated in the nearly 8,000 square-foot edifice which previously housed Copeland’s on the West side’s “restaurant row,” it is the most ostentatious of all the Los Cuates restaurants. Whether the twins, now quintuplets, will continue to expand remains to be seen. The restaurant’s popularity shows no sign of decline in its popularity and remains a formidable and favorite presence for New Mexican food.

Los Cuates
4901 Lomas, N.E.
Albuquerque, NM
505 255-5079
Web Site

LATEST VISIT: 25 January 2012
# OF VISITS: 9
RATING: 17
COST: $$
BEST BET: Salsa & Chips, Sopaipillas, Stuffed Sopaipillas (chicken), Blue Corn Enchiladas (chicken), Carnitas

Los Cuates (Original) on Urbanspoon

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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27 Comments on “Los Cuates – Albuquerque, New Mexico”

  1. Ooops, it’s been such a dragged out affair over time, I forgot to clarify with the City guy if it is an actuall LC property or tangled up in the company that is/isn’t involved with the concessions throughout the Sunport. No Matter. Was told they were quite cooperative when the “situation” was pointed out to them.
    In any event, back atcha Gil with a Na Zdrowie and Slainte!

  2. Update re Margaritas at the Sunport LC. After several emails to the Sunport Staff (not the LC) have learned the price of a house margarita has been re-aligned down from $11.25 to $6.75. Apparently the City does not set prices, but has a policy that prices offered by rentors of ‘our city property’ should not be more than 10% of what is the “going” price in the community.

    1. Congratulations, Cheers, Prost, Prosit, Skal, Mabuhay and Salut Bob! Thanks to your perseverance, a grievous wrong was righted. To introduce visitors to our fair city by hyper-inflating the cost of a margarita is skyway robbery. Thanks for fighting the good fight.

  3. I’ve eaten at Los Cuates on Menaul at least once a month for the past few years. I have found that the quality of service does vary, but that the ‘bad’ servers don’t last long. Most of the time, the service has been good.

    My usual order is the green chile chicken enchilada “lite” plate, which is 2 enchiladas with a side of beans and the typical lettuce/tomato garnish. The recent menu change (coinciding with the opening of the last two locations) has removed that from the menu, along with increasing the prices and removing the lunch menu in favor of a single “daily special.” These are not good changes in my opinion, as the lunch menu portion was just the right size for me.

    That said, in all that time I’ve never had a plate of enchiladas “covered with cheesy stuff glop”. Mine has always arrived with a generous sprinkle of real cheese (not cheese sauce) on top of the chile and melted. However, there is always far more chile than cheese, so it’s never distracting.

    Since I live on the West side, I was happy about the new location on Coors. I have gotten a sizeable takeout order there, as well as dined in once in the last couple of weeks. Both experiences were good. The takeout was hot and fresh, everything was well packed, with every possible need taken care of. They even carried it out to the car for me, which has never happened anywhere else in town.

    As for the dine-in experience, the dining room was about 85% full when I visited within an hour of closing. Often when I go to a restaurant that will be closing up soon, the staff is concentrating on getting things done so they can go home rather than taking care of the customers. I’m happy to report this was not the case here. Everyone was attentive, my glass never reached empty, the chips basket was replenished without asking, the entrees arrived piping hot out of the kitchen, and at least three different people inquired whether the meals were as we wanted them. (They were.)

    Whatever the growing pains were at the Coors location when it first opened, they seem to have worked out the kinks now. I’ll happily visit there again.

  4. Went to the Westside location Saturday night and to be fair, perhaps they have a lot of kinks to work thru and perhaps it was a bit too crowded. I ordered the #1 which was a combo of taco, enchilada and chile rellano. I asked for both red and green so I can compare and it didnt come out that way. I ask for potatoes and no beans, yes got beans. My bride had 2 tacos a la carte and my niece got the fajita salad and they brought only 2 sopapillas out; I asked for 2 more so all 4 of us can have one and had to hear when it was delivered that ‘here are your 2 extra ones’. Senorena really enjoyed her chicken taco, said it was great and I liked the looks of the fajita salad and my try that next time. I am amazed they moved just about next door to Garduno’s, that is something. I will try again cause I hear at other locations, it is very very good and they bring sopapillas out like water…

  5. Actually I didn’t return to Los Cuates. I wrote the above in response to John L’s comment about Sylvano’s and decided to actually explain why I might like it and what I hadn’t liked about Los Cuates on my first and only trip in the past 10-years. I do sometimes return to a place I didn’t like on purpose though after a significant gap because they often change. Sometimes I return sooner if a friend really wants to go.

  6. I met several friends at the Lomas location shortly before Christmas. It was a group of former coworkers(I am retired, they are still slaving away). The service was awful. The orders were wrong. The food came out in small batches. Some had to be returned because it was not what had been ordered. I ordered the 3 cheese enchilada plate, red with an egg OE. I got a 2 enchilada plate green, no egg (brought it on a plate). Cheese was not melted. Chile was cold. The person next to me ordered the taco plate. Everything on her plate was cold, tacos, beans rice. The sopas were cold and we sent them back. The only good thing was they brought us unlimited refills of salsa and chips and finally brought several guacs with chips as comps for the lengthy wait. We have gone there for years as a group, but will not be returning. The food and the service was very substandard. It was a real dissapointment for all of us.

  7. Jim, you’re a slow learner or maybe you’ve gotten forgetful. The good thing about a bad memory is every place you eat at, it’s the first time. Other thing, you can hide your own Easter eggs. Feed me bad food once shame on you, feed me bad food twice, shame on me.

  8. John, I, like you, always called the old place Silviano’s but it actually was Silvano’ even back then. I am going to try it because I think that back in what my sister would call the “olden days” New Mexican food did not have the overwhelming pool of “cheesy stuff glop” all over everything which is what I so hated about my recent trip to Los Cuates. I had the blue corn enchilada plate (green) but, except for an occasional glimpse of something blue though the “glop,” my taster could not even guess what I was eating, enchiladas, dead lizard or chicken fried steak. The green chile in the yellow/ orange cheesy pool was actually good but I didn’t order a green chile con queso dip. I think all has changed and people have adapted to it and even like it so I might like Silvano’s if it is as my age muddled brain remembers it. At least the photo in Andrea Lin’s review LOOKS good.

  9. We misread the sign on the building that many years ago housed Silviano’s on the south side of Lomas the same way Marycb did. Having loved the original Silviano’s we went to give it a try. However, the sign said “Silvano’s Coming Soon.” What a difference an “i” makes. Silvano’s was totally forgetable. Didn’t even bother with a take out box for the leftovers. John L

  10. Whoa…met up with The Gil to check out how Los Cuates, during its opening days, had renovated the Copeland property along Faux Restaurant Row on Coors ! Unfortunately, had only dined at Copeland once ‘at a meeting’ and had promised to return for a finer assessment, but it closed….my vague memory is that it was a possible loss, in some respects, to the ABQ scene for us to explore a different taste sorta speak.

    T’was the first time meeting The Guy and found him to indeed be a ‘down to earth’ gentleman who readily let me blather on without trying to overwhelm me with his gustatorial expertise which, retrospectively, was a loss on my part to pick his brain…LOL.

    Coors Los Cuates: a nicely created setting with 4 distinct dining areas. Alas, one thing I liked about, for example, Garduno’s venues while munching “New Mexican food” however, was/is their “old world” settings…eh! I like Disneyland too!!!

    Alas, this is only, despite los anos aqui!!!! my second visit to a LC property. Whoa, the first was just several weeks ago when I tried out the new one at the Sunport. Again, I saw 3 distinct dining areas with, IMHO, nice, but pretty low key ‘New Mexican’ decor. I haven’t commented as I am still awaiting to receive a rationale for the dynamics of the Sunport’s charging $11.25 for a ‘house’ margarita (if there can be one) which may have nothing to do with LC per se, but The City’s fee. IMHO this is an outrageous “Bienvenidos (or Adios)” to what Tourists can expect for the as yet undesignated (legislated) State Adult beverage!!!! I’m thinking $6.25 is ‘the average” and Bravo to them who charge less!!! It is also ticky-tacky, that, and lest I overlooked it, the price was not in the menu! (All that is noted with due respect to our DUI problem.)

    Service: At both places: Very Good. Huevos Rancheros at both places: bountiful and tasty with due regard for the $8 price at the Sunport given that airport food across the nation tends to be “marked-up”.

    Chips n Salsa: While I haven’t sampled everyone’s, Los Cuates’ salsa is relatively uncommon, IMHO. There is a certain “thickness” to it; maybe a hint of sweetness that belies its kick of heat…whatever, it titillates my particular array of taste buds as a fun change of pace….if nothing else, stop in for a jar to add to your Super Bowl party offerings!!! Go Pats!!!

    (PS for the Ladies: Gil caught my pic at an inopportune moment.)

  11. I have always loved Los Cuates. I bought their chips and salsa in bulk while I was in school because that was my favorite study snack. I was thrilled when George bought Los Cuates because he knows Mexican food. However, I don’t feel the same regard towards Larry and perhaps that cooperation is what has changed the well-loved fare. When I lived in WA for 6 years I had my parents ship jars of their salsa to me and while I agree with Gil, it isn’t *quite* the same, it’s close enough. I’m surprised the fajitas aren’t featured because that is one of their most popular items- and generous servings too.

  12. Dear Michael, I have often asked myself the same question and the answer is that I am my mother’s son. She learned depression era Kansas farm cooking from her mother so (except for deserts) great food was a rarity around my childhood home and her endless recitations about starving little kids in China made wasting even bad food unthinkable.

    We did once walk away from what seemed to be 50-lb of inedible crap at Weck’s and once I purchased a hamburger on the patio at High Finance, spit the first rancid bite out, and threw the remainder on the patio in front of the cook. Other than those instances I can’t remember throwing much of anything away. This could explain some of my excessive girth. This has been exacerbated by my wife’s saving even the smallest quantities of steamed rice due to stories of her Chinese friends about food shortages in the legendary olden days.
    Yes, I remember when Los Cuates served decent food though I always ate it with visions of the rib slitter utilized for quadruple bypasses.

  13. Why would you re heat bad food and eat it for breakfast…..for three days in a row???
    Los Cuates isnt what it used to be, for sure.

  14. Tonight it was cold and snowing so I told the Child Bride that she needed to forget cooking so we could go to a new Mexican restaurant. She vetoed my first couple of choices before I remembered that the Los Cuates on Menaul was always packed and would not be on a night such as this. We were last at the North Lomas location at least 10 Years ago.
    First the good things:
    1. It was cheap
    2. There was a hell of a lot of it
    3. We can have breakfast for at least 3-days on the leftovers.

    Bad things:
    1. My blue corn enchilada plate was the worst thing I have eaten since we ate at Weck’s.
    2. H er # 2 combination plate was the worst this she had even tried to eat since Weck’s.

    I usually have no comment on a place unless I firmly believe that Gil has either grossly over rated or under rated it. my opinion here is that a rating of 5 would be generous.

  15. The place across the street was Cocina de Carlos. It was an institution on Lomas for many years…I believe it may have been there back in the late 60’s when I was an undergrad at UNM.

  16. Dear Roland,
    You are correct, the original Silviano’s was on Lomas on the west side of San Mateo and I understand that it has reopened there recently though I will not stand firmly behind that. I said above that it moved to San Mateo South of Menaul in the ’80’s. Actually it was in ’77 or ’78. After a short the original location became Los Cuates. I can’t remember the name of the place across the street which became the larger Los Cuates, though I want to say Casa Dominguez. I visited the San Mateo location of Silviano’s several times while I worked for a company whose UNOFFICIAL motto was “Do or die for Willie I”. I left there in May of ’78.

  17. Actually, I believe the original Silviano’s was on Lomas west of San Mateo in a shopping center. This was back in the 70’s that I remember it. It was a small stand alone building that eventually became the first Los Cuates. Then Los Cuates moved to the old Cocina de Carlos building on the north side of Lomas (which they have expanded over the years). The original Los Cuates may still be open. I always like it best.

  18. Tommy
    That was Silviano’s. Sometime in the ’80, it moved from Menaul to a larger New Building on the West side of San Mateo, 2509, though I think it was just South of Menaul (I will have to drive by to be sure). It did not survive long at that location and the building housed a succession of restaurants. I think that the last was Froggies.

  19. Tommy,
    Could it be Garcia’s Kitchen that you’re thinking of?
    It’s on the East side of San Mateo between Menaul and Candelaria…

  20. Can anyone recall the name of the NMexican restaurant on San Mateo (west side) between Candelaria & Menaul? As I recall, it had a brick facade and I seem to picture arches over the windows – entrance on the left side as you face the building. It’s gone now but I’d kill to recall the name of this place …

  21. You and your family were good to me when I was homeless and needed a job desperately! 25yrs later and I’m still greatful for the kindness you had shown me.

  22. We have noticed that the original Silviano’s, on the south side of Lomas, now once again says “Silviano’s coming soon”. Can this be true? We would so love to see someone revive the old Silviano’s and do it well. Doc Silviano has left us some time ago, but perhaps someone in the family can remember the old recipes?! Hope, hope!! Any word on this development?

    Mary

  23. Hello,

    I lived in Albuquerque for many years and always remember it as Silvianos. I don’t remember this restaurant being called anything else. This was in the late 80’s and mid 90’s. I remember because they had a distinct building and it was dark inside. Their food was the best too! Best in the state!

  24. Hi Gil,

    What happen to Los Cuates? It has been my favorte NM restaurant for years, but it is diffrent? Now I noticed the original across the street is gone all together? Small changes, they are using more fillers, potato, and the serving size is smaller, less beans and rice. And the beans have less cheese on them, and too much salad on the plate, I guess to take the place of the rice and beans? Also my last trip, the sopaipillas were flat, not fluffy at all, and tough to chew??? Looks like I will have to find another go to place for New Mexican food?

    Ed

  25. One of my favorite New Mexican Restaurants. Fast service. Consistently great food. The red sauce is rich and wonderful. Huge portions. I love the red sauce that they serve with the chips. I usually have leftovers to enjoy at home.

  26. Every time I visit Albuquerque, I forget the name of this fine establishment. I usually find it by scouring the phone book looking for double entries with similar but odd/even house numbers. This post made it much easier. 🙂

    I will go there tonight, and look forward to the sopapillas all day. Thanks!

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