Before it was embroiled in the grip of violence born of warring drug cartels vying for control of the drug traffic destined for the United States…before its shameful history of violence against women was uncovered…before it was accorded the dubious honor of being named the world’s most dangerous city, Cuidad Juarez in the Mexican state of Chihuahua was long known as a rite of passage destination for hormonal adolescent males. It was heralded for its shopping districts where everything from kitschy trinkets to high-quality jewelry and leather goods could be purchased after engaging in the sport of spirited haggling with enthusiastic merchants.
Perhaps not as well known is that Juarez was, and perhaps still is, a great dining destination–and not just for authentic Mexican food (though several high-end and inexpensive Mexican restaurants were very highly regarded). A number of luxurious, steakhouses pampered guests with exceptional service and slabs of succulent beef. The very best Chinese restaurant (Shangri-La) in the El Paso-Cuidad Juarez metropolitan area warranted many a visit. As great as the culinary fare was, the familiar disclaimer “whatever you do, don’t drink the water” was always heeded.
For those of us who fondly remember Cuidad Juarez when it was a much more innocent (or at least less violent) city, some of those memories are rekindled with a visit to El Sabor de Juarez. From a culinary, if not ambiance, perspective El Sabor de Juarez is very reminiscent of the wonderful mom-and-pop restaurants on the other side of the border. At one time Albuquerque was graced with three El Sabor de Juarez restaurants –one on the West Mesa, one within the razed American Inn on Central Avenue and the elder sibling on Gibson Boulevard. Today only the Gibson location, open since 1980, remains.
From the onset, El Sabor de Juarez has been owned and operated by Jesus Mata and his family. That certainly accounts for its remarkable consistency over the years. It took effusive recommendations from Ian G. to remind me just how enjoyable the many breakfasts were that I shared with my Air Force friend and colleague Steve Cox at the American Inn location in the early 1980s. El Sabor de Juarez was our sanctuary from chow hall breakfasts of chipped beef and runny eggs.
The look and feel of the Gibson location is understandably dissimilar to that of the restaurant’s confines within the American Inn. For me, the most noticeable absence is the jukebox from which Al Hurricane, Tiny Morrie and Gloria Pohl songs could be played for two bits. On the rare occasion in which El Sabor de Juarez isn’t sardine packed, you’ll likely sit on a booth in the small front dining area. If you don’t have to visit the water closet, you might not even realize there’s a second and larger dining room on the side. Landscape paintings, none of which stereotype Mexican scenes, adorn the cinderblock walls of that dining room.
The rather sizable menu belies the restaurant’s relatively small digs. The breakfast menu, eerily similar to the one of my memories, lists some twenty items including six breakfast burritos, omelets, carne adovada, machaca and even steak and eggs. Best of all, a side of papitas can be had for a pittance. In my mind’s eye, there were no better papitas in Albuquerque. As we were to find out, they still are! The lunch menu is more substantial than the breakfast menu with burritos, tostadas, tacos, flautas, enchiladas, stuffed sopaipillas and menudo. The menu also lists several plates, all served with rice and beans along with a tortilla or sopaipilla. Steaks and mariscos (Mexican seafood) are also available.
Every meal at El Sabor De Juarez should begin with salsa and chips. The salsa is rather thin and will run off your chips so you either lean in toward your table or you wear a bib to protect your clothing. It’s a very food salsa albeit not especially piquant. The chips are low in salt and somewhat thin, but that shouldn’t matter because this salsa is made for dipping, not for scooping.
Three stuffed sopaipilla plates are available including one called simply “stuffed sopaipilla.” Stuffed means engorged with chicken or carne desebrada, lettuce, cheese, guacamole, pico de gallo and green chili (sic). The chicken is mostly white meat cut into small cubes. The guacamole is some of the very best in Albuquerque, so good it may prompt you to order guacamole on the side, too. Alas, the chile is rather insipid with absolutely no discernible bite. Its saving grace is that it has a very pleasant flavor. Both the rice (moist, but not tomatoey) and the refried beans are excellent.
For my Kim, carne adovada is the standard-bearer against which she measures just how good a Mexican or New Mexican restaurant is. To her consternation, some restaurants which don’t use cumin on anything else (for some inexplicable reason) add it to carne adovada, bringing about the ruination of a delicate dish which requires no amelioration. At El Sabor De Juarez, the carne adovada has no cumin (in fact, only the restaurant’s ground beef uses cumin). The marinated pork is as tender as snowflakes and absolutely delicious.
There are no desserts on the menu unless you consider sopaipillas a dessert…and most New Mexicans do. The sopaipillas aren’t the typical puffy “sofa pillows.” Instead they’re comparatively flat and don’t puff up very much, though there’s still enough puff to serve as a repository for honey. Alas, as most of the city’s Mexican and New Mexican restaurants do, El Sabor De Juarez uses “sopaipilla syrup” which isn’t a honey at all.
El Sabor De Juarez remains the delightful treasure it was when I frequented it thirty years ago. It certainly won’t be another thirty years before my next visit.
El Sabor de Juarez
3527 Gibson Blvd, S.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 3 May 2014
# OF VISITS: 1
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Stuffed Sopaipilla, Carne Adovada, Chips and Salsa, Sopaipillas
16 thoughts on “El Sabor De Juarez – Albuquerque, New Mexico”
Hmmmm. Is it possible that Randall is both the superintendent of APS AND Suzie Queue?
It’s a good thing this is a food blog and not an English Composition blog! 😛
Now I too have wasted my time and any reader’s time that bothered to read this. For that I apologize.
It is so great to have you commenting again Randall!
Wow, some of the spelling is horrendous!
I just realized I haven’t commented on El Sabor De Juarez yet. Have been there a couple of times and got the same thing both times.
Chicharone burrito (hand-held not smothered). And the menudo.
Chicharone burrito is very good, though I wish it had more chicharones.
Menudo is very good as well but, with apologies to Ian G., Barlelas is still the standard bearer in ABQ for me. Let’s just say it is good enough that I have got it both times I’ve been there and will probably continue to get it.
Considering it is <5 minutes from where I work, I'm sure I will go more often.
I was on a quest for the best menu do anywhere as I knew that the was a reason why people ate it. I have lived in a country in Latin America and my cook at the time refused to cook us tripe. I came back to the states in quest of Menudo. This place does not disappoint. I just miss the map of Mexico they used to have on the wall instead of what is currently pictures of menu items.
What is it with these pro-cumin outbursts people post here from time to time? Who gets so worked up over cumin that they refuse to read any website that scorns it? Gil, it appears you have been targeted by the mighty cumin industry. Down with Big Cumin!
It’s a vast cumin-wing conspiracy propping up reactionary Cuministas who would ruthlessly crush all efforts at chile purity under the guise of culinary diversity (so long as it includes cumin). Perhaps famed independent counsel Kenneth Starr should be brought in to investigate the culinary intolerance of those who would proclaim “praise cumin’s use in chile or don’t bother writing at all.”
Gil, when I told you I put cumin in my salsa, we all don’t see each other as often. LOL, I’m kidding. See you and “my Kim” soon.
El Sabor de Juarez is supposed to be a MEXICAN restaurant; not New Mexican. Mexicans enjoy the taste of cumin and cilantro. New Mexican cuisine is borne from when the Spanish settlers came here from Mexico and brought the Mexican food with them. It isn’t Spanish at all. it is watered-down Mexican food. The Spanish who migrated to New Mexico ate what they could grow. Mexico was too far to go to get some foodstuffs. If the food in question stopped growing, then they stopped eating it.
El Sabor De Juarez is indeed a Mexican restaurant, one which is frequented by many New Mexicans who believe the way I do about cumin’s place on chile.
Declaring that “Mexicans enjoy the taste of cumin and cilantro” is a very broad and fallacious statement bordering on ethnic stereotyping. Many Mexicans dislike cumin and use much more colorful language than I do in expressing their disapproval of its use on Mexican dishes.
As for your contention that New Mexican cuisine is “watered-down Mexican food,” that, too, is a fallacious statement with which the New Mexico Tourism Department and many citizens of the Land of Enchantment will disagree. Your statement also dismisses the many contributions of Native Americans without whom New Mexico’s cuisine would not be as unique and wonderful. I could argue the point with you, but since you’re no longer reading this blog, what’s the sense.
Ok Mr smartee Pants, if cumin didnt go with Mexicans food, then how come theirs so much of it? I love cumin and lots of it and thats why I like Sadies so much bcuase there chili has lots of cumin in it. It’s the true secret to athentic mexicans food. Sometimes when I make a pot of chili I add extra cumin and cook it till the tomatos disolve and you have chili. My friends even like it to. I put it on my taco meat and my taco sause . I taste it when I burp and I like it.
But not cilatnro tho. You are a ranter about cumin you ranter. LOL
Wow, Mara, I was unaware of the “rants of antipathy” re cumin. I was unprepared for your rant so I went back over Gil’s review to find the rant of antipathy. It to a while to find it and I guess I expected the kind of rant one finds on a radio sports talk show after the Cowboys fail once again in the NFL playoffs, you know the desperate, disappointed fans railing at Tony Romo yet again. But one line about cumin hardly represents a “rant of antipathy”. I personally like cumin but my wife thinks it sucks dead rats and believe or not we are still married.
Hi Mara van der PaS,
Gil’s opinion (and I agree) is that cumin can overpower a dish. Personally, I think it tastes like body odor smells but I understand cumin provides a pleasant experience for others.
So do you resent Gil, or his just opinion? “Fiercly resent” – hummm – that is stong language. Are you insulted, offended, vexed, or begrudged by his opinion? I would NOT call Gil a person who Rants.
There are also people who dislike the taste of cilantro. They think it tastes like soap. Do you and plenty of other people fiercly resent their opinions too?
There is lots of room for everyone to share their opinion and they shouldn’t be chastized for it, just because it varies from someone elses. Your comment sounds like the pot calling the kettle black. Don’t you think so?
Just because you don’t like cumin, there are plenty of other people who do and who fiercely resent your rants of antipathy.
Let me clarify (for the umpteenth time) that I don’t dislike cumin. In fact, I enjoy it very much on Indian food. As with most New Mexican born-and-bred chefs, I don’t believe cumin has any place in New Mexican dishes in which chile is a part. Chile is one of nature’s absolutely perfect foods. It needs no amelioration, especially from a spice many find malodorous and that alters (contaminates) its flavor profile.
A couple of days before my Kim and I were married, my mom flew to Chicago to give her some cooking lessons on my favorite dishes (no, I’m not spoiled). A quick study, Kim learned how to make tortillas, lasagna, fried chicken and other favorites. Alas, because we were living in England, chile could not be found so Kim prepared “chili” from a Lawry’s seasoning mix. Being a newlywed, I ate it even though it reeked of cumin. When we returned to New Mexico and Kim got to experience New Mexico chile, she apologized profusely for having subjected me to Lawry’s. The purity of New Mexican chile had a very profound effect on her. She curses cumin whenever she sees or hears of it being used with chile. Most people who experience New Mexican chile with and without chile agree that the former is superior.
Insofar as your “fierce resentment,” aren’t there many more important things that should set you off?
Gill … On my many visits to Cooper Lighting’s plant in Juarez 1982 – 1993 I had the plesure of dining as you describe. Free of the violance. While in NM .. I was not aware of EL Sabor. Sorry I missed it.