Tis the season…for year-end retrospectives in which the good, the bad and the ugly; the triumphs and tragedies; the highs and lows and the ups and downs are revisited ad-infinitum by seemingly every print and cyberspace medium in existence. It’s the time of year in which the “in-your-face” media practically forces a reminiscence–either fondly or with disgust–about the year that was. It’s a time for introspection, resolutions and for looking forward with hope to the year to come. The New Mexico culinary landscape had more highs than it did lows in 2015. Here’s my thrilling (and filling) recap.
2015 was a year of transition for New Mexico’s culinary landscape. By my count, some 25 restaurants shuttered their doors for the last time. Some, such as Tim’s Place, the “world’s friendliest restaurant” had achieved national prominence. Other closures put to rest the dreams of enterprising owners who sadly arrived at the harsh realization of just how brutal the economy and how fickle the business can be. Sill other restaurateurs transitioned to mew adventures, some not in the hospitality industry. We salute those restaurateurs for whom the only failure would have been not to have tried at all.
2015 was another banner year for Gil’s Thrilling (and Filling) Blog. There are now more than 7,400 reader comments on 901 reviews, an increase of more than 800 comments and 57 new reviews. I value your comments immensely and appreciate that you thought enough of my blog this year to have voted me, for the fourth time in five years, as one of the city’s five best bloggers in Albuquerque The Magazine’s annual “best of the city” issue. Look for an a profile on this humble blogger in an upcoming Sunday edition of the Albuquerque Journal. Elaine Briseño, the Journal’s brilliant Features reporter dug deep to find something interesting to write about me. From among the 901 reviews published on Gil’s Thrilling…the five most popular reviews (based on the number of reader views) during the year were (1) Down N’ Dirty Seafood Boil; (2) 66 Pit Stop: Home of the Laguna Burger; (3) The Owl Cafe; (4) Philly’s N Fries; and (5) Mary & Tito’s. My reviews for the Down N’ Dirty Seafood Boil and the 66 Pit Stop also finished one and two in 2014. The most prolific commentators for 2015 were: (1) Bob of the Village of Los Ranchos with 152 comments; (2) Jim Millington with 55 comments; (3) Bruce Schor with 49 comments; (4) Noe Pacheco with 26 comments; and (5) Jen with 22 comments. Four of the five top commentators are charter members of the Friends of Gil (FOG). Noe, we’d love to have you.
Thank you, New Mexico and beyond, for your contributions to Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Blog. I’ve always bragged about having the most discerning, intelligent and passionate readers of any online presence in the blogosphere.
To whom should you turn for information on the very best restaurants? Open Table, an online restaurant reservation system which connects diners with more than 32,000 restaurants worldwide, believes if you want to know where to dine, you should take the pulse of the people who dine out. Doing just that, Open Table analyzed some 5,000,000 reviews of more than 20,000 restaurants across the country and came up with its 2015 list of America’s 100 best restaurants. These are the exceptional eateries that “get it right every time–where everyone feels like a VIP and each meal is memorable.” Only two New Mexico restaurants made this hallowed list: Santa Fe restaurants Arroyo Vino and Geronimo.
He’s been feeding heroes for decades. Now Robert Vick has himself been declared a hero. Vick, who operates the Thunderbird Dining Hall on Kirtland Air Force Base and Vick’s Vittles in Albuquerque was presented the “Food Fanatics Hero Award” in recognition of his commitment to the community despite many difficulties. Although legally blind, the effusive restaurateur is one of the most energetic and committed people you’ll ever meet. In the seventeen years he’s operated the Thunderbird Inn, it has won the John L. Hennessy Award for best food service in the U.S. Air Force three times. Dine at Vick’s Vittles and you’ll be treated like a hero there, too.
One advertising campaign that’s apparently not working features a number of black and cows imploring motorists driving past Chick-Fil-A to “Eat More Chickin.” Despite their best self-serving efforts, the beckoning bovines and their beefy brethren are still being consumed by the herd at restaurants throughout the fruited plain. Thrillist took the pulse of savvy steak savants to determine where the best slab of sumptuous beef is to be found at every state in the United States. Shame on those of you who would answer the question “where is the best steak in New Mexico to be found” with LongHorn, Black Angus, Golden Corral or The Sizzler. Despite confusion over it being named for a section of Monaco, Thrillist declared Albuquerque’s Monte Carlo Steakhouse and Liquor Store the very best steakhouse in the Land of Enchantment. According to Thrillist, “And while Guy Fieri was impressed by the ribeye when he visited on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, the main attraction is the baklava.”
If breakfast is the most important meal of the day, shouldn’t it also be the most delicious meal of the day? According to the Statistics Brain Research Institute, only 44 percent of Americans eat breakfast every day. Perhaps more of us would indulge in an eye-opening, get ready to greet the day breakfast if we knew where we could find truly outstanding breakfast offerings. In a feature entitled “50 States, 50 Breakfasts” Food Network Magazine shared its thoughts on the best breakfast at every state. You might think it would be a “no-brainer” for the Land of Enchantment’s best breakfast to showcase our sacrosanct red and green chile. Instead, the Food Network opted for the Atole Piñon Hotcakes from the Tecolote Cafe in Santa Fe, indicating that “Evergreens thrive at Santa Fe’s 7,000 foot elevation, and the Jennison family makes good use of the trees’ plentiful pine nuts.”
Whether you celebrate Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa or any combination thereof, food and family play a significant part of the holiday season. Recognizing the holidays are a time for indulgence, the Food Network found five restaurants which “go above and beyond in the spirit of the season.” On a program called “Top Five Restaurants,” hosts Geoffrey Zakarian and Sunny Anderson showcased the “five top restaurants for the holidays.” At number two was Santa Fe’s very own La Choza, a “Mexican spot’ where families gather for their tamale fix. “These beauties feature the traditional dough known as masa, which is punched up with pork drippings and a filling of savory shredded pork mixed with chile pepper sauce. They come topped with Christmas sauce: a flavorful combo of red and green salsas.”
There are more than 61,000 pizzerias across the fruited plain. It’s presumptuous to believe the best pizza in America can be anointed. The Food Network took a stab at naming the best pizza in every state, a feat which itself is rather ambitious. In a feature entitled “50 States, 50 Pizzas,” the Network named the Number 3 pizza from Santa Fe’s Rooftop Pizzeria as the best in the Land of Enchantment. The Number 3, of course, showcases New Mexico green chile on a blue corn crust with piñon, Alfredo sauce and grilled chicken.
Few things in life are as dynamic as the restaurant industry. By its very nature, if it doesn’t evolve and change frequently, diners lose interest. Thousands of new restaurants spring up across the fruited plain every year. USA TODAY 10Best readers voted for for their favorite new restaurants in the United States and one Santa Fe restaurant made the list. Described as “one of the most exciting restaurants to open in Santa Fe in years, Radish & Rye is passionate about its support of local farmers and ranchers. The “menu changes with the seasons,” and a passionate chef “can often be found visiting the city’s incredible farmers market.”
You might think that a national publication endeavoring to compile a list of the best of any type of food in any state would consult a local expert and that the selected food would be unique to or best prepared at that state. That’s apparently not what Zagat did in compiling its “50 States, 50 Desserts.” New Mexicans would probably decree our best desserts to be biscochitos, sopaipillas with honey, capirotada or some other postprandial dish we do so well. Instead, Zagat determined our best dessert comes from a franchise with locations throughout the fruited plain. That dessert is the Gingerbread Bundt Cake at Nothing Bundt Cake. While it’s undoubtedly delectable, it’s not uniquely New Mexican.
Taking a much more local approach, TripAdvisor’s Flipkey blog named Albuquerque’s Rude Boy Cookies one of America’s “Best Local Bakeries Worth Traveling For.” “There is something to be said for charming, local bakeries where irresistible sweet treats tempt passersby from their display cases and the smell of made-from-scratch baked goods greet visitors at the door. ” That describes the UNM area bakery to a tee. Rude Boy isn’t your conventional cookie shop, featuring everything from salted caramel shortbread cookies to custom ice cream sandwiches wrapped in your choice of cookie. You can also wash down your cookies with shakes and flavored milks at this unique gem.
Even under threat of torture, it would be difficult to limit to five the number of reasons to visit Santa Fe, but somehow the Huffington Post managed to do so. Among the five reasons to make Santa Fe and Northern New Mexico a destination in your very near future is Chef John Sedlar Rivera’s culinary tribute to legendary artist Georgia O’Keeffe. The great chef has put together a tasting menu to honor the artist at Eloisa, his fabulous Santa Fe restaurant. The Post’s assessment: “As fabulous as the O’Keeffe menu is, save room for a final taste: Sedlar’s amazing pastrami tacos. It’s a little bite garnished with ballpark mustard – no doubt something O’Keeffe, who craved a hot dog now and then, would have loved. It will leave you begging to return to Eloisa before you’ve even paid the bill.”
The Los Angeles Times found Albuquerque’s Latino heart and soul in the venerable Barelas neighborhood, a former Spanish colony that dates to 1662 and can boast of homes built decades before California’s first mission was established in 1769 in San Diego. And if the Barelas neighborhood is the heart and soul of Albuquerque, the “heart and soul of Barelas is found at the National Hispanic Cultural Center,” which celebrates its quinceañera this fall. Writer Jay Jones noted that locals “often stand a dozen deep waiting to order lunch at El Modelo,” a Duke City treasure in operation since 1929.
Perhaps only in the Land of Enchantment is the distinction between New Mexican cuisine and Mexican food is important. Chances are New Mexicans are the only ones cognizant of those distinctions. Thrillist, an online site “obsessed with everything that’s worth caring about in food, drink, and travel,” doesn’t seem to care. For the seemingly upteenth time, Thrillist named El Pinto among the very best Mexican restaurants in the United States, rating it 14th in the pantheon of Mexican food greatness. Thrillist described El Pinto as “decked out in colorful kitsch, and set in a beautiful valley away from the city proper, El Pinto is the perfect place to kick back, relax, eat some chile-rubbed ribs, and let the margaritas flow.”
“When we think of food and Albuquerque, we tend to think of chile — red or green — and not much else, especially when it comes to exporting the culinary offerings of New Mexico beyond the state’s dusty borders.” That’s the assessment of Denver-based Westword when announcing the impending relocation of Tim’s Place, “a darling of New Mexico television” from Albuquerque to Denver. “The world’s friendliest restaurant” will close in Albuquerque on December 20th and will reopen in Denver sometime in 2016. Another Albuquerque staple, Dion’s Pizza opened its second Colorado location in November.
Albuquerque is one of the four original cities to syndicate the Jim Rome Show, a sports talk mainstay on 610 AM for nearly two decades. With a unique lexicon and format, the show now boasts of some 200 radio stations across the United States and Canada. Listeners are fiercely loyal to the show, reveling in a format which encourages them to be critical of other cities on the syndicate as well as other listeners, including “laying the smack down” on “Albucracky” and its tumbleweed motif. During Rome’s most recent visit, he and his road crew discovered the “blue meth” donuts from Albuquerque’s Rebel Donut. The donuts were much more than a punchline to the jocular crew, all of whom enjoyed every morsel.
I’ve called him “the professor with the perspicacious palate,” “my brother in blogging” and most recently, the “omniscient octogenarian,” but am most proud to call Larry McGoldrick my friend. On Friday, November 27th, more than seventy of Larry’s friends and family members got together at Torinos @ Home to celebrate his 80th birthday. Larry occasionally sports a tee-shirt which reads “I’ve got a PhD. To save time, let’s assume I’m always right.” As absolutely true as that slogan may be, to know Larry is to recognize the humility, modesty and sense of humor of the man who wears that tee-shirt. While being feted by his friends, he spoke optimistically about living another fifty or sixty years. Though that means many of us who celebrated his 80th birthday might not be around, there’s no doubt Larry will always be surrounded by loyal friends and family who love this tremendous man.
“Always a bridesmaid, never a bride.” That’s how I described the situation to Schuyler, my friend and fellow Air Force alum, after having being named one of Albuquerque’s five best bloggers four out of the past five years in Albuquerque The Magazine‘s annual readers’ poll. Ever the half-full-glass type of guy, “Sky” admonished me to look at the bright side, reminding me that I’d look like Sergeant Schultz in a bridal gown. The ironic thing is that year-after-year, the remaining runners-up are different; the only constant–the perpetual bridesmaid” is Gil’s Thrilling… Thank you for your continued support.
For many of us, Thanksgiving has come to mean a plump, glistening turkey with all the trimmings. For others, the Thanksgiving meal is so much more. Leave it to chefs across the fruited plain to create dishes which celebrate local specialties along with family traditions. The Food Network‘s Sarah Karnasiewicz (a former Duke City resident) asked chefs across the fruited plain to share some of their favorite Thanksgiving dishes. Chef Martin Rios of Santa Fe’s Restaurant Martin declared his favorite part of the Thanksgiving meal are bourbon-vanilla sweet potatoes on which he uses dried New Mexico red chiles.
New Mexico may not be blessed with a profusion of Colombian restaurants, but the one we do have is one of the ten best Colombian restaurants in America according to Tabelog, a “dynamic, interactive environment where users can come together over a shared passion for fine dining.” In fact, Albuquerque’ very own Ajiaco Colombian Bistro was ranked eighth. Tabelog captured the essence of Ajiaco: “Ajaico offers contemporary dishes presented gourmet style, stacked high with creative garnishes and some amazing deserts. Their dining room is minimalist with light wood and exposed light bulbs. Ajaico is set among the boutiques and quaint shops in Nob Hill.” Ajiaco has come a long way from the days in which it was best known for its charbroiled chicken.
It’s not exactly the Hatfields and McCoys waging war over land boundaries, but restaurant rivalries do abound across the fruited plain. That’s especially true when there’s a local specialty and two “dueling purveyors claim to make the best in town.” New Mexico’s best example of a food rivalry has persisted for decades in San Antonio where The Owl Cafe and the Buckhorn Tavern vie for green chile cheeseburger supremacy. Zagat compiled a list of seven regional food rivalries across the United States, noting that “In San Antonio, there are two contenders for the best: Buckhorn Tavern and Owl Bar. Buckhorn gained national attention in 2009 when Bobby Flay featured it on Throwdown!, but Owl Bar is said to have fed cheeseburgers to the Manhattan Project scientists building the atomic bomb during World War II.” So who do New Mexicans favor in this war of deliciousness? Call it a cop-out if you will, but we love them both.
While “some of the first recorded iterations of the burrito we all know and love date back to before the Spanish colonization of the Mesoamerican region in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries,” it’s also well-established that some of the best burritos across the fruited plain are found in the Land of Enchantment. The Daily Meal Web site ranked two of New Mexico’s best purveyors of bounteous burritos among America’s 35 best burritos. For the second year in a row, Santa Fe’s beloved Shed restaurant made the list with its fabled green chile burrito being ranked fourth best burrito in the country. What makes it so great? According to The Daily Meal, “Its simplicity is what makes it so great: it’s just pinto beans, white Cheddar, and onion rolled in a flour tortilla and topped with their famous green chile sauce.” The other New Mexican burrito on this pantheon of greatness is the Chicharron and Green Chile Burrito at Burritos Victoria in Las Cruces. The Daily Mean unpacked this burrito: “green chiles harvested locally in an area of the country in which premium peppers are grown are paired with crispy fried pig skin and wrapped in a soft blanket of tortilla.”
Foursquare, an online presence which purports to help readers “find the best places to eat, drink, shop, or visit in any city in the world,” took on the enviable challenge of determining the best bakery in each state. Because man and woman cannot live on bread alone, the list included a number of more specialized bakeries such as Albuquerque’s Rebel Donut. Foursquare noted: “From maple bacon to cherry lemonade to chicken and waffle donuts, Albuquerque’s Rebel Donut certainly breaks the mold when it comes to breakfast confections. The shop also gained fame for its signature Breaking Bad-themed “Blue Sky” variety, which was endorsed by the show’s stars themselves.”
You’ve undoubtedly experienced sticker shock at the cost of dining (and not just at restaurants) in the Duke City. WalletHub certainly has noticed, publishing a list of the country’s most and least affordable foodie cities. Using such criteria as affordability and diversity, and accessibility and quality, WalletHub compared 150 of the most populated cities, taking into consideration such factors as cost of groceries, average beer and wine price, number of food festivals per 100,000 residents and number of craft breweries and wineries. Albuquerque ranked 93rd overall, faring poorly in the diversity (106th) category, but rating higher (28th) in affordability. In helping readers “discover America’s best events, festivals, things to do, restaurants, music, entertainment and nightlife,”
TimeOut United States undertook a delicious quest in ranking the seventeen best pizzas in the country. Number seventeen honors went to Albuquerque’s very own Farina Pizzeria, a Nob Hill staple launched in 2008. TimeOut United States captured the essence of the Farina experience: “their thin-crust pies get their signature char from a two-minute stint in an 800-degree oven,” and “Any Albuquerque restaurant worth a line out the door has to offer green chilies, and Farina is no exception—the spicy local obsession is available as an optional add-on to any of the restaurant’s pizzas.
Not to be outdone, Thrillist came up with its definitive list of the best pizzerias in every corner of this great nation. This optimistic undertaking sought to prove that “somewhere, in each state, there’s a truly sublime pie.” In New Mexico, that sublime pie resides in Albuquerque at Giovanni’s, the venerable San Pedro institution. Thrillist noted “In New Mexico, almost everything is topped with green chile — even the pizza, as is the case at Giovanni’s, which was started by Italian transplants by way of Queens. You can find it studding the tops of their exceptionally good bready, crunchy-crusted pizzas, and you should especially be aware of how well it pairs with pepperoni.
For some restaurants, having a presence in the community means little more than having a brick-and-mortar storefront with an address. For restaurants which become beloved institutions within their communities, having a presence in the community means being part and parcel of the fabric of the community–being involved on a day-to-day basis in promoting all that is great about a community. It means not only providing outstanding food and excellent service to guests, but getting to know them and treating them like family. It means listening to their guests, taking their feedback–good and bad–and using it to continue improving. It means being a neighbor and friend. That’s what Joe’s Pasta House in Rio Rancho has done. Joe’s isn’t just one of the three or four best Italian restaurants in New Mexico, it’s an exemplar of what it means to be part of a community. Because of her involvement with the community, Kassie Guzzardi, the pulchritudinous co-owner of Joe’s Pasta House, was selected by Yelp as one of 100 owners of top-rated businesses from the U.S. and Canada. With that well-deserved honor, she has been invited to Yelp’s “Coast-to-Coast: Coming Together Because We Mean Business,” a networking opportunity in which Yelp professionals will share marketing techniques. There’s no doubt Kassie can also teach even Yelp’s marketing experts a thing or two about what it means to be part of the community.
Whoo’s on first! No, this isn’t the famous Abbott and Costello comedy bit redone badly. Whoo’s is first…or at least Santa Fe’s Whoo’s Donuts is first in the hearts, minds and appetites of New Mexicans who love donuts. Understanding that “everyone is outright obsessed with donuts,” Thrillist compiled a list of the best donuts in all fifty states. The Land of Enchantment’s best donut was deemed to be Whoo’s Donuts just west of Santa Fe’s famous plaza. Thrillist noted that “finding a dark chocolate-glazed donut is a non-issue. Maple bacon? Also a cinch. But Whoo’s has both those things on the same donut plus chili brown sugar. There’s no way you’ll find anything like that outside of Santa Fe.”
“Forget Hatch chiles. It’s time to celebrate the Pueblo chile.” That’s how Westword, a Denver-based free alternative newspaper began a feature on the Colorado State Fair’s celebration of Pueblo chiles. Colorado governor John W. Hickenlooper jumped on the bandwagon, proclaiming forever after, September 5, 2015, as Pueblo Chile Day. Perhaps there will come a day in which an article will be written about Pueblo chile (or chile from anywhere in Colorado) in which Hatch chile isn’t mentioned. That’s not likely any time soon.
What’s the very best thing to eat in New Mexico? According to Thrillist, our definitive best thing to eat is chicken enchiladas, Christmas-style from Santa Fe’s Tune-Up Cafe. Thrillist declared “All due respect to the fantastic and widely praised green chile burger at Santa Fe Bite, but we think the greatest chile-based dish in this state happens to involve chicken enchiladas at Tune-Up Cafe. Also, isn’t the term “Christmas-style” just kind of the greatest of all shorthands? And isn’t it even better that it involves mixing red and green chile?
For the third consecutive year, Santa Fe celebrated another of the Land of Enchantment’s best things to eat. Eight local chefs competed for top honors at the Green Chile Cheeseburger Smackdown with judges declaring Chef Enrique Guerrero’s #2 (on the menu of the Bang Bite food truck) number one. The winning burger was constructed from five kinds of chile, bacon, pepper jack cheese, avocado and roasted green chile mayonnaise. The People’s Choice Award went to Chef Anthony Smith of the Eldorado Hotel’s Agave Lounge.
Ten restaurants from throughout the Land of Enchantment convened at the New Mexico State Fair to compete at the annual Green Chile Cheeseburger Challenge. For the second year in a row, a panel of celebrity judges accorded “best” honors to Fuddrucker’s, a decision which surprised those of us who believe it takes a New Mexican to create a great green chile cheeseburger. Bravo!, yet another chain restaurant (and Italian to boot) took second place honors. As is often the case, the people disagreed with the judges, according the “People’s Choice” award to Sparky’s.
The Food Republic “where food, drink and culture unite” acknowledged that other than surrounding states, “much of the rest of the country has no idea what” green chile season in New Mexico “is all about. “For many people, the green chile means a jalapeño, poblano or — even worse in the minds of purists — the impostor chilies sold by companies trying to capitalize on the fame of their beloved New Mexican staple.” For others such as William Stafford, co-owner of Sadie’s of New Mexico, who was quoted in the article, “green chile is life.” Sadie’s uses “around 1,000 pounds per week in its four locations” and has “always used chile from the Hatch region. To use anything else is unimaginable.”
Add “Restaurateur of the Year” to the many accolades Robert Vick has earned during a stellar culinary career. The popularity of Vick’s Vittles, his family-style restaurant, can be attributed not only to hearty, delicious food, but to Vick’s commitment to reasonable prices, personal customer service and large portions. The peripatetic restaurateur meets and greets all his guests to make sure they’re enjoying their dining experience. With a planned expansion that will double Vick’s Vittles, twice as many people will find out why this restaurant is one of the city’s best.
Did you know that “the trick to getting a proper taste of Santa Fe is learning to balance the tried-and-true chiles and smothered enchiladas with the newer, more adventurous options.” That’s according to Coloradoan, a Fort Collins-based online site which published a “guide to the best food and drink spots for your next weekend getaway in Santa Fe, New Mexico.” Among the restaurants the Coloradoan loved were The Shed, Cafe Pascual’s, La Choza, Tune-Up Cafe and Harry’s Roadhouse.
Instead of the classroom, many of us matriculated at our favorite hamburger hang-outs near the University. It’s part of the American college experience. Recognizing this, Thrillist put together its list of the 21 best college burgers in the fruited plain. It shouldn’t surprise any Lobo (and everyone’s a Lobo, woof, woof, woof) that the Frontier Restaurant‘s Fiesta burger with green chiles, cheddar, and lettuce, made the list. The Frontier which sits “right across from campus, is most newbies’ first experience in the art of New Mexican cooking.” The Fiesta burger will leave a lasting experience.
You may have noticed an orange shield on the navigation menu of Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Blog. It’s in recognition of the Surveybee having singled me out as one of 30 interesting and active bloggers who review everything from restaurants to beauty products. Surveybee, by the way, invites you to “make the most out of your free time and make money by taking online surveys.
Doesn’t it just make sense that an FYI Network program calling itself “Big Kitchens” would visit El Pinto, New Mexico’s most commodious restaurant. In an episode entitled “Massive New Mexican,” the program noted that “El Pinto’s massive kitchen can feed up to three thousand people a night.” The program followed twin brothers John and Jim Thomas as they lead their kitchen team as they prepare three tons of food every night.
Andrea Lin Retires
For just shy of ten years, Duke City diners have faithfully turned to Andrea Lin for advice on where to eat. Andrea, the Albuquerque Journal’s luminous restaurant critic, posted her final review for the Journal on September 18th and hopes to take her best reviews from the Journal and publish them so they’ll be at the fingertips of anyone without a newspaper subscription. There’s a lot of material for a “best of” Andrea Lin compilation. Before writing for the Journal, she wrote some 50 to 75 reviews for the Duke City Fix. In 9.6 years with the Journal, she wrote about 499 reviews without missing a single week.
Characteristic of Andrea’s incomparable wit and wisdom are her answers to a few questions I posed after she told me of her impending retirement:
Q: How has the Duke City restaurant scene evolved since you started? A: A lot. And, not very much. When I began, Jennifer James was trying to convince people to Graze on her perfectly balanced food. These days I think she’s well-established, but I also know folks who consider her high-falutin’ and would rather go have a burger. Although, her burger is phenomenal… Our New Mexican is still quite good, though a few of my favorites have moved around or reconfigured. You still can’t beat a Frontier breakfast burrito, or a bowl of red from Sadie’s (ask for it with a fried egg on top), or carne adovada from Mary & Tito’s. Farm to table is both an overused buzzy phrase and a real, important thing. Could you imagine paying $14 for a locally-grown meal-sized salad 10 years ago? But now there’s Vinaigrette, and The Grove, and The Shop, all taking from the foundations set by places like Flying Star and building in both creativity and reach. All of these places are to be lauded.
Q: What you’ll miss most about writing about the Albuquerque culinary culture? A: I love the weirdness of Albuquerque’s mashup of cuisine. We have pretty good Chinese but only a few outstanding places. Our Italian and French are pretty lacking (in quantity), but our Thai and Vietnamese are everywhere. We have a fair amount of good Mexican, but of course that must compete with New Mexican and that’s a hard contest, so most of them just serve both. My favorites are the hard-core sticklers like Mary & Tito’s on the New Mexican side, or Antojitos Lupe on the Mexican side. I also have found that very few places in the United States love HEAT as much as we do. Texans might be in the same ballpark, but no one comes close. Not Arizona, or California, or Colorado, or the south from what I can tell. We just love to have our taste buds enflamed and our endorphins racing.
Q: Any last words you’d like to say to your readers? A: Thank you, to everyone. I’ve made many good friends in the food world here in town and in the state. Without readers I wouldn’t have been going for 10 years, of course. My editor at the Journal was wonderful and it has been a good experience.
Vacation Idea, the online dream vacation magazine believes “foodies traveling to Santa Fe are in for a treat” because the city’s diverse restaurant offerings “showcase dishes from around the world.” Whether you’re vacationing in Santa Fe or you’re traveling there from within the Land of Enchantment, Vacation Idea has several ideas you might want to heed. Its 21 Must-Try Santa Fe Restaurants list includes some of the city’s best including: Osteria D’Assisi, Izanami, The Ranch House, Atrisco Cafe & Bar and several other highly regarded eateries this blogger will be visiting soon.
Not that long ago, a compilation of the best burritos across the fruited plain would probably have been shortlisted to only a few states, those with significant Hispanic populations: Texas, California, Arizona and of course, New Mexico. Thrillist’s compilation of the 33 best burritos in America includes burritos from such once unlikely states as Georgia, Massachusetts, West Virginia, North Carolina and even Colorado. The only New Mexican restaurant to make the list is Santa Fe’s La Choza. Thrillist recommends you “first order a cup of the green chile stew as an appetizer and then go red, to cover all your taste buds’ bases.”
Although it’s been four years (2011) since the New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail was last updated, the Tourism Department initiative continues to garner nationwide recognition. USA Today asked its readers to vote for their favorite from among ten culinary trails across the fruited plain. You can joke that New Mexicans know a thing or two about stuffing the ballot boxes, but it’s unlikely the New Mexico green chile cheeseburger would have earned enough votes without the support of so many visitors who have fallen in love with our sacrosanct sandwich. USA Today acknowledged that “the dish has been served here for decades, and several venerable roadside joints claim to be the original, including the Owl Café in San Antonio and the original Blake’s Lotaburger in Albuquerque, but it hardly matters: you can find delicious examples all across the state.”
Inc., a monthly American publication focused on growing companies doesn’t focus solely on Fortune 500 companies. It’s got a soft spot for the backbone of American business, the traditional mom-and-pop operation. Inc. discovered that “family-owned Pop Fizz is cooling off scorching-hot Albuquerque with its frozen treats — while trying to revitalize the image of its neighborhood.” Pop Fizz, “a popsicle shop, or paleteria, is a beloved part of the South Valley” created by the entrepreneurial Alvarez family in 2013. In a scant two years, its operations have expanded to the Hispanic Heritage Center.
“Hatch chile is such a commodity.” That’s the misguided opinion of the Whole Foods Market regional produce manager who decided to drop Hatch green chile in favor of Pueblo chiles. That means infecting most of the Rocky Mountain region (including Colorado, Utah and Idaho) with more than 125,000 pounds of the brown…er, green stuff. It’s a good thing Whole Foods Market doesn’t bring Pueblo grown chile to the Land of Enchantment or another war between the states might ensue.While Pueblo chile has gained a foothold in the Rocky Mountain region, the LA Creamery in Los Angeles has come up with “another chile way to cool down.” “For the second year, the ice cream company is making a Hatch green chile ice cream, to be sold exclusively through Bristol Farms stores.” Alas, only 800 pints will be made so they’re sure to go quickly. Creamland, are you reading this?
For years Bob of the Village of Los Ranchos has been shouting from the rooftop about how great the red chile ribs at Albuquerque’s El Pinto are. aroundme.com, a popular mobile application that allows users to quickly find nearby points of interest such as restaurants, agrees, declaring that “not only is El Pinto”New Mexico’s most iconic restaurant, it is also one of the best Mexican restaurants in the country.” In an article entitled “21 states and their most iconic restaurants,” aroundme indicated El Pinto is “known for their red chile ribs” and “sure is steps above the rest of the many Mexican restaurants in the state.” Bob, when did you get a job writing for aboutme.com?
USA Today invited readers to feast on ten great summer cookbooks, “arriving just in time for outdoor grilling, family picnics and making the most of your garden’s goodies.” It wouldn’t be summer without barbecue and for many of us, it’s not barbecue without barbecue sauce. For the sauce lovers among us, The Barbecue Lover’s Big Book of BBQ Sauces by Santa Fe’s own Cheryl and Bill Jamison will surely help us earn our “Kiss the Cook” aprons. July also saw the release of The Restaurant Martin Cookbook, the last collaboration by the Jamisons before Bill’s passing in March.
Zagat, the “go-to guide for those obsessed with exceptional experiences” claims New Mexicans are obsessed with a specific food. Care to guess what it might be? Could it possibly be something red, hot and green? It’s really a no-brainer. New Mexicans are absolutely obsessed with red and green chile, our official state vegetable.
If it’s July, grilling and barbecuing activities are at their peak throughout the Land of Enchantment, but nowhere more than in Rio Rancho which hosted its 12th annual Pork & Brew at the Santa Ana Star Center. Some of the very best competition barbecue teams in the fruited plain competed in the event, including seven of the top 25 teams in America. Though New Mexico was well represented in the competition, none were among the top five finishers. Rio Rancho’s own Rub-N-Wood did earn the Mayor’s Award.
It seems every time a national publication compiles a “best” of any food, the “usual suspects” always seem to represent the Land of Enchantment…and they almost always seem to be from either Santa Fe or Albuquerque. It’s as if new restaurants, especially those outside Santa Fe and Albuquerque, can’t possibly compete with the venerated restaurants which have always made the “best of” lists. Kudos to Pixte.com, a lifestyle and travel site, for uncovering a hidden gem worthy of acclaim, if not adulation. In naming Davido’s of Rio Rancho the “best pizza in New Mexico,” Pixte wrote “great value for money with its monstrous portion sizes, you’ll never leave here hungry. Perfect balance of quality and quantity.”
Travel + Leisure showcased the world’s best cities as voted by readers. Santa Fe was voted the fourth best city in the United States and Canada. “Beyond the turquoise clichés and New Age philosophizing,” Travel + Leisure discovered “the key to Santa Fe” is “in the characters we meet along the way.” Some of those characters were uncovered in Santa Fe’s restaurants, among them Cafe Pasqual‘s, Restaurant Martin and El Parasol.
“With its fresh mountain air, farmer’s-market cuisine and mellow ambiance,” Albuquerque was rated number five for peace and quiet, number ten for wine and number one for picnics in a Travel + Leisure readers’ poll. Locals and visitors are urged to “fill your basket with fresh fruit and plenty of local flavors, like burritos from Java Joe’s or green-chile bacon quiches from New Mexico Pie Company.”
Twenty-one of New Mexico’s finest restaurants were recognized by Wine Spectator magazine for inclusion in the publication’s 2015 Restaurant Awards, which highlight restaurants around the world that offer the best wine selections. Among the Duke City honorees were the Artichoke Cafe and the Ranchers Club. Santa Fe selections included Il Piatta and Luminaria. Blades Bistro from Placitas and Arroyo Seco’s Sabroso were among the seven restaurants to make the list from outside Albuquerque and Santa Fe.
Bakers Royale, Naomi Robinson’s cozy online corner “where baking meets random thoughts and musings,” spent some time in Santa Fe where the writer got “hands-on experience with how to make the red and green chile sauce New Mexico cuisine is known for.” In addition to visiting the Santa Fe School of Cooking, Robinson visited a number of Santa Fe’s most widely acclaimed eateries: The Pantry Restaurant, Tomasita’s, Eloisa and others. She urges visitors to dispense with calorie-counting while visiting Santa Fe and above all not to “be that visitor and ask for skinny, made-to-order portions.” Great advice!
Chef John Rivera Sedlar might have read Thomas Wolfe’s book “You Can’t Go Home Again,” but he didn’t follow that advice. After four decades of plying his craft in California, the Santa Fe native returned home to launch Eloisa, a restaurant which both reinterprets and honors New Mexico’s culinary traditions. Located within the Drury Plaza Hotel, Eloisa was named one of Eater Magazine’s 21 best new restaurants in America” for 2015. Calling Eloisa a “command performance,” Eater Magazine proceeded to heap praise on Chef Sedlar’s celebration of “local culture with more modern nuance than any other menu in town.”
The Las Cruces Convention and Visitor’s Bureau launched the Las Cruces “Walk of Flame” Green Chile Trail which invites locals and visitors to “experience a traditional green chile Mexican dish, or go off the beaten path and try one of the specialty plates, such as pecan encrusted green chile strips, green chile-meat lasagna, green chile chicken wontons, green chile hummus, green chile posole, green chile stew, cream of green chile, green chile mashed potatoes, green chile sausage soup and other exclusive dishes.”
I’ve longed contended (and this isn’t pandering) that readers of Gil’s Thrilling…are the most discerning and intelligent gastronomes in New Mexico. Case in point. I recently received an email from my friend Bruce Schor pointing out that Bob of the Village People shilled for the Butterup knife well before it was featured on August edition of Bon Appetit. Despite driving a mid-century Pontiac Firebird and a daily spritz (or five) of Old Spice, Bob keeps up with all the pop culture trends. Compared to Bob, Bruce and I are dinosaurs.
While trying to get to Las Vegas, Nevada in 1945, Bugs Bunny accidentally wound up in Germany where for the first time he utters the recurring line “I should have made that left turn at Albuquerque.” Realtors across the fruited plain have come to the realization that many people aren’t making any turns when they arrive in the Duke City. They’re here to stay. For them, the Movoto.com blog, the lighter side of real estate, provides “29 things you need to know about Albuquerque before you move there” Among the sagacious tips: Green Chile: Love it or Leave Town; Great Community Food at the Grove Cafe; You may not Know the Mufin Man, but Everyone Knows the Candy Lady; The Perfect Ron Swansonable Steak (from Farm & Table at “rustic Old Town”); All Other Bread Will Pale in Comparison (from the Golden Crown Panaderia); These Donuts, Oh Man, These Donuts (from Rebel Donut); and Your BBQ Search is Over at Mr. Powdrell’s BBQ House.
Every state in the U.S. has a unique flavor. Foursquare’s data science team identified the singular tastes of all 50 states and Washington, D.C., using a mix of data sets (menus, tips, ratings, and more) and normalizing for size against other states. The editorial team then reviewed the data and selected the winning taste that is most special and unique to each state. Dispensing with the statistical jibber-jabber, it’s no surprise that what New Mexicans crave more than any other state–255 percent more, in fact–is sopaipillas. Among the restaurants Foursquare recommends you get them are La Choza. It’s entirely likely that some of our neighbors cross into the Land of Enchantment for the tastes they crave: chile verde in Utah and chili (SIC) rellenos in Colorado.
When Westword, the self-professed “first and the last stop of the day for anyone who wants to know what’s going on in Denver” published its “ten best green chiles in Denver for 2015” edition, New Mexican transplants saw red and green. Westword described it as ““fast and furious—mostly furious.” Almost a thousand Facebook posts, mostly from New Mexicans, described in no uncertain terms just what they think of chile in Denver–and it’s not much. Westword conceded that their neighbor to the south has a ” long history of growing chiles and enticing tourists with its pure and flaming version that doesn’t sport even the barest tint of orange.” Obviously the writer has never been to the Land of Enchantment at the tail end of harvest season.
A list of the “25 Best Things to Do in Albuquerque” is sure to evoke at least a little controversy, especially if it doesn’t list a few restaurants in between all those museums, the tramway, Old Town and the like. Vacation Idea, the “dream vacation magazine” tells perspective vacationers they should include Farm & Table, Vinaigrette, Budai Gourmet Chinese, The Grove Cafe & Market, Jennifer James 101 and the Artichoke Cafe among those 25 things all vacationers should do in the Duke City.
When it comes to most quality of life categories, New Mexico seems to rank perpetually near the very bottom where we compete with such states as Mississippi, Arkansas and Louisiana for lowliness. You might think that the Land of Enchantment wouldn’t fare very well on Thrillist’s “Definitive and Final Ranking of All 50 States,” but that wasn’t the case. New Mexico actually ranked 23rd. The reasons given (no surprise here): “GREEN. CHILE. Also sand. And, like, pretty good skiing.”
Drive Happy. It Comes With the Territory! That’s what Alamo Car Rental has been telling us for years. So with all the driving their clients do, how well does Alamo know a territory near and dear to our heart? In its estimation, Alamo knows the Duke City territory well enough to compile a list of Albuquerque’s best attractions? Those attractions include two restaurants whose “homemade chili sauces are quite popular even outside Albuquerque, which is why they can be found in grocery stores throughout the country.” Chili? Apparently Alamo thinks Albuquerque is in Texas. In the Land of Enchantment, we spell it “chile.”
Guilty Pleasures. We all have them. So do Food Network glitterati who reveal their “best-kept, most-intimate, guilty-pleasure secrets for the first time ever.” The Food Network’s “Guilty Pleasures” program visits the locations to hobnob with the chefs who “make these crazy ooey-gooey, “I can’t believe I’m eating this” food masterpieces. Top Chef America star Alex Guarnaschelli lusts after the Frito Pie (and Ribs) plate at Santa Fe’s Cowgirl BBQ, an indulgence she says offers something different in every bite.
One of the most mirthful events during the merry, merry month of May is Cinco De Mayo, a relatively minor holiday in Mexico, but one which has evolved into a celebration of Mexican culture and heritage throughout the fruited plain. Every May, it seems, brings with it a compilation of the “top Mexican restaurants” in America by virtually every online list compiling site. Gayot, “the guide to the good life,” named Mary & Tito’s to it’s top ten Mexican restaurant list, citing it for “exemplary red chile” which “smothers just about everything here from eggs to tamales to the fresh-tasting chile rellenos.”
At least Yahoo Food is honest enough to reveal that Cinco de Mayo has come to be embraced as a celebration of Mexican food, beer, tequila, culture, and more food…even if, like Gayot, it doesn’t know the difference between Mexican food and New Mexican cuisine. Its own compilation of the “best Mexican restaurants” in America included only one restaurant from the Land of Enchantment. Yahoo Food urges visitors to “do what the locals have been doing for the last 65 years: head over to The Pantry and make sure to order the famous huevos rancheros.”
Thrillist calls nachos “a combination of pretty much the best foods out there, and yet a truly transcendent plate of them is mysteriously elusive, like the Bigfoot of bar food, except (hopefully) less hairy.” Elusive though they may be, great nachos can be found at “taquerias, bars, and holes-in-the-wall” throughout America. Thrillist put together a list of the 21 best nachos in America. The Brisket Nachos at El Patron in Las Cruces made the list thanks to “smoky, flavorful meat paired with refried beans, tomatoes, lettuce, guacamole, and salsa on top of authentic, house-made tortillas.” Also making the list were the Nachos Grande at Cecilia’s Cafe in Albuquerque, described as “bursting with flavorful ground beef, guac, beans, cheese, and more, all on crispy tostadas.”
Four New Mexican restaurants made it onto MSN‘s its list of America’s 75 best tacos: The Shed topped the list with its taco plate: “two fresh blue corn tortillas with baked chicken topped with green chile, Cheddar cheese, onion, lettuce, and tomato.” “If a great taco requires perfection in all of its elements, then the carne adovada at Mary and Tito’s, heaped into a fresh corn tortilla, is undeniably world-class.” “Only three types of tacos are available (chicken, ground beef, and shredded beef)” at Santa Fe’s El Parasol but “what tacos these are.” For sheer value, you can’t beat the 99-cent tacos at Tacos Mex Y Mariscos in Albuquerque. MSN urges you to “peruse the menu and pick out something a little out of the ordinary, like cabeza (head) or tripas (which are intestines, not tripe), but their al pastor taco is sure to please even the least adventurous eater.”
If you’re dubious about the credibility of all these online lists purporting to rate the best of this or the best of that, Thrillist may have given you even more reason to question the veracity of these lists. In compiling its list of the “Best BBQ in America,” Thrillist reached out to a “verbose restaurant reviewer who can’t write his own name in under 100 words.” (Shameless self-promotion here.) The “best in show was a toss-up between Danny’s and Sparky’s” with Danny’s from Carlsbad getting “our nod because of the gall involved in tearing up a Dairy Queen franchise agreement when they wouldn’t let him add his own smoked meats to the menu.”
“No longer just a side dish, great fries deserve recognition in their own right.” That’s why MSN Food & Drink “consulted expert reviews and local recommendations to find the true standouts from every state.” The Land of Enchantment’s best fries were also “voted best fries in Albuquerque as a part of Alibi’s Best of Burque Restaurants in 2013.” “Holy Cow’s hand-cut fries do not disappoint. They come in regular, sweet potato, and zucchini varieties, and each huge order is enough to split two or three ways — but there’s no guarantee you’ll actually want to.”
The aptly named Cheap Tickets blog “scoured North America for bargain-priced, refreshingly creative plates, and found eleven, all ten bucks or under. The Frito Pie Bowl at Santa Fe’s Beestro “may seem pedestrian to some foodies out there, but this match-up is a legendary throwback to the Woolworth’s original and now served with flair and a fun-loving attitude at this super-cute farm-to-table bistro (the owners are sweet on honey bee products and preservation) in downtown Santa Fe. “
Turophiles everywhere across the fruited plain sing “This cheese is your cheese, this cheese is my cheese” for at least fifty different reasons. Cheeserank compiled a list of the fifty best cheese recipes from the “fifty best United States.” All the usual suspects–cheese dip (Arkansas), cheesesteak (Pennsylvania), mac and cheese (Colorado), etc.–made the list. So did New Mexico’s fabled green chile cheeseburger. As Cheeserank explains “You can’t be from New Mexico and not love green chiles (it’s the law).”
The Food Network’s “Great Food Truck Race” spent a day in Santa Fe Plaza shooting a big food competition segment for the season premiere episode airing later in August, 2015. It’s the second time the Great Food Truck Race has filmed in Santa Fe. One of the factors making Santa Fe so attractive to the food competition is New Mexico’s fabled green chile. Five food truck teams rolled into the City Different and tried their hand at preparing dishes showcasing chile. Show host Tyler Florence and Santa Fe’s multi-time James Beard Award nominee Martin Rios judged their dishes. Stay tuned!
Emage Magazine, renowned internationally for its fashion sense, placed Golden Crown Panaderia‘s dashing and debonair owner-chef Chris Morales on its cover for issue 40. Unlike some previous cover models who doffed most of their clothing, Chris was pictured in his his baker’s whites for the shoot. The publication date will be announced soon.
Ponder the simple French fry. It’s not one of those sexy, glamorous foods that easily comes to mind when you’re famished. In fact, most of us don’t think of French fries unless we’re also thinking of burgers. The Daily Meal, perhaps the most prodigious creator of culinary content in the blogosphere, apparently thinks about fries more than most of us do. In compiling its third ever list of America’s fifty best fries, the Daily Meal traversed the length and breadth of the fruited plain. Only one restaurant in the Land of Enchantment made this sacrosanct list, ranking 14th. It’s not surprising that our best fries come from The Santa Fe Bite whose pommes frites were described as combining “the best of Tex-Mex with burgers and fries.” Tex Mex? “Their wedge fries are stellar, and if you’re feeling adventurous, ask for the green chile cheese fries. They’re a secret menu item that locals rave about.”
Cowboys & Indians, a Western lifestyle magazine covering Western art, rodeo, cowboys, the cowboy way of life, westerns, music, television, food, and travel gave readers a taste of the West’s culinary pioneers and innovators on their food issue for 2015. You can’t discuss culinary pioneers and innovators without mentioning scintillating four-time James Beard award-winning author Cheryl Alters Jamison. Cheryl, a proud Tesuque resident, shared the recipe for Rancho de Chimayo’s legendary carne adovada. The recipe was excerpted and adapted with permission from The Rancho de Chimayó Cookbook: The Traditional Cooking of New Mexico, 50th Anniversary Edition by Cheryl Jamison and her husband Bill Jamison.
To New Mexicans, there is nothing as thoroughly soul-satisfying and utterly delicious as our ubiquitous green chile cheeseburger. We have a fierce pride in that most simplistic, but explosive, flavor-blessed union of a thick, juicy beef patty grilled over an open flame or sizzled on a griddle then blanketed in cheese and topped with taste bud awakening, tongue tingling, olfactory arousing green chile. USA Today honored our ubiquitous green chile cheeseburger by placing the New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail on the pantheon of greatness that is “America’s Most Indulgent Food Trails.” USA admitted “There’s no better way to splurge than with a juicy burger and New Mexico’s Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail is the hottest of its kind, literally.
Homer Simpson, that everyman philosopher posited an essential philosophical question: “Donuts. Is there anything they can’t do.” in recent years, donuts in New Mexico have garnered their share of recognition with both Duke City Donuts and Rebel Donut being singled out for national recognition. Recognizing that donuts are a “full-blown trend now, as artisanal donut shops have risen up like those magical yeasty treats all across America,” Thrillist named the 33 best donuts in America. New Mexico was well represented by Santa Fe’s Whoo’s Donuts, which inspired “one rather chubby act of selfishness” for the Thrillist feature writer.
Albuquerque took quite a beating from the national media in 2014, but Travel and Leisure was paying attention to the positive aspects in the Duke City. In recognition of its “affable citywide demeanor” Albuquerque was ranked ninth from America’s ten friendliest cities. Though you can pick up “faux crystal-meth candy from The Candy Lady or even the “Blue Sky” donuts at Rebel Donut,” Travel and Leisure cautions not to spoil your appetite because the Duke City has “a large presence on the state’s so-dubbed Breakfast Burrito Byway” where you’ll find “two classic spots…The Frontier and Burrito Lady. “
You’ve got to admire Thrillist and its patriotism for reminding all red-blooded Americans that “it’s your duty — nay, your destiny — to eat as many different varieties of your birthright food as humanly possible.” That birthright food is the quintessential American sandwich. Thrillist compiled a “bucket list of 50 sandwiches across America that you should eat before you die (probably from eating so many sandwiches).” Where this list reigns supreme over similar lists is that it doesn’t cop-out and add a couple burgers to the list. Santa Fe’s Palacio Cafe made the list with its “Taos Style” sandwich, a “mix of roast beef, Provolone, chopped green chile, caramelized onion, and mayo on panini-pressed sourdough.”
There are New Mexicans who even under the threat of water-boarding would never concede that Colorado grows, prepares and serves an edible green chile, much less one that’s delicious. In that respect we differ from Thrillist which ranked the “green chile legends” of Denver. The “one single criterion for ranking them: deliciousness,” which means “zero debates about the Colorado vs. the New Mexico style — because who gives a flying frijole?” Huh? As if to give credence and consolation to New Mexicans who’ll fight to the death over the supremacy of our chile, almost every chile pictured on the article has a brownish patina. So there!
According to Wikipedia, “the traditional etymology for April is from the verb aperire, “to open”, in allusion to its being the season when trees and flowers begin to “open.” Alas, sometimes in April restaurants close, too, including one of only two restaurants (Mary & Tito’s is the other) to earn a rating of “27” on this blog. Epazote, the fabulous milieu serving incomparable world cuisine served its last magnificent meal two weeks before the closure of Bert’s Burger Bowl, a Santa Fe institution for 51 years. Both restaurants were owned and operated by Fernando Olea, a gentle man if ever there was one. The gracious chef is enjoying a well-deserved retirement.
THREE FOR MAY: One of the most important things a restaurant can do to ensure longevity in a very dynamic business climate is to listen to its customers. In response to customer feedback and the perception that menu items were too pricey, the Flying Star revamped its menu, offering several lower-priced items in a new “Café Menu.” New desserts were also added. If the Hidden Treasure (pictured above) is any indication, the iconic Flying Star is well on its way to regaining, retaining and attaining guests. *** One person’s bizarre is another person’s delicacy. Albuquerque’s NewsCastic outlet recently published a list of “13 bizarre things on ABQ menus.” Among the baker’s dozen was the caramel catfish at Café Dalat, my highest rated Vietnamese restaurant in New Mexico. While not taking umbrage with the categorization of caramel catfish as “bizarre,” owner James Nguyen confirmed that the dish is absolutely beloved by Vietnamese people and that it’s usually paired with sour soup. Sounds great to me. *** When is the last time you enjoyed “the other red meat” other than on a lamb chop or gyro? The roast leg of lamb burrito from the Atrisco Bar & Café in Santa Fe is so good, you’ll be having lamb more often.
Noting that “America’s coming-of-age” coincided with the rise of the automobile,” and the automobile birthed the ubiquitous drive-in restaurant, Thrillist compiled a list of the best drive-in restaurants in the fruited plain. The Land of Enchantment was well represented thanks to Mac’s Steak in the Rough, an Albuquerque staple for more than six decades. According to Thrillist: “just about everyone in Albuquerque that isn’t a meth-addled Breaking Bad fan has hit up Mac’s Steak in the Rough for everything from taquitos and cheeseburgers, to the semi-eponymous Double Meat Rough.” You can bet even our meth-addled citizenry have hit up Mac’s for that fantastic limeade.
Don’t ever use the tired idiom “Always a bridesmaid, never a bride” to describe the Land of Enchantment’s uber chefs whom, it seems, are perennially named semi-finalists for the James Beard “Best Chef: Southwest” Award, but don’t advance further. To be named a semi-finalist is to be recognized as among the very best of the elite. The level of competition throughout the Southwest (Arizona, Colorado, Texas and New Mexico) is extremely high. Chef Martin Rio’s of the eponymous Restaurant Martin has broken through, being named one of six finalists for the “Oscars of Food.”
Chope’s Town Café and Bar in La Mesa has been recognized by the New Mexico Historic Preservation Division as the newest entrant on the state’s Register of Cultural Properties. Named for José “Chope” Benavides, the son of original proprietors Longina and Margarito Benavides, the restaurant was established in 1915 when Longina opened her dining room to sell enchiladas to local residents. A century later, visitors from all over the world have discovered Chope’s and pilgrimage to what remains one of the very best restaurants in the Land of Enchantment.
San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, Austin, New Orleans…These are all formidable foodie cities, heralded and acclaimed as trend-setters and culinary destinations nonpariel. Would you believe the Duke City rates above all of these cities, finishing sixth overall, in a Travel & Leisure Magazine ranking of America’s best food cities? As is usually the case, you can attribute that high ranking to New Mexico’s incomparable green chile which Travel & Leisure described as “the patron saint of this Southwestern city’s food scene” indicating it “pops up on the local fry-bread tacos and cheeseburgers (like the classics at Monte Carlo Steakhouse and Liquor Store, or can be made into a sauce at your table at legendary spots like El Pinto.”
“Take a quaint, old adobe building, some candlelight, and arguably Albuquerque’s best food and you have the making of an amazing romantic experience.” In recent years, Old Town’s iconic Antiquity Restaurant has consistently garnered “most romantic restaurant” honors in several local polls. The secret is out. TABELog has named Antiquity “one of the thirteen most romantic restaurants in America,” and recommends trying the “filet mignon wrapped in bacon.”
On March 24th, a pall of sadness was cast over the Land of Enchantment as we learned of the passing of Bill Jamison. That sadness was punctuated by loving memories of a beautiful man with an infectious joie de vivre. Bill was a man who laughed easily and often and who kept listeners spellbound with his raconteur’s wit and humor. When he circulated among friends, he had the rare gift of making all of them feel special. Modest and self-effacing almost to a fault, you’d never hear him trumpet his many impressive accomplishments—such as partnering with Cheryl, the love of his life and scintillating bride for thirty years, to earn four James Beard Awards for culinary writing. Along with Cheryl, he authored some two dozen travel books and cookbooks, earning the couple the sobriquet “the king and queen of grilling and smoking” from Bon Appetit magazine. Even as we will miss this tremendous soul, we can’t help but smile at having been blessed with his wit and his friendship. Godspeed, Bill.
IN APRIL, MAKE TIME FOR: On Saturday, April 11th from 11AM – 4PM, the Anderson-Abruzzo Albuquerque International Balloon Museum will host the inaugural Great New Mexico Food Truck & Beer Festival. It’s an opportunity to celebrate the Duke City’s food truck and craft beer culture in one place for one truly delicious day. The festival will include 20 gourmet food trucks from the Duke CIty area, serving up a variety of savory and sweet dishes, including fall off the bone BBQ to South American cuisine, gourmet hot dogs and everything in between. General admission tickets cost $5, with children 12 and under free. Food and craft beer are sold separately. For more information and to purchase tickets in advance to avoid lines, please visit: http://www.foodtruckfestivalsofamerica.com.
The fifth-annual Taste of Rio Rancho gave 22 of the City of Vision’s best eateries an opportunity to showcase their finest culinary fare to some 800 guests. Shining most brightly was rookie participant Street Food Blvd., a food truck which garnered three of six awards in the “Best of Taste” competition judged by two panels of six judges each. The winners were:
- Best Appetizer: Street Food Blvd.
- Best Entree: Street Food Blvd.
- Best Pizza: Pizza 9
- Best Sandwich: Pizza 9
- Best Dessert: Vanilla Bean Frozen Custard and Treatery
- People’s Choice: Street Food Blvd.
If nothing else the compilation of lists is entertaining. Often controversial and rarely achieving consensus, lists serve as excellent conversation starters. One of America’s foremost compilers of lists is Thrillist which purports to bring “very best food, drink, and fun from across the country and around the world delivered piping hot right to your inbox.” Recognizing that “50 million Americans are served fast food every day,” the good folks at Thrillist compiled a list ranking every state in the fruited plain by its fast food. New Mexico ranked 31st largely on the strength of the 75 LotaBurgers throughout the Land of Enchantment. Special mention was given to Whataburger with the disclaimer that the writer was “running out of other options.”
Thrillist “looked to” their “famous chef friends to tell us the best burgers they’ve ever eaten” and where to find them. The best burgers in the country, according to chefs included only one burger from the Land of Enchantment, but it’s a great one indeed. Chef Michael Kornick of Chicago’s celebrated mk is obviously a discerning gentleman with great taste: “My favorite burger would have to be the original Hatch green chile cheeseburger at Santa Fe Bite (formerly The Bobcat Bite), made with a giant hunk of amazing beef and green chile so perfect it renders any additional condiments superfluous.”
New Mexico’s best restaurant. That’s a topic sure to elicit a wide swathe of opinions. In compiling a list of the best restaurants in every state, the Business Insider considered a wide swathe of opinions from credentialed sources (such as the James Beard Foundation) while not discounting local recommendations. Paying particular heed to fine dining establishments, Business Insider named Santa Fe’s Geronimo as New Mexico’s best, citing its “impeccable service and complex dishes” and noting that “Geronimo was named best overall, best ambiance, and best food in New Mexico by OpenTable, among other honors.” Business Insider also indicated Geronimo is the “only New Mexico restaurant to win a AAA Four Diamond award, as well as a Forbes Four Star award.”
The Los Angeles Times arrived at a conclusion reached by sojourners along Highway 60 on the west side of the Continental Divide: There are indeed pies in Pie Town, a slice of heaven for travelers. The “queen of the oven” in Pie Town is the effervescent Kathy Knapp, a “pastry pilgrim” with a license plate befitting her status: “PIELADY.” “Visitors from all over the world” come, some “to see if a place named Pie Town is a joke.” Pie Town is no joke. It’s the panacea of pie.
“Albuquerque is Where It’s At” according to The Huffington Post which named the Duke City among the “5 American Cities You Should Visit” in 2015. With a nod to “Breaking Bad,” writers encouraged visitors to “go for the insanely good chicken-fried steak fingers at Mac’s Steak in the Rough” and to “stay for the sopaipillas.” An Albuquerque tradition for more than six decades, Mac’s Steak in the Rough may not have the fine-dining cachet of Geronimo, but it’s got the love and admiration of generations of Duke City diners.
New Mexico was well represented in the 2015 James Beard Foundation pantheon of award semifinalists. James Beard awards, the restaurant industry’s equivalent of an Academy Award, have eluded all but a few of the Land of Enchantment’s best restaurants and chefs. Could 2015 be the year Albuquerque’s Jennifer James is finally recognized for Best Chef: Southwest Honors, a distinction for which she’s been nominated numerous times? Her in-state competition in 2015 includes another multi-time nominee in Martin Rios of Santa Fe’s Restaurant Martin as well as Andrew Cooper at Santa Fe’s Terra at the Four Seasons Resort Rancho Encantado and Jonathan Perno of La Merienda at Los Poblanos in Los Ranchos de Albuquerque. Ron Cooper of the Del Maguey Single Village Mezcal in Ranchos de Taos was nominated in the category of Outstanding Wine, Beer or Spirits Professional.
The Daily Meal’s “passionate team canvasses the world to bring you the best food and drink experiences at all levels, around the table, at home or on the road.” In February that passionate team took a stab at naming America’s 50 Best Mexican Restaurants.” Only one Mexican restaurant in the Land of Enchantment made it onto the fabulous fifty, but it’s a restaurant imbued with greatness. Albuquerque’s El Modelo, a Duke City institution since 1929 “still makes rave-worthy tortillas and tamales along with enchiladas, burritos, tostadas and sopaipillas–many of these featuring New Mexico’s signature red and green chiles.”
In an era of openness and transparency in which there seem to be no secrets left, DreamPlanGo which purports to “bring you travel and vacation ideas, insights and inspiration” named Santa Fe as one of “America’s secret 2015 foodie destinations.” One of ten foodie destinations noted, Santa Fe was noted for its chef “blending the flavors they’ve grown up on with influences from Mexico, France and the Mediterranean” resulting in “a delicious collection of Southwest fare prepared in new and innovative ways.”
Plato once said that “opinion is the medium between knowledge and ignorance.” In the opinion of The Culturetrip, these are “New Mexico’s ten best restaurants:” Antiquity Restaurant, High Noon Restaurant & Saloon, The Artichoke Cafe, and The Grove Cafe & Market, all in Albuquerque; The Range in Bernalillo; Geronimo, Luminaria and Cafe Pasqual in Santa Fe; The Curious Kumquat in Silver City and Savoy de Mesilla in Mesilla. Some will view this list and determine it leans toward knowledge and others will argue that it skews toward ignorance. At the least, it should inspire conversation.
Global Gumshoe Ron Stern of the Communities Digital News (CDN) tells readers that Albuquerque’s cuisine is “anything but ordinary.” In fact, Stern believes “Albuquerque is blazing a trail of its own on the culinary scene.” “From hot and spicy New Mexican cuisine to upscale dining,” CDN recommended some of the Duke City’s most popular dining hotspots including: Sadie’s of New Mexico, El Pinto, The Cube, The Pueblo Harvest Cafe and others.
TIME TO REVISIT THESE THREE RESTAURANTS: Bob of the Village of Rio Rancho (BOTVOLR), the most prodigious commentator on Gil’s Thrilling…(and some would say, most prolific palaverist) recently suggested I “might remind readers of three Options to check out over a weekend as many of us are ‘getting of an age’.” If you’re interested in sampling traditional Lenten fare enjoyed by New Mexico’s Catholics for generations, make one of those three Abuelita’s in Bernalillo and order the torta de huevo and quelites. You have only one day left to visit Paul’s Monterrey Inn, an Albuquerque institution which shutters its doors for good on February 28th. It may not quite be a trip to the age of Aquarius, communes, hippies and free love, but Santa Fe’s Counter Culture Cafe may just remind you of a bygone psychedelic era as it delights you with deliciousness.
The Culture Trip, “a one-stop, global website, showcasing the best of art, food, culture and travel for every country in the world” discovered ten great places in Taos for dining out. It may surprise you to learn that only two–Michael’s Kitchen and Orlando’s Cafe— of the restaurants recognized showcase New Mexican cuisine. Diversity is the hallmark of the remaining restaurants whose ranks include French and Latin inspired Gutiz and Spanish and Moorish influenced El Meze whose chef Frederick Muller has been nominated several times for the James Beard award as the best chef in the Southwest.
“Obsessed with everything that’s worth caring about in food, drink, and travel,” the good folks at Thrillist compiled a list of “the most iconic restaurants in every state.” Admittedly this endeavor required looking up the word “iconic” in the dictionary and to qualify, a restaurant had to have been around for 30 years or more and “still be a crowd favorite.” As a disclaimer, perhaps, the selected restaurants “may not have the best food or be tourist-free,” but “they’re all famous.” Thrillist’s selection for New Mexico was El Pinto, a restaurant with more detractors than supporters, a conclusion at which you might arrive if you read the comments following the list.
While it may be debated as to whether or not El Pinto is the most iconic restaurant in the Land of Enchantment, you can’t dispute its popularity and propensity for marketing. The new year saw filming begin for a potential reality show featuring the restaurant. El Pinto’s owners, the “iconic” Thomas twins desire is that the reality show “offer an authentic portrayal of the restaurant, the Albuquerque community and New Mexico’s food and culture.”
In its January, 2015 report Pizza Magazine Quarterly revealed that only four states across the fruited plain love pizza less than New Mexico does (another quality of life category for which we can be grateful for Mississippi). With only 1.55 pizza joints per 10,000 residents, the Land of Enchantment ranks 46th in terms of number of pizzerias. Worse, only 38.4 percent of those pizzerias are independent. There is one local chain regarded as one of the most successful local chains in the fruited plain. Dion’s ranked number 37 on the magazine’s list of the top fifty pizza chains in America. From a monetary perspective, however, the magazine noted that Dion’s makes more money per restaurant than any other pizza chain in the country.
“The Best…Ever!” That’s a pretty audacious premise, but one the Food Network decided to tackle. In its inaugural episode which aired on January 5th, celebrity chefs and restaurateurs celebrated the “Best. Pizza. Ever.,” identifying the eleven best pizzas ever. Who says when it comes to pizza you can’t have the whole enchilada? Not chef and restaurateur Roger Mooking who made a a case for the chicken green chile and cheese pizza at Santa Fe’s Rooftop Pizzeria being “the best spicy slice ever.”
If you’ve ever shortchanged New Mexico’s barbecue, you might just give it some respect now that the Food Network’s “Best…Ever!” program airing on January 12th listed a Santa Fe barbecue dish as one of the best barbecue dishes ever in America. Chef Aaron Sanchez explained why Cowgirl BBQ in Santa Fe is taking nachos to another level, calling them “decadent, gluttonous and fun” with “big flavor.” He noted that the “best barbecue nachos ever” brings elements of barbecue (brisket), Mexican and Southwestern dishes together.
Travel Mindset, a site “created by experienced travelers who like to explore the world and are looking for life changing and life shaping experiences” took a stab at dissecting New Mexico’s “signature ingredient: the chile pepper.” Advising that “if you want to taste one of the hottest—literally—culinary landscapes in the United States, you need to get a few things straight,” Travel Mindset encourages familiarizing yourself with the “red or green” question. They also championed the New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail, “composed up of local and critic favorites—making it the best of the best.” The best, in their estimation comes from San Antonio’s fabulous Owl Cafe.
The premise of the Food Network’s Restaurant: Impossible is that within two days and on a budget of $10,000, host Robert Irvine will transform a failing American restaurant with the goal of helping to restore it to profitability and prominence. To make the show entertaining, any existing dysfunction or drama in the restaurant’s day-to-day operations is spotlighted in the fashion of all reality shows. On January 14th, the episode featuring Albuquerque’s Shade Tree Customs & Cafe aired for the first time. While soap opera-like drama is typical for many reality shows, the Restaurant: Impossible segment was a very effective vehicle for showing the likeability and passion of the Shade Tree ownership and staff.
“When most people think American cuisine, they think pizza, hot dogs and hamburgers. While these are indeed staples across the country, each state has its own sense of flavor.” The Huffington Post and Yelp collaborated to determine the “most disproportionately popular cuisine in each state.” In Louisiana, it was Cajun cuisine while Missouri certainly loves its barbecue. Interestingly, the most disproportionately popular cuisine in New Mexico was determined to be “Mexican.” Not “New Mexican,” but Mexican. Texas garnered more respect as its most disproportionately popular cuisine was deemed to be “Tex-Mex.”
If breakfast is truly the most important meal of the day, it seems most of America prefers to start their day off with a richly indulgent cavalcade of calorific sweets such as pancakes, French toast, donuts and sticky buns. At least that’s what several celebrity chefs on the Food Network’s “Best. Ever. Breakfast” program would have you believe. California based chef Antonia Lofaso begs to differ, making a case for the breakfast burritos in Santa Fe’s Tia Sophia’s restaurant as the best breakfast burrito ever. Chef Lofaso recommends getting it “Christmas style.”
On Saturday, January 17th, 2015, Santa Fe’s The Food Depot hosted its 21st annual Souper Bowl, a fabulous event featuring soup tastings from 29 local restaurants competing for the title of Best Soup in Santa Fe.
- In the category of “best savory soup” as well as the overall winner with a King Trumpet Mushroom soup was Dinner For Two.
- In the category of “best cream soup,” the winner was Terra at Four Seasons Resort Rancho Encantado with a Creamy Vegetable with Cranberry soup.
- The “best seafood soup” category was claimed by The Pantry which wowed judges with a Seafood Butternut Bisque.
- “Best vegetarian soup” honors went to Bon Appetite with a wild mushroom soup.
The Roadrunner Food Bank’s annual Souper Bowl, held on an unseasonably warm January day, is the Food Bank’s largest fund-raising effort every year. The soups seem to get better every year, too. In my eight years serving as a soup judge, this year’s soups were the very best I’ve had from top to bottom and for the first time in memory, the critic’s and people’s choice award winners went to the same restaurant. Here are the 2015 winners:
- 1st Place and Souper Bowl Champion: Ranchers Club of New Mexico for their Chimayo Red Chile Pork Chowder; 2nd Place: Artichoke Café for their Lobster Bisque; Third Place: Bocadillos New Mexico for their New Mexico Clam Chowder
- People’s Choice – Vegetarian Soup 1st Place: Bouche for their Cream of New York Portabello; 2nd Place: Forque Kitchen and Bar at the Hyatt Regency for their Pumpkin Red Vegetarian Soup; 3rd Place: StreetFood Market for their Malay Curry Squash Bisque
- People’s Choice – Desserts 1st Place: Nothing Bundt Cakes; 2nd Place: Theobroma Chocolatier; 3rd Place: Chocolate Cartel
- People Choice – Best Booth: Ranchers Club of New Mexico
- Critics’ Choice Winners 1st Place: The Ranchers Club of New Mexico for their Chimayo Red Chile Pork Chowder; 2nd Place: StreetFood Asia for their Bangkok Christmas Lobster Bisque; 3rd Place: StreetFood Market for their Malay Curry Squash Bisque
The American diner tradition is alive and well. To recognize this sacrosanct tradition, the good folks at Thrillist embarked on a trek across the fruited plain to locate America’s 21 best diners. The only diner in the Land of Enchantment to make it onto this elite list was Santa Fe’s Pantry Restaurant on Cerrillos. Thrillist observed that “the Pantry was on every single person’s list” when the writer inquired as to where he should eat. “Around since 1948, it’s 1) damn iconic, 2) a place where you have a decent shot at running into Cormac McCarthy, and 3) serves impeccable New Mexican breakfasts.”
Movoto Blog, a blog celebrating the lighter side of real estate, did a seriously great job of naming “15 New Mexico Restaurants Which Will Blow Your Taste Buds Out Of Your Mouth.” Having previously published a list showcasing Albuquerque restaurants, the list was richly represented by restaurants in Rio Rancho where the Turtle Mountain Brewing Company, Namaste Restaurant, Rub-N-Wood Barbecue and Joe’s Pasta House received well-deserved praise. Duke City restaurants noted included Farm & Table, The Grill, Down N Dirty Seafood Boil, Tia Betty Blues, Bocadillos Slow Roasted and the Guava Tree Cafe.
Each January, AAA announces restaurants that received the Four Diamond or Five Diamond Rating during their latest evaluation. Restaurants at these rating levels offer an extensive array of amenities and a high degree of hospitality, service and attention to detail. Among the 58,000 AAA Approved and Diamond Rated restaurants visited in 2014, only a very small percentage received the AAA Four Diamond Rating. Two Santa Fe restaurants–Geronimo and Terra at Encanto–were named to the very exclusive list.
The Food Network’s Best. Ever. program continued its love affair with Santa Fe restaurants and dishes, going four for four (four episodes, four Santa Fe restaurants) in the month of January. The beloved Santa Fe Bite was showcased in the Best.Burgers.Ever episode with chef and restaurateur Roger Mooking calling them “a rich, satisfying bite.” New Mexicans have long acknowledged the Santa Fe Bite and its predecessor, The Bobcat Bite, as living treasures in the Land of Enchantment.