Monte Carlo Steakhouse – Albuquerque, New Mexico

The Famous Monte Carlo Steakhouse on Central Avenue

“Last night I broke the seal on a Jim Beam decanter
That looks like Elvis.”
~George Jones

Having spent much of his career in an inebriated state, Country music icon George Jones actually lived the life experiences that inspired much of his music. After one of his four divorces, Jones sat alone in a rather empty home, his ex-wife having absconded with almost everything–furniture, china, glassware and more. Among the few items left behind were a small table, a Jim Beam whiskey decanter bearing the likeness of Elvis Presley, and a Fred Flintstone jar of jelly beans. After dumping the jelly beans, the “Possum” used the jar as a glass into which he poured the entire contents of the Jim Beam decanter. The imaginary conversations he had with Elvis and Fred during his impaired state were the inspiration for the song “The King is Gone.”

Only among avid collectors will you generally find Jim Beam decanters sporting the likeness of The King. The Duke City’s most prolific collectors of vintage adult beverage decanters, bottles and signage is the Monte Carlo Steak House on Route 66. Kitschy mirrors emblazoned with the logos of beer distributors, anthropomorphic alcohol decanters, faux wood walls, garish neon signs, Velvet Elvis and stereotypical “leatherette” booths may have been born in another era, but they never go out of fashion because the Monte Carlo is one of the most comfortable and welcoming restaurants in the city. To those in the know, it’s also one of Albuquerque’s very best steak houses.

Taking you back 40 years–the interior of the Monte Carlo Steakhouse

“Those in the know” now include a nation-wide audience who watched the Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives episode entitled “Where the Locals Go” in which “local hot spots” got the inimitable Guy Fieri treatment. Contrary to the episode’s title, not all locals go to the Monte Carlo–or at least they didn’t until after the show’s premier. In fact, many people–even within the confines of the Duke City–had never heard of the Monte Carlo until the Food Network introduced it to them. It truly was one of Albuquerque’s best kept secrets. As Fieri did, you can enter the steak house through a bustling package liquor store (which doubles as a veritable museum for even more collectibles). You can also enter directly through an entrance on the restaurant’s west side. One of the first things you’ll notice is a full-service bar which probably can’t concoct the libation of your choice, but can dispense long-neck Budweiser, Schlitz and Pabst like there’s no tomorrow. The volume is turned way down on the restaurant’s televisions, but then you probably couldn’t hear them amidst the din of an eclectic crowd.

During his inaugural visit, one of my propeller-headed, Jedi-worshiping, 40-something Luke Skywalker wannabe colleagues at Intel uttered “come out of the light and into the darkness, Luke” when he stepped into the Monte Carlo Steakhouse from a bright, sunlit Duke City afternoon. It takes a few seconds for your eyes to adjust to the dimly lit beef and beer palace by the Rio Grande–and when they do adjust, you’ll wonder if you stepped out of a portal into the 1960s. The Monte Carlo Steakhouse is an anachronism, a bona fide throwback to a bygone era–and indeed, the restaurant has been in business since 1970.

Bruce “Sr Plata” Silver, Bob of the Village of Los Ranchos (BOTVOLR) and Thomas Molitor Stand In Front of Monte Carlo’s Grill

There are no distinctions between the lunch and the dinner menu and even though the menu stipulates that baked potatoes and rice pilaf are available only after 5PM, you can usually have either with your lunch. Lunch specials are available Monday through Friday while a prime rib–regarded by many as among the city’s very best–is the evening special Thursday and Friday. Aside from the aforementioned baked potato (perfectly done) or rice pilaf, each dinner also includes one slice of Texas toast.

Most Recent Visit: 12 June 2019

The charbroiled Monte Carlo Burger with green chile and cheese (by any name a green chile cheeseburger) is an exemplar for how this most sacrosanct of New Mexico’s great burgers should be prepared. There are too many green chile cheeseburgers in which green chile barely registers on the Scoville scale with about as much piquancy as a bell pepper.  The Monte Carlo’s green chile bites back with a pleasant piquancy heat lovers will respect. What really sets this cheeseburger apart, however, is the freshness and moistness of the beef patty which is essentially ground steak, a thick third-pound of beef prepared to your exacting specifications.

The Monte Carlo with Green Chile and American Cheese

Wholly unlike the desiccated frozen Frisbees served at some burger establishments, Monte Carlo’s meaty orbs are oh so wonderfully juicy–especially if ordered at medium or medium-rare. Monte Carlo’s green chile cheeseburger was selected for inclusion on both the 2009 and 2011 editions of the New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail. It’s one of the favorite green chile cheeseburgers of Cheryl Jamison, the scintillating four-time James Beard Award-winning author and architect of the New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger initiative. Mine, too…and don’t forget to read what fellow burger aficionado Tom Molitor has to say in the comments below.

Previous Visits

The parking lot is generally crowded with motorized conveyances of every type, size and description and waiting lists tend to be long, especially on weekends. Despite nearly overflow crowds, the wait staff is among the most accommodating and friendly in the city. Many regulars opt for the bounteous Greek appetizer plate in lieu of the standard fried appetizers (zucchini, onion rings, mushrooms and mozzarella cheese sticks) and are rewarded with a platter of salami strips, Greek olives, pepperoncini, tomatoes and one solitary dolma (stuffed grape leaf) all drizzled with Kalamata olive oil. Sadly, this otherwise outstanding precursor does not include pita bread.

Greek Olives and Feta Cheese

Steak dinners are accompanied by your choice of soup or a fresh dinner salad (perfunctory iceberg lettuce only, not the fancy designer lettuces upscale steak houses proffer) made with shredded red cabbage, tomato, carrot slivers and your choice of dressing. For a full Greek experience, a good bet is the zesty Greek dressing which is liberally sprinkled with bits of fetid Feta cheese. Among the restaurant’s most popular soups is the creamy green chile chicken soup, a swimming pool-sized bowl of soul-warming soup served hot. Thickened heavily, it is replete with chicken pieces. The green chile lacks piquancy but has a nice flavor. Soup and salad not withstanding, this is a meat and potatoes establishment in the anachronistic traditions of the 70s. Observing the offerings–burgers, steaks, ribs and even a cheesesteak, Fieri noted “you don’t come to this joint for a tomato and avocado on whole wheat.”

The menu defines the degree of doneness for each charbroiled steak–from the “cold center” of a rare steak to the “cooked throughout” description of a well done steak–and includes a disclaimer that the restaurant is not responsible or meat ordered well done. The chef is truly master of his broiler domain, typically achieving the exacting specifications requested by discerning diners who would think nothing of sending back a steak not prepared the way they asked for it.

A lovely slab of beef and French fries

We can’t imagine ever sending the steak back. The bone-in 20-ounce Porterhouse steak is charbroiled to perfection with just enough marbling for flavor. Unless otherwise requested, each steak is prepared with Seasonall, an all-purpose seasoning (no MSG) used liberally. An excellent alternative is asking for salt, pepper and garlic on each side of your steak. While on the grill, the chef will also brush on some melted butter.

One of the things that makes a Monte Carlo steak stand out is the fact that the restaurant still cuts its own steaks fresh daily, a practice begun by founder Michael Katsaros when the restaurant launched nearly thirty years ago. The Katsaros family still runs the restaurant. After his first bite of a ribeye, Guy Fieri’s uttered then reiterated the statement “that’s just great.” You’re probably thinking “he’s the host of the show and is supposed to be enthusiastic about the restaurants featured,” but his sentiment pretty much echoes that of most people who discover the Monte Carlo Steak House.

Louie's Special, maybe the best steak sandwich in town.

Fieri also pointed out that “it ain’t just killer steaks that get hand-cut here.” The souvlaki, “made with mama’s classic Greek recipe with a family twist” is made from pork tenderloin cut at the restaurant. Each souvlaki portion is 12 to 14 ounces of some of the most tender and delicious, albeit non-traditional, skewered meat you’ll ever have. The souvlaki is allowed to age for five to six days in a marinade of lemon juice, white wine, salt, pepper, garlic salt, oregano and vinegar before it hits the grill. After it’s done on the grill, it’s brushed on with a mix of olive oil, oregano, salt, pepper and lemon juice. Watching this inspired creation, Fieri exclaimed “I hear the national anthem of flavor town going off right about now.” In between utterances of “wow” and “this is monster flavor,” he called the flavor “so deep and so rich” and after a few forkfuls, he proclaimed “I’m moving in.”

Another “not to miss” entree is the Greek style chicken. The loquacious Fieri admitted to “not having talked much or taken a breath” while sampling this perfectly prepared poultry which he described as “killer,” one of the adjectives he uses effusively when he really likes something. He also noted that “it’s about as basic as you can make it” and “as tender and juicy as you can get it.” The key is getting it. If you haven’t visited the Monte Carlo Steakhouse, it’s worth the drive from anywhere in the Duke City area just for this chicken.

The Biggest Greek Salad You’ll Ever See

3 November 2016: If you have to work overtime to make up for an extended lunch hour to drive across town for a lunch special, it’s worth it, especially if the lunch special is the hamburger steak with grilled onions. My friend and frequent dining companion Bill Resnik describes it as “75-percent as good as its counterpart at San Antonio’s fabled Owl Cafe.” Bill, who matriculated at New Mexico Tech loves the Owl’s hamburger steak almost as much as he loves his car. To compare the Monte Carlo’s rendition is a high compliment indeed. Bruce “Sr Plata” Silver had his hamburger steak smothered in grilled onions and roasted green chile, two components which made his lunch even more memorable though the incendiary green chile did have him reaching for coffee more often than usual.

The spaghetti’s golf ball sized meatballs have a little flavor “je ne sais quoi” that most diners try to figure out. The secret is a bit of Greek mint which just seems to invigorate the meatballs with flavor. Fieri called it a “money meatball.”

Hamburger Steak with Green Chile and Onion Rings

The meats are so well flavored, the service so accommodating and the ambiance so 60s, you’ll wonder why anyone would visit an inferior chain restaurant for a lesser steak or spend nearly $100 for a steak dinner at one of those hoidy toidy, fancy schmanzy restaurants. Fieri called the Monte Carlo “just an average off-the-hook steakhouse with homemade Greek.” Everyone else calls it special.

Monte Carlo Steak House
3916 Central, S.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 831-2444
LATEST VISIT: 12 June 2019
# OF VISITS: 7
RATING: 22
COST: $$$
BEST BET: Greek salad; Greek Appetizer Plate; Porterhouse Steak; Green Chile Cheeseburger; Hamburger Steak

About Gil Garduno

Since 2008, the tagline on Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Blog has invited you to “Follow the Culinary Ruminations of New Mexico’s Sesquipedalian Sybarite.” To date, nearly 1 million visitors have trusted (or at least visited) my recommendations on nearly 1,100 restaurant reviews. Please take a few minutes to tell me what you think. Whether you agree or disagree with me, I'd love to hear about it.

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22 Comments on “Monte Carlo Steakhouse – Albuquerque, New Mexico”

  1. At times I’ve been “challenged” for my idiosyncratic criterion that part of what makes for a great meal either fine dining or casual, includes the ambiance of the place. Ambiance, for me itself, not only includes the physical decor, e.g. bricabrac on the walls, paint schemes, cleanliness, smell, untated waitstaff, of course cloth serviettes, but especially the absence of neon lighting fit for an OR, and etc., but also intangibles, like the presence of a cute and affable Chica across from me. Lacking that yesterday, albeit sitting at another table, I was “enthralled” being in the company of Sr. P, Tom M., and Gil at an informal/mini FOG.
    Elsewise and Alas: as I have felt I was reaching the apex of my curmudgeoness per the political exchanges I subject myself to by the so called erudite news bobbleheads on cable, I deferred having the wondrous GCCB for some much relieving…roughage….if ya know what I mean! Don’t know what happened to Gil’s normally great photography…a bad camera angle?…but that Greek Salad is distortedly smaller as pictured and thus the doggie box pictured. If sliced ‘regularly’, one of those salami planks could make half a salami sangwich (http://tinyurl.com/7lw4umu). Indeed the melange of ingredients mixed therein with KISS iceberg as tinted with Blue Cheese made for a delicious meal-of-the-day…Full Disclosure: I’ve never had more than a diner salad.
    Yo…the Margarita was fine. WaitServer was fine and she accommodated (this time) a request for separate checks rather than I offering to pay for all!
    ~~~N.B. If you’ve ever wondered about Gil’s photos of seemingly unpopulated dining venues: Noting a lack of diners in many of Gil’s pics, I suggested he take a pic of the MC quickly filling up shortly after noon midweek despite it not being in the nexus of officed downtown ABQ. He demurred out of respect for the privacy of diners and thus our ‘early’ arrival time! http://tinyurl.com/qhtwydx
    Going on 50 years…you ain’t an ABQian if ya ain’t been here! Same goes…going on 60+ years… for a Footlong (NM Red) Chile Cheese Dog con onions paired with an Orange Drink at the Dog House! IMHO

  2. There are days when I may find myself unduly pessimistic about the future of the hamburger. So often I am disappointed with commercial burgers, especially if the bun could double for a derby hat. Or the meat has the thickness of a credit card. So when our roving gourmand said, “You’ve never had a green chile cheeseburger at the Monte Carlo,” I leapt at the opportunity like a coyote on a rabbit.

    The Monte Carlo could easily have been a filming location for a Scorsese film in the 70s. I could almost make out De Niro, Pesci, and Keitel sitting in a dark, corner booth when I entered through a liquor store to the back dining area. Think opening Steadicam tracking shot in Goodfellas.

    The green chile cheese burger was sublime. The meat was top-quality, thick as brick, medium-rare, clean, no after taste, and the sesame bun softened to the hot meat like a smitten lover. It made me feel like there’s hope, my burger pessimism lifted like valley fog, and all is well again.

  3. How about doing something different on a Date-with-G-Pa? I rarely go to the movies – Patriot’s Day being the last time. Beyond that, I’ve never been to a ‘morning feature’….have you? What better way to unwind from the horrific visuals and stereo-rifics of ‘Dunkirk’ starting at 10:50, but by then going just after the lunch crowd for G-Daughter’s first visit to the hallowed Monte Carlo? As it’s less than dinner time for a steak variant, had my first GCCB of theirs: indeed,ample heat in the Chile (maybe they mix a speck or two of Lumbre in?); I added Mayo as an option to this well sized treat. Alas, you can keep the limpo fries that “come with it”, but I do appreciate they serve a bottle of Hunt’s Ketchup.
    – OMG…how long its been? They (sadly, but tastefully) have gone solid with a redo of the ” iconic tufted booths”! They’re still trying to negotiate a price to bring back the Lobster Tail Special at an everyday price! While ART’s mess is there and looks 3rd world while turning west onto Rte 66 from Rio Grande, negotiating a right turn was no longer than 5 o’clock on a Friday night would be!
    #Support Rte. 66 eateries.
    – G-Daughter’s reaction to the food and the place? Amazing! Never expected it! Agrees its Funky!

  4. I happened to be in the neighborhood (just west of the bridge on Central) on a Friday evening and decided to try the Monte Carlo. Luckily it was early in the dinner rush so I had only a ten minute wait. This place is astonishingly popular – people crowd in the place and are willing to wait an hour or more for a table.

    Unfortunately, I was not impressed on my first visit. I ordered the smaller ribeye medium well but received one that was pretty much well done. I didn’t experience anything other than a run of the mill steak house. I’ll give it another chance sometime since people rave so much about this place. Perhaps a chile cheeseburger or the souvlaki.

    I do like the retro decor; reminds me of the steak houses my father used to take the family mid-twentieth century. And the wait staff is certainly exceptional.

  5. OK! Y’all do not put much credence in Best of Lists…understood.

    Maybe not even when Thrillist puts out one like their “Best Steakhouse in Every State” http://tinyurl.com/kkmkkav ?

    How about if it happened to be backed up (as a presequel) with a Larry McGoldrick’s 3/4/17 brief Comment? at http://tinyurl.com/mcfcbdq
    I think it would be fun to put Larry “ON” ala where the next FOG might be?!!!!!

  6. The GCCB just rocketed its way to 4th place on my GCCB Hall of Fame List.

    Sparky’s (Hatch)
    Owl Bar (San Antonio)
    Horseman’s Haven Cafe (Santa Fe)
    Monte Carlo Steakhouse (Albuquerque)
    Owl Cafe (Albuquerque)
    Indigo Crow (Corrales)
    Griff’s Hamburgers (Albuquerque)
    Corrales Bistro Brewery (Corrales)
    Perea’s Tijuana Bar (Corrales)
    Spinn’s Burger & Beer (Albuquerque)

    See http://www.abqtopten.com/blog/hall-of-fame/ for my complete HOF lists.

    1. Yo… Professor Larry with the perspicacious palate: All my visits to MCS have been great…i.e. love the atmosphere and “old time service, but have focused on the steaks and the previous Lobstaah Tail Specials. As such, haven’t had the GCCB!
      However, as you included a linkage to your own Hall of Fame (HoF), I checked it out and would like, if you will, to blather about the 20 places/offerings unrelated to GCCB, with which it starts out. Alas, while I know you are dancing as fast as you can (Eh, at least You can!), I believe the Nob Hill Cecilia’s is closed while 6th St. SW carries on. Otherwise, IMHO, such lists are not usually Best 20 of This or That, but are at least Best 25, albeit it is your Blog not mine….LOL

      If I may: IMHO, The Best Stuffed Sopapilla is with Chicharrones (especially per their size) and Beans with Red & extra onions out the “back door” of Casa de Benavidez for only about $5.13! As I’ve never eaten it in their “back door” venue but get it to go, am not sure to bring your own flatware if they only serve plastic. They do have saltines on request. (Of course if ya want to spend fancy, you can eat ‘in front’ with a view of one of the best patios in the City, well in the Village of Los Ranchos as well.)

      If your HoF were 25, I’d like to read of:
      Best Filet a) under $30, b) over $30
      Best Soup (place/type) My Bias is at The Cellar (a Gil rating of 24 https://www.nmgastronome.com/?p=39397#comments) for their to-die-for Asparagus soup which needs to be requested to be The Soup of The Day by phoning in/arranging a couple of days ahead with Chef Jim.
      Best Fried Pierogi
      Best 1/2 or full rack of Red Chile Ribs!
      Best Romantique setting with its Best offering.

      Elsewise, do you have an opine of Swiss http://tinyurl.com/qb6uhkc vs Italian spaghetti?
      “Chow!”

  7. Joined Sensei for lunch the other day. I was bummed because they don’t serve dinner steaks at lunch so I will have to return. Had an excellent Hamburger Steak with grilled onions and green chile, it would have been great if I added cheese, still quite delicious! Had onion rings, they were so-so but being back on low carb, there wasn’t another option. I started out with a wonderful salad with blue cheese dressing. I look forward to coming back at night for steak and cheat with a baked potato. Oh, check out their liquor store, a lot of cool stuff from the past…

  8. Hey Gil,

    We just tried Toro Burger Bar in the Howard Johnson hotel in Rio Rancho. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried them, but we thought it was pretty good. Hand cut fries, onion things that are slivers of onion breaded with a breading that has some chile powder in it. Burgers that they say they grind there of 3 types of steak. Lots of choices for the burgers. Hubby had the Toro burger which is Hatch green chile, house made bacon, cheese and chipotle aoli on a burger. Great service and the place was spotlessly clean. Full bar (I’m assuming it’s a full bar – they offer margaritas and things) in the back part of the restaurant.

    Just wanted to let you know in case you hadn’t tried it. Here’s their Yelp reviews.
    https://www.yelp.com/biz/toro-bar-and-grill-rio-rancho-2
    And their FB page: https://www.facebook.com/toroburgerbar/?fref=ts

    1. Thank you MaryAnn. The restaurant space at Howard Johnson’s in Rio Rancho has tried several restaurant concepts over the years. It sounds as if Toro Burger has the potential to stick around. We’ll be trying it soon.

      Gil

  9. Came here for the first time earlier in the week with my wife. Wasn’t aware of the Greek influence beforehand but having Greek immigrant parents and raised in that fashion I appreciated the influence on the restaurant.

    We shared the appetiser plate and both had ribeye steaks. I suggest being very hungry or be prepared to take leftovers home. My med-rare steak was cooked as such and the meat was tender and flavorful. The serving of fries was very generous and tasty after I’d salted them some. The side salad was also generously sized and tasted just like my mother’s home made salads after I splashed on some oil and vinegar.

    Cool, old school ambience in the restaurant and the service was good. Prices are very reasonable. I’d definitely being make a return trip.

  10. This is not the place to go if you have any medical dietary restrictions. They refuse to accommodate them. They need to edcucate themselves, and be more accommdating.

  11. Had to check on Wendy’s assessment as hadn’t been in several weeks and t’was hard to imagine a place going down to the level of being “GROSS” after staying in business in The Q for 40 years!!!. Alas, if a place has a “Rep”, perhaps its not best to go, and I’m presuming, on a weekend in order to avoid an “hour” wait. I was immediately seated this evening, albeit just after 5, and I found the waitress to be most accommodating throughout my stay. While this helped allay my apprehensiveness per reading Wendy’s dismay, I happened to then espy a well known State Legislator chomping down an apparent steak in one of those funky vintage booths which apparently some folks don’t take a hankering too. While some might say espying a legislator might be a bad omen given all their poor taste in legislation and the company they keep, I held out hope given who that particular dude was and figured he must “know” the place given his district was just a hop/skip/and a jump across the bridge!!!

    My goal tonight was Lobster Tail ! (It is only served M-W and only a la carte.) While I’m sure die-hard Epicureans of the delicacy herein would rake me over the shoals as they dragged in their lobster traps along the Maine coast for saying I was sated, I take defense that my memory cells of my NE youth have faded and thus challenge them to reveal where there be a tail for under 14 bucks in The Q…..LOL

    Oh Oh! another reason to dine at the Monte Carlo is the fact they not only offer the
    No-High Fructose ketchup (for other of their offerings), but it is Hunt’s! and not Heinz.

    Chow!

  12. My family and I saw the show and thought we would give it a try. Wow, was completely surprised at the nastiness. We waited at least an hour, then got a table finally, waitress came to take our order and acted like we weren’t even there as she took our order. She then told us that she would bring my kids drinks out as soon as their were some clean glasses. Yikes!! I was very disappointed in this place we spent $73 for a family of four and it was 95% GROSS!!!!!!!!!!!!! DEFINITELY WON’T BE BACK UNLESS I TAKE UP DRINKING. HAHAHAHAHA DON’T BOTHER GOING HERE, ITS A WASTE OF TIME UNLESS YOUR GOING FOR THE BOOSE.

  13. Had dinner there a couple of nights ago and must agree with Gil that the steak sandwich is excellent.
    Didn’t even miss the cheese whiz made famous by Pat’s Steaks in Philly.
    For a place that busy the service is very good, very responsive.
    I prefer the Liquor Store entrance to the side door any day, it’s the proper way to enter the establishment.

  14. I just discovered this place on recommendation from a friend. Can’t say I love the exterior of the building (or even the interior for that matter) but all that is unimportant because the beef is great. Both the steaks and the burgers are outstanding. My new favorite place when I crave a slab of meat.

  15. Have been to the monte carlo many time one of my favortie places i allways get the ribeye steak or the green chile chesse burger have tryed the sirlion but the rib eye blows it out of the water i always get frys as the side love there frys i dip my toast they give u in there steak sauce go try this place its great

  16. I watched the show on Food Network, but wondered if they used lemon juice in their Greek Style Baked Chicken!!! Thanks for your help!!! 🙂 🙂 🙂

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