America may be a multicultural melting pot, but thriving within its most populous metropolises are ethnic neighborhoods–pockets of diversity residing in two worlds, retaining many of the cultural and culinary traditions of their motherland while integrating into and pursuing the American dream. Cities such as Chicago have long realized that these ethnic enclaves offer a treasure trove of cultural and culinary experiences. Most of these neighborhoods welcome culinary tourism–the opportunity to showcase the cuisine of their homelands.
One such example is the city of Chicago which boasts of the largest Polish population outside of Warsaw (as many as 183,000 by some estimates) in the world. Storefronts and restaurants in “Little Poland” on Chicago’s far Northwest side are bedecked in the white and red flag of Poland. They offer everything from pierogies to kielbasa. Every Labor Day weekend Chicago celebrates its Polish heritage at the Taste of Polonia festival where Polish cuisine and culture are showcased.
Obviously Albuquerque doesn’t have the population to support a “Chinatown” or a “Little Poland,” but the Duke City does offer multicultural dining diversity. Although several of the city’s ethnic restaurants are clustered throughout the International District, many others are strewn throughout the metropolitan area where they’ve integrated into the fabric of neighborhoods which may or may not have an ethnic population base.
One such restaurant is the Red Rock Deli which opened its doors in October, 2014 in a timeworn shopping center on Lomas just west of Tramway. From the outside, it wasn’t the most attractive restaurant in town (some would even call it an eyesore) but to aficionados of Polish and European comestibles, it was a perfect Bo Derek “10.” When patrons happened upon a crude “Closed” sign on the door in March, 2019, we worried about where we might sate our next pierogi fix.
Thankfully, four months later (July 16, 2019), the Red Rock Deli reopened its doors in the strip mall time that’s also home to the Southwest Savories Cafe. Though both restaurants are recessed by only one block from the heavily trafficked San Mateo Blvd. about half a mile north of its interchange with I-40, savvy diners will find and frequent them both. In 2023, the Red Rock Deli underwent a bit of a make-over, expanding its space to accommodate more aisles and more diner seating. It’s a wonderful space.
If you’ve ever been blessed with the opportunity to visit Chicago’s Little Poland, the Red Rock Deli will seem very familiar once you step within its doors. As you walk in, you’ll espy shelves stocked with comestibles such as red borscht, sauerkraut, jams and so much more. Make sure to peruse the freezers where savory and sweet pierogies, stuffed cabbage and other items can be purchased. Other shelves are jam-packed with candy, cookies, beverages and other grocery items not usually found in Duke City stores.
Owner Mark Toczek spent his formative years in Poland before moving first to Germany then to Chicago (which he visits frequently to stock up on the items which grace his shelves and his deli’s menu). In 1995, he launched the Red Rock General Store in Blanca, Colorado just outside the Great Sand Dunes National Park about 1.5 hours north of Taos. The Red Rock General Store has long been TripAdvisor‘s highest rated restaurant in the area.
Mark, who launched the Red Rock Deli in October, 2014, is an effusive and hands-on owner with a high likeability quotient and a welcoming smile for everyone. In fact, for sheer customer orientation and making all guests feel welcome, he and his staff are in rarefied company with the superb staff at Joe’s Pasta House in Rio Rancho. Initially he operated the deli with the help of his sweet mother Jadwiga, but she passed away in January, 2015. Today, you’re likely to be taken care of by Mark’s son Max who’s every bit as amicable as Mark though not quite as outspoken. Max is an aspiring airline pilot once he completes high school.
In October, 2021, spiked blonde coiffure and red Camaro in tow, Guy Fieri, the Mayor of Flavortown made a triumphant return to the Duke City where an episode of the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives showcased the Red Rock Deli, which Fieri described as an authentic Polish deli and true hole-in-the-wall. Fieri praised the Eastern European menu as well as the attached grocery section which allow for you to take home the goodness for later.
Owner Mark and his Ukraine-born bride Alisa prepared stuffed cabbage and Wiener schnitzel for Fieri who called the “ten times tender” schnitzel among the best he’s had. Though Eastern European cuisine isn’t what you might think of when mentioning Albuquerque, Fieri assured viewers that the Red Rock Deli is the real deal. The episode aired in January, 2022 with periodic repeats in the event you missed it the first time.
Red Rock Deli’s menu is proudly and prominently Chicago and not just the Little Poland section of the Windy City. Windy City transplants like my Kim are sure to find several things that will transport them back home to Chicago. They’ll find comfort in table tents sporting marketing fodder for Vienna Beef products. They’ll find additional succor in reading the menu where they’ll see Chicago hot dogs, Italian beef sandwiches, Lincoln pork sandwiches and the legendary Maxwell Street sandwich.
Our eyes immediately gravitated on the menu to the Italian Beef sandwich, a Chicago staple. Also catching our eyes was menudo, a New Mexico favorite among intrepid diners. The menu has four sections, the first of which lists three Polish sausage options. Six hot dogs (including Chicago-style and a New Yorker) precede twelve sandwich options (including Angus hamburgers) on the menu. The “specialties” section of the menu lists the Polish specialties along with the aforementioned menudo as well as blood sausage.
4 April 2015: During our second visit, Mark surprised us with a complimentary bowl of Ukrainian Borscht served piping hot. The borscht is made by Mark’s talented wife and is as comforting and delicious as any vegetarian soup you’ll find in the Duke City. A light, savory meatless broth redolent with cabbage and beets (accounting for its reddish hue) includes potatoes, carrots, kidney beans and jut a tinge of salt and pepper. It’s a wonderful soup! As with some soups in which beets are an ingredient, there are elements of sweet and sour that make this a unique soup. It’s always served hot which makes it a very popular wintertime soup.
20 February 2022: Even better if that’s possible is Solanka (sometimes spelled solyanka) a Russian soup which translates to “food of the villager” or “villager’s stew.” Though it’s highly regarded as a hangover cure, it’s got restorative qualities that make it a wonderful soup at any time. The basis of solanka can be meat, fish or mushrooms. Max explained that Red Rock Deli’s recipe, which originated with his grandmother, calls for an assortment of sausage. Meats, he explained, are more difficult to season to everyone’s liking. Red Rock Deli’s version is replete with hardy vegetables: carrots, scallions, potatoes, olives and onions in an addictive broth seasoned with spices and herbs that imbue it with comforting qualities. It’s served with a lemon slice if you’d like your soup just a bit tangy, but this is one elixir that enchants just the way it is.
20 February 2022: It’s not often (if ever) the term Russian Roulette elicits smiles, but at the Red Rock Deli you just might find yourself drooling at the mention. Russian Roulette is a mix of six different kinds of pierogi (a sweet Russian Roulette option offers six different kinds of pierogi with sweet stuffing) from among the nine variants of savory stuffing available at Red Rock). For a pittance, you can have the Russian Roulette fried with onions and bacon. It’s a winning combination.
The pierogi are about the size of a Chinese dim sum dumpling or about two bites worth. They’re served with a generous dollop of sour cream, not that it’s needed when you can scoop them up with crispy bacon and onions fried to a pearlescent sheen. Among the nine available options with which the pierogi can be stuffed are potato, sauerkraut, ground meat, cabbage and spinach. All are very good with our very favorite being the spinach stuffing. In our increasingly cosmopolitan world in which the unusual and unique are embraced, it’s nice to enjoy old-fashioned and traditional pierogi.
4 April 2015: Pyzy, yet another form of Polish dumplings, may be difficult to pronounce (try saying pyzy five times fast), but they’re delicious to eat. Unlike the pierogies on the menu whose wrappers could pass for those used on Chinese dumplings, these are most assuredly and unmistakably potato dumplings. They even look like boiled potatoes with a doughy wrapper made from potatoes and stuffed with meat. Texturally, they’re soft and pliable as dumpling wrappers tend to be. The meat stuffing is nicely seasoned and complements the wrappers very well. Don’t forget to pay the pittance for having them fried with onions and bacon, a combination which improves everything.
21 November 2014: Of the three Polish sausage options, we couldn’t pass up the one anadiplotic name–Polish Polish, a hot dog style sandwich with Polish sausage, brown mustard and pickled jalapeños. What you’ll notice first about the Polish Polish is the bolillo-style bread which resembles the bread used on Sonoran hot dogs. Alisa bakes this bread from Colorado where the higher altitude produces bread of exceptionally quality. It’s so good you’ll want to use it on all your future sausage and hot dogs.
Alisa’s magnificent bead has a dense and crusty exterior and a soft, pillowy interior. The Polish sausage nestled within that bread is procured from Chicago and is sliced diagonally. It’s a coarse, garlicky and smoky sausage with a natural casing that snaps when you bite into it. The pearlescent onions and pickled jalapeños complement the sausage very well with inherent sweet and piquant notes that will make fire-eaters very happy.
21 November 2014: Your humble blogger (and I frequently remind my Chicago born-and-bred bride of this), fell in love with the Chicago hot dog at first bite. Despite having grown up in the Windy City and having been around Chicago hot dogs all her life, she didn’t like them until I offered her a bite of one at Albuquerque’s AK Deli. That’s all it took. Though she eschews the sport peppers (too hot), she loves the neon green relish, mustard and a Vienna Beef hot dog directly from Chicago. Vienna Beef hot dogs have a natural casing that gives them a discernible snap when you bite into them.
The same delightful buns used on the Polish Polish sheath the hot dog which extends beyond the bun by a good inch on both sides. The Chicago hot dog also includes onions, tomatoes and jalapeños, not the “sport peppers” used in Chicago. It’s the only thing on Red Rock Deli’s Chicago hot dog she doesn’t love. As with the Italian beef sandwich, she’s come to the realization that a better version of the Chicago hot dog can be had at the Red Rock than at the fabled Portillo’s.
20 February 2022: Among the foods most expatriated Chicagoans tend to miss most–no matter where they may settle–is the uniquely Chicago Italian Beef Sandwich, about which Thrillist wrote “Some cities were built on rock ‘n’ roll, but Chicago was built on big, greasy meat mountains on rolls.” The Italian Beef sandwich features thinly-sliced, slow-roasted roast beef dripping with homemade Italian gravy on a dense, long Italian-style roll. There are at least four Duke City eateries now serving Italian Beef sandwiches and the Red Rock Deli is second to none.
Quite simply, it’s got all the elements of an authentic Chicago Italian beef sandwich and can be prepared with your choice of sweet or hot peppers (or both). It’s Chicago good–even if it’s not served “wet” (dipped into the absolutely delicious seasoned au jus). For one thing, the house-baked bread is superior (I never thought I’d say that). My dearly departed friend Larry McGoldrick, the professor with the perspicacious palate, made the case that Red Rock Deli’s Italian beef sandwich is even better than the Italian beef sandwich at Chicago’s legendary Portillo’s. After a December, 2021 visit to Tempe, my Kim finally agreed. “Much better,” she declared about the Italian beef sandwich at the Red Rock Deli. Who am I to argue?
4 April 2015: One of the more interesting items on a very interesting menu has the curious name “Lincoln Pork Sandwich.” It’s easy for Chicago transplants (and those of us married to them) to assume this sandwich is named for Lincoln Park, a community area in northeast Chicago bordering Lake Michigan. Instead, Mark will explain, the sandwich has everything to do with the cost of pork. When pork was a relatively inexpensive meat, he could afford to sell the sandwich for five dollars, the denomination sporting Abe Lincoln’s stoic countenance. Today the sandwich is priced at just south of eight dollars. When the rising cost of pork forces a price escalation to ten dollars, the sandwich will be renamed the Hamilton Pork Sandwich. Alexander Hamilton is the face on the ten dollar bill.
The Lincoln Pork Sandwich is terrific! At its essence it’s a breaded pork cutlet nestled on a gilded bun. If that sounds pretty boring, count on Mark to embellish the sandwich with excitement courtesy of mustard, mayo, pickles, jalapeños and lettuce. It’s a winning formula. The pork cutlet is pounded thin and not even Sherlock Holmes would be able to find fat or sinew. The combination of jalapeños, mustard and mayo provides bold and contrasting flavors while the may adds a touch of richness. My Kim, who usually has an aversion to breaded anything, enjoyed this delightfully delicious sandwich as much as I did.
4 April 2015: Chicago’s Greektown district has a distinctive dining and nightlife scene that celebrates the culture and cuisine of the Greek population. To assume you can find excellent gyros is an understatement. Some of the very best gyros you’ll ever find in the fruited plain are prepared and served in this area. Mark imports both the lamb-beef amalgam and the pita bread from Chicago and the quality shows. That quality is also evident in the thick, sour-tangy Tzatziki with its pronounced yogurt and cucumber flavor profile. The pita is moist and pliable and didn’t dry up and harden as some pita is apt to do. Just a modicum of hopped onions and tomatoes makes this a sandwich as opposed to a salad with meat. The gyros is accompanied by baked potato skin chips, my new favorite potato chip.
5 September 2019: If you’ve ever traveled through Germany (especially during Oktoberfest) it probably wouldn’t surprise you to learn that Germany consumes more sausage than any other country in Europe with 1.5 metric tons consumed between 2014 and 2019. Also not surprising is that the second-largest consumer of sausages was neighboring Poland with 574K metric tons. Germany’s consumption was nearly three times that of Poland which tells you they’re serious about sausage.
So is the Red Rock Deli whose menu includes a Polish German Platter (Polish sausage and beer brat served together with your choice of potato salad, sauerkraut or sauerkraut stew) that might transport you to the old country. With its strong garlic flavor married with pimentos, cloves, marjoram and smoke, the Polish sausage edged out the beer brat (with subtle notes of caraway seeds, coriander, ginger or maybe nutmeg) for our affections though it was close. The sauerkraut and sauerkraut stew (yes, we asked for both) weren’t quite one note, but didn’t really distinguish themselves as separate entities. Both were terrific as was the potato salad.
20 February 2022: According to 247wallst.com, in 2020, New Mexico ranked ninth among the fifty states for the number of hamburgers consumed annually per capita with 248. Multiply that by the average lifespan (about 78 years) means New Mexicans enjoy about 19,344 hamburgers in a lifetime. Despite such a Brobdingnagian number, not many burgers (save for the sacrosanct green chile cheeseburger) truly distinguish themselves by their memorable qualities. Trust me on this one. Red Rock Deli’s kraut burger (lettuce, mayo, pickles, onions and mustard served with sauerkraut, thousand island dressing, and topped with Swiss cheese) is one you’ll remember for a long time. It’s one of the very best burgers I’ve enjoyed in years that didn’t include green chile. It’s so good, I’ve been plotting a return trip to have another (or maybe three).
4 August 2023: Consistency is one of the hallmarks of outstanding restaurants. Every time you visit a great restaurant, you can expect your favorite menu items to be prepared the same way. Alas, if the same chef or cook isn’t in the kitchen when you visit, it’s a crapshoot. Such was the case the second time I ordered the kraut burger. The second instantiation lacked the magnificent sesame seed bun that held every ingredient in place. Unlike my first Kraut Burger in which all ingredients were stacked atop the beef patty, on the second burger a half a head of lettuce and several ripe tomatoes were sprawled below the patty and the sauerkraut was on top. This is a more ideal configuration, but there was just too much lettuce and the bun fell apart under the weight and moistness of all the ingredients. Yeah, I’m whining, but you would too if your expectations fell short.
18 February 2016: If there’s one traditional New Mexican dish that has not transcended generations, it’s menudo, the dish constructed from yellowish, spongy, honeycomb-structured “innards” (can you say tripe) and chile. Young folks (and not just millennials) find the texture, aroma and flavor more than a bit off-putting, a phenomena that generally occurs when you tell them what menudo is a tripe dish. Even more “seasoned” diners don’t often list menudo as a favorite dish.
We found it very interesting that a Polish restaurant would offer a variation on menudo. What makes it Polish is the infusion of Hungarian spicy paprika, a seasoning that imparts a pleasantly piquant personality. Texturally, the tripe is thinner than what you’d find in New Mexican menudo, but it’s just a bit on the chewy side (though not quite rubbery). This is an interesting variation on a traditional dish not everyone loves.
21 November 2014: Dessert options include the aforementioned sweet pierogi and nalesniki, crepes stuffed with sweet farmer cheese fried in butter and served with sour cream and powdered sugar. Texturally similar to cottage cheese, farmer cheese is a fresh, dry-curd cheese with a tangy flavor. Stuffed into crepes topped with powdered sugar, this dessert is rich and delicious without the cloying flavor found on some crepes.
4 April 2015: The premise of Russian Roulette, a potentially lethal game of chance, is frightening, but at the Red Rock Deli, Russian Roulette may forever change what you think of the term. Sweet Russian Roulette, a mix of six different types of pierogies stuffed with a sweet filling and topped with sour cream and (usually) powdered sugar is more like a Russian dream. When available, the sweet pierogies are spritzed with “forest sauce,” a tangy-sweet, light syrupy sauce made from berries which grow in the forest. The pierogies are stuffed with such delicious fillings as cranberries, plum and farmer’s cheese. There are few desserts quite as exciting and delicious, especially when forest sauce is drizzled generously.
18 February 2016: It was a given that my friends and fellow gastronomes Larry McGoldrick and Dazzling Deanell would also enjoy the Sweet Russian Roulette as they had its savory counterpart. What I could not have predicted is that they would introduce savory elements to a dessert entree that needs no amelioration. Perhaps as a lark, Larry, the esteemed professor with the perspicacious palate, wondered out loud what the sweet pierogi he described as “OMG delicious” would taste like with the fried bacon and onions used on the savory pierogi. It turns out the bacon and onion combination goes very well with the sweet pierogi. Is it any wonder Professor Larry was such an innovative software engineer and oceanographer before sharing his savvy insights online.
The Red Rock Deli is a welcome addition to Albuquerque’s increasingly diverse culinary scene. You need not know anything about Polish cuisine. If you love a great hot dog, a terrific sandwich or a Chicago style deli, you’ll be right at home.
Red Rock Deli
2414 San Mateo Place, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Website | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 4 August 2023
1st VISIT: 21 November 2014
# OF VISITS: 6
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Italian Beef Sandwich, Classic Hotdog, Polish Polish, Nalesniki, Russian Roulette (Sweet and Savory Pierogies), Gyros, Lincoln Pork Sandwich, German Polish Platter, Kraut Burger, Solanka