Paul’s Monterey Inn – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

Paul's Monterey Inn, a throwback to the 1960s
Paul’s Monterey Inn, a throwback to the 1960s

The year was 1971. Albuquerque’s population had reached a quarter of a million. The San Juan-Chama project, a system of diversion structures and tunnels for trans-mountain movement of water from the San Juan River Basin to the Rio Grande Basin, was completed. The area’s three military installations: Kirtland, Manzano and Sandia Bases merged under Air Force jurisdiction. Civil unrest was in the air in pastoral Roosevelt Park where a riot ensued that saw more than 130 arrested and more than 2,000 armed men called in to quell the situation. Albuquerque ballooning pioneer Sid Cutter took his first balloon flight. Paul’s Monterey Inn opened on Juan Tabo.

Four decades later Paul’s Monterey Inn continues to serve the Duke city with a menu that hasn’t changed much, if at all, in lo these many years. While the menu may not have changed, times have. In the 70s, longer cooking times to avert potential diseases resulted in the the most popular degree of preparation for steak being anywhere from medium to well-done. Today, aficionados of steak prefer shorter cooking times so that their favorite slabs of beef retain more juice and flavor.

In the 1970s, thick, hazy clouds of cigarette smoke permeated virtually every corner of almost every restaurant–despite perfunctory efforts to segregate smokers from non-smokers. In 2004, the city of Albuquerque followed the national trend and implemented an Indoor Clean Air Ordinance which prohibited lighting up in restaurants, unenclosed restaurant bars, coffee shops and cafeterias. For Paul’s Monterey Inn, the smoking ban resulted in a twenty percent drop in customer traffic, mostly on Friday and Saturday nights.

Large booths envelop diners at Paul's Monterey Inn
Large booths envelop diners at Paul’s Monterey Inn

Paul’s Monterey Inn has survived for decades, not necessarily because it has constantly changed or adapted, but because it has and continues to provide an excellent product at great value in a relaxing milieu. It’s a formula that has seen the restaurant survive the onslaught of the nutrition police who came along and declared meat protein non-grata. It’s why Paul’s survived the mad cow disease scare.

In many ways, one of Albuquerque’s longest surviving steakhouses hasn’t changed at all. Paul’s Monterey Inn is an anachronism–a throw-back to a bygone era in which the template for steakhouses meant a dimly lit, smoky ambience with rich leatherette seating which swallowed up diners; an era in which menus were dominated by thick slabs of hand-cut beef and fried seafood entrees. It’s the template followed by steakhouses in New York City and Las Vegas, Nevada back in the day. It’s the template that made steakhouses the haven of Frank Sinatra and other luminaries of the period.

Paul’s remains a dimly lit restaurant with gold glass fixtures and low-watt wall sconces illuminating barely enough for the menu to be read. It takes a few seconds for your eyes to adjust to the dimly lit beef and cocktail palace in the far Northeast Heights–and when they do adjust, you’ll wonder if you stepped out of a portal into the 1960s. You’ll also wonder where the rest of the world went. Paul’s gives one the impression that the rest of the world (and time itself) has been shuttered behind its dark-paneled walls.

A dinner steak (Iceberg lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, croutons)
A dinner salad (Iceberg lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, croutons)

Thankfully the darkness of the restaurant is no longer exacerbated by the choking blue haze. Thanks to the city’s clean air ordinances, Paul’s is now a breath of fresh air (literally). What a wonderful treat it now is to walk into Paul’s and not inhale the ghosts of cigarettes past which once lingered stagnantly and dulled the taste buds. It’s also a treat to be escorted to your table or booth by a hostess who asks if you want to sit side-by-side or facing one another, a quip so long-practiced that it’s probably used accidentally on single diners.

Mostly it’s a treat to be able to peruse a menu that some might consider a veritable museum piece, a menu that–save for price increases–hasn’t changed in four decades. It’s a menu that still features hand-cut, char broiled hunks of beef prepared to your exacting specifications. It’s a menu in which seafood is still breaded, fried and served with both cocktail sauce and tartar sauce. It’s a menu that shirks the avant garde designer appetizers of today’s trendy restaurants and serves the standards of the 70s steakhouse: jumbo shrimp cocktail, deep-fried onion rings and fresh mushrooms sauteed in wine.

Paul’s still offers a soup of the day, made from scratch and served fresh daily in a bowl or cup. On Tuesdays, that means green chile chicken soup, the restaurant’s comfort food favorite. The recipe hasn’t changed much over the past 40 years, that consistency perhaps the reason the restaurant serves up as much as fifteen gallons of the stuff every time it’s offered. One steakhouse standard which goes well with soup is salad and Paul’s sticks to tradition here, too with an old-fashioned Cobb salad. Its version of a designer salad is an “epicurean salad” whose chief components are Alaskan king crab and Gulf shrimp with tomato wedges, ripe olives, egg slices, lemon wedges and avocado wedges on a bed of mixed greens.

Some of the very best onion rings in town
Some of the very best onion rings in town

Entrees are accompanied by an old-fashioned dinner salad: iceberg lettuce, sliced cucumbers, plum tomatoes and bread croutons with your choice of dressing. Though the plates aren’t chilled, the salad ingredients and dressing seem to be. Chilled is the way iceberg-based salads should be served. You won’t find the designer du jour salad dressings on the menu. It’s the old standards: Thousand Island, Blue Cheese, Ranch and so forth. The Blue Cheese is thick and gloppy with nary a hint of actual blue cheese or the fetid qualities aficionados love about it.

Perhaps the starter most often served at Paul’s are the deep-fried onion rings, large ringlets of sweet battered onions. Years of practice has resulted in onion rings that retain juiciness when you bite into them, onions you can actually taste and a complementary batter that doesn’t dominate the flavor profile or leave your hands a greasy mess. These are onion rings the way they should be made.

Paul’s Monterey Inn goes through about a century mark’s worth of beer-bread loaves a day. This is bread baked in-house in the wee hours of the morning before some people are up. The mini loaves are easily big enough for two to split and are served with scooped shaped balls of butter. Your own personal cutting board, a victim of years of slicing and slashing, and knife are provided, too.

A loaf of homemade bread with butter
A loaf of homemade bread with butter

Though “steakhouse” isn’t part of Paul’s marquee, steak is what the restaurant is best known for. Duke City diners have been of the carnivorous persuasion even before the first time they saw the Flintstone’s car get upended by a rack of brontosaurus beef and Paul’s is one of our favorite sources for sizzling steak. Brawny beef is what seems destined for most tables at the restaurant, some of it large enough to give the wait staff a work-out.

Paul’s gourmet-cut 18-ounce roast prime rib of beef, au Jus is among the best in the city, its chief competition for that honor being the prime rib at the Monte Carlo Steakhouse, another anachronism which actually predates Paul’s by one year. This is black angus beef slow-roasted for eight hours. The staff recommends it be served at rare to medium rare though the restaurant will happily incinerate it if that be your choice (real meat-eaters would consider that a desecration). Paul’s serves more than 400 orders of the prime rib every week, making it one of the most popular entrees on the menu.

The prime rib is served with small plastic cups of horseradish. If you like your horseradish powerful enough to make you cough and sputter while tears run down your cheeks, you’re in for a disappointment. This is pretty anemic horseradish, about as weak as horseradish can be and still be called horseradish. The most popular accompaniment for most meat dishes are baked potatoes with heaping portions of sour cream and butter if you ask for them. Paul’s goes through nearly five tons of baked potatoes every week.

T-bone Steak with baked potato
T-bone Steak with baked potato

Another popular piece of pulchritudinous beef is the T-bone steak, eighteen-ounces of of saw-cut beef from the center of the short loin. With its signature T-shaped bone, this broiled behemoth has about 32 grams of protein per three ounces, making it one of Men’s Fitness magazine’s choices as one of the tastiest and healthiest ways “to enjoy the protein source that just may be the best muscle builder around.” Paul’s T-bone steak is the stuff of legend. Prepared to your exacting specifications every time, it is a sensational steak with good marbling for flavor and juiciness. It’s almost fork-tender.

Plate decoration at Paul’s has remained pretty standard over the years: a sole onion ring centered precisely on your slab of beef, a raw green onion laid out like a divining rod, an orange slice and a knife placed underneath your steak as if buttressing its weight on the plate. It may not be Feng Shui, but it’s something we’ve come to expect at Paul’s and we’re not left disappointed.

Smaller appetites take comfort in Paul’s petit filet, the second most popular item at the venerable restaurant. It’s wrapped in bacon to imbue it with a little smokiness, but the preeminent flavor is that of beauteous, tender beef. Filet is the most tender cut of beef, taken from the tenderloin. Paul’s has perfected this popular ladies’ choice, serving it perfectly every time.

Seafood Platter
Seafood Platter

The menu at Paul’s Monterey Inn includes a “turf and surf” entree, the order in which the two are listed depicting the restaurant’s hierarchy–meat first, seafood next. That doesn’t mean seafood is an afterthought. The turf and surf entree is comprised of a juicy sirloin and an eight- to ten-ounce Australian rock lobster tail. Australian rock lobster is a warm-water lobster without claws. At Paul’s, it’s eight- to ten-ounces of the sweetest and most delicious lobster we’ve had in the Land of Enchantment. Seriously, it’s a good lobster!

The seafood menu includes shrimp scampi, filet of king salmon, broiled halibut steak, golden fried scallops, Gulf jumbo shrimp, a combination seafood plate and Alaskan king crab. That’s trawler’s treasure…Poseidon’s bounty, maybe not enough to convince the “glass is half empty” folks that good to excellent seafood can be found in Albuquerque, but enough for those of us who know it can be.

The combination seafood plate includes a deep-fried crab cake, two Gulf jumbo shrimp and five golden fried scallops. There is probably a generation of Americans who have never had fried seafood, the preference currently being for it being broiled. Because you can have it fried makes Paul’s Monterey Inn is a popular venue for forty and fifty year olds who grew up with fried seafood.

Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Ice Cream
Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Ice Cream

The jumbo Gulf shrimp are butterflied and are nearly the size of a small fish filet. The crab cake is rich and moist, made with real crab. The fried scallops are lightly breaded and more moist and juicy than some broiled scallops I’ve had. Breaded and fried certainly doesn’t mean desiccated and flavorless in the hands of an experienced kitchen crew and Paul’s has been making seafood this way for years. This seafood triumvirate is sweet and succulent, a very nice treat.

Paul’s desserts are made in-house. The chocolate cheese pie has been on the menu for more than two decades and is the restaurant’s most popular dessert. Another homemade gem is the chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream. The dominant flavor profile is chocolate–rich and delicious without being cloying. Top it with vanilla ice cream for an even better dessert.

Paul’s Monterey Inn is a timeless classic that hasn’t worn out its welcome in Albuquerque because it remains a welcoming restaurant that hasn’t bowed to the pressures of time and culture. Forty years from now it will probably be serving the same timeless menu. Surviving customers won’t mind that at all.

Paul’s Monterey Inn
1000 Juan Tabo, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico

LATEST VISIT: 13 February 2010
COST: $$$ – $$$$
BEST BET: Australian Rock Lobster, Prime Rib, T-Bone Steak, Combination Seafood Plate, Chocolate Cake, Chocolate Cheese Pie

17 thoughts on “Paul’s Monterey Inn – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

  1. I’m looking for a restaurant where the pri.E rib is exactly like Pauls Monterey Inn. I went there for 30 years, and sooo sad it’s gone.

    1. It’s been many years since I’ve had it, but the prime rib at the Monte Carlo Steakhouse is legendary. It’s not available everyday, so you should call in advance to find out when you should visit.

  2. Nostalagia for such entrees and ambiance ‘notwithstanding’, sad to see an UnChained closing up his venue this Saturday after 40+ years, due to illnesses/econ struggles. Our Gil was even quoted in today’s Journal (Business Dect., page 1) “….an anachronism–a throw-back to a bygone era in which the template for steakhouses meant a dimly lit, smoky ambience with rich leatherette seating which swallowed up diners;…” Classic enough indeed to be used in Br Ba!
    ~ RIP a Family and Staff who put themselves on the line for our pleasure and enjoyment and memories!!!

  3. The restaurant actually did open in the 1960s, very much the same as today. My recollection is that is was 1967 or 1968 and first called Pep Young’s Monterey Inn, with Pep and Paul as partners. Pep was an old Yankees ballplayer, and you can amuse yourself if you choose with old stories online about him acting like Pete Rose back in the 1920s, breaking up double plays by diving at the second baseman’s legs, etc. (Yes, Babe Ruth was a teammate.) But Pep and Paul were partners from the start, and when Paul bought out Pep’s share in what was apparently 1971, they were both still on the same team. The transition was basically seamless, and I only note this to make the point that the restaurant has been open longer than 1971 and those who call it a 1960s type restaurant are actually literally correct. I say go there and enjoy it. We always enjoy it when we do.

  4. Hmm…anyone have a recent experience given this 11/28/12 report?: Paul’s Monterey Inn has been voted “Best Hidden Gem” by Albuquerque the Magazine. Head Chef Jason Matier joins KASA’s “Nikki” in a vid-demo.


  6. Well, after seeing a lot of glowing reviews my wife and I were really looking forward to visiting Paul’s last Friday night. Unfortunately, we’ve ended up in the dissenting minority on this place, having had a thoroughly mediocre experience on both food and service fronts.

    First, the service: very odd, to say the least. For some reason, our server, a genial older fellow, would only come our table for one task at a time — he came and took our drink order, then walked away…came and served our drinks, then walked away…came to hand us some bread, then walked away…came to take our appetizer order, then walked away…served our appetizers, then — this time he didn’t walk away, but only because my wife stopped him and said we’d like to order our main course. Also, by the time he brought our drinks, the table next to us that had arrived well after us had already ordered and received their drinks, appetizers, ordered their mains, and were tucking into their salads. No bueno. Also, we weren’t offered a wine list when we were seated, and noticed that some tables were, and some weren’t. What gives? We literally had to give ourselves the once-over to see if we had accidentally dressed like hobos or something that would warrant us being deemed unworthy of a wine list.

    The young man who refilled our water glasses was very much Johnny-on-the-spot about keeping the water topped off…unfortunately, he seemed to believe that I was the only one sitting at the table, since I’m the only one who had his water refilled throughout the entire evening. It wasn’t a problem, since my wife didn’t actually want a refill — which is why we didn’t bother correcting his error — but it was a very strange oversight considering that he topped off my glass every other sip.

    As for the food…on the plus side, the onion rings were terrific, not too sweet, and served with an excellent ranch dressing that tasted like it was made from scratch. The baked potato that I ordered with my peppered ribeye was also very good — no complaints there.

    Unfortunately, it was the main attraction — the steak — that was subpar. Our ribeyes, which we’d ordered medium-rare, came out medium instead, and it was easy to see why. The grill the steaks were cooked on was not nearly hot enough, so not only did they never develop a decent crust — despite the “grill marks” painted on the pale surface of the steaks — but the interiors cooked too long in the time it took to get the outside of the steaks to even acceptably cooked levels. I also received a terrible cut, fully a third of which was nothing but a large chunk of fat. For a “hand-cut” steak in a restaurant that is ostensibly a steakhouse, this is unacceptable.

    I’ve got to give the place the benefit of the doubt and assume we just got unlucky on our visit, but Paul’s does have the air of one of those longtime local favorites that’s been coasting on its reputation for decades, and gets reviews that are more about sentimentality than a cold-eyed assessment of quality. Even if the food and service had been good, though, the place really did not quite live up to my expectations. The place does have an old-fashioned charm, but is really more ramshackle than anticipated — the interior is a trifle shabby and cheap looking, and I think Gil’s comparisons of Paul’s with Vegas and New York steakhouses is a little generous. This is a nit-pick, not a serious criticism, but it is something I think people should know before they come in thinking they’re going to get a Rat Pack experience. It’s really more like a midwestern supper club, which is definitely a good thing, but it is its own distinct experience.

    I wasn’t expecting either fine-dining service or haute cuisine from Paul’s — I really just wanted a slightly cheesy, old-school, leather-booth experience like I remembered from living in Las Vegas and going to swanky Old Vegas joints like The Golden Steer. Well, I dined at The Golden Steer, I loved The Golden Steer. The Golden Steer was a favorite of mine. Paul’s Monterey Inn, you are no Golden Steer.

    1. Hello Edward

      Many steakhouses which launched in the 1960s seemed to subscribe to a “template,” a sort of “copy cat” philosophy that steakhouses should have a “dimly lit, smoky ambience with rich leatherette seating which swallowed up diners; an era in which menus were dominated by thick slabs of hand-cut beef and fried seafood entrees.” That was my point in comparing Paul’s to similar steakhouses in NYC and Vegas, but from an experiential perspective, you’re right. Paul’s is probably closer to an old-time midwestern supper club.


  7. We own a restaurant here in Albuquerque that we’re proud to say is known for its good quality of food and service, and I can say our expectations are high when we go out to eat. Paul’s is just simply a great place to go in, sit down, and have a fabulous old-fashioned steak dinner (or lobster, or prime rib – it’s all outstanding). We grew up in places like this in New York and Los Angeles where, still today, there are the occasional surviving steak-and-scotch landmarks. Paul’s is up there with the best of them, anywhere we’ve been, making it more than a landmark in Albuquerque, more like a luscious oasis in a very dry culinary desert. Thank goodness for great food and the wonderful places that serve it! Let’s go over to Paul’s right now!

  8. I’ve been eating at Pauls for years and really never had a bad meal. Lunch menu is very good and they have specials as well. Very nice bacon, green chile cheeseburger and the patty melt is very good as well. Lunch with tip, less than fifteen dollars. I highly recomend dinner and I’ve had it all except for the seafood platter and the petite fillet. Bar is good if you like. I never eat desert. Great staff, great food.

  9. Oooeee, if there’s one reason to move back to the Heights from Los Ranchos (Vernon’s notwithstanding), it must be Paul’s particularly in terms of price…LOL. Having that recent Comment as a reminder is much appreciated as “we” all hadn’t been since…eeek!…the ’70s. Had the (smaller) Prime Rib and will give it an 8. This comes about because, unfortunately, the previous night my S-i-L offered to share some Prime Ribs I’d sent him for his birthday awhile back from…Omaha Steaks.

    My friends gave the KaBobs and Epicurean Salad 2 thumbs up as well.

    While I haven’t had the PR at the Monte Carlo yet…I’m anticipating the comparison given what the souvlaki does for me.

    How many restaurants have we seen come and go in less than 5 years? What’s the secret to Paul’s and Monte’s success to survive over 40+ years in The Q? Can it be KISS? Keeping It Simple Stupid with great food, prices, and what can now be considered funky ambiance (or a “comfy“ setting?)? Oh! and let’s not forget The Dog House…Ruff, Ruff.

  10. The chocolate cheese pie is the best desert that I have had the pleasure of devouring. Love Paul’s Monterey Inn!

  11. And in addition to having great food, you can get a glimpse of Paul’s unmistakeable interior (and exterior) about 40 minutes into the film ‘Crazy Heart’. The exterior shot shows a different (fake) sign on the side of the building, but if you look closely you can see the real restaurant sign on Juan Tabo.

    1. In its May, 2008 issue Albuquerque The Magazine wrote that Paul’s “goes through more than 9,900 pounds of potatoes a week.” Our waitress confirmed Paul’s goes through nearly five tons of potatoes a week. Now, that does seem like a ridiculous amount of potatoes so I’m inclined to believe the actual tonnage is significantly lower.

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