It’s been said that “when you feed those in need, you are feeding your soul.” That is especially true when the giver is practicing selfless giving, a conscious, intentional approach to giving that not only benefits others, but comes during a time when the giver is in dire need of help as well. When the New Mexico state government’s approach to the Cabrona Virus virtually closed down or limited restaurant operations across the state, it’s an understatement to say restaurateurs were really hurting. Dozens of restaurants across the Land of Enchantment closed. Hundreds of employees were laid off. It was during these trying times that several restaurateurs demonstrated truly heroic altruism, showing precisely what it means to be a great neighbor.
Among the most selfless givers were restaurateurs George and Alicia Griego, owners of Albuquerque’s Central Grill. In 2020, George and Alicia were named the New Mexico Restaurant Association’s (NMRA) Restaurant Neighbor of the Year for 2020. Though their popular eatery faced the same unpredictable operating conditions crippling other restaurants, George and Alicia looked for opportunities to help their neighbors. In the spirit of Luke 10:25, they opened their hearts, providing thousands of boxes to feed school children, seniors and others around the state. They prepared over 10,000 sack lunches for school systems across the state. They partnered with Legacy Church and Steel Bridge (formally the Albuquerque Rescue Mission) and Sysco to make 5,000 food boxes that were delivered to Native American Pueblos across the state. They also reached out to UNM hospital and sponsored over 350 meals to each department at the Hospital to show their appreciation for their hard work dealing with the pandemic. They also sponsored 400 lunches for Covid-testing locations throughout Albuquerque.
Characteristic of so many heroes, George and Alicia would prefer to deflect attention to those remaining in need. They do so without seeking fanfare, without crowing about their generosity, with no expectation of reciprocation. On Friday, January 13, 2021, I had the honor and privilege of interviewing George for an episode of Hungry Hump Days on Sunny 101.3. Months later I find myself still in awe of what George and Alicia did when heroes needed to stand up. The very least I could do to support them is to visit the Central Grill, their highly regarded restaurant on Central Avenue.
Interestingly the site which now houses the Central Grill has inspired near pilgrimage enthusiasm even before the Griegos began serving award-winning food. With an almost reverential zeal they come, their cellphone cameras at the ready. The enthusiasm for their pilgrimages has brought them to this hallowed destination from every corner of the country. Some know next to nothing about the city, save for it having been the hometown of chemistry-teacher turned meth-kingpin Walter White. They don’t regard the city with the ignominy with which it’s been portrayed, but as a Mecca replete with landmarks of the groundbreaking television series. They come for up-close-and-personal views of locations frequented by its characters.
The more enthusiastic among them have gone as far as to toss a pizza on Walter White’s roof, recreating White’s famous pizza toss from season three. Roughly 200 avid devotees wishing to bid one last goodbye to the drug lord better known by the clandestine pseudonym “Heisenberg” even participated in his mock funeral. Most, however, are content to take in the landmarks from the air-conditioned conveyances of the several companies capitalizing on the show’s popularity.
One landmark Breaking Bad enthusiasts will no longer find is Liu’s Chinese Fast Food Restaurant which made a cameo appearance during a season one episode entitled “Cancer Man.” No longer will fans be able to reenact the scene in which Christian “Combo” Ortega stood outside the restaurant to call Jesse Pinkman, Breaking Bad’s deuteragonist. It may not seem like much to the casual watcher, but to diehard devotees, it’s part of living the dream. Situated on Old Route 66 directly across the street from the Old Town Plaza parking lot, Liu’s may not have been contemporaneous with the Conquistadores, but it sure seems that way. In May, 2014, the Central Grill and Coffee House replaced Liu’s at the 60-year-old edifice, in the process transforming the nondescript building from a rather austere and uninviting premises to a bright, welcoming diner.
The Central Grill and Coffee House seats 48 with outdoor seating on an expansive patio accommodating several more patrons. Walk in on a Sunday morning and you’ll swear there are at least 48 guests standing in line to place their orders. The process is rather brisk. While standing in line you’ll have plenty of time to peruse the menu and after you place your order, it’ll be delivered in a short while. Watching one order after another of pancakes being ferried to eagerly awaiting guests is part of the fun. Pancakes are one of many options on a rather wide-ranging menu that includes numerous breakfast favorites, burgers, sandwiches, salads, sides and “perks.” The latter would be a line-up of coffee and blended smoothies sure to wake you up on a sleepy morning. There’s enough variety on the menu that you’ll be hard-pressed to make a quick decision. Fortunately, as previously stated, you could be in line long enough to deliberate your choices thoroughly.
28 June 2015: Perhaps the most difficult choice to make is deciding from among the scone of the day, muffin of the day and sweet of the day. If the salted caramel sticky bun is available, it’s a no-brainer. This is a sweet treat which should be mentioned in the same breath as the fabled Frontier roll and the cinnamon rolls at San Marcos Cafe outside of Santa Fe. In other words, it’s in rarefied company. It’s even better when served hot with lots of melting butter. Calories be damned; just double-up on the treadmill.
25 November 2021: The aptly named and almost intimidating in size Grande Burrito is probably even more dietetically devastating than the sticky buns. Roughly the size of a log of firewood, it’s engorged with the ingredients New Mexicans love on their breakfast burritos: scrambled eggs, potatoes, cheese and your choice of bacon, chorizo, ham, sausage or turkey sausage (live it up and have them all) topped with red or green chile (or both). While five proteins on one burrito may seem rather excessive, it surprised me how well one flavors melded while still retaining individuality of personality. This is one of the best breakfast burritos to have crossed my path in quite a while. The red chile has a very pleasant piquancy while the green has the roasted nuances aficionados appreciate.
25 November 2021: For my Kim, a carne adovada burrito sans additional chile makes great sense. She contends that the chile in which the pork has marinated has a porcine-blessed flavor profile it might lose if the burrito was smothered. She was blown away by the sheer volume of pork with which this burrito is engorged. Tender tendrils of pure pork deliciousness marinated in chile practically made her swoon. The breakfast version of the carne adovada burrito also includes scrambled eggs, cheese and onions, all of which work well together.
28 June 2015: Among the more intriguing sandwiches on the menu is one called the ABQ Western Sandwich, sliced brisket, smoked sausage, Cheddar and barbecue sauce on a toasted ciabatta bun. One of the things that make this an intriguing sandwich is that there is no smoker on the premises. Somehow, the brisket has the hint of smokiness that seems to indicate it spent time imbibing low-and-slow smoke. The smoked sausage doesn’t quite have the same discernible smoke notes, but it pairs well with the brisket.
30 July 2015: When the craving for a blue cheese burger hits and nothing else will do but you don’t want to take out a second mortgage to pay for it, visit the Central Grill where a bleu cheese burger can still be found for under a ten spot. Note that spelling. “Bleu” is simply a nod to the French word for blue, not any type of superior cheese (sorry, Francophiles). The bleu cheese burger is replete with the fetid fromage turophiles love (though for me, there’s never enough). With a creamy, pungent essence, it contrasts nicely with the sweet buns and the Angus beef.
30 July 2015: Just as New Mexicans revere the green chile cheeseburger, Minneapolis, Minnesota residents hold one burger in the highest esteem. They call it the “Juicy Lucy” and it’s essentially a cheese-stuffed burger which oozes molten cheesy goodness with every bite. Delicious though they are, they’re best consumed several minutes after receiving them or you risk burning the roof of your mouth. The Central Grill’s signature burger is called the Inside-Out Burger and it features Cheddar used as a stuffing rather than as a topping. It’s a good burger served with pickles, tomatoes, onions and lettuce on the side along with mustard, ketchup and Tabasco sauce on a condiment cozy. They’re served with your choice of French fries, sweet potato fries, onion rings, potato chips or tater tots.
31 July 2018: When I come home and tell my Kim I had dinner with my friend Bruce “Sr. Plata” Silver, her first question is “how was the chicken fried steak.” Her second, “did you take another picture of Sr. Plata.” Bruce and I have obviously become very predictable in our advancing geriatric progression. As chronicled on Gil’s Thrilling…, we’ve been on a quest to find the best chicken fried steak in the Duke City metropolitan area. The Central Grill is on a short list, one of the very best we’ve had. It’s also they key component of one of the most generous plates: two eggs prepared any way you want them, a buttermilk biscuit, your choice of hash browns or papitas and a thick slab of chicken fried steak smothered in a creamy white pepper gravy. Sr. Plata noted right off that the breading on the chicken fried steak was crispy on the edges and had a more prominent “chicken flavor” than others we’ve had. The creamy white pepper gravy lends a smooth and personality-rich blanket of warm comfort to the thick slab. It’s a great one.
31 July 2018:One of the specials of the day was something hard to pass up, blue corn pancakes slathered liberally with melted butter. Not that long ago only a handful of restaurants actually served blue corn pancakes. Today you can add the word “well” to the previous sentence. Only a handful of restaurants actually serve blue corn pancakes well. The Central Cafe and Grill is among those few. These golden orbs tinged with veins of blue are moist and absolutely delicious. If there’s one thing wrong with the blue corn pancakes, it’s that they’re not on the menu every day. They should be!
While Breaking Bad devotees may not find one of their favorite Old Town area landmarks, if the pangs of hunger strike during their pilgrimages, they’ll certainly find a terrific diner and coffee house to sate them.
Central Grill and Coffee House
2056 Central Avenue, S.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 25 November 2021
1st VISIT: 28 June 2015
# OF VISITS: 4
BEST BET: Salted Caramel Sticky Bun, Grande Burrito, Carne Adovada Burrito. ABQ Western Sandwich, Black & Bleu Burger, Tater Tots, Inside-Out Burger, Blue Corn Pancakes, Chicken Fried Steak,
14 thoughts on “Central Grill and Coffee House – Albuquerque, New Mexico”
Took two guests here a couple Fridays ago in the brunch period. Of the number of times I’ve eaten here, this was by far the most disappointing. At my urging, based on the reviews, one guest ordered the blueberry pancakes: completely meh, and on the dry side. The rather skimpy side of bacon was overcooked. Although orders go by numbers, with the little tags for the table, we were brought the wrong order for two of us. While my smothered burrito was a healthy size, the carne adovada was completely mundane, with absolutely no bite. A five-year-old could have enjoyed it. I am assuming that this visit was a one-off; I’ll be back to (hopefully) enjoy other favorites like the Cubano and the Classic Club sandwich. Another disappointing visit will have me concluding that Central Grill, like so many restaurants, has over time lost its way.
This place is really good huge burritos. Unfortunately most of the employees don’t practice Corona protocols and do not wear their masks. I’ve even seen them coughing back there
I enjoyed the blue corn pancakes this morn. They are now on the daily menu, as per Cristina- waitress.
Normally I enjoy the Build Your Own (BYO) Omelette. You can have an unlimited number of ingredients added without an extra charge. I don’t know of another restaurant doing this.
Customer Service was it’s usual excellent self.
Alas, pulled up in front of REMix Sophia’s at the initial opening time of 9 for a “Breakfast with Daughters”. Unfortunately, it’s been a while since I read Gil’s notation of Cash Only, so being the modernist they are ala credit cards and the traditionalist I am, I only had 21 bucks…so we mosied. Alas, that gave an excuse to take a been-meaning-to taste of the Central Grill a tad West on Route 66…even if it meant passing The Dog House.
If truth be told, per trusting Gil’s review, I’ve recommended the Central Grill while giving out tourist info in Olde Town, to the occasional tourist who, sadly, begs for some “American casual” having been hereabouts about a week.
Indeed a menu of copious breakfast and sangwich(sic) items (e.g. pg. 1/2 http://tinyurl.com/y5o95dmj) is sure to meet “American” and New Mexican ‘diner’ palates at everyday prices. My one daughter had an “American” plate of eggs over, sausage patties, hashed browns, and a pancake of which she cleaned the plate. Alas, the other ‘called off’ still being in PJs and illish. I had a Jr. Burrito/of scrambled/ & chorizo as am a not much into breakfast type. Aha! the red chile was nicely piquante with probably some chorizo adding to that. For purposes of this review, I just now and at home, had a taste bite…OK two…of the Sticky Bun I got for tonight. It is 2 x 3 1/2 x 3 1/2 and oozing a cinnamon/nutty flavor even without being slightly heated to melt (or not!), a pat of butter.
Ambiance? While one might refer to the simplicity of the windowed walls and the expanse of the counter, it is the ebb n flow of everyday Locals (with a sprinkle of tourists(?) e.g. I saw a Guy wearing Bermudas) that intrigues in addition to the convial guy assisting with seating or refills along with a country “Ma” flitting about, that made me think: This IS a Mom n Pop place….maybe like New England or from where some of Y’all have migrated. Anyway, pure Funk.
(Alas, closes mid PM.)
As Gil alluded to, I am on a search for the ultimate Chicken Fried Steak in the Land of Enchantment! I have to say the CFS at the Cenral Grill was Great Tasting! It was the most tasting like Fried Chicken that I had. Yes, gravy had no pork bringing a smile to my face, a little more pepper added would be great. I do wish it was bigger, it’s really hard to find restaurants meeting all metrics for: Quality, Taste, Size, Gravy / Chile and Extras ( crispy well done hash browns, eggs cooked beautifully over-medium, blue corn pancakes served with melted butter) but this came mighty close. Wonder if Franks chick and waffles might get add a chicken, waffles and chicken-fried-steak for Sr Plata? Plata out…
Yo Sr. Plata…I’m starting to get lost…well befuddled if truth be told (E.g. Vic’s? Mannies? Milly’s? Western View? Etc?…yada yada.) May I ask for you to put out an “interim” ranked list of…IYHO…the best to least Chicken Fried Steak with gravy platters, i.e. designating which You’d go back for and which Ya wouldn’t. Yo, if you could do a second ranking after factoring in LDL, that would be great if not unique! Say, maybe there’s a App for that!?
Alas, I drove all the way down 4th St. (aka Pre 1937 Rte 66) to the KFC just beyond The Village of Los Ranchos last night for their Tuesday $2.99 Chicken Fried Steak Especial and as I walked up to the door and having checked if my zipper was up, then checked to find…I forgot my wallet!!! Bottom line? Nothing to report!
– Say…in looking at Gil’s “Albuquerque Restaurant Index”, do you agree as I do that there should be a Listing for Chicken Fried Steak(s)?
Sr. Plata and I have been talking about the Chicken Fried Steak Trail for about two years. It’s a virtual certainty KFC’s rendition won’t be on the list.
By the way, the relative lack of visits seems to indicate readers are unaware that by hovering over the “Gil’s Highest Rated Restaurants” link on the top menu bar, a sub-menu will display with links to my highest rated New Mexican, Italian, Vietnamese, etc. etc. restaurants. Someday the Chicken Fried Steak Trail will reside alongside that pantheon of my favorite and highest rated restaurants and foods.
Yo Gil! RE KFC wont be on the CFS List! Whoa, I’m gonna trust that is not a prejudgement…LOL BTW, does Sr Plata have any recommendations from the frozen dining selections of Trader Joe’s, WallyMart, Sprouts?
– No, I did not know about hovering over “Gil’s Highest Rated Restaurants”…very good!
– NB! Yi Hoo…Does anyone have 2 weeks to travel the country eating BBQ (I presume gratis) while making $10K (with travel/lodging paid for!)? Check it out Ryan et al http://tinyurl.com/ybjw5ol3
Dude you are in serious need of a life
How long was Liu’s at this location? 60 years? I don’t seem to remember a Liu’s… What was there previous?
Liu’s served Albuquerque from February 1989 – May 2013 (24 years 4 months). I don’t recall who occupied that location before Liu’s but believe it, too, was a restaurant.
It was a Burger Chef. Central Grill and Coffee House owner, George Griego, has the picture to prove it.
Central Grill gets our stamp of approval for breakfast! Really exceeded our expectations. Open early, Great food, really good coffee. Really appreciate having help yourself coffee for refills available on the patio. We will be back.
This place looks promising… I’ve driven by countless times and wondered. Thanks, Gil!