Route 66 Malt Shop – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

The Route 66 Malt Shop in Nob Hill

In a May, 2009 edition of New Mexico Magazine feature celebrating “20 reasons Rail is Cool Now,” the magazine’s staff and contributors shared the best things to experience via the New Mexico Railrunner Express.”  A Duke City notable was root beer at the Route 66 Malt Shop and Grill, then about three miles from the nearest Railrunner depot.  The magazine encouraged readers to “order a frosty mug of homemade award-winning root beer, or make it a float.”  While you’re at it, the magazine suggested “sinking your teeth into the signature Blue Cheese Green Chile Burger.  Dee-lish.”

Ironically just as the magazine was hitting the newsstands, the Route 66 Malt Shop’s west-facing windows were scrawled with the alarming words “Lost Our Lease, Being Evicted.”  To the consternation of hundreds of loyal patrons who  signed petitions on the restaurant’s behalf, the developer who owns the building in which the restaurant was housed apparently had other plans for it.  Owners Diane Avila and Eric Szeman were unable to reach an accord with their landlord and had to close the beloved institution they operated for so long.

Nostalgia abounds at the Route 66 Malt Shop

To call an 845 square foot hole-in-the-wall an institution is a testament to how firmly entrenched and highly regarded this classic 50’s themed mom-and-pop became in the course of its fourteen years in the Old Town area. With seating for only 20, dining was in cramped quarters, but that somehow only made the restaurant seem more comfy cozy.  Diners got to know the affable, often loquacious owners and usually chatted up their neighbors in the close proximity tables, too.  Dining at the Route 66 Malt Shop always seemed to have a communal feel to it.

In August 2010, the little restaurant with a gigantic personality reopened in a venue more than twice the size of its previous Lilliputian digs.  Now situated in a 2,200 square-foot space in the fashionable Nob Hill area (two blocks east of Carlisle), the new Route 66 Malt Shop resembles a classic neon-spangled 50’s diner with 21st century spit and polish inside and out.  The spacious accommodations are buttressed against an apartment complex.  From Central Avenue, the expansive concrete area in front of the restaurant may, at first glance, resemble a parking lot, but this area is intended for patio seating.  That’s something else the previous location didn’t offer.

Co-owner Eric Szeman has become a bit of a Duke City institution himself

The interior is a mishmash of familiar and new.  Thematic remnants from the original restaurant festoon the walls in the form of Route 66 brick-a-brack. The post art-deco restaurant pays loving tribute to America’s highway and is adorned with thematic posters and period antiques such as an old Coke-A-Cola machine and a retro gas pump. Nostalgia abounds throughout the restaurant, but conspicuous by its absence is Szeman’s conservative ideology which was unabashedly on display on the counter as you walked in to the original restaurant.  It made for interesting banter between the owner and patrons who weren’t like-minded ideologically.

The black-and-white checkerboard square tile motif from the original restaurant was retained as was the old-fashioned jukebox.    The spacious kitchen is no longer visible from anywhere in the restaurant as was the tiny kitchen  (if you could call it that) at the original.  With a 30-foot long cook line (ten times larger than at the previous milieu), the capacious kitchen is a dream for Diane and Eric who have been able to expand their menu and even their serving hours, now offering breakfast, lunch and dinner.

A hot dog at the Route 66 Malt Shop
A hot dog at the Route 66 Malt Shop

Among the lunch and dinner menu additions are French and sweet potato fries, items for which the burger loving public long clamored.  The Route 66 Malt Shop is now open from 8AM to 10PM every day, hours made possible because the restaurant is now staffed with employees nearly as enthusiastic as the owners.  In fact, both Diane and Eric were absent during our inaugural visit to their new restaurant, the cooking duties being handled capably by their son.  Though we enjoyed our meal immensely, we missed visiting with the personable owners, both being Mother Road institutions themselves.

True to its name, it is indeed an old-fashioned malt shop, one of the few restaurants in the Duke City to offer “phosphates,” homemade root beer and even my New York City favorite, egg creams.  The home-made root beer on tap is brewed on site and served up in frosty, ice-code mugs. It’s definitely not the sweetest root beer you’ll ever have, but it’s full-bodied, hearty and has that lingering taste root beer aficionados (like me) love. Szeman calls it an “adult root beer” and the “Guinness of root beers.”  It is wonderfully herbaceous and dry (like a fine, dry wine). Luke’s Root Beer Reviews ranked this exclusive Route 66 offering the third best root beer in America. As good as it is by itself, it’s better as a float because the Route 66 Malt Shop uses Breyer’s Premium ice cream.

Dusen-Burger: Half-pound beef patty, grilled onions, green chile, blue cheese, lettuce, mustard, ketchup, mayo

Get your kicks on Route 66” is the mantra of nostalgic motorists who have lobbied for generations to preserve the heritage that is America’s “mother road”, the 2,448 mile highway commissioned in 1926 and decommissioned in 1985 and which traversed eight states between Chicago, Illinois and Santa Monica, California. “Get your green chile cheeseburger at the Route 66 Malt Shop” has become the mantra for savvy Duke City (and beyond) devotees of outstanding burgers.  Gourmet burgers remain the restaurant’s mainstay.

All burgers come standard with green leaf lettuce, vine ripe tomatoes, sauteed or raw onions and pickle slices on a custom baked bun (toasted) with your choice of ketchup, mustard or mayonnaise.  You can adorn your burger with  your choice of Cheddar, American, Blue or Alpine Lace Swiss cheese for a pittance.  Other options (at a cost) include mushrooms, green chile, avocado, bacon and blue cheese.  Rapacious appetites can even ask for a double-meat burger (each patty weighing in at 1/4-pound).

Meatloaf Sandwich…A Huge slice of meatloaf smothered in grilled onions and Swiss cheese on rye bread (or you can have multi-grain bread)

The green chile cheeseburgers feature a quarter pound of lean beef (best prepared at about medium) provided by a local non-chain butcher shop. It’s easily one of the juiciest (six napkins) cheeseburgers in town. It is endowed with piquant, seasoned green chile, not the cold chopped pretender other burger joints purvey.  It’s the favorite green chile cheeseburger of world famous sculptor Sonny Rivera, an Albuquerque native and like him, it’s a New Mexico treasure.  In 2009, this green chile cheeseburger was selected for inclusion in the New Mexico Tourism Department’s Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail.

While fashionistas may frown on a blue and green ensemble, they would fawn over the Route 66 Malt Shop’s bleu cheese green chile burger in which the contrasting yet complementary tastes of oh so hot green chile and sharp bleu cheese compete and coalesce to provide a memorable taste sensation. The buns are toasted on the same grill as the meat patties, so they’re splashed with meaty juiciness. The patties are spritzed while they grill with Route 66’s own “special sauce” for additional moistness.

A basket of sweet potato fries

When you think formidable appetite, think the Route 66 Malt Shop’s Duessen-Burger, a half-pound green chile cheeseburger with bacon, grilled onions, lettuce and tomato. It’s essentially a chopped steak and it’s thick, juicy and only for the most famished of diners.  If a half-pound is just a tad more than you can handle, the Cadillac burger offers the same toppings as the Duessen-Burger, but at a more svelte one-third pound.  You won’t go away hungry, but you will go away planning a future visit.

If you’re a hot dog aficionado, the grilled Two Lane Hot Dog featuring a Hebrew National wiener is for you. It’s an oversized hot dog with oversized taste.  It’s absolutely not one of those bloated wieners that might make you wonder if it’s a compensatory machination of some sorts.  While not two inches in circumferences, these waifishly thin wieners, allow a full-flavor experience: wiener, mustard, relish and toasted buns.  These beauties are  sliced diagonally in half then are grilled to perfection.

Pastrami sandwich at the Route 66 Malt Shop
Pastrami sandwich at the Route 66 Malt Shop

The pastrami sandwich is surprisingly good–even though the Route 66 Malt Shop uses a Boar’s Head pastrami which tends to be much more on the lean side than pastrami paramours like me prefer.  What makes this a more than passable pastrami is the way it is sliced–in razor-thin shards–and the lightly toasted house made light rye bread in which it is stacked thickly.  It is served with mustard–no cheese or pickles–just mustard the way it should be.  Order it with a side of potato salad for an interesting textural and flavor contrast.

An even better sandwich, maybe the best of its kind in Albuquerque is the meatloaf sandwich, one of seven specialty sandwiches on the menu.  This beautiful behemoth is two slices of meatloaf, each about half an inch thick, smothered in grilled onions and Swiss cheese on your choice of whole grain, rye or multi-grain bread.  My friend Andrea Lin, restaurant critic for the Albuquerque Journal, has called it a “to die for” sandwich, an assessment that’s spot on.  The meat loaf is moist and delicious with just a smear of a tangy barbecue sauce for contrast.  The grilled onions are sweet tangles of deliciousness while the Swiss cheese lends a textural contrast.  After having ordered my first Route 66 Malt Shop meatloaf sandwich in December, 2010, I may forever be torn between this sumptuous sandwich and a green chile cheeseburger.

Seven-year old Stevie Sunday will tell you the Route 66 Malt Shop's burgers beat a Happy Meal any day...except on the day of the week named for him when the restaurant is closed.
Seven-year old Stevie Sunday will tell you the Route 66 Malt Shop’s burgers beat a Happy Meal any day…even on the day of the week named for him. (Photo courtesy of Bill Resnik)

For sandwiches and burgers, there may be no better accompaniment than fries, either French fries or sweet potato fries.  The Route 66 Malt Shop hadn’t been able to offer fries in its previous location, but now offers some of the very best in town.  The sweet potato fries certainly are.  They’re thick and perfectly fried to provide a crispy exterior and soft interior.  They’re also served hot to the touch with a room-temperature ketchup.  A basket of these tubers will easily serve two.

Barbara Walters once said “A hot fudge sundae and a trashy novel is my idea of heaven.”  Not only is the ice cream sundae simplicity itself–a scoop or two of ice cream, a sweet topping and the ubiquitous whipped cream and cherry on top–it is truly an American icon.  At the Route 66 Malt Shop, you can have the sundae your way (hot fudge, strawberry, cherry, raspberry, blueberry, pineapple and butterscotch) or you can have a banana hot fudge sundae in which the inimitable flavor combination of chocolate and bananas just melts in your mouth.

Scrumptious Sundaes
Scrumptious Sundaes

The old-fashioned soda fountain features hand-scooped ice cream which can be fashioned into malts or shakes, sundaes, ice cream sodas, banana splits and who can forget black cows (a Coke float with chocolate syrup and chocolate ice cream) and brown cows (a Coke float with chocolate syrup).  The malts and shakes are served teeth-rattling cold and so thick you might dispense with your straw and drink them straight. Malt and shake flavors include chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, cherry, raspberry, blueberry, pineapple, butterscotch, Oreo, peanut butter, banana, coffee mocha, sherbet shake, crunchberry shake, lime shake and root beer shake.

Dessert du jour offerings showcase Diane’s skills with the sweet stuff.  Alas, she bakes cakes and pies in limited amounts which usually don’t last long.  Show up late and you’ll miss out and you certainly wouldn’t want to miss out on such sweet treats as the cinnamon rolls.  Not overly thick or large, these sensational spirals are redolent with cinnamon and a sweet, buttery glaze.  Ask for them to be served warm.

Diane’s homemade Cinnamon rolls

Not only does the Route 66 Malt Shop claim a vast local fan base, it has won over all local restaurant critics and has snared national attention in such magazines as True West and Sunset. It’s a restaurant at which memories are made!  In their new home, they’ll be making even more memories.

Route 66 Malt Shop
3800 Central Avenue, S.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 14 November 2012
BEST BET: Green Chile Cheeseburger, Bleu Cheese Green Chile Burger, Root Beer, Root Beer Float, Two Lane Hot Dog, Banana Hot Fudge Sundae, Meatloaf Sandwich, Homemade Cinnamon Rolls, Sweet Potato Fries

Route 66 Malt Shop & Grill on Urbanspoon

19 thoughts on “Route 66 Malt Shop – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

  1. Kay and I tried them today for lunch. Their machine was broken so no root beer!! Big Bummer! We tried the blue green chile cheeseburger—who woulda thought blue cheese on a green chile cheeseburger. It was a tasty combination. But it was very sloppy and the bun wasn’t up to the task, basically dissolving/disappearing ’bout half way through. Also like Amanda I would prefer to add my own condiments, ketchup, mayo, mustard. The home made chips were good but a few were essentially uncooked. Onion rings were good. Also had their pastrami sandwich. It was good as far as it went-not enough pastrami. (Does Katz’s deliver to Albuquerque?) Again, I’d like to add my own mustard. Lemonade not worthy of mention-tho they tried twice. The service was terrific. We’ll go back to try the root beer but nothing we ate today would bring us back.

  2. Wow, Awesome! Looks absolutely delicious! My husband and I ran in to pick up a menu one day, but haven’t been able to make it back to actually eat. You’ve featured them superbly! So much so that I am sooo hungry and wishing I could get over there right now! Thanks for sharing this.

  3. To Senor Plata, I am so sorry for missing your B-day lunch! It sounds like it was magnificent. Best regards to you, Geel, and Boomer! Catch you soon, I hope!

  4. Sensei wasn’t anywhere near being wrong. This has got to be one of the best Root Beers I have had in my life! Served in a nice frozen glass mug, the Root Beer had a deep sense of spice and it was kind of on the thick side if you know what I mean. I am used to Root Beers with vanilla but this seemed to have something more on the licorice, anise, something I just couldn’t put my finger on but I can say it was not sweet, just really good. Its almost time for a blindfold contest because I think Hank’s Root Beer (which can only be found on the Air Force Base in the state of New Mexico) is great and this just might be a bit greater. For lunch, I had the Meat Loaf sandwich and of course requested it on Rye Toast (had a hankering for Patty Melt as well). It had grilled onions, cheese and a little barbeque sauce (could have used a bit more). I was toasty on the outside and nice/most as meatloaf is on the inside. I think it would be a treat for any carnivore. Of course I looked over and Sensei and Boomer had the most amazing 1/2 pound burgers with blue cheese and all the fixings that I wondered would I be back one day for that (I am sure I will). We also shared sweet potato fries (excellent in the basket) and onion rings (so-so, I like them crunchy and wished they were home made). Sensei has wanted to take me here for a very long time and I am glad this was my birthday choice. I look forward to coming back…

  5. One of the best burgers in town, for my money. And I love that the bun is a chewier, crustier alternative to the standard soft, sesame seed burger bun. The butterscotch shake could have been a bit thicker, but it had great butterscotch flavour, and was frosty cold. I’ll be back. And a friend says they have delicious breakfast, including some of the best huevos rancheros he’s had.

  6. Our step back in time at the Route 66 Malt Shop was a treat for our taste buds, our ears and our vision. When we entered we were greeted by not only 1950’s décor, but by The Kingston Trio on the jukebox.

    The food, however, was a step forward, not a step back in time. I never had food this good at a diner in the ‘50’s. Here is a quick summary of the take of my two companions and myself.

    My calorie-counting companion raved about her “excellent” salmon sandwich and its fresh bun. My other companion rated her Reuben sandwich very highly, though it was “not spectacular.” My ¼# patty melt had a fresh beef patty that was done to a juicy medium and wonderful grilled onions, all of which I devoured with pleasure. We all thought the fries were quite good, but we had mixed reactions to the root beer. I loved it, but my companions weren’t quite sure.

    Prices were quite reasonable, my patty melt, for example, costing just five bucks. A hot fudge sundae only costs $3.50.

    The reasons for returning are many: good food, funky ambience, fine service, very reasonable prices and a whole host of items yet to be experienced.

  7. Finally made it over to “that” side of town by crusin East through the faux-to-ReeAl Restaurant Row of ABQ’s Route 66 known as Nob Hill. This is in contrast to Trough Row I or II on Coors NW.

    Alas, I’ve never experienced the original site and hope my lack of prunes for a few days doesn’t show as I’d really like a place like this to flourish as a casual choice.

    A+ for the facade adding to the continual semi-revival along Nob Hill’s 66! C tho for figuring out I had to circle the block for the odd parking in the rear or along Solano SE. The effect of the spacious but barren “lot” in front [awaiting the fair weather patio], gives the first impression of “Uh Oh, No one’s eatin there; let’s move on down the road.” (Personally, while I love patio dining, if this is going to be nothing more than looking out on and smellng fumes of Central, forget it. While a popular bistro/pub down the road might be filled in fair weather, I can only wonder if there are not going to be enough “amblers to espy” along the walkway at this point of Central. But that’s just my humble opinion.

    My arrival time was 5:45 on a Fri. I was ‘the first’ to be seated. While there appeared ample staff, e.g. hunkering at a table to the side, somehow I felt unloved in terms of a Welcoming even if it be for a menu…that I guess you’re supposed to figure out that you are supposed to pick one up as you enter.

    I had the Chili(sic)Cheese Burger with standard toppings and con mayo to which I also plopped just a dollop of ketchup on. (BTW, I always think it is gauche to not suggest Hunt’s or a generic to owners/managers instead of Heinz, but that’s another story.) Let me tell ya, this is one burger you are going to want to hold in your hands and not put down! Got ya excited? Well, it’s cuz if you do, the prime juices which have oozed onto your basket, will only make your (blush) bottom buns soppy. (BK or is it Carl’s, only shows condiments oozing out.) While the burger is beyond pink (ala the FDA, OSHA, CDC, etc.), the juiceness of their grillng technique is to be loved/admired for the resulting experience. Ooo Ooo, also the carefully, but slightly “overdone” edges of the burger increases its Yum-Yum bouquet!!! The non plain, slightly toasted bun is, literally and figuratively as one may be want to say, The Topper. That testament would only be true if you hadn’t ordered the chili (sic). It will heat your mouth!!!! and puts most self proclaimed chile “burgers” to shame!
    An “A” rating (with consideration for price).

    Rootbeer? A+. Oh Chips? Slaw? or Tata Salad for 75 cents? Now where can you go wrong?

    Lastly, besides “(re)training” of waitstaff, there is “something” missing in drawing me quickly from across town besides having something else to do in the neighborhood. While the inner decor is splashy/chic/hip does it need something else??? A breaking up of the (new) expanse? Costumes for the staff? A randomly announced discount coupon to return? Newspapers for the solo diners as others had in the past? How about a contest to define that “inexpensive” something; retraining of staff…oh, but I said that?

    Well, I’m tempted to try the Reuben and Meatloaf. I hope I see more Comments in the meantime tho.

    Best Wishes for Success in the New Year! Ha ha, past the old joynt on the way over….still empty.

  8. Went to the new place over the weekend for the first time, and the food was just as outstanding as I remember. Root beer was spot-on (I could drink it by the gallon) and the green chili cheeseburger was still the best I’ve had (none of this mild chili nonsense). The Mrs. had the red chili hot dog and I didn’t hear much out of her the whole meal beyond the occasional “mmmhmmgoodmhmm.” Also had the onion rings which were cooked perfectly; piping hot, crisp and thick.

    Aside from the food, I really enjoyed the new decor. They have a wonderful atmosphere in there with the oldies rock and Americana covering the walls. The co-owner (Eric) was making the rounds striking up conversations, and the waitstaff was friendly. If I had to say one bad thing, its that the food is a little slow…but perfection takes time.

  9. Went there in December of 2010. Dad had the meatloaf sandwich: “It was straightforward and no frills with tangy meatloaf and just the right amount of grilled onions.” Burgers were good and sloppy — soaked through the bun. My only criticism is that I don’t want them to ask whether I want mustard, ketchup, or mayo — I’d rather have those condiments at the table and put the amount that I prefer. Root beer has good flavor and not too sweet. Not the kind of root beer you can find at the supermarket.

  10. Just got done with a Dusen Burger and fries which was as juicy and messy as they always were. Quite good! My wife enjoyed her Salmon Burger and said it was very good also. Root-beer floats were awesome. Once they get the kinks worked out it ‘s gonna be a great place. Glad they’re back!

  11. Oooh, that’s a bummer. I hope things come together for them, and quickly. They have too much of a reputation for fantastic food through all the cramped-ness and occasional kitchen bickering.

    I was even sad when they had to leave their location – sometimes it is hard to recreate the magic, even if the original space was wrong/small/difficult. (Horseman’s Haven, anyone?)

    C’mon, guys…. limeades and grilled meatloaf sammiches. Let’s have ’em!

  12. Wanted to let you know that the original location closed and they just reopened on Central east of Carlisle. Give it some time though before returning. Service was terrible, food was overcooked and it just seemed like total chaos. I loved the burgers at the original location but service always left something to be desired. This time the burgers couldnt even make up for the slow disorganized service. They left my bun on the grill so long it turned into a dried out bun with the texture of a cracker. My sons burger came without the green chile and cheese on his green chile cheeseburger and my husbands order was incorrect as well. It was unfortunate that the experience was so bad because this was my husbands first visit. My son and I had eaten at the previous location on several occasions when my husband was away on business. We had repeatedly told him how great the burgers were. I told him we will let them iron out the kinks in the new location and return in a couple of months. Hopefully they will have it running properly then. The menu has also been revamped to now include fries in the larger location since they now have a fryer.

  13. Try the green chile cheeseburger with grilled onions, very good. Wash it down with a Root beer, also very good. The potato salad and the coleslaw are terrible. Hot dogs are ok and the Patty Melt is good. No fries, they will make you some hashbrowns though.

  14. I was expecting a good meal and a fun, quirky dining experience, and got it. Great food- I went with the root beer float and the high-test green chile burger, all of which were above and beyond good. The cool 60’s-70’s atmosphere is icing on the cake. I am looking forward to the opening of the new, bigger place soon.

  15. Just enjoyed a Root beer float with my mother today. Wished I had time for a burger! I sure hope they get to stay in business.

  16. Nah, the cramped aspect is a whole lot of its charm. If you remember the previous Horseman’s Haven you’ll know what I mean.

    Sometimes getting “cozy” is key to the appeal of a place like this. That goes for the kitchen space, too – having the two of them snipe at each other as they tried to maneuver is its own entertainment!

  17. Following up on my earlier comment, my wife and I did finally make it over to the Malt Shop a few months ago. The root beer is amazing, everything I’d hoped — peppery and just the right amount of sweetness. I wish we’d had enough cash on us to have about three root beers apiece. I didn’t like the burger quite as much, mainly because the meat and buns are just way too charred. I like a nice char on my burger patty, but the one we had was beyond overkill. I do hope the shop stays open, although being evicted might be a blessing in disguise if they’re able to find a new location that’s roomier than their current, extremely cramped quarters.

  18. we are comming from League City,Tx to get your world famous root beer float,, don’t close!!!!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.