Backstreet Grill – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

Behind this Entrance to Old Town is the Backstreet Grill and its Capacious Patio

Old Town Albuquerque. Locals love it. We appreciate its unique architecture and have tremendous affection for its character and personality. We hold its religious celebrations in reverence and admire the passion with which its secular fiestas are celebrated. We delight in reminding “colonists” that it’s older than many New England cities which dominate history books. Old Town is where we take all our friends and family who visit us. Much as we love it…and we do love it, many of us don’t visit Old Town as much as its proximity and charm might warrant.

Ask locals why they don’t frequent Old Town and the more “honest” ones will likely tell you it’s because it’s no longer solely ours. We have to share it. While we don’t consider Old Town a “tourist trap,” we feel “trapped by visitors” when we can’t find convenient parking and when maneuvering around a shop is akin to an obstacle course with the primary obstacle being visitors walking around with mouths agape and eyes distracted by our local culture. It’s a real quandary because we love visitors, too. We’re very proud that they’ve chosen to spend a little bit of time (and hopefully a lot of their money) in this little paradise we call home.

Backstreet Nachos

The Old Town Merchants Association recognizes the value of local residents who visit and recommend Old Town throughout the year. In 2015, the Association announced a “We Love Locals” promotion, a tangible way (that includes gift baskets, hotel stays, dining certificates, shopping sprees, guided tours and more) to show their appreciation. Ever the proud gastronome, the emphasis of my promotional efforts would have centered on all the great restaurants in the Old Town area. Yes, there are great restaurants in the Old Town area, several of which rank among the city’s most highly esteemed.

If its been years since you last visited Old Town for the sheer pleasure of dining in one of its esteemed eateries, it’s time to get reacquainted with dining at one of the city’s greatest treasures. Perhaps you might want to take the love of your life to Restaurant Antiquity, named in 2015 as “one of the thirteen most romantic restaurants in America” by TABELog, a highly regarded online foodie community. Two Old Town area restaurants–La Crepe Michele and Duran’s Central Pharmacy–were touted in 2015 by national real estate resource Moveto as among “15 Albuquerque Restaurants Will Blow Your Taste Buds Out Of Your Mouth.”

Cup of New Mexican Gumbo

There’s probably no better way for locals and visitors alike to immerse themselves in culture than by partaking of our incendiary and incomparably delicious cuisine. Old Town’s New Mexican restaurants include long established standards such as Monica’s El Portal, Ben Michael’s Restaurant, and La Placita Dining Rooms. There are a number of “new kids on the block,” too. Recent restaurant additions (perhaps since your last visit) to the Old Town area include the Quesadilla Grille (2010), Vinaigrette (2012), Central Grill & Coffee House (2014) and Backstreet Grill (2012).

After our inaugural visit, my Kim was so impressed that she chided me for not having taken her to the Backstreet Grill before. My pathetic and pitiful excuse was that I’d been tortured for nearly a decade with songs from the Backstreet Boys, one of the most popular boy bands of the 1990s. Knowing full well that I actually liked “I Want It That Way,” (forgive the earworm) she didn’t buy my excuse. Truth is, I’d wanted to try the Backstreet Grill for more than a couple of years, but didn’t want the commotion and hullabaloo of teeming masses in an all too confining space (seating for fewer than 20 guests).

The Backstreet Supreme

When the Backstreet Grill moved from its Lilliputian location to a more capacious venue in June, 2014, my excuses started to make even less sense than some Backstreet Boys lyrics. It wasn’t until discovering there’s a “back way” to get to the Backstreet that we finally made it. The back way involves parking not in the Old Town Plaza (and good luck finding a spot there), but in the commodious parking lot south of the Albuquerque Museum. From a parking lot space close to Old Town Road, you’ll espy an archway with a viga on which the Backstreet Grill name is scrawled. It’s literally feet from the parking lot to the restaurant though the noisy world seems further and you’ll hardly notice the parked cars with an east-facing view that includes the verdant Tiguex Park.

The Backstreet Grill has grown up and out since its initial launch in 2012. Now situated in Old Town Plaza’s former carriage house building, it can accommodate nearly 200 diners. Weather permitting, many of them opt to dine al fresco in a spacious patio shielded from the sun by towering trees. The interior dining room is resplendent in dark, masculine woods with a matching ceiling. Both booth and table seating are available, the latter offering more personal space. Walls are festooned with vintage black-and-white photographs of Old Town when the area was much more pastoral and certainly would not have been considered a tourist draw.

Duck Tacos

It didn’t take long for us to realize the amiable and extremely knowledgeable server attending to us was chef-manager Christopher “Chris” James Cordova. When we peppered him with our usual litany of questions (i.e., does the chile contain cumin) about the menu, his answers were a give-away. With a rare precision, in-depth knowledge and passion, he explained nuances of the dishes which interested us. More importantly, not only does he understand his dishes, he can “sell” them. Chef Cordova is a friendly and peripatetic presence at his restaurant, simultaneously overseeing the kitchen operation while lending a hand wherever it’s needed.

Peruse the menu and you’ll quickly discern what while it’s got elements of both, it’s neither New Mexican nor Mexican cuisine. Chef Cordova calls it “an innovative hybrid” that showcases ingredients, dishes and techniques from throughout the Southwest as well as Baja California and coastal Mexico. Call it a hybrid if you’d like, but in short order, you’ll be calling it delicious. The menu is segmented into several distinctive categories: breakfast, starters, soups and salads, tacos and burritos, burgers and sandwiches, the Mexican pizza and sides. Read solely the names of each dish and you might be inclined to think “been there, done that,” but study the composition of each dish and you’ll fully gain an appreciation for the chef’s creativity.

Tenderloin Steak

16 October 2015: The triple-layered Backstreet Nachos, for example, are a wide departure from the gloppy cheese and vapid jalapeño-based nachos found at ballparks and bad restaurants. Think chile con queso, smoked pork shoulder, Hatch green chile and corn and black bean relish garnished with queso fresco, toasted pumpkin seeds, cilantro and cool ranch sour cream. All nachos should aspire to such deliciousness, such innovation, such sheer bravado. Every ingredient lends something to the plate, a melding of tried and true flavors that go very well together both texturally and flavor-wise. The cool ranch sour cream tempers the fiery Hatch green chile while the toasted pumpkin seeds and corn and black bean relish lend delightful textural properties.

26 March 2017: In 2015, an Albuquerque man craved his mom’s posole so much that he ignored her commands to stay away from her posole, broke into her home and stole it. The posole pilferer was later arrested on a residential burglary charge. Perhaps someone should warn the Backstreet Grill to keep its New Mexico Gumbo under lock and key. It’s good enough to risk breaking and entering. So what does gumbo have to do with posole? The Backstreet Grill’s signature New Mexican gumbo is chock full of Andouille sausage, chicken, rice, okra, Hatch green chile and posole. The posole and green chile no only make this gumbo uniquely New Mexican, but they elevate it in flavor. The posole imparts its corn-imbued savory, hearty qualities to what would be a very good gumbo.

Deconstructed Shrimp Tacos

16 October 2015: Several years ago uber chef Dennis Apodaca showed Albuquerque the delicious possibilities of incorporating rich, fatty duck into New Mexican and Mexican dishes at his pioneering restaurant Eli’s Place (formerly Sophia’s Place). Perhaps the most popular dish at the Backstreet Grill also utilizes delectable duck in an innovative way. Three duck tacos (red chile braised duck legs, topped with corn and black bean relish, mango mole sauce, Cotija cheese, cilantro and toasted pumpkin seeds stuffed into three corn tortillas) may have you craving canard for your next meal. The mango mole sauce performs some sort of magic on the shredded thin shards of duck deliciousness, imparting that magic on your happy taste buds. The cool element that seems to define contemporary tacos is provided by the ubiquitous corn and black bean relish.

16 October 2015: Some of those ingredients make their way onto one of the most innovative pizzas in the city. The Backstreet Supreme, described as “the original that started it all – fully loaded and awesome” earns its name. The canvas for this masterpiece is a fourteen-inch flour tortilla with a base of mozzarella and Menonita cheese topped with smoked pork shoulder, corn and black bean relish, pineapple pico de gallo, Hatch green chile, toasted pumpkin seeds, cilantro and Cotija cheese. The cheesy triumvirate lends elements of creaminess and saltiness in nice proportion to other flavor profiles. When the pineapple pico de gallo makes its presence known, it’s a perfect foil for the Hatch green chile. Now, a flour tortilla “pizza crust” means some dry, brittle edges, but they won’t get in your way of enjoying this delicious orb. Supreme seems to be a common descriptor for pizzas. This one earns it!

Tequila Shrimp & Avocado Cocktail, an Award-Winning Dish

26 March 2017: Because of my indifference to steak, my Kim has threatened to take away my “man card.” Having been born and raised in Chicago, the “Hog Butcher for the World,” she loves meat and pork in all their forms while my tastes are far more eclectic. Her initial shock when I ordered the tenderloin steak at the Backstreet Grill was replaced by the realization that I would only order the steak if it’s served with a phalanx of “meat disguisers.” True enough, the nine-ounce portion of lean, juicy tenderloin steak is seasoned with smoked Spanish paprika and topped with a roasted pineapple demi-glace. The Spanish paprika (pimento) imparts not only a pleasant piquancy, but a slightly woodsy flavor that tempers the tangy-sweetness of the roasted pineapple. The combination is a steak sauce several orders of magnitude superior to what you’ll find at most restaurants (especially those who rely on commercially bottled sauces). Tenderloin, of course, is a juicy, tender and tasty cut of beef that needs no amelioration (unless you’re not of a pronounced carnivorous bent). On the side is a brick of thyme-grana scalloped potatoes and warm, seasonal vegetables.

26 March 2017: As is her custom, my Kim had her Baja Shrimp burrito “de-constructed,” meaning she wanted the tortilla on the side. She cuts the tortilla into “New Mexican spoons” which she uses to scoop up as much of the burrito ingredients as she wants. Don’t ask me how this makes sense to her? Just trust that it does. The Baja Shrimp burrito is prepared “California style” with sautéed tequila-garlic shrimp, lettuce, rice, pineapple pico, cilantro and sour cream ranch sauce served with tomatillo salsa verde. What my Kim enjoyed most were the pineapple pico and sour cream ranch. What she didn’t like (especially the cumin-infused rice), she pushed to the side. 

Spicy Shrimp Scampi Tostadas

28 December 2019: In its annual “Hot Plate Awards” edition for 2019, Albuquerque the Magazine bestowed a well-deserved award to the Backstreet Grill for its “hot shrimp.”  “It takes precision, quality and a certain unique flair to earn a Hot Plate Award” and the tequila shrimp and avocado cocktail has “shown all those traits, and then some.”  This is an elevated shrimp cocktail, a sophisticated and vastly improved version of the ubiquitous Vegas favorite.  Consider its construction–cucumber, heirloom tomatoes, pickled onions, cilantro, red chile pine nut, tequila lime vinaigrette, corn tortilla, honey Serrano chimichurri with a ramekin of smoky barbecue sauce on the side.  That’s a lot of ingredients, but in proper proportion, they play off each other as harmoniously as Bach’s clavichord.  We would certainly bestow a “Cold Plate Award” upon this work of genius.

28 December 2019:  Not all chefs can take every ingredient including the kitchen sink and construct something absolutely delicious, but Chef Cordova is no ordinary chef.  He obviously likes playing with his food in the most inventive sense of the term.  He has a knack for making multi-ingredient dishes work.  Another such example is the spicy shrimp scampi tostadas (black bean, cilantro lime rice, calabacitas, cotija, scallion, roasted corn mayo, black pepper, guacamole, fire roasted salsa, lemon).  The blue corn tostadas are too weighed down with concordance and deliciousness to eat hand-held style so you’ll have to rely on your fork.  There’s so much to like about this dish including (gash, the heresy) the combination of cilantro lime rice and black beans, two so very California elements not every New Mexican will admit to liking.  We did.  In fact, we loved every element of this dish.

The Baja Blue Burger

28 December 2019: In 2017, the President of Iceland declared that if he could, he would ban pineapple as a pizza topping.  His comments drew the rancor of a very vocal online community.  It’s likely the reaction would have been less polemic had Iceland’s President expressed similar views about pineapple as a topping on burgers.  For some reason, pineapple on burgers just hasn’t caught on across the spacious skies. Backstreet Grill’s Baja Blue Burger (hickory bacon, applewood smoked blue cheese, pineapple, chipotle barbeque, brioche bun, roasted corn mayo) served with waffle fries would certainly change a few minds and open new eyes to a new way of enjoying burgers.  Seriously, every element of this burger works well together, much of that having to do with those ingredients being used in proper proportion.  There wasn’t too much of any one thing (especially the pineapple) between the brioche buns.  Sadly, the waffle fries (dust dry) were an unworthy accompaniment.

28 December 2019: During our inaugural visit, dessert offerings came from a restaurant supplier. They weren’t bad, but so much better is the homemade apple crisp a la mode with a caramel drizzle Chef Cordova developed.  It’s one of the very best renditions of apple crisp I’ve ever had.  The “crisp” elements include a nice balance of oatmeal and granola streusel.  The vanilla ice cream is topped with sweet-tart, crisp apples and pie crust strips.  This dessert is a melding of textural contrasts as well as heat and cold elements that just work.  That seems to be the prevalent theme of every dish at this restaurant.

Apple Crisp with Ice Cream

The Backstreet Grill may just be the restaurant that brings locals back to Old Town and once there, it’s a good bet you’ll be back.

Backstreet Grill
1919 Old Town Road, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 28 December 2019
1st VISIT: 16 October 2015
COST: $$
LATEST VISIT: Duck Tacos, Backstreet Supreme, Backstreet Nachos, Sweet Potato Maple Layered Cheesecake, Tenderloin Steak, Deconstructed Shrimp Tacos, New Mexico Gumbo, Apple Crisp with Ice Cream, Baja Blue Burger, Spicy Shrimp Scampi Tostadas, Tequila Shrimp & Avocado Cocktail

9 thoughts on “Backstreet Grill – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

  1. Heads up backstreet grill has officially closed. Last night they retroactively did a post on their instagram saying Sunday was their last day; they don’t mention in the post but they were forced to close due to a judge shutting off their utilities for ignoring previous orders to close for violating the public health orders.

  2. Given places like BStG have gone beyond your everyday Taco Bell TACO with such things as Fish or Shrimp Tacos, Duck Tacos, Vegetarian Tacos, Taco Salads, yada yada, and even Knorr’s features a Mexican Rice and Beef Taco , I’m surprized no one herein has ever made reference to…. let alone touted the best places in town serving CHOCO TACOS, e.g. (Does everyone else know they exist? I’ve really got to get out more!)
    (Besides the squeezable ketchup bottle, I think (for stuffing as well as eating), the flat bottom taco shells are the best “inventions” of the last century!)

    1. You need never frequent your grocery aisles for Chocotacos when you’ve got a much better locally-made option at Pop Fizz on the sprawling grounds of the National Hispanic Cultural Center. Pop Fizz’s ice cream tacos can be made from any flavor of ice cream available on the premises. They’re a wonderful post-prandial treat after a Sonoran hot dog (or three).

      1. I don’t know how I missed that in your review of Pop Fizz previously…I MUST HAVE A CHOCOLATE TACO IMMEDIATELY!!!! WOW, that thing looks awesome…

        Can’t wait to try it soon…maybe tomorrow :-)…

  3. Finally made it! Had the “Mini Chimis: Pico de gallo, menonita/mozzarella mix of cheese and choice of meat. Deep-fried and served with our rich queso sauce for dipping.” Very, very tasty with a “tang’ to the shredded beef I chose. But the sooo flaky “pockets” this is ensconced really makes it a delight as served by an attentive staff.
    Had no trouble parking on the south side of the building…don’t forget to go in and get a complimentary slip for parking* to put on your dash.
    After dining, strolled the pocket plaza to be impressed with the many flavored offerings the Olive Oil company has. Blush per my badgering Y’all to stroll (see 3/17 & 10/15 comments) I find I haven’t been over here in a couple of years. Great to see the old Card Shoppe space has been reoccupied with a melange of artistic creations while made more airy with windows and exposing the ceiling’s rafters. Sorry to see another shoppe gone.
    – Say, how about dining and enjoying Music Under the Stars…. right next door?
    – Don’t forget, that parking south of the museum is free when you tell Museum staff your space number while attending these exhibits

  4. OMG…Once again Bravos/Kudos to Gil for extolling the tasty ‘virtues’ of some casual/formal dining possibilities in Olde Town in addition to Olde Town itself! So many times, Tourists’ (as well as Local) dollars are so anxious to rush off to Fanta Se missing some less expensive “Eclectic Artistry” and YumYums…with all due respect to the exquisite venues and ambiance Santa Fe has to offer. If need be, Spring/Fall/Summer Eves are great times to stroll sans gaping tourists…LOL
    Seriously my Fellowette/Fellow Locals, please consider at least two visits a year to support the many cultural AND eclectic shoppes and restaurants of our Old Town! The ’08 economic “downturn” and slow recovery has taken its toll in terms of closures that I’ve observed while I’ve volunteered giving out Tourist Info for 8 years this April in OT. Would tourist dollars be even dropped in ABQ if there was no Olde Town to give a reason to stop here to then find other Local venues us Foodies would like to be financially supported for our everyday enjoyment?
    – Ok..OK…Blush! I haven’t made it to BackStreet Grill. I did check this past week and found they do indeed offer Comped Parking!
    “On the nasty side”…LOL….I’d be happy to co-sup with anyone…including Gil….to again recheck my experiences but his first visit to Antiquity’s fare and especially that classic…Henry the IVth to see if it continues to be unworthy of a Listing herein!

    1. A Google search will return results for a number of sweet potato cheesecake recipes. The sweet potato cheesecake at the Backstreet Grill comes courtesy of a vendor who isn’t in the habit of sharing recipes with me. This recipe should give you a close approximation.

  5. Aha…what a most auspicious time for Gil to do a review of BSG. In contrast to the bane of parking and crowds, now is an excellent time to hit Olde Town as the “tourist season” abates and the weather is pleasantly mild. Why shucks, you could probably even find parking on San Felipe or North Plaza…to wend your way down the “alley” you might have used to get to the former Card Shoppe of yore, near BSG.
    Alas/blush, I have not been yet, but I am impressed with how many tourists enthusiastically note: Oh we just ate at BGS! when I point out, as a tourist center info giver, those other eateries around Olde Town. (I especially like it when people look at me askance when I note High Noon is a former brothel where Folks can meet Anglo and New Mexican tastes. Similarly I’d note, La Crepe Michel offers non-New Mexican fare.) (Say Gil, I clicked on the Restaurant Antiquity link but it didn’t bring me to a Gil’s review!!!)
    – If I may, I’d really encourage Readers to stroll around after dining at any of the places listed, not only for the ‘romance’ of Olde Town, but for window shopping for one’s own pleasure let alone seasonal gift giving, aka Christmas for some. If nothing else, it is almost like visiting a museum in light of the plethora of unique items in most shoppes in addition to/beyond being perceived stereotypically for “just” great Indian/”Mexican” wares/artistry.
    – If nothing else, please consider marking your calendar for Friday, Dec. 4 for the annual Holiday Stroll when they close off the streets, fire up the luminarias, have strolling Carol(l)ers in Dickens attire, with the shoppes, often serving punch and biscochitos, staying open till 9+ . To be safe for usually free city-lot parking that night only, I’d get there to dine by 4:30.
    (Bonus Money Saving Tip of the Day: As an Eco-Friendly alternative to Glade/Fabreze, I brought home some leftover Green Chile “sauce” that comes with an ala carte Chile Relleno from Sadie’s when my D/S-i-L invited me there for Margaritas in the Cantina last week. Anyway, every time I opened my frig, I give my place a ‘spray’ of The SouthWest! A couple of days later it was great when I chefed it into a bowl of Campbell’s Pork n Beans.)

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