It’s the season for making lists and checking them twice, finding out which restaurants were naughty or nice. The advent of 2016 is nigh. It’s with great fondness and more than a little (blush) salivation that I bid adieu and auld lang syne to my most memorable dishes of 2015. These are the baker’s dozen plus dishes which are most indelibly imprinted on my memory engrams…the first dishes that come to mind when I close my eyes and reflect on the past year in eating.
It would be oh so easy to compile a “best of the best” list from among entrees we enjoyed prior to 2015 and from restaurants honored among my best of the best in previous years, but true gastronomes don’t take the easy way out. We explore new culinary frontiers, seek out new dishes and boldly go where no reviewer has gone before. More than half of this year’s best come from restaurants we hadn’t visited prior to 2015 and includes more desserts than in any previous year.
If you’re curious, the one item I enjoyed more often than any other in 2015 is the red chili mocha from Cafe Bella in Rio Rancho. David, Julian, Victoria and the other phenomenal baristas at Cafe Bella may as well serve them to me intravenously. By year’s end, I will have filled up sixteen “addict” cards (pictured above). Insofar as more conventional restaurants, my shadow crossed over the threshold of Banh Mi Coda and Joe’s Pasta House more often (four times each) than any other restaurants visited during 2015. Both could (and probably should) have made this list:
- It’s probably unfair to name the Non-Vegetarian Dinner Combination Platter from Namaste as one of the best of the best because each item on the platter–Chicken Tikka Masala, Shrimp Sang, Lamb Curry–could probably have made this list on its own. With every visit to this transformative Indian restaurant, a new favorite is discovered.
- During a 2010 visit to Tucson, we fell in love with the Sonoran Hot Dog, the city’s quintessential and definitive food. It took a while, but Sonoran Hot Dogs have made their way to the Duke City area where you can find Tucson-worthy versions at SoupDog, Pop Fizz, Sharky’s Fish & Shrimp and Rio Rancho’s Ice Cream Palace and Hot Dog World.
- Edible art may sound like a trite expression, but every meal coming out of Chef Saul Paniagua’s kitchen at Canvas Artistry is adjudged a masterpiece by the restaurant’s guests. You’ll shout “encore” after enjoying the Salted Caramel Coconut Flan at this culinary gallery in Albuquerque’s trendy Nob Hill district.
- By definition the term “savory” describes food that is salty or non-sweet. It’s sweetly ironic therefore that Albuquerque’s Savory Fare served us not one, but two of the very best dishes we enjoyed in 2015 and both–the Turtle Bread Pudding and Sour Cherry Pie are desserts.
- Santa Fe’s version of the Thomas Hardy novel Return of The Native would describe Chef John Rivera Sedlar’s return to New Mexico after more than three decades setting the culinary world on fire in Los Angeles. Chef Rivera’s Duck Enfrijolada at Eloisa is the Land of Enchantment’s gain and LA’s loss.
- Migas may translate from Spanish to “crumbs” and though originally made with left-over ingredients, not one morsel of the Migas at Cafe Fina in Santa Fe will be left over by the time you finish breakfast or lunch. Ordering a second portion is probably more copacetic than licking the plate.
- Vick’s Vittles may be the least pretentious restaurant in Albuquerque to serve four-star caliber dishes. That’s how one reader described the Broasted Pork Chop. Who are we to argue, especially when our mouths are contentedly full every time we visit this country-themed restaurant with a compendium-like menu?
- My friends D and J visit Nick & Jimmy’s in Albuquerque so often they could get their mail delivered there. We considered moving in after indulging in the perfectly prepared Pan-Seared Scallops. Served as an appetizer, we contemplated ordering two more and dispensing with our entrees.
- Take advice from Horace Greeley and go west. Make that far, far west, all the way to ChocGlitz & Cream, home of raspberry-red chile ice cream and other creative flavors of pure ice cream deliciousness. You’ll come for the ice cream, but you’ll stay for the chocolate and the bacon caramel corn and the toffee and the…
- Teofilo’s Restaurante in Los Lunas is an exemplar in preparing traditional New Mexican dishes, but its inventive takes on tradition are equally wonderful. Take the chile rellenos (just not mine) for example. Their unconventionally coarse texture, sharp cheese and piquant chiles place them in rarefied company as some of New Mexico’s very best.
- Not only is Ajiaco Colombian Bistro Albuquerque’s best (and only) Colombian restaurant, it’s one of the best Colombian restaurants in America according to Tabelog. Ajiaco’s arroz con pollo is just one reason. Featuring a medley of vegetables, seasoned rice and moist shredded chicken breast, it’s as beautiful to ogle as it is delicious to eat.
- With absolutely no hesitation, my Kim reminded me that one of the best things we enjoyed in 2015 were the Moules Frites L’indienne at La Quiche Parisienne in Albuquerque. How can you argue with a bakery-bistro proffering the city’s best croissants and French fries?
- The New Yorken Cafe had a short life as a restaurant, but its impact as a purveyor of the best cheesecake in New Mexico lives on. Thankfully you can still order a cheesecake from the industrious Archibald family.
Over the years Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Blog has become a community in which readers freely share their opinions. I invite all my dear readers to share your own “best of the best” restaurants for 2015 by replying to this post with a comment below.